Inglish iz uh Stoopid Langwij

stupidenglish02On Mondays and Wednesdays from 1:00 to 2:00, a handful of moms at our local elementary school volunteer to help some of the 1st graders who are struggling with sight words. For those of you who have been reading English for a while (probably most of you unless Siri’s dictating all your messages) and who are unfamiliar with the term sight words, it means those words that you can’t really sound out but have to memorize. Most readers don’t often stop to think that of should sound like off instead of uv, that is ends with a z sound instead of a snake hiss, and said is pronounced sed instead of some strange double-syllabled word that takes hapless non-readers a good 30 seconds to try and sound out.

English is a stupid language.Tomb Comb Bomb

Three of the 1st grade sight words are though, thought and through. I still have no idea how to explain to these frustrated 6-year olds that ough from each of these words makes the long O, short O and double O sounds respectively. And while I’m trying, it would certainly not be the time to go off on a tangent and explain to them that respectively does not mean polite.

My 16-year old Emily (she calls herself Djaq and pronounces is Jack I’ll explain more in a future blog) just performed in her high school’s production of “The 25th Annual Putnum County Spelling Bee.” She played Olive, an elementary school student whose only friend is her dictionary, which she reads voraciously while on the toilet. Olive muses that if you take the W from answer, the H from ghost, the second A from aardvark, and the T from listen, you get…

spellingbee… Emily/Djaq/Olive silently mouths the word:

“What.”

English is a stupid language.

Emily/Djaq recently recounted an example that she learned from her eclectic 3rd grade teacher Mr. Schultz (quoting from George Bernard Shaw). If you take the GH from laugh, the O from women, and the TI from initiate, you get the word ghoti. However, it is pronounced fish. No kidding.ghoti

English is a stupid language.

If a word starts with a C, it is pronounced K or S. Why? Why did the English connoisseurs even invent a C if it doesn’t have its own sound? Why does G make either the G or J sound when there already is a J? Why is there an X when it actually blends KS, yet it is pronounced Z in nearly every English word with the exception of x-ray?  Why did they invent a Q when it really is just a K blended with a long U? And to make it even more inconvenient, there’s almost always a U piggybacking on Q like a lazy parasite.

stupidenglish04We teach these baffled children that an E at the end of a word is silent and it makes the previous vowel long (as in my son Jake’s name). Like all the other rules of English, this one sounds stupid too, but at least it seems like a somewhat consistent rule. That is, until they get to middle school and based on the silent E rule, they try to pronounce their new vocabulary words epitome and calliope. Oops. Not just an E at the end, but a really long E.

English is a stupid language.

images-1I took two years of Spanish in high school and all the English pronunciation rules I learned during my previous 10 years of education were thrown out the window. Yet once I learned that J makes the H sound and the vowels A, E, I, O and U are pronounced short O, long A, long E, long O, and double O, I found that Spanish doesn’t often break its own pronunciation rules. Jose will not and never will be pronounced Joe’s (unless you meet him in art school). Instead, it’s hose-ay, which written as a pronunciation looks as gringo as Doris Day.

english-diacriticsI think the easiest and smartest solution to the English language dilemma would be to throw out the spelling of all traditional English words and instead spell them with the same pronunciation key used in the dictionary. Of course adding all these long and short vowel sounds, CH, SH and the hard and soft TH, not to mention the accents and the syllable breaks, would make the English alphabet a little bit bigger. Everyone will have to grow their fingernails and file them to a sharp point in order to use the teeny tiny keys on their Smartphones to type:

ˈIŋ-glish iz uh ˈstü-pəd ˈlaŋ-gwij.

Then there’s the schwa (ə), which would probably be the most popular letter in the English language. It sounds like uh, and it is also the most widely used sound these 1st graders make when they’re trying to sound out a word:

“Uhhhhhhhh…”

UhhhDictionary.com calls ə “the mid-central, neutral vowel sound… of a in alone and sofa, e in system, i in easily, o in gallop, u in circus.”

Speaking of circus, you have your full meal of English language funkiness with C sounding like K, C sounding like S, an actual S, a schwa (ə), and even one of those funky colon on its side things whenever an R takes a vowel hostage. Here’s how Dictionary.com, Merriam-Webster, American Heritage, Oxford, Collins, and MacMillan each show their pronunciations of circus:

Dictionary.com

Merriam-Webster

American HeritageOxford

Collins

Macmillan

Yes, English is a very very stupid language.

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Happy Valentine’s Day! Don’t Give Me Cooties!

no romantic dinner Restaurants, florists and jewelry shops would like to convince you that Valentine’s Day is for lovers. And that passion will grow if you just fork out a fortune at a crowded restaurant, buy a dozen long stemmed roses on the most expensive day of the year, or purchase an overpriced diamond that has a used street value that’s less than a non-Smart cell phone.

Valentine’s Day does serve that minute population of those who are newly in love – those optimistic souls who met on Match.com within the past two or three months and whose relationship is still at the stage where they lock the bathroom door when they use the toilet. For the other 99.9% who are in a relationship, Valentine’s Day is kind of a hassle – especially when it falls on a weeknight as it does this year. The rest of us are too exhausted to go out and celebrate, and if we do, we’re too sleepy and bloated to consummate the evening after a big fancy meal.

This year my husband Tom and I will do what we do every year: buy each other a funny card. He’ll make his famous jambalaya, which is tastier than any restaurant, and for a fraction of the cost. We’ll celebrate the most romantic night of the year by dining with our three children. Jake will complain that he doesn’t like it, so he’ll get a bowl of white rice. Emily the vegetarian will have a separate meatless bowl, and Mary will try to nab the last piece of garlic bread. Our meal will be served in the kitchen. There will be no candles. No romantic music. And I will do the dishes.

We have a special event this year on Valentine’s Day evening. Jake is having a Cub Scout Pack meeting. Tom and I will celebrate by giving each other a little smooch during the event, then wait for the cubs to mutter “Eeewwww! Gross!”

