Friday, June 22, 2012

France. (A post which has nothing to do with France.)

I am one of those people who thinks she'd like to go to France.

Some people know they want to go to France--unless they go to France, their lives will not be complete. Some people know they DON'T want to go to France, and no matter how many people come back from France gushing about the food and the art and how "Once you go to France, you'll understand!", they don't plan to change their minds.

I don't especially want to go to France. I never have, even when I was little, though sometimes I'd pretend because I quickly realized that saying things like, "You know, I don't even think I want a passport" resulted in lectures from Sunday School teachers.

So I don't actively want to go to France. But I think I'd like to go to France.

The difference is simply this: if opportunities arose and the timing was right, if I had enough money saved up and a solid travel buddy, then yes, I think I'd go to France. I suspect I'll really enjoy it and everyone will be excited for me.

But if those opportunities don't arise, I think I'll also be quite happy going to Spain or Thailand or Australia or Brazil. My heart won't break if I never go to France.

Whereas other people are planning and pining for the day they go to France -- which is probably the more mature way to embark on international travel -- but at least I don't have heartburn over it at the moment. The upside is that, more often than not, they'll succeed in their goal, one way or the other. The downside to all that maturity is if these people never make it to France, they'll be crushed.

Do I worry about that the difference between liking to go and wanting to go will impact my appreciation of France? Not particularly.

There will be people who want to go to France who will arrive and find out it is everything they had hoped and more. There will be people who went to France on a whim who arrive and think, "Uh oh. Do you think there's anyway I can turn around and go home now?"

And then there will be people who planned to go to France their whole lives, but who will spend the entire time in the hotel bathtub with a glass of wine, sobbing that the Eiffel Tower and Louvre were not nearly as pretty as they'd imagined.

And then other people, who merely suspected they might enjoy France if the possibility came up, find themselves running through fields in the French countryside, sunshine on their faces, arms spread wide, grinning like fools and yelling, "FRANCE! Who knew, amiright?"

I think the problems arise when you live in a culture where everyone assumes everyone must WANT to go to France. The concept that someone might not care for France -- or might enjoy French people or pictures of other peoples' vacations to France, but doesn't really want to go themselves -- or merely has a vague inclination toward France -- sits poorly with a lot of people.

The fact is, we have a complicated relationship with France, made more complicated still by a cultural insistence that everyone MUST LOVE FRANCE and MUST WANT TO GO TO THERE, and most importantly, THERE IS ONLY ONE RIGHT WAY TO GO TO FRANCE.

Which means people who don't want to go to France, or people who shouldn't go to France, lest they give the rest of us a bad name, or people who haven't thought it through ... well, they go to France.

And then hate it. And then poor, innocent French people suffer for their mistake.

And people who don't ever get to go, but wanted to go, start feeling resentful of everyone who goes all the damn time. And maybe in the meantime, they could have done some other things, enjoyed the life they had -- but they couldn't stop thinking about France.

And then other people, who haven't gone to France and haven't given it much thought, start feeling resentful that France is constantly shoved in their faces. Who the hell cares that you went to France? ANYONE can go to France. I surfed the North Shore and hiked Havasu Falls and you don't see me yammering on about it!

On the flip side of that, I'm sure people who go to France are thinking, somewhat resentfully, You know, going to France isn't exactly cheap. I sure wish you all would stop inviting me out to brunch every weekend.

Regardless, a few things are clear: The people with the strongest feelings about France, for and against, are usually the most annoying. And people who attach moral value to their own decision to go to France--or refusal to go to France--are the worst.

Because let's get one thing straight: there are a lot of good and bad reasons to go to France or avoid France. If you are not going to France merely because you think it's the ethical thing to do, your friends and acquaintances probably find you insufferable and will soon start "forgetting" to invite you to dinner parties. On the flip side, if you are going to France just because you believe it's your moral duty to do so, you may want to be on the lookout for your future midlife crisis.

Some people arrive in France and realize, "Why did I come to France with you? I don't know how I'm going to get through this."

And some people arrive in France and think, "I'm so glad I came here with you. It wouldn't have been half as nice with someone else."

People change their minds about France throughout their lives. Some people go to France once and call it good, other people make biannual trips. And of course, other people have a lot to say about all that because when it comes to France, we sure can't seem to shut up about other peoples' decisions.

Some people compromise on the issue of France.

