Friday, December 31, 2010

Peaceful New Year

I've been talking a lot lately about finding more accurate words than striving for "happiness." I don't know why it took me so long to find it; I've even used it here before: Peace.

Peace of heart and mind: knowing that things aren't perfect, but you're heading in the right direction.

Peace in love: appreciating all the love there is around you from friends, family and even in the kindness of strangers.

Peace in work: outside of the home, inside the home, whatever it may be, but knowing that your days are busy making meaningful contributions.

Financial peace: accepting that most of us aren't millionaires, but knowing that we are doing the right things with our money.

Peaceful home: okay, so having kids makes this one extra challenging, but striving for the sounds of laughter and joy, and understanding that in tears, there is usually some progress being made in our little ones' development.

Peace in soul: being present and giving to those who need us.

Wishing you all a peaceful 2011!!

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Something Else I Learned in 2010

Even though I haven't participated in F.A.B. Fridays here, I've still been doing the work. I'm developing better routines, better habits. Especially financially. It's not all coming up roses just yet, but there is steady, slow progress.

I am also working on the guilt thing. I don't suppose it'll ever disappear completely, but I'm learning to work through it and focus on what's best for me, when possible. I'm being careful to make sure no one else gets hurt or anything, but I'm also quite proud of myself for not going broke buying a bunch of presents because I thought I "should." I couldn't afford it, it wasn't what was best for us, so I didn't. I didn't go crazy over the girls either, and they were perfectly happy with what they got. And combined with all the presents they got from everyone else, they felt it was the "best Christmas ever!"

All in all, I'd say this year we got what we gave. I'm not just talking about gifts here. I'm talking about how much effort, energy, and care we put into areas of our lives. Sylvia's hard work in art and dance has been paying off so far. The relationships that I care about most are strong and beneficial to both parties. Frankly, we've been getting back far more than we've been giving, but we have been giving, too. We just give in our own ways.

I'm learning how to give how I give best, and to graciously accept offerings. Not just in terms of $$, but in accepting help, advice, learning from what people have to teach just in the way they live their lives. And becoming a better mother, friend, and person for it.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas Past v Christmas Present

It was my 2nd Christmas as a single parent when a lovely friend gave me cash with strings. The strings were, I had to spend it on me, not the girls, and it had to be for something I wanted, not needed.

That year, I really struggled with that. I wanted to use it for groceries. Or child care, or another present for the girls. I could think of a hundred ways to use that money, but came up absolutely blank for something for just me. I don't actually remember how I used it in the end, but I remember the stress of it!

This year, another dear friend did the same thing. This year, I'm not feeling anxious about it. This year, I can't wait to go to Nordstrom Rack and buy myself some new clothes! (Well, I can wait long enough to not go the day after Xmas; that's just crazy!)

It does seem rather ironic that I no longer stress about being selfish. I did stop long enough to ask myself if that really was a good thing. But hey, at least I can follow directions now!

Of course, it could have something to do with the fact that my mom and I were perusing scrapbooks from Christmases past and saw my same outfits over and over again! Guess it is time for some new apparel to go with the new 'do!

Hope you all had a wonderful holiday! As we head into the New Year, let's all remember to be a little selfish every now and then. Especially if someone gives you money for it :)

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

In Lieu of Blogging

I stole this idea from Jeff at View from the Cloud, but just in case you've been wondering what I've been doing with myself these past few months, here is what I can remember anyway.

In honor of my friend that is fighting cancer, donated 11 inches of my hair to Locks of Love.

Took my girls to see The Nutcracker for the first time. They both loved it. We did not love the people who sat behind us, after coming in LATE, and the child talked all through the first act, while the MOTHER kicked my chair...we moved at intermission.

Attended 3 holiday parties in two days. At one of them, a very sweet older woman was stroking my hair (obviously, before the locks were cut). It was mostly strange because she didn't ask permission first, which I totally would've given! Oh, and at another party, one woman went off about how much she didn't like the Toy Story movies. Are you serious? Do you HAVE a heart?

Discovered AccuRadio and their multiple Broadway stations!!

Moved office locations. Very strange because for once, I've had the same home address three Christmases in a row, and the office has been the one constant in the last 7 years. Adjusting. Very, very slowly.

Celebrated with Sylvia. Along with the Peace Poster win, she just won a scholarship that will pay for her dance classes and clothes, etc. up to $2,500! Why yes, I am very proud, thank you!

Attended PTA meetings, PAC meetings, helped out at a few events, gone to a few luncheons, gone to my leadership classes, read books for the leadership classes, accomplished all of my Xmas shopping online (even remembered stocking stuffers this year), taken the girls to see Harry Potter (or, as Riley likes to say, HP7), survived a parent teacher conference, survived Sylvia's finals, took a tour of a high school, solve challenges like how to be in two places at once (be at neither place), attend a happy hour night, a girls' night out night, negotiated agreements with government agencies, cut monthly expenses, slowly but surely paying down my credit cards, obsessively check my bank account balance, discovered Leverage, took the girls to Disneyland, laughed with the girls, cried with the girls, struggled with the girls, worried about the girls, think about the girls, talk about the girls, talk at the girls, talk to the girls, listen to the girls, try to teach the girls, learn from the girls, get mad at the girls, make up with the girls, love the girls.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

10 Lessons Learned in 2010

This isn't in any type of order, and I'm sure I've already forgotten some important things I learned this year. Hopefully, some have already become so ingrained that I forgot they were revelations; some, I will just have forgotten and have to learn again sometime.
  1. Integrating the past into the present can be scary, but it is so worth it
  2. As important as communication is between parent and child, sometimes, silence can accomplish so much more
  3. It shouldn't be a surprise to me, but it still makes me happy that Sondheim was right: Children do listen and learn.
  4. With a little time and perspective, what were once thought of as necessities really aren't. The girls have been out of therapy for over 6 months now, and yet, they are still growing, still healing, and still becoming stronger people.
  5. 7th grade can be survived.
  6. The quickest way to brighten my mood is to listen to Broadway musicals. For years, I've been operating under the assumption that I have to watch the news in the morning. And then I'd leave the house frustrated with the state of the world. It started with listening to my latest Glee purchases and my days start off "so much better." (Can you name what musical that's from?)
  7. The girls and I are pretty good at heavy lifting. We've accomplished a lot of furniture re-arranging, just the 3 of us. But I was most impressed when they moved their own beds without me!
  8.  I need to get my blogging mojo back. It's taken me 3 days to write a post of 10 things!
  9. Goals are scary. But thinking in terms of 5-10 years down the line is possible.
  10. I was reading Take the Cake about balancing life, and the way the steps were broken down were exactly the way I'm living my life right now. So what did I learn? That I'm doing better than I thought I was at this whole balancing act. 