The demographic that really caters to Valentine’s Day are children 12 and under. They celebrate by buying Valentine’s Day cards for every member of their classroom. They’re not allowed to just bring something for the boy or girl they have a crush on. They must also deliver a card to the boy that creeps them out or the girl who’s a big tattletale. Even the kids who give other kids cooties receive cards asking “Will You Be My Valentine?” Valentine’s Day is the one day of the year when you can tell that girl who doesn’t bathe often that she’s as sweet as Snow White, and she won’t think you’re hot for her. And although boys bring cards for boys and girls bring cards for girls, that doesn’t make them gay. Although it’s ok with me if they are.

kids cards

Kids’ Valentine’s Day cards come in a huge assortment, advertising hit Pixar or Dreamworks movies and Disney or Nickelodeon tv shows, and they usually have some accompanying prize attached. This year they include Brave cards with pencils, Phineas & Ferb cards with tattoos, Star Wars cards with glow sticks, and Transformers cards with erasers. I didn’t see Family Guy valentines, which is a good thing since Jake would have chosen them and all the elementary school parents would know that I’m a bad mom for letting him watch a show that would be rated R if it was live action.

Somehow I just don’t see the romance in Transformers. What kind of wish do they give the recipient? “Have a Apocalyptic Valentine’s Day?” “Be My Disastrous Demolition Valentine?”

tween cards

For the tween set, there’s Justin Bieber with tattoos that say “I heart JB,” Twilight Breaking Dawn with stickers, and Mustache cards with tattoos (where did this big craze about mustaches come from? Charlie Chaplin? Burt Reynolds? Hitler? Fodder for another blog).

mustaches

Jake picked out the cards from the movie Madagascar 3. It features Valentine’s Day wishes combined with circus advertisements for the cast. “May Your Valentine’s Day be Just Darling” also hawks “Gloria – the World’s Most Graceful Hippo.” I doubt Jake gave any thought as to whom he should give this card. However, if I was an overweight girl, I would be terribly offended.Madagascar 3

Crafty moms make hand-cut cards and fancy treat baggies, downloading ideas from Pinterest, Etsy, and Martha Stewart. I’m not one of those moms. Even if I had time on my hands I wouldn’t be one of those moms. I’m not creative or crafty, so whenever my kids have to build a class project like a Leprechaun Trap or a Spanish mission, I pimp out my oldest daughter Emily who lives her life outside of the box.

Most of the kids tape some sort of treat to the bag, usually SweeTarts or chocolate kisses – the official candies of Valentine’s Day. I might steal the kisses from my kids, but the SweeTarts get tossed into the candy bin that holds all the Easter, Halloween, birthday piñata candy, and a lone half-sucked on Christmas candy cane.

Jake’s teacher this year is forbidding treats of any kind, which will most likely cause a riot on the playground at recess with those kids nabbing candy from the students with more lenient teachers. Jake’s Valentine’s Day card package included temporary tattoos of all the Madagascar 3 characters. I’m hoping that Jake’s teacher doesn’t classify non-edible items as treats and allows them as gifts. On the other hand, even though tattoos and stickers may be classified as non-edible items, there is a good chance that some of the kids will still try to eat them – especially if it is something of the scratch & sniff variety.

By coincidence, on Valentine’s Day this year, Dr. To (pronounced “toe”), our local pediatric dentist, is coming to all the kindergarten classes to show kids the proper way to brush (follow the link in her name. She’s Jake’s dentist and we love her!). Then on Friday she’s doing the same for the 1st grade classes. This is perfect timing, since other than the day after Halloween, the day after Valentine’s Day will be the day most likely for rampant sugar to rot baby teeth.

Although Jake’s friends possibly spend hours addressing Valentine’s Day cards (or their parents whole minutes), I’m never sure what to with all those grams after the holiday. Jake and I read them together, and before the weekend they’ll magically disappear into our recycling bin.

Isn’t that romantic?

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Monopoly’s Iron Gets Burned By a Kitten

no iron

This week, the 78-year old game of Monopoly retired its iron game piece, replacing it with a cat.

From January 8th through February 5th of this year, Monopoly’s Facebook page held a “Save Your Token” contest to choose the game piece that would be retired and the token that would replace it. Apparently a tool manufacturer and Zappos raged campaigns to protect the potentially endangered wheelbarrow and boot, but no sweatshops spoke up for the antiquated 18th century iron. The remaining pieces include the thimble, the race car, the Scottie dog, the battleship and the top hat.monopoly-token-replacement-top630

Do you see a theme with these tokens? Neither do I.

I have a bone to pick about the Monopoly tokens. As much as my siblings and I used to fight about who gets the dog or the race car, there really is no rhyme or reason as to what these pewter shapes have to do with buying hotels, mortgaging houses, or getting financially wiped out just by landing in the wrong neighborhood.thumb

So you would think if Parker Brothers was making the effort to change the pieces, they’d choose ones that had something to do with vacation spots, refis, or evil landlords.

new-monopoly-pieces-2012Nope.

The runners-up for the new game pieces included a guitar, a diamond ring, a helicopter, and a robot.

The helicopter would have been consistent with the race car and battleship modes of transportation, but it’s still a bit of a stretch for a vacationing theme.

Without a flat surface, the guitar game piece would have been awkward to keep upright, and no one but unemployed musicians would have chosen the token. On the other hand, unemployed musicians are exactly the demographic that would have time to play three-day marathons of Monopoly.luxury

The diamond ring would have been a bit redundant since Monopoly already features a picture of a diamond ring on its Luxury Tax space. And for this 1934 board game, a robot is completely incongruous. The robot might be more comfortable in a 1960’s era game like Battleship, which would be the appropriate place to send both the robot and the battleship.

