Saturday, September 26, 2009

9/26/09 home improvement

Whew, worked hard today...a "quick" trip to the Salvation Army to get rid of a few things turned into a full pickup-load worth of stuff. More garage cleanup/organization, not nearly enough but some pathways are cleared.

Then I unpacked a box or two....can't believe we still have packed moving boxes in the house, but I'm tackling the stragglers that got shoved to the back of closets upon move-in. (The stacked boxes in the garage don't count.)

The biggest accomplishment was clearing out entire backyard so we could see it afresh. We drew some lines and did a rough layout of the future deck, patio, lawn and planting areas. Ready to talk to a landscaper now.

Much of the afternoon was spent working with Gabriel on his "Star Of The Week" presentation for next week. It's 10-15 minutes long, and that's a LOT to prepare for. We practiced him talking about things he likes to do (BMXing, piano, ice skating, with photos); things he'll bring to "share" (Lego creations, his Big Bunny Fun Run trophy, his Bear, and his F-16 Fighting Falcon model); and his family members.

The "culture" thing is still throwing me. What's culture? Well, what would I say our culture is if we were in India? That made me think: music, art, food, dance, pasttimes. Easy! So, what could be more uniquely American than Ragtime? I had a great idea: wouldn't it would be really cool we brought our little piano and Gabriel played a short snippet of The Entertainer? His teachers are always looking for extra effort, and he's turning out to be Mr. Bare Minimum. But he wouldn't hear of it. No way, no recital. So much for my great idea.

We worked in two sessions, as he gets tired after a while and can't concentrate, but he did the second session under duress since he'd developed a 102 temperature. But even with that, he really liked helping us measure and figure things out while we were working in the backyard, and had no trouble concentrating when I showed him an easy way to multiply 7 times 13. Before long, he was back to pestering Julian and pulling Katrina's ponytail, so I guess he'll recover quickly.

He'd better recover tomorrow, because we still have a lot of reviewing and practicing before we're ready to present his life story in 10 minutes.


Friday, September 25, 2009

9/25/09 Playing together

As kids, my sister and I played with our stuffed animals together all the time. We had a whole fantasy world, Stuffy-Land, complete with a king and a queen. We held court and played out all sorts of stories together.

Gabriel and Julian like to play with their stuffed animals together too.

Thank goodness they weren't fighting tonight.

It's so sweet when they get along and play nice together. Just darling.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

9/24/09 Making impressions

Our most excellent contractor asked a favor of us a few weeks ago: would we be willing to meet with some potential clients, who are carefully researching contractors and would like to meet some satisfied customers who'd had a lot of problems in the project? Sure!

Actually, I didn't think we had that many problems in our project, but that goes to show how good our contractor was.

He arrived promptly at 12:30, as per usual, and we gladly reunited and launched right into talking about....uh-oh, here comes Katrina. "MOMMY I HAVE A STINKIE!!!" Great.

Fortunately his potential clients weren't there yet, so I quickly dealt with said stinkie (she's been doing great, why did she do this?). I can't remember what set her off, but minutes later, Katrina launched into a tantrum and started to strip. She ran into the living room where we were trying to talk, wearing only shorts, and threw something. Great.

Despite the lack of interior decoration and the ancient furniture, the house can look OK if it's not too cluttered, but Katrina insisted on throwing couch pillows on the floor. I took a stance and said no pillows on the floor, which only furthered her tantrum, and the shorts almost came off too.

By now the clients had arrived and my first words were an apology about the noise. The clients were very understanding, and the lady said she had 5 grandsons and thought Katrina was adorable. Thanks to the lady, Katrina got out of her snit.

But happy mood only raised the noise level. Katrina and Julian started playing with a balloon we got this morning at Trader Joe's, and the play was constantly bordering fighting. Katrina screeched ear-piercing shrieks, making me run every time to see if she was in serious pain, having fun, or wanted her balloon back. It was incredibly difficult and annoying to hold a conversation.

Then Katrina and Julian went into the living room where our contractor and the husband client were trying to talk, and started a noisy game on the couch -- where they hardly ever play -- eventually driving the two men outside to try to talk. I made stabbing efforts at calming them down, but it would have taken a major investment of time, energy and embarrassment to make it happen. If I could have sent Julian to his room easily, the separation would have done it. But, of course, Julian doesn't do what I ask easily, it's a major ordeal.

We hid for a while on the front porch, with shrieks still coming from inside, but they gave up for good when Katrina joined us. They graciously accepted my apologies for the racket. Meantime, my head was about to explode from the screaming; Katrina had really ramped it up to make an impression -- and she did.

As soon as they left, I went into the office to send an urgent email, and a minute later Julian called out, "Katrina's in the front yard!" Oh brother, we don't have a front yard....the little stinker had put her sneakers on and was almost at the street, running after our contractor and his clients, who were standing on the sidewalk wrapping up before they got into their respective cars. And still shirtless. Good grief!

