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

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Detroit Home Inspection: Stuff Gets Real

We had our home inspection today - well, most of it, though the water isn't inspected yet because the seller did something weird (and probably not legal) to it that made it hard/unsafe to turn on. And the boiler will need to be cleaned before it's safe to run.

So you can guess where the rest of this post is going.

The inspection isn't what we had hoped for. There's more moisture in the basement, there's some asbestos, looks like there are significant problems with the heating system (it's still on steam heat, which we knew, but the heat might not be working, which we didn't). We need to do some exterior repairs, there are a lot of invasive trees in places that aren't really safe, there are drainage problems -

Yes, we knew buying a ninety year old home in Detroit meant some problems. We were just hoping not this many and not this bad.

We did, however, meet more of our neighbors - one right next door and one from across the street. Both were lovely and friendly and we got some good information about the neighborhood, the house, our seller, etc. I absolutely love this neighborhood and really want to live in it. It does turn out that home values there are higher than we anticipated, so if we successfully repair this house, it would be a good investment. The next door neighbor is an electrician who did the wiring recently and stands by his work. The neighbors took turns cutting the grass when the seller/landlord didn't. The neighborhood association has been pressing the seller to maintain his properties better. And part of me doesn't care that much if the house ever appreciates or we turn a profit on it if we get to belong to a community like this.

It'll be more than we hoped to have to get done, though, and I don't want to do something that will jeopardize us financially. We're waiting for the full inspection report to come in, and also to see our contractor's bid. And then we have the appraisal to decide if our renovation plans are worth it.

I'm not patient. I'm not calm. I'm just not, that's not me, for those of you who know me. And I have to be patient here, so I might as well work on being calm. Until the information is all in, we can't and shouldn't make any decisions. We're not obligated to buy this house if it could end in financial disaster. We may well find that it won't end in ruin.

So now we wait.

Confessions: Why I'm Growing My Hair Out

I've been in the process of growing my hair out for the last four years or so - I chopped it off shortly before I started my MA in 2010, loved it for a year, and then started the process of growing it a year or so later. There were some awkward stages, but by 2012, I was well on my way.

It's gotten really long now, past the point I planned. Some days, it's unmanageable, though hairstyles like this manage to tame it:
This upside-down French herringbone into a bun is a little tricky to do, but it's one of the best methods I've found for securing my hair out of my face and off my neck. To do it, start a French two-strand braid near the nape of your neck (hang your head down or have a friend help), then add pieces from the sides until you get as high as you want, gather the rest of your hair, and then braid to the end and tuck into a bun. 

I've written about passing for straight, beauty standards, my personal style, skincare, and signaling behavior including long hair as a way of passing or not, but it's not about any of those things. The real reason is a little silly and a little embarrassing:

I want to braid it like Princess Leia for the Star Wars movie coming out in December.

So nope, no gay agenda today. Just a nerdy love of an epic battle between good and evil. And a desire to emulate a well-spoken, strong diplomat who happens to be a woman and a rebel.

I've been practicing my braiding skills and will have to start a Pinterest board soon (yep, I'm on Pinterest if you want to follow me). I probably won't do the most quintessential double cinnamon bun look, but I'm hoping to evoke the feel.

And I need a LOT of hair for that.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

NO sexy "justs" for fixing Detroit: Justice isn't simple & nothing less will do

A few months ago, I posted an article about master plans to revitalize Detroit and concerns about some of them (particularly ones that assume that all homeowners will leave certain neighborhoods - or be pushed out of them). I don't think I could find it now, but the article surprised me less than one of the comments:

"Detroit just needs more community gardens. Then they'll be okay." (Emphasis mine)


Detroit doesn't just need one thing. Community gardens aren't just a thing that can be placed throughout the city as a savior. They are wonderful, and I love them and the people I know who organize them, but they are not enough and they are not simple. No one I know who runs one would argue that. And other than maybe John Hantz, none of them have achieved the mythical financial prosperity promised from them. Not to mention the number of areas of the city where the soil is toxic and remediation would be very resource intensive, the fact that the city has yet to do rezoning to allow even small-scale animal farming (and by the time you get to rezoning, it's definitely not a "just" with the state of city council), or the fact that most people want to pay the same price for sustainably, locally, ethically farmed food as they pay at Walmart --->

community gardens as the monolithic/unitary/simple savior of the city is a non-starter. 

