Category Archives: Financial Insecurity

That New Car Smell Has Left My Minivan

I have a love/hate relationship with my minivan.

It’s a Toyota Sienna XLE, and I love that I can fit six kids in the car with me – twelve if they’re small and double buckle (Just kidding. Really). I love lots of cup holders and extra pockets to store things I forget about like contact lens cases even though I got LASIK a year ago. I love the leather interior, sunroof, and captain’s chairs in the middle row so if I’m chauffeuring grownups they don’t have to feel like 5-year olds bouncing on a school bus.

And the hate part of the relationship? My minivan is a 1998, which is misleading because I actually bought it in the summer of 1997 when my daughter Emily could still ride in her infant seat. This week she starts driver’s training. According to Wikipedia, the week I purchased my Sienna, Microsoft bought “a $150 million share of financially troubled Apple Computer.”

I’m just saying – it was a really long time ago.

My car also has an antique cassette tape deck, a CD player that doesn’t recognize disks made on a laptop, no iPod plug in, no GPS, no DVD player, and I have the humiliation of dropping my kindergartner off at school and having the volunteer valet stare at my sliding door, waiting for it to magically close on its own.

The best thing about my minivan is I haven’t had a car payment in almost 10 years. It’s ok to have the kids eat in my car and I don’t get freaky hysterical if they leave crumbs because that new car smell has been gone longer than Titanic – the 1997 2D version, not next week’s 3D release. 3D glasses won’t help the fact that my son spilled a sippy cup full of milk on the carpet last summer. Now my car probably smells like it too has been at the bottom of the ocean for a century.

I got rear ended a few years ago, and the driver was overjoyed, not only because I didn’t immediately cry “whiplash,” but that when I noticed the hole in my bumper, I sympathetically patted the poor driver on the shoulder. “My daughter just got Student of the Month and I think my new bumper sticker is just the right size to hide the dent.” My insurance company must love me.

There’s one thing that irks me the most about having an old car. Little by little, my beautiful leather driver’s seat has been tearing and wearing away until it now resembles some kind of angry punk rock attire. I can wash and wax the exterior. I can vacuum the interior and hang up a mini pine tree to make the car smell like Once Upon a Time’s fairy tale forest. But that shredded driver’s seat just screams: “Donate your used vehicle!”

I started searching for seat covers. While at a red light, I would peek in at other cars and study their seats. Not too hard, mind you. People really freak out if you look at them in their cars. And if they catch you staring, you can’t justify it by saying “I wasn’t looking at you, I was just admiring your seat covers” because that sounds like a really lame excuse, and they’re liable to report you to 1-800-CUT-SMOG just because you give them the heebie jeebies.

It’s a little bit easier to snoop inside cars while they’re parked. No one’s behind the wheel to freak out, but then pedestrians think you’re trying to break into the vehicle. Either way, it looks suspicious.

Anyway, snooping inside other vehicles proved to not be very productive. Frankly, there’s not a single seat cover I liked.

Do I really want a cheetah print? It would match my daughter’s bedspread, but it’s not like I’ll be parking my minivan in her bedroom to coordinate patterns.

A two-toned Neosupreme cover that is supposed to give my minivan a “sporty” look when it would more likely resemble a costume for some disco-era Superhero?

Camouflage? My “Republicans for Voldemort” bumper sticker should be a clear indication that I’m probably not a big NRA fan.

One of those Hawaiian slipcovers that looks like it belongs on a dune buggy?

Sheepskin? That one seems itchy and sweaty, and even if it is fake sheep skin, I would still keep imagining Mary’s Little Lamb following her to school one day and ending up in the slaughter house because it was against the rules.

My kids fondling my future seat covers

The only cover I really wanted was what I already had, but without the rips. A professional upholstery job would cost too much, so I started looking online for a half-assed substitute that didn’t look like a half-assed substitute.

