Dragon Teats and Mushroom Drippings

Ad Man and I went out to celebrate a friend’s birthday a few weekends ago. We met up with the birthday girl and her husband plus three other couples who are also friends of ours. All four of the couples with children were able to dig up babysitters for the evening on short notice. I can’t remember another time we were all in the same place at once, sans kids. You know how there are always those people who are like, “OMG…it’s the image of the Virgin Mary in my cappuccino! It’s a miracle!” Give me a break. This was a fucking miracle!

As is typical with our friends, plans for the birthday celebration began less than two weeks before the event. The birthday girl’s husband went through a few different options for locales, ultimately deciding on a hip, new restaurant in a gentrifying neighborhood in Atlanta called Inman Park. Sounded perfect to me. Hey, we’re hip! We like good food and drinking indie beers on patios!

sonic_youth_gooThe youngest of us is pushing 40 and the oldest is staring down the barrel of 50. We moan about how old we’re getting, yet still have this notion of ourselves as modern, urban, bohemians. When reminded that this year marks the 25th anniversary of Sonic Youth’s Goo, Fear of a Black Planet by Public Enemy and Doolittle by the Pixies, we die a thousand deaths inside. I mean seriously…that’s the equivalent of an album that came out in 1950 to us as kids. It’s mind-blowing.

So, despite the punk rock credibility we cling to like barnacles on a boat dock, it was hard not to feel a little long-in-the-tooth among the children gathered at the restaurant bar. And that was before a couple former sorority presidents–or so we assumed–began bedazzling an area in the back section of the bar for the Westminster School Class of 2005’s tenth reunion. (Note: Westminster is a very old, very affluent, private school in Atlanta.)

Ladybird Atlanta BeltlineAt that point, the population of the restaurant was approximately 49% young lawyers and art gallery interns with trust funds, and 49% young, tattooed hipsters with fixie bikes chained to the rack outside. Our table of graying, tattooed (former) hipsters bitching about the lack of good public middle schools made up the last 2%.

We sat down at a table among the pierced-and-perky hordes, and those of us who weren’t already wearing “progressive lenses,” pulled out reading glasses to see our menus. Reading and understanding are two very different things, however. The menu before me contained some of the most indecipherable, adjective-laden food descriptions I’ve ever seen. The Grassfed Beef Carpaccio was described as “dragon tears, smoked evoo, cauliflower & peanut puree, grana, little chips.” I misread dragon tears as dragon teats and we all agreed that was actually no more outrageous than the original wordage. There was the Hot Mushroom Skillet with “mushroom drippings, egg, toast.” You also couldn’t go wrong with the “Silver Turtle” Roasted Cauliflower & Sunchoke with “apricot, alliums, naan bread, smorgasbord.” I began to get a sneaking suspicion that these weren’t actually food descriptions at all, but rather, randomly generated haikus.

ladybird_menuIn contrast to the pretentiousness of the menu, our waiter was quite down to earth and friendly. Thankfully, he was fluent in restaurant-speak, and able to answer all of our many questions, including…How does one milk a mushroom? Are there any actual mushrooms in the dish or are they tossed away like yesterday’s trash after being robbed of their precious drippings? Where do you source your dragon tears and do you know if they were free-range dragons? Are you at liberty to divulge the contents of “smorgasbord?”

After we ordered, the chef walked into the dining area and my friend M, the birthday girl, realized they had a mutual friend. So, M dragged the chef back to our table. We all hit it off immediately and, thus, gave her no end of shit about the flowery menu. She claimed no involvement in its drafting, so we let her stay. The chef asked us who our server was and, when we told her, she said, “Aaaahh…you must be the table of ‘normal people’ he was telling me about.” I considered that a compliment given the obnoxious diners flanking our table, but M spent the rest of the night nursing a deep, psychic wound caused by being referred to by the N-word.

We were, however, pleasantly surprised when our meals arrived. The food was delicious and didn’t at all require bolstering by descriptions rivaling those of Keats’s Grecian urn. Sitting here writing this, I was just thinking I should reveal the name of the restaurant since I’m saying positive things about the food, if not the menu or the clientele. However, when I looked up its website, I discovered yet another reason to hate the damn place. I knew it was called Ladybird, a perfectly lovely name, but what I didn’t know is that the full name of the place is actually “Ladybird Grove and Mess Hall.” Whyyyyyy?! Why not “Canteen and Watering Hole?” Or, “Puddle and Pile of Kibble?” There are times (many, many times) when marketing people make me want to scream…and I’m not just talking about Ad Man.

This thing could comfortably accommodate a 2 year old.

The Louis Vuitton Neverfull can comfortably accommodate a 2 year old child.

As the Westminster Class of 2005 began filling up the back of the bar area, the restrooms became more and more inaccessible. This, unfortunately, coincided with the timing of the beer hitting my bladder. So, twice I had to steel myself and head out to yonder ladies’ room, slithering between Blaine and Grayson who were trying to hook up with Sloane and MacKenzie (or whatever their names were). Approximately every fourth woman at the reunion was carrying an enormous Louis Vuitton Neverfull bag, increasing the difficulty of the obstacle course exponentially. During my first trek through the forest of 20-somethings, all I could think was, “Wow…that is a crapload of expensive dental work.”

Following dinner, a few of us headed to a bar in Decatur where we chatted over Jack Daniels slushies and curry-spiced popcorn. When the server asked if we wanted another round of drinks, the birthday girl said, “You guys should stay and hang out, but I’m going home and getting in bed.” (We don’t call her “half-pint” for nothing!) I tried to rally the others, but the lure of pajamas and a warm bed won out over my sad cheerleading. So, we all headed our separate ways, exhausted from a long, raucous night of partying. It was 11 pm. Because, that’s how we roll.

The World’s Oldest Production Assistant, Part 2

Welcome to the second installment of The Worlds’ Oldest PA. If you’ll recall, in Part 1, I’d gotten through the first day of shooting for a show on the Discovery Channel, about which I knew absolutely nothing, without any embarrassing incidents. The only time I was really stumped was when the Director of Photography held out a camera cable and asked me if I knew how to do “over-under.” I paused briefly, giggling to myself and thinking it sounded like something sexual (I have the sense of humor of a 13 year-old boy), but it more likely had something to do with the cord he was holding.

