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Archive for February, 2010

I gave up Diet Coke for Lent. I love Diet Coke, but I’m getting too old to be chugging 2-3 cans a day. I have my bones to think about (rumor: Diet Coke leaches calcium from your bones) and my muffin top is becoming a problem (rumor: aspartame makes us crave more sweets). I don’t know if any of this is true, but one thing is: I am addicted to Diet Coke, so Lent seems like the perfect time to give it up.

Or is it? I don’t know. Does this sacrifice make me more spiritually reflective or is it a way to jump-start a new health regiment that I can’t seem to start otherwise?

For several days, “what are you giving up for Lent?” has been a hot topic with my friends. One friend is giving up sugar, another is giving up drinking, another — chocolate. My youngest daughter, Caroline, proclaimed she is giving up Mountain Dew, even though she’s never had it. My older daughter is giving up sugary foods allowing her the debatable exemption of milk shakes. My husband claimed he was giving up “doing the laundry” and then quickly added, “Although, I think I might have given that up already” – yeah, so funny, isn’t he?

I still don’t honestly know the specifics on why we give things up for Lent. I’m not Catholic. My kids have been asking me why, even as they talk about what they’re giving up with all of their friends. Since I’m always a bit general with my answers to religious questions, I googled. Turns out eHow has several pages on how to observe Lent. Who knew?

According to eHow, we give things up to symbolize the “40 day period of fasting and purification leading up to Easter.” This seems right, but I can’t lose the visual of Jesus in the wilderness after 30 days, on his hands and knees, parched. He looks up and sees the devil leaning against a tree with a can of Diet Coke in his fiery hand. Pfsssst! “Ahhhhh,” says Satan as he chugs it, bubbles dribbling down his chin.

Yahoo!Answers had a lot of interesting insight on why we give things up for Lent including this contributor who gave me pause: “a misconception…is to give up soda or candy. This essentially spits in the face of the idea of sacrifice. Sacrifice something that is difficult for you, like pornography…”

Um, okay…

All right, I know it’s all symbolic, and I know this is what matters, even though all the women around me seem to be giving up things that might help them lose weight. I shouldn’t judge what deepens any one’s spirituality as this goes against the very grain of being spiritual. And I will say this: ever since Wednesday (two long days ago), I have been thinking of Jesus — a lot — because oh, dear Jesus, do I want a Diet Coke.

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Today I am seething over the recent treatment by Fifth Third. In two days, this crack bank charged my account $700.00 in overdraft fees. While my account was overdrawn (due to a single Quicken mistake at home) and certainly entitled to be charged a penalty, I ask you: does $700.00 seem reasonable for a two-day period?

I was charged $700.00 because Fifth Third uses predatory practices:

1. Rather than deny my debit card purchase at the store (because I was overdrawn), the bank approved it as a “courtesy” and then charged a $33.00 fee. This means the $1.00 bottle of water I bought for my daughter’s basketball game cost me $34.00. This happened seven times on the first day, costing me $264 in fees, before I was even aware my account was overdrawn.

2. Once I did realize my account was overdrawn (the next day), I could not determine how much I needed to deposit to cover things because none of my overdraft fees were visible online. I was able to view my pending purchases, but not the fees. When I went into the bank to determine exactly what was going on, I got two separate answers.

3. After I deposited what I could to cover the pending charges from the second day (until a money market transfer could go through), the bank processed their own (undisclosed) fees first, causing all subsequent purchases to require “courtesy” overdraft protection. This cost me another $330.00 in fees. In other words, charging my account fees to cover its fees allowed the bank the “opportunity” to charge more fees.

All told, these fees along with the daily overdraft fees – this all happened over a weekend — totalled $687.00. Also worth knowing: I have been a customer for ten years and have excellent credit.

Okay, so what next? Aside from yelling at the manager’s supervisor until I was shaking, inducing eczema to burn my face in two places, I am not ready to give in quietly. I’ve done research and found out that Fifth Third is being sued in a class action suit for their overdraft practices. I’ve also learned that bills have been proposed in both the Senate and House that would force banks to reform these predatory practices.

I guess I’ll start with a letter to the local paper. I will tell everyone I know: DO NOT BANK WITH FIFTH THIRD. I will rant on Facebook. I don’t know, what else? Suggestions are welcome.

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Every time I go to Costco, I start planning a dinner party. I hover near the cheeses and mentally compose platters. I browse the wines and pair them up. The more I see — bacon-wrapped scallops, fresh tulips, frosted bottles of vodka — the more worked-up I get. Then I make myself stand over by the cat litter and calm down. I am just here for lettuce and red peppers, I repeat – over and over – until I am ready to continue shopping, properly.

Despite Costco fantasies, I don’t entertain much. I can’t host casual get-togethers because there’s nothing casual about my (lack of) hosting skills. My neighbor Karen can throw a party just by opening a bag of chips and calling a few friends. Her parties are relaxed and enjoyable, consistently.

I, on the other hand, would need to search cookbooks on the best mole sauce, make six trips to Target for fake Fiestaware and get Christmas lights out of the attic to thread through trees. You can imagine my expectations after all of that. My guests had better bring it.

Last summer I tried to host a Memorial Day cook-out for two families who didn’t know each other. I wanted to make it simple. Simple seemed like the right note for a backyard cook-out. I got to work.

I mixed up margaritas from scratch, juicing limes until my finger were raw. I found a summery marinade that needed two types of mustard, and $16 worth of fresh herbs. I downloaded playlists, put tea lights in jelly jars, and wore this gauzy new shirt that I thought said “bohemian” (though my husband claimed it said “maternity”).

When the doorbell rang, I lit all the candles, cued up the Latin music and practically screeched “You ready?!” in the faces of my guests.

You can guess what happened. People were polite, but the chemistry was off. Everyone downed the margaritas in the first 15 minutes, and then sat there looking at each other. My husband kept switching the Latin music to James Taylor. The men decided to eat their dinner in front of the hockey game on TV, and the $16 marinade dripped through the grill, causing the chicken to burst into expensive flames.

Determined to not give up, I dug out a sticky, half-drunk bottle of Mrs. T’s margarita mix from the back of my fridge. I changed James Taylor to disco and started running through my mental checklist of “fun” topics like American Idol (which no one watched) and first date stories (no takers). Spotting a guest yawn, I cranked up Donna Summer and launched into a re-enactment of my dance routine to “Hot Stuff” from my days in high school. My guests left early.

I am aware of the importance of just being together, I get it, but don’t we all have specific areas where we can’t let it go? I, for one, can confidently wander around town without showering and wearing crooked glasses — but I can’t host a dinner party without ironing napkins and choosing thematic music. I can accept I will always have flabby arms, but I refuse to accept that I’m not fun. I’m fun. You should see my Hot Stuff dance.

I’m in recovery now. For my last dinner gathering, I forced myself to order pizza and use paper napkins, but I did put on some 80’s music and this new pink shirt from Old Navy that had New York City emblazoned across the front in sparkly letters. I thought it said “fun,” (my husband claimed it said “desperate”).

Still, progress is progress.

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