Friday, August 29, 2008

No Child Left Behind

When I was a kid, I went to school.

I started out in public school. We went to the school in our neighborhood, in our district. I got the teacher I got - we didn't make requests or change classes. I went to school, did my work, got grades, got promoted.

Even after I switched to the university lab school, it was much the same. We didn't have AP classes or GT; no grades were weighted. I went to school, I did my work. I got my grades (good grades, to be fair), was promoted, graduated. It was the same for my brothers, for my friends; it's just what we did.

Life now is so much more complicated. I would be lying if I said I knew the status of children's school success, of test scores in the 1970s. But I do not recall the hysteria of testing and school failure until the 1990s.

Now that I have my own children, it matters - it matters a lot. But unlike some school administrators, I know the real secret to my children's success. Bottom line: The biggest factor in a child's success in school is involvement of the parents.

I know this is true - certainly for us. When we lived here before, we sent our girls to the neighborhood school. Many of my neighbors avoided it like the plague. It is a school full of diversity, with a very mixed range of incomes, of family types. But we had a great principal and excellent teachers. I was active in the PTO. In short, my kids did fine. They did so well, in fact, that we opted not to move them into the GT program (at a different school) when the option was presented. The girls were happy - why mess with it? Why pull out all the higher-achieving kids and leave the neighborhood school without their leadership?

But things change. We're back here now, and our school corp. has undergone some major shifts.

* Our much-respected principal left.
• The school corp. underwent an evaluation process that ended up closing four of the city's elementary schools (at a time when county schools are building more - school district consolidation, anyone?).
• New principal took over - not a big hit with people I know and whose opinions I respect.
• The remaining schools are much more crowded; population at our neighborhood school has changed. And not for the better.
* Too many years of missing the testing mark lists our school as a failing school.

The important thing is how my children are doing. They always did well at our school before. But now the school is more crowded. Gone are the days when the principal knew every kid by name, when the principal chatted with the parents. Kids are suspended for fighting - or worse - in fourth and fifth grades.

I decided it was not the best place for Sylvia. And we've had some time to reexamine our decision not to take advantage of the local GT program - maybe it was time for Sylvia to go that route.

So, with a lot of mixed feelings, that's where she is. I had a lot of options, oddly enough:

* GT program (automatic transfer, transportation provided)
* Opt out of failing school (but only to certain schools where class size is guaranteed, transportation provided)
* Attempt to transfer into school of my choice (must get approval from school you want and school you're leaving, as well as final approval from administration; no transportation)

The last option is easier than it sounds - I know lots of my neighbors who have gone that route. I do worry about abandoning the local school - I have a sense of responsibility. But I have more concerns about my daughter. And I wasn't convinced, after recalling the other two in upper elementary, that her needs would be best served by that school. I want her to be more challenged.

After open house last night, I feel pretty good about our decision to send her there. Sylvia has made friends, and she is doing well. She has a bit of homework, but not more than she can handle. She likes her teachers.

She will thrive. Because we will make certain she does.

Thursday, August 28, 2008


Warning: More gushing about the Democratic convention ahead. Proceed with caution.

The inspector has been here. A couple of things need to be fixed - codes change every year - then it's drywall time. Then we will feel real progress. I have ordered the bathroom vanity and medicine chests; I have already purchased light fixtures and faucets, the tub and toilet. The shower base is installed. We have chosen, but not purchased, tile for the floor and walls; I've looked at towel bars but haven't bought anything yet.

It's exciting to feel as if completion is on the horizon. And it won't be a moment too soon - our lack of bathroom space is starting to reach the crisis point.

After the bathroom is done, I can start painting our bedroom. Not sure why I feel as if it needs to be finished first, but I do. I will need to strip wallpaper - a hideous floral pattern in mauves and blues - and get rid of the taupe carpet. It probably wasn't bed when it was new, but it is dreadfully stained. Though I may leave it in my dressing room, where it isn't worn. Why mess with it in a closet.

I will also be able to paint the smaller bathroom. Right now it has pink floral wallpaper, which is not the girls' style. So I'll take care of that later. But I need to wait until the new bathroom is done; we can't sacrifice the space just yet.

It will all get done. Patience required.

Once again, we watched the convention yesterday. I watched the roll call vote - one of my favorite parts, even with all the posturing, even though I had heard what was coming. Usually, the candidate's home state is given the opportunity to cast the votes that officially give him (I can say that - it always is) the nomination. But this year, in what I considered to be a very generous concession, they had Hillary Clinton, for the state of New York, suggest that the rules of the convention be suspended and, in the name of unity, that the convention, by acclimation, give the nomination to Barack Obama. It was a class act, and one of those moments that makes me proud of my country.

