How to Lower Your Cable Bill

As parents, we’re very into milestones. Unfortunately, not all milestones are positive ones.

Earlier this month, I received my monthly cable TV bill from Comcast (or Xfinity or whatever the hell they call themselves now), and something in me just snapped. It was $215 for wireless Internet, a cable TV package, and a landline — part of their Triple Play package. It had been much less in the beginning, but just kept creeping up and up and up until it became another car payment.

I’m partly to blame (and by partly I mean mostly) for this, as I’m an unmitigated TV nut. I have it on constantly, even when I’m not watching it. But usually I am watching it. Everything from news to sports to movies to sitcoms — you name it, I watch it.

But even a TV freak like me has limits, and $215 was mine.

When I stepped back and took an objective look, I realized a few things. First of all, there is absolutely no earthly reason to keep a landline. Second, yes we watch a lot of TV. But most of it wasn’t cable.

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I realized we almost exclusively use Netflix when we watch TV.  For $8.99 a month (plus the one-time $35 cost for a Chromecast to stream it to my TV in HD glory), we get thousands of movies, TV shows, and documentaries that keep us and our kids completely entertained. And while we do supplement it with a few other free and paid services, Netflix is the one we use the most by far.

Will, my 6-year-old, easily logs in to Netflix and chooses from his favorite titles we have set up for him. Things like:

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The Oscar’s Oasis one is especially wacky, and we would’ve never found it had we not been tooling around on Netflix looking for new stuff. Now it’s his favorite thing to watch.

But make no mistake, Netflix is hardly for kids. In fact, I’m pretty addicted to a whole bunch of shows including the following:

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And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Every month Netflix swaps out new movies and shows, and you’ll never lack for things to watch. Not to mention you’ll be paying as little as $8.99 to do it instead of hundreds of dollars. If you’re OK with harnessing the power of Netflix, then you’re ready to move on to the next step.

Even though you don’t want to completely cut the cord, you need to pretend you’re willing to do so when you call the cable company.

Most of their lower cost, special offers are for new customers. If that’s you, great. If not, you need to do a little wheeling and dealing. Telling them you’re planning to leave altogether usually does the trick and lo and behold, suddenly they’ll come up with some new offer they just started running in the last 12 seconds that includes you. Hooray. If that doesn’t work, don’t worry because you still have alternatives.

When Comcast wouldn’t offer us anything better, we simply ended my time as a customer there. And then we immediately began an account in my wife’s name with some downgrades. We gave up DVR and some of the premium channels, but kept HBO and Showtime. And by doing that, we were able to keep a lot of what we had but pay way, way less for it.

How much less? We reduced our monthly cable bill by $105 a month! I don’t know about you, but that makes a significant difference to my family. It can for you as well. Good luck!

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StreamTeamBadgeI’m happy to announce I’m now part of the Netflix Stream Team. Although I’m not receiving monetary compensation for my work, I have received free products and services. However, I’ve been using Netflix for years and my opinion, as always, is 100% my own.

Visit Netflix here to learn more or sign up for streaming, and check out the Netflix Facebook page as well.

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Female Teachers Sleeping with Male Students: Where’s the Outrage?

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There’s a seminal moment in the movie A Time to Kill, when Matthew McConaughey’s character is attempting to convince a jury to acquit his client, played by Samuel L. Jackson. Jackson, a black father in racially charged Mississippi, is on trial for killing the two white men who raped and tortured his young daughter. With the all-white jury champing at the bit to convict his client, McConaughey makes them close their eyes as he painstakingly details the unspeakable horrors visited upon the young girl. But because he knows the jury is inherently racist and unable to see her as human, the lawyer makes one final plea.

“Now imagine she’s white.”

I thought of this scene recently after reading about a string of incidents involving female teachers having sex with their underage, teen students. The trend seems to be similar in all the cases, with attractive teachers in their 20s and early 30s allegedly initiating sexual contact with children ranging in age from 13 to 17. In some cases the affairs last for years, even though some of the teachers are married and have families.

Here’s where I harness my inner Matthew McConaughey.

“Now imagine it’s a male teacher.”

When people close their eyes and imagine what a sexual predator looks like, it is almost always a man. People hear a teacher molested a student and they automatically think of a balding, older man – maybe a creepy science teacher – blackmailing some poor young girl to trade sexual favors for straight As. We label him a sicko, a pervert, and a child molester. Fathers talk about the beatings they would inflict on the monster who dared violate their little girls. And heads shake in negative uniformity at the horror inflicted on these poor kids by a disgusting criminal.

But here are some things I’ve seen people say when stories about attractive female teachers taking advantage of male students make headlines.

