Monday, October 31, 2011

I Have Moved

This blog has been discontinued but you're still welcomed to browse this blog. I will not be adding anything new to it from this point on. My new blog has a different focus and design and I invite you to stop by and explore it. If you'd like to contact me, you can at Thanks for your support!

Friday, June 25, 2010

My book, Companion now has its own Facebook page

After years of having readers track me down, I decided that my book needed its own Facebook page. I am hoping that I can help people connect with one another and provide a place for myself and readers to share interesting information, links, etc. I am just in the infancy stages of building a public page, so please bear with me as I attempt this new learning curve!

Monday, February 1, 2010

today... my blackout on communication

For the people who have been so supportive, thank you. I haven't posted because I've imposed a blackout on my own communication. There is a good reason for this, but I won't go into it. I want those who are interested to know that we are safe, secure and that we are going to be alright. I am writing still, although it isn't for public consumption, and hope that those who care will understand. At times, there are people who will twist anything said to their own agendas. I only seek to avoid any chance of this happening right now.

Soon, I'll be back. For now, please know that your prayers and good wishes have kept us afloat.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Hell No, We Won't Go

My son told me he would come to the shelter with me. But something still bothered me.
He'd never objected. I was the one who'd objected to putting him through that.

So my friend, Julie, helped me break down the logic in a conversation we had this weekend about values. Do we live according to the values that we hold? Or do we change our values to suit the occasion? We weren't talking about this situation, but one that still had to do with parenting.

I said, I am a terrible disciplinarian, and I gave the example of finally giving in to my daughter's teenaged aversion to doing the dishes. Julie said,

What's the value you hold by asking her to do the dishes?

Well, I said, that we all share a portion of the work so no one is unfairly overloaded.

Ok, said Julie, and what happened?

What happened was that she put me off by saying, I'll do it in a an hour...

Okay. What did you do?

Well, I used to get upset and yell at her but that got old fast. This happened so often that I would become a total idiot over it. She simply refused, passively, by putting me off. I got sick of yelling, cajoling, insisting... I even stopped making dinner for her as a consequence, but she didn't notice. Eventually, it became a matter of choosing my own sanity and peace of mind over nagging her to no effect.

Julie thought about it, and said, But did you change your value that work should be shared fairly?

No. I just chose my battles. For my own sanity, I chose not to fight with her because it got me nowhere. Most of the time, I made dinner for both of the kids, and I always asked her to do the dishes. She never turned me down flat. She just put me off, and that was so infuriating that I reconfigured her response to mean, "No" in my own head. I wanted her to have better nutrition than she chose for herself, so I cooked. That seemed more important than anything. Eventually, I simply gave up on her.

But did you change your value?

Nope. Not one iota. Now, she's a mother herself, with a toddler who rearranges everything before she can finish cleaning. Now, she understands the value of sharing the work...

So what is this thing about you being a terrible disciplinarian?

Well, I feel as if I should have forced her to do the dishes.

Why didn't you?

What was I going to do, beat her? From the time she was able to tell me yes or no, she's shown me she has a formidable will of her own. If anyone tries to force her to do something, she will dig in her heels deeper and outlast the best adversary! I tried all sorts of approaches until I wore myself out. Eventually, it came down to choosing my own peace of mind over anguish.

Exactly, said Julie. She knew exactly what she was doing. How she was manipulating you. You were simply choosing, like all mothers do, to pick your battles. You were doing what all mothers must do--be flexible.

I said, tongue in cheek,

Well, I threatened her the way my own mother threatened me: I hope that someday, YOU have a daughter exactly like YOU. Julie laughed. There are some things that are true and have been true since time immemorial. The curse of the mother is one.

So I thought some more about my values. With my children, the first value has always been to protect them from danger. Not necessarily from discomfort, but from suffering for something that was not theirs to suffer.

And I concluded that I would NOT subject my son to the shelter.


If it cuts me off from their resources, so be it. I will think outside of their box.

I make no judgments on the women who bring their kids to the shelter. Most have no other alternative. Most are probably making the right decision. Most of them, I really admire. And, I might still have to change my mind and give in. But as long as I have the ability to think creatively, I'll follow that first.

Hell, NO! If the only way to get help is to make him sleep on the floor of a different church every night, then I'll just have to beg, borrow or take a job teaching English in Ethiopia.

