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What a (positive) difference a weekend makes!

22 Dec

Here I go with another chapter of the Cornell family part-time living saga. This time, though, is a much more positive post.

I decided something had to give to actually give these people some happiness. They were miserable, and their family was falling apart. Therefore, I — just like anyone else should do when faced with a real-life situation like theirs — decided to take action to keep their family together despite the obstacles against them.

The first thing I did was do something to align their days off. The girls had the weekends off, but Jason and Kim worked weekends. The weekdays the parents were off were different from each other’s. So, even though Jason had recently been promoted at the graveyard, I had both of them change jobs. This time, I made Jason take a job at the local grocery store and Kim, at the local bookstore. Both jobs run Monday through Friday, with weekends off. This would give them more time with each other and their daughters. Things stayed tense at home through the week, but when the weekend came, the atmosphere completely changed.

First, they all got some sleep. Then, I spent some of their nest egg sprucing up the house, replacing furniture that the dog and cat had destroyed. This improved everyone’s moods because their home looked a lot less like a slum. I also had them clean house, inside and out. Clean houses equal happy sims on this game — the same as it does with real people.

Here, Jason picks up the trash can the dog knocked over and cleans up the trash pile that resulted from it. Sprucing up the yard made them no longer disgusted to go outside.

Here, Jason picks up the trash can the dog knocked over and cleans up the trash pile that resulted from it. Sprucing up the yard made them no longer disgusted to go outside.

But the big thing I did is make sure they all took time out for one another. Lori and Jason had a simple conversation for the first time in forever, and it resulted in them becoming friends instead of acquaintances. That’s pretty sad when a parent and child become simple acquaintances, you know? But these sims fixed that. Just like people should do if they can possibly squeeze their bank account a bit, the family purchased a small boombox they could use to listen to music (which puts sims in a better mood) and dance. Dancing is a group activity, by the way, which improves relationships among people. Little Megan got the entire family in on a social activity by getting everyone to run outside and play tag with her. This didn’t cost a dime. The family’s relationships, over the course of this particular weekend, excelled. Even the pets got more attention and more time to socialize with both their owners and other pets in the neighborhood.

Just this simple conversation greatly improved Lori and Jason's father-daughter relationship.

Just this simple conversation greatly improved Lori and Jason’s father-daughter relationship.

Teenagers giving their parents a hug. Write that down.

Teenagers giving their parents a hug. Write that down.

Some time dancing with the stereo really created some bonding moments with the family.

Some time dancing with the stereo really created some bonding moments with the family.

Lori had more time to work on her guitar playing, which also provided music to which her family could dance.

Lori had more time to work on her guitar playing, which also provided music to which her family could dance.


Megan was in a much better mood and worked on her painting some more. The higher her skill, the more money she can make for the family with her paintings.

Megan was in a much better mood and worked on her painting some more. The higher her skill, the more money she can make for the family with her paintings.


This particular weekend also improved Jason and Kim's marriage.

This particular weekend also improved Jason and Kim’s marriage.


So, this weekend was quite blissful — except for one thing. Shortly after Jason and Kim *ahem* celebrated their improved marriage and better moods, Kim threw up a couple of times. Hmmm… What’s going on here? 🙂

Anyway, tune in soon for another post I’m cooking. This sim family part-time saga will take some twists even I wasn’t prepared for it to take!

Current Music: Alice in Chains, “Hollow”





My Sims 3 social experiment: Living on part-time wages

12 Dec

I’m a social scientist. Well, at least that’s what my master’s degree says I am. I’ve decided to take on a social experiment that could reflect how many people in our society live — on part-time wages.

The number of people living on part-time pay because they cannot find a full-time job is astronomically growing. Last Friday, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that nearly 8.2 million people classified themselves as involuntary part-time workers in November, according to NBC News. This means that they settled for less work because they couldn’t find more. That’s around double the number of involuntary part-time workers from 2006, before the economy went south. The number of people who are involuntarily unemployed has gone down since it hit nine million in the depths of the recession, but progress has been slow.

Many of these people work multiple — sometimes as many as four — part-time jobs. This number includes full-time workers whose incomes are not sufficient enough to meet their needs.  The New York Times quoted a woman working multiple part-time jobs as saying she works 70-80 hours per week. That’s a schedule held by most lawyers or investment bankers, with just a fraction of the pay. People in this situation come from all walks of life and all educational levels. Young college graduates are finding themselves in a bad labor market and with tens of thousands of dollars in student loans to pay off.

