Archive | September, 2011

Seven Deadly Sins: Passing your financial dysfunction onto your kids

30 Sep
what an original sin

Wow! What an original sin! Careful. If Adam and Eve, learned anything it's that you can't trust fruit salesmen with snake buttsand the sins of the parents can be visited upon their children. Guess what. This applies to money too.

(NOTE: This was originally written for a financial website, but it was ultimately rejected. I used the $20 kill fee to buy myself something pretty.) 

Warning: Your financial habits could be contagious. You could pass them on to your children.

This can be a good thing. However, financial scholars say it can also visit the sins (and financial miseries) of the parents upon the children.

Consider these Seven Deadly Financial Habits.

1. RELYING ON CREDIT CARDS. People often say they will only use credit cards in case of  emergencies.

But Dr. Deborah Thorne, a finance professor at Ohio University, says what they fail to realize is that credit cards create their own ongoing state of emergency.

“Credit cards are not inherently evil, but they can become that way,” Thorne says. Avoid them if you can. If you can’t, only use them for emergencies. First, she adds, have a talk with your kids.

“Have you really discussed what constitutes an emergency?”

2. MOOCHING. When you run into trouble, do you in turn run to your parents? Or are there other people you count on to bail you out?

Careful. One day, your kids will be coming to you with their hats in their hands. That’s because you never modeled how to make it on your own.

3. LIVING CRISIS TO CRISIS. Some people grew up in dysfunctional homes where they knew nothing but crisis.

Now they can only manage their lives and finances by moving from crisis to crisis. And if the crisis doesn’t exist, they somehow manage to create it. If this is your pattern, recognize it. Get help.

There are few viruses so virulent as family dysfunction.

4. LIVING OUTSIDE YOUR MEANS. You only live once, right? You can plan for the future but get hit by a bus next Tuesday. So live it up. Rent the kind of house you would want to buy. Drive the car you want to drive not the one that fits your budget.

Just be careful about the message you send your children.

“If the parents have trouble controlling spending, children will see it,” says Dr. J. Amanda Adkisson, a professor of finance at Texas A & M. “They will see both the cause and the parents’ response. That should give parents a firm incentive to learn to live within their means.”

5. PRETENDING EVERYTHING IS OK. Many people hide their financial distress, even from their children. They feel children should feel secure and not burdened with financial worries.

“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard parents say finances are a personal matter,” Thorne says. “Bull***t! It’s not a personal problem. It’s a family problem.”

Talking to kids about money is as important — if not moreso — than talking to them about sex, she says. “It’s a bigger part of your life than sex, and it affects more people.”

6. LIVING FOR THE SALE. If you don’t have the money, you don’t have the money.

The coat you want may be 30 percent off. Heck, it could be 80 percent off. But if you don’t have the money for it, you are not getting a bargain. You are getting in trouble. Adkisson says many people have a warped bargain mentality.

Experts suggest operating on a cash basis when shopping for anything beyond the necessities. Have a finite supply of money on hand and know that when it’s gone, it’s gone. Operating this way with kids breaks them of the we’ll-worry-about-how-we’re-going-to-pay-for-it-later attitude.

7. HAVING QUESTIONABLE ETHICS. When your back is against the wall, when the wolves are your door, it’s tempting to let your personal ethics slip.

You lie to a debt collector. You make pay arrangements you know there is no way you can keep. You ask your kids to answer the phone and say you’re in the shower. You have access to the office’s petty cash fund and, really, no one’s going to miss a few bucks before you secretly put the money back in.

Who is going to know? Unfortunately, it’s your kids.

They get the message from your behavior that the ends justify the means and it’s OK to lie and cheat just a little under the right circumstances. They learn not be rational about finances, but how to rationalize their financial choices.

“My own parents lived through the Great Depression, so they taught me good money habits from the beginning,” says Adkisson. “My parents always lived within their means, were generous with friends, family and worthy causes, but at the same, were dedicated savers and investors.

“Parents who have risen above less favorable economic circumstances may want to just give their kids everything all the time, but they need to step back and teach their children the skills they themselves learned through hardship,” Adkisson adds.

“When they simply indulge their children with gifts, they are actually impoverishing them in spirit. This interior poverty is just as bad as material poverty.”


