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summertime blues

I’m really bummed out about this summer, and it hasn’t even arrived yet. Why? Because I’m gonna be broke! I just learned I’m being laid off from a job I’ve held for over 10 years, and I won’t be able to take my small family camping for a week...which is the only vacation we plan all year long. Now, it’s even beyond our budget to get the necessary ID to travel to Canada to go swimming.

I’ve always been a hard worker, but who’s hiring now? I know there are a lot of people in my boat, and I don’t mean to whine, but I hate not being able to do even the modest recreational activities that my children have come to expect. What do I tell them? Their Dad is a loser, and that’s why they have to suffer?

OK, I’m done with the self-pity. But seriously, I need some suggestions. How do I make this a summer to remember when I don’t even know how to keep up with the mortgage?

—Worried Man

The Paternal Optimist says: The first thing to do is put a good face on things: You’ve got the summer off to spend with your kids. (This is good for you and good for your family; despair is a killer.) One hopes that this saves you a little cash that might otherwise have gone to babysitters or day camps— maybe even enough to fill up the gas tank a couple of times and take them to the beach up at Sodus Point on Lake Ontario. If that’s out of range, take them to Bennett Beach on Lake Erie. The swimming is just as good as in Canada, and it’s free.

You might distract the kids with work in the guise of an adventure. For example, take them berry-picking. They get to eat as much as they want while they’re picking, and you bring home healthy food for cheap, which you can eat right away or freeze for the winter. Dig your own little garden; you’ve got some time now. Or volunteer your time and theirs working at one of the many community gardens on the East or West Side; there are good people to be met doing stuff like this, many of whom are not far removed from the situation you’re in, and the group that oversees the garden will probably feed you and the kids.

If that sounds like it won’t wash, you can give your kids a taste of how the other half lives: The WNY Maritime Charter School offers free sailing lessons for kids, ages 7-14. And there’s nothing they can want to buy out on the water—it’s pure distraction from consumerism. The trick is to find places you can take the kids where they won’t be overwhelmed by desirable things that cost more than you can afford. So don’t take them to the see llamas at the Erie County Fair, where they’ll want cotton candy and ride tickets; take them instead to Hawk Creek, to see rescued wild animals. Take them for a walk at Tifft Nature Preserve, or to Times Beach, just north on Route 5, where the boardwalks afford views of all sorts of flora and fauna, free of charge.

The Secretary says: Since you will be laid off, there will be lots of time for family play. Trips to the local parks for picnics and games, free concerts, hiking at Niagara Falls, movie nights at home (rent DVD from library, very cheap) or board game competitions, local swimming lessons for the kids, visit the Museum of Science and the Zoo. Teach kids something yourself, i.e., build something, plant a garden, run a lemonade stand. Spending time with your kids when normally you’d be working could be the most fun they’ve ever had.

girl trouble

I’m going through a bitter breakup with my girlfriend of two years, and the only person happy about it is my ex-wife. Against all logic, she has befriended my girlfriend, and has succeeded in turning her against me.

Honest to God, my ex-wife is bent on destroying my happiness for the rest of my life. I feel like she has destroyed two happy relationships for me now. First, she went schizo and accused me of having affairs that never happened—even as she was cheating on me with our divorce attorney. Second, she has convinced my girlfriend that I’m a no-good cheater who will eventually let her down. The woman has a knack for making people believe total fabrications.

Is being hateful and vindictive a crime? I mean, how can I ever get her to stop ruining my life?

The Practical Cogitator says: Dude, you should move. Seems like you’ve really done a number on your ex-wife and now your ex-girl. Your small world is shrinking. Go on, just go. There is a whole country full of cities to relocate in.

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