There’s No Place Like What Could Have Been

I’m not sure how it happened, but a few months ago, I happened to stumble across an episode of Holmes on Homes on Destination: America. I was immediately hooked by Mike’s desire to help people whose homes were in bad shape. I also enjoyed how he educated his audience as he and his crew worked on the houses that were in disrepair. Eventually, I found Holmes Inspection, Buy it Right, Holmes and Holmes, and Holmes Family Rescue.

In addition to enjoying the punny titles, I enjoyed seeing the banter and underlying love between Mike and his adult children as they continued his mission to help people have safe, inhabitable homes. I even bought a gently used copy of his book, The Holmes Inspection, so I could continue to learn from him even when one of his or his kids’ shows weren’t available to watch. He also has a Twitter account and a website with an educational blog that is updated often. Thanks to Mike Holmes, his family, and his crew, I think I am better prepared for when we resume our hunt for our forever home.

There are a lot of shows out there that show home repairs by professionals, so why do Holmes and his family appeal to me so much in particular?

The truth is simple and sad: When I look at Mike Holmes, I remember the only time my father was happy when I was growing up.

You see, my father was born into poverty and worked a number of blue-collar jobs ranging from butchering animals to working on a factory line. Eventually, Dad went to work for Art Bross, a general contractor who went to the same church we did. My father had no formal construction training before he went to work for Art, but he had a keen mind and had been building things since he was very young. Dad’s strongest skill was carpentry, but he also knew how to safely run water, gas, sewer, and electric lines. Our “house” was a one-bedroom, partially gutted trailer. By the time we moved away, my father had built on a “front porch” that was actually a mudroom, two bedrooms, and a laundry room with a back door that led out to the clotheslines in the back yard. It wasn’t pretty, but it was watertight, warm in the winter, and somewhat tolerable in the summer, considering we didn’t have an air conditioner until Art gave us one.

My dad and his dad didn’t have a super-wonderful relationship. My grandpa had grown up in an abusive household and left home when he was very young, then served in the Marine Corps during World War II after he married my grandmother. I imagine he did the best he could, all things considered, and my dad gave his parents a place to live next door to us on the five acres my dad owned, but it doesn’t excuse the choices he made or how he and my grandma hurt my dad, aunts, and uncle growing up. To my dad, Art was the father he wished he’d had, and Art was happy to take Dad under his wing and teach him professionally as they worked together. Art was a man of integrity and heart, and his kindness helped my dad flourish.

It didn’t last.

Four days before Christmas in 1988, Art suffered a heart attack and died at age 66. Not only was my father suddenly unemployed before Christmas, he was suddenly without the person who had become a second father to him. It was sudden and traumatic. My father was also displaced because Art’s two “real” sons had their grief validated, as it should be, but as “just an employee,” my dad’s grief wasn’t recognized, much less validated.

Had things been different, my dad could have been the US version of Mike Holmes. He might not have been a TV star, but every home he touched would have had whatever work they needed carried out with integrity. Those projects would have built the right way, sturdy as an oak.

Unfortunately, things are what they are, and no amount of wishing will change the past. Fortunately, successful guys like Mike Holmes are around to teach what to look for in homes and contractors, and for that, I am grateful.


The Stories in the Stones

It all started with an email from a fourth cousin on

Destinie wanted my help tracking down where we were related along the Smith branch of the family tree. We both enjoy genealogy and are curious about where and how we are connected.

Little did I know that my fall down the rabbit hole would uncover one of the most heartbreaking tragedies in my maternal family’s murky history.

Growing up, my Grandma Cora would spin all sorts of wild stories about her past and her history. She was supposedly related to Jesse James. Then she had a pure Blackfoot ancestress named Little Bear Boat. She also spun tales about my mother’s biological father. By turns he was Mexican, Native American or all manner of exotic combinations.

The truth was that he was an ordinary married white guy who fathered two children on Grandma Cora and deserted her when she refused to give her second child (my mother) up for adoption. Up until then, she apparently believed that he was going to leave his wife and their many children to be with her. After she gave up on him, she married a mechanic who abused her, my mother, and the children they had together. He died at age 45, to the relief of pretty much everyone who knew him. My grandmother then married a man 14 years her junior 24 days later while her 16-year-old daughter was alone in a St. Louis hospital, giving birth to my half-sister.