Copyright 2009 Stephanie Ericsson All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

This was on side of the road @ ground Zero in NYC after 911. taken by a gal that I know. It's one of my favorites I have the orginal and often find myself staring @ the picture. Can't imagine the horror of it all and yet having the courage & guts to spray paint it was a #cowboyupgurlz

Saturday, August 1, 2009

I Make It To The Shelter

If I keep circling this block, they're going to report me for stalking. If I keep sitting in my car for hours on the street, feeding the meters, some cop is going to take an interest in me. No matter how much I try, I cannot seem to get out of this car by myself and go open that door. Finally, I accepted my friend George's offer to go to the shelter with me. Just to get me through that front door.

I met him on the street, and we walked around the corner to the two unmarked double doors. There was no sign on the doors—just some numbers on the wall—244—those reflective numbers with sticky backs that you get at hardware stores. Some women who were out for a smoke and a flock of kids playing tag were just a few yards away. I reached for the door and pulled but it was solidly closed. Locked.

I turned and saw all the women looking at me. Everyone stopped talking for a moment and then started again. They ignored me without taking their eyes off of me. No one looked unfriendly, but no one looked friendly, either. There was something here that they were protecting. I realized it was the Entrance. A moment later, one of the woman startled me from behind and with an official voice asked, "May I help you?"

Here was a Gatekeeper that I had to get past.

Was I supposed to state my business right here out in the open with everyone listening? Checking me out? Eyeing me from head to toe—taking my measure? The first principle of survival was in play—be observant—watch everyone and everything that is nearby. What were they seeing anyhow? A woman in her fifties, overweight, graying, clean, well-groomed. I'd be dammed if they'd see me any other way. Wearing a long skirt (because I always wear long skirts), a clean blouse, a cotton sweater, a decent but not flashy purse and flip-flops. I had on lipstick and held a thick file of papers in my arms. Did they know I was there because I'm homeless? How would they? How do they tell this? Did they think I was an official from the state? Don't count on it, Steph—the flip-flops give you away...

I need help, I said.

What kind of help? she asked.

I'm homeless.

Well, this place is for families... she said.

I have a son.

So, you need shelter today for you and your son...she said, matter-of-factly, as she took out her keys and unlocked the door.

I hesitated and looked over at George. He pointed his walking stick at the open door and I obeyed.

The door opened into a cement staircase of the institutional variety. It went up and down and the echo of our footsteps rang out. Just to the right of the door was a small waiting room with an office beyond that I could see behind a large window. The door to it was locked too. With the jangling of her keys echoing, she unlocked that door too and held it open for me.

Can we just talk first? I asked.

George settled himself in a corner of the waiting room, looking calm and managerial—both hands balanced on the top of his walking stick.

Can you tell me how this works? I asked, not sitting down. So she outlined the program.

You stay here during the day and then at 5:30 pm, we bus you over to a church where you sleep on mats on the floor for the night. We don't allow anyone to drive their own cars to the churches. You get a locker where you can lock your belongings at night and we open them when you get back to the church in the morning. There are showers... We take your money and hold it for you...

All I hear, prison, prison, prison. Can't drive yourself. Sleep on mats on the floor. Other people sleeping right next to you who you don't know. When was the last time I slept with anyone else but my kids or grandson in the room? I couldn't remember... Apparently, I said this thought out loud because she said,

Well, there are screens set up...

Sleeping on the floor... she might as well have said I will be sleeping on a bed of nails for my chronic pain syndrome. What are we supposed to do between 6 pm and when we fall asleep? When was the last time I went to sleep before midnight? I'm a night person... They lock up our things and we don't get the key—they do. They open the lockers when they want, and if I need something in them—too bad. They take my money... (What money? I laughed out loud) what is that all about? I have to ask them for my own money? Isn't it humiliating enough? As if I couldn't be trusted with my own money. Well, maybe that's true for a lot of these folks, but if I wasn't frugal and good at squeezing ten dollars out of a five dollar bill, I'd have been down here years ago... I have clothes older than my children... If I had any money, I would make sure they didn't know it. Does being homeless constitute being treated like a prisoner? Or a child? You do what we tell you...Holy Mother of God, I hate this... She kept talking,

Then, when there is a spot at the shelter, you go there. You get your own room and the curfew (yes, she used the word, 'curfew'), is better—you have to be in by nine pm... You can only stay there for 30 days in a 3 month period... They have housing counselors there...

