Saturday, March 12, 2011

3/12/2011 A most extraordinary day

This will probably get rolled up into another post later about our ski trip, but I just must get this out now.

Whew. What a day. So much bad, so much good.

So, we had a horrendously dreadful drive from the Bay Area to Truckee yesterday, despite a remarkably efficient early traffic-avoiding (we thought) start at 2:15pm. Yet we encountered two accidents and a lot of stop-n-go traffic, setting us up perfectly for more stop-n-go traffic pretty much from Davis to Auburn. We were exhausted and frazzled by the time we gladly reached our rental condo in Truckee. So much for the benefit of an early start.

But immediately, we were dismayed by our rental place. No lights in the kids' rooms. The master bed was unmade. Only a dim oversink fluorescent light in the kitchen. The main source of heat, a gas fireplace, was supposed to have fans that sent heat downstairs, but they didn't work. And the big topper: a note from the maintenance person to the previous renters (not us) about all the problems with the place, most of which we'd just found, except the bathtub (the only bathing facility) not draining properly. So this was no fluke -- it was negligence.

Dave tried to call the emergency maintenance contact: voicemail box full. I tried to call the owner (luckily had noted his cellphone number), left a message. Call service only existed on the balcony, and the land line had been disconnected.

This was a total nightmare. The place just wasn't livable without electricity (heat) in the kids' rooms. If it were just cleaning, fine, but it wasn't. And who knew what else was wrong.

We scrambled and snapped at the kids to be quiet while we tried to figure out what to do. We had to get them to ski school at 8am tomorrow!! This was no time to be searching for lodging!

The one thing that worked was wireless Internet access, and we'd brought our new Netbook-sized laptop. From there, we searched around and found a hotel that had openings.

Meantime, Dave got a hold of the maintenance person -- she said they weren't expecting anyone until March 17. Then I got a hold of the owner: he'd gotten confirmation that morning from the same maintenance person that the place was ready. She told us to use the wall heaters for the kids' rooms. He told us not to, they were dangerous.

This is a mess. We're outta here. We packed up the kids and went to a hotel.

I was furious and miserable and deeply disappointed -- I wanted to be relaxing in a charming place, making hot chocolate and spreading out our stuff, not fretting about where we were going to stay! I'd planned that a long time ago! And we're skiing tomorrow, not looking for lodging!

Fortunately, the Hampton Inn was very nice (for $300 a night they'd better be) and we got the kids to bed somehow at 10:30. They were wasted. Then Dave got to work, sending the condo owner a list of things that would have to be fixed before we could stay there. Then I got to work, looking for alternatives. I sent a few desperate inquiries to places that appeared to have openings for the weekend. Then I got all the kids' stuff ready for tomorrow -- top priority was getting them to ski school on time tomorrow.

We pulled that off. In the morning, the kids and Dave had a nice breakfast in the Hampton Inn lobby, while I sent off two more inquiries to places. We were in the car by 7:45 and arrived at Sugarbowl about half an hour later, just in time to miss the lines getting everyone's rentals and checking them in to ski school. I even ran into an old friend from Las Madres (Cornelia, for you LM2002 readers). Kiss, hug, have a great time, BYE.

Now to figure out what to do. This was the darkest time for me. I was so resentful that instead of being excited about skiing now, I was exhausted and frazzled and worried. I really hated staying in the hotel. There's no place for kids to play outside in the snow, no convenient washer/dryer, nothing for them to do, we're all in the same room, and I had bags of food to make our own dinners and treats in the car. I don't like hotels. I like houses. I hate hotels.

Incredibly, Dave got a voicemail. An inquiry I'd sent this morning -- last-minute -- resulted in a phone call from a kind rental owner who recognized the panic in my email and wanted to respond right away. While we juggled talking to the original condo owner about if the first place would be ready, this new place's owner was relaxed and kind and assuring and said no problem, let us know later in the day if you'd like to stay there. We just couldn't risk it. Time in our lives means too much. We decided that even before waiting to hear from the first place if it would be ready that we'd take the new place.

