Family Matters,  illos,  Life Lessons

ideas do grow on trees

ideas do grow on trees

I’ve had a post on my heart for months now. I’m not exactly sure how to write it. I’m not even sure if I should write it. It’s one of those things that is so close to home that I just can’t see the forrest for the trees. And it involves my family and maybe they don’t want me to write it. Maybe I need to respect their privacy. But at the same time it’s really hard for me to sit by and say nothing.

As you may know… times are tough. My brother is unemployed and has been on and off for as long as I can remember. He’s moved in and out of my mom’s house so many times, nobody keeps track any more. My brother also has two beautiful daughters and an amazing wife*. They are riding this roller coaster life with him. I don’t know what to say about why this happens. I don’t want to judge his decisions in life, although I am the big sister so of course I have a million nosy opinions that are not that appreciated I’m sure. I just know that it hurts. It hurts everybody.

It comes in handy when I’m walking out of the grocery store and somebody holds out a can asking me to donate money to this cause or that. I can look them in the eye and say with a clear conscience, “I have my own charity, thank you. I’m trying to keep my own family off the streets.” And it’s true. I am. But I’m not. Not in a way that is making enough of a difference anyway.

You see, I’ve been scraping by all my life to escape the poverty I grew up in. All my growing up years my Dad pounded into my head that I had to go to college so I could live a life that was better than his. Every time a collection agency called and I had to close the bedroom door so I didn’t have to listen to my mom sobbing, I became more and more resolute that I would not live this way. My dream in life was not to live in a fancy house or drive a fancy car. I dreamed of not having to worry about money. That was my dream.

In a way my dream came true. I was lucky. I was blessed. And I also worked really really hard. I graduated from college and found work that paid well. I learned to live below my means and that was probably the best lesson I ever learned. Then I met Toby and together we finally figured out a way that I could be a mom and not have to work (though it’s like pulling teeth to get me to stop).

But even though I’ve managed to pull myself to the other side of the poverty line, my heart is still very much tied down to it. In order to escape I cannot always help my family out when they are in need. If I helped out financially as much as there is need, I would still be stuck. The pit of need is so deep there is no hope of ever filling it. We would all be pulled down to the lowest common denominator. We don’t all live out of the same pot. We are not communist.

I also have to think of the future. I know things are going to get worse. The real estate crash is just starting to rear it’s ugly head and soon California is going to be in a depression. Not to be an alarmist but we have to be smart. We can’t just let history broadside us.

I know my parents health is going to steadily decline. I don’t mean to be a pessimist but I know the odds of someone being struck with cancer or some other deadly disease is very likely. If we’re smart we should almost just start planning for these things. Not to create a self-fulfilling prophecy but to just save money like crazy. It only takes one snowball to roll you under.

I don’t know exactly what to do. I wrack my brain daily with ways to save my family. My brother is about to be evicted from his apartment and will probably have to live in a shelter. This is not the end of the world. Maybe once he is actually “homeless” he will finally be taken seriously enough by the paper-pushers that run government aid programs. Maybe they will get a social worker who actually can help them for a change.

Even though it’s a really bad idea (for my parents who are struggling and have no hope of retiring until they are 104), my mom’s house is still open to my brother and his family. My nieces can stay there any time. There is always enough love to go around. There just isn’t enough money.

Where do I come into this picture? I don’t know. I’m constantly trying to think of money-making ideas for them. My brain is spinning a mile-a-minute all the time. It’s almost an obsession for me.

We visited a screen printing shop over the weekend (I’m trying to get some Gumball t-shirts printed) and immediately I fell in love with the idea of buying the business from the old man who was running it. Of course this is silly because A. I do not have the kind of money it takes to buy a business and B. I don’t think it was for sale.

How fun would that be though? I could make the designs. My mom and my sister-in-law could run the office. My brother could do the manual labor and keep the machines running. I could make every kind of t-shirt I ever desired! Of course my brain immediately started day-dreaming about painting the little shop and what kind of landscaping it needed because I am just so out of touch with reality when I dream…

It probably will never happen. It will get cast aside like the other five-thousand-and-nine ideas I’ve come up with. There is no easy way to get rich quick. I know absolutely nothing about the screen printing business. I don’t know what kind of overhead a business like that would have. If some punk rock kids could become millionaires printing t-shirts out of the back of their van, could we do it too? I probably will never know. It’s too big of a risk. But it’s an idea.

Fortunately, unlike money, ideas do grow on trees.

*Yes! Please do click on her site. She has ads and every little bit helps.


  • Jen

    SAJ, thank you for being so candid about a topic that I know must be difficult for you to write about. You are doing all you can to help your family. I hope that everything works out ok for your brother and his family.

