Let’s Talk About Barriers to Quitting Poverty

Part of Charles Booth's poverty map showing th...

Part of Charles Booth’s poverty map showing the Old Nichol slum, including Bethnal Green Road (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Trained, as I am, as a master’s level social worker, I tend to group barriers into three categories: personal (micro), local (mezzo) and global (macro). From that lens, today I want to talk about what you can and can’t (immediately) change about the circumstances that are keeping you poor. Continue reading

Try HabitRPG for a Daily Dose of Fun in a To-Do List

A boss fight.

A boss fight. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

HabitRPG: How and Why

I started using HabitRPG in September 2014. I have been looking for an all-in-one to-do list system that actually works for me, because I have a lot of scattered responsibilities among several spheres of life, including family, house work, providing therapy, writing blog posts, writing stories and novels and non fiction books, being a social justice activist (a druid, not a warrior, tyvm!), and taking care of myself in order to continue doing all of the above.

My work days often run twelve hours. There can be some down time in those hours, but twelve hours is still twelve hours. This is my “normal” for three or four days a week. So I have to figure out a “flexible” schedule that works with the fact that I don’t have time or energy for a lot of “extras” on those days, but keeps me on track on the other days – and makes sure I honor my body and mind’s need for downtime. That’s no easy task.

So my friend Faith messaged me the link on Facebook, asking me to check it out, knowing I’m both a gamer and a therapist. I agreed to “play test” it, and here I am. In describing the interface, I will be describing the PC interface for two reasons 1) I use it more and 2) it is more complete. Some features have not yet made it to the Android/IPhone versions, including challenges. This is, of course, subject to change.

The Basics:

When you first create an account (you’ll need a valid email account, but that’s it), click on your character avatar on the top left corner. Either choose free accessories for your avatar, or fork out the bucks (or assistance with the site) that the really cool stuff costs. The game is “free plus” – all functions except creating a guild are free, but you pay real money or complete specific tasks for real money credit. Unlike many “free to play” game, full functionality with the exception of leadership (creating guilds) is free, and that is a refreshing change.

The game is designed to help you reach your goals. To-do list items are broken down into three categories: Habits, Dailies, and To-Dos. Habits are things you want to do more often (or stop doing) but not necessarily on a regular schedule. Dailies have a regular, predictable schedule and you expect yourself to do them on the days you’re supposed to do them. You can edit dailies to be every day up, every other day, or weekly. Monthly task options are in development. To-do list items are one time or rare tasks.

Pick a couple of things you regularly do daily to be your daily tasks (you want to reward yourself for things you’re already doing, of course) and then a thing or two you want to be doing daily, but aren’t quite achieving. (The Tavern on the social tab has lots of cool challenges. See below to access it) Then pick a couple of habits you’d like to gain or lose, and add your “one time” tasks to the to do list. If you want to get fancy, assign checklists, due dates, and difficulty factors to the tasks. On the habits, choose whether doing them earns you points, loses you points, or loses if you go in one direction and gains if you go in the other.

Assign yourself the task of turning on the sign theme, go to the sound settings on the tool bar, turn on the Daniel the Bard theme, and click the little check mark. Hear that? Instant gratification.

Social Stuff:

Next, click on the social tab. Here you will find the Tavern, Parties, Guilds, and Challenges. On the Tavern page you will also find the Inn. When you want to take a day off from tracking your habits, check yourself into the Inn, and none of your dailies will penalize you. If you are in a Party working on a shared goal, however, and in a Boss Fight, you can still lose hit points. So don’t rest in the middle of a Boss Fight (you’d think it’d be obvious!)

After the tavern (which also has helpful FAQs) check out the Party structure (for when you and friends or acquaintances want to tackle a challenge together). If you want, create an “empty” party to quest solo (after level 10)

Now comes the fun part (really!) Guilds in HabitRPG are interest based. There are health and fitness guilds, guilds for getting the chores done, guilds for students, financial health guilds, mental health guilds, Whovian guilds, guilds for pretty much any interest you can think of. Once you’ve chosen a few guilds based on your interests, click over to the Challenges tab (only available on Mac and PC), where you can choose challenges (some with pretty neat prizes) to pick Habits, Dailies and ToDos based on your interests

In fact, I recently created two guilds (“Therapy Homework” and “Quitting Poverty”). Therapy Homework (linked to this website and JenniferLilesLCSW.com, the website for my private practice) is the stuff you should be doing between therapy sessions, broken down by goals and mental health issues. I am always looking for more ideas, so feel free to add more or simply comment on this post to have me add it for you. “Quitting Poverty” is linked to my new website QuittingPoverty.com (formerly MakingDoMakingBetter) for people in or near poverty who wish to learn how to develop relative financial stability in their lives from the ground up.

