Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Not so very far away


I had one of those "count your blessings" types of days that are probably too few and far between. As you know, I am not independently wealthy and therefore must work for a living. What are you gonna do, right?  I'm part of a team that builds websites and other tech-y things. This morning, I met with a new client. My co-worker and I (he's the sales guy, I'm the project manager) drove to the client's location to kick off this new project.  They run a large food bank and are in need of a new website.

Our meeting was scheduled for 9:00 a.m. We got stuck in traffic, so we pulled up right at 9. We could see a line forming outside the building.  It quickly became clear that the food bank was just opening for the day. We filed in through the door with the rest of the folks and then let a receptionist know that we had arrived to meet with the director.

She was running a bit late, it seemed, so we stood in the lobby and waited. More people filed in. They went up to a desk and received a numbered slip from the friendly gentleman behind the desk. Everyone then sat down and waited. Many of them had empty bags and boxes tucked under their arms.

I was not staring, of course, but I was interested in learning about the process. The more I know about an organization, the better equipped I am to deliver a website that truly meets their needs. I watched as the people with numbers were then called to a different window. I'm not 100% sure what happened at that point, but it was clear that the whole process was very orderly and precise. First come, first served.

I spotted a young woman who stood out from the other folks simply because of her youth. I wondered what her story might be. I saw other food pantry clients who, if it is not too unreasonable to make an assumption based on appearance, certainly seemed to fit the description of being "down on one's luck." I saw families. I saw elderly couples. Fat people. Thin people. Each with his/her own story, I'm sure.

Later, during the meeting, I asked a few questions about the program. While some people make use of the food program over generations, the average client needs the food pantry for about two years.  Each client must complete an interview process in order to be accepted into the program. They must show proof of income (or lack thereof, I suppose) and show a social security card as well. If someone uses the program for an extended period, they must be re-certified periodically. Clients are allowed to come to the food pantry once a week.

We passed the food distribution area on the way to the meeting room. The recipients don't "shop" the pantry like one would at a grocery store. They are offered specific items at a counter (milk, bread, etc.) and they can either take all of the items or decline some of them if they wish. I suddenly felt pretty darned fortunate to have the opportunity to choose from 486 types of pasta at my grocery store.

Anyway, here is my observation. I know that my Republican friends subscribe to the whole "pull yourself up by your bootstraps" thing, and I get that. I really do. I truly do believe that most people want to work if they can. I can tell you that some of the folks I spotted in that lobby . . . . let's just say that I don't think employers are lining up to hire them. And I don't mean that in an unkind way, but when you are missing teeth and have limited resources for housing/bathing/necessities, perhaps getting a job is not as easy as some might believe.

I am mostly agnostic so I don't get into God stuff a lot, but I have always kept the saying, "There but for the grace of God go I" in mind.  I don't think of it as "whew! so glad it's not me."  I think of it more along the lines of it being a pretty thin line for most of us before we tumble down the rabbit hole, too. Sure, I'm fortunate to have had some pretty decent opportunities in my life. I own a home and a car. I have a college degree and a job. Nothing truly catastrophic has thrown me off course, but that is not the case for many. I have seen families toppled by medical debt. I mean, medical debt can take a family from prosperity to homelessness. It's crazy.  For some, the path to the food bank might be more mundane: a lost job equals inability to pay rent. Getting a new apartment is tough when you can't scrape together the deposit and first month's rent. I think these things happen every day.

Are there some folks who are perfectly happy to get their bread from the food pantry, with zero motivation to work, to pay rent, etc? Yes, I'm sure those folks exist. But, we don't get to paint everyone with the same brush. It's just not right.

Standing in the food pantry today reminded me that in the end, it wasn't my business why they were there or what their specific circumstances were. If I donate to a food pantry (or to any other program), I don't get to weigh in on how the recipients use those resources. It's not my business if the folks in line had cell phones.  Maybe the phones were a gift - I don't know.

