Haven’t you always wondered where all your extra time and money goes?  I’ve been thinking about all our grownup toys like iPads, cell phones, and DVRs. With all these minions working for us, we should be ahead of the game. They all promise the savings as something to help our day-to-day living. Although I am no techno geek, I am a disciple at the altar of technology. I have all the basic equipment and a kid who keeps me current. Why aren’t I showing more savings, in time and money, now that I have so many things to do my thinking, shopping, bill paying, taping?

I think I’ve figured it out.  Maybe it was the $275 billed from a satellite TV company when I cancelled after the one month trial and before the year was up, even though I never got a signal. (The two holes drilled into my stucco by the installer continue to haunt me.) Or maybe it’s the $179 about which I fought for eight months when I, fool that I am, tried to do my part to reduce e-waste by fixing my own hard drive.

Have you gotten it? Does it sound familiar? I’m sure it does. You probably have a couple of title fights in your past, each complete with a file of backup paperwork the size of a novel and carrying memories of abusive (or, on the other hand, clueless) sales assistants, boxes sitting in the dining room for months (so as not to let it fall off your own personal radar), and mounds of money, retained by companies, faceless voices from the void of a phone line, punishing you for your stupidity for purchasing their product.

But I rant. Let me try to sound more logical. The ironic thing that has come to me like a blast of fresh air is this: we buy things to save time and we spend double or triple the amount of time trying to fix the deed, losing money in the process. Most of the time, it’s pretty clear-cut, such as my hard drive incident. A friend gave me a computer when she upgraded and we both knew there was no warranty left on it. When it crashed, I called the company and paid by the minute for the tech department to tell me I needed a hard drive. I ordered it and was told I had a 16-day money back guarantee. Okay, so when I got it and called the technical department, as instructed by the guarantee paperwork, the voice told me, after an hour on and off hold, in a heavy, impenetrable Indian accent, that he couldn’t help me because my computer was not under warranty. What?

Now, if it wasn’t happening to me, and if there wasn’t a lot of money at stake, and it wasn’t my money, and I hadn’t listened to an hour’s worth of hold music, and it wasn’t the second time in a year this type of idiocy happened to me, well, I would have actually LMFAO.

But it was happening to me. In other words it was personal. The way I see it, outside forces are entering the privacy of our world by our invitation and doing terrible things to us. And we are paying them a lot of money to do it, at a price low enough to purchase, yet too high to walk away from and call it a loss. And, in doing so, we allow them to steal our precious time.

So how do we correct this paradox and still surf along with everyone else in the 21st century? I mean, I love to purchase online and by phone. It makes my life easier. And we live in a world of immediate gratification, one for which, to my dismay, I have been inadvertently grooming my daughter.

Here is where we must take charge. We punish the offenders. We tell everyone we know to tell everyone they know not to use (fill in the blank). We pick and choose whom we buy from and what we buy, and learn to grow some patience about getting a few things. It beats learning it the hard way when you have to call the same number for eight months for a refund. One more thing: cut the cord. Oh, yes I did, and I’ve gone a blissful 8 months without any conversation with a cable company.

And if you get into a firefight again, repeat after me – “small claims court”.


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A Good Day

I am told signs from the other side are all around us but people don’t recognize them. This is one of my experiences:

This was one of many first days of school. The year before was so traumatic for Little E. But this year, she did a total 180 degrees. She was jazzed, got the teacher she wanted, had a nice friend in the same class, ready to be a fifth grader.

Her song was from American Idol, the one they played when they show the clips of who got kicked off – “Had a Bad Day” by Daniel Powter. And we have always called it her song because of when it shows up. While picking up the balloons at the florist at 8:00 a.m. on her birthday party morning, it was playing. Again the same day when we were in the Paint-a-Dream with the girls. I know it was popular but the timing was always interesting, coming up at unique but clearly appropriate moments.

I told her I would walk her to class but she just wanted to be dropped off to meet her friend. As she jumped out, I warned her that there will always be ups and downs. (“I know, mom, I know” cue eye roll.)

I turned the wheel to pull out and the song came on. I almost stopped to catch her when I figured out it was probably for me this time, telling me she will be okay this year. Then I thought about who would be trying to tell us these things. Who would use that song? It could be my dad. Never into music since Glenn Miller, quirky cute songs like that appealed to him. Or it could be Grandpa Mike, who waited years for a granddaughter after so many boys, only to die suddenly when she was 18 months old. And it could even be my mom, who obsessively worried about our futures. No matter, the message is always at the right time and taken to heart with a nod to the heavens.

