Thursday, May 29, 2008

School's Out!

I've not been here for an entire week - how can that be? Too much going on, not enough energy to mess with blogging. Some days, I prefer to live my life rather than document it.

Other activities are taking up my energy. Today, on top of everything, I've had wicked headache. I folded some laundry, but not much else. And now we have a house full of teenage girls, so I won't get much done tonight.

Highlights of my week include, but are not limited to:

• Yet another swim meet. One in which my youngest improved her time in every event, and the oldest improved in two and swam in two relays. We are not the most competitive family in the world, but we were very proud.

(And I should clarify: Athletically we are not terribly motivated. But don't mess with us when it comes to board games. Yahtzee or trivia challengers, beware!)

• I turned another year older: I am 42. I don't mind telling my age - I still look fairly young, and I feel great (other than the occasional headache). Sure, I'm carrying around a few more pounds than I would like. But to be fair, I was at a deficit in my younger years, so I still look OK.

• My parents were here over the weekend to help me celebrate. We visited the Forbidden Gardens - a reproduction of the Terra Cotta army and the Forbidden City, right here in Houston - ate fajitas, and drank margaritas. Caught the end of Indy, too - too bad Danica Patrick couldn't pull it off, but there's always next year.

• And on Monday (my birthday often requires a three-day weekend) we - get ready for this - visited the National Museum of Funeral History. I found it kind of fun - quirky and weird, yes, but fun, too. If you're into caskets of all kinds, hearses, and odd bits of funeral trivia, this place is for you. I quite enjoyed the display on presidential funerals and the look at mourning clothes and implements from the late 19th century. If they hadn't been out of t-shirts, I'm pretty sure we'd all have them. After all, who wears a National Museum of Funeral History t-shirt?

• And I got presents - my girls are so sweet! They never forget to properly fête me - which included making my favorite cupcakes: Chocolate with cream cheese/chocolate chip filling.

• Then on Tuesday, being the dedicated parent I am, I stayed up til midnight correcting a project for one of my children. She did it, but it didn't turn out quite right. So, to help her out, I fixed it. I paid for it the next day, though.

• Oh - and our house is for sale. Which means I spend an inordinate amount of time cleaning/tidying/straightening every last thing. No spare papers, no unfolded laundry, nothing on countertops or tables. Ever. (You try this with three children and a dog.) In other words, our house looks nothing like it does on a regular basis.

This is something I felt bad about. But the realtor took me to look at the competition. We toured one house on the market, and talk about clutter - my house doesn't look like that on a normal day, much less when it's for sale. So I suddenly didn't feel so bad.

And lest I forget, school is out - yay!! The 50th anniversary bash that I am helping plan is two weeks away. And much, much more ... but my headache rages on. I think I'll go supervise kids in the pool.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Last of the School-Day Events

In stark contrast to the event at the middle school, I attended Sylvia's third-grade garden party Thursday morning. The third-graders run the Imagination Garden at the elementary school. It's a cute little garden, vegetables and flowers, and the kids work in it as part of their science curriculum.

So, Thursday morning the parents were invited to have a look, share some snacks, enjoy the garden with our children. The teacher in charge had put together a little Power Point presentation ... and it was delightful. She had beautiful photos of the garden - close-ups of the flowers, the vegetables, the insects - and lots of photos of the kids. All the kids. (I remember sitting through my school's Memories Assembly and feeling as if the photos were only of three people, and this did not feel that way at all.)

(And there were three of four nice ones of my daughter - but she hardly dominated. As there were several group photos, every kid was included. Plus the soundtrack was Raffi, and considering how much we looooved Raffi, once upon a time, it was just a feel-good moment.)

So Sylvia and I had a nice time. Then I went to the seventh-grade awards night at the middle school.

I remember Honor Day from my school. To be honest, I have a lot of issues with the stupid way my high school did things (no campaigning for student body elections, arbitrary rule enforcement, to name two). But Honor Day was done well. It was a dress-up day, a fairly formal occasion. All kids were treated equally - applause was held until every kid from that grade had walked across the stage; it was a very nice event, always run the same way, but always done nicely.

At our middle school, it's a bit looser. The kids do not have to dress up - and I'm just wondering, would it kill them to, on occasion, wear something other than jeans and flip-flops? My child refused to dress up. She looked nice, but she was not putting on a dress. The principal made jokes that I felt were inappropriate.

But the worst grievance? (Come on, you knew I'd have one!) The counselor, who read the awards, said: Please hold your applause until every student has been recognized. Fair enough - this event could drag out forever with personal cheering sections.

Except that, on occasion, the counselor encouraged individual applause. She would say, "Wow, what a long list," or "Now that deserves some applause." Nice way to diminish the accomplishments of other students. Or make it clear that some kids' awards are more important than others.

You know, just because a kid has an especially long list does not mean anything. For some kids, making all A's is not that challenging. And for others, just making the honor roll, or being recognizes in a single class, or doing well in a sport, for some kids that is a major accomplishment. By singling out just a few kids for "special" applause, it sends a clear message: Some kids are more valued than others.

This isn't about my child. She had a respectable list of awards - not the longest, by any means, but honors she, and we, are proud of. And she knows this. I am just bothered by the school's inability to see that playing favorites isn't right. They would encourage applause arbitrarily - other kids with lists that seemed just as long would not get the recognition.

But we're done - no use getting all worked up over it. I vented my frustration with a very nicely worded e-mail to the principal and counselor ... and got a snippy response from the principal. Which is fine. But at least she'll think about it for next year. (And I did not even mention the inappropriate jokes - wonder how she would have responded to that?)


Took my daughter lunch from Chick-Fil-A today. It took me more than half an hour to make the trip. Traffic is awful here. Doesn't matter what time of day, what street, which day of the week. It is hellish.

Seven weeks. Not that I'm counting.


We got our second market analysis for our house sale. And the numbers were amazing - we are totally jazzed. The price he quoted us was higher than we could have imagined, and it's what houses are actually selling for. We should be in good shape.

And we got some loan rates and ran numbers on what our remodeling budget will be for the new place. We should be able to do just what we want.

