Saturday, February 07, 2009

2/7/09 On Strike

Gabriel's birthday party was today! A week after his birthday, and his invitees had less than two weeks' notice (sigh) -- but the very small set of kids I could persuade him to invite (he's funny that way, it has to be kids he plays with ALL the time) could all make it.

My excuse for not doing Gabrie's party at home is that it's becoming a pain giving parties at our rental house, but the truth is, I just don't know what to do with seven 7-year-olds. I couldn't get the ice-skating place to call me back, so, right next to the ice rink, I arranged for a party at Strike, an upscale bowling alley.

When we first walked in, I thought I had another Chuck E Cheese situation on my hands -- noisy, screens flashing everywhere, no one at the party check-in desk. But as soon as we met with the party coordinator, everything went great. I couldn't believe how on top of things and helpful the staff were. They serve party junk food and drinks right at the lanes, provide all the plates, forks and napkins, offered to refrigerate the cake, helped me carry stuff and set up the bowling lanes. Staff members stopped by frequently to help and remind me not to stress out and to enjoy it.

They even put up a sign!

The bowling was great, too. They have a modern system that allows you to set "bumpers on" per player (prevents gutter balls). There was also a light metal ramp that was good for the ones who really can't handle a ball, like Julian. They offered me a set of shoes too (and a free glass of wine!), so I bowled also. (I scored a 125, not bad considering I haven't bowled in years and was very distracted!)

The biggest problem was keeping the kids moving. One lane luckily got three of the older taller kids, and they buzzed along well together. The other lane had Gina (who should have been with the speedy lane and blew all the boys away scorewise), and the remainder of the group, who were much slower and goofing around and weren't paying attention to who was up next. Gabriel was one of the worst bowlers, but he had a great time.

One boy's mom brought him late, after soccer practice, and she stayed and was a terrific help, pouring lemonade and reminding who was up next to go. Her son was quite the clown too.

I was torn about whether or not to bring Julian. In retrospect, I shouldn't have. He really was out of his element; the pacing of a group of 6-7-year-olds is much much faster than he could handle, and it took a lot of my attention. But the real reason was that Gabriel didn't really want him there -- it was his day with his friends. I hated it when my father forced my younger siblings on me with my friends. I can make plenty of my own mistakes without repeating my Dad's too.

After the bowling, they moved us to a table where we could sing happy birthday. I brought the cake, but they were prepared with candles and matches, and a manager even took photos! I couldn't believe it. They were SO helpful.

A good-sized group. Between 4 and 8 guests is perfect for a party of kids this age.

I really liked getting to know Gabriel's friends. Two are CDC-mates, two are classmates, one is both, and one is a babyhood friend. If you can judge someone by their friends, I have a pretty neat kid.

The cake was a very last-minute creation, and really last-minute because I zoomed out to buy some premade fondant for the bowling ball a few hours before the party. That took less time than thinking of how to make an edible bowling ball with things on hand.

Given all the time demands and pressure I've been under, decorating a cake could either seem foolish, or, a very necessary diversion. I vote for the latter. Store-bought cakes have their place -- I'm glad I did it for the family party -- but the process is missing. Gabriel had a great time watching me, picking the color for the bowling ball, laughing at the fallen pin, suggesting the "action lines," and reminding me numerous times that one of my cake-decorating mentor friends is much, much, MUCH BETTER AT THIS THAN YOU ARE, MOM!!! (he's right). That's irreplaceable. I don't think I'll ever try to surprise the kids with a cake I decorate, because the real fun is in the making, not the big reveal. Hmm, cake decorating as a metaphor for child-raising!

It wasn't the cheapest way to go, but I would do a party at Strike again in a heartbeat. In fact, I'm looking forward to one!


Friday, February 06, 2009

2/6/09 The Work Day

I can't wait until I can go to work on Fridays -- it'd be a lot less work!

I dragged my sorry rear end out of bed at 7:15, sacrificing timely grooming and dressing for a little extra sleep, and sprang right into action getting kids moving, dressed, fed, teeth brushed, knapsacks packed, lunches out, shoes and jackets on, excuses fielded, strap in the car. In theory, spending time with my children in the morning shouldn't be work, but in practice, getting them all out the door -- including the 6.5 minutes I spend getting dressed myself -- is hard labor.

Then it was post office, jobsite meeting, lighting store, plumbing store, bath store, (shh, Starbucks), home to make immediate phone calls, upload photos, send emails including photos of various problems that came up at the jobsite meeting.

