It’s Not Too Late to Buy Your Special Someone a Bad Gift!

presentgiftThere is something about the air at 30,000 feet that makes at least half a dozen items in Sky Mall seem like a necessity. Just when I’m all about the priority, rush shipping and really into my Sky Mall order, we land and the excitement is over. At sea level, my sanity always seems to return. My impulsivity to purchase fades. The Sky Mall magazine returns to the seat pocket next to the vomit bag.

planeAlong those same jet-fuel lined lines of thought, I do believe that shopping at Hammacher Schlemmer is the universe’s way of telling you that you have too much money. It is Robin Hood: The Retail Store. If you are spending $8999 on a reclining, vibrating  chair or $180 on a self-heating, magnetized earthenware mug, this is all a part of the grand scheme of things to redistribute the wealth back into the world.

With that in mind, a few days remain until Valentine’s Day, a time to still shower the one you love with unwanted and unnecessary material items. If you don’t feel like the cellophane wrapped box of assorted chocolates or ‘Made in China’ drugstore- teddy bear will do the trick, here are some more unique, heinous options that will sure stop your soulmate in their tracks.

The Top 10 Worst Gifts of All Time

1) Although it is never a clever idea to gift the lady you love with cooking or cleaning items, you may wonder what could be worse than a vacuum? This:

skymall.com

get it at skymall.com

If vacuuming alone didn’t strain her back, this here is guaranteed to do the trick. Now she can clean the house and wear the weight of all the garbage, germs, and debris she picks up right on your back.

It has that futuristic-astronaut look while simultaneously taking women back a good twenty-years on the ladder of domesticated oppression. Break the bank and her back and buy one before they’re gone.

2) If you were thinking of buying your man some different underwear, here is an option:

available at skymall.com

available at skymall.com

This guy really needs it. Look how flabby and out of shape he looks. He would really look like crap without his man girdle.  It is like a tank-top Spanx for men. It’s a little Mrs. Doubtfire-ish too.

Nothing affirms masculinity like a man worried about toning his torso. They come in an array of color choices including beige.

3) Or Maybe he just wants a robe:

skymall3

available at hammacher.com

There’s nothing like this Chewbacca robe to remind him of his Star Wars obsession and why he never got laid throughout high school or until after college. It even has a hood ….just add the unintelligible, beastly roar.

Or you could just marry a hairy Italian or Greek guy, skip the robe and clothes  at bedtime and achieve the same effect.

4) Maybe she just needs to relax:

skymall4

Is this from a medical catalogue? No silly ! skymall.com

Maybe if I had one of these I could relax. Nothing says being comfortable and cozy like having my neck and jaw held firmly in place. I could also wear it to court if I ever was in a rear-end collision.

5) Maybe he needs to relax too:

skymall6

get yours now at hammacher.com

This guy gets through TSA and my lipgloss gets confiscated by airport security. It is not fair but he sure looks comfy in his flannel, deep-sea diving nap suit.

6) And once I finally get through airport security and on the plane, I know I will get sat next to this guy:

get it at skymall.com before its gone

get it at skymall.com before its gone

There is just so much room for personal space on planes these days that this large, aqua velour pillow seems practical. When the beverage and snack cart comes around, you can ask the stranger sitting next to you to hold it.

7) Expand his wardrobe:

an array of shirts with snarky verbage exist at skymall.com

an array of shirts with snarky verbage exist at skymall.com

It seems that when a shirt has to assert something about your masculinity or femininity (‘Sexy Mama’ or ‘Smokin Hot Grandma’), you’re falling short. The best cues in this department probably remain visual and non-verbal. In all likelihood, Dan’s not really the man but it’s okay. It is the thought that counts.

8) Kill two birds with one stone:

skymall.com

skymall.com

Okay, don’t kill any helpless creatures of flight but check out this poncho map. Now you don’t have to read a map in the rain when you can just read what you wear. Where am I going? Oh look here under my left breast. It’s just 20 miles east.

It is ‘fashion-meets-global-positioning’ and its waterproof. Who needs MapQuest? Conservation of expended energy at its best.

9) Maybe man’s best friend deserves a gift for than anyone:

hammacher.com

hammacher.com

Now you can really wreak havoc on your dog’s fragile digestive system by throwing a curve ball into his or her regular nutritional routine. Add many of these sugary treats on a tray, as pictured, and your dog will keep eating. This present is probably best paired with this item, also from the catalog of Hammacher Schlemmer:

h3

hammacher.com

* guaranteed to remove almost any pet odor or stain from most any surface, rug, or material

10) And who could forget the kids?

at $9000 plus shipping, this thing is a steal

at $9000 plus shipping, this thing is a steal: hammacher.com

Stop spending 50 cents every time you take your child to the mall or fair. Those silly rides only last half a minute. Now you can have the carousel brought right into your home. After 18,755 rides, you have recouped your initial outlay. The rest is money saved.

Plus, as an added bonus, this ride is sure to attract all the neighborhood kids who’s parents didn’t want to stay and play in their own homes to come to your home, and never leave.