I hope we didn't scare off our contractor's potential clients.

Tonight there was a talk by an author whose new book is entitled "Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence." Curse of the Good Girl? We should be so cursed!


Wednesday, September 23, 2009

9/23/09 Surprise visit

This morning, I stayed at home to take care of some essential lingering official business-like financial phone things (whew!) that just can't be done at night or with children around. When I was ready to leave for work, I noticed a message on our answering machine. In a hurry, I almost didn't check it -- I had no energy to return yet another phone call -- but, curious, I did.

Turns out, it was a field examiner from the Veteran's Administration, who was down in our area from Oregon (?! hello, OREGON?!), could I meet this afternoon. This afternoon?! I haven't heard a peep since last May, and now I'm supposed to drop everything in the next few hours? Well, NO, I can't, but, what choice do I have? This is the first step in months towards appointing me Dad's fiduciary and finally releasing his pension funds. I wasn't about to miss this opportunity -- it could be months before I'd hear from them again.

I was able to contact the field examiner quickly, and arranged to meet her at home later in the afternoon. My relief at finally, finally getting some attention from the V.A. was tempered with intense frustration with the process -- I have to drop everything and totally suck up, because they have all the power. They have the money, after all. Money is power. Lack of money is sucking up to the V.A.

I met with the lady, and she was very nice. Without beating on her personally, I did tell her I hadn't heard a thing from the V.A. and quickly summarized the numerous problems I'd had dealing with the V.A. And why was she calling me out of the blue? She explained that when she got back from vacation a few days ago, she was handed 35 new cases, all out of Oakland, and told to fly there the next day. That's not even enough time to print out hundreds of case file pages. Seems the V.A. treats its employees as badly as its veterans. "The V.A. administration sucks," she explained.

Well, that pretty much shot my afternoon, but at least it was a huge step in a long, long process, one that started about 18 months ago. There's still at least another 8 weeks of waiting, but we're now closer to the end than the start. It's actually remotely possible that Dad will finally have his Veteran's Pension before he dies.

The lady was so nice, and so satisfied that I had Dad's interests at heart and wasn't about to use his money to open a meth lab, that she said she'd waive the bonding requirement. The huh? Believe it or not, since Dad's back pension has built up to more than $10,000, the V.A. normally requires the money to put into an insured bond -- which would cost over 700 dollars. I was stunned. We'd have to pay because the V.A. putzed this for so long?! That is totally, completely, beyond outrageous. This is one time I'm very happy a rule is being treated as a guideline.

Tough work week ahead, but not for me. Gabriel's book report is due next week, and we're far, far behind. Unfortunately, Gabriel picked much too hard a book -- a great story and a good book, but one filled with anachronisms and archaic language and build-up in the story that makes it hard to jump into ("Puss'N'Boots," a classic story, but I have to explain that "game" means "small animals that you hunt" and that presenting dead rabbits to a king is considered a gift). Not to mention his "Star Of The Week" on Monday (Tuesday with Katrina if I can get the teachers to agree to it, but they haven't responded), and, of course, regular homework. And Julian even had a book report yesterday (a "Story Map"), plus homework and reading. I'm exhausted!


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

9/22/09 Silliness

Katrina completely recovered, and so far, no one else has gotten anything. Whew!

We all have a lot of work ahead of us. Gabriel's "Star Of The Week" thing is due Monday (and a parent "or family friend" is required to attend, as the information sheet I finally got today says), plus his book report that we're way behind on. And Julian had a "book report" of sorts to do tonight too! They call it a "story map" for kindergartners, but it turned into a whole lot of drawing. He really wanted to finish it tonight though, and did.

My irritation over the demand the school places on a parent to do a child's schoolwork is boiling over. It's one thing to have to help so much with homework at home, but having to miss work or find childcare at a particular time set by the teachers to attend the classroom during schooltime is going too far. I'm pretty sure that all I will accomplish by complaining is getting myself marked as an annoying parent, and the principle of the thing will be lost.

Still, I'm prepared to make a point with the best point-maker I have: Katrina I'm thinking I'm going to push to do it on a Tuesday, and she'll just have to join us. Parent-teacher conferences, sick children and any number of other situations cause us to miss work too, but this is in a different category. Indeed, I need the margin of error for those very situations.

We got a little comic relief tonight from Katrina. She was having fun "dancing" around her "stage" (the spread-out blanket), singing her own Muffin Man song, with the electronic piano playing completely unrelated music. The really fun thing about this scene, which I didn't get on camera, is Gabriel's delight in her silliness.

Julian soon destroyed the moment, putting his hand over my camera's lens, and stepping all over her blanket stage and messing it up, making her cry. That brat!