I’m not surprised the cat won the honor of newest game piece. I’m picturing millions of spinsters with their apartments full of cats spending endless hours playing Monopoly with other spinster cat lovers, writing fan mail to Parker Brothers and pressing the “Like” button multiple times on Facebook as they begged for the Monopoly moguls to ditch one of the original game pieces in favor of their precious Fluffy or Snowball.

catBut Monopoly already had a dog. And now there’s a cat. The game is moving further away from a hotel stay and closer to a trip on Noah’s Ark. Before you know it, they’ll have Facebook competitions with fans voting for alligators, baboons, and giant anacondas – all critters you’d rather not see when you check into your room in Marvin Gardens.monopoly_token_thimble

It’s ironic that Parker Brothers is retiring the iron, since that seems to be the most practical piece you would find in one of Monopoly’s hotels. Would someone really pay a whopping $400 to check into Boardwalk and ask the concierge for a thimble? Obviously someone who can afford that kind of cash during the Depression could certainly pay someone to hem a pair of trousers. boardwalk+monopoly+10+x+8Would they ever have use for a wheelbarrow? Not unless they’re checking into Park Place to have an affair with the groundskeeper.

If the great minds behind Monopoly actually put some thought into it, they’d keep the iron and expand the array of playing pieces to include other items you would ordinarily see in a Barbie Dream househotel. Perhaps a bed. It could double up as a piece of furniture for Barbie’s Dream House whenever Barbie has dwarves or elves as houseguests.

Maybe Monopoly could create one of those hotel desks that offers a complimentary pen and pad of insignia paper. After all, a desk has four legs and therefore would be a good sprinter in case a player drew the card: “Go to jail. Go directly to jail. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200.”

jailMy Monopoly game would also have a Gideon Bible game token. It would be a good piece to have if you are suffering from mixed emotions because your loved one landed on one of your hotels and doesn’t have enough cash to pay up. You’re not an evil landlord. You just have land and the Lord.

Although a nice flat screen tv might be a common item in some of the more affluent hotels in the Monopoly green and blue colored neighborhoods, its thin rectangular shape might be awkward to maneuver around the board. I would suggest an old fashioned box-like tv, complete with rabbit ears. It’s probably the current model you’d find in some of the no-tell motels you’d find when landing on the $2 a night spot on Mediterranean Avenue.Mediterranean+Avenue

The final Monopoly game piece I would add for my travels from hotel to hotel would be a suitcase. It would be large enough to take home all the complimentary hotel shampoos, soaps, shower cap, and bath towels.

I was just kidding about the bath towels. Kind of.

Be prepared for the next Facebook contest to remove one of the Chance cards in favor of the this updated instruction:

“Take Trip with Cat and Pay $50 Hotel Pet Deposit.”

article-1393521-0C6047E600000578-120_964x966

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My New Year’s Resolution this Year: No More Resolutions!

No New Year's ResolutionsThere is one topic of conversation today that dominates all others: New Year’s resolutions.

Correction. For this year only, everyone’s talking about surviving the Fiscal Cliff. However, a close second is the aforementioned New Year’s resolutions.

This year I’m boycotting.

Every year on January 1st I vow to eat healthier and to exercise more. It’s one of those blood oath vows that I am 100% certain will stick. My goal is to lose 20 lbs., which is stupidly unrealistic because in order to maintain 110 lbs., I would have to live on a diet of diluted vegetable broth and run a half marathon on a daily basis. Frankly, I could care less how much I weigh as long as I lose this jiggly abdomen I’ve acquired this year and have arms strong enough to paint a ceiling without taking a break every five minutes.

I’m not going to call it a resolution. But I’m definitely doing more planks and eating less popcorn.

I also think I’m going to get more organized. It actually is a necessity because the clutter is clogging up the good stuff I can’t find. I keep meaning to make the transition from paper Day Planner to Google Calendar so the rest of the family can see what I’ve planned for them without having to decipher my chicken scratch.

Every year I hope that the coming year will be the one that gets us out of debt. This year I’m more realistic. Short of winning lotto, that’s not going to happen anytime soon. I just plan to keep what I’m doing – paying my bills on time, juggling balance transfer deals, and only buying what I absolutely need. There are a lot of folks who are too poor to even accomplish that goal, so I absolutely feel like one of the fortunate ones. Of course I still wouldn’t turn down that lotto win.

Maybe I’ll eat healthier, exercise more, get organized, and pay off some debt in 2013, but I’m not going to make a deal with the devil to do it. If I fail, I’m not going to kick myself, single-handedly devour an entire Boston cream pie, toss out my Thighmaster, haphazardly throw the contents of my entire garage into a rent-a-dumpster or run through the mall like a banshee throwing my Visa card at everything in sight.

It’s the resolution relapse that bites you in the butt every time.

When exploring a list of the most popular New Year’s resolutions, I realize that there’s a bunch that I already do. I’ve never smoked, I already quit drinking, I tell my kids and husband everyday that I love them, I volunteer, I recycle, and I already went back to school. I’d like to learn more Spanish than “¿dónde está el baño?and “con queso por favor,” but if I don’t master the language this year, I can at least practice rolling my “R’s.”

Many people put travel among their list of New Year’s resolutions. I don’t, because it would cancel out the previous paying-off-debt goal.

Some aim for a better job. I actually like my job, and my boss pays me well, but I could use some extra hours in the off-season. I can aim for that, but I’m not going to call it a resolution. It’s more like making some phone calls to see if there’s any freelance work to be had.

Wait. I already do that.

Another typical resolution is to learn something new.  If I had the time, I’d do that more often, but I figure that I’ll have plenty of time for that in the old folks’ home.

A resolution that’s popping up more these days is vowing to manage stress. I could use a little more of that one, but since my bad bout of shingles last year, I’ve really been trying to get enough sleep and not get freaked out by the things I can’t control. So I guess I’ve been sticking to that last year’s resolution. Done.

Here’s what I really want to do in 2013:

I want to write more Facebook comments.

I want to accept that other parents won’t become more courteous drivers just because I roll my eyes at them when they double park at school pick up.

I want to watch more Jon Stewart.

I want to quit obsessing over gas prices.

I want to take a bath one day.

I want to find a better hiding place to store my son’s coloring pages than the recycling bin.

I want to dye my hair before my roots are an inch long.

I want to beat my kids in a game of Apples to Apples.

