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There’s no such thing as work-life balance

Stuck in Traffic
Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

Her pregnancy claim was rejected, but all agree it doesn’t work. So, I hear that the conversation can’t be about discrimination but rather how we can make something work.

Family not withstanding, I have a lot of interests. Often, it feels like my brain is just going, going, going (except now, where I really need a vacation, most days I’m just surviving). So, when I’m not feeling overwhelmed, I have a lot of interests in which I take part. It started when I was staying at home and needed something to stimulate my brain. Then, I had commitments I had to follow through with once the job started. Even after some of these commitments get completed, I’m not going to stop doing other things. So, when I’m at work, emails need to be answered, problems solved, and maybe even a little research done.

While I’m at work, I’m thinking about all the work tasks and how to manage xyz event, keep on top of abc calendar, and complete the daily tasks that never make it to the list. I’m also thinking about my husband how his day is going, is he going to be hungry when he gets home, is he going to go for a longer bike ride, when did we schedule his chiropractor appointment. I”m thinking about my son hoping he’s enjoying his day at school, wonder if he had an allergic reaction, but I didn’t receive a phone call, and what thing we might have planned for the evening. I’m thinking about what to make for dinner this night and the next. I’m considering what other foodstuffs need planning. I’m thinking about the bathroom and kitchen floors that need to be scrubbed along with the laundry that needs to be folded and put away. I’m thinking about all the stuff in my house that needs to be organized thankful that my space at work is. At work, I’m thinking then about the files that miraculously aren’t that organized and how they should be but what an in-depth project it is that I don’t have time for.

When I was home, not working, I was in a rut. Sure, I helped start a food club and I volunteered and participated with my church. I sat on the board at the Community Alliance of Tenants. Work is (environmental) stewardship. Church is spirituality. Food club is food security, foodsheds, local, organic, sustainable. The Community Alliance of Tenants is housing, empowerment, education. Home, is home, is family, is life. So, all these things fit important interests, values, core to my soul. How can I give any one up?

I am finding it’s near impossible, and often, lately, they collide. They run out of balance. So, even though this article is in part about the unfairness of this woman’s claim being denied, it is something many of us face daily. And, I don’t think a law suit is how we’re going to handle it for the better paradigm shift. Not a law suit about discrimination, that is.

Instead of anti-discrimination suits, we need our laws to change to make it easier to accept this imbalance. We need better child care allowances. We need part-time weeks that allow for health care to be offered at the same rate as full. We need work place flexibility that understands life happens outside of the cube farm. I believe we all have the right to reach our potential in a supported way, but the way we organize ourselves often gives undue challenges to that cause. We want what’s best for our kids, and sometimes we need to make sure we have what’s best for us to give what’s best for them.

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Nickle & Dimed

Getting drawn on.
Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

I read it shortly after it came out, on recommendation from my lifelong teacher friend. Personal experience confirmed and has confirmed Barbara Ehrenreich‘s reporting in Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America. When I participated in Project Closeup in 1995, our week long steward confirmed another bit I already knew to be true: most women get out of welfare by getting married. Although our prospects weren’t much better even after that event. If a strong middle class is part and parcel to what makes this country, this world, great – what sort of disservice to we provide when we strengthen the gap between those at the top and those at the bottom of the economic ladder?

I was born on a peninsula whose industry was dominated by mining and logging. Driving through, you see the contrast of depression and boom by the dilapidated farm houses and new McMansion log cabins. The shoreline resorts that are in disrepair now, decorate US2, whereas when I was young they always seemed to be a in state with a fresh coat of paint. Roads were worse off than I ever remember, with potholes and jagged pave jobs traveling with you as you drive. That’s Michigan now. A state dominated by industry, and when the resources are used up and the jobs go overseas — what’s left?

Cover of
Cover via Amazon

When my father left, my mother, a then stay at home mom, remained to support her three children. She got retail jobs where she could, but with a high school education and one who was never on a white collar career path, the only real support option we had was welfare. We were on foodstamps and public housing until my mother remarried. Even then, our prospects weren’t much better given the large family we had. Now we had free or reduced lunches to compliment our daily schooling. My own, more recent experience, also confirms the more humiliating aspect of asking for help.