All I want for Christmas is a disembodied skull, some clay … and a mystery

26 Sep
caesar's head

Ohmigod! That disembodied skull Santa left us is Julius Caesar! Quick! Contact Antiques Roadshow!

Ever since Julius Caesar was stabbed to death by a group of conspirators led by Marcus Brutus in 44 BC, people have been trying to unravel of the mystery of his death.

Now your kids can discover the truth. Give them Caesar’s disembodied skull for Christmas. They can do the rest.

Hold on to you togas, boys and girls. This is eight shades of awesome.

Forget about Barbie’s dream house. With Julius Caeasar’s skull, some modeling clay and basic instruction in forensic reconstruction (there’s booklet), you can painstaking re-create a human face.

“Great Caesar’s ghost!” your parents will hear you scream from from your bedroom. “It’s that dude from the Olive Garden!”

The kit includes  a set of molded pegs (numbered to give flesh depth) modeling clay and molded eyeballs, ears and nose. You can get all this now. Call it a way to get a head in your holiday shopping.


Get it? A “head” in your holiday shopping? Caesar isn’t the only murder victim. I slay myself sometimes.

Seriously, this could help your kid become a forensic scientist. I look forward with glee to Elenco’s inevitable Blood Splatter Pattern Identification Kit.

Salt-sucking monsters everywhere deserve better than this

26 Sep
nancy crater

Look at this face? How can you not love this face? Sure, there was a reason she was passed over for the remake of "Charlie's Angels," but it's better than having to look at Michelle Bachmann. Now that chick is creepy.

Justice for the salt sucker!

Quirk Books just sent me a review copy of “The Star Trek Book of Opposites,” a book designed to teach children the difference between full and empty, young and old, etc.

Remember Reena Kapec, the android Captain Kirk jumpstarts in the episode “Requiem for Methuselah”? She’s described as nice. Hard to dispute. With electronic devices like that, Circuit City never would have gone out of business.

By contrast, the salt-sucking creature from Planet M113 (in “The Man Trap”)  is described as “mean.”

Really, author David Borgenicht?

Borgenicht supposedly went to his first “Star Trek” convention he as 9. He should know better. The salt sucker (who I shall call Lydia by way of restoring her dignitary) was merely the last of her kind. She was simply trying to survive by killing off the less interesting members of the Enterprise crew.

Like that guy who asked if she was the girl he met on Wrigley’s Pleasure Planet. He deserved to have his salt sucked. (By the way, Wrigley’s Pleasure Planet? What the hell is that? The galaxy’s first gum-themed brothel?)

When Kirk and Company discuss the best way to frag Lydia, she even suggests (while disguised as Dr. McCoy) that they offer her salt without tricks because she’s just trying to survive.

Calling her mean just because she doesn’t want to die and her species to become extinct is just the sort of ignorance and bigotry “Star Trek” was designed to fight. So, no, I cannot recommend this book for your little trekkies.

Besides, what kind of name is Borgeonicht? Note the first syllable. Borg? Guys with the word “Borg” in their names should not be lecturing on children on the goodness and evil of other “Star Trek” aliens.

How did our ancestors ever survive with unlocked toilet seats?

7 Sep
baby on board

Lock your toilet seats. Statistically, babies are much more likely to fall in when left unattended while reading George Will's column. Thank God no one reads newspapers anymore.

September is National Baby Safety Month.

It is also National Blueberry Popsicle Month, National Piano Month, National Courtesy Month and International Square Dancing Month (yeah, like any country but America is lame enough to square dance).

September is also (my favorite) National Fall Hat Month.

However, only one of these observances asks that you lock your toilet. And No, it’s National Blueberry Popsicle Month.

Danielle from Media Practice tells me parents everywhere should remember to lock their toilets because, really, your kid could fall in.

Weird. After he’s been in the bathroom for 30 minutes, I always ask my son if he’s fallen in or watching a “Planet of the Apes” marathon. I had no idea this was a genuine problem. The falling in, that is, not the ape movies.

However, the CSPC reports that two children died from drowning in unlocked toilets in 2002. This is extremely troubling. Why does Center for Sex Postive Culture care about how many kids are drowning in toilets?

Oops. Sorry. My bad. You can’t always go with the first thing that pops up on Google.

That would actually be the Consumer Products Safety Commission. The nine-year-old statistic is the freshest one available, but you can bet your boots that other kids have fallen into toilets since then.

