Archive for the ‘random’ Category

RHONY reunion: Success, alcoholism not mutually exclusive

August 3, 2011

On the second part of the Real Housewives of New York reunion special last night, there was a lot of bickering and interrupting and eye-rolling. But what really stuck out was the discussion about whether Ramona is an alcoholic, and Ramona’s subsequent declaration that she couldn’t be so successful if she had a problem with alcohol.

This is when the term “functioning alcoholic” was thrown around, with the blond side of the couch saying the term was an oxymoron and that you can’t be successful and be addicted to alcohol. Now I’m not saying Ramona is an alcoholic — I can’t simply as a viewer of an edited TV show diagnose her. But I can take issue with her comments that (1) wine isn’t alcohol and (2) if she were an alcoholic, she wouldn’t be able to manage a successful empire.

Firstly, wine is alcohol. It might be classier than beer or liquor in social circles, and it might be good for your health depending on the medical studies you read. But it still is a type of alcohol, still can cause liver disease like any other type of alcohol, and still can breed and feed an alcohol addiction.

And “functioning alcoholics” are common, as about half of all alcoholics are high-functioning. They have college degrees, good jobs, families, and to the outside world seem very successful. It’s really dangerous to adopt and publicize the notion that alcoholism and success are mutually exclusive, because it misleads an audience that might use that explanation to shrug off their own alcoholism or the alcoholism of a friend or family member.

Sarah Allen Benton, author of the book Understanding the High-Functioning Alcoholic, told The New York Times that this enabled her own alcoholism:

Having outside accomplishments led me and others to excuse my drinking and avoid categorizing me as an alcoholic. My success was the mask that disguised the underlying demon and fed my denial.

We have a lot of mental profiles for what we think specific people look like — we think a drug addict looks like X, a terrorist looks like Y, an alcoholic looks like Z. We probably wouldn’t look at President George W. Bush, Winston Churchill, Stephen King, or Mary Tyler Moore and think “alcoholic,” because we think addiction is obvious and conspicuous. But these people and many other prominent faces, as well as countless other successful people, have been addicted to alcohol privately while enjoying success publicly.

High-functioning alcoholics often implant themselves in scenes where there are a lot of other people drinking so they blend into the crowd, and their success sinks them into a deeper denial than a non-high-functioning alcoholic because they don’t see a problem — if the money and opportunity keep rolling in, why mess with the formula? Regardless, they still constantly think about drinking, have trouble with controlling how much they drink, and use alcohol as a reward for their successes.

Also, alcoholism can be a deadly disease, and I don’t appreciate the housewives who scoffed at the idea that successful people could be alcoholics. It wasn’t just that some of them were trying to defend Ramona because she was their friend and being attacked by several people for her penchant for pinot gregio — it was that there was an air of superiority in how they quickly labeled as absurd the idea that a successful person would fall victim to alcohol abuse. Newsflash: alcoholism isn’t just for the plebeians.

Click here for information about alcoholism, support groups, and professional treatment.

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Recent college grads: Please postpone pet ownership

July 1, 2011

Recent college graduates — I want to have an intervention with you. If you were lucky enough to land an internship or job after college, then congrats! You’re on cloud nine, being an adult, getting a paycheck (I hope), and probably either moving into own your place or thinking about it. And in between lamenting that your college years are over and trying not to get scammed by your new cable company, you probably have considered this phrase: “I want a pet!”

You probably shouldn’t get one, though.

You might be thinking, “Cathy, are you serious right now?! You are a very proud cat lady who doesn’t stop posting pictures of your two adorable cats on Facebook. Why do you want to stifle my happiness?!” It’s not that adopting animals from animal shelters and humane societies is bad, but that in your excitement about being independent and adult and living in the real world, you might impulsively get a pet without taking into consideration the cons of pet ownership as a young college graduate.

1. Finances

Pets are expensive. I absolutely cannot stress this enough — I had a cat growing up and thought this made me fully aware of the costs of pet ownership. In fact, I was dumb enough to adopt not one but TWO kittens while I was unemployed in the fall after I graduated college. I have savings, I said to myself, and these cats will bring me joy in my time of sadness about being jobless.

One, kittens and puppies and baby animals are exponentially more expensive than older animals (by older I mean a few years old, maybe 2-5 years old, as really old animals need more vet care and can be really expensive also). Not only do you have to pay whatever fee from the shelter, but also a huge pile of vet costs from vaccination, neutering, and any sickness that may arise courtesy of their sensitive little immune systems.

When I picked out my two kittens (Asher and Stella), they were both healthy (and adorable).