That's been evident to people involved in the city for years, but those recently joining the party/conversation often don't know the complexities - and don't want to be bothered with solutions that would involve giving up their own privilege. Don't mistake me. We should support community gardens as much as possible. I do. I've already purchased my community-supported agriculture share for next summer from a family-run farm in the city. But they alone cannot rescue the city, and we shouldn't ask them to. It is not a just.

Let me repeat: Detroit doesn't just need one thing. They don't just need more downtown development. They don't just need more hipsters or gay people or artists or whatever (read: affluent White people) to gentrify the neighborhoods. The don't just need a Whole Foods, or new stadium, or light rail. I'm not saying these things won't help at all, but these are sexy, cosmetic fixes, none of which individually, and even all of which collectively, will not save the city.

What the city needs is justice. Justice to compensate residents for the redlining, racism, real estate speculation and exploitation, corruption, and other abominations. Justice so that all children in the city receive a quality education and have an empowered local school board that acts in their best interests. Justice such that municipal employees, including police, fire, and teachers, receive living wages, justice so that all neighborhoods are well-covered by these services, justice such that corporate real estate holders pay their share of taxes and utility bills, justice in ending "pay to play" corruption in city contracts. This isn't an exhaustive list, but I hope you see my point.

Justice will work, not because it is a sexy, cosmetic, quick-fix just, but because it is hard and it is the reset that city residents both need and deserve.

And the city can do it, because Detroit hustles harder.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Mass Shootings are NOT Inevitable: I Refuse to Do Nothing

I was hoping my thoughts on the Charleston shooting were enough on this subject, but they're clearly not, since more keep swirling around, mostly coming up as people post fatalistic commentary on social media, basically saying that

These lives were the price we pay for the second amendment.

Some of you at this point are anticipating that I'm going to get really sassy.

For those who aren't yet: I'm about to get really sassy.

As regular readers know, I believe that we can learn from Jesus' choice never to be caught in a dilemma. Therefore: It's a bad option to ban guns entirely.

It's a worse option to keep doing what we're doing.

We shouldn't choose either. We should reject bad options and look for evidence-based strategies to protect our citizens. Because no more families should have to learn what it is to live without their husband/brother/son/mother/niece/wife/cousin/etc. And we shouldn't trample our Constitution (though I have to say, the 3/5 compromise was an incredibly stupid, cruel, demeaning choice and I'm glad we don't follow it anymore - if you need a refresher and can't Google, here is the Wikipedia article on the 3/5 compromise - so unless you would like to argue that there is a way for a human to be 3/5 of a person, don't try to convince me the Constitution was perfect as written).

Don't get me started on the mental health crap. If people were really concerned about that after Columbine or Virginia Tech or any number of other shootings, you would have done something. And my beautiful brother (who never hurt anyone in his life, just like the vast majority of others with mental illness) might have benefited from your mental health reform (because presumably it would have done more than just prevent mass shootings, it also may have prevented suicide and suffering)

and I might have gotten to hug him today when my purchase agreement went through

 instead of wondering what he would have said. But you're not really concerned, because you haven't done anything, because your family hasn't been affected by either a gun-related or mental health tragedy, and you're willing to keep playing the odds that you won't be. And I've tried to see both sides. I've tried to be understanding. I know a lot of responsible gun owners - they lock up their ammo, don't store firearms loaded, use their weapons for hunting, don't point their weapons at anything they don't want to shoot, etc.

But I know a couple that aren't stable. I know a friend whose teenage nephew committed suicide using his father's gun. And I know that we've been seeing these shootings increase, not level off or decrease. So we're clearly doing something wrong.