On a side note, I don't get why people don't like Hillary Clinton. Sure, she's tough; she's a strong, sharp woman. And I still contend that all the qualities some say they don't like about her would be seen as assets for a man - the no-nonsense approach, the hint of arrogance, the sharp tongue. Me, I admire her for it. Are the Kennedys and Bushes not equally afflicted with that air of entitlement? Of course they are - but they are men. She is punished because she is a woman - it's that simple.

But last night she gracefully ceded to Obama. As did her husband, who gave a fantastic speech, encouraging his party to support this man who will make history. Joe Biden spoke, too, getting us ready for Obama to take the stage - or stadium, if you will - tonight. I can hardly wait. I'd have the girls watch, but it won't be on til after 10 p.m., and I cannot let them stay up that late.

But before that monumental moment, I have tons of stuff to do. I am not very fastidious with my housekeeping these days - it feels sort of pointless. I do the barest of bare minimum - the laundry, the dishes, making beds. I run the vacuum when needed. And that is about all I can manage. When we're done, I'll be more motivated.

The last of the open houses tonight.

I feel a bit adrift these days. It's that unsettled feeling. It's not necessarily bad, and I know it's only for now. I just need to settle into my routine. Whatever that is.

Must get cracking.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


These are the days when I am glad I have cable television.

I am tuned in for hours every evening to CSPAN and CNN. Cable networks, because the big three are not covering the Democratic National Convention.

And I want to watch every minute.

I am not so naive that I think much is actually being accomplished at the convention. The last time anything actually happened that wasn't scripted was probably 1980, when Ted Kennedy tried to get the nomination from incumbent Jimmy Carter. The same is true of the GOP - mostly, the conventions are giant televised public relations events, with speakers and fanfare, but no real decision making.

Yet, oddly enough, I'm OK with that. I enjoy hearing the speeches - sure, the prime time speakers are the big names, but I kind of like hearing the smaller names, too. I like to watch the party-like atmosphere, hear the music, feel the exuberance of the crowd.

I want to be there.

I am bothered that the three major networks are choosing instead to air shows like Wife Swap and America's Got Talent. I'm not sure what sort of message that sends to the electorate. It's really a matter of ratings, this I know - what can you expect of a population that can't name all nine Supreme Court justices? So I shouldn't be surprised that the networks are giving in to dollars. But it seems that the cable channels should be the ones giving people the choice to opt out; the networks should be giving full coverage to a convention where an African-American man will, for the first time in the United States, be nominated as a candidate for president by one of the two major parties - his closest contender being a woman.

It's only been since 1920 that women in the United States have had the right to vote. My own daughters are all too aware of this fact (this is what they get for being reared by a feminist), but it is painful to see how many young women are not only unaware, but almost hostile to the idea that they have a responsibility to vote. And now we have major media bowing to corporate pressure and big money, not even trying to engage our youth.

When I was young, back in the days of only three networks, I do remember feeling as if we were held hostage to major news events. Looking back, however, it made me aware of what was going on: Vietnam, Watergate, Pentagon Papers. Had it not been for television news coverage, I would have unaware. As an adult, I can't imagine trading those memories for a few more minutes of Gilligan's Island.

I watched Michelle Obama as she so beautifully described who she is and what her husband, Barack Obama, will do for the country. I watched as Hillary Clinton so graciously declared her support for Obama, emboldening her delegates to fight the bigger fight and support him, too. I saw Ted Kennedy and Jesse Jackson Jr.; I will be there tonight and tomorrow night to see more champions of what is best for this country stand up and speak to us.

Make no mistake, I will also watch the Republican convention next week. I will watch for many of the same reasons; I will watch to see people with high ideals who want to make the United States a better place. OK, so I find the Democrats more fun - they have better music and better celebrities - but the ideas behind the conventions are the same: motivating the electorate to get involved.

Which is what it has done for me. Today I walked into the local Obama Headquarters and filled out a volunteer form. I'm on the schedule for next week. After revisiting what my grandmother's generation gave up for me to have this right, I am more motivated than ever to encourage not just women, but all people, to exercise this great privilege.

That is my goal. CBS, NBC and ABC may not be up for the challenge of educating the American people about this election. But I am ready to do my part, however small.

What a great country.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008


I love the onset of fall. Even though the days are warm - in the 80s - the nights are cool, and in the mornings, there is a bit of a nip in the air.

I love it. It's one of the things I missed while in Houston. The summer there seemed to stretch into December, and the spate of cool-ish weather was over by the end of February. Having distinct seasons is a good thing, I've decided. I'm sure I'll be whining about the cold soon enough, but for now, I am savoring the gradual changes as we segue into September.