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Success and Happiness Don't Last

I was asked to define success recently, and I just couldn't. I mean, sure, I know the basic definition of success. Success is achieving a goal. But do I consider my life successful because I've attained a few goals along the way? Of course not, because there are always more goals along the way. And re-defining goals, and yes, even failing a few. Does that mean I'm unsuccessful? No, and I'm not a failure because I haven't succeeded at absolutely everything.

My X likes to say that happiness is an unnatural state of mind. I think a more apt way to put that is that happiness is like any other emotion: it comes and goes. Sometimes I'm happy, sometimes I'm not. If someone asked me if I was happy with my life, I would say yes, but I think it's an oversimplification of what true happiness and joy is. If we're happy 24/7, then how could we appreciate it?

Balance, I should say, is also not achievable. It's a great goal because it allows us to shift and re-focus as necessary, but no one's life is ever completely balanced. Routines can feel comforting at times, but at others, they can feel stifling. The sensible approach is to shift the routine a little bit in order to make room for other goals, other pursuits.

I was reading a book about how to achieve balance, how to segment goals into tiny reachable steps in order to reach those goals. As I was reading them, I have to say, I'm pretty proud of how I'm doing when it comes to looking at my life that way. And to feel validated like that helped alleviate some of the guilt that was stifling me a few posts ago.

So at this point, I would say that the thing I can attempt to sustain is feeling like I'm making progress. To know that I've made progress in my work, with the girls, in getting stuff done allows me to relax in front of a TV show or a book with a sense of accomplishment. It's tempting to re-name this blog It's All About Progress, but I'm still going for that unattainable balance in order to keep progressing. As once was brilliantly said by that genius Stephen Sondheim, "well, what's the point of demands you CAN meet?" (Merrily We Roll Along)

The point is to just keep going.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Finding Peace

This is Sylvia's award-winning peace poster. The girls and I are on one side of a cracked heart, and their father's on the other. Sylvia placed a band-aid with peace symbols over the crack.

The contest was about peace, both universally and personally. Obviously, Sylvia chose the personal side. Even since creating this earlier this school year, she has found even more peace with the situation. She has come to accept the idea that our family can never be "repaired" in the sense of Mommy and Daddy getting back together, and even agrees now that it shouldn't happen. She is still coming to terms with the idea that her father will never be a part of her life in a true parental role. (Not because I wouldn't allow it, but because he simply is not capable.)

It's bittersweet that she would receive such recognition for this very personal piece. She obviously touched the heart of the judges, but of course, there's that pain of wishing she didn't have to experience any of this at all. I choose to concentrate on my pride for her.

Accepting situations for how they are, accepting people for who they are; these are things that have never come easy for me and I still struggle with them. In some ways, I think it's a worthy struggle because we should all try to be better, but sometimes, we do have to let go. That is much harder for me than it is for my girls. I am in awe of their strength of character.

Monday, November 29, 2010

An Unbalanced Post

I am choosing to come clean. I was going to write a private email to a dear friend, but the correspondence so far has shown me that my only choice is to be completely outed because that's why I started this blog in the first place. I have, in a way, been hiding from it because to write here is to tell my story. I worried what people would think instead of trusting that I'll find a way to say it.

I have been feeling different. Different from everyone else, and therefore, afraid to say what no one would "get." But how can anyone get it if I don't share it? And I also know, deep in my soul, that others can relate, in their own way.

Seeing Next to Normal again this weekend helped me to see that, too. Because I shouldn't be able to relate to a mother whose baby died. I shouldn't be able to relate to a husband who is willing to stand by this woman, even as she falls deeper into the depths of depression, despair, bipolar disorder, and even herself asks him, "why stay?" I shouldn't be able to relate to a 16-year-old girl who was deprived of her parents who were lost to grief, to simply surviving the day. But I related to all of them because no matter what our circumstances, we all experience the range of emotions that is simply being human. So while you may not be divorced, while you may not have children, while you may not struggle from paycheck to paycheck, I know that you can somehow relate to some of this. Maybe not in this moment, but sometime, through some experience, you have experienced this sense of feeling alone, of feeling different, of feeling like no one gets it.

Part of me, too, is ashamed of feeling this way. I have so much, I know. I am so lucky in so many respects. I have wonderful friends, wonderful family, a job I actually love that is as dependable as a job can be, and while I have money issues, I know that so many have it so much worse. I actually do know that I can pay my rent every month. I do know that some choices I make for what I call "quality of life" aren't needs, but wants. And I do know that some problems I have are self-inflicted.

So this isn't a "pity me" post, but rather a "this is me" post. I do love my life, but I want more.

I know that there's still a lot of work for me to do to achieve some of my goals and missions, but at the same time, I'm fighting the resentment that I feel for somehow never doing enough. Like a petulant toddler, sometimes, I just don't wanna. I feel like I certainly do my share of basic responsibilities every single day, and sometimes I just want to feel like that's enough. And that's not to say that I don't take downtime because I certainly do, but I want to take it without also fighting the guilt.

