Category Archives: Debt

The Problem With Costco? How Do You Get All That Crap Home?

IMG_2885Costco. The mere whisper of its name conjures images of big, bigger, and so-big-there’s-no-way-in-hell-you’ll-ever-finish-it-before-it-goes-bad mega-big. It wasn’t that long ago when in their wildest dreams Americans could never have imagined the wonders of this super-duper-store. Why in the world would you ever need a half-gallon of shampoo, 500 Styrofoam dinner plates and tortilla chips in a bag that’s bigger than your torso? Yet today, we wouldn’t consider buying a single pound of ground beef at Ralph’s when we can go to a mega warehouse and buy the whole cow. You never know when a boatload of your closest friends might drop by unexpectedly and expect you to whip up an impromptu barbeque.

The sheer enormity of Costco hits you well before you enter the store. Costco parking lots are the size of small amusement parks, and still they miraculously tend to fill up – particularly in the weeks leading up to Christmas. Parking vultures will wait 15 minutes hovering over a customer loading up his vehicle rather than hoof it from an open spot that’s so far away it lies in another zip code. I don’t mind the trek, and figure that the walk to and from the warehouse will do me good, burning a few of the many calories I plan to consume from the numerous free samples. You could go to Costco every day of the week, never spend a dime, and still eat like a king – that is if kings enjoy nibbling on a smorgasbord of pomegranate juice, Cajun sausages, waffle bites, and spinach dip.

Samples are a daily surprise at Costco.

Because of my distant parking spot, I’m very appreciative that Costco hasn’t yet installed those brakes that lock the wheels of the shopping cart when they reach the parking lot boundary. Frankly, I’m a little surprised. If I was a homeless person, Costco would definitely be my cart of choice. You can probably hold 20 dozen more cans in its roomy basket, and unlike the carts with the missing bottom available at 2-story Targets so they can travel up their own person-less escalator, Costco carts have big bottom racks that could possibly fit all three of my homeless children in case I needed to transport them up and down the boulevard.

Is it just me, or did anyone else do a double-take over the line big bottom racks?

The Costco powers-that-be were absolutely brilliant in their decision to remove compact-sized parking spots from their parking lots. Have you ever seen a Smart Car pull into the lot? Not very often, if ever. They had better bring along some bungee cords and rope if they plan to strap that 12-pack of paper towels to their roof like a Douglas fir leaving the Christmas tree lot.

There’s a reason there’s no bicycle racks or motorcycle parking, because there’s not a single thing sold at Costco that’s small enough to strap into your backpack, with the exception of a gift card to Spafinder or one of Costco’s special Road Show events selling engagement rings. Somehow I figure if someone’s wealthy enough to afford a fabulous sea salt scrub or planning to pop the question to the girl of his or her dreams, they’re probably not going to do it while riding a 10-speed. However, you can actually buy a bicycle or motorcycle at Costco and park your 2-wheeler in the store while you shop (the motorcycle is on display in the store and available at Costco.com). However, don’t plan to do any additional shopping unless you arrange to pick everything up later in your proper minivan or U-Haul trailer.

IMG_2887There have been days when I have filled up the back end of my 8-person minivan from floor to ceiling and still had to invade the middle row and passenger seat for the rest of my purchases. I start to feel like that classic I Love Lucy episode where Fred loads up the car for the move to California and has to tie golf clubs and conga drums to the hood to make everything fit.

I wish a trip to Costco felt like a zany screwball comedy. It doesn’t.

photoweek114bIt’s not just the 2 hours of shopping and cart maneuvering, retracing my steps to the far end of the store for the forgotten frozen pizzas, the 35 minute line at the register which is so long it snakes into the snacks aisle, the brainpower needed to strategically place all the items in my car so the 50-lb. bag of dog food is not resting on the giant pumpkin pie, or having to drive 15 miles below the speed limit so the entire pile doesn’t entomb me during a sudden stop. Just when I think my long Costco journey is over, I am now faced with the prospect of making 20 separate trips hauling the load from my driveway into my house. Because I hate making multiple trips to and from the car, I turn this job of 20 into just 4 trips, hauling so many heavy items stuffed into my reusable bags across my forearms that the embedded dents in my flesh become nearly permanent.  I place the 80 cup pack of Newman’s Own Keurig coffee cups on top of the 24 rolls of Charmin bathroom tissue on top of the 32-pack of diet Coke, then cradle the triple pack of Kellogg’s cereal between my right elbow and hip, the box of 250 Bounce fabric softener sheets between my left elbow and hip, and balance the entire load like a tightrope walker.

I don’t usually make it to the kitchen without dropping everything, but I keep trying, telling myself that next time it will be different.

After I transport everything into the house, I spend another hour slicing open those plastic containers that are tighter than Fort Knox and ripping apart the cardboard boxes that enclose 90% of everything sold at Costco. Next I have to somehow defy the laws of matter to find space in my refrigerator and cupboards to store everything. My rule of thumb: If it fits, that’s where it goes. Then I slam the door hard before everything falls out.

