Sunday, March 27, 2011

Drinking buddies are not real friends; a lesson for my teenage self.

My husband was a member of a sports league for many years. In the beginning, the members of this league organized a golf outing each summer and attended a holiday party together at a bar. This holiday party evolved into a wine tasting with each interested party bringing a bottle of wine. Eventually the bar’s owners banned wine carry-ins and the wine-tasting moved to individual homes. In the beginning there were lots of laughs and both my husband and I enjoyed learning about wine. Before long we were attending or hosting a party numerous times throughout the year.

After the last party held at our home, we decided we’d had enough. These parties weren’t wine tastings, they were drunken bashes. Couples would bring a minimum of four bottles of wine. This was in addition to the wine we had purchased for the party. They didn’t sip and discuss wine throughout the evening, they slammed it. One guest became so drunk he fell in our bathroom ripping down our shower curtain. And the conversation was always the same. They would discuss previous parties, how much wine everyone had drunk and who had made the biggest fool of themselves. Then they’d hug everyone and say what good friends we all were. We had to tell them to keep it down; their language was not appropriate for our neighbor’s children. We worried about them driving. Even the designated drivers drank.

When the next party invitation arrived we declined, saying we were too busy. We didn’t host our annual party last summer. They didn’t take it well and without our participation the wine tasting group disbanded.

One of these former partygoers invited us to his birthday bash this past weekend. After much consternation, we decided to go. It was the right thing to do. We didn’t dislike these people we just didn’t want to be subjected to their drunken banter on a regular basis.

We did not have a good week. My husband totaled his truck coming home from work Wednesday night. Not liking the way the car in front of him was driving, he changed lanes hitting a patch of black ice. His truck spun out of control, hit a tree and flipped onto its side. He was lucky. He walked away without a scratch and is thankful he didn’t hit anyone else. Kerry, a kind stranger, pulled up behind him, called the sheriff and stayed with him ‘til a tow truck arrived. She even offered him a ride home. Then to add drama to our day, we realized our furnace wasn’t working and had to call a repairperson. $500 and three hours later we had heat.

The rest of the week was stressful; calls to the insurance company, revisiting the crash site to look for the license plate (our insurance company felt it was important we find it), cleaning out the truck at the tow center, shopping for a new vehicle and arranging transportation to our places of work with only one car took a toll on our emotions.

We considered not going to the party, but my husband thought it would be good for us to get out of the house. The first thing the party’s host said upon our arrival was, “It is about time you got here. We were taking bets as to whether or not you’d show up.” I told him about the accident. He acted as if I was blowing it out of proportion. He said he had been in two car accidents and that you just collect your insurance money and move on with life. We didn’t talk to him again all evening. One of our former wine tasting friends asked when we were going to have another summer party. It was on the tip of my tongue to say “never” you guys drink too much. Another asked us to check our schedule; he wants to host a party in a couple of months. I enjoyed catching up with some of our former friends, but as we were leaving, I couldn’t help noticing how drunk some of them were.

My husband is glad we went. He says he now knows for sure he is making the right decision; it is a waste of our time to socialize with these people. It is too late to change the rules. They won’t understand if we say we want to be friends, but in a non-drinking capacity. It is interesting to note my husband received more compassion about his accident from Kerry a total stranger and co-workers who barely know his name than from someone he has known for twenty years.

So here is another lesson for my “Letter to my 18 year-old self:” friends who are friends only if you keep them company on a bar stool are not real friends. They are drinking buddies (and most likely alcoholics).

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Is it possible to change the course of a girl's life?

I am currently reading Adrian Nicole LeBlanc's Random Family: Love, Drugs, Trouble, and Coming of Age in the Bronx

Motivation for Reading:
This book is on the list of favorite economics books provided by Planet Money on NPR: Must-Read Economics.  Here is the recommendation by Alex:
One of the best books I read about economics is a book which on the surface has nothing to do with economics. It's the true story of two girls coming of age in the South Bronx. It's riveting and devastating, and lays out better than anything else I've seen or read how the circumstances into which you're born affect your economic future. I think about it all the time.

My Thoughts:
When I began reading non-fiction, I came across a list of books called nonfiction books that read like fiction which is a list of non-fiction books that read like novels. Random Family belongs on this list. The story is so engaging I had to flip to the cover to make sure I was really reading non-fiction.* The book's author Adrian Nicole LeBlanc spent ten years living with and interviewing her characters yet she is completely absent from the book. The book is about her characters. The story is harsh. Young girls are molested for years. They begin having babies of their own at 15. The only method available for supporting themselves seems to be dealing drugs or going on welfare. Their mothers are drug abusers. Their boyfriends and fathers are in prison. Their boyfriends beat them, play crazy head games and engage in power struggles. Their situations are so precarious that an impulsive splurge or even a generous gesture toward someone more desperate can send them into a state of emergency. Their state’s welfare service system is no help. They can sit in a waiting room for six hours with three small children for a three minute meeting that accomplishes nothing.