American Idol has been gone for a while, and the song is now old. But it still shows up just before we realize we really need it. It is my touchstone to slow down – to stop, look, and listen for the other signs I’m missing because I am racing through my life.

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An Open Letter to my Daughter’s School District

I am a college graduate with a good secure job so I feel that I have an objective view, although how objective can anyone be when the conversation involves your own child? So I ask that you excuse my passion.

My daughter is not high risk or learning disabled. She is personable and bonded with her teachers, enough so as to get them to occasionally let her off the hook for things. She worked harder at avoiding work than doing it. She was at times bored. She doesn’t care for sports. She speaks English and she’s smart but not a self-starter, nor a high achiever, unless it is in something she passionate about. So where does she fall? Through the cracks, that’s where.

The ultimate goal of California high schools is to pass the CAHSEE (California High School Exit Exam.) It was mentioned frequently in the taped school updates on my answering machine at the end of the day. I think my daughter got 100% or close to it her sophomore year and she celebrated. While it always feels great to get a perfect score on anything (and I gave her some time to enjoy it), I told her that she is getting her perfect score on the lowered expectations of other people. I said she should aim higher than getting a great score on an exam that rewards the testers on being able to pass the maximum number of kids with a minimal amount of knowledge. Her goals should reflect the best of her.

I have nothing but admiration for the teachers. They work ridiculously hard for what they earn in money and respect. However, except for a few absolutely amazing ones, although all were very intelligent in their career choices, their knowledge of human psychology is lacking, and for that I blame the school district and the required prep courses for teachers.

You may say that teachers are only part of the equation and they need parents to work with their kids. And you may say you are doing the best you can with a minimal budget. I am a single working mother who has taken advantage of counselors, psychologists, paid tutors, used free library and museum offerings, made myself available at any time for homework or special projects, and driven everywhere and anywhere I could to help her, and I would do it all over again. Yet I feel I have dragged her through every semester for the last six years. I am exhausted but I will still admit I am not the perfect mother. Will you admit that you still have a long way to go?

I believe my daughter will go on to love education again, and I expect she will approach it with her own expectations, not lowered or compromised. She will survive your school, but is that the legacy you strive to leave?


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Earthquake Central

Summer is almost over and the Great California Shake Out earthquake drill approaches. Everyone in the state, from secretary down to the smallest kindergartner, “ducks and covers” at the exact time of 10:16 on 10/16 to prepare for the next “big one.” It seems like just yesterday I found myself sitting, hardhat and all, on the floor under my desk, thinking about how late I am in updating my emergency stash and hoping the “big one” wouldn’t beat me to it. I also remembered about how much of a time-suck this is for me.

I have earthquake bags in my car, at work, and in two closets at home. These bags contain 5 year water (yuk), freeze dried food (double yuk), and things like clothes, flashlights, emergency blankets, and toilet paper. Inside one of them is a gas turn-off tool to shut the gas down in case of leakage – something you can find hanging at most Southern California checkout lines and my girl knew how to work with it since she was just a little thing.

In the front hall closet, there is a list taped to the inside of the door listing the most important things to remember. It does triple duty for fire, flood, and earthquake and it needs updating since we’ve lost and gained some pets since I wrote it. The only possessions on my list are my grandmother’s vase, little E’s cherished stuffed dog named Sammy, photo albums, and a laptop – in that order. Anything else I can grab is gravy and my firebox will hopefully keep my important papers safe until I can get to them. As we always say, “things” are not that important when your life is at stake.

There are two hardhats in my closet, two in the car and, of course, a couple at the office. I have a bin in the backyard with inflatable mattresses and other survival gear, and a portable fire pit packed up in the garage ready to go.

You can’t pick up any of our weightier knick-knacks because they are “quakehold-ed” to the shelves (Christmas decorating is a nightmare) and nothing is on my uppermost wall shelf because I can’t find anything nice that won’t injure someone when it falls. Bookcases and wall units are bolted to the walls, and TV’s lashed to their entertainment centers like lifeboats to a ship. I have nothing heavy on the walls near our beds, and any tall furniture is purposely angled to hit something else before the floor – ninth grade Physics wasn’t lost on me!

