Giving it all away

Okay, so I’m pretty late with this post, given that it’s 6pm on New Year’s Eve, but go with me here.

Every year at Christmas, my kids and I pick charities to donate to, as a kind heart of balance to all the ridiculous shit they receive for Christmas. I want them to remember that there’s more to life than being an American jerk who gets almost everything they want, almost all the time they want it. We are a bunch of lucky fuckers, and as long as we can help other people, we should do it.

This year, we picked three charities:

Peeta wanted to donate to people suffering from Ebola, so we donated to Partners in Health.

Noodle wanted to donate to Lola Children’s Home, which is run by our friend in Ethiopia and funded by Lola Children’s Fund. Lola is a community program and orphanage for HIV-affected kids that allows them to stay with or near their families without being taken away from their loved ones.

I saw an ad for coats for kids in Syria that I am incapable of watching without weeping like a baby, so I donated to SOS.

There are a bunch of other places you could give to, if our choices don’t work for you! Here are some suggestions, just in time for you to get your charitable deduction:

The Sato Project: Rescues abused and abandoned dogs from the Dead Dog Beach in Puerto Rico. My sister and dad both have adopted dogs from them, and they are a pretty cool organization. For my sister’s Christmas present, I made a donation in her name.

Pine Street Inn: Provides housing, employment services and emergency shelter to homeless men and women in Boston. Our friend Yvonne and her son volunteer there every week, and they do really good work.

Horizons for Homeless Children: One of the few organizations in the Boston area catering strictly to the needs of homeless children, offering education, play opportunities and family support. If you don’t want to help homeless kids, it’s entirely likely you have no soul. Just saying.

Medecins Sans Frontieres: Doctors Without Borders, because those guys are frigging amazing and do all kinds of awesome medical work that no one else will. Do YOU want to treat Ebola victims in Western Africa? Didn’t think so.

Mercy Corps: Helps people around the world survive and thrive after conflict, crisis and natural disaster. Our friend Jen works for them, and since Jen is rad, I know they are rad too.

David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust: For my birthday, I made my sister sponsor an elephant for me from this program. I have kind of an elephant obsession, and if you didn’t know–motherfuckers are KILLING them all the time! This is a program in Kenya who rescues them and keeps them safe from those bastard poachers.

And if you’re looking to donate items, I just discovered Project Smile, who accepts children’s items for emergency responders to give to children after emergencies or who are entering foster care. I know we have a zillion stuffed animals around the house that we are going to bring to them.

So run! Make a donation to cats or dogs or kids or famine victims or casualties of war or disease research or whatever floats your boat! Find a program that accepts used clothing or toys or other things you don’t need and give them to people who do! At the very least, you will get rid of things you don’t need. At best, you will feel frigging great and might just teach your kids about the importance of helping others and being grateful for what you have. You don’t just have to do it today, and if you miss the deadline for a 2014 charitable deduction, it can be your new year’s resolution.

Happy new year! Make it a good one!


Getting grateful

So I’ve been feeling pretty sorry for myself lately. Waah waah, things are tough with Peeta’s school. Waah waah, Bucket hasn’t gotten a raise from his stupid company since before the dawn of time. Waah waah, I am having a hard time trying to raise money and children at the same time. Waah waah, no one at work appreciates me. Waah waah, the contractor fixing our basement threw out his back and started work a whole week later. No One’s Life Is As Hard As Mine.

It’s hard trying to teach kids to be grateful when you are being an ungrateful wretch yourself. But nonetheless, I try. And not just those frigging Facebook lists every day in November. At dinner every night, we say something we’re grateful for. It can be anything from having a nice dinner to being glad you didn’t die from Peeta’s toxic farts. You can find gratitude anywhere, and I’m trying to teach the kids that it’s not just about the big things. The problem is, I’ve been having a tough time finding it myself.

The other day in the car, Noodle was listing off all the billion things she wants for Christmas and I was talking to her about being grateful for the important things and not just toys. We started listing things: we have a lot of love, we’re healthy, we’re happy, we have good food, we have good schools, our house is warm.