I don’t want any of my blogs to be stinkers.

Sometimes I just want to do nothing.

I’m hoping to do all these things in 2013. I’m just not going to call them resolutions.

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The Happiest Place on Earth Meets the Most Crowded Place on Earth

Our family in front of Sleeping Beauty's Castle

Our family in front of Sleeping Beauty’s Castle

In 2006 when my son Jake was born I invented a fantasy about Fantasyland. My dream was that in the year 2012 we would take the whole family to Disney World. By then, Jake would be 6, Mary aged 12 and Emily would be a ripe teenager of 16. It would be the perfect storm of kid’s ages to enjoy a week of amusement parks.

IMG_3141

The family posing in a Toon Town car

Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. In my wildest dreams, short of winning lotto, there’s no way in hell that we could afford a flight to Orlando, a week-long stay at one of the Disney Resorts and 7 days at Disney’s Magic Kingdom, Hollywood Studios, Animal Kingdom, Pleasure Island, Typhoon Lagoon, and of course my favorite – Epcot. The cost would total even more than the student loan I started repaying in 2010, and I have a hard time even paying that.

Instead, we decided that in lieu of Christmas presents, this year we would spend a day at Disneyland.

Our family posing in front of the Christmas tree at Main Street

Our family posing in front of the Christmas tree at Main Street

In high school and college I worked at Disneyland’s Hungry Bear Restaurant. Although the tasks and responsibilities were exactly the same as my previous job at Carl’s Jr. (take an order, upsell a dessert, take money, hand customer a burger and fries, move on to next customer), it was a really treat to work at the Happiest Place on Earth. I wore a costume, not a uniform, I was a cast member, not an employee, and the people paying for my slightly-above-minimum-wage salary were guests, not customers. This was before Tokyo Disneyland was built, so there were huge crowds of Japanese with cameras who loved having me pose with them in photos. I used to joke that I was mounted with a magnet on every refrigerator in Japan.

The famous shot of Walt Disney with a strategically-placed Mickey Mouse

The famous shot of Walt Disney with a strategically-placed Mickey Mouse

I still love Disneyland, which is exactly 41 miles southeast of our home. Tickets are now $87 for everyone 10 and over and $81 for ages 3-9. Parking is $15. So for my family, including my mother-in-law Lina (it’s our Christmas present to her), to just get into the park, we’d have to fork out $531. If you add gas at $3.69 a gallon and my minivan, which gets 14 miles to the gallon, you can tack on another $21.61. And if you really care about that, proceed to my previous blog post ($ ÷ Gallon) x (Miles ÷ Gallon) = LA Gasoline Anxiety.

I posted a request on Facebook asking if anyone knew of any good Disneyland deals. My friend Jeanne could get $6 off each ticket with her Disney Employee discount, but I would have to pay cash, and unfortunately we just don’t have it in the bank. I ended up getting about $3 off each ticket by being a member of the TV Academy, which would end up paying for the hot chocolate everyone enjoyed at around 10:00 pm on the day of our visit.

The crowd in New Orleans Square

The crowd in New Orleans Square

We decided to go to Disneyland on the Thursday between Christmas and New Year’s because the kids were off school and Tom and Lina were off work. I knew it would be busy, but I figured we’d stay until midnight when the park closed and it would just be a given that we would be spending a lot of time waiting.

We left at 8:15 am and arrived at the parking line at 9:30 am. One thing I love about Disneyland is its efficiency. There is an actual Disneyland exit from the 5 Freeway car pool lane that takes you directly to the parking garage. The line of cars was like a championship freeway series game between the Dodgers and the Angels – times about 10. I wish I had taken a photo for proof.

2 hour wait for Space Mountain

2 hour wait for Space Mountain

We entered the gates of Disneyland at about 10:45 am. All the medium and large lockers were taken, so we crammed all our jackets into two small lockers at $7 each. Jake’s now too big for the stroller, which used to serve as a large locker; mega-size if we stashed our loot in the seat of the stroller and made him walk.

I have never in my life seen Disneyland so crowded. Everywhere we went was like a wall of people. I felt sorry for anyone in a wheelchair or someone with a stroller – especially a double stroller. They were just stranded in place, as if they’d brought along Disney’s tar baby from The Song of the South.

160 minute wait time for Indiana Jones

160 minute wait time for Indiana Jones

The must-see ride on our list was Indiana Jones, so we migrated there first. The wait time was a staggering 160 minutes, which is mind boggling since the actual Indiana Jones movies aren’t even that long. We grabbed a fast pass which would allow us a short line, but we had to use it after 5:45.

I’ve heard that the unofficial maximum capacity of this 60 acre park is 85,000, and I would swear that on Thursday that number was exceeded. The mob became so dense the Disneyland employees (I mean cast members) were recruited for crowd control. They roped off sections of New Orleans Square and directed pedestrian traffic to the right and left, with no left turns allowed. Frankly I was expecting the crowd to riot, but everyone was surprisingly well behaved.

The wait time for the Jungle Cruise has a hand-written 60 minutes. The available cards only went to 50 minutes

The wait time for the Jungle Cruise has a hand-written 60 minutes. The available cards only went to 50 minutes

The Alice in Wonderland ride had a posted wait time of 60 minutes. We had been waiting for about a half hour when the ride stopped. The loudspeaker announced that due to technical difficulties, the ride would be closed for about 20 minutes. I expected a mass exodus but no – everyone continued to wait patiently in line. I thought there would be crying babies, wining toddlers, and bitchy parents, but apparently I was the only one. The Happiest Place on Earth was magically breeding happy customers (I mean guests).

I thought the crowd would die down once the children under 10 became tired and cranky, but they ended up being replaced by teenagers who arrived in the early evening.  It didn’t start thinning out until after 10:30 at night, but even then the lines for the prime E ticket rides were over an hour.

The shortest wait time in the park - 40 minutes for the Gadget's Go Coaster in Toon Town

The shortest wait time in the park – 40 minutes for the Gadget’s Go Coaster in Toon Town

We got in line for our last ride, Star Tours, just before midnight. After getting bounced around along with C3PO and R2D2, we joined the enormous throng at 12:30 am walking down Main Street and exiting the gates of Disneyland. We waited for three trams before it was our turn to board.

