Category Archives: Volunteering

The End of the Blog Hiatus

I

I tried to stop time. But time won.

The problem with having a blog called Very VERY Busy Mom is that it implies that if I am busy enough to warrant the second VERY in the title, when the heck do I find time to write a blog?

Exactly.

In Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, Harry’s gal pal Hermione Granger uses a device called a “time turner” which transports her to the past so she can double up her class schedule.

I’d love to win lotto one day, but I would trade those millions for my very own time turner. I’d get my work done with no stress at all, then use the time turner to spend time with my kids, hang out with my husband, exercise regularly, clean my house, and maybe have coffee with a friend.

But after a day or two of time turning, I’d want to tear out my lawn and put in drought-resistant plants, learn to speak Spanish fluently, write a book, start a small business, and train for marathon.

Don’t get me started on travel or getting a few more degrees.

I could never be happy with just two time turners. I would need two. Or three. Or infinity.

When other busy moms are taking a little “me” time – getting a mani-pedi, munching on a bag of chocolate-covered pretzels while watching Oprah (or possibly full seasons of Breaking Bad or Game of Thrones in a single sitting), or taking a little 5150 vacation in a psyche ward, I prefer to be productive. And write. My blog is my creative outlet, my little pick-me-up, and my own “Mommy’s Little Helper” without the hangover in the morning.

But for the past seven months, Very VERY Busy Mom has fallen by the wayside in favor of other pleasant pastimes like occasional exercise, a minimum sleep requirement and establishing a regular dog poop pickup routine before my backyard earns the nickname “Lord of the Flies.”

I decided to take a break for a week, which turned into a month, then turned into over half a year, and I felt like quite the loser whenever friends would come up to me and say, “Hey, Very VERY Busy Mom! I haven’t seen a new blog lately!” Their intention was encouraging and good-natured, but the translation into my insecure brain was “You’re a slacker! Show me your collection of bed sores!”

Instead of writing blog posts, I ended up finishing my third season editing dialogue on the ABC fairy tale drama Once Upon a Time (if you haven’t seen it yet, add it to your Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones marathon). The lack of time spent writing blogs enabled me to get my show done without it getting bounced from the stage – a term synonymous with “you’ll never work in this town again.”

My year-long obsession researching colleges, scholarships, and ACT & SAT prep for my 17-yeat old has culminated with her acceptance to the perfect college for her (Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois – known for its attraction of quirky kids ), but on the flipside, I haven’t practiced driving with Emily often enough to be certain she’s a safe enough driver to earn her license. Not that LA drivers generally are considerate enough to warrant a license, but I want her to be somewhat prepared for the cockfight.

I’ve spent an exorbitant amount of time behind the wheel of my minivan transporting my 13-year old social butterfly to probably two dozen Bar and Bat Mitzvahs (even though we don’t have a drop of Jewish blood in our veins – Mary is loved by all races, creeds, and religions), and more social events than a Presidential candidate campaigning for a tight seat.

Although I’ve been making it a priority to read Harry Potter to my 7-year old every night (we’re now on #4 – Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) my son unfortunately has received the dregs of any free time I had left, so I missed a few of his baseball games and Cub Scout activities. Fortunately my Prince of a Husband picked up the slack as baseball coach and Assistant Den Master and managed to be the token parent there for absolutely every event. My hubby also loves it when I mention him favorably in my blog, so I’m glad he gave me something to write about.

I still love volunteering at the kids’ schools and in the community, but there have been whole weeks when I’ve gone completely AWOL and the other very VERY busy moms, dads and community do-gooders manage to get everything done even without my indispensable help. Proof that no one – even mwah (not sure how to spell this one correctly since it’s not really a word) is irreplaceable.

This is not the post I envisioned after a long hiatus from writing. I would rather have penned “How I Invested My Lotto Winnings,” or “Reflections as a Staff Writer on The Daily Show,” but unfortunately, that’s not how I’ve spent my last seven absent months.

I’ve just been very VERY busy.

