Nazis on Black Friday?!

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Yesterday was Black Friday and with my friend Giselle visiting from Canada, we thought it would be fun to show her this unique shopping spectacle. Little did we know that we would be the real spectacle.

We had decided to hit the stores a little later in the day. This was not based on any strategy to sleep off the turkey and stuffing hangover from the day before, since with a bunch of little kids in the house, no one was sleeping much. Instead, the idea was to avoid the fist fighting over electronics that generally took place in the early morning hours. Don’t get me wrong – I’m usually up for a good beat down. Giselle, on the other hand, didn’t think it would make a good impression at work if she showed up with a black eye and missing teeth, even though that would clearly add some authenticity to her American vacation.

Having first crossed off a few other items on Giselle’s vacation checklist, we arrived at Target in the late afternoon, ready for our Black Friday experience to begin. I managed to quickly impress her with my expert parking moves as I swerved to cut off an old lady in a sedan and smoothly squeeze my SUV into a newly vacated space.

Giselle is used to tactical driving to avoid insubordinate elk and the occasional wayward moose but wasn’t accustomed to using such techniques against the elderly in demonstration of the holiday spirit. But that’s how it’s done here in the wild west of Christmas shopping. It’s dog eat dog and there’s no sympathy for kids or the aging.

We entered Target, grabbed a shopping cart and started throwing in everything that was at least 40% off. Who cares if it fit? It was cheap and that was the point. This went on for at least an hour and a half before we started running out of steam, not to mention space in our carts. As we turned the corner to head to the checkout line, we ran into my friend and future in-law, Joy. (Refer to 80’s Wedding to learn more about my fifth-grader’s wedding plans.)

Joy had been watching a new series on Amazon which, as I understand, projects a world in which the Germans and Japanese had won the second world war, and she found a Target store full of aggressive holiday shoppers to be the opportune place to ask some thought-provoking questions.

After the customary hugs and greetings, Joy turned to my husband (who is literally half German / half Swiss and grew up in both countries) and asked him point blank if the word Obergruppenführer was insulting. Without blinking an eye, he dryly replied “Yes, that’s a Nazi.”

Now, to be fair, I’m sure worse insults had been thrown on Black Friday, but my six year old Corinne was having none of this Nazi nonsense. As my husband went on to further explain the meaning of the word to Joy, Corinne jumped in front of him protectively with both arms stretched and yelled at the top of her lungs “MY DAD IS NOT A NAZI!!!.”

As you might imagine, the relatively quiet section of the store that we were standing in got even quieter as we and every other patron within earshot tried to figure out how to react to this informative revelation. Luckily, Canada came to the rescue. This awkward moment of silence turned humorous when suddenly Giselle (who had been behind a rack of discounted toddler clothes) popped her head up in shock and broke the silence with “So what’s this aboot?” (Yes, I had to throw in the standard Canadian vs. American linguistic joke…sorry, cheap one, I know.)

One look at Giselle with surprise on her face and bunches of cheap clothes in her hand, and I started to laugh. Joy and my husband immediately joined in on the laughter. Relief washed over us as the moment passed. Corinne, however, failing to find any of this humorous, burst into tears. After a few minutes of sobbing, I was able to comfort her with another 40% off deal. A panda hoodie with ears and Corinne was back in business…and Giselle could go back to Canada with a great Black Friday story and her teeth intact.

 

 

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How to Save Money at Disneyland

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Around the holidays we all have to be cost-conscious. Not just in our shopping but also in our  choice of family entertainment. Therefore, the intent of this piece is to help you afford to go to an amusement park (if you happen to be in Southern California) and afford all those holiday gifts your kids are trying to force you to buy. Keep in mind that, as you can infer from the title of my blog, my advice is generally pretty crappy and you may or may not wish to actually take it.

So, how do you save money at Disneyland? That flat answer is DON’T GO. Wait…hear me out. You can save significant amounts of your hard-earned money and still have a fun day bonding with your family by avoiding Disneyland altogether when you are in Southern California and, instead, visiting the much cheaper, albeit trashier, alternative known as Knott’s Berry Farm.