We left messages for the first place's owner -- who'd told me that he had a cleaner, electrician and plumber out there today -- that we weren't coming back and that we'd like a full refund. Then my new guardian angel in the form of the new place's owner sent us email with all the information we needed to get into his rental house.

I was so relieved and so glad it was over that I just wanted to cry. I knew that much more serious things were going on in the world -- I'm mortified by the events in Japan -- but it still was hard not to take this to heart. I'd been looking SO forward to our ski trip, probably the last of this year, how dare these people mess this up for us!!

It was interesting talking to the new owner and his wife -- they love their place and want to share it with people. The first guy has his place as a rental, but that's all it is, he doesn't live there. A home versus an investment. BIG difference.

Still very tense and upset, Dave and I went to go get our lift tickets and his rental gear. It seemed forever before we were able to finally, finally, FINALLY get on a lift, but when we did, I felt 10 times lighter. Finally. We're safe.

The relief and joy was short-lived though. At least for Dave. I'd assured Dave we were going to an easy blue run, one he'd done last year, the easiest on the mountain. He was nervous about it and said as long as I stuck nearby, fine. But moments into our lift ride I realized that we were on the wrong lift -- one that takes to you where there are no green runs or easy blues to get down.

Actually, the blue runs from the top of the Mt Judah lift turned out not to be bad, but they weren't what Dave wanted to start with. He made it down, with one or two small falls, and found that most of it really was doable. I'm a terrible teacher though -- these runs were fine for me, but I can't begin to convey verbally what to do.

This made the "easy" blue run he'd originally been nervous about very easy for him! We did that a few times, though I started to look forward to our 1:30 lesson. (It should have been 10:30, I prefer morning lessons, but our lodging issues made us too late for that .)

After lunch, I went to the lesson area and volunteered myself as a "Level 4" -- even though I hadn't done most of what "Level 4" is supposed to do: pole plants, easy blacks, off-piste terrain. "But I WANT to do all that!!" I told the guy directing people to lessons. He laughed.

In the end, only four people -- including Dave -- appeared for the Level 3-4 lessons. It only took skiing to the lifts to separate us further: and me and a French-born African-raised professor of veterinary medicine (cool!) got our own semi-private lesson. More cool!!!

And we did all the "level 4" stuff! I had SUCH a great time in this lesson. We went on all sorts of lifts and areas I never went to last year at Sugarbowl. We did whoop-de-doos (hills) in terrain parks, we did something of a half-pipe (more like a quarter-pipe really), some off-piste non-trails in the woods threading our way between trees, we did all sorts of blues (smooth and icy; rough and cut-up), and, it turns out, a black diamond, though we didn't know it until afterward. We were even encouraged to try the little half-dome jump and straight-run terrain park features (don't know what they're called) that you ski (or more commonly, board) up to, then slide on and jump off.

I was delighted that I wasn't fearful during the lesson (certainly concerned at some points though!), never felt out of control, and though I chickened out on some of the more interesting features, I tried more than the instructor expected -- and more than my male companion too. It was SO fun, and my confidence has gone way up. At the end of our lesson, the instructor even hugged me.

It was hard to believe the day had started the way it had. I was on such a high from such a fun, diverse and expanding lesson. What a change from the blackness of this morning!

We picked up the kids from ski school and went through the usual painful logistics of getting everyone's boots and gear off, then went to go find our new rental house. Which we did, with ease.

Paradise. This place is absolutely lovely. It's well-appointed, it's nicely decorated, spotless, everything's in place and ready for us (the last place was missing toilet paper in a bathroom). We're beside ourselves. It's really, really wonderful.

So despite being exhausted, I made hot chocolate and popcorn for the kids when we first got to our new place, then later made dinner. I was delighted to make dinner, because I had a kitchen instead of just a microwave in a hotel. I had the bright idea that since I'd brought marshmallows for hot chocolate, butter for toast, and Brown Rice Crisps (like Rice Krispies) for breakfast, that we could make rice krispie treats. And, the kids have their own rooms (boys in bunk beds), with doors, and Dave and I have our own bathroom. We are deeply gratefuly to this kind house owner who called us right away to help. It's completely turned around our trip.