The guilt. The guilt is the overriding emotion that affects everything. I spend ten minutes rationalizing to myself that it's okay, I can spend $1.29 on a new song, or taking the time to read a book that's not for a Book Club or assignment is okay because I can't really focus on "serious" reading anyway. Or even when I am doing something productive like washing dishes that it's okay to tell Riley that I'll listen to her story in a few minutes when I'm done.

It feels like every moment that I'm doing something, I'm also spending trying to fight the guilt that I should be doing something else. I even feel guilty that I don't spend enough quality time with my cat! Or convincing myself that it's okay to be doing whatever I'm doing.

And then there are the really embarrassing things to feel guilty about; for really wanting a netbook so that I can sit on my couch to read blogs, for buying myself lunch at work instead of going home, for buying myself an avocado.

And I feel guilty for feeling guilty because I am not a bad person and while I could be a better mother, I know that my kids are nourished both physically and emotionally. 

I started this post thinking that I had something entirely different to say. I feel guilty if this post lead astray.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Finding my Balance again

So last week was crazy. My home scheduling idea was not possible to implement given that every night, we had something going on. But that's okay. We did what we needed to do.

I'm hoping that the holiday lull will start at work today. We've had a lot going on. Last week, I wasn't sure I'd get everything done, but it's starting to look possible.

The girls are doing well. Sylvia and I visited my old high school last week, and she loved it. It was crazy being back, seeing that so much of it is the same. The students act and sound just like we did, the teachers spoke about the same philosophies, and it was just as warm and welcoming as I remember.

Sylvia won an arts contest! I'm hoping to have pics soon to share.

I've tried to sit down and start a post a few times, but my mind is going in so many directions right now, it's been hard to find a focus.

So this is just a quick update to say I'm not gone forever (hopefully), just trying to find that balance. Again.

Friday, November 12, 2010

F.A.B. Fridays: Scheduling

So I had a few free hours (that originally I was supposed to be using for laundry, but since I didn't have enough quarters, they were now free). Couldn't decide whether to catch up on my Reader (did some of that), clean off my desk (did a little of that), clean the girls' room (and a little of that), or clean out my email (yep, a little of that, too). Of course, as those hours were coming to a close, I felt like I'd accomplished nothing.

I like to think of myself as a free spirit and hey, we do need to be flexible, but I think I'm finally starting to appreciate the idea of having a routine.

I took a baby step last week by organizing my weekly dinner menu. That worked out! So now it's time to start putting together a plan for my free time. Which sounds kind of oxymoronic, but it's worth trying.

Of course, there will still need to be wiggle room, and I absolutely will schedule in downtime, but my plan is to put together a schedule on Sunday for the week ahead, and then review it nightly (and yes, schedule the time to do that review). I'm not going to reprimand myself for not sticking to it in these early stages; instead, I will look at what's holding me back and try to adjust.

For more on FAB Fridays, visit WannaBeBalancedMom.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

A post

I'd apologize for being absent so long, but most of you were probably just grateful there weren't more posts in your Reader so instead I'll say, you're welcome! Things are good, really good, and busy, really busy, and no signs of slowing anytime soon. However, I have to find a way to keep blogging as a regular part of my life, because I miss it too much!

I missed F.A.B. Friday last week because I was sick. I had a tiny lull, and lo and behold, a virus took over. If ever I needed a reason to believe that busy is the way to go...I'll probably miss it this week, too, because our weekend's already packed.

I was disappointed, but not surprised, that X missed the girls' birthdays entirely. No phone call, nothing. He finally called yesterday, but didn't remember how old the girls are now.

The girls weren't surprised, either. I think about how much they've been hurt before, and all I can do is feel grateful. That's not to say it doesn't hurt them at all, but the fact that they didn't let it ruin their birthdays is a good thing.

Truth be told, none of us will ever be over it entirely. I still have reminders of those years I lost, in saving for retirement or starting college funds for them, in therapy bills and bad credit. I know how far I've come, but the consequences can only be diminished so much. They are there, they will always be there.

I know that the girls have a lot of love and support in their lives, but they will never know what it's like to be able to rely on two parents.

I think sometimes, we (in the universal meaning) get entirely too caught up in wanting to be positive all the time, wanting to dismiss the pain. But we can't get to acceptance if we never move beyond denial. And these stages aren't linear, but a constant process.

I have been better off since I realized that I will never be over it. It feels less like a sucker punch if I don't feel like the past is coming back to haunt me. The past is part of me.

And my present is...weird. In a good way! It's a transitional time, and there are a lot of unknowns right now. We don't know yet where Sylvia will go to high school, or where Riley will go to middle school. I want to move, but don't know if we should, and/or where. I don't know yet what will nurture my soul once my leadership class is over, but I know I will have to be doing something. Once again, I'm trying to figure out who I'm going to be when I grow up!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Love Election Day, Hate campaigns

I voted and I've got that warm and fuzzy feeling right now :)

The morning of Election Day for me is full of possibilities. Even though I know that in the end, most politicians are the same, even though I know that not nearly enough will happen quickly enough for me, I allow myself to indulge in a little ignorant bliss on Election Day. That is, until the talking heads and pundits slowly chip away at it. Until some results come in that devastate me, until certain officials I elected (or didn't) say something that makes me want to spit nails, until the next election cycle...I give myself these few hours to bask in the glory of American democracy.

But I think what I'm celebrating even more than our civil liberties is the knowledge that I won't have to see another campaign commercial for at least 6 months.

The amount of money spent on campaigns drives me insane. I haven't checked for this election, but in 2008, in California, billions was spent on campaigns. Billions. Billions on those horrible, mean, sometimes completely dishonest ads. Billions where they don't actually tell you anything about where they stand on issues, but just try to beat each other up. Billions on style over substance.

I think about the homeless, the education funding lost, the millions without health care, those who lost their homes, those who lost their livelihood and it just seems so wrong. We have an abundance of wealth, obviously, but our priorities are so out of whack.