I’m finally done. Or am I?

Like every single slasher film ever made, even this is a false ending, because then I have to flatten all those boxes and get them to fit in our over-sized recycling bin. Some trips to Costco take two weeks for the garbage man to finally collect it all.

But the very worst thing about Costco? Getting my Costco American Express bill three weeks later, totaling only slightly less than the gross domestic product of a small country.

You’d think would be the nail in the coffin to get me to quit shopping at Costco… but no.

The last time I went, I noticed that they actually sell coffins at Costco.

I wonder if my car is big enough to get it home.

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Filed under Anxiety, Debt, Family, Humor

I Won Powerball! Now How Do I Spend My 3 Bucks?

Powerball ticketI buy a lottery ticket on average about once a week. Usually I’m picking up milk or coffee creamer or ice cream at the liquor store across the street and I’ll throw in a buck for Super Lotto. I guess if I found a milkman who delivered for a reasonable price I’d never buy a lottery ticket. On the other hand, I’d miss out on seeing all the interesting characters at my local liquor store.

Liquor Store SignOnce I won $11 dollars playing lotto, which due to the law of averages virtually guarantees that I’ll never win anything again in my life, whether it’s charity bingo or a shot on The Voice. Yet I continue to buy that single lotto ticket. A girl can dream, can’t she?

When last week’s Powerball surpassed a staggering $590 million, I did something I don’t normally do. I bought $10 worth of tickets, which in Powerball-speak is only 5 tickets. Ten dollars is a fortune to me these days, so it was a big gamble. Apparently the odds of winning were higher than being struck by lightning and simultaneously have a grand piano fall on my head, or something like that. But as the commercials say, you can’t win if you don’t play.$3 winning lotto ticket 2

But you know what? I did win! A whopping 3 dollars! And now I have a big dilemma:

How do I spend my winnings?

First of all, should I take it in one lump sum or have it doled out to me in annual payments for the next 30 years? I could really use the 3 dollars now, but it might be very handy to get that windfall of a dime each year for the next 30 years. That way I wouldn’t have the misfortune of blowing it all at once.

Should I spend the wad of cash or invest it? When they win lotto, a lot of people decide to take a trip. I might want to do that. I could pay $1.50 to take the Metro Red Line to LA’s Union Station and then another $1.50 for the Blue Line transfer to the Long Beach Aquarium. The problem then would be that I wouldn’t have any money to get home. That’s the downfall of so many lotto winners. They wipe out their winnings on that African safari but then are forced to return as a stowaway on a cargo ship when the money runs out.

CA Lottery totalsMaybe I’ll invest my $3 in my credit union. They currently pay .15% interest, so this time next year I’ll have $3.04½. I’m not sure if they’ll be generous enough to round that ½ cent upward for a total of $3.05 or if I have to wait a second year to make it an even 9 cents. If it’s only 4 cents, I’m not sure if that would get me much. Some parking meters will still take a nickel, but if you shove 4 pennies into the slot, you’re still going to get a parking ticket. In fact, by the time you plug all those coins, your meter will already be clicking back on “expired.”

I’ll be forced to pay taxes, so the total might only come to half of the 3 bucks. Too bad Uncle Sam won’t let me count that buck a week loss for the past decade to counter my winnings. With $3, I might have enough to buy an actual Starbucks coffee, but after taxes, I’d have to fill up my caffeine intake at 7/11 instead. And after dropping a few cents in the palm of that homeless guy hanging around out front, I may be bumming the cash back from him to get that cup of burnt java.

lhasa apso I’m also afraid that when word gets out that I’ve won lotto, every 3rd cousin and anyone who’s read about me on Patch is gonna be looking for a handout. I’ll be getting requests from strangers who want me to treat their precious lhasa apso’s diabetes or beg me to donate to their foundation to help shopaholics from hoarding Bloomingdale’s shoe purchases. By then, there wouldn’t even be a quarter left to give my son a mechanical pony ride outside of K-Mart.

Mechanical pony rideThere’s the fear that my kids will be kidnapped for ransom, or that my husband will poison me so he can keep all the money.  I could develop a costly drug habit just as Prop D passed and all those stinky shops with the green crosses will be closing their doors, forcing me to feed my addiction elsewhere. I might be hounded by news crews day and night, and I’ll have to go into hiding. The liquor store where I bought the ticket would need to hire an extra cashier just to handle all the extra lotto tickets sales from people hoping that lightning and a falling grand piano might strike twice in the same spot.

What a headache!

I think I’ll just use my $3 winnings to buy a couple of Advil.

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Filed under Anxiety, Debt, Financial Insecurity, Humor

Will Work for Paycheck

Will Work for PaycheckOn Tuesday night I uploaded my edited dialogue for the final episode of season 2’s Once Upon a Time, and other than covering the dub stage for a few more days whenever they need some alts cut, I am now on summer hiatus.