Somehow, I can’t get the image of “Lidsville” out of my head. You remember that show? Butch Patrick from “The Munsters” falls into a giant top hat and ends up in a land ruled by Sid and Marty Kroft where everyone is a hat with arms and legs.

God knows what happens when you fall down a toilet. It would, however, explain all those urban legends I intend to make up about children riding alligators in the New York City sewer system.

I should not joke. Two children died nine years ago. We should all lock our toilets. Or we could keep an eye on our kids. The Consumer Products Safety Commission or the Center for Sex Positive Culture (one of those) reports 90 percent of accidents involving small children could be prevented if parents and caregivers didn’t have the IQs of whale turds.

PR flak Danielle says there are five steps toward baby safety:

1. Lock toilet lids.
2. Inspect your home from baby’s point of view.
3. Eliminate small toys and other objects.
4. Install self-closing outlet covers.
5. Shop for a safe crib. (Dang! But that one with spikes fits in so well with the theme of the nursery!)

Why can’t we boil all this down to, “Be an attentive parent and don’t leave small children unattended”?

I am allowed to ask that question. Sept. 28 is National Ask a Stupid Question Day (the day after National Crush a Can Day).

Math is sexy only because I don’t understand women or numbers

6 Sep

Sorry, Mrs. McKellar, I still don't think math is sexy. And this isn't helping me concentrate on my algebra.


I love Danica McKellar. She thinks she can make math understandable, even sexy.

Sorry. I learned the multiplication tables from my German grandmother. For me, this bowling alley with lipstick remains the personfication of mathematics.

Stern. Difficult. And understandable only to chubby Germans. “Ja! Ja! Fünf mal fünf ist fünfundzwanzig! Das ist gut! Let’s all eat apfelstrudel!” (“Yes! Yes! Five times five is twenty five! That’s good! Let’s all eat strudel!’)

As for sexy, my grandmother looked like Sgt. Schultz is a flowery house dress. She was so far beyond sexy, it took billions of years for the light from sexy to reach her.

I feel the same way about math.

But God bless Danica McKellar and other mathematicians for trying to change my mind. McKellar is the actress-turned-smart person who has written the books “Math Doesn’t Suck: How to Survive Middle-School Math without Losing Your Mind or Breaking a Nail” and “Kiss My Math: Showing Pre-Algebra Who’s Boss.”

OK, first all, math both sucks and  blows. And Pre-Algebra is not only the boss, it took me out back, beat the shit out of me and stole half my lunch money. (I had $5. Now I only have a quarter.)

If I could understand math, you think I would be writing a $#@! parenting blog?!

Math is not my friend. McKellar can dress provocatively on as many book covers as she wishes. I will just keep the covers to disguise my Maeve Binchey novels. McKellar and her math buddies should just give me up for lost.

I will never be able to balance my checkbook or tell you when to expect the train that left Boston travelling at 60 mph.

The reason I bring this up is a press release from Bethany Carland-Adams. She’s the senior publicist for Adams Media and wants to tell me all about this exciting new book. You can get “Math for Grownups: Relearn the Arithmetic You Forgot From School” by Laura Laing through a free download!


Of course, this presupposes I learned squat about arithmetic in school in the first place. And free download? How the hell does that work? I only have this blog because my daughter set it up and taught me how to turn on the computer.

Public relations courses are usually taught in journalism schools. Don’t they teach PR students about the special ed kids across the hall who want to be journalists? They can’t handle math or science. Otherwise, they would have real majors.

When I was an editor, I posted a list of rules for reporters forced to deal with math. PR people would do well to study this list before sending out presumptuous e-mails.


1. Do not attempt to do math. You will only flop about the floor in a convulsive fit, and I am not paid enough to mop up your drool.

2. If a story requires math, consult the bookkeeper. She’s the only one in the building who knows how to multiply and divide.

3. Never use the words “mathematics” or “arithmetic” in a story. You don’t know what you’re talking about. No, really. You don’t. Look at the number of times the phrase “do the math” shows up in stories that have nothing to do with math.

4. A thousand has three zeroes. A million has … well, more than that.

5. If a story includes math, there’s always a follow-up story. You’ll find it under “corrections.”

6. If you get a press release about a book that purports to make math understandable or sexy, laugh out loud for five minutes before asking the bookkeeper to write it up.