Category Archives: Debt

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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Filed under Anxiety, Career, Debt, Family, Financial Insecurity, Holidays, Humor, Husband, Illness, Kids, Parenting

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.

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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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Filed under Debt, Family, Holidays, Humor, Husband, Kids, Vacation

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

I’m a Half Century Old Today!

I got my AARP card in the mail this week. For those of you who have been living in a Forever 21 store or in front of the Jersey Shore all your short lives, AARP is the advocacy group promoting issues like Social Security, retirement benefits, and other concerns of Americans who are considered to be past their prime. Typical AARP members might include Betty White and Clint Eastwood, although if he were a spokesperson, Clint probably would have been dropped after his recent RNC rambling stint. However, 90-year old Betty White should be promoted to Queen AARP due to her witty Facebook response: “Is Clint talking to a chair?” A full 20 years after the cancellation of The Golden Girls, Betty’s still got it.

AARP used to be known as the American Association of Retired Persons, but is now an acronym without a title of origin, even though it is officially pronounced “ay ay ar pee” instead of “aaaarp,” which would sound like the bark of a small yapper dog, which coincidentally the majority of AARP members probably keep as their companions.

My kids are 5, 11, and 16 years old, and to them, 50 must seem absolutely ancient. By the time my mom was 50, she already had seven grandchildren – two who were older than my son is today. I was born before the Kennedy assassination, 7 years before the first moon walk, before most Americans had color tvs, before the Beatles released their first single, and 8 years before Republican Vice President Paul Ryan candidate was born. I share the 1962 birth year with Tom Cruise, Jon Stewart, Jim Carrey, Demi Moore, Steve Carell, Jodie Foster, Axl Rose, Garth Brooks, Eddie Izzard, Sheryl Crow, Jon Bon Jovi, Matthew Broderick, Rosie O’Donnell, MC Hammer, Emilio Estevez, Craig Ferguson, Bobcat Goldwait, John Slattery, Craig Kilborn, Joan Cusack, Kelly Preston, Flea, Felicity Huffman, and Ralph Fiennes.

1962 was a very fruitful year.

I have “1962” in my email address. I once had someone ask if that was the year I was born. I nonchalantly answered that it was.

“That’s awfully brave of you,” she answered.

No, I didn’t hit her. And I only thought about crying for a second.

When I told people that I had a milestone birthday coming up, many of them would try to flatter me.

“You’re turning 29!”

God, I never want to see 29 again. Back then I was in a horrible relationship, had zero self-esteem, and no life beyond work. It’s a good thing I didn’t end it all in desperation. I never would have known that my best years were still to come.

At 50, I have a full life – a little too full most of the time – but one that I wouldn’t trade for the world. I have a husband who always makes me laugh, three terrific kids who make my life worth living, a close-knit family I adore, a wide group of loving friends, a home that I appreciate, good health, a job that pays be a decent living and allows me to work from home where I have the freedom to choose my schedule, rewarding volunteer opportunities, a brain that still works most of the time, and I have this blog where I can try to be the funny that I have trouble being in person.

I don’t like my jiggly arms, varicose veins, grey roots, and recent vertical lines that are wrapping around my mouth. But I do like my smile lines, my red root rescue dyes, my thicker skin (metaphorically) and the wisdom that I’ve gained and still acquire more of every day.

I say 50 is the new 30.

Thankfully I’m not alone in having kids later in life, and most of us older moms can keep up with those younger mothers any day of the week. I’m not as frazzled and emotionally unstable as I would have been 20 years ago. And although I definitely was in a better boat financially, I don’t mind sharing my paycheck with my family. Balance transfers and a decent credit score keep the roof over our heads, our bills up to date, and our bellies more than full.

Realistically, I will probably never retire. Between my recent student loans, the debt equal to the GDP of a small nation that my husband has amassed by pursuing his Ph.D., and the inevitable college tuition bills of my three children, I will be paying off student loans until I’m dead. I don’t mind. I like being productive, and if there’s a choice between cutting lip smacks from the main characters of Once Upon a Time (or whatever show I land on after its hopefully 20-year run) or playing golf and bingo all day, I would choose the job.