Okay, I admit it, I’m really, really geeking out about HabitRPG.com. It’s seriously cool and it’s seriously useful for someone like me who is both someone who struggles to get everything done on a daily basis and is in the business of helping others.

Every time I check off a Habit or Daily or To-Do, I get a little rush from the little “task completed” sound. Every time I level up I play around with all the new nifty things I can do (at level 10 you can choose a traditional RPG class. Of course I chose Healer. Why would you even ask such a thing?).

The website is just starting out, and there are lots of opportunities to help the developers. You could create pixel art for them, or create guilds and challenges, code for the Iphone or Android apps, or handle any one of the other tasks on the list. It’s free to play, but of course the developer hopes to make money someday, and frankly I think his financial model is as inobtrusive and reasonable as any I’ve seen.

The chat portions of the site are carefully moderated to a PG level, so the site is safe for children. There is one four letter word (f*ck) on the site, one that is in the middle of the website name of an excellent website (nickname UFYH) for young adults on how to clean their rooms and apartments and homes. Because the challenge names don’t allow for HTML, that one is likely to stay for awhile, and for good reason. The site is an excellent resource.

So head on over to www.HabitRPG.com and check it out. Play around with it, tell your friends, and of course, share this article so they have a good quick start guide to enjoying it. Have fun storming the castle!

(This will be part one of several articles. Habit RPG is evolving, and so is my use of it. So keep watching, and don’t forget to sign up for the newsletter!)

The Ebola Argument for Medicaid Expansion

Full disclosure: I’m strongly in favor of one source health care, preferably a simple expansion of Medicare with optional “gold” insurance add-ons but minimal copays even for the middle class and none at all for the poor. That said, the death of Thomas Eric Duncan in Dallas, Texas from Ebola is a perfect demonstration of why it is critical for public health that the remaining states that have not used the ACA (Obamacare) to expand Medicaid.

Thomas Eric Duncan was turned away from the hospital with a high temperature (allegedly 103 degrees, according to his brother) because he didn’t have health insurance. This wasn’t an isolated incident, and this wasn’t a “hospital error” as some are trying to spin it now. It is policy at most hospitals, including public hospitals, not to admit people, even very ill people, unless they need immediate stabilization in order o survive. Because the hospital wrongly (but understandably) assumed Mr. Duncan had a bad cold, their actions were in line with common hospital practice throughout the United States.

The US health system works very well for people who both have decent health insurance and either have no co-pays and deductibles or who can afford to pay their co-pays and deductibles. For everyone else, and that is a lot of people, it doesn’t work very well at all. And this is a major problem for public health

Each and every person who comes into a hospital with cold symptoms but without health insurance will be stabilized and sent home, as is common practice and policy in most hospitals. Each and every person who is inadequately insured and can’t afford to take time off work (a subject for a different day) or pay for co-pays and deductibles will choose to go to work or stay home rather than go to a doctor or hospital to be checked out.

Ebola is a relatively difficult disease to catch. It has an R0 factor of less than 2, compared to say, measles, with an R0 factor of 12-18 (vaccinate your kids, folks!). But when it is caught, it is a really nasty, deadly disease. One of the main factors in its uncommon spread in West Africa right now is burial practices that include the family members of the deceased being responsible for washing and preparing the body for burial (often done with insufficient protections from bodily fluids). Another factor, unsurprisingly, is an overburdened and underfunded health care system.

We do not want the Ebola virus to escape its human reservoir in the US and escape into wild animals the way it has in Africa, in such a way that it re-enters the human population again and again. What we need in order to prevent that is a public health policy that makes it easy and affordable for everyone to get their health symptoms treated. While one source health care as described in my first paragraph would be ideal, the quickest and easiest way to get this ball rolling is for the remaining states that have not expanded Medicaid to do so immediately, and for additional funding be made available to all hospitals to treat uninsured patients.

There are a lot of financial benefits to the holdout states from expanding Medicaid and making health care easier to access. Hospitals have less unreimbursed expenses. Jobs for medical and medical support personnel see gains, and then employment in other sectors increases in response to people getting well paying jobs being able to spend more money. Absenteeism goes down in many workplaces as people who are contagious stay home and seek help rather than “powering through” and infecting co-workers, venders and clients. As an aside, there is an untapped opportunity market for insurance agents to specialize in helping people choose and get on the ACA marketplace plan that is best for them, either individually or company wide. But the public health benefits of reduced spread of contagious illnesses, some of which are deadly (including Ebola) may be the most important benefit of all.

