Thursday, July 28, 2011

Charming Charities

Every day, immediately after getting out of the car from work, I head to the mailbox.  Getting mail excites me, which is odd, considering it’s mainly bills or credit card solicitations (or god forbid, my 401(k) statement which I refuse to open), but nevertheless, my daily ritual never wavers.  I love picking through the mail and thumbing through catalogs (I still have no idea how I got on the Restoration Hardware mailing list since I will never, ever spend $48 on a bathroom knob). 

This week I received a Pepto pink envelope hand-addressed to me.  I couldn’t place the sender until I saw their address: one number off ours, on our street.  It was from our neighbors, a friendly couple we barely see in their sixties who chat about their past dogs and grandchildren on the rare instance our paths cross when we’re out walking Penny.  They were soliciting donations for a cancer society I never heard of, touting the benefits of healthy eating to cure and prevent cancer.  (Which is insulting enough: sure, I bet environment may have a bit to do with it, but it just reeked of misinformation).  The letter, typed from the charity, exclaimed even ten dollars would help (but thirty would be much better) and in our neighbor’s scroll, he (or she) wrote, “Anything would help!  Thank you so much!”  Thank you, indeed.

I thrust the letter into Matt’s hand and said, “You gotta see this!”  Since Matt is ever the diplomat, he simply arched his eyebrow and said, “Yeah, that’s odd.”  First off, we have spoken to this neighbor maybe five times since we moved to the neighborhood over four years ago.  I’m baffled how they even remembered my name (first and last), and how they knew how to spell it.  Katherine.  Catherine.  See?  It’s a moniker that goes by several spellings (“Kathryn” being the best obviously).   They don’t attend the neighborhood get-togethers but I’m suspecting they got their mitts on the list, which details the names and addresses of those who attend.

Here is my problem with this: we do not know them and they are soliciting money from neighbors (whom they do not speak to) for a questionable organization.  This is the kicker: You are not asked to return your check to the organization themselves, but to the neighbors.  You know, just so they can see how worthy you are.    Give $10 and you’re cheap and obviously care not one iota about cancer research.  Give $50 and you’re worthy (and a sucker in my book).  Obviously, $10 is nominal (even though they should think we’re cash-strapped given the state of our yard).  I just found the whole scenario obnoxious: this charity relies on the societal pressures of neighborly relations to get their dough, and pries on the trust of those neighbors: “Well, if Susie is collecting money, it must be for a good cause.” 

Since I like to make a big deal out of everything, I decided to Google the organization.  They take in about 33 million a year, and after mailings and executive salaries they donate (drum role please) less than 2 million annually.  They have the lowest score on several business bureau websites and rely on robo-calls and neighborhood mailing kits.  They do not perform any research themselves, and do not disclose exactly what happens to the cash they do give away.  Their CEO makes just south of $500,000 as does their executive board.  Simply put, this is no American Cancer Society.

Since I’m not one to shy away from voicing my opinion (see: me giving the asshole who went through our neighborhood at 60 mph the middle finger yesterday) I thought I’d write the neighbors a letter.  A really nice letter.  Really.  If Matt saw this he’d be horrified.

I already imagined this letter.  It would be something along the lines of, “Dear Dick and Mary: I hope you are well! I had the pleasure of receiving your donation form for (insert scumbag faux-charity) last week.  Although Matt and I full-heartedly support funding for cancer research, we donate to a select handful of charities per year that are close to our hearts (this is pretty true although there is no fund for poor game developers I’m aware of on Matt’s behalf).  To learn more about the scumbag faux-charity I did do some research to be better informed.  I was a bit concerned that they received several low ratings on philanthropy watch-dog groups and much of their revenue doesn’t go to research.  At this time we’ll have to decline.  (Now I would add a sweet send-off.)  Thank you again and I hope you’re enjoying the summer with your grandchildren and the memory of those dead dogs you always talk about!  Warm Regards, Kathryn and Matt”

I think that about says it.

I am not truly a charity curmudgeon.  Each month a donation is charged automatically to my credit card from the ASPCA.  I give yearly to Philabundance, a Philadelphia-based non-profit to eradicate hunger.  I donate to the CCFA (of course) and Planned Parenthood.  Oh, which brings up something else.  Shall we?

I love Planned Parenthood.  Who isn’t for women’s health?  (Well, except male Republicans.)  But I’m come to an impasse with them.  Planned Parenthood plants workers on street corners in Center City, Philadelphia soliciting donations.  There are a lot of organizations that do this.  I find this sort of guerilla donation-seeking jarring, but nonetheless, I stopped to chat with one of their people.  I am always cornered on the street.  I feel it’s because of my size.  I’m like a buck to your doe.  They see me from afar, big and somewhat friendly looking.  Fresh meat!  I’m also a woman, and how many men do you see stop?  Also, because I’m not a total scmuck, I often make eye contact when spoken to.  Because of this, I’m an idiot.