Bring on the old house restoration - I am ready!

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The MIddle School Band Concert: The Ultimate Critique

The week of school activities is coming to a close.

Thank goodness.

I mean, I am all about supporting my kids. (And please indulge me while I do something I rarely do here, which is brag on my girls just a bit - if I don't, then who will?) I think my girls are FANTASTIC. They are incredibly bright (trust me - I could bring out the report cards and test scores if you really want evidence, but I doubt anyone wants to go that far. Suffice it to say, they got the combined intelligence of their parents - they got my English and writing skills and their father's math, science, and reasoning skills - and that's not a bad combination. Unfortunately, they also got my short temper and athletic prowess, but that's a discussion for another day ...).

They are clever and witty, and they think for themselves. They are warm and genuine, loyal and sincere. They are truly, truly delightful girls. Alison is smart as a whip - that girl has been thinking and forming logical arguments since early grade school, tackling issues that some people don't think about until they are adults. Maddie is thoughtful and sincere, the most giving child I have ever known. On the rare occasions that she hurts someone's feelings (and it does happen - she is not a saint), she does everything she can to make amends. Sylvia is just a sweetheart - she is still little enough that the world revolves around her parents, and every day of my life she is a ray of sunshine - she wakes up happy and is a delight to be around. She has tons of friends and is clearly loved by all of them - with our volume of phone calls, I know this to be the case.

But don't most little girls have lots of friends? And I know, I am their mother, thus not the most objective observer. And my girls are not without faults - who is? They have their moments, and they have enough - let's call it "personality," shall we? - to make me want to tear my hair out on occasion.

But I digress.

This week is about end-of-the-year functions, those activities in which the schools show off what has been accomplished. Alison is out of the loop - her high school is so big, they have dispensed with the giant assemblies. Alison is sent home with a certificate that reads "Departmental Honors: English." No ceremony, no recognition in front of her peers.

But the middle school is all about the recognition. The performances. The awards ceremonies. I am nearly worn out. One more to go, tonight, and then we're done.

Last night was the band concert. It came in at just over an hour, for three bands, which isn't bad.

Except that it could have - should have - been shorter.

For starters, one band director likes to talk. For fun, I whipped out my phone, which is equipped with a stop watch (my phone has all sorts of quirky gadgets that get me through moments like this). I timed her, and she talked for nearly 10 minutes (cumulatively, that is). She talked about the kids and how great they are. She talked about the song selections. She talked about the handouts at the back of the room (and essentially read them to us, eliminating the need to actually pick up one of the aforementioned handouts). She yakked on and on about everything - about opportunities for the summer, what the eighth-graders can expect next year, about how she wondered that she wouldn't have anything to say. She needn't have worried.

And about the song choices: When I was in piano recitals, my teacher made us choose one major piece (by a real composer) and we were allowed one - only one - pop piece. It's a rule I wish band directors here would follow. I've been going to kids' band concerts for a few years now. The first time you hear your kid's band play "Smoke on the Water," "Born to Be Wild," or "Hawaii Five-0" it's kinda kitschy. With Mr. Parthun at Tecumseh, you sort of felt like you were helping him re-live his stoner days

But it's wearing thin. Last night, the program included "Born to Be Wild," "Mission: Impossible," "Smoke on the Water," "Pink Panther," "Secret Agent Man," three movie themes and two (yes, two) medleys of '60s and '70s TV themes. Good god - enough is enough. These kids are in band to learn some music, and I'm sorry, but a montage that includes the themes from "The Brady Bunch," "Bewitched," and "The Addams Family" - without decent transitions even, just all thrown together - well, it doesn't feel as if my kid is getting a musical education, but rather a stroll down tacky television memory lane. Are we all so numbed that this is what passes for culture? Have them play some real composers - I would prefer to listen to the 590th performance of "Mulberry March" (another Jeff Parthun favorite) or "Mariachi Serenade" than The Flintstones and Peter Gunn - a little goes a long way.

My point? (And I do have one.) I already know my kids are great - I would imagine every parent in that ice-cold cafetorium (boy, that reminds me of my own high school, the illogical melding of those two uses - nothing like hearing a concert in a room that smells like sour milk) feels the same about their own children. It's great to give them a chance to perform, but keep it short and sweet. You don't need to sell us on the value of our kids and their inherent abilties. On a weeknight, we don't want to spend hours listening to performing kids. A couple of well-chosen songs would have been perfect - just enough. We love and appreciate our children for what they are, and we don't need 60 or 90 minutes of what feels like you, the teachers, patting yourselves on the back for a job done well. Yes, we appreciate your hard work, but keep it short. One less TV theme song won't discredit your dedication to teaching.

I'm about quality, not quantity. And I'm beginning to resent the invasion on my time. (Unless you're talking about Jeff High School music shows - now those I love. And I'm looking forward to returning to them.)

I think I sound like the parent from hell. Maybe I am - but that's OK. Someone needs to keep these people on their toes. Unchecked, I shudder to think of what band directors might foist on unsuspecting future band parents ...

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Offer accepted!

It's signed, sealed, delivered. I didn't dare write about it lest we jinx the deal.

But it's official: We bought a house.

Remember this house?

Well, we didn't buy it. We thought about it. And thought some more. It's a great house - built in 1899, it has 4,800 sf, four fireplaces, and lots of space. It also has a bad roof and significant gutter damage (which has resulted in damage to interior walls and ceilings). It needs a new furnace, and the garage needs some attention. The bathrooms and kitchen need updating. The carpet on the third floor is awful - dated, ugly, and worn. All the wallpaper is out of date and worn.

We were thinking Money Pit. Which might have been OK, if the sellers had been willing to negotiate on price. We made a low offer - accompanying the offer with a letter detailing the $100,000-plus that this house will require in repairs/restoration. The sellers countered back at barely less than their asking price.

It was time to say No, thanks - not in this market. The house has been on the market for a year - the owners are deluded. So we switched gears, and we bought this house:

We liked it all along - built in 1880, the house has 3,800 sf, four bedrooms, 2 1/2 baths, three fireplaces, lots of nice built-ins, a lovely third-floor game room, and a lovely backyard, with a pool.

