Thursday, January 29, 2009

Things that surprise me

1. Wyoming is windy. I know, everybody knows this and I shouldn't be surprised. But did you know that the wind starts blowing literally at the moment you cross the state line? I drove up to Cheyenne today, and the instant I crossed the border, a gust of wind came out of nowhere and nearly blew me into the next lane.

2. I watched Ted Haggard on Oprah the other day, and felt pity and grudging admiration for him. What's that? You're surprised to read that I watch Oprah? I do. I'm rarely home alone when she's on, but if I am, I usually try to watch. I like her. I know that's not popular to say in some circles, but it's true. But I digress. You remember Ted, right? He's the evangelical ex-preacher of a Colorado Springs mega-church who was revealed to be a gigantic hypocrite and liar when a gay prostitute outed him in 2006. Ted was brutally honest, self-critical, and apologetic on Oprah. He made a point that I think was a good one: we all have thoughts we don't like, and sometimes we are driven to act on them even when we know it's not right. Most of us cruise through life ignoring these thoughts or wishing they'd go away, and are lucky that they never become compulsions we cannot resist. Ted was forced by the publicity to face what he regards as his dark side, and has come to terms with it. He's been through therapy, and come clean on the gay sex and drugs to his family, friends, and church. He's realized that the lies were killing his soul, and admitted to his hypocrisy. All of that takes a person with some courage and strength. I also found his grown kids to be very likable and well-adjusted, although I didn't like his wife so much. It was mainly because she repeatedly implied that homosexuality was a sin, and that her husband could choose to be straight.

3. People in Illinois are still talking about how great ex-governor Blagojevich is. COME ON people. He's a liar and a crook. It's certainly admirable that he's done great things for poor and working-class people in Illinois, and from what I hear his expansion of the state's health coverage for kids has helped many people. But that doesn't excuse the fact that he failed to live up to our shared basic values and ideals. He's scum, and it's sad that people keep saying they're so used to corruption in Illinois politics that they aren't really shocked by what he did. I hope somebody steps up to the plate and fixes things in Illinois. Maybe they need Reverend Haggard up there.

4. I recently observed a floor session in the legislature of a state that shall go unnamed, and they actually had a lengthy debate over whether or not smoking is bad for your health. Hello?! This was capped off by a long and impassioned speech in which a legislator implied that only Nazis would ban smoking. I have to admit that although the guy's arguments were ridiculous and frankly insulting, his speech was very eloquently delivered and also highly entertaining and at times funny. Points for delivery, dude.

5. B has grown an inch since December. A full inch in just one month! No wonder his pants all look like highwaters lately.

6. Not a single House Republican voted in favor of the economic stimulus package yesterday. Not one! I honestly find this shocking. Not a single Republican had the guts to buck the party line and support the American Citizen Bailout Bill, as I have decided to call it. Their discipline as demonstrated by this adherence to orders from above is admirable, but dudes, c'mon! We're sinking here. I think that 20 years of Reaganomics-inspired governing led by tax cuts have provided ample evidence that IT DOESN'T WORK. Quit your whining and DO something.

7. I enjoy hanging my laundry out to dry. No, that's not a metaphor for spilling all my dark secrets and revealing the skeletons in my closet to the world at large. I actually enjoy hanging my laundry out to dry. I don't mean the cost savings on our utility bill from not running the dryer, or my small part in saving civilization from the threat of global warming. Don't get me wrong -- those are nice fringe benefits, and are in fact the reasons that I started line-drying our laundry to begin with. I'm saying that I'm surprised to find that I enjoy the act of hanging our clothes on the clothesline. Think about it: it's always done on a fairly nice day -- it has to be at least 40 degrees outside and sunny, which is at least 75% of my laundry days, probably more. It's nice to be outside on a day like that, to hear all the midday noises in our neighborhood. I hear the birds, an occasional dog, a siren in the distance every now and then, the neighbors behind us talking about everyday life. It's peaceful. I also find that I do a lot of my serious thinking while I'm hanging out the laundry. And our laundry smells great after it dries in the sun. It's all just enormously satisfying to me for some reason. However, I'm sure that if for some reason I had no choice but to line-dry all our laundry -- say if our dryer broke or something -- I would instantly hate it with a passion.

