Geek. Pirate. Mom

The Life and Times of Whitney Drake

Archive for April, 2011

Born this Way.

This week’s Glee was “Born this Way.” In the 90 minute episode, the Gleeks were having some self-confidence issues, so their assignment was to sing Lady GaGa’s “Born this Way” and think about just what label they were worried about.

So people, what would your shirt say? What is it about you that you’re insecure about?

I admit, I’m a pretty confident person. I know who I am, and I’m pretty happy with Whitney – but there’s one thing that I’ve worried about my entire life. My weight. Not necessarily because I’m not happy with it, but because the outside world isn’t.

Toothpick. It’s who I am.

I come from a long line of people who are pretty slim. There’s a wicked metabolism gene that I’m told I’m blessed to have. And yes, it’s meant that I stay slim without a ton of effort. But there’s a downside. I have to eat constantly. (Before you say that it’s a problem you’d like to have, please keep reading.)

From high school onward, I’ve been plagued with rumors of eating disorders. Well meaning people who barely knew me, watched me down a cheeseburger, fries and milkshake, and have told me that I should see someone about my bulimia. In college, I actually had someone ask me who my dealer was – because they assumed that I must be using some sort of drug to stay skinny. When it was a combination of genetics and the exercise I was getting from working at Disneyland.

Being sick is a drag. I’ve learned that I can’t ever mention that I vomited to anyone outside my family, because usually that person will assume that I’m lying about being sick to cover up an eating disorder. If I drop weight from being sick, I know better than to mention it to anyone- I will get no sympathy about being underweight. Instead, I’ll face months of judging looks while I eat some extra calories to try to help build up a healthy layer of fat again.

I’m sure you think it’s mostly in my head. But that’s the point, isn’t it? People say cruel things and it gets to the point where it becomes what you worry about. I’ve steered away from buying slim cut dresses, worried about what people would say if I wore skinny jeans, and agonized over whether every outfit I’ve worn for the last 16 years has made me look too skinny.

So to everyone who loves to play the which-celeb-has-an-eating-disorder-game? Knock it off. It’s easy to mock celebs, but then it becomes easier to start judging everyone you see. While yes, there are people who have eating disorders who do need help and support – there are plenty of people who are labeled as being sick when they aren’t. As a society, we do plenty to encourage people to be more understanding of people with curves – from those who are simply curvy to those who are heavy and obese. Maybe we should simply accept people of all shapes, regardless of what they are.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t worry about whether or not someone has an eating disorder. Eating disorders are serious things, and I’ve known plenty of girls who were affected by them (oddly enough, some who weren’t noticed by the same people accusing me of having them). But accusing strangers of having them does a lot of damage, too.

I’m skinny. I can’t help it. Deal with it, America. But don’t make me change who I am because you don’t understand me.

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Seriously, Sony?!

Sony’s PlayStation Network has been down for days now. Days and days with Sony essentially saying that they were looking into the problem and it’d be up soon.

Now it’s come out that the PlayStation Network has been down because they were hacked – they had mentioned an intrusion, but never the scope of it. Personal information was accessed from accounts, which ranged from addresses to credit card numbers. I admit, I don’t have an account (my PS3 is pretty much only used for my BluRay and for folding). My brother in law does, but all they could have stolen was his address – he uses prepaid cards to buy anything.

While I’m glad that my in-laws are probably going to be fine (since if he’d used a card, it would have been theirs)… there’s a bigger problem to this. Sony knew that personal information had been accessed and waited nearly a week before admitting that consumer data was stolen. A week in which the stolen data could have been sold and used for who knows what.

I have been the victim of identity theft. I had a woman get my bank account and try to pass bad checks through it. I’ve had my credit card stolen and someone ring up fraudulent charges (thank you Chase for realizing that I probably wasn’t going to be buying jeans from Europe). In the first case, it took me a couple weeks to feel relatively normal. Days on the phone with the branch I’d opened up my account, and them on the phone with the local branches to make sure that nobody could cash a check that wasn’t me. Closing all my accounts, my credit card numbers, putting a fraud flag on my credit reports – and having to wait for new checks, new credit cards and updating any saved card information on the internet.

In this day and age – where identity theft is rampant and considerable damage can be done to someone’s life within 24 hours… it’s unconscionable for Sony to wait so long to disclose the full extent of the hacking. Sony spokesman Patrick Seybold said that because of the scope of the problem they didn’t realize that the theft had occurred until Monday (the 25th), and that they had informed customers. I’m still not sure how in this day and age, it took them several days to discover that personal data was stolen.

