Tuesday, January 28, 2014

ten outfits under $30.

A while ago, I showcased my bargain hunting prowess by showing you ten complete outfits that cost $40 or less – for the WHOLE outfit. (Care to revisit? Go here: outfits under $40!) 

Well, nine months have passed, and I’ve found myself with a whole new crop of beautiful bargains (plus some that I didn’t show you before). So I’ve got ten more outfits for you!

The same rules apply as last time: no foundation garments – tank tops, etc – as part of my total, for that gets boring and complicated; prices may not be exact, but are estimated to the best of my memory. I am almost positive that I am within fifty cents of each price, and that’s not too shabby! However, I did make one change: this time around, all of the outfits total $30 or less. Yes, I tightened the belt and did some seriously creative (and intense! I almost died at Savers!) shopping, but I happily present to you my top ten outfits under $30!

(a note about the pictures: James and I took them all in one day in different parts of our house, so you get a little tour of our house at the same time!)

dress – Maurices – $7 (buy one get one free)
sandals – JCPenney – $3 (fall super sale)
belt – Forever 21 – $5.80
blazer – Maurices –$2 (half off clearance and $10 off coupon)
necklace – Michael’s – $3 (employee discount)
TOTAL = $20.80

In my last blog about my cheap outfits, I told you all about how Maurices goes on crazy mark-down sprees, and that’s how I score a great deal of my work clothes. The dress was part of a 50% off the lowest marked price sale, PLUS buy one clearance thing, get another clearance thing free. I was able to find two clearance dresses for about $14, hence the average price of $7. The blazer was also part of the 50% off the lowest marked price sale, but I also had a $10 off coupon from using my Maurices stamp card. The sandals were from a phenomenal end-of-September sale at JCPenney. I had just moved from Minneapolis to almost Sioux Falls: I was working in Sioux Falls but couldn’t move into my apartment until October 7, so I was commuting from Brookings (where I was staying in my grandma’s house – vacant since she had moved to assisted living) or Ellsworth (where James lived/was teaching). Most of my income was spent on gas, so the $3 sandals were about all I could afford. I wear them ALL THE TIME, so it was $3 well spent.
shirt – Goodwill St Paul – $2.50 (half off day)
necklace – Forever 21 – $4.80
shoes – American Eagle – $6
pants – Forever 21 – $15.80
TOTAL = $29.10

The secret to the totally awesome Goodwill deals that I manage to find lies within three simple words: patience, location, and sales. You have to have the patience to dig through the (oft calamitous) racks to find a good shirt or two, so it’s essential that you go to Goodwill when you’re in the right mindset. The location also makes a huge difference: I’ve been able to find much better stuff at the St Paul Goodwill than I ever have in Sioux Falls. Finally, go on a Goodwill sale day. Yes, their stuff is pretty cheap without the sales, but it never hurts. Maybe one day a week, Goodwill will offer half off on tags of a certain color. I scored this shirt when Goodwill had 50% off EVERYTHING. That was quite the day.
jeans – Forever21 – $10.80
poncho – Goodwill St Paul – $4.49 (half off all clothes)
shoes – Target – $9.98
pearl bracelets – Helzberg – FREE! 
TOTAL = $25.27

I never thought of myself as a poncho kind of person, but when you find one at Goodwill for less than five dollars, you might as well give it a try. Throw in some super stretchy pants and some Target shoes, and you have the comfiest outfit ever. And the pearl bracelets? James got them from Helzberg for free. Since he bought my engagement ring from them, every now and again, they’ll give him (and by “him”, I mean me) some kind of little freebie: in this case, pearl bracelets. Cool, huh?

trousers – Y’s Buys – $4.79        
shirt – Savers – $3 (half off day)
shoes – Target – $14.98
bracelet – Brookings Summer Arts Festival – $5
TOTAL = $27.77