I’ll be joining these ranks very soon. I just took on a part-time job because I haven’t managed to find anything full-time after losing my job. I’ll be working full-time when I do my VISTA job, but it won’t be much money — at all. I’ll soon be making above minimum wage, but not by much. I’ve also had to buy pants for my work uniform I’ll have to wear, as well as shirts with a collar that are long enough to be tucked in. Belts are required, and I don’t believe my studded “metalhead belt” will be acceptable. I’m already incurring work-related expenses before even starting the job. Don’t get me wrong, I’m very grateful to have it, but life isn’t going to be sweet. I’ll also be working retail during the holiday season. Ugh. I’ll also be juggling this with my gig as a stringer. I also just got an e-mail saying my student loan payment is due. I’m trying for a deferment.

I didn’t get a master’s degree for this.

Until I get started at my new job, I’ve had a lot of time at the apartment to either sit and veg out, or try and do something productive. I have to watch every dime, so I can’t be roaming the roads and burning gas unless it’s absolutely necessary. So, I’m stuck here reading, playing guitar — or playing The Sims 3. I got an idea to try out something new with the game that I believe fits in with the blog theme. I created a family that lives on part-time wages.

Here’s how I’m doing it. First of all, I’m using absolutely no cheat codes with this particular game. That way, I play according to one of the things the game teaches — living on a budget, and starting out in life with very little. Playing with no cheat codes doesn’t allow me to play with my sims’ moods, perking them up in an instant when I need them to do something. They have to eat, sleep, pee, etc., just like the game teaches you about real people. Even though I have the Supernatural expansion pack, the sims I created are just humans with no supernatural powers to help them out.

Now, for the storyline. Ladies and gentlemen, meet the Cornell family.

Dad: Jason Cornell

Dad: Jason Cornell

Mom: Kim Cornell

Mom: Kim Cornell

Teen Daughter: Lori Cornell

Teen Daughter: Lori Cornell

Younger Daughter: Megan Cornell

Younger Daughter: Megan Cornell

Dog: Priscilla

Dog: Priscilla

Cat: Domino

Cat: Domino

I set up the family this way to basically create a family that, on the surface, seems like something straight out of a Norman Rockwell painting. Don’t get me wrong. I’m an edgy liberal who, among other sims, have a family that consists of a happily married gay male couple. One is a werewolf, and the other is a vampire. Their teenage daughter is a werewolf, and their younger daughter is a vampire. They live in domestic bliss. I also didn’t want to do what I often do and create really bizarre sims, create sim versions of myself or friends and family, or create sim versions of celebrities. I gave them fairly normal, somewhat boring,  personality trait combinations — but included some that allow for special skill development. I’ll explain more of that later. On The Sims 3, your sims can get full-time work and in the field they want by simply driving out to the workplace at any time and getting a job. Granted, their first jobs in their fields stink, but they’re working full-time in their chosen fields. I decided to ignore this and make them drive out to get part-time jobs. In reality, we can’t always get full-time work, and getting it in our chosen fields is even harder. The teenage girl can get a part-time job, but the female child cannot. Oh yeah, all of these part-time jobs on The Sims 3 are in the evening.

Jason is a good cook, and he wants to be a full-time chef. He is now stuck working at a graveyard. Kim is a good writer and could work well in the journalism track. Instead, she’s working as a receptionist at the day spa. Lori started out balancing school and work at the local bookstore, and little Megan is having enough trouble just trying to keep up with school. I bought them a house within the budget they were given. Unfortunately, I had to download a house (No cheat codes are required for this. I was in the clear.) because no two-bedroom house was within the family’s budget. The Cornells settled into a very, very modest two-bedroom, one-bathroom (very small and to be used by four people) house.

Working multiple part-time jobs isn’t permitted on The Sims 3, but sims are allowed to develop skills that can earn them some side cash. I’m having all members of my family do this for their own survival and to illustrate what it’s like to juggle multiple income sources. I gave them special traits to build on. Jason has the “angler” trait, which means he loves to fish and learns the fishing skill quickly. Fishermen/Fisherwomen can sell their fish at the grocery store. Kim has the “bookworm” trait, which makes her a good writer. Writers can write novels and earn royalties from them. Lori is a “virtuoso”, which means she’ll learn a musical instrument faster. Once she reaches Level 5 of her guitar skill (Skills on The Sims 3 have ten levels.), she can play for tips at various places around town. Megan has the “artistic” trait, which helps her master painting faster, and she can sell her paintings once they are finished.

However, earning this extra money is not as easy as it seems. Because skills have ten levels, it takes some serious time to master them. Furthermore, people with the higher skills are the ones who earn big money. Musicians can’t even earn a dime from tips until they reach the fifth level. So the Cornell family, being that I’ve just started working with them, have minimal skills — and make little to nothing with their side incomes, even though they keep trying.

Megan is only a Level 2 painter right now, and her pantings only give the family about $20.

Megan is only a Level 2 painter right now, and her pantings only give the family about $20.

Kim is trying to finish her first novel, so she hasn't earned any royalties yet.

Kim is trying to finish her first novel, so she hasn’t earned any royalties yet.

