Trick-or-Treat, Smell My Feet

Prior to my days with children and my move from Wisconsin to California, my cousin Jenne and I threw an annual Halloween party, actually the Halloween party. Ours was among a select hot tickets on the costume party circuit. We had the scariest decorations, the most delicious food, the best beer and great prizes for the costume contest so people went all out.

One year we had the Residents, a crazy, avant-garde, completely anonymous music and visual arts group. Our friends found tuxedos and created the eyeballs out of paper-mache, paper plates with screens so they could see through. They even had plastic tube running out of the eyeball for them to sip their beer through without unmasking.

I think that was the same year I went as the late Caroline Bessette-Kennedy, after her and John Jr. had died in the plane crash on their way to Hyannis. I wore a pencil skirt, soft blue cashmere sweater seat, a big fake watch and diamond ring and sewed plastic seaweed from the local fish shop all over my outfit. A sign saying Hyannis or bust adorned my back and I mixed blue eyeshadow into my foundation to give me a watery pallor. Yes, totally inappropriate but topical at the time no?

We had a friend that came in a beautiful roach costume that according to him had been used in a commercial, I think it was Orkin. I remember it was the hit of the party that year, a guy walking around with a cigar dressed as a giant roach. People kept making jokes about how dirty our house was.

One year my cousin went as Courtney Love, even taping off a dead body silhouette on the floor of her room and adorning it with crime scene tape and photos of Kurt.

She and I lived together and those parties were a big bonding thing for us. We spent nights brainstorming invitations, constructed nearly by hand, our fingers stained red after putting 'bloody' fingerprints all over the envelopes one year. We stuffed dummies in our living room while we watched television and caught each other up on our day.

We made trip after trip to the craft store for extras to make the house that much scarier, to buy foam board for the headstones that filled our lawn. We kept all the decorations each year adding to them for a more and more elaborate display. I remember the time I went into a back corner of our basement in the middle of summer looking for something, totally forgetting the giant Michael Myers-like dummies we had sacked there. I nearly fainted from the scare of unexpectedly seeing two large 'men' resting against the wall.

Our parties were great, fun, memorable but all of those nights spent with Jenne getting ready were the best part.

What's the best costume you ever wore for Halloween?

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Spa Tip From a Spa Chick - #5 Go Ahead and Bat Those Lashes

Do you refuse to leave the house without mascara? Do you have light eyelashes? Are you so oily complexted that even water-proof mascara formulas leave you looking like Rocky Raccoon after a few hours? Are you going on vacation and hate even waterproof mascara? Do you wish you could wake up with your eyes “on”? Am I asking too many questions?

Then brace yourself for the wonderful miracle of lash tinting. Some of you may already be in the know on this one but I am amazed at how many of my clients have no idea this service is available until they see me do it on someone else. I tint my own lashes. In spite of being a 1st class girly-girl, I have three kids and try to keep the beauty routine manageable. I tint my lashes in part because it's one less thing I have to do in the morning and I love waking up with 'my eyes on.'

To tint lashes, estheticians use a tint designed specifically for the eye area. You or anyone else should ever use hair tint or other tints not specifically designed for use on or around the eye for lash or brow tinting. It's dangerous and could make you blind, like that other thing you do. Barrier cream or petroleum jelly is brushed across the top and bottom lids to prevent staining. Then, protective pads are put on bottom lids where lashes rest when your eyes are shut. Then the technician uses a brush to gently dab tint over the lashes. working it through to the bottom lashes. The tint stays on for about fifteen minutes and the result, dark lashes.
The tint lasts for about four weeks gradually fading to your natural color. I have several colors clients can choose from. Blue-black is very dark and dramatic, much like mascara looks, whereas soft brown is a good choice for light blondes or the ginger-haired for a soft and natural look. If you normally curl your lashes, you will still want to use mascara or a clear mascara to set the curl.

There are some possible downsides to lash tinting. One, if you have extremely sensitive eyes, you are not a great candidate. If you are prone to allergies, you should get a patch test first before you risk putting the tint near your eyes. If you wear contact lenses, I recommend you take them out before and bring some saline drops with you. If any tint gets in your eye, you'll need to flush them out and this is easier done with corrective lenses out. This should only be done by a licensed esthetician or cosmetologist who is experienced in this service.