I ended up finding a faux leather seat cover that could be custom made for my 1998 Toyota Sienna XLE. The package included covers for the two front seats, backs with built-in pockets, arm rests and head rests. But what I really needed was exactly that – just the but, or rather, butt. The rest of the seat parts were perfectly fine. Unfortunately, my special request couldn’t be accommodated. Apparently it would be like trying to order a Happy Meal when all you really want is the toy. Which is why every parent in America has a toy box full of plastic Scooby Doos and American landfills are full of uneaten Chicken McNuggets.

So now my butt sits on a non-torn imitation leather seat cover that is only about three shades lighter than the rest of the seat. I am content. And I am saving the passenger side seat cover for 15 years from now when my new current seat is torn to shreds from extra poundage, and Titanic is being re-released in 4D. That is, 4D Smell-O-Vision. After all, like my minivan, the ship will smell like it has been rotting at the bottom of the ocean for over a century.

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Filed under Financial Insecurity, Humor, Kids

($ ÷ Gallon) x (Miles ÷ Gallon) = LA Gasoline Anxiety

Here's the gas prices at the station closest to my home. Aaaahhhh!!!

With the astronomical price of gas these days, I start to have an anxiety attack each moment my odometer clicks another tenth of a digit. I quickly do the math in my head: if my 15-year old minivan gets 16 miles per gallon of gas and I pay $4.50 for each gallon, I am coughing up over 28 cents for every tenth of a mile. It now costs twice as much in gas to deliver my daughter’s forgotten brown bag lunch than to just make her buy lunch at the school cafeteria. What a dilemma!

When I got my driver’s license in 1978, I remember paying just 64 cents for a gallon of gas. I say this and I feel like the old geezers who complain how when they were kids they used to walk to school uphill both ways. Suddenly I’m older than dirt.

Today, as I near a hundred bucks a pop, each time I fill up my tank I feel like I just lost the kids’ college fund – that is if I was wealthy enough to actually have a decent kids’ college fund. My head pounds, I feel emotionally sick, and I am suddenly terrified of the future of both my family and America as a whole.

With such an adverse reaction, you would think that my work commute must be an enormous trek and I am suddenly spending a fortune in gas.

Wrong.

Actually, my commute distance is exactly 13-1/2 inches and takes about a nanosecond, so it costs exactly no dollars and zero cents in gas to drive to work.

Jealous? I don’t blame you.

My editing system sits on a desk near the foot of my bed and I am able to upload and download my session via the Internet. I work a 48.6 hour week (blame my union for this obscure number) and I can do it all in my pajamas.

I can’t image how I’d afford gas if I still commuted from the home in Chino I sold in 1992. It’s a 90 mile round trip to Burbank, so at 16 miles per gallon I’d be spending over $550 in gas each month. Plus I’d be wasting about 15-20 hours each week staring at lame bumper stickers and the rear ends of all those SUVs that have stick figure drawings with family member names underneath, all the while sucking up thousands of Verizon minutes yacking with people who’d certainly be tired of talking to me after the first ten minutes.

Thank you God for telecommuting.

I do have to drive a mile and a half each way every week (84¢) to drop off and pick up my external hard drive from my assistant/right hand man Eddie. I also travel four miles ($2.25 round trip) to the Disney lot and swing by the dub stage, mostly to keep my chops primed in having three-minute conversations with actual adults who work in post-production sound. In real life, the majority of my conversations consist of telling my 5-year old to stop squirming and keep his finger out of his nose, so the last thing I want to do is instinctively bark these orders at the dedicated mixers of Once Upon a Time.

So if I’m not paying up the wazoo in my work commute, where does all the gas money go?

Jake’s school is three blocks away, and since he’s a pokey walker, we drive. I figure the trip there and back costs a little less than 20 cents a day. In a week I spend less than the price the ice cream man charges for a SpongeBob on a stick. Such a bargain!

