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Bet On It

My husband and I are big fans of casinos.  During our cruise to the Bahamas, we spent so much time in the ship’s casino that the employees working the room knew us by name and memorized our favorite drink orders.  Locally, we love the Indiana Hoosier Park Racing & Casino, and even spent a Christmas there when our son was out of town with relatives.  If time and money allowed, I’d be at the casino more often, but our schedules, our son and dog, and countless other factors only leave room for a handful of visits every year.

I love the sound of the slot machines, the tight look on the faces of gamblers around card tables, the crowds that form when someone hits big, and that satisfying feeing of cashing out with as much (or hopefully more) money as you walked in the door with.  I’m a timid gambler; I stick to the penny slots and only put in a max bet when my husband reaches over my machine and does it for me.  Even us frugal gamblers can get a lot out of the experience, which is unique in itself and unique to the individual locations.  No two trips to any casino are the same, and I love that.

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When you mention a casino, most people’s minds go to Vegas, but you don’t have to make that trip to have a good time.  Yahoo has a great list of casinos outside of the Vegas strip that offer a great time and unique atmosphere.  The Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut is one I never had a chance to visit when I lived in the area, but plan to get to in the near future.  If none of those locations work for you, a quick internet search can pull up plenty of alternate options.

One alternative to being there in person is taking advantage of an online casino.  CNN Money posted Q3 earnings from Galaxy Gaming that shows incremental growth, which highlights the increased popularity of online gaming.  Playing online at Netbet casino is as close as you can get to being there while never actually leaving home.  If you do a Google search for “casino” and virtually any other word, the top ten results will be about 50% physical locations and 50% online gaming sites.

As someone who just kicked an addiction to a SmartPhone slots app where the winnings were purely for fun with no real money involved, I can definitely understand the appeal of online gaming and gambling.  With the holidays breathing down our neck, it might be worth a shot to take a short break, get in the car or log on, and see if you get lucky.  My husband and I won $500 one year off of a scratch off ticket; anything is possible.  Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to pull some virtual levers and roll some digital dice.

 

 

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Boom

So much has happened over the past few months.  In August, I lost my job working as a contractor for the Army National Guard, thanks to some shady behavior by a bitter coworker.  No more riding to work with my husband, no more cushy job that I was grossly overpaid for, and no more paycheck.  I’m not ashamed to say that I completely panicked.  My husband and I had just put down quite a bit of money to get a home built, and this was a serious blow.  It took nearly a month for me to find a new job, and when I did, I had to settle for almost half of what I had been making.  But at least I had a job.

unemployment-job-work-110414The nice thing about my new job was that it was only a couple of miles from our apartment, plus the hours allowed me the perfect amount of time to drop our boy off at school.  The downside was that I was stuck driving my mom-in-law’s Suzuki, which was on its last leg.  The thing hates the cold, won’t run if it’s a drop under half a tank of gas, and rattles if you go over 40 mph.  But it ran.  So I worked, collected my meager check, tried to get used to not having PTO or paid holidays, and drove my husband crazy.  We emptied out our savings, went crazy selling things at yard sales, and somehow were able to pay our overpriced rent, plus finish saving up for our down payment on our home, which was getting built quicker than we imagined.

On October 27th, we closed on our new home, and it was a fantastic feeling.  Moving only a couple of miles down the road should have made it easy, but even with five days to complete the move and get out of our apartment, we cut it close.  It might have been easier if we had been open with what we were doing, but we decided to keep things under wraps until the house was officially ours.  The weekend after we were settled in, we had a wedding to attend, and the weekend after, a baby shower.  I was exhausted, but happy to be in our new home and able to spend time with people I don’t nearly see often enough.

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Things were going well, but trying to get used to a smaller paycheck wasn’t easy.  Things got worse when it began getting cold outside and the Suzuki decided that it was fun to take ten minutes to start whenever it was 30 degrees or below.  It was time to get a new car.  That I couldn’t afford.  We found someone who could work with me and would accept the Suzuki as a trade-in, but I still had to come up with cash to put down, plus deal with a higher monthly payment than I was happy with.  But it was either this or nothing.  Without picture perfect credit, I wouldn’t get a monthly payment I could live with.  So I signed the papers and got a “new” car.  The next day, the Suzuki caught fire, so I felt slightly better about my decision to upgrade.