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Filed under Career, Family, Humor, Husband, Kids, Multitasking, Parenting, Teenagers, Volunteering

Happy Father’s Day to the Guy Who Knocked Me Up!

happy-fathers-day-knocked-up-mom-fathers_day-ecards-someecards Life was pretty simple for Tom in the fall of 2004. He owned a tiny, unkempt home in Van Nuys and his three dogs happily roamed the huge yard filled with knee-high weeds. His roommate Travis was a barrel of laughs and they’d have cigar-infused poker games beginning at 10:30 pm on Friday nights and lasting until the wee hours of Saturday. Tom spent his free time watching ballgames and blaring Black Sabbath as he tooled around in his little sports-like car.

IMG_1953“Tom’s such a nice guy,” his friends would say. “It’s a shame he can’t find a nice girl.”

It never occurred to me that I might be that nice girl.

Screen shot 2013-06-16 at 8.03.29 PM

Emily & Mary 2003

In 1995, I became friends with Tom and his soon-to-be wife, who became his soon-to-be ex.  My ex-husband and I split up in May of 2004 when my daughters were 3 and 7 years old, and six months later, I was frustrated that I couldn’t get the internet to work. I knew Tom was great with computers, so I asked if he could set up my  Mac and offered to make him dinner in exchange.

Screen shot 2013-06-16 at 8.05.33 PM

Tom & Baby Jake

Apparently he could run rings around a PC, but he’d never touched a Mac. Tom’s roommate gave him a crash course before he came over so he could fake it.

Tom never did get me online, but a year later we were married, and three months after our wedding day I was pregnant. I was already 43 and in perimenopause. He was 38 and apparently had some tenacious swimmers.

Screen shot 2013-06-16 at 8.06.48 PM

Tom and 4-year old Mary

Suddenly Tom had a new home in a different part of the valley – one where the lawn was expected to be short and the mess shouldn’t be chokeable to young children. He became an instant step dad to my two little girls, and his life was no longer his own.

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Tom & 8-year old Emily

There were constant play dates, slumber parties, and endless backyard karaoke performances with pop songs and show tunes that would make his ears bleed. Tom knew nothing about decorating Barbie’s Dream House, putting on Fashion Polly gowns, or watching predictable Disney Channel sitcoms with overbearing laugh tracks. But he learned.

Today Tom is blaring the brand new Black Sabbath album, but now it’s from his family-friendly mini SUV. The late night cigar-infused poker games are few and far between, but he attended one last night and won a whopping 70 bucks. Tom still has 3 dogs (2 of them replaced the other 2 that died), but he now has 3 kids added to the mix.

Tom Jake Raingutter Regata

Tom & Jake at the Cub Scout’s Raingutter Regatta

Tom became the treasurer of our local elementary school even before his own son was a student, and the assistant den leader for Jake’s Cub Scout Pack. It’s a fairly odd turn for a man whose favorite song lyrics come from a guy known for biting the head off a bat.  He also became the head coach for Jake’s Toluca Baseball team. Tom Jake Toluca GrettelTom even built a batting cage in our backyard driveway, complete with enclosed netting, and he pitches wiffle balls to Jake after work.

His life has become much busier than I’m sure he ever dreamed it could be. Tom started his own blog Middle Age Metal HeadParenting With a Heavy Metal Twist. Although I doubt that he’s fond of Talking Heads (probably too conventional), the common theme running through his blog seems to be like the band’s Once in a Lifetime lyric: How did I get here?

Screen shot 2013-06-16 at 8.18.35 PMTom doesn’t spend all weekend watching ballgames anymore. Instead, he mows the lawn and takes out the trash. He washes the dogs, shaves the Australian shepherd’s hairy, poopy butt, and fixes anything that breaks, including the 83-year old brass doorknobs that fall off weekly.

Tom Mary pool

Tom & Mary in our above-ground pool

He sets up our above ground pool in May, takes it down in October and plays water volleyball with Mary and Jake most summer evenings. He’s teaching Emily how to drive and play guitar. He makes us delicious, healthy meals and guides us in 20-minute workout sessions. During family dinners, he has us each go around the dinner table and say the three things we did well, the one thing we wish we could do better, and what we could do to get better at that thing.Tom Jake cowboys

Tom has a twisted sense of humor, and never ceases to make us all laugh. We never get sick of him saying, “We’re off like a prom dress,” or his friend Joe’s line, “Don’t sweat the petty stuff; pet the sweaty stuff.” Tom doesn’t hold a grudge, always tries to get us to look on the bright side, and has a never-ending faith that no matter what happens, together we can walk through anything.

