Adventures in Ireland, Part One: There and Back Again

No. This wasn’t us. Not hardly.

Our recent trip to Ireland was a combination of the sublime and the ridiculous. Ireland is a marvelous country and our time there was sublime. But getting there and back was ridiculous.

It all started (or didn’t, actually) when we got to the airport in the evening to discover no one was behind the airline counter. A few phone calls later, we discovered that the airline had changed the flight time – back in December – and we never got so much as an email from them about it. So we missed the flight to Ireland by approximately four hours.

There were no other flights out that evening, though they had one the next day. Unfortunately, since we were officially no-shows, we had to rebook and pay more money. I spent considerable time on the phone with our bank and credit card company too, trying to shift money around so we could still go.

We had already stowed our car in the non-airport long-term parking and didn’t feel inclined to retrieve it and go back home. So we had to get a hotel room and spend the night. Even that was a trial. None of the hotels that had vacancies had shuttle service to the airport and one of them didn’t even have hot water. So it was Uber for us both that evening and in the morning. At last we got on our way, but we had missed one day of our vacation, spent it in a Best Western instead of an Irish bed-and-breakfast, and already cut into our less-than-extravagant budget.

When we finally arrived in Dublin, we rented a car and set off to our first hotel. The vacation company had booked us into swanky hotels for the first and last stops, presumably on the theory that we’d be exhausted at those points. We didn’t stay in Dublin, because I was dubious about driving on the left in a big city the first day we got there. Instead, we went to the Dunboyne Castle Hotel, which is a little bit away from the city and just as impressive as it sounds.

Our first real b-n-b was in Donegal, and it was in many ways my favorite of the places we stayed. Brook Lodge was a regular house with a comfy bedroom (and en suite bathroom, which all our accommodations had) and a lovely woman who cooked us breakfasts while we watched and Dan chatted with her about gardening.

Our first real stop was a ditch on the way to Brook Lodge. It was 11:00 p.m., we were spent, and we ended up on a one-lane road that stopped at a cattle gate. We managed to get turned around, but went off the side of the road. Fortunately, we had a small flashlight with us (Girl Scout training came in handy there) and Dan took off down the road to find some help. I waited with the car.

Within half an hour, Dan was back with a great couple who drove us and our luggage to Brook Lodge, then came back the next day to pull the Toyota out of the ditch and magically remove the dent so that Hertz wouldn’t make us buy a whole new car when we turned it in.

(The Tom-Tom GPS that came with our rental car was useless and for most of the trip we used Google Maps on my phone. Dan did the driving as I was too nervous to do it, and I did the navigating as he wasn’t able to do both at once. But I digress.)

It was another ridiculous story when it was time to return to Ohio. When we went to catch our plane (after far too long driving around the airport trying to figure out where to leave our rental car), we arrived at the counter only to find that we couldn’t board the plane. Naively, we had thought that our COVID triple-vax cards would be sufficient for travel to the US as they had been going to Ireland. But no. We needed an antigen test. Since the testing site was in another part of the airport and our plane boarded in 30 minutes, there was no way we could get the test in time. There were no other flights that weren’t booked solid for four more days.

I got on the phone with the airline and spent a good hour and a half with them trying to figure out a solution. Eventually, we achieved one. There would be a plane that we could take – from Dublin to Newark and Newark to Chicago and thence to Ohio. And it wouldn’t take a four-day wait. Only two.

Again, we had no choice but to find a hotel room. And just as the flights were booked, so were most of the hotel rooms. We found one that had two rooms left and quickly snagged one. (It was an accessible room, with all kinds of extra equipment in the bathroom. We didn’t need the pull cord for the nurse, but some of the other accommodations proved handy because my husband and I are somewhat mobility-challenged. But I digress again.)

