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Sims 3 social experiment update: Everything is falling to pieces

16 Dec

Well, my social experiment involving The Sims 3 has a hypothesis that is turning out to be true: Everything in the lives of my sims living on part-time pay is going to pieces.

I’m not playing like many simmers do and making their lives miserable as much as possible — except for the fact that I’m making live on part-time pay, of course. I’m just not making them fight, catch their significant others in affairs, and that sort. In fact, I fight to make sure all their basic needs are taken care of. That’s been a real challenge though.

For starters, all of their personal relationships are falling apart. Kim and Jason fight off any romantic interactions the other tries to have with them. They’re not even kissing, much less going further than that. Little Megan’s relationship with both of her parents have fallen to “acquaintance” status. Lori’s relationship with her parents is falling off, as well. So, because their relationships within the household are falling to pieces, there’s no way they’re going to make friends outside the household, either. A girl from school came home with Lori, but she had to tell the girl to leave as soon as they got through the door because Lori was going to pass out from exhaustion. Any free time these people have from work and school is spent working on their skills that would make them extra money. For example, Kim is going nuts trying to write on her novel before work every day, and Lori tries to make it to the park to play guitar for tips after school. To top it off, Lori has the “brooding” trait, and her emotional stress is causing her to have to stop what she’s doing to contemplate the meaning of life for at least a couple of hours at a time. Kim has the “neurotic trait”, which basically causes her to freak out often. Jason is a “grumpy” sim, and a bad mood is often made worse by that.

Jason wants a kiss. Kim doesn't feel like it and pushes him away.

Jason wants a kiss. Kim doesn’t feel like it and pushes him away.

 

The house itself is falling apart. Their pets, alone, have caused $750 in furniture damage to their house, and paying to replace all of that would eat the family’s finances. Thanks to Kim scolding her, the dog has lost her destructive trait, but the cat still has it. On top of what the pets have done, the cheap appliances that are all the family can afford keep falling apart. The shower has broken about two or three times during the three days or so I’ve played on this game, and the toilet has gone down the toilet so much that I’ve lost count.

A familiar sight in the Cornell household: Someone having to unclog the cheap toilet.

A familiar sight in the Cornell household: Someone having to unclog the cheap toilet.

 

Sims also have wishes that, if you can make them come true, will put them in a better mood once fulfilled. When they’re in better moods, they produce more (and earn more), and their social interactions are more positive. The problem for me with the Cornells is that, like most sims, their wishes involve buying something. Even if they have the money in the bank account, that doesn’t mean they should blow their nest egg and get it. I can’t even boost their moods most of the time because I can’t give them what they want or even what they need sometimes.

Apparently, this isn’t the case just in the sim world, but in the real world. According to a study from Iowa State University, economic hardship such as low income and income loss increase parents’ sadness, pessimism about the future, anger, despair, and withdrawal from other family members. As this emotional stress increases, they tend to interact with each other and their children in a more irritable and less supportive fashion. These patterns create marital instability and disrupt effective parenting strategies. For the children, it increases risk of suffering developmental problems such as a depressed mood, substance abuse, and engaging in delinquent behaviors. This stress also decreases children’s ability to function well in school and with peers.

Over the next few days, I’m going to try some recommending coping activities I’ve read about in this New York Times piece on my sims to see if it improves their situation. I may also try to find ways to improve their situation, in general, to see if part-time life was the main source of the problem after all.

Current music: Foo Fighters, “Everlong”

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More bad news

8 Mar

I know that in my mission statement, I said I wasn’t going to use this blog as just a place to bitch. But I really have to bitch right now, and I believe I have good reason.

Sorry that once again, I’ve been absent. Saying I’ve been dealing with a lot is one serious understatement.

I have received some good news: My car is out of the shop, and I’m told my baby girl looks like a brand new car. Bad news: I can’t get to it until someone takes me to my parents’ house that’s 2 1/2 hours away and down some of the deadliest roads in West Virginia. If you consider West Virginia’s roads are generally the biggest death traps in the nation, that’s pretty bad. I don’t have any other takers besides my dad. I’m waiting for my dad and I to have a mutual day off so I can finally be reunited with my baby.

Until then, I’m depending on my “beater” vehicle that broke down right before work Saturday. I nearly missed a story, and because so many people had cleared out before I could make it down there, I didn’t have as good of one. I could have done a SO much better story. I had to take my rental car back earlier last week because insurance would no longer pay for a rental once the repairs were done. And so many people wonder why I own two vehicles.