Tom Jake“Tom’s such a nice guy,” his friends still say.

How lucky I am to have become his nice girl.

Note: Thank you to someecards for their inspiration for the title of this blog post. For Father’s Day, I sent Tom their “Happy You-Knocked-Up-Mom Day” e-card. He thanked me by saying he’s happy to oblige any time.

Thank you to Grettel Cortes for the fabulous photo!

Today: Emily, Cathy, Tom Mary & Jake. Thank you to Grettel Cortes for the fabulous photo!

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Filed under Family, Holidays, Humor, Husband, Parenting, Volunteering

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

Inglish iz uh Stoopid Langwij

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

English is a stupid language.Tomb Comb Bomb

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

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

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

“What.”

English is a stupid language.

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

English is a stupid language.

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

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

English is a stupid language.

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

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

ˈIŋ-glish iz uh ˈstü-pəd ˈlaŋ-gwij.

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

“Uhhhhhhhh…”

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

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

Dictionary.com

Merriam-Webster

American HeritageOxford

Collins

Macmillan

Yes, English is a very very stupid language.

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Filed under Anxiety, Humor, Kids, Public Education, Volunteering

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 Would Make a Really Lousy Hooker

Sensible hooker shoes

There are few activities I loathe more than trying to sell something. Even if it’s a worthwhile product like my son’s upcoming Boys Scouts microwave popcorn fundraiser, the whole selling process makes me feel like a slimy used car salesman. I despise being a bother or a pest and I don’t like trying to convince people to buy something they may not want or need.

The thing I hate selling the most is myself. My Catholic upbringing instilled a certain amount of humility in my veins, so the thought of shouting, “Look at me! Aren’t I great?” would feel akin to a mortal sin that would cost me three Hail Marys and six Our Fathers in the penance box.

Truth be told, I’m generally a likeable person. Whatever I do, I do it with enthusiasm. And I’m a very hard worker. But I would feel really uncomfortable if I was forced to go around town tooting my own horn about it.

This is why I would make a really lousy hooker.

Of course, if I happened to land a job in the world’s oldest profession, I would try to be the best damn hooker I could be. I could see myself on a street corner, wearing sensible Payless Shoes heels and a Victoria’s Secret pushup bra, striving to look attractive in a crowd of other gals with taller platforms and manufactured breasts that don’t need help standing at attention. Rather than promote myself, I would silently hope my potential customers would inherently sense that I was generally likeable, enthusiastic, and a hard worker and pick me for my good company.

I bring up this hooker analogy because this is the way I felt the past couple of weeks. I had to sell myself in a recent election, and I was wishing I had Heidi Fleiss doing the hawking for me.

I’ve been serving on the board of Neighborhood Council Valley Village for about a year and a half in a Homeowner’s seat, and now I was running for the Education seat. I’m a hard worker, I’m dedicated to education, and I enjoy volunteering in my community. Most people who meet me seem to like me. Either that or they’re faking it really well.

I thought I’d be a good fit.

And I probably would have been if I had run unopposed. But a lovely woman who actually works in education threw her hat into the ring, so now I was expected to campaign.

Six of seven incumbents including myself were running for re-election, and we called ourselves The Slate of 6. The others are knowledgeable, extremely dedicated and completely deserving of another term in office.These candidates knocked on doors, shook hands, introduced themselves and delivered handbills promoting The Slate of 6.

The thought of trolling door to door like a persistent Jehovah’s Witness was terrifying. Also, I happened to be swamped with work. So instead, I created daily Facebook posts telling everyone to save the date and vote for The Slate of 6. After a while, I felt like The Slate of 6 was a recorded loop over a bullhorn, and I got that slimy used car salesman feeling whenever I ran into a Facebook friend.

In the mornings after drop off, I passed out flyers outside our local elementary school where I know about half the parents. I planned my speech and rehearsed it over and over:

“Hi. I’m running for the Education seat of Neighborhood Council Valley Village, and I hope you’ll come out to vote for The Slate of 6 on September 20th.”

