Monday, February 22, 2010

Stupid Is as Stupid Does

When did I become stupid?

Most of the women I know with children did not start having them until after 30. This means, that after college, we had almost a full decade in the work force. Give or take a few bum jobs, we probably had at least five years in a career. We earned paychecks, benefits, bonuses, vacation and sick days. So why do people seem to think our brains leaked out of our bodies along with our breast milk?

Case in point – a friend of mine directed me to a news article entitled, Six Ways to Work from Home. They all featured women. They all were directed at stay-at-home mothers, not say, any of the million men or women who are also out of work and may be in need of some income. The smiling news anchor led off by saying, “If you need to make some extra money." Um, excuse me? what is "extra" money? Is there such a thing as too much money? Oh right, I’m a SAHM, I must need money for shoes and purses and pedicures. Not, say, cable or food or bedding.

Option 1 – Virtual Assistant. “All you need is a telephone, a headset, and a computer” – oh, and a mute button for your children. Most children go Pavlovian when the phone rings and instantly turn from quiet angels into rabid, screaming monsters. Sure, they say you can set your own hours, but how much demand is there for the graveyard shift in infomercial marketing? Well, ok, that question answered itself, but can you imagine the type of people you’d get to talk to at 3am? “A great agent can earn between $20 and $30 an hour.” Hmm. Really? It seems both suspicious and full of hidden clauses.

Option 2 – eJuror. And no, I am not making this up. “eJurors review cases and give their judgments.” This process supposedly helps trial lawyers prepare for court. Is this the depth to which our justice department has sunk? Wouldn’t it be easier to just find as similar case on any of the thousands of Law & Order episodes and see how the defendant made out? And how much does getting the completely unbiased viewpoint of the average web surfer cost? $5 to $20 per case. That’s a lot of jurisprudence to wade through just for one pair of Manolos.

Option 3 – Product Tester. You can be “hired for taste tests and local focus groups at taste test facilities, and yes, even in your own home.” A certain consumer marketing company has been calling my house for years – looking for my husband. I am not the key demographic. For anything. Ever. So while my husband has the option of leaving his salaried position for a leisurely afternoon taste-testing flavors of Cheetos, I’m SOL. And how much can you earn for your efforts - $30 to “a few hundred dollars” per survey. What cracks me up is up the shot of envelopes filled with crisp $50 bills. I think I’ll pass on tasting things that fell out of the back of the truck, thanks.

Option 4 – Online Tutor. This gives you the opportunity to “channel your inner teacher.” According to the story, you can set your own hours and earn hundreds of dollars per month. Ok, this one seems relatively legit and appears to require actual, you know, brain power. However, the timing issue comes back into play as most students aren’t productive learners at say 8pm, which is when I would finally be available to work with someone one-on-one without heavy bribery or Goldfish-induced carbohydrate comas.

Option 5 – Direct Marketer. Take your pick of Tastefully Simple, Avon, Tupperware, Pampered Chef, etc., ad nauseum. This news article showed us a “chocolatier” from Dove Chocolates. You too can annoy your friends and empty the wallets of your family by trying to get them to buy mass quantities of stuff no one needs. Do I mock? No, I do not. My mom was an Avon lady. I have been to plenty of these parties, respect all of the women who hosted them, and happily bought stuff to support them. However. The amount of time and effort you have to put in to actually earn real money (as opposed to free stuff) is astronomical. In fact, if you have that much time, energy, and marketing ability, then mayhap you could find a different use for your skills? You know, one that comes with a 401(k) and a benefits package. (Caveat – I would totally host ONE adult toy party.) So, how much does it pay? “A few hundred dollars a week.” What they don’t mention is that you are busting your ass over every penny, and once, again, hiding your children in the closet in order to earn it.

