Archive for February, 2007

Daylight Savings Time–the sooner, the better!

February 28, 2007

    The San Jose Mercury News is putting together a story on moms and the new, improved, two-weeks -earlier Daylight Savings Time. Do we love it? Hate it?
    I love it. Here’s what I wrote one April, a few years ago, when the then-editor of the Palo Alto Daily News wrote advocating ending daylight savings time altogether:   

Dave, Dave, Dave….what were you thinking, calling for the end of daylight savings time? Some of us had been counting the days until we sprung forward since we fell back in October. During the last few weeks of Standard Time we had been wondering if we would actually survive until April. Just wait Dave, just wait a few years until you have one, or two, or three little ones who wake up with the birds.
    I mean, do you know what time the birds wake up in March and April, before the time changes? Try 5:15 a.m., at the latest, although there is one noisy little peeper in my tree who likes to beat his  buddies to the worm, and starts chirping at 5 a.m. As soon as the birds start singing, Mischa is awake, shaking me, jumping on my stomach, and saying “up up up!” How would you like to wake up at 5 a.m. every morning? (If you want to try it, I’d be happy to give you a few wake-up calls.)
    Then there are the evenings. I finish work at 5 p.m., which gives me an hour or so with the kids before dinner. Under Standard Time it was dark and cool and we were stuck inside. I’d start to play a board game with Nadya and Alex, but we’d barely get it set up before Mischa would steal the dice and shove them in his mouth and I’d be begging him to spit them out before he choked. So I’d quickly put the game away, in spite of the protests. Gameless, Nadya and Alex would pull all the cushions off the couch and build forts, but they would soon get into an argument over who had more cushions. I’d settle the argument with a pile of cushions from the other room, then Mischa would knock both forts down, and the kids would be shrieking again.
    Then all three of them would start practicing cartwheels. When one crashed into the table, nearly knocking over my vase of daffodils (put there to remind me that spring is on its way), I would once again break my resolution not to use television as a babysitter and I would turn on “Dragon Tales”.
    That was in March. But thanks to Daylight Savings Time, we’re having “quality time” again. After I finish work I pull out the balls, hula hoops, jump ropes, and pogo stick and play with the kids in the front yard, since at 5 p.m. the sun is still shining and warm. The kids throw the balls back and forth without fighting. I’m relaxed, because Mischa can’t possibly fit a hula hoop in his mouth. We wave at the neighbors as they get home from work, and no one whines to turn on the TV.  My husband comes home to a sane wife, cheerful kids, and furniture that is, in general, where it is supposed to be–and you want me to give all this up?
    There is, of course, your point about automobile accident statistics. Indeed, the Monday after time springs forward there are more accidents. But you’re forgetting the big picture–the same statistics show that the Monday after time falls back in October there are less accidents–it’s a wash.

    Now there are mothers whose kids go to bed at 7:30 p.m. who would rather it not be daylight at their children’s bedtimes, and would, like you, rather stick to Standard Time. But they have kids that soundly sleep through the sun’s rise no matter what time they are put to bed–these are not the mothers who need every break they can get. The rest of us–whose children are not in their p.j.s quietly reading stories after dinner but instead are ready to rumble–want them to rumble outside (and not in the dark). So think again about this whole Daylight Savings Time thing, Dave, or, when Standard Time returns in the fall, I might just ask you to baby-sit.

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Spreadsheets and Power Plays: Do PTAs Go Way Beyond Cookies?

February 23, 2007

Cookies_1The New York Times today discovered that PTA fundraising has gone way beyond the occasional bakesale and looks–oh my gawd–professional!  Says the Times:
With many members who stepped out of high-profile careers to become stay-at-home parents, traditional parent-teacher associations (and the similar parent-teacher organizations, or PTOs) have evolved into sophisticated multitiered organizations bearing little resemblance to the mom-and-pop groups that ran bake sales a generation ago.

Duh. This is news? This is not news, this is moms who had high powered careers choosing to stay home who did not have their memory banks wiped with the birth of their children. They still remember the skills they learned in the workplace, so they’re using them. And they have been for sometime. They’re identifying problems, and they’re solving them. And they’re using Palm Pilots and blackberries and those other boy toys to do so.