And when I finally got a jump-start thanks to some wonderful friends in law enforcement here…

I came to the office to find THE FORM in my chair. While I was out on furlough, guess what? Furloughs for the next quarter were announced. The form was for our unpaid off-day requests. That means I will have lost 10 days’ pay for the year, just by the end of June. I just had to bum money from my parents — which really burns like hell when you’re nearly 30 — so I could make rent. Now, I once again have to make the phone call to my parents like I’m a freshman siphoning money for Natural Light beer or Popov vodka. We all had the feeling it was going to happen again, but getting the news always stings.

By the way, thanks to not finding the shithead who nearly destroyed my car, there was an insurance deductible. My dad had to pay it for me because I had to liquidate my savings — about half of it, rolled change — to pay personal property taxes on my car right after I discovered the wreck. I wanted to ask for a 50 percent discount, considering half of my car’s exterior was destroyed. West Virginia’s tax system can bite my ass, too. In Florida, all we had to pay was a sales tax when the car was purchased, then $30 for tag renewals every year from then on out.

Now, let’s rewind just a little bit to Friday:

I went to get my taxes done. Despite losing 11 days’ pay last year, I still owe the feds $634! What the hell?! I had more than $5,000 in medical expenses alone, not counting ones for work transportation/resulting vehicle depreciation. I was told that with the medical expenses, I’d have to have around $7,000 to get a break. I guess I should hope to be hit over the head with a falling tree so I can at least break even with the government.

I feel like I’m having some sort of horrible dream. When it’s all over, I’ll wake up more than 100 pounds thinner, and my smoking hot husband and I will walk onto the balcony of our beachfront house and make the most agonizing decision of the day — yachting or taking our Shelby Cobra out for a spin. I’ve worked so hard to pull myself out of poverty. I started on it when I was in the sixth grade. I realized that there were ways out, and I was going to fight like hell to do it. I devoted my life to school. I researched colleges, careers, etc., for years on end. I finally got to college, and I fought even harder. I started working in my field before I graduated and kept on — even with a little career change in between.

Bottom line: I did what I had to do to get the hell out. Now, I’m just clawing at the walls, trying to survive. I didn’t do all I’ve done to be in this situation. I didn’t study for my first mid-term until 6 a.m. and stagger across campus to take it, to coast my vehicles downhill to save gas. I haven’t run through muck, mud, rain, storms, and even by pools of blood to sit and figure out how I’m going to live on four days’ pay.

I’m sure there’s got to be a way to survive. I’ve had shit thrown in my face before, and I’ve managed to clean up, push onward and (I hope) royally piss off the people who tried to knock me down. I’m just grasping at straws trying to figure out how the hell I’m going to do it THIS time. If I don’t, the ones who tried to stomp on me before will win.

I can’t let that happen. No way in hell.

P.S. I hate to be a downer, but the next few blogs that are coming are going to not be as upbeat as my others. Things just haven’t been all that great…

New Year’s Day advice: Just keep on truckin’

30 Dec

Traditional New Year’s resolutions bite.

We never fail to make and break these every year. I don’t care if it’s losing weight, being kind to others, cleaning up our language or quitting smoking. By Jan. 15, we’re chowing down on steak and gravy, mac and cheese and Old Milwaukee beer while watching really bad Lifetime movies. We’re screaming at the Wal-Mart cashier. We talk like drunken sailors, even at church. We’re lighting up a Marlboro behind the church.

But ladies and gentlemen, there is one serious resolution we can all make. You shouldn’t need a lit-up Times Square ball to do this.

Face the challenges thrown at you — constructively and immediately. Do this when they’re thrown at you — not just during the first days of January.

OK. So I know that may sound pretty lame and like something you’d find on one of those “inspirational” signs you’ll often find for sale at a mall kiosk. They’re next to the people trying to sell you miracle nail buffers — telling you to “prepare to be amazed”. But with our economy, it’s something we should all keep in the back of our minds and at all times.

Life is basically a fan. Sometimes, it’s moving at a slow relaxing pace. In a matter of seconds, it will spin so furiously that it sways back and forth — looking like it’s going to fall out of the ceiling. And crap continually hits it at warp speed.