I kept cool and said, “No, but I’m sure I could learn if you’d show me.” He didn’t have time right then, but didn’t seem annoyed, so I assumed over-under wasn’t critical PA knowledge. I did, however, vow to myself that, before the end of the job, I’d figure out what the hell over-under was and how to do it.

After returning to the hotel after our first day of shooting, the crew all headed to our separate rooms. A couple people went to work out. I hadn’t even packed workout clothes and after a day of heavy lifting and errand running, was even more convinced that was the right decision. I chatted with the Associate Producer (AP) who said she’d likely head to the bar in a bit if I wanted to join her. Feeling socially weird (nothing new there) and yearning to remove my damn bra asap, I told her I was pretty fried, but to please text me when she headed downstairs. In the hotel room, I did my best to rally knowing that I shouldn’t skip out on meeting up with the others no matter how tired I was. Instead, I gave myself a mental bitchslap and when the AP texted, I said I’d be down in a few minutes. See? That wasn’t so hard, was it?

I got down to the bar and found the AP sitting there with her computer and a cocktail. I ordered a beer and, when she finished up with some work, asked her about the show and specifically, the episode we were working on. I’ll tell you, I was not prepared for the horrifying story she told. I can discuss it here because it’s a matter of public record and, in fact, got tons of publicity when it happened.

NND_logoIt turns out, the show we were working on is called Nightmare Next Door and you’ll quickly understand why this was an appropriate title. In 2011, a law student at Mercer University in Macon was murdered by another law student who lived in her apartment building. They’d both just graduated and were hunkering down to study for the bar. Friends and family of the victim, Lauren Giddings, began to worry after they hadn’t heard from her in a few days, initially thinking she was just busy studying. A search party scoured Macon looking for any sign of the missing woman. One person who was active in the search for Lauren was her neighbor Steven McDaniel. Steven was quite odd and a social misfit, but Lauren was friendly with him when their paths crossed.

When the search party was unable to find any trace of Lauren, friends and family members were distraught. A local reporter interviewed a number of people, including Steven. He told the reporter he had no idea where she could be or what could have happened to her. He said Lauren was outgoing and nice to everyone and he couldn’t imagine how anyone could do harm to her. In the midst of the interview, the reporter received some news and said to Steven, “Do you have a reaction to the fact that the police just found a body nearby?” Steven was visibly shocked by the news, needing to sit down and calm his breathing for a few minutes before he returned to continue on with the interview.

Shortly before this, the Macon police had found the torso of a woman’s body in a trashcan outside Lauren’s apartment building. The body had been decapitated and the arms and legs severed. The head and extremities were nowhere to be found. DNA tests on the torso turned out to be a match for Lauren.

The police investigated Lauren’s current and former boyfriends and interviewed family and friends, but quickly turned their focus to Steven. According to the police, it was the law students’ intense and strange reaction to the news of the discovery of the body that pointed them in his direction. The police questioned Steven extensively and arrested him for burglary after he admitted to have stolen items from neighbors’ apartments. A search of his apartment turned up videotapes taken through Lauren’s window, photos of Lauren, a master key to the apartment building, child pornography, and packaging for a recently purchased hacksaw. (I’m assuming Steven didn’t get the best grade in criminal law.)

I’m sure you won’t be shocked to hear that the killer was Steven McDaniel. He eventually confessed to the crime, describing how he’d strangled Lauren and dismembered her body with a hacksaw in her shower. He was (obviously!) obsessed with Lauren and upset that she would soon be taking the bar exam and moving away from Macon, and him, forever. Steven explained that he’d disposed of Lauren’s head and limbs separately from the torso, but police never found them despite extensive searching.

The story struck me hard. I couldn’t stop thinking about Lauren’s family. I was also astounded that Steven could be together enough to graduate from law school and not set off alarms with classmates and teachers as to his mental state, when in fact, he was a psychopath capable of planning and carrying out a gruesome murder. I was even more freaked out when the field producer pulled up the video of Steven’s interview on YouTube. To watch this guy who had murdered and dismembered someone just days before calmly express concern, on camera, about her whereabouts was chilling. I, couldn’t help but think about my own law school classmates and wonder which person in the group was the homicidal psychopath!

Lauren Giddings

Lauren Giddings

It was crazy working on this story in a small town like Macon, because literally everyone we talked to knew about the murder. Many personally knew someone involved in the case.There was one day when I took a large box of police records to be copied and sent to the production company for fact checking. I was flipping through the binders, showing the young woman helping me at FedEx how they were laid out, when she glanced at a photo of Lauren on the opening page and said, “I knew her.” My stomach dropped knowing there were gruesome photos in the records. I was relieved when we decided to just pack up the entire box of documents and send it to the production company rather than making copies.

So anyway, back to the hotel bar. Controlling my neuroses and meeting the crew for dinner and drinks was absolutely the right thing to do. We chatted and I got to know them better, which was great since they already knew each other having worked together on previous projects. The DP told me about his daughter who’s between Biggie’s and Smalls’s ages, and we discussed the difficulty of juggling career and parenthood, especially in a field like production where you can be away from family for weeks, if not months, at a time. The crew also asked about my background suspecting that I wasn’t a career production assistant. They were all awesome, and said they’d tell the production company to add me to their list of field producers. I’m keeping my fingers crossed! Obviously, I couldn’t be away from home for weeks at a time, but a few weeklong jobs every now and then would be great.

The next day, we were scheduled to interview the police officer who discovered Lauren’s body and the Police Chief in charge at that time. We shot at a small, neighborhood police station that looked to me like a run-down, old Baptist church. When we walked into the building, the producers,’ DP’s and sound guy’s faces fell. It was quite possibly the worst place possible to film. The whole office had been painted white decades before and bore the grunge and scars of the intervening years. The ceilings were high with buzzing fluorescent lights, and the sound of the air conditioner seemed to be competing with them for attention. The DP looked at me and said, “Watch…the producers are going to start freaking out. I just stand back and wait for them to get through it.” And, indeed, there were a lot of concerned looks, muttered discussions and frantic phone calls made. However, they did get through it and a plan was hatched to shoot in one of the cramped offices, with the overhead lights and AC turned off. Never have I been so happy to not be in the interview room.