Nationally, according to Kaaryn Gustafson of the University of Connecticut Law School, “applying for welfare is a lot like being booked by the police.” There may be a mug shot, fingerprinting, and lengthy interrogations as to one’s children’s true paternity. The ostensible goal is to prevent welfare fraud, but the psychological impact is to turn poverty itself into a kind of crime.

I’ve confessed to some people I work with that asking for help is one thing I have a hard time with. Is it any wonder, when thinking back to these other experiences — especially when one is at their most needy. When you’re a kid on food stamps or free/reduced lunch, you know the social stigma that goes with it. Other children talk, tease, about the lessor parents who basically can’t support their children and have to be on welfare. A term said with such derision that only the dullest person could miss it. Now, add the process onto it, and you have more humiliation than some people can handle.

We handled it because we had to. My mother had three children, then 4/5 to support after remarrying. We have our one son and ourselves, and with some chronic health problems to boot. Thankfully my husband was able to find a union job so we could get out of that economic depression. But, sometimes, I feel like we’re still on the brink, like when my husband back went out just three weeks ago. His job is manual labor. What happens should his body fail him, permanently?

Poverty shouldn’t be viewed as a crime. We all have a right to be here. And, we all have a responsibility to one another. These problems we face weren’t created in a day, and they won’t be solved in a day. But, we have to collectively take part in their change. We owe it to ourselves, our fellow neighbors, and our children.


How America turned poverty into a crime Barbara Ehrenreich on Salon

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An Open Letter on Food Security

Milk & Honey Bread
Image by alexis22578 via Flickr

Dear Friend,

I co-coordinate a food buying club in my neighborhood. This idea arose from many things, one the example is the one set by my grandparents who always had access to local food through their garden, animal husbandry, and local grocery co-op. Mostly, though, I do this because food quality for my small family is very important. I also do this is a way to increase food security for everyone.

Nary a day goes by where we don’t hear about another food recall. These food recalls largely involve large industrial food complexes, like confined animal feed operations. I don’t buy from those operations. I buy directly from the farmer. My family eats fairly locally and seasonally. We learn how to preserve our food and make things from scratch, like bread — a lot like my grandparents learned post World War II. We develop relationships with our farmers, our distributors, our producers of the food we eat. We do this to increase our food security. We know where our food comes from. We visit the farms. We know the names of our farmers’ children. We are invested in them, and they are invested in us.

But that investment is being threatened. The City of Portland has hosted several meetings to revise the food zoning laws for our locale. Their recommendations are to increase the hurdles one has to go through to have access to local food.

This is a problem. A big problem. And, I need your help to tell them it’s a problem. 

Find out more about the city’s plans and please take the survey. Please tell the city they are going in the WRONG direction for CSAs & Buying Clubs. Tell them it matters to you because food security matters to you. Tell them having access to local food is important to you. And, most importantly, pass this message on and have your friends and family take the survey.

Thank you for your help.

In food!

Michelle Lasley
community advocate | green coach | nurturer

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CSTI: Western States Center

CSTI: Western States Center advocacy training.
CSTI: Western States Center advocacy training. Sitting under a tree waiting for the afternoon session to start.

I am lying on my back, on a pebbled, concrete bench. I am in the shade, under the tree. It’s near 80 in the sun and 70 in the shade. A cool breeze keeps me comfortable. I open my eyes, and through my sunglasses, I see brilliant blue flickering through the moving green leaves. This is the epitome of summer. This beautiful summer day makes memories.

I had the opportunity, for the second time, to participate in the Western States Center’s CSTI (Community Strategic Training Initiative, the name is being changed to AMP). Western States Center trains social justice groups to help make effective change in their communities. It seems groups attend that, on average, have budgets less than $500,000. They have noble goals, diverse communities, and small staffs. They face the same kind of challenges other non-profits do: board engagement, how to fundraise, what’s my message, how to engage members and volunteers? The bit I find most fun about this conference is the level of engagement among the attendees. It’s like going to a college class but you only get the A students. Everyone wants to be there. They are committed to their respective causes, and they want to learn more to spread the good intent and bring upon the social justice revolution. Here, at CSTI, I am among people who share, passionately, the vision, the ideal, of making this world a better place.