I am disappointed in Sony. For any company with e-commerce, the first thing you should check after being hacked isn’t the structural integrity, it’s whether or not personal information was stolen. Ultimately though, it’s a good reminder that you get what you pay for. Sony offered access to their PlayStation Network for free (even if the games on it weren’t). Microsoft charges for XBox Live, but I’m fairly certain that they would have responded differently.

So what can you do to protect yourself? Like my brother-in-law, you can purchase points cards for online currency purchases (whether it’s for gaming networks or Facebook games). Most credit cards also offer temporary credit card numbers. Which might not be useful for a gaming network, but for most regular purchases can be helpful to protect your actual credit card information.

But most importantly, what you can do is order your annual credit reports from the three credit agencies, and make sure that accounts haven’t been opened that you’re unaware of. (If you’re going to go to FreeCreditReport.Com, be careful. In order for it to be free, you have to sign up for their credit monitoring service – which has a monthly fee. You can cancel it after the initial purchase… but just make sure you do so you don’t keep getting charged. However, if you do a lot of online purchases, it might not be a bad investment – since you’ll be able to see your credit score change on a regular basis) As silly as it seems, do regular checks of your bank accounts online- and credit cards, too. Don’t wait until you get your monthly statements, make sure you check on a weekly basis – since the earlier you notice an irregularity, the earlier you’ll be able to put a stop to it if someone has stolen your identity. (I should note, that you probably should wait a bit to order your credit reports – just to make sure that any opened accounts are reflected)

While most banks and credit cards will reverse fraudulent charges, it can take days to get the money back into bank accounts, or for charges to be reduced on cards.

It should go without saying, but if you have an account on the PlayStation Network – you should change the password for any login that you have associated with the email address you used.

Okay… okay… what?

The title is what I was thinking as I was scrolling through Google News and skimming headlines. I saw a lot of regular news stories, and then saw a headline that made me stop and gape at the screen for a good minute before I clicked. “Foster children would be allowed to get clothes only from second hand stores.”

No, it wasn’t the weird phrasing (hint, it’s clearer to say “would only be allowed to get clothes”), it was the mere thought. I clicked through to find that Michigan state senator was proposing that in order to help save money in their foster care system that foster kids would only be allowed to shop from second hand stores.

“I never had anything new,” Caswell said. “I got all the hand-me-downs. And my dad, he did a lot of shopping at the Salvation Army, and his comment was — and quite frankly it’s true — once you’re out of the store and you walk down the street, nobody knows where you bought your clothes.”

Well, that’s great for him. In fact, I did the bulk of my clothes shopping in high school from thrift stores. Where I grew up, we had some great thrift stores that were filled with barely worn clothes from the fairly affluent side of town – so I used to get brand new pairs of Bongo jeans for a fraction of the original cost.

However, that was my choice.

I understand what he was trying to accomplish, but the argument of “I turned out fine” isn’t a great argument to make. Instead of simply saving money, he’s also telling every child in the foster care system (who are usually there because of their parents, and not anything that they’ve done) that they aren’t worth new clothes or shoes. The reality is that in this day and age, while second hand stores are cheap, Wal-Mart doesn’t cost more and doesn’t have tell a child they’re worth less than children who aren’t in the foster care system.

I’m so glad he turned out just fine. Frankly, I’m sure most kids would be fine if we spent a little less on their clothing. But he wasn’t a foster kid, so he can’t speak to the stigma that these kids already feel- which is truly the travesty here. There’s a difference between a choice being made by parents/guardians and the state essentially banning foster kids from anything other than a second hand store, which is what he wants to do to save a buck here and there. Horrible.

As a parent, of course I’m going to teach my kids that they don’t need top of the line trainers to be cool. (Er, sneakers. Sorry, I’ve been watching a lot on BBC these days) However, the most important lesson I want to pass along is that it doesn’t matter who raises a kid, or how much money their parents have – every kid is the same at heart, and they should treat everyone with respect.

Happy Earth Day!

Before I get into the rest of my post, if you go to Starbucks with a reusable cup today you can get a free coffee or tea (I’m assuming drip and tea bag, respectively). But still, free!

Last year I wrote a long post about how I was changing my ways to be a bit more environmentally friendly. Which I have. I’m going to share my easy ways of being a bit more green, which is basically my list from last year- but updated with some different vendors.

- Bring reusable shopping bags. Reusable shopping bags are readily available these days. I have ones that I use specifically for groceries that are made of a heavy duty canvas and some lightweight ones that I use everywhere else. Yes, it’s a bit of an investment to start- our canvas bags were $1.49 at Fresh & Easy, and we have 4 of those. More stylish bags are a bit more expensive, but when you think about how many plastic bags you use when shopping? It’s totally worth it. RuMe makes a lot of neat bags in various weights and shapes. They even have a clear one that’s TSA compliant for the quart size bags.