Option 6 – NetWork. Labeled as the “jackpot” of all work at home opportunities, it is, wait for it, a job fair. For the grand entrance fee of $5, you too can hobnob with “hundreds of . . . companies” to reach gainful employment. You too can become a life coach. Or a travel consultant. So, if I tell you to go to hell, am I a travel consultant? Or a life coach? Hard to tell really. You can “find creative ways to . . . find income.” Oh good grief. Pull the other one, it has milk in it.

Where are the CAREER options? I am highly educated. I am smart. I read. I write. I think. I even occasionally speak without pausing between words to try to remember what I was saying. I am not stupid. And one day, a company will come along that will harness the brain power of the stay-at-home mom and it will make a fortune. Until then, I’ll just have to continue earning my pay as a freelance editor. And my friends will continue to work as nurses, physical therapists, photographers, payroll advisors, doctors, pharmaceutical reps, retail managers – all of the things you do when you earn a degree and want a career, but also want time at home. Strangely, none of those things were mentioned in the article.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Fashion Forward

If I were in charge of the world, many, many things would be different.

First and foremost, all stores would carry items in season. It’s February. It’s cold. There is still a whole lot of snow on the ground, yet today, I was able to easily find and purchase a large selection of sand toys. Summer is a long ways away. Where are the snow toys? Where is the handy little square that makes perfect snow bricks for building your very own igloo? (My neighbor has one and it is awesome.) Where are the snowman kits? Hell, where are the gloves, hats, scarves, and sweaters? I went to Old Navy the other day and stopped dead in the aisle – they had shorts on the walls. Shorts! My house thermostat has never been set higher than 70 degrees (and only goes that high to chill the glacial thaw that is my mother’s presence.) Thus, it’s too cold to wear them inside. It’s too cold to wear them outside. I will be pale and pasty for two more months. Yet they had shorts out! Blasphemy.

This whole shopping out of season thing completely confounds me. I remember the year I dutifully bought all my Christmas presents and ignored all the comfy sweaters and warm shirts in dark colors that decked all the shelves. Two weeks later, my friend MJ and I went to spend our gift cards on those previously coveted clothes only to find the entire selection of winter wear had been replaced by pastel sleeveless shirts and colorful culottes. Sure, it was the South, but even Raleigh didn’t require cut-offs in January. A few years later, I needed a new coat in February. As I was living in Boston at the time and summer is but a brief two-week window before winter sets back in (it once snowed in May), I figured my selection would be wide and plentiful. It wasn’t. In fact, it was non-existent. However, if I was hunting for a swimsuit, well then I was in luck. In Boston. In February. WTF?

Who decides that no one needs a sweater when it is cold out? Or boots when it snows? Who decides that sandals are out of season by mid-June and that season-specific outdoor toys must be on sale before the season officially begins? Who decides that Halloween costumes must be bought with the September school supplies (that are usually hard to find by mid-August)? Why were all the Valentine’s Day crafts half-priced (and the aisles empty) a week before the fake romantic holiday? It’s just bizarre.

In my world, boots will not be sold out by December. Shorts in summer, pants in winter, and if you need special clothing for vacations, climate change, or shits and giggles, you can go to a damn specialty store. Target doesn’t need to showcase itty-bitty teeny-weeny yellow polka-dot bikinis directly across from their display of Easter chocolates! Talk about putting you off your bunny. The only weather-dependent item I have ever seen on display in direct relation to weather is the umbrella. Hmm. If it is already raining and you do not have an umbrella, then you are already wet. The umbrella is not going to make you dry. And “less wet” is really just a matter of perspective.

I’m really a simple person. I don’t need super powers (though I bet certain ones would come in handy). I don’t need Star Trek technology to become a reality. (Though food synthesizers and tricorders would certainly be helpful, the Universal Translator always bothered me. Why doesn’t everyone look like a badly dubbed kung-fu movie?) I don’t need flying cars or space travel or even the discovery that werewolves and vampire are real. But I do need to be able to buy a coat when it is cold and a sundress when it is sunny. Is that too much to ask?

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Happy VD!

