Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Made It

Husband D was in Asia for 2 weeks. 2 long weeks. 2 very long weeks. 2 weeks in which Wisconsin had lots and lots of snow. But he returned a few days ago, and we all appear to be in one piece.

I'm trying not to whine, because in this economy we are so very grateful to both be employed in fun, flexible, interesting jobs that manage to pay for all of our expenses.

But just between you and me: 2 weeks of single parenting? So not my cup-of-tea.

In some ways, I'm glad it is so hard. At his last job, I would talk to other wives and complain about our husbands' trips overseas. Many, many times, I received the reply, "Actually, it's easier when he's gone. One less person to clean up after."

I don't have that experience. NOTHING is easier when he is gone. Me thinks that having a tremendously wonderful husband who helps with cleaning, child-rearing and other household duties ...and who also travels a bit...is loads better than having a husband who doesn't do any of those things.

The scary part, for me, is how much the kids step up when he is gone. They become little adults. My daughter manages things that no 9 year old should be responsible for. Seriously, one of these trips, she is going to turn to me and say, "mom, don't worry - I just logged onto the on-line bank account and paid the mortgage for you."

Once he's back, they revert right back to their childlike ways. But I can clearly see how so many children of single mothers become such over-achievers. Exhibit A: Lance Armstrong, Michael Phelps, Barack Obama. It's a very strange thing to watch as your children start to parent you. And it really does happen in a short 2-week period.

I'm sure that in some way the experience of desperately missing your husband with every cell in your brain and body is a good thing...especially after 14+ years of marriage. It's so easy to start taking each other for granted in the regular old day-to-day life we lead. A short absence makes you painfully aware of all the wonderful reasons you married the amazing guy in the first place.

At least that is what I'm telling myself....because he is headed back to Asia next month.

And I just looked at the calendar - funny, it appears that Christmas is next week. So funny. Next week. Really? If I write in my Christmas cards that I was a single mother for half of December...will people understand why they are getting them in February????

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Please impeach me

Can a PTA President be impeached? If so, I heartily submit my nomination for the process.

I'm the PTA President at my kids' school.

I realize all the stereotypes that go along with this admission. Yes, I've heard the "Type-A Overachiever mother who doesn't have a real job" label. And, yes, I've heard the "Helicopter Parent who is over-involved with her children" label. When you tell people you are the PTA President, they jump to both of these conclusions, immediately.

That's not me and that's not our school. Almost 70% of the kids at our school are poor. And not in the "live in a small house and don't go out to eat much" way. We're talking the "get our groceries from the food pantry" kind of poor.

I have a feeling that at other schools, the PTA is doing a lot of extra stuff - more books for the library, teacher appreciation events - that kind of stuff. At our school, the PTA is making sure the kids have enough to eat. Our biggest budget line-items are paying for classroom snacks and field trips. There would be no field trips if the PTA couldn't pay for them.

So, you can imagine my delight when the State PTA group rejected my by-laws for the fourth time. (Yes, fourth time) The first three times, they rejected them because I took out their mention of "place of worship" in the list of places where our PTA "promotes children's welfare." I'm all for religion and go to church regularly. But I didn't think that was appropriate for a school group by-laws. After 3 rejections, I gave up and put it back in. (I cave easily.)

This time, they rejected them because I used the term "bi-monthly" in reference to our meetings. Someone there thought the term meant "twice a month." I sent them back the bitchiest email I've sent in a while with all the links I could find with the correct definition of "bi-monthly" (which does, in fact, mean "every other month.")

We are trying to be more inclusive with our meetings, which means getting translators for two different languages, serving a full meal to all attendees, and providing free babysitting for all the kids. It's not easy to do all of that. It's been a hell of a lot of work. I was almost shouting in my email, as I explained to our state PTA that we had finally successfully managed to get the non-English speaking, poor families to come to our meetings. Finally, our meetings are representative of our school population. Finally, we are building a real community - not just the same 10 parents who attend, over and over again. To me, this is an incredible success story for our school. It's taken three years to get here.

So, to get the by-laws rejected because of the term "bi-monthly" really was the knife of bureaucracy, turning in my heart.

See, I'm not the PTA President because I have unfulfilled career ambitions or am living my life through my children.

I'm the PTA President because when I asked my "Little Sister" today what she wanted for Christmas, she turned to me and answered quietly, "mittens, please." I looked at her closely, and saw that her hands, which had been tucked inside her jacket all afternoon, surely enough, did not have mittens on them.

I hadn't noticed.

It's 7 degrees here.

How did I not notice? Really, how in God's world did I not notice that she was walking around Wisconsin in December without mittens? But I didn't.

We turned the car around and went to Target immediately and I'm pleased to report that she is now completely decked out in hats, mittens and boots.

70% of my own children's school are of the same economic demographic as my "Little Sister." I certainly can't buy all of them mittens, but I can do my small part in other ways through everyone's favorite group....the dreaded PTA.

With or without operating by-laws....

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

..and so the Lion fell in love with the Lamb...

You may remember my rant against the Kindle.

When, oh when, will I learn that the equation:

"Granddaughter wants it" plus "Mother says no"

will ALWAYS equal:

"Grandmother steps in to delight granddaughter"

So, yes, we are now the proud owners of a Kindle. (Ha! See how I already say "we.") I suppose you can already see where this is going.....I fell madly in love with my daughter's Kindle.

Yes, after many arguments against it (see "it's too expensive" or "she's too young" or "it's a fad" or "it's not a real book" or "what a waste of money"), I am now its biggest fan.

At first, I only used it after daughter D. went to bed. It was her birthday gift, after all. On a lark, I decided to buy the #1 selling title for the Kindle: some book called "Twilight" that I had never heard of before.

I read it in one sitting.

I couldn't put it down. I stayed up way past my bedtime and finished the book. This is NOT great literature. It's young adult fiction with more than one grammatical error. But I read the whole book in one sitting. I haven't done that since high school. I have no idea what the appeal was - vampires? young love? who knows. I was mesmerized.

Normally, I'm a bit of a literary snob. When it is my turn to host my bookclub, I invariably choose something like "Anna Karenina" or "The Great Gatsby" - classics. Books with teeth. But something about this Twilight series sucked me in. I proceeded to buy the next three books and read them in the next three days. Yes, I stole my daughters birthday present, lay on the couch in front of the fire and said to my family, "make your own damn dinner - I'm reading." And I did. I shut out the entire world and read.

I'm not proud.

Luckily, Daughter D is good at sharing and my Twilight obsession only lasted a few days. (These are skim-able books, and I was able to polish them off very quickly.) So, she has her device back now and I only poach it after she has gone to bed.

But it felt so good to have that obsessive-reading feeling again. That "nothing is more important than finishing this book" feeling. I'm a bit embarrassed that it came back for a book that really isn't all that good (in a literary masterpiece sense.) But it came back. For just a few moments, I was 12 again. I had no responsibilities, no job, no meals to cook. I could just read, read, and read some more.

Thank you, Kindle.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Thanksgiving 2008

It's not truly a holiday without a visit to the emergency room, right?

A door attacked son D's head soon after Turkey dinner, creating a deep, bloody gash in his head. No one is exactly sure how it happened, the adults were all talking downstairs while the kids were running around upstairs. But it sounds like it involved a group of 6 year old boys wrestling, falling, a kick or two, and a door in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It was pretty scary to look at - lots of blood and a deeper cut than one should really be able to have on one's head. (Who knew there was that much skin between the scalp and the skull?)

This is yet another example of why our particular family needs two parents. One of us becomes more clear-headed, stronger and calmer when met with a child with blood pouring from his head.

That would NOT be me. I provide the dramatic flair, the "OMG - there is blood streaming from my baby's head" cries. Ying and Yang, right?

The boy thought the ER was the coolest place ever to spend a holiday. The hours we spent waiting just whizzed by as he had both parents at his disposal - and a Pokeman book - and games on the iPhone.

Then, just when he thought it couldn't get any better - it turns out that his doctor was the goalie for the UW-Madison women's soccer team, back in the day. Staples *and* soccer talk. Someone pinch me, we must be dreaming.

We took some photos to pass the time:

He's still wearing the bracelet, as a memento from the best Thanksgiving night ever.

Oh, to be six again and find joy and fun in every single experience you have....

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


Why is it such a shock to me when my eldest turns another year older? Why does "9" sound so much older than "8"? It's not like we don't know that this is going to happen each year. We've got plenty of time to prepare for the inevitable. Yet, each year - it seems like it sneaks up on me, these birthdays of the eldest child.

There are two boys with whom Daughter D gets along with really well. They live in our neighborhood, are on her summer swim team, and are in her math group at school.