The photos do not do it justice - it is much more attractive in person. I saw the photos and wasn't all that excited, but at least three people told me it was lovely and I needed to see it. And they were so right - the photos just do not capture how lovely it really is. It isn't white - it is a taupe color with the blue trim. And inside, the angles of the photos just don't capture the character of the rooms.

Downstairs has a living room (small - you know, the kind where you keep the piano and put up the Christmas tree ... and little else). There is also a much larger family room, dining room, and room that will likely become our office. Too much carpet, but that is an easy fix.

The master bedroom is a three-room suite, with a little dressing room, study/sitting room with fireplace, and bedroom. No ensuite bathroom ... but never fear, as that can be changed.

The backyard is lovely. The pool is in the side yard. But behind the house is a redwood deck and a paver patio - very nice. We'll have a place for the swingset, and the garage is in the back, off the alley - parking for at least two extra cars, plus a basketball area. Perfect!

The kitchen needs work - it isn't dirty or unusable, but it is very outdated (think old, painted cabinets and outdated appliances). I knew all along we could do a kitchen remodel, but making it bigger is an issue. We thought maybe we'd break into the room that could be the office. Until Gary said (wise man that he is): We'll just add on. And with that, all my doubts vanished. An addition solves all our problems - maybe it will be a two-story addition. And we'll end up with the ensuite master bath.

I am very pleased. It won't be in our old neighborhood, but it's just across the street, with my very dear friend just doors away ... it will be perfect.

So now we are really getting geared up to move!

Rock and Roll

I used to love going to hear live music. Still do, but whenever I see a show, it takes me back to college.

In Columbia, Missouri, there is a club called the Blue Note. When I was there, in the mid-80s, it was located in an old warehouse on the business loop (it has moved now, and the new place does not have the same ... ambience, if you will). It was dark and depressing inside; half of the chairs didn't have seats, the stage was a mess of old shag carpet and leftover duct tape from various bands.

But none of that mattered - it wasn't about aesthetics, but about the music. (And besides, the aesthetics were dark and edgy - they were alternative and cool.) We saw great regional bands - Steve, Bob, & Rich from Kansas City, the Elvis Brothers from Champaign, Illinois. We saw names that were big (Replacements) names that had been big (Marshall Crenshaw, Nick Lowe, Alex Chilton) and names that would be big (They Might Be Giants). We saw Aztec Camera, Beat Farmers, and Game Theory. Wynton Marsalis played the Blue Note. I paid top dollar of $7.50 to see Nick Lowe - with Paul Carrack - and these people played for two to three hours. I never left disappointed.

I saw my share of big shows, too. I didn't do a lot of the big stadium shows, though; they weren't really what I was into at the time. When I went to orientation at Mizzou, a friend from Springfield was in my group. She went on and on about having seen Michael Jackson at Arrowhead Stadium ... and there was no envy on my part. Just wasn't my thing. But I did make it to St. Louis to see REM, Squeeze, Tears for Fears, and the Violent Femmes in smaller venues.

(Later, I saw Squeeze in San Francisco at the Fillmore, which counts as one of my all-time favorites - the Fillmore is a historic location and was THE place to see The Grateful Dead, The Who, Cream, Quicksilver Messenger Service, Jefferson Airplane, Pink Floyd, The Doors, and Big Brother and the Holding Company.)

Post-college shows include Bob Dylan, Paul Simon on his Rhythm of the Saints tour (now that was amazing) and Elvis Costello whenever I can fit him in. Just this year we saw John Fogerty at the Houston rodeo, which was also good.

Which brings me to last night. We paid big bucks for tickets to see Elvis Costello and the Police. I would not have shelled out the cash for just the Police, but with EC opening, we figured, why not?

This was definitely a concert for old people. Let's face it - most of the fans are over 40. The tickets said 7.30. We took our seats at about 7.25 ... and by golly, at 7.31, out walked Elvis. But if the fans are old, you gotta figure the performers are older still. And they've lived hard lives - they're likely not up for the 11 p.m. start time of yesteryear.

It was fun, but not amazing. Elvis was great (of course), but he only got about 50 minutes. He did some of his new stuff, but he threw in some classics - Pump It Up, Watching the Detectives, a cool reggae version of Everyday I Write the Book, Alison (a duet with Sting), (I Don't Want to) Go to Chelsea, and a very cool version of Peace, Love & Understanding. He looked as if he must be dying in his black shirt and jacket - it was about 90 degrees out there - but he was great. Loved him. Always love him.

But now, a word for Sting and the Boys:

• I did not come to see "Sting ...... and, by the way, the Police." Save the solo stuff, Sting - don't care. Never did.
• When you have to throw in your "Oh way oh" gimmick on, oh, every other song, it's a bit over-used. Stop.
• It's fun to have the audience sing back to you once, or twice, in one song. But again, over-used.
• In a live show, people like to see you mix it up, do things a little differently. But you need to be careful which songs you do that to. Take a clue from High Fidelity - when it comes to a song like Roxanne, the crowd wants to hear you do a very tight version. We don't like the long, meandering parts that mean nothing.
• If your band doesn't sing back up, then get some back-up singers. Some songs (Don't Stand So Close to Me) really don't work well without them.
• Why am I just now noticing the misogynistic lyrics to your songs from Synchronicity. "I will turn your face to alabaster/Then you'll find your servant is your master/And you'll be wrapped around my finger." And the stalker-ish "Every Breath You Take" - "Every breath you take/Every move you make/Every bond you break/Every step you take/I'll be watching you."


But these are just suggestions.

On the bright side, they did some cool stuff - they did a bunch of stuff from Outlandos d'Amour (my fave of their albums) - Next to You, Hole in My Life, Roxanne, So Lonely, and Can't Stand Losing You. They did Walking on the Moon (from Regatta de Blanc) and Driven to Tears from Zenyatta Mondatta; they even did Demolition Man from Ghost in the Machine.