I’ll get a few weeks of work editing the TNT show Perception and my summer will be chock full of volunteer commitments for my kids’ schools, the Colfax World Fair, Neighborhood Council Valley Village, Toluca Baseball, Cub Scout Pack 311, Patch, our annual block party, and anything else I can raise my hand to participate in (yes – I ended with a preposition. Go ahead and call the Grammar Police).

I am extremely lucky to have a job to return to when Once Upon a Time resumes in the fall, but tough economic times being what they are, I can’t sit back and wait out the summer without a paycheck. Even if every family meal is a cup of Ramen and the oranges from our backyard tree, we’ll still be spiraling down into a huge debt pit if I don’t land some kind of salary.

Naturally I’ll be trying to line up some more editing gigs, but if that doesn’t pan out, I figured I’d use my blog to get the word out that I have many other talents that would be worthy of some sort of living wage. So just in case one of my loyal or stumbled upon readers might also be a potential employer, here as some suggestions:

Manual Labor

Last summer at the Colfax World Fair Silent Auction, I donated a gift certificate good for 3 hours of weed pulling. I had no idea what it would be worth, so for the dollar value I put down “priceless.” No, there was nothing kinky involved like me wearing only Saran Wrap or a push up bikini top with rotating tassels. I am a very VERY hard worker, and I seldom take breaks. I can also dig ditches, carry heavy items long distances, and if you have to relocate and don’t want to pay for movers who might break or take your goodies, I’m your gal. Call me the Human Pack Mule. Back in 1860, I’d be known as Little Mom on the Prairie.Human Pack Mule

Peeling Stuff

When we were kids, a few days after a good, hearty sunburn, my siblings and I would lie down on the floor in front of the tv and peel each others’ backs. We’d have contests over who could peel the largest strip, always followed by an chorus of “Oooh”s and “Awww”s. I also enjoyed pouring Elmer’s Glue on my palm and peeling it after it dried, and I still get a kick over a deep facial peel. I’ll pick at hangnails until I’m bleeding, then still keep picking anyway. Whether it’s stripping paint, wallpaper, or floor wax, I’ve got a strange fetish for peeling.  Heck, I might even pay you to let me do it for you.

Picking Dandelions

Some people like to stop and smell the roses. Me? I like to stop and pick the dandelions. Every last one of them. I’ll only let my son make a wish and blow out a parachute ball over a large asphalt parking lot because I can’t bear the thought of those thousands of tiny seeds taking root all over the neighborhood. I obsessively pick dandelions with the fervor of a Saint wiping out pagan pestilence. If the day grows dark, I’ll be out on the lawn finishing by flashlight. Want to rid your yard of a sea of yellow? We’ll negotiate my day rate.

Assembly Line Work

When I was 13, I worked in my stepfather’s irrigation pipe manufacturing plant making nipples and flex risers (I’ll explain more in a later blog). Although it’s not as bad as working in a Bangladesh garment factory, it’s a repetitive motion marathon, and I don’t mind. Give me a paycheck that will pay my mortgage, and I’ll be happy to fabricate a thousand widgets a day. I’d like it even more if I could do it in front of the tv watching all those episodes of The Good Wife I missed this season because I was busy working on my own tv show.

Things You Want Done When You Think Other People Are Looking – Or Not

Do you only push your emptied shopping cart back to the rack when you see a cute girl or guy watching you and you want them to think you’re a good citizen? Do you drop a quarter in the basket of the solicitor outside of Rite Aid if you want everyone around you to think you’re thoughtful, generous, and kind when you’re really thinking the bum should go out and get a real job? Let me follow you around and be that Good Samaritan for you so you don’t have to. Or, I can handle the flip side. Do you want to do something not-so-respectable and hope no one is watching? Let me be your whipping boy, or rather gal. I will pick your nose for you and pretend you just have a persistent itch inside your nostril. I’d prefer to use a Kleenex for the job, but pay me enough and I can drill for oil up there.

Keeping a Secret

Do you envy those sober alcoholics who have a sponsor they can tell anything to? Do you wish you were a Catholic so you could clear your conscience with a priest in a confessional? You can whisper your juicy little indiscretions you feel guilty over to me, and I promise to stay mum about it. I won’t even judge you, unless you want me to and are willing to pay a little extra. Wild horses won’t drag it out of me – as long as I actually know it’s a secret. But you have to tell me in advance that the bash you’re throwing for your wife is actually a surprise party because I like to talk… a lot.

Fantasizing

I can spend all day doing it for myself, and it’s one of my favorite pastimes. Too busy with your own job to fantasize how you’ll win your lotto winnings or if you could go back in time and tell the cheerleaders that the handsome quarterback they have a crush on instead of you will be coming out of the closet his senior year of college? I’ll invent some amazing stories starring you, and recount them all at your leisure. You can pay me hourly or by the fantasy. Let’s talk.

Any takers? Send me a reply in the comments below.

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Filed under Career, Debt, Financial Insecurity, Humor, Volunteering

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.

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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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