Pulling into the drive-through, I apologized to my daughter’s friend. I joked about how inconsistent this move was with our community’s shared values. As I ordered my enormous Diet Coke, I was energized by the conversations we had. We all agreed that giving money to McDonald’s was the biggest problem. Drinking the artificial unhealthy-chemicals laden beverage wasn’t great, either.
I’m grateful for our shared values—at my daughters’ school, in our Religious Society of Friends community, and among most of my friends and family. We care about whole and healthy foods, jobs that pay a good livable wage with benefits, small and local businesses, and a whole host of other Earth-loving issues. It’s lucky to be surrounded by people among whom I feel a little sheepish when I’m in one of these waves of drinking this garbage.
Part of living my values, however, is recognizing that finding balance matters. As I wrote about a couple years ago in the Bangor Daily News, sometimes my choices need to be inconsistent with my deeper values. In “Let us eat junk,” I pointed out that sometimes super-quick and not-so-healthy food choices are the right ones. My daughters and I have talked about how the number of calories per dollar is pretty amazing, and the fat helps the eater feel full; sometimes that’s what matters for families who have no food to eat. We don’t judge harshly people who eat McDonald’s or other food that I call garbage food.
I love that my daughters think going to McDonald’s is gross. I love that their friends have either never eaten it, or think it’s gross that they have. We are lucky and we’re all pretty healthy. I’m also glad we can think critically and talk about the many issues surrounding our food (and drink) choices.

This is a quick (not necessarily short) post responding to some of the criticisms I get in the fascinating Bangor Daily News column comments section.

Go get a job! We work hard. You should, too.

Me, working at 1:30am.
Me, working at 1:30am.
I do work hard. I don’t work in a traditional job. My business, grantwinners.net, helps nonprofits win grant funding. It would be foolish for me to get a job earning low wages when I have the skills and experience that will allow me to earn a truly livable income. Now that I’m working more, I spend most evenings when my children are sleeping getting the bulk of my work done. Frankly, I kick ass. It leaves me physically and emotionally drained, but it’s worth it.

Why don’t you work enough to make a living?

I have young children. Our family made a commitment to one of us (me and/or their father) being home with them when they are not in school. Add to that the fact that putting them in daycare would create an expense that would wipe out a significant portion of income, and the decision to stay true to our values was relatively easy to make.
In the last five years my personal life has taken some serious hits. I’ve had health issues (physical and mental), we declared bankruptcy, our marriage ended, and we moved twice. For a long time, I was living in crisis-mode, only focused on survival and being present, stable, and consistent for my daughters. It was as if there was a hurricane blowing around us at all times and it took everything I had to keep a safe and calm space around them.
Because of our values (children at home with a parent) and my life circumstances (survival mode), I made decisions to keep my business alive that cost me financially. During this time, my clients still needed the highest quality assistance with their grants programs. I relied on my team of subcontractors so much that I paid rates almost equal to what I was charging my clients. Because so much work of running a small business is not billable, my decision to ensure my clients received the best quality work—that I was unable to provide on my own—meant I was losing money rather than making a profit.
My life is settling down in many respects, I have been strengthening my business model. I have an amazing assistant, an extraordinary team of subcontractors who I pay decent rates (who also understand I need to make money from the transactions), and I continue to connect with new organizations who want our help. I couldn’t afford to grow my business in the last five years. I would not have been able to serve my clients. Now, I can. This means I won’t need to be on foodstamps and MaineCare for years.

Your ex-husband is a deadbeat! He should be made to pay!

My ex-husband is an incredible and responsible father. From the day we split, he has provided generous support. Our decision for me to provide most of our childcare was mutual and he has helped make that possible. The fact is, however, no matter how generous he is, paying all the expenses for two households would be impossible. It’s hard enough living on one income when the parents are together. When the parents are living in two different homes, it’s double difficult (it’s impossible).
Add to this the fact that the more support he provides, the closer I come to losing my MaineCare and food stamps—assistance critical to my fixing my financial situation—there is even a reason to not receive more support. More support couldn’t equal the costs of health insurance. Adding enough to cover my SNAP benefits would be difficult, too. He lives a relatively frugal life so he can provide for his children.

You spend all this time posting crap on the Internet when obviously you could be making a living instead of mooching off of my money! [readers sometimes research me on the ‘net]

Some people knit, some go to the gym, some watch television. I write and share things on the Internet for fun. Most of the Internet writing I do also has the side-benefit of reaching out to new people who might eventually find a need for help winning grants. It’s all publicity, in many respects. This is my downtime.

You’ll never be successful in business if you tell people you’re incompetent!

I’m competent. I’m also open and honest. Even my close friends think it’s not necessarily wise to be so public with all of my failings and struggles. How could I be dependable to work with if I was in such bad shape that I needed to go on food stamps?
It’s true, I risk turning off some (perhaps many) prospective clients because I show my messiness. It’s been my experience, however, that many people respect my all-cards-on-the-table ways. People see I have integrity and strength. Again, staying true to my values—not being ruled by fear—is the right decision for me.

Tonight I came across these two photos of what I bought when I went to the grocery store after just a couple weeks. In the first photo are the items I had on my shopping list. None of these items were truly “need” items. They were, however, items that held value. The treats (cookies) and fruit for my daughters. The tea for me. And the celery and carrots for all kinds of dishes/snacks.
The second photo is straight-out want items. Snack foods for lunches, and some bok choy because it looked so good.
The pictures remind me how even my “need” items haven’t really been “need” items. If I was back at the under-ten-dollars level of financial crisis, I could’ve made do with what I had. That’s good information to have. It keeps my impulse buying and my justification flows limited.
Yesterday I started listening to the audiobook, “Scarcity: Why Having Little Means So Much.” It makes sense to me that I’m hyper-aware of purchases, patterns, consumption, etc. It also informs how changing my feelings of helplessness and deprivation (weighed down by shame) into a motivating and encouraging learning experience has kept it in my mind, but in a less exhausting way.