Yeah, thanks to a few amazing moms several years ago, the chair of our annual school auction doesn’t start with nothing, she gets a big fat project manual and a database of past donors, form letters, and I’m sure lots of other tools I don’t know about. (At about $100K a year, this auction is one of the smaller ones in the Bay Area.) The amazing school email lists can solve problems that used to take weeks of organization in minutes–a family in sudden need, a class short of carpool drivers, a weird bill going through the state legislature that would hurt the schools and needs to be stopped.

I’ve met moms who quit their professional jobs and signed in at school the next morning for what was essentially a full-time unpaid job, because the schools needed them more. These are the moms that are keeping the computer labs open and making sure theater comes to the school and finding things for the kids to do at lunch besides squabble. And thanks to them we have rocket scientists helping the kids with science projects.

Yeah, I’ve seen the dark side of the “professional” PTA volunteer. Not at my current district, but previously, where, just like the New York Times article said, you had to be in the right clique to serve the pizza at lunch, working moms who are only part-time volunteers need not apply. I’ve been made to feel like a total failure because I didn’t come in a day early to organize my supplies before helping with a 45-minute first-grade art lesson. So sometimes, sure, power corrupts.

But while the article makes it seem like the PTA moms are providing luxuries–the rock-climbing wall in the gym–around here they’re fundraising for necessities. It’s nice to have paper and pencils, for example.

While the New York Times was describing scary high-powered PTA parents, the San Francisco Chronicle had another take. Leah Garchik reported the following overheard conversation between two children: “A private school you have to pay for, a public school you have to fund-raise for.”

A ski week story in pictures

February 22, 2007

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This is just some of the laundry that didn’t get done because we went skiing for two days.

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This is most of the ski gear we pulled out of the car last night after we got back. Most of it is damp and dirty and needs to be washed.

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This is the washer. Halfway through the fourth load this morning it made an agonized groaning sound and stopped dead. It’s either taking a stand against ski week or joining my other appliances on their job action.

Little Pitchers

February 22, 2007

Fn42illMy kids know just about everything that goes on in our house. Mostly, except for Christmas and birthdays, we don’t have a lot of secrets in our family. Keeping secrets is such hard work. For one, having a private conversation in our house is nearly impossible; it’s an old house, the doors don’t have locks, most of them don’t even close properly. When I try to pull someone aside for a private conversation, that’s really just a cue for the rest of the family that something interesting is happening and to really pay attention. If I wait until the kids are asleep to talk to my husband, frankly, I don’t want too talk, my brain has started to shut down and I don’t want to wake it up again.

    And anyway, I’m pretty sure my kids can hear in their sleep. This morning I thought all the kids were asleep when Eric and I were in the bathroom chatting about the spider bite on the cat’s tail; later my “sleeping” daughter (two rooms away) wanted to know why we were talking about spider bites. (I was glad that’s all we had been talking about.)

    So mostly, I don’t bother trying to be secretive. I spent my early childhood as the only kid in a house full of adults; I heard all sorts of probably inappropriate conversations and survived, so I don’t worry too much about what my kids hear. Sometimes I took notes (even then the budding journalist). Sometimes I got in trouble for taking notes. (Yeah, keeping track of how many drinks were consumed by each adult at a family party probably wasn’t the best idea.) I also read all sorts of inappropriate books left around that mostly adult household, and survived that as well. Think Lord of the Flies and Valley of the Dolls and Portnoy’s Complaint. Ah, 1960s novels were definitely pushing boundaries, particularly for a 12 year old. But that’s another post.

    Anyway, this openness is a two-edged sword. It means I have some great conversations with my kids when they ask me to explain this or that, and they, for the most part, they don’t censor their lives when they’re around me, and feel like they can ask anything, so the lines of communication stay wide open. On the down side, the questions can sometimes get embarrassing; and it gets even more embarrassing when some conversations wander out of our house, run down the street, and then come back and bite me in the ass. And I wish my kids hadn’t listened that time, or hadn’t repeated what they’d heard, and I hope it never happens again.