Two years later, my mother married her stepfather’s younger brother, who was only two years older than her. Even though he was so young, he had been married previously. They had four children, and I, their youngest, was born seven years after they married.

But I digress.

As I tried to find out where my cousin Destinie (great name, by the way) and I were connected, I started to learn more and more about my own family. Some of the information I uncovered unlocked some of my living relatives’ memories, and the people who were just names on stones became more fleshed-out and real to me.

As I searched FindAGrave to find more information about the relatives who were no longer with us, I ran across so many people who shared my relatives’ names but had stories of their own.

And some of those names were children whose lives were cut off far too short.

And some of those names were aunts, uncles, and cousins I never got to know about because the pain of their loss was buried in time and locked away so that their parents could continue surviving and providing for their living children as best they could.

I will do my best to learn and carry their stories, and I hope that my own children and/or niblings will be interested in carrying those stories when I can no longer do so myself.

So it seems that I have taken my late Aunt Ruth’s position as family Loremaster. Remembering those who have gone on before us didn’t actually carry the title “Loremaster,” but it does now, and I will do my best to keep our family’s stories and memories alive until the day I become a memory myself.


You Are Not Your Choices

I don’t know if you needed to hear that today, but there you go.

You may have made bad choices. You may have to live with the consequences of bad choices you made as a child or young adult. You may have to live with the consequences of other people’s bad choices.

That doesn’t make you a bad person. You are not your choices.

That being said, that doesn’t mean that you don’t have to take responsibility for the choices that you have made, be they bad or good. It doesn’t mean that you don’t have to live with the consequences of your choices or that you don’t take responsibility for how your choices have affected others.

Owning the choices that you have made is empowering. I’ve had to work hard to own the bad choices I made while I was focused solely on survival.

And boy howdy, I have made a LOT of bad choices. I survived abject poverty and a huge amount of trauma and instability when I was growing up. There was good stuff, but the bad stuff overshadowed so much, and most of my memories of my childhood are full of terror and pain.

And a lot of the bad choices I made were the result of being told that I was a bad person who deserved bad things as a child. I was told that I was worthless. I was told that I was unwanted. I was told that I was a mistake. I was told that I was a burden.

And sometimes, when you’re a person in a bad situation, there are no good choices available.

Sometimes, when you’re lonely, you make bad choices to make that loneliness go away.

You know only that you need, and you’ll do just about anything to fill that void in your soul.

You try religion, but it just tells you that you’re worthless and hellbound unless you believe God murdered his only son to save humans from the consequences of their bad choices in the afterlife. You see “saved” people mock and jeer people who are suffering.

You try other beliefs, but they have the same message in a different wrapper, and the people “saved” by those religions act the same as the people in the religion you grew up in.

You try new age stuff, but “manifesting” doesn’t make anything get better, and now you’re blaming yourself because you can’t shift your brain into whatever magical vibration will solve all of your problems.

You’re still not a bad person. Kicking yourself while you’re down won’t fix anything.

What you need is something else. Self-flagellation just gives you new wounds and no answers.

The first thing that helped me shift was learning that I am not my choices. I am a person, and I have made choices. Some of those choices have been bad, while others have been good. Some of those choices have had lasting consequences for me, while others have had lasting consequences for others.

I am responsible for my choices, but I am not my choices. I am even responsible for the choices I made when I was just surviving. I am even responsible for the choices I made when there were no good choices available.

The next thing that helped me shift was knowing that feelings and judgments are separate things. I can feel happy, sad, angry, content, hungry, tired, good, bad, etc. For example, I cannot FEEL that Alicent Hightower is a bad person because she wants to disinherit her stepdaughter so her children can rule. However, I can THINK that Alicent Hightower is a bad person because she wants to disinherit her stepdaughter so her children can rule. People who aren’t me might think that being unable to separate feelings from thoughts and judgments was strange, but that was the way I was brought up, and that was the tangled mess I grew up with in my head.