So many things need to get done; so many things are just not getting accomplished. But I'm taking it slow. Things are still not really unpacked and put away, but it's just not going to happen. We are well into construction, and I've decided to just not worry about it. In four months, everything will be finished - bathroom, kitchen, girls' bedrooms. Four months seems like a very long time while you're living through it, but once it's over, we'll be fine. So, I am getting done what I get and not stressing about the rest.

Baby steps. I'm taking baby steps.

Same goes in the job search. I was uptight briefly, thinking, I want to go back to work; I need to go back to work. But I've decided to slow down. I like being here when Sylvia comes home (the other two are older, but they could use some guidance as well). Money is not the issue. So if something comes up, great. If not, I'll just supervise the construction, take care of things around here, find some volunteer work.

Baby steps.


The weekend was amazing. We saw tons of friends, went to a couple parties, and had fun. Needless to say, very little got done around the house (other then time in the pool).

I never get tired of hearing people say, "I am so glad you moved back!" Me, too, I tell them. Me, too.

Weekend highlights include:

• Friends from Germany in town; had them over Friday evening for drinks.

• Worked the church rummage sale. Not a highlight, really, but I feel good that I actually contributed my time to something worthwhile.

• Sylvia's soccer game. They lost, but she played well.

• Gary fixed the polaris (pool cleaner). Made our time in the pool on Saturday more enjoyable. And cleaner.

• Went to a party. Women only. Given by some of my favorite friends. Let me tell you, they know how to throw a party. Yes, I was a karaoke hog. But not alone - Kat and Kitty were up there with me. Kitty and I started just flipping through the tracks on the CD, singing whichever ones appealed to us. So glad Kat's rendition of Like a Virgin is documented on video. I was there, too, but she was WAY more into than I was. Fun, fun time - I'm going to start practicing for next year.

Next year I will remember to put on bug repellent. My legs are covered. And they itch.

• Went to the parent meeting for high school choir (they had ice cream). And got to chat with some other people I have not seen for some time, one friend in particular. So it was not boring at all, but in fact, quite fun.

• Went to a neighbor's Welcome Back party. Also very fun. Hung out in the garden, chatted, compared iPhones. (Debbie has the new cool one; Mike, Melanie, and I have lame-o first edition iPhones. We feel totally inferior. Sigh.) Got caught up on the scoop on schools, neighbors, HOA, etc. And had a lot of fun.

Here it is Tuesday. Much to do ... so naturally, I took some time out and got a pedicure. I was hoping to at least get my desk in order today - no small task, but it's my goal.

Baby steps.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Ten Years Old

Ten years ago, I held a newborn in my arms for the very last time. I felt that surge of elation that you feel only when you have just given birth. I looked at her tiny feet, her hands, her head, and I could sense the potential that this little girl in my arms had, the auspicious beginnings of any new life.

Such was the beginning of life for little Sylvia. We knew all along that she was our last child, our last chance to cherish those special moments that make up a child's life. She has been an absolute delight, to her parents, her sisters, and all who know her.

The past ten years have passed in a blur. From her early years in Germany - where she didn't speak, but answered to requests posed before her in English or German - to her early years in Lafayette, her adjustment to Houston, and now back to Lafayette, she has shown us time and again that she is a trouper. She is bright and thoughtful, the kind of little girl that teachers always say adds life to a classroom. She has lots of friends, does well in school, is eager to please. She works hard and never ceases to amaze us with her thoughts and revelations.

Sure, she is the baby of the family. She gets her way more often than not, and she is held to a very different standard of responsibility than her elder sisters ever were. But it's hard for me to let her grow up. I know that at age 10, Alison and Maddie were expected to be much more mature, much more independent. With Sylvia, it's a little hard to let her go.

But we are. Much as we hate to, we are allowing to her grow up. She has spread her wings over the last few years, and she is blossoming into quite an independent young woman. Every day she adds just a little bit more to our daily routine, and every day we enjoy her presence in our lives. We have so enjoyed watching her grow into the thoughtful, very special girl she is.

Sylvia has been, and continues to be, an absolute delight. All who know her would agree: A world with Sylvia is a world that is a little brighter, indeed.

Happy Birthday, sweetheart.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Some good, some bad

The weather is gorgeous right now. It is in the 80s during the day - warm enough to swim - but in the high 50s at night. No humidity; well, maybe some, but I'm still on Houston humidity levels. This, my friends, is nothing. Loving it.

I walked downtown to meet a friend for lunch, which was nice. I love walking, and I love that I can walk. Suburban Houston was all about driving. And in my subdivision, it was all about driving your Suburban (or corresponding model). Trés wasteful. I am so, so pleased to live somewhere where I don't need to drive. Watch my energy usage plummet.