    But it probably will. For unless I get a soundproofed booth (maybe a defunct gameshow might sell one on e-bay) my kids will hear my conversations. Heck, if I got that soundproofed booth they’d quickly learn to lipread. (And what was the mom thinking who gave my youngest the spy kit for a birthday present—he now has bugging devices he can plant around the house so he can eavesdrop from the comfort of his room.) I can only hope they’ll eventually learn that not everything they hear is for or taking to school for show-and-tell or sharing with their friends.

Feelin’ Groovy…

February 20, 2007

15    Last fall designers brought back the ’80s and I was thrilled, rifling the back of my closet for clothes newly back in style, reveling in the fact that they still fit. Last month, I was still discovering new and newly stylish combinations when the most recent wave of fashion news hit. Disappointed that going back to the 80s didn’t bring big sales (maybe because I wasn’t the only gal who still had her 80s clothes in her closet), designers are reaching back a few more decades for spring styles, to the ’60s. The mod ’60s, not the hippie ’60s. They figure this is stuff we either never had or didn’t keep, so we’ll have to buy it all new.

    I’ve got mixed feelings about this fashion trend. It’s not that mod fashions don’t suit my body type. (Or at least would have up until a few years ago, and I could still probably get away with many of them.) Twiggy thin. Check. No boobs. Check. I could even probably handle the short haircut. I love bright colors and wild patterns; anyone who has set foot inside my front door figures that out about me pretty quick. And if I ever get the new dining room chairs I’ve been checking out, I’ll be shopping Marimekko for fabric to cover them.

    So it’s not that I don’t like the styles. And I didn’t get tired of them the first time around; I never had much of a chance to wear them since I was in elementary school; mostly I just admired them on Laugh-In. I still remember my favorite dress from fourth grade, though somehow it never made it into a photo op: an orange mini with a drop waist and a fat white vinyl belt around the hips; I recall wearing it with white vinyl boots, though that may have just have been in my imagination; it was more likely that I was wearing it with white Keds. And dancing in it while I held a transistor radio up to my ear. A white iPod would have looked so much better….but I digress.

    No, my problem with the 60s mod look is that I can’t figure out what I can do while wearing these clothes. In the long sweaters and leggings and little flat ankle boots of the 80s revival, I can work, run up and down the stairs carrying mountains of laundry, wrestle my kids’ bikes into the car, climb around the attic trying to find supplies for a school project, and collapse on the floor in front of the TV (I call it doing my stretches). In the mod minis, trapeze dresses, and superhigh wedgies with Lucite heels I’m seeing in the fashion press I can picture myself dancing in a go-go cage, and that’s about it. (Or breaking my ankle falling off the wedgies in a go-go cage.) Since no one has asked me to dance in a go-go cage lately, it’s going to be damn hard to justify a wardrobe update.

    Still, I do love the colors. Maybe I can forget the Marimekko yardage, and, when this trendy fashion stuff is marked down in a few months, simply pick up a couple of kicky dresses for those dining room chair covers.

Stuck in the middle

February 17, 2007

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I’m glad I’m not a middle child.

I watch my daughter struggle to find space between her brothers, space to breathe, space to be. Her older brother is one of those kids who could have picked any number of ways to shine—he picked the stage, and I’m proud of his focus, his talents, and his successes so far. But man, when a kid burns that bright it has to suck a lot of air out of the room. And it’s much more fun to be his mother than it would be to be his sister.

Her younger brother is gulping up a fair amount of oxygen on his own, he’s on the fast track; he wants to do everything big brother does, and do it at least a few years sooner than big brother did. He’s a force to be reckoned with.

And in the middle, my daughter is squeezed so tight it’d make you scream. Actually, it often does make her scream. In jealousy, sometimes, but more often in frustration, I think, about simply not having enough room to figure out who she is and to let her talents shine. I had hoped that, simply by being a girl, she’d have a protected niche in the family ecology, but that doesn’t seem to make a difference. Almost whatever she does, either one sibling has done first or the other immediately copies her; she can claim very few paths all for herself.

Lately, though, instead of just getting frustrated, it seems like she’s started to figure out ways to wiggle out of the tight space she was born into.