We didn’t get home until a quarter of two in the morning. Tom drove, and I fell asleep the moment we got on the 5 Freeway and didn’t awaken until we got off the freeway. My husband is a prince (see proof of it in my earlier post My Husband Loves Me More Than Your Husband Loves You.”)

Lina, Jake & Mary in Toon Town

Lina, Jake & Mary in Toon Town

The entire trip including food and a souvenir for each of the kids (two caps and a mug) probably totaled about $800, a little more than we would have spent on Christmas gifts for everyone, but well worth the price of the memories.

Every one of my children stayed awake until the very end – even my 6-year old Jake who not once complained about being tired, bored, or hungry. Mary was a little annoyed that we didn’t get to ride Space Mountain which had a 50 minute wait time at 11:55 pm. No yelling. No tantrum. But she stopped holding my hand. That’s how I knew she was mad. Throughout the day, Emily kept thanking me for the wonderful Christmas present. And of all the possible souvenirs she was able to pick out, the only thing she wanted was a Pirates mug.

I love my kids. Wherever I am, if my children are with me, that’s the Happiest Place on Earth.

The unhappiest place at the Happiest Place on Earth - the smoking area

The unhappiest place at the Happiest Place on Earth – the smoking area

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What’s the Statute of Limitations on Mailing Christmas Cards?

2012 Christmas CardSome say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If that is the case, then Christmas cards officially drive me insane.

Every year I swear that I’m starting the process early enough to finally get those cards in the mail well before Christmas, and yet here I am again this year, dragging my big bag of stamped cards to the post office the day after Christmas and glancing sheepishly at the postal workers who thought their busy season had ended. As everyone knows, the last thing you ever want to do is piss off a postal worker.

For years we hired my friend Laura Wagner to take family photos (follow her link if you want a great photographer). If I were a smart gal, the moment I finished a photo session, I would book another session with her for the following year, much like I schedule a dentist appointment for 6 months after I’m packing up my complimentary toothbrush and dental floss. Instead, my family’s entire December gets completely booked, and we don’t have a common two hours of daylight to get everyone together with the goal of taking a family photo.

My friend and neighbor Gina has a good camera, so one weeknight in mid-December we asked her 16-year old son Jet to come by to take a few shots and give us the memory card. Unfortunately, I didn’t investigate the shot before he left. The framing was much too wide and seemed to warrant the caption: “Cathy’s cramped living room and a few indiscernible heads in the far left corner.” My daughter Emily was perched in the back and her head was about a ½ inch tall, while Spike, our Australian shepherd was in the foreground and looked big enough to sit on the entire family in one squat. Even if I did want the photo, for some reason my computer kept seeing the shots as an unrecognizable format and refused to download them.

For round 2, I dragged over a piece of furniture and used it as a tripod as I set the timer on my camera. I should mention that my family was not happy that there was a round 2. The prospect of unblinkingly grinning for yet another round of red eye flashes was not something that would force a natural smile. Tom had a death lock hold on the two big dogs, while Mary’s little dog Bella kept squirming from her grip and chasing me to the camera. Emily was obviously not smiling and getting more and more upset each time I told her so. Jake was making goofy faces, and Mary kept whining for the whole ordeal to be over. After about a half dozen shots that were all stinkers, I went into Crazy Mom Mode and shouted, “I don’t ask for a lot, but this was important to me, dammit!!!”

I stomped off to the bedroom, fantasizing about leaving my family forever and moving to a small Midwest town to live an anonymous child-free life, where no one would know me or expect a Christmas photo from my seemingly happy family whose guts I now hated – and vice versa.

A couple minutes later, Tom knocked on the door and told me that everyone was ready to take the picture. I was pretty embarrassed about my behavior. I would like to say “needless to say,” but obviously it wasn’t needless to say. I apologized for throwing a tantrum like a 4-year old and started round 3 as I proceeded to take the best family photo I could with my standard consumer Nikon camera.

Not one shot was worth mass-producing. Heads were turned, human faces were buried by dog snouts, and I realized that Emily’s lipstick was too red. I would have been willing to use a bad photo as a blooper, but there weren’t any with everyone in the shot. We were all completely burnt out from the ordeal of taking a family photo, so we decided to take another photo the next time we could get everyone together and in a good mood.

Two nights later we tried again.

The shot still sucked. Sure, everyone was framed well, and they were all smiling, and their eyes were open and they were looking at the camera, but it’s still a standard consumer camera in less than ideal lighting, while my friend Laura Wagner has years of practice and training and big bucks spent on great cameras and lighting equipment. Also, the red eye worked on Spike’s blue eyes, but Jasmine’s (our German shepherd) brown eyes were glowing green like some kind of horror film. I tried to smudge it out with the iPhoto touch up tool, but then she just looked freaky in a different way.

All the flaws of the photo were made more apparent blown up in a 6” x 8” card, so I created a Costco photo montage where it was shrunk down to a 1-3/4” x 3” shot along side photos of Emily shooting a bow and arrow, Mary with her new little dog, Jake with his Student of the Month certificate, the kids at a Dodger game, Tom and Jake in their Cub Scout uniforms, and me with Jake at his school’s Rockin’ for Colfax concert – a great photo taken by Colfax’s premiere photographer Grettel Cortes (follow her link for her fabulous photographic abilities).

So why did it take until December 27th to get the cards in the mail? A combination of whittling down my 2000+ word first draft letter, and addressing and stamping a boatload of cards.

Thankfully they are now all in the mail. It’s a very good thing I ordered the “Happy Holidays” cards rather than the “Merry Christmas.”

If there’s any lesson to be learned, I will give Laura or Grettel a call in January and book them for sometime before December 2013.

Either that, or just scrap the “Happy Holidays” theme and wish everyone a Happy Valentine’s Day. Hopefully I can get those cards in the mail before mid February.