And then other people, who initially thought they were on the same page, find out that someone else changed their mind. Then I guess you have to decide -- can you be happy living your life without France, or without going to France again? Can you bite the bullet and go to France and hope you like it? Or do you part ways and hope you can find a new person who wants to travel where you want, knowing that they also might change their mind down the road?

And then here's this really weird phenomenon about France: people who never wanted to go wind up crushed if someone tells them they can't go--because sometimes even if you didn't want to go to France, maybe you still want the option of changing your mind.

People who never wanted to go end up booking a flight at the very last minute, because why not? And then maybe it turns out they LOVE France and can't figure out why they didn't go sooner. Or maybe they LOVE France and are really glad they waited so long to go because they appreciated it more at that point in their lives.

Because isn't the most important thing enjoying France, if you do happen to go?

Some people go to France by themselves. Personally, I wouldn't ever go to France by myself, or for that matter, with someone who didn't want to go to France at least as much as (and ideally more than) I did. I think there's nothing worse than the idea of dragging someone across the ocean to France. But if you really want to go to France, and no one ever comes along who seems like a good traveling companion, well then bon voyage my friend.

And some people may wake up one day and realize, "I forgot to go to France!"

But I suspect that one is more of a cultural urban legend. No one forgets to go to France.

I'm a bad person with a cute dog

Yesterday, I was working at home when two kids knocked on my door. Claiming to be from the "inner city" (of where?), they were selling magazines to raise money for college and "learn about responsibility."

Despite this obvious appeal to my latent white guilt, I politely told them to move along.

What I wanted to do, however, was say, "You know this is a scam, right?"

Blogfriends, whenever a kid tries to sell you a magazine to earn points for a vacation, a charity, military families, or college, they are either (a) being exploited themselves or (b) the exploitee. Don't contribute to it. This scam has been around awhile, and frankly, I'm surprised they haven't realized that telling someone that they're from the "inner city" isn't an immediate tip off that this is baloney.

The kids you're seeing don't get paid. You don't even get the crappy magazines you've paid for. No vacations are taken, no college funds are started.

If you want to contribute to give someone a better life, donate to a scholarship fund or a homeless shelter or Big Brothers, Big Sisters, but don't hand a kid on your porch some money for a Cat Fancy.

I kind of regret not telling those kids that they were wasting their time in more ways than one, but I kind of like my home to be an Argument-Free Zone.

On a lighter note, Spence has a new trick. If you throw a ball, he'll bring it back, shove it into your hand so you can throw it again--but he starts growling as soon as you touch the ball so he can pretend to be big and tough. Say it with me folks: Awwww.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Financial goals

I have a hard time saving money unless I have some very clear cut spending goals in mind. (Saving for saving's sake? Preposterous!*)

New computer last Christmas? Check.

Vacation to Hawaii? Check.

These things I can accomplish because I know how much they cost, I know how much I need to deprive myself, and then I let my bank account kick some ass and take some names. I am a savings fiend when I know why I am saving.

But when I just think, "Man, I should just indescriminately save some money," well, that's when I find myself going out to eat too much and downloading books for my Kindle that are probably available at the library. In short, frugality for mere frugality's sake doesn't work and increases my pants size to boot.

Now I've got three new goals I'd like to share, in no particular order of importance.

1. Kitchen

Now, I love my little casa. I love the antique glass windows that don't retain heat in the winter and make it nearly impossible to keep my little brick bungalow cool in the summer. I love the crazy squeaky hardwood floors. I love the woodwork. I love that it came with an angel. I love the porch -- I feel like a Clampet in the very best possible way when I sit out there with my dog and read and sip a Diet Coke.

And I used to be faintly charmed by the kitchen, with its lack of counter space and bizarrely laid out cabinet design. I used to think the antique oven that burns everything in the middle and under cooks everything on the left, so basically you can cook a single row of cookies per cookie sheet and only if you line them up on the right side, was kind of quirky and fun. And who needs a dishwasher? Not the pioneers, that's for sure!

But now that I've lived in you one year, Dear Casa, I want to take a sledgehammer to your counter space, tear the cabinets out of your walls with my bare hands, and stick your linoleum flooring on pikes in the yard as a warning to all other kitchens: You burn one more damn cookie, I will burn you to the ground and sea salt the earth.

2. Pocket pig.
I don't think anything else needs to be said, am I right? I mean, it stretches out the EXACT SAME WAY as Spence when he's tuckered! Puppy-piggy soulmates, that's what this is.