Before the interview, though, we set up outside for the “hero shot” (which is exactly what it sounds like) of our main good guy, the police officer who found the body. The sky was looking ominous but we kept checking the weather which indicated that there’d be no rain until the afternoon. Once the equipment was in place, I asked the AP if she wanted me to go find a Starbucks. She said yes and that I should ask the officers for their coffee orders as well. She told me to pick up some doughnuts while I was out as well. When I protested, insisting that it was simply too cliché, she laughed and told me to shut up and go get the damn doughnuts! I told you this was a glamorous job.

storm_clouds_maconMacon isn’t exactly a town with a Starbucks on every street corner, but I was able to track one down and ordered some very complicated coffee and tea orders for the crew and a couple plain, black coffees for the cops. I watched out the window, waiting for the order to be ready as creepy, dark clouds rolled toward me. Luckily, I got all the drinks safely into the car before big, fat raindrops started plopping on the blacktop. By the time I got to Dunkin’ Donuts, it was a full-on torrent. I returned to the police station dripping wet.

My hair doesn’t like humidity, let alone driving rain, so I spent the rest of the day with random waves and wings sticking out everywhere. I briefly considered grabbing a baseball cap from the car, but remembered that the only one I could find to pack was my “Ready for Hillary” hat. I wisely decided that might not go over well at the Macon, Georgia police station.

I thought I’d have an in with the police officers since my dad was a cop for 25 years, but I wouldn’t say they were the warmest guys in the world. Later, as I was getting the Chief’s lunch order, I mentioned to him that I’d practically grown up in a police station. He indulged me with a little grunt of acknowledgement, then continued trying to figure out how to maneuver through the lunch menu on my iPhone. We interviewed another retired police officer back at our hotel two days later. The AP sent me out to make small talk with him while the crew tweaked camera and sound. I, again, tried playing the cop’s-kid card telling him that my father was also a retired police officer. He replied, “Hm…good for him.” Apparently, cops in the south aren’t known for being sparkling conversationalists.

My traveling companions, sent by the girls so I wouldn't get lonely

My traveling companions, sent by the girls so I wouldn’t get lonely

There was one classic working-mom-moment on the afternoon of the police station shoot. I was out picking up lunch when Ad Man left me a message sounding stressed and saying that the babysitter (an employee of his, actually) had bailed at the last minute and we had no one to replace her. This wasn’t good news to receive in the middle of the work day an hour and a half drive away from home. I dropped the lunch bags on the table and started madly making phone calls while trying not to hyperventilate. When the AP and the rest of the crew found out what was going on, they immediately told me that I should head home and they’d just cover for me for the rest of the day. I seriously almost started crying, told them I loved them all, grabbed my lunch to-go and hit the road! I’m ridiculously lucky to have worked with such a great bunch of people.

The rest of the week was a whirlwind of interviews with journalists, prosecutors and the District Attorney. We shot b’roll (generally, scenic filler) of Macon’s famous cherry blossoms, the courthouse, the crime scene, the landfill where police searched in vain for Lauren’s missing body parts and the exterior of the FBI crime lab. You didn’t think they had one of those in rural Georgia, did you? Yeah, me either.

By the time I headed home on Friday afternoon, I was utterly exhausted. Most of my body was sore, including the butt cramp that only got worse as I added more and more hours in the car. But, regardless, I was happy and felt more confident than I had in years. Nine years to be exact. I also finished this job with the absolute conviction that going back to work is the right thing for me. While wasn’t easy, Ad Man survived, the kids survived and I thrived.

I learned two other important things by the end of the week: how to set the goddamn cruise control on my car and how to do the “over-under” method of wrapping cables! Turns out, you can figure out how to do just about anything if you’re humble, willing to work your ass off, and have unlimited access to YouTube tutorials.

The World’s Oldest Production Assistant, Part 1

PA_and_Brad_Pitt

See the woman in red? She’s a production assistant. My job was in no way like this.

Guess who just got back from a business trip. Me! Can you imagine? I’ve been casting a wide net, telling anyone and everyone who will listen that I’m looking for work. Because people are awesome, a few friends have actually contacted me with potential opportunities. As I mentioned in my last post (which I’ve actually deleted because there was just TMI for potential employers who might stumble upon my blog) I’ve been working very part-time on a writing and social media project for some friends. I’ve also signed on with a contract attorney/legal temp agency which is hard at work looking for legal gigs for me.

But, anyway, about that business trip…a couple weeks ago, a friend in the entertainment industry sent me a job listing seeking a production assistant on a shoot in Atlanta for the Discovery Channel. She actually wrote, “This may be below your pay grade, but…” which made me fall on the floor laughing. I composed myself and responded that my current pay grade is zero dollars, so unless I had to pay them to work on the show, I was in.

So she passed along my contact info and I received a call from a producer the next day. It turned out that the shoot was in Macon, which is about an hour and a half from Atlanta, but they’d put me up in a hotel there so I wouldn’t have to drive back and forth. I immediately called Ad Man to see if we could work out the dates and he reminded me he was scheduled to go to Dallas or Houston or somewhere that week. As you can imagine, I was extremely disappointed and convinced I’d never work again if I had to maneuver around his ridiculous schedule.

After a mini-breakdown, we figured out a way for me to work the whole shoot. It merely took changing Ad Man’s flight to Texas, having me drive home one night so I could get Biggie and Smalls on the bus the next morning, finding a neighbor who could get the girls off the bus that day and hiring a babysitter who would take them until Ad Man got home from the airport that night. Easy, right?

Amazingly, I found a helpful neighbor, scheduled a babysitter, and the call times for the shoot worked out perfectly. Apparently, the production schedule gods were looking out for me. So, at this point, I was all ready to go, but nervous as hell. It had been a while since I was on a set and there were absolutely no guarantees I’d have any idea what I was doing! Plus, I was convinced that I’d arrive to find that the entire crew was a bunch of tight-skinned, 20-somethings horrified to see that they had The World’s Oldest PA working on their shoot.

Ad Man and I talked to the girls over dinner. We told them about my “great opportunity” and walked them through the schedule. With the exception of his one day out of town, Ad Man would greet them when they got off the bus and work from home for the afternoon. The girls were not at all happy. I generally leave home without them maybe twice a year for a weekend and this job just happened to fall a week after I’d spent a few days in Ft. Lauderdale with my best law school friends.