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Open Letter to My Cat's Veternarian

Open Letter to My Cat's Veternarian,

Hey you. Yeah you, my eyes, there up here, not where you're lookin. Yes, I know, I have nice tits but do you think you could take your eyes of of them for a moment while you take my cats temperature rectally, cause it looks like your being a little rough.

Uh, K Thanks.

This video shows why you have to pay attention to what you're doing.

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He Said, She Said - 9

Conversations With My Husband
Me: (talking to the cat who is batting at my spoon while I eat some yogurt)Seriously, you can't have any but you can lick it when I'm done.
Him: You talking to me?

Me: Blah, kids, blah, blah, blog, blah, blah, your mother... hey, are you even listening to me?
Him: I've stopped working to Photoshop you some Sarah Palin toilet paper. You're gonna have to cut me some slack.

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Now I Know How the Muppets Feel

Apparently my colon is the very model of a modern major general. No problems up in my bidness so I'm relieved but also a little flummoxed because I have been tested for nearly every autoimmune disorder and they keep coming up empty. Which is good because I don't have Lupus or MS but frustrating since no one can explain the frequent fevers, constant mouth full of canker sores, joint problems, blah, blah bah, I won't bore you with the particulars.

I also got tested for Celiac, which is a severe allergy to gluten, which means you can't eat regular bread or pasta or anything else with flour in it. I was grateful not to have that either because I think if I couldn't eat bread I might not want to live. Plus, as vegetarians, if I eliminated wheat and gluten from my diet, I don't think there would be anything left I could eat besides fruit and cheese and frankly that's just dessert.

So as it stands, I'm feeling clean as brand new white sofa. The colonoscopy itself was no big deal. It was the prep and the hunger that left me cranky. I was so hungry by the time we got to the testing center that I told my hubs I wanted a bagel as soon as I woke up in recovery(yeah, I'm a little bossy.) While he didn't bring it in the recovery room, good man that he is had it waiting for me in the car and while I only hazily remember the first hour after the test, he said I nearly swallowed it whole, take that colon.

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Fleet EZ-Prep is the Devil

Ok, so I'm not as good as hubs with the photoshopping, shut up bitches, I did this between horrendous bouts of nausea.

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It's Not Even Lunchtime and I've Already Lost the Will to Live

Started the morning with a trip to the market to get an array of beverages for today's liquid fast. I'm going to take a second here to apologize in advance for the blow by colon blow(pun intended)but chronicling it here gives me something to do to get my mind off food. Hubs keeps making up cute rhymes like, "I'll buy you an apple fritter after they check out your wonky shitter." and "When they look up your pooper, I'm sure everything will be super!" Who says romance is dead.

I have consumed some not red jello, tea and chicken broth and already I'm having visions of a butter and cream cheese-laden everything bagel. Like I've stated before, when I'm told I'm not supposed to do something it's nearly impossible for me not to fixate on doing it. The only incentive for me here is not to have the doc get up all into my bidness and then tell me things are a little messy and we have to do it again.

In an hour I start the purging part of this process and if I'm not permanently affixed to the porcelain prince, I will probably update here, lucky you!

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What's Up Her Bum or TMI

Monday I am having a colonoscopy. It's pretty clear I have some autoimmune thing going on and my doc wants to rule out Crohn's. Tomorrow begins my prep and needless to say, I am not excited about either fasting until Monday afternoon or spending the better part of Sunday sitting on the toilet. Oh, and then there's the part about a fiber optic camera on a flexible tube being shoved up my bum, yeah, not thrilled about that either. I think I'm going to ask for the stills and put them on this year's family Christmas card, no? The only bright spot in this is the narcotic induced twilight sleep. Sedation is one of my favorite ways to take a nap. I get really cranky when I can't eat so hubs has promised to take the kids out for lunch and dinner so I don't have to cook or smell food I can't eat, isn't that nice of him? I think so. It's also smart because when I can't eat, I get seriously psychotic. I don't know if it's a low blood sugar thing or what but I lose my mind. Maybe it's control issues, whenever anyone tells me I can't do something, I completely fixate on the fact that now I almost have to do it. Yeah, I'm contrary so? What's your point? You're wrong, ha, see, told you.

The only other bright part of my plan for tomorrow is I'm going to print little portraits of Sarah Palin I can float in the bowl every time I visit, just thought it might be a nicer day if we can spend it together Sarah and I. I wonder if her novelty toilet paper (doesn't everyone have novelty toilet paper?) is the Constitution? Did I go to far? No, you're wrong. See, I am contrary, and controversial.