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Filed under Anxiety, Family, Holidays, Humor, Husband, Kids

12/12/12 @ 12:12:12

VVBM 12:12:12I have just accomplished the most amazing feat that will probably ever occur in the lifetimes of everyone on this planet.

I have successfully uploaded this blog on 12/12/12 at 12:12:12. And I did it manually.

This is the last repeating number of the century. The next time I or anyone else will have a chance to do this will be on January 1, 2101 at 1:01:01 am.images

It’s unlikely that I’ll be doing this again because by 1/1/2101 I will be 138 years old. And if by some miracle I happen to live that long and have enough wits to actually draft a blog, it’s highly unlikely that I will stay up until 1 o’clock in the morning to post it. Automation doesn’t count. If it did, I’d program a blog right now for that time. Of course, by then blogs will be interactive holograms with embedded 4-D advertising, automatically deducting the cost of their products from your bank cloud account. And everyone in the entire universe will be automatically uploading their own holograms on 1/1/01 at 1:01:01, so it won’t be the big deal it is today.

121212kI suppose that my 6-year old son Jake could do it. He’d be 94 years old on the next repeating date. If by chance he was able to actually write a coherent blog, his post would run rampant with words like “fart,” “poop,” and “ burp.” He’d have to ditch school before noon in order to manually post his blog, which would be against many more rules than the arbitrary ones I came up with.

So yes… The Last Manually Posted Blog on the Final Repeating Number of the Century Award goes to yours truly.

Somehow, just by saying that out loud, the award has lost its appeal.

Screen shot 2012-12-12 at 9.52.44 AMLet’s get back to 12/12/12 at 12:12:12.

I’ve always been fond of the number 12. I think it’s fortuitous that there should be 12 months and 12 hours on a clock. “17/17/17 at 17:17:17” just doesn’t have the same ring to it. And doubling 17 instead of 12 creates a 34 hour day, which would be absolutely unbearable – that is unless a nap was required in the middle of the day.

Screen shot 2012-12-12 at 9.51.11 AMI suppose you can call me a dozenphile, if there is such a word. I wish I could say that the number 12 has always been my lucky number, but since I’ve never won more than $11 at lotto, I’ll just say that it’s my favorite number.  Whether I’m asked to pick a number in my head or bet on a roulette wheel, 12 is the winner, even if I don’t win. If I ever played sports, I would want the number 12 on my back. Even if I don’t play sports, a number 12 jersey might be a good Christmas gift. Hint hint.

12-12-12-1I don’t have any good reason for enjoying the number 12 above all others like the lucky 7 or the ubiquitous number 3. My 12th year of age was by far my geekiest (glasses, braces, pimples, and more freckles than white pigment), and one I would never want to repeat. I am thrilled that I wasn’t cursed with 12 fingers or an IQ of 12. Even though it’s my favorite number, God help me if I ever decided to have 12 children.

I probably prefer the number 12 because there so many things associated with it:images-1

  • 12 Apostles
  • 12 months in a year
  • 12 hours on a clock
  • 12 inches in a foot
  • 12 donuts in a dozen
  • 12 dozen in a gross
  • 12 zodiac signs
  • 12 jurors in a trial
  • 12 cards of each suit
  • 12 grades in school
  • 12 steps and 12 traditions of Alcoholics Anonymous

National Sound CheckThere are the movies 12 Angry Men, Cheaper By the Dozen, 12 Monkeys, and The Dirty Dozen. I don’t count Ocean’s 12. It was hard enough in the original Ocean’s 11 to remember the roles of 11 main characters, and whenever they increase the Ocean franchise, they add another character. Of course I will always want to see eye candy like George Clooney or Brad Pitt, so unless they want to introduce another memorable and hunky yet humorous actor (say, Bradley Cooper) in Ocean’s 67, the number attached to it will be a blur.

12/12/12 is gone!

12/12/12 is gone!

There’s one more association with the number 12 that is especially appropriate: 12 Days of Christmas. Coincidentally, that particular countdown begins tomorrow, so in honor of the season, I will be writing a new blog each day spoofing a different traditional Christmas song. I should warn you that there’s a large probability that it will be crass, dirty, disgusting, or politically incorrect. So if you cry at the fat man’s misfortune during Santa Got Run Over By a Reindeer or want to write a letter of protest over the infidelity of I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, I encourage you to tune back into my blog sometime after December 26th.

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Filed under Holidays, Humor

Mary Had a Little Dog ♪♫•*¨*•.¸¸♥

My husband Tom is a huge animal lover. In his early 20’s he worked for a veterinarian tending to beloved sick and wounded pets, and later he was employed at the Wildlife Way Station caring for wild animals that had been abandoned in the city. He tells a very funny story about how he survived the low pay by eating Monkey Chow.  Maybe one day he’ll write about it in his blog Middle Age Metal Head.

Like Indiana Jones, he’s not terribly fond of snakes, but with the exception of his lukewarm enthusiasm for that not-warm reptile, Tom loves all God’s creatures except for one: little dogs. He really hates them.

His disdain for these small fluffy balls of joy came into conflict with the desire of my daughter Mary who’s been pining for a little dog for years. We currently have two dogs – a German Shepherd named Jasmine, and an Australian Shepherd called Spike. They weigh in at 65 and 55 lbs. respectively, and although they’re nowhere near the size of Great Danes or St. Bernards, they are sizeable dogs that could scare away any home invasion.

Although I was raised with mid-sized mutts, my siblings and their kids today are primarily adopting purebred miniatures. And unlike the dogs of our childhood who were secluded to the yard, the house, or the foot of our bed, these doggies accompany their masters everywhere. My niece Kattie is planning to have her Mini Yorkshire Toby serve as the ring bearer at her wedding. Just like in the G/PG movies, my sister Tammie used to sneak her Maltese around in her purse wherever she went, except for at home when Lacey would live in her cleavage. Lacey passed away recently, which was very sad. I know my sister loves me more than almost anything in the world, but I feel fairly certain that she cried over Lacey much longer than she’ll ever cry over my death.