The Silly, Embarrassing, and Profound Things Our Children Say

little2 One of the best gifts I received lately was a journal from my cousin, Maura. It is entitled My Quotable Kid. The inside pages are blank and there is room to jot down the memorable things your children say. I have always been meaning to do this. Life is so hectic and it is easy to forget these gems of honest truth and observation. They are some of the most remarkable mementos of their youth and worth a revisit in the future.

With this in mind, I thought I would share:

Children often think of their family first.

Haircuts have been a big thing in our home. Thanks to Disney’s Tangled, no one wants to trim their hair. Sonoma finally decided she wanted to cut her hair and donate it to little girls that need wigs. Before her haircut, she seemed upset. I asked her if she had changed her mind. She said, “No, Mom. I’m just not sure if I should give my hair to those kids that need wigs or maybe Daddy and Pop Pop Joe can split it.”

val6They show prudent caution. 

Sonoma: “Does my shirt say I am the big sister?”

Me: “No, it says ‘I love Santa.'”

Sonoma: “I do love Santa. Do you love Santa too, Nennie?”

Nennie (Sienna): “No, I don’t love Santa. I don’t even know him well.”

They show keen, sensory observation.

Sonoma was running. My dad worried. He told her to slow down. His warning remained unheeded. He then yelled to her, “Sonoma, walk like Pop!” She started walking slowly with a slight limp (the way my father, with a bad foot, does.)

They use their keen, sensory observation to warn. 

“Mom should I call the firetrucks? = Never something you want to hear while your cooking (Sonoma’s response to the garlic I had singed).

They are compact, human litmus tests of truth. 

Our 12 year-old dog had digestive issues and had defected all over the living room floor. Before I called the professional carpet cleaners, I spent a good hour shampooing the rug, applying chemical solutions made specifically for pets, opening windows, and deodorizing the house with the hopes of solving the problem. I asked Sonoma, “Don’t you think its better now?” Sonoma: “Oh Mommy. The poop is so strong. I can taste it in my mouth.”

val12They have a unique way of phrasing things.

Sienna’s hand was dirty: “Wait mom! Help! My hand. I have stink on it!”

They are enterprising.

At school, they asked Sonoma  if she could give Santa one present what  it would be. She replied, “wrapping paper to wrap more gifts!”

They are worldy. 

Sonoma asked me what our dinner was called. “cavatelli with broccoli”, I replied. She asked, “Is that Spanish or English?…because that’s all I speak.”

They offer unsollicted advice. 

I took all three daughters to the grocery store and we learned about the foods and what they are used for. My two oldest girls asked me many great questions. I was feeling proud. We arrived at the cashier. He had a long, Mumford & Sons style beard. Sonoma said, “Excuse me, can I ask you a question?” In my mind, I thought what intelligent, nutritional question is she going to pose now?

Sonoma replied, “Don’t you think its time to shave?”

They ponder the beginnings of life.

Sonoma: “Mom, Scarlett came out of your tummy and that’s why it is so big.”

Me: “Yes.”

Sienna: “Mom, did I come out of your butt and that’s why it is so big?”

val9They ponder the origin of life.

Sonoma: “Mom, I know God made us. right?”

Me: “Yes, that is correct.”

Sonoma: “But who made God?”

They ponder the end of life.

On New Year’s Eve:

Me: “Listen up everyone. I want to tell you something exciting. Do you know what happens tonight at midnight?”

Sonoma: “I know! Are we all are going to die together?”

(I know…a bit morbid! In my defense they don’t watch sci-fi and we’re not dooms-dayers.)

They ponder the capabilities of the elderly.

My 4 year-old daughter Sonoma asked me this past December if this was going to be the “last Christmas”. I asked her why she would ask that. She said, “Because Santa is getting very old and I’m afraid he will be too old to do it next year.”

And then there was this:

IMG_0193

Meet our Buddha statue, a left-over remnant from my apartment when I was single and my life was Zen-like, and there was time to worry about Feng Shui.

It sits by our fireplace.

Sonoma used it as a cup rest.

Sienna would often pat its head and call it ‘Baby”.

Scarlett kisses its head and calls it ‘Pop Pop Tom’.

And then there was that:

popjoe

This is a picture of the three and a half -foot tall, wooden butler that stands in our office and holds business cards. When Sonoma was two, she insisted this was a statute of her Pop Pop Joe. She’d walk around waving it at it and sitting by it.

She told her sister Sienna and now she too believes the painted carving is an ode to her paternal grandfather. She asked why he only has one leg.

Just like us, they fear germs. 

Our entire household was sick with the flu. The kids recovered and  I was finally on the mend. Sienna climbed in bed with me in my room and snuggled up to me.

Sienna: “Mom are you still sick?”

Me: “Yes.”

Sienna: “Okay, then I need you to find somewhere else to go and lay because I don’t want to get sick again.”

They fear zombies, too.

On Halloween while Trick-or-Treating, an elderly woman approached our path. Probably for the sake of balance, she was walking with her arms outstretched. My 3 year-old started yelling, “Look it Mom! It is a real Zombie!”

val1They are our cheerleaders and mini life coaches. 