Postscript- Shoutout to the hubs for his mad skilz with the Photoshop on the SP TP.

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Caveat Emptor

I wish I would have been blogging back in my dating days because I have some great stories. I was a complete dating whore, not whore mind you, but dating whore. I would go out with nearly anyone. My reasons were two fold. One, I figured you never know who's going to knock your socks off. Looks are overrated and frequently first impressions are wrong. Two, I loved telling stories even then and the worse the date, the better the story.

When I moved to California, I had no social network, no friends from work or college to go out with. I frequently lamented my lack of options with regard to meeting men. Then I discovered online dating, this was back when it was still considered odd.

"Really?" other women would ask me,"you meet guys from the Internet?" their faces screwed up like they smelled something bad.

My mom used to give me shit that I was going to end up buried in some guy's backyard. How do you know they won't end up in my backyard I'd ask her?

In addition to online dating, I was open for blind dates and set-ups.

"Oh, I have this friend who is so great, I should introduce the two of you."

Sure, I'd agree, knowing little else. A friend of mine who worked in the health care industry told me she knew of a doctor I might like. Doctor? Smart, driven, and rich, sign me up. She said he was an anesthesiologist in his early forties, with salt and pepper hair, like John Stewart she said but with nice blue eyes. Hmmm, sure sounds good. Okay, I said, give him my number.

"He's a little awkward with women," she added after I'd already agreed.
"No worries," I said, "I am an “awkward with women” magnet, they love me because I talk enough for the both of us."
"And he's Russian", she threw in.
"He speaks English right?" I asked.
"Oh yeah."

He called me a few days later and we agreed that he'd come by that Sunday and we'd go out for an early dinner. He was nice enough on the phone. Nice accent, seemed very smart and while certainly not slick in any form, he didn't go full scale introvert on the phone.

I walked around the whole week excited for my upcoming date.
"Ahhh, I got a date with a doc-tor," I teased a few of the girls I worked with. "He's Richey McRicherson and apparently very handsome. Mmmm, and did you know anesthesiologists are more likely to have girl babies? Hmmm,wonder if I should pick out names yet," I teased.

A day before the date, the same friend and I had dinner and when I said I was looking forward to meeting my ER meets John Stewart, she said, "well, maybe less like John Stewart and more like Bill Clinton, a bit more salt than pepper," she added.
"Oh, well, that's ok, Bill Clinton's a good looking guy, I don't need John Stewart or George Clooney."

Sunday I cleaned the house, went to the market and bought a giant bunch of fresh flowers to put on the table. I took great care in getting ready utilizing the higher maintenance beauty regime reserved for special occasions. I full body exfoliated, I redid my pedicure that was just a week old, I masked, tweezed, and primped until I looked the very model of effortless perfection.

I wore a black, cashmere v-neck sweater which showed off the girls in a nice subtle way and a skirt with heels, a uniform of mine to this day. I was ready a half hour early so I sat down and let myself daydream about what he'd be like. I saw him as Mikhail Baryshnikov minus the ballet dancing, Bill Clinton minus the philandering, George Clooney's character on ER minus the relationship issues and Cary Grant, just because I like him and always imagined the person I'd end up would have a little Grant about him.

As I finished my reverie, the doorbell rang. Herein lies one of the problems with an active imagination and a sunny outlook, frequently things are imagined far better than they ever turn out to be in reality.

Bill Clinton? How about Steve Martin, about ten years from now. His hair was white with large swaths of shiny pink scalp peeking through. There was no way he was in his early forties unless he had that disease where people age way too fast. To best that, he wore a fanny pack. I am certainly prone to exaggeration but that is the godawful truth. It was a black faux leather number and when I saw it, a little part of me died. He had a sizable paunch with a too tight black t-shirt on, and ugly puffy black tennis shoes built for comfort. We had decided to go for sushi and I had picked a modest but good place nearby.

“Would you mind driving?” he asked me.

I am a tidy girl who cares for my things in all places but one, my automobile. Dirty, rusty with probably three months worth of empty diet coke cans littered about and who knows what else. Absolutely not I thought, he'd take one look at my car and run screaming in the other direction. In hindsight, maybe I should have driven but I had this sickness where even if I had no interest in a guy, I still wanted him to want me, twisted I know.

