Sunday, November 29, 2009

Simple, but better

I've started a new blog. Because I'm insane. No, really, it's out of necessity. For the most part, I'll post reviews both here and at April Balances Reviews, but there will be times when I will just post links to the other blog.

There are some products we use everyday that we've stopped thinking about as innovations. A trash can is just a trash can. The only thought I usually have about hand soap is whether or not we need to buy more. Most innovation on some household products has pretty much petered out.

simplehuman is changing that perception. Click here for the review in its entirety.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Black Friday Fragments

Let's all give thanks to Mrs. 4444 for hosting Friday Fragments.

***Hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving. We spent ours at a friend's house for breakfast of mimosas, buttermilk sour cream pancakes, and some friends I have known since way back in my theatre days. After that, we headed to the Happiest Place on Earth. Riley was tall enough for Screamin', and Sylvia and Riley sat in the front row! Riley loved it, and Sylvia said she's a softie because she loved being on the ride with her little sis. We went on most of our favorite rides, and had a great time.

***The day before, the girls and I went to see Mary Poppins at the Ahmanson Theatre. It took Riley a little while to get used to the live stage version, but some of it was way more magical on stage. I adore Step In Time, but the girls' favorite number was Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious. (Riley spell-checked that for me. They spent a good deal of time practicing that.) Overall, though, we agreed that the 2nd act was way better than the first. All in all, we really enjoyed the show.

***On Monday, we had a photo shoot for that magazine that I was interviewed for a couple of weeks ago. The photographer will be sending me a cd of some shots, which I can't wait to show you. It was a longer shoot than I expected (about an hour), but the photographer was really sweet and the girls had a ball. Later that night, Sylvia went to see New Moon with a group from the Club. She is now bitten with the Twilight series. (I was *this* close!!)

***Last Saturday night, a group of us from work went to see The Santaland Diaries, starring Nicholas Brendan, written by David Sedaris. It was a really great way to start the holiday season.

***And the rest of the time, there was work, laundry, blah blah blah.

***I'm so totally excited about our upcoming trip to NY!! I haven't been this excited about Xmas in years.

***I wish Blogger/Google would recognize "theatre" as a word. In my world, live stage is spelled theatre and movies are spelled theater.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving!

I continue to be grateful to all of you. You've opened my world, and welcomed me into yours. It's hard to imagine these past few years without this blog and all the wonderful people I've come to know and love because of it.

I wish you all a lovely Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 20, 2009

Friday Fragments - is Thanksgiving really next week?!? edition

As usual, please visit Mrs. 4444 for more Friday Fragments.

***Riley got to spend Monday with me at work (pupil-free day for parent-teacher conferences) and said it was the "best day ever." She behaved beautifully, and it was lovely to spend time with her.

***On Tuesday, Sylvia asked me to come in for her therapy session. I think she mainly just wanted to spend time with me. I love love love her therapist, and it's apparent that she has helped Sylvia come so far in the past 6 months.

***Sylvia got her progress report and is getting an A+ in Science! Generally not her best subject, but I wasn't too surprised because she talks about the teacher a lot. Great teachers make all the difference.

***Riley has been asked to take a test for the District's Math Field Day next week. In the end, only 12 students throughout the District will be picked, but she was one of only three 4th graders in the school invited to take the test so it's a huge honor! She's nervous and excited right now. I'm just proud.

***OK, enough of all the happy stuff. I'm starting to annoy myself!!

***Since when is it news that a politician wrote a book?

***The mammogram hoopla is annoying me. It was said best in the first story I saw on the subject: "Just talk to your doctor." Your history (and that of your family's) will best determine your personal needs. And I'm reminded of Tara's ongoing struggles with mammograms not being the right test for her. And, as best said in Pirates, "they're just guidelines." After all, how many of us really eat exactly as the Food Pyramid says?

***Looks to be a good weekend. Tonight, Thanksgiving dinner at the Boys and Girls Club. Tomorrow, a movie with the girls in the morning, and tomorrow night, a play with some friends from work. Sunday is, thankfully, wide open!

***I'm woefully behind on The Daily Show this week. I really need to make up for that this weekend.

***While I thought Carol Hannah had the best collection, I'm not surprised that Irina won Project Runway. Throughout the season, her clothes have consistently been good. And even if her collection wasn't my style, it was all extremely well-made, and with amazing detail. And how cool was it to see Tim Gunn lose his cool?

***So there you have it, from the not-so-sublime to the ridiculous. Gotta love Fragment Fridays!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Balancing trust

"No wonder a lot of girls grow up not trusting men!" A sentence from a post by another blogger. In bold, no less. As if this is a bad thing.