And with these song choices - my favorites - it was clear that the crowd was really only into the Top 40 stuff; they barely reacted and did not know anything but the big hits. Which is OK - but they must have been disappointed by the absence of some stuff. We, on the other hand, give them props for not having to hear too much from Synchroncity (though I do kinda like "Synchronicity I" and "Murder by Numbers").

It was good, but not great. Mostly it was about 25 years too late. We were surrounded by people in their 40s - and 50s - people who, like us, liked the band in its heyday. The kind of people who can shell out those ticket prices (don't ask). I passed on the Synchronicity concert shirt - no need to advertise myself as a desperado. (Plus, Gary pointed out that he had one the first time.)

All in all, it was OK - Elvis is always great, and the Police were fun enough. But this reaffirms my decision not to seek out other bands from the past. Sometimes, the memories are enough.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Busy. Busy. Sigh. And Busy Still

Swim meet this weekend. Kids had to check in by 7.30, which means leave the house before 7. But - lucky us - the neighbors offered to take the girls. Gary and I slept in, showed up by 9. Good thing, too, as I could not sleep Friday night, so at 1 a.m. I was still lying awake. Which means Gary wasn't sleeping well, either.

But the extra 90 minutes in the morning certainly helped. And it was a good meet for us, the Crocs - low 70s, cloudy. Might have been a bit chilly for the swimmers, but I didn't hear any complaints. And I certainly wasn't minding it a bit. Except about my feet - next time I have to work (I had to work the ready bench), I will wear tennis shoes. Both girls shaved seconds off their times, and Sylvia even won one of her heats.

The other team is über competitive. The sharks. They always beat us, and they quibble over every little thing. They made posters - one was kinda cute, with an actual green croc (the shoe) with googly eyes being chased by a stuffed shark. But my favorite? A picture with the quippy: "Sharks go to college to get more knowledge/Crocs go to Jupiter to get more stupider." I'm guessing the irony was lost on the sharks.


It's a busy week. Yesterday was open house, tonight is a picnic, tomorrow a concert, Thursday is awards night. I will be beat by Friday. Sylvia and I went to open house - Gary was at the ball game with clients. He might have rearranged his schedule, but we didn't even know about open house til Monday morning - this super-organized school we attend did not send out notes, didn't even mention it in last week's newsletter. But I can always attend these things, so Sylvia and I had a nice, albeit brief, visit to her classroom.


And I won't be attending the picnic tonight - we have tickets to see Elvis Costello. Fun, fun. Usually the big concerts that come through don't interest me enough to shell out the big bucks - Rolling Stones, Steve Miller, Tom Petty (though I would have considered him). It's got to really be worth it to shell out the $$$ to see aging rockers. But Elvis is different - he has improved with age (though I still love the early stuff, from when he was a very angry new wave artist). And he's with the Police, so it should be fun.

Last time we saw Elvis Costello was in Chicago, at a Louis Sullivan-designed auditorium at Roosevelt University. We had fantastic seats, and the show was great. Plus we were not even close to being the oldest ones there - lots of grey heads. But if you were young in 1978 when he hit it big ... you do the math.

Tonight should be fun. I'm listening to the new CD, getting ready. I've never seen the Police, so that should be good, too. I get to feel like a college student for a few hours - what is better than that?

Let's just hope the phone doesn't ring with friction at home.


I am enjoying sitting around the house, just staring. The house is in nearly perfect order. Nearly perfect, because we do live here, and as it is not officially on the market, we have a little wiggle room. We've had Realtors coming through, doing the market analysis, getting us ready to list it. I'm thinking by the end of the week. So for the next few weeks, I'll be in a cleaning frenzy.

What this teaches me is that I can keep the house in perfect order. But it takes all my energy, and it's just not worth the trade-off. I'll take my free time, my laid-back life of books and movies and writing and enjoying my kids. Yes, every little scrap of paper is neatly filed away. But my energy is zapped.

Please, house, sell quickly. Please ...

Friday, May 16, 2008

Misogyny I Won't Miss

From the Washington Post:

By Marie Cocco
Thursday, May 15, 2008; Page A15

As the Democratic nomination contest slouches toward a close, it's time to take stock of what I will not miss.

I will not miss seeing advertisements for T-shirts that bear the slogan "Bros before Hos." The shirts depict Barack Obama (the Bro) and Hillary Clinton (the Ho) and are widely sold on the Internet.

I will not miss walking past airport concessions selling the Hillary Nutcracker, a device in which a pantsuit-clad Clinton doll opens her legs to reveal stainless-steel thighs that, well, bust nuts. I won't miss television and newspaper stories that make light of the novelty item.

I won't miss episodes like the one in which liberal radio personality Randi Rhodes called Clinton a "big [expletive] whore" and said the same about former vice presidential nominee Geraldine Ferraro. Rhodes was appearing at an event sponsored by a San Francisco radio station, before an audience of appreciative Obama supporters -- one of whom had promoted the evening on the presumptive Democratic nominee's official campaign Web site.

I won't miss Citizens United Not Timid (no acronym, please), an anti-Clinton group founded by Republican guru Roger Stone.

Political discourse will at last be free of jokes like this one, told last week by magician Penn Jillette on MSNBC: "Obama did great in February, and that's because that was Black History Month. And now Hillary's doing much better 'cause it's White Bitch Month, right?" Co-hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski rebuked Jillette.

I won't miss political commentators (including National Public Radio political editor Ken Rudin and Andrew Sullivan, the columnist and blogger) who compare Clinton to the Glenn Close character in the movie "Fatal Attraction." In the iconic 1987 film, Close played an independent New York woman who has an affair with a married man played by Michael Douglas. When the liaison ends, the jilted woman becomes a deranged, knife-wielding stalker who terrorizes the man's blissful suburban family. Message: Psychopathic home-wrecker, begone.

The airwaves will at last be free of comments that liken Clinton to a "she-devil" (Chris Matthews on MSNBC, who helpfully supplied an on-screen mock-up of Clinton sprouting horns). Or those who offer that she's "looking like everyone's first wife standing outside a probate court" (Mike Barnicle, also on MSNBC).