So I scrambled out the quickest lie that I could think of, "uh, we can't take my car 'cause, uh, the brakes aren't working and uh, I wouldn't feel safe."

“Fine,” he said flatly.

I don't know if he'd spent time in some Russian gulag but this guy was not a real bright spark. I followed him to his car which was shiny and black and some type of exclusive Mercedes of which I knew nothing about because I am not a car girl and have driven dependable, cheap Hondas all my life.

Still, it was pretty and shiny and though I wasn't exactly sure why, I knew this was a car to appreciate. He didn't open the door for me which while an unnecessary convention when your in the thick of it, is absolutely necessary for a first date. Take notes here men, it's not a tired affectation, it's a sign that your making an effort to make a good impression and it's nice.
I slid into the butter soft leather seats and before I can compliment him on the car, he sticks a big tube attached to some kind of device mounted on the console of this beautiful car into his mouth and starts puffing.

I am now in full blown confusion here. Is this how you start these cars? My brain is trying to figure out what he's doing before the stupefied look comes over my face. He raises his hand up to signal that he'll explain in a second as he finishes blowing.

"I got a DUI," he tells me,"just one but they made me put this Breathalyzer in and I need to blow to start the car."

I may be blonde but I'm pretty sure they don't make you install a digital breathalyzer in your car that you have to blow in every time you want to start it because you got one DUI. I was silently cursing my friend for setting me up with what was turning out to be a train wreck.

We got to the restaurant and talked business for awhile. I tried to just make the most of it and enjoy conversation but it took a herculean effort on my part not to fall asleep. Even at that moment, a little part of me was imagining the story I would tell friends later, structuring it for maximum comic effect. I got through dinner and we got back into his car.

“Do you want to go for a coffee?" he suggested. "No, I'm really tired and I have to get up early, you know, go get those brakes of mine fixed."

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Yeah, I'm Deep Bitches, and Neurotic Too

Parenthood is like being a CEO of a fortune 500 company. You get handsomely rewarded but are asked to give up nearly everything to fulfill the job requirements. I would venture to guess that most high level CEO's make staggering sacrifices in their personal lives just as so many moms and dads make professional and personal sacrifices to show up for their children everyday.

Not that we don't want to, which is part of the problem. There are ten million things I want to do before I return to carbon form and being a good mom and wife is one of them.

I am sometimes very singular-minded which can be a problem since I have three kids, a husband, a business, a fledgling writing career, a house to care for and various other friends, family, hobbies and intellectual pursuits in my life that vie for space. This locus-focus means that all too often one thing will get my attention at the expense of much else. It also means I have a sharp ability to shift focus to other stuff as a well-honed procrastination technique.

I used to be an ace goal-setter, a manifestor, an opportunist and make it happen kind of gal. I think I burned myself out. Now I am a fledgling Buddhist, trying to live in the now while still finding a way to make it all come together, all of these things that are important to me.I struggle to think ahead without living in the future.

Sometimes the mess seems too hard and I want to heap it all and go hide under the covers. There are times I want to give in to my 'role', relinquish my aspirations and intellectual life because the balancing of it all makes me dizzy. I sometimes wish I were daft, it might make things simpler. Being smart often feels like a handicap, a drug addiction to be fed, a noisy head full of thoughts that won't go to bed so I can get enough sleep to do the other parts of my life.

And then, almost as if the universe hears you teetering, questioning your path, comes a confluence of reminders that you are exactly where you need to be and all of this struggling to balance it all is just part of the fun. Yipee! I am reminded that everything I've ever wanted I have eventually gotten, though not always in the exact packaging I asked for. I think that's where I am now. I just need to get out of my own way.

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What an Exciting Morning

Take one preoccupied mom Add one dad trying to get ready for work

Throw a bored baby into the mix And voila! Morning excitement
911. Oh, yes. She. Did. This morning I was showing the hubs how when I give the baby the phone, she puts it to her ear and says, "Hi Dada." Cute no? Uh, and then I started writing, coffee in hand in my own personal LaLa Land. Hubs finished getting ready for work. The kids finished their breakfast and guess who showed up? You guessed it, two of Orange County's finest. Apparently, the bebe didn't like that no one was paying attention to her and decided to call in back up.