So we spent two days in a Dublin airport hotel, except for taking the hotel shuttle to the COVID testing site at the airport. (Need I say that we both tested negative?) I suppose we could have taken buses to explore the city, but by that time we were both beyond fatigued and demoralized, not to mention out of money. We spent the time playing Mille Bornes, which we had for some reason brought with us, and reading and playing solitaire on our Nook e-readers. And trying to get a charging cable for my phone in case I needed another marathon session with the airline. The hotel provided one. They kept the cables people had left behind for six months, then handed them out to anyone who needed them.

We were enormously relieved to get home and retrieve the kitties from the vet where we had boarded them. We immediately started saving to go back to Ireland, though with a few lessons learned.

There’s lots more to tell and show, but I’ll leave the more sublime parts of the story – and the photos – for next week’s blog, when I’ll no doubt digress again and again. More sublimity and more ridiculosity to come…

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Still More Travel Tales, or Why I’m Somewhere Else

I hope when you see this post, I’ll be out of the country, in Ireland. (I say I hope because I’m not altogether convinced that the WordPress schedule-your-post-for-later function will work the way I want it to.)

I’ve traveled to Ireland twice before, once with my mother and once with a group of Catholic writers and editors. (Why? The company that sponsored our tour wanted us to round up our readers for a tour of our own.) They were both epic tours in different ways.

Now I am going back to Ireland with my husband, who has never been there. It’s kind of a second honeymoon for us. Our first one was when we were rather poor. (We paid for our wedding cake with food stamps and our reception was a potluck. But I digress.) Our honeymoon was spent camping and whitewater rafting and sleeping in a treehouse, which is another story.

Since then we have traveled a lot together, including to England, Croatia, and Benson, AZ. (That last trip was inspired by a song of the same name which was the theme song (about special relativity) for a low-budget science fiction movie, Dark Star, that practically no one has ever seen. But I digress. Again.)

We scheduled our Ireland trip last fall when we could lock in plane fares. My husband’s nephew is a travel agent and he made all the arrangements for us, up to and including getting the airlines to send one of those beepy cart things to our gate so we could make our connection without having to run while carrying luggage. He also took care of renting us a car in Ireland and making B-n-B reservations in places we wanted to stay. We’re going to be driving around and visiting lots of scenic and historical places, which his nephew was also kind enough to send us notes on and how far each is from where we’re staying. The nephew’s name is Michael Reily and he’s on Facebook, if any of this inspires you to book a trip.

Since then I have been planning like a madwoman. I’ve written about this before in my post “Preparing for the Normandy Invasion.” And that was about a three-day trip. This time I looked up directions for getting to every town, castle, or spot we want to see, plus a scenic tour by boat. I even emailed a pub to ask if we needed to reserve a table. (No.) I booked reservations for eight different sites and events and printed out confirmations. I even paid for them beforehand, never knowing how much I paid because I can’t (yet) convert dollars to Euros in my head. And I got compression stockings for the overseas flights, as they give me cankles.

One of the things I made sure to tell Dan’s nephew about was that we wanted to go to the town where the movie The Quiet Man, one of Dan’s all-time favorite movies, was filmed. His nephew even arranged it so we could visit the town on Dan’s birthday. I may stake out a seat in a pub while he explores, since that isn’t one of my favorite movies. (I wonder if I can get a map of the area so he doesn’t miss anything.) We’ve even booked a very touristy but entertaining Medieval Banquet that I enjoyed on one of my earlier trips. For culture’s sake, we’ve also booked the local Folk Park as well, which has replicas of thatched-roof cottages as well as gardens. It sounds like a great place to take pictures.

Speaking of pictures, I found out that my iPod and my phone will post them directly to Facebook, so you may have already seen some of them by now. (I wasn’t afraid to give away this little bit of information about us being away from my home, since none of my Facebook friends are burglars, and most live in some other state. But I digress. Again.) The photo included here is not one I took. It’s of the Giant’s Causeway, which I hope we will have seen by now.