I’m the afternoon carpool mom for Mary’s school which is three miles away, and I drive about six miles on the way home dropping off the other middle school kids. That gas bill adds up to about $2.53 each day. In a week, I spend more in gas than I would in buying a half dozen Red Bulls – which I recently cut out of my budget because they’re now a luxury I can’t afford. Please don’t tell my insurance agent this if I happen to fall asleep at the wheel.

Emily attends Cleveland Humanities Magnet which is a 28-mile round trip and would cost nearly $40 a week in gas. I have all you Los Angeles property owners to thank for generously donating your tax dollars. So far LAUSD has not completely cut funding for Magnet School buses, so for me, Emily is a freebie.

I don’t have the luxury of time on my hands, yet I will still drive six miles and wait for 20 minutes in line to fill up at the Costco gas station to save a few cents.  Actually, it’s more than a few cents. Yesterday Costco gas was $4.21 a gallon, but the closest gas station to my home was $4.75. They have the audacity to charge $4.99 for premium, and at that price “premium” should mean “with complimentary foot rub.” Don’t even get me started on the three-millimeter sized “9/10” at the end of every gas price. Is there any other product that charges an extra nine-tenths of a cent?

Even with my Costco membership, it now costs more time and money to buy a gallon of gasoline than it does to get a Starbucks Venti Frappuccino. It’s too bad my minivan doesn’t run on iced coffee. Especially since I make my own cup a Joe. After all the money we spend on gas these days, who can afford to buy anything from Starbucks?

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Filed under Anxiety, Career, Debt, Financial Insecurity, Humor, Parenting, Public Education, Public Schools, Teenagers

Too Much Poop in the Pipes

What goes down... must come up?

In today’s tough economic times I am lucky to experience pride of ownership, but there are days when I wish I could just call the super to fix the broken (fill in the blank) without pulling out my checkbook.

The latest fill-in-the-blank started about a month ago when I noticed remnants of the garbage disposal drain regurgitating into the adjoining kitchen sink. I assumed that my husband was forcing large pieces of vegetables down the drain rather than discarding them into the green bin. I wanted to call him lazy for not taking the 30 foot walk outside, but I really like it when he cooks, so I figured I’d keep my big eco-friendly mouth shut.

A few days later, the bathroom toilet started clogging so often that the plunger made itself a permanent home next to the royal throne. I blamed it on my son Jake who refuses to eat anything except hot dogs and chicken nuggets. I know he’s only 5 years old and I am the mommy, but I have to pick and choose my battles, and forcing him to eat his dinner vegetables is the battle he seems to be winning. At least he does his homework without a fight.

Then the tub began to clog on a regular basis, and I feared that there was a pussy cat-sized ball of hair clogging the pipe. I would love to have blamed that blockage on one of my daughters, but Mary still has her boy-length hairstyle, and although like me, Emily dyes her hair red, I suspect that the hairball was made up of long red hair with two-inch gray roots.

The final straw came last Monday when I started hearing gurgling sounds in the bathroom. The bubbling was coming from the toilet, and although it sounded like a 5-gallon Sparkletts bottle dispensing H2O, somehow I just knew that whatever liquid was making that sound was not going to be especially pure and fresh. A few seconds later the toilet flushed itself – or rather the water shot down and disappeared into the tank for a moment, then reappeared as murky grey muck. It reminded me of the redneck singing the The Beverly Hillbillies main title theme:

And up through the ground came a bubblin’ crude.

Oil, that is.

Black gold.

Texas tea.

I suspected that unlike Jed Clampett, I wasn’t about to become a millionaire, although it might be likely that this bubblin’ crude was going to cost a million dollars to fix.

That’s the moment that I should have heeded the kinfolk’s advice when they told ol’ Jed to “move away from there,” because that crude-colored feculence nearly spilled right over the toilet rim.

