Philadelphia Freedom

I was lucky enough recently to get to spend a week in Philly. Unfortunately it was in March. And it was cold; in the 30s and raining almost the entire time.

Regardless, my trip was going to be a walking trip. I had the company car, this monstrous SUV, and I was not about to try to worry about parking that beast. So, during my 7 night stay, I used my car exactly once. Philly is an excellent place for a walking vacation. There is so much “stuff” so close together! I never went out of a 3 mile radius of my hotel and didn’t get to see everything in that radius.

And, even though I’m female and traveled alone, I was comfortable walking around. Mostly. There was only once or twice that I felt unsafe. Once was completely my fault, I acknowledged a panhandler who then got really aggressive. He started following me and recruited a fellow panhandler to start insulting me. I stayed calm and simply began looking around for an open restaurant/store/etc. that I could run in to. I also looked for cops. But the men gave up before I had to take any action. The worst part of Philly is that there are loads of homeless people and panhandlers, everywhere. The Center City’s subway terminal was all sleeping bags. There was no chance you could get me to explore the subway after seeing that.

And all the beautiful squares and park space downtown seem to exist almost exclusively to contain the homeless. In the middle of the day, I saw a young-ish couple laying on a blanket and covered with many more blankets. They were surrounded by bags of their belongings. If it wasn’t so cold – and raining – one could have imagined they were having a picnic.

Anyway, I didn’t do anything crazy, so I felt safe. I didn’t walk around much after dark. And I didn’t go in certain areas. It was easy to see which sections were sketchy. So I walked around them. And I certainly didn’t go out alone after drinking. Especially since drinking was pretty pricey. Happy hour specials were things like “$5 for Blue Moon on tap. $5 for Bud Light on tap”. That was a happy hour special. I could almost buy a six pack of yucky Bud Light for $5. As I said though, that was pretty typical pricing for downtown Philly. And most places didn’t have much other than Bud Light and Blue Moon.

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It Finally Happened

My little lovey son is now too big to allow me to kiss him in front of his classmates.

I went to kiss him, as I picked him up from after school care, he stopped me. He made me wait until we got into the hallway. Very quietly he told me “ok, now you can”. Previously, when I got to the childcare center he would jump up into my arms and I’d give him a big kiss. Then he would grab his backpack and his coat and we would hold hands.

Today, we were holding hands and then he caught himself. He told me, again very quietly, that we could hold hands once we were outside. He said that “they” would make fun of him. I asked who “they” were and he just said “they”.

I’m so sad. My baby is growing up. I’m not ready.

Money – That’s What I Want

I am not big on budgeting.  I make, or made, a decent wage so I assumed that as long as I wasn’t extravagant, I should be able to cover expenses. We don’t have fancy cars, we don’t go to fancy restaurants, we don’t travel much.  We have a middle class standard of living.

Unfortunately, over the past 7 years or so, our buying power has decreased so much that even our modest lifestyle is now above our means.  And with the oldest starting college this year, I have started budgeting.  I’m in my first full month so it’s all new.  It’s going to be frustrating, I see that already.  There were so many things I already neglected to include in my budget: car license plate renewals, haircuts, pet food.  I figure that the first couple of months will be just getting to know where our money goes.  I never thought about buying whatever fundraising thing someones brings around, or going out to eat at a middle-of-the-road restaurant once every week or two.  I never minded treating a friend to lunch or spending $7 on a fancy greeting card.  If I wanted the latest book by whoever, I just bought it.  Now I have to consider all of that.

Already, this exercise has made me realize that there are things for which I am really loathe to pay.  I don’t begrudge having to pay for the license plate renewals, haircuts, or pet food.  But I hate having to pay for Subway.  My in-laws used to own one so we could just pop in, when we weren’t working there, and grab a sandwich on occasion – or for every meal if one was as big of a mooch as one of my brother-in-laws.  So, Subway does not figure into any budget.

I also detest paying for bandaids.  My kids use them almost like stickers.  It’s irritating to go buy the jumbo box of bandaids and, when I honestly need one, find it completely empty and the box still in the medicine cabinet.

I hate paying for cable, but our phone and internet are wrapped into that price.  I think I need to evaluate that more closely.  And I hate my huge cell phone bill.  We have 5 phones with unlimited data and shared minutes on a family plan.  The kids might be down graded to dumb phones like mere mortals.  Maybe my husband too because he can get his data through his work phone.  Who really needs 2 smart phones?

