Saving for the Storm
Sept. 16, 2011
Five years ago, soon after our son Bob was born, my husband and I made the decision that I would stay at home with the new guy and that we would do the necessary downsizing to accommodate living on one income. We saved a lot by making the move from our cute place in the nice neighborhood by the beach, to the cheaper place in the sorta sketchy neighborhood between the Sikh ashram and the duplex of ill repute. Later we made another move to the even cheaper place in the pretty trees neighborhood with the great public schools.
The work to make that cheaper/nicer/school-ier wish-list a reality was a job in itself and took the better part of a year.
We have also made a number of little changes along the way. There was a subtle but substantial shift from moderate DINK-hood (Double Income No Kids) to SITPD-ness (Sweating It 'Til Pay Day). Goodbye Banana Republic/Pottery Barn/Whole Foods. Hello Old Navy/Target/Trader Joe's. Again, these were small adjustments but they did add up to savings. We are fortunate. These domestic and lifestyle tweaks were not hardships. Making some moves to clear the debt side of our balance sheet, build for the future (Home Buying/College/Retirement) and save for the possible (Lay Off/Unemployment/Uh-Oh) is common sense, but not extreme behavior.
Finance guru Suze Orman suggests that during this crazy-nuts financial time, we should all be living off half of our income and banking the rest for the storm. We are not saving at that rate. Now that our previous cutbacks are just part of the regular routine, I believe I have become somewhat complacent. It may be time to switch it up a little and look for new ways to save but in order to save half of what we earn we would have to move into our station wagon. I’m afraid we will have to settle for a happy (yet somewhat nervous) spot in the middle.
—Lisa is a former comedy writer for television. She now writes about her funny family at her blog Smacksy.com
The Horror of 9/11 Affected Us All
Sep. 9, 2011
In September 2001, I was experiencing an extreme bout of insomnia. For weeks, I slept a bit during daylight hours, but I was up all night, every night. In the early morning of Sept. 11, I lay on my couch, watching TV, flipping the channels. I finally settled on CNN. During the regular program, they broke in with news of the first plane crash. I watched on in horror as it became clear that America was being attacked.
I called my closest friends and immediate family, waking each person up to tell them that something terrible was happening. I needed them to be watching too. I did not want to witness this alone. I stayed on the couch for hours. I mourned for those directly involved, also knowing that, as a community, as a country, we were now all involved.
I didn’t go back to sleep for days.
—Lisa is a former comedy writer for television. She now writes about her funny family at her blog Smacksy.com
5 Green Habits and How We Sort of Do Them
Aug. 22, 2011
I enjoy the mother earth. I know she’s on hard times. The warming, the extincting, the carbon footprints, the whole deal. I super get it. I am willing to help a gal out. I’ve been reading lots of green lists lately and there is an overwhelming amount of information on the subject out there. The intimidating number of tips for greening it up at treehugger.com is enough to make me give up the whole thing and buy a Hummer. Finding a green starting place for two grown-ups, a pre-schooler and two animals is taking some time. The following habits are the ones I see around most frequently. There are definitely some adjustments to be made here at Casa Rosenberg and we’re trying to turn it around with varying degrees of success and enthusiasm.
Turn down the hot water heater to 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Easy one. Showers at our house are always rushed and tepid. The days of the long, hot, relaxing shower went away when we turned down the hot water heater for baby safety reasons and cut showers short for not-enough-hours-in-the-day-too-exhausted-for-the–luxury-of-cleanliness-please-God-just-one-hour-of-uninterrupted-sleep reasons. Plus, when you are extremely sleep deprived, water hitting your skin sort of hurts.
Buy local and/or organic. The organic thing can be spendy but the stuff that’s in season is usually a little easier on the wallet. We go to a sweet little farmer’s market by our house on Thursday evenings. I buy a couple of vegetables and some berries out of peer pressure but I am really there for the kettle korn. I’ve heard that our kettle korn guy has questionable politics, and I still can’t quit him. Damn him and his cauldron.
Use reusable shopping bags. We have a bunch of these that we bought at Trader Joe’s. It feels awkward to use the Trader Joe’s bags at other markets but to get another set of bags just to use at Von’s is ridiculous. That the issue of reusable bag branding loyalty is taking up any real estate in my brain is even more ridiculous. Pray for me.
Turn off your computer completely at night. I am doing this now, although it makes me the teensiest bit queasy. Part of me knows I don’t back up my files enough. (Unless “never” is suddenly enough.) Another part of me knows that sometime in the near future, I will go to turn on this little Powerbook relic, and it’s just going to flip me the bird.
Buy reusable water bottles. We did this. Didn’t take long before all of ours tasted like coffee, even after repeated washing. Need to get some bottles designated for water only. Difficult since every vessel in our home is used as a vehicle for getting more coffee into the grown-ups.
My husband Jeff drives a hybrid. I drive an aging station wagon. We have a front loading high efficiency washing machine. We have a low efficiency refrigerator from the Nixon era. We are switching over to those spiral-y light bulbs. We are switching over to those spiral-y light bulbs except when they don’t really fit in certain lamps and look weird. With greening, as like most things, there is oh so much room for improvement over here.
—Lisa is a former comedy writer for television. She now writes about her funny family at her blog Smacksy.com.
July 22, 2011
My idea of heaven: A fresh, yellow Pee Chee folder, a glossy Trapper Keeper and a new box of number two pencils. Now you know that I grew up in the late-70’s and also that I love school supplies. When I was a kid, the annual late-August trip to Vessey’s Drug Store to purchase supplies was one of my favorite outings. The school year had yet to start and these items represented a new semester, ripe with possibilities. It was the clean-slate feeling of New Year’s Day and it came with its own accessories. Perfect.
Now that I’m an adult, I am expected to refer to the goods in the aisles of Staples as “office supplies.” I don’t. The reams of paper and packages of highlighters are still “school supplies” to me. I enjoy cruising the wares, checking out the notebooks and fancy pens; the white-out things with the little wheels inside are a favorite.
My son is still in pre-school and has yet to be presented with a list of items to purchase. In a year or two, when that day finally arrives, I will feel the tiny thrill of filling up a cart with new pink erasers and felt-tip pens for him and maybe a box of mechanical pencils for me. I look forward to this simple joy. In the meantime, I might just tide myself over with a pack of post-its… or five.