8. AIG is giving bonuses to their brokers this year, averaging $1.13 million per person to over 400 people. These are the people who were selling the mortgage backed securities, the Exact. Thing. that got us into the economic sinkhole we're all drowning in right now. Way to go guys, you deserve a cash reward for that! (Yes, I hear it's actually paid in cash. What -- do they hand out briefcases full of unmarked bills at a secret meeting held at a resort or something?) AND AIG received a massive infusion of federal cash late last year to "save" it from financial ruin. So, um, doesn't that make it OUR money they're using to pay bonuses to the assholes who got us into this mess? Bastards. I know this is a family blog and I try to watch my language, but I can't help myself here. Dirty bastards. The government should demand that they either cancel the bonuses or immediately repay the money (our money!) that we generous taxpayers so kindly invested in AIG last year. I am SO glad, so very very glad, that Bush and his cronies are gone. I have absolute faith that while Obama and the people he's chosen to work with him may not be able to undo this particular evil perpetrated by the Bushies, they will not allow another one like it to happen on their watch.

9. I have kept my promise to myself and avoided the toxic bloggers. Why does this surprise me? Because they are an irresistible magnet to me. They spew nonsensical lies and half-truths to support their mean-spirited ideas, use "I'll pray for you" like a weapon, and hurl insults at me and anyone else who disagrees with their loony ideas. I have a very hard time letting that kind of thing slide by me without speaking up. But I've done it. I haven't visited a single toxic blog since I made that vow back in November. It's liberating, I tell you.

Why nine things, and not a nice round number like 10? I dunno. I ran out of ideas. Plus, Jon Stewart has been on for 7 minutes now, so I'm missing the news (he calls it "fake news;" I say it's better than the "real" news). You could tell me something shocking and I'll add it as #10. Or you could just tell me what has surprised YOU lately.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Brain dump (with pictures)

Not of my brain. The pictures, that is. That would be scary.

First off, the main thing on my mind this week (month): kindergarten. Schools #6, 7 and 8 from this post called this week to offer a spot to B this fall. We decided to tell school #6 "thanks but no thanks," mainly because we decided it's just too far off our normal home-preschool-work commute to be convenient or practical. I toured school #7 this afternoon, and was not terribly impressed. It's hard to explain why; there were no glaring problems like teachers spanking kids or padded cells or anything like that. I just wasn't wild about it. I'm touring school #8 in the morning and have high hopes. I've talked to the principal on the phone, and she seems very warm and friendly. We have to tell these two schools yes or no by Friday. My thought is to say yes to one of them, with the hope that our favorite (#2 in the aforementioned OCD post) will eventually come through with space for B. In the meantime, one of these two would certainly be better than our neighborhood school.

Now, on to the pictures. I know that's why you're really here anyway. Nobody outside my family cares about where B goes to kindergarten or how we go about deciding where he should go. I know that; I just torture you with the details because writing about it helps me sort out my thoughts. Sorry. Not really. Sorry I'm not sorry. Ha! Oh, I'm on a roll tonight, cracking myself up.

OK, on to the serious stuff: Z's hair. It is SO dry! And thin, and fine. Almost every morning, we get this:

Keep in mind, I took this picture at least an hour after she'd gotten up. It's not like I snatched her out of her crib & snapped a photo before her hair had a chance to calm down. It would have stayed this way all day if I hadn't spritzed it with water & combed it down. Or if her dad had taken her to preschool that day (he says hair care is women's work; I say it looks like her parents don't care when she goes to school like that). What to do? I've invested heavily in high-quality conditioners to no avail. At first we thought maybe it was due to malnutrition, but she's had the benefit of great nutrition & her hair's been cut enough times over the past almost-a-year (!) for me to know that argument doesn't hold water. I'm open to suggestions, other than shaving her head.

And now a seriously important topic: B's big-brother skills have shown massive improvement in the past two months. I think it was over the Christmas holidays, when the kids & I were "on vacation" for two weeks, that we really started to notice this. They play together a lot more than ever before, and B has begun to take great pride in his ability to both entertain and protect Z. He talks to her in the sweetest little voice, super high-pitched, like he imagines grown-ups are supposed to talk to babies. And he always talks in third person with her, as in "Z, watch B. Watch B fix the toy for Z." He also talks in his own sort of baby-talk to her: "Z, watch B. B fix toy." It's completely endearing and I'm so proud of him. Here they are on a day (at a moment) when they liked each other:

But don't get me wrong. There are still plenty of days when B feels more like this:

He's mercurial. He can go from the first picture to the second in a split-second. He did, in fact. But that second picture cracks me up. It's SUCH a B-face.

