Me vs. The PTA

tomato

As many of you know, I’m the  Power-Hungry Art Coordinator for my kids’ elementary school. This is a form of indentured servitude, I mean…um…a volunteer position which is responsible for ensuring each classroom has an art docent.

An “art docent” in this context is a fancy term for an innocent and unsuspecting parent who tries to instill an appreciation of art history on a classroom who would rather be doing anything else, with the exception of math. According to the inside intelligence I get from my daily waterboardings of…I mean friendly debriefings of…my sixth grade daughter, no one likes math. (And Michaela is in love with Evan, who doesn’t like her back and there’s a whole bunch of drama. But that’s another story.) In fact, the only thing that kept her class of little weasels from pelting me with tomatoes when I was their art docent last year was the thought that if I actually walked out of the room, they would be back to doing fractions.

So, as an art docent you have to put up with a lot of crap. As the coordinator of the program you also have to put up with a lot of crap. Not just the flaky parents I complained about in the Power-Hungry Art Coordinator post, but as it turns out, the dreaded PTA. (For non US-residents, the PTA is the Parent Teacher Association.)

Now, I am not a huge PTA fan. The way I see it, I have a full time job and don’t have time for moms in yoga pants trying to get me to part with my money, my free time or both. Last year, the Art Docent Coordinator was a member of the PTA and that was it. I had to pony up the $8 PTA membership fee and I was left alone to do my job. This year, as it turns out, I have been elevated to a PTA Board member…and by “elevated”,  I really mean forced to wear yoga pants, attend monthly PTA meetings and smile.

As I was soon to find out, there were other implications to being a PTA Board member. Namely, I was expected to give monthly oral reports of the “progress” of my program to the Board. I was reminded of my monthly presentations to the risk committee at work. There was a minor difference, however. At work, I was paid.

I had a real dilemma. This art docent program is not like the usual PTA stuff with committees, fundraising and budgets. What the heck was I supposed to report on? How many parents actually got pelted with tomatoes vs. expected tomato peltage? I imagined it…”and Mrs. Jones only had 3 tomatoes thrown at her this year vs. the six she had to dodge last year. This marks a decrease of 50% in flying objects.” No, unfortunately this first meeting was before I would have any data on the tomatoes, since the lessons hadn’t actually begun yet; that report would have to wait a few months.

I figured I would simply give them a few bullet points on what I did, which was pretty boring. When the meeting finally arrived and I began speaking, this strategy seemed to work well. As I explained that I had single-handedly matched the volunteers to their classrooms and was going to have an orientation meeting for the new volunteers at my house, everyone smiled and nodded with enthusiasm. Wow, they were paying attention to this crap. It was then that I gained a false sense of security and made the cardinal corporate mistake…never, ever give a committee too much information. Just keep it very high level or you will find yourself in trouble.

Buoyed by their enthusiasm on my first two points, I ventured on to explain that I had also e-mailed all the teachers to let them know the dates of the art docent lessons and the name of their art docent. It was then that the room fell deadly silent. As I quickly learned from the PTA president, aka my second boss, I had severely broken protocol. Apparently I was not allowed to e-mail the teachers directly. At the point, I nearly fell out of my chair. WTF? I quickly pointed out that this had not been an issue last year, to which the president replied that the protocol had been in place for several years. She elaborated that this protocol was in place to make sure there weren’t any inadvertent “misunderstandings”…i.e. that I didn’t haul off and start offending teachers by e-mailing them information they probably wanted to  know.

One thing was for certain. I did not sign up for this. If I was going to be reprimanded for doing my job by a committee, it was going to be by an annoying bunch of people wearing skirts and suits, not by an annoying bunch of people wearing sundresses (or yoga pants) covered in kid snot.

At least  I knew what I was going to do for my next report…and it involved bringing a case of tomatoes. Now that’s breaking protocol!

 

 

PowerPoint Purgatory (and Appraisals)

powerpoint

I spend a great deal of my work life creating PowerPoint presentations. In fact PowerPoint is my main tool of communication. We start a project, I draft a timeline in PowerPoint. We finish a project, I summarize the results in PowerPoint.  I have an idea, it goes in PowerPoint. In other words, I live out my days in PowerPoint Purgatory (PPP).

I have determined that to make it out of PPP you must either 1) rise to a higher level of management (the preferable solution) or 2) fail miserably and be forced to go back and join the ranks of the people actually doing the work described in the PowerPoints.