There was a rather authoritative knock on the door. "Who could that be?" I asked. Hubs answers the door and then I try to explain to these guys, while standing in a translucent tee-shirt sans undergarments of any kind, how I let the baby play with the phone. My eight year old stood there looking at me like I was headed for the time out chair and my husband just shook his head embarrassed. At least I gave them something to talk about after they left(I have been working out you know.) Of course consummate blogger that I am, after the cops left, what was the first thing I had to say?

"Now I have something to blog about."

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Hurtful Italian Stereotypes

I love this picture, don't they look like a bunch of bruisers. "Vinnie, you don't pay us by Friday, I can't say those knees a yours are gonna be doin' too good."


Mom, humpf. We scoff at your vain attempts to capture our souls through that camera device of yours. We. Will. Not. Smile. Ever. What's that you say? Chocolate cupcakes?
Fine, here, cheese, now give me the cupcake.

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Bebe at the Fisherman's Wharf Merry-Go-Round

Hey you. Yeah you, horsey, I'm talkin' to you. Yeah, that's me yanking the reins. You may be made of fiberglass and resin, but you bright colored beauty, I'm going to tame you. I will hold on to your pole until you succumb to my will, and then my friend, we will ride with the wind.

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Be Sure to Wear Some Flowers in Your Hair

I'm off to work today instead of Friday because I'm leaving town tonight and I had to fit in all my girls before I left. Hubs and I are taking the kids to San Francisco through the weekend. A short drive(5 hours if we go at night and bypass the crazy traffic on both ends), stay with my Aunt who is lovingly referred to as 'fun aunt Patte' cause she is. We'll tool around the city and then spend two days at the beautiful Calistoga Ranch and then back to the grind.

We'll go here.
And given the hubs uncontrollable sweet tooth, I'm guessing we'll stop here.
I'm certain we'll enjoy this.
I'm guessing we'll see a little of this, ah gotta love the Castro. Finally, we'll recharge our batteries here.

See you soon. -FF

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One Year

Sunday we celebrated my youngest daughter's first birthday. The day started well, hubs and the boy made pancakes for their three favorite girls. After breakfast, the bebe and I snuggled up in my bed and napped. As I held her I tried to imprint forever the feel of her warm, still nearly bald head. I tried to lock in the memory of the sweet smell of her breath and the lightness of her hand resting on my face, the way she smiles in her sleep when I kiss her and the chubbiness of her little feet. I tried to permanently etch in my mind the smallness of her, I'm still able to cradle the entirety of her in my arms.

Later in the day I went to take a bath and she followed me in and started trying to tug off her clothes. She loves showers and baths and this is her way of saying, “me too, me to.” Although I am socially adept, I am a true introvert and I love parties but they wear me out. I had hoped to relax on my own for a half hour before the onslaught of relatives.

Then I thought, how much longer will I have where I can just hoist her little bundle of naked baby goodness in the tub with me? So in she went and we played and laughed and splashed. It's the last baby and you know I've expressed some ambivalence about this. I'm glad we're done, I'm ready to be past the diapers and the vigilant watchful eye needed to get a baby to about three. I'm glad to have my sleep back. The older our children get, the more independent they become and the more time hubs and I have together. No matter how much I love the kids, he's my best friend, my point/counter point, my intellectual equal, my grownup maker of merry, my favorite travel companion and by BFF.

Still, here is one in a long line of lasts. She's still a snugglebug, but already she's asserting her independence, as I've encouraged her to do, as I encourage all of my kids to do. I'm glad she's not only walking but running. I'm glad she pushes me away and tries to figure out on her own how to do things. Yet I'll miss the clingy 8 pound ball of needs and wants who still felt somehow attached to my own body those first few months.

I am so excited to see the first glimpse of the girl she become. She is feisty and determined. She is adventerous but cautious. She'll climb up something with no fear and then cautiously stretch her foot out feeling for the ground. She gets over scrapes and falls so quickly, thankfully we haven't had a bad one yet.

She laughs constantly. Just today our cat, who the vet said has come down with a little cold, was doing this cough thing that kind of sounded like a muted quack and bebe found it so funny she was rolling on the floor in a fit of giggles. She has a bevy of words in her vocabulary, though she still hasn't said mom. She says ya, and da, and ba, pa but no ma the dirty rat.