But perhaps it is not wives who are so very problematic. Maybe it's mothers. Because, after all, Clinton is more like "a scolding mother, talking down to a child" (Jack Cafferty on CNN).

When all other images fail, there is one other I will not miss. That is, the down-to-the-basics, simplest one: "White women are a problem, that's -- you know, we all live with that" (William Kristol of Fox News).

I won't miss reading another treatise by a man or woman, of the left or right, who says that sexism has had not even a teeny-weeny bit of influence on the course of the Democratic campaign. To hint that sexism might possibly have had a minimal role is to play that risible "gender card."

Most of all, I will not miss the silence.

I will not miss the deafening, depressing silence of Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean or other leading Democrats, who to my knowledge (with the exception of Sen. Barbara Mikulski of Maryland) haven't publicly uttered a word of outrage at the unrelenting, sex-based hate that has been hurled at a former first lady and two-term senator from New York. Among those holding their tongues are hundreds of Democrats for whom Clinton has campaigned and raised millions of dollars. Don Imus endured more public ire from the political class when he insulted the Rutgers University women's basketball team.

Would the silence prevail if Obama's likeness were put on a tap-dancing doll that was sold at airports? Would the media figures who dole out precious face time to these politicians be such pals if they'd compared Obama with a character in a blaxploitation film? And how would crude references to Obama's sex organs play?

There are many reasons Clinton is losing the nomination contest, some having to do with her strategic mistakes, others with the groundswell for "change." But for all Clinton's political blemishes, the darker stain that has been exposed is the hatred of women that is accepted as a part of our culture.

Marie Cocco is syndicated by the Washington Post Writers Group. Her e-mail address is

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Suburban Stupidity: The Swim Team Edition

Ah, yes - time for another rant on life amongst the shallow. I'm in a mood today, so nothing like venting a little about the inane behavior I see around me every day.

Swim team practice has begun. Every day, we hop on our bicycles and pedal the distance to the practice pool - less than a mile, I'm guessing. Many of my neighbors prefer to drive their children. In their gas-guzzling SUVs. Wouldn't want the little darlings to get overworked on their way to exercise.

To be fair, there are a lot of bicycles over there - lots of kids ride bikes. (But without helmets, another pet peeve of mine - I have even sacrificed my hair for safety, lest I be called a hypocrite.) The pool is located across from the elementary school, right in the very center of the subdivision. So it's tough to argue that it's an unreasonable distance to travel by bike. Or by foot, for that matter. Keep in mind that these are people who love their exercise. I guess they want it on their own terms.

On occasion I see a child riding his or her bicycle ... tailed by a mother in a car (SUV) driving about 5 mph. I guess they don't want their kid riding alone (understandable), but they don't deign to hop on a bicycle themselves. Or maybe they have smaller children in the car. But when my kids were little, they loved to ride in the bike seat or trailer (probably safer). My German friends would be horrified.


There's a good reason to ride bikes: There is very little parking at the pool itself. There is parking across the street, at the school, but that would require people to actually walk across the street (I know, I know - the graphic images that spring to mind are shocking) in order to get to their cars. For days, people parked on both sides of the driveway, making it difficult to get in - or out - by car or bike. E-mails were sent to the parents - no luck. Signs were finally posted; after about a week of reminders people finally got the hint.

It's been painful to watch parents walk the nearly 30 yards from the school to the pool, but we are troupers. The price we pay for others' safety.


One friend of mine - whom I like very much, by the way - mentioned one day that her daughter probably wouldn't make it through the entire practice, as the water was sooo chilly. Daughter did, in fact, stay in the whole time, and when Daughter grabbed her towel, Mom said, How did you stand it? Wasn't the water freezing? Daughter just looked at her, and finally said, No, it was fine. But Mom had to persist - Wasn't it ice cold? Were you OK? I was sure you'd get out early! Daughter continues to stare blankly: I have no idea what you're talking about.

Hint to Mom: Drop it! Is it any wonder your child is as whiny as she is on occasion? Could it be because of the expectations you set up for her?


And then there was the overheard conversation on swim team attire. One mom sitting next to me at practice was yakking to a friend about the team suits, etc. Her son had tried on a swim cap, but Mom said, No way. No son of mine is being seen in a swim cap. The other mom said, you know, lots of boys wear them. Noooo way, first mom said. Not my son.

For. Crying. Out. Loud. Doesn't take a genius to see where she's headed here: Wearing a swim cap might turn her son - horrors - gay. I'm sure there's a causal relationship: Wearing certain head gear can change a child's sexual orientation.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Lots of boys wear them - boys who don't want to cut their hair ultra-short but want to be able to see; older boys who are very competitive wear them. Trust me - they do. Boys wear Speedos, too - I'm sure some of them are even straight. Turn on the Olympics this summer and you'll see (remember Mark Spitz?) - it's just gear for the sport.


Nothing like open-minded people to set me off. This woman will be enlightened eventually. But in a subdivision of 2400-plus homes, there are bound to be a few.

Throw in the parents who rant at their kids about their time, parents who ride their kids about winning, parents who leave trash lying around after meets for someone to clean up (our tent was full of water bottle and food refuse that we did not bring) and it makes for quite a day.

The swim team board of directors deserves a lot of credit - they try hard to alleviate these problems, but when you're dealing with people, it ain't easy. Example: Parents write a check for volunteering. If you work the required number of shifts, the check is shredded. If you don't, the check is cashed. The check is written for $250. They thought about making it $100 but figured that enough parents would just let them cash it that they had to make it high enough to hurt.

This is the level of crazy amidst which I live. Good thing I am as sane and tolerant as I am, huh?

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Farewell, Barbie

I'm getting a grip on the clutter that has taken over our house. Slowly, surely, I am ridding us of every last bit of paper, every useless magazine, every under-used, unnecessary item in this house.

Not because I'm super-organized. But only because I am super-motivated. Must get the house on the market; must get top dollar. Think Design to Sell; I'm not having the crew over to help me, but I am going to get the place in order.