Here is the Happy Birthday post I put on all my friends’ birthdays on Facebook. I don’t know who I stole it from, but if it’s you, I thank you for it. And now I share it with the rest of my readers for you to cut and paste on your own friends’ pages:

♪♫•*¨*•.¸¸♥ ¸¸•♫♪ hApPy bIrthDaY to you ♪♫•*•.¸¸♥ ¸¸.•*♫♪hApPy bIrthDaY to you ♪♫•*¨*•.¸¸♥ ¸¸.•*¨*•♫♪♥ ♥ ♥hApPy bIrthDaY dEar cAtHy •*¨*•♫♪hApPy bIrthDaY to you ♪♫•*¨*•.¸¸♥ ¸¸.•*¨*•♫♪ xo

… and many more!

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Filed under Debt, Family, Financial Insecurity, Friends, Humor, Husband, Kids, Parenting

Very VERY Busy Stagnation

During the summer when I’m on hiatus from work and the kids are off school, the world is my oyster and the possibilities are endless. I wake up in the morning excited about my choices for the day. Should I clean out my closet? The kids’ rooms? The garage? The pantry? Weed the side yard? Trim the trees? Plant grass seed in the bare spots? Read a book? Update my address book? Hike? Go to Pilates? Take the kids to the beach? To the park? Write a blog or shoot a vlog? Sort through emails? Juggle the bills?

Where do I start?

I start them all.

I started gutting the kids’ room, but now the living room is filled with donation bags and their room looks like the Wicked Witch of the West flew through it.

I started sorting through CDs, but I’m halfway done, so there’s still a pile on the living room floor. “Blues?” “Alternative?” “Heavy Metal?” I’m mainstream rock so I have to ask Tom about his categories.

I started cleaning out my closet, so now I have a pile of too-big-or-too-small clothes and hangers on my bed.

I started putting in a landscape border for plants, but the border is still stretched across the driveway.

I started going to Pilates, but I didn’t stay for the optional final stretching because I had too much to do at home.

I started weeding through emails, but I’ve only made a dent.

I started writing about a dozen different blogs but didn’t post any in the past two weeks.

I’ve started three dozen things, but I haven’t finished anything.

I am so completely overwhelmed, my completion rate has become stagnant. If I have a choice in time management, I end up running around like a chicken with its head cut off.

Someone should cut off my head.

My husband tells me to breathe. I’m trying to meditate, but my mind keeps wandering back to my to-do list.

Yesterday I was determined to finish the half-done things and today I finally reached a turning point.

I’ve finished my first blog post in two weeks (this one).

The kids’ room is clean, the donation bags are banished to the patio, and the CDs have been sorted and alphabetized. The grass seed is planted. I’ve deleted a ton of emails and only have 2975 to go. I’ve put about a thousand miles on my new minivan transporting the kids from one summer activity to another, so my mom points are back in the black.

I’m on a roll. The rest of my tasks are coming along.

I’m done hyperventilating.

Just in time to get ready to go back to work.

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Filed under Anxiety, Debt, Family, Humor, Husband, Kids, Multitasking, Parenting

Playing Whack-a-Mole with 0% Balance Transfer Promotions

There was a time when I was floating near the top of the other 99%. My student loans were paid off. Other than my mortgage, I had no debts. My credit score was just short of 800, and I could stroll into nearly any shop or restaurant and charge it, then pay the full price 25 days later without ever giving it a thought.

Then I had kids. A divorce. Studios started paying tv sound editors five days of pay per show instead of six. The television season shrunk and fewer union films were being made. Overtime dried up. I remarried, and we bought a fixer upper near the top of the market and took out a second mortgage at the peak to start repairs. I went back to school for a second master’s degree while my new husband earned his MBA and started on his PhD. We had a baby. A year later, the writers’ strike brought the entertainment industry to its knees. And then the final nail in the coffin: the housing bubble burst.

It all sounds like some bad made-for-tv movie from the 1970’s, but instead of being a woman in peril running from my wife-beating husband or recreational drugs gone bad, I was trying to escape from something much more sinister: the flailing American economy.