I am political, yes, but I don't give money to candidates. I don't have much in discretionary funds available and what I do, I will spend on my daughters, my loved ones, and me. Instead, I use my time to volunteer, to read candidates' platforms, to watch debates, to contribute ideas to the Club and the PTA. I will pass on info that I think is important, but I will not spend my earnings on these wretched campaigns that have nothing to do with governing.

So vote. Wear your sticker proudly. And enjoy a campaign-free America for a little while!

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sylvia is 13 today

My first born, my sweet, sensitive, passionate child. Again, not a complete listing of all of the things that make you special, but 13 qualities that I love about you.

  1. You are so talented. You are pure joy on a stage, in rehearsal.  I love that you have the chance to spread your wings, and you soar.
  2. You are so supportive of me, of your sister, your friends and loved ones. I love that you know just what to say when I'm feeling nervous or anxious about something.
  3. I am so proud of how you were able to keep up with everything at school, in rehearsal, in our social calendar.  You seem to thrive on being busy. A great quality that you will utilize well for the rest of your life!
  4. On that note, you help keep me sane when things get crazy. And things have been way crazy lately! Thanks for being part of the glue holding this family together. 
  5. You are so smart. You have proven time and again that when you're determined, you can accomplish anything. 
  6. You kill spiders for me!! If that's not love, I don't know what is.
  7. I love that you love musical theatre as much as I do! 
  8. You know yourself really well, and you are always striving to be better; to try new things, to do something that scares you.  Again, a really important quality that will make you unstoppable.
  9. You have grown so much in the past year; not just physically, but emotionally. You've learned something that took me until just a few years ago to learn: you can separate other people's actions (or inactions) towards you from what's truly about you and what's not. In short, you can accept people as they are. That's so impressive for a person of any age!
  10. You manage the difficult stuff with a healthy dose of humor. 
  11. I love when we hang out together. Whether it's watching a TV show, playing cards, listening to music, talking or whatever...I just love being with you. 
  12. You are so smart and, more importantly, thoughtful. You don't want to just pass a test, you want to understand it at its core.
  13. You accept you as you are. While you try to improve and explore new things, you never try to hide who you are. You just want to be the best you possible. 
You are a teenager now. I know that's supposed to mean that we'll no longer get along or talk to each other, and I'm supposed to be scared to death of these upcoming years. But really, I'm excited to be on this journey with you. You are most definitely on the right path to having a wonderful, fulfilling life, full of love, passion, laughter and happiness. I'm so proud to call you my daughter, and I love you with all of my heart. Happy birthday, Sylvia.

Friday, October 29, 2010

F.A.B. Friday: one step at a time

This week, I have definitely not been afraid to put myself out there. I can't talk about it, but suffice it to say, I said yes to something that scared the hell out of me. I don't really know how well I did, but at least I can say I did it.

It has been another crazy busy week, and I've given up thinking that things are ever going to get back to normal. This is our normal. We pack as much into the days and nights as possible, and hey, we love it. It's who we are. We will have time to rest and regroup on Saturday, so we'll just keep going until then.

I'm worrying about money again, but not obsessively. At least, not yet! Just one paycheck at a time, but with a look at the overall and trying to get creative about where I might be able to shave off a little here and there. I am sticking with my plan to pay down one of my two credit cards without using it, so that's progress!

All of this sounds like very little, I know, but for someone like me who (as Carrie Fisher would say) thinks that instant gratification takes too long, just the ability to take baby steps is a big thing for me!

For more on F.A.B. Fridays, visit Wanna Be Balanced.

Monday, October 25, 2010

10 Reasons my Riley is awesome

This is by no means a complete list of all of Riley's awesome qualities.

  1. I love how you dance! So free-spirited, with that brilliant smile of yours, and while very much your own style, completely in tune with the rhythm of the music. 
  2. Your sense of humor. Sure, sometimes your age shows, but often you exhibit a quick wit that seems beyond your years. You make me laugh every day. 
  3. You are so much your own person. You respect yourself, you're confident enough to accommodate others, but you won't let anyone walk all over you, either. 
  4. Your "love" life cracks me up. You've had two boyfriends already, but they didn't last because you didn't think they were nice enough. The fact that you're still friends with both of them says a lot about your character. 
  5. You can make up your own games and entertain yourself when Sylvia's gone for rehearsals, but you love playing with her or your friends or me, too. You don't fit into any category; you can be a loner, a groupie, or enjoy one-on-one time just as easily. I love that about you. 
  6. You love almost every experience: nature, music, theatre, swimming, biking, cooking, art, playing school, solving problems, playing games. There's almost nothing you don't like to do. 
  7. You still love to snuggle with me and just chat. We talk about everything and nothing. We laugh, we hug, and there's nowhere else we'd rather be.
  8. You're nurturing, compassionate, and just so full of love. 
  9. You have a strong commitment to family. Not just me and Sylvia, but your entire extended family. And considering how large ours is, that trait fits in nicely!
  10. You light up the room everywhere you go. 
Happy 10th birthday, Riley. Every day with you is a privilege. I love you so so much!

    Saturday, October 23, 2010

    Belated F.A.B. Friday

    Things were a little too busy for me to post this on Friday. I had my leadership class, and my Riley got home from her 5th grade science camp!! Sylvia and I missed her all week, but, just as I suspected, Riley was having a wonderful time.

    As for my update: I've found that what's works better for me is just to do something every day; whether it's going through clothes to get rid of, a stack of papers or toys that the girls have outgrown. It's definitely a SLOW process, but it's a process.

    I made plans to go down to my sister's next month, and serendipitously, an old friend called me last weekend and it was great catching up. I'm invited to a luncheon next week, and I will try to be the first to greet at least one person there!

    Work is, as always, great. Ups and downs, sure, but I love my job every day. I do need to do more to get ready for our move, though.

    And I have to cut this short to spend some quality time with my girls. I hope to have more time to actually write tomorrow!