She wants to go to the same sleepaway camp as her brothers—but she just asked to change her session to a different two weeks. Not only will that give her room to breathe up at camp, it means she’ll be alone for a while at home as well, a total of four consecutive weeks of only-child-ness. For the first time in her life, she’ll be able to stretch out and claim a big chunk of her world for herself.

Last week we went skiing; at least, mom, dad, and the boys went skiing, my middle child took her first snowboarding lessons. The first day was a struggle, she was banged up and bruised and nearly defeated. The second day she sprained her wrist. Badly. She’ll be in a brace for weeks. But she’s a snowboarder now, and doesn’t intend to turn back; sometimes blazing a new trail hurts.

It’s the daffodils…

February 17, 2007

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On the phone with a colleague in New York yesterday morning, I sneezed.

“Got a cold?”

“Nope. Allergies. Everything is in bloom. I’m looking out my window and I see cherry blossoms and daffodils—even my roses are coming back from the dead.”

“Nothing is in bloom here.”

Yeah, I know. I’ve been there, in the New York winters that seemed like they’d never end, in the snow that was only pretty for about 30 seconds before it turned into nasty foot-soaking slush.

Today is the 21st anniversary of my decision to move to Silicon Valley. It was one of those really warm February days we always get this time of year, just like today. I was here visiting friends for the long holiday weekend, which also happens to be my birthday weekend.

I think I flew out on Friday, leaving behind the kind of weather New York is having right now. I stayed with a friend in Palo Alto Friday night, took a walk Saturday morning. Daffodils were everywhere. Daffodils are my favorite flower. Yes, I thought, daffodils should be blooming on my birthday.

Mid-morning another friend picked me up to take me to visit the then-almost-brand-new Monterey aquarium. Monterey was fog-free that day; the sun sparkled on the bay and warmed the deck outside the main hall. That night he dropped me in Sausalito to spend the night with other friends on a boat docked in the bay.

On Sunday, I woke to seagulls and sunshine. I put on my bathing suit and stretched out on the deck. Yes, it was that warm, at least in a sheltered spot. Later, since it was also the first day of salmon season, we motored out beyond the Golden Gate. This wasn’t the highlight of the day. It’s rough out there, my stomach didn’t like it. Most of my friends’ stomachs didn’t like it. The dogs’ stomachs didn’t like it.

But we caught a fish, and recovered fairly quickly once back in the bay. And the next morning, Washington’s Birthday, a couple of us decided to go skiing. We were in Tahoe that afternoon.

A few days later I was back in New York, slighly sunburned, wading through slush. And not even the Korean groceries had any daffodils.

So that’s why I’m here in overpriced overcrowded Silicon Valley; it’s the daffodils. And a few sneezes are a small price to pay.

Another iPod moment

February 15, 2007

After putting the ski clothes through the three-kid shuffle, that is, trying on and passing down, and attempting to assemble three complete outfits, we came up a bit short, particularly in the eldest kid department. He’s grown a lot since he last went skiing two years ago.

So last night we were over at Any Mountain, pawing through the discount racks and trying to fill in the gaps.

The big-ticket purchase–a new helmet. I was stunned at the $100 price–for the cheapest list-price helmet, with the end-of-season discount. Last time we bought helmets couldn’t have been more than a couple of years ago, and at $50 each I thought they were expensive then.

At the register, the salesclerk helpfully checked the box to make sure all the manuals and parts were included. "Where’s your iPod?" she asked my son. He pulled his nano out of a pocket. She unwound a cord and handed it to him to plug into his iPod. "Try the helmet on and make sure both speakers work. This," she pointed to a bump on the cord, "is the mute button."

"Uh," I interrupted. "Maybe we could find a cheaper helmet without a sound system?"

The saleclerk, my son, and my husband both shook their heads at my naivety. Apparently such deprivation was not to be even contemplated.

But I learned something useful. The next time I get run over by a reckless teen on the slopes, I’ll know to press his mute button before starting to scream.

