GMMA Day 3: The Women’s Treatment Center

By now, we know the drill, yes? I tell you about a really cool organization doing important work, you leave a comment, I give them more money. Fun, right? More details here.

No GMMA extravaganza would be complete without an appearance by this next organization:


Like the Cara Program, the Women’s Treatment Center takes a problem — in this case, addiction — and provides concrete, essential services to help women address it.  There are thousands of children in the Chicago area alone whose parents struggle with drug addiction.  For women with children, beating drug addiction is not just about beating the substance- it’s about figuring out who is going to care for your children while you do, and repairing your relationship with them as you get better.

The mission of The Women’s Treatment Center is “to provide women with a continuum of care, recovery tools, and parenting skills to maintain a sober lifestyle as they rebuild their lives and mend the bonds with their families.”

TWTC provides essential medical, mental health, and social services in a setting that can accommodate children in residential treatment.  That means that while they are receiving treatment, mothers receive parenting classes and guidance, and are able to continue to build and repair relationships with their children, rather than being separated from them for weeks or months at a time.  TWTC is also one of the few facilities in the  country that has a crisis nursery, which can provide 24-hour care for a woman’s children when she is unable to care for them herself.  This reduces one of the major barriers to treatment, as a woman can enter detox knowing that her children are safe, well cared for, and close.

In short, The Women’s Treatment Center is committed to helping women conquer substance abuse while honoring, protecting, and building essential family relationships.  Its programs address the parallel issues of treating substance abuse and taking proactive steps to prevent child abuse and neglect.  It’s an important place, and I’m happy to support them every year.  Thank you all for helping, too.

Posted in GMMA | 35 Comments

GMMA Day 2: The Cara Program

Welcome to Day 2 of my 4th Annual Giving My Money Away festivities! To recap: I feature a charitable organization and guarantee them a minimum $25 donation; and then I add to that based on your comments, 50 cents apiece. Good times!

I have spent a lot of my life working with various populations that are categorized as “at risk.” At risk youth in an education setting, at risk adults struggling with addiction, depression, and crippling poverty; at risk individuals who are struggling to get back on their feet after periods of incarceration. It is easy enough to say that folks out to pull themselves together and get a job. But it is so, so hard to do that when you’re staring 100 different road blocks in the face. It’s hard to get a retail job if you read at a 4th grade level. It’s hard to land a janitorial position if you’ve never been on a job interview. It’s tough to get any on-the-books employment if you don’t have an address to put on your resume because you’re homeless.

The Cara Program is a proven, step-by-step program that prepares adults who have struggled with homeless, poverty, incarceration, and other challenges not just to enter but to succeed in the workforce.  Human services agencies all over Chicago refer people to the program who they believe are ready to take on the serious work of becoming job-ready (including strict selection criteria that includes a phone interview and a drug test.)  The Cara Program is probably best described in its website’s own words:

We don’t shield students from the realities they will face in the workplace; rather, we recreate the workplace here at The Cara Program.  We deploy an experiential training approach that reaches beyond what we teach in the classroom and extends into the very fabric of every student’s experience at The Cara Program.  We give them a manager, a work team, and responsibility.  We make them accountable to themselves, accountable to their team, and accountable to the Cara community at large.

Students receive training in job readiness with classes like professionalism, customer satisfaction, computer skills, and interviewing competency.  What makes the Cara Program so cool, and so effective, is that students simultaneously receive wrap around services from career and life coaches, who help students address their own individual barriers to job readiness (such as housing stability and access to child care).
Students have the opportunity to participate in a program-sponsored internship, and get job placement services with employer partners.  This part is key, too: the program doesn’t just get students *a* job, it strives to get them a good, living-wage job:

Rather than finding ‘just any job’ for our students, The Cara Program commits to working with companies that offer a competitive combination of wages and benefits.  We have formal standards in place for evaluating what qualifies as a ‘quality job’ (where quality is measured by exceeding a certain number of guaranteed hours worked, wage, availability of benefits  and permanency in the position). As a result, our employed students’ current average starting wage is $11.09/ hour at an average of 39 hours/ week.