The school bell rang, the children entered their classrooms, and throng of parents approached the gate. I was ready to run interception.

“Hi. I’m running…”

That’s about as far as I could get. Because they were the ones who were running.

Frankly, I hate it when anyone tries to shove a flyer into my face, so why shouldn’t anyone else hate it as well? Plus, they were on their way to start their busy day. If it was me, I’d be racing off too.

I was so uncomfortable, I felt like a tortoise not only hiding in its shell, but crawling into a catatonic ball within that shell. I ended up shyly handing out the handbills with my head down, not making eye contact, and praying that I wouldn’t be shunned at PTA meetings for the next five years.

Most parents took the flyers but didn’t have time for my pitch. Those who knew me were quite polite and many others were actually encouraging.

But the whole ordeal was excruciating.

Over four days I ended up passing out 300 handbills, and unlike street vendors hawking outside the Sports Arena, not a single flyer ended up as trash on the ground. I was encouraged.

Election day finally arrived. The campaigning from the entire Slate paid off and The Slate of 6 won by a landslide!

Today, I’m happy to be back working with a team of dedicated community supporters on an organization I have grown to love. Thank God these board members already know that I am generally likeable, enthusiastic, and a hard worker, so I don’t have to sell myself to them.

And now I can breathe a sigh of relief that I can change my Facebook message to something else that makes me equally uncomfortable:

Promoting this blog.

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Filed under Anxiety, Career, Friends, Fundraising, Humor, Public Education, Volunteering

Volunteerism – It’s Not Just a Job; It’s a Job Without a Paycheck.

At about 3:45 pm on Tuesday, I dropped by the dubbing stage on the Disney lot, where Erik the recordist downloaded my conformed dialogue tracks. By 4:00 pm I was waving goodbye to my supervisor, my boss, the mixers and the producer of “Once Upon a Time.” I probably won’t see any of them again until season 2 begins next September.

I love my job as the dialogue editor on the show, but with only 22 episodes a year, it leaves a very long hiatus.

So on Wednesday morning I woke up and started my new job. I love this job too – probably even more than I love working on a hit show. And my new job pays nothing.

When I say “nothing,” I don’t mean that it’s something close to nothing like minimum wage at McDonald’s. My new job pays nothing because for the next month I’ll be working as a volunteer.

Since 2001 I have been a parent at Colfax Charter Elementary School in Valley Village. Back then, most families in the neighborhood sent their kids to private schools. They didn’t really know much about our little public school. So in 1998 when my daughter turned 2, I started volunteering at Colfax in an effort to infiltrate the school and see first hand what it was like.

They placed me in a 1st grade class with a teacher named Paige Gage, and I fell in love. Besides having a name that rhymed (something every 1st grade teacher should have) she was engaging, fun, and she genuinely seemed to enjoy being there everyday with the kids. It turns out she was a parent there years ago and became a teacher later. Her children are now grown and she’s still at Colfax and teaching 2nd grade now. And I’m still in love with her.

There are countless parents and members of the community who consistently devote a truckload of time to help this little gem of a school. Throughout the work season I participate in little ways as a room parent and in PTA, but when I’m on hiatus, I have the opportunity to really dive in. It is an incredibly rewarding experience to work with other volunteers to make our wonderful school even better and be able to interact with the kids. Here are some of the really fun things I can look forward to doing for the next 6 weeks of the school year:

Kindergarten violins

On Mondays and Wednesdays at 12:30 I get to help my son Jake and his classmates place their feet correctly on the Arthur Murray-like foot positions on the floor and keep the boys from having sword fights with the bows. The kindergarten recital is May 24. For that day I’ll probably work as a kid wrangler and try to keep them from messing up their white button-down shirts. Good thing the recital is first thing in the morning or after recess I’d be racing home and washing a large load of white button-down shirts.

Helping in the classroom

Today I helped the kids paint sunflowers. I let a girl named Emma make a second one after I totally screwed hers up by suggesting she fix a part of it. She was doing way better without my help.

