Category Archives: Financial Insecurity

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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Filed under Financial Insecurity, Humor, Husband, Parenting

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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Filed under Financial Insecurity, Humor, Husband, Parenting

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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Filed under Anxiety, Career, Debt, Financial Insecurity, Friends, Humor, Husband, Multitasking, Parenting, Surgery, Teenagers, Volunteering

10 Luxuries I Can Now Afford Since “Once Upon a Time” Got Picked Up for a Full Season

A couple of weeks ago, on the night of its premiere, I wrote the blog Please, Fairy Godmother… Please Make “Once Upon a Time” a Mega Hit!

I got my wish.

On Thursday, ABC announced that it was ordering a full season pick up of the new fairy tale drama, which means 9 additional episodes to their original order of 13.

Why do I care so much? As the dialogue editor for the show, that means 9 more paychecks. And if it truly is a mega hit, I may have 22 weeks of pay for years to come.

Since my last show Brothers & Sisters was cancelled last May, my mind has been going to some very dark places. Unemployment is only available for 26 weeks, and if I didn’t get another show, those dark places could quickly become a reality.

Foreclosure.

No medical insurance.

Food stamps.

Selling my kids into slavery.

But now I can count on some regular paychecks. Well, as long as I keep turning my show in on time and well edited. And also as long as the higher-ups on Once Upon a Time (basically everyone higher than I am) don’t get annoyed that a lacky like myself is incessantly chatting about their hit show on her mommy blog.

So now that I can count on a regular income (about as regular as you can get in the entertainment industry), here are the 10 Luxuries I Can Now Afford Since Once Upon a Time Got Picked Up for a Full Season:

  1. I can stop calling peanut butter the other white meat. We can finally add some lovely Spam to our dinner. Not every night. But some nights.
  2. Feed my dogs instead of eat my dogs. Their growling stomachs were really bugging me, and frankly, these mutts don’t have a lot of meat on their bones to nibble on.
  3. My 2012 wardrobe will not completely consist of my 10-year old’s rejected hand-me-downs from her classmate. I’m so glad Mary Belle’s friend is out of the High School Musical phase. I was feeling like one of those pathetic moms that dresses like her teenage daughter and truly believes it when people tell her they look like sisters.
  4. I can stop filling my Arrowhead water bottles from my neighbor’s hose. I dodged a bullet by never getting caught. Maybe I should make them a quiche to ease my guilty thieving conscience. A Spam quiche.
  5. I’ll donate blood for free. Platelets, however are too lucrative to give away.
  6. I can stop making my kids reuse their dental floss (no wonder they hate to floss).
  7. We won’t be living in a cardboard box on an off ramp. Actually my plan was to create a home out of cardboard boxes from IKEA. I figured that it would be easier to put together than their furniture.
  8. I can start buying my kids’ friends real birthday presents instead of just recycling the gifts they gave to my kids. It’s really embarrassing when I find out the hard way that there’s a personalized message in the book that was given.
  9. I can stop googling “earn money” “black market” and “kidney” together in advanced search mode. But shoot… I could have made a bundle of money. But my kidneys are getting a little old and tired. Too bad my daughter Emily’s got type 1 diabetes. They probably don’t want hers either.
  10. I can keep posting blogs on Sundays (those are the days that public libraries – and hence computers and the internet – are closed). Otherwise, it would take me about two days to text these ramblings via cell phone. Also, Verizon would have cut my service by then anyway for lack of payment.

Ok… so I’m exaggerating a little. But in my head, I really was living in a box on an off ramp, filtering leftover German Shepherd with my single kidney.

A girl can dream, can’t she?

Next – The 10 Luxuries I Can Afford When I Win Lotto.

#1 – Spam every day!

Episode #3 of Once Upon a Time airs tonight at 8:00 pm on ABC. Please watch.

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

Please, Fairy Godmother… Please Make “Once Upon a Time” a Mega Hit!