We partner with companies that find real value in working with The Cara Program to fill their entry-level positions.  Companies typically tell us that Cara students are, on the whole, more motivated and more prepared for their entry-level positions than are non-Cara candidates.

The program’s numbers are startling for their success: 72% of program graduates not only land a job, but still have that job a year later.  Anyone who has worked with adults struggling to become attached to the workforce will tell you: it’s job retention that is the kicker, and it is incredibly difficult to obtain.  The Cara Program’s successes are truly remarkable.  And on top of that, Charity Navigator gives The Cara Program a 4-star rating, reserved for those organizations that exemplify transparency, accountability, and sound financial practices.

I’m super excited to feature this organization, and hope that many of you will help me out with your comments!

Posted in GMMA | 67 Comments

GMMA Day 1: Bundle of Joy

Welcome, friends, to one of my favorite holiday traditions: The Fourth Annual Pseudostoops Giving My Money Away Extravaganza!

For anyone who may be new, here is how this works: each day this week I will feature a different charitable organization to which I had already planned to give money at the holidays. I am committing to give each featured organization a minimum $25 donation. Here is the twist: I invite everyone to read about the charity and, for every comment that I receive on the post, I’ll donate an additional 50 cents. Comments will remain open until the next day’s post goes up. You get to give money to charity, without having to spend any! Fun, right?

I like to use this space to feature smaller and local charities that do important work in my community. It’s not that I don’t also appreciate and support the work of much larger charities – I certainly do – but in every community there are smaller organizations filling real need, and I love being able to shine a small light on some of those great organizations.

Your comment need not say anything in particular (I have had many people just say “comment!” every year, and that’s fine!) but if you want, you can tell me a little about one of YOUR favorite charities. On Friday, I’ll select five charities that other people have mentioned and set up a poll. The charity that gets the most votes will get a $50 donation from me.

So! Let’s do this. Tell your friends, tell your blog and your Twitter stream, tell the random person you see on the street. Strain my wallet. Lets do some good things for people who really need it at this time of year.

The first organization I’m featuring this year is unapologetically inspired by the work of one Emily Cassee, who took what started as a partnership with Huggies and ran with it, independently raising money for a local diaper bank.

Today, I feature a diaper bank that is local to me: Bundle of Joy.

As you may know, food stamps and other public assistance do not cover the purchase of diapers, and families are often driven to extreme lengths to try to conserve and reuse disposable diapers. Lack of access to clean diapers, in addition to causing families stress and embarrassment, is linked to real health problems.  No baby deserves that. Diapers are one of the first items to be snapped up at food pantries; they’re hard to keep on shelves.

Bundle of Joy was started by parents who were inspired to act after learning about diaper need in the area. They donate diapers to food pantries and child care agencies throughout the city. Bundle of Joy is 100% volunteer-based, meaning 100% of all donations go directly to purchasing diapers for families in need. That’s pretty remarkable.

So get to it! Leave a comment, and I’ll donate 50 cents to Bundle of Joy. Let’s help some families in need this holiday season.

Posted in GMMA | 46 Comments

You know, typical Thanksgiving stuff

Thanksgiving was so long ago by now that people have probably forgotten it happened, but this story bears telling, I think.  Better late than never and all that.

I love Thanksgiving- a holiday devoted to eating, and no gift stress! Seventeen kinds of carbs! A socially acceptable time to eat Cool Whip and jellied cranberry sauce shaped like a can!

But in recent years, it’s gotten a little stressful in my house. My wonderful mother, who usually hosts and cooks, wants so badly for everyone to be happy, wants everything to be perfect, that she gets anxious, and stressed, and doesn’t seem to enjoy herself, and we in turn don’t enjoy OURSELVES, such is our stress at observing her stress, and…well, ours can’t be the only family like this, right?

Anyway, so this year, I had a few days off around Thanksgiving, because I changed jobs. (Yes, again. Changing jobs is, apparently, my job. This one is for good! Or at least for longer than  a year! Swearsies!)  With that extra time, I volunteered to cook the entire meal. I like cooking, it doesn’t stress me out, I figured it’d be good for everyone.  We’d eat on time! There would be no tears! We would finally have enough stuffing!