Although our home hasn’t drowned completely underwater, it’s basically bobbing in the sea like a buoy. If I was Noah, those animals would already be picking bunkmates.

Our savings ran out. So did the second mortgage. But with our great credit score, we started seriously considering the offers that we used to throw away along with craft catalogs and obscure charity labels.

Receive 0% Introductory APR on purchases and balance transfers for one year.

It was like free money – almost. We just paid a 3% fee and we could postpone the bills. Certainly we could pay it off within a year. We signed our John Hancocks and slept like babies.

And then the roof caved in… literally. We replaced the 80-year old pipes and windows, but the funds ran out before we got to the Spanish tile roof. Each winter the tarp over our house grew bigger until we had a 1700 square foot sail strapped over our entire roof billowing against the wind, ready to make our home airborne as if we were Dorothy flying over Kansas. Tiles were flying like exploding landmines and this back burner fix suddenly became a front burner emergency.

We took advantage of three different credit card offers to come up with $11,700. And within months we were robbing Peter to pay Paul – taking out one balance transfer deal to pay off the balance of the one the year before.

Accumulated stress caused me to have a serious case of shingles to my head and eye and landed me in the hospital for nine days last November. The hospital and doctor bills came to over 100 grand. Insurance paid for most of it, but we were still responsible for about $3,000. I also missed weeks of work in an industry that doesn’t offer sick pay.

Needless to say, we have been taking huge austerity measures these past few years. We rarely eat out. The only movies I go to are at the TV Academy where I’m a member. We shop at thrift stores, and only when we absolutely need something. The Eurozone would be proud.

In the past few years I have become quite adept at the balance transfer jugging act. I have billpayer and autopay paying more than the minimum amount each month and I’ve created fluorescent notes reminding myself to have the balance paid before the interest goes into mafia amounts.

We had two cards doing just that in mid and late July. So on June 24th I applied for yet another balance transfer, and this one had an even better deal – no balance transfer fee.

As the day got closer, I started calling the automated operator of the credit card cards being paid off to make sure the transfer was made.

It wasn’t.

Because it was under Tom’s name, they wouldn’t talk to me – the lowly wife – so I had him call. He was told that they were still considering the request.

Considering a request? This card loves us! We did the dance with them two years ago, paid off the balance, and didn’t touch the card for a year. We had available credit of over ten grand.

I was starting to sweat. I juggled some bills, got some temporary advance cash and had funds covered the day the big interested was to start. We had another 3 grand due for this card the next month so there wouldn’t be any need to stop the payment.

Phew!

In the meantime, I kept calling the second big interest card, but that one still hadn’t gone through. I bugged Tom to call them again.

It turns out that we were denied.

What? Why?

Because we already had an account.

Duh!

Apparently the credit card company thought they were sending the offer out to some random Joe who had no credit history with them at all. Since we already had an account, we weren’t eligible.

That’s like offering a homeless guy on the freeway off ramp your leftover McDonald’s fries, but when you discover that it’s your next door neighbor you nab the greasy bag back.

I’m not by nature pushy, but I suddenly became the cartoon wife with the rolling pin in her hand, demanding that her husband fix this or else.

Tom convinced the credit card to give us the deal… almost. They wouldn’t give us the free fee. But it’s only 1%, which is $100 cheaper than the standard 3%.

So now we continue with our game of financial whack-a-mole. I start back to work in September, and we’ll continue paying down our huge accumulated chunk of debt.

Now I know what it’s like to be Greece.

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Filed under Anxiety, Debt, Financial Insecurity, Humor, Husband

It’s My Fundraiser and I’ll Cry if I Want To

I love our school. We’ve been going to Colfax Charter Elementary School since Emily enrolled in kindergarten in 2001, and since then I have accumulated literally hundreds of friends who are in my iPhone contact list – most whom I am happy to say are probably not dodging my call.

I’m on the Restaurant Committee, which is the team that lines up monthly fundraisers at local restaurants that give our school 20 – 30% back. We publicize the event on our marquee, on Facebook and Twitter, in an email blast, and by putting flyers in the kids’ backpacks.