    Wednesday, October 20, 2010

    Spirit Day

    As has been widely reported, we have lost way too many youth lately to the fear and hatred of homophobia. It's an ugly side of human nature that I don't understand, and frankly, don't want to. Whatever excuse people hide behind to make the hatred of fellow humans acceptable is simply that, an excuse.

    And it's time for adults to recognize that their reprehensible acceptance of such ugliness is at the heart of the blame.

    How often have you heard slurs of a homophobic nature and stood up to it?

    A few years ago, these two kids were talking outside of the apartment building's laundry room while I was in there and one of them used such a slur. I don't even remember what it was now, but I stopped in my tracks and said, "hey! That's not okay." The shame in that boy's face was clear. I didn't know him, didn't know his parents, didn't know where that came from, but even he knew he shouldn't have said it. They moved away from me, knowing that they weren't going to get away with such behavior in front of me.

    Last year, Sylvia had a teacher that openly made a plea for students not to participate in the Day of Silence, where students take a vow of silence to support the LGBT community against hatred, bullying, and harassment. I emailed that teacher {edited to protect anonymity}:

    ...I think that this is an extremely important topic, and something I discussed with my daughter a long time ago. The decision is hers, but we are strong advocates for equal rights for everybody. While I wish it did not come to this, while I wish tolerance was something that came naturally to more people, please do not lose sight of the message of this day.

    This message is about the forced silence that too many children are forced to take because they are different. It causes too many suicides every year. It causes too many destroyed lives.
    It is entirely possible, if not probable, that students in these [classes] are struggling with this issue. It is unfortunately also possible that one or more of these students could end up a statistic one day.

    So I hope that...this opportunity is not missed.
    I did not hear back from that teacher, but I bcc'd Board of Education members and her Principal.

    Yes, we are all entitled to our opinions. Yes, we have Free Speech in America, but I think that freedom comes with a great weight of responsibility: a responsibility to treat each other respectfully, even and especially when we disagree.  Our words and our actions do have consequences.

    Let's think about the legacies we want to pass on, the values we want to role model, and just what we lose when we sacrifice equality for all. We are, unfortunately, seeing too much unravel because some have made it okay to be offensive, rude and mean to others. Lives are being lost. Mother and fathers are losing their children. Family and friends have been robbed of loved ones.

    There is too much wrong already to endure this hatred, too. There are wars, famine, disease, bankruptcies, foreclosures, fraud, corruption. Why are we adding bullying and homophobia to the list? It makes no sense. It's hurtful, it's wrong, and it's shameful.

    It does get better for many LGBT adults, but that's simply not good enough. As most of us may recall, being told that high school will end didn't always feel like it! So now, there's a project to make it better, with resources for both students and adults. Our humanity can and will win this. How long it takes is up to all of us.

    This post is in honor of Spirit Day. We're wearing purple to honor those didn't believe they could beat homophobia.

    Monday, October 18, 2010

    Dear Mom and Dad

    Did you ever see Don't Tell Mom the Babysitter's Dead? Very bad title, but kind of a fun movie where Christina Applegate, just out of high school, ends up playing the role of working mom to her 4 (or 5?) siblings. By the end of it, she and the oldest brother have this scene where they sound like a husband and wife fighting about the stress of it all and the under-appreciation they both feel.

    I always liked this film, Sylvia's seen it and liked it, too, but even out of the mouths of babes, Sylvia just doesn't get it. And I realize now that I never really got it, either. Not until now when Sylvia is on the cusp of teenager-hood (ism?).

    I understand now that you spent every waking hour thinking of me and my sister, and did everything in our best interest. I understand now that sometimes you had to make hard decisions that seemed so totally unfair in my eyes, and knowing that broke your own heart because the last thing you wanted to do is hurt me. I understand now that you gave us everything you could, and sometimes more, and that it hurt you when there was something you couldn't give, or that it was indeed something that was not in my best interest to have. I understand now that even though I always thought it was obvious that I loved you and thought of you often, it may not have come across that way!

    If it makes you feel any better, I understand all this now because I am having some of the same frustrating experiences that you had when I was growing up. I'm trying to keep things in perspective, both from my POV as a former child and as a parent now, but it can be hard. And sometimes, I just make the wrong choices and have to correct myself as much as possible. And sometimes, I just have to accept that my girls will not always understand, and that it's okay that they don't.

    Instead, I'll just wait and see if they grow up to have daughters, and if maybe this post might come in handy to them someday. (And they'll be thinking, OMG, blogs are SO last generation!)

    Love your older and getting wiser daughter,

    Saturday, October 16, 2010

    The Plans & Mission

    I know it's not F.A.B. Friday, but I have to get this done.

    1-2 Year Plan: For the most part, keep doing what I'm doing. Continue to volunteer and help out where I can on projects that I care about and believe in. Continue to build relationships and not be afraid to put myself out there. (Yes, I have a big mouth, but in person, it takes me slightly longer to speak up and I'm almost never the first to introduce myself to someone new. I need to get better at that.)

    2-5 Year Plan: Begin the legal steps to create a 401(c)3 for the benefit and support of single parents and single parent families. Start small projects to start getting the name out there, and write grant applications.

    5-10 Year Plan: Keep building the non-profit, partner with other organizations on events to reach more people, maybe bring in other single parents across the country to start their own small projects and obtain their own grants for needs in their area.

    10 Year+ Plan: Hire staff, make bigger dreams and bigger goals and have the non-profit organization be nationally known and recognized. Get invited to the White House or to testify in front of Congress.

    Mission Statement: My life is about people. They enrich me, and I want to do the same for them. And see a lot of musical theatre.

    Friday, October 15, 2010

    FAB Fridays: Values and Goals

    First an update from last week's goals: So I didn't declutter 15 minutes every day, but I did some, and as FlyLady herself says, I'm not going to try and catch up, but jump in where I am. Sylvia did do some of the laundry, and Riley does what I ask, but I have yet to set up official chores for them. Since Riley's going to her Science camp soon, it's better to wait until after she returns before I set those up, anyway.