Every year at daylight savings time, I am supposed to check, and usually replace, all the batteries that go into my numerous bags and bins –it’s built into my annual budget (don’t worry, I recycle.) And let me tell you, I am conservative in the area of preparedness. My friend has a generator – try replacing those batteries a couple of times!

Finally, my daughter has known for a long time where to go and what to do in the event of the “big one.” She has been practicing at school and at home for most of her life. For example, she knows that her uncle is the designated out-of-state phone call, don’t go after the animals because they will find their safe corner, avoid the kitchen – it’s a deathtrap – and hide under the dining room table with your arms around the legs because it will walk away.

If any of my non-west coast family ever comes to visit, training sessions are available.

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Telling Tales

It was teacher conference time and I walked into the classroom for the lowdown on my sixth grader. I always expect to hear tales of drama and angst concerning my tween girl and Mrs. K. was ready with one of her favorites:

E came running in one day, pony purse in hand. (Yes, she carries a purse with a little pony in it. Doesn’t everyone?) Throwing her arms in the air, she cried “Mrs. K., Mrs. K., I’ve washed my hands, can I hold the gecko?!” (I was thrilled that someone or something could get her to wash her hands so things were looking up.) E continued to talk about how she begged her mother for a gecko if the eggs hatched and how her mother said no and (now envision the index finger moving up and down in your face) “Not another living thing is coming into this house unless it’s a man for me.”

I waited for the teacher to stop laughing and wipe away her tears. Then I told her that yes, it’s a true story, and she could probably guess how my daughter came by her flair for drama.

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Poker Face

When dealing with a girl-child, you need to keep your wits about you, not tip your hand. I have been doing that since Little E was a baby and I’m exhausted. Keeping from getting sucked into the big argument, making them think some task is their idea, and turning a nagging sentence inside out to become offhanded and subliminal as it proceeds down from the brain and out of your mouth – all part of living with a girl. My question to the gods is this….where do we learn this if our mothers used it on us? Did we absorb the parenting style? Maybe we don’t learn it. Maybe it’s innate, like breathing ………or shopping.
Granted there are minutes of relaxation when things run smoothly you think she’s grown more mature. Then the moment is over and you are again the worst mother in the world. Yes, sometimes we need those small victories to re-energize and steel us for the next round, when discussing yet another pet, yet another new dress for a Friday school dance, or a new cell phone with all the bells and whistles.

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Time Flies When Drama Unfolds

Yes, it’s been another year and, yes, I promised to write more. I won’t try to catch you up the same way I did last time. Suffice it to say the year held more drama than the last, and not all about my darling daughter. My broken ankle unleashed an emotional tornado filled with highs and lows never experienced in our home before. I think when mom is down and out, life is not as secure as it once was and much lashing out ensued that second semester. With patience and work, we came through the darkness into the light with minimal damage. Summer school is a must this year to fix the credit deficiency created by tanking Chemistry. And French 1B will be retaken in the Spring. However, an ease has settled between us and arguments have narrowed to just the subjects of picking up clothes and choice of TV (“How many times do I need to see this episode?”) A new maturity has moved in to organize and refocus her days. Taking ownership replaces the head-in-the-sand method. Requests for DVDs, CDs, and theme parks aren’t on her list this summer. She now asks for money for battered textbooks so she will be prepared for the new year, and talk of college has replaced the moody silence. Most meaningful for both of us….I can say “yes” more than “no.” We can all breathe again but I must keep my wits about me. After all, 16 is coming up and a teen is still a teen. But for now, I will enjoy this clean air left by the dark heavy showers that rolled through our home.

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Another Door

Suddenly a year has gone by and junior high school is over. Let me catch you up:
Buses, lunches, stolen iPod, friendships tested, lunch table, A’s & B’s, late homework, tests, web design, great teacher, no one asked her to dance, tears, too much paper, homework not handed in, teacher hates her, status reports, C’s & D’s, tutor, counselor, hates PE, loves dancing, new friends, working hard, B’s & C’s, trip to Disneyland, awards night, summer break. Whew! It was actually harder than it read.
After dropping her off at her first high school meeting, I am thinking I felt the same as when I was driving away from the first day of preschool. The only difference was that 10 years ago she was sobbing, and this time she was saying…”Mom! I don’t need you to walk me in. Just go!!!” Girls are tough, they are sometimes hormonal and lean (heavily) towards the dramatic side, but watching her grow has been my idea of an all time great movie – thrills and chills, leaving me wanting to watch it over, again and again.