With our eight year old, it was all about firsts, with our middle child we had experience on our side and with the bebe it's a lot about lasts. I know that sounds a little glass half empty but really it's just a reminder to myself to savor each moment.

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The Money Shot

We celebrated her first birthday, and uh, yeah, she liked her cake. Maybe she's an aspiring esthetician and just decided to give herself a quick masque to tighten those pores. .

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Ask FormerlyFun - Strange Scottish Girls, Ganja and Things that Go Bump in the Night

Oh the joys of waking up in the morning to a question in my inbox. Someone cares what I think, my parents WERE wrong. I have received a few queries from people regarding the scope of questions they can ask. Like your teacher said, there are no stupid questions. Well, there are some stupid questions but sometimes those are the most fun, no?

Dear FormerlyFun,
Just read the latest post where you invite questions, and I have a question, about waxing and cha-chas. I have been waxing and not shaving for the past 5 years, and would NEVER go back to shaving, it's just so yucky. But, the one grievance I have with waxing is that I always get ingrown hairs even though I exfoliate quite a lot (3 times a week) and it makes my cha-cha look not quite so nice, dontcha think? I want it smooth and hair free and red-bump free too, any tips?

Thank you,

You've reminded me of another strange Scottish girl I knew, she was a client of mine some years back. Now almost every woman who lays across my table bemoans her hirsute condition. Most are not hairy at all, we're just used to the scrubbed and squeaky clean images of women so we see a little fuzz and think, oh god what a yeti am I.

This client, she was in fact a very hairy girl. She was pale as pale can be with thick, black body hair. The poor thing, she probably had three hairs sticking out of every follicle. She couldn't just shave her legs or chacha because her hair was so dark, even just after shaving, it left a five o'clock shadow. I also couldn't only wax her bikini line because she was so hairy from the waist down, it would have looked odd to have no hair just around her pelvis but crazy hair pants the rest of the way down.

Because her hair was so thick and so profuse, waxing literally left her in tears. No doubt, waxing hurts but the thicker the diameter of the hair and the more hair per square inch, the greater the pain. She came a few times and left pleased with the results but traumatized nonetheless.

We tried OTC pain relievers and topical numbing creams to little avail. Finally one day she came in with a small bag and a plan. I've finally figured out what I need to do she told me. Out of the bag she pulled a small plastic bag filled with some of Long Beach's finest ganja. Well, you can't smoke that in here but you can go around back, I told her. So she came in a few minutes later looking infinitely more relaxed. Come on back, I said. Not done yet she informed me. Out of the same bag came two Zimas. She pounded one straight away in my reception area and started working on the other one as she followed me to the back.

It was a waxing like no waxing before. She giggled through most of it and even fell asleep for a few minutes toward the end. I certainly wouldn't recommend this for everyone, but this poor girl had earned the right.

So StrangeScottishGirl, as for your question. Ingrown hairs can be embarrassing and annoying. There are things you can do to minimize their recurrence but some people have a hair texture and shape that predisposes them to ingrowns. You are already exfoliating so that's good.

I know a lot of estheticians tout Tendskin but I have never had good results with it. The most effective remedy I have found for ingrowns is a salicylic/citric acid pad exfoliant. Get yourself some acne pads, you know the Clearasil or Oxy variety. My personal favorite is Clearasil Ultra Deep Pore Cleansing Pads but if you can't find these, look at similar products. Read the label, they should have salicylic acid as the active ingredient. Use these on your lady business the same way you would on your face, gently rub over the skin staying away from any mucous membranes(the moist tissue of the inner workings). Use the pads nightly to chemically exfoliate the skin, often more effective for people who suffer from ingrowns that physical exfoliants like scrubs and loofahs which can further irritate sensitive skin. Stop using the pads two or three days before your bikini wax to avoid damaging the skin.

If you still get ingrowns, whatever you do, don't pick at them. If you're brave you can follow the directions here, they are sound. Let them run their course. If they get large, very swollen or more tender than usual, see a dermatologist.

Send all questions to

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Behold the Giant Alien Belly

Tomorrow I'm at work so I won't post. In light of the few recent more serious posts, I thought I'd 'overshare' and indulge in a moment of levity and post a picture of me just a year ago just before the bebe was born. Behold the giant alien belly. No snickering.
This was taken by Greenbean, a master photographer who made me look pretty good in spite of the swollen legs and exhaustion. He is also one of my husband's nicest friends.