Once Upon a Time premieres on ABC tonight at 8:00 and depending on the number of Nielsen families tuning in for that hour, it will mean continuous employment for thousands of entertainment industry professionals, or just another show destined for instantaneous obscurity.

As the show’s dialogue editor, I am so far down the entertainment food chain that I don’t even warrant a screen credit (that goes to my sound supervisor Tom deGorter who absolutely deserves to be there on the big screen – depending on how large your tv set is). Yet I’m still antsy. It’s kind of like the big release of a new car model. I’m the guy who installs the floor mats, and I am anxiously waiting to see whether or not it will be the next Prius or just another Gremlin.

My desire for Once Upon a Time’s success is not motivated completely by selfishness (although the trickledown effect of its failure for me would be long-term unemployment followed by home foreclosure… and my kids really like their neighborhood and schools). The fact is – I actually love this show. I’m starting work on episode #5 this week, and I am genuinely hooked.

I’ve always loved fairy tales, whether they’re Disney, Golden Books or The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales (if you have kids, beware; they’ll make you read this one to them over and over and over…). As a kid I performed a skit called Little Red Hot Pants, and in my early 20’s I wrote a Snow White direct-to-video (that never even made it to video) featuring normal-sized men on their knees acting as dwarfs (today that would be oh so politically incorrect). For years I did the sound for my daughters’ plays, which included fairy tale musicals like Into the Woods, Once Upon a Mattress, and Honk. And I know I’m not the only adult who still appreciates a good fairy tale. Although I’m not a fan of them, I’m certain there’s some X-rated film out there with Goldilocks gasping, “This one’s too soft!” “This one’s too hard!” “This one’s just right!”

You must be a shut-in if you haven’t seen a Once Upon a Time billboard. It features either a creepy Rumplestiltskin or an evil queen who looks a lot like Michelle Pfeiffer if Michelle was actually 20 years younger. The fancier billboards actually change the two characters back and forth as you move, which makes me believe it truly is magical, since there haven’t been any reported accidents while drivers were gawking at the metamorphosis.

Once Upon a Time contains all your classic fairy tale characters: Snow White, Cinderella, various princes and evil queens, even Jiminy Cricket and Little Red Riding Hood. The most memorable character is Rumplestiltskin (played by the amazing Scottish actor Robert Carlyle from Trainspotting and The Full Monty). The settings are grand castles and dark dungeons, and it features elaborate costumes, hair and makeup, and a cast of horses that would rival a Miramax film.

But that only half of this fairy tale. The evil queen has put a curse on the fairy tale characters, and they are all transported to a present day New England Town with no memory of their true existence. Henry, an adopted 10-year old boy, is the only one in Storybrooke who is aware of the curse. He enlists the help of his skeptical birth mother Emma, a bounty hunter whom Henry believes to be the daughter of Snow White and Prince Charming.

Once Upon a Time is created by Edward Kitsis and Adam Horowitz, the executive producers of Lost, so I’m hopeful that their fans will be seeking an exciting (and hopefully not so confusing) refuge since that show wrapped last season.

The show is scheduled against The Amazing Race and The Simpsons. Now in its 11th season, that race is no longer so amazing, and as much as I still love The Simpsons, after two dozen years of downing Duff beer, Homer can’t possibly have a functioning liver.

Watch Once Upon a Time tonight. If you don’t want to do it for me and my family, do it for yourself, because I think you’re going to love it. If you miss it or don’t have a recorder, you can watch it online here.

And because Once Upon a Time is owned by ABC (which is owned by Disney), there’s sure to be a new theme park ride or attraction based on the show: Snow White’s Scary Adventure.

Looks like they already did that.

Sleeping Beauty’s Castle.

Ditto.

Stay tuned for the Grand Opening of Disneyland’s newest wild ride: Rumplestiltskin’s Spinning Room. However Disney will be the one taking home the gold.

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Lucky to be Working Again?