Jason only caught $15 in fish on this trip because his skill is still low.

Jason only caught $15 in fish on this trip because his skill is still low.

My free Word Press account won’t let me upload the video I shot of Lori’s present guitar playing. Let’s just say she isn’t ready to try and earn ANY tips right now.

Here’s a big thing that keeps your sims from really working on their skills and earning money: Needs. They have to take out time to eat, pee, shower, have fun and keep their stress levels down, and socialize. Couple that with time they spend on work and school, and you’ll see why Lori can’t go to the park and earn tips with her guitar. Your sims’ responsibilities also affect their needs, and their needs affect their responsibilities. For example, the kids have to do homework every night. So after a long day at school, they have to come home and work even more. Teenagers like Lori who have part-time jobs leave for work as soon as they get home, then come home to homework. Lori had to quit her part-time job, even though the family needs the money, because she was too tired to finish her homework after work. Her grades were suffering, and she couldn’t work to build up her guitar skill. That guitar skill, once fully developed, can earn a sim more than what a full-time job would make.

Lori is desperately needing sleep, but she still has homework to finish. She's clearly not happy about that.

Lori is desperately needing sleep, but she still has homework to finish. She’s clearly not happy about that.

When sims’ needs aren’t met, they don’t finish homework, their job/school performance goes to the pot, and they don’t want to work to build their skills and earn money from them. If they’re miserable, they’re not productive at all.

Your sims also can’t afford the best of anything when they’re starting out, but they especially can’t when they’re working part-time. Right now, the Cornells have one car for Jason, Kim, and Lori to drive. Anyone else who can’t get to the car quickly enough has to ride a bicycle. Their cheap appliances are accidents waiting to happen. The family’s cheapo computer fried, and their “bargain John” toilet is a constant source of frustration for them.

Jason is working to repair the computer on his own. Because he has no mechanical skill, he risks death by electrocution. The family can't afford to call a professional.

Jason is working to repair the computer on his own. Because he has no mechanical skill, he risks death by electrocution. The family can’t afford to call a professional.

The Cornells’ pets are nice, and provide them with some relief from their miserable lives. However, one aspect of both pets causes serious problems for them. Both Priscilla and Domino have the “destructive” trait. This means Priscilla is constantly chewing things up, and Domino is constantly clawing on furniture. Priscilla also likes to knock over the outside trash can. Whenever a pet claws/chews on something, you have to pay up money to replace it. Otherwise, your house will look like hell. Because Priscilla ravaged the couch, no one wants to sit on it. The Cornells can’t afford to replace any of the furniture their pets have destroyed, so their home is quickly going to the pot.

Bad, bad kitty!

Bad, bad kitty!

Personal relationships also suffer for the sims whenever their work/school/skills take up all of their time. Couples don’t have time to be romantic, parents can’t spend time with their children, and no one has time to make/keep friends outside or inside the family. Their social interactions also become more negative, especially in romantic relationships. Kim wanted to have some “intimate” time with Jason, only for Jason to push her away because he hadn’t slept. The two want another child (how they’ll afford it is highly questionable), but that’s not going to happen if they keep pushing each other away. Work schedules also affect their personal relationships. Kim works on both days Jason has off. Both Jason and Kim work Saturdays and Sundays, the days their daughters are off from school.

Anyway, this part-time lifestyle could have serious implications on whether or not this family even survives. If you liked this post, I’ll keep the updates on the Cornell family coming!

Current music: Alice in Chains, “Sunshine”

No rest for the unemployed — at all

7 Dec

I’m unemployed! So, I guess it’s time to lie around playing guitar, eating Cheetos, and watching soap operas! Right?

Oh hell no.

One thing I’ve realized about unemployment periods is that — providing you want to get out them — you’re more pressed for time than when you were working! The Flat Broke Diva is going to explain how this works.

First, you have the matter of unemployment compensation. You could easily spend the entire day at the unemployment office, spending hours standing in lines, sitting in waiting rooms with everyone who’s going as crazy as you are, etc. I described my personal process in an earlier post. I’ve swapped a few horror stories with people who have been through it since then. One is a guy who, on top of the bureaucratic nightmare, got stuck in a jam-packed elevator. He’s also claustrophobic. The time you have to spend with unemployment doesn’t end at the office. Not only do you have to make certain numbers of job contacts every week, your case may also have special circumstances that merit even more bureaucratic time. Mine is one of them. I have a hearing Monday morning to determine my eligibility. Oh yeah, I’ve been out of work for two weeks now, and I have yet to see a dime in unemployment benefits.