Our electric bill for this month was a fraction of what it would have been in Houston. But check back with me in January.

We also got our new car insurance quote: It is literally half of what we were paying in Houston. And a full half of our bill is for Alison. Teen drivers - what can you do?

Small struggles as we adjust to school back here in Indiana. It will all be fine, but it all takes time. I imagine we will have some rough days to get through before it all evens out.

Bathroom work is progressing. Slowly. But nothing happens instantly.

I got a BINGO in the newspaper's BINGO game. Go, me! I played real BINGO a few nights ago, at a fund raiser for Transitional Housing.

I didn't win. This is a drag because I am very competitive - I really like to win. That nonsense about how it's in how you play the game, not whether you win or lose? Right. Try telling that to Gene Keady. Or any other NCAA coach.

But the table next to us? Three winners! Count 'em - three. And two wins by the same woman. I know - it was an outrage. And even worse? Some winners were not calling out BINGO, but merely shrieking.

Now, I don't know about you, but I've been playing BINGO for a long time. And everyone knows that when you win, you yell, "Bingo!" You don't whoop; you don't holler. You yell, "Bingo!"

Those wins should have been disqualified. There are rules, after all. And this was a game for fabulous prizes. Not that I thought I should win (though it might have been nice). We should have to follow the rules; that's all I'm saying.

JoAnn and I are totally going back next year. And we hope to find enough people to get out own table; we are already spreading the word. And starting to collect our little good luck statues.

Anyway, I got a newspaper BINGO. So I mailed in my entry where, as it turns out, it will be entered into a drawing.

A drawing? There is no prize guarantee. Now what is the point of a game with no guaranteed prizes?

Let's see ... open house at the high school tonight; birthday at our house tomorrow. I've gotten a freelance assignment.

Good, bad, in-between. It's an OK mixture.

Day 2

The first day of school is one thing. The second day? Not so much fun.

One daughter was given the wrong schedule. Made for a harrowing first day: She went to lunch, then went to PE, where she was told she was half an hour late. Where had she been? Lunch, she answered. You were in the wrong lunch. I went to the one on my schedule, she answered. Well, it's wrong. So she sat through half of PE, then went to another lunch, where she was reprimanded for not eating (I already ate, she said. Too bad - eat again.).

Poor kid. I drove her to school early so we could meet with the counselor. Got there, and as it was the second day of school, there were several people waiting to see her - others had schedule conflicts, including the same one my daughter had.

The counselor showed up at 1 minute til 8 - one minute before school starts. And she had a large drink in hand. So the reason she was not in the office, ready to assist people on the second day of class, is that she had to get a Diet Coke from McDonald's?


We got to talk to her first - not sure why, and had I been the parent who was waiting there first, I would have been annoyed - and the counselor says, Oh, sorry - my fault. I made out these schedules and forgot that students on this team can't have fifth period PE.

Nice of her to acknowledge her culpability. But hello, are you new here? (Um, no, she is not.) How could you foul this up?

I thought about saying something, but decided against it - really, she's been fairly nice to us, to my daughter, so I held my tongue. I really don't relish being a PITA parent. Schedule fixed, all is well. Why stir up trouble?

Yet, at the same time, I have to be an advocate for my children. Who else will? No one else loves them the way I do; no one else really cares. So I'll make that sacrifice.

But maybe I'll wait til the third day of class - I'll give the school a chance.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Back to School

It is only mid-August. It is much too soon to go back to school.

Yet that is where today found us. Well, not "us" so much as "them." I am certainly a participant in the back-to-school frenzy, but only in a peripheral way.

Last week was all about getting registered, collecting schedules, and shopping for school supplies. The girls are all outfitted with new tennis shoes, clothes, paper and pencils.

And I have to say, there is nothing quite like buying new school supplies. Those first few days, when the pencils are sharp, the crayons unbroken, the boxes shiny, and the folders uncreased, those days are the best. That feeling of writing with a brand-new sharpened pencil for the very first time is unbeatable.

Too bad that new school supplies feeling doesn't last past the first week.

Alison and Maddie headed off by themselves at 7.30 this morning. I watched them as they walked through the backyard to the driveway, where they hopped in the VW and Alison drove them off for their first day.

Then I drove Sylvia to her first day. She didn't seem too fazed by the new school, new teacher, and new kids; I felt somewhat differently. I was able to hide my sudden burst of emotion as we said goodbye at the classroom door, and I don't think she was any the wiser. She walked into her room - it was clear that parents were not encouraged to linger - and I hung around for a minute, peeking around the doorway. But I hated to look like a desperado, or an over-protective mother, so I made my way out.

Slowly. And sadly.