Today was spent sorting out the massive Bratz/Barbies collection. It's been in the works since 1995, and most of those dolls look a little haggard. It should be noted that I am not a big Barbie fan (what proper feminist is?), but when your 4-year-old looks up at you and wants only Barbie Butterfly Princess from Santa, what can you do? Since that initial foray into the world of Barbie, we have accumulated roughly 75 of those little darlings, along with countless outfits and accessories, including a Beach House and two convertibles.

Then add in the Bratz, Barbie's sleazier counterpart in toyland, and it all equals quite a stash. The girls and sorted and dressed all the dolls; now all we have to do is find a home for them.

There's a certain wistfulness I feel as I sort through these cast-off toys. If you're a parent, you know just what I mean: Every toy that gets tossed - not matter how ready you are to reclaim the sanity and tidiness of your life - is a not-so-subtle reminder that your children are growing up. Gone are the little girls who used to spend hours on end dressing and re-dressing dolls; taking their place are young women who crave iTunes gift cards and hair straighteners from Santa Claus. You know this day is coming, and while I'm secretly glad to not pick up Barbie shoes from the floor, the feeling is bittersweet.

(Besides, the mess in the playroom has been traded for the mess in the bathroom, along with the tangle of clothes on the bedroom floor. Clean, dirty - who can tell?)

The time spent was fun in its way, as many of the Barbies recalled long-forgotten moments - the day Maddie got a black eye at Legoland (the first aid workers gave her two little dolls, which we ran across today); Alison's love of Mulan; the name on the bottom of one Prince Eric doll (Alison got angry when Maddie was playing with it and marked it for posterity); uncovering Sylvia's favorite Barbie, which the dog found and used as a chew toy ... which explains why we have two of that particular doll.

Chapters end every day; the girls change and grow, as do I. My changes are slower, less obvious, but theirs are right there, staring me in the face, as they don't bat an eyelash over items that were once so precious making their way out the door. My consolation? That over time, I'll rewrite these events in my mind. Gone will be the unpleasant parts, replaced with only the highlights of childhood gone by. Those I will forever treasure, especially as I share them with my daughters. A lifetime of memories - many of them wrestled from the back of our minds as we sorted old dolls. Barbie served her purpose - now she can go, knowing her time here has passed.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Happy Mother's Day

I've always liked Mother's Day. Perhaps because it feels like an exclusive club - though in reality it's not that exclusive. Or maybe it's because it gives me a day to focus on why I chose this path, and why I dedicate so much of my life to rearing my daughters. Whatever the reason, it's a day I always treasure.

Most of the joy comes from how I spend the day with my three girls. In years past I've been given various home-made and school-created gifts, which I've always enjoyed; sitting on the windowsill in my office are no less than five small flower pots decorated with pastel-colored paintings, foam shapes, and jewels, filled with tissue-paper flowers. I've received homemade cards, various craft projects, and coupon books. This year I received none of these items, but I did get a bouquet of flowers, a lovely card, and two CDs that I am thrilled to have - Daughtry and the newest Elvis Costello. (I have probably ruined Daughtry for the girls since I like it, but that's what you get for having a mother that's still hip, huh?)

And I was treated to an afternoon of bowling (135 - not bad, not bad - especially since my last bowling was on the Wii) and lunch at Joe's Crab Shack, where we sat outside on the patio in the 75-degree day - perfect.

My husband has always made sure Mother's Day was an event. When Alison was a few months old, he had her make a handprint painting for me (which I still have); each year he has made sure the girls have not forgotten. One year they made me an Oklahoma! themed dinner, with all menu items named after songs from the musical; another year he and the girls re-created Sardi's for me, finding the menu on the Internet and making select items for me (they actually printed up the entire menu, but strongly urged me to order only the items the chef was recommending that evening).

It's no small task, this job of being a parent. Every day of my life, I feel as if there is something I could have done better, might have done differently; I have made mistakes I'm not proud of. But I am proud of my three girls and how they've turned out despite my shortcomings - they are bright, eager, and full of life. They have (so far) made good choices, and I am proud of how they think for themselves. I am delighted to see them turn into responsible adults. I can only take credit for part of this miracle - there is such a combination of factors that have played into who they are, from genetics to the influence of their father and other family members, wonderful teachers they've had, friends and noteworthy public figures.

But I will take some of the credit for the amazing girls my husband and I have given the world. It has been, and continues to be, a privilege to watch them take their place in the world. Their greatest gift is the gift they give me every day, the gift of who they are. And for that, I am eternally grateful and humble.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

More kvetching about life in the 'burbs

I live among people who are either lazy or entitled.

This springs to mind today as I am sewing patches on the Brownie vest. It's not one of my favorite tasks (which is why I put it off til the last minute), but it's not that unseemly. I certainly don't do it by hand - my fingers are not that tough - but I pull out the machine. It doesn't look perfect, but my guess is no one is looking that close. It's just a Brownie vest, after all.

But I have seen people in my neighborhood advertise for someone to do this job for them. I guess I've just never heard of hiring out such menial tasks.

It shouldn't surprise me; people around here hire out everything. They do the usual stuff, like house cleaning, yard work, and child care. And I am not above hiring out that stuff, either - I paid for my share of daycare. They also hire out any sort of major work around the house - and I've done that, too. But they hire out every little job - from mending to hanging blinds to power washing the swing set. They hire out cleaning the pool - a job that, with a Polaris, takes about 15 minutes a week, maybe a few hours a couple times a summer.

Perhaps it's my Midwestern work ethic, but I enjoy seeing the boys up the street outside every Saturday morning helping their dad with the yard work. It's how I grew up - you took care of your own house. I didn't grow up among the wealthy and privileged - there were jobs you did yourself, because you took pride in your home. And it's just what you did.

Once upon a time, Gary and I bought a 100-year-old house. We restored it from top to bottom, and and we did nearly everything ourselves - everything short of plumbing, which we did hire out. We laid tile, hung drywall, installed light fixtures, and sanded and refinished floors. (And we're not talking the executive "we" either - I was in there, staining floors when I was eight months pregnant.)

These days, we have more money than time. So yes, a certain amount of routine maintenance does get hired out. But what do you teach your children when you hire out everything - when you hire someone to sew the patches on the scout uniform?