I started screaming for my husband, because that’s what we delicate women do when a river of excrement is about to pour on our manicured toes. Although it was already past his bedtime (he goes to work at the ungodly hour of 6:00 am), he grabbed a flashlight and trekked out to the backyard to investigate the trap. Apparently the “trap” is the lovely place where all the household drains come together, then uniformly flow toward the city sewage line. The trap is kind of like happy hour at a bar where tramps and sleaze balls meet and at closing time make a beeline to the community fleabag hotel. And like that very busy, very sleazy bar, this trap was packed solid.

The next day I checked Angie’s List and found New-Pipe Plumbing & Rooter, the same business that installed our new copper plumbing six years ago. They also donated a gift certificate to the Colfax Charter Elementary School Silent Auction that I worked on last year, so I figured it was good karma to throw a little business their way.

Benny the Plumber ran a camera through the pipe, and my husband watched as roots attacked it like the Whomping Willow tree in the Harry Potter series.  We also had a seam where roots had shifted one of the adjoining pipes halfway downward, leaving a gaping root-filled hole and half the volume available for sewage drainage. Benny gave us three options:

1. Clear the drain with gas hydro jet for $714

2. Repair the broken section of the cracked pipe for $1723

3. Install all new sewage pipes for $5,000

It would be hard to come up with $714, nearly impossible to scrape together $1723, and we would be dreaming in La La Land to think we could afford the price of a used automobile. I told the plumber we’d do the $1723 fix. He politely advised me that he would be happy to do it, but because our home and pipes are 82 years old, that we’ll eventually be calling him again for the same fix on another section of pipe.

I contemplated crying. Then he reminded me that Angie’s List gave me a 10% discount, and that I would get another 10% discount for being part of the Colfax family. If we could do the major fix it would only cost $4,000.

The cost was still impossible.

And then I looked up at our brand new roof. That was impossible too, and yet we were spending a winter without a tarp over our heads and buckets throughout the house. How did we pay for that when our savings was nil? (You can read about that little adventure in my blog “Raising (the Cash for) My Debt Ceiling”).

Cash advance credit cards.

I pulled out one of the dozen or so offers we get each month as a reward for our good credit score. I found the one that advertised 0% until May 2013 with just a 3% fee.

I wrote the check. The plumbers came minutes later with their trenchless pipe-laying equipment and hardworking shovelers who obviously don’t need to spent their off-hours at the gym. And by nightfall, we were granted a 101-year warranty and got the A-OK to drain our human pipes into the new buried pipe.

Today I can run the dishwasher or the washing machine, turn on the faucets to the tub, shower, and kitchen and bathrooms sinks, and flush a toilet filled with the aftermath of the most humongous Thanksgiving meal, and rest assured that the remnants will not be making a reappearance up another drain like some verminous whack a mole game.

As for the money… the 0% $11,700 roof bill will start charging 15.99% interest in April. We’ve managed to pay off some of the balance, but the bulk of it will come from yet another 0% interest credit card and this year’s tax refund. That refund amount is sizable due to our insanely large mortgage payment.

Just another example of pride of ownership.

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

Celebrating My Vanity With My Vanity License Plates

I have a vanity plate. By definition, it sounds like a shiny serving dish that I often use to admire my beautiful face, but fortunately I’m not quite that self-obsessed. It’s actually a personalized license plate, so anyone who happens to be tailgating my 15-year old minivan will know it’s me and not some other broke mom who can’t afford a newer car. Here is my license plate:

For those of you familiar with me or my blog, you will instantly know that it’s a tribute to my children Jake and Mary. But others may be wondering, “What about Emily? Remember? Your first born? What is she? Chopped liver?”

Emily’s there too. See?

I typically call Emily “Em.” The only Em I’ve ever heard of is Auntie Em from The Wizard of Oz. Other than their names, there’s probably nothing my daughter has in common with the plain, elderly woman screaming “Dorothy! DOROTHEEEEE!” Except for maybe the screaming.