This guy told me about the state of women’s rights in this country (dire) and how Congress is stripping away rights (duh) and how abortions aren’t even funded with federal money (duh part deux).  He was preachy and snide so I replied with, “Yeah; I have a modicum of intelligence and read the news.”  I’m a peach.  This is when it went all downhill.  He pressured me into signing up for a repeat donation deducted from my credit card each month.  I told him I already donate (true; on a much less generous basis though) and I do not sign-up for things on the street.  He said I didn’t care about women’s health.  I told him what does he know, it’s not like he has access to my financials and he sure as hell doesn’t have a vagina.  Okay, that’s a lie.  I just told him I already donate but I appreciated the information he provided.  I really wish I said the vagina thing, though.  I told him I’d look into it more at home.  He said 99% of people who say that never follow through.  I told him I’m sure that’s the case, but I’m not 99% of people (lies: I was totally not going to look anything up, but I had to keep up appearances).  He snorted.  He said a few snide remarks.  I told him he just lowered my impression of Planned Parenthood and wasn’t that a pity.  Then I walked away as he shouted something, but my earphones were already back on at that point. 

Today Amnesty International was canvassing Chestnut Street.  Several of their people were stationed outside of Sephora, the luxe make-up and fragrance emporium.  I thought it was a smart move.  I mean, only women visit Sephora and perhaps Amnesty International feels these girls will want to make amends for the $25 mascara and $80 face cream they just purchased.  It’s like those carbon neutral thingamabobs a la Al Gore.  Sure he jets around the world and lives in a mansion, but he OFF-SETS it, darn it!  (I mean this in half-jest: I like Al, even though he has the worst teeth imaginable.  Have you seen them?!) 

I know these are tough times for charities, but there has to be a more charitable way of doing things. 

So, that brings us round-circle to Dick and Mary and the American Institute for Cancer Research (aka scumbag faux-charity).  I don’t think I’ll really write a letter seeing as we’re not moving anytime soon and I don’t want to horrify poor Matt, who often has to deal with my ranting and raving.  I’m much more prone to take the cowardly way out: pretend I never received anything.  Never mention it.  And, like a seasoned woman of the streets, never look them in the eye again.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Beachy Keen

I got a new camera for my birthday.  I had asked for a fancy SLR since the baby was coming (what better time to uncharacteristically splurge?!), but Matt - knowing me a little too well and knowing there was no way in hell-el I was going to learn how to use that thing (and because he's cheap) - got me a new point-and-shoot.  Whaaa!  Fine!  I decided to use it on our mini-vacay to the beach the weekend before I started work, and then again during July 4th weekend.  Here is a pictorial of our trips.

Well; this was before we left.  I had to test the darn thing!
It has a pet mode.  I don't know what that means.  My favorite mode is "automatic".
Here is Penny-dog not in pet mode.  Poor thing.
(Maybe it's a good thing he didn't get the SLR afterall...)

It also has a panoramic mode that even I can do!  This is our front porch.

On the way to Chincoteague we stopped at Hardee's because Matt annually INSISTS on it.  Pennsylvania doesn't have Hardee's.  It's like McDonald's on steroids (I admit, the burgers are bigger and better).  Here is Matt in a near-comatose state after his meal.  Thank goodness I was there to finish his fries; we women have to do all the work!

Very GQ - Furball style.  Now imagine shaking the excess water off his hair - no, not like a supermodel.  More like a drenched dog.

He only looks this intense because we're on our way to the coffee shop in town for a morning jolt and pastries.
Nothing gets in our way when it comes to food.

See; I told you so.

Bridge to get onto the Island.  Signs for a mile welcome you touting "fudge!" and "clams!" as you drive in.

Matt looks like a grizzly, sunburned sailor, and I look like a washed-out potato, but we seem to make it work regardless.
Here we are on the pier in the back of the house, looking onto the bay.

Matt bought these swim trunks for $2 - it's like he has a cheap beckon always on, always blinking.  Ever since the trip he's chastised me for not letting him get 10 more pairs (what am I, his mother?!).  He's so much of a fan I caught him wearing them to play BASKETBALL the other day.  Oye vey.

Chowing down on beach BBQ; my sister, Kristen, and her boyfriend, Chris.

No beach adventure is complete without a round of mini-golf!  I'd also like to take this time to say I was the only one of the group who won a free round of golf at the last hole.  Talent like that can't be taught.

Chris and Kris.

Now we're on the Jersey Shore; this was our second beach jaunt of the season.  Here are the boys playing football on the beach.  From L to R: Scott (Matt's cousin), Dave (Matt's uncle), Matt's brother Joe, his father David, Matt, and his sister's friend, Steve.

I asked Matt if he made me proud with his athletic prowess afterwards.  His response: "Not really."