At 3:30 I lay down to ease my breaking back -- it's still verrry iffy. At 4:00, I had breakfast. Sleep is always the higher priority.

Then it was right back to action writing checks, answering email, paying bills, opening boxes, zooming out to pick up kids -- out of time to unload my completely packed car, and Gabriel had to climb over a long box between his and Julian's seat (this turned out to be a good thing!). With all three strapped in, it was back to the jobsite to unload the car, find a few things, reload with a few delivered packages -- a lot of work since the front entries to the house are blocked off right now.

Finally, after 6pm, time to go home with my arguing brood some more?!

Forget it! I called Dave: "meet us at the restaurant!" Gabriel rebelled, "Why can't we go home and have macaroni and cheese?" "Because I worked hard today and I'm not cooking tonight!" "You worked hard doing what?" he demanded.

I didn't think he'd understand.

Thank goodness, Katrina was the model toddler at the restaurant this time, but it's one of our longtime favorites, a Japanese restaurant that's very kid-friendly. "Mmm, yummy!" she said of the miso soup. We pulled it off with no preparation and no kid-gear at all. The only issue we had was Gabriel hugging and kissing Katrina so much we had to move him so she'd quit screaming at him after she got tired of it.

I made of ton of remodeling progress today, such as delivering a carload full of light fixtures, and finished up most of the final ordering. It's actually way past time that I should be ordering things; they should be installing everything now. But while I can spend 10 minutes picking a kitchen countertop or staircase carpet, it can take me days to settle on the right handtowel holder. I'm still missing a doorstop here or there, but now anything I order now is to address a problem (like discovering today that a small medicine cabinet, now installed and painted, arrived without a door).

It's encouraging to get past big hurdles, but as I look around the muddy, gouged, weedy yards, I see many many years of work ahead.


Thursday, February 05, 2009

2/5/09 Bills

A bad bill day. Today I engaged in a serious struggle to get my "client," also my former employer, to even acknowledge they've received invoices -- and when they do, they take 30 days to pay them. I've been working for free since the beginning of December, and it's getting old.

Then today, our contractor sends a bill, and expects us to pay immediately. They give me a pass because I send the payment online, and it takes a whole (gasp) 6 days to arrive. That means I have to pay it within hours from when I receive the bill, no leeway. Yet my client can't even keep track of mail, answer phone calls, or get their internal process straight.

I should have known the day would be like this. It started on the phone with the Veteran's Administration, with the same conversation I have with them every time I call: "No, my father does not live in California -- I do. No, don't contact me to arrange a meeting with him, contact his place in Massachusetts. Sure, what the heck, put one of your useless notes in his file just like the last 10 people did, knock yourself out. Hey, I know a company in California that would be perfect for you!"

A nice coffee & cheesecake night out with mom friends helps bring reality back. It buys me another few days before I crack.


Wednesday, February 04, 2009

2/4/09 28 Stats

I took Katrina to the pediatrician today for her 27-month checkup....right on time, since she turns 28 months tomorrow. Isn't it interesting how "some people" can be so consistent about being late?

Katrina is:

  • 35-1/2" long (60 %ile)
  • 26.5 lbs (30 %ile)
  • Scared of stethoscopes
  • Completely healthy!

    As usual, there was little to talk about because she's developing normally and has no issues to speak of. (Being grumpy and demanding and bossy doesn't count.) I didn't even think to bring up the occasional hive episodes, and I already knew that this recent stammer thing isn't a big deal. The doc actually said it's a little more likely on kids who do speak well. In fact, the only noteworthy thing about this visit was Katrina's language progress -- that she went from a word here or there at 18 months to a really pretty rich grammar and vocabulary for a 2-1/4-year-old.

    I had to chuckle when the doc kindly offered some advice on the dinnertime tantrums, which I'm THRILLED to report have subsided in the past week. It was the usual standard and normally valid advice, which means it isn't Doudna-proofed. After our experiences with Gabriel, I became convinced that anti-tantrum advice works best on kids who don't seriously tantrum. (Recall that after age 4, we sought professional help from a psychologist!) Julian's softer temperament was further proof -- magazine methods worked great on him, but we didn't really need it. Thank goodness I have Julian to remind me that I'm not entirely defective when it comes to producing agreeable children.

    I hope she tests negative for peanut allergies in another 9 months...I made a devastating discovery today: Trader Joe's stopped carrying my favorite Soybean Butter!

  • Tuesday, February 03, 2009

    2/3/09 I am a rock...I am an....