We’re not renewing any of our magazine subscriptions.  If I can’t read it for free through my library’s Zinio subscriptions or online, then I’m not going to read it.  And, as my local newspaper is cutting back to only 3 days of home delivery, I’ll cancel that except on Sundays.

I hate paying for car repairs.  I miss when cars were simple enough that most repairs could be done in the driveway.  We still do our own oil changes.  Most other things are too complicated anymore.  Home appliance repairs is another category of things for which I hate paying.  But more than disliking paying for repairs, I hate that even expensive appliances are made to be disposable.  How wasteful.  So, we’re going to continue to do as many repairs as we can on our own.  The internet is such an awesome resource for this.  It allows me to be much more ambitious in the repairs we attempt.  So, we’re going to repair things that we may have simply replaced preciously.

Fresh fruits, vegetables, and herbs are expensive.  We have a garden every year, but I want to expand our garden this year.  I’m not into canning, but I will try it this year.  And I did blanche and freeze excess before anyway.  I really got into pickling last summer and that will continue.

I’ve been reading blogs that help me with my resolve to be more attentive to my spending.  Wise Bread’s Frugal Living is a good start.  I’ve also been reading tips from anti-consumerism groups.  I try to read one thing (article, tip, blog post) every day for encouragement.  This is going to be an interesting journey.  I expect to learn a lot about myself.  And I hope my kids learn some lessons also.

Do You See What I See

My mom is an amateur photographer.  She’s done weddings and senior photos and that sort of thing.  She used to make me sit for hours posing while she played with lighting and camera settings and filters and whatever else. 

Recently, I brought the kids and my husband to visit her and she asked us to sit for pictures.  Because I have learned nothing, I assumed she was asking if the kids would allow their pictures to be taken.  The oldest two are in the habit of refusing to be photographed, much like Bigfoot.

When we got to my mom’s, she had a studio set up with lights and backdrops and everything.  I wish I would have translated mom to English correctly as I would have made the kids dress for portraits. 

Just the other day, I received a package from my mom.  It contained prints from the photo shoot.  As I spread them on the kitchen table, my kids and husband gathered around to view them.  We talked about which features each kid got from my husband and which they got from me.  And we commented on how nicely my middle child was smiling as she usually won’t even sit for a picture let alone smile. 

Then I heard my oldest talking about how bad she looks in pictures.  She juxtaposed this with how she imagines I look in pictures.  My husband joined in saying that I just know how to pose, which angles make me look best.  And my oldest followed up by saying that it isn’t just in pictures, that I always show up everywhere looking like I stepped off a runway and that I look photoshopped.

That sucks.  My kids are all beautiful.  My oldest is stunning.  She has big, dark eyes with thick, long lashes.  She has gorgeous olive skin.  When I show pictures of her, everyone comments how beautiful she is.  Because she is beautiful.  I wish she saw what I see. 

And I wish she wouldn’t compare herself to me.  We don’t look the same.  She is dark and exotic.  Her features are strong.  She has big full lips and a those eyes. I am pale with more delicate features. She doesn’t need to look like me to be pretty.   I hate that she uses me to make herself feel inferior.

I wish I could make her believe what I see. 

Free to Good Home

Our old flat screen tv died at approximately 1 pm on Super Bowl Sunday.  Seriously, just a few hours before we were hosting our annual party for our friends.  The ribs were baking, the sauces were simmering and there was this black bar of emptiness slowly marching up the screen.

So, my husband ran out and bought a new tv.  He’d been looking at a new tv for a while and the one he wanted was on sale.  It’s nice to have a new tv.  I’m happy we got it in time for our party.  But moving the old tv was astonishingly hard.  I helped my husband move it into the house after we bought it.  We moved it 3 more times since.  This time though, I wasn’t up to the task.  It’s really heavy, my husband estimates 200 pounds but that must be an exaggeration.  Let’s use that though because it makes me feel less bad about not being able to carry it up the stairs and out of the way.  We had the oldest’s weightlifting-obsessed boyfriend help my husband with it.

My husband put the tv out on the treelawn (using a hand cart) last night.  Possibly usable things don’t last long in my neighborhood.  Within 20 minutes, there was someone out looking at it.  An hour after that, my oldest told me there were 2 guys attempting to pick it up.  My oldest and youngest stood in our foyer with the lights out watching and laughing at the failed attempt to garbage pick our old tv. 