As a contingent worker for my company, I am not afforded the same benefits and perks as our full time employees.  The fact that this place is fantastic definitely helps, but the pay just won’t work for the long term.  Goes without saying, I did a virtual backflip when my boss asked me if I was interested in going full time.  I did a few more after she told me that my interview went well and they wanted to make me an offer.  I about passed out when she told me the salary offer.  As of January 5th, I will be a full time employee with benefits and a beautiful paycheck, and I could not be happier.

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My husband always says things have a way of working out.  They always work out for us, and he reminds me of that fact quite a bit.  I lost my job.  My car caught fire.  But I got into a new car loan that works to build my credit; the company specializes in doing just that.  I got a new job that I absolutely love and that is close to home.  My husband and I finally got a house that we adore.  And, thankfully, I got an offer for full time employment that solves my financial issues.  It doesn’t come in time to have a normal Christmas, but we’re working around it and hitting the casino instead (our boy is with his grandparents, thanks to a court order, so he will miss our first Christmas in the house).  Things have been hectic as all hell, but I’m so grateful that they are coming together beautifully.  I have everything I need to have the best Christmas ever.  My husband, my pup dog, my boy returning home soon, a beautiful house, a car that isn’t on fire, and a kick ass job that will come with amazing pay in 2015.  I’m a lucky lady.

Merry Christmas!!

Right now, I’m powering through some work so I can get out of this office and back to my family.  My husband has some delicious Omaha Steaks on the menu for this evening, our boy is anxious to watch a Christmas movie or two, and I’m ready to settle in for the evening with a glass of wine and a blanket.  I hope everyone has a safe and wonderful Christmas!

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Tis The Season To Be ANGRY

I was doing some last minute Christmas shopping on Wednesday before grabbing some delicious Jimmy Johns, in the hopes of being able to save myself the headache of doing any sort of non-essential shopping between now and Christmas day.  I didn’t manage to get everything I had hoped for, but I am happy to say that it was a surprisingly pleasant outing.  Barely anything to complain about on the commute, and not a single issue to speak of in the stores.  So why bring this up?

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In both Target and Jimmy Johns, I did my normal “thank you so much” upon departure.  I placed my food order by beginning with “can I please get.”  I smiled.  I said “Merry Christmas.”  I didn’t do anything out of the ordinary (this is my typical behavior when out in the world, minus the Merry Christmas) and yet the cashier at Target and the two Jimmy Johns employees both seems genuinely shocked by my behavior.  Especially the woman at Target, who looked at me as if I was an angel who had just given her a million dollars.  It made me feel great and sad all at the same time.

I’ve worked retail; running the register, managing dressing rooms, straightening racks, dealing with returns, and more.  I’ve waited tables; smiling when I want to snap at a rude patron, cleaning up ketchup art from an unruly child, running food and grabbing condiments like a whirlwind, and finding myself in the weeds far too often.  I’ve worked in other places where I am the first and/or last person a customer sees, which very often means I am the bad guy if they have any kind of problem.  As a result, I’ve been yelled at, had things thrown at me, been talked down to as if I’m a nobody, and made to feel like I’m two inches tall.  It’s horrible.

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The people I encountered on Wednesday should not have been surprised by what I consider to be standard behavior.  But I do understand why they were thrown off.  Too often, I go out to order food (restaurant or fast food) and hear people say “I want” or “gimme” when ordering, then don’t even mumble a thanks when the food is ready.  I see cashiers berated when a sale item rings up wrong, right before having cash slapped onto the counter rather than handed to them.  I see the dejected look on the faces of employees as they watch a rude customer destroy the display they just worked so hard to straighten up.  I see servers cringe at the crucial moment they realize that the table they’ve been busting tail for is not going to leave them a dime for a tip.  Without any effort at all, I can find a rude and terrible person wherever I go.

The bad behavior gets worse around Christmas, without fail.  While in Target, I watched the clerk in the electronics section sorrowfully inform a woman that they were indeed out of stock of a certain game, only to have the woman snap back “well, you better call the store in XXXX and find it!”  And because the customer is always an asshole right, he gave her a weak smile and got on the phone to call the other location.  Totally unnecessary!  An equal amount of effort could have been expended by that insufferable wench by simply asking “do you mind calling the store in XXXX and checking?”  But because the holidays are stressful and she was likely running around like crazy looking for the game, she let her frustrations out on someone who damn sure didn’t deserve it.