“Mommy, do you have to go? Did you sign up for this job or did someone just call you?” Clearly, they were trying to figure out who to blame for this untenable situation. The discussion continued, culminating at bedtime when Smalls had a complete nervous breakdown, sobbing, clinging to me and whining, “Mommy, I don’t want you to goooooooo!” Meanwhile, I was going over my packing list in my head because I had to be up at the crack of dawn to make it to Macon for an 8 am call time and was not in the slightest bit prepared.

Rural Georgia is an interesting place.

Rural Georgia is an interesting place.

Cut to the following morning (See how I did that? So Hollywood). It was pitch black out and I was so tired, I really should have been kept away from heavy equipment. I rolled into the closest coffee shop drive-thru and pulled out my phone while I waited. I was searching for directions to the hotel in Macon when I realized I already had a text from the Associate Producer. Change of plans! We were actually going to shoot in Augusta that day, 120 miles away from Macon. Unless I was already close to the hotel (ha!), I should head to Augusta instead. The rest of the crew would meet me there in 2 ½ hours. If I got there before they did, I was to grab some menus from restaurants in the area for lunch…in particular, barbecue joints. Excellent. Put the vegetarian in charge of finding the best BBQ in town.

Despite the last minute craziness, I kept calm and managed to arrive in Augusta unscathed. It was shortly after 9 am, so of course, there were no restaurants open from which to gather menus. Instead, I drove to the location and sat in my car madly texting about barbecue with friends who grew up in the area. I didn’t take this task lightly. I was well aware, from being a producer on shoots, that the PA’s most important job is to not fuck up lunch. A PA lives and dies depending on whether or not there are grilled onions on the director’s burger. This is not an exaggeration.

When a black van pulled up to the location, and people and equipment started spilling out, I was relieved to see that everyone in the crew (a small one, admittedly) was at least in their early 30s. No one there was young enough to be my child. One big hurdle cleared. Now, I just had to hope they wouldn’t ask me to do something about which I had absolutely no knowledge. I met the crew and everyone was very friendly. It turned out, we were from all over the country…a couple people from Boston, one from D.C., someone from San Francisco, and me, currently residing in Atlanta. I still can’t get myself to say that I’m “from Georgia.”

We were shooting in a beautiful, lightly renovated Victorian house in a gentrifying neighborhood in Augusta. A flag for the Master’s golf tournament was proudly waving on the porch. Augusta is famous for being the host of the Master’s, which was only weeks away at this point. The azaleas were in bloom and there was a distinct buzz about town.

I should say, at this point, I had absolutely no clue what kind of project we’d be working on. All I knew was that we were shooting for a show that was part of Discovery Channel’s “Investigation Discovery” lineup. So, I just jumped into unloading equipment, laying out cables and hanging blackout plastic on windows while dangling precariously from a wobbly ladder. It occurred to me that Ad Man and I haven’t taken out life insurance on me.

There was a small crisis when the Director of Photography realized that they’d forgotten to buy sand for the sandbags used to steady camera and lighting equipment. Where the hell does one buy sand at 10 am on a Sunday in the Bible Belt? Never fear though…my mom-skills kicked in and I had a plan! With one quick search on my phone, I determined that there was a Toys R Us in the area which did, in fact, carry play sand. I was off in a flash to pick up 100 lbs. of sand and save the day. See? I’m a problem-solver. Stay-at-home parenting hasn’t left me void of any skills after all. Need sand? I’m your gal! Need to rearrange the schedules of three interviewees in two different states? No problem! Someone accidentally got Sharpie on a set piece? Before you can blink, that stain will be my bitch!

An excerpt from my mileage notes.

Just an excerpt from my mileage notes.

I’ll spare you all the details, but I essentially spent the day moving heavy things around and then guarding very expensive things outside the house while the rest of the crew was inside interviewing the lovely young lawyer and owner of the home about I knew not what. Luckily, I remembered to pack sunscreen. I also bought new insoles for my Vans slipons and stocked up on Icy Hot for the screaming backache I was sure I’d develop before the end of the shoot. One must prep for all potential calamities when one is The World’s Oldest PA.

After the interview, the whole crew and the interviewee and her husband (also a young lawyer and also lovely) went out for lunch together. I kept my curiosity in check and managed not to ask any dumb questions about the topic of the episode. It’s a damn good thing, too because the woman we interviewed turned out to be a close friend of the victim. Hmm…victim. That meant we we’re dealing with a murder. Good to know.

Following lunch, we hit the road for a 2 ½ hour drive back to the crew hotel. For those of you keeping count at home, that was a total of 4 hours on the road for me that day. I spent the whole drive from Augusta to Macon trying to figure out how to set the cruise control on the car we’ve had for nine years because I had a butt cramp from driving. I am, indeed, the picture of fitness and vitality.

Stay tuned for The World’s Oldest Production Assistant, Part 2, in which you’ll learn what the hell we were filming, the identity of the victim, whodunnit, and whether or not I got through the shoot without making an ass of myself.

30 Reasons Being a Stay-at-Home Mom is a Sucky Job

stay_at_home_mom_kid_chaosEvery stay-at-home parent is well aware of the benefits of the job: the ability to be home with your children during their formative years, no scrambling for child care, and pajamas are perfectly acceptable “work clothes,” just to name a few. Unfortunately, few moms or dads have a realistic view of the pitfalls of the job when they decide to become a stay-at-home parent. That’s why you have me, dear readers. I’m willing to tell it like it is even if that means risking the ire of the happy, happy, stay-at-home mommy mafia.

I will admit that I drafted this list after a particularly trying week. Ad Man has informed me that he will be out of town for much of the next month…a month that will feature Small’s 7th birthday party and family visiting from out of town. Did I mention that he’ll be in Austin at South By Southwest for “business?” Yep, it’s that time of year again.

Anyway, please feel free to pass this along to anyone who may be considering dedicating his or her life to this challenging job. Friends don’t let friends become stay-at-home moms without full disclosure of the risks. Knowledge is power.