So far, the most difficult part of the trip was getting both our cats to the vet for boarding. We have one that escaped from his carrier when tried to take them for their shots. So it’s buy another, sturdier carrier or ferry the cats in two trips.

The only thing I wasn’t able to overthink was how to practice driving on the left side of the road. I hope I’m doing it right – I mean left.

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Why Write?

I write something every week – this blog and my other one are proof of that. Altogether, I have posted over 800 times in my blogs. But why do I write? What motivates me to keep up this weekly grind? Why do I write?

First of all, it isn’t really a grind. Usually, I enjoy it. Then there’s the fact that I’ve written since I was a kid. I started writing poetry in grade school and continued through my early college years. That was when my poetry started sounding more like nonfiction, so I let my muse lead me in that direction. There I have stayed (mostly) ever since, with only occasional forays into fiction or back into poetry.

I’ve examined my motives and come up with a couple of theories about why I write, or at least why I write what I write. Here’s what I’ve learned so far – along with a few examples of each.

I write to inform.

Most of this kind of writing takes place in my Bipolar Me blog (bipolarme.blog). I have bipolar disorder. Sharing my experiences and perceptions of it are one of the main reasons I write. I hope that my blog readers learn something about bipolar and how it affects them and their friends or family. In fact, I write about bipolar to inform myself about bipolar disorder and about myself. Sometimes I have to do research on topics such as mental illness and homeless or substance use disorders. I’ve done interviews and reviewed books on mental illness topics. Other times I rely on my own feelings, my own accounts of medication and therapy, my own relationships.

I write to amuse.

I used to feel that comedy was dead because people just retold the same jokes they heard on Saturday Night Live. I still feel a little that way when I see people on Facebook passing along the same memes (though I am guilty of it too). But I have so many friends that add their own content – jokes and puns, humorous songs – that I no longer have that fear. I tell my husband the jokes I read online (mostly awful puns) and he tells them to people at work, so at least they are being released into the world IRL, as they say.

The world is funny. I like to write essays about the goofy things my husband or my cats do. They amuse me, so I like to pass on the amusement. This is why I end up sharing some of my writing on the Erma Bombeck Writers’ Workshop Attendees Facebook group.

I write to release my inner demons.

This is why I still write poetry and fiction from time to time. I wrote a novel full of inner demons, but they were never released into the world because the novel was never published. The demons are now circling around, just waiting to be resurrected into another novel.

(The poetry I write is no longer free verse (aka “playing tennis without a net”). I’ve been experimenting with more structured forms such as haiku, sonnets, and villanelles. They haven’t been terribly successful yet. At least I’m trying (sometimes very trying, my husband notes). But I digress.)

I write to vent.

Sometimes I just can’t help it. There are so many things going on in the world that are high-blood-pressure events that I am forced to let off some of those arterial constrictions with rants. Among the topics that get me going are politics (of course), education (which I love, but not how it’s practiced in the US right now), and inequities of all stripes (including mental health treatment). I try to avoid the most contentious of topics, but sometimes just can’t help myself. I sound like a cranky old fart telling kids to get off my lawn or yelling at clouds.

I write to explore.

I love reading books about exploration – climbing Mt. Everest (which I now know is also called Chomolungma, thanks to reading about it), shipwrecks, and Antarctic expeditions, for example. I know I will never experience any of these things personally, but I can’t help but be curious about them anyway.

I also love to explore the world of books themselves – writing them, improving them, reading them, dipping into young adult or children’s books, or following trends in publishing. It’s my passion and I have to share that.

Anyway, here are some of the things I’ve written in the various categories.

