Saturday, January 24

Black hair/white hair

As a white person, you hear your whole life that black hair is completely different—it's nothing like white hair and never the twain shall meet.

Well, the twain met in foster care, and I learned a lot. I was semi-prepared for some of the differences but I was unprepared for the similarities.

My own wavy/curly hair probably would have been better off if I'd treated it my whole life like "black hair" rather than "white hair." Less washing, fewer harsh products, and for heaven's sake no wet cuts.

I've suffered a lot of bad haircuts at the hands of white stylists. I ended up with a stylist who's black, and I used to think that was a coincidence, but obviously it wasn't. He's the only stylist I've ever had who's aghast at the idea of women getting blowouts before corporate job interviews.

It was a huge pain getting two kids to sleep in their satin caps every night, but more than a year later I've gotten enough perspective to start wearing one myself. Oh my goodness, it is the most fantastic thing and my hair is five times happier. Why is it that people only recommend satin pillowcases (slippery and uncomfortable) to white women, and never satin caps??

Saturday, January 10

Why credit cards don't work for my budget

When I was a kid, I made a decision. I was never going to have credit card debt.

It took me until after I graduated from college to get my first credit card. I'd like to say this was because of great financial planning, but really it was because of fear. I was terrified of credit cards, and I got one only very reluctantly, because people told me I'd need credit to qualify for a mortgage someday.

Actually, even when I finally screwed up my courage to get a credit card, I was too scared to touch it. I never activated the card, and months later I had to call up my credit union and ask them to send me a new one.

But it didn't take long for my fear to subside. The math was simple: don't spend more than I could pay off at the end of my billing cycle. And I never did. All through my 20s, I paid my bill in full every single month. My new promise to myself was that the first month I had to pay interest, I would stop using credit cards.

Of course, I never accrued interest. I earned cash back, I drove up my credit score, I ordered six pairs of shoes and returned five. Each time I paid the bill in full, each time all the shoes made it back to Zappos, it reinforced my belief that I could "handle" having credit cards. My proof was in the fact that credit card companies never made a dime off of me.

Here's what I didn't understand when I was using credit cards: it was never about me versus the credit card companies.

I didn't know this when I got my first credit card, but it was a given that I could "beat" the credit card companies. I'm a healthy, intelligent, childless person who is fortunate enough to have a steady job. Of course I can avoid credit card debt if I want to.

The real fight was about me versus consumerism. And, all through my 20s, I lost.

Credit cards kept me focused on paying the credit card company, rather than on paying myself. Credit cards encouraged me to buy things impulsively, because I could figure out how to make the math work later. Credit cards complicated my budgeting, because the dollar amount I had in my checking account was almost never identical to the amount I had available to spend.

Credit cards are for consumers—that is, they're for people who are going to go out and spend money. That's the only way to earn a significant amount in rewards: spend a pile of money. The credit card was like an invitation, opened every time I opened my wallet, not to save money, not to pay down debt, not to build assets.

Sometimes people try to talk about the lower rate you can get on a mortgage if you're an enthusiastic user of credit cards. They calculate out how much less you'll pay in interest over the life of a 30-year loan if you're a good credit-card user.

All I can do is laugh, because, 30 years? If you buy wisely and don't spend impulsively, you don't need to have a mortgage for anything remotely close to 30 years. The habits created by not using credit cards—habits of budgeting, planning out purchases, and waiting and saving up for things—more than make up for the money you can "save" with a lower mortgage interest rate.

Is it possible to spend exactly the same amount of money using credit cards that you'd spend using cash, and reap the rewards and the better mortgage interest rate? Is it possible to truly game the system?

Yes. Of course it's logically possible. And I will never, ever be disciplined enough to do it.

Even if I had it in me to be that amazingly disciplined, I wouldn't try. It isn't worth the constant tests of willpower, the constant reining in, that I'd have to put myself through just to gain those small, logically possible benefits of spending with credit cards.