    No. Definitely not. Please don't even say "island" around me.

    I think I will Officially Lose My Mind today. Tomorrow, latest.

    Thanks to measuring a friend's altogether reasonable island in her kitchen, I flipped out when realizing my future island would be 95" long. I mean, I've always known it would be 95" long, it was designed to seat 3, after all. Sounds, and looks, reasonable....

    ...until you take a tape measure to a friend's altogether reasonable island, pull it to 95" and realize that 95" is altogether unreasonable. 95" is almost eight feet long!

    This is no time to be making changes. Electrical, cabinets....numerous things have been planned around a 95" island. ANY change at this stage risks introducing new problems, and certainly new costs and delays.

    Still, it panicked me. We've invested so much heart and soul (read: time and money): I have to love -- no, LOVE, LOVE!! -- this! What if I walk in the house for the first time, when it's a house and not a jobsite, and go "Hey, what's with that island? It's huge!" I'm not an eight-foot-island sort of person! Really, I'm low-maintenance, right?!

    This isn't a measurement issue, it's an identity crisis. I'm not suited for this. I'm too compulsive, too detail-oriented, too indecisive. Remodels are made for people who have broad ranges of satisfaction, who can shrug their shoulders and say "eh, whatever" -- not chronic optimizers who wrangle about every last millimeter of usable space. This would be much easier if I were a designer-type: I'd simply follow what the designer said about the "look," and be confident. But few people can beat a design far past its natural death on functionality and agonize to achieve perfection as I can.

    Work, for me, is a relief: in network engineering, tiny details, immaculate organization, specific interpretation of rules, complete determinism and utter objectivity are hero's tools. With computers, there are no opinions, only irrefutable facts. That's my element. This fuzzy "looks good" stuff continues to be foreign, to the point of toxicity, to me.

    Alas, my ever-patient kitchen designer compromised by bringing the island down to 85" -- still over 7 feet, but not quite as overwhelming.

    Design isn't my forte, as anyone reading half a blog post my "theme" for decorating the house simplifies that, I think: I like the idea of regional-appropriate decorations, as well as ones that have some special meaning to us.

    So I was beside myself to find these barstools for the Island -- on sale! -- at Sturbridge Yankee Workshop.

    (In case any readers are not aware, we live in Santa Clara County, home to a fertile valley with a long tradition, almost gone now, of agriculture.)

    My only hesitation about getting different fruits on the barstools is the fights this will cause: with three children -- heck, even two -- conflicts over a particular stool are inevitable. Still, I have to wonder: which fruit would they fight over the most?

    I'm looking forward to having that problem, because by then, the island will be cast in stone, and I won't be driving anyone too too crazy anymore. Except myself, but alas, that is my burden.

    Please take a moment to appreciate the depth of my husband's patience and stamina.


    Monday, February 02, 2009

    2/2/09 One Hundred

    Once again, the sort of busywork I can't stand, but it was relatively harmless this time: to "celebrate" 100 days of school, Gabriel has to put 100 items in a plastic bag to bring to school. He had to do this in kindergarten too. Is the point to reinforce the ability to count to 100? Or to lose 100 Lego pieces you insisted on using?

    There was one plus of the discussion of 100 items. Julian said he could only count to 60, and I said I was sure he could count to 100, and if he couldn't, I'd help him. I used this to keep Julian in the kitchen with me as I prepared dinner, which is far far less trouble than dropping dinner-making activities every few seconds to go scold him to leave Katrina alone for the hundredth time. He happily recited every number between 1 and 100 with no hesitation.

    He can count to 100 and read...academically he's ready for kindergarten. Socially? He's got to learn to quit bugging the girls!


    Sunday, February 01, 2009

    2/1/09 The stammer

    I'm a big Bob Newhart fan. I can't explain why exactly, but he is so deadpan, so even, he completely cracks me up. I was thrilled to discover he had a small role on Desperate Housewives!

    Anyway, in some-or-other episode of one of his TV shows, he clarified that he doesn't stutter, he-he-he stammers. Having a friend with a son who stutters, I've learned a little about it, and stuttering is a complex neurological problem that's not well-understood and that varies greatly from child to child. Stammering, I think, is just repeating yourself a few times.

    Katrina has developed a big case of the stammers in the past few days. She expresses herself clearly and has no trouble getting words out, but she repeats her first word numerous times: "I I I I I I I want to climb up on the chair!" It's like she doesn't want to lose the floor or something. As if we could ignore her! I don't think this is a problem. It just sounds sort of silly.