On a rare occasion, I am able to leave PPP for a day to obtain some insight into company operations. Recently I spent a day reviewing residential property appraisals. While this may sound boring, I assure you there was plenty of excitement to be had. In fact, based on this experience, I learned some important points to consider before refinancing my mortgage:

1. If you want to make sure the staff is awake, don’t flush the toilet before the appraiser comes to take pictures. A good toilet picture will have a more lasting effect than coffee.

2. If you have so much junk that the appraiser cannot physically get into your house, you might want to first consider renting a storage locker.

3. If at all possible, remove the bicycle hanging from the basketball hoop. This may not affect the value of the property but will probably confuse the review staff who will have to figure out which way to hold the picture.

4. If you’ve converted your Home Depot garden shed to a kitchen/bedroom/bathroom, you probably won’t get credit for the additional square footage.

Now, I think I’ll go put these tips in PowerPoint.

Adventures in House Hunting Hell: A Tale From the Archives

Several years ago, Thomas and I embarked on our first house hunting journey. We had decided we had had enough of trying to cram all of our (kids’) junk into 1350 square feet (125 square meters for my non-American audience.) We figured if we didn’t act soon, we might be approached to appear on “Hoarders.” However, rather than get rid of unnecessary belongings, we decided to consider the more reasonable option  – buy a bigger house.

The first house we made an appointment to view was highly promising – 5 bedrooms, remodeled kitchen, pool, palm tree out front: the California dream. As we drove to the house to meet the realtor, I felt the excitement brewing inside me. Finally, we’d have space for all of our stuff, the kids could have their own rooms, I could float on a raft in the pool after putting up the Christmas tree – the day dreams were endless.

As we toured our dream house, we found a few things were slightly different than expected. The bedrooms were a little on the small side, except for the large downstairs bedroom which had apparently been “upgraded” into a bonus room. That was ok, though, since half of the garage had been converted to the fifth bedroom. It would have been helpful to see this garage/bedroom, however, this part of the home would have to be bought sight unseen; the occupant was taking a nap and could not be disturbed.

While I was wondering if the garage inhabitant was included in the price of the house, Thomas was being attacked by swarming gnats next to the pool. A quick look over the backyard wall revealed the source of the infestation – a massive storm drain. The owner, for her part, made a valiant attempt to convince us that in all her time living there she’d never been seen these kamikaze gnats. I have a feeling those gnats and their cousins in the front yard would be offended by that statement. Actually, the gnats weren’t the only backyard surprise. While some sellers entice prospective buyers with the scent of freshly baked cookies in the kitchen, we were treated to the smell of freshly laid dog poop. We decided to keep looking.

It turns out all was not lost. A few days later we found another home that looked like a good match: four bedrooms, new flooring, big backyard and no storm drain. As we pulled up, we noticed the extra-wide driveway.  This would be perfect for Thomas, whose true dream is to park a broken down RV in the driveway and use it as a “man-cave.” He came up with this idea after realizing that no room at home is safe from the girls and their Barbies. Now that I think about it, maybe we can both move into the RV and let the girls have the house.

Unfortunately our RV fantasy was not meant to be. All the pavement in the front and backyard of the house was severely cracked, meaning the RV would probably sink underground with the next earthquake. On the other hand, a subterranean bunker could be useful I suppose. As we entered the property, the realtor explained to us that investors who were flipping this foreclosure had put in brand new flooring.  These investors were definitely family minded – the carpet was a familiar color that can only be described as “Already Dirty – Gray”. This was a good trick to help the prospective buyer’s budget. After all, if your new carpet already looked like the kids had roughed it up, then there was no point in ever cleaning it, right? That’s how you stay ahead of the game.

The garage offered its own dilemma; not only was there room for only one appliance (leaving us to debate whether the washer or the dryer was more important) but the smell of gas was overpowering. It was so strong that I quickly ushered everyone out for fear any escaping remnants of our Cajun dinner might torpedo us to outer space.  The gnats were starting to look better.  Yet, before I could pitch the benefits of gnats and garage-living to Thomas, common sense slowly took over.  It looked like we would need to forget the RV for now. Thomas would just have to put up a tent in the garden.  Besides I had just gone through a labor-intensive move at work… from the coat closet I was squatting in to a full-sized office down the hall. I would need to recover before I could start thinking about packing boxes again.

EPILOGUE: Two years later we found the strength to once again attempt to find a house. This time, with a bit of patience, nail biting, anti-depressants, alcohol and good luck we did eventually find a gnat-free house without a gas leak or random dude living in the garage. More on that story to come later…

Corporate Mentoring Series: Conference Call DO’s and DON’Ts

When leading a conference call, it’s important to keep your goals in mind. If you work in Corporate America, then you know that you have two goals and two goals only: to confuse every participant, and to maximize the number of minutes you steal from everyone’s day. To ensure you stay aligned with these goals, here is a handy list of  DOs and DON’Ts that you can refer to during your next conference call.