Taking a break

First of all, let me tell you how grateful I am to have a job. Every morning I wake up to NPR, and by the time I get out the door there’s always a story about the unemployed.

From May through September, that would be me, as I mentioned in last week’s blog The Show Biz Hiatus Dance.

I’ve now been back to work for three weeks and have received two glorious paychecks. I’m not scrambling to grab another balance transfer on a 0% interest credit card to pay for the DWP bill, yet knowing that the temperature has to reach triple digits in my house before I turn on the air conditioner.

Because I am a very VERY busy mom, my calendar is always chock full of commitments, most of which I try to fulfill, and because I work from home, my schedule is flexible enough that I can usually pull it off.

Here was my extracurricular schedule this week:

Saturday:

8:30 am – 5:30 pm Models of Pride conference with Emily

6:00 pm – 8:00 pm Going away dinner for my neighbor

8:00 pm – 12:00 pm Colfax Charter Elementary Parents Social

Sunday:

8:00 am – 1:00 pm AIDS Walk LA

Monday:

9:00 am – 10:00 am Meeting

6:00 pm – 8:30 pm Colfax Annual Giving Telethon

Tuesday:

7:30 pm – 8:30 pm Meeting

Wednesday:

4:30 pm – 5:15 pm First basketball practice for Jake

7:00 pm – 9:00 pm Valley Village Homeowners Association Meeting

Thursday:

10:20 am –? Great California Shakeout

7:00 – 8:30 pm Take Mary Belle to Turning Pages volunteer group

Friday:

9:00 – 10:00 Celebrate my friend Lisa’s birthday

This doesn’t include car pools, daily community reading in my son’s kindergarten class, family dinner, chores, helping my kids with homework, or obvious things like taking a shower or sleep.

This was a tough week. I’m a dialogue editor working from home on the new ABC show Once Upon a Time, and frankly, the production sound sucks. There are probably a lot of variables of which I am unaware, but there should never be a reason why I should be cleaning 5000 microphone zaps out of a show. A job that typically takes me 50 to 60 hours this week took close to 80.

Where did I get those 80 hours? I made it to Jake’s first basketball practice, but otherwise everything after Monday was a wash, including the car pool, reading, dinner, chores, and even eventually the shower. And sleep. On Wednesday and Thursday I crawled out of bed, parked my butt in my Herman Miller Aeron desk chair and stayed there until the wee hours, leaving only to make a smoothie or use the bathroom.

Thursday morning, I got a call from the dub stage saying my tracks sounded like crap (ok, they didn’t use the word “crap,” but it was the same implication).

What? No one has ever accused my tracks of sounding like crap. My boss told me that they were trying to move along with the mix, but that I would need to recut the problem areas, which apparently were across the entire show.

While I was on the phone with my boss, I got another call with the caller ID from my daughter’s high school. Emily wasn’t feeling well and wanted me to pick her up. The school is 20 miles away, and I realized at that moment that there was no earthly way for me to finish my show by Friday.

I started to cry. Not just cry, but bawl my head off, heaving and jerking around like some daytime soap star. It was the hardest and longest crying fit I’ve had probably since puberty. My 15-year old was still on the other end of the line.

“Breathe, mom. Breathe. It’s ok. I’ll just lie down in the nurse’s office and wait til school gets out.”

I barely heard her as I cried some more and dripped tears and runny snot all over my bed. I wanted to take a nap. I wanted to die.

I sobbed a little longer, and then started working again.

My husband Tom came home from work, made dinner, and read to Jake. Mary Belle helped Jake with his crafty project (don’t get me started – those crafty projects will soon be getting an angry blog of their own). Emily took the school bus home and said she felt better by the end of the day.

I kept working.

I started to make better time.

It turned out that there was a technical glitch on the stage, and my tracks were actually not crap. Oops. I started to reclaim a small portion of my fractured self image.