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I suspect that many of you will be out this weekend, trying to cram in some last minute shopping before the 25th peeks its head around the corner.  In spite of my efforts, I’ll likely be right out there with you.  Considering my road rage, my intolerance for rude people, my tendency to be quickly annoyed by people who don’t move at my pace, and the fact that I’m slightly crazy, I’m going to want to cuss out half the people I see (if not more).  But I won’t.  I won’t tell anyone to move their ass so I can get down the aisle they’re blocking, I won’t tell the gaggle of cackling women to shut the hell up, and I damn sure won’t cuss out the poor cashier who is getting paid far too little to be dealing with so much nonsense.

Starting now, I ask you all to make a little promise to yourselves.  Don’t take out your crappy day, your personal issues, or someone else’s mistake on a person who is just trying to do their job and get you moving on to your next destination.  Your server doesn’t need to be yelled at because the restaurant wait puts you behind in your shopping schedule.  Your cashier didn’t write the return policy and doesn’t deserve to be the target of your wrath.  No one in the mall caused you to have a crap day at work.  It takes virtually zero effort to slap a smile on and remember basic manners, so just DO IT!

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You know what feels endlessly better than letting out a bit of anger on a stranger?  The knowledge that something you did turned someone’s entire day around.  I can recall many horrible days waiting tables and/or bartending that were made wonderful by a sweet person/party who either tipped well or treated me like an equal (or both).  I always remembered the retail customers who made eye contact, smiled, and thanked me for assisting them.  Those gems completely outshone the piles of horse dung that I’d come across, and I’m grateful for them to this day because they remind me that good people do exist.  Be one of those good people.  It’s the holiday season, so make it merrier while you’re out and about, and then carry it over into 2014.  People will thank you, even if you never hear them say it.

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Yesterday at work, while I was braving our godawful restrooms, I overheard two women talking about the holidays.  I wasn’t trying to eavesdrop, but acoustics carry in that place and they were hardly making an effort to keep their voices to a dull roar.  As I squeezed past one of the women to get to the sink, she said to her friend “I just can’t get into the Christmas spirit this year.  I’m so lost on what to get my daughter.  I’m just going to give her $200 on Christmas morning and she can do whatever she wants with it.”  To my surprise, her friend thought this was a fantastic idea, and the pair left me in peace to finish scrubbing my hands clean.

imagesI already went on a short rant about gift giving last week, so I’ll spare you a recap.  I will say that simply handing over some cash to a relative, especially a close relative like your child, is hardly the way to get into the holiday spirit if you’re not feeling it this time around.  Instead of giving up and relying on the bare minimum to get you by, why not try…..

Saying Merry Christmas to more people, strangers or friends.  It’s simple, easy, and doing it with a smile almost forces you to get in good spirits about the upcoming holiday.  Not enough people say “Merry Christmas” anymore; I guarantee you’ll thrill the anti-Happy Holidays crowd, and in turn make yourself happier.

Don’t overspend/stress about gifts.  This is advice I need to take myself, as I’m almost always stressing about getting enough gifts for everyone.  Putting too much emphasis on how much you spend and/or how many things you get for each person in your life is a surefire way to murder your spirit.  If a friend or family member is going to be offended because you didn’t spend enough or get them enough, they aren’t worth any gifts at all.

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Stay away from the crowds!  Do your grocery shopping during odd hours, DO NOT GO TO THE MALL, avoid rush hour as much as you possibly can, and try out smaller shops instead of braving the pit of hell that is Walmart.  Nothing can get you angrier than being stuck behind the gaggle of old ladies while you’re just trying to pick up some eggs and a gift card.  Avoidance will make you happier, regardless of the time of year.

Scatter decorations so you’re always around something Christmas related.  Put a candy cane in your car, get a small wreath or bows for your office, and go to town at home.  Do whatever is comfortable for you and fits your personal style.  I can’t help but be in a good mood when I’m home and we flip the lights on, illuminating our tree.  It always serves as a personal reminder of how magical this season can be.

Nog it up.  Egg nog tends to magically appear around Thanksgiving and then vanish into the new year as mysteriously as it arrived.  Even when it’s only my husband drinking it, just seeing it on the table and glimpsing the bottle in the fridge makes me feel spirited and excited about Christmas.  There are endless choices for brand, flavor, plenty that come with alcohol already mixed in, and countless recipes online.

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Go to church.  This one doesn’t work for me anymore, but I can recall many times in my past where a few hours with youth group, doing secret angel gift exchanges and spending time together was one of my favorite pastimes during the month of December.  Going to mass is also a great reminder about why we celebrate Christmas (for you religious folk).