I came to pick them up a week later, and Asher had an upper respiratory infection. So here’s what my vet bills/shelter bills looked like from day one:

HUMANE SOCIETY

Asher: $80 (microchip, collar, flea treatment, feline leukemia/AIDS shot, rabies shot, misc. taxes and fees)

Stella: $80 (microchip, collar, flea treatment, feline leukemia/AIDS shot, rabies shot, misc. taxes and fees)

TOTAL: $160

VET

Asher: $152.63 (neutering, after coupon from humane society that knocked $36 off the price)

Stella: $150 (can’t find her invoice for being spayed, but we’ll assume it cost about the same)

Both: $69 (got antibiotics for Asher’s upper respiratory infection; antibiotics for Stella post-surgery; charged for seeing the vet)

TOTAL: $371.63

APARTMENT

$300 pet deposit per cat

TOTAL: $600

So all told, in just the first week of having my kittens, they cost me $971.63, not including purchasing food, cat litter, food dishes, and some cat toys. It’s safe to say that it was instantly a $1,000 investment from the start, though I eventually got the full $600 pet deposit back (thank goodness the landlord didn’t see they had climbed the curtains and put lots of little baby kitten claw holes in them). Some apartments make you pay pet rent; some places make you pay a non-refundable pet deposit. So this was $500/cat.

And these are just the basic, mandatory fees I had to pay to adopt from the humane society. I had to have them microchipped and neutered through this humane society, and you could avoid those costs by getting a cat that is already fixed or by using other means (e.g. Craigslist) to get your cats. But you should still have them spayed/neutered and vaccinated.

I hadn’t expected Asher to have an upper respiratory infection, and it turns out he is prone to them. These vet bills? The prices were LOW compared to the robbery committed by the vet hospitals in my current town, which has a higher cost of living. I found that out when I took Asher to the vet one evening because he wasn’t eating and was coughing and wasn’t destroying everything in my apartment per usual.

The bill: $277.10.

And then he got Stella sick.

The bill: $224.00.

So $501.10 down the drain later, I realized that my experience with a healthy cat who never needed to go to the vet was not universal. My cats get sick, and it’s a lot of money to get them better. You can purchase pet insurance, but I still am convinced it’d be a waste for me and my cats. So now my tab is about $1,500, making it about $750 per cat. This doesn’t include all the cat litter, cat food, and other things I’ve bought them. I’ve had them for almost two years, so if I bought two bags of cat food a month ($9 x 2 = $18) and only one big box of cat litter ($12) in the 20 months I’ve had them, that’s $600. Did I mention their yearly shots and rabies certificates? That’ll be another $254.15.

So these cats have cost me about $1,177 each, so personally that’s $2,354. I also buy random things — cleaner to clean up the massive amounts of cat vomit; scrub brushers to clean said vomit out of carpet; costs of replacing things that they’ve ruined through bodily function or by ripping things to pieces. Exhibit A:

I’d say I’ve spent at least $2,500 on them. Want to get them declawed so they don’t tear your stuff to pieces? That’ll cost a few hundred, too.

In discussing this topic with my boyfriend, he stressed that these are minimal expenditures and are even higher when it comes to dogs. Dogs’ cost for vet visits, boarding, obedience training — all much higher. He estimated that for his post-college dog, the costs were about $6,000. Though that included treatment for an illness, these are common costs that you have to take into consideration, especially if you get a puppy or a much older dog.

2. Apartment limitations

Pets severely limit you when apartment hunting. When I search for apartments on craigslist in my price range and limit the search to DC and have no pet restrictions, I get 790 results. That number plummets to 230 when I mark that cats need to be OK. It falls even further to 135 when I include dogs.

Landlords don’t want to deal with pets, and if you’re even looking to fill a room in a group house, roommates might restrict pets. Apartments that do allow pets are more expensive, and they often charge pet deposits or pet rent if you want to keep pets there. You also need to keep in mind how much room your pet needs when considering apartment size — bigger apartments mean more money, but you can’t be living in a studio apartment in the middle of the city with a Great Dane.

3. Inconveniences

You are the caregiver of this pet, and you are making a years-long commitment to taking care of them. This commitment for cats means food, water, litterbox maintenance, and grooming. Let me tell you what’s inconvenient — having cat hair on EVERY SURFACE of my apartment. Get an apartment with carpet, at least it will suck in the cat hair and you can vacuum it up. Tumbleweeds of cat hair float around my fake hardwood floors because they just shed constantly.

But cats are more convenient than dogs. Cats are independent, and if need be, you could leave them alone for a couple of days with water and food and a clean litterbox and they’d get along fine. You can go out at night and not have to worry about them — dogs are another story. You need to take dogs out to use the bathroom, you need to dedicate time to training them, and you need to board them if you’re going to be gone (or find a dog-sitter) for longer than half a day.