I worked again until after midnight, then drove to Disney at 7:00 am with four more minutes of material to cut. I brought my laptop, MBox and drive and finished cutting on the stage, managing to stay just one step ahead of what they needed.

I left the Disney lot just after 1:00.

And now I’m on to the next episode.

I’m going to start early erasing some of my calendar for next week. And I’m thinking of turning on the air conditioner tonight, just to remind myself how lucky I am to have a job.

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Filed under Anxiety, Career, Debt, Financial Insecurity, Humor, Multitasking, Parenting, Volunteering

The Show Biz Hiatus Dance

Sorry folks.

I’m a little busy with my day job this week, meaning the one that pays the bills (or at least some of them). I’ve got a dozen ideas rolling around in my head, but I just don’t have time yet to jot them down via keyboard and upload them into cyberspace. So in the meantime…

For those of you new to Very VERY busy mom, I started this blog on North Hollywood/Toluca Lake’s Patch.com, the hyper-local newsite owned by AOL.  This was my very first post and appeared on May 4, 2011. I thought I might reprint it here, since I’m now currently on the opposite end of The Show Biz Hiatus Dance.

The Hiatus Dance as a tv sound editor

Man is the only earthly being that senses the concept of time, and as long as he’s been aware of it, he’s been slicing that time into “before” and “after” sections. Nine months of an anticipated due date is followed by decades of annual birthdays (which progressively become fodder for mock and ridicule). Our Gregorian calendar divides our years into B.C. and A.D., which more recently can be dissected into “Before Children” and “After Divorce.” And for many of us who are seasonally employed in the entertainment industry, our world is split into two distinct segments: “working” and “on hiatus.”Last week I was working.

This week I am on hiatus.

Work = money and no time. Hiatus = time and no money. And as Kipling said, “Never the twain shall meet.”

For over a quarter of a century, I have been a television sound editor, working primarily from September through May. I get a few breaks around Christmas and in the spring, but most weeks it’s 50 – 60 hours working on a strict deadline. And then faster than you can say “Nielsen ratings,” I’m unemployed.

Brisco County, Jr.

My busiest week on record is a total of 112 clocked hours, so when I say I was working every waking minute, it’s not much on an exaggeration. You know you’re working too much when you want to dial “9” before making a phone call, or instinctively grab a toilet seat cover when using the little girls’ room. My hardest month was May of 1994, when I was in the midst of May sweeps for my show The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr., while simultaneously cutting the pilots for ER and Third Watch.

ER

After working 16-hour days for a couple of weeks, I went to work on Friday at 6:00 am and worked straight through until 1:15 Saturday afternoon. Then I went to a wedding.

Third Watch

I was younger then. Today that would kill me. And believe me, I would be praying for death.

Today’s 50-60 hour week should feel like part-time work. But now that I have three kids and a very busy life outside of work, it’s become a hard task to gracefully master. I’m lucky to have a husband who doesn’t work in the industry. He has a normal 40-hour week (albeit an early one – 6:00 am – 2:00 pm) and picks up a lot of slack. If we have home-cooked meals, he’s the one who prepares them. He’s often the parent who picks up the kids from school, takes them to appointments and helps them with their homework. It’s really hard to feel like a martyr when your husband is the one cleaning up the midnight flu vomit. But even he can’t do it all when my workload is heavy.

When I’m on a show, we eat a lot of Costco ready-made meals. I have to just accept the sticky floors and the thick layer of dog hair that accumulates in every corner of the house. Lack of exercise has made my hips even more Jell-O-like, and I blame sleep deprivation for making me forget the names of my children. My responses to Evites are posted in this order: “YES!”…. then “Maybe”… and finally a day or two before the event, a very apologetic “No.” I have a half-dozen saved phone messages from my 10-year old daughter pleading “Please come home Mommy! PLEASE!” and I have to create auto replies for my emails saying that it’s not that I’m out of the office, it’s just that I’m too busy to look at them.

