Sunday, February 28, 2010

Almost perfect

It was a great weekend!!!

We drove to the Poconos through beautiful hilly scenes and small mountains filled with fresh snow. The roads were fine until just before we got to the house we rented. (Small snafu - the owner's promise to plow the driveway didn't come through until we had to threaten to sue him when the rent-a-cops said they would tow us if we didn't move the car into the driveway).

I made (if I say so myself) a great dinner while the kids played in the hot tub. Then we went tubing. Not my favorite activity - so I feel like I took one for the team - and was rewarded with a relaxing hour watching the Olympics with fine wine!

Saturday -> the slopes. A bit too crowded, but with conditions like these, who can blame them. Everyone wanted to be skiing! Two feet of fresh snow on top of a few feet of natural snow from before made the conditions unlike anything I'd skied in years. The Northeast just doesn't get enough snow most years. This was not one of them!

Saturday evening - winding down with CM's homemade sauce and pasta, a few glasses of fab wine and the hottub. CM and I sat and relaxed while snowflakes fell on our heads. It was fantastic.

Today - started with the expected stress: packing, separating our stuff and getting it into the car. This time VM lost his cell phone (or did his sister hide it???). But we all managed to get out of there, without leaving wallets, DSIs or cell phones behind.

We ended the day with 4 hours at a waterpark. It was a great way to end the weekend. If only my patience had held up one final half hour.... but when my friend insisted on washing all her kids' hair before leaving, the procrastinator in me just couldn't deal and I felt like I had to get out of there pronto. Silly me - of course the kids would want to ride together, so I ended up waiting - and feeling foolish for getting mad about something so stupid like an extra 15 minutes.

When 3 families do anything together the one thing you have to bring - more important that band-aids, towels or even wine - is PATIENCE. We've been traveling with these two other families for day trips for more than 5 years. Our yearly trips into New York, the Poconos or the Jersey Shore are a highlight of my life. So I wish I had remembered the most important thing! It's not just important as my role as a mother. It's vital in friendship too.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Let it...NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Update: typo found & fixd ;-)

One of my pet peeves is when they cancel school and the roads are fine. Twice in a month they've done it! (Once was a delayed opening).

Today is such a day. I really needed the schools to be open and they aren't. It isn't a build a snowman, drink cocoa with marshmallows kind of snow day. It's a sloshy mess - more like you want to curl up and cry - kind of snow day.

And to top things off, I signed a pact with my own personal devil. My sacrifice: my daughter's soul! Feminist me, who was reading Betty Friedan 3 days ago just wrote the check for her to do cheer. I actually hate myself, and my life today.

On that cheery note, I'll end here.

PS The Superintendent can bite my big, hairy butt for canceling school and screwing with my meeting date. That's twice this meeting was canceled for snow that didn't actually materialize (this slush is not snow!)- it takes several weeks to schedule this meeting. No wonder I'm not begging the BOE to "save administrative jobs". They can't even schedule meetings in a timely manner when they are properly staffed!!! Yesterday when I asked her to schedule a tentative snow day makeup - and I naively said I'm happy to meet outside of school hours - she replied with, "I'm sorry, but I'm not allowed to schedule a meeting after school!" I've never heard such bullsh** - but don't get me started or I'll never end this tirade!

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

BOE meeting...

It was beyond Standing Room Only at the Board of Ed meeting last night. There were at least 50 people in the hallway!!! Turns out - it was mostly teachers whose union spoke for them. The union can really fill a room!!!

It was almost surreal. All those people, and hardly anyone said a word at the podium. But, naturally, I had to. Without notes (usually I spend hours crafting every single word) I said my peace: "Save academic integrity. Academics are the most important thing. This is college prep for our community. Nothing else in the end matters. If you are asking for teachers to take cuts, then I expect administrative cuts on the same percentage level."

Someone read this article where all staff (teachers, administrators, etc. ) in Stowe, Vermont voluntarily gave up their raises. The person who read it asked what how much raises (across the board) will cost the district next year. Answer: ca. $2 Mil. (I.e. only half of what Christie's cuts).

Christie's educational cuts are ridiculous -since we have already paid them into the system!