Speaking of my B's face...he's getting freckles! Just like his mommy. I hated mine with a passion when I was younger. I tried everything to get rid of them. I even laid out in the sun with lemon juice on my face in an effort to bleach them! My only thought on that now is this: how many of the wrinkles that I have now can I blame on the lemon juice? Behold B's freckles:

Last but not least, a totally random picture. I was painting my toenails a luscious hot pink one night, and when Z saw what I was doing, she demanded I paint hers too. Of course, then I had to offer to paint B's. He rejected the pink (understandably) and demanded blue. Luckily for him, I had two shades of blue for him to choose between. He chose the one that he thought was closest to the shade of blue in Luke Skywalker's lightsaber. We couldn't leave M out, so I painted his next. Here we are, all with painted toenails (the hairy toes are M's, in case you couldn't guess):

One last tidbit (no photo though): B is still talking about his new girlfriend Piper. There's now a picture of the two of them together on his bulletin board, per his request. And he told me yesterday that he's been taking all his preschool friends on imaginary trips to "Minnasoka" to visit Piper. They're all riding on his airplane, and he's driving. B's got a little crush...

Sunday, January 25, 2009

B learns to iceskate

I took B iceskating for the first time a few weeks ago. As you can see, things were a little bumpy at first -- lots of time down on the ice -- but by the time we left, he was doing really well!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Kindergarten dilemma resolved

Thanks to those who offered words of support or advice to my previous Kindergarten dilemma post. Thanks just for reading it, actually, even if you didn't leave a comment or email me -- it was verrrrry long.

On Tuesday, I visited school #2 from that post, the Montessori charter school. I loved it! I loved the kindergarten teacher I met, and I loved what I saw going on in her classroom. I loved the principal. I loved the school's philosophy. I love Montessori. Can you feel the love?!

Now we just have to get him in. Sibling enrollment ends this Friday, and that's when they'll know how many spots they have for new students. If they have more applicants than they have spots, they'll do a lottery. We should know by the end of next week if he's gotten in during the first round. If he doesn't get in during the first round, the second round begins in February and lasts through August 31. Yep, it's possible that he could start kindergarten somewhere else in August, then get a spot at our top pick school. If that happens, I'd yank him out of that other school and put him in this one. I love this school!

I'll be very anxious when I press "play" on the answering machine each night next week. Keep your fingers crossed for us.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

11 months

January 17, 2009

February 17, 2008

Friday, January 16, 2009

Funny girl

This morning Z spoke the longest, most complete sentence I've ever heard her say (well, that I could understand, anyway). She said: "Funny cat window!" I looked over, and sure enough, there was Lulu sitting on the windowsill behind the bamboo shade. Then Miss Z said "Cat hiding!" Last cat comment of the day: just a minute ago, I was filling up the cats' water bowl. Since Z likes to tip it over & play in it, I pointed out "That's the cats' water." What did Z say? "Meow water." Smart AND funny.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

My family, then & now

December 1988 - My brother, my mom, my sister, my dad, and me (feel free to make fun of my hair)

December 2008 - Same people, same place

December 2008 - same crew, plus spouses and kids (my brother's step-kids are missing though)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The kindergarten dilemma

B starts kindergarten this fall. I am so excited for him! He, on the other hand, would apparently prefer to spend the rest of his school-age years in preschool, then go straight into the workforce. He's refusing to go to college these days. Luckily, we have about 13 years to convince him that college is a good idea.

Where we live, we have school choice. That means we can send him to any school in the district (actually, any school in the state, although in reality it would be impossible to get him into a school outside our district because of the way they prioritize enrollment). This is fortunate, because our neighborhood elementary school bites big-time. Through lots of research, we have identified seven other schools that we're trying to get him into. We've turned in applications at all of them, and are awaiting the results of a lottery conducted by each school. The lucky lottery winners get notified by mid-February.