As a college grad, a puppy especially can put a cramp in your social life. You have to be extremely responsible and calculate when the dog went out last, how long it can wait to use the bathroom again, and when you need to be home to let the dog out. My kittens have needed antibiotics several times, and they need to be administered every 12 hours on the dot — something you have to keep in mind when making plans. And as kittens and puppies, they really can’t be left alone for long periods of time. As a kitten, Asher once got stuck behind the refrigerator — I can’t imagine what would’ve happened if I were out at a bar when that happened.

In conclusion, adopting pets from animal shelters and humane societies is great — don’t get me wrong. But being a young college graduate, you need to seriously consider holding off on this commitment for a few years. Pets are very costly for someone who is just starting out, and there are lots of other adult costs you will be bombarded with post-graduation (rent, utilities, security deposits, car maintenance, college loans, insurance/cell phone if you haven’t already been paying them, groceries, etc.).

Please, please, please think twice before jumping the gun on pet ownership. I love my cats dearly, but I make a lot of sacrifices that I didn’t expect to make because of them. It’s really tempting to be independent, on your own, and sometimes in a new city by yourself and think, “I should get a cat or a dog,” but be ready for the financial responsibility, time commitment, and inconveniences that come with pet ownership.

On a happier note, cats are excellent mouse killers, and I want everyone to know that I do love my cats, despite the trouble they sometimes cause me.

But had someone told me then that in two years, I’d have spent $2,500 on them, I’d have thought a lot longer and harder about adopting them.

Let them view pictures of cake

May 31, 2011

My brother recently requested that I blog about cake instead of rape and abortion — I think he’s trying to tell me my blog subject matter is a bit depressing? To that I would say (1) what’s really depressing is that I have so much material to write about in terms of the problems with how society views and deals with sexual assault and reproductive rights, but (2) light-hearted material is needed intermittently to avoid drowning in such heavy topics and being consumed by feelings of hopelessness.

And so, I bring you a blog about cake!

My favorite types of cake

First of all, I’m going to admit that I prefer cupcakes to cake. There are cake people and cupcake people, and I’m definitely a cupcake person. That’s partly because I like simple cake flavors, and it’s more difficult to put weird mousse and fruit filling in cupcakes, and partly because cupcakes are so easy to eat and carry around. But this doesn’t mean I will turn down a slice of chocolate cake if someone offers it.

1. Angel food cake with strawberries

I don’t think I’d say this is my favorite type of cake because it is in a category all its own. No frosting (or whipped cream or Cool Whip or whatever weird topping most people like to put on strawberries), just delicious fluffy, light cake with a nice pile of strawberries on top. I probably like this so much because I love strawberries, and the angel food cake offers a different flavor and texture but doesn’t overshadow the strawberries. I also like pound cake and strawberries, but pound cake is pretty heavy in comparison to angel food cake so you can’t eat as much of it.

2. Pepperidge Farm Three-Layer Chocolate Fudge Cake

Now this is a cake. I’m not one for really, really chocolatey desserts (which makes my mom frustrated and wondering if I’m really related to her genetically), but something about this cake always makes me want to eat the entire thing. Layers of chocolate cake with thin layers of a chocolate mousse-type filling (but seemingly denser than chocolate mousse would be) … this cake is just plain delicious. If we were eating cake at any time in my childhood and it wasn’t someone’s birthday, we were eating this Pepperidge Farm cake — maybe that adds to why I like it so much.

3. Red Velvet Cupcakes

I only recently got into red velvet cake, and I think cupcakes are much better for red velvet than a huge sheet cake because the cake is a little sweeter and the frosting is a little tangy (usually cream cheese), so smaller cupcake-sized doses are better than huge slices. Plus their color is so vibrant!

4. Yellow cake with chocolate frosting

My favorite simple, sheet cake combination is yellow cake with chocolate frosting. I’m picky when it comes to desserts, so I don’t like cakes that have nuts, fruit filling, peanut butter … most of the things normal people think are delicious. But regardless of all the toppings and extras that people enjoy on cake, everyone has a simple cake flavor/icing combo that always hits the spot.

Cakes that look cool and/or reflect my favorite things

1. Margarita cake

If you’d like to get me an ideal birthday cake, use this cake as a blueprint and replace “Amy” with “Cathy.” This cake not only is colorful, but it comes with chips and salsa and an actual margarita! Some margarita cakes had margaritas with frosting posing as the margarita inside the glass, but that’s pretty gross — how can you drink a glass full of frosting or a fondant marg? It’s ingenious to instead to have an actual margarita, so the birthday person can enjoy a nice drink with their cake. Make mine a frozen margarita, please.

2. Cat cake

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Come on now, I love cakes that not only look like cats, but look like my cats! This cake looks pretty sizable and well-carved out to match the shape of an actual cat (aka impressive). I don’t think I’d want to eat it — I’d rather find a way to preserve it and put it with all my other cat memorabilia.