I hope that what we had to say was heard, but I know that there is reason to fear the worst. Cuts that will directly effect the kids. Cuts in the classrooms. ARGH! Will C be able to take Latin? Or German? Or Chinese if she needs a plan B or C? Maybe not. What about my son? Will he have 27-29 kids in his class next year, when his Intermediate school loses all their non-tenured teachers? Who knows?!

It's been a very stressful 2010. It's one of those times in my life when I wonder if any of the decisions I have made were the right ones.

I have a friend who teaches History at the University of Hawaii.... I'm about ready to see if she needs a nanny. I have a lot of experience... and am guessing my kids and husband will be happy to join me!

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Big plans... Project Jedi Knight Robes

It's good to have big plans. Like the curtains for my bathroom that I mentioned this weekend. The fabric is draped over the stairwell, just where I left it on Saturday afternoon after picking the fabric (my first choice lost).

Making it requires very little, really. It will probably take me less than an hour to measure, iron, pin, sew and hang, BUT I need  clean kitchen table to do so, i.e. to put the dishes in the dishwasher (putting away the clean dishes first) then find a place for all the papers (keep, through, put on kids' desks, and the inevitable "DO NOT LOSE" pile... hmmmmm. Then - remove the laptop. Easy peasy. Right? Should be!

I haven't even started the curtains yet. So is it a bit too much to expect that I will sew SIX Jedi robes for a mini course class I am running this spring? The directions look easy enough, right?????

That is on top of the new goal (date has been pushed back 3 times already) of finishing a sweater that I started in August (current deadline: Easter), and all the other plans I have for myself (clean house, books read, good food made, etc. etc. etc.).

But I like being inspired to make things... if only it were easier for me to follow through.

PS - Step one of project Jedi Knight Robes Done: I called Walmart (yes, I hate them, but they have cheap fabric and it isn't my money). Cotton/Poly fabric is under $2 per yard... I'll take 18 yards...... (3 yards per kid, at $2 each - a total deal!).

*********

Update: plans delayed until I can get to the store (leaving in a bit). I didn't have the thread I needed to sew it. One hem ironed.... (I'm too lazy to hem).

Monday, February 22, 2010

Ironic?

Some music to accompany today's blog... here

According to NPR news, President Obama has called the Nation's Governors to the White House today to discuss education and changes in No Child Left Behind, and using test scores to improve schools instead of as a punishment. Our NJASK scores aren't what they should be compared to our district socio-economic group (can't remember the acronym). How does cutting funding help us???

Wonder if Christie is sitting at the White House rolling his eyes and doodling in his notebook or texting his golfing buds... Did they have to bring him by force? Maybe he blew it off??? Hmm...

Wish we could "summon" him to the BOE meeting tomorrow.... or bring him there by force. Ironic, as the President is urging Governors to improve education, Christie's cutting funding - and he's only been in the ballgame about a month!

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Reader's review?

A break from parenting, ranting about the district or a discussion of politics on this Sunday afternoon.

I'm not a big mystery/thriller reader, but a few years ago my sister-in-law (the wife of my brother) sent me Before The Frost by Henning Mankell. Funny thing was, I recognized the author's name, looked at my shelf and discovered someone else had given me a book by Mankell a few years before, that I hadn't opened. If both of these people thought I should read his stuff, then I should. You can read more about his books and his life, at his website.

His books usually have a message - overt or subtle - about Western values and our society. Some of his works draw directly from his experiences living in the third world. I find it very interesting that someone who could live in a super-hip area of Stockholm, in one of the world's richest countries, chooses to live in Africa where he is faced with poverty on a daily basis.

Although he is rather prolific. He isn't really that well known in the US. Until now.  My other sister-in-law (the wife of T's brother) gave me his new book, The Man from Beijing. It actually has been sitting on the same bookshelf of unread book. Suddenly it seems to be everywhere! I heard a lengthy interview with Mankell on NPR. I also opened the New York Times Book Review to find a two-page spread advertising it!

I've enjoyed his books for years. I don't read many police novels - I'm not even a regular CSI-watcher. But I love the Kurt Wallander series! My brother told me they are making the series for TV - check PBS in MAY! YEAH!!!!!  I am actually marking my calendar now!