I grew up trusting men. My dad was an attentive father, driving me two hours to SF every night for a show - after driving 1 hour home from San Jose to Santa Cruz to come get me. Every night for three months. And things like that all the time. My dad uprooted our family from the Bay Area to L.A. so that I could attend the High School for the Arts. My dad comforted me when I lost the part of my dreams, and gave me standing ovations at every opportunity. My dad is a great man.

My trouble was, I thought they were all like that.

Oh, sure, I knew there were a few bad men, but my instinct when I was younger was to trust until proven differently. Innocent 'til proven guilty.

While I agree with that presumption when it comes to our legal system, it should not be a basis for relationships.

By the time I knew who X was, it was too late. I was in love. And I believed that love would conquer all. And I was oh so wrong.

Still, I'm not talking just about trusting men here. I've also been hurt by trusting friends (mostly female) that stabbed me in the back. I've been hurt in other jobs where the carrot was dangled and dangled and never came through.

My faith in our legal system was shattered when the OJ verdict came in. President Clinton broke my heart. Kobe Bryant broke my heart. The CA voters broke my heart.

Having said all that, I remain a humanist. Nothing has bettered our world more than compassionate individuals. Slavery did end, apartheid was abolished, we beat the Nazis (finally), we have gone to the moon, made pyramids, bridges, trains, airplanes, and found comfort in a loved one's embrace.

I have the most amazing friends, the strongest support system, the greatest laughs.

All that I have right now, all that I cherish, is not because of a lack of trust, it comes from an earned trust.

When I first started here at my job, I didn't open up to anyone about what was going on in my life. It wasn't until I'd seen how wonderful these people are that I let them in.

I no longer trust blindly. Nor do I expect anyone to blindly trust me.

I have been hurt by opening myself up here. I have had words written about me, to me, attacking me for what I feel, what I think, what I write. I accept that responsibility. And every word of encouragement that I get back is deeply appreciated.

Clearly, to do what I do here, takes a leap of faith that most of the people who read actually care about what I have to say. And they do. It's apparent in the thoughtful comments, emails, and friendships I've made.

Still, it's been a 2-way street. I am welcome to read your thoughts, your feelings, your words, and through that, come to know and care about you. It is not a blind trust that we put in each other.

My daughters are better off learning early that love is not always enough. As hard as that's been for them, they remain loving and compassionate. And as hard as it's been for me, I feel more confident that when they are older, they will not trust all men. They will keep an open mind, but they will require an earned trust before they open their heart. They will not fall in love, but they will love and be loved in return.

So I'm okay with it if they grow up not trusting men (or women) blindly. Trust should be earned. And when it is, there's a freedom in loving to the fullest extent of the heart.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Middle-schoolers: The Lost Years

When I tell people that my oldest daughter is 12 and in 7th grade, I see their faces shape into horror and then pity. My own parents seem to delight in seeing me try to dissect this time. My friend that is now a grandparent just shakes her head. My friend that's a principal and spent many years with middle-schoolers assures me that it's all normal, and we'll get through it.

Still, that's pretty much all the support and advice I get. Just grin and bear it.

There is a multitude of resources available to learn about our children in the years from 0-5, and almost as much for the high school years, but the resources nearly dry out for our elementary graduates.

Most people hated middle school (or junior high, as it was known back in my day). The common perception of this time is that it pretty much sucks. It's the time that cliques are born. Bodies are changing, but not quite there yet. You're expected to be more responsible, but you still can't drive a car or stay out late. Maybe most people would rather forget it altogether.

I was prepared for some of the changes. I knew she'd want to spend a lot more time talking to her friends. I prepared her for the biological changes, much to her chagrin. I was even prepared for the rolling eyes, and the ups and downs of middle school girl friendships - albeit not thrilled.

Still, there have been moments that I hadn't expected in any way. I didn't know, for instance, that she would revert to some of her younger traits. I didn't think she'd be as scared of her growing up as I am. And I'm truly surprised that she still wants to spend as much time with me as she does.

I found The Rollercoaster Years by Charlene C. Gianetti and Margaret Sagarese to help guide me through these next few years. The book explains their cognitive development from ages 10-15 to help me understand the burst of emotions, the rapid behavioral changes, easing my whiplash just a little. It's also been reassuring to learn that my opinion is still most important to her.

She still fights with her little sister over who gets to sit next to me. She calls me every day to let me know she's on the bus to her after-school program, but will stay on the phone to tell me about her day. She'll text me when she has a fight with a friend, or just to say she loves me. She still gives me our special goodnight kisses. But it's kind of fun to drool over Johnny Depp with her, too! It's nice to see that she can do most of her homework without my help. And she's developing an ear for sarcasm - a must-have trait among the adults in our family!

While no book (or blog, for that matter) can fully prepare us for our individual child's development and their own unique challenges, I can't believe that these years will be any less filled with wonder as her earlier years were. It's exciting (and yes, exhausting) to be a part of her world as she finds her place in it. And I'll continue to hold her hand as we brave the ups and downs together.