To be clear, I’m not encouraging you to give up Cinderella to pick berries. The name derives from days long past when the Knott family sold berry preserves, pies, etc. Now the “farm” is an amusement park surrounded by busy roads, a mall and a Claim Jumper. I’m not judging….that’s just how it is here in Southern California.

In addition to the cost, Disneyland is also densely crowded. (Now, I’m judging.) By the time you’ve parked your car, ridden the tram to the entrance and fought your way through the front gate, it’s already lunchtime and you’re ready to throttle your and everyone else’s kids.

The following comparisons illustrate some of the key differences between the two:

Disneyland: One-day admission for a family of four is approximately $400.

Knott’s: With a coupon you can get  2 adults and 2 kids in for about $150.  If they’re running a food drive, you can cut this cost in half by cleaning out your cupboard and bringing in the Spam your stepmom snuck into your house and the dented cans of tuna you found at the back of the top shelf.

Disneyland: You wait in line for 2 hours for your daughters to spend 2 minutes with whichever princess isn’t currently on break.

Knott’s: You successfully stalk Snoopy and take pictures with him and the rest of the Charles Schultz Peanuts characters. Your wild Canadian friend starts taking selfies with Linus and you wait patiently as she then tries to convince Linus and Charlie Brown to each hold one end of her as she planks between them.

Later when you look through your pictures you find you were photobombed by a much-too-happy-looking Peppermint Patty.

Disneyland: You elbow international tourists who don’t understand the local custom of waiting your turn. (Not trying to be a hater here, but c’mon people! This is not Walmart on Black Friday!)

Knott’s: You try to count the tatoos on the the scalp, neck and legs of the gang member in front of you in line for the Snoopy ride while you chit chat with him about his cute kids. By the time you get to the front of the line, you’re scoping out the right place on your body to get your hubby’s name inked.

Disneyland: You throw up after your children convince you to go on the kiddy spinning teacup ride. Now you know why that was the only ride without a line.

Knott’s: You go on as many rollercoasters as possible to compensate for your mid-life crisis. To save face, don’t admit that you might have wet yourself on the one where your feet dangle in the air. When the ride is over and you’ve assessed the dampness of your seat, look to the left to make sure your ten year old didn’t fall out. If she is missing, register a complaint with management that they shouldn’t have put her in the extra-wide seat meant for “big and tall” people.IMG_1461.JPG

Note: in case there was any confusion, this is not a serious review. I might have exaggerated a few of the facts, though my Canadian friend is wacky and I did nearly wet myself on the Silver Bullet ride. Don’t misunderstand, I’ll definitely ride the Silver Bullet again, but I’ll make sure I purchase some Depends first.

Computer Compassion

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A few years ago my mom sat me down to ask me a question. Given her serious tone and the fact that uncomfortable conversations in my family often start with “a question”, frantic thoughts began racing through my mind. Had she discovered I’d tried smoking? Oh wait, that already happened….high school flashback. No, from her voice, I could tell it was certainly something graver.

After a few seconds it hit me. My palms got clammy as I realized my cover was blown. Somehow she had figured out the dark secret I’d been hiding from my family, my neighbors and all the PTA moms: I’m a negligent parent and, gulp, I sometimes forget to send the kids to school without breakfast or jackets or, on really negligent days, both.

I was about to break out into tears and several mea culpas about my pathetic parenting when my mom jumped in with her question, and to my relief, I realized the conversation was taking a far different..though probably equally disturbing… turn. She wanted to know about technology.

You see, as my mom explained, she had been chatting with her friend Diane  who, according to my mom, is “really good with computers.” What came next left me speechless.

Apparently Diane had told her it was possible to do something called “copying” and “pasting”. Fascinated by this possibility, my mother wanted to know if I knew what this was and if so, if could teach her how to work this magic.

This was the last thing I expected. As my mind raced to determine the appropriate response, I’m pretty sure this was the look on my face.

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Clearly I was in a quandary. I was torn between laughing at how impressed she was by this advancement in modern technology and crying at the realization of how hard her life must have been through this point without the ability to copy and paste.