To inform

Regarding language: https://butidigress.blog/2016/12/02/lets-talk-policing-womens-voices/

About early childhood : https://butidigress.blog/2018/09/16/early-childhood-education-then-and-now/

About bipolar disorder: https://butidigress.blog/2015/12/13/the-other-bipolar-disorder/

To amuse

Here’s a true holiday story: https://butidigress.blog/2016/11/20/the-great-thanksgiving-ratatouille/

Of cats and men: https://butidigress.blog/2020/08/02/magical-magnetic-noses/

Universal laws: https://butidigress.blog/2020/07/19/gravity-is-not-my-friend/

To release inner demons

Poetry: https://butidigress.blog/2015/12/11/poetry-keeps-knocking/

Poetry about bipolar disorder: https://bipolarme.blog/2015/05/24/haiku-cycle/

To vent

Children and politics: https://butidigress.blog/2016/08/28/hungry-children-a-one-act-play/ (also https://butidigress.blog/2018/06/10/satanic-panic-and-politics-in-america/)

Education: https://butidigress.blog/2018/05/27/why-a-national-curriculum-makes-sense/

Societal change: https://butidigress.blog/2018/02/25/school-shootings-and-the-tipping-point/

To explore

Romance novels: https://butidigress.blog/2017/03/26/romancing-the-body/

Food: https://butidigress.blog/2021/05/23/bacon-eggs-and-salt/

Language: https://butidigress.blog/2015/02/18/language-police-and-the-grammar-nazis-2/

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We All Need a Little Help. Pets Do Too.

Lately, advertisements have featured individuals of more diverse types: blind, Down’s Syndrome, wheelchair users, persons with autism, and so forth. There are plus-size fashion models and those who have Down’s Syndrome or prosthetic limbs that they don’t try to hide when doing photoshoots or runway modeling. One model received particular praise for allowing her insulin pump to show beneath her designer clothes.

Now even disabled pets are used in advertising. You may not have noticed it, but every year those Cadbury TV commercials include not just the lion wearing bunny ears, but one pet chosen in some sort of contest in which fans nominate their own pets to appear. This year it’s Betty, a frog that beat out over 12,000 other submissions. Last year it was Lieutenant Dan, a dog who had only two legs and used a prosthetic/wheel-type device to allow it to get around better. It was hard to notice at first, but as the commercial was repeated (endlessly), it became easier to see. (The frog has no obvious disabilities. It sure looks weird with bunny ears, though.)

It’s good that pets with disabilities are finally getting some representation in the media. There are a lot of animals that need special care. There’s a no-kill cat shelter near me that has a whole room of special needs cats. Most of them have conditions that need medication, but some are vision- or hearing-impaired or have other sorts of disabilities. I once cat-sat for a week for a friend’s pets, one of whom needed insulin injections. He was really chill about it and never gave me a bit of trouble. He would just lie there and let me get on with it. Our cats were a little less chill when we had to give them subcutaneous fluid injections for failing kidneys, but they got used to it. (Our vet taught us how to do it. My husband would never be the one to stick the needle in. The extra fluid made the cat look lumpy until the body absorbed it. But I digress.) Other cats and dogs may be blind or mobility-challenged and simply need help going up and down stairs.

Shelters have a hard time placing animals that aren’t perfect and perky. The animals most often adopted are puppies and kittens, which are, after all, adorable. But there are plenty of other animals that need “forever” homes too. Not all of them have physical disabilities, either. Some dogs suffer from PTSD, especially if they were working dogs during the war in Afghanistan.

Others are elderly, well beyond the puppy/kitten stage. That’s not really a disability, except when it comes to being adopted. Dan and I have adopted senior cats fairly often. For one thing, they have the advantage of already knowing how to use a litter box, and they don’t climb the drapes the way kittens do. Many of them are already neutered.

It’s a shame when someone gives up a pet because it’s no longer perfect. But there are other reasons senior and disabled pets are considered unadoptable. For example, the pet might belong to a senior person who is no longer able to care for it anymore. Those reasons are understandable, but they may leave non-cute non-kittens and puppies stranded in shelters, sometimes for the rest of their lives – or have their lives cut short when no one adopts them.