  • Carrie

    I read CC’s post yesterday and was just heart sick over it. I wish there was something I could do to help, other than click ads, but I’ve got my own “charity.” It’s so hard to sit back and watch it happen, but we can’t live their lives for them *big hugs to everyone*

  • amy

    yr so real girl- that is why I come here every day! If anyone could do that …it would be you. You have real talent -follow yr bliss. I took a year off and am writing a novel…Scary- but very satisfying. Follow yr heart too and keep yr chin up as life is for living!!!! I heart yr blog and yr little fam

  • Beth

    Our riches are not in what we own…but wht we have. You are all blessed to have such a wonderful family. Count the blessings each and every day. Family is precious and wonderful to have, keep up the smiles :)

    Your doing a good job big sister…hang in there!

  • Katie

    I’m so sorry to hear what your family is going through. My parents were also the generation that got out of poverty so this post hit home with me. Thank you.

  • ninabi

    How awful for your brother, sister in law and the children. I was so sorry to read of their troubles and yes, I’ll click on her site if it helps.

    You are braver than me. But as I read your post, I nodded in understanding. We want so badly to fix our families! We want to put order into their houses, keep them away from substance abuse or well, whatever could make them well and safe and secure.

    Because we love them. A lot.

    But…your post touched my heart because I have a son with a disability and I too thought, Gee, maybe we could buy a business and he could work there and the more I thought the more I realized, I’d be the one doing everything eventually.

    The business won’t cure what is wrong.

    It’s hard. We aren’t God and we can’t fix everything. I do think you are a wonderful person for wanting the best for everybody. I think the time and love you give to your nieces provides great emotional support.

  • Jummy

    A lot of what you wrote touched me because I think as the older sister (and maybe the oldest child? I’m not sure) there is that feeling of wanting to take care of the whole world: not just your husband and daughter but your parents and siblings too.

    It’s very interesting how a difficult situation can lead two people experiencing it together to turn out so differently: you were inspired to save and be frugal, to think of the future, perhaps be conservative in your habits as it relates to money, while your brother may have taken other lessons away from your upbringing. In my own family, the difficulties I saw my parents go through made me want to be not rich but comfortable. My younger siblings didn’t see that part (they were too young) and as a result aren’t as motivated at this stage in their lives while I can’t stop thinking of ways to ensure that we are able to support ourselves and our parents as they get older.

    Thanks for sharing your story. I can tell that you’re a wonderful older sister.

  • gretchen

    Thanks for sharing this. It is easy when reading blogs to assume everyone’s life is easier and more beautiful and more creative than my own. I wish I had an answer or even a good suggestion for you. But I will add champchaotic to my bloglines and visit every day :-)

    I thought of your dad when I was driving across the state last weekend. You should give him some kind of SAJ magnet to put on his truck so all your readers can beep at him when they pass!

  • mar

    It’s ridiculous how the system works – rewarding those who don’t make any effort to work, and punishing those who try hard, but fall a little short. I’m sure it was very hard to write about this, but maybe someone out there who reads this will have an answer/solution/help/inspiration for your brother and sister-in-law. The universe works in mysterious ways – sometimes you just have to put it out there!

    Good luck to all of you!

  • Mommy K

    I feel your pain. I have those same feelings all of the time. What could I do to make things better for my family. Could I start this business or that business and they could work with me. It seems like there is something out there for me to do to earn the extra money and be able to help my family out… but what? I hope you find it for you and your family. I really do.

    I cried my eyes out watching you and your daughter dancing. How sweet and special. She is a lucky girl to have a cool mom like you.

  • Jennie

    SAJ – I wondered how you were feeling about all of this when I read CampChaotic yesterday. I feel so badly for all of you. I’ll keep clicking on her site for the ad revenue – I guess every little bit helps.

  • sizzle

    i don’t think that sounds like a crazy idea AT ALL. you’re incredibly talented and on top of that, resourceful. some dreams do become reality. but believing in them is a huge part of that. think of all the people who just took the leap and it ended up paying off? there are small business loans for entrepreneurs like yourself. maybe i’m a dreamer but i think it could be completely feasible. :)

    with that said, i’m sorry your family is struggling and that you carry that burden in your heart.

  • Kristen

    I agree with the posters above (delurking to show my support!). You have the talent, the man / woman power and the dream. The rest will fall into place. Your fans will show their support by wearing the designs, and spreading the word. Keep us all posted! :)

  • andrea

    I read CC’s post yesterday and have been thinking about it ever since. It seems so unfair that with the system that is in place they aren’t able to get the help that they need so they can get themselves back off the ground when there are so many others out there that completely abuse it and don’t make any effort at all.

    You can’t do anymore than you are already doing. Offer the support you can, but you are right, you run the risk of bringing everyone down if you start to support all of them. It is such a hard situation to be in and I wish I had more words of wisdom for all of you.

    So sorry that your family is going through this hard time.