“Good for him!”
“Where were those teachers when I was in school?”
“Wow. That’s the luckiest kid in the world.”

It’s a nasty double standard to think the rape of a child or the taking of innocence is somehow mitigated because it’s a teenage boy being sexually assaulted instead of a girl. And even more insidious is the idea that these boys aren’t really victims.

The fathers who talk of pummeling the men who violate their little girls suddenly change their tone, and speak of high-fiving their sons should they ever bed a hot female teacher. The boys are praised for being taken advantage of, and some even condemn them for blabbing about it, because that means it had to end. It’s bad enough an immature teenage boy is now confused and possibly ashamed about sex after being assaulted by someone he’s supposed to trust, but that’s only the start. Because now he’s being told he should actually be thankful for what happened, and that he’s lucky.

That’s right, lucky. We’re telling male victims of sexual assault they’re lucky. Can you imagine the horror and general revulsion if we told teen female students they were lucky to score a fling with a hot male teacher? That they should be thankful for being taken advantage of and abused by a trusted adult figure?

Look, I used to make the same jokes. I’m not proud of that, but it’s true. But then I became a parent and now that I have two boys of my own, I can say without a shadow of a doubt I’d be horrified if my sons were victimized like that. These boys have been violated by an adult during their adolescence, and likely face serious and long-lasting repercussions down the road that will affect them and potentially their families, for years to come.

I don’t care how attractive the teacher is, because when a teacher uses the significant power differential to abuse a minor sexually, that is a real problem. That is horrible. That is sexual abuse.

And that is always unacceptable, regardless of gender.

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5 Ways to Treat Kids With Stuffy Noses

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School is back is session, fall is turning to winter, and that means your kids have either been sick, are sick right this second, or will be sick very soon.

That’s not me thinking the sky is falling or being pessimistic either, it’s just the reality of the situation. First of all, the weather and the changing of the seasons often bring on colds and congestion on its own. But if your children go to daycare or have started school, forget about it. Your kids will get sick because school is a germ farm and cold incubator. Just assume the classroom pet is that monkey from Outbreak. That’s how sure I am your kid is getting sick.

So instead of pretending these kid colds can be prevented, I’m here to level with you and talk about how they can be dealt with effectively. Here are my five best tips to treat kids with stuffy noses.

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5. Elevate the Head When They Sleep
This one is basic but very important, because if your kid is sleeping on an angle he is going to be able to breathe a lot easier. If you’re dealing with a toddler or an older child, then bust out those extra pillows and prop him up. Now if most kids are like my oldest, they flop around like maniacal fish after they’ve been caught and put on land. So make sure you head back in and readjust accordingly throughout the night. If you’re dealing with an infant, the best trick we ever learned was to place a wedge (or even a towel or two) underneath the crib mattress. That will help elevate your baby’s head and increase the chances of him sleeping more peacefully.

4. Take a Steam
No I’m not advocating you leave everyone else behind and bask in the loveliness of a spa or to make major renovations to your house by putting in a steam room. But when your little one is stuffed up, running the shower extra hot and temporarily turning your bathroom into a sauna is a great way to relieve congestion and help your kiddo breathe easy. Just turn the water on, close the door, and then have your kid sit in the bathroom for 5-10 minutes. It’s not a permanent fix but it’s saved us some sanity on more than one occasion.

3. Keep Your Kids Hydrated
Although simple, this one all too often goes overlooked. It’s vital for your sick kids to stay hydrated with lots of fluids, especially when they’re not feeling well. Why? Because fluids prevent dehydration and thin the mucus, which helps tremendously when unclogging a stuffy nose. Water is your best bet here, but fruit juices and milk are acceptable too. Just avoid caffeinated and sugary drinks such as soda. If they’re REALLY picky, try going for a sugar-free popsicle or even soup.

2. Use Saline Drops and a Nasal Aspirator
This process is disgusting, but totally necessary to get your little ones on the road to recovery. The first thing you need to do is find a brand you like and trust. I had no clue about this stuff when I first became a dad, but my wife swears by Little Remedies and now so do I. In fact, it’s the only nasal aspirator she’ll use (and I swear she tried them all). If you have an infant, I’d grab their Stuffy Nose Kit, which includes saline drops/spray and the aspirator with the soft, flexible angled tip. If you’re dealing with a toddler (or you just need the saline and not the aspirator), you can buy the saline spray by itself. It’s best with both parents helping — one to hold the baby and the other to do the dirty work. Put a couple of drops into the first nostril, let it work its magic, and then either have them blow or use the aspirator to suction the mucus out. Clean off the aspirator and do the same with the other nostril. They scream and yell and freak out a bit at first, but once they’re unclogged you can see and hear how much easier it is for them to breathe. Totally worth it.