—Lisa is a former comedy writer for television. She now writes about her funny family at her blog Smacksy.com.
Small Town Magic
June 24, 2011
My family and I live in a small town, wrapped in a sprawling city. The Fourth of July is celebrated here in a big, but small town way.
The morning of the fourth begins with a pancake breakfast at the fire station. Then at noon, the parade begins. Next is a giant picnic. Once the sun goes down, there is a fireworks show at the high school football field. I love it all.
Last year our son walked in the parade with some other kids from his pre-school. Before the parade, we lined up by the library and the children applied finishing decorative touches to their bikes and wagons. With streamers flying, we joined in the lineup with the police cars, the middle school marching band, the convertible carrying the mayor and a group of older gentlemen on bicycles.
As we walked through the center of town, the pre-schoolers started drifting. One drove her scooter up a curb and decided to sit out the rest of the parade. One waved and blew kisses at his public for the entire route. A friend’s daughter had an inexplicable crying meltdown halfway through, resulting in her dad carrying her and me carrying her tricycle. Our son “ran out of all the energy” early on, so my husband pushed the guy and his training wheels most of the way. It was perfect.
I’m looking forward to lying on a blanket on the football field at twilight again this year and watching my child as he watches the magic happen in the sky.
God bless America.
—Lisa is a former comedy writer for television. She now writes about her funny family at her blog Smacksy.com.
My Not So Secure Data
June 10, 2011
I’m not a retail-therapy kind of gal. I don’t love window-shop wandering. If there is something I’m in the market for, I’d rather get in and get out as quickly as possible. For me, online shopping is a never-get-out-of-my-pajamas answered prayer.
Regarding online security, typing my personal information into a website does not feel any more or less scary then handing my credit card to a waiter at a restaurant or swiping it through the machine at the gas station. There will always be unscrupulous folks ready to take advantage of others and they will always find new ways to do it.
Unless I want to go all cash for every purchase, my information will always be vulnerable, but no more vulnerable than if my wallet is stolen. I don't want to live in fear. I take the usual precautions and hope for the best, kind of like filing my taxes every year and hoping it’s not my turn for an audit.
The Cost of Amusement
June 3, 2011
I grew up in a seaside town that boasts a small amusement park and one of the oldest wooden roller coasters in the country. I have sweet memories of riding The Giant Dipper throughout my childhood: the click-click-click sound of the long ride to the top with a view of the bay and then the screaming rush back down to the ground. There was a tilt-a-whirl, a carousel, and a funky-smelling caveman theme ride called The Cave Train. These moments of excitement cost just a few dollars and could be easily afforded with a month or so of saved allowance.
This year during pre-school Spring Break, we took our 5-year-old son to his first amusement park, Legoland. Our kid worships Legos, specifically Star Wars Legos. We timed our trip to see the new Star Wars Lego attraction. We spent the majority of the day looking at our kid look at Legos. We met up with one of his friends there and the little guys rode a few rides. We looked at Legos. We had lunch. We looked at Legos. We had ice cream. We looked at Legos.
Including our gas expense for the day trip, admission to the park, all of the snacks, and one “early birthday present” Star Wars Lego set, we were out close to $500. We had managed to blow our stay-cation budget, meant to last a week, in just one day. The experience made me long for the days of The Cave Train.
In August we plan on making a trip to Sea World. We have a two-for-one admission coupon and plan on packing some of our own snacks. Even still, we have already started saving up.
May 26, 2011
In May of 1977, I went to the movies with my friend Kim to see a new movie called Star Wars. It was a fun science fiction movie, a great backdrop for popcorn, wacky packs and talking about the cute boys in our seventh-grade gym class. I gave little thought to the film afterwards, never imagining that more than 20 years later, I would have an entire room in my house dedicated to this classic.
My five-year-old son, Bob, was introduced to Star Wars two years ago when my husband passed along his own childhood action figures. (We must call them “action figures,” for I’ve found that referring to them as “dolls” makes the guys cranky. Does that mean Barbie is an “action figure?” Just wondering.)
Little Bob was curious about the figures’ names and stories, so next came books from the library about Star Wars, holiday gifts of Star Wars Legos and homemade Star Wars posters. Bob’s grandma gave him Star Wars sheets for his fourth birthday, and his room became a shrine to his love for a movie he had never seen. That’s some good marketing.
Lately, Bob has been branching out and showing interest in two other movie-related toy themes: Prince of Persia and Raiders of the Lost Ark. He hasn’t seen these movies yet, but they have spawned some pretty cool stuff. Toys that invite dynamic play, storytelling, and make-believe for my kid are okay by me, regardless of whether they were created as a movie tie-in or not.
I don’t get out much to the movies anymore, but I plan on making the trip to the theater this summer to see Cowboys and Aliens. I bet they’ll make some cool toys, too.
May 20, 2011
The old Confuscious quote, “Find a job you love and you’ll never work a day in your life,” is proof that Confuscious wasn’t a mom. I love what I do and consider it a privilege to spend my days with my son, but it is work. I’m a stay-at-home mom, so my personal life is my job. With a pre-schooler running my days, there are no big chunks of down time, so finding balance is an ever-shifting target.
When I told my friend Karen, another mom, about this week’s question regarding finding a work/life balance, she laughed a perhaps little too hard. (She was enjoying this call while hidden in her walk-in closet, the only way to insure an un-interrupted four-minutes alone when her five-year-old is home.)
I know this period of constant one-on-one time of catering to my son’s needs with little time for myself is just a season and when it ends, I will miss it. Always being joined in the bathroom by a tiny-chaperone is something I may not miss, but the rest of it I know I will recall fondly. In the meantime, here are a few things I do to keep from losing my mind, or “de-stress”:
I have at least one conversation with another grown-up everyday. Clicking “Like” on a friend’s Facebook status doesn't count.
I remember to read some books that don’t rhyme.
I listen to music other than the Backyardigans.
I plan meals around adult tastes. We cannot survive on pizza alone. Okay, we probably could, but sushi, dim sum and Indian food are important too.
