Take This Ring, Or Not

by Catherine Breese

ring up close cool 2There are lots of good reason to get married these days—for the tax benefit, for financial stability, for company and friendship, for children, for the insurance, etc. Over a lifetime, marriage increases a person’s net worth dramatically, whereas being single or divorced makes it much more difficult to succeed economically. Yes, of course we Americans like to be in love with the person we marry, but love alone is probably not a good reason to get married. Don’t get me wrong, marriage is a loving relationship, and I wouldn’t want to be married without it. However, despite our romantic ideals about marriage, it is ultimately a financial partnership that ensures the economic safety of the members in the family.

But enough of that. I’m here to talk about engagement rings. Cheap ones, specifically.

Thanks to a long and spectacular cultural myth, most girls still grow up dreaming of a designer gown, a sparkling diamond ring, and a wedding reception with a live band and a custom five-layer cake—or some version thereof. Ask your daughters. They’ll tell you. Even when the bride’s dress stretches over both her pregnant belly and her various tattoos, the ring is from Wal-Mart, and the reception is in the Moose Lodge with a cash bar, believe me, all the little girls at that wedding are thinking something like “My wedding will be so much better than this.” Followed by, “My ring will be as big as the one Justin Timberlake gave Jessica Biel.” This is all very tragic, of course, leading to a lifetime of disappointment for fifty one percent of the population.

photo (3)But despite my best advice to the contrary, engagements happen. So, let’s say that you have decided the time is ripe. Let’s say you are the person in the relationship who is doing the proposing. Let’s say you really would like to get a yes. Here’s what not to do—buy a cheap engagement ring. When the recipient first sees the ring, the only worthwhile response is unadulterated joy. A cheap ring will not bring this response. Likewise, the recipient’s first thought should not be “Did you steal this?”

photo (5)So, how much should you spend? Well, $8.88 is not the amount. My friend Brittany sent me this picture (photo). I think it speaks for itself. Most people with sense know that nine dollars is the amount to spend on a lunch, a bottle of okay wine, or a book. It is not an amount of money to spend on an engagement ring. Wal-Mart is reportedly the number one jewelry retailer in the world. It pains me to know this.

On the other end of the scale, a while back there was a television commercial which suggested that the man should invest three months’ salary in the engagement ring. Seems like a lot, doesn’t it? On this topic the media offers a plethora of advice—three weeks salary, a month’s salary, the price of your current car minus 10%, 1/10 of your annual salary, etc. Make your own formula of you like…half your bride’s age minus her dress size x $1000.

I found a website devoted entirely to this question, the Engagement Ring Calculator (link below). It asks a series of pertinent and impertinent questions such as “Do you owe more than 1/4 of your income to high interest credit card debt?” “Is she a wildcat in bed?” “How attractive are you (scale 1-10)?” and “How many times a month do you fight?” At the end, it calculates an exact amount for you to spend on the ring. I made up some answers to calculate a ring value for myself of $7,775. I’m okay with that.

Look, all kinds of familial relationships are working just fine these days, both inside of marriage and outside. I would never sit in judgment of anyone’s relationship choices. Certainly, my family will fervently report that I have no room to judge. But, if you are going the marriage route, buy a really nice engagement ring, one that is meant to be enjoyed for many, many years. If not longer.

Engagement Ring Calculator

Employees Must Wash Hands

By Catherine Breese

Working paper towel dispenserI started a new job, which is great news for all my creditors. Upon arrival on my first day of work, I used the restroom in my new building. Hanging on the wall was a fully functional paper towel dispenser! I immediately messaged my friend Amy at my old place of employment to brag about my new and glamorous job at which my employer had the acumen to maintain an operational dispenser of paper towels for his employees to use as often as they like.

(After pleading for several years at my old job for a new paper towel dispenser to replace the broken one hanging uselessly on the wall, I eventually gave up. But I never could get over it. I know it’s a small thing. I know. But sometimes it is the small things that make all the difference. I mean, who thinks it’s sanitary to stick your fingers into the end of a roll of bathroom paper towels that 85 other people, both men and women, had stuck their fingers into that week?)

