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$Monday: The Race to Keep a Roof Over Our Heads

The American Dream in 2020 is to not be homeless. This summer, up to 40 million of us are on the verge of losing our homes due to an inability to make rent or mortgage payments. Hundreds of thousands of Americans are already homeless, which is too many on a perfect day. During the pandemic, it has become suddenly impossible to safely house the usual, insufficient number of people in existing shelters while homelessness has become a much bigger public health crisis than it was before. Most people who struggle to stay in their homes find somewhere else to go and don't experience true homelessness, at least not for long, but forcing people to bounce around among inadequate living situations has serious health and economic consequences. Putting down roots in a safe and healthy habitat is one of the most important determinants of future success . This is always true, but during quarantines, personal space and privacy aren't luxuries so much as basic necessities. So do whatever you

TBT: Buddhist Meditations

Zen meditations! Inspirational quotes! Sick burns! Buddhism offers them all. As many American college students do, I enjoyed studying and practicing Buddhist rituals in college. As an ethnic Catholic from a weirdly fundamentalist family tradition, I found the "bells and smells" of Buddhist temples familiar in a comforting way and the anti-dogmatic edge of Zen exhilarating in a refreshing way. I learned that extreme prayer and self-control are not owned by Christians, nor is smug superiority. What valuable lessons for a young person to learn. So valuable, in fact, that in our late 30s, my husband and I are still paying the bills for our private college educations. Can you put a price on ancient wisdom? Is that a koan? In my earliest adulthood, I took solace in the meditations below. Please enjoy them here on the Magic Nutshell, free of charge. Buddhist Meditations The Buddha sought a middle path between asceticism and materialism. All over the world, people are happiest who h

$Monday: Can You Breathe?

You can't earn or save money if you can't even breathe. One reason why "it's expensive to be poor" is that people who live in lower-income neighborhoods don't get enough clean air to breathe . I've demonstrated that " You can't afford a poor diet ," and it's even more obvious that you can't give up oxygen to save money. Poor air quality destroys productivity , and the terrible costs of air pollution are mainly borne by the individuals who suffer health conditions, disability, cognitive impairment , and premature death due to their lack of access to clean air. Before the pandemic, air pollution caused mostly by fossil fuel burning was killing about 200,000 Americans a year , and now it is accelerating American Covid deaths by over 15% . Meanwhile, cries of "I can't breathe" draw our attention to escalating police brutality and our federal government militarizing Brownshirt-resembling forces against its own citizens who a

$Monday: Skip the Supplements (Unless Medically Advised)

Dietary supplements cost more and do less for your health than nutritious food . Popping a pill is not a good financial or health choice unless you have a specific condition that is truly treatable with a supplement AND it is not possible to consume enough of the nutrient you need in real food AND your supplement is not a fake. Otherwise you are literally flushing money (and possibly your health) down the toilet . It's tempting to buy into the fantasy of a pill that can fix something or even provide an "insurance policy" without doing any harm. The truth is more complex. Sometimes vitamins and herbal supplements can help, but the poorly regulated supplement industry is filled with fake news, false claims, and literal sawdust posing as active ingredients--or worse. If a nutrient is good for you in a whole food, it might not be good for you when processed into a pill or tablet or gummy or whatever. If something is good for you in a precise amount, more is not bet

TBT: Get a Second Opinion

Ouch! The story in the throwback post below was a painful lesson for me to learn as a young woman. I'm better off now, with a family practice I trust and more experience in effective self-care . The problems with our national health care situation have... let's say, not resolved since I wrote this, so it's still on us citizens to keep on advocating for federal change and also for ourselves as patients at the same time. Godspeed, fellow humans. Take care.   Get a Second Opinion Poor and fabulous friends, take care of yourselves! You can't completely trust our corrupt health care and insurance systems to do it. Health care providers are human beings just like everyone else. Most of them are people who entered the field of health care because they wanted to take care of others. Most of them, I'm sure, are good people. But even good people are... well, people. People who can be influenced by profit margins and unconscious prejudices that could be harmful to u

TBT: Sweet Corn and Fire (Campfire Corn Recipe)

Thanks and blessings upon the original inhabitants of this hemisphere we call America, who developed sweet corn and the delicious practice of roasting it on hot coals. Sweet corn isn't ripe in Michigan yet, but the time is coming soon! This is one of my family's favorite summer dinners. Below is a picture of campfire corn from last year, when we were entertaining guests. This year, we'll have to eat it all ourselves! Below that is a vintage memory of fire-roasted sweet corn, from back when we had a cellar dweller roommate instead of a child. Sweet Corn and Fire Sweet corn season has begun! Last night, we feasted on simple, delicious grilled corn. The ears in my garden aren't ready yet, but I found some gorgeous, fresh, juicy ears of corn at my local grocery store for 25 cents an ear. Can't beat that price! New roommate Mr. C and I rode our bikes to the supermarket to pick them up. Mr. C towed the baby trailer that Mr. G bought for us to haul groceries