When I was around 20 years old, I was driving to work when I passed a convenience store. I saw a homeless man out front with his dog. I decided to stop and ask the man if I could go inside and buy some dog food for his dog. He said, "Sure."

So, I walked into the store and picked up a few cans of food for the man's dog. When I handed him the bag, he looked inside and said, "Well, I don't know if she likes this kind." I think he probably said thanks. For a moment, I thought, "What the hell?" but later I thought, "Well, maybe his dog really doesn't like that kind. Just because they are down on their luck doesn't mean the dog can't be a little picky."

It's a good lesson, I think. Charity should never come with strings attached. Even at 46, I benefited from a reminder of that.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Technology

My husband got me a FitBit for my birthday back in February. I love the thing. I love how it counts my steps and tells me what a shitty night's sleep I had. I did have one problem with it, though, which was that I could not get it to synch with my iPhone for love nor money. I could get it to synch with my PC, but that was somewhat inconvenient. When I was out east a few weeks ago, my FitBit reflected the wrong time (off by one hour) for the entire trip because I could not synch it. It was slightly maddening. Finally, in desperation, I called FitBit and talked to Jose. Jose walked me through the same instructions I'd Googled a dozen times. Despite his best efforts, the FitBit and my phone simply could not find a way to get along. Friendly Jose told me that they would send me a new one at no charge.

Every other FitBit user I know has had theirs replaced at least once so that makes me wonder about just how sturdy this technology really is. But, I didn't complain. I received my new FitBit in the mail about a week later and voila! It synchs perfectly. Also, another feature started working that had never worked before - my wrist now buzzes when I have an incoming call.  I also set up a custom message that my FitBit gives me when it's done charging: "URNOTFAT."  Awwww, thanks, FitBit!

In other technology news, you know that phone I told my kid she couldn't have? I bought her a phone. Our cellular provider was having a big sale on Thursday and since the phone acquisition was inevitable anyway, I thought I may as well get it as inexpensively as possible.

In preparation for the new phone, I reset her Apple and Google passwords to make sure I had full access to both. I do have to keep a close eye on her. She downloads a lot of crap and I am doing my best to keep her safe. After work on Thursday, I headed over to the mall and bought the phone. The phone, with this sale, was one penny (for an iPhone6). However, I immediately purchased two kinds of insurance for it so I actually had to lay out a hundo right off the bat.

I tried to decide how to give her the phone.  Her dad and I talked and decided it would be on a trial basis at first just to see how she does. On Thursday night, after she went to bed, I charged the phone, set it up on our Wifi, and added the phone to my OurPact account.  OurPact allows me to shut down her devices remotely. That way, she can't stay up all night playing Minecraft.

On Friday morning, I cranked up the ringer on her phone and snuck into her room as she slept, setting it carefully on her dresser.  I closed the door and then called the phone from my phone. I could hear it bing-bonging away at full volume. She didn't answer (I am not kidding when I say that she sleeps like the dead). I called again. I could hear her rustling around. Finally, her bedroom door opened and she stood there with the phone in her hands. She looked at me with her jaw open. I don't know when I've seen her look so surprised.

Her dad and I immediately laid down a bunch of ground rules about the phone. Prior to the purchase, I had talked to a good friend whose daughter is a little older than mine. She had given me some tips on how to retain control of the phone, apps to watch out for, etc.

I promised to take her out the next day and buy her a case for the phone. She immediately started texting her friends and telling everyone that she FINALLY GOT A PHONE!

Now that the kid had a phone, I knew it was finally time to get rid of the home phone. I'm pretty sure I'm the last person in my county who had one. I held onto it for three reasons: emergencies, for the kid's use, and because when I was with Boxer Rescue, that number was printed on over 900 ID tags that were doled out to the dogs we placed. I was worried that someone would find a lost dog and not be able to call.  The timing (for getting rid of the phone) seemed more reasonable now, though.