Just a few hours later, I wandered over to the employee sink. I heard the glorious sound of angels singing. It was as clean as my sink at home. Nary a dish, clean or dirty, in sight. Halleluiah! I had found my people.

Years ago I used to frequent a carwash that had a huge sign on the side of the building that read, “A Clean Car Is a Pleasure to Drive!” Truer words were never written. I like a neat and tidy universe. So, if I’m going to spend eight hours a day in a place, I want it to be clean and well-maintained. Cleanliness is a basic need, coming in just above safety on my personal hierarchy of needs. Actually, I could live with a little danger, as long as the place is spotless.

I know that there are others out there who have lower expectations in the cleanliness department. I call those people slobs.

Employers, if you want happy workers you must care about their comfort. Forbes and Business Week have published literally hundreds of articles about how to create more productive workers through manipulating their workplace environment. For example, the ideal temperature for a workplace is 70.88 degrees. Temperatures that are either higher or lower will slow workers and dampen creativity. Yellow is the best color for an office. Clutter is an enemy of productivity. A low level of noise is desirable, while both silence and loud workplaces cause stress among employees. Natural light is preferable to the artificial kind, and fluorescent lighting is the worst.

All of those ideas seem nice, but as for me—give me a sparkling restroom, quality toilet paper, and a disinfected kitchen sink. Add a regular paycheck and a decent parking spot and I am in workplace heaven.

Adventures in Baking Soda

by Catherine Breese

baking soda-10130I got diarrhea from taking too much baking soda. Don’t be concerned about why I was taking it—that’s irrelevant. It was so bad, in fact, I wondered if baking soda shouldn’t be used as an inexpensive alternative for those meds they give patients before a colonoscopy. It was very effective. I read the outside of the box, and then I went to the Arm & Hammer website, and suddenly, I was hooked. I spent hours reading articles about the multiple and amazing uses for sodium bicarbonate, or NaHCO.

As a big fan of the planet earth, I enjoy doing any little thing I can to be kind to it. Church & Dwight Co. Inc., the manufacturer of Arm & Hammer, started using recycled paperboard to make their box way back in in 1907! Additionally, they were the sole corporate sponsor of the first Earth Day in 1970. Baking soda is environmentally friendly and has uses in several manufacturing processes and as a household cleaner, deodorizer, and antacid. It’s pretty darn safe as far as cleaning products go. For these reasons, I felt it was about time that I, or we, should take baking soda for a test run to see what it can do besides bake cookies and deodorize the refrigerator.

Here is a list of things that it is supposed to do that I did not try: putting out a grease fire (my lease forbids the purposeful starting of a kitchen fire), cheating a drug test (unnecessary and unlikely), in splinter removal, as a deodorant (how the heck are you supposed to get it in your arm pits?), to maintain pH in your septic tank, as a sunburn remedy, and to fight colds and flu. Surprisingly, there is some fairly convincing evidence about the possibility of baking soda lessening and/or preventing colds and flu. A very old report conducted in 1918 and published in 1924 showed that patients given a certain dosage of baking soda prevented colds and flus, or lessened duration, when an outbreak occurred. It has something to do with balancing body pH.

DSC_0122What did I do with the baking soda?

First, I cleaned my stainless steel kitchen sink. It was absolutely sparkling. On a ten scale, I give it a 10. Additionally, my hands were not dried and cracked afterwards.

Next, I got my bath expert, Bryan Ward, to try some detoxifying baths. We don’t know what this means exactly, but it sounds healthy and comforting. He used a combination of Epsom salts and baking soda. He scores the bath a 10 stating, “I feel fresh as a daisy.” What about its detoxifying properties, I asked. Bryan replied, “I don’t know what that would feel like. My skin is really soft, though.”

baking soda-7Teeth brushing was a mixed bag. The baking soda seemed to do an excellent job, just the same as any good quality toothpaste might. However, it tastes, well, like baking soda, thus making your salivary glands get overly excited. We give this a 5. If you’re out of toothpaste, go for it.

I also used it like a scouring powder with a microfiber dishcloth to clean our bathtub. It is acrylic, I think, or maybe fiberglass. The baking soda worked great, and once again, no chapped hands from harsh detergents. On a ten scale, I give it an 8.5, only because I missed the lemony smell of meaner cleaners. But, I will be using it again.