These events take place during the school year, but recently I suggested that we try our hand at summer fundraisers as well. With the exception of flyers in the backpacks, we could publicize the events every other way, and instead of a monthly event, we could make them bi-weekly since the kids and parents will certainly miss each other and want to have a mass gathering.

The first fundraiser of the summer was yesterday at California Pizza Kitchen. Our last CPK event at the beginning of the 2011-12 school year brought in over $800 in profits for our school, so I was anticipating more of the same.

All three of the other current members of the Restaurant Committee were out of town, so I did all the typical social media posts and then shared them on my Facebook page:

 I’m going at 5:00 today. Who wants to join me?

I sent emails to everyone who was in Jake’s kindergarten class, and any other kindergartners who were in my address book, and even though it’s been a year since Mary moved on to middle school, I invited all her friends as well.

As I picked up Mary from drama camp in the Colfax auditorium I shouted out for everyone to join as for dinner at CPK at 5:00. I did the same when I picked up Jake from Colfax’s Farm Week Summer Camp.

Right before we left for dinner, I looked at my Facebook post to see how many Likes, Comments or Shares I had for the gathering.

Not a one. Nada. Zip. Bupkis.

Colfax’s Facebook page had one Share: Mine.

Usually at least someone would have given me a half-hearted Like, which might be something in between a 🙂 and a 😦 – maybe like a :/, but then that would have required a Comment, and as I just said, there was nothing. This post was in Facebook Wasteland.

The lack of comments to my post truly reeked of disinterest, as if I had suggested something duller than my kitchen steak knives:

Who wants to join me for my annual dusting of the ceiling fans?

Who wants to join me in the heart of a Sig Alert?

Who wants to join me at the DMV?

At least these posts might have sparked a laughing  :-)) or ;) winkingwinking 😉 response.

Undaunted, I forged ahead with my dinner plans. Mary, Jake and I arrived at 5:15, just to add a little time for possible latecomers. Unlike last fall’s CPK fundraiser, there was no long line of cars waiting to be parked from CPK’s complimentary valet. There was no crowd of four dozen people outside waiting to get a table. And as we walked in, there were customers at only three tables, and I didn’t recognize a one.

I thought of walking away without buying anything. We actually don’t have the luxury of eating out in our budget. The bill just gets tacked on to the credit card we won’t have the money to pay off until I start back to work on Season 2 of Once Upon a Time next September, and September is still a long way off.

But CPK only offers free valet parking if you get validated, and you can’t really get a validation if you don’t buy anything. Also, since I’m on the Restaurant Committee and the only member in town who could participate, I’d be a hypocrite to walk away without buying something.

I decided to get the food to go since I was going to get something for Tom anyway. Fortunately Emily’s a vegetarian who doesn’t eat wheat or dairy. I’d just tell her the whole menu would give her the trots.

I ordered a kid’s mac & cheese for Jake, kung pao pasta for Tom and jambalaya pasta for myself, and the portions had better be enough to split it for lunch tomorrow, dammit!

Mary wanted pizza AND salad, and I nearly choked. That girl always has champagne tastes with our beer budget, or since Tom and I don’t drink, it’s kind of like Dollar Tree apple juice vs. Martinelli’s sparking cider. I told her we have frozen pizza at home, so she settled on the Caesar salad. No chicken.

The bill came to $46.93, and I tried to look on the bright side: over 9 bucks back for our school and I didn’t have to pay a tip for a waiter.

We sat at the counter waiting for our order while Jake colored in the kid’s menu and Mary practiced her Belle lines from Beauty and the Beast.

No Colfax families. No big 20% back check. No fun reunion.

I wanted to cry.

But this was a public place and I would look like a wacky woman.

On the other had, no one here knew me.

There weren’t any Colfax families here to witness it.

I wanted to cry even more.

I held it together. Barely.

About ten minutes later, a miracle occurred! A Colfax mom arrived with her 4th grader. Heather and I did the Box Tops fundraiser a year ago, and I was so happy to see her, I wanted to cry – in a good way. But it turns out she was having a special mother/daughter dinner while her husband and son were gone fishing, so I didn’t want to intrude.