Then, you have to hit the pavement to look for work. I’ve tried hitting concentrated areas so I can be more productive and use less gas. I’m living on severance pay right now. You enter, get turned down, and prepare for the same to happen at the next location — over and over again. I try to search and apply online as much as I can because of the gas expense concerns, but you have to show your pretty face at a lot of places to get anywhere. When I was first out of work after graduating with my master’s degree, I went to the state capitol armed with a stack of resumes. I spent the entire day there. You also have to hit the pavement by phone, too. Thank God I have unlimited minutes.

Like I have, you might catch a lucky break to where you don’t have a full-time job with benefits, but you get something part-time or freelance to at least keep SOME kind of change in your pocket. That’s awesome, but this also will have you running your guts out, especially if you have multiple interviews or have to take on multiple jobs. Let me give you a little example with my schedule for the latter part of the week. Wednesday, I had two job interviews at retail stores, and there was only two hours in between the interviews’ start times. The following night, I had a meeting to cover for my stringer gig. Tonight, I have a second interview at one of those two stores.

Maybe I’ll finally get some rest this weekend…

Current music: Alice in Chains, “Head Creeps”


An open letter to Alice in Chains: Thank you

21 Apr

OK. So I know a snowball has a chance of lasting in Hell before there’s a chance any member of Alice in Chains reads this. But there are just some things you have to get off your chest. Oh yeah, all lyrics used are property of Alice in Chains and properly cited. So don’t sue me.

Dear Jerry, William, Mike and Sean,

More than 10 years ago, there was a girl just days away from turning 15 and wannabe guitar virtuoso watching Alice in Chains on “MTV Unplugged”. She was thinking, “Wow. This guy is beyond amazing. I’m going to be Jerry Cantrell when I grow up! I’m going to play like him!”

That girl is just a few days shy of turning 29, and she saw you guys in-person in Huntington, W.Va., Monday night. It’s just that the pre-thirty-something was not just in awe of how you all handled instruments like surgeons or how your harmonies were airtight. Your words and your music made me confront every emotion and every experience from the past and present and just throw them all into the wind.

I wish I could give you more detail, so you’d really, really know how your music has struck me like a sledgehammer. It’s just that so much of it is so deeply personal that I still don’t have the strength to be 100 percent open about it all. Publicly, anyway. But so many songs, particularly “Check My Brain”, “Grind”, “Man in the Box” and so many more that I’d be here all night mentioning are basically my autobiography. It’s like every emotion, every personal experience — everything — was spelled out for me. This applies to words AND music. The bends in “Check My Brain” quite frankly remind me of the constant rollercoaster I’m on. It’s like my personal rollercoaster is operated by someone on a serious crack high and running at 100 mph. It’s this dizzying, up-and-down feeling that leaves you trying to kick and punch your way out of the car, so you can jump off the tracks in desperation!

For me, it’s like someone is saying, “Yeah, I get it.” When you’re at some of the lowest points, you need someone who TRULY gets it — not someone who only provides lip service. It also seems like Alice in Chains’ form of “therapy” hits harder and is easier to swallow simultaneously because it’s set to music. I’m sure just about everyone has seen these “experts” on talk shows and the like try to tell everyone their one-size-fits-all methods of getting shit together. I usually spout off just a little bit of profanity and change the channel. But amazing music is magnetic. It’s almost like it’s hypnotizing, making you forget everything around you but that music. Once you’re drawn in, you can really process a song and see how it tells your “story” — whether it be your past, present or future. Keep in mind that emotions, not just events, are part of people’s stories. That’s how I see it, anyway.

These songs give you the chance to just cast off whatever horrible experiences, negative emotions or worries about the future and just throw them into the wind. See, just the thought of telling someone those things is traumatic for a lot of people. But sometimes, singing along — mentally or out loud — is like you can let it out without the entire world knowing. You get the release you often desperately need, and it’s emotionally safer. It’s a win-win situation at it’s best. Sometimes, it’s safer in other aspects. I’ve often been forced to be around a lot of people I truly despise. I’ve listened to some sort of angry, slamming song and whisper the tune if I’m feeling a little more daring. It was like I stuck a middle finger in their faces and without fear of retribution. Now that was beyond awesome 🙂

Music doesn’t only deal with problems. It presents solutions. I know lots of people, myself included, often roll their eyes in digust when someone tries to give a damn lecture. But once again, that music draws you in. So many of those songs get you pumped up and moving in the right direction. Maybe they’ll show you the error of your ways and make you realize you have to get off your ass and change things. For me, “Grind” became my personal anthem when I basically had to deal with multiple people trying to end a career and life I had worked so hard to build. They should have been “well advised not to plan my funeral for the body dies”.