30 Reasons being a stay-at-home mom is a sucky job:

  1. Pay is far, far below minimum wage
  2. Kiss adult conversations goodbye
  3. Zero growth potential
  4. Physically demanding
  5. Tiny “employers” are often vocally critical of your work
  6. Most accomplishments go unnoticed
  7. No days off, no vacation time, no sick leave
  8. No combat pay for physically or emotionally dangerous work
  9. Feedback from superiors generally limited to silent reproach and judging from afar
  10. Requires an impossibly wide breadth of knowledge including, but not limited to: identity and recommended treatment for various rashes, latest research on the effect of BPAs on growing brains, rules of obscure playground games, names of all characters from every Star Wars episode (even the one with JarJar Binks), removal techniques for a wide range of stains, trigonometry, etc, etc…
  11. Despite #10, you’re left with absolutely nothing to add to your resume
  12. At least one person is actively working to thwart your progress at all times
  13. Stating dissatisfaction with, or openly criticizing, the job is strongly frowned upon (Oops!)
  14. Rules of the game are always changing
  15. Increased risk of substance abuse
  16. Limits social opportunities
  17. No training program
  18. Wardrobe options are limited
  19. Workplace is always messy and often sticky
  20. Drinking on the job is frowned upon
  21. Requires contact with bodily fluids that are not your own
  22. Must be available to work early mornings and late nights
  23. No awards, promotions or perks
  24. Very little opportunity for travel
  25. Excessive contact with brain numbing children’s entertainment
  26. Company car is crusted with food and perpetually smells of spoiled milk and old vomit
  27. Job causes irreparable brain damage
  28. Your boss is unpredictable, irrational and prone to emotional outbursts
  29. Schedule may change at any time with no warning
  30. Much of the day is spent trying to keep employers from killing themselves

Do you have anything to add to my list? What about you moms who work full-time outside the home? Would you describe your jobs as sucky for any of the reasons above? Surely at least one of you has a boss who’s unpredictable, irrational and prone to emotional outbursts, right?

Getting Nerdy with Frog Guts

getting nerdy lab with frameMy friends Melissa and Gretchen (“Mel and Gerdy”) are middle-school life science teachers who resigned from their teaching positions last year to focus on their awesome blog and company Getting Nerdy with Mel and Gerdy. During their years in the classroom, Mel and Gerdy struggled to find the time to create science lesson plans that today’s students would find engaging and entertaining. Much like when I was in school (back in the olden days, as my kids would say), Mel and Gerdy found that available resources for life science lessons were often dry and lack luster.

So these two dedicated teachers set out to develop their own creative and informative lesson plans and, as you’ll see, they have an amazing talent for it. Getting Nerdy with Mel and Gerdy is targeted toward life science teachers, but is an equally great resource for parents, especially those who homeschool. Biggie and Smalls, who are little science geeks, love to try out experiments Mel and Gerdy post on their blog and Pinterest page.

Right now, Getting Nerdy is holding a giveaway for a 3-D frog dissection model and lesson plan and providing their tips for managing the dissection classroom mayhem. Looking back, I have clear memories of chaos and flying frog guts on the day we did dissection in science class. My teacher could have definitely used a little help from Mel and Gerdy!

Click here to go directly to their store. Use this link to enter the giveaway and, while you’re there, sign up for Getting Nerdy’s newsletter and “like” their Facebook page. Maybe you’ll find out whether frog eyeballs actually do bounce before your students or kids try a live demonstration.

Feeling Like a Failure? Lower Your Expectations!

antidepressants_funnyWhen I was working in production in Los Angeles, my boss and friend, Tom made a point of sitting down every January to write out his personal and professional goals for the year. At the same time, he’d revisit his previous list to determine which goals he’d successfully completed, which ones he’d fallen short on, and which ones to reevaluate and revise going forward. Thankfully, he got me in the habit of doing the same.

Now, I’m great at writing down my goals for the year, but I have to admit, I kind of suck at looking back and evaluating my success. I’d like to believe it’s because I’m such an optimist, always looking to the future with no time to dwell on negatives. Sadly, pretty much everyone who knows me, knows that’s far from the truth. In reality, looking back at things I intended, but failed, to do is just really f*cking depressing and I generally like to avoid it at all costs.

This January, however, I am forcing myself to confront the 2014 list and acknowledge my progress (or lack thereof). Lucky me, I also ran across my goals for 2013, so I have even more data to consider…and to haunt me for the next twelve months. Without further ado, let’s strip me bare and judge me. It’s for my own good.

My Goals for 2013

  1. Heal back and neck
  2. Get fit
  3. Drink green smoothie or juice every day
  4. Atlanta or LA — make a decision and make it happen!
  5. Get a job (or not, depending on #4)
  6. Get finances in order (Make appointment with financial planner)
  7. Refinance house
  8. Be more creative (drawing and writing)
  9. Read more nonfiction
  10. Exercise brain — learn one new thing every day
  11. Learn French
  12. View aging as an interesting science experiment, not a failure
  13. Stay in better touch with family and friends
  14. Spend the holidays on a beach

Reading through it now, I find this list charming in its naivaté. 2015 is looking back at it and shaking its head with a knowing smile. “Aw, bless 2013’s heart…so young, so hopeful…” There are exactly two items above that I can cross off with authority. I have, indeed, been more creative, with writing at least. And, I suppose cake decorating. I have also succeeded in reading more nonfiction. So there, 2013!

As far as the other thirteen items on the list go, well, I can say I gave at least most of them a shot. I actually did get more fit and drank a lake of green smoothies in 2013. Had I evaluated this list in January of 2014 as previously scheduled, I’d have proudly checked off those two goals. But no, I had to give myself an additional year to backslide on my fitness progress and go on a kale strike. So, let’s say success in 2013, less so in 2014.

I did French lessons online and was very consistent for a few months. Unfortunately, as I wrote more, I conversely spent less time studying French. You’ll see that this trend continues through 2014. Something had to give! There are only so many hours in the day! I have two children and a puppy to raise! Other excuses like that!

Goal number four is the one that makes me chuckle the most (sometimes, we laugh to hide the pain). This particular goal…deciding between staying in Atlanta or moving back to Los Angeles…has been on every single one of my annual goals lists since our first January in Atlanta. I’ve made exhaustive pros and cons lists for each possibility and the race always ends in a dead heat, hence, the inaction. I suppose we’re choosing to stay where we are by not choosing to leave. Alas, the internal cage match continues. And, now, on to my goals for 2014:

Things I Will Do In 2014:

  1. Paint our bedroom
  2. Spend more time writing
  3. Spend way less time aimlessly wandering around on the internet
  4. Read four classic books I should have read in high school
  5. Exercise five times a week…even if just thirty minutes of walking
  6. Learn to bake a pie
  7. Practice French five days a week
  8. Have at least two girls’ weekends away
  9. Get back to LA
  10. Cook one new recipe a week
  11. Write at least two blog posts a week
  12. Build a file of blog posts so I’m not always playing catch-up
  13. Volunteer at the girls’ school
  14. Meet with financial planner
  15. Introduce kids to one new veg and one new fruit each week
  16. Take a knife skills class

Reading through this list, you’ll see that I attempted to be much more firm with myself. No more of that wishy-washy “get fit” or “learn French” crap. This time, I threw some numbers behind my promises…”practice French 5 days a week.” Five and nothing less! How is one supposed to succeed unless one has her goals very clearly defined?