    Someone recently told me that our values are in our actions, not our statements. I thought about this and wrote about it in the realm of education both here and at Parentella. Now I'm starting to think about it in terms of me.

    Part of why I didn't do some nights of decluttering is because I chose to instead snuggle with my girls, and tend to their needs. I'm okay with valuing time with my girls over housework. I'm also thinking about some things I do that are definite time-wasters, and some that may not be productive per se, but allow me the downtime I need to rejuvenate or relax. I'm trying to get rid of the total time-wasters that make me feel bad, but still hold onto the things I enjoy, like watching The Daily Show, reading a book, re-connecting with old friends on FB.

    Through my actions, I can say with confidence that I value my family, my friends, my work and colleagues, music, and feeling a part of my community. Knowing that, my goals are to continue to enrich my role in these activities.

    Family: For the most part, keep doing what I'm doing. I spend a lot of time with my girls and my parents, but I do need to carve out more time with my sister. She lives a couple of hours away, and our weekends have been so packed lately, we haven't been down there for quite some time. I need to make more time.

    Friends: I'm doing better at checking in on my friends on FB, but every now and then, I have to pick up the phone. Maybe I can make it a point to call one friend a week just to let them know I'm thinking of them.

    Work and colleagues: We're moving locations soon and there's a ton of de-cluttering I need to do in my office! I should spend the last 15 minutes of every day (as possible) working on that. And there are some colleagues that I talk to every 15 minutes practically, and others that I sometimes don't talk to for weeks! I should try and have a conversation with everyone at least once a week.

    Music: I've been listening to more music at home lately, which helps me (a) declutter, (b) belt out songs I love, which makes me happy, and (c) appreciate all the money I've spent over the years amassing my collection!

    Community: I've attended a few community events lately, and they have been wonderful experiences! I find that I always know more people than I expected, I laugh a lot, have great and thoughtful discussions, and feel connected to people. They've mostly been charity events, too, and it's wonderful to see so many come together to make life better for our children, our families, our pets, our land. Sometimes the world as portrayed by the media seems so cold, frightening, and disconnected. It's refreshing to get out there and get a much brighter picture!

    Read more about F.A.B. Fridays at Wanna Be Balanced.

    Wednesday, October 13, 2010

    Top Ten Signs that I'm Middle-Aged

    1. I need to wear glasses now when on the PC or watching TV. I used to only need them driving at night, but lo and behold, when I started doing what my optometrist and using my glasses more often, I stopped getting so many terrible headaches!
    2. The more current music on Glee is annoying (except for "Billionaire"). Last night's episode, featuring songs from A Chorus Line and a duet originally done by Barbra Streisand and Judy Garland, was my absolute favorite so far this season!
    3. Doing more than one thing a day sounds like way too much. Which is why I'm thrilled that for the first time since before Sylvia had rehearsals for Willy Wonka, we've gotten to stay home every night this week.
    4. Independent movies don't sound as interesting to me as they used to. I just want to be entertained. In fact, most movies are less appealing. Two hours just seems too long to commit. 
    5. I need hand lotion more frequently than I used to. 
    6. I have friends on FaceBook that I knew 25 years ago, when I was the same age Sylvia is now.
    7. My girls are weeks away from being 10 and 13, and will be graduating from elementary school and middle school this year.
    8. I've been a single mom longer than I was a married mom. (Well, coupled, really, since we didn't officially get married until I was pregnant with Riley.)
    9. Let's not even discuss the gray hairs. 
    10. I had another, but I forgot.

    Tuesday, October 12, 2010

    Where's the finish line?

    In honor of the mid-term election, Yahoo! Mother Board is asking us to join the conversation at their new feature, Ask America. I was disappointed that their Education topic only offers us two choices: higher standards or more money (which is not Yahoo's fault, but the candidates'). In order to truly reform education, we need to re-frame the question.

    For the past few decades, the two-party system has failed to offer radical enough solutions. While I'm an Obama supporter, I don't think his stance on education offers enough change, and I'm not sure what the Top is racing towards.

    I've recently seen two documentaries on education, Race to Nowhere and Waiting for "Superman". If you have to choose between the two, see Race to Nowhere, but see both if you can, or see what you can. We need to start talking about this more.

    It took until 8th grade for Sylvia to have a reason to want to do well in school. She wants to go to an arts high, and knows that in order to be admitted, she has to maintain a certain GPA. So she's working harder than she has in the past to keep her grades up so that she can go to a school that lets her do what she really wants to do: dance every day. She knows that in order to stay in that school, she will have to keep up a GPA.

    That school happens to be my alma mater, and I know how the academic teachers frame their lessons. They know their students are interested in the arts, so they pay particular attention on how their subjects correlate to the arts. A history lesson is also a lesson in the history of art at that time. A math lesson can be better understood with the elements of music theory. English literature is interpreted and analyzed much like a script.

    We spend so much effort prioritizing education in the yearly milestones of standardized tests instead of the overall goal of education, and our children just aren't getting it. Over a million drop out of high school every year. That's unacceptable, and affects us all. It leads to higher crime rates, higher prison costs, and fewer people able to support themselves, let alone their families. We also have just learned that an alarming number of college students drop out after their freshman year, costing taxpayers billions of dollars.

    We forget that brains don't fully mature until the age of 25, and expect them to understand an adult's reasoning for school: "who said school was supposed to be fun? They just have to do it." Particularly when so many of their classes and teachers and administrators are solely focused on passing the standardized tests, students are not seeing the long-term benefits. A young mind needs help connecting the dots.

    Instead of telling our children to stop playing video games, why don't we show them how video games are made? Instead of telling them to get off their social networks, why don't we show them what it takes to create such a site? Everything they love involves creativity, math, reading, writing, and even a sense of history and the future in order to be relevant and popular. We need to capitalize on what motivates our students.