This is an incredibly complex process. The difficulties I have encountered include:

Problem #1: How does one identify a "good" school? To help with this, the district makes an accountability report available for each school. It includes the following:
a. overall academic performance rating
b. academic growth of students compared to last year
c. test scores for the past three years
d. teacher/student ratios & class size
e. % of students on free and reduced lunch
f. enrollment stability
g. average teacher years of experience & salary
h. principal's years of experience at that school and total experience
i. disciplinary incidents
j. a paragraph or two expressing the school's philosophy and goals

This information brings us to Problem #2: what to do with this info? How much can you really learn about a school on paper? First and foremost, how to evaluate test scores? Do high test scores indicate a good school, or a school that has adapted very well to teaching to the test? If we send B to a school with extraordinary test scores, will he spend all his time with his nose in a text book and memorizing multiplication tables? Will it make him hate school? Could a school with lower test scores be doing a better job of teaching art and music, or following kids' curiosity and keeping them excited about learning? Or is it just a crummy school? Second, is it realistic to expect a school to expect a school to have "High" academic growth year after year? Won't a truly outstanding school eventually get to a point where it can't get any higher? Then there's that free/reduced lunch thing. It clearly indicates something about the economic status of the families at that school, and possibly also something about ethnic diversity. Being the pinko-commie liberals that we are, we would like our kids to go to schools with economic and ethnic diversity. Unfortunately, the schools with more economic diversity are also generally the schools with lower test scores and overall academic performance. I'm not liberal enough to actually sacrifice my kids' education in order to support public education and our neighborhood school, so I'm a little bit ashamed to say that I'm regarding a high percentage on the free lunch scale as a strike against a school.

Problem #3: Since this information on paper clearly isn't enough, where do we get more, better information? Some schools help us out with this by hosting parent information nights. We've been to one at one of our two top-choice schools already, and I'm touring the other top-choice school next week. Our preschool is also helping out by hosting a kindergarten information night this Thursday. There will be parents in attendance who have kids at four of the seven schools we've applied to, including our two top-choice schools. I'm also having a drink on Friday night with a friend whose daughter has been in a Montessori preschool for the past year. She's now an aide in the preschool herself, so I'm hoping she can tell me a lot about Montessori and what sort of kid thrives there.

I have a feeling I'm still going to be left with questions after all this though. Maybe YOU can help! Here are our choices:

1. Our neighborhood elementary school. This is our last resort. I'll be enrolling him here next week just to make sure he has SOMEWHERE to go next fall, but he'll only attend this school if he doesn't get in through the lottery at any of the other seven schools.

2. A Montessori charter school. This is the one I'm leaning toward most. The director of our preschool told me that if she couldn't keep the job she has, she'd want to teach at this school. That's high praise. The one strike against it: their test scores aren't great. Still, they're rated "High" for overall academic performance (the only higher rating is "Excellent") and "Typical" for academic growth, so they can't be all that bad. And how much do test scores really matter? The big question for me though is this: Will B flourish in the Montessori environment? It is very student-directed, and I honestly don't know if he's the kind of kid who will excel in that environment, or will spend all day fingerpainting and not learn to read until he's 12. I plan to ask his lead preschool teacher about this before we make our choice. Montessori is very close to the curriculum our preschool uses (Reggio Emilia), and B seems to be doing very well there, and appears to like it. That seems like a good indicator that he'd like and do well in a Montessori environment too, right?

3. A very traditional, very academically rigorous option school. "Option school" means that it does not serve a neighborhood (everyone gets in by lottery), but still has to get school board approval for its curriculum (unlike #2, a charter school). This is clearly an outstanding school. Their test scores are all 98% or higher, their overall academic performance is "Excellent" and their academic growth is "High." A school doesn't get any better than this on paper. It is very difficult to get into this school -- 200+ applications for 30 or so kindergarten openings. One big advantage: the kids who go to this school have priority enrollment at an outstanding middle/high school that is also all lottery-based for enrollment (if we even live in this town by then). The dilemma: will B like and flourish in such a rigid teaching environment, or would he do better in a more relaxed environment like the Montessori school? The kids at this school definitely learn and do well, but does it take a certain kind of kid?

4. A neighborhood school that is very close to where we live. It's great on paper, very popular among parents, and hosts an in-school gifted & talented center. They only had 2 choice enrollment slots for kindergarten this year though, so our chances of getting in aren't good.