When I was a waitress back in the day, I had to work Valentine’s Day. I worked at Applebee’s, so it wasn’t exactly high-end dining, but still the tables were filled with couples who couldn’t afford better or didn’t know better. I was single, exhausted, and in no mood for romance, so on every check, I happily wrote “Happy VD!” in red marker. Sadly, a manager eventually caught on and made me stop.

But really, that sums up my opinion on Valentine’s Day.

In high school, you could pay $1 for a color-coded card that would be delivered to your paramour of choice during classes: red for love, pink for friend, and white for secret admirer. The popular girls got all the reds, the nerdy kids sent each other lots of pinks, and the cute boys got lots of whites from all the girls too shy to ever talk to them. Looking back, I do remember getting at least a few pink ones every year – thank god – but hating the entire process. It elevated general high-school cruelty to a heart-shaped art form.

In college, I always wore black as a defense against all the ridiculous women who dressed in red from head to toe and just bawled their eyes out if they didn’t get overpriced flowers or boxes of chocolates. One year, a friend of mine stole an entire bucket of carnations from outside a store, stood in the center of campus, and handed them out to every woman who passed by. He was a sort of romantic Robin Hood, but with long red hair and a crazy smile handing out flowers to all and sundry.

In married life, we sort of ignore it entirely. Our first Valentine’s Day together, we both snuck out of the house to, ahem, run a quick errand. Turns out, we bought each other a book, which I think sums up both our practicality and our compatibility. I put a kibosh on flower because I hate roses. He put a kibosh on going out to dinner because he hates crowds and feeling rushed.

Married with children is a little different, but in some ways, it is a distillation of my holiday feelings. The kids have little parties at school, but once home, my daughter trades in all her candy for a book. (Her choice, I swear!). I did wear a holiday-appropriate shirt, it was still black and it advocated for gay marriage. And while my husband and I did go out to dinner, breaking tradition, it was only because the kids were away with their grandparents and it seemed silly to waste the opportunity to get a meal that did not come with a sundae. We choose a small restaurant, the day before the holiday, and enjoyed ourselves immensely.

And that is the biggest lesson I wish people took away from this stupid, Hallmark created holiday. Love isn’t about planning the big moments; it is about taking advantage of the little ones.

(And for another take on the holiday, and one that stole much of my thunder and possibly the best line ever in “emptying the dishwasher is as romantic as a Shakespeare sonnet” check out

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Hold the Pickles

It is snowing in and around Philadelphia. Again. Some more. Still. Two feet arrived in December. Another two feet arrived just five days ago. Six inches fell overnight and there is another foot or two on the horizon today. The only explanation I can find for such unprecedented levels of snowfall is that Mother Nature is pissed. Such levels of anger and punishment can only be lessened by giving her what she wants – the heads of the cast of The Jersey Shore on dirty, beer-splattered, bar trays.

The God I worship doesn’t pay a whole lot of attention to reality television. To borrow a coined phrase from my favorite website, God is in the tub. I like to think He’s more into procedurals and likes to determine whodunit without using His omniscience. It’s a good a reason as any for the glut of them on TV right now. But Mother Nature, now she’s a big fan of Survivor and The Amazing Race, likes to see her earthly wonders showed off to a wider audience. When a show focused entirely on the beauty of her shorelines was set to air, she channel hopped much higher than usual (she usually doesn’t go past PBS) and found MTV. That is when it all went wrong.

Expecting to see long strips of sandy beaches, blue(ish) water, and glorious wildlife, instead, she was faced with the horror of orange-skinned people bulging with unnatural muscle masses in unnatural places, hair glued, ironed, bumped, and gelled into submission. These people had a clear inability to speak in anything resembling a full, grammatically-correct sentence or complete a thought above a third-grade level, yet they all had a driving urge to procreate. Who were these cavemen?