    Some of our "low-performing" teachers are probably suffering from the same lack of motivation as our students. I don't think anyone goes into the profession thinking it will be easy, but because they want to make a difference. I've also found direct correlations between my daughters' grades in certain subjects where their teachers are either confused themselves or lack enthusiasm. Their textbooks are District-mandated, their standards are state-mandated, and their Principals may be mandating how they run their classroom. We need to offer teachers the support they may need to keep the class on track, but still let it be their class.

    We need to broaden our "standards" to include what really matters: allowing each student reach their fullest potential. We need to make it okay to not go to college and help some students into trade schools to earn a decent living and provide valuable services. And for anyone that does want to go to college, we need to make that achievable without entering the workforce tens of thousands of dollars in debt.

    Education affects everything else. Without a strong workforce, our economy will suffer. Without work, crime and the need for government assistance increases. A weakened, deficit-burdened government decreases our security and international standing. An uneducated, impoverished society does not make for a healthy, strong society.

    We need to stop racing, and instead, guide our students to their own individual paths to success.

    Monday, October 11, 2010

    All About Sisters

    This is my favorite picture of the girls. I can't see their faces, it's a few years old, I wasn't actually there when it was taken, but it's the holding hands that gets me. I know that they held hands to feel connected. I know they were enjoying one of their sisterly moments, and this one just happened to be caught on camera.

    As I read The Kids Are All Right, written by the Welch siblings, their assessment that being orphaned wasn't the worst thing that happened to them, but being separated from each other was made sense to me. Not that being orphaned wasn't horrible, but that the only ones who could understand the pain and get each other through it was each other. Without one another to ground them, they were lost.

    Having two children is, no doubt, more than twice as hard as having one. The financial cost, the attempt to make family decisions where of course they both want to choose something different, trying to spend quality time with both, parenting them differently because they are different people, but still attempting to keep things fair and equal, getting through a crisis with one and before I've sat down having a crisis with the other and the sibling rivalry can be exhausting.

    But I wouldn't have it any other way. And neither would they.

    They may whine about sharing a bedroom, but when one of them is spending the night elsewhere, the other has a hard time going to sleep without her sister there. They share private jokes, they make up plays to put on for me, they comfort each other, and they are the best of friends.

    I understand their relationship because I have the same with my sister. 

    My sister is my best friend. My favorite childhood memory is the Christmas morning when she woke me up early so we could sneak up to see what Santa had brought long before it was time to wake up. We whispered excitedly about her new bike and my new Barbie house that were left unwrapped. We took our stockings back to her room to empty the contents and whispered and giggled together before we put them back. I felt loved, special, happy and warm all over just being with her and sharing something with just her.

    Now, we share laughter when no one else gets it, and we'll inevitably say the same things at the exact same time with the exact same inflection when we're together. We call each other sobbing, we call each other excited to share our latest best news, and we love each other too much to let any of our faults get in the way. With each other, we are totally and completely free to be ourselves.

    The scariest thing about being a single mom was what would happen to my girls if something happened to me. I was anxious to finalize my divorce so that I could put my will in place and ensure that they would indeed be all right - and together -  if I wasn't here to care for them. And someday, I won't be. There's a certain comfort in knowing that when that day comes, they will be holding each other and together, they'll get through it.

    Read more posts on The Kids Are All Right: A Memoir at the book club site, From Left to Write.

    While I was given the book to read for free, I have not been compensated for this post. The link to the book is connected to my Amazon Associates account, and any purchase made from it will generate a (very) small referral fee for me.

    Friday, October 8, 2010

    F.A.B. Fridays

    Fab Fridays is an invention by a new bloggy friend with a fellow yearn for balance over at Wanna Be Balanced. She's doing a 52-week Plan, but I'm jumping in late, and rearranging the plan according to my needs.

    In my quest to put it all together, it's time to face those things where I've needed improvement for a very long time.

    Now I know why I've been avoiding them: for so long it was just about getting through the day, and sometimes just getting through the day seemed impossible! For the most part, though, the girls and I have a routine, we're getting along, and leading a fairly drama-free life (which is also why I'm finding it harder to post lately!).

    Well, now it's time to improve upon those routines. Now it's time to tackle the stuff that I've been avoiding. Most of it, you'll see, involves the domestic side of me which, admittedly, is not very evolved!

    I need to get better at de-cluttering. Granted, it was a little easier to do when we were moving every year, but now that we've been living in the same place for over two years, that stuff is starting to pile up! So I'm going to get serious about those FlyLady routines again, starting with de-cluttering 15 minutes a day.

    I also need to be a better enforcer when it comes to giving the girls chores. Sylvia was getting really good about doing laundry, but then when she was doing the play, I started doing it all of the time again. I need to get better about sharing the laundry love :)I need to give Riley more chores around the house, too. Especially now that she only has homework on Mondays and Wednesdays, she has more time on the weeknights to do things.

    I need to set goals for my future. I've never been good at answering questions like, "where do you see yourself in 5 years?" It was easy to say I just have to get through today when we were still getting on our feet, or I had built-in goals like finishing college. Now that those are done, it's time to think of my life in the long term.

    But I'll start one week, one Friday, at a time!

    Wednesday, October 6, 2010

    The Ford Amphitheatre provides Arts for All

    I was invited to visit the Ford Amphitheatre, and we chose a Hip Hop Dance Festival, presented by JUICE to attend.

    The Ford has all the fun of some of our bigger outdoor venues like picnic areas and great setting, but offers a more intimate experience. Ford celebrates some of the smaller arts organizations in SoCal, and during the summer, has a special Saturday series for families with free tickets for children. (Parking is also a lot cheaper at the Ford.)

    I was glad we got this opportunity to be introduced to JUICE, a collective of hip-hop artists, and thrilled to learn about their open jam sessions on Saturdays and Thursdays where anyone can learn more about hip-hop and hone their skills. This is perfect for Sylvia!

    I'd only been to the Ford once before, but I was glad I wore flats for the Hip Hop Dance Festival! The house section of the theatre does not have stairs, and the hill can be kind of steep.