Volunteer.  When I was living in Connecticut, I did a lot of volunteer work at a home for disabled men, the elderly, at a soup kitchen/homeless shelter, and a few other places around my city.  Doing so not only makes you more appreciative, it’s incredibly rewarding to know that you were able to help someone and brighten their day, even if it was only for a few moments.

Turn on some music.  Holiday music that you enjoy, that is, as the music pumped through speakers in stores can have the exact opposite effect on your mood.  The rock version of Mr. Grinch always puts a smile on my face.  And then there is this.  I dare you to not smile.

Make some cookies!  If you have kids, make sure they are heavily involved.  If not, bake some up for yourself and your favorite people.  Decorate with icing, get fun cookie cutters, and have fun with it.  If you’re more skilled than I, go for a cake, a pie, or whatever other dessert you associate with the holiday season.

Do an early gift exchange.  My husband and I exchange one gift on Christmas Eve, which is a pretty common tradition.  But why not exchange a gift now?  Giving and receiving early will hype you up for Christmas morning by giving you a little sneak peek of what is coming.  It’s always fun for me to try to choose a great gift for my husband to open early as well (although sometimes challenging when it’s wrapped and I can’t quite remember what it is).

Don’t be a loner!  If you’re lucky enough to have family close by, spend time with them.  If not, get together with friends.  If that isn’t an option, volunteer work as referenced earlier will put you in close contact with others.  Or go shopping and make it a point to smile at a stranger.  Being alone is the worst way to get into the spirit, so surround yourself with people, spread some joy, and have a Merry Christmas!

Greek-Themed Christmas Party Ideas

Décor, Bingo Games, and Food Suggestions For a Fun Night

The holidays bring cheer to everyone who celebrates it, and in Greece, Christmas is a special and festive occasion filled with fun and entertainment. According to the World of Christmas, a typical Greek Christmas lasts up to twelve days.  I don’t know about you, but I could get used to twelve days of holiday fun!  An Athens Mayor even constructed the largest Christmas tree in Europe. However, instead of gift-giving on Christmas Day, Greeks exchange presents on January 1st which marks St. Basil’s Day.

Since not everyone can afford to go there for a vacation this month (myself included), there is another option—add a Greek touch to our own Christmas party. Here are a few ideas for a Greek-themed night:

Décor and Costume
The shades representing the Greek flag should be the color scheme: white and blue. Good Housekeeping suggested adding a gold touch to symbolize the deities of mythology. Golden-yellow flowers may be placed around the house, and the host may use blue-and-white dishware. Guests should be advised to wear Greek-inspired costumes like flowing white dresses or togas.

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Games
For a twist to the usual party entertainment, a bingo game can be organized for the guests. The traditional bingo game with random numbers being called out will excite participants, especially with the promise of a prize. Human bingo is another option, especially for a big crowd—a bingo card with random descriptions should be distributed beforehand, and guests will find people who fit the bill. This is similar to the mechanics of collecting gods as the game levels up in BingoGodz, and the one who “collected” the most people wins.

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Food
A traditional Greek Christmas menu includes soup, salads, entrees, side dishes, and cheeses. Sample dishes are recommended by About.com’s Greek Food section; for starters, chicken and rice soup as well as Yiaprakia (stuffed cabbage) may be served. Salad choices may consist of Tzatziki, Greek country salad, and beet and garlic salad. For the main dishes, consider cooking lemon pork with celery or roast lamb with sage and thyme. Fried potatoes or spinach and cheese pie are the perfect side dishes, and slices of feta cheese will also delight guests.

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Amazing food, great games, and togas?  You can’t go wrong with that, plus it makes for a very unique and fun time!  Try it out, and please come back after the holidays to share your stories and photos!

Why Celebrate?

I am an atheist, in case you’re new here.  Raised Catholic, I made the transition from a believer into an agnostic, finally landing on atheism for a number of reasons.  I’m not a “practicing” atheist because there is nothing to practice.  I simply don’t believe in any type of god and I don’t care one way or the other what anyone else believes, so long as they aren’t actively trying to change my mind.  I do however still celebrate Easter (in its commercial form with bunnies and baskets and colorful eggs) and I celebrate the heck out of Christmas.

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My son asked me the other day to explain why we celebrate Christmas.  Since he believes in God (as much as an eight year old can, anyway), I led with the birth of Jesus and a few details of why that is important.  I then told him that his daddy and I celebrate Christmas as a way to have fun with friends, show love to our family, spend quality time together, and to have a blast getting into the spirit and searching for the perfect gifts for the important people in our lives.  He nodded thoughtfully and then said “I love Christmas because I want to be with my family.  And so we can all get presents.  And because I love you guys.”