I ordered my current license plate about three years ago when Jake was a toddler and everyone was accusing me of ignoring my only son. My personalized plate at that time was this:

The definition of this plate was “Emily and Mary’s Mother.” However, you wouldn’t believe how often I’d be filling up at the gas station and someone would ask, “Are you really Eminem’s mom?” I was just a little hurt that someone would think I was old enough to be a the mother of a rapper that had been around for quite a while, but then Kim Basinger played his mom in 8 Mile, and although she’s nearly a decade older than I am, she certainly doesn’t look it. In actuality, Eminem is only 10 years younger than I am, and since I didn’t experience precocious puberty, I wasn’t a birth mother candidate. I often wondered if Eminem’s real mother might want to buy the plate from me, but I never got the call.

This was the vanity plate I owned before I had children:

Prelay is the term used when an editor edits sound on tape (before that newfangled digital thang was invented). I would prepare sound effects and music that were on tape and lay them onto the multitrack tape so the mixer could dub them together. At least that’s how I think they got the term.

However, if anyone asked what Prelay meant, I would jokingly give this definition: “Dinner and a movie.”

Apparently, the folks in the vanity plate censorship department at the DMV thought the same thing, so when I applied for the plate, I had to give a definition of Prelay. I did not tell them it meant dinner and a movie.  If that was the case, I probably would have been driving around with a plate that had seven random letters and numbers instead of something that made me look easy.

Naturally it was wise for me to change my dinner and a movie plate to something more G or at least PG rated. Otherwise, whenever my car would be covered in dust, instead of hooligans scribbling “Wash Me!” they would have written “Tramp.”

1973 Mercury Capri

I ordered my first personalized plate when I was just 16 years old, and with my minimum wage ($2.65/hour) job at Kentucky Fried Chicken I bought a 1973 Mercury Capri for $950.My vanity plate read:

It stood for “Cathy’s Capri.” The car was a stick shift, which I thought was cool, although I had no idea how to drive a stick so I always grinded the gears. It also had Bondo covering its tail end, which didn’t bother me so much since I wasn’t the one who had to look at it. I was a total dweeb, and if there was any question about that, people could just look at my lame personalized plate to be convinced that there was no doubt.

I love sitting behind cars and trying to figure out their personalized license plates. I have seen many variations with HOT or SEXY or BEST. Isn’t it great that drivers have such great self-esteem? I’ve never seen a LOSER or STUPID or IM*UGLY, even though they fall into the required seven letters or less category.

It would probably not be a good idea to order the plates SPEEDER or DRUNK or COPSUCK. Even if you obeyed all the traffic laws, I suspect you’d be spending lots of time in traffic court for minor infractions like “contemplating a rolling stop” or “looking down at a breakfast burrito.”

I always wonder what happens to couples who are going through an ugly divorce but own personalized plates that have their initials, followed by a heart and then their spouse’s initials. Are they level-headed enough to order a new license plate right away, or do they cry and want to scratch out the last three letters every time they see their cheating scum-of-the-earth’s initials?

(Don’t worry, Sweetie. If you’re reading this I don’t mean us. I was just using this as an example)

For the time being, my children are quite well behaved. But if you happen to be driving behind me and see the first four letters of my vanity license plate scratched out with a jackknife, you can guess that Jake has probably been sent off to military school.

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Red heads have more fun

I finally dyed my hair last night.

I don’t have the time or money to do it the right way – sitting for two hours in a vinyl chair reading a weekly magazine featuring a bunch of 20-somethings I’ve never head of since I don’t watch reality tv. Someday I dream of being flush, with time on my hands and I will have a standing appointment every five weeks with Jennifer at Suburbia Salon. I will be one happy woman.

Instead, I stock up red hair dye when it’s on sale and buy even more when I have a coupon. Every month or so, my grey roots start rearing their ugly heads on my hopefully-not-so-ugly head.  After putting the kids to bed, I throw on my old dye-covered tank top and boxer shorts, put on the cheapest plastic gloves ever made and start soaking those roots.