What I’m saying is open your heart to a different sort of pet. Adopt the “unadoptable.” Consider that dog that needs a set of wheels or that cat that needs daily medication. If you provide a loving home, I guarantee that you will get that love back many times over. We owe it to pets to give a little help when they need it.

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Humor Is the Cure

This week I posted a quote from the book The Cat Who Saved Books: A Novel, which is by Sosuke Natsukawa, not Lillian Jackson Braun as one might think. The “Quote of the Day” (a feature that my Nook e-reader will post to Facebook for me) was “Our best weapon for fighting all the pain and trouble in the world isn’t logic or violence. It’s humor.” In the book, the quote was spoken by the titular cat. The cat was right. Humor has the power to change the world, or at least our perception of it.

I was writing recently in my other blog (bipolarme.blog) about a time when laughter temporarily lifted me out of my depression. Here’s what happened:

My husband and I were sitting on the couch, watching TV. I was not enjoying it. Then a commercial came on about “man-boosting” pills that increase testosterone. It promised everything: strength, leanness, stamina, and outstanding performance in the bedroom.

Dan turned to me and said, “Hey, honey. Maybe I should try some of that. Improve my performance in bed-woo-woo-woo!

I turned and looked him straight in the eyes. I said, in a solemn, deadpan voice, without a trace of a snicker: Woo. Woo. I never got to the third Woo because we both dissolved in giggles. And it felt good – not only that I could laugh, but that I could make him laugh. Just thinking about it made us laugh all over again.

It didn’t cure my depression, of course, but it helped me that day. I can’t say, as the quote goes, that laughter is the best medicine. (Although I did write a humorous essay about the flu (https://butidigress.blog/2022/01/09/when-you-have-the-flu-some-unsolicited-advice/).) But occasionally it is good for what ails you.

I once described books as being like mashed potatoes – comfort food for the mind. I read a lot of books that aren’t humorous at all, such as ones about people dying on Everest or dystopian science fiction novels. But there are comic novels that I return to again and again. One of these is a sci-fi book (though not dystopian), A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold. If, as has been said, that writing a novel is the process of creating a character and then throwing rocks at him (or her), then this novel was the epitome of that philosophy.

Subtitled A Comedy of Biology and Manners, the novel takes the main character (who previously appeared in a number of extremely serious novels) and throws massive rocks at him. Bujold loads the rocks in the first section of the book but withholds the trebuchet that lobs them at our hero till halfway through. Then the reader gets comic disaster, a memorable dinner party scene where that building tension is released. The rest of the novel involves the hero trying to clean up the repercussions. Then all the various subplots come together in a magnificent tour de force (or farce, really) that really satisfies.

Two of my favorite writers, James Thurber and Erma Bombeck, took a gentler approach to humor. In their stories and essays, they explored the foibles of personalities and life itself. The past and the present, the fictional and nonfictional, the wry and the absurd were their tools. (Both writers were from Ohio, a coincidence that gives me hope when I try to write something humorous. But I digress.)

A Supreme Court Justice once said that he couldn’t define pornography, but he knew it when he saw it. Humor is therefore the same as pornography, at least in that respect. I can’t really define what makes a piece of writing humorous, but I know it when I see it. And I laugh. That makes the world a better place for me to be.

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I Love Ginger(s)

I have a taste for ginger. I like ginger tea, ginger brandy, ginger ale, ginger beer, pickled ginger, ginger snaps, and gingerbread. I have been known to binge on ginger, dunking ginger snaps in ginger tea. I was first inspired to order a drink called a Dark and Stormy because one of the principal ingredients is ginger beer. In fact, the one recipe I was inspired to make after watching Food Network for years was a Three-Ginger Cookie that contained fresh ginger, powdered ginger, and crystallized (candied) ginger. (It was from Ina Garten. Among the things I learned between baking my first and second batch was that when she says jumbo eggs, she means jumbo eggs, not medium, which is what I usually have on hand. But I digress.)