Do the right thing, states. Expand Medicaid now.

Cheap Eats: Green Chile Chicken Soup

When my youngest son comes home and sees this recipe cooking in the crock pot, he literally squeals and jumps up and down. A little odd for a teenager, but I’ll take it. Fair warning, I cook this a little differently every time I make it, so, this will be more of a guideline than a recipe. All of the mandatory items in the recipe can be purchased at Aldi, and this recipe is also great for using leftover mashed and/or baked potatoes.

The recipe is loosely based on the soup at a steakhouse I worked at over twenty years ago in Las Cruces, New Mexico. In southern New Mexico, potatoes are often a part of traditional “Mexican” (probably “New Mexican” with strong Apache and Navajo influences), so yes, this really is a traditional dish, made in a modern way.

Basic ingredients (One Up ingredients in parentheses for when you have more or less time and/or money). I have never tried to make a gluten or lactose free version of this recipe, and would appreciate any reports of attempts.

2 cans (10.5 oz) Cream of Chicken soup, any brand

3 cans (10.5 oz) Cream of Potato soup, any brand (or just more Cream of Chicken, or a basic homemade cream of chicken and potato)

5 cups milk (or evaporated milk, or cream, or water plus dry milk, or even yogurt) – more or less to taste.

3-5 cans of diced green chiles – NOT jalapenos (or fresh green chiles – Anchoes are very good – preferably roasted before dicing if you have time).

Heat everything except the green chiles in the crock pot on low until hot enough to serve, add green chiles, wait about 15-20 minutes, and serve over or with bread or rice in a bowl. I like mine thick, more like a soup than a stew. You can put the main ingredients in the crock pot in the morning on warm and turn it up to low when you get home if you don’t have time to prepare when you get home. It should be stirred regularly, but it’s a pretty forgiving recipe if you don’t. It might look funny (that’s why there’s no picture), but it’ll taste fine.

Yes, really. That’s the entire recipe. And it’s a wonderful, flavorful warm dish for when you’re broke and digging through the pantry for something to eat. But its the add-ins that bring it up a notch. Try the following:

  • Add leftover mashed potatoes and/or leftover baked potatoes (with or without the skins, chopped into bite sized pieces). Leftover mashed potatoes made with real butter and milk make it taste AMAZING.
  • Add leftover chicken or ready made diced chicken
  • Add diced onions and sweet pepper (one each) to the green chiles and pan fry them before putting them in the soup.
  • Add white beans, either ground into flour to thicken the soup to a more stew-like consistency
  • Add corn, black beans, and red peppers (or one of those frozen mixes containing all three) with the green chiles and serve over cornbread for a brighter color and prettier presentation.

In my family we usually serve the soup over Kings Original Sweet Hawaiian Rolls (which we call “poison mushroom rolls” for reasons that have nothing to do with their wonderful flavor. Italian or French bread are also wonderful, as are brown and white rice, or even white bread if you have nothing else.

This isn’t a particularly nutritious dish unless you add a lot of beans and other veggies to it, but it is great for cold, damp fall and winter days when you want to nosh all day. It’s even better the second day, so long as you don’t let it burn in the crock pot, but it has a tendency to separate and look funky. Turn down the lights and enjoy it anyway.

Double Knit Houndstooth Scarf


Double Knit Houndstooth Scarf


My sister in law Ann lives in Baotou, Inner Mongolia, China, where she teaches English at a University. Baotau is mountainous and extremely cold in the winter, so when she comes home in the summer, I always try to knit one thing she can take back with her and use. Last year it was a pair of houndstooth fingerless gloves (pattern here, which I adapted for three colors, with green and red repeating on a gray background).

This year I decided to make a houndstooth scarf to go with it. Because Baotau is really, really cold, I made the scarf double knit, out of a wool and silk blend from KnitPicks called Gloss DK.  If you are on a budget, Lion Brand Wool Ease (bonus: it’s washable!) is a perfectly acceptable substitute. The Scarlet color in the original has been discontinued by Knitpicks.

This was not an easy project. It was in some ways the hardest I have ever done. This is the sort of project that benefits from stitch markers and some way to count rows, as the most common mistake I made was to knit one too many row of the pattern, skip a row, or get the row “off” by one stitch. Continue reading