The biggest thing that has helped me start to shift was discovering that I have worth. To someone who grew up believing she was worth less than nothing because she was born into poverty as a female, this was really, really difficult. I’ve had a lot of therapy to untangle the pain and abuse that told me I was unworthy of good things.

When you’re blinded by abuse, pain, and twisted thinking, it is very hard to see the good, much less the opportunities in front of you.

It’s hard to do better when you’re convinced you don’t deserve better.

It’s hard to break out of a prison of negative thought when you’re invalidated at every turn. Every thought, every emotion–everything about you is WRONG according to others.

Some people will tell you to just forget the haters, completely ignorant to the reality that for a lot of us, that negativity was LITERALLY beaten into us.

It’s not easy to break out of negative thinking, and that’s okay. Sometimes you need help, and that’s okay. Sometimes it’s hard to stop making bad choices without help. Sometimes the consequences of your choices have you living in your own personal hell. It sucks.

The aha moment is learning that you have worth, just as you are.

The healing begins when you believe that you have worth.

The growth begins when you start making good choices.

Is it easy? No.

Is it worth it? Absolutely.

Does it guarantee success?

Well, that depends on you.

Know your worth and keep growing.

In the end, you will know.


What Do I Want To Create In The World?

Wow. I thought the previous questions were hard.

This question? This one is super-hard. I can’t finish this blog without figuring it out. There have been times when I thought I knew, but…I don’t, I really don’t. I’ve had to sublimate myself because I’ve spent my entire life feeling like I had to apologize for even existing.

If you’ve never felt like you had to apologize for your own existence and make it up to people for your entire life, I envy you. It’s exhausting. It’s depressing.

It’s infuriating.

So, what do I want to create in a world where I have spent most of my life doing my best to please other people?

I want to create what pleases ME.

What is that, though?

I want to create a life and a legacy that lifts my family out of poverty. I want money to flow into our lives easily and so abundantly that we can start helping other people’s dreams come true, too.

I want us to have a nice, energy-efficient home of our own with a pool, a swingset, a tree house, and plenty of space for gardens, fruit trees, a fire pit, and stargazing.

I want to write with my true voice for an audience that supports and appreciates me.

I want to create art that inspires my audience.

I want to raise my children to be good people who make good choices, follow their dreams, and feel secure in being their truest selves.

I want to inspire everyone to work together to build a world where wealth is no longer considered a zero-sum game, and the rising tide of prosperity really does lift all boats.

I want to create a world where everyone has all that they need so that they have the freedom to dream, do, be, and create. The world of Star Trek will never exist as long as we dwell in the negative aspects of selfishness and treat wealth as a zero-sum game where there must be losers if there are to be winners.

When I die, I want my work to have meant something to enough people that I am remembered. If I am remembered after I die, no matter what lies beyond this life, I will live on in memory here as well.


The Root of Most Problems

Jenna Kutcher asks, “What problem do you wish you could solve?”

I wish I could do away with greed and the negative aspects of selfishness. Some selfishness is good. It’s important to have boundaries, even if people call them selfish. It’s important to care for yourself, too, even if people think it’s selfish. As the saying goes, you cannot pour from an empty cup, and you have to take care of yourself to be at your best.

Selfishness can be taken way too far, though. When paired with greed, selfishness gives us the world we have now: Billionaires with fleets of vehicles they’ll never use and more money than they can spend in a hundred lifetimes flourish while millions are homeless and starving and billions more are just trying to get by.

There’s plenty for everyone. Wealth and fortune are not a zero-sum game unless we give way to greed and selfishness. The greedy and selfish are never satisfied and don’t like to share unless they need to do so to improve how others view them and bring in more money.

We need to leave behind greed and selfishness and make sure the rising tide lifts all boats, not just the superyachts.


It’s Not Fair, But It Doesn’t Have To Stay That Way

“What do you find unfair?” Jenna Kutcher asks.