I have to devote extra space to “Your Decision”. To me, the song is about how fear can consume you and how you can give in to the ones who are trying to take advantage of it. Maybe these opportunistic people are the ones causing the fear in the first place. People often watch their “fears become their Gods” and become “overwhelmed” and “choose to run”. And “Yes, it hurts to know you’re bought.” But here’s the deal: It’s YOUR DECISION as to whether or not YOU let that fear eat you alive. Yes, sometimes circumstances out of your control drag you into horrible situations. But it’s YOUR DECISION as to whether or not you fight to get out of it. The words, “No one plans to take the path that brings you lower. And here you stand before us all and say it’s over,” perfectly illustrate how so many people just choose to wallow after life’s shit hits the fan.

By the way, to say a lot of Alice in Chains’ songs have been inspired by serious heartbreak is beyond understatement. Putting those songs out there and performing them in front of thousands of people takes some serious guts. Just know that what you’ve done has been a serious lifesaver for me and so many others. Given how the economy has gone to hell, I’m sure there were many, many, many people in that arena who are also on sickening rollercoaster rides from Hell. Some are probably scared to death, too. I do believe you gave them the escape they needed, like you did for me. I’m sure you all do that at any place you visit.

I walked out of the concert practically walking on air. It wasn’t just the fact that I saw Alice in Chains. It wasn’t just the fact that I was in the room with the guitarist I’ve wanted to be for the past 14 years (Geez. I AM getting old!). I left there with all of my fear, hang-ups, bad memories — whatever — gone. I left there with a much stronger belief that I’m the mistress of my own fate. Even if roads I may have to take are miles beyond the beaten path, no situation is escape-proof!

By the way, I just thought I’d let you know that my friends and I are fully and totally supportive of William DuVall. He has stepped into a position most people would be too scared to take and worked like a hellcat — one hell of a singer. He’s also one serious showman, really working crowds into a frenzy and moving all over the stage to make sure no fan is left behind! Oh yeah, and we all really felt the love from you guys. You all really seemed to love us all as much as we loved you! When you all said you loved us in West Virginia, we truly believed you weren’t just saying that to be nice. I know Jerry, and I believe Mike and William, were saying you all had to get back to Huntington soon. We’re going to hold you to that 🙂

I did leave with one negative feeling, though. My guitar playing fell by the wayside years ago. It was just life in general and all the time it seemed to demand got in the way as I got older. I’ve tried picking it up again so many, many times, but I have found myself really discouraged because I now suck or being once again consumed by “life in general”. Jerry was on my side of the stage most of the time. I’d watch him and be in awe 99 percent of that time. The other one percent? It was my feeling like I let him down by not living up to my promise to be just like him. I know. It was my “decision”. But I do have two guitars I could get out of the closet. 😉

I also had my cell phone in my face the one moment when Jerry was looking in my direction!! I really hope I didn’t piss him off! I was fighting with my cell phone camera to take a decent picture because my digital camera’s batteries died in the middle of the show. The one time I forgot spare batteries… For that matter, I always hope I get the chance to possibly make eye contact with someone in the band. That way, I can wave, blow kisses, or do something cute and crazy just to show my love!

I’ll be awake with the chickens and mow grass if that’s what I have to do to get tickets to your next show! Thank you so much for giving me one of the greatest nights of my entire life!

With the utmost respect and all the love in the world,

The Flat Broke Diva

The money-saver breaking point: Has this happened to you?

24 Feb

OK. This weekend, I totally screwed up and went against half the stuff I preach here. I had scrimped, saved, sacrificed and dragged myself into voluntary misery for a LONG time.

I went totally ballistic and off the deep end. I spent. A fair amount. Most of it: Stuff I don’t absolutely need. At all. I’m just wondering, right now, if I’m alone. Is there anyone else who has gone THIS CRAZY? I’m beating the hell out of myself here.

This snow and the fact that I’ve had two back-to-back furlough paychecks were freakin’ killing me. This weekend was going to be one of the first without a major snowstorm hitting in months. My spending cutbacks have meant that my weekend nights mainly consist of “Saturday Night Live”, cleaning and watching my $5 DVDs I’ve splurged to buy. So, I made plans to get out of town and visit friends of mine who live about two hours away. I don’t get to travel very often because of my schedule and the fact that getting out of this town/region means paying $8 in tolls, much less the gas, food, etc. Did I mention we pay tolls to drive on one of the SHITTIEST roads, ever?


Now, let’s do some more figurative math, folks. The night before I was supposed to leave, I found myself in the office for about three hours longer than I normally would be. I had this sinking feeling some breaking news from hell was going to hit that night, and my instincts were more than right. OK, Twilighters, remember when Jacob’s buddies would get so stressed out and angry that they phased into werewolves? Yeah, I’m surprised I didn’t grow fur and howl at the moon, myself.

I came home, staggered around as I showered and packed my stuff and forced myself up about three hours later. I situated the cat, loaded up on caffiene and hit the road. So, on top of being the general ball of stress from hell that I normally am, I was an EVEN BIGGER ball of stress from hell who was living on less than half the sleep the Surgeon General, AMA, HHS, DHS, FBI and the Dalai Lama recommend and driving for more than two hours. The road getting out of where I live is really nauseating, too!