I don’t know what our boy will grow up to believe, and I really don’t care one way or the other so long as he’s happy, but I do hope that he holds on to the family piece of the holidays.  I’ve had lonely Christmases, either spent physically alone or spent with people who were so focused on both receiving gifts and trying to create a picture perfect meal surrounded by pristine decorations that they forgot to enjoy the people around them.  I prefer my broke Christmas day (when dollar store stockings were hung from a cheap entertainment center) over Christmas spent with family who only cared about whether or not there was something diamond encrusted in their stocking.

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Any idiot can go out and spend a bunch of money, even idiots who don’t have any so long as they can qualify for a credit card or two.  The dollar amount of the gifts you give and receive shouldn’t be what is important.  People always say that it’s the thought that matters, and while I may get tired of hearing it said, I believe it to be true.  My sister-in-law gets me a Coach purse every year because they’re pricey and it’s an impressive looking gift.  I appreciate the gesture but I don’t like or care at all about Coach or any other designer products.  My husband bough me socks one year that look like Chuck Taylor’s and they happen to be one of my absolute favorite accessories, even though the set of three couldn’t have been more than $10 or so.

Outside of the fun I have trying to find the perfect gifts for the people I love, I celebrate Christmas because it’s fun to be with my family.  Watching their expressions as they open a gift I worked hard to track down, laughing together over a freshly cooked meal, settling in under blankets to watch a Christmasy movie, and watching our dog tear into his stocking stuffers.  I don’t care whether or not we take a perfect photo of our morning to throw on social media, I don’t care if we don’t hear from each and every person we know via call or text, and I don’t care (obviously) about making it to any morning mass, sticking to a strict schedule.  I want to have fun, be relaxed, and enjoy the people I’m lucky enough to live my life with.

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I know the origins of Christmas and I understand that some people may not think that I have any business celebrating since I don’t believe that Jesus was the son of God.  But let’s be real; as huge and as commercialized as Christmas has become, people in this country are kind of forced to deal with it whether they want to or not.  Most of us get time off from our employers since most of the world shuts down for at least the first few hours of December 25th.  Like it or not, it’s hard to overlook this holiday.  Why wouldn’t I want to take advantage?  Not only do I get paid time off to spend with my family, I am given the perfect excuse to go all out for the people I care about and put a smile on their face.

As long as you have love in your heart (and your religion or lack thereof allows for it), Christmas is a holiday you can celebrate.  It’s so much more fun to wish people a Merry Christmas than it is to be that grumpy sod insisting people say “Happy Holidays.”  Decorating trees and hanging wreaths in your home is a surefire way to make anyone smile.  If you have children, I don’t need to tell you how much fun it is to play Santa for them.  If it’s important for you to find the “true” meaning of Christmas, go for it.  But understand that the true meaning for you, or even historically, is not the true meaning for us all.  Definitions change and people differ.  As long as we’re all joyous on this occasion, I think it’s safe to say that we’re all doing it right, even if we’re not all doing it the same.

Shrinking Christmas

I’ve been quite absent from the blogging world as of late.  With Christmas just 20 days away, our office Christmas party that I’ve been planning just 24 hours away, and the various stresses of having my pay screwed up, I’ve been purposely avoiding posting anything because it would be nothing but complaints.  Thankfully though, the whiners in my office have mostly quieted down, my husband has done wonders in reducing my silly holiday stress, and our DVR is finally down to a single digit count of recordings.

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Anyone who says the holidays aren’t stressful is either rich and content with being alone, or a dirty liar.  My husband’s extended family in Ohio hosts a Christmas get-together annually, which was one of the things that was getting to me and keeping me from even logging in to this page.  We live furthest away from his grandmother’s house (where it is always held, except for one year when grandma made a reluctant exception to accommodate my sister-in-law and her newborn), so we have to get up incredibly early to make the four hour drive, getting there earlier than anyone else since my mother-in-law has to help cook, and then we have to try to leave at a decent time to drive the four hours back and let our poor dog out so he can get some relief and some food.  Last year, we were sick, which was a blessing in disguise because we didn’t go.  That year, it was decided that rather than just buying gifts like normal, the adults would draw a name and buy up to $50 worth of something for that one person.  As far as the kids, everyone buys for all of them.