Originally posted on LA Moms Blog, Nov. 16, 2009.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Friday (the 13th) Fragments

Check out Mrs. 4444 for more Friday Fragments.

***I went home for lunch 3 days this week, and probably today, too. I figure it's saved me approximately $20 - probably more. Plus, I LOVE it. I don't know why it took me over a year to take advantage of the fact that I live about 5 minutes from work.

***I changed my direct deposit so that $20 more (the money I'm saving on lunch) goes into my savings. (Don't let the "more" fool you. The money I've been depositing in there is for rent - I just use the savings account as a placeholder for it.) Now I have a whopping $60 in savings. Hey, you gotta start somewhere, right?

***The good people at ExpenseRegister have made an additional budget template designed for families. I'd emailed them some questions (after they'd found my previous mention of them on this blog), and voila! A new budget was born. I haven't played with it much yet, but hopefully I'll get a chance this weekend.

***The girls got to visit with their aunt last Friday night (X's sister) and had a fabulous time. I'm so glad that X's family is still a part of the girls' lives. It's hard because we don't live close to each other, but their aunt went out of her way to extend her trip and drive down here so that she could spend time with them. That meant a lot to all of us.

***I'm in love with Alice. I'm saving money and it's convenient. What more could a girl want?

***We're getting more and more excited about our trip to NYC for Xmas. We've lined up ice skating at Rockefeller Center on Xmas Eve and we're going to Radio City Music Hall on Xmas Day. Now, we just have to figure out our theatre schedule, and time with family and friends. Oh, and Xmas Dinner. Ideas welcome!

***I'm very much looking forward to a quiet weekend. Other than Sylvia's dance clinic on Sunday while Riley's at a bday party, the weekend is wide open. Phew!

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

More education talk

Today, I'm over at Parentella.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Yahoo MotherBoard: Arts in Education

Here is the scenario that Yahoo MotherBoards has asked us to contemplate this month:

Picture this. You're enrolling your child into a new school that is well-known for its academic excellence and exceptional staff. You walk into the front office with excitement and grab a packet, anxious to fill it out. As you flip through the stack of forms you come across a letter from the principal that reads:

Dear Parents,

Due to the hit our school has taken with the recent State budget cuts, we are no longer offering art, music, or sports programs. We're sad to see these programs go, but we hope that by eliminating such programs we can continue offering the children of our community with the best academic experience possible…


Principal X

Regular readers know that I am passionate about the arts and music being an integral part of education.

Having attended an arts high school, I experienced firsthand how the arts enriched our academic classes. A study of world history coupled with the knowledge of what plays and works of art were created during that time develops a greater understanding of both. It's one thing to know the dates that certain events happened, it's another to understand what people were thinking and feeling that led to such events, or were the consequences.

My own daughter, Sylvia, has a deeper appreciation of math because of her knowledge of music. By studying both, she can see how rhythms are really mathematical formulas. Thinking of herself as a Sharpay of music helped her approach her Math tests with more confidence and achieve higher scores.

I find the Principal's statement above a contradiction. I simply don't think it's possible to improve academics by eliminating the arts.

The studies, the experts, and most of our personal experiences have found this to be true. So most parents that find themselves reading a letter like that example start enrolling their children in extra-curricular programs. Their Saturdays are spent at soccer games and art or dance classes.

Unfortunately, this option is not available for all students. And, if we study our history, we know that separate but equal rarely works.

A teacher can't use an example from one student's music studies to show the correlation to their fractions lesson because not everyone has taken that music class. Students are compartmentalizing their school studies from their outside activities instead of learning how to integrate their knowledge.

Still, we do what we can. I've paid $200 for Sylvia to take part in her school's musical. I've signed the girls up for Saturday dance classes, and most recently, paid for drum lessons for Riley.

In the past 2 years, since moving to this District, it's gotten better. I'm involved in Riley's PTA because of their commitment to keeping the arts in the school. Sylvia loves being a part of her school's choir.

The most important programs, however, have taken place not at the schools but at the Boys and Girls Club. Riley is part of their Girl Scout troupe that meets on Tuesdays (best troupe ever; no uniforms, no cookie sales). On Wednesdays, Sylvia is in a program where she's writing her own song. On Thursdays, they have dance and on Fridays, acting. And all of this takes place before I pick the girls up after work.

While it's not ideal, they are reaping great benefits from this. Sylvia has tackled this school year with enthusiasm, commitment, and dedication. She stays on top of her school work so that she can focus on her dance combinations and monologues. Riley, we've discovered, has a natural aptitude for acting and has gotten more comfortable taking her place on center stage.