That’s a good question. I find a lot of things unfair. The world seems very unfair, and it seems like most people don’t care about making it fair. I grew up with very conservative parents in a conservative church in a conservative part of Missouri, so I grew up with the idea that it was unfair if anyone got anything more than what they “deserved,” especially if they were unemployed or poor.

Ironically, I grew up in poverty, and getting aid from the state was something that my parents argued about a lot. It took us literally having no food in the house for my parents to apply for and receive food stamps.

Pride is great, but you can’t eat pride.

Speaking of money, the minimum wage is unfair. It’s common knowledge that it was set up to be the minimum for workers to support their families. And at the time that it was made the law, it did just that. Thanks to inflation and greed, the minimum wage isn’t even enough to support one person, much less an entire family.

Growing up, I heard, “It’s not fair–it’s Republican,” and it was seen as a good thing that things weren’t fair.

It is not good that things are not fair. There are so many people who lose out on opportunities for success because they were not born into wealth and don’t have the networking connections that come with being born into those circles. Even the ability to take an internship or a practicum is unfair, because most of them are unpaid, and people who don’t have wealthy parents or a wealthy spouse often have to turn them down. My husband had to take an unpaid practicum to complete his degree, and even though I was working full-time for $17 an hour, I still went into debt just keeping our family housed and fed.

Shortly after my husband completed the unpaid practicum, I had our surprise baby (I was on birth control pills, and I became one of the 1%ers who get pregnant while using the pill correctly). My state’s rules regarding FMLA stated that I hadn’t worked long enough to qualify for it, so I lost my job. Fortunately, my husband was able to find a job with a pretty good nonprofit. Once he completed his degree and got his provisional counseling license, they immediately hired him as a counselor. He loves what he does, and he loves helping people heal, and it’s wonderful.

And it was just as well about me losing my job, because our new baby had GERD, and keeping her clean and fed was a 24/7 job. I don’t remember most of her first year because of the sleep deprivation I experienced, but she’s healthy and happy.

Unfortunately, during that time, I went blind in my right eye a week after I turned 40. The doctor I saw first said it was an inflamed retina, and it would heal in two months.

It did not heal, though the blind spot got slightly smaller. The eyesight in my left eye is considerably worse than the eyesight in my right eye, so even with correction, I’m considered legally blind.

The worst part is that it’s really hard to read and write now. I used to be able to read voraciously, and now I can’t. I also used to be able to type quickly with few mistakes, and now I’m a typo queen. It’s so frustrating. I feel like I’m being tricked by my eyes all of the time.

I ended up filing for disability, and I found out that SSDI requires “work credits.” I had no idea. I had been working up until a few months before I lost my vision in my right eye, and I had been freelancing (and paying taxes like a responsible citizen, but that didn’t count, apparently), but it wasn’t enough “work credits” for me to get SSDI. Unfortunately, I didn’t qualify for SSI because my husband made too much money for me to get it.

And that leads me to another unfair thing. CB used to get SSI due to her autism, but she doesn’t anymore because I worked and my husband now works. In fact, we have to repay the SSA because I misunderstood reporting. I thought I was supposed to let the SSA know if CB got a job or got married, but apparently, my income as her parent and my husband’s income as her stepfather counted against her. The child support CB receives from her father also counts as income, and I think that’s really unfair to her.

We’re in the welfare gap. We make “too much” to get all but the most extended of aid, like CHIP and expanded Medicaid, but we make too little to survive without going into debt and visiting food pantries just to keep everyone fed, clothed, clean, and housed.

And that leads me to what I find the most unfair of all: our society in the US is designed to keep poor people in poverty regardless of how hard they work or how much they sacrifice to escape it. Both of my parents are proof positive. They worked so hard that my father literally broke his back working, and my mother herniated her entire spine. My mother escaped poverty by marrying her fourth husband, who had an inheritance from his late father that enabled him to buy a home even though he was a factory worker. My father lived with my brother and his wife and my nephew until they decided to move to the St. Louis metro to get away from Columbia. They’re staying with my mother and her fourth husband while they save up to buy a house. My father will be living with them again after they are able to buy their house.