I hate this idea.  My husband and I ended up with his uncle (who we see once a year or less) and his sister (which we see much more often, plus we’ll see on Christmas anyway).  My mother-in-law just recently tried to give my husband a stack of gifts for grandma so we could wrap them and pretend they were from us.  Why…. I’m not quite sure, since I got the impression that drawing names was her idea because of her limited income.  Let me be clear; I am an adult and I’m not trying to suck every last dime out of an elderly woman so I have a stack of goodies to unwrap.  I will gladly give up the Yankee candle that she usually gets for me and just be happy with a card and a hug.  I don’t want to be limited to buying gifts just for one person when I’d love to get something for my husband’s younger cousin and when I found something perfect for his aunt.  It’s silly and it’s not what a family Christmas should be like.

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Another reason for the name drawing idea is due to the fact that my husband’s younger cousin (who was just married last year and who isn’t rolling in dough like her sister and my sister-in-law) was unable to afford gifts for anyone but the kids for our 2011 Christmas.  This angered someone who didn’t get a gift, which spawned this awful name drawing idea.  In all honesty, I didn’t even notice that she hadn’t gotten me a gift until it was brought up that someone was cranky.  I saw the gift she got for my son, thought it was adorable, and hoped she liked what I got for her and her husband (then boyfriend).  I was just happy to see her and to see everyone mostly getting along.

Christmas isn’t meant to be about how many gifts you can squeeze out of family members or tallying up how much person X spent on person Y.  The whole point is to spend some quality time together and to have fun.  By putting emphasis on who gets what for who, the fun and the joy is taken out of the day and we’re left with something that isn’t worth an eight hour round trip drive.  My husband has told my mother-in-law that we won’t be going once again this year.  I’ll be sending a bag of gifts for the kids and for my uncle and sister-in-law, but I’m doing it out of obligation and not out of want.  That isn’t what Christmas should be.

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My husband pulled me out of the funk I was in over this Christmas by telling me to quit worrying about people who I see once every 365 days, who I barely know, and who likely won’t care one way or the other if I’m there or not.  He got me focused back on my family HERE and making sure that WE have a fantastic holiday.  Does that sound selfish?  Absolutely, but it’s not meant to.  I’m an atheist, so I’m unmoved by the prayer and bible readings that my aunt has every Ohio Christmas before food and gifts.  I don’t celebrate the day to honor a deity, I celebrate to be with family and to put smiles on the faces of my loved ones.  I don’t celebrate as a way to appease every single person who I associate with, I celebrate to show my love to people who appreciate it fully.  I want my husband and son to have the best Christmas in history and I want to make my mother-in-law smile with some gifts from the heart.

I’m finally not ashamed to say that I am currently guilt free about skipping Christmas in Ohio.  I’m looking forward to spending the day at home with my husband and kid and dog rather than spending 8 hours in the car, all of us complaining on the drive up and complaining even more about everyone’s behavior on the drive back.  I’m glad my poor pup won’t be alone in the house for 12+ hours and that my kid won’t be cranky and miserable, longing for his bed.  I’m happy to be focusing my attention on the people who make me a priority in life and who are a priority in mine.  Mostly, I’m happy to be in a place where I don’t feel as though I have an obligation to please everybody.  I’ll never be able to make everyone happy, so why not spend time on people I KNOW I can make happy rather than people who are barely in my life at all?

Party Fever

Last month, my office friend C asked me to help her on the party planning committee so we could nail down a location and start fundraising efforts in the hopes of getting our party fully funded so employees could show up and not worry about paying anything out of pocket on the day of the party.  My other office friend M joined as well, along with a handful of others and our Master Sergeant.  The first meeting went well; I came prepared with ten possible locations and C came with about five of her own.  Between she and I, we were able to narrow it down to a few, eventually settling on Longhorn.  I was shooting for Dave and Busters myself, but with an office that has a lot of people who don’t care about arcade games, it sadly did not fly.

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With the location good to go, we were able to calculate the cost per person with tax and gratuity factored in.  If 50 people attend, we would be looking at over $1000 to get everyone fed.  It honestly seemed like a near impossible task.  We conducted a loose change contest where four teams would fill buckets with pocket change each week.  We held a silent auction and informed teams that the amount their item(s) went for would count towards the loose change contest.  We held theme days (mainly so Soldiers could be out of uniform for a day) that required participants to pay $5 to be counted.  We had a Halloween decorations contest, with an entry fee of $5 and votes for 50 cents.  We had planned on much more, but after four weeks, it is completely unnecessary and I have just ended the loose change contest.