The problem is, I’ve now had shingles for seven weeks, and my scalp is still burning. I assume that hair dye is a big no-no since the last thing you should throw on a burning scalp is ammonia.

Since last week when I was finally well enough to get out, I’ve been hiding three months of grey roots under a Santa hat, but now that Christmas is over, it’s kind of like floating that heart-shaped mylar Valentine’s Day balloon well after the Easter bunny has delivered his goodies. It just looks sad and desperate.

So I was extremely excited to find among my hair dye stash a product I bought a couple years ago by mistake – Clairol Natural Instincts in #22 cinnaberry with antioxidants and vitamins C & E! (they have the exclamation point on the box… I‘m excited, but not excited enough to add extra punctuation).

Why haven’t I used it? Because when I bought it I didn’t realize that it was non-permanent color and washes out after 28 shampoos. Granted, I could be cheap and lacking in hygiene and let that baby last for a good seven months, but frankly if I didn’t mind if my hair got greasy and nasty on the 5th, 6th and 7th day, I probably wouldn’t be so anal about my grey roots.

I did the math. If I wash my hair every other day, then my cinnaberry hair would be gone in less than two months. And that means completely gone. By the end of the first month, those stubborn grey roots would be three inches long and stealthly peeking their way out of my head, slowly materializing every day of the second month like an overly long magic trick.

I had forgotten to exchange my Clairol Natural Instincts and eventually lost the receipt, so it sat at the back of my hair dye collection, waiting to get thrown out as soon I planned to de-clutter the bathroom.

Until last night. I pulled it out and found two wonderful words on the box: ammonia free! (exclamation point mine this time). I could apply the dye to my raw scalp and it wouldn’t hurt, and it would tide me over until I was well enough to get the real thing.

I can now go out in the real world and tie one on at a New Year’s Eve party, although I never know who or what I should be tying. I just know that red heads truly have more fun than three-inch grey heads.

I’m in the process of clearing away clutter and other needless stuff. I’m happy to have my red hair back, but unfortunately I’m re-thinking about throwing things out. You never know if I’m going to wish I kept that stained “Happy Millennium” t-shirt.

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Filed under Anxiety, Debt, Financial Insecurity, Humor, Illness, Recuperating

Murdering a Holiday Tradition

This year's Christmas tree

My husband and I murdered a holiday tradition on Sunday.

We bought an artificial Christmas tree.

Mind you, this wasn’t one of those impulsive decisions you get while strolling down the Costco aisles (I know that just like me, every one of you have some kind of massager you just couldn’t live without). We weighed the cost of one artificial tree compared to a lifetime of tree lot evergreens, as well as the carbon footprint we leave every year by assassinating an innocent living thing for our own two-week enjoyment, and decided to do the eco-friendly thing.

Here’s our typical holiday tradition:

One or two weeks before Christmas, the whole family would wander down to the local Christian church where we are not members (we’re heathens) and check out the freshly-cut trees. The criteria? – not too short, not too dry, not too bald. We always aimed for the $50 tree, but ended up with the $75 one. We contemplated if we should buy the $10 stand/water dish or try to find the one in the garage that makes every tree lopsided. Then some guy who looks like a weekend carny would tie the tree to the top of the minivan. I tipped him $5, the whole time thinking, “I was a Girl Scout. I know how to tie a bowline and a square knot. I can do a lot with the five bucks I just gave away.”

We’d drive the tree home and open the front door, hoping the dogs wouldn’t bolt for the street as my husband carried the tree inside, spraying a trail of pine needles along the way. We’d adjust the stand and pour the evergreen mixture and water into the stand dish, wondering why we always paid extra for the potion even though the tree seemed dehydrated in minutes. We also had to keep the pets from drinking it, which was an impossible task. You’d think that evergreen potion would make dogs less thirsty.