Savers is a dangerous place. It’s a thrift store in Sioux Falls, and you’ll usually find that it’s quite busy. It has the most obnoxious dressing rooms: there are just a few of them, and they’re located against a wall at the end of a bunch of racks of clothes. Whenever I go there, there’s always a huge line for the dressing rooms, but there’s really nowhere to line up. People line up in between the racks of clothes, so there’s no way to actually look through said clothes. Plus, there’s also no real way to tell who is next in line. You get a dressing room at Savers by being faster than the guy next to you. Anyway, I got this blue shirt at Savers on half-off day. My friends, I almost died. Savers rarely has half-off day, and the store was a complete zoo. I got shoved into racks, run over by shopping carts, and you can just forget about a dressing room. I really like this shirt, so I guess I can tell myself that it was worth it. The pants came from another thrift shop in Sioux Falls called Y’s Buys. The pants were way too long, so – instead of hemming them like a normal person – I used fabric tape to fix the hems. It was pretty messy – especially when I forgot about the tape and put the pants in the dryer. Imagine little balls of melted fabric tape stuck EVERYWHERE. I finally took them to be professionally hemmed, and I warned them about the fabric tape. I said, “If the fabric tape won’t come off, don’t hem the pants.” After all, why would I want hemmed pants with bits of fabric tape stuck to them? Apparently, the alterations lady heard “go right ahead and hem the pants – don’t worry about the hem tape!” When I went to pick up the pants, they were hemmed – but the fabric tape was now on the OUTSIDE of the pants. Thankfully, the dry cleaner was able to save the day, but I know which Sioux Falls alteration shop is never getting my pants again! So even though these pants ended up being way more expensive than I had anticipated, we’re just going with the original Y’s Buys price. Finally, the bracelet. It’s the coolest thing ever: it’s made of out of this super bendy wire, so you can shape it however you want. I got it at one of my favorite places on earth: the Brookings Summer Arts Festival, where you can find good food, good people watching, and great crafts/jewelry/paintings/woodwork/whatever.

t-shirt – Target – $3
scarf – Charlotte Russe – $9.50
schooner charm – Hobby Lobby – $2.50 (40% off coupon)
jeans – Savers – $6.50 (half off day)
sandals – Target – $5-ish 
belt – Target – FREE! 
button bracelet – Claire’s/found button – $.50 
TOTAL = $27

I’m a big fan of Hobby Lobby. They sell all sorts of crazy charms (like this one – a schooner), and I can just slap them on a chain and call them jewelry. The jeans (you can't see in this picture, but they have sparkly back pockets! oh boy!) came from Savers on that fateful half-off day, and my belt is one of those freebies that came on a pair of pants (not shown, because they’re actually kind of dorky and were sent to the consignment store ages ago) that I bought at Target. But let’s talk about the bracelet. Years ago, my mom and I had gone to the Claire’s store in the Watertown mall. I don’t know if they do this anymore, but at that time, Claire’s would have these big clearance sales where you could pick out ten items from the clearance rack and only pay five dollars. Most of that stuff is long since gone – as I was probably eleven at the time, my tastes have changed. However, this bracelet made it through. It’s made of this guitar string-y material, and even though I’ve lost some of the bands over the years (they sort of un-snap), there are four that remain. I threaded a button on the bracelet, and it’s one of my go-to bracelets. But it’s not just any button: it’s a button from an Arlington High School band uniform. I found it on the ground in the band room in 2003-ish, and it’s been on my bracelet ever since. What a dork.
My pants look way too short in this picture,
but they're actually not. Trust me.
shirt – Younkers – $4.50
cardigan – Gap – $7 (40% off clearance)
Seven jeans – Goodwill Omaha – $7.99 
anchor charm – Hobby Lobby – $.99 (1/2 off)
shoes – Target – $7-ish
TOTAL = $27.48

In my last cheap clothing blog, I talked about how it was tough to find good thrift store jeans – that’s why the last blog was heavy on dresses and dress pants. I would like to rescind my statement. Apparently, I was just looking in the wrong thrift store. This is the third pair of SIX cheap jeans that I’ll feature in this blog. All of them but one pair came from thrift or consignment shops, and the one pair that didn’t came from Forever21 (which might be a step below a thrift store, depending on whom you ask). This pair came from Omaha, and they were a little spendy for thrift store jeans (eight dollars, I KNOW), but let me tell you, they are comfy.