Instead, I'm just living my life, enjoying the freedom created by budgeting and spending only what I've got in the bank. I don't have to exercise a lot of self-restraint. I don't have to think about what I'm spending all the time—either I have the money budgeted, or I don't.

And if in a moment of weakness I try to sign up for something credit-related—oops. My credit's frozen. Guess I'll just have to keep living the simple, credit-free way.

Thursday, January 8

Buses are for other people

Via /r/urbanplanning:
Michael Manville, an urban-planning expert at Cornell, found that increased spending on transit in the early 2000s had no discernible effect on levels of ridership a decade later. “People go and vote for these systems, and it seems they feel like they’ve done their part,” he says.

Sunday, January 4

Discovered while walking

A very socialist-looking sign advertising a "people's library." Take books, leave books.

Took books, left a note promising to bring back more. Only on foot do you end up getting random interesting books on the way home...

Walk. But you might get cussed at anyway.

It's no secret that many drivers don't yield to pedestrians in crosswalks. Many times, I've crossed at intersections—even intersections with pedestrian signals—and had a driver making a turn through my path honk at me.

Usually I assume that these drivers are just muscling their way through. They can force me to yield, so they do. When's the last time you heard of anyone getting ticketed for not yielding to a pedestrian in a crosswalk? Maybe it happens in less car-centric cities, but I've never heard of it happening around here.

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine was crossing a busy downtown intersection on foot when a driver making a right-hand turn through the crosswalk honked at her. My friend pointed at the lit walk sign, as though to say, "I have the right of way." The driver cussed and yelled at her that he "had the green."

My friend was understandably pissed off, but for me this was actually an encouraging story. It means that at least some drivers are failing to yield, not because they're jerks, but because they don't understand the most basic of traffic laws.

And if a driver is 100 percent confident he has the right of way in a crosswalk while a walk sign is lit, imagine how much more clueless he'd be at an intersection that doesn't even have pedestrian signals. Or at a crosswalk that isn't at an intersection. Or an intersection that doesn't have a crosswalk!

These are the rules in North Carolina, and they can be summed up very simply thus: yield to pedestrians. Somehow we need to teach people these rules. Any driver capable of understanding how to yield to oncoming traffic when making a left-hand turn is capable of understanding how to yield to pedestrians.

Saturday, December 27

Favorite spot

I came home from Christmas to a mess, and it finally hit me that I needed to reorganize my house to help us cope with Kai's condition. So that's what I spent this morning doing.

I've always thought of Ender and Kai as a package deal—that they'd have each other into old age. But that probably won't happen. Kai has chronic kidney disease that will take him much sooner than we'd like. He's not even six years old.

There's no way to tell a cat, "You need to make the most of the time you have left together." Luckily, Ender doesn't seem to need my instruction. He's always with his bro.

Sunday, December 21

Hey, you're white.

A few times now, someone's actually said hello to me on the bus because I'm white.

The other times, I wasn't 100 percent sure that's what was happening, but yesterday I'm really sure I got a hey-you're-white.

We were the only two white people on the bus. The guy said hey to me, I didn't respond—partly because I was distracted, partly because I wasn't sure he was talking to me—so he pulled on my sleeve to get me to say hey to him. I'm 100 percent sure I don't know the guy. And he didn't say hey to any other woman who walked past him (I watched).

Talk about awkward, to be observed as two random white people saying hey to each other. Also: what?! This isn't Japan. There's no need for a gaijin nod. This is the middle of North Carolina. We might be the only white people on this bus or even possibly on this particular block, but there are approximately 8 zillion other white people within easy walking distance.

Thursday, December 11

Finally, my hair twin.

Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I'm totally going to be Sarah Koenig in 15 years.

Okay, just kidding. I know Sarah Koenig is way cooler than I am. I have exactly that same hair, though, so I have a leg up on the rest of y'all in trying to be her.

Saturday, November 22

I think someone got vodka!

This past summer I made strawberry freezer jam and strawberry-infused vodka—stuck it all in the freezer, unlabeled, not realizing that once frozen it would all look the same. I gave most of it away as gifts over the next few months...