A couple of minutes later, Lina arrived.

This is when I really want to cry, and not in a good way.

Lina is my mother-in-law, and I invited her to join us for dinner. She drove herself to CPK after a hard day at work, and here I was, about to grab my to go bag. I had completely forgotten that I had invited her. I offered to stay and get a table or buy something for her so we could go home or to her house and eat it, but she was obviously despondent. I could tell she felt rejected, and I didn’t blame her.

I felt terrible.

I mostly felt terrible because I assumed she was feeling terrible that I didn’t have the thought to let her know that the evening was cancelled. She walked away without validating her ticket, and by the time I caught up to her she had already paid the valet.

That’s when I started to cry.  It began as a silent whimper. I felt sorry for my mother-in-law and our little school and the fundraiser that didn’t bring any money. That whimper snowballed into a bottomless shame pit.

You’re the dork who thought we could have a successful summer fundraiser!

No wonder no one came. Nobody likes you anyway!

How the hell are we going to pay for this meal anyway?

Your mother-in-law hates you!

Now your kids are hearing you cry out loud and they’re going to either be scared or think you’re emotionally unstable!

You really are emotionally unstable. Doesn’t a straightjacket in a rubber room sound like a good solution?

I used to go down this rabbit hole a lot in middle and high school, but I thought I had gotten better as an adult. Obviously not. By the time I got home I was blubbering like an idiot.

My husband Tom has absolutely no personal comprehension of the mood swings created from PMS or menopause or insecure women feeling downright bonkers. But he gave me a hug anyway and wondered out loud how such an intelligent lady can spin out of control so quickly.

He invited me to go to Family Swim at the Y, where no one would question why my mascara was running. And after watching Jake dog paddle while wearing his goofy goggles, I felt better.

Today, nearly 24 hours later, my original Facebook post still sat empty. So under the Like – Comment – Share buttons I wrote a comment to myself:

Nobody likes me.

Maybe someone will click the Like button on that one.

But then it begs to question:

Does that mean they Like me?

Or do they Like that no one likes me?

I shouldn’t be on the Restaurant Committee for my elementary school. I should be enrolled in the elementary school. Because clearly, my self esteem in this instance is still in the 1st grade.

On the bright side, our little CPK fundraiser ended up with 14 Colfax receipts, taking in $605.80 and a donation of $121.16.

To the other 13 families who came to Colfax Day at CPK last night:

Thank you so much! I’m so grateful I could cry.

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Filed under Anxiety, Debt, Family, Financial Insecurity, Friends, Humor, Husband, Kids, Parenting

My Husband Loves Me More Than Your Husband Loves You

I love my husband and I know he loves me.

I’ve met a lot of women who like to have their husband’s love proved to them on a regular basis in the form of flowers, gifts, and jewelry. However, these are not my preferred forms of affection.

Although I appreciate flowers, I know within days the petals will drop, the pollen will cause my daughter Emily to be sneezing up a storm, and in a week, I will be the one hauling the dead bouquet to the green bin and having to wash a vase filled with skunk water.

In lieu of gifts, I would much prefer a gift certificate for “Free lawn mowing without the prompting of subtle hints” and “Complimentary kitchen cleaning – including wiping down the stove.”

And although I love admiring the glittery jewels other women wear, I just couldn’t appreciate showing off a chunk of bling when we’re still up to our eyeballs in credit card debt.

My husband Tom shows me he loves me in subtle ways. He’ll fill up the Keurig coffee maker with water when the light is flashing, even though he is already done with his own caffeine fix. If he’s making a root beer float for himself, he’ll offer to make one for me. And if I order a meal that turns out to be to the left of “just ok,” he’ll offer half of his meal, even if he’s starving and his dish is delectable.

We moved in together in May of 2005 and weren’t married until October, and there was still a lot I didn’t know about him. I volunteered Tom to man the grill for the annual Hartsook Street Block Party, which took place on the hottest day of the year. The temperature soared to 110 degrees and the humidity was so thick neighbors were sweating more liquid than they were ingesting. Tom lamented that the grill actually felt cooler than the air. He perched himself in front of that charcoal-induced sauna for four hours. Later he told me to never NEVER volunteer him for anything ever again without his permission.