I spend some time outside everyday. Sometimes this means a trip to the beach in the rain, sometimes it means coffee on the front porch.
And on occasion, I take the long way home.
Helping a Friend, I Gained a Job
May 13, 2011
When I was 21 and in my third year of college, I “took a break” from school. I’m now 46 years old. It’s been a long break. After leaving college, I remained in my school job as a waitress, furthering my food service credentials. I worked split shifts at two different restaurants and still found time and energy for a social life, thus proving my youth.
One of my waitress co-workers, Ginger, was an actress and her boyfriend, Fred, was a casting director. (Yes, Fred and Ginger. I know.) Ginger had been helping Fred as his assistant on her days off but found she needed more free time for auditions. She told me she would cover my lunch shifts if I would help Fred. This was to be the auspicious start of my years in show business.
I was lucky. Fred was a great boss and an excellent casting director. I learned a lot by doing (he wasn’t a micro-manager) and a lot by watching (he was talented). I planned schedules and set up appointments, I talked to actors and agents and managers. I helped clients. I learned about acting technique, lighting, editing and negotiation from this assistant job. In short, I learned how to be a producer. At the time I thought I was merely answering phone calls and getting coffee for the ad agency people but in retrospect, I know that this job is where I got the foundation for my career in television.
I don’t advocate quitting college. I do plan to return someday and finish my education. I regret not getting a diploma, but I will never regret giving Ginger my lunch shifts.
Small Town, Big Car
April 21, 2011
Well, gas prices are crazy high and the station wagon I drive is a guzzler, so I try to make a few days a week no-drive days. If I have to travel far, I will try to wait until I can drive my husband’s hybrid and leave the wagon at home.
The town we live in is only 3-1/2 square miles large. I can walk to the store in less than 10 minutes and I can ride my bike there in less than five. Do I walk or bike very often? Not nearly as much as I could. But as gas prices rise, getting around without the car may become a decision that is made for me out of necessity.
While I watch the prices at the pump go up, I can only hope that progress will be made with alternative energy. I would be delighted to drive one of those cars that runs on used french fry or donut oil. I’m looking for our next car to be another hybrid or an electric vehicle of some type. (Mmm… donuts.)
Spring Cleaning the Mental Clutter
April 15, 2011
The house we live in is a small one. We can plug the vacuum into an outlet in the kitchen and reach every room of the house without changing outlets. Obviously, our space is limited, so we can’t wait until once a year to clean out closets and drawers; it’s an ongoing thing. We are constantly passing on our son’s outgrown toys and clothes to friends with smaller boys. We don’t save up our unwanted stuff for a garage sale, our discarded clothes, books, and housewares all get the revolving door treatment and are donated to charity.
For my spring cleaning this year then, I’m going to concentrate on cleaning out some old mental junk:
Clear out the time wasters. I can easily blow through an afternoon on the computer. My spring mission will be to assign specific timeframes for checking headlines, Twitter, and email. With my laptop closed perhaps I’ll get some laundry folded or even – gasp – read a book.
Shine up relationships. Time to make plans with my people. I’ll be making some calls, some lunch dates, and sending some actual snail-mail letters to the folks I don’t get to connect with as often as I’d like.
Wash out the past. I realize that some of the mementos I’ve held on to are memorializing things I’d rather move on from. It’s no longer worth it for me to honor some of these memories. Files from old jobs? Buh-bye. Wedding photos from an old marriage? Tossed. Journals from dark times? See ya.
Clean out unrealistic expectations. I can be known to be a wee bit rigid in my standards. I will work on internalizing that sometimes good is good enough. For example, dishes used to be considered done only after they were dried and put away, now clean and sitting in the dish-rack counts as clean.
And in one old-school spring cleaning move, I will wash the windows to sharpen my view of the outside world.
April 8, 2011
My family lives small: tiny house, older cars, public schools. We have small wardrobes and we don’t shop as a leisure sport. We have our own version of frugality, partly by design, partly by necessity. I am always looking for ways to improve our methods for how we spend our time and money and I am always interested in how other people do it.
I subscribe to nine different blogs with the word “frugal” in the title. I also subscribe to another eight with the words “minimalism or simplicity” in the title. (Yes, I see the irony there.) I understand being cheap and being frugal as very different mindsets. The “cheap shopper” is someone who will spend less money at all costs, while the “frugal shopper” is willing to spend more on something of higher quality that will last longer.
I’ve noticed the move toward frugality is often coupled with a trend towards a simpler lifestyle. The new frugal movement seems mostly borne of circumstance as people suffered through the recession and its financial after-effects. Frugality is rooted in using resources wisely, eliminating debt, and experiencing the freedom that comes with living below your means.
After making the move to a simpler lifestyle, many like the change and stick with it. The ends of the spectrum range from budget planning on one end to making your own toothpaste on the other.
I am not obsessed with using coupons but I will admit that I am somewhat obsessed with people who are obsessed with using coupons. I follow some “extreme coupon” blogs and am drawn to the new coupon show on TLC.
These “extreme couponers” are a different breed than the cheap or frugal. These are the folks who have made an art of spending little or no money on their shopping, with a successful shopping trip often netting a 95% discount or more. They may not spend much money on their shopping trips, but this stuff isn’t free. These people spend hours researching deals, organizing coupons and store hopping. What they save in money, they spend in time and energy. Extreme couponing is a real job.
I am also fascinated by the “stockpilers”. Buying in bulk, sometimes with the aid of coupons, “stockpilers” have spare bedrooms that resemble mini-marts, shelves piled high with paper towels and Cheerios. One of my favorite stockpilers to read about filled her two-car garage sized pantry with necessities and when her husband lost his job, she was able to feed her family of eight (eight!) from that pantry and her backyard garden for 27 months. She spent nothing on food for more than two years. Because of this, they were able to save their house from imminent foreclosure.
I do not aspire to extreme anything status (except possibly blog reading) but I know there are lessons to be learned, in moderation, from those who dedicate themselves to frugal lifestyles. For now I will continue to buy my toothpaste, but you never know.