- Stop buying individual plastic water bottles and use a stainless steel bottle. While the little bottles are recyclable, most wind up in the trash and require a lot of resources to make. Stainless steel bottles are durable, and easy to clean. Most of the manufacturers sell tablets that can be used to clean them, I use a simpler method: baking soda and vinegar. Just put some baking soda inside, add the vinegar… and VOLCANO! I cap it, shake it to let the bubbles work and rinse. If you’re worried about vinegary tastes, the process of mixing the baking soda and vinegar neutralizes the bite of the vinegar, so a quick rinse gets rid of any trace. We use ours all the time, and it’s the easiest way to take the Little Kidlet’s rice milk out with us on excursions. We even have little kid sized ones for the boys! I also have a few BPA-free plastic water bottles, which are also helpful so that you can see how much liquid you have left in them. (Note: Everyone sells stainless steel water bottles now, as well as plastic bottles. Just make sure that both say they’re BPA free. New Sigg bottles are BPA free, and most new hard plastic bottles are BPA free as well- but if your bottle says it was made in China, odds are that it isn’t)
- Ditch the paper cups! One of the easiest ways most of us can help the environment is by bringing your own cup to your favorite coffee shop. Most of them will even give you a discount for using your own cup. I use “I’m Not a Paper Cup” which is an insulated porcelain cup that looks like a paper cup. The only downside? It does look like a paper cup. I’ve known people whose spouse accidentally threw it out, and well, TheBoy lost his when an overzealous cleaning person at work thought it was one as well. I even have a cup for cold beverages that I got from Target, with its own plastic straw!
Not only that, using your own mug or cup at work will help cut down on the number of foam cups used. And you get to have something with a little more personality than a cup of white foam.
- Use reusable cutlery and fabric napkins. So far, most of my suggestions have seemed pretty normal, right? Well, think about how many plastic forks and paper napkins you’ve thrown out with your fast food lunches. A lot, right? Last year I said I planned on making this change, and regrettably this is one change I didn’t make- but I still want to. Sets I have my eye on- full-sized bamboo silverware, a set with chopsticks and without. I own a few set of chopsticks that I use instead of the disposable ones already, but having the full set of utensils seems like a great idea to me. Also neat, are these stainless steel and bamboo sporks. Extremely portable, they’re great for someone who doesn’t have the space to keep a full set of cutlery. I’m looking at the double ended fork and spoon for the kidlets. (Also at that last link, they have fabric lunchbags and napkins in fashionable colors – here’s a set of plain colored cotton ones.
- Buy organic and local produce. It’s easier than ever to buy organic produce. And as more and more consumers push for organic goods, the prices have been coming down, too! Not only that, but it’s also easier to buy locally grown produce. Between farmer’s markets, and simply by knowing what produce is in season, you can buy less-expensive produce that doesn’t have as much of an environmental impact.
- Ditch the dryer sheets. While we stopped using them because of my son’s allergies, dryer sheets create a lot of waste when you start to think about it. We use reusable dryer balls that last for years. You can also find some made from wool. Ours were about $9, and we’ve used them on countless loads – if you start doing the math, they wind up being much less expensive.

Some other great links- Stainless steel lunchboxes (a bit on the small side, great for kids), which are extremely durable, easy to clean and free from lead and BPA. A fabulous lunch box from OOTS which is stylish and great for everyone. And stainless steel straws.

As you can see, it’s pretty simple to make your life a little more green. No wind turbines, compost heaps necessary.

Holy Cow!

Over the weekend, a Catholic Church in the San Gabriel Valley was gutted, and completely destroyed by a fire that was later determined to be arson. It’s along the route we drive daily.

Yesterday, I drove past it and realized TheBoy wasn’t going to get to see what it looked like. The odds were just too high that it’d be knocked down or fall down before he could see it. There were a lot of people in the parking lot, looking at the remains.

Today, I pulled over to take a picture with my phone. But somehow the camera just couldn’t capture the depth of the destruction. As I took it in, so that I could describe it, I realized that they’d expanded the area that they’d roped off. I also saw a cameraman, but couldn’t find a news van, so I tried to get a closer look at the other person there to see if they had a microphone or something that might give me an answer (they didn’t). But next to them was someone from the FBI, blocking the driveway.

Not knowing much about arson investigations, it seemed like it must have been more serious than just simple arson… “Holy cow,” I said.