Beautification

This Saturday, May 12th we’re all bringing our gardening gloves, rakes and creaking backs to the campus to sweep, clean and plant. It’s scheduled right between Jake’s baseball game and my niece’s baby shower in Yucaipa, so I can just spare an hour. That’s how long it should take to clean up 10 square yards of an area covered in juice box straw wrappers. Damn Juicy Juice.

PTA/PACE Elections

May 17th I get to see who’s going to be Co-VP of Communications with me. The term will be up for my current partner Joanne, which is really scary since she’s the one who takes the great photos and sends out the Constant Contact email messages to the whole school. I’m crossing my fingers that the new Co-VP is artistic and tech-savvy. Otherwise I’ll need to learn how to take photos where people actually have their eyes open.

Restaurant Fundraisers

Lisa and Abbe are a couple of energetic go-getters, and I work with them on Restaurant Fundraisers where Colfax gets 20% back. I have the task of counting out the exact number of flyers for each classroom and placing them in the teachers’ boxes so they’ll go home in the students’ backpacks. We have fundraisers at Menchie’s on May 18th and a combo Cold Stone Creamery / Green Apple China Bistro on June 5th. The teachers scoop the ice cream at Cold Stone, and there’s always a line out the door of students who ask, “Mrs. Tepper…  can I have another sample?”

Teacher Appreciation Lunch

I’ve signed up to bring lasagna. I used to make an amazing lasagna before I had kids.  Now every year I sign up to bring a lasagna to the Teacher Appreciation Lunch with the intention of making a homemade one, and every year I realize that an amazing lasagna takes about half a day to prepare. I’m thinking of just cooking a Stouffer’s in one of my Corningware trays so it looks like I actually spent more time on it than merely turning an oven dial.

Vaudeville

Every year, that same teacher I volunteered for back in 1998 puts on a Vaudeville Show. Starting in January, Paige Gage has rehearsals every Wednesday afternoon not only for her 2nd grade class, but she also offers it to every 2nd grader in the school and any older student who wants to help with the show. I’m the gal who gets to press “play” on the iPod. The kids sing songs like Jimmy Durante’s Inka Dinka Doo, perform magic tricks, and tell really corny jokes. I’ll hear the words “knock knock… who’s there?” more than any sane person should hear in a lifetime.

School Site Council

There’s a governance meeting once a month where we get to discuss the school charter, curriculum, budgets, and other topics that would make a kindergartner’s eyes glaze over. This is the time I get to act like a grownup and try to act like I really understand all that “I second it” and “I’d like to make a motion” stuff. Because it’s elementary school, I’d love to call it “Me too” and “Whatcha think if…?”

Career Day

I have the opportunity to make three 20-30 minute presentations on what a sound editor does for a living. After I explain that I work from home and wear headphones all day, the kids who will decide to pursue this career when they grow up will either be sound aficionados or anti-social shut-ins.

Tribute Songs

During the very last PTA/PACE meeting of the year we have a presentation to say goodbye to all the 5th grade parents who have gone above and beyond in volunteering for the school. I have the dream-of-a-lifetime job of writing a bunch of parodies and having some of the 5th graders perform it that night. My goal is to make the parents simultaneously roar with laughter and weep like babies. (Have some fun and check out last year’s karaoke version at Colfax 5th Grade Tribute 2011 on Youtube).

Colfax World Fair Marketing

This is the Big Kahuna of my volunteer activities, which is fitting since one of the things I get to hype is the Big Kahuna – a huge water slide at the Colfax World Fair on June 2nd. Last year about 7,000 guests attended this event which made $140,000 in a single day. My job is to get the news out about the fair by any means possible and to make enough money to keep all of Colfax’s extracurricular (and curricular) programs alive. I have a great team of volunteers working with me this year who will be spreading the word with Facebook, Twitter, Patch, emails, banners, posters, car magnets, flyers, postcards, lawn signs, newspapers, magazines, radio, online or just good old fashioned word of mouth. By June 2nd, if you haven’t heard of the Colfax World Fair, it means you’ve been in a coma under a rock on a desert island.

Finally…

Tuesday, June 19th is the last day of the 2011-2012 year for this little LAUSD school. So at 1:30 pm I’ll be clocking out.

By then I’ll need a nap.

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