This is not fair at all. My parents should be able to live on their own with their social security payments, but they can’t. The expense of rent, mortgages, utilities, food, everything…it’s just too much for them to be able to live on their own, even if they want to. I should have been able to live on my own with CB on her SSDI, but it wasn’t enough, so I had to live with family until I married my husband. There was no way we could afford to rent anything on our own.

“What about Section 8?” you might ask. Well, here, there’s a waiting list to get on the waiting list for Section 8, and that waiting list is YEARS long. I wish I was joking. It’s the same story with housing vouchers. And even if you find a landlord that takes Section 8 or vouchers, the properties are often in dangerous areas and often in a state of disrepair.

And then there’s SNAP. It’s supposed to be “supplemental,” but I don’t know anyone who has SNAP who actually has money to get food besides what they get on their SNAP card every month. It’s not enough, especially to feed growing kids who need more than peanut butter, milk, and ramen noodles to grow properly.

Medicaid is pretty limited, too. Only a few doctors take it, and the wait times for appointments are typically long. On top of that, there are medical “professionals” who treat people with Medicaid differently than people with private insurance. It sucks. I used to be one of those people, and I regret it. It wasn’t right for me to look down on people. It sucks that it took me being on the receiving end of that disdain for me to discover how wrong, unfair, and painful it is. I’m actually terrified to go to the doctor or hospital for any reason, but there’s more to it than fear of being judged by people who are supposed to be helping me become as healthy as I can be. I’m back on Medicaid because the expansion finally passed, so that’s at least one way the welfare gap got a bit smaller, but it is still a gap.

Dental care for adults on Medicaid is a joke, too. All it covers is routine cleanings and exams. For any sort of dental work beyond that, you’re on your own. I’ve had to have damaged teeth removed because I couldn’t afford to have them fixed. Private insurance isn’t any better, and both my husband and I have teeth that are literally rotting in our mouths because we can’t afford to have them fixed.

I also owe SSA for “overpayments” to CB due to me misunderstanding their rules when I got married and got a job. I thought that I was only supposed to inform them if CB got married and/or got a job, because the money was for CB, and I was managing it because I was an adult. I’ve had to renegotiate their repayment because of inflation, but it was an unintentional mistake on my part. I haven’t tried to fight it, though.

As for me, I’m legally blind and disabled myself. I tried to get regular SSI, but even though I had paid into the system all of my working life, I didn’t have enough “work credits” since I lost my eyesight to qualify for it. As for SSDI, my husband grosses too much before taxes for CB to get SSDI, much less me.

So I’ve had to try my best to sell my art and my writing, and when that fails, I’ve had to ask my friends and family for help just to keep my kids fed and in pullups. I want to EARN money to so that I can feed my kids fresh fruit and vegetables and be able to donate to the food pantry that helps people in the welfare gap and below instead of having to rely on them to supplement our meagre food budget.

Once upon a time, a working adult could earn enough at the minimum wage to support a family of four. Their spouse could stay home and tend to household duties and children, knowing there was enough money to pay the bills, feed everyone well, cover hobbies, take a vacation every year, and donate to charities and/or individuals who needed help.

Somewhere in the 80s, the people in power in the US decided that earning wealth was a zero-sum game, and that the rising tide shouldn’t raise all boats. Those in power decided that it wasn’t fair that there was a safety net capable of lifting people out of poverty, so they set about demonizing the poor, especially single mothers and people working menial jobs like cashiers and food service workers. It was ugly, and I was raised to believe in it. I hate the fact that I ever embraced that ideology. I hate that I thought trickle-down economics worked.

I was wrong. It is not the wealthy who create jobs or hold the world on their shoulders. The job creators are those who spend the money they earn or are given rather than hoarding it. The people who hold the world on their shoulders are the ones who do the work that the wealthy deem “menial” or “below” them. It’s amazing how much the world stopped when food service workers, stockers, cashiers, janitors, housekeepers, daycare workers, teachers, aides, healthcare workers, and truck drivers caught COVID-19. Some were able to return, but many became disabled, and many died.