But - she's been too embarrassed to invite them over to our house. In Kindergarten, we went through some minor bullying on the bus. A 5th grade boy taunted her incessantly about her relationship with another good friend/neighbor with whom she sat on the bus and who happened to be a boy. Lots of "boyfriend" talk and some of it inappropriate. We got through it, but the embarrassment remains.

After much convincing and pleading, I convinced her to invite these two boys over. They are really sweet and she enjoys their company. They are as obsessed with math as she is. They like Pokeman as much as she does.

Daughter D doesn't really like all the girly-girl stuff that has started to go on. The girls her age are all creating "clubs" and D. won't join them. She thinks the fake clubs are silly and says that they are only making them to exclude people. (I suspect there is a grain of truth in that.) But you can imagine how well that goes over....what could possibly be worse than creating an exclusive club, inviting someone to join and having her say, "No Thanks." It doesn't go over well. They feel rebuffed. D. feels ostracized.

I keep telling her "hang out with the boys! They don't pull that shit." (except I say "stuff" - really I do.)

But....in order to get her to agree to invite actual boys over, I also had to invite another friend of hers who is a girl, and all of their younger brothers. That gives us 8 kids who will be getting off the bus on Friday and staying through dinner. (D. insisted on the younger brothers...I suspect because they are all the same age as her younger brother...)

Oh, and I also had to buy all the kids a Pokeman Booster Pack. Hey - I'm not above bribery to kickstart the gender-neutral friendhips.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Please Congress, don't bail out the auto industry

Megan McArdle says it well:

But whatever your feeling about government intervention in the economy, or the correct level of income inequality, I think there's one thing we can all agree on: for the world to get better, things that don't work have to fail.

The Economist had the best argument I've read for saying "yes" to a bailout of the financial industry and "no" to a bailout of the car industry. With the financial industry - the 'bad' would have taken out the 'good' - they are so intertwined. A collapse in confidence in the banking system would hurt everyone. Your honest local bank, in your little town, may have gone under due to the mismanagement of a few bad apples. (And picture this on a global scale.)

But the auto industry is different. If GM goes under, the plant in Tennessee that is making Toyotas will be fine. It will be terrible and awful for anyone associated with GM. But it won't completely kill the rest of the industry.

The Big Three aren't working. Propping their bloated bureaucracies and their unwieldy unions won't help our country.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Halfway there?

Last night at dinner, we were discussing Daughter D's upcoming birthday. She stopped us in our tracks by remarking, "I'll be 9 - that's halfway to 18!"

That is simply not possible.

18 is college, driving, dating, voting, moving away from home.

So, really? We're halfway there?

There is a small part of me that simply can't fathom a world that isn't centered on my children. Good thing we have 3 cats.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Revenge of the Nodes

As a child, I had swollen lymph nodes. Constantly. If I even got the slightest cold, the nodes would plump right up. My dad was in the Coast Guard so we moved around quite a bit. Every town had a new doctor and a new person to explain about the swollen lymph nodes. According to my mother, some doctors thought I had lyme disease. Another insisted it was "cat scratch fever."

I have survived, swollen nodes and all.

So, my reaction can be forgiven, when the school nurse called me today in an absolute panic. Son D's lymph nodes were swollen. Scarily swollen. Visibly swollen. "Oh, yeah," I said, "that happens."

The school nurse seemed surprised by my ambivalence to my son's condition. He'd gotten a crick in his neck earlier this morning that was bothering him. He was in a bit of neck pain. She called me back at work 3 more times. She was convinced that it was an excessively swollen left supraclavicular lymph node. Evidently that can be the first sign of something really bad. She suggested we get it looked at immediately.

Luckily, husband D could drop everything at work and go get him. I managed to get the boy to the Doctor later this afternoon (at the school nurse's insistence.)

I explained to our doctor, "my family - our nodes - they swell" but had written down the school nurse's concerns word-for-word, just to be safe. Our Doc checked him out thoroughly and said that he is perfectly fine. The school nurse had mis-identified the particular swollen nodes - They are not the supraclavicular nodes (although to her credit, they are on the left.)

So, as annoyed as I was to disrupt our daily schedule for an overly cautious school nurse, I was deeply grateful, too.

Somewhere in this great big world of ours, I suspect there was a mother today who didn't get to feel annoyed. Instead, she had her worst nightmares confirmed - some kind of serious illness in her child.

It's amazing how just the flicker of possibility of something bad happening to your child immediately rearranges all of your priorities. In the blink of an eye, that "Top Priority Project" at work doesn't even matter.

And can I say that we have the best Kindergarten teacher in the world? She called us at home tonight to make sure he was OK. Say what you will about the quality of education in a high-poverty urban school...but our teachers, they care.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

election night jitters

My kids are coloring in their electoral college maps as I type. I'm trying not to look, or listen, for just a minute. Blue, then red, then blue again. I've had to resharpen the blue and red pencils twice, already.

My neighbor wrote another great piece about our kids.

We went to vote as a family this morning. I took son D into the booth with me, Daughter D went with her father. I lifted son D onto my hip so he could see better and watched as his eyes scanned the ballot. Then, he saw it - "Obama!" he yelled. (so much for the private ballot?) He watched as I drew my line. I am not ashamed to admit that I got a little teary-eyed.

My whole life I've been voting "against" someone. (Usually with the last name of "Bush") I've never really voted "for" someone before. It's a really great feeling to vote for someone.

When I picked the kids up from school today, there was a man in the parking lot who looked confused. He came up to me and asked if this was "whitetail" middle school? in very broken English. No, I replied, it's a "another name" elementary school. He looked crushed.

I looked at the paper in his hand. It was an Obama flyer in which he had scribbled the name of the local middle school. I quickly deduced that he had never voted before and didn't know where to go. I drew him a map to get to the middle school.

Our eyes connected and I teared up again. I'm a middle-aged white mother. He appeared to be an older Hispanic grandfather. I gave him the thumbs up and said "Obama!" He gave me the biggest smile I've seen in years and went on his way.

I am full of hope for the world tonight. However the election turns out - I am am full of hope.

Monday, November 3, 2008

pre-election night jitters

I'm trying not to think about the election. We've done all we can, right? Whichever side you are voting for, it's all in the hands of the voters now.

This afternoon, though, I realized that Daughter D turns 9 in two short weeks. With all the election/political/school stuff going on, we sort of forgot all about that. I've done nothing to prepare for her birthday.

So, I asked her what she wanted. She only had one request - a Kindle. I gently explained to her that 9 year-old children do not get $350 gadgets for their birthdays. She understood. (In her defense, she did not know the cost.) We caught a bit of Oprah the other afternoon, while I was folding laundry. (Oprah is my one vice. I don't really like much on TV, but at least once a week, I must catch one of our recorded Oprah episodes. It is the best laundry-folding show ever.) Oprah was singing the praises of this device. I was left unimpressed but Daughter D was transformed. Utterly transformed.

I tried to reason with her about the pure beauty of reading books on paper - the tactile joy of turning the page. I'm old school, I guess. (or 40...) She would have nothing to do with that argument. To her, the very concept of having all of her precious books in one place was nothing short of nirvana.

I miss being 9. This is her schedule: She wakes up - and reads. She goes to school (with 3 books in her backpack) - and reads. She gets home from school - and reads. She has a snack - and then reads to her brother. They go outside to play, come back in - and read some more. We have dinner, do homework, practice piano, bathe,....and then read to the kids before bed. We put her to bed...and she turns on her light and sneaks in some more reading.

Her life is basically reading - interrupted by meals, school, and the occasional soccer practice. She's not allowed to watch TV during the week, and isn't yet obsessed with the internet. So, all that's left are books.

So, I went to Amazon and ordered her a bunch of books. Books with pages. And ink. Old school reading - the kind you can touch.

I wonder if this is this where the generation gap starts? I'm up with Facebook, WebKinz, Twitter and Poptropica. Will that be enough? Or will she always be one step ahead of me, technologically, from here on out?

Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Economist endorses Obama

The Economist is not a liberal publication. Trust me, I read it cover-to-cover every week. It is my favorite gift ever from my parents. (Well, that and the piano.) I often vehemently disagree with many of its positions (school vouchers come to mind) - but I learn from each and every one of their articles. I always get the feeling that someone smarter than I am wrote it....and I should pay attention, even if I don't 100% agree.

Here's their endorsement.

This one I agree with. Wholeheartedly.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Write to Marry

Today happens to be my 14th wedding anniversary. I'm lucky enough to be married (in my opinion) to the world's most wonderful man - the father of my children, my best friend, not to mention, my own personal in-house IT consultant.