If you want to look for the defining moment when Mother Nature became truly offended, look no further than the episode focusing on the GTL. If you GTL the way nature intended, then you work up a sweat out of doors, engaging in agriculture, sustenance, and good old-fashioned labor. You do not go indoors, and play with equipment to gain strength. Then, if you want a tan, viola, you have already earned one through the process of engaging in step one! These morons lived across the street from the beach and went to it exactly once. Instead, they choose to spend every morning in a tanning bed, turning them a luscious shade of Oompa-Loompa. And finally, though everyone knows that clothes smell best if left to hang in fresh sunshine, they instead washed the same three Ed Hardy shirts over and over again using the harshest chemicals to get the smell of Brut and Aqua Net out of the collars.

Those of us who actually reside in the Garden state know that the Snookies are few and far between. Not everyone aspires to look like a 40 yr-old hard-drinking divorcĂ© who has been rode hard and put away wet – at the tender age of 22. Not everyone chooses to look as if cantaloupes have been shoved under their skin. (True New Jersey girls would prefer ripe, tomato-sized breasts that would never, ever fail the pencil test). Not everyone wears short-shorts two sizes too small, pants two sizes too big, and bedazzled t-shirts (another example of why bedazzling really is the Devil’s craft).

Thus, the only way to end the suffering of the entire state (and really, the whole region, which just means that Mother Nature can’t figure out how to change the channel and got stuck watching Real World D.C. as well) is to offer as sacrifice the ridiculous and useless cast of The Jersey Shore. I would happily end The Situation if it makes my situation better. Can you imagine if Roid Rage Ronnie and his dimwit girl-toy Sammie Stupidhead actually smooshed enough the create the ultimate Juicy-Juice head? Wouldn’t it be better for humanity in general if we were to make sure that never, ever happened? So I say to you all – bring me the heads of JWoww and Pauly (but handle gingerly as they may be highly flammable). Use your nearest duck phone and call any one of the numbers scrawled hastily on the back of toilet doors from here to Delaware – but find me that cast. (But leave Vinnie alone – he’s mostly harmless.)

Friday, February 5, 2010

Loaves and Fishes

When there are so many cars circling the parking lot that you need they all blend together in one conga line of horns and blinkers, you know it is going to be a bad trip to the grocery store.

I live near a Wegmans. If you do not, I pity you. It is quite simply, the greatest grocery store on earth. Going to Wegmans for lunch and getting to people-watch from the second-floor balcony while she chows down is my daughter’s favorite thing to do. However; Wegmans on a good day is busy. Before a holiday, it is crowded. When Jewish and Christian holidays overlap, it is bedlam. On a Friday before a snowstorm, it is absolute pandemonium.

So I drove by Wegmans, ignoring the siren song of a fruit smoothie and a small batch of divine chocolate chip cookies and instead drove to my pokey, yet perfectly adequate usual shopping spot. That is when I realized that much like Dante, I was about to face the nine layers of hell.