Remember that old TV commercial — I believe it was for a headache medicine — when you saw the egg crack every time something further stressed out this suburban housewife? Yeah, my “egg” was getting ready to shatter.

I normally do a little more shopping when I get out of here. I don’t live in a place where cattle graze on Main Street, but we don’t have much of anything besides Wal-Mart. I tend to stock up at all the stores we don’t have here (that includes TARGET) — especially good consignment stores or general bargain joints — because I don’t know when I’ll get to come back again. I also tend to eat out more because it’s usually the first time I’ve seen some of my best friends in months.

It’s just that I believe I took it a bit too far this time.

I went to a Michael’s looking for some beads and a cord for them. That was on the agenda. But I also wound up buying a record album picture frame. It was on sale for 50 percent off, and I had been wanting to buy one for my dad for a long, long time. So, why pass up on such a deal? But the “deals” continued. I went to a Big Lots because nothing makes the Flat Broke Diva happier than seeing a “clearance” sign and a Big Lots simultaneously.

Picking up shampoo and conditioner I use all the time at half price wasn’t a bad call, but guess what else I bought? A generic version of “Bumpits”. That’s right. I bought the things that make your hair beauty-pageant-tiara-ready. I like making my hair poofier these days, and I thought these — which were half the price of the name brand — would do the job. I’m also planning to reprise my 2008 Sarah Palin costume for this Halloween (Which is HOW many months away?), and these would be handy. The reason why my first go-round with being a heavier version of Sarah didn’t work out as well as I planned was that my hair fell. But now, I guess I’m ready for the end of October, right?

The madness continued.

So, my friend and I ate at my favorite local “can’t get this anywhere else” restaurant. Next, we hit the Best Buy — also not in my town or anywhere close, for that matter. The plan was to buy — yes, I know I’m a metalhead/grunger — Lady Gaga’s “The Fame Monster”. I can’t help it. I like her music. It’s like crack. Sue me. It’s just that when I was there, I ALSO found a killer Alice in Chains two-disc set. I resolved to buy Alice and wait until later for Lady Gaga. But on another stop, I couldn’t help it. I went gaga for Gaga.

Do I believe I went on an all-out crazy spree? Not really. I stuck to original plans but just had a few things in between. I also restrained myself from many, many, many other things I wanted to sink my teeth into Edward Cullen-style. There were some gorgeous clothes at a Marshall’s, but I avoided them. I’m very, very close to fitting into old stuff! It’s just that I wouldn’t have even touched the “in-between” things if I hadn’t been so frustrated and nutty. And some of those originally planned items, like beads and CDs? Please!

I know it’s not necessarily a bad thing to treat yourself. I also know that it IS bad when you treat yourself too much. I may have crossed the line here. It’s just that I absolutely cracked!

This story from ABC News pretty well spells out the obvious: Poverty and a bad economy stresses people the hell out. I just wonder how crazy it’s going to make all of us.

Burn, baby, burn! (And you don’t have to burn your money!)

12 Feb

You can work up a sweat — without sweating bullets about how you’re going to pay for it!

I believe a big reason why I’ve never been able to get this damned weight off — and added more — was that I believed I had no time or money to work out. Even when things were SLIGHTLY better ’round these parts, I honestly didn’t know how I’d squeeze gym business hours — at a gym that cost, say, $30 a month (And that’s cheap from what I hear.) into my second-shift schedule. Sure, sure. A lot of them are open before the roosters crow. Try doing that when you’ve had to cover an election all night.

Some people can get by without exercise. I can’t. Sure, there’s the health benefits, etc., but here’s the key for me: Note the first three letters of the word “diet”. That’s what you often find yourself wanting to do more than diet any longer. Dieting is miserable. Yes, there are low-fat chocolates and things like that out there now, but you’re still having to deprive yourself of so much that you want. I still haven’t found low-fat sausage pizza yet, and I LOVE it. I also can’t eat it.

Exercise, however, is a much different story. I won’t lie and say it’s easy. I’ve collapsed into bed many nights after working out. I’ve had to deal with sore feet, you name it. But there are ways you can have fun while exercising. If you have a friend join you for the day, you add socialization to the whole mix. That’s nearly impossible with dieting. Exercise also leaves you with a positive psychological feeling every time you manage to survive it.

But what do you do when your schedule and wallet don’t allow you to exercise like everyone else does? Well, that’s when you get crazy creative, like I do.


Have you ever watched MSNBC’s “Lockup”? It’s one of my “guilty pleasure” shows. Basically, MSNBC goes into prisons and interviews all involved in prison life — guards, wardens, inmates, you name it. Some of the inmates have become their own little icons, like that guy in Kentucky who does an entire monologue on the importance of “booty” in prison.