On our street, there are 3 couples who aren't so lucky. They can't get married. They are in love - they live together - (and for all I know one of them provides free in-home technology consulting for the other.) But they are of the same gender. So, by law, they can't get married.

I am a big believer in a caring, loving God. My God doesn't discriminate. In fact, my God identifies most with the outcasts, the downtrodden, the "Different." (Let me tell you, my God *really* liked me in 7th grade...)

So, I don't understand - I really don't understand - why my cool & wonderful neighbors can't get married. They are committed and devoted. They are smart. They pay taxes. They are kind. They don't even care that half the bushes in my yard are dead.

We had a similar vote in Wisconsin 4 years ago. I can't remember if we were supposed to vote "yes" or "no" - but the end result was a ban on some marriages. I was sorely disappointed.

I have to think that the people who voted against marriage hadn't met my neighbors. Because if they had, how could they possibly be against it?

I am hoping that California votes differently.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


I don't have to go to work on Mondays, and I invariably end up spending most of the day at the kids' school.

I am especially enjoying the time in son D's Kindergarten class. I get to help out with math groups. Kindergarten math - I should be able to handle that, right?

The group I'm with most consists of three of the most adorable children in the universe. But they don't speak English. Two are Hmong and the other just moved from Africa.

It's a comedy of errors, me trying to teach them math concepts. I have to throw my whole body into explaining the difference between "big" and "small." I count on my fingers. I draw pictures of everything.

These kids aren't dumb - they are far from it. But it takes me 30 minutes to make a connection that "9" = nine = 9 fingers held up = (insert picture of nine cats here.) Finally, one of them gets it. Her entire face erupts in smiles, she squeals and we high-five each other. (nine times.) You would think she just got into Harvard - she is that excited.

Sometimes, the teacher gives me the group with my son in it. The group that is counting to 500 and doing complicated addition and subtraction. Don't get me wrong, I love working with my son. But no one in his group squeals with glee when they get a problem right. No one really struggles with anything, they seem genetically programed to get everything right. Their parents are lawyers, doctors and engineers. Success is all they know. I don't have to draw nine cats. I don't have to count nine fingers.

Lots of people complain about the immigrants at our school. They try hard not to make it sound racist, they cloak it in complaining about "poverty." And yes, poverty does bring problems. Lots of them. I can't sugar-coat that.

But I have to believe that the immigrants at our school are also bringing something good. I can't put it into words, exactly. But it makes me want to high-five, squeal with delight and draw lots and lots of cats.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

So much for my plans to move to another country.

According to Friday's Wall Street Journal:

There are no safe havens from the forces battering the global economy any longer.

In rich countries and poor countries alike, markets are plunging, companies are scrambling for credit and cutting their growth plans and consumers are keeping cash in their pockets. The U.S. and some governments in Europe and Asia are spending heavily to stanch the problems in markets and Main Streets globally, but the attempts have not halted the damage.

Who says the US doesn't export anything anymore? We export recession!

And then, just to make us feel better, the article continues:

While markets have been tumbling for some time, Friday seemed to be a day when many people around the world became convinced the economy is in for a long recession.

It makes sense - as the US cuts back spending on goods imported from Asia, Asia will feel a squeeze too.

I know that the list of things that President Bush has done right is short...but I do think he has done a good job with China (economically....I'm not going to get pulled into the Olympics controversy...) The SED (Strategic Economic Dialogue) has made steps in the right direction. (again, economically.) But that can only go so far.

So, what I'd like is for each of the candidates to stand up and say, "Hey! you know all these promises I've been making over the last year? lowering taxes? improving services? ha! ha! ha! - I'm not going to be able to do a bit of it! But I'll promise not to screw anything up any worse than it was the day I got it."

I'd vote for that guy.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Wednesday was Blog Action Day 2008 Poverty

I missed it, but didn't want to miss out on writing about a cause that is dear to my heart.

Due to some fabulous mentoring programs - Project Northstar and Big Brothers/Big Sisters, I've been blessed with the opportunity to be part of a larger community to help lift children out of poverty.

By chance, I wandered into a run-down DC school the month after I graduated from college (almost 20 years ago.) I saw an ad for volunteer tutors for Project Northstar at GWU, where my dad was a professor. I didn't know what to expect, but I decided to show up.

Little did I know, that day would change my life.

A bus pulled up full of kids from a DC homeless shelter. I was assigned to work with one of three triplets. My triplet was rightfully suspicious of the naive "do-gooder" in front of her. I had no frame of reference for her life. I'd just graduated from college and was about to start grad school. I had two married parents, had always lived in a house, and had never been hungry a day in my life.

For the first two months, she would stare at me, sullenly, and call me names. Some of the names weren't very nice. But being young and stubborn, naive and frankly, not knowing any better, I kept coming back. Every Tuesday night, I'd return to the run-down DC school and we'd sit in the cafeteria together, staring at her homework.

Finally, she began to trust me. Slowly, she began opening up. Eventually, we even tackled some of her homework. She was in 4th grade at the time. We managed to meet weekly until she hit 10th grade, and I moved away to Madison.

During those 6 years, I think I learned as much from her as I learned at college. I learned that poverty hits kids and it hits them hard. I learned that underneath those sullen, hungry, angry eyes was a beautiful, smart, kind and wonderful young lady.

I joined up with Big Brothers/Big Sisters when I got to Madison, and have had very similar experiences with my "littles." My first match and I started when she was in Kindergarten. When she was a Sophmore in High School, she moved to Chicago so I started with my current match last spring.

I can not say enough good things about mentoring programs. They take regular old average people like me, and match us with fabulous children. These fabulous children turn us into better people. They make us kinder. They make us more generous. They make us happier. They teach us more about the world than any advanced degree ever could.

And, most importantly, Mentoring programs lift children out of poverty.

Mentoring programs work. I've seen it with my own two eyes with three separate children. It's not enough to throw money into welfare programs (although I definitely thing just about all programs serving the poor need more money...) You have to show kids who grow up in poverty that a different life even exists. How do they know about college if they've never met anyone who went to college? How do they know about marriage if they've never known anyone who was married? How do they know about mortgages if they've never lived in a house?

One of the biggest regrets I have is that I have done a really rotten job of keeping in touch with my first two matches. But I see my current match every week (when possible) and do everything in my power to integrate her into my life so she can see that her future is not hopeless - it can be as bright as we can make it.

And let me repeat: I am nothing special. All I do is open up my life once a week to one other person. Some days we do fun outings. Other days, we just sit around and play card games. This is not rocket science or any great contribution to society. This is just regular, day-to-day old stuff. Anyone can do this. Really, anyone.

Once someone said to me, "Aren't you afraid of the effect she (meaning the poor "little") will have on your children?"

I was flabbergasted, and mumbled "no" and changed the subject. But in retrospect, I wish I had replied, "No, I'm proud of the effect she is having on my children. She is teaching them to be kind, generous and aware of the inequities in our world."

It's hard to accept that we live in a country where nearly 13 million children —18% of all children—live in families with incomes below the federal poverty level—$21,200 a year for a family of four.

More related links:
NCCP (National Center for Children in Poverty)
Childhood Poverty
Blog Action Day List of Posts
Neat & Simple Living
On Simplicity
Images of Poverty
Big Brothers/Big Sisters

Monday, October 13, 2008

Thank you, Apple screen-grab program.

I don't break many rules. I follow a lot of very silly rules, in fact, just to follow the rules.

But I draw the line at paying $50 to get a digital copy of a photo of me right after I finished the marathon. Yes, that is what the sports photo company wanted to charge me for the digital rights for a photo. So, I "grabbed" it with the "Grab" program on our trusty Mac, and now I have it for free.

Hey, if the economy is going to hell in a hand basket, I'm just going to do my part to reduce needless consumption.

I don't remember the marathons in the early days having this type of photo service. There must be someone out there who pays the $50 bucks for the photo, or else it wouldn't exist. I realize that we marathoners are a bit on the self-centered side, but I really can't imagine anyone who would pay good money for this stuff.

In other running-contest-related news, Daughter D ran the most laps of anyone in the entire 3rd grade at school last week. She was pretty proud. Note that she did not run the fastest of anyone in the entire 3rd grade....she just collapsed last. My kind of contest.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Settle for Bronze

Son D announced today that "Daddy is my second-best friend."

"Oh?" I asked. "Who is your first-best friend?"

"Sister D. of course" was the reply.

I paused, then asked, "So where do I fit into the picture?"

"Oh, Mama - you're my third-best friend."

I suppose I should be glad I am even in the running. As soon as his friends make it into the list, I am sure to be bumped out of the top ten.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Viva Viagra?