1. DON’T tell people what the call is about or give them any background information. After all, it’s your job to keep folks on their toes.

2. DO give out an incorrect dial-in number. After 5 minutes of making everyone question their sanity, send around the correct number. To maximize effectiveness of this tactic, start the presentation on time, so that when people finally do dial in, they’ve missed several key points.

3. DON’T tell people which slide you’re on. This makes for good suspense. When someone finally speaks up and asks, make sure to tell them the wrong slide.

4. If you get the sense that the group is following along too well, DO throw in the term  “overcollateralization” a few times to ensure no one has any idea what you are really talking about.

5. DO concede, when challenged by one or more members of your audience, that your slides aren’t as precise as you led people to believe. When you think about it, you do have to agree that the phrase “formal proposal” doesn’t really mean “idea I had while on the toilet this morning.”

6. DO use the word “paradigm.” Since no one has used that word in over 5 years, you’ll reveal yourself as the douchebag you really are.

7. DON’T admit that you too are overcollateralized and have no idea what you are really talking about.

 

 

 

 

Trends I Hate…Yes, I’m Old

IMG_0926

In my last post,  I discussed Signs You’ve Hit Middle Age. I recently realized that I left out one important sign…namely, that you are irritated by stupid trends. The following ridiculous trends aren’t even new; they’ve just gotten on my nerves long enough that I finally had to vent my supreme annoyance.

  1. Healthy Juice Bars. Unfortunately for this country, “healthy juicing” has taken over. Goodbye Jamba Juice and your affordable, sugar-laden, strawberry smoothie. You have been replaced by Nekter, the detoxifying, cleansing juice bar and its prohibitively expensive foodie crap. One such example is the Tropical Cooler, which is billed as “a puree of spinach, kale, and flavorless gourmet tropical shit, for douchebags like you.” Having recently been a douchebag who tried the Tropical Cooler, take my advice here and save your ten bucks. Instead, throw 2 cups of grass and weeds from your front lawn into a blender with 3 cups of water from your pool. The result looks and tastes the same. (Party tip: When serving to guests at your birthday luau, pour into a Tiki tumbler for added authenticity.)

 

  1. Birthday parties…for dogs. What the heck is wrong with people? It’s not enough to organize a killer bash with clowns, ponies and a snow cone machine for your one-year old who will sleep through half of it. Now you have to put party hats on your pets?

 

  1. Sleeping babies. For some reason, I am the only parent whose babies didn’t immediately sleep through the night. In fact, my newborns both woke up every 2-3 hours for weeks on end, the inconsiderate little brats. I suppose it’s my fault, though. If I had been gluten-free when nursing, my kids would have been better able to digest the milk, resulting in a fuller feeling and hours of peaceful sleep.

 

  1. Starbucks in Europe. Americans have figured out a way to take European coffee, add some quasi-Italian words, reverse engineer the espresso making process so it actually takes three times longer, and then sell it back to the Europeans at a higher price. As disappointing as this is, I guess I can’t completely hate Starbucks  – not only do they bring us the eggnog latte, but they are probably responsible for making coffee across America drinkable.

 

  1. Gender Reveal Parties. Millennial friends of mine, I love you, but knock it off. Just go to the ultrasound, find out the gender of your baby and call your mom. No one else is relishing in the suspense as much as you are. If you have to be trendy and insist on making everyone you know digest something to find out whether you’re having a boy or a girl, give them a blue or pink Tropical Cooler.

Q & A With An Unsuccessful Blogger: Bad Answers to Your Good Questions

I like to pretend I have a blog. I say pretend, because I am not in the slightest bit successful. I only have about 20 followers, 19 of which are family members I force to read my blog under threat of no Christmas gifts. Over the year or so that I’ve been a “blogger”, my readers (aka family members who receive Christmas gifts from me) have asked me many questions about blogging. At the risk of breaking the Unsuccessful Blogger Code of Silence (UBCOS) and being banned from the world of bad bloggers, I will address these questions.

Q: How do you start a blog?

A: If you’re a Millennial, set up an account on WordPress.com and go from there. It’s intuitive.
If you’re from Generation X, get a bottle of wine, go to WordPress.com and pound wildly on your keyboard until you manage to launch a blog or are too drunk to care.

Q: Why do you write a blog?