So why am I writing now!! I'm beyond exhausted!! Well, because that's just what I DO when I must get things out of my head. I can't believe that 36 hours ago, we were struggling with some truly horrible traffic, then the intense frustration and upset about the first rental condo, and now -- we're in a lovely place with a fabulous memory of a wonderful experience today.

Oh wait, one more thing. Kids - they all did GREAT!! We saw Katrina skiing -- really skiing, on her own! No pole to hold, no hoop, no tether -- just skiing!! Slowly, but she was doing great. Julian had poles, but that's because this ski school now gives all Level 2 kids poles. He too did great, I saw him on a blue and talked to his instructor later. Gabriel, sure enough, also hit a black diamond today (I knew he would!), and also did some terrain park and off-piste stuff. They all had a great time and really advanced their skills.

We so did the right thing picking Sugarbowl for the kids' ski school -- but it turns out to be absolutely perfect for me too, as I'm on the steep part of the learning curve and don't need a lot of greens anymore. Dave too had a good lesson -- he ended up on some of the same slope I'd accidentally taken him on this morning, and did just fine!

And while my first shot picking a place to stay was a disaster, my second shot -- mostly a lucky one -- was great.

Not a lot of photos today - hopefully tomorrow.


Thursday, March 10, 2011

3/10/2011 Skiing and soccer

I had a most remarkable day yesterday, and started to write about it. I ran out of time and opportunity -- this is what taunts writers the most, is when something is just gushing forth from your head and circumstances prevent its transference to paper.

Here's what I started to write yesterday.

I just don't think I can handle this.

I had what was shaping up to be an unusually relaxed, if busy, afternoon. I went to work and a weights class during lunch as usual, then picked up my !NEW!SKIS!! before going back to work.

Back to work for an hour, then to a dermatologist appointment. The doc took a sample from a slightly raised new blotch on my face (obviously the concern there is melanoma), and zapped off a "strawberry" on my forehead (that's just vanity).

Then I took the rare opportunity to go buy a new camera, since it was too late to go back to work, and I was in the neighborhood of a camera store I've trusted for years. I chuckled to myself that driving around with my work laptop computer, a brand-new camera in the box, and my new skis made me finally lock my car -- because of the skis.

I got home early enough to put my skis and boots away, change my clothes and relax for a moment before the onslaught of children. I thought.

I noticed a message on the answering machine. Usually I ignore them when I have to leave in a few minutes to go bring kids home, and usually they're spam. But I listened to this one.

"Hello, this is Gabriel's soccer coach. We're practicing Wednesdays and Fridays 5pm-6:30pm at Garden Gate fields, starting today. Hope to see you." beep. The message was left at 4:20pm, and it was now 4:38pm.

Today? TODAY?! **NOW** ??!?!

I haven't heard from the soccer league since I signed Gabriel up for spring soccer weeks ago -- then we get 40 minutes notice for practice?! The coach also didn't leave a phone number or any information, and I couldn't make out his name, AND we're going away Friday for his second practice.

I couldn't believe it. I'd have missed the call altogether if I hadn't left work early, but now I was placed into a terrible position. We weren't ready, Gabriel probably hadn't done his homework, what about Katrina and making dinner...damn it! I'm a planner now, I can't work with 40 minutes notice!

By all rights, I could easily justify missing today's practice. But inexplicably, the idea absolutel broke my heart. Even though I've never been one for organized sports myself, the thought of Gabriel missing out on one of the very very few things I might attempt to squeeze in for him was too much. Tense, angry and upset, I sent a hasty anxious note to the soccer league organizers, and ran out the door. I was actually crying in frustration over something that I knew on the surface seemed silly, but for some reason pierced straight to my heart.

And that's as far as I got yesterday....I'll pick up the story today, from a calmer place.

A recovery plan was forming in my head as I jumped in the car. I grabbed a bottle of water, then called the CDC from my car and asked them to get the boys ready to go. Then I called Dave and asked if he could pick up Katrina, I'd explain later. (Ban cell phone use in cars? Imagine!) The boys were partly ready, but I made them both go to the bathroom and wash up quickly, then pile in the car with minimal explanation.