“Where’s the cow? Mommy, I don’t see a cow. Tell me where the cow is?” (Imagine that extremely loud and extremely fast, and you’ve got an approximation of how the Oldest Kidlet said that)

Thankfully the Oldest Kidlet didn’t ask me why the cow was holy. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have just been laughing hard – I would have been laughing so hard that I wouldn’t have been able to drive.

People go gluten free that don’t have to?

In the month I’ve been gluten free, I’ve run into a lot of people asking me if I was doing it just for the sake of doing it. Apparently, there’s a large number of people who are going gluten free because they’ve heard people on gf diets say that they’re healthier and happier.

There’s a reason, but it isn’t exactly the gluten-free diet.

First of all, celiacs and the gluten intolerant are on gluten-free diets because we have to be. I don’t know of many that wouldn’t want to be able to eat wheat, barley or rye- I know I miss croissants, and being able to dine in any restaurant. Part of the reason that a lot of people on gluten-free diets talk about how healthy they are, is because they were sick while eating gluten. So of course, they feel much better afterwards.

I’ve known a fair number of people who talk about how healthy their gluten-free diet is anyways, but it isn’t because they’re eliminating gluten. It’s because when you’re on a gluten-free diet, you do have to change the way you eat. Even with all the great gluten-free products out there, it eliminates a lot of the convenience items out there- most frozen meals, side dishes that come in boxes, most cereals, beer, cookies, crackers… most of which are loaded with preservatives and sodium. Having to make some of those same items from scratch, you’re eliminating the junk ingredients in them, having something that’s far healthier for you. Not only that, I’ve found that I have to eat more vegetables to fill up, which has the added benefit of being healthy.

If you’re looking to spruce up your diet and are contemplating going gluten-free for the heck of it… don’t. Just dump the packaged foods, and make a little more food from scratch. Add in some more veggies… and you know what? You’ll feel a heck of a lot better too! Just don’t go gluten-free because it’s “trendy.” It isn’t. It’s just a more health issue that’s being accommodated by more and more companies.

Checking in.

It’s been an odd week. I got sick, went to the ER and am still recovering. So much to the point that I feel right now like I’m a zombie, sort of slogging through what I need to do just to get to the end of the day.

Which explains the quiet.

So I’m fine. I have a stomach bug that’s mostly cleared up thanks to me going to the ER and getting an IV. While obviously, I probably could have suffered through my bug and gotten better on my own, the IV gave me that boost of hydration my body needed to fight off the rest of what I had. Which is amazing.

TheBoy was a rockstar. When I called him at 4 in the morning to tell him that I’d been throwing up everything in my stomach since 2:30, he was already formulating a gameplan. He called his mom (who of course was just downstairs from me) to tell her I was sick and that he’d take the Oldest Kidlet to school, and to see if perhaps she could watch the boys after he crashed from his day. I wasn’t aware of this, and it wasn’t until she came up to take care of the Oldest Kidlet’s morning request for milk that I knew that she already knew I was sick.

Between the two of them, they made sure I could get some rest- if only I’d been able to sleep. When my stomach cramps weren’t going away (or getting better) and I was starting to look a little pale, we decided it was time to go to the ER. And after the IV and some nausea meds, I was able to sleep again. Phew!

I know I talk a lot about how great my in-laws are, but they really are. Aside from helping me when I’m violently ill, my father in law’s really adapted to my new diet. He’s the first one to ask me if a dish they have is alright, and has actually steered away from some of their typical meals so that I wouldn’t feel excluded. And if there is something I can’t have, he apologizes. Though honestly, I don’t mind. My diet’s about 95% fresh food now, only 5% processed – which has also really helped me out as well.

This isn’t a fully formed blog post, I apologize. But at the moment, it’s all my recovering body can handle. I”m working on a blog post on my favorite taco recipe, and hopefully that’ll be finished soon.

I win!

At times, parenting feels like a battle. Okay, most days. We’re not talking big arguments, or anything like that. But there are plenty of battles- fighting to get the kids ready to go to school, making sure they have a decent lunch and teach them that you can’t have cookies for breakfast.

Some battles you lose. Like maybe letting them watch one more episode of Thomas the Tank Engine, or reading a storybook for the 50th time.

But others, you just can’t. This last week I’ve been working on organizing the toys- to try to tame the dozens of trains and gazillion toy cars into something manageable. I’ve been making headway, but the kids still weren’t helping me clean. I’ve given up on the Little Kidlet for now. I figure that if I can get the Oldest Kidlet to clean regularly, that eventually he’ll start doing it because he does everything his older brother does. Example? Today OK decided that he didn’t want a bath, so LK immediately joined in on the chorus of “No! No bath!” even though he loves them, and actually wanted a bath.