It feels strange - I've been reading this guys novels for the better part of five years (I would have started before if I thought I would enjoy them), and now my "secret" has been blown wide open. It's like my best friend is now the most popular girl at school. And I knew her (him?) way back in the day....

I think I'll hold on to my Beijing book.... and save it for when the hype dies down, and I have forgotten what I've heard about the plot. If I can hold out.....

Saturday, February 20, 2010

The $4 million dollar question

I'm thinking more and more about the $4,02 million that Governor Christie has cut that BRRSD's budget. Of course we are looking at cuts in jobs, but which position and how many jobs? And does it have to be that way?

I contacted the BOE and Superintendent with ONE message. Protect academics. If they cut, cut everything else first. My e-mail asked that if they want the BREA to make concessions, that the administrators take a cut in kind.

One of my friends had an idea that in retrospect was quite smart - a salary freeze across the board. Bottom to top. There may be contractual issues - but isn't that why there are loopholes? The Superintendent is likely to cut jobs, rather than do this (his salary would also be cut with my friend's plan) to look like he is "doing something big".

We live in a district where residents are exceptionally fiscally conservative. It is my guess that the budget won't pass in April with the climate as it is (but I thought this last year and it passed), unless the administration shows that it is willing to cut its own spending.

There is also an election coming up - and 4 BOE positions are open. None of the candidates answered my e-mail! If you want to be on the BOE, you should at a minimum listen to your constituents, whether or not you agree with them. Right? I spent an hour on an e-mail and only one of them could spend the 30 seconds needed to thank me for my input. If I go to the BOE meeting, that's 3 more hours of my time - in an environment where I don't know whether the BOE is listening because they very rarely respond when citizens speak.

Is it worth it to show up to a BOE meeting? In my experience, once you arrive at a BOE meeting the dye has been cast and the (sometimes) hundred people (sometimes two) who speak are only going through the motions for a group of elected officials who have already made up their minds.

They should play this as background music on Tuesday!

The sun is out and the honey do list is very long. T is a busy bee today. I guess I should get off my duff too (I've already taken both kids to 2 different TKD classes, picked C up from a friend's house and am about to bring N to his buddy's house). Sounds like T is hanging the curtain rod that I bought sometime this fall. Now I can sew the curtains (fabric I got in May 2009). Our kids' bath window will finally getting some coverage... our guests no longer have to feel like exhibitionists!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

4 dresses?

This was written on Monday - but posted on Wednesday.

Last night I watched 27 Dresses with Cecilie and a couple of friends.  When I first saw the movie a couple of years ago, it didn't seem at all about me. It's about a pretty girl invited to be bridesmaid and confidant to seemingly every woman in New York, as well as the city's most capable woman. She's an extremely organized assistant and in love with her boss though unable to share her feelings with him. Pretty much none of these things are me. (I am lucky to have my friends).

But I watched it in a new light yesterday. She's also the woman who says yes to everyone's requests. Some days I really know how she feels. She is conflicted. Like me, she genuinely LIKES being needed and enjoys helping out. On the other hand, it is such an ingrained portion of her identity, that she hardly notices until her leading man points it out to her in his very direct way.

My main squeeze also thinks it is silly that I spend so much in service of others and isn't afraid to say so. There are certain people that he feels would reciprocate - and others who I don't ever seem to ask for help but perform "random acts of kindness" for me regularly.

But like her I am in conflict when confronted by this feelings. Help or say no. Be nice or be upfront. Where to draw the line. Even today, I'm knitting a babygift for someone who hasn't ever given me anything, putting aside my husband's sweater (he doesn't know and don't you tell him, ok?). I had 30 minutes to kill, so I shelved books at the school library, when I could have been cleaning at home. But when I took an hour for myself to visit a chiropractor (for the first time ever!), I felt guilty about lying there for a while and the $20 copay that could have gone to reduce the deficit... in our household.

ARGH! It's a battle, being good. :-)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Parenting...

I'll be the first to admit it. This parenting thing is hard.

Today was a hard day! My kids have actually been at others peoples' houses all day long, and not even at the same houses, but even though they've hardly seen each other, something went wrong very this evening.