I was tired and had been up with our eighteen month-old daughter, Scarlett, because she was sick. Half-awake, I burned the eggs for breakfast. My 4 year-old,Sonoma, asked me to re-make them. Her 3 year-old sister, Sienna, agreed they were not edible. I took out the eggs again and was standing over the stove in a daze. Sonoma said, “What’s wrong Mom? Are you afraid you’re gonna cook bad again? It’s okay….just give it a try.”

They sometimes doubt us.

Sienna came into my room with her dress on backwards. I told her. She returned to her room. I heard her whispering with her sister, “Mommy said this is on backwards. I didn’t want to hurt her feelings.  You think she’s right?”

They favor their fathers. 

Sienna: “My Daddy works so hard for him family at work. I not sure what my Mommy does.”

They set boundaries.

We spoke about a friend who lives with their grandparents.

Me: “When I get older and you have a family, can I come live with you?”

Sonoma: “Um, I am not sure that is a good idea but I can build you a house and make you a good dinner.”

little1They seek privacy.

Sienna, “Mom, I don’t want Santa and Jesus watching me everywhere I go. I need privacy.”

They often have an alibi. 

When the toys were strewn all over the room, I asked who did it. Sonoma, age two at the time, replied “Caillou” (the fictitious cartoon of a precocious 4 year-old).

When I asked who drew in crayon on the wall, Sienna replied “Sweetie.” (our precocious Beagle-Basset Hound, who last time I checked, does not have opposable thumbs).

val11They say what we are afraid to. 

We had relatives visiting our newborn baby. By nature, I have always been a ‘people pleaser’. I see some of those traits in my eldest, Sonoma, while my middle-daughter, Sienna, seems to hold steady to her own convictions. Although I try not to assign any personality traits to them, with my clinical background, I find the observation interesting.

The relatives had been over quite some time and announced they were leaving. They walked to the door. Sonoma responded, “I wish you wouldn’t go. I love when you visit.” They continued to chat for another good 4-5 minutes at the door. Sienna then piped in, “It is time to go. Can’t you see Mommy is tired and baby needs to sleep?”

Out of embarrassment, I tried to quiet Sienna by correcting her manners but it just made it worse. “It’s not bad manners for me, Mom. It is bad manners for them.”

They have their own convictions.

On Thanksgiving, Sienna passed by the oven while they were checking the turkey. The oven was eye-level and I saw her reaction. I could see the fret and confusion. She turned to me and said, “They cooked a turkey, Mama?” Lost for words, I responded ‘yes’. She replied, “well I will never eat it.”

She didn’t eat it. Future PETA activist.

They keep us conscientious of our hygiene and appearance.  

Sienna (to me): “Mom, do you forget to comb your hair for everyday?”

then

Sienna, who has an incredibly keen sense of smell,  to a smoker: “Did you forget to brush your teeth for forever?” (We followed that comment with a lesson in hurting people’s feeling)

val2Sometimes they soften the blow. 

Sonoma to me a few weeks later. (After crawling in my bed when I woke up.): “Mom, I love you but can I ask you something? Did you eat a dumpling because it smells not so good?

Sometimes they butter us up.

Sonoma: “Mom, you’re the best cooker, and a princess and I love you. Can you take us to the movies?”

They spill our secrets. 

Two relatives were visiting and became involved in a heated discussion. The one adult told the other adult to “Shut up!” Sienna heard this. She put her hand on her hip and finger in the air.

Sienna: “Now wait everybody! We don’t say ‘Shut-Up’ in this house. It is a bad word and only my dad and mommy sometimes can say bad words. I don’t know why.”

They rat us out. 

Grandma: “This garage needs to be cleaned out and organized.” (commenting on our garage)

Sonoma: “Yes but Mommy said it’s like that because you stored some of your stuff in there when you moved.”

And just when you are about to get mad at them, they mishear things in the most adorable ways.

val5Sienna playing in her room with Mr. Potato Head…

Sonoma: “What are you doing in here?”

Sienna: “I’m playing with the tomato….Mr. Tomato-Head.

They make simple yet profound observations.

At the marina at dusk:

Sonoma: “Mom, stop what you’re doing and come here. You have to see this now.”

Me (walking over to her): “What is it?”

Sonoma: “Look at the sky and this sunset. It is too beautiful!”

They see life brighter. Colors are bolder. The air is crisper and the world has more sparkle.

After collecting shells and sand dollars on the beach all day, Sonoma came up to me and hugged me. She said, “Thanks Mom. Today was the very best day of my life!”

val3And just as fleeting as a pink sunset, their  little, endearing nature is fleeting. Embrace it. Soon they will grow and it will be gone.

Sonoma: “Name of the Father,

the Son,

and the Holy Spirit,

The End!”

(rather than Amen)

One day Sienna will outgrow the way she pronounces “sang-wich” or “Bubba Guppies” (for the show Bubble Guppies). One day she will stop pluralizing Coco- Puffses. One day their blunt observation will be masked in what is socially appropriate. One day I won’t be the first person they come to with each and every observation they make and thought that they think. For now, it is a privilege. I will miss these days.


farmer1An old Chinese parable tells the story of a farmer and his horse:

An old farmer was working in his field with his only horse. Somehow, the horse broke free and ran away from the farm. The farmer could not find the horse anywhere.