$Monday: Foods for Beauty

For skin-deep beauty, the foods we stuff in our faces are more important than the products we slap on our faces. I started college as a bony, anemic teenager with flaky skin, brittle nails, frizzy hair, and terrible acne. After a couple months of near-constant access to an all-you-can-eat cafeteria serving a wide variety of foods, I became the proud owner of breasts and a nice booty, smoother skin, strong and shiny nails, and thick hair that felt good to brush. I also noticed that I didn't get bad breath as often, and I had more energy, a sharper mind, and better moods. All of these effects not only made me feel better inside but made me undeniably more attractive on the outside. In hot weather, I still have a problem with lower appetite, and I constantly struggle with anemia, but my teen years were the worst. My adulthood has never been as busy and demanding as high school except when my daughter was a baby. In high school, my schedule was so busy that I did not have adequate ti

$Monday: Most Affordable Transportation

I would love to live in a community with high-speed electric trains to cover distances too long to walk. Until we get there, I'll keep on using two of the lowest-cost vehicles to own, maintain, and operate... 1. The bicycle! Get a proper bicycle at a proper bike shop, and it will transport you around town for many, many years. You can also quit worrying about when it will be safe to go to the gym again, and you'll turn into a total Lady Legasus if you ride often. Still, a bike is not the best vehicle in stormy weather, so we also drive... 2. The Nissan LEAF! A cute little electric car is a lovely pod of comfort for zipping to work or to the grocery store, and it costs less to maintain and operate than any other affordable automobile . We've loved our sky blue 2011 model, and we'll be upgrading to a slightly newer one this summer (with heated seats!) to reduce range anxiety on across-town trips. Remember, sometimes vehicles high on nostalgia and low on sti

TBT: DIY Auto Repairs

Our philosophy has not changed much since I wrote the post below. After the car we worked on in that post finally rusted to pieces (literally, like in a cartoon or something, because Michigan), we drove a used Nissan Altima (fun but terribly expensive and difficult to repair, even with our DIY ingenuity and locating auto mechanics that we trust) and then made the awesome leap to a fully electric Nissan Leaf. It is such a relief to drive a car without an engine--no gas! no oil! no tune-ups! no Check Engine light surprises! Just the occasional windshield wipers/fluid/air filter replacement. Even the brakes are designed so well that we've never needed them serviced. Now that the car has reached almost a decade of use, it's getting a little more costly to maintain (though still way less than any other vehicle we've ever driven). We finally had to get the factory tires replaced recently, and the computer that controls the door windows going up and down just died, so we can'

$Monday: Farewell, Dreams of Flight

When I was young, even after 9/11 made it a little more scary and a lot less convenient, I loved the thrill of air travel. Nothing compares to being lifted into the sky and jetted across the United States or to another country, another continent even, in just a few hours. And nothing in life can fully substitute for the mind-altering trip of immersing oneself in an unfamiliar culture for days, weeks, or months. Once I started traveling, I thought I'd never stop--I had become a traveler! --but financial constraints and parenthood put international travel goals on pause after my honeymoon. Now that the world has had to reckon with pandemic and climate change like never before, I've accepted that my dreams of continuing to explore the world as a traveler are indefinitely grounded. For moral as well as practical reasons, my husband and I decided--even before the pandemic struck--that we would no longer make any long-distance journeys until: 1) it was for a critically importa

TBT: Our Policing Problems, Finally Changing in 2020

I don't have an old post to share for today's #ThrowBackThursday because I've kept this blog focused on personal and creative topics while I've engaged with larger political and social issues through my day job for the past 14 years. But let me tell you, after a couple of decades (if I include college and later high school after I made the jump from private to public school) of actively exploring and seeking effective responses to social injustices, it's amazing to see mainstream America finally, suddenly, collectively get on board with the mission of making life better for all of us--centering, finally, those who have been most exploited by our systems of power. As I write this, there are still folks standing confused on the sidelines. It doesn't make you a bad person to not know certain facts or understand dynamic systems like United States policing (provided you haven't avoided facing those issues on purpose), but it does make you a better person to

$Monday: Investing in Your Habitat

This post is not about house-flipping, slum-lording, or monetizing a rental property. It's about investing in your habitat, your very own sanctuary where you, as a person, and your personal finances can thrive and grow. Access to safe and stable housing, independent of income or wealth, is an essential rung on the ladder to economic security. Where you live is as important as, if not more important than, how much money you make. Your home and its location determines your: everyday level of safety from violence and natural disasters everyday safety from indoor hazards such as electrical fires and structural damage ability to preserve health with adequate indoor/outdoor spaces for exercise, hygiene, restful sleep, food preparation, air quality, and clean tap water proximity to your lifeline of family and friends connection with local arts and culture access to nutrition access to education exposure to healing and stress-relieving elements of nature access to safe and