Seven jeans – Redeemed – FREE! 
shirt – Kmart – $5.50
scarf – Gap – $10.40 (40% off)
sandals – Gap Outlet – $7-ish
belt – JCPenney – $5
TOTAL = $27.90

I know what you’re thinking – Kmart? REALLY? Yes, really. This all came about because I wanted some new work shirts. I was flipping through a Redbook, and they have this super-handy section where they round up 50 fashion items for under $50. One of their examples was from Kmart, and I was downright impressed. So I went to Kmart’s website, found said shirt, and paid a pittance for it. This blue shirt came about because I needed to meet a minimum dollar amount to get free shipping. WORTH IT. And just how did I manage to wrangle a pair of free jeans? This, my friends, is quite the story. James and I went to Winnipeg for our honeymoon, and we spent some time exploring the different neighborhoods with all their neat shops and restaurants. Our travels led us to a consignment store called Redeemed – it was all women’s clothing, so James chatted up a woman working there while I perused. James let it slide that we were Americans – “Oh, we LOVE Americans!” and that we were on our honeymoon. I found two items to my liking – a blazer and a dress. When I went to pay for them, this woman (who we found out was the store’s owner) said, “Well, I’m going to give you a honeymoon discount.” My total – which would’ve been about $60 – was reduced to $20. She then wrote us a gift certificate for $20 and suggested that we visit Redeemed’s second location. Stunned by her generosity, we headed over to the second location, where I found this pair of jeans and a sweater. We presented our gift certificate to the cashier, and on it, the store owner had written “for their honeymoon!” Upon seeing this, the cashier said, “Oh, I didn’t know it was your honeymoon! I’d better get you a honeymoon discount!” After the honeymoon discount and the $20 gift certificate, the total for the jeans and sweater came to $9. The cashier paused for a second and said, “You know what? Don’t worry about it. Happy honeymoon!” Yep: a sweater and jeans, totally free. I was familiar with the stereotype of the super nice Canadian, and I’m here to tell you that it’s 100% true. The manager of our hotel bought us dinner when he found out we were on our honeymoon. We were greeted with smiles wherever we went. Cars happily made room for other cars to change lanes. Canada was so much friendlier that it was almost a different world. After our experience in Winnipeg, James and I are doing our best to be Canadian: we’re trying to be nicer and all-around better people. WWCD: What Would Canada Do?

jeans – Winnipeg Salvation Army – $5.99
tank – Younkers – $4.50
shoes – JCPenney – $13
telephone charm – Michael’s – $3 (40% coupon)
TOTAL = $26.49

The Salvation Army is one thrift store that I don’t really visit. We’ve got one in Sioux Falls, but every time I’ve been there, I’ve come away feeling like I need a shower and possibly some penicillin. The Salvation Army in Winnipeg was nothing like that. Sure, there were some less-than-savory characters roaming the aisles, but on the whole, it was clean and inviting. These shoes came from the sale rack at JCPenney, and I was originally hesitant about them – they’ve got lime green on them, after all. I bought them anyway, and I am so glad I did. Not only did I decide that the lime green is, in fact, AWESOME, but I don’t think I’ve ever gotten more compliments on a pair of shoes.

jeans – Goodwill Brookings – $4.25
Converses – Converse Outlet – $15
sweatshirt – Goodwill Brookings – $3.75
TOTAL = $23.00

Yes, another pair of thrift store jeans. I stumbled across these while trying on jeans at Goodwill, my goal being to find a pair that I could turn into cut-offs for the summer. These jeans were too good to turn into shorts, so they stayed whole (other jeans I bought that day did fall victim to my scissors). The shoes came from the Converse outlet store in Albertville, MN. Outlet stores can be a hit or a miss, but I consider neon pink Chuck Taylors to be a hit.