I have a friend whose husband can well afford to farm out the yard work. But he does the mowing himself, in part because he wants his children to understand that most people cannot afford to do that.

My husband works hard; he works very long days and has a lengthy commute. And when he comes home, he is exhausted. But there is a certain amount of work that still needs to get done. We do a great deal of it ourselves; we've done some of the interior painting, we wash our own cars. We will re-stain our own front door.

There is nothing wrong with teaching kids to do a little hard work, be it cleaning toilets or minor carpentry around the house. It's not demeaning to do this - yet therein lies the problem. People around here seem so wrapped up in proving their wealth that they shy away from doing anything that might make them appear less than affluent.

After all, what type of person sews on their own scout patches? The shame.

Just one more reason I'm a suburban misfit. I'm counting the days ...

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Today I am:

• Thinking bullets. Much easier for my brain to handle.
• Not reading my book. Grrr. Wish I had time. But there's other stuff to do.
• Obsessing over relocation details. We are awaiting corporate paperwork before we can make a house offer.
• Hurry up! corporate office. I need at least one thing decided this week.
• Making lists of all the stuff we need to do to get this house on the market. As homework, we check out "Design to Sell" at least twice a week. Helps me focus.
• Furiously grading essays. I got one class done - even graded the final exams (go me); the other section is in progress.
• Lamenting that I cannot wear the outfits I want to wear this week. I can't wear the white pants if it's raining - they'll get trashed. But I really want to.
• Awaiting American Idol. And DWTS results. Marissa will go. I voted for her, but I think she'll be the one to exit.
• Awaiting primary results from Indiana and North Carolina. But I am tiring of it a bit. Hey friends in Indiana: Be sure to vote!!!
* Thinking how very full my life is. What with American Idol and DWTS and primary results. Whee!
• Procrastinating. Isn't it obvious?

Monday, May 05, 2008

Rainy Days and Mondays

Here in the greater Houston metropolitan area, we are getting a double dose. We have the Monday; we have the rainy day.

As usual, it's not just rain - it's a torrential downpour. And in Houston, that means flooding. When your city has no zoning ordinances (it's true) and appears to about one-third concrete with very poor drainage, flooding is the consequent result. If you drive the freeways, the underpasses are danger zones, with water reaching two-three feet after just a few minutes of rain.

So I left the house in the rain, came home three hours later in the rain. I chose my shoes wisely, but my pant legs were wet clear up to my knees - it was a day when an umbrella or even a rain jacket could only do so much. Plus I had to wade through three to four inches of water on low-lying sidewalks.

It was only sprinkling when the girls came home from school, so I figured they could handle the walk from the corner (we actually live on the corner where the bus lets them out). But my neighbor actually drove to pick up her kids; they live three houses from the bus stop. She drove her car about 250 feet to pick up her children.


The rest of the week should be nice and sunny - 90 by the weekend. Which means swimming weather. Bring it on!

The Corporate Life

(But I have that Sheila E. song running through my head, The Glamorous Life ... and they are so not the same thing ...)

It was a glamorous affair, the annual family day for the husband's office. It's designed to kick off a week of participation in OTC - the Offshore Technology Conference, for the uninitiated - which is, in essence, a big trade show. It's a big deal if you're in the industry (which for Houston means the oil or petroleum business).

My husband's company is a big player. So it is a big deal - folks are here from all over the world. And the best way to kick off this big business opportunity would be a day of golfing. Followed by an afternoon of revelry - which includes, but is not limited to, jump-ups for the kids, a petting zoo, gift bags, music, and an open bar.

If they hadn't had the bar, I might have been tempted to stay home.

Two of our daughters have deigned themselves too old for such events (would that I were so lucky). So Sylvia and I did our duty and joined in. Sylvia had great enthusiasm - she was jazzed about the goody bags, which, I must admit, were not too shabby. OK, sure, everything was emblazoned with the corporate logo. But it was fun stuff - deck of cards, pedometer, football, small toys, a very cute teddy bear (Sylvia is in love), stickers, and a bunch of other brick-a-brack. She loved the petting zoo - they had a kangaroo! No kidding - and she loved the jump-ups. She especially loved when the ice cream truck showed up.

The only downside for her? That the clown who did balloon animals last year did not make an appearance. Apparently we traded him for a kangaroo.

Gary played golf. His group didn't win (it was a best ball/scramble type of affair), but they did place fourth. Last year his group won, and they've upped the ante - he got the same prizes for fourth that he got for first last year. The winners got putters, and second place got golf bags.

I'm secretly wondering what the budget is for this little soirée.

Food was good - catered by a local Mexican restaurant that is excellent - and the bar was open. It was OK. But I don't especially enjoy these events. It all feels very corporate - I didn't want to stand around and yak about golf (didn't play yesterday - not much of an opening for me) and I don't have much to add on OTC. So after the "Hi" and "How are you?" there's not a lot left to say to people I see three times a year, people with whom we don't really socialize.

But I go. It's sort of akin to being a political spouse - you provide support and show up when needed. You dress right - not too dressy, not too casual - you smile, you make small talk with your spouse's boss. You have one or two drinks and follow the kids around while your spouse talks shop. You smile some more, have another drink, and make sure you grab an illicit extra goody bag for your kids who didn't come. You greet others warmly, chat about life in all the foreign offices, pretending you're thrilled to see them.

Then you breathe a huge sigh of relief when it's time to leave, go home, and be glad it's over. Til next time.

Top 10 Things You Didn't Know About John McCain

Some of these are old news; some are eye-opening. Not that I was looking for any more reasons not to vote for him ...

1. John McCain voted against establishing a national holiday in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Now he says his position has "evolved," yet he's continued to oppose key civil rights laws.

2. According to Bloomberg News, McCain is more hawkish than Bush on Iraq, Russia and China. Conservative columnist Pat Buchanan says McCain "will make Cheney look like Gandhi."

Now that is scary!

3. His reputation is built on his opposition to torture, but McCain voted against a bill to ban waterboarding, and then applauded President Bush for vetoing that ban.