One good thing about the complicated television system my husband has concocted is that the children don't normally watch commercials. The DVR lets us skip right through them on any recorded show.

So, on the rare occasion when we get to watch a live show - say, a baseball playoff game - the commercials are the most interesting thing to them. They mostly half-ignore the TV when they watch, usually play some game on the side. Until a commercial comes on. Then, they are mesmerized, staring at the TV like it has super-powers.

Between the Brewers and the Red Sox, we've had a few play-off games on this week. As a result, the children have been parading through the house, dancing with each other, singing "Viva Viagra!" at the top of their lungs. That is one of their favorites.

Not sure how to explain that one to them.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Who Knew?

I finally got to volunteer in son D's Kindergarten class today. It is a wonderful class full of amazing children. My favorite part was working with a delightful little girl who didn't seem to speak much English. But we did just fine. We were counting and identifying numbers. Every time she got one right, her entire face would light up and she would burst into applause for herself.

Afterward, I was speaking with his teacher and she was talking about how challenging it was to teach to the various levels in the classroom. She said, "we've got kids who just came to the country on one hand, and kids like 'son D' who are reading already, on the other."

I corrected her, and said, "You mean another child, right? Son D. can't read." She gave me a puzzled look and told me that, indeed, he was reading. I explained that we spent a lot of time reading at home, but he had yet to read in our presence. She laughed and told me that her second child loved to be read to so much that he too, hid his ability to read to himself.

Son D's favorite part of the morning is when I walked his class down the stairs for recess. Correction: they ran down the stairs, while I attempted to move my very sore legs down a staircase. Going down stairs is never a good idea the day after a marathon. He seems to find my temporary muscle soreness quite comical.

But the marathon went so well that I'm still walking on air, so I can hardly complain about the lactic acid. I beat my fastest previous time (set when I was in my 20s.) However, I'm finding that a 40 year old's marathon recovery is a bit different than a 20-somethings recovery. Pass the ibuprofen.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Rainy Sunday

I am rather neurotically checking Milwaukee's weather for Sunday for the marathon. At first, it was "isolated showers" and then "chance of showers" and finally today the forecast is for "definite showers" and the dreadful words "isolated thunderstorms."

I don't do thunderstorms. I will run through almost everything. I ran this same marathon in 90 degree weather last year - running past person after person who collapsed and had to be taken away in an ambulance. (Note: I do not think this is wise. Any sane person would have stopped. In Chicago, someone died on that same day at their marathon.) I run through snow. Once I ran a race in a -20 F windchill. (Again: not smart, sane people would stop. My husband got frostbite on his ear just walking from the car to the warming shelter during that same race.)

But I draw the line at lightning. I stop running at the first rumble of thunder and take shelter. For some reason, that danger is much clearer to me. (I rationalize that heat exhaustion and frostbite don't usually kill you, they just put you in the hospital for a day or two.) Lightening, though, for some reason that seems more deadly.

I will be so bummed if 6 months of training is erased by a bolt of lightening!!!!

Monday, September 29, 2008

Hold on, the ride is about to get a bit bumpy

It's been a strange day. A day in which I actually agree with George Bush. A day in which I admire my own Representative, Tammy Baldwin, and my favorite Republican, Tom Davis, even more:
roll call for the bail-out vote
more here

(And we can only wish it was a bill to provide assistance to the Peace Corps volunteers....evidently they had to steal the name of another bill to get it through so quickly.)

I get that people don't want to use taxpayer money to rescue Wall Street. I certainly don't!

Here at chez-Nelson we've been living in our not-very-big house and staying (mostly) within our monthly budget. I've been a working mom, even when I really would have preferred being home for those first few years. I've been contributing slowly but surely to my 401(k) and the kids' 529s to keep our assets higher than our liabilities and save for the future. Living within our means. blah, blah, blah, boring, boring, boring. Suze Orman would be proud.

So why should any of my hard-earned, smartly-invested income go for a wall street bailout?

Because the alternative is much worse. And because we can't afford to see what happens if the banks fail and the credit market dries up.

See Dan Drezner and Paul Krugman and The Economist for more nuanced analysis.

Ironically, the conservative writers seem to be making the best points:

Megan McArdle
Larry Summers

Ironic because it seems that the House Republicans were the ones who voted against it.

Should we fly in a few economists to teach them about the Ted Spread?

They've got to be able to find 23 House Republicans who care more about their country than getting re-elected, right? (I think that is the number they need?) The Republican president supports this. The Republican Treasury Secretary supports this. The Republican presidential candidate supports this. What are the House Republicans trying to prove?

Yes, this sucks. But it isn't just going to blow over.

Can I go back to horse camp? At least the manure was used for something useful there...

Friday, September 26, 2008

Escaping for the weekend

Daughter D and I are headed here for the weekend for "Mother/Daughter Horseback Riding Camp." It was my 40th birthday present to myself.

I bet the horses won't care about sub-prime mortgages, corporate layoffs, bank failures or political debates. It will be good to turn the news off for a few days.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The Babe

We are hopelessly behind on Thank-You-Notes for the half of the family who celebrated September birthdays chez K&3D. I blame Kindergarten. Kindergarten has worn me out.

But son D got one of his favorite presents ever from my aunts: A Yankees Jersey. He literally danced with joy when he opened it. Danced. I kid you not.

How the son/grandson of a family of die-hard Red Sox fans became obsessed with the Yankees is a bit of a long story.

I blame Babe Ruth. Babe Ruth has a very interesting history. Many, many biographies have been written about Babe Ruth documenting this very interesting history. I know this because I have read every single one of them out loud to my son.

At the beginning, I tried to insert the words "the evil" before every mention of the "New York Yankees" in the many, many books I read. This worked for a few weeks, and it was a bit cute (in a twisted way that only a Red Sox fan will understand) to see my then-four-year old son refer to the team as "the evil New York Yankees" repeatedly.

But eventually, he turned five, and realized that Mommy was a) not reading the real words; and b) a bit jaded.

Finally, he turned six this month and ended up with a full-blown obsession with Babe Ruth. He was thrilled beyond words when he heard that the Yankees won their last game "in the house that Babe built."

We aren't trying to raise little replicas of ourselves, right? It's good when they show their own minds and opinions, right? Life would be boring if our kids only like what we tell them to like. Right???

...at least he hasn't stuck a McCain sign in the lawn. Yet.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Wake me up when September ends.

George Will has some interesting points today.

If the Republicans had nominated someone with even an ounce of financial sense, this election would be wrapped up. I would gladly put aside all my other issues and vote for the candidate who fully understood the global financial situation. Republican or Democrat. This crisis is that important.

Sadly, I'm not sure we have a great financial-whiz option with either of our two current choices.

I've been listening to both of them. McCain is coming across as someone who would make questionable decisions without fully understanding the facts. (The first thing we should do is fire Chris Cox? Really?)

To me, Obama is coming across as someone who has never really firmly grasped the workings of the world financial system. I'm hoping that someone as bright as he is could learn quickly. He does seem to be surrounding himself with smart people.

What a mess. Is it just me or does something momentously horrible happen every few years in September? Terrorist attacks, Tragic hurricanes, Financial catastrophe.

My apologies to Green Day, but next time - maybe you could write a song about July or February? Could we spread the wealth a little here?

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Required Reading

As an economist-wanna-be, I found this article in the Times to be the best out there on explaining the activities of the week.

Read it and weep for your 401(k) account.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Finally, someone who gets it

It's been over 13 years since I lived in the DC area, but I still read the Washington Post on-line regularly.

This article by Sandra Tsing Loh on parents and public education is brilliant.

Ever since Palin came on the scene, I've been reading blog post after blog post mocking the "PTA Mom." Each author assumes that PTA moms are all stay-at-home women who like to bake cookies and think that running the PTA is their life's ambition. They feed into the stereotype that we are type-A overacheivers who have fallen off the career path with no outlet for our creativity except for building a better bake sale.

They don't get it. They don't get what it is like to be deep in the trenches of an urban, poor school.

We aren't volunteering because we have nothing better to do.

We are volunteering because over half of our son's class didn't eat breakfast and probably won't eat dinner. We are volunteering because the time we brought in oranges, half the class lit up with joy because they'd never seen an orange before. We are volunteering because one third of our son's class doesn't speak a single word of English -- Gee, ya think the teacher might need to spend a little extra time with those kids?

I think I might be developing a PTA-mom crush on Sandra Tsing Loh. Of all the articles I've read over the last month, she is the first one who truly gets it. At least from where I sit.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

no intenet! and I survived!

Our modem has been dying a slow death. About a week ago, it stopped working, but sporadically gave us a minute or two each day of internet. Then, mid-week, it just died. Finally, today, someone from the cable company came out and brought us a new one.