In hearing of what happened, neighbors from the village visited, offering their condolences and said, “What a shame.  Now your only horse is gone.  What bad luck. How will you live, work, and prosper?” The farmer replied: “Who knows? We shall see”.

Less than a week later, the farmer’s horse returned. He returned to the farm with a pack of eight other wild horses.  The farmer and his son corralled the horses.

The news traveled throughout the village. The neighbors came to visit the farmer. “You are fortunate!” they proclaimed. “What good luck.”  Again, the farmer softly said, “Who knows? We shall see.”

The next morning the farmer’s only son set awoke to train the new wild horses, but the farmer’s son was thrown to the ground and broke his leg. He quickly became sick with fever and pains. One by one villagers arrived to visit the sick son. “Oh, what a tragedy. What bad luck. You must be very sad”.  they said.  The farmer calmly answered, “Who knows? We shall see”

5226587_sAcross the country, a war began. The Emperor’s men arrived in the village demanding that young men come with them to be conscripted into the Emperor’s army.  As it happened the farmer’s son was deemed unfit because of his broken leg and poor health.  “What very good fortune you have!” the villagers exclaimed as their own young sons were marched away. “You have good luck.” “Who knows? We shall see!”, replied the old farmer as he headed off to work his field alone.

As time went on the broken leg healed but the son was left with a slight limp. Again the neighbors came to pay their condolences. “Oh what bad luck. Too bad for you”!  But the old farmer simply replied; “Who knows? We shall see.”

The war ended but the other young village boys had died in battle.  The old farmer’s son was the only young man to have lived. The neighbors said: “Oh how fortunate we are, you must be very happy”, to which the old farmer replied, “Who knows? We shall see!” 

In my own life, there are those days where everything seems to fall apart. Although I am aware that I leave little marginal room for error or adjustment in a tightly-packed schedule fully, the slightest shift in planning can ripple throughout the day.

Yesterday, I had a huge deadline and a few hours to accomplish my goal. I arrived at work with three hours to accomplish that work, about five hours of work ahead of me, and anxiety in the pit of my stomach. About forty-five minutes into my work, I get a text and a phone call. My sitter is sick. I have to return home to the kids.

Driving home I felt this sense of defeat. My defeat and negativism was wrapped firmly in a sense that I knew best. My day was crap. I hadn’t accomplished anything and I was feeling sorry for myself.

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I arrived home. The sitter left. I began to wash dishes and reason inside my head that these things happen. About twenty minutes into my time at home, there was a horrendous noise. It sounded like twenty-toilets running at once coupled with a train approaching our house. A pipe had burst and began leaking down through three floors of our home. Water poured from the recessed light fixtures, out the air-conditioing vent, and down the brick fireplace.

I was able to shut off the water in our basement in less than ninety seconds from when the leak started. There was damage but not the catastrophic kind. It could have been worse, much worse.  I had this overwhelming feeling of thankfulness that I was home. Had no one been home, the damage to our home and danger to our three dogs could have been significant. Had our sitter been home, she wouldn’t have known where the main water valve was and how to turn it off.

I shouldn’t have been home and yet I was. I couldn’t help but feel that someone or something was looking out for me. What I had foolishly thought was a curse (in having to return home early) was a blessing.

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This blessing in disguise was a much needed kick in the pants to my ego. In this fast-paced, technology savvy world where we believe so much of life is within our control, this is not always the case. And perhaps this is a good thing. The day was a reminder of faith.

Although we can’t foresee what God or the universe has in store for our days ahead, it isn’t our job to be all knowing. In my life, concentrating on what will happen and what it all means robs me of joy in the presence. Having faith allows me to do my best in that moment.

What may seem like a curse may be our greatest  blessings. And the inverse is sometimes true. Sometimes the universe saves us from ourselves and our own choices. Sometimes we walk down the wrong path of romantic partners, career choices, life choices, and the powers that be redeem us. We are spared from short-changing ourselves.

For me, not getting caught in the trap of interpretting that moment-to-moment significance in my own life is about relinquishing control. It is about falling back away into the safety net of faith.

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Within that safety net, there is a plan. It would be maddening to attempt to try and figure out that plan. It would be impossible to understand all of its detailed connections and meanings but having faith that there is purpose in each event, seemingly bad or seemingly good, is key.Faith doesn’t mean we will be spared from suffering. It simply means that suffering is for a purpose and that purpose may be something we do not fully understand.

heart123

Life speaks to us in our blessings. Life shouts to us in our setbacks and tragedies. Sometimes things in our life are multi-faceted. They are both good and bad intertwined and infinitely joined but fully coated in purpose.

I recently listened to Amiira Ruotula-Behrendt speak about faith and the universe. She suggested what if the universe had three answers in store? And those answers to any of our prayers or questions were: 1) yes, 2) yes but not yet  and 3) I have something better in mind for you.

In the year ahead may your sorrows be short lived and your joys be infinite and may you always have a sense of purpose to hold strong to and enjoy the present.