My kids more or less never fight. So when they do I am at a complete loss for what to say or how to negotiate. Do I believe him or her? (This time I believe her more, but that is sort of besides the point if I want to stay neutral. She would say I always take his side).

I don't know what to do!

How did I parent for these 13 years and not learn the most basic of mediation skills?


Help!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Addendum

Just saw this in the Courier online. Check out how our kids did in BRRSD...  Both of my kids' grades/year did BELOW expectations on LAL and ABOVE in Math. Not exactly sure what that is compared to, but is anyone really surprised???

A letter....

Dear House fairy,

Next time I leave the house, could you please clean it, wash, fold and put away all the laundry and change all the beds while I'm out? I was hoping you would have had done it while I was running errands this morning, but you forgot. Also, please help move that extra bed into the basement now that we've "upgraded" the kids' rooms. Please hang the curtain rod so that I can measure the beautiful cloth that I bought last Spring. If you hang the rod, I'll sew the curtains. 

If you can't find the time to do all these things, please give me the patience and time to accomplish it all if I run out of time before the Nor'Easter hits tomorrow. 

Finally, if we do get the "Snowpocolyps" (or whatever it was being dubbed), please don't let the power go or the pipes freeze. I can handle the snow, no matter how deep. Snow doesn't scare me. Frozen pipes do!

Your humble servant...

Poppet

PS Please explain to the dog that I'd rather he not tear apart stuffed animals in the living room, especially right after I've vacuumed.

Monday, February 8, 2010

A shout out...

I don't usually use my blog to plug businesses, but today I'll make an exception...

Doggie Doo & I just got back from All Pets. Not sure if I have talked about D's adventures with the vet before. We more than a little drama last summer when D cut his paw and the other vet wanted a small fortune to make it better. For about $40 I treated the little patient with lots of patience and love, and you wouldn't know now that he'd had the cut last year. After that episode we've been considering changing vets. Now, through volleyball, we've found one.

Dr. Sam's got the same philosophy. Great care doesn't have to cost a fortune.

I hope that this is one of many yearly well check-up visits... and not one of many emergency care checks, but I know Doggie Doo is in good hands if we need it.

Thanks, Dr. Sam! See you next time, too!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Let it snow...

I love the snow and have since I was a little girl. My kids don't know the same love I had at their ages. Maybe my Mom forced us to play outside while I let them curl up inside, maybe we simply had more snow, but it is definitely their loss!

Today we got about 4 inches of the white powder. I love how it looks.

T is still recuperating so he isn't able to help with the driveway. His friend JB called to offer to shovel us out, the neighbor offered to help and someone drove by offering to help (for a fee, I'm sure). But I said no thanks. And now, sweaty and with frozen toes, I have done the driveway, walkway, front porch and back stairs on my own sans help - unless tunes from the iPod count.

Listening to my iPod I realize I have a lot of music from my past and the songs from the present are really my daughter's music. Some songs bring back to such vivid memories that I feel like I have traveled back in time.

If I listen to this song the cold air actually makes me think it is February 1986. My high school ski club's yearly trip to Stowe, Vt. It was some of the most fun I had in High School. As with everything else from HS the memories also have a tablespoon of humiliation and heartache, but what I really remember is how much I loved those trips.

Can I keep part of the spirit of my youth? A time when snow meant a snow day or building forts at the Homuth's house or sledding, skiing or hot chocolate after helping my Dad do the driveway?

How do I suppress the irritated Mom whose kids won't help her shovel, and replace her with the freedom found on a ski slope that was just a bit beyond her abilities? How do I let go of the jealousy I have for my friends whose kids help them shovel as a matter of course? "As a family..." (as if I don't have one when I do).

And how do I not freak when I let my daughter (in the future) go on similar trips, knowing full well what things may happen...

(Picture from the ski bus in January 1985)

I'm lucky to have these great memories. Toes are thawed. Time to treat myself to a hot shower. It will feel better than usual....

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Privatization...

The more we try to get help for N within BRRSD, the more I think we should look outside the system.  This week we visited a local "independent college preparatory school" (i.e. private school). Just to see...