The next day the furnace died.

So this weekend, our house was frigid. Bucket spent all day yesterday picking apart the furnace and vacuuming it and cleaning it with a toothbrush. And it still had an error light. The plumber came today with all kinds of gadgets and figured out that it was a $65 broken part. He will fix it and hopefully it will stay fixed and we won’t have to spend a zillion dollars on a new one.

My friend Sharon (of the first playdate fame) just posted this on her blog as I was getting dinner ready. It was just what I needed to read to stop feeling so fucking sorry for myself. And I realized that I was sitting in my warm house on a frigid day, thanks to my gainfully employed and clever engineer husband who fixed the heat, cooking my kids a goddamn organic baked rigatoni for dinner and marinating in self-pity. What an asshole.

Even before this happened, I was talking to the kids about which charities we will donate to this year. Each kid gets to pick one, and it’s a tough call because there are so many people in need. And my kids know about need. They have seen kids begging in the streets. They have seen true, awful, heartbreaking poverty. One has lived it. We talk about hardship a lot. It’s going to be difficult to just choose two.

As for me, I am going to start really being grateful for my life and the things I have and even for the shit that accompanies it, because that shit is way better than so many other people’s. I am going to keep talking to my kids about gratitude and try to remember to be grateful myself. And I am going to donate to these guys this week.

Go read Sharon’s post, because she is far more eloquent than I (I know, right? What a surprise!), and she lists some other people who could use donations. And if you can’t donate, being truly grateful is enough. It really is.

There’s a reason I got married

I hate playdates. There. I said it.

I have been with Bucket for 15 years, which means I haven’t dated since I was 21. SWEET ACTION! Imagine how delighted I was when I discovered that I would have to start dating OTHER PARENTS at age 32. I mean, for real. I never considered how children would make friends, and how I would have to accompany them as they made said friends, and I would have to spend hours with strangers and their kids. Why can’t they just ride off into the wilderness on their bikes the way I did when I was a kid in 1400? Stupid modern urban setting.

I remember Peeta’s first playdate. It was with his friend W, and it was at W’s house. W’s mother is my friend Sharon, who scared the hell out of me. She is very beautiful and very well dressed and NEVER came to school looking like she was still wearing her PJs. I remember going to her house thinking, what am I going to say to this woman? What if she’s boring? Am I wearing the right clothes? How long do we stay? How do we get out of there if it’s awful? WHAT IF IT’S A TRAP? How long should Bucket wait for us to come home before he calls the police?

For the record, it was not awful. She did not kill us. And W. is now Peeta’s best friend, and Sharon is one of mine. She even managed to forgive the fact that I dress like an unwashed pubescent boy and my house is a disaster. WE LUCKED OUT.

Fortunately, I figured out the system: find parents you like and then force your kids to play together. This has worked, for the most part. I have a rotation of about five awesome friends and we get together and the kids run amok. Sometimes there is alcohol. My friend Lisa and I even invented a new drink called the Pineapple Playdate. It was a great day.

Sometimes it does not work out. Sometimes I have had to spend awkward hours with people I don’t like so that our kids can play. Even worse, sometimes parents I like make me take care of their kids, whom I do not like. I stopped doing that pretty quickly.

I thought I had separated the wheat from the chaff on the playdate front. I forgot about Noodle, who now wants to make her own friends instead of always playing with Peeta’s. Kids are SO selfish. So now I am dating again. And Noodle is popular, goddamn it, so lots of people are asking to get together. Why coudn’t I have just had a big nerd!?!

It’s 45 degrees today. It’s raining. And we had a playdate scheduled with a kid whose mom has been trying to get together for weeks. I won’t lie: I didn’t want to go. I don’t like making small talk and trying to be witty and well-dressed. I want to be with people who aren’t offended when I swear like a sailor and complain about everything that ever happened in the history of time. I want to be with people who invent new drinks to make playdates fun for the parents. (Note: if you have had repeated playdates with me and my kids in the past five years, you should feel pretty fucking special because it probably means I love you. I would have weeded you out far before now if I didn’t.)