A: lt’s simple. Since I have to live through this insanity, I had mind as well share the pain. Besides, I have to listen to your crap at the family reunions, so consider us even.

Q: Is your life really as nutty as you make it sound? (Only people with no kids and no job ask this question.)

A: Look, I can’t make this stuff up. If I were that creative I’d be making tons of money as a Hollywood screenwriter. 95% of what I write about I either experienced or observed. The other 5% is the result of hallucinations brought on by the alcohol my kids drove me drink.

Q: What inspires you?

A: It’s not about inspiration. Instead the name of the game is self-preservation, coupled with a strong desire to not go to jail. If I write about the neighbors’ obese, 11 year old, asthmatic Chihuahua, then I don’t feel as strong a need to throttle the thing when I find out that it’s the source of the rattling, wheezing noise every night that had me terrified I was going to be attacked by some kind of deranged science experiment cooked up in their basement.

I know that sounds mean, but in my defense, I pretty much had to keep my karate nunchucks at my side for a year. (In case you weren’t aware, nunchucks are proven to be the best defense against science experiments gone wrong. You don’t even have to know how to use them – just wave them around wildly to look intimidating. Note, however, that you should always wear a helmet when flinging nunchucks around wildly, as there is a 90% chance you will hit yourself in the head…and that hurts.)

Q: You work full time and have kids. How do you have time to blog?

A: It’s really not as hard as it seems. All you have to do is produce low quality, sub-standard work product and feed your kids cereal for dinner. By keeping people’s expectations low, I find I’m able to squeeze out free time for hobbies.

Q: How long does it take you to compose a post?

A: Anywhere from 2 hours to 2 weeks. I’m much faster now that I don’t have to carry nunchucks around and have both hands free to type.

How Well are you Integrating on Your European Vacation? Take This Short Quiz to Find Out.

In the past two weeks, I’ve written a few blog posts about our recent vacation to Europe to visit my husband’s family and our friends. One thing which has become abundantly clear is that it’s tough being an American in Europe. Sure I lived there for several years, but that was in the 1990’s and I’m clearly out of practice, not to mention old.

To help Americans figure out how well they’re integrating while on their European vacation, I’ve put together this helpful quiz. If you’re American, or just want to play along, then place a check mark next to any of the below things you’ve experienced or done. Once completed, total the number of check marks and read the result which corresponds with your score.

1. Every conversation ends up with a discussion of American politics. You’re slightly embarrassed when you realize most Europeans know more than you do about what’s happening in your own country. You quickly check Facebook for some talking points; if something has at least 1,000 likes then it must be true.

2. Since these European people seem to really know their stuff, you pull out your voters’ guide to the next elections to get their take on your local upcoming propositions. You feel like you’re doing your civic duty now, since you were just going to flip a coin. Let’s be honest people, it’s too hard to actually understand what you’re voting on!

3. Your Swiss friends complain that Americans think Switzerland is the same country as Sweden. Wait, there’s a difference? You probably shouldn’t have copied off your friend’s test in 7th grade geography.

4. You’re impressed by the different coins worth several dollars. In fact, you proudly tip the helpful bartender the biggest coin in your wallet. You later discover it was worth two cents.

5. You spend most of your vacation in London trying not to get run over. Why do they drive on the wrong side of the street anyway? Those wacky foreigners!

6. You get excited at the prospect of eating at a “real English pub.” Soggy peas are exotic, you know.

7. You have to go to the bathroom after eating all those peas, but you can’t fit in the stall.

8. You search your purse for your cell phone to find out what time it is; you forget you’re standing in front of Big Ben.

9. When crossing London Bridge you cleverly lead the family in a rendition of “London Bridge is Falling Down.” An elderly local man passing by gently points out to you that you’re actually on Tower Bridge. You try to convince yourself that you’re really right, since every bridge in London is a London bridge.

10. Even British people insulting you sounds sexy. Who cares what they’re saying, as long as they keep talking!

11. After you get back to America, you try to impress your friends by using British expressions. “Those pub peas were absolutely brilliant. It’s a shame I couldn’t fit in the toilet.”

Score

1-3 Check Marks: You’re a little nutty, but so am I. Overall you’re doing a good job of representing your country. Continue keeping your mouth shut and your ears open.

4-8 Check Marks: You need some help here. Consult a few reputable news feeds and a map before going back to Europe. To really fit in on your next trip, buy a pair of red shorts and ankle socks. At least you’ll look like a native.

9 -11 Check Marks: Call the government and have your passport revoked. No one this crazy should be let out of the country.