I don't have the answers for the perfect solution, but what Norway or Australia does seems like something to consider. Funding public health research on the subject doesn't violate anyone's constitutional rights. Enforcing and highly penalizing sale of guns to known criminals seems worthwhile. Because while it's not in the Bill of Rights, here's something that should be:

The right to have one's loved ones alive and thriving as long as possible.

Anyone in for an amendment?

#househuntersdetroit update

I got a text from our realtor this morning, right before church (no, I don't think that the timing was chance) -

The seller signed a purchase agreement! We had viewed a house on Renfrew last Sunday in the batch of five that had a lot of potential and fits our budget (we hope). That puts us closing by the end of November if the inspector (shout out to Sherlock Homes of Madison Heights)  approves and the appraisal goes well and the mortgage goes through- so if you are in the wonderful group of people showering us with prayer, don't stop! 

This definitely isn't the time table we would choose- it puts us moving and renovating in the winter- but if we make it through, it will be more proof that this isn't our doing or our house - it's Divine Intervention. We feel incredibly blessed to see some movement and to be moving forward. 

I'm not sure standing in God's will has ever been more joyful. Can I call you all to take a step toward your calling too? I promise it won't all be days like this, but it is worth it for the ones that are.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

An Open Letter to My 13-Year-Old Self: On African American History

Dear 13-year-old Erin,

 A couple things before I start on what I really wanted to tell you. The first is, great job growing out those bangs. Straight-across bangs were not a good look for you, so you acknowledged that and set forth to the task of getting rid of them. It took a while. But you got there. Also, don't worry that you've never been kissed. You won't meet anyone worth kissing until college anyway.

On to the more important topic: your recent report on Harriet Beecher Stowe, the author of Uncle Tom's Cabin. You've been reading voraciously for the last several years, lately with an emphasis on being well-read in the classics. You had heard about Uncle Tom's Cabin and To Kill a Mockingbird and many others along with reading Roll of Thunder,  Hear My Cry in eighth grade lit class. Have you read I Know Why the Caged Bird sings yet? I can't remember. If not, stick through the uncomfortable parts. It's worth it.

When the teacher assigned you to write a report about a person who is important in African-American history, you chose Harriet Beecher Stowe. This is an interesting choice, you. Harriet Beecher Stowe is not African-American. In fact, I believe Abraham Lincoln referred to her as the little White woman who started the Civil War.

I wish now that you had written about Sojourner Truth, or Harriet Tubman, or Dred Scott, or Phyllis Wheatley, or any number of other African-Americans with significance. But you didn't. You didn't know that what you understand now.

In your defense, as a White student at a primarily White school, you did take the assignment seriously, which apparently was more than most of your fellow students did. Rumor has it that the bulk of reports submitted for that class were actually plagiarized from the precursor to Wikipedia, or other Internet sources. You wrote a thoughtful commentary on the influence of a real person in your own words.

So, I wish that you had chosen someone else, but you did the best you could at the time. And I wonder, a little, 13-year-old self, if your choice was a significant one for you. Because here you were, a White student at a primarily White school, writing about how a White woman, albeit an imperfect one, albeit one with skewed views of slavery, albeit one who could have done more, who could have gone further, who wasn't of the community she represented, you chose a White person who took some responsibility for the oppression of another group. And that's something.

Well, I wish you had picked someone who represented the African-American community, you chose to see yourself somehow reflected in this history. I think, deep down, you wanted to see that this was your responsibility too. That it was unfair to expect African-Americans alone to make this change.

If you knew, 13-year-old Erin, what the next 15 years would hold, you couldn't have stood it. You would collapse under the weight of it all. We didn't. We survived so far. We found love, we found purpose, we found so much more than we could imagine. We didn't become a marine biologist or interior designer - we teach test prep. But most days, we're happy. Things are better.

And I think of you, and Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Maya Angelou, and To Kill a Mockingbird often. And how I learned from them the power of a story, in some cases a personal one, in some cases voicing the one someone else can't get noticed.