Off the Radar
April 1, 2011
I am sad to say that unless someone has a loved one active in the military, war does not seem to be on their radar. Active combat is an overlooked headline and a cause for more political partisanship, but the reality that we are at war is intangible. The battles being fought and the sacrifices being made today by our troops and their families are taken for granted, and the real heroes are left behind in the “great wars" of the last century. We have an expectation of protection from the dangers of the outside world, but have lost sight of its price.
The official party-line for much of the current military involvement is that the United States is needed to help protect innocent foreign citizens, overthrow tyrannical regimes and spread democracy. If our goals were rooted in protecting civilians from genocide and other atrocities, I would expect that places like Darfur would be a priority. But they are not.
The political machine behind our wars is rooted in protecting interests in oil-bearing countries. American corporations with lucrative war contracts get richer on the backs of underpaid and underappreciated men and women of our military, and the largely ignored civilian casualties overseas.
In essence, war has lost its human face.
Smartphone Convert, Eventually
March 25, 2011
My first encounter with a cellphone was on a job in the early 90’s: We used a field production phone that resembled a brick. We called it “the M*A*S*H phone” and I was not in favor of carrying around this clunky paperweight. Why did I need that when I had a perfectly serviceable beeper and a pay phone on every corner?
I am never the first in line for the “new” anything. (Please see my 15-year-old station wagon.) I received my first cellphone as a gift and used that same one for four years. I was too busy (cheap) to upgrade and when I finally did it was only because the duct tape wasn’t working to hold the battery in anymore.
Two phones later, my cell came with Fiddy Cent’s “In Da Club” loaded as the ring tone. I did not request this, nor could I ever figure out how to change it. Every time I got a call, I was instructed to party like it’s my birthday. I started referring to the cat as “shawty.” It was a dark time.
My “In Da Club” phone was the old school fold-in-half-to-close style. My son’s friend Ava saw it sitting on our counter and asked what it was. When I replied, “That’s my cell phone,” she shook her head, “That’s not a cell phone.” It was time for an upgrade.
When my husband got a new iPhone, I inherited his old one. I had often dismissed the need to check email away from home. Now that my email, Facebook and Twitter are available anywhere, I do check them. I won’t admit to how often.
Growing up in a time before answering machines and VCRs, the fact that I am now spoiled with a phone that can take photos and videos, play music and TV shows and connect to the internet is astonishing. Our cell bill for two iPhones is not inexpensive but when I consider the techno-miracle we are paying for, it seems worth the money. It really is like every day is my birthday.
Audited Once, Traumatized Forever
March 11, 2011
This year, tax time was relatively stress-free. I keep pretty good records during the year so pulling the numbers together for the accountant took less than half an hour. My husband went to the appointment with our tax guy and came home with the taxes e-filed and an estimate of our refund. Easy-peasy. This was not always my way.
In my 20s, I did my own taxes and procrastinated on filing until the last possible second. I am not proud to say that in an effort to get my taxes postmarked by April 15th, there was more than one late night that I sat in my car at the postal drop-off center by the airport.
By my early 30s I had turned my taxes over to an accountant. Bill was a sweet, elderly gentleman with a mom and pop accounting service. I would drop off my paperwork at his office and his wife would call a few days later when my taxes were ready. This arrangement worked out just fine until the year that I got a notice in the mail from the IRS saying that I was being audited. I called Bill’s office to enlist his help and found out that he had died suddenly a few weeks earlier from a heart attack. I was on my own.
I gathered my receipts and showed up for the appointment. My audit experience was a protracted nightmare. I will save the details here so as to avoid a post-audit-traumatic-stress-anxiety-attack. Just know that the process took more than two weeks and resulted in many tears and sleepless nights. Ultimately, the IRS owed me money back but not before I was scarred for life. Just thinking of it now is making me feel a teeny bit like breathing into a paper bag.
As my earning power increased in my mid-30s, I incorporated. I hired an entertainment accountant who specialized in the business. He was great with the numbers and most importantly to me he appeared to be in good physical health.
After I was married and stopped working in television, I was relieved to hand over my tax details to my husband and his accountant. I am the keeper of the numbers and the receipts and that’s enough tax action for me.
Gimme A Break
Mar. 4, 2011
I grew up in a beautiful Northern California beach town where tourists came to spend spring break. Perhaps because I was fortunate to live year-round in a get-away destination, I was never drawn to traveling for a week every spring and I’ve yet to do it.
Now that I’m a Southern California housewife and mom, I have even less interest in a traditional spring break-beer funnel-bikini contest-MTV Beach House-style experience.
This season, my family and I looked into the possibility of heading to Ft. Lauderdale to visit my husband’s grandmother.
Unfortunately, the price of airfare made the trip out of the question, so as we've done the past few years, we'll be spending this spring break at home. That doesn’t mean I’m not excited by the prospect of a week designated as a “break.”
I love the daily rhythm of my family life, but a stretch of days filled with just fun stuff will be good for morale. I have some modest ideas for what I’d like to do during the downtime:
Go to the movies with my husband. A real movie, in a real theater. We only saw one move in 2010 and it was the re-make of "The A-Team." Don’t judge.
Spend a day at the beach, rain or shine.
Devise a way to keep the squirrels out of the vegetable garden. (This is not a euphemism. Our squirrels are tomato thieves.)
Give my four-year-old son a day to make all of the plans for the family. I have a feeling this might translate to driving through In N Out Burger for all three meals.
Read at least one book from start to finish. It can often take me a month to finish a book since I have a nasty habit of falling asleep after reading a page or two. This time, I may even attempt to read during daylight hours. Which leads me to …
Take a nap. Maybe two. (Still working out the logistic on this one, but a girl can dream.)
Lunch at the botanical gardens for tulip-gazing and a mini-train ride. I love that mini-train ride.
Fire up the BBQ for its 2011 debut. Yes, I can get excited about grilled zucchini.
So, for our spring break, there will be no Jello shots and no one will be up all night unless we get the stomach flu. But we do know how to party, in our own way.
Welcome spring. We’re ready for you.
Waiting for the Hikes
Feb. 22, 2011
I’ve read the economists' warnings about rising costs on the way but I haven’t noticed a change in my own spending yet. Perhaps because costs for goods and services in Southern California are generally higher than many parts of the country, I’m used to encountering $200 hair cuts and $750,000 “starter homes.” I can’t afford either of these, but they are a regular part of the Los Angeles landscape.