1. Keep It Clean
You’ve got to do your best to keep a child’s environment clean and free of pollutants and irritants, which will give him a much easier time breathing. First of all (and I can’t believe this still has to be said, but it does), no smoking. Breathing in smoke when you’re healthy is hard enough, but when you have a cold it’s that much more wretched. And you should quit anyway. Also, if you have a pet whose dander could be making things more difficult, running the vacuum an extra time wouldn’t hurt. But try to remember other things you might not think of, like any possible mold or even the filter on your air conditioner or furnace. Those things can get pretty nasty and most people don’t realize it’s recommended to change the filter every two months or so. These might seem like insignificant things, but they all add up quickly and definitely affect your child’s ability to breathe when congested.

***Disclaimer: I was compensated by Little Remedies for this post. However, I used their products way before they ever approached me and I stand by their effectiveness and endorse them 100%. Check out their website and Facebook page.

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Cold Weather, Heating Bills, and Why New Englanders Are Nuts

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“It’s freezing in here, but don’t you DARE touch that thermostat!”

There’s a game people in New England play this time of year. A game in which the stakes are high, the temperature is low, and financial situations as well as pride hang in the balance. The rest of the country thinks we’re absolutely nuts, yet every year households engage in wintry warfare when cold fronts hit and tempers heat up, as families battle over the most pressing issue of autumn — when to turn on the heat!

I know, I know. Sounds trivial right. Most of you are saying “turn the heat on if you’re cold.” Well you know what I say to that? This isn’t Texas, Florida, or parts of California where 65-degree temperatures cause you warm weather schmucks to don winter hats and gloves and look like assholes.

This is October in New England and the decisions we make now could have long-lasting repercussions.

First of all, this area was settled by Pilgrims (who “discovered” it after Native Americans had been living here for hundreds of years), and the puritanical presence can still be felt to this day. Bars close at 2 a.m. and up until a few years ago you couldn’t buy beer on Sunday. But more than that, we’re cheap. Some of us try to call it “thriftiness” but that’s just a fancy way of saying we’re cheap. And there’s nothing we complain about more than heating bills in the winter. Depending on whether you have oil, electric, propane, or what have you, a Massachusetts heating bill during a cold snap can easily cost upward of $600 a month. Not to mention the cost of snow removal (minimum $50 per plow visit) depending on the length of your driveway.

Which means frugality + stubbornness = an unwillingness to turn on the heat until it’s deemed absolutely necessary. And by absolutely necessary I mean someone loses a finger due to exposure.

It was 60 degrees in our house today. I’m writing this in slippers, wool socks, fleece pajamas, a t-shirt, and a sweatshirt. My wife and kids are dressed in a similar fashion. We have scarves, long johns, blankets, and electric blankets at the ready at all times. If people didn’t know we lived here, they’d think we were homeless. We sleep in self-made cocoons and we’re careful not to leave any body part uncovered, for fear of frostbite. We use each other’s body heat to survive and the kids sleep in thermals to avoid hypothermia during the night. That noise you hear isn’t an appliance on the fritz, it’s the sound of our teeth chattering.

So why? Why do we do it? Why not just turn on the heat and end the misery? Because fuck you, that’s why!

Being the last of your friends and family members to turn on the heat is a badge of honor. Every time you hang out with people and talk about the weather, someone says “you turn the heat on yet?” I smile at the ones who look away in shame as they mutter something about “Well the wife was freezing” or “we had to because of the newborn.” Suckers. These clowns are luxuriating in warmth and enjoying feeling in their extremities, but I’m saving $37 and proving my hardy New England mettle.

But more than that, I’m passing on a rich tradition of misery and sadomasochism to a new generation, who will one day tell their crying children “that’s what blankets are for” and “we don’t live on the west coast, Sally” when they tearfully ask to turn on the heat.

Sure my kids are growing weaker by the second and my wife is seriously considering cutting me open like a tauntaun and using my innards to keep warm, but seriously — where would you rather be during winter? New England winters feature blizzards that cripple the local economy and bankrupt municipal snow removal budgets as your power goes out causing you to buy a generator which you use to power your TV so you can watch the Patriots game instead of heating your house. Now compare that to the cloudless skies of southern California where perpetual temps in the mid-70s make Christmas on the beach a reality. No contest, baby!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I need another pair of socks because I can’t feel my toes.

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6 Things from My Elementary School Days I Wish My Kids Could Experience

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My oldest son Will just started the first grade. And the first thing you’ll say when your kids start school is “holy crap, things have changed!”