I hope that when she starts first grade (only 3 years away!), that I will have complete work-related flexibility to be there for her, and the boys, at school. But I'll still object to excessive impositions.


Monday, September 21, 2009

9/21/09 Stay-at-home Monday

OK, I promised some photos and video of Gabriel at the BMX park last Sunday. He's ventured into the 2nd-level area now, and while he won't do the hardest hills, just getting there is more advanced than anything in the 1st-level area.

A fine place to stop for a cellphone chat. This kid will get his driver's license in what, 2 years? Can't wait.

My camera's shortcomings as a video camera really show when trying to record so much movement, but here's a glimpse anyway.

I happened to capture a guy hanging at the top of a plateau giving Gabriel a verbal pat on the back as he rode by. Aside from one other really good 6-year-old (better than he is, Gabriel says), Gabriel really stands out as being the smallest and youngest in this area.

Since Katrina threw up last night, one of us had to stay home with her today. Usually it's me, but my new MWF part-time schedule puts a lot of pressure on my time, and I missed a lot of work last week. Dave had no meetings today, so he stayed home with Katrina while I went to work. I think he got the better of the deal: I froze my butt and fried my mind with numbing, dull, tedious work (did I mention it's BORING?), but all in the name of getting this job DONE so I can move on.

If I had to guess, I'd say Katrina has been the healthiest baby/toddler of the three. She's gotten sick the least and recovers more quickly. Even after last night's throwing up, after which she SCREAMED (and I do mean SCREAMED) for quite a while, two hours later she was back to her old tricks finding a zillion and one excuses to get out of bed. And she was fine today, so all goes back to normal tomorrow.

Today I'm also struggling with a new committment at Gabriel's school. Next week, Gabriel is "Star of the Week" in his classroom, the first one, and I have no information at all about what we're supposed to do to prepare. The sign-up sheet (posted outside the classroom, which we're not supposed to go to because it's a "closed campus", so how were we supposed to sign up?), which luckily I took a picture of when I dared to cross the Blue Line, says:
"Each student will be highlighted as Star Of The Week. The student and their family member(s) will give a ten to fifteen minute presentation on their cultural background, talents and/or hobbies at 8:45am, on the Monday of their week. Please choose a Monday, which is convenient for you to present on. Thanks!"

Uh...hold the phone here. "...AND their family member(s)" ?? What if family members have to work, or take care of a toddler? What about this supposedly super-strict rule that no adult (or child no doubt) can enter the classroom without a negative TB test on file in the office? See any mention of that in the notice? Can the school really require a parent to get a TB test and childcare for an in-class presentation?

I'm tempted to rebel and protest just on principle, because I can't stand this sort of presumptuousness. (Not to mention the "cultural background" thing again -- we're American, we don't HAVE a cultural background!) Then again, I'd like to do it with Gabriel, and hate to disappoint him -- he loves special attention like that from me. I'm sure he'd be the only kid in the class flying solo if I refused.

I "can" take time off from my hourly-paid job, for which I pay for childcare, to present with Gabriel. But why should the school assume I can? What do stay-at-home moms with toddlers do? I couldn't possibly have Katrina in the class -- are SAHMs supposed to pay for childcare? Not all of us have parents living with them from the old country. Why should I have to make a choice between missing work and disappointing my son? And how do I have the nerve to complain to the teachers and risk starting a row?

I'm so annoyed about being put in this position! And about doing something I wouldn't mind doing!

I'm also annoyed how the signups went: on a sheet outside the classroom at a "closed campus." The only notice I had that they were there was a sentence embedded in all the other homework stuff, long after most of the signup sheet was filled (by the scofflaw moms who actually do go to the classroom door, ooh).

Call me a bureaucrat, or accuse me of spending too much time in an unambiguous, literal, completely deterministic world, but I can't stand rules that depend on laxity. "Oh, well, it's OK to cross the blue line if you're quiet" doesn't cut it. If it's a closed campus, then teachers can't put signup sheets outside the classroom door.

Funny, maybe now I know where Gabriel gets his respect for rules (well, other peoples' rules anyway).


Sunday, September 20, 2009

9/20/09 Who's next?

Had a fun blog post & videos in mind after watching Gabriel in the 2nd-level area at the BMX park today.

But, tonight Katrina didn't eat dinner -- not even plain pasta. Then she started complaining that her "side" hurt. Then I remembered that her sleeping bag got thrown up on by another kid at sleepover....ohhh noooo....

10 minutes later, sure enough, there she goes. Poor thing was really in pain and was screaming at the top of her lungs for about 20 minutes. No sad whimpering from this one.

So, I went to work tonight, and Dave and I will split staying home with her tomorrow. I've GOT to get my job done and out of my life forever.

Of course, these things never hit just one person in the family. Who's next? My money's on Gabriel, who also didn't devour a huge bowl of plain pasta last night. Bad sign.