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How Much Is Enough?

I've been talking about religion quite a bit lately, not here so much but among friends and acquaintances. Like it or not(not, thank you), it is a factor in these election times. A conservative I know recently told me during one of our discussions where I again asserted that our founding fathers intended there to be a separation of church and state, that the U.S. is a Christian country. No, a country where the majority of citizens are Christian maybe but not a Christian country, I retorted.

This exchange got me thinking about what religion or common values really bring us, the American people, together. Even among Christians, there is a mass expanse of differing mores and norms. Add to that all of the other religions groups and the bevy of people who don't align themselves with any religious group.

So what then is the most uniting factor among nearly all of the U.S.'s people? It's the religion of stuff, the Holy Order of the Benevolent Consumer, Our Lady of Twelve Month Interest Free Financing, the Church of the Latter Day Payments.

Besides a few offshoot groups, wanting, buying and having stuff is a common thread that transcends denominations. Somewhere along the line, thrift ceased to be a virtue and instead became a liability. We are encouraged to use our money and tax rebates as economic stimulus, even as people face rising health care costs and risk home foreclosure. The American economy is a machine that requires us to lubricate it with our dollars to keep it running so going off the grid isn't an option but how much is too much?

Even home ownership, the only form of "savings" for many of today's adults, has been pillaged by the hubris of the seductive home equity loans. Until recently, these loans, better known as second mortgages, were thought of as the borrowing of last resort, avoided by all but those in the most desperate financial crises. Paying off your home used to be the goal, not bleeding it until nothing was left hoping the value would rise fast enough to keep up.

Now, for the first time since World War II, the portion of home value that Americans actually own has fallen to less than 50 percent. How did this happen? In part because slick advertising changed the paradigm. Rather than see free and clear home ownership as a goal to work towards, we were told we were all but ignoring a source of "free" money. Citibank encouraged Americans to “live richly”, “Seize your someday,” a Wells Fargo ad advised in 2007. I couldn't find it online, but I still clearly remember a billboard that showed a woman carrying a bunch of shopping bags and the tagline was, "Is your home equity burning a hole in your pocket?" The message was, don't have enough money for that vacation, new car or home remodel, don't worry, you're sitting on a veritable goldmine.

Even when it came to credit cards, banks encouraged consumers to rethink negative feelings about debt. For example, Mastercard's “Priceless” campaign, which implied that having things, experiences, whatever, was worth more than the peace of mind an even balance sheet brings. Americans hold $850 billion in credit card debt, and according to the Consumer Federation of America, the average balance per card-holding household is $8,568.

Only two generations ago, America was a nation of by and large thrifty people living within their means, even saving money for unforeseen expenses. Today, according to the Federal Reserve Board, Americans carry $2.56 trillion in consumer debt, up 22 percent since 2000 alone.

When did we become so comfortable spending more than we earn. When did we forget how to say no, it's not wise, it's impractical, it's just stuff? When did we stop saving for the things we want and just buy them now, with no plan in place to pay them later.

There is no $700 billion bailout for the American consumer, uh, I mean citizen. The government isn't going to step in and forgive your debts and financial obligations. In fact, the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005, made it increasingly more difficult to discharge debt owed to credit card companies. Understandably, you spend money they want the money, I get that.

My point is that nobody is going stop the massive hemorrhaging so many Americans are now seeing as the consequence of the "live today" and "worry about tomorrow, tomorrow" mentality. Banks, and credit card companies and all of the various businesses that want your money(mine included) are not going to encourage you to spend responsibly. That my friends is a matter of personal responsibility, something we used to be a little famous for.

On a personal note, in light of our recent exorbitant, unforeseen medical expenses, today hubs and I sold a car. It was a third car, his "fun" car but as hubs said, there's nothing fun about keeping a car at the expense of our savings or our time. More expenses means more hours we both have to work, and we really like our free time.

Hubs got rid of a toy saved for and purchased with cash as a reward for hard work. I have looked over our household budget with a giant red pen for ways to cut unnecessary expenses. We are making sacrifices that aren't even really sacrifices. These are the things many of our grandparents and great-grandparents did as the rule, not the exception. Hubs and I are both good savers so forming a plan and sticking to it is something we can do. It's actually becoming fun, a challenge to get back to basics and a reminder to own our stuff rather than let our stuff own us.

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