One of the things they’ve shown is the ways the inmates keep themselves entertained when they’re locked in tiny cells for most of the day. A lot of them have become fitness fanatics. They may or may not have access to a weight room, and they certainly don’t have access to a posh Gold’s Gym. So, they must be REALLY creative.

One of their workouts I’ve copied is something I call “cell runs”. These guys just run back and forth in their cells. I’ve done that in my apartment, and with great results. I had to literally dash up the street at a bank robbery scene for work, and I would have never been able to do it without my cell runs. There’s also bench pressing your cellmate, using shower bars for pull-up bars, etc.

Utilize your tax dollars

Your tax dollars often go to work by supporting parks, recreation facilities, trails, etc. Put them to use.

A favorite place for people to walk when I was growing up was our local state park. We had a nice walking trail with bridges, shady spots (great for summertime), creeks and all of that pretty natural stuff. When I lived in Huntington, Ritter Park had an even nicer trail, complete with a very high staircase that went up at mountain — and into one awesomely gorgeous rose garden. It’s one of my favorite places on the planet to this day.

I admit that there’s also a national park near where I live right now. I haven’t taken advantage of it, namely because the weather has been so horrible lately. Once this latest pile of snow from hell clears, though, I’m headed to the woods.

Take a lesson from the French

I found this awesome online story called “4 Ways French Women Stay Thin (Without the Gym)“, and I’ve incorporated a lot of this into my diet and exercise routines. These include parking in the back of the lot and taking a longer walk to the store’s entrance, taking the stairs instead of the elevator and using bicycles as a primary form of transportation. I know the latter is impossible in some places, like where I live, but there’s some urban areas that have separate lanes for bicyclists on city streets. Jacksonville, Fla., has several.

Get “malled”

This is one of the most dangerous things to do for the impoverished, but you can use it to your advantage. Go to your local mall and just walk around. The good part of walking in a shopping mall is that you’re indoors, and you don’t have to worry about weather spoiling your walk like it would if your usual spot was on an outdoor trail.

Here’s why it’s dangerous: Being next to stores means you will be more tempted to spend money you don’t have. So here’s what you do: Make sure you don’t bring any more than a few bucks and only your photo ID. Leave all extra cash AND ESPECIALLY your credit cards, at home. If you don’t have enough cash, and you’re extra-tempted, you will make an even bigger mistake with the credit cards.

If you’re out of work, this may also be a good move for you. A place with multiple businesses inside may mean you can pick up multiple job applications. Fill them all out in the food court and turn them in as you make another lap. You can celebrate two accomplishments in one day.

Phone a friend

This is a “lifeline” in more ways than one. Any time you’re on the phone with someone, walk around. Don’t lounge on the couch. Sure, this isn’t possible for a lot of situations. I’m on the phone a lot for my job and taking notes while doing that. I have to stay seated then. But if I’m home and just talking on the phone with my parents, my best friends, etc., I’ll literally pace the floors. A long conversation with someone can wear you out in more ways than one. That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Get down with your bad self

This may sound totally ridiculous, and you’ll feel totally ridiculous for the first few minutes or so when you’re doing this. But man, it is ever a release and a blast. Put on whatever your favorite music is and dance, trash, headbang, jump around, do a bad impersonation of Tom Cruise in “Risky Business” or just shake your rear. If you have the dancing skills of a wino living under a bridge, you may want to do this alone. You may want to do this alone, period, because not having someone stare you down lets you throw inhibition to the wind.

It’s great to throw that inhibition to the wind. Whenever life is stressful, you need every kind of release you can get. It helps to laugh at yourself. It helps to make a fool out of yourself.

You’ll also burn a hell of a lot of calories. Going through just one song absolutely wears me out.

Getting thinner leads to a thinner wallet

8 Feb

It’s easier to point a finger at people who are overweight or obese.

But before you even raise a hand, ask yourself this: How the hell are they going to AFFORD losing weight?

I’ve been working on a second, second project besides writing about being in the poorhouse — trying to drop about 140 pounds. So far, I’ve managed to drop about 20. This has been awesome for me because each pound gone means I’m closer to having the figure, health and — most of all — life I’ve never had. It’s also been a major bright point in a majorly dark time. I need all the bright I can get, believe me!

There’s a yang to every yin, though. Trying to drop this weight has not been cheap, whatsoever. Trying to handle this whole weight loss deal financially has been almost as hard as trying actually lose the weight!

You don’t need a spreadsheet to link states’ obesity rates and per capita incomes. Mississippi has the highest percentage of obese adults, 32.5 percent. Its percentage of obese children is the highest, too — 44 percent. Mississippi also has the nation’s lowest per-capita income of $28,845.