Recently, however, I learned another meaning for ginger. Apparently, it also means a person who has red hair. It can be a pejorative term in British English, possibly because of its associations with red-haired, freckled Irish people, with whom the English have not always been friendly. A quick check of the definition and connotations reveals that gingers are said to be descended from Prometheus, fiery in temperament, and likely to be featured in pop girl groups. Wikipedia has an entire section devoted to discrimination against gingers and even hate crimes against them.

Famous gingers in my life have been my mother-in-law, my brother-in-law, and my husband. My husband was technically a ginger only from the nose down. He had a fine red beard and mustache, but hair of an unassuming brown. (Of course, now he is gray above the eyebrows as well as beneath the nose.) My grandmother Winnie Rose was also a natural ginger and kept her hair dyed that color until her husband died, when it was replaced with a beautiful snowy white.

In other words, I have the ginger gene in my family tree, though it didn’t express itself in me. (The freckles did. If I had been born a redhead, my mother would have named me Winnie after my grandmother. I don’t know whether that would have been a good thing or a bad thing, as far as teasing goes. But I digress. Again.)

In my younger years, I decided to catch up with my genes and dye my hair, if not true ginger, at least auburn. Gradually, I became bold enough to add more red to the mix. Once when I was wearing an Ireland t-shirt and flaunting my auburn hair, someone asked me if I was Irish. I replied, “No, I had to pay extra for this.” I’m going to Ireland later this spring and intend to have auburn hair again for the occasion. I’ll at least be an honorary ginger.

Another meaning I have learned for ginger is what I always called an orange cat. Thanks principally to Hermione Granger, I now know that such cats are also called gingers. My husband is quite fond of ginger cats, preferentially selecting them when we need a new cat. I have even heard these cats called red cats, though I think that’s a little inaccurate. They’re not really a color I would call red. But then again, I think red hair is not usually the same shade as a fire engine, except among the more adventurous colorists who have tired of pink and purple.

What all that means is that I love all kinds of gingers – the flavor, the hair, and the cats! Life would be a lot duller without them.

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Things My Husband Says

Sometimes my husband says the dumbest things. Sometimes I can get him to give up on the issue. Sometimes he screws up majorly. And sometimes he says just the right thing.

Convincing him I’m right

Occasionally, I can talk my husband out of whatever ridiculous thing he’s trying to convince me of. Some of these occasions involve opinions of foods. Whenever I say I don’t like a particular food, like mustard or raw onions, he immediately starts in. “Why don’t you like it? Have you ever tried it? Here, taste this.” The reason usually is, I just don’t like the taste of it. “What about the taste don’t you like?” Eventually, I have to come up with an appropriate adjective. Mustard tastes metallic. Raw onions have an unpleasant bite. Overripe bananas and egg salad are too mushy.

Once I have come up with an acceptable reason, he lets up. He can even make the connection. He now understands that I don’t like Cream of Wheat or grits. “It’s a texture thing, isn’t it?” he acknowledges. Occasionally, he gets a partial victory. I have eaten honey mustard at least once and didn’t want to spit it out; the honey lessened the metallic taste. The egg salad Dan makes is chunky rather than mushy; now he makes it for me semi-regularly. I don’t mind onions so much if they’re finely diced and cooked. (I suppose that means I should now be able to tolerate White Castle burgers, but I’m just as happy not knowing.)

Experiences other than food come under this category. He thought it was silly for me to pull down the blinds when I get dressed. “No one can see. The neighbors would have to have a telescope that sees around corners.” When I said, firmly, that it made me feel more comfortable and secure, he said no more about it. (It should be noted that he walks around the house au naturel at times. I once told a real estate agent that he was a practicing nudist. She replied, “You meet all kinds of interesting people in this job,” which I thought was a good response. But I digress.)