5. A neighborhood school that is very close to the kids' preschool (simplifies logistics for dropping kids off/picking up at kindergarten and preschool for the next two years), and not far from where we live. Like #4, it's great on paper, popular among parents, and hosts an in-school gifted and talented center. The preschool director told me that she "wouldn't want her kid" in one of the kindergarten teacher's classrooms, but we can cross that bridge when and if we get in. They are likely to have a few more slots than #4 this fall.

6. A neighborhood school in a nearby mountain town that is not TOO far out of the way for M's commute, but wouldn't be terribly convenient. Their test scores are good and they are well-liked. No in-house GT program. Currently no full-day kindergarten, although they do have an kindergarten enrichment program and may have full-day next year.

7. A neighborhood school near us that has good, but not outstanding test scores. They seem to have been declining in the last couple of years, but I don't know why.

8. A neighborhood school near us that has good, but not outstanding test scores. They seem to have been improving somewhat in the last couple of years.

All things considered, right now #2 and #3 are in the lead, with #2 taking a slight edge. That could change depending on what I learn in the next two weeks. #4 and #5 are tied for second place. #7 and #8 are tied for third choice, with #8 slightly leading. #6 would be fourth choice, and #1 is our school of last resort.

What advice can you give me, my wise friends? How would you decide? Do you have a favorite pick among our eight? Heeeeeelllllllllp me! I'm drowning in information!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Little funny

B & I were in the car this morning (on our way to drop off kindergarten applications!) when a song I really like came on the radio. I turned it up & started singing along -- "I've been waiting for this moment all my life..." B told me I had the words wrong though -- according to him it's "I've been waiting for this snowman all night." He wanted to know why someone would wait outside all night for a snowman! A good question, really. I wouldn't do it.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy new year

I'm able to take a minute to do a blog post because both kids are upstairs playing happily in my closet. Yes, you read that right. They each got a new flashlight for Christmas. B's is shaped like a horse, and Z's like a chicken. When you squeeze the tail, the mouth opens up, it makes an animal sound and a flashlight shines out through the open mouth. They adore those flashlights. Right now they're hanging out in the walk-in closet with them, but they've been known to cram themselves into the two-foot square coat closet together too. They also like to turn off all the lights at night and have me hide things for them to find with their flashlights. That was $10 well spent by Grandma, I think.

B and I started out the new year with a hike yesterday morning. We went up to an open space park in the foothills west of here where you can see an actual castle from the trail. B must have asked me at least half a dozen times if a king and queen lived there, or if they ever used to live there a long time ago. No, I told him, I'm afraid it's only regular people. Or as "regular" as you can be if you choose to live in a castle, anyway. And a rather creepy looking castle at that, if you ask me. He decided they probably didn't have a dragon either, since "dragons aren't real, and neither are dinosaurs or unicorns." Lots and lots of hiking pictures follow.

We spent New Year's Eve pretty quietly, considering the monkey house we live in. Not that we used to go out and whoop it up before we had kids, at least not since we were in our 20s. My sister & her husband (and their unborn baby -- I'm going to be an auntie!) were here with us that night, and left for home (Maryland) yesterday morning. Here we are roasting marshmallows on the back patio on new year's eve:

Last week, we started a new family tradition. We went to volunteer at a homeless shelter/food bank/clothing donation/etc. center, all four of us. I had thought we'd sort food in the food bank (a job that sounded like it would suit itself to the skills of a two year-old and a five year-old), but we ended up filling little bottles with lotion and shampoo out of bigger bottles. They wanted one-person sized bottles to hand out. This wasn't really something that Z had the dexterity for, so she lost interest pretty quickly and multiple hizzies ensued. We're going to do this once a month though, and next time we'll make sure we find a job she can help with too. It was fun, and B keeps asking if he can go back. Doing this together as a family is my sort-of a New Year's resolution.

Frozen Bear Creek

My hiker B

Clutching the new digital camera he got for his birthday -- he's taken hundreds of pictures of the floor, the walls, the dog's paw, etc.

This was the highlight of the hike for him, even better than the castle

Look at that sweet, shy grin

And how quickly it turns sassy

Back to sweet

Then he shoots me with a stick-blaster

I love this pair of pictures. You can just see the wheels going around in his head as he gazes at this stick: Can I possibly hold a third stick?

Look at the expression of pure satisfaction when he figures out a way to do it

B doing one of his absolute favorite things, although he didn't enjoy the rock climbing class he took last winter, which is odd