Then my husband or I would string up the colored lights. If it was him, he was done after two strands. If it was me, I wouldn’t stop until I had eight strands up and the tree glowed brighter than kryptonite. Unfortunately, at some point in the next two weeks, at least one strand would burn out, leaving a chunk of the tree in a blackened shadow for the rest of its existence.

The tree would get dryer by the minute. After a few days we would hear random kerplops as a brittle branch gave way and a heavy ornament fell to the ground. Every year we’d lose three to four of the breakable ones. Most of the time I save them in an ever-growing zip lock baggie with every intention of gluing them back together. I never do.

Then on New Year’s Day we’d throw a large bag over the tree and my husband would carry the condom-covered carcass to the street where it might sit for weeks. The sanitation workers only haul it away if we shove it in the green bin, which we are only able to after the tree completely turns to kindling.

And that’s our annual Christmas tree tradition.

No longer.

I looked online at artificial trees to see what kind of cost we were looking at. Target sells them in the range of $80 to $800, which made me want to immediately rethink my plan since there’s no way in hell I’m going to spend twice as much on a tree as we do for our whole Christmas.

We decided to check out Sears, for the simple reason that it happened to be the anchor department store at the mall we were at. They had two trees available – the $200 tree that was on sale for $125, or the $300 that was marked down to the low price of $150. I like a good deal, so you can guess which one I chose. My bet is that Sears never sells that tree for $300. They just say they do to persuade suckers like me to buy it.

We bought the 7.5 Foot Just-cut Blue Noble Fir Pre-lit Tree. It has multi-colored lights that never burn out, and apparently is so easy to put together that even our 5-year old could do it if he had the ability to read the instructions. The tree is called “slim,” which is usually a word I like very much, especially if someone calls me “slim,” but on a Christmas tree it sounds more like an insult. However, we have a smallish living room, and a slim tree would probably be a smart choice.

Mary and Emily were gone when we bought the tree, and Jake seemed to take a greater interest in the box rather than the tree itself. When the girls returned home and saw the tree, Mary was horrified. How could we choose a tree without her? How could we get a fake tree? It didn’t even smell like a tree.

Mary was outnumbered. Emily didn’t want to murder another tree. So instead, we murdered our holiday tradition.

Merry Christmas to y’all and I hope you celebrate wonderful old and new traditions this holiday season.

I can't get a photo of the lights without it looking blurry. Sorry.

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Shingles! – More Painful Than Childbirth

My boss is kind enough to be one of my regular blog readers, so he took pity on me two weeks ago when I posted 10 Luxuries I Can Now Afford Since Once Upon a Time Got Picked Up for a Full Season and threw me another bone: four days of extra work on the TNT series Perception, starring Eric McCormick from Will & Grace, premiering summer 2012, but dubbing this week.

I could really use the cash and immediately started canceling some commitments, rearranging others and basically increasing my mega dose of caffeine. I had already written and was ready to post my next blog My Ex Husband is Getting Married Today for Friday 11-11-11. I threw on my cape, readied myself for a good night’s sleep sometime the next week, and started forging ahead. I’ve pulled this kind of task off many times before. But I was suddenly lambasted by a foe I had never before encountered.

Shingles.

I’ve had my share of pain in my life. I’ve broken my leg, cracked my coccyx, champed out stitches and suffered three experiences of childbirth ranging from all natural, to give me the epidural now!, to what the hell do you mean it’s too late for the f#%*ing epidural?

But nothing so far has prepared me for the sheer agony of shingles.

For those of you who may be unfamiliar with this ailment (myself included), it’s a painful rash caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox and is usually initiated by stress or a weakened immune system – which I guess is proof that I was unable to retain my Super-working-volunteer-mom status solely on a diet of Zipfizz and zero carb Monster energy drinks.

The Shingles started in my eye, and after being diagnosed with a migraine, a lacerated cornea and an ulcerated eyeball, the unbearable pain swirled through my eye and entire left side of my head, screaming for doctors to just murder me, because even though they wanted me to rate my pain level between 0 and 10, it had already zoomed past 12 on the agony Richter scale.