While reading I kept thinking is it even possible to change the course of these girl’s lives. The problem is no one was there to truly protect them when they were children, and now no one is there to go to for real advice and support. One paragraph that strayed with me is about Coco a 20-year old single mother of three:
Coco’s trips to her mother’s and Lourdes’s (her mother-in-law) were searching expeditions – she needed guidance, but Foxy and Lourdes were in no position to help; similar conflicts ruled their own lives. Still, Coco kept returning to the same places for answers again and again. (Pg. 194)

In addition to this book, I want to point you to a moving Dear Sugar column I stumbled across this weekend. While answering a reader’s question, Sugar tells us about her previous work as a youth advocate. She had been assigned to a group of teenage girls in middle school.
Her mission was to help them succeed in spite of the unspeakably harrowing crap stew they’d been simmering in all of their lives. Succeeding in this context meant getting neither pregnant nor locked up before graduating high school.
It meant eventually holding down a job at Taco Bell or Wal-Mart. She tries to help them by getting the authorities to intervene, to protect them, but no one comes. No one intervenes. She is told there is no money for kids over the age of 12. She changes her advice. She tells the girls to survive it. To endure it. She writes:
But I did not tell her it would stop. I did not promise that anyone would intervene. I told her it would likely go on and she’d have to survive it. That she’d have to find a way within herself to not only escape the shit, but to transcend it, and if she wasn’t able to do that, then her whole life would be shit, forever and ever and ever. I told her that escaping the shit would be hard, but that if she wanted to not make her mother’s life her destiny, she had to be the one to make it happen. She had to do more than hold on. She had to reach. She had to want it more than she’d ever wanted anything. She had to grab like a drowning girl for every good thing that came her way and she had to swim like fuck away from every bad thing. She had to count the years and let them roll by, to grow up and then run as far as she could in the direction of her best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by her own desire to heal.

Read Sugar's column. It is amazing.

And read the book too. I wouldn’t call the book amazing, the story is too harsh to be amazing; the story is moving and powerful. I haven't quite finished yet, but I believe Coco, Jessica and their children will endure.  They will survive.

*I can’t help wonder if the book would have been fiction if I'd have tossed it aside thinking the story was too far fetched.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

How much can I deduct for donating blood?

Q. Several times this year, I donate blood at the Red Cross. How much can I deduct on my tax return?

Unfortunately, there is no tax break for giving blood. However, a donation that you make to the Red Cross by cash, check or credit card can be written off as a charitable contribution.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Perfect Book for Women's History Month

                       Motivation for reading:
Gail Collin's book When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present was on my reading list for the Women Unbound reading challenge thanks to this review from Florinda. Although I didn't get around to reading it for the challenge, it remained on my TBR list as an important read especially after reading Susan Bulkeley Butler refer to it several times in her book Women Count: A Guide to Changing the World.

What it is about:
When Everything Changed describes what has happened in every realm of women’s lives from 1960 to the present including Hillary Clinton’s historic presidential campaign. It is a well researched comprehensive book.

My Thoughts:
This book is a perfect read for women’s history month and deserves a spot on my list of non-fiction books every woman should read. Also, it is more readable than Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique which I found to be difficult and repetitive. The book is packed with information that reminded me once again of how far we’ve come.

Here Collins writes about being a stewardess in the sixties which was one of the few mini-career paths available to women at the time and how improper it was to send women on a business trip:
Georgia Panter, a stewardess for United Airlines in 1960, noticed that except for the occasional family, her flights were populated only be men. One regular run, the “Executive Flight” from NY to Chicago, actually banned female passengers. The men got extra large steaks, drinks and cigars which the stewardesses were supposed to bend over and light. (Pg. 19)

After reading:
"The dreaded laundry chores were tamed by the arrival of permanent-press clothing, better steam irons, and those automatic dryers.  "Wash and wear clothing and the steam iron were the real liberation for women,” said Edna Kleimeyer. Once they were all in place, it was possible to get the basic household chores done relatively quickly. (Pg. 51)
I am adding wash and wear clothing and the steam iron to Anita Diamant's list of items (antibiotics, birth control, and the printed page) that gave women more freedom and a higher quality of life. Once women were able to get out from under the iron she had more time to pursue work outside of the home.