Mary loves to go to her Aunt Tammie’s house. My sister has a huge yard with several dogs of all sizes and even though three of her four kids are grown and have moved out of the house, Tammie’s constantly babysitting their basset hounds or boxers. It’s always so heartbreaking if one of them has puppies. Mary begs and pleads to take one home, but Tom has been insistent. He calls them “rat dogs,” and says that the whole collection of toy dogs at Tammie’s house wouldn’t weigh as much as one of our dogs. I’m not sure why that matters, but it seems to really irk him.

But Mary has been persistent. This week she turned 12, and she has been begging for a small dog for her birthday. Tom started to cave a little and suggested that she start feeding, watering and walking our dogs and cleaning up the poop in the yard. He thought Mary might whine a bit, but she didn’t. She scooped up those stinky piles with gusto. Tom reluctantly agreed to a home invasion from a little rat dog.

Mary started looking online at the pet adoption sites, studying the little orphan’s names and preferences (Captain likes to catch balls; Tiny enjoys having her tummy rubbed), and of course breeds (Chihuahuas and Poodles not allowed – a hard limit for Tom). Tom originally demanded that the dog must be at least 20 lbs., which to Mary and me seemed like a medium-sized dog. I figured that any dog that could fit into Pampers Cruisers Diapers would definitely not be classified as “little.” But we wore him down, and Mary searched for pups that were Pampers Size 1 and 2.

Every day she asked if she could go after school and find her new dog, but I was swamped with work and kept postponing it. I finally told her when she was off school for Veteran’s Day that Tom would take her. She couldn’t have been more excited had it been her own birthday. Unfortunately, it turned out that the shelters were closed for the holiday and she wouldn’t be getting one after all. She came home and cried, which meant that she was really, REALLY heartbroken because it takes a lot to make that girl cry.

I told her we’d go the week of Thanksgiving while she was off school, and she couldn’t wait for the day. She had her eye on a Terrier named Samantha at the Burbank Animal Shelter. I bought her a dog bed from Costco, and we drove over to see if Samantha could possibly be the pup that would be her new best friend.

However, the shelter had some stipulations. We had to come back with the whole family to see how Samantha got along with everyone – a nearly impossible task since everyone always has something going on, and the shelter closes each day at 5:00. We were also to bring Spike and Jasmine along to see what they thought of her, probably to make sure they wouldn’t immediately swallow the little dog whole. If it was a good fit for everyone, then we had to schedule an appointment for the next week to get her spayed. After that, we might be able to take her home.

It was truly amazing the number of hoops we were going to have to jump through to adopt a dog that was already on death row.

The next day was Mary’s actual 12th birthday. I still had too much work to take a break, but Mary really, really, REALLY wanted a little dog, so I shoe horned a couple of hours by bending the laws of time – a superpower I try not to overuse. I called the Van Nuys Animal Shelter to find out if they had the same rules as Burbank.

“So even if we find a dog we like, we can’t take it home until we can get the whole family here, right?”

There was a pause on the other line. “No. Why do you need the whole family?”

“But do you still need us to bring our dogs there?” I asked.

Another pause. Then very slowly: “We don’t want your dogs here.”

An hour later, we were taking home Bella, an adorable 1-year old terrier mix weighing in at a dainty 8 lbs. Because her shots were up to date and she had already been spayed, the dog was ready to roll.

Despite himself, I think Tom really likes her. He’s nicknamed Bella “Little Turd,” and she even comes when he calls her. Bella holds her own with our big dogs, and if you ask Mary how she likes her new dog, her voice turns sweet as honey. “I love her,” she swoons. Which has inspired me to write this little ditty:

Mary had a little dog.

Its cheeks were white as snow.

And everywhere that Mary went.

The dog was sure to go.

Obviously, we’re now working on potty training.

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Filed under Anxiety, Family, Humor, Husband, Kids, Parenting, Pets

For “Giving Tuesday,” Can I Give Back All My Free Address Labels?

Black Friday – the biggest shopping day of the year for the brick & mortar establishments – is followed three days later by Cyber Monday – the most popular online shopping day. And since you already have your credit cards out and are floating on that high that only comes from the combination of spending a lot of money and getting a really great deal, some brilliant philanthropists (and of course some savvy marketers) came up with today’s Giving Tuesday. They figure that we have one day for giving thanks and two for getting deals, so why not balance it out and create another day for giving back? And by “giving back,” they don’t mean the return line at Wal-Mart after you’ve developed buyer’s remorse.

I think Giving Tuesday is a great idea and I hope it catches on like wildfire. Especially for those people who don’t really think about charities until the end of the year tax write-off, I think it’s a wonderful way to initiate the recognition of worthy charities and hopefully start instilling a desire to help those in need, without expecting a fancy meal and a door prize in return.

Even though I completely encourage Giving Tuesday, today won’t necessarily be a special day for me. I try to be a giver year-round, not just on some new cyber-Hallmark holiday akin to Secretary’s Day. My kids will probably joke that I like to give them crap (although they wouldn’t actually the word “crap” or I’d really give them crap), but I wouldn’t hesitate a second to donate a kidney, a lung, or even half a brain if I could spare it. I enjoy volunteering my time in the community, and I even get a kick out of donating blood. And I don’t do it for the free carbs and a sticker.

I’ve never had a garage sale. I prefer to donate my gently-used items to charities, although one organization that I’ll just call Charity-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named came to pick up my bags of goods one day and instead left a note that said “Landfills are expensive.” Apparently the jacket good enough for me to wear the day before was unfit for a homeless person living in a box on a freeway offramp.

Ever since I started making enough money to eat something more extravagant than air-popped popcorn and off-brand macaroni and cheese, I’ve been giving to charities. Whether it was a Girl Scout selling over-priced cookies outside the market, a friend participating in a walk, jog, run or jump-a-thon, or some tear-jerker infomercial, my checkbook was always out. In the early 1990’s I was doing quite well financially and probably donated to 40 different charities annually. I’d send $25 to anything that came in the mail and more if the request was solicited by a friend.