Foolish, foolish me.

It almost came off without a hitch, until the cranberry sauce gave my mother a black eye. Yes, really. Something about the fridge door hitting her elbow and bonking the dish into her eye on its way to the floor? I’m still a little unclear on details.

Yeah, we didn’t eat on time.

Still, all was not lost. This Thanksgiving will live forever in our memories as the year that my family embraced Flo Rida.

You know, Flo Rida? Or, as I call him, Flo, for short? The rapper?

This guy:

It was all my grandmother’s fault, obviously.

My grandmother came for Thanksgiving from California. She’s 93, and doesn’t get around too much, so her shopping options are limited. However, she loves Poppy more than anything on earth, I think, and would not stand for coming to Thanksgiving without a gift. So she hired a taxi to drive her to the Hallmark store to buy something. There, she found a little reindeer that sang and danced, and thought Poppy would get a kick out of it.

She didn’t look too closely, and didn’t recognize the song, but no big! It was catchy!

Damn if she wasn’t right.

Yes, inexplicably the dancing reindeer rocks out to the musical stylings of Flo, and my kid’s favorite song is now “club can’t handle me.” And my dad knows the words. My mom, too. Thanksgiving win.


Posted in family | 6 Comments

Health Kick: Learning to Run. Again.

It was about two years ago at this time that I started training to run a half marathon, an undertaking that I considered to be fairly ludicrous, but one I somehow managed to complete.  I trained over the winter, in snow, ice, what have you, and by the time I ran the half in New Orleans in late February, I was so used to running in the cold that I pretty much overheated in New Orleans’ pleasant 60 degree weather.

Somewhere along in there I actually really started to like running.  Well, that’s not quite accurate. I often didn’t like the actual act of running, particularly starting a run. But it became my favorite way to exercise- outdoors, solo, music in my ears, rhythmic, efficient.

And then I got pregnant, tried running for a while, gave up, had a kid, moved to a new house, quit the gym, went back to work, tried to fit into my pants, ate more than my fair share of doughnuts, and finally thought “huh, I should probably just start running again.”

So here I am, very slowly trying to figure this all out again.  Wondering why, if I could run 13 miles just two years ago, a quick 2 miler sometimes makes me fear my lungs will burst.  Feeling lucky if I can squeeze in two runs a week instead of the 4-5 I was doing before. Cursing the alarm clock when it bleats at me at 5:30, when the baby is miraculously still sleeping and honestly shouldn’t I be sleeping too but I have TRIED working out after dinner and it just doesn’t work so it’s now or never, self. Get out of bed.

I’m slow. My heel hurts. I feel stupid in my traffic-cone-orange pullover that I wear to make sure I’m visible during my pre-dawn runs.

But today, I took my first run in bel0w-freezing temperatures and even though it kind of sucked, even though I got a cramp and my breathing never found a rhythm, the cold air and the pre-dawn light (thank you, end of daylight saving time, for putting that pink glow back in the sky,) felt good. I was glad to be out there.

Because I am a crazy person, I’ve committed to running the same half I ran two years ago, in New Orleans in early March.  (Full disclosure: I am running it as a relay with a friend, because for all my big talk, I’m not at all convinced I’ll be able to squeeze in ten mile training runs over the winter on icy roads with no gym membership to give me a treadmill backup. I’m not THAT crazy.) This does mean that at some point, I’m going to have to start running more than a 5K at a time, which right now seems kind of laughable. But I think it’s good to have a goal because otherwise, I might not do this at all.

So, friends, you’ve been warned. I’m probably going to start talking about running again. I’ll try to keep the douchey self-reflective posts like this one to a minimum, but I can make no promises.