The most romantic Valentine’s Day ever…

February 14, 2007

Kistrendukgroomscake90x90 …had to be February 14, 2004, when newly-elected mayor Gavin Newsom decided that San Francisco would perform civil marriages for same-sex couples. Remember the television and newspaper coverage of the lines of couples in front of city hall, the 70-plus year old women getting married after 40 years of living together, the 30- and 40-something men and women holding infants in their arms and toddlers by the hands as families were given official status?  I was a complete news junkie that weekend, because it was feel-good news all day, every day. Not only feel-good for the couples, but feel good for my marriage, my life, because heck, having so many people so eager to say those words and sign that marriage license definitely made it seem like us married people have something special going here.

And far too quickly, it all ended.

So yeah, Gavin-gossiping these past few weeks has been quite entertaining, but let’s not forget that magical Valentine’s weekend he gave us all back in 2004.

What killed Mount Tone?

February 13, 2007

Logom_copy Since mid-January my husband has been googling Tahoe area hotels, trying to find an affordable room in which we can squeeze our family of five not too long a drive from one of the smaller ski resorts. We long ago gave up on the idea of staying right at the slopes; too far off the charts price-wise. And we’ve crossed a number of resorts off our preferred list as the years has gone by, too big, too hectic, too many lines. 

    Finally we agree that yeah, we can fit five people in a room with two double beds somehow, and that 20 minutes to the slopes isn’t that bad a drive. And we add making dinner reservations to our to-do list, since we’ve learned that kids don’t do well waiting an hour to get into a restaurant after a long day of skiing. And we think we’ve calculated on how to best time our drive up to the Sierras to avoid a nine-hour traffic jam.

    Meanwhile, in the midst of the ski-week booking madness, I get a flurry of email from several old friends—did I hear? Mount Tone, my absolute favorite ski resort in the entire country, is closed. The ski report lines still list it in their databases, but note that it’s not reporting snow conditions. A web site under construction promises a sale of logo’d clothing and souvenirs as long as supplies last, and will post a history. Yes, Mount Tone is dead.

    Sure, I haven’t skied Mount Tone since 1985, but I’d checked the web site occasionally, it hadn’t changed a bit, and I always thought I’d ski it again. With my kids, perhaps.

    I’m sure you haven’t heard of Mount Tone. It’s in Pennsylvania. Not quite in the Poconos. Not quite anywhere, actually, but only a couple of hours drive from New York City along roads that are anything but heavily traveled.

    Mount Tone had two hills and three lifts for downhill skiers, and one or two cross-country loops. The highest peak climbed to 1900 feet above sea level, the total vertical drop was 450 feet. The rope tow went halfway up that 450 feet. The chair lift went all the way up. And, if you were up for hiking across the frozen lake to the next hill, you got to ride a T-bar lift (which means going up could be as challenging as going down).

    Mount Tone weekend ski packages in 2005 cost about $100 per person. (They cost a lot less in the early 80s). That got you two days of lift tickets (including night skiing), all the lessons you could stand, two nights of lodging, and five meals, cafeteria style. Lodging meant a bunk bed and a scratchy blanket in a big cabin; the cabins slept eight to ten people each, but each group got its own cabin, and you were a group as long as you had at least four people;  we usually had a dozen people split between two cabins. That $100 also got you access to the main lodge for all-night BYO dance parties, since Mount Tone didn’t have a bar. And traying or tubing down the bunny hill when you got tired of dancing.

    We always reserved the double cabin halfway up the main slope. You could take the rope tow directly to the wide porch, or ride the chair lift to the top of the hill and ski down to the cabin. We used the snowbanks in front of the cabin for chilling stoli and schnapps; nonskiers in the group served hors d’oeuvres and drinks over the front railing.

    The slopes weren’t exactly challenging, but we found ways to adapt. We made conga lines and wove our way down the slopes. We skied every trail backwards. We tried 360s and ski ballet. We always brought along a few novice skiers to entertain us by struggling to conquer the rope tow. And skiing hasn’t ever been so much fun.

    So what killed Mount Tone? Monster homes, perhaps, pushing into rural Pennsylvania? Hard to imagine. Global climate change, with today’s warmer winters making low-altitude skiing less viable? Perhaps. Or maybe it was just all us former Mount Tone skiers who moved out of the area and never got around to going back.