4. McCain opposes a woman's right to choose. He said, "I do not support Roe versus Wade. It should be overturned."

No surprise here.

5. The Children's Defense Fund rated McCain as the worst senator in Congress for children. He voted against the children's health care bill last year, then defended Bush's veto of the bill.

6. He's one of the richest people in a Senate filled with millionaires. The Associated Press reports he and his wife own at least eight homes! Yet McCain says the solution to the housing crisis is for people facing foreclosure to get a "second job" and skip their vacations.

Not that I begrudge anyone their wealth, but it would be nice if those in power had some empathy for those who are not worth seven, or even six, figures.
Life's a lot different on the other side.

7. Many of McCain's fellow Republican senators say he's too reckless to be commander in chief. One Republican senator said: "The thought of his being president sends a cold chill down my spine. He's erratic. He's hotheaded. He loses his temper and he worries me."

I hear this all the time, along with references to his mental state post-captivity. Not to say he hasn't been effective in the Senate, but you have to wonder, as he gets older, how he'll handle the pressure.

8. McCain talks a lot about taking on special interests, but his campaign manager and top advisers are actually lobbyists. The government watchdog group Public Citizen says McCain has 59 lobbyists raising money for his campaign, more than any of the other presidential candidates.

9. McCain has sought closer ties to the extreme religious right in recent years. The pastor McCain calls his "spiritual guide," Rod Parsley, believes America's founding mission is to destroy Islam, which he calls a "false religion." McCain sought the political support of right-wing preacher John Hagee, who believes Hurricane Katrina was God's punishment for gay rights and called the Catholic Church "the Antichrist" and a "false cult."

So why are we all over Obama's ties to Jeremiah Wright? Shouldn't we be using the same standards for all candidates?

10. He positions himself as pro-environment, but he scored a 0—yes, zero—from the League of Conservation Voters last year.

One of my big concerns; I'd like subsequent generations to enjoy the earth, too.

Friday, May 02, 2008

The curse of the bridesmaid's dress

I just read another story about the ugly bridesmaids dress. Where did this stereotype come from, the unsightly dress that the bride inflicts upon her dearest friends?

I have been a bridesmaid, and I've had bridesmaids. The dresses I chose, and the dress I wore (still, inexplicably hanging in my closet, by the way) are no longer in style. And while I would argue that neither one was a work of art, neither was that bad.

I chose dresses in pink that went beautifully with the flowers we were having. They looked very pretty ... at the time. Yes, they were made of bridal satin; yes, the pumps were dyed to match. Give me a break - it was the 80s.

The wedding I was in (mercifully, I was only a bridesmaid once, and it was enough) had long green dresses, sort of suit-like. They were OK - not my first choice, but I wouldn't call them hideous or even unflattering - they were fine. The color was OK, and they style was ... well, it was OK. It wasn't embarrassing or mortifying or anything I felt even the slightest bit awkward about. It was a dress that I wore for a few hours, and I haven't exactly suffered because of it.

(Nor did I cut it off to wear to another event - I figured it was a cost of being in my friend's wedding. Which I did without complaint.)

Every movie these days shows bridesmaids wearing some god-awful concoction that had to have been chosen by a bride who was either delirious with happiness or temporarily insane. And no one's dresses are ever quite that bad.

Give the bride a break already - let the stereotype go. As if brides don't have enough stress without being accused of trying to stick it to her friends.

Just one more reason to elope, huh?

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Idol Gossip

There are a million important things going on in my life, in the world. I have a list of stuff I could write about, on which I could pontificate, wax poetic.

But the most pressing issue tonight: What the hell is wrong with Paula Abdul?

I am a latecomer to American Idol - and the credit goes to Peter, who suckered me into watching last season. I have watched every minute since January. And I've noticed how out of it Paula seems - I swear, she is either high or just an idiot.

But the other night was the best. The Idolists (Maddie's word - must give credit where credit is due) sang one song without feedback, then the judges were asked to give a quick run-down on what they had seen. Randy gives his usual, "Dog, I don't know dog ..." blahblahblah. Then Paula starts with Jason Castro: "I liked hearing your lower range on that first song, but blahblah it was OK. The second song, I felt like your usual charm wasn't -- it was missing for me. It kind of left me a little empty."

Excuse me? We immediately hit rewind to hear her again - and we had heard correctly. All the idolists looked confused, and finally Randy said, Um, they've only sang one song.

"What?" the confused Paula incoherently tries to spit out. "I thought you sang twice!" She then tries to say she was reading ahead to her comments on David Cook. When Simon, who was hoping to salvage something, asked her who her favorite was, she said, "David Cook." But wait a minute - didn't you just say you had read ahead to your comments on him? Comments that said his "usual charm" was missing?

Later, she referred to Syesha as Brooke, but by then, who was even listening to her?

A flurry of controversy has erupted over American Idol. It appears that - shock of shocks - the judges attend the dress rehearsal and their comments are based on what they hear in rehearsal. Imagine - it's not all live!

For me, that issue is neither here nor there. So they make some notes based on a rehearsal - so do Olympic judges. But in this case, the judges don't actually do the voting; the public does. So the judges' comments don't really matter - only our interpretation of them. And often, the singer whom the judges thought was the best does not, in fact, get voted off.

The bigger issue is Paula Abdul's relevance. I've never really been a fan - her type of music was not my style when she was big in the mid-80s; I was in college and definitely into an edgier sound than saccharine-sweet pop songs sung by a voice that sounded like a mouse on helium.

But I had no idea she was such a wreck. She is a disaster - slurring words, giving criticism that makes no sense, babbling incoherently. She is a mess. She generally repeats exactly what Randy says, only in a less intelligible manner. They could never alternate and let her go first - she would be tongue-tied. As for suggestions that the judges' comments are scripted, I think there is absolutely no evidence that is true. Well, either that, or they have incredibly bad writers.

I will continue to watch - the girls and I find the show very entertaining. Plus, we're totally vested for this season - go David Cook!

But someone at the top might want to re-think that panel; it's time to vote someone off.