3. Grilled cheese sandwich cake

I love grilled cheese sandwiches (note the header of this blog). I wish this cake had something sitting next to it to better illustrate how big it is proportionate to a magazine or a person. I also enjoyed googling pictures of cake made to look like pizza, but this grilled cheese cake was more impressive than any of the pizza cake pictures I found (though a lot of them were really cool-looking, too).

4. iCakes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I spend way too much time with my laptop, and a lesser but still probably unhealthy amount of time with my iPhone. These iPhone icon cupcakes are spot on, and this Macbook cake looks awesome. Unfortunately, both are covered in gross fondant, but it’s hard to make cakes that mimic real-life objects without using the fondant.

This cat video will cheer you up

May 27, 2011

In accordance with my decision to intersperse my blogs with some light-hearted material (most likely cat pictures and videos), please enjoy this video of a cat hugging her sleeping, twitching kitten:

Your brain will explode into little pieces of cuteness right about … NOW!

10 lessons I learned from having my purse stolen

January 6, 2011

Last weekend, just before midnight on New Year’s Eve, someone stole my purse. When I told my mom this the next day, she said, “Well, I hope you learned something from all this.” At first, that really pissed me off — someone had stolen my stuff, and she was chiding me. After I simmered down, however, I realized she was right — this whole experience has taught me quite a bit, and maybe some of this information can help other people prevent a theft or be better prepared if they experience a theft (or just lose their wallet/purse).

1. Watch. Your. Stuff.

This was the obvious lesson my mom was hoping I learned, as the thief didn’t directly steal the purse from me, but snatched it from the table I set it on when I wasn’t looking. This seems like an obvious lesson to already know, but people grow a little too trusting. And people grow not very observant — my friends and I were at a bar, which wasn’t very crowded, and the purse was on a table right next to us. Between the five or six of us there, no one saw anyone come by and take it.

And this kind of theft — the kind where you don’t see someone take anything or it wasn’t physically taken from you — is classified as “lost property” to the police, which makes it even lower on the rung of priorities. It also makes it much more frustrating as the owner of said property, because I know that I didn’t “lose” anything, but I also know that in the eyes of the law, I lost it because I put it in an “insecure” location. Holding onto your stuff is a preventative measure that’s easy to take — I looked away for five or 10 minutes at the most, and it was gone. This goes for coats, too, if you put important stuff in the pockets when you go out.

2. Cancel your cards — immediately

I sent a very colorful and anxiety-ridden e-mail to my older brother as soon as I got to a computer, and he immediately responded that I needed to “calm down” and that cancelling my credit cards was a little bit drastic. I’m sure that this was because he didn’t know the situation, but it turned out that immediately canceling those cards was the right choice — someone tried to use my credit card that very night, but it was declined because I’d already canceled it.

3. File a police report

I was really hedging on filing a police report — I knew that the police wouldn’t be able to do anything, as the purse was long gone and it wasn’t physically taken from me, but snatched indirectly. It seemed like a lot of hassle for nothing, and I was already stressed out enough being without my ID, cash, and any access to my finances. But it was actually my boyfriend who convinced me to do it, and I’m glad he did.

He made a good argument — sure, they probably wouldn’t be able to do anything with this case, but simply letting them know there was a theft means that it’s on the books. If no one filed police reports, the statistics would falsely show that the city is without crime, and problems wouldn’t be known about or addressed. It serves a community purpose to report crimes, and it could add to highlighting a specific crime that is increasingly common or crime in a certain area that is growing.

You should cover all your bases to track down your stuff, and you’ll also feel better knowing there’s an official record of the theft.

4. Keep some spare cash or a credit card at home

One of the worst things about someone stealing my purse is that I lost the cash I had with me, all my debit/credit cards, and my ID — I had no way to pay for anything. What I should’ve always had was a rainy day envelope of money in my house, so that if something like this did happen, I’d have the spare stash to use until the ID, debit, and credit card were replaced. Even a spare credit card would work — just something to tide me over.

Also, some banks will issue temporary debit cards from the actual branch locations (Chase does this) to tide you over til the new one comes in the mail, which would be extremely helpful, and other banks don’t issue temporary debit cards from the actual branch locations (Bank of America mails temporary debit cards — that is extremely dumb and counterintuitive, since they are mailing the regular debit card, too), which would not be very helpful at all. Anyway, that’s another path you could try if you lose your card or it’s stolen.

5. Debit gift cards — write that number down

If you’ve ever gotten a debit gift card and thrown away the receipt, think twice next time — there was a debit gift card in that wallet, which came with a card holder from the bank listing instructions on what to do if the card was lost or stolen. I actually had to dig through some garbage to even find that card holder (don’t throw those things away!), and when I did find it, it only had the last four digits of the card number on it.

Luckily, my dad — the one who got it for me — was able to go to his bank and track down the card number and have it canceled with only the last four digits. But I could’ve easily done it myself had I written down the full 16-digit number and the security code on the back of the card.