Every day, we ask the Oldest Kidlet to help clean. He tries to get out of it, and usually TheBoy and I do most of the work. Okay, TheBoy does most of the work. So last night, I thought of something a little different to try.

Like me, the Oldest Kidlet is unbelievably competitive. The newest phrase in his vocabulary is, “I win!” He’s turned everything into a race. While I’d used it to get him dressed in the morning, it only occurred to me last night that I could use it to get him to clean.

It was simple. I just looked at him and said. “I bet I can clean this room before you. I’m going to win.” He told me that wasn’t going to happen, and he was off- putting toys back in their right containers, telling me all the while that he’s faster than fast, and he was definitely going to win. Which he did. But really… in the long run? Seems like I’m the one who really won this battle.

The Book Fair.

For the last week and a half, we saw signs up at the preschool that they’d be having a book fair this week. The boys loved the signs. On it was Olivia (they love the show on Nick Jr), Clifford the Big Red Dog and a few other children’s book characters. The Little Kidlet laughs and laughs at this guy…

Well, this week rolled around. The school had mentioned that you could send money with the children, since they’d be visiting the book fair in class. On Monday, I forgot. And wouldn’t you know, that’s the day that they went?

We picked up the Oldest Kidlet, and though the book fair should be closed, it wasn’t. The Oldest Kidlet had been telling me about a pirate book that he wanted, and so we poked our heads in. Just in time for me to remember that I didn’t have any cash on me, and I didn’t feel comfortable using a credit card if they were just writing down the information. So we left, with the Oldest Kidlet in tears.

The next morning, I came armed with money. We bought the “Pirate book” which turned out to be “Can You See What I See? Treasure Ship” – which is a book similar to the I Spy series. It wasn’t cheap, but it was gorgeous and shiny (the cover is a copper metallic paper, and the endpapers are maps). We walked to the classroom, with the Oldest Kidlet clutching his prize. I happily though to myself that this was the end of the drama.

Wrong. As we got to class, OK saw a classmate reading her new books- so he wanted to look at his. But it wouldn’t fit in his cubby, and he didn’t want me to take it. But his little brother wanted to take it home, and immediately began throwing a giant fit. Crying, snot, flailing limbs, the works. Yes… over a book. I had some money left, so I thought that maybe letting him pick out his own book would help. And 15 minutes of a tantrum later, he did. I know. I probably shouldn’t have bought him a book when he was behaving that way, but it was only because he wanted a book of his own.

I would be lying if I said that this was the end of book related drama this week. The Little Kidlet wants to get a new book every day when we pass the Book Fair. The Oldest Kidlet takes his new book everywhere, even into bed. I woke up the other night to hear him screaming bloody murder because his book was gone- it had fallen behind his bed. Not the way anyone wants to be woken up at 3 am.

I love that my children love books. I really do- but boy, am I going to be glad when the Book Fair is over and the “pirate book” is just another book.

Considering how pirate crazy my children are… the odds of that are slim.

Phishing- what you need to know right now.

Phishing is a very specific sort of spam that doesn’t try to scam you by promising you money from Nigerian royalty, or discount prescriiption drugs (typo intentional). It tries to appear like an official email from a trusted site, and tries to get you to click to their site and fill in the login information they need to access your accounts.

The reason I’m mentioning this now is that e-mail marketing company Epsilon was hacked, exposing the mailing lists they handle for many major companies- including banks, credit cards. Security Week has an up to date list right here. Thankfully, all that was exposed were customer names and email addresses – so they won’t be able to get access to your accounts with those companies. But it does mean that whoever hacked Epsilon has everything that they need to make sophisticated phishing attempts- since most company emails include your name to let you know that it’s indeed them sending the email.

So what can you do? If you ever get an email saying that your account with a company has been compromised, take a look at the email. Does it look like other emails you’ve gotten in the past from that company? Take a look at the email address that it was sent from, and if you can, compare it to an email that you know was legitimate. Are they the same email address? If you see any typos in the screen name… do not click on any links in the email. If you’re concerned that your account with a company was compromised, go to the website directly and login.

If you do get a phished email, don’t delete it right away. Go to the appropriate company, and search the site. Usually there’s an email address where you can report phishing attempts- since the companies are just as concerned as you about keeping your information secure. Forward the email to the address, and delete it.

Just remember, if there is anything off about an email- the colors look a little different, or there are typos… be careful. All it takes is a little sleuthing, and a little common sense, and you can keep the rest of your personal information safe and secure.

And remember, you should probably change your passwords at least once every 3 months- and make sure that they’re a mix of letters and numbers so that it’s harder to guess.

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