TBT: Virtual Personal Trainers

Outside the homes of those fortunate enough to dwell in safety, terrible threats are raging: authoritarian violence, injustice, contagious disease. In this moment, finding an online personal trainer may seem vain or frivolous, but in truth, home fitness has never been more relevant. The value of self-care cannot be underestimated, especially for those most vulnerable to illness and toxic stress. For anyone with access to the internet and a space to exercise, a virtual class can be a powerful tool for an individual to maintain physical and mental strength to stay in the fight for justice. The pandemic has already created a boom in virtual training sessions. Personal trainers and dance and fitness instructors across the nation have pivoted to offering virtual lessons. If you can afford it, paying a professional for interactive virtual services is the best way to stay fit online. You'll support the career of someone who might otherwise be out of a job, and your teacher can offer you

$Monday: Pitching Books in a Pandemic

#PitMad is coming up on June 4, and I am going to try it out even though all of this sounds a bit like hurling books into a natural disaster. (And even though I've never bothered to learn how to use Twitter properly. Why not learn a new thing in quarantine?) I hope that my tweets will at least attract some hints about which of my completed novels I should focus on querying this year. It does seem like an inauspicious time to put a novel out there, but I'm doing it anyway, because unlike lobbing an actual paperback into a tornado, this exercise costs nothing but the time I put into it. My books will still be there afterward, fully intact on my digital shelf. They were written in the Before Times about medieval times, so I don't believe that they will somehow become less relevant after this pandemic ends. I never set out to write to a trend. I wrote the kind of books I wanted to read, which were incredibly fun and rewarding to create. I love researching a long-forgotte

TBT: The Best Free Medicine (Hint: Not Hydroxyclean)

It's not Hydroxyclean. Or any kind of disinfectant. Or hydroxychloroquine. It's not anything hocked by our joke of a president. But it is jokes about that and anything else that makes you laugh instead of rage. Humor has become more important than ever to my family's mental and emotional health during this global crisis. My tastes may have matured (or... something) since my days of watching Sacha Baron Cohen movies--now I prefer watching YouTube shows Trixie and Katya Save the World (WOWPresents) and I Like to Watch (Netflix) and following @knee_deep_in_life on Instagram. My husband and I laugh so hard we cry over a well-timed fart joke. Our nine-year-old daughter is a bit more sophisticated, but she shares the dark side of our sense of humor; we all adore Christina Ricci's iconic portrayal of Wednesday Addams. The news is, as usual, full of horror that isn't funny. Right now, the two main themes seem to be pandemic tragedy and racist violence. My husband and

$Monday: Double Up Food Bucks

Such a strange Memorial Day we're having! We're out in the backyard grilling as usual, but we can only safely eat and drink and gather 'round the s'more-roasting fire with the members of our own household. And right at the kickoff of burger-and-hot-dog season, the supply chain for meat is collapsing. Fortunately, we've already mastered the joys of grilling vegetables, fruits, and cheese sandwiches--and this is also the season to take full advantage of Double Up Food Bucks! Double Up Food Bucks is a program that started here in my home state of Michigan and was recently extended to many states across the nation. Essentially, it's a program that gives families half off fresh produce, up to $20 price as marked, when they use an EBT card at participating farmers markets (searchable on the website). This makes it easy to afford lots of healthy produce, much of which can be transformed into a delicious treat over a grill. My family is using an EBT card for the

TBT: The Home Library of Books, Music, and Films

I wonder whatever happened to that Borat DVD I mention at the end of the old post below! I sure don't have it anymore; we've gone through several purges of old media since Borat times. These days, most entertainment is accomplished via streaming services. I listen to Eclectic24 Online, and I regularly stream movies, sometimes podcasts. But I still prefer books on paper, and I don't think that will ever change. My bookshelves packed with old beloveds have been a great comfort to me in quarantine. And I've had fun going through my old CDs and DVDs lately. Have you rediscovered any #ThrowBackThursday gems in your home collections? During a stay-at-home order, multimedia home entertainment has increased in importance somewhat, and I find it useful to have access to a combination of streaming services ( none of which I pay for , more out of concern about data breeches than because of cost) and old-fashioned physical books and discs. I've had fun rediscovering old DVDs

$Monday: To Give or to Keep Your Stimulus Check?

My heart has been warmed by all the stories of generosity that have followed the federal stimulus payments. The news tends to follow reports of people behaving badly--angrily, selfishly, dangerously--but the reality is that the vast majority of people are responding to this global pandemic with heightened compassion and a wish to help. People are reaching out in every way they can, from sewing masks and volunteering for food banks to passing along their stimulus checks. This is beautiful and gives me hope for the future. And it also gives me pause. Is this kind of personal generosity always in the best interest of the community? We all know that warm feeling of being able to make a contribution. My family is on a very humble budget, but last year, I received a raise at work, and my daughter's school received a federal grant for all children to have two free meals each school day. Little changes make a big difference to a tiny budget, so I found myself able to give a four-figur