Luckily I managed to reign in my emotions and did neither. Instead, composing myself, I took the road of compassion and answered her question seriously. After all, I’m no spring chicken myself and will certainly have to ask Elizabeth and Corinne these same kinds of questions. When these moments happen, I would prefer they show similar restraint.

In fact, I think these moments are closer than I’d care to admit. This is based on the fact that I’ve already started losing my mind and, as recent studies have shown, failing to grasp technological concepts closely follows the loss of one’s mind. (This is not to say my mom is nuts…she reads my posts and I still want Christmas presents, so I am definitely, absolutely, positively not saying this.)

My decent into insanity became evident a few months ago when I tried opening my office door at work with my car remote. This was particularly disturbing since my office door doesn’t even have a lock. A few weeks later I tried to use the remote control for my garage door at home to enter the parking structure at work.

I would like to openly blame my children on a daily basis for driving me over the edge, but have come to the conclusion that if I do this, they will conveniently not teach me how to copy and paste. I’m safe as long as they don’t read my blog.

Birth of the Crappy Christmas Letter

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In honor of the holiday season and with Christmas just around the corner, it seems appropriate to share the story of the birth of the Crappy Christmas Letter.

Instead of getting depressed reading your friends’ holiday letters about their awesome vacations in tropical lands or their toddler’s uncanny ability to speak 5 languages fluently, you can feel good about your life as I regale you with stories of how my plumbing backed up and spilled sewage and toilet paper onto our front lawn. (Refer to blog post #2 “Plumbing and 3D”)

So, gather around a warm fire (unless you’re in California, in which case, don’t start a fire; we’re in a drought and you don’t want to burn down the whole block right before Christmas) and get in the holiday spirit as you enter the world of my crappy life…

“Opening Remarks” – My First Blog Post

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Disclaimer

This blog[1] was my cousin Wayne’s idea. If you find it as ridiculous and nonsensical as I do, then I’ll give you his contact information and you can complain to him directly. Wayne is a writer/director/producer, so if you are indignant enough in your complaint, you might land yourself free tickets to his dinner theater (which is excellent, by the way). In fact, maybe if I complain, he’ll send me free tickets. I’ll give it a shot and let you know how it goes.

Background

In all fairness, I suppose I can’t completely blame my cousin. After all, he was just trying to help me find a more suitable forum for my middle-age ramblings[2]. You see about 10 years ago I had taken to expressing myself (that is, dumping on everyone) through an annual Christmas letter. After all, it was cheaper than therapy. However, as I got older (better said, as my kids got older), my life became increasingly more dramatic – which meant I needed more cheap therapy – which meant longer, crappier Christmas letters. Unfortunately, like with many things, holiday letters have a point of diminishing marginal utility. Statistical testing has shown this point to be about 4 pages. In other words, if you send people holiday letters longer than 4 pages in length, they will find more utility in using it to line their cat’s litter box than in reading it.

I knew I had reached this point when I stopped receiving Christmas cards from people with cats. The true enlightenment came however when I started getting requests to provide my letter in an audio format. This request came exclusively from people who had no cats or litter boxes to line, which meant that they were forced to read it and more than likely would need to take a day off work to get through the whole thing.

I try to be accommodating and took this request seriously. After careful consideration, though, I was forced to admit that an audio version was out of my league. Although I had joined Toastmasters over a year ago, I was doubtful that I could get through a 12 page letter without peppering every pause with at least one “uh”, “um” and, the real signature of failure, “you know”.

The logical solution was to simply send out mid-year update letters. This worked for awhile, but it proved not to be a viable long-term solution. This year the jig was up. It was clear to anyone who read my June update letter that an update to the update letter would be forthcoming. This was mainly due to the fact that we had purchased a house that everyone started affectionately referring to as “The Money Pit”. In Italy they have a saying about the city of Naples[3] which can also be applied to our money pit: “le storie non finiscono mai” which translates to “the stories are never ending.” How many updates to updates can you do before physics steps in and you go back in time? Luckily, right when I found myself on the edge of the swirling black hole of update letters, my cousin entered with his blog idea.