Truth be told, I miss having the girls at home. My days are long now. Sure, I get stuff done, but frankly, I would welcome the distraction of having the girls around.

The contractor who is doing our bathroom smiled. He said I was the first mother he'd ever known who seemed sad, rather than happy, to see her children go back to school.

Sylvia's bus was nearly 45 minutes late coming home today. I knew the buses would be behind schedule. But I worried, concerned that she was on the wrong bus, left behind at school, or just riding and riding, crying for me, feeling lost. I waited on the porch, then finally came inside to get a glass of water. Sure enough, I heard the door slam.

Sylvia was fine. The bus driver, she said with a sigh, was new and had no idea where she was going. Sylvia was tired - and annoyed - but hardly the crestfallen little girl I was worried about. She was a confident fourth-grader who wasn't worried at all.

They're growing up. Two years from now it won't just be the first day of school, but dropping Alison off at a faraway campus. If I have the blues about the cross town trek, how will I handle that?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Olympic Nostalgia

I'm having a little trouble with the Olympics.

Sure, I was just as impressed by the opening ceremonies as anyone else. But it's all gone a little downhill for me.

First, word that the fireworks that awed us were not, in fact, live. And that NBC knew that when they aired.

Then come to find out that the little girl you saw singing was not, in fact, providing the voice you heard. The actual singer was deemed "not cute enough."

Added in is the Chinese women's gymnastics team, with their average weight of 79 pounds and their suspected average age of younger than the required 16.

Throw in the human rights abuses, air pollution, and restrictions on freedom of speech, and you have quite a spectacle.

Plus, I'm missing ABC.

Call me a throwback. But I'm still (still? After 20 years?) having trouble getting into NBC's Olympic coverage.

Now I'm no luddite, and I'm not averse to change or progress. But as a wise person once told me, all change is not progress.

I'm a child of the '70s. And as such, certain things are just tradition, especially when it comes to my television coverage. And I have a hard time letting go. Bert Parks should be hosting Miss America; I am still hoping for Walter Cronkite when I turn on the CBS Evening News. I have totally ditched the morning news shows, with their penchant for non-news stories and over-coverage of every movie that comes out, opting instead for Morning Edition.

And I am still nostalgic for ABC's Wide of World of Sports and its coverage of the Olympics.

NBC has improved, that's for sure. For the worst Olympics ever, I can always look back to Seoul in 1988 when NBC aired Bryant Gumbel .... oh, with the Games of the 24th Olympiad. I distinctly remember watching them switch to gymnastics, show one vault, then back to the studio with Bryant.

And they invited Mary Lou Retton to help cover gymnastics. Except that she was so bad that she could not be allowed to participate in live commentary, contributing only pre-taped spots in a robot-like delivery: "This is the balance beam. It is very narrow. Gymnasts must practice their balance."

I want the laws of nature observed, and I want ABC to take back its sole right to air the Olympics.

I never want to hear that lame-o John Williams Olympics theme ever again. I want the familiar sounds of the Olympics theme as it should be.

I want the summer and winter Olympics in the same calendar year, not this alternating year business.

I want Jim McKay and Chris Economaki, not Bob Costas. (And certainly not Mary Carillo - make her and her poor substitute for Up Close and Personal go away.)

And I want Mark Spitz, not the freakishly shaped - albeit talented - Michael Phelps.

Maybe I want a return to disco dancing, regular Speedos, and Soviet and East German medals domination. I don't know.

But I'm thinking we can compromise. And giving coverage back to ABC would be a big improvement.

At least we'd be rid of Mary Carillo. And that's a start.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Twenty Years Ago

On August 13, 1988, I married the man of my dreams. Thus, on August 13, 2008, we celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary.

Here we are, way back in 1986. The adorable couple.

And here we are a few years later, on the big day.

I know, I know: The permed hair. The dated look of the photo. But it doesn't matter - the only really important thing about your wedding day is the person you share it with, and I got that right. Plus, I am wearing my mother's wedding dress, another memory I cherish. It was a wonderful day. Plus, we followed it with a trip to London, a great start to a marriage filled with fantastic travels.

Here we are just a few years ago, in front of our house on Owen Street.

And here we are as we set out to celebrate the evening. Do we look old enough to have been married this long?

A different shot - so you can see the dress. It's the same dress I wore to my in-laws 50th anniversary party - the girls now call it my anniversary dress.

The shoes are pretty cute, too - trust me. That's our living room fireplace behind us. We shoved all the unpacked boxes out of the way.

I could share with you all the reasons we have a great marriage, all the trials and tribulations we've weathered as a couple, all the reasons I love this man, why he's my best friend, my soul mate, the love of my life. But none of it matters to anyone but us. Suffice it to say, we are very happy in this life we've created together, our three beautiful daughters, the adventures we've shared.