Disconnecting the phone meant a phone call to Time Warner. I braced myself for this on Friday night. I would rather eat glass than to call Time Warner. I called and navigated the auto-attendant maze. I was connected with a live person. So far, so good. The representative who took my call was not particularly helpful because I couldn't seem to come up with a PIN that we apparently established 20 years ago when we set up the account (even though I was logged into our account online at the time and could provide any other type of information she could possibly want). She then asked, "What's a good number to reach you in case we get disconnected?" I thought to myself, "You know, and I know, and you know that I know, that if we are 'accidentally disconnected,' there is no way you are going to bother to call back." But I gave her my cell number.  Sure enough, we were "accidentally disconnected" a few minutes later. Imagine!

No one called me back. So, after sighing deeply and emitting a few R-rated words, I called back and got a different rep. This one, for whatever reason, did not seem to need a PIN. She disconnected our home phone as requested and moved us to a package that includes some channels that we didn't have before. I'll have to look closely at the next bill to see if there is anything we need to change. That's one of my many complaints about Time Warner. They have these mysterious "special packages," but you have to call and ask about them. When you are one of these packages and it expires, they simply hike up the rate and hope you won't notice/care. I mean, sure, you are welcome to call Time Warner and ask about a new package, but you are also welcome to go fuck yourself and they don't really care either way.

I rounded up our cordless phones and shoved them in a bag in the basement just in case we ever need them again.  By that time, I was in a foul mood and took it out on my family. I poured myself a vodka cranberry (which turned out to be a really bad decision because the kid and I went to a hot yoga class the next morning) and tried to block out my Time Warner-related angst.

My daughter was still playing with her new phone over the weekend. As I was getting ready on Saturday, my wrist buzzed: my child was calling me from the next room. "This might be just a little too much technology," I thought to myself.

Anyway, all is well at the moment. The kid has the phone she's always wanted.  My FitBit works. Time Warner can go suck an egg.

Oh, and yes, I did let my kid install Pokemon Go even though I have concerns about how much data/battery it uses. It was sprinkling yesterday but we went out for a walk anyway. I was close to the daily goal of 10,000 steps at that point, so I knew I could hit the goal with a decent walk.  She caught some Pokemon and I hit my goal. Grover chewed some tree bark he found in the street. It was a good day.

 

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Grounded Tween = World's Most Helpful Tween


My daughter is currently enrolled in a two-week summer program at the middle school she will be attending in the fall. It's a good chance for her to learn her way around the school, and it gives her something to do. Every morning, she rides her bike to her old elementary school and then catches a bus to the middle school. There is a span of three hours or so between when she gets home and when her dad and I get home from work. The rules for that brief span are pretty basic. In fact, there is only one main rule, which is: "no friends over while Mom and Dad are at work." The other rule is more of a goes-without-saying sort of thing: "don't use the stove."  She wouldn't really use the stove anyway, because she prefers to have meals prepared for her so that she can reject them on sight. I keep telling her that she's 11 and is perfectly capable of planning and preparing a meal (something that she would like to eat), but whenever I make that suggestion, she looks at me as thought I've recommended that she gnaw on the dogs for sustenance.

On Friday, I did some shopping after work and then headed home. When I walked in, I was juggling bags of groceries but my kid didn't even look up from her iPad. I put everything away, and then sorted through the tote bag she had left on the kitchen counter (containing her bike helmet, rain jacket, etc.)  I decided to toss the bag into her room. In the middle of her bedroom floor, I spotted a grey hoodie that I didn't recognize. I picked it up and looked at the tag. Nope, definitely not hers.

Hoodie in hand, I went back to the living room. "Whose is this?" I saw the oh shit expression cross her face. I could see that she was thinking fast, trying to figure out how to throw me off the trail.

"I don't know," she tried. "It's not mine."

"Yeah, I know it's not yours. Whose is it?"