So here I was, dreading this afternoon and trying to think of reasons we could leave early because I AM ALREADY MARRIED AND I DID IT SO I WOULDN’T HAVE TO DATE ANYMORE, and I was sitting down at my computer to bitch about it on Facebook, and the woman cancelled! There is a god!

I’m off the hook for today. Meanwhile, there is a gang of little girls at Noodle’s school and playdates are being requested.

Someone get me a Pineapple Playdate.

Growing up

It’s true; I am one of those foolish human beings who has no idea what I want to be when I grow up.

First, I was going to be a vet. I spent many afternoons dissecting frogs in the basement and volunteering at the local vet’s office, where the tyrant head volunteer made me clean filthy animal cages all day long. Still, I was all down for vet science until I took chemistry, which I only passed because I had a very cute tutor and a very kind teacher, both of whom let a lot slide. Chemistry, I curse you!

After that, I was going to be a high school English teacher. I majored in English and was going to talk about books all day. What could be better than that, right? (I know, a lot of things, but go with me here.) Somehow, in college, the goal transitioned from teaching high school to teaching college, and I decided I wanted to get a PhD in English. Hooray! I could study the commonly read 20th century Irish poets, and get my PhD in Ireland, where I was destined to be all along. I would also get myself an Irish husband and maybe just stay in Ireland forever. But noooo. The Irish universities rejected me because my English university messed up my transfer, and I was left with only one option: to study Shakespeare in England. Don’t get me wrong, I dig Shakespeare, but it wasn’t my first choice. As I did my master’s, I realized that academia is two things: 1. boring and 2. really competitive. I had one lovely, sweet friend on my course, and the rest were a bunch of drips. We all went to see Shakespeare in Love, and they spent hours afterwards dissecting every inaccuracy in the movie. To them, I say: IT WAS A FRIGGING MOVIE. GET OVER IT!

Given that academia was so competitive, I decided to enter a far less aggressive field: journalism. Pardon me while I fall on the floor laughing. Not only is journalism cutthroat, but OHMIGOD are writers a huge bunch of bitches. I had no idea the cattiness that could occur after junior high. First, I worked at a trade magazine about audiovisual systems for a hipster girl from Minnesota who only ate white food and only talked to men. That was fun. Then, after I did my second master’s in journalism, I worked at a magazine for a while. I took the job because no one in my class at j-school was being offered work, and despite the fact that it was a business mag and I knew and cared nothing about business, my professors (and parents) told me to take the job or I would die starving and hypothermic in Central Park. I took the job, stayed for 15 months, and still have nightmares about working there. Good times!

I freelanced for a long time, which was great, because I had regular work for nice people and I didn’t have to take the subway, or later, when we lived in Australia, leave the house. (I spent a lot of time watching and quoting Oprah, which Bucket loved.) But then, publishing dried up and my editors all left their jobs and I had children who sucked away all my spare interviewing/writing/editing time.

After we adopted Peeta, I started a nonprofit, which was not something I thought I would ever do, but was always something I secretly fancied. Oh, the glamorous life of the nonprofit worker, I thought! Serving humanity and going interesting places! Not so much. More along the lines of serving humanity and slowly losing my mind. But, I stuck with it because I love my partner and the kids he works with and I’m pretty sure it’s going to get me into heaven.

As the multiple master’s may have implied, my life’s goal is really to be a perpetual student, but my Mean and Crusty Husband has expressly forbidden me from doing any more degrees, just because we would go bankrupt paying for them. DREAM KILLER! So, I started this blog to keep writing until Noodle goes to school and I can have more real writing time, and I run the nonprofit and beg people for money every day of my life. I thought again about teaching high school, but I am afraid of Youths. I literally see large groups of teens, yell, “Youths!” and run away. So high school is probably out.