Last night we went to dinner at Maize, one of my favorite downtown restaurants. We shared an appetizer, each drank a martini and a glass of wine. We skipped dessert and went to BW3, where we played trivia - and won - making our evening complete.

No trip this year, no big gifts. We discussed our house renovation and made plans to purchase a new washer and dryer. One that will last another 20 or 30 years. Because I know we will be together to share it.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Here's the list of what I did not get accomplished yesterday:

• Ordering the bathroom vanity
• Ordering the bathroom shower base
• Contacting insurance agent re: auto insurance changes
• Cleaning top of my desk (though I made some progress)
• Posting of excess furniture items to Craigslist
• Anniversary gift for my husband (though I did buy some of the supplies ... this implies that I will be creating something - scary thought)
• Cleaning upstairs bathroom (long overdue)
• Putting away laundry

And what, you are wondering, exactly did I get done? Good question. I took Maddie to get her school supplies. Returned some items purchased in error. Washed my hair. Loaded - and ran - dishwasher. Washed not one, but two loads of laundry.

Impressive, I know. But today is Tuesday, and I am more motivated. I already had a freecycler pick up yet more moving boxes, and she promises to come back tomorrow. Plus it is trash/recycling night tonight, so I can unload a bunch of them. Actual garage space is imminent - I can just feel it.

I also completed the crossword puzzle; worked on the Sudoku, but made a mistake. Scary, as it was a level one, and I still managed to foul it up. And once I've made a mistake, I would have to undo the entire thing to fix it.

Must run - meeting Gary at the bathroom store to choose said shower base. The excitment never ceases around here.

Monday, August 11, 2008


Maddie came runnning inside, down to the basement, where I was doing laundry and Gary was doing ... something or other.

There's a dead rat in the pool, she said. It's caught in the skimmer basket.

She breathlessly explained that Zoe's ball had fallen into the pool (Zoe is our beagle, lest you wonder why we allow neighborhood children to play ball around the pool). Maddie had tried to pull it out of the skimmer, and she encountered the DEAD RAT.

What, she wondered aloud, if the rat died of a disease? Zoe's ball was right next to it, and Zoe has the ball in her mouth. What if she gets sick?

Gary finished what he was doing and went outside with Maddie. I wondered if it might be some other sort of wildlife - mouse, gopher, woodchuck.

But I let him deal with it.

We have our own division of labor around here. I take care of laundry, grocery shopping (for the most part), bill paying, all the girls' details (dentist, orthodontist, etc.). I clean the house - or hire someone to do it. Gary takes out the trash, maintains the pool, does the big investing and money managing. He takes care of the lawn - or hires someone to do it.

I am truly a feminist. But we have a very traditional, sexist allotment of household tasks. He works full time; I don't. It works for us.

It especially works when there are issues like bugs. Or excremental wildlife to be dealt with.

After a few minutes, I headed out to the pool. It was not, as I had suspected, a rat. It was a mole. The girls had already buried it and were mid-memorial service. The mole's final resting place is marked with a stone under a bush.

I am so lucky that my husband takes care of these details for me. I am equally lucky that he s the kind of husband who understands that it's good to be a feminist. When it's convenient.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


Shame on you, John Edwards.

I cannot even describe how profoundly disappointed I am in this man. He was a leading contender for president - heck, I would have voted for him. I admired his self-made man story; I loved the way he stood up for the working class. I like his wife, the way he has weathered hard times. I liked his health care plan.

And he to go and blow it.

To his credit - sort of - he (now) takes responsibility for his actions. He says that in the course of his campaign he became increasingly "self important" and "narcissistic," acting as if the world owed him something. So he took advantage, went after something just because he could.

I am disappointed, disillusioned. Once again, a politician has shown us just how careless he can be. How, when one is running for (or is) president, can someone be so stupid? How can he so easily stray?

But all of this is not what really gets me. I am tired of seeing Elizabeth Edwards referred to as "humiliated." Earlier today, I saw footage of several of these politicians' wives - Silda Spitzer, Hillary Clinton among them - and the story talked about they stood by their men. My husband commented on how hard it must be for them to be so humiliated.

But she has not reason to be. She did not do anything wrong - not Hillary, not Silda, and certainly not Elizabeth Edwards. She has nothing to be embarrassed about - she should feel no shame. Just because he misbehaved has nothing to do with her.

The only thing worse than his lapse in judgment is the way the story is covered by the media. We must get the "spurned spouse" angle, the first look at the other woman, look at the damage to his career.

