Two women seeking equality in a state where some couples are more equal than others.

Monday, May 2, 2016

#owneroccupieDetroit: The Joy of Sweat Equity

When I woke up today, everything hurt. In fact, that's been true for several days now.

I've been sanding plaster, scraping trim, priming, painting, etc for days, and my body definitely isn't used to this kind of work. My scalp isn't used to plaster dust. My arms aren't used to being above my head for long periods, my legs aren't used to ascending and descending step ladders constantly, my knees aren't used to squatting and kneeling to cut in base boards. A lot of the tasks are tedious.

And yet there's a deep joy in all of it. With every brush stroke, I make meaning out of the months of struggle we had to purchase this house. I think back on the years of pain, when I couldn't have imagined living in a home like this. I pray over the rooms, that they will be places of peace and joy not only for us, but for the guests who come to us.

I can't feel that I own this house. Perhaps because I don't feel worthy, perhaps I'm still in shock, but I think it's more than that.

I'm not sure I believe that people can own houses, or at least, I don't believe that it's possible for me to own this one. It has too much history behind it. It's giant, not only physically, but socially. The deed, the mortgage - they're big deals, but it feels like I'm borrowing a part of history, or stewarding it for a period, so that it remains for the future to find love and joy in it too.

And that makes it easier to work through our lack of a kitchen, the dust everywhere, the missing electrical and plumbing. We are blessed to have been approved for enough funds to redo or restore a lot of things the house really needs after so many years of neglect. We know what's in the walls, and we will know that the parts that have been repaired have been done right this time. It meant leaving some projects for later, but at this point, we're so used to delaying gratification that the anticipation itself is gratifying.

After all, leaving things until later means that there's a later. Here. In this amazing house.

2 Years Later: Straight Privilege in Wedding Season

About two years ago, I published a post about straight privilege during wedding season. A lot has happened, but a lot hasn't, so I've published an updated list for your consideration during the next few months, as weddings kick into high gear. Although same-sex couples can now be married in all 50 states, you may be surprised at the number of challenges many still face.

Same disclaimer applies: This list is compiled from a number of comments I have heard from straight people about upcoming weddings or things that I have seen at straight weddings in the past. They are NOT a reference to all straight weddings NOR are they taken from one specific straight wedding. Certainly, straight weddings are not without their difficulties, and to straight couples getting married, there are real issues. I do not mean to claim that having a straight wedding constitutes a stress-free experience. Nevertheless, LGBT couples face unique challenges that I hope will be highlighted in this list.

For most straight couples:

Finding a state-sponsored officiant such as a county clerk or judge doesn't involve finding someone who doesn't object to their relationship on moral grounds.

Finding a venue doesn't involve finding a place of worship or hall that doesn't object to their relationship on moral grounds.

Venues, caterers, bakers, clothing salespeople, etc, don't assume that a member of the couple to be married is actually a member of the bridal party.

Venues, caterers, bakers, etc don't refuse service based on a moral objection to the wedding.

Guests do not attend the wedding to see what "a straight wedding" is like or so that they can claim that they are tolerant/venturesome.

RSVPs do not include judgmental notes about the morality of the upcoming nuptials.

Parents, siblings, and close friends can be assumed to come.

The bride is allowed to at least occasionally be a "bride-zilla" to them without reflecting poorly on the entire sexual orientation community she belongs to.

If people choose not to come, the explanation is generally financial or reflects prior obligations.

If people choose not to come, the decision is rarely blamed on the couple's "choice" to belong to the LGBT community, fall in love, and commit to each other.

Parents may want to add additional people to the guest list, rather than trying to hide the ceremony.

The couple will not feel obligated to ask for permission to invite certain family members or family friends for fear of offending them or the parents with an invitation.

Once the wedding is completed, straight couples can assume the following:

They can tell people about their marriage/spouse without fear of reprisal in the form of employment or housing discrimination.

They can post pictures of their wedding without fear of reprisal in the form of employment or housing discrimination.

They can post pictures of public displays of affection without a backlash.

They will not have to be concerned about how future court decisions could affect the status of their marriage.

They will be able to adopt from most private agencies consistent with their religious beliefs if they have the funds to do so.

They will be able to adopt from the foster care system as long as they meet requirements.

Their family and friends will not pray for them to get divorced.

Their family and friends will invite both spouses to family gatherings and holidays.

Have another to add? Comment below!