The first week of the loose change contest netted us almost $500.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t think that 60 people can come up with that much in just loose change in a week.  Not only were people going to the bank to buy rolls of coins, but they held raffles, bake sales, and paid lunches to raise money for their buckets.  This week, one team turned in nearly $400 from a paid lunch they held to raise money.  The Halloween contest, which I didn’t think would raise more than $60 or $70 ended up bringing in $150 off of just one person out of the seven who were being judged.  The silent auction was a bit out of control as well, with dinner with my favorite soldier selling for $102.  People have lost their minds.

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I have funding for 52 people in an envelope.  M has a ton of cash in another envelope from our silent auction.  I have yet another envelope set aside that could pay for an extra 30 people, plus a stack of ones from our Theme Days that has not yet been counted into our grand total.  I should be very impressed with everyone’s efforts and thankful that we were able to get our party paid for so quickly and seemingly effortlessly.  However, I’m not impressed.  M and I were on a team for the loose change and the theme days (we are dead last in the loose change contest, by the way), but we both dropped off the team after being called cheaters one too many times.  We received bullying emails, demanding that we change the contest to let everyone know the details instead of do a surprise announcement at the party as initially planned.  Otherwise, we had an unfair team advantage and weren’t allowing anyone else to “build a strategy.”

This was meant to be a fun and spirited contest.  Instead, it turned into a nasty competition where anything goes.  Selling bagels and cake is not “loose change.”  Dropping $80 in nickels into the bucket after a trip to the bank is not “loose change.”  Spending $500 on fried chicken, multiple sides and cheesecake in order to raise money for your bucket is not “loose change.”  Me being on the party planning committee and also being on a team is not an unfair advantage, as everyone had a chance to be on it and no one wanted to be bothered.  This silly contest got taken to a dark place and I have grown to hate it.

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The Halloween contest also got way out of hand.  We initially had six participants, but one was added late with a single pumpkin he placed in his cube as a joke.  Voting was slow and normally paced the first day, but on day three things went insane.  MJ had her family come down and buy $35 in votes.  I had people handing me $10s and $20s to buy 50 cent votes so that K could win.  In retaliation, I had D give me $30 to vote for the single pumpkin guy.  This went back and forth all day and over half of Halloween.  One minute before voting wrapped, one of K’s friends rushed over to give me $40 to vote for K.  The areas that actually looked great and had spectacular decorations barely got any votes because everyone was too busy worrying about the nonsense with K and the tiny pumpkin.  They sucked the fun out of the whole thing.

We’ve held silent auctions before, numerous times, for various fundraising reasons.  They always go the same way.  Bids are put on paper by the item with bidding lasting around a week and ending at noon on a Friday.  Most of the time, the high bidders are lingering around to see if they win or not.  Winners are notified via email by the auction organizer if they were not present.  A thank you email with the total raised is sent out later.  That’s that.  This time, people demanded to be given a list of who won what, what the item sold for, and who donated each item.  M was totally overwhelmed by this, plus the people hanging around her desk trying to get information that is really none of their business; why does the whole office need to know that I paid $30 for a basket?

To top it off, MJ decided to drop off the committee because she thinks C, M and I are being “too secretive” about things.  Yes, I am secretive about the loose change totals because we agreed to announce the winner at the party.  I am the only person who knows the totals and I had to keep it that way because MJ decided to tell EVERYONE the first week totals after we cashed the change in, which could have killed what we were trying to do.  I am also the only one who knows the theme day totals (again, something to announce at the party) and the grand total.  Our Master Sergeant wants me to keep that to myself for now, and I’m not arguing.

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People got crazy over a few dumb competitions.  Now they’re getting crazy because we have enough money to fund the party for employees and some spouses, purchase door prizes and team prizes, and fully fund our summer event.  They don’t think that it’s fair to use some of the funding for our next event.  They want to decide where the money goes and how much of it goes there.  They consider it THEIR money, even though it was either donated or used to purchase something in the auction or food sales.  They didn’t want to do any of the actual legwork that was left to C, M and I, but now they want to butt in, bitch and complain, and have control because they bought a wine basket at the silent auction and cookies at a bake sale.

Here’s the thing… I can’t exactly give people their money back because I don’t know how much was put in for loose change, some of that went towards buying items, the silent auction went towards buying items, and the theme day money is how our Branch Chief justifies allowing Soldiers to be out of uniform.  I can’t take someone’s word for it that they threw $50 in the bucket and give that back because they want to complain now.  Donations were made, items were purchased, and because people went crazy, we went way over our goal very quickly.  Our Branch Chief is over the moon about this.  I want to be myself, but all I hear is complaining.