Reed College, Portland, OR

I never thought I would enjoy or see purpose in networking. Over the last few years, though, my Portland has gotten a lot smaller in part due to my involvement within groups like Western States Center. When I attend CSTI, there are always people I know or know of or have seen at other events. And, given who the training attracts, I’m always meeting new people that I want to connect with because of our shared interests.

This year, at the fundraising workshop, our ice breaker question was, “What will you be doing after the revolution?” Ari Rapkin, a co-director at my organization, the Community Alliance of Tenants, came up with this and our facilitator loved it so much she shared. What does that imply? After the Revolution? For me, it means that all the things we independently and collectively work for have been achieved. After the revolution we won’t be fighting for equality in health-care because everyone will have equal access to great care. After the revolution we won’t need tenant advocacy because there won’t be discrimination in housing and all repairs are met. After the revolution we will realign our priorities so that we all value life as most important, and not just rich, white, property owning male life. After the revolution we won’t need to discuss gender neutral bathrooms because we will finally accept people for who they are: people like us hoping for intimate connections to make our world less bleak. After the revolution we won’t be fighting for food security because eating local and organically will be the status quo. So, after the revolution we will be free to achieve our own self actualization and realize our independent dreams. We won’t have to fight for social justice causes because they all will be won.

My memory of this year’s CSTI is of dreaming. My memory of that beautiful Sunday, where I sat under the tree dreaming of food, art, philosophy, and where I will be at 70. I sat dreaming of being a docent at the Art Museum, while living in a high rise condo across the street, frequenting farmers’ markets and enjoying the fruit life brings. That is my social justice memory.

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Wrapping up the Price of Motherhood

Playing with Toys at Grandma's
Playing with Toys at (great) Grandma’s house. Image by alexis22578 via Flickr.

A relative, a co-worker, a friend. All women. All of varied ages. All facing the same problem when their husbands pass away: not enough income to maintain their standard of living. That is, they will no longer receive their husband’s pension and/or social security income so the homes in which they raised their children will have to be sold. They will have to move into something smaller and more manageable or with relatives in order to afford basic things like shelter, food, clothing.

Sure, it’s not the worst thing that can happen in life. Life is full of changes, and we as humans have to do our job, which is to deal with those changes. But, that’s not really the right question. The question, more than is it fair, is, “Is this right?” Is it right to treat mothers this way?

This occupation, sometimes gifted by choice, sometimes not, often touted as the most important in the whole wide world — is one of the most relegated. The job to be least considered, understood, or recognized.

In a nutshell, it can be tough being a mom. You are gifted with these delightful beings, who you coach day in and day out to be respectable human beings. Collectively with a team of mothers, with whom you may or may not interact, and how does society pay you for joining in this social contract? By kicking you to the philosophical curb.

My mother applied for a credit card so she could have an easier time trying a small Mary Kay business when I was in middle school. She was listed as the secondary account holder on the joint account shared with my stepfather. This was her only bank account. The bank told her she didn’t count and couldn’t get a credit card.

I’m not an advocate of credit cards, but I am an advocate for financial independence. You may recall my distaste expressed in various posts about our patriarchal society. We live in a man’s world, and while many women before us have made incredible strides to break the glass ceiling or put 18 million cracks into it, our jobs are not done. This is what The Price of Motherhood calls us to do – keep on keeping on. We need to stand together, rise together, be moms together and support each other with our collective group wisdom to change this paradigm in which we’ve operated for too long.

When I think back to who has been there for me, it has always been my mom. My mother cries with me, talks with me, hugs me. She always has. Not my father. Not my step-father. Not my grandfathers. Not even my beloved uncles. My mother. This feisty, sassy, amazing woman who holds her opinions close, states her mind, and fights for the little guy in every avenue which which she works. She sacrificed so I could find out what my path is by talking on state aid, menial jobs, and not buying glasses for over a decade so we could clothe ourselves. This is what motherhood calls woman to do: sacrifice.

Now, I sit as a mother, and dammit, I want my sacrifices (collective and individual) recognized. We don’t sleep, we don’t buy, we eat what we don’t want for our husbands and our children. And, how does our social contract pay us back? Taking away our livelihood if our husbands die before us. Not allowing us the option for financial freedom if we’re listed as joint on a bank account. Punishing us into welfare if we decide our partners aren’t really the right match.