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t going to be one of those “things were so much better in my day” posts. Well, maybe a little. But while I fully realize many of the changes are positive and done for good reason, I can’t help but get a little nostalgic and, if we’re being honest, kind of sad my sons won’t have some of the same experiences I did.

6. The Oregon Trail
I never want to see harm come to my kids, unless it’s in the form of virtual dysentery via this classic Apple II game from the 1980s.

My kids will grow up with computers as the norm, but for me in grade school, computer class was UNBELIEVABLE! Unlike my 14-month-old who already knows his way around my smartphone, kids back then were just as amazed as adults as we all stumbled into the technological age together. But while businesses were using computers to work more efficiently, we were making our way along a 2,200-mile trail of incessant hardship to gain riches out west. Would we drown trying to ford the river? Would our oxen die? Could we hunt enough food to survive? The only way to find out was to insert that massive floppy disk and give it a whirl.

When I was six this game (and computers in general) was an otherworldly experience. My 6-year-old, however, has had a Kindle for more than a year and complains when the TV isn’t on an HD station.

5. Report Cards That Make Sense
I figured a lot had changed since I was in school, but getting my son’s first report card threw me for the biggest loop.

I was expecting what most people my age had – the old A, B, C, D, F system. Simple and reliable. An A meant I was getting $5, a B would earn me a buck and a “why couldn’t you get an A,” and a C meant I was grounded for a month. I assume D and F meant “find another place to live.” But when Will brought home his report card, it was some indecipherable chart with a color-coded bar graph that ultimately told me very little about my son’s progress. There was an ideal range to be in but it was OK if he wasn’t in the range in the first part of the year as long as he got into the purple section by the end of the year…frankly, I still don’t get it.

I’m sure it’s a much better system and I’m the problem, but in the end I had to keep asking the teacher “So…is that like an A? Or a B+?”

4. Peanut Butter
I tried really hard to remember any kids in my class with peanut butter allergies so severe they were life-threatening. I came up with nothing. But today, bringing peanut butter into a school is becoming a suspendable offense.

Look, I get it. Kids have allergies, allergies can be deadly, and precautions must be taken. I don’t want to see any harm come to innocent students. But at the same time, it boggles my mind that peanut butter is pretty much considered a Class D substance, considering how prevalent it was in the lunchtime repertoire of my classmates growing up. I’d eat that stuff by the spoonful! But now it’s not just straight peanut butter, but any food that might not even contain peanuts but was made on an assembly line that might’ve been subject to peanut products at some point dating back to the Industrial Revolution.

So while I understand the need for it, it’s too bad bringing peanut butter into school is right up there with bringing in a weapon.

3. Trading Lunches
This goes hand-in-hand with the peanut butter complaint.

Do you remember what would happen when the lunch bell rang and you got into the cafeteria? At my school it was like the opening bell on Wall Street had just sounded and the trading commenced fast and furious. On my best day I traded a PB&J sandwich, an orange, and a Yodel for three Fruit Roll-ups, a snack pack, and two Devil Dogs. But because of allergies, kids actually get in trouble when they trade lunches and it’s a punishable offense.

I was reading a survey that showed 41% of workers didn’t negotiate salary for the job they currently hold. I think this lack of lunchtime bartering means our nation’s youth is ill prepared to haggle later in life.

2. Gifted Programs
In the third grade, I was picked to go into the “Academically Talented Program.” I had no idea what this meant at the time, but I remember it was nice not being bored in class anymore and being challenged in a variety of ways. I wasn’t the smartest kid by a longshot, but I was an early reader and well ahead of the normal curriculum.

Now schools either can’t afford such programs, or reject them so no one is offended.

I’m all for inclusion, but not if it means holding stellar students back. In my own personal, non-expert opinion, I think we’ve stopped nurturing excellence in favor of promoting mediocrity. I get money is tight and gifted programs are first on the chopping block, but if kids excel it’s a shame they won’t have that avenue to pursue.

1. Dodgeball
Nothing brings up more controversy and emotions than this fantastic, oft-banned game.

Depending on where you landed on the dodgeball ladder, you either loved this game or dreaded it like the plague. I loved it despite not being great at it. Sure I took a bunch of balls to the head (giggity) and ended up with a red, swollen face and had to go sit on the sidelines in shame with those dreaded parquet markings implanted on my forehead. But on a few select occasions, I fended off three people by myself and basked in the glow of playground glory.

My son won’t have that opportunity because dodgeball has been banned everywhere in favor of youth sports that don’t keep score and hand everyone a trophy. I guess I’ll have to keep pelting him with red rubber balls on the weekends, as part of a dodgeball homeschooling program.

So good readers, what else did I miss?

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