To offset the projected price hikes I have considered stocking up on nonperishables. I follow some coupon mom blogs. These bloggers document their adventures in shopping by taking photos of tables full of groceries and then revealing the astonishing low prices they paid using coupons. These amazing women have figured out how to work the system to feed a family of six for $40 a week. While I am fascinated by this coupon porn, on closer inspection I find that these folks are often buying things we just don’t use at our house. After pet food and toilet paper most everything we use is fresh.
So far, we’ve been fortunate that my husband’s annual pay raise has been enough to offset any rise in the bills. Then we were at the gas station recently and it cost $61 to fill up my tank. That got my attention. I usually get by on one tank of gas for the month but as prices continue to go up I may try to stretch that out further by combining my errands to make fewer trips. I’m afraid many of those errands will involve buying palettes of toilet paper to fill the garage.
Who Are You Wearing?
Feb. 14, 2011
In my twenties and thirties, the Academy Awards were a holiday. The build-up to the big day started in December. My affiliation with number of entertainment industry unions afforded me free tickets to the movies that were being pushed for nominations. I made an effort to see them all.
There was often an Oscar pool at work, too. I read reviews in the trades and followed the predictions. I never won but it was fun playing the game.
Award day usually found me at my friend Jennifer’s house early in the day for the pre-show. I loved waiting for Joan Rivers to commit a deadly red carpet faux pas. I was never disappointed. Jen and I ate popcorn and judged the gowns and hair.
By the time the awards started, Jen’s living room would be filled with friends. As our pals entered the house, each was asked, “Who are you wearing?” The Gap and Banana Republic-clad crowd filled out awards ballots and each threw $20.00 into the bowl. We ate dinner, made snarky comments and had a grand Hollywood time.
These days my world revolves around my husband and four-year-old son: two guys who could not be less interested in awards shows. I have not seen any of the movies that are nominated for awards this year since I have a tendency to fall asleep when afforded the luxury of sitting down. I still like to tune in for the big show, but now I get all my snarky comments from my friends on Twitter. There will be popcorn and I will be wearing Target and I will have a grand suburban time.
Hearts and Flowers
Feb. 4, 2011
How I celebrate Valentine’s Day had evolved over the years. In junior high we had an annual flower fundraiser. Students could spend a dollar to have a carnation (white for friendship, red for love) delivered to other students during third period. I always held out hope for a red carnation delivery to my desk. I finally received one in eighth grade from a “secret admirer”. I’m pretty sure it was from my mom.
In my 20s I worked in restaurants and Valentine’s Day was packed with dinner reservations. Guys showing off their generosity by taking their girlfriends to surf and turf were always good for large tips. Those years also saw the breakup of two different relationships on Valentine’s Day. There’s nothing like finding a sweet Valentine’s love letter that your boyfriend has written, addressed to someone that isn’t you. I decided V-Day just wasn’t my thing.
In my 30s I worked in offices where the ladies (and sometimes the men) received floral arrangements delivered by their significant others. There was a hint of competition to the practice but the cubicles smelled great.
Last year my son turned 3. For Valentine’s Day we made heart-shaped sugar cookies and put together Valentines made from construction paper and doilies. There was a Valentine exchange at his pre-school and he came home with a decorated shoe box filled with cards from the other kids. For the rest of February, Valentine delivery became his new favorite game as he counted and scattered the cards and emptied and re-filled his Valentine box. He decided that Valentine’s Day was “the best holiday ever” because “your friends get to like you so much.” I like his philosophy. This might be a holiday I can get behind after all.
Super Sunday Without the Bowl
Jan. 21, 2011
I suppose it makes me less than American, but I do not watch the Super Bowl.
This is not to say that I don’t celebrate the Super Bowl, I do. I just don’t celebrate by actually watching the game. Over the years I have occasionally been drawn in by the half-time show (Prince! The Rolling Stones! U2!), but that won’t be happening this season (sorry, Black Eyed Peas).
I like Super Bowl food, seven-layer dip and I think hot wings are terrific, but sadly, I’m just not a football gal.
I like to celebrate the Super Bowl by taking advantage of the lack of folks out and about. During the big game, there is little-to-no traffic on the LA freeways giving the whole city a post-apocalyptic feel. It’s the only day of the year where parking at Trader Joe’s is not a competitive sport. There are no lines at Costco or the zoo either, so the possibilities are endless.
To celebrate this coming Super Bowl Sunday, we our considering making our first trip with our son to Disneyland. It seems that “The Happiest Place on Earth” would be even happier without giant crowds and long lines. I wonder if they have seven-layer dip there?
—Lisa is a former comedy writer for television. She now writes about her funny family at her blog Smacksy.com.
Jan. 14, 2011
I have always driven used cars. The first car I bought on my own was a white ’64 Volvo 122. The sedan had a broken starter, forcing me to park on hills so I could roll to a start. My next car was a red ’87 Jeep. Because it was a soft top, locking the doors was pointless. Many Hollywood mornings I found evidence that my car had been slept in by those that enjoy their beverages straight from a paper bag.
I then graduated to a mud-brown ’79 Volvo 240. This little number got me around for six years until it had the unfortunate distinction of being the parked car that got in the way of a high-speed chase. It was totaled. My next set of wheels was a green ’97 Plymouth Grand Voyager. I bought this car from my then-boyfriend, now husband, for a dollar. It was worth every penny.
I now drive a super non-sexy red ’96 Volvo station wagon. We were able to pay cash for the car five years ago and at the time, that was our only criteria for purchase. My husband drives a 5 year-old Honda Hybrid. His hour-long commute to work would be cost prohibitive with a conventional car. The hybrid sticker that allows him to travel in the carpool lane is another bonus.
Here in Southern California, driving a hybrid is a green status symbol. Celebrities roll up to awards show red carpets in their Priuses and are photographed driving away from the paparazzi in electric vehicles. This is the kind of celebrity trend I can get behind.
In our neighborhood I have spotted a number of hybrids, yet the line up in our pre-school parking lot is packed exclusively with SUVs and minivans, and of course, my banged up station wagon. I don’t believe that we’re all intentionally flipping the bird at the environment but rather we’re looking for the ease of transporting numerous child car seats, pets and t-ball equipment.