On a whim, I used a baking soda paste to try to clear the dishwasher film left on our drinking glasses. Guess what? It worked perfectly. I care deeply about sparking glasses, especially wine and beer glasses, and this made me as happy as a monkey with a bag of peanuts. (Did you know that the expression “happy as a clam” used to be said “happy as a clam in high water”? Makes a lot more sense now, doesn’t it?)

Then, I followed the directions for an oven cleaning method I learned from Wellnessmama.com (link below). My expectations were not very high, but this worked surprisingly well. (See photos.)

Basically, you layer a cold dirty oven with baking soda, spray water on it to dampen it and leave it overnight. The job required no gloves, no mask, and the baking soda wiped out easily the next day, taking the dirt with it. As far as ovens go, self-cleaning is the only kind I recommend. But if you have an old-fashioned clean-it-yourself oven, this is a pretty neat trick to avoid those horrible fumes and chemicals. I’m not sure how you can use it to clean the sides of the oven, but I used it as a paste to clean the oven window and it worked perfectly. I give it a solid 9. after pic oven copy

Finally, as far as I can tell, the only thing baking soda can’t do is drive to the store on a snowy day to pick up some craft beers.

Yes, this article may have sounded a lot like paid advertising for Arm & Hammer, but, let the record show, I spent my own $1.78 for the two boxes that I purchased for this experiment. Journalistic integrity aside, it’s great stuff. I’d gladly accept any complimentary products that Church & Dwight Co. Inc. would like to send.

Link to Wellness Mama

baking soda-5

Somebody’s Poisoned the Water Hole

by Catherine Breese

IMG_4342

This coming weekend, Bryan and I are participating in the Mass Moral March in Raleigh, North Carolina. In planning our trip to Raleigh, my thoughts keep returning to my friends in Charleston, West Virginia—my friends who a few weeks ago were living in a pretty cool small city. These friends are mostly natives who have been there too long to notice what I, an outsider, had often noticed about the town. That Charleston, West Virginia, was an up-and-comer, a little city with all the big city amenities, attracting groups and conventions, bringing in national sporting events, and exhibiting new art and great food and music during FestivALL. It was none of the traffic and congestion of larger cities, plus all of the fun of bigger places. Charleston’s central location and its proximity to lots of outdoor adventure made it all the more attractive. The downtown waterfront venue was perfect for a wide variety of events and shows, from blues concerts to championship volleyball and Jet Ski hydro-cross racing. It was a place to enjoy, a really nice place to live. waterfront

Why is this all written in the past tense?

Well, I trust that the story was in the spotlight enough to draw the attention of every American. I really hope you already know the story: The city’s water was poisoned by a chemical called MCHM that is used to clean coal. It was leaked into the Elk River by a company, ironically enough, called Freedom Industries. The people of the Charleston area received an order not to use the water for any purpose except toilet flushing. Approximately 300,000 people had no water! (West Virginia’s population is only 1.8 million.) Many people were injured because they used the water to bath in or to drink. Days went by, water was trucked in, and finally they were told to flush their lines (at their own expense). Their tubs and sinks were filled with rust colored stains and their water smelled weird and horrible. The authorities told the people that the water was safe to drink. But…pregnant women were told not to use the water, and then information emerged showing that a safe level of this particular chemical was not really known for children. The one and only study of adults was done in the 1960s. The chemical has been detected is some of the schools’ water. Many experts are cautioning against using the water at all, and many of my friends are still not.

So, one very cool little city on the river is now the city with the poisoned water. DSC_0118

Who will want to put their Jet Ski into the Kanawha River now? Who will want to visit? Who will want to schedule a convention? Who, in his right mind, would move his company in or start a business?

The fact that the West Virginia state legislature seems to be acting as though it is business as usual, passing inane legislation (all the while drinking bottled water), is one reason that West Virginia will remain the butt of jokes, and on the bottom of nearly every national list of which no one would want to be on the bottom. I understand that some academic types are seeing it as a version of Stockholm syndrome. After all, West Virginians are long beholden to the dirty industry that created the state’s identity. So, for the love of coal, West Virginians must sacrifice…life and limb and all?