Collins covers the famous feminists Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem but also covers others who are lesser known. I particularly enjoyed the Civil Rights chapter and the coverage of Ella Baker and Pauli Murray. In the early days of the Civil Rights movement women were in many cases the drivers of the movement, but were pushed out of leadership positions once the movement got off the ground. The men expected women to be subservient. Also it is interesting to note women had a different vision for civil rights than men:

Ella Baker wanted the students to challenge more than the white segregationist power structure; she also wanted them to take on the class lines within the black community itself, to bypass the black leaders who had risen by mimicking the values they saw in a white society such as snobbishness and self-promotion. She had loved the black neighborhood she had lived in as a child, where everyone knew and took care of one another. Where we lived there was no sense of hierarchy, in terms of those who have, having a right to look down upon, or to evaluate as a lesser breed, those who didn’t have. Both she and the students wanted to live that way forever. (Pg. 120)

Also, I had no idea that the Equal Rights Amendment essentially got its initiative when a legislator who was generally opposed to women’s rights tagged a sex discrimination prohibition on to the Civil Rights Act in an attempt to derail it.

Where are we today?
I had always wondered if work was easier in the 60’s when there was less global competition. My suspicions were confirmed when Collins wrote of Anne Tolstoi Wallach:

Unlike the vast majority of upper-middle-class women, Wallach kept working when her son and daughter were born. In one sense, juggling a job and children was less difficult for her than it is for professional working mothers today because the employers were less demanding. In the postwar era when the U.S. had very little international competition, profits were high and pressure for productivity was low. The whole time I worked it was pretty much 9 to 5, Wallach said. And in Thompson’s women’s group, nearly everybody had a secretary. And when you were promoted you had 2 secretaries, and if you were really important you had 3 secretaries. There was a lot of make-work. (Pg. 26)
Where we are today can be summed up in this statement by First Lady Michelle Obama:
Young women shouldn’t have to give up on either career or children, but it becomes a choice you have to make if child care isn’t available or salaries aren’t high enough to pay off your debt that it took to get the degree, to get the job you’re in. (Pg. 387)
I feel as if I did not begin to give this book its justice; I just highlighted the points I found interesting. If you have any interest in the women’s movement or are looking to read a book for Women’s History Month I highly recommend When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

NWHM Celebrates Women's History Month

Learn about the origin of Women's History Month and International Womens' Day (March 8th), and the roles American women played in shaping both holidays!

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Know your limits and learn to say “NO”

If I were to write “A letter to my 18 year old self” I would need to include:
Know your limits and learn to say “NO”

Last summer, my friend Jess asked if I would help her run a charity event to be held in February. She had received a tip for a cheaper venue and was certain her company would sponsor the event. We came up with some great ideas to “change it up” and attract a larger crowd. Typically, January is a busy month for me; I work as an accountant and have spent many Januarys working 50+ hours a week closing the books and preparing for the year-end audit. Jess was persuasive and I agreed thinking I’ll find a way to make it all work.

The venue fell through; Jess’s company waited ‘til the last possible minute to commit to the sponsorship forcing us to hold off publicity ‘til early February. Everything was more work than anticipated. My year-end audit was a week earlier than usual, a co-worker became seriously ill and I had to cover for her. Much of the communication regarding the event needed to be completed during work hours. My manager pointed out volunteer work pays the same regardless of contribution. I ended up telling Jess I had to scale back my participation during the month of January. I know she was perturbed and I was overwhelmed with guilt.

The event wasn’t well attended and despite making money we don’t consider it a success. My relationship with Jess has changed and all I keep thinking is why did I say yes. I knew last summer working on an event in January would be difficult in the best of years. If only I had realized my limits and learned to say no back when I was 18 imagine how much aggravation I would have saved myself over the years.

I had always thought learning to say “NO” was a “woman” problem or a problem for young adults. Then I came across this post on Satisfying Retirement's blog. One of the things he has learned after a decade of retirement is he is Much Better at Saying "No." His lesson is so good I have to include it in its entirety. He writes:

When someone first retires there is often a rush of requests for that person's time. Volunteering for this or that, heading a committee, helping with the Boy Scout meeting..... the lack of a full time job must mean you are constantly available to help others. But, as the years pass by the ability to filter out the things you don't want to do becomes greater. The ability to say "No" to everything comes more easily. You find the strength to say "Yes" to the things that are meaningful to you and most helpful to others.

Surprisingly, this adjustment has been as difficult as any. Saying "no" is not part of our nature. We all want to be needed, liked, appreciated, and desired. The more things you are asked to help with the more you are validated. To turn someone down is to risk being seen as standoffish or aloof or selfish.

But, just as an awareness of the passage of time grows as you age, so does the understanding of protecting yourself. Spread too thin, saying "yes" too many times, and you will drown in all that validation. By becoming more selective you will do a better job at whatever you do agree to do, and be happier in the process.

As for me, I feel as I did at the end of a semester when I was attending college while working full-time. I need to take some time to kick back and take care of myself for awhile. In the future I will consider my limits before committing to volunteer work and I will never volunteer for anything that requires me to work during the month of January again.