6. Temporary phone — very helpful

So another reason that spare cash under your mattress or emergency credit card is important is because, aside from buying you food or possibly paying your bills, it can get you a temporary, prepaid phone. As someone who doesn’t have a landline and only uses a cell phone, you don’t realize how important a phone is until it’s gone. And not because I can’t text or play Angry Birds, but because I simply can’t accomplish tasks that would help me toward restoring my stuff.

I used my boyfriend’s phone to cancel my cards and talk to the police (and he was kind enough to get me a phone with some prepaid minutes for emergencies), but there are other tasks that I can’t do without a phone, all of which revolve around replacing my stuff or dealing with the stolen purse. This becomes very frustrating. On the plus side, my mom is now using gchat to talk to me, and that can be pretty hilarious. (My mom, on gchatting:  “This is pretty good. Just like texting!”)

7. Keep your social security card at home

I used to carry my Social Security card around with me. I needed it for some job in college, and just kept it in my purse. I randomly needed it a few other times since then, and I thought it was nice to know where it was. Then last year, I took it out of my purse and put it somewhere safe, which I am glad I did — that thief could’ve done a lot of damage knowing my Social Security number, and I’m sure replacing a Social Security card is quite annoying. So — best to lock it somewhere safe, except the few times you actually need it.

8. Password protect your phone (if possible)/iPhone users — get the Find my iPhone app

Just before going out on New Year’s Eve, I put my passcode on (it was off so my mom could play Scrabble on my phone, obviously), and I’m glad I did. I didn’t even use the passcode before my older brother’s iPhone was stolen (actually stolen, like, “Here’s my gun, hand over that iPhone,” stolen), and I almost didn’t have it on the night it was taken. I don’t need some stranger having access to my e-mails, contacts, etc.

But the really nice thing was the Find my iPhone app that I had installed just a week before. This free version of the MobileMe app allows you to track your phone remotely, lock your phone remotely, wipe all your data from the phone remotely, and send messages/sounds to your phone remotely. Though the tracking only works if the phone is on, I was able to remotely lock the phone and display a message (OK, my brother was able to, as I was in a state of panic and was dealing with canceling cards) that the phone was lost/stolen and a number to call.

Though it was obvious the thief wasn’t going to return the phone, the app was helpful in two other ways. By tracking the few times the phone was on, I could make better decisions about how to proceed. The first time, it was very close to the bar where it was stolen, so I wasn’t sure if it was still there or not — the second time, it was in a completely different location, so I knew it wasn’t just sitting somewhere or ditched. And I knew it wasn’t coming back.

Which brings me to point number two — being able to remotely wipe your data. I should’ve wiped the data when it was obvious that the phone wasn’t coming back. I knew the thief wasn’t using it much and figured s/he couldn’t get through the lock, and it was my pride that was keeping me from just erasing everything. Once I erased everything, the thief would have full access to the phone in factory-sent format, and I thought that’d be letting him/her win.

In retrospect, I had to cut off service eventually anyway and get a new phone, so I should’ve just wiped the data when I had the chance. The Find my iPhone app is really helpful, especially if you just lose it in your house and can’t find it (you can remotely have it make a sound for two minutes to help find it), but it’s addicting if the phone is gone because it leaves you with this sense that you can still find it — it also leaves you feeling especially frustrated, because you can see where the phone is, but you can’t just drive over and pick it up. So, install the app, but don’t get carried away.

9. Documents — keep them all somewhere

This theft has also brought to my attention that I really do not keep track of important documents very well. Instead of having a filing system or one place for everything, I have folders, bags, and boxes each containing random pieces of mail or important documents — this is not very helpful when you know the document exists, just have no idea where it is. Especially if you’ve recently moved — keeping everything together will save a lot of hassle.

10. Don’t shy away from help — take it

I hate asking for help and have hated feeling so dependent on other people this week, but I’m glad to have those people to depend on, because otherwise I probably would have had three anxiety attacks simply from worrying about how to replace things and how to go about my daily routine without any money whatsoever. I acknowledge that it could have been much worse and that people go without money and other necessities everyday, but these were my personal circumstances, and I want the people who have been helping me out to know that I really, really appreciate it.

Stuff: Can live with it, can live without it

August 25, 2010

I can’t get this post from Feministe out of my head. Guest blogger Joy describes how she packed all her stuff for a cross-country move and discovered that she lived just fine without the stuff:

The end result [of packing] was 18 medium sized boxes of items I thought I could not live without. 18 boxes of clothes and dishes and memories that seemed essentially to me being me; my life in 18 boxes.

In the three months since, I’ve left those boxes packed. I’ve lived out of two suitcases and it’s been fine. Are my clothing choices slightly more limited? Yes. Does it really matter? No.