I would like to make our next car purchase another hybrid and I would like to pay cash. This will require the prices to come down significantly. I would also like my next vehicle to get 55 miles per gallon and fit four people and one insane dog comfortably. It should also have room in the trunk for two soccer-mom folding chairs, an earthquake kit, and a collection of Elvis Costello CDs. I could also use a Star Wars Lego GPS for locating members of The Empire that get lost in the backseat. I’ll even take a used one.
Hook me up, Detroit.
Jan. 7, 2011
In the summer of 1994, my friends Jennifer and Steve and I sat in a booth at Jerry’s Deli having breakfast. Jennifer, always an early adaptor of technology, was explaining the concept of home computers to us. Steve and I were not just late adapters, we were naysayers: Steve was a cynic, and I was slow to embrace any kind of change.
Jennifer explained that in the not too distant future, we would all have our own computers at home and use them for everything. I needed to know what kind of everything she meant. She explained that we would talk to each other on the computer, shop, watch TV shows, and meet new people, among other things. This was ridiculous to me. I already had a phone, I shopped in stores, I had a TV, and the idea of meeting strangers on a computer was creepy. Why would I need my own computer?
Steve supposed he could see people using more of them in offices but didn’t see the merit of having your own machine in your house. Would we all receive our own jetpacks, too?
Jennifer shook her head, rolling her eyes at these ludites.
Of course, she was right. At the time, I was still mystified at the technologies behind the answering machine and the VCR. It would take awhile for me to catch up, but eventually, I did.
Computers, and more specifically the Internet, have changed my life in ways I could never imagine.
I have welcomed old friends back into the fold through the miracle of social networking. I may not need to know via Facebook that my fourth grade friend Eric Kubota has a sinus infection this week, but I like to know. I also love all the updates and family photos, not just from Eric, although his kids are adorable, but from all my friends.
I have also launched the latest incarnation of my writing career through blogging. What originally started as a writing exercise has since given me a forum for my work, and a boost in the publishing world.
Today, I also do the majority of my non-food shopping on the Internet. I'm not a recreational shopper; I don’t love malls. But I do love buying things quickly while wearing pajamas, and having my purchases sent to my home with very little effort on my part.
I met my husband through an online dating site. Meeting new people via the computer was only mildly creepy, but this guy was obviously a keeper. My husband (first date number 53) and I eloped, and our Vegas wedding was simulcast on the Internet for friends and family to see.
My online life and blog introduced me to a world of friends I would never have met otherwise. I have met folks from around the world, and people who have become in-real-life friends who constantly make my life richer.
It’s sometimes annoying, but my friend Jennifer is usually right about everything. If you are lucky enough to have your own Jennifer in your life, listen up. She’s knows what she’s talking about.
It’s Raining, It’s Pouring
Dec. 31, 2010
Southern California is a land where the local news will cover a temperature reading that dips below 68 degrees as breaking news. The weather here is glorious. Today, we have lemons on our tree in the backyard. We can eat outside on the patio any month of the year. What I’m saying is that we’re spoiled.
On the occasion that we do get a few sprinkles of rain here and there, my 4-year-old son and I will put on our rain boots and head to the puddles in front of our house to look for worms. We scoop up the worms one at a time and toss them on to our lawn to “save them from drowning.” Last week it rained. It rained more after that. Then the rain took a deep breath and let loose with a torrential downpour.
We live on a dead-end street with no storm drains. During a light rain, the street in front of our house grows a puddle. During a heavy rain, that puddle becomes a small pond. During The Amazing Downpour of Last Week that pond became a raging lake. Perhaps it is unusual for a lake to be raging but our ad hoc lake had waves and white caps.
The water’s edge stretched from the bottom of our front porch to the front porch of the house of our neighbor Caroline, across the street. Our yards and street were submerged. As I watched the water level rise, it was coming dangerously close to flooding our garage and sneaking into the crawlspace under the house. Our station wagon was parked in the driveway and would never make it out.
I texted my husband at work: SOS. COME HOME. NEED SANDBAGS. I don’t know why I suddenly took on a telegram style of texting, but it seemed appropriate at the time. My darling husband showed up within the hour slugging sandbags across our next-door neighbor’s yard wearing church shoes and his business casual outfit.
It was my job to haul the bags across our yard and place them strategically around the back fence and sides of the house. I found out that sandbags are heavy and that 20 sandbags are really heavy. After steadily working through the rain, we high-fived each other. We were somehow able to prevent house and garage flooding and got a ridiculous arms and abs workout in the process. Many in our area were not so lucky. It was an exciting afternoon, but I’m ready to get back to the slimy thrill of worm catching.
Plans? Oh, I’ve Got Some Plans…
Dec. 28, 2010
We make New Year’s resolutions in our family. My husband and I write down a list of goals and then put it away and don’t refer back to it until the following year. We are usually surprised to see just how many of those things we have accomplished. There seems to be some magic in taking the first steps of saying the goals out loud and then writing them down. The action follows from there.
1. I will spend less time reading blogs about simplicity and minimalism and more time actually throwing crap away.
Ah, the garage: my secret shame. Just last summer our garage was organized. In the past few months, our items have spun out of control (all by themselves, I swear). Our garage is now six cats shy of a hoarder’s storage space. It’s time to clean it out and pull it back together.
2. I will spend more time with people and less time with electronics.
This includes, television, the Internet and my beloved iPhone. I am fortunate to have plenty of amazing people in my life. I will make the time to tell them so and put a time cap on my daily electronic life.
3. I will eat less meat.
This is a planned money saver. We are also counting down the days until our sensitive 4-year-old realizes that meat doesn’t come from “the burger tree” (his idea) but rather from those sweet, big-eyed creatures at the petting zoo farm. We are prepping for the inevitable, light ovo-lacto vegetarianism in time for our son to start kindergarten.
4. I will give more.
I had the opportunity to visit with some veterans in the hospice ward at the VA Hospital this holiday season. It was a lovely reminder that giving my time can be just as important as giving money to those in need, and the new folks I met were fantastic.
5. I will save more.
Using an online bank, we recently set up numerous specific accounts for different expenses such as: medical, travel and our emergency fund. It’s like the old-school envelope system except the envelopes are floating around somewhere in cyberspace.