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Huge News on the Beautiful Mess Front

Sometimes people let me use power tools.
I'm not sure they should (not because I'm a woman, just because I'm a huge klutz), but I like it.

Today, I put up this key rack thingy. It's theoretically to help us not lose our personal effects in an incredibly beautiful mess that currently feels enormous compared to the apartments we've lived in. We've historically kept our keys in a basket, but I like the symbolism of this. It's stable. Sturdy. Organized. Something we've never taken the time to do in our apartments - where we knew we'd be for a year or two, or most recently less than six months.

Our lease in Southgate is officially up, and we've vacated. We spent our first night in #fixerupperdetroit yesterday, which means it's officially
#owneroccupieDetroit will join #fixerupperdetroit - the former for our experiences living in the home and being residents of the D, and the latter for continued updates on the renovation itself.

So from a #fixerupperdetroit standpoint: the insulation was supposed to be done by move-in, but due to some logistical issues, we're waiting for that to be finished. Once it is and we paint, we'll have a couple bedrooms pretty much set, except for the flooring.

On the #owneroccupieDetroit - it's feeling awesome not to drive back and forth to Southgate, to be able to get little tasks done between other things, and to look around our beautiful neighborhood so often. The cats are mostly taking it in stride, though that may change when the renovation team comes back tomorrow.

That said, we don't have a kitchen, there's plaster dust everywhere, and most of our belongings are still in boxes. We have a long, tough road until final completion of our current projects, and then we'll have more projects to do in a few years - or at least I'm told that's how owning a historic home works.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Earth Day Highlight: Architectural Salvage Warehouse of Detroit

I mentioned a while back that Labra Design+Build and I took a field trip to find a radiator. What I didn't sufficiently emphasize is the awesome work the place we visited does!

Architectural Salvage Warehouse is a non-profit that saves pieces, large and small, of buildings that will be demolished, so that instead of being land-filled they can be re-purposed. Did you know that a huge amount of landfill use is from construction, not household waste? Have you considered that new construction also typically requires the mining and processing of a lot of resources? So efficiently and safely salvaging what we can out of properties before they are demolished is an important part of saving the planet.

Not only does Architectural Salvage Warehouse protect the environment by allowing construction companies and individual consumers to re-use items, the money from their purchase helps to finance training in salvage techniques for youth and adults looking to get specialized training in construction and recycling. This technical training is a needed boost for the building trades and an example of on-the-job training that's very needed to help students avoid crushing student debt! 

As if that isn't sufficient, the prices at Architectural Salvage Warehouse are significantly lower than buying new, which helps families stay on budget. We were able to find a radiator for our boiler system that was a fraction of the cost of a new one, or even a used one elsewhere. We also found a pocket door in great condition. While you may not always be able to find what you need, I recommend starting here first and then moving to other salvage options, and then finally end at a typical hardware store if necessary.

Another Earth Day consideration: If you're considering whether to build or buy a home, seriously think about whether you could buy a previously occupied home and renovate it instead of buying a new house. You don't have to go to the lengths that we have on #fixerupperdetroit ! There are many great homes that are move-in ready that could reduce landfill waste, blight, and consumption of new materials. If you decide that a new construction is the right choice for your family, you can still purchase salvaged materials to cut back on consumption and waste.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

#fixerupperdetroit - gaining momentum!

I'm delighted to share lots of good news with you, and I also have some bad news. I'll start with the bad news:

Pretty soon I'm going to stop posting photo updates about the house.

Here's the good news:

The house is making so much progress that I will stop posting pictures of whole rooms because I want there to be some surprises left when the house is finished. 

In the last week we've:

Passed our rough plumbing inspection.

Passed our framing inspection.

Ordered kitchen cabinets.
Passed our electrical inspection.
Repaired a bunch of plaster.

Primed a room.
Picked most of the paint colors.

And some other things that I'm currently keeping a secret.

Tomorrow the plumber should finish some major projects so that we can have the water turned back on.

I'm still having trouble believing that we will actually be living in this house, but it won't be too much longer!

Monday, April 18, 2016

Reflections on Life in Southgate, Now that it's Almost Done

Back in 2011 or so, when we found out that Rebecca would be doing her third year of medical school at Henry Ford Wyandotte, we looked for apartments in Southgate. I didn't know much about Downriver communities. I can't say that I held them in particularly high esteem. We picked an apartment in Southgate but ended up finding a flat in Wyandotte that was cheaper.