Why does this scenario make him a more loving husband than the rest of the men out there? Because he wasn’t a dick the entire time he was grilling, he told me the “no volunteering” request without raising his voice, and he didn’t hold a grudge about it for weeks. How about it, Ladies? Would your hubbies have that reaction?

But the Grand Finale of Best Humbandrycame last night, just after 4:00 am. The previous day, our dogs found a bin in our pantry filled with Special K bars and ingested about a dozen of them.

Devil Dogs

Tom came home to crumbs, wrappers, and two very guilty-looking dogs. Then he cleaned up the mess before I could take a picture for my blog (more Best Husband kudos!).

In the middle of the night I awoke to a fearsome stench. I got up and started to walk toward the switch to turn on the light when I felt squish squish squish – the unexpected feeling of stepping on gooey wetness.

I turned on the light and started screaming.

“Tom! Tom!” He had gone out to the couch about an hour earlier because he couldn’t sleep. Tom ran in like he was ready to fend off a home intruder and we both stared down at the bedroom carpet.

It was completely covered in runny diarrhea. It looked like someone had unloaded a paintball gun filled with caramel-colored pellets. The mess was sprayed all over the doors, the walls, and the mirrored closet doors. I was actually standing in the middle of the Feces Forest and had no idea how to get out of it.

I just stood there – stunned, paralyzed, terrified. I had no idea where to even start cleaning up such a sewage spill.

I was still a motionless statue by the time Tom arrived with the pooper scooper and started cleaning up the watery excrement. He looked like he was playing a game of miniature golf, but instead of a ball, he was easing the club over stinky slime.

I performed a standing long jump into the hallway, dashed into the bathroom, and scrubbed the bottoms of my feet so hard you would have thought I was a plague victim in Contagion. Then I prepared a bucket with Mr. Clean, poured the hottest water I could stand with industrial-strength rubber gloves, and raced back to the bedroom.

“I’m done,” Tom said. ” Go sleep in the kids’ room.”

Well, his idea of “done” and my idea of “done” are two completely different things. Granted, the piles had been smeared down from two inches to two millimeters, but instead of random piles of poop, there now was a smooth ground cover of crap.

And tomorrow morning it would be a dried, crusty ground cover of crap.

I kneeled down in the hallway safe zone, rung out a soapy sponge, and started to scrub.

“Go to bed,” Tom gently ordered.

I was really beat. This was going to be the first time in over a week that I would be getting more than 6 hours of sleep, and now that plan had gone out the now-open window. The stench was truly unbearable and I was afraid I might even vomit, which would have been a nuisance since the pooper scooper was now outside.

“I’ll take care of it in the morning,” Tom said. I knew this really meant I’ll think about taking care of it in the morning, but if I wait until afternoon, I know you’ll do it anyway. But I was so tired, and the smell was so overwhelming offensive, I staggered to the kids’ room and crawled into the bottom bunk. Fortunately for me, Jake has been sleeping I the top bunk with Mary since he’s afraid of zombies (which apparently only make an appearance at his 9:00 pm bedtime).

I awoke this morning, dreading the job in front of me.

Mary woke up in the bunk above me and asked why I was in her room. She hopped out of bed the instant I told her what happened.

“Can I see?”

We headed through the hall and I plugged my nose as I opened the door, ready to be hit in the face by the noxious odor.

Instead, our carpet shampooer sat in the middle of the room and the carpet was clean.

What the…?

Tom was already holding a cup of coffee.

“I cleaned it last night.” He gulped his coffee. “I couldn’t sleep.”

Later in the day he hosed off the dozen or so piles of diarrhea scattered throughout the yard that were ejected after the dogs had been banished outside.

“I also cleaned and shaved Spike’s butt,” Tom said casually.

Apparently the constant streaming of liquid excrement had created a hefty cement-like compound, and leaves, dead flowers and weeds were caked onto our Australian Shepherd’s anus.