Posted in fitness | 9 Comments

Tiny Prints has my number

(I don’t usually post sponsored content here — in fact, I’m not sure I ever have before, and I have no plans to again any time soon — but when Elizabeth directed me to a form where I could sign up to get 50 free holiday cards from Tiny Prints in exchange for writing a post about holiday cards — well, I guess now you all know my deep dark secret. I can be bought, and the cost is free paper goods. Do you own a letterpress? Let’s talk.)

A friend of mine recently told me that she was annoyed that holiday card season is coming around again, because cards are so environmentally wasteful and pointless.

That made me sad.  I love holiday cards. I particularly love holiday cards with photos, but I take all types: basic text-only, nice family photo, over-the-top bragging Christmas letter. There is no time of year when the mail is more fun and exciting than during December.

I do not, however, love most holiday card display devices.  They are often kind of over the top, no? Big and metal and you have to mount them and they cost $50?

No thank you.

A few years ago, I found these magnetic photo ropes on photojojo:

I love them.  I bought three white ones, and hung them in the hallway leading to our kitchen.  During the holidays, I hang all the cards we receive on them, so I can admire them daily (the tiny magnets are SUPER strong- I haven’t met a card they couldn’t hold.)

And they are so nice and clean and simple that I use them during the rest of the year as a substitute for a corkboard to display invitations, greeting cards, and photos:

As you can see from this terrible picture, the hallway to our kitchen does not get a lot of light. But I still love it.

The best holiday cards? Stay up on the display all year.  See that one in the upper left? That’s a Tiny Prints card.  Just saying.

So if you’re looking for a nice, simple, versatile system for displaying your holiday cards, I highly recommend photo ropes.  And if you’re looking for great custom holiday cards, I highly recommend Tiny Prints. (And not just because they’re giving me free cards- every Christmas card, shower invitation, and personalized thank you note I’ve ordered in the past 3 years has come from Tiny Prints. They’re pretty great.)  You can check out their holiday card designs here.

Now go forth and take cute pictures so you can put them on holiday cards so I can hang them on my wall! Please and thank you.

Posted in miscellany | 1 Comment

In which I both succeed and fail at Halloween.

So. Baby’s first Halloween. Lots of pressure to choose the right costume.  We went crustacean: I think it was a good choice.

Poppy was less certain:

But she rallied:

I submit that there is nothing cuter than baby claw arms.

I had grand plans to make costumes for John and myself that matched with our little lobster- I was going to be a chef, he the Gorton’s fisherman. A whole sea-to-table thing. The slow foods movement in Halloween costumes, if you will.

But yeah, I ran out of steam, so no costumes for us.  Or so I thought.

“Nice costume!” said my boss on Monday morning.

I looked at him blankly.

“Farmer! Farmer Pseudo!” he continued. “I like it.”

Huh. I was… well, I was not wearing a costume.

And yet, twice more during the course of the day, I got further compliments.

“Farmer! Nice!” said the coffee girl.

“Are you going out to till the land?” asked our UPS guy.

TILL THE LAND, people.

So, lesson learned: do not wear your plaid shirt on Halloween, lest people assume that it’s your really half-assed attempt at a costume.

Does this shirt, plus skinny jeans tucked into boots, read “farmer” to you? Don’t you think if I was a farmer I would have, like, done my hair in pigtails or something? Or maybe worn overalls? WHAT KIND OF FARMER WEARS SKINNY JEANS? ANSWER ME THAT.

In summary:

Costume for offspring: success!

Costume for self: fail!

General sartorial choices for self: need some work, apparently!

Purchasing of far too much candy, thus guaranteeing that we will have leftovers to last us well into the new year: unqualified success!

On the whole, I’d call it a win.

Posted in family | 13 Comments

A pointless, yet mildly entertaining, story from my past

When I was in college, I worked at a really unfortunately-named baby clothes manufacturer (now defunct, but for some reason I’m still skittish about publishing its name. But it was REALLY BAD, you guys. We got mistaken for a teen pregnancy center a lot. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a teen pregnancy center, but when what you’re actually doing is manufacturing $80 matelasse baby jackets, it’s an unfortunate point of confusion.)

(Sorry, that was a long intro.)