I started off 2014 strong. Did I paint my bedroom? Yes, I did! Did I spend more time writing? Absolutely! Did I spend way less time aimlessly wandering around on the internet? Well, um, not exactly. But, I did take one whole week off from my computer. That should count for something, right?

I managed to get away for one girls’ weekend this year. Fifty percent isn’t too bad. I started walking at least thirty minutes a day starting from when we brought Birdie home and taught her to walk on a leash (a triumph in itself). I also started doing hot yoga, which I thought I would hate, but ended up loving. Hey, I could count that as learning something new! Oh, never mind…that was 2013. As for doing actual, vigorous exercise at least five days a week, well, that was a lofty goal so I’m giving myself a pass on that one. On this year’s list, I’ll shoot for a much less onerous three times a week. Or maybe twice. Twice is good.

Actually, that may be just what I need to do in order to reach a 100% success rate…make my goals less ambitious! In an effort to end this post on a positive note, I have drafted a list of goals for 2015 that I know I can achieve:

MommyEnnui’s Far More Attainable Goals for 2015:

  1. Get out of my pajamas at some point every day (even if just to change into a fresh pair)
  2. Make a healthy, non-processed meal containing actual fruits or vegetables once a week
  3. Complete the Monday New York Times crossword puzzle at least once a month
  4. Walk the dog a minimum of once a day
  5. Think about getting a job
  6. Listen to others tell me what an important job I’m doing as a stay-at-home mom (try to believe it)
  7. Volunteer at the girls’ school, or at least boldly write my name on the sign-up sheet and then claim I have an unforeseen conflict when the date rolls around
  8. Learn to bake a pie (I’m adding this one, because I plan to do it this weekend. I’ve even bought ingredients. See? I’m well on my way to success!)
  9. Learn to see aging as a natural process that occurs between Botox appointments
  10. Speak to my husband in the evenings instead of sending him an occasional text from the adjacent couch while watching Project Runway
  11. Stop believing I’ll ever make a decision whether to stay in Atlanta or move back to LA
  12. Apply sunscreen to my face at least as often as I sunscreen my tattoos

Think I can check off twelve out of twelve when next January rolls around? I’m suddenly feeling more confident than I have in years! This is going to be very good for my self-esteem. How about you? What are your goals for the year? Need help making them more achievable? I’m here for you.

It’s a New Year and I Don’t Give a Shit

As we enter a new year, it seems only fitting that I give you an update/wrap-up of 2014. First, you may remember that one of my goals for ‘14 was to create a home office to act as MommyEnnui headquarters in a corner of our downstairs living room. I dove head first into research and organization, dreaming up big plans for the space.

office_post_flood_crop_0414

My “office” before

That was until a broken pipe flooded half of the downstairs and put the project on hold for months. Instead, I spent a ridiculous amount of time and energy dealing with the insurance company, water remediation company, contractors, painters, carpet installers, etc., etc. Throughout this process, I learned two very valuable lessons: 1) construction or renovation takes at least three times longer to complete than you expect it will; and 2) contractors are the flakiest, least reliable people you’ll ever deal with.

In light of these discoveries, it’s all the more miraculous that I now have a lovely, almost-finished, fairly well-functioning home office. I’ve included before-and-after photos in an attempt to convince myself that all the time and effort were worth it. In addition to creating the office space, we replaced all the carpeting and repainted all the rooms on the lower level so everything is fresh and new. I even managed to pick out all the paint colors in just a few days. This was quite a feat as, you may remember, it took Ad Man and I almost two years to decide on a paint color for our bedroom.

Office after

Office after, with Biggie’s sewing table

I just need to hang some shelves, organize my supplies and find a new place for all the crap Ad Man and the kids generally pile on my desk, and I’ll officially be done-done. I don’t love the ugly IKEA table I’m currently using as a desk but it’ll work for the near future. If anyone sees a fabulous mid-century desk on Craig’s List or eBay that costs virtually nothing, let me know and I’ll be your best friend.

In the meantime, we’ll be funneling our money into putting in a gate to enclose Birdie’s Backyard Oasis and a privacy fence to block our view from the hideous, vacant house next door. Which brings me to my next big update. You may recall my mentioning the falling-down house neighboring ours that’s been empty since we moved in more than seven years ago. (Here’s my original post in case you missed it.) Well, shortly after that post, I wrote a letter about the house to the Director of the Atlanta Office of Code Enforcement, cc’ed a couple political bigwigs and attached pages of photographs of the offending structure. In addition, Ad Man and I gathered two pages of signatures from neighbors and I included those and the photographs with my letter. It was an impressive document if I might say so myself.

I got an almost immediate response from the director’s assistant (admittedly, not the most powerful person in the office). She acknowledged his receipt of my letter, told me that they’d assigned an officer to the case and that the property would be inspected in two weeks. Now that was the kind of action I was looking for! Unfortunately, that’s where things stalled.

I never saw an inspector at the house on the date the inspection was scheduled to take place, but I was in and out, so I couldn’t be sure whether it had occurred or not. Online records regarding the many past complaints regarding the house mysteriously disappeared and the assistant (who I determined would only answer my emails when I cc’ed her boss) was unsuccessful in tracking down the information though she assured me that she’d made numerous requests for info from the assigned officer.

The hovel next door

The hovel next door

Just as I was planning to take a trip downtown to speak to the Director personally, something strange happened. One day, I came home to find that a yard crew had spread craploads of mulch in the yard next door. Why the owner’s daughter (let’s call her Lindy) would spend money on mulch to “spruce up” a crumbling house was a mystery to me. The other neighbors and I chewed on a few theories, but it wasn’t until I received an email from Lindy that it became clear that the city had, indeed, served her with a notice of zoning violations.