Do not mistake me. This is not a pity party. The Price of Motherhood should be a collective wake up call. We need to band together and make change. We need to demand more mothers in politics (and not just the ones with 28 foster children). We need to ensure our interests are heard. Why? Because what’s best for mom is best for the family, the nation, the world.

Other Sources

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I said what?

It was a busy afternoon at my house. Frontier had to be sorted. Eggs and meat were being picked up. My husband was figuring out what was wrong with the Bravada. Levi was dancing in and out of the house, playing with his toys and his new friend. It was busy. Then, I cooked dinner while bringing a print job out as it finished. Talked more. Navigated around the small fry more. Dodged the husband in the kitchen while cooking as he would come in to wash his grease laden hands. Then, we ate dinner. Then it was calm. Then a face appeared through my back door. It looked familiar, but different. The night was such a blur of activity, I introduced myself. Then I blinked. Then I looked. Wow. It wasn’t just a familiar face but a good friend!

How perceptions change.

So, this good friend and I go to the back porch and chat. Our club received a new solicitation from the city, wanting to explore zoning issues with buying clubs. I had emailed back, explaining what we knew of other club problems and how we tried to mitigate that before it became a problem. Thus far, I haven’t heard back from the city. They want to see operations this next week.

My friend was restating how her conversation with her husband went. She explained, “Then, I think of what you say, about making sure we don’t operate out of fear.” She proceeded to explain a brilliant plan of educating and encouraging through empowerment instead of using a knee jerk reaction to guide policy.

I was puzzled. I mean, I know I think these things, but I’m not always sure how much gets out of my head and into conversation. Do you know what I mean? Isn’t it amazing sometimes when people parrot back your words and you sound darn right smart?

Okay. I don’t mean to sound arrogant. I think I’m clever and funny, but so what. I was really just amazed. These words my friend stated, even as she added I had said them, I was thinking that it was some of HER typical wisdom. (Because she’s a smart cookie.)

My mother has done that to me a few times, and my husband did once too. Michelle had this idea or said this thing. Usually, I can’t even remember the incident. I know what they are saying lines up with my values, but with all my wonderful memories, I don’t recall saying specifically in their interpretation they words the parrot back.

I wish we could get more of that feedback — you know, how we affect people, how we touch their lives, realizing we have relevance. Do you know what I mean?

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In Defense of Marriage

My husband said, “Didn’t they already get that?” referring to marriage open to all forms of couples. This was a year ago now. I told him no. It felt like a monumental stepping stone that my husband, who was born and raised in an Evangelical Christian household, felt indifferent about the idea of gays marrying.

Elizabeth Gilbert, on her website, champions gay people for wanting marriage. She explains, while describing her new book Committed that with the failings of the institution gays are the only ones excited about marriage.

A friend likes to remind me of a few points when we’ve discussed the concept over the last decade. He reminds me that Christianity likes to boast love. Think about the Golden Rule instructing its followers to love and be guided by love through your actions and how you treat others. Think about the New Covenant in which, as Christians, we are instructed to operate. The irony, I interpret, is in the details we are weighted down by in order to sanctify a few points.

So, over the weekend, the state of New York said gay marriage is okay. I believe that makes it three states now who will allow people in same sex relationships to take matrimonial vows.

My rationalization over the years, in considering my dumbfounded state over not allowing gays to marry is wrapped around state property. I always thought one reason marriage was governed by the state was a way to collect more tax or have more control over property. I’m not sure how true this is from state to state, but I can imagine a state getting more out of two than out of one. So, if that’s the case — you’d think in this cash strapped economy that states would be all over allowing more people to marry.

Ultimately, though, the argument for me is a secular one. We claim we are a state that is based on this separation of church and state. We have this high ideal in order for people to realize their own beliefs and practice their own beliefs without (much) interference from said state. Yet, in one of the most personal, difficult, and important choices a person has to make — the state is incredibly involved. THe state is involved from beginning to end when it comes to deciding who our life partners are. Control given over years of supposed necessity and kept with quiet acceptance among its followers.