Joan Cusack running in "Broadcast News"

When describing my work schedule to the 9-to-5ers, I compare it to two different movies, which is appropriate since I work in entertainment. The first is from the 1987 film Broadcast News where Joan Cusack has less than 60 seconds to leap over and under file cabinets, drinking fountains and small children to deliver videotape before the station is forced to cut to black. This hilarious scene shows the urgency and panic of working under an impossible deadline, and it’s similar to the nightmares that wake me up when I really need to be getting my beauty sleep.

The Slave Galley in "Ben Hur"

The other film is the rowing of the galley slaves scene in the classic film Ben Hur. I think of this scene whenever one of my at-home mom friends suggests that I make it a point of taking time to relax. This would be akin to a shackled Charlton Heston, rowing at top ramming speed, turning to the guy with the whip and asking “Can’t I just pause a moment and take a little ‘me’ time?”

I have it easier than most. Working in post-production (and for this season working completely from home) I have a certain amount of autonomy and flexibility as long as I get my show done.

Chained to work

Those who work in production are not so lucky. They get up at 6:00 am and travel to whatever location they’re shooting that day, and they are literally slaves until after the last scene of the day when the director yells “Cut.” They might finish up at midnight and do it all over again the next day. Granted, the crew has meals brought to them, but so do prisoners in San Quentin, but at least the convicts get a full night’s sleep.

And then there’s hiatus.

I actually get an adrenaline rush just thinking about hiatus.

Ahhh... hiatus!!!

My to-do list is miles long, and ranges from big projects like cleaning out my garage and painting the house to simple little things like picking my kids up from school on foot, or taking a moment to brush my matted dogs. I’m looking forward to reading a book. Yesterday I went to the YMCA and took my first Pilates class in four months. Unfortunately, today I’m walking like I just road a horse from Bakersfield. I also spent two hours at Target strolling down every single aisle – and I did it with my four-year old. As anyone with a preschooler will immediately attest, this should have been the equivalent of an afternoon in hell. Instead, I had a great time, although a variety of squirt guns and squishy balls magically appeared in my basket.

You used to know who was on hiatus, because you’d all see each other in the unemployment line the following Monday, but now (mercifully) you can file online. Marie et Cie and Aroma Café bustle with new summer regulars who finally have time to socialize or start that screenplay they’ve been talking about forever. The 12-step rooms are packed with those who finally have time to work on their addictions, or who are under the misconceived notion that they’ll get their big break by pitching to a celebrity during an AA meeting.

The workaholics have a big problem. If they don’t have a family or a hobby, the transition from 180 mph to a dead stop is just too extreme. They’ll end up like the stereotypical housewives – eating bon bons and watching Oprah, or in the case of the men, eating ships & salsa and watching ESPN.

Many friends of mine in the industry have a tough time making the work/hiatus transition, especially when they have kids. The ones with a full-time nanny have the easiest time, because they get a long vacation and don’t have to clean up a mess that’s been piling up for nine months. But those with a spouse who stays home with the kids tend to perform a confusing dance of Who’s Job is it Anyway? for the first month or so of hiatus. The hardworking parent finally gets some quality time with his little angels, but completely disrupts the routines established by the long-suffering spouse. The breadwinner thinks he deserves a little downtime but the homemaker resents having him parked on the sofa all day watching Law and Order reruns.

The at-home parent feels like a chump who has to play bad cop with the kids because the good cop/parent is suddenly home, taking back some authority and lets the kids stay up late, have extra dessert, or skip chores. This leaves the other parent dealing with cranky kids the next morning, hyper sugar highs or cleaning tornado-ravaged bedrooms. With this feast or famine style of cohabitation, I’m often amazed that entertainment industry marriages survive at all.