Knowing A Blessing From A Curse: And Why It Really Doesn’t Matter


Small Business Saturday, Business Owners and Red Tape: Let’s Have a Ribbon-Cutting

people-vs-govt-fishing

With small business Saturday upon us, support of small businesses in our neighborhoods and communities is a beautiful thing. Small businesses are the heart of our community. Small businesses are the informal beautification committees of our communities. They are the key ingredient in the growth of this country.  Small businesses have a profound impact upon families and I’ve shared my thoughts on my nj.com Parental Guidance blog (click here).

Small Business Saturday lead me to think about a greater, darker problem than the overshadows that large, international corporations cast upon our family-owned shops and stores. I started thinking about red tape; not in the gift wrap, holiday sense but in the regulatory, wrist-tying, throat-choking sense.

The real crisis facing small business is the crushing weight of government regulation. Recently, the government made it their job to pursue small children and the little lemonade stands that were unregulated. Fines were issued. Summons were wrote. Cardboard stands were shut down. Georgia, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Wisconsin, Maryland and Texas have all taken part in the shutdown of the American Dream unregulated fruit juice stands.

The ridiculous lengthy list of government regulation goes on and on. In Philadelphia, the price of ‘free speech’ is $300 and up. In the city of ‘Brotherly Love’, bloggers must now spend $300 for a tax to blog or face prosecution. In 2011, Amish farmers were raided by the FBI to investigate the sale of unauthorized milk. It’s about time the government went after the Amish because we don’t have larger issues like domestic terrorism, financial reform, radical international terroristic cells,  or a war with tremendous casualties to address.

I wonder what Henry David Thoreau would now write in his Civil Disobedience. Perhaps he would write much of the same, as it most all still applies. Perhaps it would be longer. Today everything is longer. Obamacare is so long that not even lawmakers no one know what it says. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act is so verbally profuse that even Wikipedia can’t even write a brief account of what its all about.

A few weeks ago, I sat in a courtroom: not as a council person or board member but as a lawbreaking citizen. The girl who never had detention and always had low-grade anxiety whenever scolded, plead guilty. My crime: parking too many vehicles in our own parking lot. An ordinance was violated. I sat in a packed court room next to the lawyer for a national furniture conglomerate, also making a court appearance for similar regulatory offenses in town. As ma -and-pa business after business made their appearance before the judge, I began to wonder why the town has made it their job to drive business, small and big alike, out.

If our own towns are against us, who are for us? Soon, the only jobs left will be those of the government regulators themselves.

As a small business owner, I am no stranger to our friends at the IRS, the DOT,  and the Department of Labor State audits not to be confused with the Department of Labor Federal Audits. As a small business owner, I  also wear the ‘HR hat’ and often interview potential employees for hire. In the last year alone, I have heard from at least half a dozen candidates that they weren’t really interested in the job but needed to let unemployment know they were interviewing. One candidate was so kind as to explain to me that she just couldn’t afford to work. It would ruin her unemployment.

Now, I know there are a lot of good people out of work. There are many good people who want to work. Such abuses are a disgrace. A friend even asked me why I hadn’t taken the time to report these people who had inferred they were abusing the system to the authorities case-by-case. Right. As a mom of three children ages four and under and as full-time small business owner, I have the time to sit on hold for twenty minutes and be passed back and forth from phone extension to voicemail to do my ‘civic duty’ that is the job responsibility of someone employed by the government.

Idea: perhaps they should regulate the system abusers before the business owners.

Last winter, The Today Show asked me about my stance on sick pay for part-time employees. I will comply with red-tape regulations but i won’t be happy about it. The problem with all of these good ideas in theory is that someone has to pay for them in actuality. I am all for supporting our employees. I am also for the government bolstering its finances but not on the backs of the tireless small business owners.

If we continue to weigh business owners down with unemployment tax, workman’s compensation, town fees, city fines, and so much more, someday and sometime there will be a law that breaks the business owners back. Although I am no business scholar, I can see that if you cripple the source then all that flows will eventually cease to trickle down.

When I asked an auditor about the seeming scrutiny, the auditor candidly confessed that if they don’t find something wrong then they will seem like they aren’t doing their job. I guess its as much about generating income for them as it is for us. At least someone is making revenue, too bad that someone is always Uncle Sam.

Starting a business in this country is an uphill climb. Maintaining a small business is even more miraculous a feat. It is the stuff of tight-rope walkers, Hail Mary passes, and midnight novenas. Small businesses don’t close their doors at 5pm. Small business owners don’t see “sick days”. Small businesses most often work 7 days a week into the wee hours of the night. We, as small business owners, are not the enemy. We suffer too. We are a part of the solution and are sadly becoming an endangered species.

The rules have swung out of balance. As common sense continues to erode and we are knee deep in the muck of The Great Jobless Recovery, it seems that it would be an opportune time for someone to speak up. It is not going to take a someone though, it is going to many of us.

I don’t usually talk politics but here is the caveat. The political here is personal. The political here is the future of my family and the ability to earn a living. The motivation is there. The drive and determination are present. The ethics are there too. We are good people looking for the freedom to pursue the American Dream.

This isn’t about being on one side of the political spectrum. As a former social worker, I have a deep earnest compassion for all. As a former government worker, I also believe that as Thoreau so elegantly paraphrased, “the best government is that which governs the least.” It is time for a common sense infusion in this country. For it to get better, it is going to have to get simpler.