Anyway, one of my coworkers at Unfortunately Named Baby Products Company was a woman in her early 40s, a single mom with a manufacturing background, who smoked a lot and drank a lot of Coke Classic.  I forget her name, so we’re going to call her Debra.  Debra was kind of rough around the edges, and I think the owner hired me mostly because she wanted someone a little more polished who didn’t smell of smoke to deal with the clients in the small retail nook we ran out of the front of the warehouse space.

(Apparently not done with the intro.  Getting to the point now, I promise.)

ANYWAY, the summer I worked there, Coke was running a bottle caps promotion, where you could win a prize if your bottle cap said “winner!”  Prizes included things like a Coke tshirt, Coke keychain, and a free Coke.   The game details on the bottles said that, like, 1 in 50 bottles was a winner.

Debra, as I mentioned, drank a LOT of Coke, and as the summer progressed, she got increasingly irritated that she had not yet happened upon a winning bottle.

One day, after twisting off another non-winning top, Debra had had enough, and turned to me in indignation. “I drink a lot of Coke!” she said to me. “This game must be rigged.”

“Well,” I said, in all my one-year-of-college earnestness, “actually, it’s probably just bad luck- that’s the way probability works, there’s no guarantee that if you draw 50 bottles, one will be a winner- you could have 1, or 3, or none. That’s just the odds of winning OVERALL.  So, like, in Vegas, when you’re considering the odds of winning at craps- ”

“Whatever,” Debra interrupted me.  ”I know how it works. It says one in 50 is a winner, I’ve had more than 50, I didn’t win. They’re cheating.”

So Debra called Coke. From work. Because, sure, why not?

“Hi, I drink a lot of Coke, like definitely more than 50 bottles, and I haven’t gotten a winning cap, even though the game says that 1 in 50 is a winner.”

Now, I couldn’t hear the Coke end of this conversation, but here’s where I’d imagine someone saying something like “well, ma’am, those are the odds, but that’s no guarantee that if you drink 50 bottles you’ll get a winner.”

Debra was having none of it.

“I am one of your best customers,” she continued. “I don’t even drink water. I drink at least 3 bottles of Coke every day, and I haven’t gotten a winner.  This is crap.”

Here I’d imagine the Coke person saying something like “well, see here’s the thing about probability…”

At this point, I was making a “hey, it’s no big, maybe you should sign off!” face at Debra. There were hand gestures.  I was getting a little embarrassed for her, frankly.

Debra persisted.

“I want to know what you’re going to do about the fact that I haven’t gotten a winner even though I’ve drunk more than 50 bottles,” she said. “This is ridiculous.”

At this point Debra’s four year old son, who often came to work with her, was watching intently.  I was watching him watching her.

There was a long pause.  Debra listened to the person on the other end of the line.

“FINALLY,” she said.  Then she recited her address and hung up.

“They’re sending me a coupon for a free Coke,” she told me, triumphantly. Then, to her son, “see, son, sometimes you’ve got to stand up for your rights.”

And then, for a change, I was speechless.

Posted in miscellany, nostalgia | 11 Comments

It’s like someone is trying to send me a message about healthy eating or something

This morning Poppy had to get 3 shots. That sucked. Perfect day to eat my feelings, right?

So on the way to work, I stopped at a delicious local bakery and treated myself to a sour cherry muffin.

As I was driving, I reached into the bag and was preparing to take my first bite when the muffin toppled out of my hand and onto the filthy floor mats of my car.  Operation muffin? Foiled.

So upon arrival downtown, I walked into Starbucks, planning to treat myself to a pumpkin spice beverage

I walked in, saw 28 people in line, concluded I would be late for court, walked back out.

So after court! I headed back to the office and stopped at a different, local coffee shop nearby.  I would use my punch card, which had 10 punches, to treat myself to a FREE spiced latte.  And a Rice Krispie treat. Because Rice Krispies are cereal, and cereal is breakfast food. That’s just science.