Forgive my pasty white legs. It is January, after all.
shorts – JCPenney – $7.99
belt – JCPenney – $1.99 
shirt – Younkers – $4.50
shoes– Charlotte Russe – $7
necklace – etsy – FREE! 
TOTAL = $21.48

I do believe this is the first pair of shorts that I’ve shown you on the blog. Well, I wanted a pair of green shorts, and JCPenney happened to have a super cheap pair for me. They also happened to have a dirt cheap belt (and it's REVERSIBLE - there are lobsters on the other side!), which I couldn’t resist. It is indeed from the men’s section, but it’s a belt. You can’t tell. You may be wondering how I managed to get my necklace for free. Online surveys, that’s how. Back when I was super poor, I signed up for these online survey companies. You take little surveys about new products or commercials or insurance or whatever, and you earn money. Not a lot of money per survey, but some. Once in a while, I even got a product test – and when you can barely afford shampoo, getting some free shampoo to test is a Godsend. Anyway, once you get to a certain dollar amount in your survey account, you can cash it out for a check, Amazon gift card, whatever. This particular go-round, I cashed out for PayPal credit, which I promptly used to buy this necklace. So technically it wasn’t free, but it’s my blog, and I’m calling it free.


There you have it: ten outfits under $30. This time around, my finds came from 24 different places: eight clothing stores, five thrift/consignment shops, two craft stores, two big box stores, two outlet stores, one costume jewelry store, one real jewelry store, one summer arts festival, one online crafty/jewelry/a bit of everything store, and one band room floor. Not too shabby.

I hope you’ve enjoyed my latest thrifty-chic fashion show. Until next time, you can find me digging through your local Goodwill!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

the Craigslist chronicles: the Plymouth garage/apartment.

I was living in New Orleans at the end of 2009 when I started making plans to move to Minneapolis. I had accepted an internship at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and my part-time job at American Eagle would transfer to one of the locations in the Cities. I was excited and ready to be back in the Midwest: I had spent three months in New Orleans, and previous to that, three months in Denver. I’d been away from my family, friends, and (then-boyfriend, now husband) James for long enough.

James was just finishing up his requirements for his music education degree, and it was time for him to do his student teaching. He was able to secure a student teaching job about forty minutes away from Minneapolis, and that meant that (hallelujah!) we could share an apartment. Neither of us could’ve afforded one on our own – James was student teaching full-time, and my part-time retail wages could only go so far. We decided we’d search for a place in Plymouth, Minnesota: a suburb that was about halfway between where I needed to be and where James needed to be. (We would later use this logic to buy a house in Luverne – we figured that it worked once – why not again!)

Since I was still in New Orleans, it fell to James to find us a place to live. Craigslist is the go-to apartment hunting site when you don’t have much money to throw around, so that’s just where he started looking. There were some affordable studio apartments in legitimate apartment buildings, but these apartments would only allow one person to live in the studio (that’s the price you pay for being a legitimate apartment building), but for maximum affordability and a more lax attitude towards fire codes, Craigslist was the answer.

James found something almost right away. It was a garage-turned-studio apartment located directly underneath the main house. The location was right and the price was right, so James got us that apartment… and I had never seen it.

We moved in on a frigid day in January. We only had two carloads: my Mercury Sable and James’s Oldsmobile Delta 88.  In order to get to our little apartment, we had to park sideways on a downhill driveway off-shoot thing and walk down some treacherous steps (which were always icy, no matter how often we salted them) to get to our door. That driveway was such a pain: since it was downhill, James’s rear-wheel drive car got stuck on the ice a time or two and had to be hauled out by my sturdy Sable.

The apartment itself wasn’t much to look at: it was about 400 square feet, and everything was brown. The kitchen and bathroom were recently remodeled, so those were actually quite nice. Sad to say, the kitchen and bathroom there were nicer than any kitchen or bathroom I’ve had since – including the house we just bought.

The nice kitchen and bathroom did little to disguise the fact that this place was SMALL. It was larger than the shed I lived in while in New Orleans (which is a story for another time), but I didn’t have to share my shed with another person. If there was ever a test for James’s and my relationship, this was it.

James and I did our best to make our little studio seem hospitable. We had no bed, so we got a free one from Craigslist – gross, I know, but desperate times call for desperate measures – that we tied to the roof of James’s Oldsmobile and hauled home. Our furniture was nothing but a fabric fold-up dish chair that I’d had in college, some white plastic patio furniture lent to us by the landlords, and some plastic crates that made do as a TV stand. It’s just as well that we didn’t have any real furniture, as we wouldn’t have had anywhere to put it anyway.