It's amazing how much a complete lack of internet changes your daily life. I read books. Whole books. Read the "The Abstinence Teacher" at one sitting.

Despite the "no internet," it's been a busy week. Let's see...I turned 40; hosted a birthday party for 14 friends of my turning-6-this-week son; worked like a madwoman at my job; dealt with the usual school stuff...and more.

School is going really well for the kids.

One benefit of being in a low-income school in Wisconsin is the class sizes. Daughter D has 11 kids in her 3rd grade class.

One of the challenges of being in a low-income school in Wisconsin is that they can never predict class sizes accurately. (It's a very transient population.) Son D has 18 kids in his class - so on Monday, they are going to create a brand new class and many of the Kindergartners will move to the new class. I know everything will work out fine - whether he moves to the new class or stays in his current (fabulous) class, but this not-knowing stage is always hard. Bottom line is that he'll be in a class with less than 15 kids, no matter what happens. So that is good.

He's having a great experience though. His class includes many kids who don't speak English. There are a few kids who no absolutely no English. He is fascinated by this. So far, his main contribution to their education seems to be the teaching of what we would deem "bathroom words" - but hey, I guess everyone needs to learn those words somewhere.

I didn't have a problem with turning 40 on Monday. It felt like it was time to be 40. I'm at a very "40" place in my life. I have a job I enjoy, a husband I adore, healthy (and wonderful) children, a home that feels like a home, amazing friends and all the rest. It feels like 40 should be to me.

But, son D will be 6 on Wednesday. That just doesn't seem possible. Really - he was JUST born. Like yesterday. Really. He's 6?????

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Swing State Commercials

Here in Wisconsin, we are now being treated to this ad:


The beginning of the ad is fine - basic differences in how McCain and Obama view education. I'm actually interested in learning more about McCain's views on education - how he sees the voucher system working - how he would flush out school choice.

But then..they go and claim that Obama wants to teach sex education to Kindergarteners.
How low can they go? That is a blatant lie.

My favorite quote from the Chicago Tribune piece:

Is Sen. John McCain against kindergartners being taught the difference between good touching and bad touching to protect children from sexual predators?

Or does the McCain campaign really have such a low opinion of Sen. Barack Obama that it actually believes he wanted to have Illinois kindergartners taught all the titillating details of human sexual anatomy.

There's another possibility, of course, that we are in the spitball phase of the campaign, where the McCain team is willing to send whatever it can Obama's way to see what sticks.

When the Republicans nominated John McCain, I was so relieved. I may not agree with him on all the issues, but at least he was a decent, honest, honorable straight-talking man who wouldn't stoop to Rove-ian tactics to get elected.

Guess I was wrong about that. Shame on you, John McCain. This is worse than some of the stuff Rove did. This is no renegade 527. This has you at the end saying "I approved this message." Shame on you.

Friday, September 5, 2008

The Clone Warzzzzzzzz

Let this be a warning: I sat through the Clone Wars so you don't have to.

I'm not sure a movie could be more boring if they set out to make a boring movie.

I told son D. that I'd pick him up at school on Friday afternoon and we could celebrate his first week of Kindergarten by doing whatever he wanted! Obviously, my first child is a girl, because in my mind he would choose a) go to the zoo; b) go to the library; c) go shopping - all fabulous choices.

But no, he chose the Clone Wars. So, to the movie theater we went. Me, my 2 kids and 2 of their friends.

It reminded me of those long boring novels that we found at the half-price book store - the novels based on the Star Wars screen plays. 300+ pages of light saber fighting descriptions with no literary value. At least the movie had pictures, I suppose. I could never tell who was a good-guy and who was a bad-guy, that made it frustrating. They all looked like the same droid to me.

But the kids loved it. Best movie they'd ever seen. I guess you need to be 8 or 5 to truly appreciate this one.

Now to get them to stop calling me their "padawan....."

working 9 to 5

I'm getting immense joy seeing all those conservatives touting a woman's right to have a career and a family.

Because I gotta say, I have *not* been feeling that love before this week.

I work 20 hours/week. We have 2 children. We have had excellent childcare. Husband D. is an extremely involved father. I feel immensely lucky that we have managed to end up with this arrangement.

But I have been told as various times by various conservatives that I:
- was shirking in my duties by "letting someone else raise my kids"
- was putting ambition before my true vocation of motherhood
- was not a "real" mother because real mothers stay home with their kids. All the time.

I'm no Governor. I'm not campaigning for anything. I don't have 5 kids. I don't have a pregnant daughter and I don't have a special needs son.

Me, I couldn't do what Palin is doing. She seems to love it and seems to be thriving. Honestly, I don't think I could throw my daughter into the national spotlight if she were going through a major crisis. Ever. But that's me.

So, you won't hear me saying that Palin isn't a real mother...or that she is putting her ambition in front of her children. I may silently think it for a moment or two. But then I will try to remember all the people who have accused me of the same thing. And I will hold judgment. Or try to, anyway.

But still - I am enjoying seeing these tables turn.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

First Day of School - brother and sister version

Daughter D. and I have been watching random speeches from the Democratic Convention via iTunes. My favorite - by far - has been the introduction of Michelle Obama by her brother. He was heartfelt and sincere. Michelle's speech was fabulous, of course, but it was his introduction that got to me.

Today was my youngest child's first day of Kindergarten. I thought I'd get emotional - cry maybe. But I didn't. I didn't cry for daughter D's first day 3 years ago either. Maybe I'm missing the "crying at Kindergarten" gene. Perhaps because my "crying at every friggin commercial during the Olympics" gene is the dominant one. (Seriously, who tears up at a Visa commercial, but doesn't shed a tear during a major life moment? Me, I guess.)

But today, I was too busy having a brief shining moment of joy for the relationship the kids are creating. Daughter D. took her brother under her wing - sat with him on the bus - got him where he needed to go - explained everything to him.

At one point early this morning, we were sitting in the living room. Son D. was talking about how nervous he was to go to school and said he needed a "snuggle." I reached out, and he reached right past me...into his sister's arms. She gave him a big hug and he rested his head against her shoulder. It was one of those moments in which all is well with the world.

I know this won't last forever. In 8 years, it is pretty much guaranteed that he will be the pesky younger brother spying on her dates. But for now, it is pretty great.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Obama takes the high road

When asked about Palin's unmarried teenage daughter's pregnancy, Obama says:

"I have heard some of the news on this and so let me be as clear as possible. I have said before and I will repeat again, I think people's families are off limits, and people's children are especially off limits. This shouldn't be part of our politics, it has no relevance to governor Palin's performance as a governor or her potential performance as a vice president. And so I would strongly urge people to back off these kinds of stories. You know my mother had me when she was 18. And how family deals with issues and teenage children that shouldn't be the topic of our politics and I hope that anybody who is supporting me understands that is off limits."

I like him more and more....

From the Atlantic

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Vacation pics

...are here:


Eventually I will figure out how to get a password on there. When I do, it will be:
username: "myfirstname"
password: "mylastname"

I know that Macs are supposed to be simple to use, but I can't for the life of me figure out all the new features of the change to "mobile me." (me.com? I'm not sure how they are related, still. I know, I know. I'm an idiot.)

Yes, they told me I could watch a tutorial. But who has time for a tutorial? Luckily, I am married to my tech support, so he will figure it out and show me.

Until then, no password.

I've basically been on vacation for the last two weeks. And it has been lovely. We are having a glorious weekend back at home, with perfect weather, visits to the pool, parties, fun with friends.

Everything will come crashing down on Tuesday. School starts for both kids and I head back to work. Tuesday will be tough.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Good pick for McCain

If someone had told me years ago that the Republican Presidential candidate would pick a Vice President running mate who reminded me of my sister, I would have laughed in their face.

And then, today.

(Ing, if you are reading this - don't worry - she doesn't remind me of you in the slightest in your political views. You are liberal. She is conservative. I doubt there is any agreement at all on any social issue.)

But....the similarities (on paper) are eerie:
1) hockey players
2) flute players
3) long time Alaska residents
4) Moose aficionados
5) Beautiful
6) Smart
7) Can pilot a float plane
8) Politically active
9) Tough
10) Independent

Until today, my sister was the only float-plane flying, hockey playing, beautiful, smart Alaskan resident I've known. (I'm sure there are many - but I only know the one.)

I say this is a good choice for McCain. Shakes things up a bit.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

What a speech

The one good thing about being back in the Midwest is that I no longer have to stay up past my bedtime to feed my political speech addiction.