We all have so much stuff that we don’t use or need, but knowing it’s there brings this strange sense of comfort that is both unhealthy and limiting. I recently moved and have several boxes of stuff sitting in storage — boxes that contain momentos, pictures, old notebooks from classes, etc. It’s unhealthy because I can convince myself, “But what if I need XYZ item sometime in the future?” and then keep most stuff. It’s limiting because I put a lot of value in these things, which in turn would be to my detriment if something happened to them, e.g. they were lost or destroyed.

Having these thoughts sparingly isn’t bad, but having them about every single little thing eventually makes you dependent on having things to define your life experiences — souvenirs from trips, decorations for the house, etc. The danger is that instead of just keeping things you already have amassed, you start actively seeking more things to define your life, make you happy, etc.

My mom once wanted to show me my grandma’s wedding dress, but she couldn’t find it because the boxes in our back garage are overwhelming, filled with never-used wedding gifts and lots of other unused, old stuff. Perhaps the key is to, as young people, watch how we collect and buy stuff and try not to place value on everything we come across — simply having the space for stuff doesn’t mean you need to fill it.

Teen Mom: Scams, family tension, and the foundation of trust

August 18, 2010

Last night’s episode of Teen Mom kept the drama coming — Farrah got scammed out of $3,000 (still not sure exactly why she was wiring that money); Tyler told Catelynn she “disgusts” him; Maci introduced Bentley to Kyle; and Amber and Gary were … Amber and Gary.

1a. Learning Life Skills: When it comes to money, always double-check and be skeptical

Farrah is living on her own now, and she is learning the hard way that sometimes the only way to learn is from your mistakes. Farrah sold her car online, and the buyer sent her a check for $8,000. For some reason, she wired $3,000 back to him (the episode is unclear why, they just say it’s for shipping the car, which makes no sense) and later learned that the original check was bad, she was scammed, and the “buyer” got away with her $3,000.

Farrah is 18, and she is bound to make mistakes like this. What’s worse is that she lives on her own without any parents or support system wise enough to tell her it’s a scam — though considering Farrah’s attitude, I’m sure she would’ve sent the check anyway, just to defy her mom’s accusation of it being a scam. But the lesson here is that when it comes to money, you have to be careful.

Farrah should’ve made sure the original check cleared before wiring the person any money — really, you shouldn’t wire strangers money at all, but at least making sure the check cleared is a good start. If the person on the other end is insisting you not wait or that s/he needs the money immediately, be skeptical. It’s easy to be young and ignore your instincts because you aren’t sure how things work in the real world, but if it feels sketchy, it probably is.

Plus, I’m sure the guy offered way more than the car was worth, so Farrah was definitely down to sell him the car because it seemed too good to be true — if you’re thinking that, then you need to take a step back and wonder if it is. You’re a lot more susceptible to scams when money is tight, so don’t let the dollar signs overwhelm your instincts and better judgment.

1b. Learning Life Skills: Prioritizing needs vs. wants

Farrah’s car was fine — she just wanted a new car that had a sunroof and automatic locks. Typically, when you’re as cash-strapped as Farrah says she is, you sell your car out of financial necessity — you need to sell the car and use the money to pay for bills, or buy a cheaper, crappier car and use the profit to pay your bills. Nope, Farrah just wanted a sunroof.

Making the transition from high school to the real world means understanding how to prioritize — just last week, Farrah was calculating that she needed more than $1,000 to pay her bills. This week, she is intently focused on getting a new car — not because she needs a new car, but because she wants a new car. Even her friend Kristina finds this puzzling, questioning her selling the car before she even had a new one to replace it.

“I’m spontaneous like this all the time, but I need to quit because I have a child and I’m on my own now,” Farrah told her. Wise words, but not words she is actually following. Farrah is not just being “spontaneous,” which has a positive, fun connotation — she is being impulsive and reckless with her money and her main form of transportation. It’s not bad that she wants a sunroof — it’s bad that she convinces herself that she needs a sunroof and automatic locks, despite the pile of bills that should be taking priority.

1c. Learning Life Skills: “Where do I sign my check?”

For the second time in the history of Teen Mom, Farrah has asked where she needs to sign the check. Certain life skills really are only learned through experience — it seems like a dumb question for Farrah to ask, but there are lots of questions regarding money, bills, rent, landlords, etc. that you don’t think to ask about until you’re dealing with them directly. They don’t teach you about things like landlords scamming you in high school — that one you learn on your own.

Farrah getting scammed falls into this category, too — lessons you learn only from making mistakes. We’ve all had these experiences, and you feel really dumb at the time for not knowing how to do something, but you can’t beat yourself up about it — when were you taught how to write a check, deal with a landlord, or handle problems with your insurance company? Though Farrah, you’ve asked twice now, so I’m pretty sure someone has told you where to sign the check.