So for all you women who treasure the glittery bling, the dozen roses and the fancy gifts, I’d like to ask you a single question:

Would your husband let you sleep while he shampooed a shit-filled carpet and scrubbed the poopy ass of your long-haired dog?

This is why my husband loves me more than your husband loves you.

How about you? How does your spouse or significant other show you that he/she loves you?

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

Getting Paid NOT to Write My Blog

This week I received an email from a marketing firm offering to pay me $40 if I let them guest blog on Very VERY Busy Mom. So many emotions rumbled through my body as I mulled over this request.

First of all, I’m very flattered that someone I’ve never heard of would seek me out to write for my website. It’s kind of like guest hosting for Jay Leno. Only they might end up being funny.

Secondly, I am thrilled about the prospect of free cash. Although $40 seemed like chump change when I was in my carefree and wasteful late 20’s, today $40 can mean the difference between gas in my tank or sticking out my thumb on a street corner (That was a lie. I’ve never hitchhiked before, but with the price of gas these days a free ride sounds very enticing).

However, there were three reasons why I wanted to turn them down. First, Very VERY Busy Mom is my blog, and I’m a little territorial about it. I’d feel like a hypocrite lamenting how I’ll take a little Me Time when I’m dead, then have someone guest blog about the 10 Best Spas in LA, especially since I couldn’t even afford the valet.

I also don’t do ads. I think it’s a little creepy when I’m on a website and the Google Ads are offering me products for hygiene. Am I not bathing enough? Am I choosing the wrong deodorant? How does Big Brother know?

The final and most important reason that I didn’t want the deal was because Very VERY Busy Mom is a humor blog, or at least I try to make it humorous. And I suspected that the subject matter they were proposing was not very funny.

No, it wasn’t selling cemetery plots or raising money for an orphanage in Cambodia. It was for a website advertising dentists – specifically cosmetic dentistry.

I figured that I would be a terrible choice because I would be inclined to mention the famous scene in Marathon Man with Laurence Olivier stabbing Dustin Hoffman’s cavity and asking, “Is it safe?”

That could be my tagline:

Is it safe? Only if you go to one of our dentists.

"Is it safe?"

I can just imagine the first paragraph written by the guest blogger:

Do you brush your teeth regularly? Do you floss? Is your answer an embarrassed “no?” Fear not. Make an appointment with one of our dentists and in no time you’ll have a winning smile!

Would you keep reading? Or would you close the screen window and never ever log onto my blog again?

On the other hand, if they let me write it, it might sound more like this:

Have your teeth become the color of your Starbucks’ cappuccino? Do you knock over large animals with your bad breath? Do strangers compliment you on your realistic Halloween Billy Bob teeth? Then let’s hope that you have a great personality to attract a mate. Otherwise, you’ll need to bring your fat checkbook or great credit over to our dentist if you ever want to get a date.

These are my teeth. Really.

I checked out the website they wanted me to promote. It has a lot of quick information about things like root canals, tooth decay, and gingivitis (a great vocabulary word I learned from a Listerine ad before I had a DVR and could speed through commercials). The site invites you to find a dentist in your area by entering your zip code. I tried it, but my dentist wasn’t on the list. What? I’ve been seeing him twice a year for over 20 years. Perhaps he has enough regular clients like me, so he doesn’t have to advertise online.

The home page of the website contains a photo of a hunky 50-something guy and one of those blonde natural beauties you see in ads but not so often in real life. They’re smiling at us from the beach. If this was a tv ad, they might even have some CGI sparkles emitting from their perfect teeth.

My real dentist ad would have the hunky 50-something guy lying back in a dentist chair, drooling on a bib while a dental hygienist shoves a sharp poker, a mirror, and a small hose into his mouth. She tells him he needs to floss more often. “Aaaaakaaagaaa,” he answers, as the hose sucks his gurgling spit. Suddenly he’s not so hunky.

Then there would be the ad where the blonde natural beauty is not so naturally blond or naturally beautiful. She has just finished her checkup and therefore all lipstick and foundation applied below her nose has rubbed off. She is told that she needs to have x-rays taken, and the semi-blonde bursts into tears because her co-pay just went up and insurance now only pays for 60%. She pleads that she’s got a Smartphone, so can’t she just take a picture of her teeth and email it to the dentist?