He is one with the beach hat.

I watched from the sidelines because I'm less foolish than the rest of them.

Here we are back in Chincoteague, VA, waiting in line for ice cream...what else?! This is my sister's boyfriend trying to master my trademark thumb's down. The boy's got potential, I give him that. 
Enjoy your summer!

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Beach Bunny

A ravishing photo of my beloved on the beach:

If this doesn't get you all hot and bothered, I don't know what will!  (And I'm only half joking.)

And thank you Matt, for never minding that I post this stuff.  And that DOES really get my blood boiling!

Friday, July 8, 2011

The Light At the End of the Tunnel

I was never a person who played with dolls and dreamed of having children.  I had a headless Barbie who dated the family dog (there was no Ken, you see) - she didn’t have time for children (or the right species to procreate with, frankly).  I never went gaga over other people’s children, and have only recently admitted that yes, they’re cute, but let’s talk about something else – perhaps the latest episode of True Blood?  I don’t think kids always say the darndest things, and their watchful, curious eyes sometimes just creep me out (future “mother of the year” here!).  Moms hold their babies on the train with the babies facing behind and their offspring proceed to stare, stick their tongue out, or make faces the whole time.  Since I am usually 15x their age you’d think I wouldn’t find this unnerving, but I always walk off the train unhinged.  Like I said, I’m not what you’d call a kid person.

But something strange has been happening recently.  About a month ago Matt and I spent a quick beach weekend in Virginia and saw a dad helping his toddler build a sand castle, misshapen and perfect in that charmingly imperfect way.  And then a mom was playing with her baby girl in the surf, foamy waves ebbing and flowing with their laughter. And with my sunglasses on and my palm pressing against Matt’s, I finally felt free to cry out of happiness.  The same thing happened this weekend, but this time in a quiet hamlet amidst the Jersey shore: watching 4th of July fireworks from an upstairs balcony I turned to Matt and said we’ll have a 7-month-old at this time next year.  He squeezed my hand and we both remarked how far we’ve come as purple and gold sparks danced above the shoreline.

Matt and I have been closer because, well, we’re having a child together, but also because we’re both completely out of her element in having this child together.  (I suppose nothing brings two people together more than shared fear.)  After work we sit on our couch, a laptop on each of our laps, each monitor glowing with lightweight strollers and convertible car seats and anything else a baby may – or may not - need.  We send one another links of possible products, email each other what this or that co-worker recommended, and invariably say we give up after the back-and-forth but begin the next day.  “Babies are like a whole other species,” Matt said, fretfully staring at the list of things that need to be bought.

Between the two of us childless dodos, we know basically…nothing.  We don’t know what children wear, what their cries mean, how exactly this breastfeeding thing works (well, that’s more me) and have you seen all the car seats and strollers on the market?!?!  Last night, in total exasperation, I told Matt he was in charge of “baby transportation”, meaning he was to choose our car seats and strollers.  (Notice the plural.)  I gave him this task out of total dumbfoundedness but put it under the guise of “more parental involvement”.  I don’t think he was fooled.

There are hundreds of car seats and strollers on the market.  There are infant car seats and convertible car seats.  There are strollers where you can snap an infant car seat in to form a makeshift stroller.  There are lightweight strollers, traveling system strollers, all terrain strollers, jogging strollers, umbrella strollers, and dog strollers (the last one we mistakenly stumbled upon during a Google search).  We want a hardy stroller for the trails in Valley Forge but half of those won’t fit into our compact car trunks.  Every stroller has half good reviews, and the other half poo-poo the item, making us scratch our heads and Google some more.  There are $500 strollers that often have uniformly good reviews, but you know, that’s a $500 stroller!  I’d like to say we’re more “reasonable” than “cheap”.  And then what about baby-wearing?  Do we purchase a wrap, the $15 Target carrier that causes backache, the ubiquitous BabyBjorn at $90 a pop, or god forbid, an eye-popping $150 for the organic Ergo Baby (you see, Ergo Baby is the only carrier on the market that puts the baby’s weight on both your shoulders and hips so you can carry baby in comfort AND style).  Gag me.

Then there’s cribs (how many people have told me I have to get a GOOD crib and don’t I dare order one online?!) and gliders.  Diaper Genies and swings.  Pack ‘n’ Plays and don’t think of getting bumpers for your crib because they cause SIDS!  So, I give up.  I throw my hands up in the air to the baby gods.  So, here’s the deal: I will pay someone to shift through all this nonsense that preys on helpless and clueless soon-to-be-parents (e.g. Matt and me) and choose the pick of the litter (you know, of the cheaper stuff). Since I’m spending the better part of our salaries on baby accouterments, you’ll have to take the assignment pro bono.  Think of it as helping the needy.  And clueless.  And, excuse the language, the scared shitless.