6. I will spend less.
I recently read about the concept of viewing money as boxed up time. I plan to put more thought and care into how I spend both my money and my time. I will spend a few days writing down how I spend my discretionary time and money and see where the holes in the box are.
7. I will pay off debt.
I’ve been following the story of a couple who managed to live so far below their means that they came out of grad school with no debt, then went on to pay cash for a house. Cash ... for a house. Truly inspirational. No credit cards this year. We’re going all cash.
8. I will do more of the good stuff.
I will remember to stop everyday and ask myself what the best moment was of the last 24 hours, and then do more of whatever that was. Good stuff, indeed.
I’ll Be Home For Christmas
Dec. 17, 2010
We ‘ve done our share of holiday travel in the past, but not this year. I’ve endured the special joy of a 14-hour flight with an eight-month-old baby strapped to my chest, running through foreign airports with a diaper bag on my back, a rolling suitcase handle in one hand and a car seat in the other. I have felt both arms fall asleep from the weight, felt giddy with sleep deprivation, and had nowhere to put the baby while doing the shoe change at security. But not this year. No thanks.
Other years, we’ve made the drive to Northern California, careful to plan our travel days around the times we learned have the least traffic. Our precise itinerary was usually blown to hell with the addition of a young child who requires many stops along the way, turning a six-hour drive into an eight-hour rest stop tour.
Last month, my in-laws made an airport run to the Los Angeles airport on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, which is notoriously the busiest travel day of the year. My husband’s 92-year-old grandmother and her 96-year-old boyfriend flew in from Fort Lauderdale for the weekend. They were treated warmly by airline staff and received door-to-door wheel chair service so as to avoid navigating the lines using walkers. They reported that they didn’t even notice the new security screening methods at work and that the flight could have used better snacks.
My experience with LAX is that its U-shape makes it fairly user-friendly, but the real trick is choosing your route to get to the airport. Every Angeleno has his own version of a “shortcut” to LAX, each one designed with the universal need to avoid the treacherous 405 Freeway. We have no airport pick-ups left this year, so that makes for a merry Christmas indeed.
In recent years we have been fortunate to have our families living within a few miles so that Hanukkah, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day are divided between my mother’s house, my in-law’s house, and our place. I would love to say this is due to our desire to lessen our festive carbon footprint, or even save on gas, but really, we are just lucky to all family living close-by. This year, I’ll be home for Christmas
—Lisa is a former comedy writer for television. She now writes about her funny family at her blog Smacksy.com..
A Little Help, Please
Dec. 13, 2010
For us, more cash on hand doesn’t cause an increase in spending but rather slows down our saving. I realize that we are fortunate and that this is not the case for every family. I am relieved that it seems the tax cuts for the middle class will be extended and that unemployment benefits will go on. Many people are hurting and the continuation of this economic help is imperative for a few years until the economy and job market are on less shaky footing.
As a housewife and mom, I can best relate to the tax situation less in a political way but more as a model for how we approach our own household finances. What we as a family choose to do with our money, or lack thereof, may not affect the global economy at large, but it does much to shape our everyday choices.
We are not in the higher tax brackets that are looking at the possibility of losing the tax breaks soonest. Although, without the tax breaks we get now I imagine that we would make lifestyle adjustments in much the same way we would adjust to a major car repair or an unforeseen medical cost: move our money around to where we need it most, cut back on the expenses and try to do it without taking on debt.
The best budget I know is the budget of spend-less-than-you-make. Back when I was single there were times when I was not able to make ends meet and I gratefully accepted help from friends and family. I did not make this the new normal or I would stay in debt forever and that is not something I am comfortable with. Any plan that depends on overwhelming debt being the norm, has problems.
The idea of having more money in the short term while mounting great debt far into the future (for my son to take care of) is against the financial model that we try to follow for our family. I see a parallel with the feel better now and “someone” will have to pay later aspect to some of the current tax break formulas. I would like to see assistance for the time being but to let it go on indefinitely is short-sighted.
Have Yourself a Merry Little Everything
Dec. 6, 2010
My plan this year is to spend less on the holidays than last year. Because we celebrate eight nights of Hanukkah in addition to 24 days of Advent, Christmas Eve, and Christmas Day, it has been a challenge. I started the process early to avoid the last-minute-buying-over-night-delivery-expense that is the usual hallmark of my holiday season. I would like to say I took a tip from my son, who started his planning in the spring, but Hanukkah coming early this year went a long way towards deadline motivation.
My 4-year-old, Bob, presented me with his “Hanukkah and Christmas list for Santa” back in May. “Please write this down, Mom. Are you writing this down?” Despite our many conversations about the holidays and the spirit of giving rather than receiving, he has continued to add to the list. There are two categories on Bob’s list: Star Wars and Star Wars Legos. There are also a few random transformer items listed just to mix it up.
Because my kid currently has the distinction of being the only grandchild on both sides of the family, there has been an email-based Star Wars list coordination between the grandmas, significantly taking the heat off of Santa’s thin wallet. I did find a deal on a used Star Wars Lego set on eBay and scored a box of used Star Wars paraphernalia at a friend’s yard sale. The force has been with me.
The rest of the holiday spending breaks down like this:
- I shopped for a number of the women in my life on a site that sells jewelry hand made by women in Uganda that directly benefits them and their families.
- We shopped online for books for the children and photos and personalized calendars for the grandparents.
- We bought a goat for a family in need through one our favorite charities in honor of all of the people on our holiday card list.
- We will be hand making and baking gifts for the neighbors.
- Our family will be giving gift cards from a local supermarket to our garbage man, handy man, and postal carrier.
- I will be making homemade Play Doh for my son. He goes through tubs of the stuff on a regular basis. (One of the few non-Star Wars related presents.)
- Through good fortune and the generosity of the sponsors of some work-related conferences I have attended, I brought back a couple of big ticket items for free that will be terrific gifts. I also received a large discount on our holiday cards this year.
- We purchased tickets to a musical for my in-laws.