This cacophony of torment kept me incapacitated and hospitalized for a week and a half. I floated in and out of pain, sleep, and delusional pain meds for nearly a week, with an oozing eye covered in blisters and too swollen to see through. I resembled Sylvester Stallone in the first Rocky film when he begs his trainer to “Cut me, Mick!”

Still in a lot of pain, but definitely on the mend, it looks like I’ll be released from the hospital sometime tomorrow. I’ve got some vein bruising from my IV, so I can’t use my left hand. But my husband brought my laptop and reading glasses to the hospital today, so as I groggily hunt and peck the keyboard with one hand, I have composed:

10 Things I Learned From Having Shingles:
1. I am capable of lying in my own urine all night without realizing it. That’s how out-of-it I can be.

2. I can go 10 days without a bowel movement. My record was broken today after just five minutes experiencing my first-ever enema.

3. Hospital food isn’t that bad, particularly when you have no appetite. However, I realize that I actually like Jell-O.

4. I am eternally grateful for having good medical insurance. I don’t know yet what my out-of-pocket bills will ultimately be, but without insurance, that fear of living in an IKEA box could be a reality.

5. Without paying for Weight Watchers or Jenny Craig (both wonderful weight loss systems from what I hear) I managed to lose 8 lbs. in a week. This shingles weight loss method however is not recommended.

6. My lily-white mind-altering-chemical-free head makes me a very bad candidate for pain meds. I’ve never been into recreational drugs and haven’t had any alcohol in over 16 years (I seem to have more than made up for it with my insane caffeine intake), so Demerol, Dilaudid and Vicodin all gave me the dry heaves, and narcotics that helped the pain gave me weird and vividly real nightmares where cats and rats were chasing me, or that I was the star of my own Fellini film.

7. Commercials ultimately pay my salary, but I am oh so grateful to Dish TV for not forcing me to watch them. Because St. Joseph’s Hospital doesn’t have the luxury of Dish or TiVo, I was bombarded by not only the worst choices of daytime programming, but I was also forced to sit through the identical dozen or so lame commercials every 15 minutes. On the plus side, I was usually too incoherent to pay much attention.

8. I am officially burnt out on Law & Order SVU. I used to be a fan, but after finally getting some of my mind back, I was treated to an entire Sunday with SVU marathons on two different channels so I could switch back and forth whenever there was a commercial. I happened to catch a long stream of episodes where chest-beating outsiders came in for pissing contests with the regulars. And frankly, you can only see so many rapes in one day before you start feeling like Malcolm McDowell being sickened by ultra-violence in A Clockwork Orange. I finally turned it off for good with a bad case of the heebie jeebies and the uneasy feeling that no woman is ever completely safe.

9. No, the clock hasn’t stopped. It just feels that way because pain time moves so much slower than real time.

10. No one is indispensable – even me. I enjoy being a very VERY busy mom, and have a certain amount of narcissist pride that I can pull off anything if I set my mind to it. After my shingles experience, I know I can’t always do that. I missed my kids’ nighttime prayers and school activities, yet another one of my son Jake’s basketball practices, my daughter Mary Belle’s 11th birthday, and whatever teen angst my daughter Emily was going through this week. I dropped volunteer commitments that I take very seriously and social engagements with friends who may never be reunited again. I bailed on my husband, just as he was turning in the comps for his Ph.D., which was incredibly bad timing. My ego might tell me that I’m the best dang dialogue editor in the whole freakin’ universe, but when it came time for me to abruptly bail on not one but two shows, my boss found a couple of equally talented freakin’ great dialogue editors to step in at a moment’s notice to make sure they didn’t miss their dub date.

Yes, I can disappear for a week and a half (and I may still be out of commission for a few weeks) but the world keeps spinning on its axis. Others pitch in and save the day.

It will take me a long time to thank them all.

But I’m going to try.

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