Happy Small Business Saturday. Let’s hope at this Saturday next year, we have even more small business to be thankful for!


That’ll Be Extra: Rage Against the Surcharge

dollarGrowing up, my father would always tell my sister and I how he walked five miles from his home to school and back again each day in the sun, snow, sleet, and rain. He’d go on to tell us of how he had just one good pair of shoes, how he never had an allowance,  and of the cost of things. “When I was your age, bread was twelve cents a loaf, and stamps were just a mere three pennies each.” When we returned to his hometown of Glen Cove, Long Island many years later we tracked his old route with our Oldsmobile and its odometer. His walk to school was a mere mile and a half, as we had suspected. Perhaps I should have had an inkling that his story was a bit exaggerated when he told us that it was an uphill trek both ways. For as much as his daily journey to grammar school was proudly inflated, his recollection of prices was spot on. In 1948, the minimum wage was a mere forty cents an hour, and the average salary was $3500 a year, and milk was eighty cents a gallon (and 2% milk hadn’t even made its debut).

Costs rise over time. This is something we expect. By all logical standards, you would think that as the world grew simpler and more advanced, costs could be cut but it seems that we must pay the price for high-tech development. Progress is expensive. All in all, I don’t mind paying more as the world revolves and costs rise. I would mind even much less, if money was put to good use. I can say with a clear conscience that I don’t mind paying thirteen dollars every time I cross over the The Governor Malcolm Wilson Tappan Zee Bridge to pay for its ill-repair, lest it becomes even worse and we all plunge into the Hudson. Wavering yet rising costs are a certainty of our changing future. I would be lying if I denied that, from time to time, I get a nervous patter in my chest over a future with three daughters’ college tuitions, weddings and so forth, but this seems to be a part of life.

That said, if you are going to raise a cost, then please raise it. I’ll take a wallop to the face rather than a stab in the back or a hidden charge on a receipt. Don’t, however, sneak these surcharges onto my receipt or insult my intelligence. Case in point: the hotel internet charge. It all started at this very time two years ago. My husband and I had the misfortune of scheduling a connecting flight out of Aspen, CO back to New Jersey with an infant and a sick toddler during Spring break week. Due to high winds, we missed our connection by a literal two minutes and were stranded in Los Angeles for three days in a torrential storm without luggage or diapers (another blog entirely).

To make matters worse for the wear, there was a porn convention in town. All the hotels were sold-out. Waiting in the check-in line at the Four Points Sheraton at 3am with two small daughters sobbing with the beginnings of ear infections amidst this motley group was quite the experience. It was like I entered a black hole. The lobby was like an X-rated version of the Star-Wars bar. People with the strangest mix of exaggerated parts were having drinks, strutting around, and speaking in tongues. Our infant daughter was still nursing, and even with my swollen breasts I assure you I had the smallest rack of anyone there. The worst part was that the guy with the red pleather chaps got the last available room and we had to finally settle for a hotel out on Long Beach. After a 45 minute cab-ride from hell, we paid the $379.00 a night (supply and demand – the Dirk Digglers and weiner-jockies of the world all assembled together for a meeting of the minds drive prices up). I could accept that. What I cannot accept is paying an additional $10.99 a night for Internet access after paying $379.00 a night. Isn’t Internet access like air at this point? Shouldn’t it be worked into the price of everything else? I don’t expect to be surcharged for a hairdryer in my hotel room or hand towels. I don’t think I should have to pay to check my email on my iPad. If I can go into a Starbucks and use the wi-fi for free (or perhaps its calculated into my $7.99 cup of coffee), than why can’t the same rule apply to my hotel internet access. I guess it can’t and while they’re at it, they decided to charge us a fee for printing boarding passes on their computer.

A few months back, while staying at a luxury resort in Florida, I asked if I could ship my diapers down to the hotel prior to getting there to save room in the luggage (lest I be surcharged for a fee by the airlines…$35.00 each way). The hotel agreed and gladly added that their clients do it daily. What they didn’t tell me is that it would be a $20.00 package-acceptance surcharge. I have since learned that many premiere hotels sneak in surcharges. There are surcharges to use the safe, for extra glasses in the room, and even a fee for turndown service in some $400 a night hotel rooms.

The sneaky culprits aren’t all hotels though. Sometimes you’re not just charged for add-ons but for taking them away! Now some NYC bars are charging patrons $2.00 for the absence of ice in their drinks. Am I joking? I don’t joke about my drinks. If you want a bourbon straight up sans ice, you may be levied a straight-up surcharge. As if a $16 bourbon was not already pricey enough?

I guess I have been paying surcharges for some time now. As a fan of anything avocado, I’ve always been surcharged for adding avocado to anything. I’m always surcharged for Blue Cheese too. I’m not exactly sure why I pay a U.S. Agriculture Fee when I fly from Newark to Orlando yet I have been paying this fee for many different flights in recent years. Surcharges are the new charges, I guess.