These experiences aren't about the future. It's not about what they will be when they grow up. It's about what they achieve and learn in the moment.

There is no greater deadline than an opening night. A performer that hasn't memorized their lines suffers the consequences all by themselves. The skill of listening is imperative to make an entrance cue. A chorus line is only straight if everyone is aware of everyone else on stage. And the reward of a standing ovation is immediate and requires no explanation. And there's no greater sense of community than found in your fellow performers.

Children are natural performers. They light up when their imaginations are engaged. Their love of play is innate. So why wouldn't we try to use that to our collective advantage and light up the world?

Imagination creates our future. If someone didn't think it might be possible, how else could I be on this thing called the Internet? If dreams are oppressed, how do we expand our knowledge?

It's not going to be everyone's dream to take Broadway by storm, but a moment of feeling free to create can lead to creations that change our world.

Those creations can lead to new jobs. Jobs = better economy = increased spending on education. Better education creates innovation which creates more jobs to keep the economy growing.

We've taken education out of the equation.

Until we put it back, until we start thinking of education as something that develops a whole person instead of a compartmentalized good test-taker, we will continue to have this discussion. And our children will be the next generation's parents, asking why.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Friday Fragments

Yep, I'm trying Mrs. 4444's Friday Fragments again.

***Truth be told, I'm really glad my girls are getting older. Even though part of me is scared to death to be mothering a 12-year-old, I'd much rather that than a 12-month-old. I'm not really that good with little kids, as I was just reminded when my colleague's 4-year-old twins came by. They're really really cute and all, but I could not think of a thing to say to them.

***While I'm feeling confessional, as much as I love my girls, I've noticed that the one prevailing thought I have as I'm dropping them off at school is, "get out of the f**ing car already." I don't say that out loud, of course. I'm all hugs and kisses, bye, I love you. But I just want them out of my car. I just want to listen to my cds and enjoy the quiet for the 5 minutes it takes me to get to work after dropping them off.

***Speaking of cds, I now have all of my cds uploaded into iTunes, and have made myself quite a few mix cds to play in my car. At first, I had very specific ideas of what songs I wanted on them, but now, I'm letting iTunes DJ feature decide. I love the shuffle feature so much that it's now kind of like having shuffle in my car. Yeah, I'm weird.

***Or what I should say is, I'm a geek because I like to organize my music randomly. On Wed., Sylvia participated in a LOL workshop at the Club. They asked parents to join them for the last half-hour, and we had a blast. We all had to write down reasons why we're a geek, and then say them out loud to the circle, while the circle cheered us on. It was a lot of fun, and I'm glad we got to do this together.

***We also had a PTA meeting this week. I'm happy because in the Principal's Report, while she was giving us the results of the Parent Survey, she said that she knows about the research stating that homework does nothing to help children's education in elementary school, and is discouraging her teachers from giving more than reading homework.

***I was interviewed for an upcoming article in the PTO Magazine. The writer saw some of my posts about education, and approached me to answer questions about parental involvement from the single parent's point of view. I'll let you know when it's published, of course.

***At the LOL workshop, they said that, on average, children laugh 400 times a day and adults, only 75. I think RadDude, Nancy and I beat that average!

***I miss posting more frequently. Work has been busy, and at home, I just don't feel like sitting in front of a monitor for very long. I think I'll try to write some this weekend and then schedule them to post next week. I've got 2 reviews half-written in my head, and a Yahoo MotherBoard post going wild in my brain on my favorite topic: education.

Monday, November 2, 2009

My Super Mommy Powers

After 30 (and two children), the memory starts to go. That on top of my less than stellar organizational abilities make for some daily challenges. I do my best to keep myself in line by using my BBerry for all its worth. There are still a few post-its stuck to my monitor for the phone calls that need to be returned, but I generally organize my life through my Outlook.

We have a running joke in our department that if you ask us about a project we worked on previous to that day, our answer is generally, "I've slept since then" and we'll have to go through our email folder before we can answer any questions on the matter.

I used to memorize every line of a script, not just my lines, but I can't remember someone's name if I don't have their email in the body of my reply. I have accepted that my memory is gone.

I have to leave my keys in the same place or else I won't know where they are. I need my routines.

Still, I can tell you on any given day what my children are wearing. Sylvia looked for her phone last week for two days, and I found it in 5 seconds. Riley couldn't find a certain pair of shoes for a week, and I found them in 20 seconds.

How is it that I have to look up my sister's cell phone number every time I call her (even though she's had the same one for six years), but I can answer any "Mommy, where's my ___" question before they've finished asking?

Of course, there are huge pay-offs to these minor miracles that I accomplish without really trying. The girls' faces light up and they say, "thank you so much, Mommy!" and give me hugs and kisses for finding their long-lost whatever.

I don't tell them that I have no idea how I do it.