She looked down and admitted that it belonged to a friend who lives down the street. Since the hoodie had not been in our home that morning, I didn't have to be a seasoned NYPD detective to know that her friend had been in the house while we were not home. As a matter of fact, she had three girls (sisters) in the house and admitted that she'd done it once before.

I could feel the heat rising in my face. "GROUNDED!" I yelled and sent her stomping off to her room. I took her iPad and put it on top of the refrigerator.

"I can't believe she did this," I told my husband, who was doing a stellar job of parenting from his spot on the couch, where he has been playing the same video game for weeks now. But, I digress.

The rule is in place, of course, not to ruin my daughter's social life, but because if something happened to one of her friends while we weren't home, I have to assume that we would be liable/responsible regardless. It's just too dangerous. I did give her some credit for admitting what she had done, but I was still profoundly disappointed in her.

Earlier that day, I had stopped at the mall to talk to a representative from the cellular company that provides our cellular phones and service. I wanted to find out what it would cost to add our daughter to our plan. She's been begging for a phone and now that she will be in middle school (and is dying to sign up for all kinds of clubs and plays and such), I thought it might be good for her to have a way to call when she needs to be picked up if she has after-school activities. Anyway, the helpful sales dude gave me his card and a brochure. He had circled the plan that would work best for us.

After my anger had subsided a teeny bit (but not very much), I marched back to my daughter's room and waved the brochure at her. "Just so you know," I told her, "I checked into getting you a phone today. You lost your chance now."

Her jaw dropped and she began to wail.  She stormed outside into the back yard and sat in the dirt behind our lone tree. She took Grover with her. After a while, I went to check on her. Tears were rolling down her cheeks. "Don't you trust me anymore?"

"Nope," I said. This tough love stuff is not easy, let me tell you.

I left the brochure on the counter for the next two days so she could remember that decisions have consequences.

The weekend plans had to be changed a bit, of course. She had been looking forward to taking Grover to the dog park on Saturday.  I let her know that she would not be going. So, I took Grover by myself. When we got home, I did lay it on a little thick and told her that we had SO much fun and there were SO many dogs there.

Her weekend wasn't full of unceasing torment, because her dad and I did take her to see "The Secret Life of Pets" on Saturday. I had purchased the tickets on Friday and didn't want to let them go to waste.

On the way home from the theater, she asked me, "Mommy, did you like the movie?"  This was completely out of character for her. Her dad and I started chattering to each other in fake British accents, which did not amuse her AT ALL.

"Mother, did you thoroughly enjoy the cinema this afternoon?" 
"Was the movie quite to your liking, m'lady?" 
"Indeed, good sir!"

After the movie, I dropped them off at the house because I wanted to run to the grocery store to pick up a couple of things I had forgotten. When I came home with my lone bag, the kid sprang forward and said, "Do you need help carrying anything, Mommy?"

"Um, you're laying it on a little thick, Goober."

The grounding will end tomorrow morning and she'll get her iPad back. I did extract a few chores from her, such as talking Grover for a walk and cleaning out some junk in her room.  Since she couldn't watch TV or use a computer/iPad, she dug out a few craft projects. I think it is good for her to get some time away from electronics regardless. This afternoon, we watched a friend's three-year-old son for a few hours. I made my daughter chase him around at the park and keep a close eye on him. I saw her talking to some girls she knows, so I reminded her that grounded people don't socialize.

I'm pretty proud of myself for enacting a consequence because honestly, it's so much easier not to. I'm willing to bet she won't be entertaining in our living room while no one is home, though. At least not anytime soon.


Friday, July 15, 2016

Pride

Last Saturday, my daughter and I volunteered at an annual Pride celebration held in a local park. Our church had signed up to have a table at this shindig, so we volunteered with our church friends.  I hadn't been to our local Pride party in a few years because I am usually on vacation that week. However, this year we went on vacation a week early so the dates worked out just right.  I have to tell you: it was the most fun I've had in a while. All of the people were so friendly and it was just a really vibrant, fun atmosphere.