This pre-December buying is something I have always hoped to do but was never quite able to make happen until this year. Shopping early, I was able to pick and choose instead of the hurried frenzy of throwing cash at the gift list. The best part is that I am now free to slow down and enjoy the season without all of the rushing around, affording me the most valuable commodity of all: Free time to celebrate the holidays with my friends and relatives.
2 Faiths, 1 Home
Nov. 29, 2010
My husband is Jewish. I was raised Catholic. We attend an Episcopalian church. At our place, decorating for the holidays is a multi-cultural/multi-denominational situation. The weekend after Thanksgiving, the menorah and the advent calendar will both come out. The wooden dreidels will take their place on the mantel next to the carved wooden Santa. That’s how these Rosenbergs roll.
The first weekend in December we will get our Christmas tree. A few years back, when my mom moved out of her house and into an apartment, I got custody of eight large plastic bins of tree decorations to add to the two big bins I already had. Every ornament tells a story. Sometimes the story is a reminder of a beloved family member that has passed on. Sometimes the story is a reminder that there was a really great sale on wooden beads at Cost Plus back in 1997. I will certainly never need to buy another ornament in this lifetime.
Our Hanukah menorah was a gift from my in-laws that my husband and I received on our first holiday together. We will light the candles and tell our son the story of the first Hannukah. We will teach him to play dreidel. Hannukah is early this year, falling at the beginning of December but we will keep those decorations up for the whole month.
In our neighborhood the outside lights and lawn décor will go up early. Our street already boasts a few houses with wreaths on the door. There is still one hold-out with an aging jack-o-lantern and faux cobwebs in the yard. On the next street over, the one with the big houses, holiday decorating is done by professionals. The lighting displays are a twinkling wonderland and the flower beds are filled with poinsettias. They even get carolers over there.
Our single strand of old-school colored lights will find its way to our porch in early December, or as soon as we can find the right extension cord. There will be a supermarket wreath on our door. There will be our 4-year-old son’s menorah shaped drawings in the windows. People may not line our driveway to take in the display but passersby will see that we are in on the joy of the season. We will hang stockings and eat latkes. We will sing White Christmas and The Dreidel Song.
We will marvel at the miracle of the eight nights of Hannukah light and the miracle of the star in the east. Now those were some decorations.
Black Friday? Meet Super Saturday
Nov. 22, 2010
I am not a Black Friday shopper. For me, the day after Thanksgiving is reserved for washing the china and eating pecan pie for breakfast. I don’t know anyone that stands in line in the wee hours of the morning waiting for the big bargains. I’m not a part of the official “No Spend Day” movement, except by default. After feeding a dozen family and friends on the holiday, I just want to spend the next day in my pajamas. I could wear my pajamas to shop the sales at Target, but as we all know, looking pathetic in public is just an invitation to run into ex-boyfriends.
In keeping with my all-pajamas-all-the-time goal, I do a lot of holiday shopping online. I understand that there’s a lot of action on Cyber Monday. I don’t limit my online shopping spree to one day. Cyber Monday for me starts sometime in mid-November and, despite my best efforts, it ends at the “Delivery in Time for Christmas” cut-off: 6:00pm EST on December 23rd.
I do have one shopping tradition that I depend on every holiday season: The Annual Outlet Mall Holiday Shopping Pilgrimage. My group of girlfriends and I are celebrating our 14th year of trekking to an outlet mall with the intention of Christmas shopping. We do that and more.
The first few years, our closest outlet mall option was a few hours away in Barstow. The following few years we traveled to a newer, shinier outlet Mecca near Palm Springs. For the past six years we have made the short-ish journey to Camarillo. The venue doesn’t matter so much, the ritual does.
Our group travels in Jennifer’s car. We listen to Christmas carols along the way. We discuss our lists and stores we want to go to and coordinate timing for intermittent food court meetings. We bring our Auto Club cards to receive special coupon booklets. We split up and call each other if we see something we know someone else is looking for. We shop together at the stores with the deals that have a minimum purchase requirement and pool our goods to get the discounts.
We buy a few things on our Christmas lists. We buy things for the mall toy drive. We buy things for ourselves. We have dinner afterwards at a nearby restaurant and we have pie. We celebrate the season and our friendship. So, it’s not Black Friday but more of a Super Road Trip Shopping With Mall Nachos All-Girl Saturday.
I look forward to it every year. And it’s totally worth getting dressed for.
Small Adjustments in a Great Recession
Nov. 15, 2010
So far, we have been among the fortunate ones. The recession has caused us to tweak, rather than overhaul. My husband has remained employed. We have not been hit with a health crisis. Our expenses are low. The assets of our small family are limited. Lucky for us, there has never been a better time to have so little to lose.
We have two cars, the total combined age of which is 17. One of these sexy beasts is a red station wagon with a permanently glowing "Check Engine" light, the other is a banged up sedan, an early model hybrid, and its not that cool model that looks like an egg. There is some retirement savings and a small college fund for our preschool-aged son. We have a lot of books and a piano. We have enough Legos to build a small addition on our 1,100-square-foot rental. We have two elderly cats and a hyperactive dog and while we usually adore them we don’t consider them assets.
About 4 years ago, when my husband and I made the decision that I would stop working and become a stay-at-home mom, we made some adjustments. We moved to a less expensive house outside of the city. We ordered in Thai food less and ate breakfast-for-dinner more. We set aside the idea of buying a house for a bit and happily rented.
Occasionally, we here at Team Rosenberg hatch a fine idea. We were inspired by the realization that there are many people we adore that we just don’t get to see enough, and that when we do, going out to dinner can cost the better part of a preschool co-op tuition payment. We made the decision to start a new tradition. Last November we started hosting a potluck Sunday Supper at our house once a month. We invite family, friends and all of the neighbors on our street. We invite people that live out of town, out of state and out of the country, and some of these Sundays, our far away friends are in town and join us. Many locals have become regulars.
On average we wedge 40 potluckies into our little house. We’ve had as few as 20 and as many as 65. There are kids and parents and grandparents and old friends and new friends and brownies and salsa and usually a mac and cheese. There are walkers for the older folks and strollers for the babies parked side by side on our front porch and it is all just what we had hoped for.
This monthly gathering of people and snacks is a spectacular reminder that our assets are plentiful in the friends and loved ones department… and the mac and cheese department.