But here’s the thing: I love immigrants. In Australia, I volunteered with asylum seekers and with immigrant teens (who are the exception to the Scary Youth rule, because they are generally very well behaved and polite and not scary). They had given up so much to come to Australia, and fought so hard to stay. I started thinking about teaching ESL to adults, which I thought would be a good idea because they would be grownups and therefore really committed to learning (unlike Youths), but also until they mastered the language, they might not find me totally obnoxious (or if they did, their commitment would surely outweigh my personality).

Generally speaking, you have to have a TEFL qualification to teach ESL. I don’t have one, but just before Christmas, Groupon was offering a wicked sketchy deal on an online TEFL course. Bucket okay’d it because it was less than $100, so I bought it.

All of this is a VERY long way of telling you that I am now studying to become an ESL teacher, which will hopefully provide me with some income and maybe enough experience to qualify me to teach at an international school…oh, I don’t know, in Cape Town. Not that I have a plan or anything.

The apple fell miles from the tree

So the ladies at my local nail salon have become used to me. When I came in today, the manager pointed at me and said, “Eyebrow wax!” Now that I think about it, it could have been a recommendation rather than an identification.

They are all very beautiful, glamorous Korean ladies. Joy, the lady who treated me today, was telling me that she has gained 20 pounds, which means she must have been about 70 to begin with. They wax my brows, and sometimes, if I have enough money, they give me the industrial strength pedicure (which basically means they get rid of my calloused right [only the right, strangely enough] foot with a chainsaw. I’m hot; what can I say?). I generally come in dressed like a ponytailed 13-year-old boy, with hair that may or may not be clean and usually hasn’t been cut in months.

So I came in today, all jubilant because my hairy brows have earned me a free manicure. They offer me a free brow wax instead (possibly another recommendation), but I tell them no. I want a manicure. My broken, brittle nails and shredded cuticles will never get any attention unless it’s free.

Free manicure it is. I get a backrub (which was the real motivation for getting the manicure. I won’t lie), two hand massages and a paraffin wax. I almost look like a real lady (ignoring the reddened eyebrows, the greasy ponytail, and the glamorous purple sweatshirt/jeans combo).

The owner of the spa is in love with Noodle. She keeps coming over and talking to her. Then, she offers to paint her nails. This happened the one other time I came for a manicure, almost a year ago. Noodle practically catapults out of the seat to get to the polish.

Obviously, I got a very light shade of pink that is hardly visible to the human eye. My daughter, who shares 50% of my genes, went for a bright, BRIGHT, shiny red. The ladies in the salon almost peed themselves laughing.

What can I say? She gets it from her father.

Oh, and in an hour, I have already chipped almost every single nail.

Wherein I pretend to be a real blogger

So a few months ago, I went to a party at my friend Viola Cay‘s house. It was a chocolate and wine tasting, so obviously I wasn’t going to say no. The catch was that it was a party for bloggers. You know, real people who do this and sometimes make a living at it. People who have followers they haven’t known for 20 years and who participate in their giveaways and post hundreds of comments. I am not one of these people. However, I am physically unable to turn down chocolate and wine, so I begged my friend umommy to take me with her, and I went. I won’t lie: I was expecting the bloggers to be mean and judgey bitches like the journalists I know, who sit around and talk about how brilliant and important they are until I am contemplating a thousand ways to kill myself, just to see if they notice.

The women at this party were not like that. They were funny and smart and nice, and I wanted to be friends with all of them. And also, there was chocolate and wine. So hey, I thought, maybe this blogging event business isn’t all bad. Umommy has been trying to get me to attend blogger events with her for a year now, and I have always politely excused myself (I think I always had a real excuse), partly because I was afraid of other bloggers. So after Viola Cay’s shindig, I thought I should try to go to more of these things. Umommy hooked me up with a local group, and I was invited to my first party: a family holiday party at the Royal Sonesta in Cambridge for the Boston Social Media group.

I RSVP’d yes, even though umommy and Viola Cay were not going. And then I had a panic attack. But then I realized that Diane, one of the nice women from the first party, was going to be there with her kids. And I made Bucket promise to come too. And then I started getting excited.