Over the last four days, I've watched boring speeches (Kerry), I've watched clever speeches (Clinton, Bill); I've watched good, but fundamentally strange, speeches (Clinton, Hillary); I've watched folksy speeches (Biden); I've watched business-as-usual speeches (Warner). I've watched a lot of speeches.

But tonight is perhaps the first time in my life that I've ever felt inspired by a political speech. Obama just makes you want to go out, serve the country and do good things for the world.

(Hmm...maybe I should do some recruiting calls tomorrow for my favorite program in the world - Big Brothers/Big Sisters - maybe other people heard the speech too...)

We all have one particular issue that speaks to us above all others. For some it is the environment. For other, taxes. For me, it is childhood poverty.

I've been active in mentoring programs since I was 21. I'm going to be 40 years old next week. So, I've seen a lot of poverty. In almost 20 years, this will be the first time that I have EVER felt, truly in my heart, that a national politician "gets" poverty. And has concrete plans to eradicate it, using both government programs and personal responsibility.

I know one thing. My "little" will be listening to that speech in full. I'll find it on the internet, somewhere. We'll watch it together and I'll show her that there is at least one very important man out there who truly cares about her and her future.

What a speech.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Pictures from a vacation

We are on our last day of a fabulous vacation in MD/DE/NJ with my parents. Pics are below. Real photos with actual identifiable faces will be posted on the website or the facebook account upon return. Back to real life in Wisconsin tomorrow. : (

Tuesday, August 19, 2008


We've been very hot-and-cold with our Olympics consumption. If we turn it on at night, we're hooked - sucked in for the night. If we don't turn it on, we don't care, and are pretty uninterested in the results.

Mostly we watched the swimming. I also got sucked into the women's marathon. To my surprise, NBC showed us almost the whole thing. And I watched it. I am perhaps the only person in the universe who thinks it is fun to watch women run for 2 hours and 19 minutes.

As I approach the big 4-0, I particularly enjoyed watching Dara Torres swim and Romania's Constantina Tomescu-Dita run. I have a theory that childbirth makes you stronger and gives you more endurance. I'm a much better runner now than I was 20 years ago. I ran 18 miles this weekend. The most I could run when I was twenty was 5 miles. The biggest change, for me, has been recovery time. Ten years ago, I could go all-out on a super long run, and then continue on with my day. Now, I need to rest. and rest. and rest. When I do an 18 mile run, my poor husband is pretty much in charge of just about everything for the rest of the day.

And people ask me why I run marathons. Ha!  You get 3 hours away from all your responsibilities in the morning due to the long run. And than a whole afternoon of resting. What else will give you that free time?  All you need is a very nice husband.  And the craziness to actually enjoy running for that long.  

Thursday, August 14, 2008

It's like a trainwreck.

I can't stop reading this Atlantic article on the Clinton campaign. And the actual memos. Oh my.

I'm finding this more pornographic than the Edwards scandal. Well, I guess there wasn't any sex involved. (Bill's memos aren't included.) So should I say politographic?

My favorite description:

Penn believed that voters view their president as the “father” of the country. “They do not want someone who would be the first mama,” he counseled. “But there is a yearning for a kind of tough single parent.” (He did not propose divorce.)

It's fascinating to read all the assumptions throughout all these memos about what voters want...what they think...how they'll vote. It's almost as if they truly believed it. Really? I'm yearning for a tough single parent? I hadn't noticed.

(When husband D goes to Asia, I'm a single parent for many days on end, and honestly, the only way I get through is by drinking lots of red wine. Trust me, you do not want me running the country after I've had lots of red wine.)

And the office miscommunication and mismanagement by memos, oh my. This has *got* to become a sitcom. The Hollywood writers should be lining up. "The Office" has nothing on this!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Through the eyes of a lens

We took our "little" to the local botanical gardens. We've been a few times before, but she's never really shown much interest. I was taking a picture of her looking at a butterfly and she asked me if she could hold the camera and take a few pictures.

What a difference. We were there for another hour and she was entranced the entire time, taking some pretty phenomenal photos. (granted, I may be biased here.) She photographed some flowers and spots that I'd never even noticed. For some reason, the camera made everything fascinating to her.

At the end of the visit, she looked up at me with wide eyes, and said, "Do you think I could be a photographer someday?" I have to admit I got a little choked up as I replied, "Sweetie, I think that you can do whatever you want to do."

I try not to blog about her - she's not my kid. But she's a huge part of my life. She faces obstacles that neither I or my kids will ever really understand.

And I think she takes some pretty great photos that I can't resist sharing: (except for the fuzzy out-of-focus one, with her in it, I took that one.)

Friday, August 8, 2008

Dear John

John, John, John.

Normally, I could care less what you do in your personal life, as long as you and your spouse have agreed to the arrangement. Maybe you've got a Clinton-esque union? It's not for me, but who am I to dictate the terms of other people's marriages?

But this post puts it best: How could he be so stupid?

Did he not realize that this would be national news in a split second? He may have gotten away with this 30 years ago. Or in France. But in America's 24-hour news coverage culture? My office has a TV in our lobby set to CNN. John Edwards ran across the ticker all afternoon. Constantly.

How does a man face his children when his indiscretions are the CNN ticker?

The really sad part is that his wife is so absolutely phenomenal. I think she's been an inspiration to many of us. One of my friends interviewed her last year and was very impressed. She deserves better than this.

Another sleazy political career bites the dust. Good riddance. Add him to the long legacy of philandering politicians: Clinton, McCain, Gingrich, Spitzer, McGreevey.

And God bless Elizabeth Edwards. She seems all the more amazing now, facing this *and* cancer in the course of a year.

I wonder, if this had come out earlier - would Hillary have gotten the Democratic nomination? Stuff like this makes me want to vote for a woman. I'm not sure why, really.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Above the Arctic Circle

Talked to my sister tonight. She is here in Kaktovik, AK, otherwise known as the end of the earth.

I was telling a neighbor about her adventures up there, about how she is working with the Inupiat/Eskimo/Inuit children (Not sure which word is correct...) and about how she is about to embark on a 2 week solo bike ride across the wild northern lands of Alaska to Fairbanks.

He looked at me with great puzzlement. "You two are related?" He asked. "Are you sure about that?" (Me, who thinks that a trip to Banana Republic without my credit card is roughing it.)

It's funny how two people can grow up with the same parents, in the same house, go to the same schools, have the same pets, be the same gender and practically the same age and turn out so fantastically different. (Although, I did listen with great interest to last weekend's "This American Life Switched At Birth" - I suppose anything is possible.)

I often blame the difference on my own two kids on gender. But I suspect that's just an excuse - an easy thing to pick out.

I'm scouring the map looking for actual roads between Kaktovik and Fairbanks. I don't see any roads - nothing that even resembles a road, really. How exactly, does one bike when there are no roads?

I stuck my fingers in my ears and started singing "la la la" when she was telling me about the cute polar bears. Polar Bears are cute on National Geographic videos. Not live and in person.

The kids, however, are enthralled. Can you imagine anything on earth cooler than an aunt with a life like that?

Monday, August 4, 2008

No child gets ahead, revisited

A teacher at daughter D's school wrote this article for the Progressive.

Teachers like her are what make our school so amazing.

Our standardized test scores are low, so we have a reputation for being a "bad" or "failing" school. The fact that 30% of our school speaks English as a second language skews our test scores low. If I'd taken my 3rd grade language standardized tests in French, I would have gotten a low score.

The test scores are published in the paper each spring. And each spring, I'm amazed by how many parents make school decisions based on the test scores. Of the latest scores that were published, Guess what? Ours were low.

But if you delve into the raw data, you realize that within this particular group of test-takers - a grand total of 8 students - yes EIGHT - were considered "not economically disadvantaged." All it takes is for one of those students to have a bad day and the percentages of "advanced students" go way down.

It's a vicious circle. You need to get the test scores up to get/keep funding and to attract parents to your school. But the minute they start teaching for the test, the teachers become less effective.

I'm not against measuring progress and testing for knowledge. But using the same test at both a school with 100% english-speaking, above-poverty-line students at a school like ours....that doesn't really tell you much. It punishes the schools that are already dealing with huge problems (poverty, immigrants, etc.)

There's got to be a better way.

McCain seems to think that school choice is the answer:

For parents like us (over-educated, with easy access to transportation and flexible schedules), school choice is an attractive option. But really, will it solve anything? Our poor schools will just become more poor. Poverty doesn't go away just because you can't see it. I'm not 100% against the concept of school choice. I just haven't seen an option that wouldn't result in a huge segregation between the "haves" and the "have nots." And McCain almost seems to blame the school for the problem. I don't like that. In our case, at least, the school is doing everything it can with a group of fantastic teachers.