So keep reading voraciously. Keep that tender heart. Learn to forgive and give the benefit of the doubt. Practice gratitude. You are so much stronger than you think.


28-year-old self

Monday, September 28, 2015

Announcement/Confessions: A Big Move

Some of you saw that I re-posted MI Love: Detroit last night with a note that a big announcement is coming.

The TL;DR version is that Rebecca and I are trying to buy a house in Detroit.

We haven't closed yet. We spent the summer with an offer accepted on a lovely German Tudor in the University District only to have it fall through a few weeks ago. Since then, we've been looking at other houses, running numbers, asking each other what's a want and what's a need, and questioning decisions left and right.

Yesterday, our realtor managed to get us into five homes in three different neighborhoods. My in-laws came out to help. And we think we may have found a solid option.

You were promised confessions, and so here they are.

1. We've been working on this since springtime, and I didn't tell you.

A few of you knew, if I've seen you in person or via Facebook chat. I wanted to share our stories, but this journey has made me feel vulnerable in ways I didn't expect. I was afraid of telling what would turn into "five dollar stories" (ones with no real plot or resolution) before I knew the end. I was afraid that too many opinions would muddy my thoughts more than they already were. I was afraid that telling you about disappointments would make me sound ungrateful, when in reality the fact that we're buying a house feels like one of the biggest privileges in the entire world. And on that note . . .

2. I'm gloriously happy and tremendously terrified all at once.

Some of you know that I've wanted to live in the city for years - probably since 2008 or so (these excerpts from our dream jar back that up).
Rebecca and I used to have separate dream jars but combined them at our religious wedding - anytime we think of something we want to do in our lives, we write it down and put it in this jar. Periodically, we sort through to see how we're doing.
These notes are on slips of paper contained in our marriage "dream jar," where we put ideas for things we want to do in our lifetime. I think I started mine in 2008 or so; I'm not sure when Rebecca started hers. I should write more about this someplace else.
But somewhere along the line, maybe around the time I joined the Club of People to Whom the Unimaginable is Now Imaginable, it started seeming like dreams don't come true. And some don't. But some do if we fight for them. Someone once said something like, "Our biggest fear isn't that we're weak, it's that we're powerful beyond our wildest dreams." The fact that a long-term dream is coming true, that Rebecca and I have been able to make decisions to do this, has filled my heart with joy but also with additional fear - what else can I accomplish after this? what will that struggle look like? what if this doesn't go well? For as hard as the purchase of the house has turned out to be, it's probably the easy part, right? 

3. I'm afraid of being seen as a White Savior -

Or coming to think of myself that way. I'm not a hero. I'm not a savior. In a lot of ways, it might be easier to buy a house and spend the rest of my life in a mostly White suburb, but I'm moving to Detroit at least partly for selfish reasons - because I've wanted to for years, because I love the neighborhoods, because the houses are more likely to have sleeping porches and studies and charm, because I'm afraid of being ordinary and of living my life wondering. Those reasons don't deserve accolades. I'm not going to fix or save the city. I'll settle for being part of any number of the initiatives already going on - Georgia St, Faith Farm, Central Detroit Christian CDC, Youthville, the Children's Center, Wayne State, U of D Mercy, Cabrini Clinic, and so many others I don't have time to mention.  I'm not moving to a deserted neighborhood to engage in permaculture off the grid (though people do and infinity props to them). I'm not trying to graduate from Detroit Public Schools. I'm not trying to hold onto a house I'm underwater on when my pension has been cut and my house hasn't been re-appraised. Like I said, I'm filled with joy, but I'm not brave.

There's so much more to say, but this is enough for now. I'll try to share more when I know more, and maybe I'll fill you in on the details of this story, now that the plot arc has become slightly clearer (perhaps). Thanks to all who have known and kept this to yourselves, who have encouraged and advised us, who have prayed and sent good vibes. You inspire me.