Want more evidence? Then take yourself home on country roads. My state, West Virginia, is just behind Mississippi in both categories. Here, 31.2 percent of adults are considered obese. West Virginia — surprise, surprise — has the SECOND-LOWEST per-capita income of $29,537.

OK. Not every poor person is overweight, and not every rich person is thin. If you want evidence of the latter, pull up pictures online of various members of Congress. But there are ways the economically disadvantaged are more susceptible.

Economic hardship is a source of chronic stress. That stress could hinder people’s abilities to change weight-related behaviors, even when informed and motivated. I’ve tried to get this weight off for years, and I’ve been on track to do it many, many times. I’ve also failed many, many times. It just never failed that I would hit a stress roadblock from hell — college, personal/relationship drama, starting out as a reporter, beginning a new career, re-starting as a reporter, multiple unemployment spells, illness, injury and quitting smoking.

Not all of these are economic, of course, but they were all enough to make Mother Teresa run into the woods screaming and while opening fire with a semiautomatic. Guess what I did? When I was at home biting my nails about something, I’d find something to bite that would give me a better fix. During times I’ve been on-the-go or practically living in my car, I crammed whatever crap I could down my throat and did it quickly. And quitting smoking? Well, I had to increase one fix to make up for losing another.

If you’re feeling like hell, you’re going to eventually look like hell.

Then, there are, overall, lower education levels in impoverished areas. Lower educational levels could lead to an increased obesity risk because of limited economic opportunities (and any other links between obesity and economics I spout off here will likely result, if that’s the case). Less education also means that those affected may not have as much health information as others. How are they supposed to act on what they don’t know?

It’s not that people in impoverished areas don’t want an education. I’d venture to guess they have more motivation. That was certainly the case while I was growing up, anyway. That’s what made me study until I literally fell asleep on top of my books many, many times. But so many of them can’t afford education past high school.

Nineteen percent of Mississippians have a bachelor’s degree or higher. That number in West Virginia is lower with 17 percent. Compare that with Colorado. It has the nation’s lowest adult obesity percentage (18.9), and 35 percent of its residents have bachelor’s degrees or higher. It has the 10th highest per-capita income.

Then, your poorest areas tend have extremely limited recreational opportunities — or safe ones, anyway. People whose incomes force them to live in crime-infested areas aren’t going to go to the local park or basketball court. Sure, they may want to lead healthier lifestyles, but you’re probably better off obese than shot. We have a walking trail where I live now, but I’ve stayed away from it after such incidents like a shooting and a robbery.

In rural areas, a pile of dirt can only provide so much of a workout. There were no sidewalks where I grew up. If you were brave enough to walk to a neighbor’s house on the side of the road, there was a good chance you’d have to jump into a creek or ditch to avoid being slammed by Bobby Lee and his friend Jimmy Dale in their jacked-up 1976 pickup. There was also a good chance you’d wind up being bitten by a snake while walking in the more grassy areas, too. Kids often find themselves spread farther apart, so there are less playmates readily available.

Poorer areas, both urban and rural, have a lower tax base, and their governments barely keep police on the streets or the outdated fire engine running. So are they going to have enough money for parks and playgrounds? With unemployment on the rise and businesses shuttering — leaving local governments with less business and occupation taxes — more governments will probably have even less to spend. So, even if there is a playground or park, poorer areas may only be able to offer a patch of grass with a swing set — with only two intact swings and one’s rusty chains screaming “tetanus shot”.

You could always go a gym, providing you actually have one in your neighborhood or even your town. But have you seen some of these gym membership fees? Yikes! Also, if you’re working odd hours and days, like I do, some gym’s hours are tough to fit into your schedule.

Oh yeah, go to any fast-food restaurant or grocery store to see how much more healthier eating will cost you.

One of my favorite light items is grilled chicken sandwiches. I loved grilled chicken (can’t really stand it fried), and there’s also not much at restaurants that are waistline-friendly, anyway. At a McDonald’s around here, it’s a little more than $3. Double cheeseburgers are on the Dollar Menu. I’m grateful to the fast food chains for offering more healthy menu items (or something more than no choices at all) to their customers. I’m also grateful to my fellow West Virginian, Morgan Spurlock, for pushing them in that direction with “Super Size Me”.

Then, there’s your local grocer. As more consumers have become health conscious, more companies see that demand as profitable. So, thankfully, there are healthier versions of just about everything now. There’s even lighter versions of cheese, pizza and junk food. But a lot of these lighter versions have no generic. There’s often a BIG price difference between generic and brand name products. Generics are catching up. You can find store brand soy milk just about anywhere. But you’re still going to have a hard time finding generics for EVERYTHING.

But I’m managing to soldier on. I have managed to come up with economic fixes to get through this.

So, yes, we have a problem. Tomorrow, I’ll be throwing out some of the ways I’ve managed to dodge some financial bullets during what is going to be a long, long journey.