Obama seems, to me, to be hitting on the larger issue:

We need to get to these kids BEFORE they hit elementary school. And expand before/after school care for those in need. That's the only way we are going to get those test scores up, in my humble opinion. I also like what he says about NCLB - about supporting the schools that need help - not punishing them.

It's August. My first of way-too-many school-related meetings is tomorrow. Let the crazy life of a reluctant PTA president at a "left behind" school begin...

Friday, August 1, 2008

I'm Mr. Heat Miser, I'm Mr. Hundred and One.

Finally, REAL summer has arrived in Wisconsin. Highs are up in the 80s (almost 90s!) and the humidity is sweltering. I love it. I should really be living in the tropics. Everyone else is complaining, but I'm secretly overjoyed.

The problem, however, is air conditioning. I hate air conditioning. Normally, I can keep it off - citing cost savings, energy conservation, etc. But when the high temp is 89 with 80% humidity, and the rest of the city has had their A/C on for weeks, I must compromise and allow my dear husband to turn it on.

So, I walk around the house with my winter fleece on. It's criminal.

And don't get me started on my office. I'm convinced that Mr. Snow Miser is in charge of the corporate thermostat. I leave the house with my parka in hand so I don't get stuck shivering through a meeting.

So far, the kids seem to be immune to any extreme temperature. They love to play outside when it is 20 degrees. They love to play outside when it is 90 degrees. I don't think I've ever heard them complain about the weather.

However, they have become experts at conniving to get decadent snacks at the extreme temperatures. Who can say "no" to a strawberry ice cream cone when it is sweltering? Who can refuse making a cup of hot cocoa topped with whip cream when it is frigid?

Saturday, July 26, 2008

One City; Two Worlds

The day started at the neighborhood country club. We don't belong (Don't get me started on my opinion of country clubs....) but they allow all the kids in the neighborhood to swim on the swim team. This is very nice of them. We love the swim team. (Even though the meets start at 7:30 every Saturday morning. Yawn.)

I was a Timer for the swim meet in my favorite lane (Lane 6 - lane of the underdogs) and was able to chat in between races with the lawyers, doctors and their offspring.

It is a happy, shiny place. Everyone is white, rich (relatively), well dressed, clean and happy. (One is not allowed to frown whilst at the country club - I swear it is in their by-laws.)

The parking lot is full of Jaguars, BMWs, Mercedes, Volvos, Lexus....and just for kicks: one slightly scratched up Honda Minivan full of whatever trash my children dragged into it that morning.

When I'm at the country club, I feel like I'm:
a) staring in a Hallmark commercial
b) a Stepford wife
c) on Prozac or some other drug that makes everything sunny and bright and cheerful

That's not multiple choice. I feel all of those at once. It's actually not a bad feeling. For an hour or two, you believe that everyone has enough to eat and a place to live; and that the world is peaceful; and that global climate change has reversed itself. Life is grand. I like that.

We left the idyllic country club to go to a birthday party of one of D's friends from school for the afternoon. Not a neighborhood friend, but a friend who lives over by the school.

The party was at a roller skating rink across town, in one of the scariest parts of the city. The roller rink was run-down and pretty skeevy. (Are there any that aren't?) No one in our neighborhood would *ever* host a party there. trust me on that.

1) I was the only adult there without a tattoo
2) Among the mothers I spoke with, I was the only one who is married.
3) I was the oldest person in the limbo contest (Hey - you can't go to a roller skating rink and sit out the limbo contest!) Scratch that, I was the oldest person at the rink, period.
4) I think it was perhaps the dirtiest place I've been all year.
5) At one point, I was seriously afraid part of the fake fabricated ceiling tile would fall on my head.
6) Didn't see any nice cars in the parking lot - but lots of cool bumper stickers and creative uses for duct tape.
7) I couldn't tell you the racial mix - it was so mixed, you didn't even notice one race over another.

Guess where my daughter and I had the most fun?

If you said with the happy shiny rich white people and the fancy pool....BZZZT.

If you said at the scary roller rink with the cheesy limbo contest....Ding, Ding, Ding. Winner, winner, chicken dinner.

Sometimes I worry about our decision to send our daughter to a school of such poverty. But when I see her seamlessly weave in and out of different worlds - treating everyone the same whether they are the child of a doctor or of a tattoo artist, I'm not as worried.

But next time, damn it, I 'm going to WIN that limbo contest.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

How NOT to train for a marathon

1. Pick a hot, humid day.
2. Run 16 miles.
3. Do not bring enough water.
4. When you get home, notice that your husband and kids are at the pool.
5. Decide to hop on your bike to go meet them up there.
6. Forget that you just ran 16 miles and are completely spent.
7. Forget to drink water or eat anything.
8. Ride to the pool.
9. Find your family...and....
10. Faint.
11. Come to, try to get up, and....
12. Faint again.

My dear, wonderful husband is trying everything in his power not to say "I told you so." See, he is a sensible, smart kind of human being. If he were to go out running for 3 hours, he would bring LOTS of water with him. He'd return from the run and immediately rehydrate, rest and eat. He tells me to do such things all the time. He says recovery is one of the most important aspects of training. (sensible & smart, I tell you.) And he used to ride his bike for 6 hours/day, so he knows of what he speaks.

Me, I'm intelligent, sure. But not the "sensible" kind of intelligence. I had to get married to experience that.

So, he's been forcing me to rest all day with lots of liquids. I'm fine now.

Lesson learned.

But, man. I made it through a full marathon (26.2 miles) last October in temps higher than these. How could a puny little 16 miler do me in like this?????

OK, maybe lesson hasn't completely yet been learned. But Husband D. is keeping a closer eye on me. That should count for something.

Friday, July 18, 2008

My New Yorker arrived today

and really, I don't get the big deal.

Yes, it's a bit of an insulting cover. But aren't they all?

Am I missing something?

The New Yorker is full of satirical cartoons every month. Both inside the magazine and on the cover. Most of them go right over my head. Now that we live in the Midwest, I am much too un-hip to get the inside jokes of the east coast set. Truly.

A friend argued that people will see the cover and think that Obama is a Muslim. I argued back, "There is not a single New Yorker subscriber who could possibly think that."

To me, they are doing what they always do: poking fun at the ignorant people who do NOT get the New Yorker. It's another big inside joke for those of us who do subscribe.

If you think about it, it's not really an effective way to boost their circulation, but it seems to be what they do.

I liken it to the Apple ads. The ones who made fun of people who own PCs. ("I'm a Mac" - hot stylish young guy...."I'm a PC" - stuffy suit-wearing nerdy guy.) Very funny commercials. But a good way to make people buy your product? By mocking them? I think not.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Can't stop watching Matt dance...

I've come (relatively) late to the internet sensation of that guy dancing all over the world. I got no less than a dozen emails from family and friends with the YouTube link, but I ignored them. I saw it mentioned on blog after blog, but I never clicked through. The Times even did a piece on it, but I skipped right over it.

Who has time to watch silly videos on YouTube, anyway?

I do, apparently.

Last night, after the kids went to bed and I was mindlessly trolling the internet, I saw the dancing thing mentioned on my favorite NPR game show host, Peter Sagal's, blog. Not only mentioned - he said he was *in* it.

That, I had to see.

I'd love to say I watched it once and then went back to reading OpEds about world peace and the middle east. But no. I watched it over. and over. and over. And then some more.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Summer in Wisconsin

It's the time of year now when we spend every single possible moment outdoors. Especially after this last winter with its 100 inches of snow and sub-zero temps.

Wisconsin is definitely the place to live in the summer. You only *really* need air conditioning a few days/year. There is something fun to do outside just about every day - a farmers market here; an outdoor concert there. Life is just one sunny, beautiful day after another.

This year, we are having some nasty mosquitoes, but other than that, it's idyllic. So much less time in front of the computers, TV, anything indoors.

Speaking of which, it is time to douse myself with DEET and go for a walk with my lovely family.

Monday, June 30, 2008


Signs that we may be decidedly un-American:

- I don't think $4/gallon is too much to pay for gas. In fact, we'd welcome higher taxes on gas if they went straight to improving this country's infrastructure.

- The only sporting event we watched as a family so far this year was the Euro 2008, yesterday. Son D even wore his Ballack jersey for part of the game.

- Son D doesn't own a single Green Bay Packer Jersey, and has never, to my knowledge, seen a full football game.

- Husband D works for a European company and spends huge amounts of time in Asia.

- I think Obama's treatment of Muslims this week has been obscene. Since when is simply being a Muslim a smear? To me, he is playing right into the hands of those ignorant crazies who equate Muslim with Terrorist. Obama - you don't have to do this. The American people are smarter than you think they are.