What he did was stupid. But his spouse is not a pariah, the other woman is not a tramp, and he is not suddenly unqualified to ever work in the public sector again. It's all a gross exaggeration. Yes, I think he made a colossal error. But it's not the end of the world. If every man who had ever cheated on his wife were kicked out of office ... well, we'd have a world run by women, wouldn't we?

And I have a tremendous capacity for forgiveness - I'm a Democrat, after all.

Stage Fright

I spoke in church today. I did it because a) a friend asked me to, b) it was a topic that interested me, and c) I sort of kid myself into thinking I should learn to be a good speaker, so I should do this more often.

In fact, at one point this morning I was thinking maybe, maybe just maybe, I would even consider joining the worship committee (the committee that helps with services when the minister is not there).

I should back up. I love my church - really love it. The denomination stands for everything I believe in, and we UUs are a fun bunch. I really like the people there - my women friends from church are amazing. I am always amazed when I look at the older women who attend - when I see them, I do not see little old lady types, but a group of strong women who are smart and very together. No blue perms and frumpy house dresses - these are women who are on the ball, still making a difference in their community, in the world.

So today, I was ready. And, as I sat there waiting, the nerves hit. I got up there, and my delivery was OK, but I spoke way too fast. I knew it at the time, but I just couldn't manage to slow down. When I ended, it hit me: I was too fast.

I decided not to worry about it. But someone - very nicely - did point it out to me afterwards. I gave him the printout of my talk - he seemed interested. Then Gary warned me, Do not talk to M. He complained to Gary that I was too fast. And complained. And complained.

I avoided him. Not purposely, but I managed to not run into him.

Criticism. They were right, of course - I was too fast. But I take it waaay too personally. Now I'm rethinking the "let's join the worship committee" idea. I'll stick to listening and let others do the hard work. For now.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Busy. And a birthday to boot.

We are living in utter chaos. And I don't see things changing anytime soon.

Two rooms in our house have everything put away. And those two rooms are only temporary. Sylvia's room is tidy, as is the bigger bathroom upstairs. But Sylvia's room will face demolition when they add onto the back, and the bathroom will change when our bathroom is done (which will, thankfully, free up the clutter in the smaller bathroom). We can't put everything away in the kitchen - not enough space. The dining room has overflow from the kitchen, including all the furniture. Our bedroom has overflow from the girls' rooms. Maddie is living upstairs with Alison, which means we can't put away the game room stuff. Alison's room could be in order ... but isn't. The living room has overflow from the family room and a lot of extra furniture that needs to go. The office has overflow from the kitchen.

And on and on and on. Sigh.

I spent yesterday in the dining room, trying to sort out all the stuff from the china cabinet and the sideboard. Which, apparently, is stuffed with various and sundry items that are rarely used. Some of it is going. I love having lots of entertaining items, but realistically, much of that stuff is not getting used, and it can go find another home.

I get to look at all these items, many of which sit in the china cabinet, on the top shelf, and don't get noticed. So I've enjoyed taking a long look at some of the pieces. Many of them are little items my grandmothers gave to me - a tea cup, a tea set, a glass dish, a tiny thimble. I appreciated these pieces when they were given to me, but I really treasure them now, these little remembrances of my grandmothers. They are worth very little, I'm sure, but they have incredible value to me. I remember when she gave them to me, and the story she told. I look forward to passing these same items to my daughters.

In that sense, it's much more than a cabinet full of dishes. It's a holding place for memories, for pieces of my family. And it's worth more than anyone could know.


I was so wrapped up in celebrating yesterday that I didn't even get to the computer to wish my middle daughter a happy - gulp - 14th birthday.

What can I say about Madeleine that has not been said before? She is smart, funny, and a delight to be around. She is willing and helpful; she has a keen sense of detail and her own sense of her self. And she is my partner in crime as we have become totally enamored of Mad Men. (I know - it's an adult drama, but she is loving it with me - she's a bright girl and can handle it.)

Madeleine is one-of-a-kind, beloved by all who know her. She is true bright spot in our lives.

Happy Birthday to my favorite middle daughter.

Monday, August 04, 2008

On renovation and remembering

The banging upstairs is music to my ears.

The noise in question is the sound of Gale, our contractor, and his crew as they demo a wall to make our new, ensuite master bathroom. Maddie has been sent up to the third floor to live with Alison while we take over her room in order to create our luxurious master retreat. Before this is all over, we will have a two-story addition, meaning she will have a nice, new, bigger bedroom. I see it as a win-win, with a few weeks of minor inconvenience.

We've still not managed to put everything in order. Now that the construction has commenced, I'm not highly motivated.

Our need for more bathroom space feels a little spoiled. I grew up in a house with two bathrooms and six people. One bath had a tub, the other a shower. We had two toilets and two sinks, and somehow, we managed just fine. One of my friends lived in a house with just one bathroom, no shower. Another friend, with even more kids than we had, had only one upstairs bath.