I carefully ordered my completely obnoxiously picky one-pump gingerbread nonfat latte, and then stopped paying attention. Fatal error.  As I sat down at my desk and brought the coffee to my lips, the overwhelming smell indicated that my “one pump” instruction had been interpreted to mean “so many pumps that this beverage is really more syrup than coffee.”  Latte? Undrinkable.

Well, at least I have my Rice Krispie treat. Sweet, sweet Rice Krispie treat.  I opened it up just now and…..stale. Inedible.

So let’s review: I have now spent $2 on a muffin, 5 minutes of wasted time stopping by Starbucks, sacrificed my precious free drink punch card for a treacly sweet abomination, and spent $1.50 on a stale snack.  ALL I WANT IS TO EAT SOME JUNK FOOD OR DRINK SOME SUGAR.  THIS SHOULD NOT BE SO HARD.

If you need me, I’ll be scouring the office for M&Ms.


Posted in miscellany | 9 Comments

Walgreens: den of mystery products

So last week, I was waiting at Walgreens for approximately eleventy hours while they filled a prescription for Poppy.  This afforded me a lot of time to look around.  After I stocked my cart with Halloween candy and toothpaste and Kleenex- you know, the usual- I started browsing the aisles I normally breeze right by.

I first found myself in the press-on nail aisle. I know what you’re thinking: an entire aisle of press on nails? Impossible! Back when I was a pre-teen who coveted Lee press-on nails, you could get pink, or slightly darker pink, or French. That was pretty much it.

Those were the olden days, when people had to walk to school barefoot uphill both ways, and had to grow their own fingernails.  They were dark times.  We shall not speak of them.  Now, apparently, press-on nails come in hundreds of styles.

For example, if you want to demonstrate your “Harajuku Style,” you can buy a mismatched plaid manicure.

I apologize for the poor photo quality, but a Walgreens employee walked by at around this point and gave me a very strange look for photographing the press on nail aisle.

That didn’t stop me from capturing this shot, though. Because I wanted you all to know that the late 80s/early 90s? They aren’t dead. Hypercolor lives on!

Without nails that changed color in the sun, how would we ever know when it was sunny out?

At this point the Walgreens employee was really starting to look at me suspiciously, so I was unable to photograph all the other truly fantastic styles, including one with peace signs (because what better place to advertise your pacifist beliefs than your fingernails!) and airbrushed tiger-stripe with sparkles.

I sidled over to the cosmetics section. Where I found this:

What is that, you ask? That, my friends, is makeup for your legs.

Airbrush makeup.

For your legs.

I have concerns. Could one wear clothing? Because it seems like makeup FOR YOUR LEGS would get on your pants. Or your skirt. Particularly if you’re wearing white or light-colored pants/skirts/what have you, which is when it seems like one would most care about having ones legs appear nicely tanned. This product seems wildly impractical, is what I’m saying.

Finally, I decided to head back toward the pharmacy in the hope that if I started hovering around, they might one day have my prescription ready.  As I was standing there, doing my best to look wild-eyed and desperate, my eyes fell upon this:

Interesting. A little card with a place for pills at the top that you can slide into your wallet. Because I’ve always wanted to keep pills in… my wallet? I guess? I mean maybe it could be useful for, like, vitamins? Birth control? That medicine you have to take with your morning coffee for which you need a daily reminder?

Then I looked closer, and realized the true purposes of this product:

In case you cannot read that from my crappy, crappy iphone photo, that little red medallion says “discreet dispenser for aspirin, ED meds, and allergy pills.”

AHA.  They try to sneak it in there all innocuous-like, but this is a product for men. Men with a particular kind of problem. Men who are potentially picking up women in bars, and need a way to subtly engage in necessary pre-game warmup activities without scaring off their opponent.  Men whose dates end with side-by-side bathtubs.  I’m glad to know that these products have reached such a level of popularity that they have spawned a market for related storage products. Way to go, big pharma!

At this point, the pharmacist called me over and gave me a prescription for 492 days worth of antibiotics for Poppy, so I had to stop photographing odd products.  And I hadn’t even gotten to the 5 Hour Energy aisle yet! Next time, my friends.  Next time.


Posted in family, miscellany | 10 Comments