Another ad would be the hunky 50-something guy awakening from a root canal, getting a prescription for Vicodin, and relapsing after 25 years of sobriety as he chases more pain meds.

These would be my ads if I wrote them. Which is probably why the marketing gal wanted me to hand my blog over to the guest writer, who would most likely write about the virtues of whitened teeth and how crowns make you more appealing to a prospective employer.

Not my teeth. Thank God!

Should I take the $40 and run? Maybe to a beach with the hunky 50-something guy with a winning smile? Probably not, or my 40-something husband will stop writing witty replies to my blogs. He might even stop making me dinner.

I decided to take the high road, stick to my morals, and make some fun of dentists myself rather than let somebody else promote them. I emailed the marketing gal back and thanked her for the offer, but told her no.

She emailed me back and offered $90 instead. She also said I could write the blog myself, and I could even mention halitosis. All I had to do name the company and provide a link to their website.

I posted this blog around noon, naming the website and providing a link. Then an hour later I received an email from the manager of the marketing company who told me:

… we would really appreciate you not disclosing our client in the post or linking to it as this could harm our relationship with the client.

He offered to pay me if I would just take down the links and delete any mention of his client.

Should I hold out until they offer to pay for my kids’ braces?

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Filed under Debt, Humor, Husband, Parody

10 Reasons I’m Glad I Didn’t Win the $656 Million Mega Millions Jackpot

Like half of all the other desperate souls in America, I was dreaming of what I would do if I won $656 million in the Mega Millions Jackpot. I bought not one, but two lotto tickets, which is a very big deal since it meant that due to the astronomical gas prices I’d have to drive four fewer miles this week. Good timing since it’s spring break and I get a break from middle school car pool.

In my fantasy, I would pay off the house just enough to have 20% equity, then do a na-na-na-na-na-na dance to the half dozen loan officers who have turned us down for a refi this past year.

I would pay off the student loans my husband and I have accumulated to the tune of $185,000, and then have plenty left over to put our three kids through the college of their choice. What the heck… we could probably buy our own college.

We could fly first class to Florida and spend a week at Disneyworld while Emily is still young enough to enjoy it and Jake is old enough to avoid the dreaded naptime.

I could dream forever and keep going on about my fantasies, but the fact is, I didn’t win. Obviously, or my blog hit numbers would be through the roof. So since I try to be a glass half full kind of gal, I have come up with the…

10 Reasons I’m Glad I Didn’t Win the $656 Million Mega Millions Jackpot

1. Taxes. Right now I earn and pay a pittance – just enough to contribute a little something to our under-funded public schools. If I was paying millions in taxes it would all go to big ticket items like politicians’ pet projects such as funding studies on whether cockroaches prefer Cocoa Krispies or Cocoa Pebbles.

2. All the kindergartners would be knocking out their own teeth during sleepovers at our home since it would be rumored that we have a very generous Tooth Fairy.

3. My credit union building is just not big enough to deposit all those dollars

4. I really don’t want to be featured in supermarket tabloids under the headings “She’s just like us! She buys her own deodorant!” and “Lotto Winner Caught Picking Her Butt!”

5. I’d have to scrape off my “Other 99%” bumper sticker.

6. I’m afraid someone will kidnap my dogs and hold them for ransom. Then I’d have the dilemma of whether or not to pay the criminals or let the mutts just annoy them as much as they annoy me.

7. I’d probably have to start paying my kids an allowance.

8. Every third cousin in my family tree would be hightailing it to LA for a piece of the pie, and then race back again every month when their stash ran out.

9. I would have to spend all my free time rejecting new Facebook friend requests.

10. I would be invited to fancy shmancy parties that Mitt Romney is also invited to and then I’d have to keep repeating the awkward conversation that I am a Democrat and would plan to outspend his Super PAC.

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Filed under Anxiety, Debt, Financial Insecurity, Humor, Kids, Parenting, Public Schools, Top 10 List