And if they don't find me and my son housing within that time, what happens?

You come back here...

Does my son have to be here with me?

If you want to use this shelter. If it's just you, you have to go to the women's shelter. That's on the 2nd floor of the Dorothy Day Center, but it's locked.

Everyone in Saint Paul knows where the Dorothy Day Center is because it's right across from the Xcel Center—the huge sports arena that sits at the entrance to our tiny downtown—which one could navigate within five minutes from end to end. Garrison Keillor on his show, The Prairie Home Companion on National Public Radio talks about Saint Paul as a quaint little town—where you can stand on the corner of 6th Street and 7th Street at the very same time... Well, on that particular corner, all the homeless congregate, sprawled out on the grassy knolls with their backpacks or their shopping carts, bumming cigarettes and cat-calling any girl that walks by. My kids' friends go over there to bum smokes from the homeless... Yes, that's exactly where I aspire to hang out... I'm thinking as I hear the last part of her description,

...but they don't have any housing counselors there.


At the women's shelter...

Of course not, why would women need a housing counselor...?! I think to myself.

So, I say, there's only one way to get to the shelter and the housing counselors, and that's through you?

Pretty much, she says.

And the only way I can come here is if I bring my son with me, (I didn't say what my first choice of phrasing was—that the only way I could get help was if I subject my son, who is now safe, cared for, and relatively content where he is for the time being, to being a homeless prisoner here at the shelter... As if I am not a mother unless I'm actually accompanied by my child—(What? Am I going to fake being a mother? Isn't THAT on file, somewhere?) ...and protecting my child from this whole mess is exactly what disqualifies me from getting the help we need.

None of it makes any sense in my line of logic. Since I started looking for help with social service agencies, I've run into this conundrum so often that I've begun to wonder if my logic isn't faulty. It seems that theirs is the only logic exists. After all, they're the government. They have all kinds of paperwork, red tape and research to back up their reasoning.

I'm sure there are plenty of reasons for all these rules, but their effect, not only on the self-image of their clients—but on their very lives, doesn't seem to be a factor. It would be like living in a world where people say, Well, sure, we can help you!—but only if you've given birth to a dwarf with size twelve shoes. Size eleven and a half won't do... Or—Sure we can help you, if you are five foot seven, have green eyes, a limp on the left side—left side only!—and you talk with a lisp. Yessiree! There's ALL kinds of help out here for those unfortunates who've fallen on hard times...Or—the best one of all—and this one is REAL—Sure! We can help you! As long as we know that this will solve your problem and it won't be a REOCCURRING problem... Otherwise, if it IS a reoccurring problem, (as if anyone could promise that they could find work right now!) then, I'm sorry—we can't help...

Does THAT make any sense? Like the Urban League telling me that because I didn't have a job, they couldn't help me with my energy bill... (...if I had a job, why would need to ask you for help??)

Every month, I get at least five pieces of mail from the county with gobbley-gookey verbiage and tables of numbers that make no sense to me and are completely unnecessary. Every month I get at least one letter that threatens to stop my benefits because I didn't get my household report in on time, (which I always DO, by the way) and which my financial worker tells me to ignore...

I decided to do some math on those letters—let's say TWO of the letters are important. That means that THREE aren't. At 44 cents per letter, times 3=$1.32. Now there are 327,357 people in Minnesota on food stamps alone—so let's just use them for a theoretical number.

327,357 people
X $1.32

$432,111.24 monthly

$432,111.24 every month is being wasted on mailing unnecessary letters. What does this add up to per year?


X 12 months

Five million dollars a year is eaten up by sending out mail that no one understands, needs or that's actually wrong. .

How many houses, apartments, even these rare birds called 'housing counselors' could be bought, rented or hired for five million dollars?

And this is the government that is bailing us out of our recession? Or would somebody please correct my math?

Copyright©2009 Stephanie Ericsson All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

It’s Time You Knew

Lost My Voice

Now I understand why we don't hear too much from the homeless, themselves.

I can't find my voice. I don't want to talk to anyone. I don't want to write. I can't find my voice. Every time I start, I choke up.

