On Appreciating the Little Things, Especially Around the Holidays

Michtom For those of us who live paycheck-to-paycheck, for whom the accumulation of savings is always one perfect-month-without-crises away, it is important to take pleasure in the little things. For me, one of those little things is the stretch of the month between the 15th and the 25th, when all my big bills are paid — student loan, 2011 independent contractor taxes on the installment plan — but the next round of them — rent, phone, after-school for two kids — is still the better part of a week away.

Often, a paycheck, or, more precisely, a pay advice from a direct deposit, arrives during this period, giving me the false sense that I am getting ahead and accumulating the absurd amount of emergency cash that financial planners smugly say I should have. By now I have learned not to rely on my foolish notions, so I resist big purchases (well, maybe a few extra drinks). Instead, I just luxuriate for a few days in a false sense of financial security. This month, it’s false financial security and a glass of egg nog with rum in it. Happy holidays.


What Is It About Americans and Excess

In some ways, Hannukah is a more American holiday than Christmas. Why limit a family to one day of conspicuous consumption if the family could instead enjoy EIGHT? There is nothing we obsess over in this country as much as excess. “Moderation!” cry the experts over and over again. We laugh in their faces and then order an entire large pizza to gobble down ourselves.

Then, of course: juice cleanse.

Binge and purge. Feast and famine. It never rains but it pours. We are a country of selfies and self-loathing, lottery tickets for the poor and mega mansions for the rich, and, of course, for the very lucky/self-righteous, Tiny Houses. Roxane Gay is now on record as hating Tiny Houses, guys.

I rage against tiny privilege, the luxury of declaring, “I am tired of all this space and want to be done with it.” The fetish to rid oneself of material possessions and live in a Post-It note is beyond my comprehension. I recognize that I am the problem here. I am from the Midwest. A woman named Dee Williams counts her belongings. She keeps a tally of her stuff. She has 305 things right now. She lives in a space that is 84 square feet. She built her home herself and she is clearly living her truth, which is lovely but… No. Also, if she injures herself, how will she get into the sleeping loft? On HGTV, I saw a show called Tiny House Hunters or something like that. This couple wanted to downsize from a 750 square foot apartment which, as a country girl, just blows my mind. Turn down for what? Anyway, they looked at some options but the husband was very intent on having a composting toilet. His wife was not having it. They have plumbing in their new home.



51 Minutes in a Revolving Door

Mid-turn, and the whole thing stopped moving. With a sighhhhh. And a click. The person in front of me (hair scraped into a bun and brown coat) was able to squeeze out. As was the person behind me (heavy boots and red scarf). But I was trapped. By three walls of glass. After much pushing and shrugging on my part, the security guard approached holding up a note written on the back of a ticket stub. Are you ok? Door stuck? His name tag said “Bill” and he could not have been older than 19. “I can hear you,” I said. “Yes it is. And yes, I’m fine.” Good, Bill wrote on his hand before, subsequently, transforming these words into a thumbs up. He turned to another security guard: “I think the door’s stuck,” he said. Bill’s Friend looks at the door. And then at me: “Christ.”

10:15 AM: Bill and his Friend start to pull the door. And like any self-respecting young woman living in a post-Liam-Neeson-Taken era, I decided to call… my father. “Dad. I’m trapped in a revolving door.” There followed a crunch of cornflakes. “Is this a metaphor?” My father asked. “Did you want to speak to your mother? You know I’m no good at these sorts of problems.” I tell him it’s real. I tell him it’s happening. I tell him to feed my fish if I don’t make it out. “Honey, [cornflake crunch/ swallow] have you actually tried pushing the door. Push the door. See what happens.” This whole time, museum patrons are trying to use the revolving door/my new glass prison. Puzzled when nothing happens, they look at me. And then exit through the side door to the left. Some of them shake their heads or roll their eyes. I have, they presume, broken the door. Children are crying: they wanted to go through “the spinning” door: “What did the lady do?” A small girl asks her mother. “I can hear you,” I say. READ MORE


This Holiday Season, Give the Gift of Your Voice

sxsw_ariel-gets-voice-back-oWhen I was in elementary school, I worked with the school’s speech therapist to record my voice to use on a soundboard for a student who could not speak.

It was pretty cool, if a little low tech and cumbersome. The board included individual words, like “water,” as well as shortcodes to access common sentences, like “May I have a glass of water please.” The unfortunate part was that any words not included on the soundboard could not be spoken, and so it was an imperfect tool.

When I was making my recording in the early 1990s, you had to have a bunch of special equipment and a dedicated recording space and all of that. Now, you can send over your voice straight from your laptop and use it to literally give voices to others—and they, in turn, can say anything they want without the limitations of a pre-set soundboard.

The company VocaliD is working to create The Human Voicebank, which allows people to freely donate their voices to be used in computer voice production. Simply push the button, say VocaliD’s pre-scripted sentences out loud, and your voice gets added to the voicebank.

Then VocaliD does its magic.



When Smartphone Insurance Isn’t Worth It


Despite dropping my iPhones all the damn time since 2010, I never cracked a screen until this week. I attribute the streak of unbroken screens to slider cases by Incase, which I’ve used since scoring a free one at SXSW from bins near the outdoor stage where GWAR played. Soon after, I dropped my first iPhone two stories from my fire escape, but lo! The dirt-infused Downtown Brooklyn air parted as I climbed down to retrieve the phone, and although the white plastic case was cracked, the device was fine. I became a brand advocate.