So, here’s the deal. If you see something that needs to be done, just do it. You may come to this realization in January, April or July. You may have never been able to plan for it. But don’t wallow in your misery until the next Times Square ball drops. DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT AND AT THAT POINT. When you do this, try to keep the crying, screaming and general dramatics in check. I admit that I’ve done that quite often this past year, but I’ve let it out and gone on with life.

Case study: I used to smoke like a burning freight train from hell and did so for 11 years. One day, I was vacuuming the carpet with the sweeper I inherited from my grandmother. It weighs about 900 pounds and has a frayed cord thanks to her dogs chewing it up. I got halfway across my living room and I felt like my heart was going to jump out of my chest. I honestly thought, “Oh God, I’m having a heart attack, and I’m not even 30!” I took a few minutes to chill out on the couch. I was just overexerting, I presume, because it went away rather quickly. I’m guessing it wasn’t a heart attack. But that did it for me. I took a moonlight ride, bought Commit lozenges and the rest is history.

It was Jan. 15, 2008. I had made no resolution to quit until that moment. I just had something suddenly thrown at me, and I took care of it. I haven’t touched a cigarette since.

See, the problem with traditional resolutions is that we often define them too tightly or automatically start slamming down mountains to climb right in front of us. The combination of little-to-no flexibility and something daunting is a great way to set yourself up for failure. When those resolutions fail, we tend to not get in the mindset of “Hey, let’s do something to make our lives better,” until another new year comes. The vicious cycle keeps repeating itself.

Here’s why there’s a better chance of the other one working. All of our challenges are different, and they usually travel in groups. These can be financial — as well as personal, health-related, etc. These pop up at various times. Some can be overcome in minutes, and others take years. Nevertheless, we’re not specifically defining what we will do and when.

Sure, a lot of people in the goal-setting world are all about strict definitions. But sometimes, you need flexibility. For we, the flat broke, stuff hits the above-mentioned fan constantly. If what we are doing is extremely rigid with its rules and timelines, there’s a higher chance it will fall by the wayside.

Need more proof that this is something we all need to do? Sure, there are signs the economy is improving. The unemployment rate has recently fallen in 36 states, and the national numbers have seen a slight decline. But that decline was only .2 percent. Notice that little decimal point. According to this CNN Money story, about 100,000 people enter the workforce each month during a normal economy. As the economy improves, that number could double each month of 2010. That means more than two million jobs would have to be created this year just to keep the overall unemployment rate from rising.

You also have to look at exactly what is making those numbers get smaller. Michigan has been in an economic quagmire even before “The Great Recession”. Its recent unemployment rates peaked at 15.3 percent in September, and they are now at 14.7 percent. But how much of this can be attributed to people leaving the state to find work? Economists say the only way Detroit’s unemployment rate — 17.3 percent — will decrease is for the jobless to leave and find work elsewhere.

I hate to be the manure dumped on the parade, but I don’t want to stray from reality, either.

But as I’ve said here before, we are in charge of our destinies. We are going to get things thrown at us that are out of our control, but we have a choice as to how we’re going to face them. You can run away or fight. I plan to fight. Are you with me?!

I have to give kudos to sandyb for the inspiration on this one. I was going to do an entry about financial resolutions for the new year, but she got me to thinking in a much different direction. She and I don’t have the exact same take on the situation, but she put my gears in reverse 🙂 Check out her entry here.

Furloughs: Yes, you can survive them

9 Dec

 

Furloughs often feel like you're right in the middle of this place, getting ready to do battle with exotic snakes. Stay a step ahead of those snakes.

What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

When you’re faced with a furlough, you will want to choke the first person who says this to you. How can anyone look at losing pay — when they may already be rolling pennies for gas — in any sort of positive light?

I won’t sugarcoat it for you. Furloughs are hell. There is nothing good about them. The only iota of positivity about furloughs is that they’re better than permanently losing your job.

Life when you get the announcement, when you’re on the furlough and when you get that first cut paycheck will be horrible. However, there are ways you can make it (somewhat) less traumatic.

Save, save and save some more

I know this may be next to impossible for some of you who are already poorer than dirt. Believe me, I’m here right now. But as soon as you know a furlough is coming, start saving every single dime you can save.

First, try a set system: How about saving five bucks a week? Maybe $10 or $20 if you’re slightly more fortunate? Remember this: A little bit is better than nothing at all.