Near-death experiences

Earlier in our marriage, Dan was given to making statements that tempted me to kill him. His relatives and mine lived in different states, for example. When we were planning our wedding, he thought we should have it in between the two states, so that it would be equally inconvenient for both families. I had a hard time convincing him this was a Bad Idea, but eventually I just had to put my foot down.

Another time, he was sitting beside me on the sofa, talking on the phone to his mother. “No, Mom,” I heard him say. “Of course you can come stay with us for a week. Janet won’t mind. Here, Janet. Tell Mom she can come.” Then he shoved the phone at me. I shot him the glare of imminent decapitation. It wasn’t that I never wanted his mother to visit. I just objected to his making the invitation without talking it over with me first, to agree on a suggested date and length of stay.

One more incident also involved his parents. It was coming up on their 50th anniversary, which of course was a Good Thing. But my husband “volunteered” us (read: me) to go to Philly and prepare all the food for their surprise party. My reaction after he got off the phone: “When did you plan to tell me this?” His response, sheepishly: “Now.” I had to channel Martha Stewart, whom I loathe, to get it done.

Just the right thing at the right time

On the other hand, Dan has said some sweet, funny, or insightful things. Once when we were going through a box of old mementos in the garage, I found myself getting depressed at all the bad memories some of them evoked. “If you hadn’t been through those bad times,” he said, “you couldn’t be as good a friend to your friends who are going through bad times now.” It was exactly the right thing to say.

Another time, I was despairing about my final paper in my grad school class. “It’s just too thin and skeletal,” I said. Dan replied, “Is it thin and skeletal or concise and to the point?” I ended up turning it in without further revisions and got an A.

But perhaps my favorite memory of something my husband said was when we were watching TV and the movie Gunga Din came on. He innocently asked, “Honey, do you like Kipling?” That’s right – he opened the door and walked right in. For the first, and most likely last, time in my life, I was able to say it. “I don’t know,” I choked, barely able to speak through my snorts of laughter. “I’ve never kipled.” That was the moment I knew he was a keeper.

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Buy Now!

Let me say first that this is not a follow-up to last week’s post (https://butidigress.blog/2022/02/13/shopaholics-unite/) on overspending. Or maybe it is.

I hate the stock market. I hate that its ups and downs are said to reflect the nation’s economy better than the rates of homelessness, unemployment, and hunger. As David Gerrold, author and gadfly, noted, “The Nasdaq and the Dow are measures of corporate health. They do not accurately reflect the American economy and they do not represent the quality of life in America.”

I also hate that the stock market is a form of gambling little better than the lottery. (My theory on the lottery is that it’s a tax on people who can’t do math and a plot by the plutocracy to pacify the masses by letting them believe they can win their way into the plutocracy. But I digress.)

So why, then, have I taken the plunge into the waters of this institution that I hate?

Well, first of all, you no longer have to be a plutocrat to place these iffy bets. There are, of course, “penny stocks” that allow one to dabble in a minor way. But now there is another way for the humble, first-time investor like me to get in on all the high-class stocks that have made fortunes for other people – fractional stocks.

The concept is that for an investment of $2 to $10, you can buy a “slice” of an investment in Tesla, AT&T, or Apple, for instance. You may be buying only a thousandth of one share, but you get the amusement of watching your investment go up and down like a drowning swimmer. It’s tempting for a novice like me to sell a stock whenever it goes down a percentage point or two, but I want to let my investments ride. If I don’t like the way a stock is trending, I simply invest another $2 or $10 in something else. I know this is the way the fractional stock people hook you into spending more and more money with them, but it’s hard to resist.

So what does my so-called portfolio look like? I started with proven quantities like Disney and Amazon. Soon I was investing in technology companies that had something to do with the EV industry, which I think will be the Next Big Thing. And, at my husband’s suggestion, I placed a few bucks on a cannabis fund. He’s an old hippie and often talks about how the cannabis industry will take off once pot is legalized and taxed the way alcohol is. (His only experience with the stock market was back when people were encouraged, not to say coerced, into investing their 401k’s in assorted ventures. He went for tree-hugger funds. He lost a packet. But I digress. Again.)