3. Paris.
 You, the City of Lights. Me, Ru. Next spring. It's happening, dear Paris.

Because a girl can't live on new kitchens and the love of piglets alone.

* I know it isn't actually preposterous. I know it, and yet somehow, I find it impossible.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Math. It's a helluva concept.

So according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the average cost of having and raising a kid is around a quarter million dollars, give or take ten thousand dollars.

To cut to the chase, I find this number less-than-credible. Why? Aside from the fact that it just so happens to trigger my B.S. meter, I know for a fact that my parents did not shell out a million dollars raising four kids, let alone a quarter million. (Yes, I am aware of economies of scale. The people who came up the 234K number, however, are not.)

Let's take a look at these numbers, shall we?

The average, middle-income American family spends $234,900 per kid. Make over $100,000 a year? You can expect to shall out $389,670. Less than $60,000? $169,080.

"But wait!" you say. "Those numbers are all different. Do you mean to tell me that children of richer parents are more expensive?"

"Why no," says I. "But apparently everyone who has reported on this figures doesn't understand the difference between COST and SPEND. Because rich people SPEND more money raising their children--it does not COST that much. And presumably, it therefore does not COST a quarter million to raise a middle class kid, or even $170,000 to raise a lower income kid. This study, as it so happens, tells us VERY LITTLE about the cost of raising kids, and a lot about how much people tend to SPEND raising their kids."

Let's look at some other numbers, shall we?

The estimated "cost" of housing a kid for 18 years is $70,000.

"But wait!" you say. "Don't most people also have homes if they provide homes for their children?"

Indeed. In fact, you might even say that somewhere upwards of 99% of people who choose to procreate do so in a non-homeless state. So if people choose to "upgrade" their house or apartment upon having a kid, well, is that really a "cost" of having a kid?

The reports also show that 24 percent of the "cost" of raising a kid goes to feeding that kid. Again, I'd suggest it's likely lower, since most people who feed their kids probably would have also fed themselves, and what's the price difference between buying yourself some lettuce and chicken (already a necessity), buying your partner some lettuce and chicken (likely a necessity), and then buying a little more lettuce and chicken for a pre-adult who will probably not eat much of it anyway and then demand a cookie (the actual "cost" of feeding a kid)?

It's not huge, as you might suspect, even extrapolated over 18 years while (you guessed it) you were also continuing to feed yourself.

Then there's the puzzling 16 percent of the "cost" spent on things "used" on food for the child. I can only assume this means plates, spoons, Kitchenaids, spatulas, mixing bowls, pasta presses, and soda streams -- again, all things you probably bought FOR YOURSELF.  (Or if you were really lucky, received as a wedding gift. Cha-ching!) The only TRUE cost of "stuff used to feed a kid" is bottles and sippy cups -- things you bought for the sole purpose of feeding the kid for a few years because you would never buy yourself a sippy cup. (We hope.)
What is my point? It's simply this:

Kids cost a boatload. But if you choose to spend a whopping $14,000 a year on your kid, don't pretend that was the "cost" of having your kid.

We will now resume our regular programming.   

Friday, June 15, 2012

thought inspired by having a cold

Just so you know, internet, I'm glad I have a dog and not a kid. Because when you've been sick for an entire week, a dog just wants to snuggle next to your side and be extra cute. I suspect a kid would want, like, attention and stuff.

That is all. Carry on. I intend to have more interesting things to say as soon as this virus learns who is boss.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

political mini-rant? don't mind if I do

To all the "real" "contributors" out there (you know who you are, you've got an Ayn Rand bumper sticker to prove your individualist cred) thinking of actually engaging in John Galt's strike and abandoning the rest of us shmoes to our fates ...


Just do it already.



(In case you didn't know, in Atlas Shrugged a character named John Galt tells everyone who really matters--industrialists, inventors, innovators, and anyone who is not one of those things but fortunately happens to be a raging douche--to abandon society to its own devices and go live in a commune. Because, clearly, only then will they really be FREE.

It's sort of an interesting idea in a book that's just a teensy bit rapey, and a laughable idea in this world I like to call "Grown Up Land." 

Good luck on your commune, ladies and gents. Hope you figured out how to can peaches and suture wounds before you left. We'll just be here, enjoying our mediocrity and tax obligations, along with our restaurants, indoor plumbing, college football and DisneyWorld. In case you ever want to come back.

Which we sincerely hope you don't.)