Look at what you can cut back. I’m not saying you have to starve, but there’s always some sort of little thing we’re always on which we’re blowing money. For example, I would buy AT LEAST one pop a day from the office vending machine. I’ve cut that out (except for some days when I’m desperate to wake up). Guess what? I have an extra $5 a week!

Space out the days (if you can)

One of the positives about how our company’s furloughs have worked is that we’re allowed to space out furlough days if we like. I know that our company has doled them out per quarter (three months). So if you take one furlough day every other week, for example, it’s less of a financial shock that half of a paycheck.

Keep in mind your timing versus the time you have a major expense due. My biggest expense, by far, is rent. So, when selecting my furlough days for this coming quarter, I’ve kept that in mind. I selected days that would appear on paychecks less critical that others. I sat down and figured out when pay days come for January, February and March. I then figured which days I would get the “rent paycheck”. I made sure to avoid scheduling a furlough day during pay periods for which I would get the rent paycheck. Correction: I avoided it as much as possible.

Some companies, though, do not have this option. Many of them, like the state of Oregon, are giving their employees scheduled days. Others are making them take a straight week — or two weeks — off.

Piece of advice: If you are allowed to choose your furlough days, get your requests in ASAP. In my individual department alone, our management had to schedule a combined 150 days off for everyone. If you have a furlough during the summer, you have to figure in everyone’s vacation time AND the furloughs.

Occupational therapy

Now it’s time to wake up for that dreaded day of your first furlough day. You will be very tempted to lie in your bed in a pile of Cheetos crumbs while watching daytime TV. You MAY eventually take a shower around 3 p.m.

You often get this “mad at the world” mentality. I hate to say it, but no matter what you do, it won’t totally go away. But one thing you can do to lessen the sting is serious time occupation. The busier you keep yourself, the less time you have to dwell.

Get your **** together

Pardon my edited French, but come on, everyone has that one household chore from hell or extremely daunting task that has been eating him/her alive. This is the time to get it done.

Is your un-mowed grass to the point where your yard looks so much like an exotic wildlife kingdom that Jack Hanna wants you to lease it to him? Does your fridge look like a science experiment from hell? Do you have a closet that is just ready to frickin’ explode? Does your laundry pile look like Mount Everest and smell like a backwoods sewer plant?

You have nothing else better to do now. So get something done. Trust me, you’ll feel like a whole new person. Just last month, I made the major accomplishment of cleaning out my bedroom closet. It was to the point where all the junk inside was making shelves collapse, and I couldn’t really get inside. Now, I can actually go inside, find things relatively quickly and not risk breaking my neck. That’s a great feeling.

Get it out of your system

Clearing your collection of Vanilla Ice, MC Hammer and Milli Vanilli cassette tapes — and hauling it out to the heap — will definitely wear you out. You can seriously burn a lot of calories while doing super-heavy housework.

But when you get that done, don’t stop moving. I hate to sound like one of those crazed infomercial people, but exercise truly is a major stress-reliever. And what could boost your self-esteem more than fitting into your “skinny jeans” again? Heck, even immediately after a workout, you get a sense of accomplishment. You’re just proud of yourself for actually getting off your rear and doing that.

Day at the “spa”

After all of that hard housework and exercise, you’ll definitely want to clean up. But because you have more time on your hands, take more time out for yourself and your sanity.

Find some of that bubble bath you got for Christmas last year that you’ve never had the chance to use. Get all of those girly or metro (for guys) stuff out. Run some hot water in the tub and just kick back. Go ahead, let your toes get wrinkly. You deserve it.

Take in some cheap or free entertainment

You want to amuse yourself during this time, too. You can’t make it all about work because when your next furlough day comes, all you will think about is, “Great. I had to finish this damned quarterly earnings report in less than a day. Now, I go home to scrub cat puke out of the carpet — AGAIN — while I’m losing pay.”

With entertainment, I highly advise going with comedy or really, purely stupid stuff. You know? Those “guilty pleasure” shows? The ones you would be so embarrassed to let your friends know you watch — but you still watch them anyway?

Laughter is proven to have both short- and long-term health benefits. Do you not believe me? Check out this info from the folks at the Mayo Clinic. You also have the effect of “escapism”. By diving into something that’s really out-there or absurd, you suspend reality. Escaping a terrible reality for just a little while is definitely needed.