I never realized how much energy it takes to have no ground. No corner where you belong. It absorbs all my energy. There is no place where I can just BE. Nowhere where I'm not imposing on someone, or doing something illegal. I'm not sure, but I think that sleeping in your car is illegal. I'm terrified that if I sleep in my car, in the middle of the night I'll get a flashlight in my face and a cop who's got nothing else to do that night but harass me. Be arrested for public loitering. I'm scared all the time that I'm infringing on someone's space, or that someone is going to hurt me. If I sleep in my car, will some thugs looking for cheap entertainment find me? I don't sleep well at all because I have no bed. Right now, I'm staying at my daughter's on her couch and it's awful. I wake up with my chronic pain throbbing in all the old familiar places.

There's nowhere to go where I can have any privacy. Everything you do when you're homeless is done in public. I'm living out of my car, obsessed with staying clean, but my 'stuff' is scattered all over the place—packed in this box, or that suitcase. I go to the garage where all my 'stuff' is boxed up, and it's even more depressing. What a bunch of crap I've held on to...Only I know that it used to be nice stuff.

I keep putting off going to the shelter. I'm really scared to do it. Somehow, going there makes being homeless too REAL. But nothing is going to happen for my son and me until I do. I keep driving by the place, meaning to stop and go in but then I keep driving.

This is as much as I can write today. At least it's something.

Copyright©2009 Stephanie Ericsson All Rights Reserved

Sunday, July 12, 2009

It’s Time You Knew...


There are these women, see? Women who've sent me direct messages on Twitter or emailed me, or posted to my blog. These women, who saw me floundering, make it a point to support me almost every day. You can do it... each of them says, each in their own way. Some send prayers. Some send money. Some send me their stories. Some even send me 'virtual' flowers! Little by little we learn one another's stories... All of them give me strength that I would not have had without them.

One of these women, givelovecoffee, a coffee micro-roaster with her own company, Moon Monkey Coffee, sent me this message one day, after she'd had a particularly hard day herself "...time to live our new mantra, 'cowboy up, girls'... with Tylenol everything will be OK." From there, one of us came up with the Twitter toy #cowboyupgurlz and since then, we've been using it to alert all the other women, living in a man's world, picking ourselves up by our bootstraps and trudging forward in spite of all. Later, she wrote,

"No more apologies take captives under your influence & make a difference in spite of your circumstances. #cowboyupgurlz It's a new day! Your tweet was divine—instead of feeling sorry for myself I felt humbled but not powerless...The act of one-anothering in online spaces, gives a connection to not just pixels but people to share in your circumstances, to offer a kind word, a 140 characters of encouragement to be excellent!

All the best today! Leaning in looking up & whispering our names...

I think that's a great definition of #cowboyupgurlz. "The act of one-anothering..." is apt.

Today, I sit in my old apartment, alone...trying to get the loose ends wrapped up. Trouble is—I get confused when I'm overwhelmed and my attention-deficit takes over and leads me by my nose in circles. Added to this is my pain-level today, which is greater than it's been in months. Ugh. I've worn out my son and his friend, Cain—they have worked really hard for the past week, so I sent them off to their respective dwelling spots to recuperate. Now I have to get the rest of the stuff packed and ready for moving. I am praying someone will be able to help. Can only do what I can.

I sat down and had a good cry. Then I checked my email, and there were notes and tweets of encouragement. Suddenly, what just seemed impossible—seems possible. It will be ok. All of it.

So, to all these women, members of the #cowboyupgurlz club, Yahoo...! I'm going to get it done. I'm going to make a difference, in spite of my circumstances—maybe even because of them...

The angels just told me a secret:

Within the difficulties, the suffering, the hopelessness, there is hidden opportunities for redemption, for connection, for love. If I tackle the problems, I'll find miracles hiding there.

I once painted this little painting for one of the quotes I love, by Saint Exupéry:

Copyright ©2009 Stephanie Ericsson All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

It’s Time You Knew...

The seeds of compassion and love

Moving day...

Oh, to have the stamina of a 16 year old boy!

My son, Henry and his friend, Cain, have been packing and boxing for days and yesterday, they moved all those boxes & furniture. Michael, a good friend of Henry's since first grade, also showed up to help. Wow. I'm so impressed...