In her email, Lindy had the gall to ask Ad Man and me if she could use our water and electricity so workers could powerwash the house and paint the trim (remember, the utilities next door have been turned off for seven years). She assured us that she’d reimburse us for all costs. Upon reading her email, my brain short circuited and exploded into a million tiny bits. After reassembling my scattered gray matter (with the help of a large glass of wine), I drafted the email excerpted below and sent it off to Lindy…

“…I fail to see what good painting the house and doing yet more band-aid repair work will do. Are you planning to put the house on the market or just appease the Office of Code Enforcement? [Ad Man] and I, and all the neighbors for that matter, are beyond fed up having a dangerous vacant building on our block…

Your inaction is the ultimate insult to the neighborhood which you’ve mentioned having such fond memories of growing up in. If you still have a vague plan to rebuild and move into the neighborhood yourself, I’m afraid you’ll find that the people of [our neighborhood] will be far from welcoming.

I’m sorry it has come to this, but I’m done being patient and understanding and attempting to deal with the situation in an amicable manner. I’d really rather my children not have memories of growing up with an abandoned house next door. I cannot help you with the water and power issue. [Ad Man] and I will not assist you in continuing to put lipstick on this rat-infested pig.”

I sent a copy of Lindy’s email and my response to the neighbors and one immediately texted me, “You kind of scare me and I like you even more for that.” Best compliment I’ve gotten all year! A few hours later, I heard back from Lindy…

“We will be recovering items from the house this Winter. We are in the process of getting bids now to tear it down in March – we will notify you of the specific date. There will only be a lot that we will maintain with a landscaping company until we sell it to a builder. In the meantime we are addressing the items on the City of Atlanta complaint.”

After reading the above message, I let out an evil cackle, steepled my hands together a’la Mr. Burns and exclaimed to no one in particular, “Victory is mine!” Of course, the owners have never been ones to follow through on promises, so I shall remain cautiously optimistic. Fingers crossed that I’ll be able to post photos of the demolition come spring…preferably not including an exodus of rats marching toward my house.

I must mention one other accomplishment I achieved in 2014 because it’s the thing of which I am most proud (short pause while I pat myself on the back). This year, I was successful in giving much less of a shit, as they say. In the past, just the thought of sending a pointedly harsh letter to anyone would have caused me to break out into hives. I’ve always avoided confrontation and hated having anyone not like me. As you can imagine, that trait often made my job as a litigation attorney a little tricky.

The thing that has changed most about me since entering my 40s, it’s that I care far less what people think of me and I’m OK with the fact that I can’t make everyone happy. I will write nasty emails when they are warranted. I will wear my pajamas in the front yard while taking the dog out to pee. I will run all over town doing errands with no makeup on. I will take away my daughter’s TV privileges when she’s being a pain-in-the-ass and I will not waver. I simply don’t give a shit…and it feels fantastic!

Happy 2015, y’all!

Christmas Miracles and Everyday Madness

xmas_tree_before_1214It’s been an eventful few weeks since I posted anything fresh here for you. First, a bit of an explanation. Christmas was my mom’s favorite holiday. The tree was always up on the day after Thanksgiving and every inch of the house was covered in something that lit up, jingled or played holiday songs. More than once, I walked into the room at my parent’s house and had a motion-sensing, dancing, singing Santa scare the living shit out of me. As far as holidays go, my mom never wavered. She was all in.

Not surprisingly, since her death, the holidays kind of suck for me. Add to that an always lingering residual bit of depression, a touch of Seasonal Affective Disorder and the stress that comes with planning a major holiday and a child’s birthday party at the same time, and you’ve got the perfect storm. Unfortunately, I’m terrible at writing in the midst of a storm.

Now for a little public service announcement…If you are considering getting pregnant (or knocking up your wife, significant other, or surrogate) I would highly recommend that you carefully plan the fateful insemination so as to avoid having a child born in December. Or the beginning of January, for that matter. Many moons ago, my darling Biggie was our Christmas miracle. She was born on December 12th after three years of trying to get pregnant culminating in three rounds of in vitro. But here’s the thing…we really should have timed the whole miracle thing much better.

Everyone worries about the kid when they find out he or she has a Christmastime birthday. “Oh, the poor thing! He/she really gets the shaft having his/her birthday so close to the holidays.” But, I say…remember the parents! (Or, in our case, the mother. Let’s be honest.) Ever try making candy flames while shopping online and addressing holiday cards at the same time? It’s a challenge even for the sanest parent and we all know that’s not me.

The last few weeks have been such a blur, I’ll just try to fill you in with a few main events. First, there was the aforementioned birthday party, which was another sleepover because I’m a masochist. I did put my foot down this year, though, telling Biggie she could invite only two girls from school and two girls from the neighborhood. Last year’s sleepover was significantly bigger and a bit of a debacle actually (at least for me).

campfire_cake_1214For once, Biggie liked and went along with my idea for the party theme… a camping themed, birthday slumber party. The girls slept in an eight-person tent Ad Man and I just barely managed to erect in our downstairs living room. But, before that, there was an outdoor scavenger hunt, pizza, a movie by the fireplace and a campfire birthday cake. I’ve included a photo of the cake here because I think I got more comments about it on Facebook than I’ve gotten on any cute kid or puppy post ever. Honestly, that cake was the highlight of my last few weeks. It came out so much better than I’d ever imagined. In fact, I’m considering never baking another cake for as long as I live. Why not retire at the top of my game, right?

Despite all the preparation that went into Biggie’s party, it actually turned out to be fairly easy and she was happy. Yay for me! I have to savor the little victories in parenthood because, lord knows, they can be few and far between.

Unfortunately, there have been some low points in the last few weeks as well…for example, when our Christmas tree came crashing down yesterday. I will elaborate, but I should first mention the wonderful way my day began. I was lucky enough to spend the day with a friend’s sweet, beautiful, eight week old (ish) baby boy. Oh man, is he delicious! We had a lovely day of snuggling, snoozing (him, not me), smiling (both of us) and sniffing his luscious new baby smell (Birdie and I). It was a bit of a challenge managing a puppy and a newborn at the same time, but I still found myself thinking, “See? I’m not too old for a baby. I could totally do this again!”