The flat itself was terrible. Unsafe, not up to code, and horribly inefficient, but it was cheap and only about ten walkable blocks from lovely downtown Wyandotte. We fell in love with Nanna's Kitchen, visited the Wyandotte art fair without buying anything, and sometimes walked to the Methodist church for services.

When we left Wyandotte for Meridian Township, I thought our tenure as "River Rats" (a term used to refer to people who live Downriver from Detroit - used, at least by some, affectionately) was permanently over. We expected to stay in the Lansing area, where I would do my Ph.D. and Rebecca would get a residency.

Women plan. God laughs.

Our next move was to Royal Oak, and we thought we'd move from there to the Detroit house. The mold infestation left us scrambling to find an apartment with a six month lease, and we ended up finding one in Southgate, near the one we had picked a few years before.

The apartment here is okay. Carpet is less than ideal with two cats, and I miss having an outdoor space, but six months isn't so long. The commute to my Oakland county students is longer, and it ended up farther from the Detroit house than would be easiest, but it's temporary.

If I'm being honest, the worst part of our apartment building is the smell. The mail room, hallways, and laundry room are a mix of so many personal and/or foul odors, and then covered with an awful air freshener. Our apartment usually is okay, but both of us sometimes gag in the hallways.

In other words, my unhappiness here is more a reflection on our apartment building than on Southgate itself.

And here is what I remind myself:

1. This is temporary. We're moving out soon.

2. This is what we needed to do to get away from the mold infestation that made us really sick.

3. I am not too good for the things I need to do.

We needed to live in Southgate for a while to avoid anaphylaxis from the mold and still be able to afford our house. We needed to live in this giant complex that smells weird. We needed lower rent.

I see my students sometimes decide that they are too good for community college, even if it is their only option to continue their education. I see other people decide that they're too good for certain jobs, or parts of their job, even if they really need the work. And it's helped me realize that if there is something that I need to do to achieve an end goal, I'm not too good to do it (assuming that it is ethical, of course).

In twelve days, we'll be moved into #fixerupperdetroit, ready or not (let me assure you: not). I'm sure there will be new things that I'll do that I'd prefer not to. But the alternatives to struggle are boredom, stagnation, or death.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Mississippi on my Mind

Friends, we recently celebrated the end of state-wide bans on same-sex couples adopting children. Mississippi's ban was overturned, in a victory that will help many children find forever homes.

Those who are not as cynical as I rejoiced.

I hoped for the best. But I knew that the pipeline contained a lot of setbacks, given that there has been an agenda, ever since the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality, to restrict rights to gay couples as much as possible.

Less than a week after the end of state-wide adoption bans, Mississippi passed one of the most devastatingly homophobic, discriminatory, bigoted, harmful bills into law that the United States has ever seen. It allows medical providers to refuse certain services to LGBT members of the community. It allows state officials to refuse to license marriages, even when it is their job to do so (see my article from when Kim Davis made this a thing). It intensifies housing discrimination.

And it likely means that adoption agencies will discriminate against LGBT applicants, meaning that the state will return to a de facto same sex adoption ban, given this language in the version signed by the governor:

The state government shall not take any discriminatory action against a religious organization that advertises, provides or facilitates adoption or foster care, wholly or partially on the basis that such organization has provided or declined to provide any adoption or foster care service, or related service, based upon or in a manner consistent with a sincerely held religious belief or moral conviction described in Section 2 of this act.

I can't speak for the LGBT community in Mississippi, so I don't know how they feel about being refused service at restaurants or florists.

Here is what I can tell you.

Children with special needs are overwhelmingly stuck in the foster care system and group homes in the United States. When they are adopted, they are much more likely to find a forever home with a same-sex couple. So are children above the age of six. So are ethnic and racial minority children. Straight couples generally* do not prefer to adopt children from these backgrounds. Preventing gay couples from adopting hurts those couples - but it hurts these vulnerable children waiting for families more.

Rebecca and I are not interested in visiting a place where we could be refused service at a lunch counter, or where the legislature and governor are more interested in protecting discrimination than finding homes for their children.

In fact, yesterday, Rebecca vowed never to set foot in Mississippi, even en route to someplace else. I wish I could say that Michigan is substantially better, but my home state seems to be in a race to the bottom right now.

*Yes, I know people who are anomalies here, and I'm sure you do too. Of course, one possible solution would be for all straight people to adopt special needs children so that there are none left for the gay couples to need to adopt. This isn't happening and is unlikely to start, though I would be thrilled to see many of my straight couple friends consider adopting out of the foster care system.