  • Lisa V

    I don’t think you are looking at a get rich quick. I think you are trying to think of ways to get stable long term.

    I share some of the struggles. They aren’t easy. I think it’s better to contemplate ideas and hope that one of them turns out.

  • Rach

    dude I know EXACTLY what you are going through.

    1.) My dad is in a homeless shelter because he was wrongfully accused of something and went to jail, now that he’s out nobody will hire him
    2.) My sister keeps getting kicked out of her apartments because she doesn’t pay her bills. My brother, mom, and I keep having to bail her out and I can’t afford to anymore
    3.) My mom’s house is falling apart and my sister just moved in with her. They now have 2 bedrooms, 4 people, 3 dogs, 2 cats living there and it’s CRAZY cause my sister still hasn’t found a job.

    I could go on and on. Those are just the top three.

    Every day I want to help and give and do but there is only so much I can do to help them. I have to tell myself that every day because I feel so sad about it every day.

    Good luck with your battles!

  • Lori

    You can’t fix other people, even loved ones.

    I gave a family member a large amount of money many years ago, trying to help. I was trying to ensure that (beloved) person’s future would be good – that s/he would be safe and okay. It didn’t work. They managed to get the money and waste it on nothing, and they were right back where they started. My husband then pointed out that it would have been much better if I’d kept the money myself and invested it for later in life, so I could help them out bit by bit. I was trying to “teach a man to fish” rather than give a man a fish, you know, but it just doesn’t work if the man doesn’t want to learn to fish.

  • carrien

    I’d just like to say that this must have been a really hard post to write and yet, you did it, You managed to talk honestly about your family’s financial trouble without blame or judgment. Well done.

  • jessicab

    You have a big heart. I can’t imagine how hard it is to not be able to fix it all.

    I’ve been trying to become rich for 4 years. Just kidding. Seriously though, since my daughter was born I have racked my brain of ways to be able to stay home. Our only hold up is health insurance and medical bills. If it weren’t for that we would be fine. I wish I had a niche. A money making talent or super duper idea.

    I don’t.

    I think you can do anything you can put your mind to.

    Got my gumball today. He is so cute. This kids and I will have fun photographing him.

  • Susan

    There are never “right” words to say in this type of situation. I am so sorry and I know this post must have been difficult to write. I will definitely keep clicking on her site for the ad revenues. I wish there was more I could do for them and it breaks my heart. I know I don’t know you or your family but I feel like I do since I read your blog via Jennie “Trim and Fashionable’ everyday. I love your family and the sweet spirit you display here. PRaying things will work out. Keep us posted.

  • s

    This is such an honest and true post. It is the hardest when people you really love are having it tough. How far can you go to make it different for them? Any time you try to answer to that question while also being honest about your plans for your own life and needs it feels so selfish – but if you don’t think that way you could end up in trouble yourself… I am sending good wishes in the direction of your brother and his family. and to you.

  • lisa

    you just made me realize that sometimes in life you can WANT to help and have the best of intentions but there are times when YOU cant save and rescue everyone…i to have a similar situation…ONLY I’m the YOUNGER one and I have a sister…it’s sad to watch sometimes but YOU have a good perspective on it, AND a heart of GOLD! KEEP thinking and letting your ideas grow….ya never know….dreams come true to those that ACTUALLY dare to dream!

  • BeachMama

    This sure must have been one of the harder posts to write. But, sometimes just writing about it will lead the way to help. If nobody knows that help is needed, none can be offered.

    I, like you, grew up with little money in our family. One thing I am thankful for is that I never knew until I was much, much older. My Mom kept a good, clean house and my Dad worked around the clock (he still does at 70, no retirement when you work for yourself) so we could have things. It wasn’t until years later that I knew how much my Mom and Dad gave up for us. I always thought my Mom just loved her old jeans or her old coat.

    With four kids, we have all turned out pretty good. Two of us went to University (paid for by ourselves) and got great jobs, one is a SAHM and the last one is still finding her way. Hubby and I worked very hard so I could stay home right now, but like you I always have a little something on the go as it is in my nature to keep on working.

    My prayers will be with you and your family, that a solution will be found and that it will all work out.

  • Kuky

    I know how you feel. My friend who is like a sister and my real sister, they tell me about how bad off they are once in a while. It just breaks my heart a little and I feel so helpless that I can’t do anything for them. I wish I could fix it but I can’t. I can just love them and let them know my home is open to them.

    And dreams are wonderful. So don’t stop. Dream away!

  • Amy

    As harsh as this may sound, sometimes people have to find their way out themselves…

    I am sure if my parents would have let my brother struggle and find his way as a teen/young adult (as we all do) he would have found it easier to be an independent and self sufficient adult NOW. Sometimes you have to hit rock bottom before you can learn to swim and what your priorities are..