The target audience - N - was not impressed. He challenged the middle school principal (5th grade is middle school in their system) with "why can't I wear t-shirts with words on them?" Answer, we have a dress code. There is no uniform. You can wear any shirt you want as long as you tuck it in and any label or words can be covered up with your thumb. Still, it was a bad start in terms of PR.

He then asked lots of other non-educational questions of everyone seeming like a precocious child (that he usually isn't) and very fidgety. I'm sure they were rolling their eyes.

The non-target audience - C - was very very impressed and ready to sign up that night. We are giving her mixed signals - yes, education is the single most important thing right now, but no, we are not planning on sending her even if she really really wants it.  One reason: it's too expensive.

"What if we buy everything on sale?"

"We already do!"

So I explained it like this. Even if I didn't buy any groceries or visit the mall even once for an entire year and never buy another Christmas present, it still wouldn't cover the cost of a single year at this school.... the only way to make this work would be for Mommy to work full time at a majorly stressful job (assuming stress = pay).

Nonetheless, the school was a very inspiring environment. I kinda wanted to go there myself. So I get that she liked it. If only they could reach MY (and not necessarily the school's) target audience...N could really benefit from their small classes, direct instruction and interesting teachers.

And what is the point of sending your kid to such a school? Learning for learning's sake? Sure... but it's also so that they can go to a good college. Perhaps a prestigious college. Kaaa-ching! The estimated cost of attendance for Princeton University in  2009-10 is $50,620!

Assuming our kids could get in, what will it cost in 7 years??? Sending our kids to public school means we can save something for college.

We've been happy for years with this environment (Mrs. R's awesome kindergarten, picture from 2003). Can't BRRSD continue to meet our needs since we are already paying more than half of what private school tuition would cost (per kid) in property taxes?? I'm not 100% sure. I wish I were!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

it's an art...

How do I say NO?

This week alone I have said yes to people at least 3 times when I wish I'd said no. All three times they were asking me to do favors (two were even for the same person - who asked me to do a 2nd favor just as I was finishing the first one). The other is a favor that I get asked for a lot, but not always from the same person. I said yes to one former neighbor, so now I feel like I have to say yes to our mutual friend who has asked for the same favor. It isn't a big deal, just my inability to say no that irks me.  On the other hand, I wish I'd said yes to help friends deliver food at the Food Pantry, but I said no...

This, of course, does not include the hundred million favors I do a week for my relations.

I've mentioned the fact that we have a lot of guests... it doesn't include that kind of favor either. I love to have guests (now that we have a 1 week maximum on non-family policy). But usually guests mean increases in the favors as well - guests are coming next week again, and of course I offered an extra "freebie favor". It saves them a ton of money, doesn't bother me, so why not?

Not sure this song is talking about the same thing, but...

Still I wish you could tell me: How do you say no???

Monday, February 1, 2010

too early to tell...

Obama is overhauling No Child Left Behind, Bush's education program that IMHO has been a complete nightmare. It's about time! This is the NY Times article. Here is what NPR reported.  (If you want FOX's take, this is the wrong blog to follow.)

What do I think? I think that it is too early to tell. I am not sure how it will all work out. By "improving" standards, does that mean somehow states can actually lower the bar to make things seem like they are getting better? What kinds of criteria does Obama's plan use for measuring success? Just test scores? What kinds of tests? Are teachers going to be teaching even MORE "to the test"? What is a successful teacher anyway? How can you measure the importance of an excellent teacher if she/he's influence is beyond academics? So much more than just academics happens between 8:30 and 3:00. So much more!

That said, of course I want my children to learn well enough to be successful life-long learners. To read something and then interpret critically and abstractly the material, then manipulate it later is something that you can't always measure. Then there is math... does Obama's program look at how kids are learning math and what math they are learning? In our little corner of the world, the BRRSD changed math programs this year. How will that impact my kids' ability to do algebra, geometry, trig and eventually calculus or statistics later on? Will they learn enough to perform adequately on the SATs and get into a great college??

Will they be able to learn enough Science to become a Scientist if they so desire?

So many questions. So few answers. I looked on the White House's website but couldn't find mention of this overhaul! Not impressed! But then again, I haven't done all my homework - I haven't even finished reading the New York Times article... so I'll start there before I spew more uneducated opinions on you, dear reader.