That is until I was attempting to calm little man who was squawking with hunger while I tried to heat up his bottle as fast as humanly possible when we heard an ungodly crash from the adjacent living room. Squawking turned to screaming, Birdie ran around like there was a squirrel in the house, and I reluctantly peeked around the corner only to find shards of glass and spilled water everywhere! The poor Christmas tree that had been so elegantly dressed just moments before, lay sadly in a bed of its own debris.

xmas_tree_after_1214I had the sense to put the the baby in his bouncy seat and unplug the tree lights before one of us was electrocuted in a pine-scented cloud of sparks. That was the last coherent thought I had, however. I looked at the mess, the hungry baby, the bottle of precious breast milk warming on the stove and the puppy threatening to run through broken glass and picked up the phone to call Ad Man. Luckily, another Christmas miracle occurred and he actually answered the phone. I said something like, “I need you! Come quick! The tree fell and there’s glass and water and I have a baby and a dog!” in not my calmest voice. Ad Man’s office is only three miles away, so after telling me to put the damn dog in her crate and doing about twelve additional things at the office, he headed home to face the destruction.

Eventually, Ad Man arrived, cleaned up the mess and we took inventory of our destroyed ornaments. By then, the baby was sleeping contentedly with a belly full of warm milk while Birdie slept off the adrenaline rush from dodging an enormous falling tree. As it was too early for a drink and I was babysitting, I got my stress relief from gazing at the perfect, peaceful face of little man. Demonstrating my remarkable skills of denial and self-delusion, I breathed a sigh of relief and thought again, “I could totally do this.”

The following day, I was again entrusted with the care and keeping of another living being, but the outcome was less successful. Birdie tends to be a pain in the ass about getting her nails clipped, so I’ve given up trying to do it myself and now take her to Petco for monthly pedicures. Because she apparently has the same short memory as her adoptive mother, she blocks out her nail terrors and is super excited to go to the pet store every single time.

Yesterday’s trip was no exception. She bounded out of the house with her tail wagging as soon as I said, “Birdie, want to go to the store?” We hopped into the car and I carefully lowered her window to a level where she could stick out her snout and enjoy the breeze, but not hang half her body out the window like a teenage boy in a limo after prom. In an abundance of caution, I hold onto her leash with a death grip the entire time she rides with me. I’d like to point out that Ad Man thinks I’m a neurotic freak (for this, and many other reasons). He just loops her leash through the seat belt and lets her hang out and gulp oxygen to her heart’s content.

Luckily, I can rarely, if ever, be convinced that his method of doing something is better than mine. And, it’s a damn good thing I stuck to my neurotic guns, because I’d just pulled into the Petco parking lot when Birdie jumped out the damn window! Of a moving automobile! Who does that?! Freaking the f*ck out, I managed to pull the car over and park all the while clinging to her leash. I’ll never forget the panicked look she gave me as she dangled outside, with just her eyeballs reaching the level of the now completely lowered window. I steeled myself for what I would see as my mind ran wild with images of her wrecked body flashing before my eyes.

Instead, I opened the passenger door and she hopped right back in, fresh as a daisy. It was as though she jumped out of a moving vehicle on a daily basis! A woman in the parking lot who had witnessed the whole scene called to me, “Is your dog OK? Are you OK?!” In a state of shocked disbelief, I told her yes. Birdie and I caught our breath and continued into the store as planned because, well, I didn’t know what else to do.

Not once did I think to wonder how the car window had gotten rolled down. That is, until we were back in the car on our way home and Birdie had her nose and paws out the 3 inches of open window I allowed her when the stupid thing rolled down again! All I could figure was that it was broken and would roll down whenever she put pressure on it. However, after we returned home and my scrambled brain started chugging back into action, I thought to myself, “You dumbass, the dog was stepping on the window button!” Erg. Anyway, this was the very difficult way I learned to always, always turn on the child safe window locks whenever doggie Evel Knievel is riding shotgun. Public service announcement #2.

Aren’t you glad you read this whole rambling post? I provided you with two nuggets of wisdom so you don’t have to learn them the hard way like I did. I also told you a couple stories that undoubtedly made you sit back and think, “Holy crap…I’m glad I’m not her!” Don’t say I never gave you anything. Have a great holiday! I’ll have lots of updates in the new year. Now, go tether that Christmas tree to the closest immovable object you can find. You’ll thank me someday.

Our Christmas Letter Is Better than Yours 2, Electric Boogaloo

clife thu Rockettes 1118_1165.JPGBefore I sit down to shop online for cheap, plastic items for Biggie’s birthday goodie bags then address 1,000 holiday cards, I thought I’d repost a piece from last year and provide a photo of my close, personal friends The Rockettes for your entertainment. Thank you so much for not mutinying against me for the stale content! I promise, when my brain returns to working condition, I’ll be all over that writing shit. xoxo

http://mommyennui.com/2013/12/23/our-christmas-letter-is-better-than-yours/

I Have Decision Fatigue! What Should I Wear?

carolina_herreraI recently read an article about successful people who have chosen to wear the same thing every day in order to avoid a psychological condition called “decision fatigue.” Decision fatigue refers to the declining quality of the decisions a person makes after a long session of decision-making. As you can imagine, the CEO of a Fortune 500 company makes thousands of decisions daily, virtually all of which are more important than choosing his or her outfit du jour. Why not take that one decision off the table permanently?

Developing and sticking with a personal uniform is a compelling idea even for non-CEOs. Imagine the time you’d save if you no longer had to decide what to wear every morning, let alone shop for each item of a typical wardrobe. However, the author of the article cites not one woman among his examples of highly successful people who have chosen personal uniforms.

I, myself, have a personal stay-at-home-mom uniform consisting of a faded Everlane v-neck t-shirt, Hudson skinny jeans and Vans leather slip-ons (because I also can’t be bothered to tie my shoes). Unfortunately, I don’t think my current level of success quite measures up to that of Steve Jobs or Karl Lagerfeld.

I can think of only a handful of extremely accomplished women who have perfected a “look” they return to time and again. Carolina Herrera is known for her crisp, white button-down shirts and you’ll rarely see Fran Lebowitz deviate from her menswear navy-suit-and-white-shirt uniform. However, I can’t think of one successful woman outside of the creative fields who wears the same thing every day.

What do you think? Do you wish you could avoid wardrobe decision-making every morning? Could you see yourself wearing a personal uniform? If so, what would it be? Do you think a female CEO could get away with wearing a t-shirt, black hoodie and jeans å la Mark Zuckerberg to the office every day? How about the same navy or gray suit like decision fatigued Barack Obama? Discuss amongst yourselves.