  • Michelle in Cincinnati

    I’m with Beach Mama…just writing can help the ball to start rolling, and can be cathartic (sp.?) for you as well. Your heart is so big! I understand how you feel, watching, wanting to help, racking your brain for ways to help out…your family is so sweet, and I know that they are good people. They won’t be left behind to suffer with this situation….I’m sure there will be something that will help them to get back on their feet. They are fortunate to have you advocating for them! It will all work out :o)

  • Mrs. Wilson

    Oh wow that’s harsh. I know how you feel about wanting to help, but totally not being able to. I know what always helps though. Prayer. I’m not sure of your religion, but God is ALWAYS listening and always cares about what we are going though.

  • Kaili

    Maybe being there is the help your brother needs. It’s so rough with family, cause you want to help, but does it actually help them or do they need to go through their own stuff to figure it all out? It’s a fine fine line and those kinds of things drive me nuts too. I hope in the long run looking back this was a brief time and things get better for everyone in your family. Thanks for being so open and honest, we need more people to do that. All the best, you and your family are in my thoughts.

  • Richard

    Let’s be clear about guilt:

    It’s appropriate to feel guilt if you’ve done something wrong. It’s appropriate to feel sorry and give charity to a family member who can’t help themselves.

    It’s inappropriate to feel guilt if that family member can help himself, doesn’t, and has no plan.
    This is when helping brings everyone down. Endlessly!

  • bethany v

    such a horribly hard line. want to help/can’t help/sometimes better not to help. you’re golden, CC’s golden, and your hearts are in the right place. hugs to all and thanks for being candid.

  • adriana

    All I can say is that you aren’t alone. Your words are profound, and thank you for being blunt in saying that California is headed into a depression. Not many people want to admit this.

    Why don’t you channel this anger into some political activity? John Edwards has been a strong advocate for the poor. Have you listened to his message? The story you tell is much like the ones that he gives speeches about. Action is going to propel your family and others like it forward, more so than prayer. Let’s face it. We are closer on the food chain to those in poverty than we are to Bill Gates.

    I sincerely with you guys the best. Your brothers kids are adorable, and they are deserving of every opportunity that America can offer… just like those privileged children living on the beach.

    Fight the power SAJ!

  • Nicole

    Robert Reich puts full out depression at 20% slim but it may happen- I’m from Cleveland and the economy sucks here too. Lots of good people in this country just wanting a chance for their piece of the “dream” and you hurt for them. Hugs to your brother and his family. I know I hurt when my family hurts.

  • jenB

    this is such an honest post and one that i know a lot of people could relate to. it is hard to watch family suffer and struggle and you are obviously so sensitive and are so close to your family that this is particular difficult for you. you are a fantastic and sensitive person. i wish i could do something to help you, help you family, mostly, help you worry. i think we all have family and friends who need a foot or a footstool up. i hope things get better for you and your loved ones. you are such a generous, creative and obviously loving person.

  • toni

    Your honesty is admirable and much appreciated. We all learn from one another’s transparencies! I hope things work out with you and your family. Poverty comes in all sorts of experiences and situations, but they are all difficult nonetheless. You emanate so much good karma, SAJ, I believe that all that goodness will come back to you and your loved ones.

  • She Likes Purple

    I’m really proud of you for sharing this. Even if it’s not my place to be proud.

    And I think you, more than many, many people, could make that dream come true. You have an entire Internet who would buy T-shirts from you.

    I’m thinking of you and your family. I know too well where you’re at.

  • Gingermog

    Sorry for not posting much, new job and some other sad things. I am doubly sorry to read this post as I thought things were looking up for CC and the family. I may be able to understand a wee, bit about the situation as I have a sister, who has had a fair share of misfortune come her and her partners way, no matter what choices they made, which has made me feel sad and guilty, she’s doing really well now though luckily.

    I don’t know how much capital you would need to buy the t-shirt business, but the idea has legs. One thing I would say about reading your blog is that you know how to sell, unconscienciously (spelling) I mean, not hard selling which puts people off. You have come up with some great ideas, and packaged them beautifully.

    I know of a successfull design company here in London who lived for several years mostly off the revenue of selling their t-shirts. They just came up with the designs though, the tees were printed abroad. I think you have to print a lot to make a profit if you do them yourself. I do know a girl who used to co-run a tee-shirt business would you like me to ask?

    I’m afeared of the looming crash too, makes the future even more uncertain.

  • Nila

    My mom is always broke because she’s helping my sister get through school. It’s rough, and I always feel the need to help, but how much without hurting my family. You’re in a tough spot.

    My husband used to design t-shirts, and used several screen printing business. One was out of a garage. Maybe you don’t need to buy the whole business to start, but one printing press (or whatever they’re called), then print t-shirts for local businesses or such to cover the over head and help support your own projects. If anyone can make it work, you can.