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Recession and Homework

It seems the recession has hit eighth grade. At least that’s my best guess. After the third semester of  junior high school spent dragging my kid over the June finish line, my nerves were frayed and sensitive.  I mean, really…. what is the big deal with completing and actually handing in homework? Yes, my Pisces kidlet is the “floating through life” kind of girl but there is just so much yelling, grounding, and electronics banishment I can do before my Capricorn tendencies start me towards a better way – or at least an explanation or something to help me understand and reformat my approach. There just had to be a reason.

I put a label to it one night when I asked her why she didn’t care. All I got was a shrug but it was added to my mental list of reasons and stuck. She just didn’t care. I started to look towards moms and dads in my same orbit to form a hypothesis and help me understand why evenings and weekends were just so tough. After mentioning my issues, I found sanctuary. They all had the same problem to varying degrees and listening to most of them was like hitting replay on my evenings. These families were all different, some with dads, some without. A grandma lived in one house. Commuters and stay-at-home moms. The common thread was always the same….why don’t the kids care? Validation meant at least now my mind could move forward instead of floundering every night in Algebra hell.

Let’s cut to the chase on this, and remember, this is strictly subjective. A couple of teachers had told me that, after the last round of budget wars, some carry upwards of 40 kids in classes, with a possibility of more. Add to that furlough days and reduction of class help. With those kind of distractions, kids who don’t become involved are just left behind. Teachers just don’t have the time to connect with them all. So normal kids like mine who lack the competitive streak need the spark at home, or they will be lost. My mission is now clear, and turns out a little more cerebral and less combative. Well, still combative, considering hormones. But my thoughts on this are more ordered and have direction. However, the computer is still locked up until the next progress report.

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Smile Therapy

8:00 p.m. – I am sitting in my car at my daughter’s school and I’m smiling. They say if you smile, your mood lifts. Sometimes my day takes on the tempo of a runaway train and this was one of those days. So when these days happen, I try smile therapy. It keeps me from taking it all personally. My day began at 6:00 a.m. but the real race started at noon. Here’s the play-by-play:

Little E’s school’s Open House is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. and she has early dismissal, so I use my lunch hour to pick up her and a friend at 12:45. We run to the friend’s house to fetch her computer, stop at McD’s for lunch ($20!), and I drop them off with instructions to walk the dog, clean up the lunch mess, and do their homework.

I knew I had to cook dinner since my budget wouldn’t be able to handle another splurge. My boss lets me leave a few minutes early and I stop at the store to pick up some things. Racing home, I am greeted at the door by a McMess on the table, a puppy that had thrown up (the dog would eat a chair if it fit down his throat!), and two kids staring into computer screens. Interesting choices – not wise ones considering the day would end with parents in face-to-face discussion with teachers.

Juggling grocery bags, I let the dog out of the kitchen and tell my daughter to clean up so I can start the spaghetti. She piles a tray high with trash and, as she moves toward the garbage bag I am holding open, the entire contents of a McShamrock shake falls to the floor. Apparently, I need to actually tell my child at least once in her lifetime that she should empty liquid into the sink first, so it’s my fault.

For the second time (or is it the third?), I tell her to clean it all up and, as I turn to wipe down my pants and shoes, I see the dog peeing on the carpet – twice. I ask them if they took the dog out…….no. Did you at least finish your homework?……uhhmmm. Mental note: lock up her laptop for the rest of the week.

Deep breath. Regroup. It is now 6:10 and I need to leave at 6:45, after I cook supper. I take the dog out, although it’s kind of useless but it makes me feel better. Coming in, I watch my girl go through an entire roll of paper towels because she can’t let it touch her fingers – gross! I jump in to help because time is a-ticking.

Finally, the green gunk is cleaned up and I mean this stuff flew! The fridge, the stove, the dog, and I am sticking to the floor with every step. Making my way to the stove, I put a pot on to boil and grab the cleanser to try and unstick my kitchen while the supper is cooking. After all, multi-tasking is my life.

6:50 p.m.- Spaghetti and meatballs are served, the dog is wiped down, and I take off for Open House almost on time. I end the evening with my daughter’s English teacher, who tells me the kid is smart but she is a little lazy with the details, like cleaning up her work and finishing things. Yeah, tell me about it.

Keep smiling.


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