2. How trust is built

Tyler asked Catelynn to provide him with phone records to show that she was being honest with him and to rebuild trust. Last week, I talked about how that was a terrible way to build trust, and at the end of this week’s episode Tyler refuses the phone records. “I’ll just believe what you say, ” Tyler told her. “I think looking at those phone records is going backwards.” Aside from him then littering and tossing the phone records into the water, this was a great move on his behalf.

Except that the phone records did lead Catelynn to admitting to Tyler that she had tried to call her ex six times, talking to him two of those times. I’m not sure whether the phone records are recent or from three years ago, but the threat that Tyler would see the phone records seemed to push her to confess this information to him. So despite Tyler’s refusing to view them, the phone records policy got Catelynn to admit some information she had been keeping from him. I hope Tyler doesn’t use the threat-of-the-phone-records as a trust policy, considering it was successful here.

Tyler’s mom made a good point, however, of how your childhood and your past can affect your ability to trust in relationships. Tyler’s dad was in prison for a lot of his childhood, and he spent a lot of time lying to Tyler and/or making empty promises to him. “To me, lying is purposely hurting someone else,” Tyler told his mom. Because of his stance on lying — that it’s always malicious, because he felt his dad’s lying was always malicious — he originally saw Catelynn’s lies as nothing but direct attacks. We don’t always realize how much our past shapes or influences how we view relationships.

3. Do families need to get along to make relationships work?

Amber and Gary had another fight (surprise). But this time, it was about Gary’s brother (I think) not liking Amber’s parents. When Amber and Gary started discussing their wedding and saying that Gary’s family could stay with her family, the brother immediately opposed staying with her family before qualifying his answer by saying he just didn’t want to stay with Amber’s dad or mom. You can imagine how Amber reacted to this. She stormed out of Gary’s mom’s house, where they were having Easter dinner, and walked home.

There’s obvious tension between the family members, which adds stress to any relationship. Would it make or break a relationship? That depends on a few things: How close emotionally the person is to his/her family (which will determine how offended s/he is by comments — Amber was extremely offended); how close in proximity the families are (e.g. how often they see each other); how strong the tension is, e.g. is it a general level of annoyance that can be ignored or is it confrontational and open yelling and screaming every time they see each other?

The range of whether families need to get along is wide — there are minor differences that are easy to look past, such as different senses of humor, and there are major differences that are impossible to look past, such as different religions — which in some cases will get people disowned by their families. Families don’t have to get along, but it obviously makes the relationship easier — or in some cases only possible — if they do.  

4. What it means to date a parent

I really like that Maci took the time to spell out for Kyle not only what he needed to expect as someone dating a parent, but what she expected of him as someone dating a parent. She took her time before introducing Kyle to Bentley and that she made sure they got along before going further with their relationship. But, she also let him know that dating her wasn’t also signing up as Bentley’s new dad.

“I don’t want you to feel that if you are unhappy you can’t leave because of him,” Maci told Kyle. I find Maci to be extremely mature, and this statement is just one example. She lets him know upfront that yes, dating her means also getting along with Bentley and understanding that Bentley is her number one priority, but like any relationship, they shouldn’t only be together just for the sake of the baby. It’s that notion that almost led her down the aisle with Ryan, and it’s nice to see that she’s addressing it with Kyle right off the bat.

Chipotle bag campaigners: You can also just refuse the bag

August 12, 2010

It’s great that people are trying to get Chipotle to ask customers before they automatically bag their burritos, but why exactly is it entirely on Chipotle to ask the question first? TreeHugger posted the story with the misleading headline “Can Twitter Change Chipotle’s Mandatory Bag Policy?” — misleading because Chipotle doesn’t have a mandatory bag policy.

If you don’t want a bag, right when they ask “For here or to go?” you can simply reply, “To go, and I don’t need a bag.” That’s what I do every time I go to Chipotle, and no one has ever demanded I use a bag. This policy works at any store  — instead of waiting, as a customer, to be asked if your items should be bagged, you can just as easily be proactive about requesting that those items aren’t bagged.

Facebook: More qualified to confirm relationships than you

July 29, 2010

While making the rounds of telling my close friends that I was officially in a new relationship, almost all of them questioned what I meant by “official” — they did this by asking, “Facebook official?” I didn’t exactly know what to make of the constant question — part of me totally understood what they meant, and part of me thought, “Wait, do you not believe me? Or will you not take the new relationship seriously until it’s on Facebook?”

The fact that being “Facebook official” is the signal that things are serious is a true testament to how central it is in young people’s lives — it used to be that telling your parents about a new relationship was the signal that it was serious, and now Facebook is like the third parent that needs to know about changing relationship statuses in order for them to be legit.