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What would you do in my situation?  C, M and I have done all of the legwork, our Master Sergeant is taking care of things like authorizing contractors to consider the party an off-site work day and not take leave, and our Branch Chief got us the final approval to have the party in the planned location.  The other committee members have either dropped out or been useless, with the exception of Z who helped come up with some helpful ideas.  I was one of a few who were tasked to do this and now I wish I never agreed to it.  One of my coworkers said to me today that “no one ever wants to do the work, they just want to receive the benefits.  Our Master Sergeant said that the whole point of a committee was to have a few make the decisions for the whole.  Where do you stand?

Office Parties

Last week, I joined my office’s party planning committee.  One of the ladies in the office asked me to do it and it seemed like it might be… fun?  Last year, we didn’t have the easiest time putting our holiday party together and it seemed that the people tasked with it had too much on their shoulders and were doing things too close to the party date.  Starting now with a larger group of people, we should have enough time to put together something that nearly everyone will enjoy and something that nearly everyone will participate in.  In theory anyway.

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One of the jobs of the committee is to come up with fun fundraising ideas to cover the cost of whatever it is we decide on doing.  It can be like pulling teeth to get people to agree to either pay for their own meal at the event or to purchase a ticket that will cover the cost.  Maybe it’s being cheap, maybe it’s the fact that no one wants to spend extra cash that close to Christmas, or maybe it just seems inconvenient.  Whatever the reason, we do some sort of fundraising activity prior to any office party so that little to no money comes out of anyone’s pocket and goes directly to the event.  So far this year, we planned another silent auction and we are holding a Halloween Decorations Contest with an entry fee and a smaller fee for every vote that is cast.  We’ve also tossed around the idea of doing a bake sale and other contests that would raise funds while also rewarding participants.

It’s crazy to me how unwilling people can be to help fund an event in any sort of simple manner.  OR just to pay their own way and be done with it.  It will cost approximately $20 per person for our holiday party, which would be no problem for me to save back between now and then.  But try to tell people that they’ll have to either purchase a ticket or bring $20 with them, the number of participants goes down dramatically.  People decide to leave their spouse or kid(s) at home, or they decide to stay at home with them.  Our Organizational Day over the summer had pretty high participation because it was fully funded.  Since the Holiday party has more to it, it presents a challenge to get it funded fully prior to the event.

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The second challenge we’re facing is finding a location.  We have a very outspoken IT guy who hosts a White Elephant gift exchange every year.  The volume of his voice, combined with the sometimes inappropriate things he tends to say, means that we need to find a location with a private room for about 50 people.  That in itself isn’t an issue, but deciding where definitely is.  One idea that was thrown out was to rent a place out that would supply us with the space, tables and chairs, and then get a food truck or trucks to come to the site and cater us.  The problem here is that it interferes with the gift exchange and no one wants to be walking outside to a food truck in the middle of December in Indiana.  We would also be responsible for the clean-up afterwards, which no one enjoys doing.

Our best bet is to find a restaurant with a private area for our group.  I narrowed the field to eight places and tackled contacting them with one other person.  Three of her picks and two of mine were a no-go because they were already booked.  One never got back to me, one costs far too much, and we are left with Dave & Busters.  At about $25 a head (which includes a $10 play card) and free room booking, this is looking like a fantastic option.  But will the rest of the office think so?  Someone is bound to say it’s too far of a drive, too loud of an establishment, not enough good food choices, or just not to their liking for reasons they would rather not express.  Regardless of what we do, people are going to complain.

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The third challenge we face is whether or not this can be considered an off site work day for us contractors.  If not, we are forced to use our annual leave in order to attend.  This honestly isn’t a big deal as far as I’m concerned; I can spare four hours of leave.  But for others, this will be a deciding factor in whether or not they attend.  We got more participation in our Organizational Day because we were allowed to consider it an off-site work day.  Ultimately, it’s our Branch Chief’s call, so it’s not a big concern for me just yet.  I do hope that he agrees just so we have a bigger group, but I still don’t see what the big deal is in taking a few hours of leave (us contractors get enough of it).

Our second committee meeting is scheduled for later today and I hope that the few of us can come to a location agreement and start some additional fund raising activities to get this going for real.  I have to break the bad news to the group that their bake sale is a no-go as planned (our building won’t allow us to set up tables up front for the whole building due to their contract with the food service company here), and that was meant to be the biggest money maker we had.  Obviously, the main concern is going to be the funding.  If anyone has any brilliant ideas of how to raise money in an office of 63 people, please share!

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