But for the past few years we have been in financial dire straits, and I now have to be more choosey about charities.

The problem is, like pesky gum on your shoe that you just can’t scrape off, I seem to be in these charity databases for life. To them I’m still a potential donor left over from previous flush years, and I still might have sympathy and disposable income left to burn.

They don’t just send a form letter. What really irks me are the gilt-ridden gifts I don’t need or ask for that are smuggled along with the letter. I receive glossy photos of a malnourished child in Africa, a sad-eyed pup that’s about to be euthanized, or baby seals stuck in muck. They send calendars filled with 12 months of those plighted children, puppies, and baby seals. I get incredibly cheap-looking Christmas or greeting cards that I just pass on to some other charity. And if I had a dime for every time I got a dime from the March of Dimes… wait! I do have a lot of dimes!

Even though they may be attempting to stretch that donated dollar as tightly as possible by paying bargain basement prices on these presents, I’m concerned that they might be manufacturing these gifts in 3rd World Countries with the same horrible conditions they’re hoping to wipe out from the lives of plighted children, puppies, and baby seals.

But the most prevalent gifts are the ubiquitous address labels. I have probably received a billion of them in a variety of “Miss,” “Ms.” and “Mrs.,” “Cathy” or “Catherine,” and even some with the married names I never took.

Even though I didn’t ask for them, I’ll keep the labels and these days I probably won’t end up donating to their charity. I used to feel guilty about it, but it’s not like anyone else has any use for them. I can’t fill up a donation box of “Cathy Flynn – Valley Village, CA” labels for Charity-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named and hope that Mr. Homeless Man in a Box can find them constructive, with the exception of using them to tape up leaky holes in his habitat.

I like to use the labels for as my contact information on charity raffle tickets rather than handwrite the same lines 100 times. The money may not be going to the optimistic organization that printed and mailed those address labels, but at least it’s still going to a good cause.

Two weeks ago I donated about 20 bags of clothing to the Superstorm Sandy victims, and then gave literally a truckload of household items to our local public middle school during their Goodwill drive. We have a monthly credit card payment to our public elementary school as well as my local public radio station since I’d be a complete thief to listen to NPR as often as I do without paying something for it. And since I don’t really know today how I’m going to pay for those credit card charges next month, I’m praying that even if I’m a contributor this year, it won’t tip me over the financial cliff so far that I’ll be one of those charity recipients next year.

I guess the bright side is – if we lose the house I won’t need to worry about what to do with all those return address labels. I doubt those charities will be able to find me at my new home next door to the Homeless Guy in a Box.

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Filed under Anxiety, Debt, Financial Insecurity, Fundraising, Humor, Public Schools, Volunteering

This Black Friday I Got Everything I Wanted

At 4:00 on Thanksgiving afternoon, while the Black Friday shoppers were obsessively pouring through their newspaper ads searching for the best doorbuster deals of 2012, I was sitting down to a delicious turkey dinner perfectly prepared by my gourmet husband and eating, laughing, and shooting the breeze with 22 members of my family who I love and adore.

At 6:00 on Thanksgiving evening, while the Black Friday shoppers were mapping out their strategies on how to attack each superstore as it opened so they could scoop up the best toy or electronic product before they ran out of stock, my family and I were entertained by my 12-year old daughter who serenaded us with her beautiful voice and a Dixie cup, imitating Lulu and the Lampshade’s viral video You’re Gonna Miss Me When I’m Gone.

At 8:00 on Thanksgiving evening, as Wal-Marts and Sears were opening their doors historically early, Black Friday shoppers were racing to buy $688 Vizio 60” LED Smart TVs and $39.99 Nook Simple Touches, just as I was lounging on the sofa, savoring pecan pie and watching the last two hours of one of my all-time favorite movies – Gone With the Wind – with my mom & stepdad who were staying with us over the holiday.

At 10:00 pm on Thanksgiving evening, while the Black Friday shoppers were waiting in line at Target to purchase their Xbox 360 4gb Kinect Bundles for $199.99 and Nikon L310 digital cameras for $99.99, I was cuddling next to my 16-year old daughter and her laptop, watching BBC’s Sherlock – a show she’s been dying to share with me for months.

At midnight, while Black Friday shoppers were impatiently waiting for Best Buy to open their doors so they could nab the Complete 5th Season of Big Bang Theory for just $8.99, I was crawling into bed and spent an insanely long time staring at my beautiful 6-year cherub son who, because of our houseguests, was peacefully sleeping in our bed for the evening.

At 6:00 in the morning, as Black Friday shoppers at a Sacramento K-Mart were rushing to buy half price Christmas trees, a man shouted “Calm the f**k down! Push one of my kids and I will stab one of you motherf**kers!” In the meantime, I experienced the rare luxury of sleeping in late on a Friday.

At noon, as Black Friday shoppers were driving to Sears to purchase their 32″ LCD HDTVs, for just $97, I started an 8-hours stint of raking and weeding our unruly backyard – a chore I hadn’t found time to do since this summer.

At 8:00 pm, as Black Friday shoppers were stuffing their Old Navy, Kohl’s, Gap, and other half-off clothing from the mall into their last few square inches of trunk space, I put away the garden tools, wrestled a bit with our dogs, took a long hot shower, dished out a slice of leftover pie, and sat down with my husband to watch episodes of The Good Wife and Covert Affairs that had been recorded weeks ago.

At 11:00 pm, as Black Friday shoppers were unpacking the last of their loot and adding up how much damage had been wrecked on their credit cards, I crawled into bed, read for a few minutes on my first generation iPad, and drifted off to sleep giving thanks that I truly have a wonderful life.

This Black Friday I got everything I wanted, and it didn’t cost me a dime. What I wanted was time – time with my family, time to myself, time to sleep in, time to sit back and watch a little tv, and time to do absolutely nothing. It’s a luxury I can’t usually afford.

Today I give thanks for the time (Friday), and the time (moments) after Thanksgiving.

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Filed under Family, Holidays, Humor, Kids