Birth of the Blog

Wayne was a child computer genius. In elementary school he could do pretty much anything with his Tandem computer, and I secretly suspect he may have invented hacking. Consequently, he has automatic credibility regarding anything computer-related, including blogs. In all honesty, it didn’t take much convincing. I was almost immediately on board, since being a blogger clearly meant I could quit my job compiling boring statistical information into PowerPoints and instead could drop my kids off at school and hang out at Starbucks drinking vanilla lattes all day.

Whether or not anyone actually reads this will be seen, but at least trees and everyone in my address book can breathe a sigh of relief.

[1] For disclosure purposes, this may not actually meet the definition of a blog, since I don’t actually know what a blog is. Using the term “blog” makes me feel cool, so I’m going to stick with it.

[2] Yes, I’ve already started to ramble in my 40’s. I’m certain my kids will catch on by the time they’re in high school and start making plans to move abroad…permanently.

[3] On second thought this may not actually be an official Italian saying. Well, in any case, I can personally confirm that at least one Italian has said this. His name was Carlo. Sorry Carlo, I don’t remember your whole name or I’d give you more credit. After all, that was 20 years ago.

The Volunteer, Part 1: Scalloped Potatoes

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Last year at this time I was experiencing some down-time at work and was able to help out at Elizabeth’s class Thanksgiving potluck party. This was a first, since until that time, my responsibilities creating important looking spreadsheets at work and pretending to be a subject matter expert on those spreadsheets had never permitted me to participate in any of my kids’ school activities.

Fortunately Elizabeth viewed my volunteering as a special treat and not a necessary evil. This is certainly only because she is still several years away from her metamorphosis into a disgruntled teenager. My attendance at the Thanksgiving party would definitely be a special treat for me too, since I would finally have the opportunity to observe my child interacting in the wild with an entire herd of her species. For optimal tracking and observation purposes, I wondered if I should tranquilize her and tag her ear before setting her free at the school gates that morning.

As much as I was looking forward to this event, however, I couldn’t help but feel a certain panic as the date approached. Since I spent my days in the corporate world, I was frighteningly unfamiliar with any aspect of the human condition that took place outside my office building on weekdays between the hours of 8am and 5pm. (With the one exception of the El Pollo Loco drive-thru during lunch hour.) As a result, I found myself intimidated by what would be my certain inferiority as a volunteer.

For those of you without school age children, there is much more parental volunteering these days than when I was growing up in the 70’s. Every classroom at my kids’ school has at the very minimum a room parent, a reading parent, an art parent , a few paper-correcting parents and a handful of other parents that help out with other odd tasks as needed, show up at all the school events and know everyone. When you think about it, it seems like a lot of staff for the teachers to manage; on the plus side, at least they don’t have to do performance reviews for these folks.

Volunteers for most of these roles are solicited during Back to School Night at the beginning of the year, and every year on that evening, my husband and I look at the sign-up sheets in awe of all the names of parents able to make these commitments. (Then we feel terrible about ourselves and go home and drink).

It looked like I would finally be able to put the bottle of Jack Daniels down and join in the fun.

On the day of the party I arrived at the designated time and tried to gulp down my fear as I entered the classroom. At the teacher’s direction, parents were setting up serving stations at the kids’ desks. Someone handed me a bowl of homemade scalloped potatoes and a serving spoon. The next thing I knew, the signal was given and the herd began making its way down the food line. I quickly noticed that the wildebeests..uh kids..were strategically bypassing the healthy obstacles on their way to anything primarily made of chocolate.

My maternal instincts kicked in. There was no way I was going to let this group stampede by the nutritious dishes to feed only on sugar. Resisting the urge to tackle them and force vegetables onto their plates, I instead took the approach of a carny, encouraging them to step right up and try the creamiest, cheesiest , most delectable potatoes ever created. I had no idea who actually made the potatoes or what they tasted like, but it didn’t matter. The mom in me was determined to get some vitamins into these kids. At that moment, in my mind, unless  you were lactose-intolerant, you were eating scalloped potatoes.