Fortunately the school where practice was isn't too far. I explained everything to Gabriel on the way, and characteristically he took it in stride. When we arrived, we saw kids practicing, in uniforms. He commented that they were all ready for practice, and I snapped stressfully, "I KNOW Gabriel, I did the best I could !!" He's remarkable when I get like that -- he nods his head and says calmly, "I know Mom, it's OK." He deliberately soothes me, like he can't take my being discombulated -- he needs me to be strong. Yet the effect is that he's the strong one. As if that's news.

I asked a man who seemed like he knew something, and he turned out to be the regional director of the league. He showed me the right group and took me to talk to the coach. Turns out, this coach had everyone's email address but ours, and had double-checked the paper forms today and realized that one of his team members hadn't been contacted. So he called.

He's foreign (Russian or Polish?) and a guy, so he didn't think to add some important social cues in his message like, "Sorry for the last-minute notice, but I just realized I don't have Gabriel's email address." It'd have saved me some agonizing moments of intense self-doubt and feelings of failure and like I just can't possibly balance work and kids' lives.

Though we were 10 minutes late and unprepared, only 3 other boys were there, including the coach's son. Apparently this boys' team would scrimmage and practice today with an older girls' team, but I left so didn't see most of it.

I came back to watch the last 10 minutes of practice. I saw right away that Gabriel is really lacking in soccer skills compared to the other kids. By age 9, many kids have been playing for years and are pretty good. The older girls were really much better, faster, more aggressive and confident, and better at teamwork. And bigger. Gabriel is a head shorter than the other boys, in addition to being by far the least skilled kid. And the worst-dressed.

But this sort of situation is where Gabriel's tough personality shines. He wasn't intimidated, he wasn't uncomfortable, he didn't hesitate to jump in and do everything he could to go after the ball. He didn't complain or refuse to play or act shy or any number of perfectly normal and expected behaviors of any kid suddenly stuck in a really intimidating situation!

I was even prouder that later he admitted that he is way behind: "Boy, I saw that right away, Mom!" Then he went on to tell me excitedly about a new move he'd learned. He was happy, but tired. He was mellow all evening and mostly finished his homework without a lot of pushing, and went to bed without a lot of fighting with Julian. This morning I had to wake him up out of a sound sleep.

A friend last night asked me if he's a team-player sort of kid. I don't think so, really. Not that he can't become one, but generally he leans toward control, not interaction. Soccer might be just the ticket. If nothing else, he was a lot calmer today, I think still tired from a pretty intense workout.

And me....well, getting him to practice twice a week will be challenging, plus games on Saturdays. But like Julian's T-ball last year, my own heart and soul went into it too. I'm ashamed I can't volunteer and contribute more, but I just love seeing the kids in this world, and being a part of it myself to whatever extent I can. Gabriel would probably have gotten over missing his first soccer practice, but I wouldn't have.

Today I left work early to go get a ski helmet. While I was at Sports Basement I thought, "hmm, when will I have the time to get Gabriel the soccer equipment he needs? hmmm, when?" Well, duh! I was already in the store! So I loaded up on cleats, a size 4 ball, shorts and shin guards for him. And my ski helmet. What a juxtaposition -- a winter sport and a spring one at the same time. I smiled wryly as I walked by the summer camping equipment, because that's next.

My new camera. It's really just a newer version of the old one, but with all the screws intact and the lens cover closes. I think it does a better job of light management and flash too. Gabriel and Julian were in their rooms tonight folding their laundry and packing clothes for our trip.

We leave for Truckee tomorrow the SECOND school gets out. I'm SO PSYCHED! Spring soccer will have to wait until next week, because this weekend, it's still winter for us!


Wednesday, March 09, 2011

3/9/2011 Coffee Night

Such a remarkable afternoon, and not in a good way, it totally deserves blogging. Instead, I'll complain about it endlessly to my patient and understanding mom friends at a Coffee night tonight.