You don’t have to pay a fortune for this. First, you can catch a variety of broadcast TV sitcoms for basically nothing or, if you’re a little more fortunate, there are several great escape shows on basic cable. truTV (f.k.a. Court TV) is an excellent place for this, because there’s “Cops”, “Speeders”, shows featuring dumb criminals, etc. Do you believe your life stinks? Well, you could be that nasty drunk with mange who just got busted for assaulting his stepbrother-in-law with a broken Old Crow bottle.

Try not to face it alone — but be choosy

During any extremely difficult time, you do not want to face it alone. Make sure to surround yourself with friends and/or family. Just choose them wisely.

If it’s possible, try to schedule your furlough days with a friendly co-worker or another friend whose company is also furloughing workers. This person can say, “I know how you feel,” and really, really mean it. Make sure, though, to not make your time with them a total “bitch session”, during which you lament your furlough and blame everything and everyone who may or may not be responsible. You may also choose a (and make sure you understand this key word) SUPPORTIVE friend or family member. This person must be someone who lends a shoulder instead of pointing the finger. Don’t spend time with Aunt I Told You So, who slams you in every conceivable way because you chose a career field she hated.

***

Are all of these ideas fool-proof? No. Will they ease all of your pain? No. Losing pay bites.

Just remember this: Every morning you wake up, you were meant to be alive. Don’t act like you’re dead.

Furloughs: They’re not just for prisoners anymore

8 Dec

I just found out I would get five more days off during the first three months of 2010. Our management says we can probably anticipate getting another 10 more!

It would just be so much better if I were getting paid for them.

Welcome to the world of furloughs. Basically, these are days off without pay — considered a temporary layoff — that a lot of companies and state governments are having their employees take to save money. These are also considered “take one for the team” measures. Without furloughs, many companies would be forced to do layoffs — or do more of them. Everyone at my workplace, management on down, had to do 10 furlough days in 2009.

When my co-workers and I were lucky enough to spread out five unpaid days over three months (We got five days in two separate quarters,), people in other places have had to take a straight week off — literally leaving them with half a paycheck on which to survive for two weeks. One of my friends had to take 10 furlough days — all at once. He is not a journalist, by the way. My friends and I have used the term “vacaylough”. I had a furlough on my birthday this year, and I called that time off my “birthdaylough.”

But my co-workers and I are not alone. The mass communications industry isn’t alone, either. State government employees have been hit hard, too. Throw a dart at a map of the United States to see which states have been hit. Here’s a list that shows, as of June, which states furloughed workers and for how long. California has furloughed 238,000 workers twice a month since February. This will last through July 2010.

So, maybe you haven’t been furloughed, and you’re wondering why you should care about those who are. Well, first of all, it could easily happen to you or someone you love. Once one company saves money in a much timelier and less traumatic way than layoffs, others will probably follow suit. Don’t be surprised if you get hit. Then, your service from government and business suffers badly. For example, Oregon has been closing the vast majority of state offices for set employee furlough days. OK. So you may not care about those pesky state employees losing money. Say that again when you can’t renew your driver’s license one day.

Here’s the killer about any workplace — private or public — that furloughs employees: The same amount of work has to be done. Two big problems come from that. Employees have less time to focus on specific tasks because they’re combining that work with the work their furloughed co-workers would normally do. There are also service delays. Hawaii will take even longer to process unemployment claims at a time when so many more people need those benefits.

Then, there’s economic recovery issues. Who doesn’t want to see our economy improve? Forced time off is yet another reason for people to cut back on spending — even more than they have already had to do. Even when the furloughs are done, do you want to go on a spending spree when you know what happened before? Or worse yet, do you want to go on a spending spree when you know what could happen later?

Here’s how that domino effect works: Consumers get furloughed. They’re afraid to spend. Businesses don’t make as much money. Businesses can’t hire people who need jobs. Businesses may have to shut down because they’re losing so much money. More workers are laid off. Whether you look at that from a fiscally conservative or liberal point of view, you can see the only good that comes from furloughs are layoff reductions.

So, how do you survive such a blow? Join me tomorrow, and I’ll show you ways I’ve survived my furlough time. I’ll also offer some tips on things I DIDN’T do that I SHOULD HAVE done. There are hardly any good options when you’re stuck at home without money to do anything, but there are constructive and even (somewhat) fun ways to pull through it.

Until then, have fun rolling pennies!