The West Wing

And then there’s the money… or rather lack of it. For those working on a successful show, hiatus is a vacation like one any other deserving American might take, only longer. In the late ‘90’s/early 2000’s I was the dialogue editor on the full seven-season run of “The West Wing,” and I always had an intense summer itinerary with my kids which included touring amusement parks, exploring every park within a ten-mile radius and taking weekly beach excursions.

brothers & sisters

However my current show, Brothers & Sisters, seems to be in a limbo state. It has not been picked up for the fall season, but its set has not been struck either, so I am anxiously waiting for the fall lineup to see if I get to go to the beach or start scrambling for another job. Maybe I’ll be on the next long-running hit show… or I might land a stinker that gets cancelled before Halloween. If the latter is the case, hiatus = beau coup time and a home foreclosure.

So much for the glamorous life of show biz.

Once Upon a Time

Here’s my happy ending –

This season I’m cutting dialogue on the show “Once Upon A Time” which premieres Sunday, October 23 at 8:00 pm on ABC. We did not lose the house, but our credit card debt now rivals those of many small nations. I am still trying to clean out the garage.

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Why Can’t the Real World Be Like Our Little Restaurant Fundraisers?

Mrs. Walker with kindergartners

Like other schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District, our local elementary school has been hit hard by budget cuts. Just last month Colfax Charter Elementary’s School Site Council voted to allocate an additional $68,000 to pay for five classroom aides, office staff, and our librarian – funds that in the past were paid for by the district, but are now paid for by the parents.

Besides an impressive 2011 API score of 910, Colfax is attractive to the families of Valley Village for its commitment to the arts, green program, and technology – all which are principally paid for by parent-run fundraisers.

Today it takes a lot more than bake sales to raise that kind of cash. Our annual giving campaign is in full swing, aiming to raise at least the $600 per child it takes to keep the school’s programs afloat. An outdoor movie night, holiday boutique and the upcoming Turkey Trot fundraiser will also hopefully make a dent in our stretched budget.

Last Tuesday we had a double-header, or what I called The Freeway Series minus the freeway. Green Apple China Bistro and Cold Stone Creamery are located in the same Studio City strip mall across from each other, and they both agreed to donate a percentage of their sales back to Colfax.

Teachers and our principal scooping ice cream

On our end, we did a little bit of advertising. We put flyers in all the kids’ backpacks, posted signs around the school entrances, advertised the day on our marquee, added the event to our weekly email blast to all the Colfax families, and made the announcement at our Monday morning assembly.

Green Apple and Cold Stone gave us a percentage of all sales for the day, and as an added incentive, the teachers were invited to scoop ice cream in 15-minute shifts.

Cold Stone line out the door 1

A good bake sale can bring in a hundred dollars, maybe even two. It takes a lot of manpower to make and sell the baked goods, a lot of dough in eggs and flour, and a lot of waste from unsold merchandise. Still, a hundred or two is a boost that can pay for some art supplies or repair a computer.

Yet in one day, these combined restaurant fundraisers brought our school nearly $1000! There was a steady line of customers streaming out the door for two solid hours at Cold Stone, and because the teachers volunteered, they didn’t need to pay for extra bodies during the busy hours.

Teachers scooping ice cream

It’s quite the win-win for all of us. Colfax gains a big wad of money, and the only expense was about $20 in copies for the flyers. The restaurants get a nice tax write-off, and a little bit of free advertising. They also get increased business for the day, and hopefully new loyal customers who will return again and again to thank the businesses that support their local school. The parents get a delicious meal and dessert, and didn’t have to pay a penny more than they normally would if they were going out to dinner. The kids have a great time seeing their teachers outside of school and giving them their order for a change. There’s a strong sense of community as the families have an opportunity to socialize.

Cold Stone line out the door 2

Don’t you think this could be a lesson for the rest of our ailing nation? Why don’t the big businesses give back to their community? Not just a tax write off, but something like 20 – 25%. Like the teachers, the community leaders should volunteer some of their time to mingle with their constituents and get their hands a little dirty (with ice cream, not with whatever muck dirty politicians swim in). The citizens will love those big businesses even more for helping them out and they will in turn become more loyal customers. The real winners will be the kids who get to reap the benefits of better school and a stronger community. And everyone has a good time in the process.