Monday, March 07, 2011

3/7/2011 The Arm Protectors

We finally got a new couch and chair for the family room!!! The new rug isn't here yet, and I still haven't figured out a coffee table (probably a leather storage ottoman actually), but this is a huge improvement.

New chairs and sofas tend to come with arm protectors -- separate pieces of matching fabric that drape over the furniture arms, where human arms will frequently rest and dirty and wear out the furniture arms. I personally hate those things; they're always askew, the kids always tear them off, I don't like the way they look, and we never sit in one place long enough for the furniture arms to show any wear anyway. So when our new furniture arrived, I took off the fabric arm protectors and stuck them on a shelf.

Later that day, I noticed the arm protectors been replaced. Probably Dave thinking someone had taken them off, I thought, and he put them back.

So I took the arm protectors off again, and this time folded them and stashed them farther back on a low deep shelf, so it was clear they were deliberately put there, and not in Dave's line of sight.

Then I noticed the arm protectors all meticulously replaced again. But that was on Friday, when Dave wasn't home. Could he have done it that morning? Seems unlikely. This not being tops on our life's priority list, I didn't think to ask him.

I put them away again. Once again, the next day, they were neatly restored.

This time, I asked Dave if he'd been putting them back, and he said no, he hadn't even noticed. I took them off and put them away again, still visible on an open shelf, but wayyy in the back.

Last night, Katrina had just enough of a temperature to keep her home today, so Dave stayed home with her. And today, once again, the furniture arm protectors returned -- but this time, Dave captured a visual record that solved the mystery.

Mom, this compulsion is your legacy!!!


Sunday, March 06, 2011

3/6/2011 Spendy prep day

One thing for sure, getting set up for the ski-bum life isn't cheap. Today we bought a ski rack and some chains, though we'll have to return the chains because they don't fit, and because Subaru says "don't use chains" on their cars (not enough clearance around the wheel well).

Why a ski rack, you might ask? Because we're going skiing this weekend (!!!), and I just can't bear to do rental skis again, not after the awesome demo skis I rented last time. Demos are the same kind of skis that the place actually sells, so you can try them out at a higher rental cost, though you can apply the cost of the demos toward a ski purchase.

So I wanted to rent demos again and bring them with us to Truckee. With the car completely packed with everyone's stuff this time, I probably couldn't get away with squeezing them into the back of the car as I did last time when I went on a quickie overnight with the boys (which has become my favorite ski memory). That only worked, barely, because the car wasn't very full and because my skis are just short enough to barely fit diagonally.

But renting demos isn't a sure thing. Sports Basement was out of my size when I called today, and they said usually by Wednesday of a week, they're pretty low on demo inventory. I could try another place, but I've already done a demo at Sports Basement and want to apply the demo cost I already spent there.

This sucks. It's just time for my own skis. And Sports Basement had the same skis I'd demo'd on sale, with one pair left in my size.

Whenever there's only one thing left in my size, I suddenly become superstitious. It's a Sign. It's Fate. It's Bad Luck not to get them. I already live in fear of the World-Wide Conspiracy Against Size 6-1/2 for shoes, there's no need to tweak the noses of the same deities that reign over other foot-borne items.

And the skis were marked down $125. Really, did I need anything else?

So I made a rare fast decision and bought them. I blindly took the advice of a salesguy on bindings, then and zoomed home to get my ski boot which I'd forgotten, handed it all to the tech department (they need your boot to fit the bindings), then made a fast decision on poles too.

I don't even want to add up how much we spent today, I'm too excited. My own skis! My own boots! My own poles!! My own ski rack! I've arrived! (oops still need a helmet.)

Now let's see if I can make it down from the top of Mount Lincoln this time without total terror. Then I really will have arrived.

Poor kids didn't do much today, just played at home, went shopping with us, and got to watch a rare movie (Diary of a Wimpy Kid) after cleaning up and putting all their laundry away. But even they know it's worth it for the great weekend we have coming up. The only damper was the return of a slight temperature to Katrina tonight, so Dave will stay home with her tomorrow, but odds are good we'll all be in good shape for Friday.

My own skis! Yippee!! Too bad there are only a few weeks left in ski season, but I intend to make the most of them.