It’s really kind of fun to look at my portfolio every morning and evening and learn that my slivers of stock have gained $0.26 since the day before. So far I have made approximately $2.34, not even enough for a cup of coffee. But at least I’m not tanking. It’s less fun to see my email clogged with prospectuses (prospecti?) and tip sheets.

So, is this a harmless hobby that’s less expensive than collecting antique egg cups or H-O trains? Or have I gone over to the side of the corporate bigwigs and hedge fund divas?

It’s a delicate question. All I can say is don’t look for me among the ranks of the plutocrats anytime soon. I’ve never been much good at fortune-telling; I don’t really think that I can tell which stocks will make a fortune.

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Shopaholics Unite!

We talk about shopaholics the way we talk about alcoholics – as though it were some sort of addiction, presumably one that can be treated through a 12-step group (though I’ve never actually heard of Shop Anon). Alas, that’s not the case. Those of us who have spending problems largely have to go it alone. Our friends are more likely to enable us than to talk us out of it.

In the past, I’ve had spending sprees that focused on music. I still buy CDs occasionally, despite the fact that most music is now in the form of downloadable mp3’s. I tried to fight my urges by, first, buying CDs secondhand and second, dividing them into columns, or rather, stacks.

There was a previously-owned music shop (the music was previously owned, not the shop) in town called Second Time Around. Way back when, they sold vinyl record albums. My high school friends and I haunted the place and picked up music by our favorite artists. (At the time, we never considered that we were depriving those artists of royalties. Later in life, I was once inspired to send a quarter to an author I knew because I had picked up one of his books in a used bookstore. But I digress.)

I wandered through Second Time Around, picking up everything that caught my eye (or ear) and piling it up in my little basket. Then I would retreat to a window ledge and sort the CDs into different piles: Must Have, Would Be Nice, and Don’t Really Need. I would buy the Must-Have discs and a couple of the Would-Be-Nice ones, but abandon the Don’t-Really-Needs. Using this strategy, I arrived at a total that, while not totally within my budget, missed it by only a little.

This strategy has served me well over the years. Now the baskets are virtual, but I still fill them up with whatever attracts me and delete as needed (or not needed).

Over the past months, though, my overspending has kicked into overdrive and my doorstep has filled up with Amazon and UPS packages. Nowadays, I over-buy items we may need for our trip abroad (planned for the spring), such as power converters, sweaters, scarves, umbrellas, and guidebooks.

The other item I’ve been jonesing for is pajamas. I work at home, at my computer, so pajamas are my daily uniform. I have shelves of pajamas in my office closet and a few more upstairs in my dresser. I have nightdresses, nightshirts, flannel pajama sets, fleece pajama sets, shorty pajama sets for the summer, and a number of pairs of pajama bottoms that I can pair with the nightshirts for in-between weather.

Pajamas are one purchase that works well with the “stack in the basket and weed” strategy. My husband has been helping me curb my spending. He asks helpful things like “Is there enough money in the bank account?” and “Do you need more pajamas?” I explain to him that the pajamas, particularly out-of-season ones, are on sale at really good prices.

One thing that does keep me from buying pajamas with such wild abandon is the shipping prices. If the shipping costs more than the pajamas, I wildly abandon them – though with regret. I suppose I could rack up the total to where I’d get free shipping, but that feels like cheating on my attempted shopping abstinence.

Travel items and pajamas, I tell myself, are not really so bad. I used to have a thing for jewelry. Now that I work at home, I never go to places where I need to wear necklaces or earrings. So, really, I can skip the jewelry and just buy pajamas. Or else found my own Shop Anon group – perhaps with my husband, who has a comparable problem with seed catalogs.

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