Apparently, no one else was up to the task of moving that beast.  It was still there this morning. 



It Wasn’t Me

As a parent of 3, I’ve often heard “it wasn’t me”.  Often it’s over inconsequential things: empty toilet paper rolls (so, so many), empty bottles in the fridge, dirty dishes in rooms where dishes aren’t allowed, towels on the floor, lights on in empty rooms. 

Today was different though. 

The kids are home on spring break.  They have 2 desktop pcs for the 3 of them.  But today they decided to use my laptop instead.  And apparently, someone dropped it.  I suspect that it was left the arm of a chair and was knocked off.  The laptop works, for now, but it’s not repairable.  At some point, just through normal use, the damage will cause it to fall apart.  The screen is just barely hanging on.

I came home, did my evening things, and eventually sat down to sync my phone with my iTunes.  Only when I picked up my laptop did I realize that something had happened as no one had mentioned it.  Checking through my browser history, it is clear that all 3 of my children were using my laptop today… without permission.

But no one will admit to it. That is the worst part. 

I’m going to find a reasonable replacement and the kids will have to split the replacement cost.  And they are all going to have extra chores. 


The Goal is 21 NOT 30

The other day, I ran out to get some flour – I was stupid enough to try to start making bread before checking how much I had on hand.  So I grabbed my coat and shoes, my credit card and car keys, and my son and we ran out to Trader Joe’s.

I like to bake with Trader Joe’s whole wheat white.  The price is very good and the results are too. Using whole wheat flour would be better but it’s not very pleasant to use for sandwiches and my kids hate it.  All purpose or bread flour is yummy and fluffy but not very good for anyone.  So I assume that whole wheat white is a good compromise.  At times I add bran.

As is often the case at Trader Joe’s, I went in for one item, and picked up many more.  The best thing I found was one of the last 4 bottles of Trader Joe’s Belgian Ale.  At Christmas, Trader Joe’s has their vintage ale in a 750 mL bottle.  It’s brewed by Unibroue.  I don’t remember when the Belgian Ale came out, if it’ll be a yearly seasonal thing, but these are generally one offs.

So I picked up one of the last 4 bottles and headed to the checkout. 

The beer was the first thing I put up on the counter.  Then I unloaded the rest of my stuff: cereal bars, 4 bags of flour, tacquitos, cookies, etc.  My little son, who is well into elementary school, was with me, helping the whole time. 

And I sort of knew it was coming before she said it.  She carded me.  Now, normally, this would be a great thing.  I have a kid who’s not too far away from being legally able to buy and consume alcohol.  My kid.  Not a step kid, not a foster kid.  My own flesh and blood.  And I was married before she was conceived. 

So, I explained that I didn’t have my ID.  I wasn’t carrying a purse; I just ran out for the flour.  And the lady said “once we ask for ID, we can’t sell it to you unless you produce an ID”. 

So I told her “I’m thirty XXX years old”.  And we talked about it for a bit and she stuck with the whole she can’t sell to me.  So I said “You only have 4 bottles left and I wouldn’t mind if I looked even close to being under 21.”

And here’s where things got really stupid.  This moronic cashier tells me “it’s not 21, it’s 30 and you definitely look under 30.” 

But it is 21.  It is. The goal is to not sell to someone under 21.  It’s different when the cashier is a teen.  Everyone looks old to a teen.  But when the cashier is my contemporary, he or she should be able to use common sense.  The cashier clearly knew I was of legal age.  Even the most poorly used 21 year old looks younger than me. 

The goal shouldn’t be to irritate customers.  A kid isn’t buying a 750 mL bottle of beer.  That kid is going to buy a 6 pack.  A kid isn’t going to be wearing a platinum engagement ring with a giant diamond.  A kid isn’t going to have a child the age of my youngest son.  I could have had him at 15 and still be more than legal. 

I really think some cashiers just like to bust my chops.  My husband never gets carded.  But there have been occasions, when I am with him, I’ve had cashiers try to deny the sale unless I give my ID.  Even when he’s paying.  I’m not joking.  I wish I looked under 21. 

Stores really need to work with their cashiers.  The goal should not be to piss off customers.  And, since Trader Joe’s is a 15 minute drive, I wasn’t going to drive back to get one of those last bottles.  And I might not be going back for a bit.  That exchange left me pretty annoyed.