There were more vendors this year than I remembered seeing in the past. There were other churches in addition to our UU fellowship. Other vendors included Avon, a henna shop, a lamp shop (the kid talked me into buying her a custom lamp for her bedroom), a meditation group, and lots of vendors selling rainbow-themed gear. One booth was giving away rainbow flags.  There were a couple of booths that were definitely not appropriate for my daughter to visit, so I let her know ahead of time which vendors were off limits. I didn't need my 11-year-old wandering into the Pure Romance booth. Ack! I'm 46 and don't really understand what some of that stuff is.

Prior to the event, I attempted to explain the concept of a drag queen to my daughter. She asked me if a drag queen is a transgender person. I explained that a drag queen is really more about drama and over-the-top-ness. "Drag queens like to entertain. It's theatrical," I explained.

Sure enough, there were a couple of drag queens walking around the park. My daughter was intrigued and watched as a statuesque figure in a ball gown walked by. "Do you want to have your picture taken with one of the performers?" I asked.

She nodded.  I told her we'd wait for a better opportunity because the queen we'd just seen was pretty far ahead of us by that time. Sure enough, a few minutes later, we did see another candidate.

"What if she says no?" my daughter asked.

"Sweetie, she is here to see and be seen. Trust me. She will not say no."

As predicted, she was more than happy to pose for a photo with an 11-year-old.  I explained to my kid how she'd probably been working on that make-up since the wee hours of the morning. After I snapped the photo, she looked at me and said, "Happy Pride!" I smiled back at her and briefly wondered if I should go a little more dramatic with my own make-up.

Everyone we talked to was just like that drag queen - friendly and proud. I ran into quite a few people I knew.  When I came back to the church booth after being away for a few minutes, one of my friends said, "Someone came by and asked if you were here."

"Well, I am very big in the gay community, you know." I was joking, of course.

Anyway, it was a great event (and the weather cooperated fully), and I think it was a good outreach opportunity for my church. We handed out bubbles and glow bracelets.  We talked to a lot of people about our liberal religious faith.  It was a good day.

I don't claim to be a great mom, but if if my daughter can think of nothing else to say about me when she is grown, I hope she will say that I helped her to embrace diversity from day one. I'll be good with that.

Someone lost a tooth as soon as we arrived!



Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Heeding the call and whatnot


Over the past eight years or so, I've successfully dodged a couple of invitations to serve on the board of trustees at my church. I was so involved in rescue at the time that I couldn't fathom having time for much else. Plus, and I say this with full awareness that it sounds pretty douche-y: I am not a huge fan of meetings. I have a short attention span and really struggle to make it to the end, no matter how brief the meeting. I mean, you could invite me to a meeting to talk about giving me my own tropical island and I would still be like, "Ugh. How long do you think the meeting will take?"

About a month ago, I attended the annual meeting at church. Elections were held. It quickly became clear that no one was dying to take the Vice President spot. The former VP had the audacity to move away. Not having any nominees or volunteers, they decided to table the discussion until later.

The church's fiscal year began on July 1st. The monthly newsletter hit my in-box on June 30th. The newsletter contained a plea for someone to fill the VP spot.  I was at the beach at the time. Sitting with a margarita in one hand (and probably some Utz barbecue chips in the other), I began to wonder if maybe I should volunteer for the role. I mean, not being a fan of meetings isn't much of an excuse when it comes right down to it. The VP position is a bit daunting, however, because it automatically leads to being President the following year. That's how the by-laws are set up. It's a three-year commitment: one year as VP, one year as President, and one year as Past President. That's a lot of meetings, ya'll.  I also thought about how some of my friends on last year's board had only been members of the fellowship for a year or so. I've been hanging out there for a decade.