- I refuse to wear any type of flag clothing. When I see a woman with a US Flag plastered across her ass, I cringe. I don't want a flag pinned to me; I don't want it on my hat; I won't put it on a cheap T-shirt. To me, it's disrespectful of the flag. Really, the only time a flag should be worn is when, say, a team has just won the Euro2008. (Go Spain!)

Thursday, June 26, 2008

2008 shall henceforth be declared "the year of the barf"

We've had more stomach bugs this year than the past 8 combined. Or so it seems.

Last night, it was daughter D. She's better today, but there wasn't a lot of sleeping going on for anyone last night.

Luckily, we both have really flexible work schedules and can adjust pretty easily around a sick child. Every time this happens, I feel for those who don't.

And at least she didn't get it last week when the husband was in China. The last two bouts occurred when he was out of town.

Let the mad hand-washing and sanitizing ensue.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Sunny Days

Basement is dry
Yard has no more puddles
And best of all: you can see grass at the park:

As for me, I am investing heavily in any company that makes or distributes mosquito repellent. Eau d'Deet? I'm all over it. I suspect it will be my signature scent for the month of August.

Monday, June 16, 2008

summer vacation

It's the first day of summer vacation for the kids. And I'm already sick of playing baseball in the yard...How can one boy play so much baseball?

But, on the bright side, I am developing quite a curve ball.

The neighborhood does a summer camp in the afternoon for the kids. They hire tons and tons of active teenagers and they take over the biggest neighborhood park and *they* play baseball and soccer and tag and water games with the kids. over and over and over again. It's quite possibly the best thing ever.

The problem? This park - well, it's still underwater.

Please, please, please let the water magically evaporate before this afternoon. Please. Send the locusts, if you must. But we're done with the flooding.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

tornadoes, flooding and hail, oh my

I have come to realize that my blog post title vocabulary would be very limited without that scene from the Wizard of Oz: "Lions, and tigers and bears, oh my." I seem to be able to turn that into anything.

We are still dealing with very minuscule amounts of water in our own basement. But the flooding nearby is horrendous. Roads are closed because they are covered with water. Parks are under water. Neighbors have sewage coming into their basements. Entire houses are floating down the Wisconsin River!

In my entire 39 1/2 years of life, I've never seen a week of weather like this. Tornado warnings have become routine. I blatantly ignored one tonight. I just stopped at the grocery store on the way home. Normally, I *never* ignore a tornado warning. Ordinarily, I'm down in the basement with the weather report on, at the first sign of any tornadoes. But tonight - I realized that the chances of a night this week *without* a tornado in the area were very slim. And we still had to eat....

It's just so ironic. We had the most severe winter on record. 100+ inches of snow - months of below zero temps. We've been looking forward to spring/summer for longer than you can imagine. Dreaming of rain instead of snow.

And here it is. Be careful what you wish for.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008


If you think about it, water is pretty amazing.

We were very lucky - our basement only got a TINY amount of water. If the basement had been unfinished, we'd not have even noticed it. But the previous owners installed wall-to-wall Berber carpet with a thick, absorbent carpet pad.

Pampers should really look into the mechanics of a carpet pad. Our tiny little amount of water was instantly disbursed through the entire pad. We had to tear up the entire carpet to remove it.

A tiny amount of water - and our entire day was devoted to removing it. But we got it, and we are now dry.

Other neighbors weren't as lucky. Sewage backed up. Basements flooded with a few feet of water. Yards that look more like ponds. About an hour north of here, entire houses were swept away in the mudslides due to the unintended draining of a lake. Schools are still closed up there.

Water. When we looked for houses, my #1 requirement was water. I didn't want to be more than a block off one of the many lakes we have here in Madison. (Yes, this severely restricted our home search. Affordable homes a block off the lake are not easy to find. But we finally found one.)

I'm still glad to be near the water. But maybe next time, we don't have to invite it over for a basement party.

Monday, June 9, 2008

We're organizing the animals two by two

Our lovely Midwest city broke a 134 year record for rainfall yesterday. I think we got 6 inches in 24 hours or something like that. Enough so that our front yard looked like a pond and our basement got water in it for the first time ever. Tornadoes passed just north and south of us.

Schools were closed in all the surrounding counties, but ours seemed to escape the worst of it.

The good news is that I see a potential solution to these high gas prices. With all of this rain, the mosquitoes will soon be big enough to ride. Either that or we'll all just canoe down the streets. Yesterday, we could have.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Fears at Five

Last summer, our daycare provider's house burned down. No one was hurt, but she lost everything. She is like family to us, so we spent a good bit of time at the site of the fire in the immediate aftermath. I brought the kids, because they needed to be with her. But it was scary. It looked scary. It smelled scary. It felt scary. They were scared. Hell, I was scared.

Other parents kept their kids away. At the time, I thought being with her was the most important thing. Looking back, maybe they were too young to handle all of that. But, at the time, it felt very important to be there.

Almost a year later, the house is rebuilt. But the fears remain. We've been having lots of storms in the last week. Storms with lightening.

The other day, the child who is home with me during the day wouldn't leave the house. He was paralyzed with fear of lightening starting a fire. He worried that our house would burn down.

I had a lot to do. I needed to leave the house. (Groceries, for example.) So I started my usual parental mantra of "Oh, sweetie, that can't happen. I wouldn't let that happen" and then he looked at me with the full knowledge that not only can that happen, but it *did* happen and no matter what our intentions, bad things still occur in this world.

So, we curled up on the couch and postponed the groceries for a sunny day.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Oh Hillary.

Maureen Dowd says it best:

"Whoever said that after denial comes acceptance hadn’t met the Clintons."

It's time to concede.

And please, Obama, don't pick her for VP. Put her in the cabinet, sure. But get someone you can trust in the #2 spot.

Friday, May 30, 2008

lunch bunch

Laura and Elizabeth ask how the rising food/gas prices are effecting everyone.

As I was packing daughter D's lunch this morning, I realized that one thing we are doing is stretching out the time between grocery store trips. This leaves us with a few days of eating whatever is around. (The good stuff goes right away. Strawberries have a shelf life of about 30 minutes in our house.)

I really hope that no adults I know were in her lunchroom today. I'm also hoping corn chips will qualify as a vegetable. We were pretty much out of all things animal, vegetable or mineral. I searched through the pantry. "Aha! Pinto beans! I could pack those with some crackers!"

I didn't go that far, but her lunch was pretty much 100% out of the cupboard today. The fridge was bare. I did find some raisins. That's about all that had nutritional value in her lunch today.

Finally, we broke down and headed to the co-op this afternoon to get some supplies of the fruit/vegetable variety.

I'm just going to have to start rationing the strawberries.

(and yes, we are still splurging for the organic strawberries...so I guess we haven't been hit too hard. yet.)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Opting Out

Over at BitchPhD, there is an interesting post about the flip sides of "opting out/opting in."

I work in a job-share and therefore make 50% of the salary of the position and work 50% of the hours. It's great - don't get me wrong. I love working part time and the flexibility it gives me to do other things. I'm really lucky.

So, yes. I've "opted out" of full time career stuff

But I've been amazed at how my previously full-time paid work (pre-kids) has been slowly and subtly replaced by completely unpaid volunteer work. I'm honestly not "working" any less. I'm PTA President. I'm a soccer coach. I bake for bake sales. I organize fund raisers. I attend school board meetings. I volunteer in the classroom. I'm a Big Sister. And so on.

And although I've never been one to measure my success by my monetary worth - it kinda gets to me - this doing so much work for free.

The parents who work full time can easily say, "No, I can't do that. I work full time." And I don't blame them. If I worked full time, I'd say that too. You probably can't be a high-power career person and volunteer in the classroom for an afternoon each week and go along on every field trip or commit to the BB/BS program.

I choose the volunteer work. I enjoy the volunteer work. It's a core part of who I am. It's a huge part of where I find purpose and meaning in life. I'm not trying to complain about the fact that I do it. That's not it.

Those of us who are lucky enough to have the ability to not work full time should do volunteer work whenever we can. I chose my schedule and really, you couldn't pay me a million dollars to go back to work full time.

But that doesn't change the feeling I sometimes get when I realize just how much unpaid work I do these days. Work that I do because I can, due to my flexible schedule. I'm not talking about the 'raising my kids' or 'cleaning my house' part of my life, either. Those are for my kids and my house. That's part of the package.

It's the 'making the world a better place' work that perplexes me. Why is there so much of it that is unpaid and volunteer? And why does one need to basically opt-out of a fast-track career path to do it? Why does it feel so devalued? And what happens to our society if people stop doing it?