But I will say that the constant questions about Facebook kept lingering in my head, as if not putting it on Facebook was equivalent to not wanting to tell people or wanting to keep it a secret — it’s like merely having a Facebook account implies you want to share all your personal information with everyone, so when you omit something or don’t put it on there, people infer you are trying to hide it. So by not putting the relationship status on Facebook, it seemed like the “officialness” of the relationship lost some credability.

Once the relationship status was on Facebook (not because of peer pressure), the responses were even more enthusiastic. Perhaps in a world — especially in the world of young people — in which there are lots of different classifications and descriptions for relationships of sorts (e.g. hooking up; seeing each other; dating; hanging out), the Facebook status update is the clearest way to dig through the muck and the adjectives to just say, “Yes, we are in a relationship.”

And young people also date for various amounts of time, and friends tend to grow desensitized to hearing about so-and-so “seeing someone” or “dating someone,” not knowing whether to get very excited about two people “officially dating” because the relationship might fizzle in a week. If you go to the trouble of changing the relationship status on Facebook and therefore telling every single family member, friend, and acquaintance on Facebook — which is likely hundreds of people — then your friends know that it probably isn’t a fling.

Being “Facebook official” does make a statement, and people’s asking about it is likely just a symptom of the breadth of social networking. But, it’s still concerning how much a website can come to define how others perceive your life — sure they believed me (allegedly) when I said it was official, but I’m pretty sure they believed Facebook more when it said things were official.

Teen Mom: Taking breaks, staying together, and moving out

July 28, 2010

Last night’s episode of Teen Mom was full of drama — Maci wanting to move out, Farrah wanting to move out, Catelynn lying about sleeping with her ex three years ago — and nothing tops the relationship problems that Amber and Gary were having. These problems raised a couple interesting questions.

1. Does asking for a break count as cheating?

Gary met a girl at Walmart, and he wanted to see if there was something there. So he asked Amber to take a “four-day break” in order to figure things out and see if he wanted to be with this new girl or stay with Amber. Amber’s reply, to her daughter Leah, was, “Daddy’s a cheater!” So does asking for a break count as cheating? 

First we have to define the difference between “taking a break” and “breaking up.” The line between the two is a bit blurry, but I’d say the difference is that with “taking a break,” you have some interest in coming back and reevaluating the relationship — with breaking up, you don’t want to give things a second chance, and you just want the relationship to be over. Gary wanted a break so he could test the waters with this new girl and figure out whether he wanted to stay with Amber or not.

The person who is being told about the break needs to evaluate whether s/he can, after the person explores and sees other people, continue to be in a relationship if the person comes back, which is implicit in “taking a break.” Amber ended up giving Gary a one-day pass with this girl, who he went on a date with and decided wasn’t worth breaking up his family. But something tells me the one-day pass will linger and keep causing problems between them.

Technically, if you haven’t done anything else prior, it’s not cheating to ask for a break. It is a guilt-free way to be with someone else though, like Nikkole’s (from 16 and Pregnant) on-again, off-again boyfriend Josh, who really does just break up with her so he can hook-up with other girls, and then he asks to date her again when he’s done with those pursuits. My friend Jonny said it best when it comes to asking for a break to see other people: “I mean, that’s not cheating, that’s just being a douchebag.”

Taking a break is the loophole around cheating, though some might argue that merely having the thoughts of wanting to be with someone else is a form of cheating. Gary had feelings for her, said they “somehow exchanged numbers,” and was texting her while still with Amber, which is cheating territory in my book — he didn’t do anything physically, but he was going behind Amber’s back to keep in touch with her.

2. Should you stay together for the kids?

My friend and fellow Teen Mom enthusiast Emily brought up a good point while we were discussing the show last night — should you stay together for the kid, even if you as parents are unhappy with each other? Amber and Gary also dealt with this, as they were obviously at each other’s throats but trying to make it work for Leah’s sake. Does Leah benefit from having them together physically even if they aren’t together emotionally?

I don’t think so. We saw with Maci and Ryan that trying to force something — e.g. almost getting married — just so two parents can live and raise the baby together is not healthy. Kids are intuitive — they aren’t going to be fooled by the fact that, despite that their parents live in the same house, they constantly fight and show no love for each other. I wouldn’t want my child to use that as a model for a healthy relationship.

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Aside from Amber and Gary’s problems, we saw that trust can be broken even years later, as Tyler was beyond angry to learn that Catelynn had lied to him three years ago about hooking up with her ex. We also saw how important a support system is, as Farrah loses hers because of the domestic violence incident with her mom and is left to fend for herself in taking care of Sophia.

On the Farrah note, it was also interesting to see her struggle to find an apartment — it illustrates how difficult it really is to be young and on your own, when landlords want you to have a certain credit score/be a certain age/make a certain amount of money. Similarly, it was tough for Maci to find an apartment, not because of finances, but because of Bentley — it was the same situation Farrah had last season when she was apartment-hunting and found that none of the roommate living situations was conducive to raising a child.