In our last house, we had four toilets, three showers, and six sinks. When we're done here, we will, again, have six sinks and four toilets. It feels a little like overkill - two bathrooms for three kids, and each girl will have her own sink. We have a downstairs powder room, but the new one will be much bigger.

I know - we are spoiled. But I know what makes our lives easiest. And this is it. Plus, it will make our house easier to sell someday. And that possibility always looms on the horizon.

We unpacked more over the weekend - I'm wondering when we will ever, ever be done. We just have way too much stuff. As we went through the game room stuff, we made a large pile of games, books, and toys that no one uses. How we missed this stuff when we were leaving Houston I'm not sure, but we did. So now it will head off to the well-timed church rummage sale. I weeded out a few more clothes, and I'm thinking a bit of limitation on storage space is a good thing, or I will just keep everything.

I spent part of the day unpacking boxes of old school work that we saved for the girls. I had it all sorted and organized in boxes; the packers felt the need to empty the containers into packing boxes. I guess I should have said something. Instead, I had re-sort everything. But it did provide a bit of enjoyment; the girls popped in to see what they had, recalling some of their artworks or projects. I uncovered the newspapers we had saved for them, from the days of their births, along with clippings that feature their pictures and various bits of memorabilia. It's all stored away again, ready to revisit next time we move.

Slowly, slowly, this place is coming together. I am ready for life to get back to normal. Whatever that is.

Joys and Sorrows

I sat and listened to the sharing of joys, sorrows, and concerns at church yesterday. In Peoria, we did it every week; in Houston, it was moved to a gathering before the actual service. Here in Lafayette, it wasn't done at all when we first moved here, but later it was added. Now it is done on the first Sunday of the month. It's much like other rituals - there are some people who stand up every week, others who never share.

I fall into the never share category. I briefly considered getting up yesterday, but opted not to. And someone else mentioned how glad they were we are back.

A few mentions of the shooting last week in Tennessee. The shooting happened at my church. Not my home church, but when it's part of your denomination - and when it seems the church was targeted for its beliefs - then it's not so hard to take it personally.

Mostly, though, as I sat there, I felt the magnitude of my life's joys. I felt how we have been welcomed back, not only by this congregation, but by neighbors and friends. In the three weeks we've been back, I've been approached by friends from every direction - nearly everywhere we go, we run into someone who is surprised or pleased to see us.

It's a good feeling. It's the community I longed for while we lived away, and I am so glad to have found it, intact, just where I left it. I'm glad to be "home."

Friday, August 01, 2008

Carpet, be gone!

Tearing out old carpet. Sounds like an easy enough job, right?

I figured that with three helpers, we'd take care of the family room and the living room all in one day.

I was so wrong.

The carpet is heavy; very heavy. Tearing it out, along with the pad, was hard enough - the carpet is filthy, the pad is dirty, and it took some maneuvering of furniture to wrangle it out of there. Even with helpers, it took some effort.

And that isn't half the battle. The real work started once the carpet was out. We had to pry up the tacking strips. But even that was easy compared to the roughly 8,546* staples used to hold the pad in place. We - and by we, I mean Alison and I - had to use a hammer, crowbar, and pliers to get them all up.

Maddie and Sylvia followed behind us. We vacuumed, then we scrubbed with Murphy's oil soap.

It wasn't a terrible two days. Yesterdays we made good use of our Netflix - we watched "Clue" and "Becoming Jane," which kept us occupied (and distracted some of us).

I even got some added help. How would you define a true friend? My definition includes those who call, ask what you are doing, and offer to come and help tear out old carpet - even bringing her own tools. This is my friend JoAnn, who spent three hours here with me, working on that floor. And for at least part of that time, we actually worked. Plus, she filled me in on some critical news that has been going on, updates I desperately needed to put recent events into context.

We worked all day yesterday and today, and we only got the family room done. Here is the end result:

Boxes in the corner? Record albums. As in, the vinyl kind. We rarely play them; I'm not even sure we had our turntable connected at the last house. Mostly, they take up space, and we pack them and unpack them when we move. Anything we really like, we have replaced on CD. Yet there they sit, waiting for their new storage place. Which we do not have. Yet.

The floors need to be refinished. But frankly, I'd rather look at worn floors than worn carpet - it was creeping me out.

My back is killing me. But I feel good; I love making this sort of progress. it is very satisfying. Much like refinishing furntiure - I love seeing immediate results.
I guess now I must get back to unpacking. But it was fun to get the process started. Wonder what Gary will say when he returns from his business trip ...

(*number is approximate)