Last night, I started getting those delightful pre-flu chills. And then I had to find the stinking elf and hide him in the kids’ room, and I was convinced Peeta saw me, so I couldn’t sleep. And then, just as I was finally falling asleep at 3am, Noodle fell out of bed. So I went in to sleep with her and Peeta and fell asleep around 4. Kids woke up at 7:30. Bucket let me sleep until 9:30, and I came downstairs to the news that the refrigerator shelf I broke in the sink on Wednesday had clogged our water pipes and the washing machine had flooded the basement. Not the most auspicious start to the day.

But we went anyway. I shellacked some makeup over my raccoon eyes, got my eyebrows waxed, and blow dried my hair. Peeta was traumatized to see me with makeup and kept yelling, “Is that LIPSTICK?!! YOU’RE FREAKING ME OUT!!” We drove over to the hotel, left the car with the valet dudes (sorry guys! I promise, antibacterial lotion will kill whatever jumped on you in our car!), and headed up to the party.

And then, I had no idea what to do. And neither did Bucket. And neither did the kids. But they had a cookie decorating station, so we did that for a while. And then we played with Play Doh. And then I made the kids eat, but because we had arrived late due to the washing machine fiasco, the food had already been served and some poor lady had to go get them two more plates. I went to the grown up room and got some food, and sat down with Bucket and the kids. Go to the grown up room! Bucket hissed at me. The whole point of coming here is for you to network!

Fortunately, there were no seats available in the grown up room. Because here’s the secret, peeps. I am redonkulously shy in new situations (unless there’s booze, in which case I become even more entertaining than normal–at least in my eyes). I KNOW, RIGHT? Your brain just exploded. So I HAD to stay sitting with the kids. And also, let me just say that there was no way in hell I was going to go to a room where I knew no one, find one seat and sit down and introduce myself to people.

Some of the organizers came by and I introduced myself to them. They were lovely, just as I had expected. Bucket got his food and brazenly sat in the grown up side (seats had opened up and the kids were playing in the other room and he felt like a weirdo sitting alone at a kids’ table), so I went and sat with him. We met another blogger, who was also very nice. I had to tell her the name of the blog, though, which is always embarrassing. You never know whether people will laugh or slap your face. But here’s the thing: no matter what these nice people said to me, I stood there like a moron, with my mouth open, saying, “It’s wonderful, it’s really wonderful” over and over. I was highly impressive.

So I went to the event and talked to five people, two of whom I had met before. SHUT UP! I’m cool! The kids gorged on cookies and freshly made ice cream sandwiches, and Bucket got a fancy cocktail and we all ate delicious food and had a wonderful, really wonderful time. And we didn’t even go to the pool and swim like the rest of the kids.

And when we were leaving, they gave us about 100 gift bags, just for coming. We got gift certificates and t-shirts and books and games and a single-serve blender, which is just what I’ve been wanting forever! But it felt weird, getting all this stuff for doing nothing but coming to a fancy party. I think they give most of it to the people with the fancy blogs, who write nice things and don’t just bitch and moan all day (ahem), in the hopes that their millions of followers will read about it and buy it. (All 13 of you can go buy that blender now.) It also felt weird because I spend all day trying to get people to donate stuff to my nonprofit, and they don’t do it, even when I mention Africa! and Orphans! and AIDS! So then I had The Guilt. The kids were psyched, though. It truly was a wonderful, really wonderful event, and the organizers worked so hard, and the sponsors were so generous.

There is another, adult-only party for the same group on Tuesday, and I will go. Umommy is going too, so hopefully I won’t feel like such a freak, and hopefully I will find a synonym for wonderful (I am open to sugggestions). Hopefully, I will get used to the idea of getting something for doing nothing (because how hard could that be?). Hopefully, I will be invited to more of these events (assuming all of the previous hopeful statements happen). And hopefully, I will get more than 13 readers (not that I’m not grateful for all 13 of you wonderful, really wonderful people).