As you might imagine, this apartment didn’t have the amenities of a normal apartment building. That meant that we had nowhere to do our laundry. Whenever I went to visit my parents, I’d haul my laundry home with me and do it there. If I went too long without going home, I had to make the (expensive) trip to the (super creepy/dirty) laundromat. I wanted to avoid the laundromat as long as possible, so one frosty evening when I was out of clean jeans, I decided that I’d wash them myself. Since I am an idiot, I washed about five pairs in the shower. I soaked myself and the entire bathroom, and – realizing that I hadn’t thought out how I was going to dry these jeans – ended up hanging them up to dry outside. Soaking wet jeans. In February. Care to guess how this turned out? Frozen jeans, that’s how.

Shortly after we moved in, we noticed that our apartment smelled strongly of wet dog. We also found that our clothes had dog hair on them. But how? We didn’t have a dog. Well, it turned out that our landlords were dog sitters, and the dog smell and hair found their way in through the vents.

Speaking of the dogs, one of our landlords (they were a husband and wife landlord pair) would let the dogs out a couple of times a day. He didn’t work, so he was always around to take care of the dogs. Their backyard was right next to our front door, which wasn’t so much a front door as a big glass patio door with a curtain over it. The landlord would stand in the corner of the backyard and stare in those windows, sometimes even coming close enough to press his nose on the glass. Needless to say, we kept the curtains closed at all times.

We had only signed a six-month lease, so our time was due to run out at the end of June. James wasn’t as opposed to staying as I was: he liked the fact that it was cheap and that we were already there – no moving required. Sure, it was cheap, but with summer coming, I wasn’t sure if I could handle the dog smell in hot weather. Besides, I was tired of the landlord peeking in the windows. Not only that, but I spent my entire time in that apartment running from part-time job to part-time job, constantly worrying about how I was going to buy food. That apartment made me think of that sickening “will I make the rent this month” feeling, and I was ready to leave that behind. One of my part-time jobs had just turned into a full-time job, and that meant I could upgrade to an apartment where your bedroom and your living room and your dining room weren’t all in the same space. I wanted a fresh start my own real-person apartment.

Our decision was made for us when our landlords informed us that the tenant who had lived in that apartment before us wanted his old place back. He had been there for three years (!!!) and missed it. So, much to James’s chagrin, staying in the studio was no longer an option. Our landlords did have a proposal for us: would we like to rent space in their basement? We’d have to sleep on a futon, use a curtain as our walls/door, and share their kitchen with them, but they thought it was a great idea. The landlords were practically foaming at the mouth at the thought of having two rental incomes. We politely declined and immediately commenced searching for our real-person apartment.

That was the third and final time I trusted Craigslist to find me a place to live. I’ve covered the first (creepy landlord in New Orleans where I thought I might be murdered) and the third (what you just read!), but the second Craigslist living situation story (the shed) is by far the best. It’s one of those stories that is so ridiculous that I really have to think about how I’m going to write it lest you think I’m making it up – but trust me, this story is so bizarre that I couldn’t possibly make it up. It will be worth the wait.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

guilty pleasures: Teen Mom.

I have something to admit to you.

I am not the sophisticated individual you think I am. (Did you ever believe that? On the off change that you did, I’m about to smash your illusions.) I have a secret – a shameful secret that only a few of my closest friends know. But it’s time for me to admit to the world that I have a problem.

I watch Teen Mom.

MTV lured me in with 16 and Pregnant, which is exactly what it sounds like: it’s a reality show about pregnant teenagers. Each show was an hour-long peek into these teenagers’ lives, and there was a pretty basic formula: teen gets pregnant + teen is sure she’ll be with her skeezy boyfriend forever + parents do not approve of skeezy boyfriend + teen haves baby and discovers taking care of it is harder than she thought + skeezy boyfriend flakes out + teen is left all alone with a baby + teen drops out of school and laments for her lost youth.