We need to get back to letting the tide raise all boats instead of just letting the rich add to their fleets of yachts. The poor deserve to be able to make it out of poverty, and this country has the means and ability to build the nets, ladders, and bridges to make it happen.

This isn’t a zero-sum game. Everyone can prosper, if they are given the tools to focus on thriving instead of merely surviving.

We can do it, if we choose to do it.

We can make it fair.


What I Fear Most

Now this is a question that has a LOT of answers. The previous one from How Are You, Really was difficult because I cannot recall a single time I’ve ever danced with glee.

But fear? I fear a lot of things. Right now, I’m terrified to go to the doctor because I haven’t been in years, I’m morbidly obese, and I know from my time working in healthcare that medical professionals often talk negatively about patients, especially ones that have taxpayer-funded insurance and/or are fat. Additionally, it has been my experience that physicians treat losing weight as the panacea for all health issues.

I’m especially terrified that I’ve got a reproductive organ cancer that may get missed because whoever I see will be so focused on my weight that they ignore any other potential causes.

Frankly, although I have experienced suicidal ideation as a result of my depression and trauma, I want to live at least long enough to see my children reach adulthood and live as independently as possible before I die. For CB, her best case scenario is being able to live on her own with some supports, but I’m doing my best to accept that she may end up having to live in a group home as an adult. For SF, she will likely be able to live on her own without any problems, depending on her income and where she decides to live.

I don’t want to die yet.

Even bigger, though, than my fear of not being able to watch my children reach adulthood and succeed, is my fear that my life has meant nothing and will not be remembered by anyone, not even my children. All of the hardship, poverty, abuse…the thought that it was all just a pointless human experience that meant nothing in the long run hurts a lot.

Sometimes, though, my depression is even stronger than usual, and the fear of dying forgotten doesn’t matter anymore. I have to fight the pain to make sure I stay right where I am for the people who love me and want me to stay.

At the very center of my soul, I want to stay alive and be at least a part of something that will allow me to be remembered positively.

I am afraid that will never happen, though. I’m afraid my children will remember my anger and my pain rather than my love for them, the strength I used to process my trauma, the way I laughed like an asthmatic donkey when something was really funny, the pride I felt at their achievements, the stories I told, the things I created, and all the things that made me me.

In Final Fantasy IX, Freya’s character quote was, “To be forgotten is worse than death.”

I fear being forgotten.

I hope I am remembered.


I Can’t Dance–Don’t Ask Me

I don’t remember ever dancing with glee. Maybe I did when I was a child, but if I did, I don’t remember it. There wasn’t a whole lot to be gleeful about when I was a child. I can’t think of anything I was gleeful enough about to dance.

So, the question, “What makes you dance with glee?” triggers sadness.

I wonder if I’ll ever dance with glee.

Maybe someday.


Nod Ya’ Head

“What makes you nod your head in agreement?” is a pretty straightforward question for me. Things that make me nod my head well-made points with which I agree, regardless of whether they are whole novels or just memes. This is probably the easiest question to answer so far.


Taking Back “Empowerment”

“Empowerment” is a word that actually has some ties to trauma for me. It’s been used as a buzzword and bastardized to the point where it’s a limitation rather than a true source of power.

I’ve been struggling with this a lot over the past couple of weeks. It didn’t help that a close friend of my husband’s died unexpectedly. Nothing hurts quite like seeing the person you love most in the world experiencing soul-crushing pain and not being able to do anything to help. All I could do was let my husband grieve, validate his grief, and remind him that I am here for whatever I can give.

So, empowerment.

What gives me power?

What is it that makes me feel like I can move mountains whenever I want to?

It’s being able to say, “Yes.”

Yes to taking rest when I need it.

Yes to helping people when it is within my abilities to do so.

Yes to knowing that I helped someone have a better day because I had the means, skills, or knowledge they needed.

Yes to being able to join communities and movements that are working to make the world a better place.

Yes to good results.

Yes to achievement, no matter what the size.

Yes to being good to myself without feeling guilt or shame.

Yes to being able to give my family good things and good experiences.

Yes to seeing that the world is not a zero-sum game, and we can all win.