It isn’t just surcharges themselves but the nature of surcharges have become more ridiculous. I’m paying $1.50 delivery charge to the pizzeria to bring a pie to my home. It used to be called a tip. Now I pay both.  If I go a restaurant, the surcharges could be ridiculous. Before I even get to the restaurant for a birthday dinner, I pay a fee for using an ATM and four cents more per gallon in gas  for paying with a credit card. Good thing I didn’t bring my own wine or cake lest I pay a corkage fee and a cake cutting fee.

Maybe the very worst surcharge came this week. It may come as no surprise that it came from my gym. I know gyms can be some of the worst offenders. There is this underlying feeling of doom when you sign that dreaded one-year contract, that you are signing away your freedom. It’s like Faust and the Devil except with gym mats on the floor and club music piping through the speakers.

This is how it all started with my gym: so about seven weeks ago my bank suddenly cancelled my debit card because the numbers had been compromised. They reissued a new card and I had to update all my automatic bills. It is funny how these attempts at making our life simpler, with automatic bill-pays and online banking, sometimes make life so much more complicated. I forgot to update my gym automatic debit. I go to the gym. Everyone says hello and most everyone is nice. No one says, “hey you owe us money.” Two months later, I get a call from gym-guy that I owe two months of membership for non-payment. When I realize what has happened, I explain about the cancelled card and give the gym-guy my new card information. He tells me that there will be a $40 additional service fee for re-running the card. $40. Really???

Gym-Guy says that the contract’s fine print says they are entitled to charge the fee. I get it. The mistake is mine. Like a dutiful gym-goer, I should have called to update the card. I ask if he could waive the fee this one time. He snickered then says no. I suggest we split the fee. He said no. He even insinuates I am lying about the cancelled credit card stating he hears that excuse several times a day. Now according to him, I’m a liar on top of being forgetful. We get nowhere. I ask to speak with the owner. The same conversation ensues. I have no problem paying what I owe. I just can’t stand the excess $40. He says it is in the contract. I mention that there’s a difference between what a business can legally charge and what is good business. He said I’d have to pay it. I was stuck. I need their treadmill and their babysitting service. I paid the $40 but not without saying my piece.  Lucky for him, he caught me at a mid-fat weight and mid-contract otherwise I would leave. If individual customer service means absolutely nothing to them then that’s fine but I mentioned that I will remember that next year when it comes time to renew my contract. Last time I checked, there is a gym every quarter mile around here. Gym-guy and his boss could care less but it is that very mentality that will make that renovated warehouse gym an empty, rundown warehouse again a year or so from now.

We have to check our bills and speak up against the surcharges. And if we own businesses or work for one, we must not undervalue the importance of individualized attention. I don’t expect something for free but I do want people to remember I am still a person. Individualized service is one of those lost things of yesteryear, like door-holding and derby hats. In the meanwhile, I’ll me at my overpriced, rude gym.


Please Pardon The Mess

momsWelcome to our home. Enter. I know what you are wondering. The ottoman is tipped over on its side. The area rug is askew. Drawers pulled open, contents sticking out. Cheerios and crayons on the floor. One of our dogs is chewing on a Slinkie. There’s a bra on a bike helmet and a pop tart on the bookshelf. Have we been burglarized? No, but thanks for your concern. It isn’t an outlandish assumption. This is what our home looks like most every Thursday at 2pm.

I can explain. Things weren’t always this way. Rewind four and a half years. My husband and I purchased our first home together and immediately began to furnish it. Not long after we signed on the dotted line and removed the realtor sign off of the front lawn, I learned that I was pregnant with our first child. We painted each room, put up crown molding and picked out each item for our humble abode. Actually, that isn’t exactly true. Let me reword. We are not that handy. We don’t know how to do everything but we know how to pay people that do everything. We hired painters and people to put up crown molding and they did an excellent job but I did coordinate paint swatches to pillows and select all our furniture until my vision was complete. Our house was beginning to feel like a home. Sort-of.

I remember having one of my best friends over to show her the final product. With her seventeen-month old son wrapped around her leg, she remarked that everything was beautiful, “just gorgeous”, yet added on her way out the freshly painted front door that a year or so from now she imagines I will regret some of these purchases. I was puzzled and my hormonally-charged feelings were hurt. I felt fully committed to my damask wallpaper and felt her words were some sort of slight at my old whimsical self from my twenties. It turns out that it wasn’t. She was referring to my marble and mahogany living room furniture. She was speaking of my all glass curio and my large Phantom of the Opera-esque candelabras, as well as my bar-height kitchen table with tapestry stools.

I still didn’t understand what she really meant until our daughter, Sonoma, was born and started to walk. Suddenly the living room didn’t seem so elegant but more like a mine field of what to avoid. Don’t jump near the glass cabinet. Watch your head near that table. Our living room became an obstacle course of glass, marble, and mahogany claw-feet.

Our second daughter was born seventeen months later. In came the new baby. Out came the glass curio. Boxed away in our crawl space went the a lot of the Lladro and the Lenox. We slapped those big, black  sticky foam corner protectors onto every granite surface, edge of fireplace, and sharp corner we could find.