Every now and again, you’d have an anomaly: the baby daddy would actually stick around, or the teen would go back to school and graduate. More often than not, though, they would end up sad, alone, and plus one baby.

Teen Mom spawned (ha!) from 16 and Pregnant: MTV chose four of the twelve-ish teens to feature on their own spin-off show. The viewing audience got to see what it was like to be a teenager trying to raise a baby and all the (inevitable) drama that comes with it. Teen Mom has since been followed with Teen Mom 2 and 3, but it was the original that sucked me in.

So why did I watch? Honestly, I’m not quite sure. I started watching around the time I moved to Minneapolis. I lived in a tiny studio apartment/former garage, and I worked three part-time jobs so I could pay rent/eat/complete my unpaid internship at the art museum. I was barely eking by, but Teen Mom showed me that it could always be worse: at least I wasn’t living in a studio apartment with three part time jobs with a baby while trying to finish high school. Sure puts things in perspective.

I also watched because their lives were so different than mine. They were going through things I will never experience – “never” is a strong word, but I can confidently say that I will never be a teen mom (because I’m 26) and I will never have to try and raise a baby while in high school (because high school is far behind me).

I kept Teen Mom a secret for months – James didn’t even know I watched it, and we lived in the tiny studio together. The first time I admitted that I watched Teen Mom was to one of my fellow interns (who shall remain nameless just in case she doesn’t want the world to know that she watches Teen Mom). I don’t remember how it came up, but it was a “you watch Teen Mom? I watch Teen Mom!” moment. We bonded instantly.

We watched Teen Mom and Teen Mom 2, and we compared notes after each show. We were always amazed at the amount of screaming and cursing, and we shook our heads at some of these girls who just couldn’t let go of the deadbeat dads.

What made Teen Mom 2 especially interesting to us is that one of the teen moms lived in Sioux Falls. My friend’s dad lived in Sioux Falls, so she was also familiar with the area. It was always fun when we recognized the place where the SD teen mom was eating or what part of town she was in. One day, my friend was visiting her dad when they noticed a film crew at one of the houses down the street – turns out that the teen mom and my friend’s dad were practically neighbors! Small world.

We knew that the teen moms had to be getting paid to be on the show, but it became significantly less fun to watch when all their money started showing. At the beginning of each Teen Mom series, you saw the real struggles: how to pay for diapers, what to do with the baby when you have to get a job, how to manage going back to school, how much to rely on your parents, etcetera. However, when the money rolled in, all you saw were the teen moms fighting with their baby daddies and whining about they never get to go out (but go out all the time anyway). They were no longer typical teen moms – they were buying fancy cars, living in huge apartments, getting boob jobs and elaborate tattoos… and almost none of them even held a part-time job. A couple of them started to go to college, but some dropped out – it could just be MTV’s editing, but it seemed the drop-outs left school because they just didn’t feel like putting in the work.

This is where MTV caught some flak for Teen Mom. Its critics argued that it made teen motherhood look too easy. I wouldn’t say it looked easy – as someone who doesn’t have the foggiest idea of how to deal with children, any interaction at all with a baby qualifies as hard work in my book – but it certainly wasn’t a realistic portrayal of what it’s like to have a baby when you’re a teenager. Your average teen mom isn’t going to be able to hop in her brand new BMW and eat out all the time and pay hundreds of dollars for her back tattoo – but that’s exactly what the MTV teen moms were doing. Their personal lives were still a mess – two of them spent time in jail/rehab, one of them got divorced six months after she got married, etc – but the real-life financial problems had all but vanished.

The original Teen Mom has reached its end, and I’m not sure what the fate of Teen Mom 2 will be. If they come out with another season of Teen Mom 2, honestly, I’ll probably watch it – if only to see what places I recognize in the Sioux Falls teen mom’s segments. I started to watch Teen Mom 3, but those teen moms are the whiniest bunch to emerge from MTV’s schedule, so it didn’t take me long to give up on them. Even I have standards.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

let's talk about classroom pets.

I might sound like an old person when I say this, but do kids these days (there it is) have school pets?