DSC_0102I lived in Charleston for 6 years. I wanted badly to see it succeed, to see West Virginia climb off of a few of those lists. That seems rather unlikely now.

As I seek out opportunities for myself to try to change the world one little bit at a time, I hope that the good people of Charleston will have the personal wherewithal to keep yelling and keep calling and keep posting on social media and keep talking about this until the right things happen. It’s not about figuring out who the bad guys are. That’s easy. A bad guy is anyone who does not think clean water is more important than anything else. The water must be made safe now, the water must be made clean for the future, and anyone in authority who is doing anything other than working towards ensuring clean water for the people is surely awash in futility and nonsense.

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Ridiculous Expectations: Why Should I Have to Wait?

by Catherine Breese

Herein follows a brief list that demonstrates how having technology at our fingertips has turned us all into spoiled rotten Veruca Salts (“Daddy, I want an Oompa Loompa nooooow!”)…

This morning I waited a full 10 seconds for a video to spool on Netflix. I am thoroughly disgruntled and I plan to be in a bad mood for the rest of the day.

For the second time today, I have had to wait over 30 seconds for my phone to dial a call[i]. The smart phone moniker is grossly misapplied. It’s a stupid, stupid phone.

Our friend Polly recently confessed to this troublesome complaint: “Why should I have to wait 40 seconds to heat a cup of coffee?” Sadly, I must admit the same thought. I have actually stood in front of the microwave when I am hungry thinking, “Oh, come on already!”

Then, there is the excruciating 16 seconds[ii] one must wait for Google Navigator to work. Never mind that it gives you step by step directions to go door to door, mileage, timing, route options, and all this without getting out a paper map or stopping even once at a sketchy gas station in a bad neighborhood to ask for directions. Hey, remember when you used to be invited to someone’s house and they would draw a map on paper, or give you turn-by-turn street names written out. Invariably there would be the step that read something like “If you see the lot where the old fire station used to be, you’ve gone too far.” Did anyone ever make it to anyone’s house without having to turn around at least once? By the time you’d arrived, you had already thoroughly cursed the person who had written the directions. It was almost hard to calm down before ringing the doorbell.

How about the unendurable pain of the 26.5 seconds wait for Pandora to open on our stupid phones (12 seconds on the iPad). Never mind that the fact that, once it is open, you can listen to any genre or artist you please, for free. Remember when we all listened to whatever the radio DJ picked and when we liked a song, we drove to the record store in the mall and bought the album. If you wanted to listen to a variety of artists in one particular genre at your own discretion, well, that involved nothing less than owning a collection!

Bryan’s phone crashed at work—8 minutes for it to reboot. Agony, thy name is LG Revolution!

Number of minutes our PC laptop takes to start up is 3 minutes and 51 seconds.[iii] It is pretty slow, at least compared to the iPad, which takes exactly zero seconds to come on when you push the button. But considering that once it has started I can bank, shop, read, learn, research, write, play games, video chat and about 700 other things that used to require a car ride at the least, well…

Finally, there is the 3-5 day wait for my order to ship. Oh, please! Three to five days! It took mere minutes to select the item from among thousands of choices, and less than a minute to pay for it. Why shouldn’t it be zapped or beamed to my front door that very instant? Why?

In the 1971 movie version of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Veruca Salt sings “I want the world. I want the whole world. I want to lock it all up in my pocket. It’s my bar of chocolate. Give it to me now.” The irony of the line is not lost on me. We do have the world in our pocket. And if we can just be patient enough to wait an extra 15 seconds or so, well, we can actually have it all…but, really, 15 seconds is kinda long.


[i] None of the times mentioned in this article are hyperbole. We used a timer, just as a scientist (or a Mythbuster) might.

[ii] My previously estimate for this task was 35 seconds. The 16 seconds reflects use of voice recognition in a search for Shaw University, Raleigh, NC. It took 7 seconds to find Trader Joe’s there. Even using typing rather than voice command only increased the total wait time to 29 seconds.

[iii] I estimated this at 5 to 8 minutes before we actually timed it.

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