  1. Parking. I had both kids with me, so my preferred spot is near a cart return stall. Today, it meant finding any spot at all. I drove around a few aisles until I managed to snag a spot far enough from Shoprite that I needed a map and guide dog to find my car again.
  2. Carts. The poor schmo on cart duty was only corralling one or two per trip instead of the usual dozens. I also saw people standing at the edge of trunks, watching anxiously at groceries were unloaded so that they could zip in and grab the cart the second it was emptied. I managed to snag the cart of choice, a “driving” cart: two steering wheels, half the amount of storage, and almost no maneuverability. No ankle is safe.
  3. Deli. Dozens of people were standing in one very small section, nudging forward inch by inch as though the closer they are to the counter, the faster their number would be called. This never works, but it does not stop people from trying.
  4. Snack food. Mercifully, it is Super Bowl weekend which means the store is overstocked on Doritos and Tostitos. There was more than enough salty carbs for everyone.
  5. Meat. There were exactly two packages of ground beef left in the store. In fact, all red meat was all but gone. Chicken was still in stock but going fast. Carts were lined three deep as people dove into the cases, grabbing packages of meat out of the butcher’s hands like so many ducks diving for breadcrumbs. PETA would not be pleased.
  6. Dairy. Blessedly, our store was heavily fortified and there was plenty of eggs and milk in stock. It was slim pickings in the ice cream aisle though. Who knew ice cream was so popular in winter?
  7. Bread. Ok people, how many loaves do you need? Toast for breakfast, slices for sandwiches, and then what? You are trying to feed a crowd of exultant followers. (And if you were, it doesn’t count as a miracle if you “multiply” by buying it all at Shoprite.)
  8. Center aisles. Jam packed with people trying to get one item that was, of course, at the complete opposite end of where they started. I spent ten full minutes looking for marshmallows. Mini’s for cocoa and giant ones for indoor, oven-baked smores. My quest was not in vain.
  9. Checkout. Ah, now this is where it got dicey. Some people mistakenly believed that the checkout lanes were operating on a one-line, multiple checker system. They believed there was a manager up front directing traffic. As a result, there were dozens of people in one long undulating queue winding through the frozen food and dairy aisles all uttering ominous warnings to any shopper who dared pass. Imagine their level of anger upon realizing it was the regular one-cashier, one line system. Not good. Not good at all.

Luckily, I emerged relatively unscathed. It took me one full hour, one opened box of snack mix and one bottle of water (to share) to keep the kids quiet, and all the patience I could muster not to kill the people aimlessly wandering as if it were a slow Tuesday in summer, but I did manage to get everything I needed to feed a family of four. Mission accomplished. Now, if it doesn’t snow, I am going to be PISSED.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A Spoonful of Sugar

A long time ago, before kids, I spent a lot of time at the movies. Come Oscar season (much like deer season, except you aren’t actually allowed to shoot your prey), I would go early on weekends to see as many of the nominated films and performances as possible. I would read all the articles, keep up with all the award shows, and by actual Oscar night, could pick most of the top five categories (and a good portion of the lesser categories) almost perfectly. I had personal opinions about much of the acting, directing, and even the writing categories because I had actually, you know, watched the films.

Now, I just hope some of them come out on Netflix in time for me to still care about watching them. Because, let’s be honest, on a Saturday night, after a long week of work, child care, etc., do you really want to watch an Oscar-caliber movie (or performance)?

For example, this year’s batch includes such heart-warming and fun-loving topics as:
- Welfare, teen pregnancy, physical abuse, rape, and incest (all in ONE movie)
- Welfare, football, and interracial adoption
- War, bombs, death, and mayhem
- War and Nazis
- War and environmental destruction (with aliens)
- Apartheid (with soccer) [And Matt Damon]
- Apartheid (without soccer [or Matt Damon] but with aliens)
- Corporate downsizing
- Grief and death (the gay version)
- Grief and rebirth (the animated version)
- Grief and revenge (the Markie Mark version – with teen rape and murder)
- And a movie I have never heard of

Seriously, does that group of movies sound like fun to you? At all? If Precious was the last movie on earth, I still wouldn’t want to watch it, even to make fun of Mariah Carey, because it sounds just so abjectly depressing. In fact, considering the subject matter of most of this year’s nominee’s, I think I’d rather just watch HGTV. With the exception of Julie and Julia and a few little indie movies that hit the big time this year, do any of those movie topics have you running to your local Blockbuster? At the end of the week, do you really want to pop in a little ditty about apartheid? Does anyone really want to cozy up to a bowl of popcorn and a bunch of Nazis?

And yes, I do realize that many of the movies are supposed to be inspiring. The beat-down child becomes a big league football player. A country is united through sports. This time, the Germans fight back and win. Grief is overcome. Yada Yada Yada. Where’s the fun in these movies? The joy? This year’s Oscar nominees are the equivalent of fiber-rich cereal. Even Clooney and Damon are just the sugar coating in their whole wheat movies. Good for you, but not necessarily fun to eat. (Though once again, Cameron and Jackson get on the shelf just by having the best toys.)