School pets were a big deal when I graced the elementary school halls. Why? Because you had the opportunity to take them home for the weekend, and that was THE BEST THING EVER. Second grade and fourth grade were the years of the take-home-able classroom pets. (Not that there weren’t other classroom pets. We had fish in third grade and in the high school biology classroom, and the junior high science teacher had snakes, but those never left the building… except when the snakes escaped, but that’s another story.) I had the same teacher for second grade and fourth grade, and she liked rats and hamsters. I don’t remember the second grade hamster’s name, but there was a white rat named Whitney. In fourth grade, the class hamster was named Tiger, and there were two white rats named Snowball and Mitzy.

The hamster and rats went home with someone every weekend. If you were interested in taking a pet home, you’d sign up with the teacher and go through a rotation. When it was your turn to take your pet home, you’d just haul the whole cage home with you.

Enter the second grade classroom. I was a seven-year-old who didn’t think to ask her parents if it was ok to take the rat home for the weekend. I didn’t care about the hamster, so I signed up on the rat list. I eagerly awaited my turn to take the rat home, and when the day finally arrived, I dragged the rat cage home with me on the bus. Whitney the rat and I arrived home in one piece… until my mother found out that I’d brought a rat home.

I had no idea what the big deal was. It was just a little rat, and she was so cute!
Mom – not one for rodents – disagreed. She conceded that there wasn’t much we could do now (as it was the weekend, and there was no one to take the rat off our hands), but I was under threat of death to NEVER bring a rat home again.

I loved having Whitney the rat for the weekend. Besides some ill-fated fish, I’d never had indoor pets before, and I thought it was great. Whitney had a plastic rat ball, and she’d roll around the house. That night, I set her cage on top of my dresser and placed her inside.

Now, I don’t know if I forgot to shut the lid on the cage or what, but when Mom came in to check on me that night, she found herself face-to-face with Whitney the rat. Whitney had gotten out of her cage and was sitting right on top. Mom quickly woke me up and told me that I’d better get that rat back in her cage. I snuck up on Whitney… but then she slid behind the dresser. Mom then had to go wake Dad to get him to move the gigantic dresser, and I was finally able to corner Whitney. From that point on, Whitney’s cage remained closed (with a bunch of books on top for extra security). The rest of the weekend passed uneventfully and on Monday, Whitney made it safely back to school. However, not too long afterwards (I’d like to say it was the very next week, but I could be wrong), another classmate took Whitney the rat home for the weekend – and she never came back. (Whitney the rat was an escape artist, after all.)

So that was the last time I got to take a pet rat home. I had to settle for going over to my friend Allison’s house for sleepovers whenever she got to take the rats home. In fourth grade, we had two white rats: Snowball and Mitzy. These rats weren’t simply classroom pets: they were science experiments. Before you get all animal rights on me, let me tell you that these were science experiments in the loosest sense. We did rudimentary tests like giving one sugar water and one regular water and measuring their tails to see how long they grew (in order to tell which was which, we marked them with those scented markers – one rat was red, one was purple). The rest of the time, they just got to roam around on our desks during free time.

The other furry occupant of the fourth grade room was the hamster named Tiger. While my parents had informed me that there was no way I could take the rats home, they decided that the hamster would be fine. I arrived at school on the Friday I was supposed to take Tiger home, only to find that his cage was empty. When the whole class had assembled, our teacher announced that Tiger was no more. We pressed her – what had happened to our beloved classroom pet? Our teacher reluctantly told us the grim tale: Snowball and Mitzy had gotten out of their cage and into the hamster cage, and they ATE OUR HAMSTER. Taking the pet rats home for the weekend suddenly sounded a lot less appealing.

And that’s where my experience with rodents ends. Thanks to that less-than-pleasant experience (and much to my parents’ pleasure), I stopped asking for white rats for Christmas (as substitutes, my parents brought me little rubber ones they got at the Grain Dealers’ convention every year). So if your kids ever ask you if they can take the school pet home for the weekend, make sure that a.) you don’t mind a white rat escaping in your house, and b.) that there are no bloodthirsty rats near the hamster cage.