My potato sales pitch went well, and as I surveyed the empty casserole dish, I realized that volunteering wasn’t scary. It was just about being a parent. Maybe I should rephrase that sentiment; being a parent is scary, but volunteering doesn’t add any incremental terror.

As I digested this enlightenment, I heard a voice ring out. “Anyone want to volunteer to do the class art lessons?”

Stay tuned for Part 2.

Corporate Dream Careers

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In Elizabeth’s elementary school yearbook, the pictures of the graduating sixth graders are complemented by a blurb stating each child’s anticipated profession.  Some common ones are movie star, football player and astronaut. While certainly great dreams, these aren’t necessariy the most realstic goals, statistically speaking. I fear that when these children compare their yearbook blurbs to their actual jobs in 30 years, there may be some disappointment.

To avoid this outcome, there should be a better understanding of all the dream-worthy, yet realistic, jobs out there that kids can aspire to. Elizabeth is only in 5th grade, but to help her and her friends understand the true breadth of fascinating professions before it’s time to commit to their dream jobs in 6th grade, I’ve put together the following descriptions of some positions found in the corporate world:

Facilities Manager

This is a multi-faceted position. First, you are in charge of the physical assets of the company. In hopes of getting promoted, you will spend hours tinkering with the broken photocopier before giving up and calling the professional repairman.

You are also responsible for figuring out how to save space by reducing employee cubicles to the size of a hamster cage. To minimize employee frustration, make sure the now smaller cubes are each outfitted with a hanging water bottle and salt lick. Put an exercise wheel by the printer to encourage a healthy lifestyle.

Lastly, you coordinate entire office moves. As long as you act important, no one will question you on why it took a week to move the coffee machines to the new location and another whole week to move the coffee.

Career Tip: Instill fear among co-workers by holding a clipboard and walking around with people in suits. If you speak in a low voice and point animatedly to various cubicles as you mumble words like “headcount” and “bottom line”, everyone you pass will start boxing up their belongings as they wait for the call from Human Resources.

Call Center Representative

This is the ideal job for those who both love to talk and have a sadistic streak. You are the first point of contact and a stringent gatekeeper. You will enjoy further frustrating already annoyed callers by insisting they don’t need to speak with a supervisor, even though you’ve tried unsuccessfully for an hour to resolve their problem. For added pleasure, put callers on hold every time they threaten you with legal action.

Career Tip:  Increase your performance bonus by changing your voice and posing as the supervisor you finally agreed to transfer the caller to.

Accounts Payable Clerk

This position requires a high attention to detail with little tolerance for error. Your daily mission is to review and process department bills and employee expense reports for payment. As protector of the company’s coffers, you take your job seriously and are careful to reject business trip reimbursements of tips to hotel valets and bellmen without a paper receipt.

Career Tip: Wield your power by routing invoices that don’t meet your high standards to a holding queue. For added fun, don’t  mention this to the person who needs the invoice paid and act surprised when he/she questions you in a state of panic.

IT Manager

This is a job which requires strong technical and no people skills. You are saddled with budget cuts but rather than admit this, you assert haughtily that you can resolve every problem, even finding the coffee that Facilities lost in the move.

Career Tip: Stay ahead of the game by pretending to be extremely busy and hiding behind voice mail, so you can never be held accountable for these untruths. While you will be well compensated for your technical savvy, if you get hit by a bus, no one will send you flowers…though this might be because Accounts Payable won’t reimburse sympathy gifts.

IT Support

This is an entry-level position with a steep learning curve. Although you will be hired for your many degrees in computer science, when you hit the real world you’ll receive no training on how to deal with end users in a live production environment.

Career Tip: Be sure to figure out ahead of time who you can blame when you accidentally remove users’ access and delete their files.

Marketing Director

This is a job for high energy, goal-oriented individuals who don’t let rules stand in the way of a good idea. You’re tasked with coming up with creative strategies to get new customers. To do this, you do your best to alienate the legal and compliance experts who have to sign off on your wacky ideas, by acting like you know how to do their job better than they do.

Career Tip: Make everything a “marketing emergency” so no one will have time to realize how bad your idea really is.