So, what caused me to stray from this loyalty? A free golden Jennifer Lopez-branded case came with my new 5s gold iPhone in July at Viva Movil, a J. Lo-endorsed Verizon store. But as we now see, freedom isn’t free. I knew the case probably wasn’t very good at protecting the phone (you know, its actual purpose), but I was already feeling vulnerable after shelling out for the phone, and hey! Free shiny thing.

Besides, I had opted for the insurance, provided by Asurion, which also supplies insurance to the other major carriers. The Verizon Wireless website makes this case for it:

Why is protection important?
Getting equipment coverage or an extended warranty for your device means that you can be protected from damage, loss, malfunctions and defects. The cost of replacing your device without protection may be as high as full retail price.

Despite being a frugal person who seeks out items that are built to last, and reads pages of reviews of products to make sure I don’t buy something shoddy, in this particular case my frugality didn’t translate to reading the fine print. READ MORE


Sharing Time: How Much Did You Spend on Presents This Year?

and at christmas you tell the truth

It’s time. If you are ready, willing, and prepared, please drop into the comment box the answers to these questions:

1. How much did you spend on presents this year?

2. How much did your most expensive gift cost?

3. How about the least expensive gift?

4. Did you make a budget before you began shopping for presents?

5. If yes to #4, did you stay within your budget?

6. Did you put any presents on a (gasp!) credit card.

7. Do you feel like you spent “the right amount” on presents this year?

My answers are after the jump:



Save Money With Hugs! And Generics

hugOh, Science! You’re the best. ((hugs))

Scientists have found that hugs can protect stressed people from getting sick, providing them with more social support that protect them against infection. …

the scientists assessed 404 healthy adults, who filled out a questionnaire about perceived support. The researchers then conducted phone interviews to assess frequencies of interpersonal conflicts and receiving hugs. Then, the volunteers were exposed to a common cold virus and monitored in quarantine.

In the end, the researchers found that perceived social support reduced the risk of infection associated with experiencing conflicts. In fact, hugs were responsible for one-third of the protective effect of social support.

This seems both bizarre and suspect on some level but who cares! Hugs all around. If it’ll keep me from sniffling throughout the winter, I’ll hug just about anybody.

Assuming the power of hugs fails you, though, and you do fall sick? For the love of God and your IRA, save your money and go with generic drugsREAD MORE


King of the Christmas Jews

Bad Santa

There was this weird tradition growing up I still recall with something reminiscent of Nick Carraway toward the end of Gatsby, a “That’s my middle-west” type of fondness: my friends—none of whom I talk to today, probably for this very reason—always asked me, “Hey Jason, what are your people going to do on Christmas?” By my people, they meant the Jews.

They wanted to know what me and my family would be doing while they were opening presents, drinking eggnog, singing “Fa-la-la-la-la,” or whatever the hell else people do on December 25th. Of course, they weren’t looking to hear me tell them, “I think we’re going to get Chinese and see a movie,” or my usual answer, “I don’t know.” It was rhetorical; they didn’t want to know if we’d be “making matzoh” or “stealing babies.” They wanted to ask me what I’d be doing because, as the only Jew, I was an easy target, and kids can be assholes.

Then there would always be my one friend who every single year would guess, “They’re probably going to make more money,” pretty much signaling an end to the teasing, like a record scratching in the middle of some party, bringing everything to a halt when everybody would laugh and agree that my family was going to spend the birthday of their Lord and Savior figuring out how to make more money, because, I guess, that’s what some people think Jews do.

A few years later, much to my astonishment, I found out that they were right, because for five years I made way more money on Christmas than any day on the calendar specifically because I’m Jewish. READ MORE


Home for the Holidays / Open Thread

Good morning! We’ll be on our holiday schedule starting next week so we won’t have an official weekend estimate, but feel free to use this post to make estimates/go over holiday plans if you feel inclined to do so. We’ll be publishing some stories from some of our regular contributors with the theme of “Home for the Holidays” and highlighting some of our favorite stories of the year. Plus the editors here will get a much-needed break. We hope you’ll get one as well!


Revenge Giving, or Giving Out Of Spite

So Giving Tuesday is long gone and we’ve moved on with our lives and cleaned out our email inboxes (possibly).  Maybe you gave money, and maybe you didn’t.  Or maybe you revenge-gave?

The phenomenon I’m talking about is when you give money to a cause you know a person would hate, and you do it in their name. Earlier this year, writer and abortion activist Merritt Tierce talked about donating a $2000 tip given to her by Rush Limbaugh during her waitressing days to the Texas Equal Access Fund, which helps women who need abortions but can’t afford them. Tierce described the act as “like laundering the money in a good way.”

Other manifestations of “revenge giving”: At Planned Parenthood, you can “pledge a protester,” meaning  every protester who shows up to harass folks entering the clinic raises money for it. (You can give $10/protester, $50.00/5, etc.) When the Westboro Baptist Church showed up to protest at Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, a predominantly gay synagogue in New York City, the congregation urged members to give $1 for every six minutes the protesters were there, and raised about $10,000.

Revenge giving is what I’m calling it, but it’s not a perfect term. READ MORE