In a perfect world…

But until then, I’ll be buying my ice cream from Cold Stone and my Chinese food from Green Apple. And so will my kids. And then maybe even their kids.

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Filed under Financial Insecurity, Fundraising, Humor, Parenting, Public Education, Public Schools, Volunteering

It’s My Birthday Today. Please PLEASE Don’t Get Me Anything!

Happy Birthday to Me!

Today is my birthday. For one day out of 365 and a quarter days I get to have my cake and eat it too. Unfortunately, I have a lot of wonderful friends who want to give me more cake, and as much as I appreciate the thought, effort and financial exchange, I don’t want to eat their cake too. At 49, my metabolism isn’t what it used to be.

My husband Tom asked me what I wanted for my birthday. “Your homemade jambalaya and a funny card,” I answered. I’ve now made it to the age where that answer doesn’t secretly mean: “And dinner at a really expensive restaurant this weekend. And something sparkly. And flowers.” I can’t afford the money or calories for the dinner, we’re not going anywhere that requires any bling, and in just two days that bouquet will be dead and stinky. However I will probably give my husband the pseudo-silent treatment if that funny card is something lame like a zany cat hanging upside down.

My kids asked me what I wanted for my birthday. For a few years now, I’ve been giving them the same answer: “I want you to be really REALLY nice to me all day.” Too bad this isn’t the kind of gift that just keeps giving. But it’s still what I wish for every year when I blow out my candles.

I have friends who want to buy me gifts, and I try to nix that one before it pops out of their well-meaning mouths. Here are my reasons:

1. I’m trying to get rid of the crap I already have. I don’t need new crap to add to it (not to say that your gift is crap, but frankly the formula is: GIFT + TIME = CRAP).

2. If you give me something, I will feel inclined to buy something on your birthday, and I’m pretty broke. It’ll probably be something from the Dollar Tree in the line of that lame and zany cat hanging upside down and it will immediately fall into your crap category. Let’s just not do that dance.

3. If you buy me something, I will have to send you a thank you card. That means $3.95 plus tax for the card and the 44 cent stamp, and that’s about the price of a venti café mocha from Starbucks, which I can’t afford. There’s also the time to drive over to the drug store, park, pick out something better than a lame and zany cat hanging upside down, and then the real clincher – trying to think of something funny to say on it when I’ve already used up my funny trying to write this damn blog.

For the three previous years, between work and getting my MLS, I was very VERY busy on my birthday. So busy that I didn’t answer the phone or look at one email. Throughout the day I heard various slightly off-key voices singing: “Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday to you. Happy birthday dear Cathy. Happy birthday to you.” I didn’t want to take the time to figure out how to turn the volume down, so I just put a pillow over the answering machine. No offense to any of you who sang to me last year. I wasn’t talking to you. Your voice is lovely.

It took me over a week to get to the emails, and I don’t think I even answered them. I believe I was just visualizing a virtual high-five as a response. The Facebook messages were long gone out of the Facebooksphere by the time I read them. I felt like a very bad friend.

Happy Birthday Facebook notifications

This year I’m answering the phone (and unfortunately hearing the entire happy birthday tune without the ability to fast-forward), glancing at emails and reading my Facebook responses. Although I’m still very busy this year (rather than very VERY busy) it is a high quality problem to have a lack of time to read birthday wishes from your friends. I am lucky to have so many great friends, or at least people who claim to be my friend on Facebook.

My good friend Lisa just popped over with some flowers and a card. Fortunately the card has a pair of Renaissance angels instead of a lame and zany cat hanging upside down. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that the flowers will be dead and stinky in a couple of days, and she could have got herself two Starbucks venti café mochas for the price.

I think I’d better not inform my good friend Lisa about my latest blog.

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Filed under Financial Insecurity, Friends, Humor, Parenting