I thought I held on to one vodka, but I pulled out the last jar today and it's definitely jam, not vodka.

Someone must have had a boozy surprise this summer!

Friday, November 21

Great gifts for car-free folks

Gift card to their favorite car-sharing or ride-sharing service. Zipcar, Uber, Lyft... whatever pay-per-ride option your car-free friend is into, a gift of credit brightens up the whole month!

Gear. Your car-free friend lives in close contact with the elements. Touchscreen gloves, wool socks, arm warmers, leg warmers, hats, scarves, umbrellas, UV-blocking parasols, good bike lights, reflective clothing... These are all items car-free folks use more often and replace more frequently than other people do.

Beer. A six-pack of beer bottles is inefficient to transport, and all too often gets left off the grocery list when you know you'll be carrying a week's worth of food on your back.

Cat litter. You think I'm joking. Show up with a of bag of your cat-owning buddy's preferred litter, and you'll become their new best friend. An extra bag of litter might save your car-free friend the expense and inconvenience of a Zipcar trip to the pet store during the holiday season.

Small gift budget this year? Your car-free friend enjoys rides as much as presents! Make coupons redeemable for "one trip to the mall," "one ride to the pet store," "one Saturday morning, anywhere you want in a 25-mile radius," "one hardware-store visit, fill up the trunk with whatever you want!"

Tuesday, November 11

From Rebecca again: 8 reasons why childless young professionals make ideal foster parents

Rebecca from Fosterhood's great summary on Babble explains why young people who may never imagine themselves as foster parents actually have some really great strengths as foster parents.

Everything on her list, I experienced in foster care as a positive of having been (relatively) young and childless—except for the "no kids already in the home" part. My particular kids would have benefited from having other kids in the home, but many other kids benefit from not having foster siblings.

Not long after I started fostering, the girls' guardian ad litem remarked that I might be the first woman my kids had known who was young, single, paid her own bills, and owned her own home. I had never thought about it that way before, but in retrospect I remember remarks R and C made that showed that the way I lived sort of blew their minds.

Monday, November 10

Thanks, but I don't care.

My credit union just started offering me my FICO score for free. How nice!

Your FICO® Score was hurt because you are not currently demonstrating active revolving credit management.

Yep, that about sums it up.

Tuesday, November 4

I still don't understand my mortgage.

I've had my mortgage for two and a half years now, and I still don't understand it. What the heck is accrued interest. What the heck is per diem (don't translate Latin at me, guys, I know Latin).

In retrospect, it strikes me as kind of crazy that I signed up for this thing that I still don't understand. Definitely never doing it again.

Monday, November 3

Sadly, this is my life right now.

I've been going on to my friends and family about how easily I could be convicted of a murder because I often don't have alibis for my time and I typically delete events in my calendar after they happen, so there's no record of what I was doing a month or two ago...

For folks who aren't equally obsessed, they're talking about the new podcast by one of the producers of This American Life.

Wednesday, October 29

Help UNC dental students become dentists.

The graduating class at the dental school is still looking for patients to perform on for their licensing exam in February. If you might have a small cavity or need a deep cleaning, they're interested in screening you to possibly use in the exam.

Email to make an appointment.

Tuesday, October 28

Car-free voting perk

You know that moment when you're approaching the early voting site and there are like 10 or 20 people out there trying to wave you down and talk to you about your candidate, and you say hello to them because you're not a jerk, and then they try to engage you in conversation and you're trying to smile sweetly but inside you're thinking, "PUNK do you really think you're going to change my vote right here, right now, before I walk in that door and mark up my ballot???"

Well, those people hang out where the voters are coming in. Which is from the parking lot. No one will notice you if you approach from the sidewalk, and you can make your way in to vote in peace!

Sunday, October 26

Speaking of eyes going straight to me

We won't discuss the time I walked onto the bus with a six-pack in hand. No one said anything, but the judgment was palpable.