It wasn’t all about safety. Safety was just at the top of the slippery slope. With every month that passed, order within our home diminished. Three daughters and three dogs later, there were little fingerprints and dog paw prints across our glass window panes. If I missed a day of vaccuming, dog fur would blow like tumbleweeds across our family room. There were oat puffs on the chairs, Fisher Price Little People littered across our floors, and a cardboard party hat strapped to our Buddha statue as our daughters affectionately included him in their play birthday parties.

Please don’t misunderstand. I have well-behaved children. They aren’t rude or obnoxious. They barely whine and only act like little Gremlins twenty-percent of the time. They are children though. They are creative and fun and unpredictable. My daughter Sienna drew on her entire leg with marker the other day because it was fun. She played mummy with our beagle-basset hound and the toilet paper. Sonoma painted Sienna from head to toe with Desitin a few months back playing a competitive game of “sunblock.”

Contrary to what it may seem, I am not a slob. I’m not a hoarder or “a messpot”. In fact, I am a Virgo thru and thru. I’m just a Virgo elbow deep in juice boxes, stuffed animals, and piles of paperwork. I’m a mother of three children three years old and under and I may have forgotten to mention that we have three adorable rescue dogs. I cook. I clean. I work from home and I do organize throughout the day. I even dusted with our little feather duster until one of our three rescue dogs ripped it apart and ate it.

The problem as I see it is two-fold. First, we are too hard on each other. I know there are people who have children and keep their homes impeccable, and good for them. Perhaps this gives them a sense of peace. Just don’t judge me. Child-rearing and organization are not parallel. A neat home doesn’t necessarily make a happy home. It may just make a museum.

My husband and I went to another couple’s home for a get together a few weeks ago. Their home is impeccable and wherever I go, so many friends and even some family have made the case that this woman is the ideal wife and perfect mom. In fact, she is very cultured, classy and hospitable. She and her husband are hospitable to a fault. Upon arriving at their home, her apron matched the drapes. With her decor and appetizers and calm demeanor, she made the Stepford Wives look flustered and disorganized. Into the evening, our gracious host advised me that the bathroom was upstairs, the third door on the left. I ascended the stairs with our infant daughter in tow, as it was my intention to nurse her in the bathroom, and somehow I miscounted and opened the wrong door. Inside was a strange sight. Before my eyes was a guest room filled with piles of boxes. Boxes filled with toys and clothes. There were items strewn all over. It was a mess. This just wasn’t a mess but this was a crack in the case. This was hard, cold evidence that they were human. Perhaps they could be as human and momentarily overwhelmed at times as I was. I knew though that this line of reasoning was disturbed. Why was I rejoicing over their scattered laundry?How sick is it that I felt relieved to the point of being enthused at the sign of their humanity? Was it possible that they too had bouts of messiness? Could “perfect” be a myth like the Lochness Monster or Sasquatch?

This brings me to my second point: we are too hard on ourselves. I knew in the cluttered, dusty recesses of my own spirit that this was more about my own insecurities then it was about keeping up with the Joneses. There would always be someone else neater and more organized. Why did I feel though that a messy home was a reflection of my failings as a parent, a wife, and a mother? Couldn’t I still be a great mom and an okay organizer. Couldn’t a messy home be seen as a sign of a happy home?

The true measure of a friend is directly proportionate to how much straightening-up I must do before the friend arrives: the less straightening and fussing, the closer the friend. If we are really best buds, I may not even put on eyeliner and change out of my owl pajama pants. Lucky them.

I had a heated disagreement with someone recently who seems to view this issue quite differently than I do. I came away from the argument feeling empty and confused. Am I inadequate because my home isn’t always neat and orderly? I sat with my feelings of inadequacy and did all I knew to do. I offered my frustration up to God and I prayed. I prayed for a sign.

Sometimes God has a better sense of humor about things than I would expect. Ask and you shall receive. Less than a week later, my cousin, who knew nothing about my struggles with domestic order, gave me a belated birthday gift. It was a sign. Literally. In big black block print it read, “Good moms have sticky floors, dirty ovens, and happy kids.”

For me, it isn’t a matter of organization but perspective. My home will be cleaner then a few hours later it will become messier. As sure as the tides change, it will always be in a constant fluctuating state of order and this is not relevant to my worth as a mom. It will never be “perfect” or showroom quality. Our home is lived in and within it there is love. It is the love and the laughter that makes a home perfect, not perfectly aligned statues on shelves. Our house feels like a home thru and thru each disheveled square foot.

I now embrace the chaos. It’s a part of our life. It is what separates our home from a house. I am glad my children won’t think it’s the end of the world if they spill something on our couch. And, if I have twenty extra minutes in the afternoon, I’d rather play with my kids so I do. Don’t get me wrong, I still fold laundry. It’s just that my linen closet doesn’t need to look like a page from Architectural Digest for me to feel adequate. Actually no matter what mountain of available time I ever have in my life at any future point, I doubt I will ever devote it to fastidiously folding and piling wash cloths. I hope I will always find something more interesting to do in life than fret over folding. Anyway, I doubt anyone on her deathbed ever uttered that she wished she had a neater laundry room.

It is my hope though that one day we can live in a world where we won’t be judged by one another about the order of our homes or the mess in our linen closets but by the content of our character, the kindness in our hearts, the joy in our lives, and the laughter in our homes.