So, we’ve allowed the state to control our marriages, and then, out of fear we throw a fit if there is push back to the laws when others want to marry. Similar arguments happened when black and white people wanted to marry (gasp) each other. Why are we surprised when people stand up and say, “Hey this isn’t fair! This law doesn’t fully encompass me, and I want it to?”

Good job New York. Please set the state of enlightenment to the rest of the nation so that we may better realize our ideal of freedom and choice.

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Changes through Spruce

I am in this state of awe. I am in this state of amazement thinking about how we evolve as humans. We grow up learning from our parents, friends, family members to a point where we think we know it all and then life humbles us. Then, we watch others go through similar rites of passage, and sometimes we are impotent to do anything but listen because they too have to see that life will humble and sometimes that’s all its doing.

The Giant Sitka Spruce is a good example of that. Around 1250, it began its life from a seedling in a forest that had yet been touched by white men. The Magna Carta was being signed a world away and across an ocean. Soon, those countries across the ocean would experience plague, religious fighting, new religions, and mass exodus of various peoples who would slowly then quickly make their way to this land. This Sitka Spruce might have witnessed the vanishing Native American tribes the onset of Lewis & Clark the destruction of timber all around — all within its 700 year lifetime. We are mere blips on the map of this giant tree‘s life.

This giant tree has watched humanity grow, in ebbs and flows throughout periods of maturity and immaturity. This tree has watched new generations come in with their new ideas and new ways of doing things. What can we learn from this tree? What should we learn?

[flickrslideshow acct_name=”alexis22578″ id=”72157626948622512″]

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Poor Man’s High Rise

Poor Man's Highrise on a sunny day.
Poor Man's High Rise on a sunny day.

Attended City Club’s Friday Forum today where I listened to Sen. Jeff Merkley discuss his new bill for Energy Independence.

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A palette of watercolours and a brush.
Image via Wikipedia

In response to my Cooking post, she said something like, “Wow, Michelle, I enjoy your passion about things.”

I thought. I paused. I reflected.

I was questioned several years ago why I won’t do art as a career. I can draw (always have been able to). I enjoy it. I love it. I love getting better. I love hearing new things and experiencing new things I can do with pen, paper, paint, paints, charcoal, any medium really. But, why don’t I pursue it as a career? I said, “I don’t want to ruin the thing I love with the pursuit of money.” He retorted, “Why not do the thing you love because you love it?”

Indeed. It’s too personal is the other answer. I don’t want what is so close to my heart criticized. And, there are so many other things I like doing, why be pigeonholed? I need a career that can encapsulate most of what I like to do – simply to keep me engaged!

I have realized that there are about three things – ideas – where I like to focus my daily thoughts: food, the earth (environment, planet, etc), and housing. There are skills I enjoy utilizing to talk about these ideas: drawing, sketching, presenting, creating, office busy work, talking, facilitating, organizing, motivating, problem solving, writing, reading, teaching.

I can use art to talk about food, but the creation of the artistic thing doesn’t have to be the only thing, and it doesn’t have to be tied to my heart or a commission. I can use the design skills I’ve used to help educate and inform marketing choices at work or in the clubs with which I work. I can use my writing to help with websites, newsletters, business letters – and it’s just part of the picture – not the whole thing.

I have learned I have to diversify my interests, but not too much because I can’t be stretched thinner than I already am. I learned that I can’t be a crisis counselor full time no matter how much compassion I might have for the person or the cause – but volunteering a few hours a month works. I have learned to overcome certain fears: like asking for money. I have learned that it’s even easy to ask people to support causes I love.

I have learned that I don’t want just any job and that it must be tied around a passion in order to motivate me to do it. Working a as a secretary just anywhere won’t do – it has to be around my interests. Several years ago I realized that my personal goal is to “teach people about the importance of a sustainable society.” Sustainability as defined using the metaphor of “people, places, and profit” all in equilibrium suggesting a balance in environmental use, the people who do the work, and ensuring there is a black bottom line for the finance people.

So, yes, friend, I would agree – I am passionate. But, I don’t know how else to operate! I feel like there is no point if I don’t go with where my passions direct me. Thank you kindly for your observation because it has given me this opportunity to reflect.

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