For the life of me, I cannot understand why anyone would volunteer to do this thankless and backbreaking work... We do it because we have no choice—it's got to be done. But, personally? I'd have to love someone to the moon! to show up on their moving day!

Yet, Cain's been here for a week, cheerfully packing boxes. Yet, Michael not only showed up, he brought a friend who worked as hard as if we were his own family.

In our last move, I was so devastated from losing my house that I was shamefully unprepared when the moving van arrived. Michael's mother, Debbie, showed up and helped. I could not have accomplished that move without her. This is love. Love is an action, not a feeling. Anyone just meeting me that day would not have felt much love for me, I'm sure. It helps that we've known each other for years through our kids—we both have children the same age so we've become friends through the years of schlepping and chauffeuring, but there's more to it than that. I doubt that Debbie helps everyone she's known for years. She's discerning and doesn't waste her time. Perhaps it's that quality about her than made me appreciate her help even more.

My landlord, Ben, has been so generous and understanding. He remembers growing up poor during the Depression so he comes from experience. He doesn't shy away from emotional pain either. He insists on asking the difficult question that most people don't want to ask: Where will you be staying tomorrow night? People don't want to ask that question because they don't want to know the answer. But I don't think it's because they don't care—actually, I think it's because they do care and can't handle the feelings of being helpless.

I so understand. I don't know anyone who has it easy these days. Everyone has their problems–that's simply normal life. Life is about solving problems. However, these days, those problems are compounded by the state of our economy. People like Ben, Debbie, George, Cain, Michael and my own son, Henry, realize that we're not going to get through this if we try to do it all alone. We've got to join together—give what we have to give, and stay connected.

Those connections are vital to me, personally. They give me the strength to face another day, even after previous days have been brutal. They reconfigure my attitude so I can accept reality without believing that it's my fate. Or that I deserve to lose my home.

After all, the economy didn't collapse for the sole reason to punish me for my sins. It didn't just happen to me. It wasn't personal.

But my personal connections will help me survive this and become better for it.

I'm watching the effect it has on my son, as painful as it is. He seems to be re-sorting his values. Suffering now doesn't mean 'not going to the mall' or not having the latest techno-gadget that 'everyone else' has. Suffering means something real. It means being hungry. It means not having a roof over your head. It means not having the money to cover the basic, fundamental necessities of life.

Now, he can't be threatened with the loss of material things. He knows that 'things' come and go, and most of them are not really necessary. Can he live without his snowboard? Yep. Without his stereo? Yep. Without vacations? Yep. Without love? Nope. Would he rather have these material things but live without love and respect? No. He'd rather be without these things and have love and respect. We're a family. If one of us suffers, we don't have to do it alone. It's the sharing that makes it survivable.

With suffering comes compassion. With compassion comes humanity. With humanity, we will save the world.

Copyright ©2009 Stephanie Ericsson All Rights Reserved

Thursday, July 9, 2009

It’s Time You Knew...

What Does One Pack for the Homeless Shelter?

We're packing and packing and packing...

My son and his friends... Cain... and Skye... George... Melinda... such good friends... (Funny, how many people disappear when you're moving!! LOL!—I've been guilty of it too!)

Found a cheap, dry, 24-7 place to store our things...

But really—we have to be smart about this. Put the things we won't have a need for until we find a new place all in the back. Books, knickknacks, etc. Furniture and stuff like that. Stuff we might have a need for should go closer to the front... Ugh....

What about things that we'll need in the interim? Like the scanner? Or the hard drive and the disks for recovery... files that I may need for documentation...

Do I dare bring my laptop to the shelter?? If not, where do I keep it so I can get at it when I need to and not impose on anyone else?? In my car??? What if it gets towed or stolen? Do I back everything up on the hard drive? On line?

Do I bring my own pillow? What about laundry detergent, shampoo, office supplies... Stuff that if I have to buy again will cost more than we can afford out of pocket?

And our clothes—what should we do with the stuff that is better hung up? Create a pole in the storage and then keep stuff on hangers but covered with plastic bags?


I have no idea what to expect... I've just written to a woman who specializes in these kinds of things...The Survival Mom –Lisa Bedford. What an amazing website she's built! Got to go now, and see if she's got some tips for us!

For those amazing people who are keeping track of us, we are very thankful.

Copyright ©2009 Stephanie Ericsson All Rights Reserved

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