I took another sip and then emailed one of the board members to tell her that I was willing to take on the job - provided that the other board members were down with it.  I am not always the best team player, so I wanted to give them an "out" if they felt I wasn't a good fit. Sometimes people interpret my bossiness as "leadership" when in reality . . . it really is just regular old bossiness. Everyone assures me that I can handle the job, though.

I attended my first board meeting last night, at which time I was formally voted onto the board.  I truly believe that volunteers make the world go 'round. Find something you care about and take a chance. That's my super-lame (but also heartfelt) advice.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Beach (last vacation post, I swear)

Other than acquiring THE HAT, we did manage to squeeze in a few other activities at the beach. We went to the beach (as in, actually got in the water) a couple of times. My uncle and his family (minus one kid) showed up on Saturday so we all went to the beach together. It was 4th of July weekend. It was insanely crowded, as you can imagine. Traffic was pretty brutal and parking spaces were hard to come by. As we were bobbing around in the ocean waves, one of those message planes flew across: "Jesus is coming." Without missing a beat my uncle said, "I sure hope he didn't drive."

We also drove Go-Karts (or at least the kid did). She tackled a climbing wall, too. We walked on the boardwalk and played games at Marty's Playland. We had delicious Mexican food at Tequila Mockingbird. We spent a few hours at the outlet malls in Delaware (no sales tax, ya'll!) but only came back with stuff for the kid. We also had dinner at a place where I was able to get vegan pizza - yaaaaay!

We left the beach early Monday morning for the long drive back home. I recently installed an app called OurPact. It allows me to control my daughter's iPad remotely. A friend told me about it and I'm so glad she did. Use of the iPad (at night and at other times) has become more and more of an issue. Now I can just shut that shit down. It's glorious. We did run into one snag, though. Because we left so early on Monday morning, the kid didn't turn on her iPad until we were already on the road. Because she was no longer on wifi, she couldn't use the ipad. I had unlocked it but she can only start using her apps again after the ipad acknowledges that the block has been cleared. Anyway, faced with the prospect of the kid not having her ipad for the 12-hour drive ahead, we turned around and drove back to the condo. My dad and stepmom were still sleeping, so we went around back and stood on their deck in order to pick up the wifi long enough for the kid to log in. If any neighbors saw us, I'm sure they must have been puzzling over that scene.

Finally, we got back on the road and completed the long drive. Much to our surprise, the kid did not complain all that much. We stayed overnight and then finished the drive in the morning. We hit very little traffic. We did witness some "road karma." A Mini Cooper blew past me doing at least 90. The speed limit was 70 and I think I was going around 75. I saw him coming in my rear view mirror and got over into the right lane. "He must be in labor," I said.

Two minutes later . . . oh, the glory! That green Mini was pulled over by Ohio's finest. I did my best "ha ha" like that kid on the Simpson's.

Good news - I'm officially done with vacation posts now. Here are the rest of the photos from the trip.

Eatin' fries on the boardwalk with Grandpa


New ride this year

She's in the front, of course.

Keep it classy, OC.





We brought home a Maryland crab to remember our trip!

Friday, July 8, 2016

Dat Hat Tho

My daughter is at an age where nothing is funny and everything is embarrassing. However, she is also at an age where she wants to express herself. While we were at the beach, she spotted a rather colorful chapeau at a Sunsations beach store. "Mom, can I get this hat?" I tried to glance briefly at the hat but it was too late - it had already damaged my corneas with its explosion of color and over-the-top-ness.

"Sure, but only with your own money," I said. I was banking on her not having any cash. However, she did have money and all but ran to the register to buy the thing.  She has been wearing it every day since then. She thinks that if she wears the hat, no one can tell that she hasn't combed her hair.

While at the beach, we went mini-golfing one day. There were a lot of people there, so we had to wait a bit at each hole. Her dad and I started photographing the hat on various decorative animals on the course. The kid was getting seriously angry. So, we had to agree that we would buy her an extravagant dessert that night in exchange for her cooperation. As parents, we have to take our amusement wherever we can get it.