    While the Ford's summer activities are winding down, October 30 is the opening of their [Inside] the Ford New Play Series in conjunction with three L.A. theatre companies.

    Overall, I was impressed with Ford's commitment to showcasing a variety of art and their partnerships with so many artists organizations that I wouldn't know about otherwise. The girls loved the show and on our way out, we were treated to a fireworks show, courtesy of the Bowl across the freeway. And it took us a fraction of the time to escape the parking lot!

    Join the Ford's email list to learn about all of their upcoming events.

    Disclosure: We were given the tickets for free to attend this event, but I still spent money on parking,  hot chocolate, etc. I was not compensated to write this post, and all of the opinions expressed are my own. Because I'm way too opinionated to speak for anyone else.

    Tuesday, October 5, 2010

    What I hope Tony Danza teaches us

    I watched the premiere of A&E's Teach: Tony Danza with a great deal of interest this weekend. Not because I'm a die-hard Danza fan, but because I'm interested to see a teacher's first year.

    Of course, I realize that this look won't be complete; that most first-year teachers don't have cameras following them around, Danza might get more help and support than other first-year teachers, and he's of course older than most first-year teachers. But I'm still interested to see what, if anything, we can glean from this.

    I found his first interaction with one of the Assistant Principals hilarious! She chastised him for not clocking in at 7:30, and said it didn't matter what time he got to his classroom, all in a very patronizing manner. And he looked like a kid getting called to the Principal's office, apologizing and hanging his head in appropriate shame.

    He was also completely nervous in front of his class, and his high school students teased him like they would any other teacher. Most of these kids had no idea who Tony Danza was before he came into their classroom.

    I was amused when Danza talked too much about himself (an actor with an ego? Well I never!), read his students' papers aloud instead of letting them do it, but he did recognize these things later, and I'm curious to see how much he is able to overcome that. How long does it take to change that sort of behavior?

    I remember teachers like that. Some get so enthralled with the sound of their own voice that they don't recognize the glaze in their students' eyes. They think we're glistening with wonder and awe at their brilliance. Sylvia has one teacher that she really likes, but from one Back to School Night, I know that he talks too much and strays too far from the subject.

    I remember once, in 5th grade, I asked a four-word question, and the teacher spent 40 minutes on his answer. Fellow classmates thanked me for asking him that question because it meant he didn't have time to give us homework since he didn't cover anything he was supposed to in class! I suspect there will be more instances where we can relate to this show.

    And this, together with movies like Race to Nowhere and Waiting for "Superman", might be what it takes to get this country talking about education.

    Monday, October 4, 2010

    Iron Chef Cat Cora, the Muppets, and Riley

    I was thrilled to attend an event with my favorite Iron Chef Cat Cora, cooking with the Muppets (no surprise here; the Muppet Show was my favorite growing up!) to promote DisneyFamily's Muppets Kitchen.

    Cora and her cohorts were so funny, entertaining, and full of great ideas for dealing with dinner, school lunches, and ensuring that our kids eat healthy. We tweeted during the event, using the hashtag #MuppetsKitchen. Cora answered questions on how to get kids to try new foods (just try one bite, and then try again the next day and the next) and sneaking vegetables into their meals. I loved the way she approached that one in particular: go ahead and puree the hidden vegetables, but then make it a guessing game while you're eating. This way, they get the lessons on how to make sure they get what they need, and may find that those "sneaky" vegetables aren't so scary after all.

    We were lucky enough to get to try some of the recipes available at the Muppets Kitchen, including trail mix popcorn (yum) and mini Greek burgers (very yum).

    We also got Cat Cora's latest book, Cat Cora's Classics with a Twist signed by my favorite Iron Chef, a mixing bowl that is almost too large for my kitchen, an apron, a bracelet with my favorite Muppets character, Animal, and...The Muppet Show The Complete Second Season! I'm so glad that my girls are loving it (almost) as much I do!

    Riley and I enjoyed time together in the kitchen this past summer, and this event reminded me how important it is to make time in the school year, too. Eating is a lifelong activity and I would love for her to have more skills in the kitchen than I did when I was first on my own. And let's face it, it's a lot easier to face recipes if there are Muppets involved.

    *Disclosure: the post states what I was given for free. I was not compensated to write this post, and the opinions expressed are completely my own. Call it pathetic, but true: I do love the Muppets that much. Oh, and the link to Cat Cora's cookbook is affiliated with my Amazon account. If you buy the book through that link, it will generate a small fee for me. Not nearly enough to put Riley through college or anything.

    Sunday, October 3, 2010

    My First Experience with Growing Pains

    Well, first is not exactly true, but it's the first since Riley started kindergarten. And it's the first time I'm beginning to understand Empty Nest syndrome.

    Often, in the difficult times, the thought of the girls being out on their own was the goal that kept me going! Not that I don't love being their mother, but to me, the true pay-off of the role is knowing that they're out there, doing what I raised them to do. I love that image in my head of years from now, enjoying each other's company as adults, all of us. So to me, that Empty Nest thing just didn't make a lot of sense. Until this week.

    Friday night, to be exact. We'd planned a family movie night. At the end of another busy week, it was going to be our chance to just chill together. I was really looking forward to that. But when I was picking the girls up from the Club, Sylvia asked if she could stay for Teen Night. I had no real reason to say no, so I let her stay.

    Our family movie night isn't that important, but I still felt that sense of loss from her choosing to do something else. I don't blame her for it, and I know it wasn't personal, but it was that realization of her world expanding. She's started talking on the phone more, texting her friends more than me, and when I picked her up, she wasn't full of details of her night.

    I know she was safe, I know it's perfectly normal for her to start having some privacy in her life. She isn't intentionally keeping things from me and she's entitled to not share everything with me. But there is that sense of a small hole in my heart. That there is going to be more and more in her life that doesn't include me.

    When Riley and I got home without Sylvia that night, Riley chose to enjoy spending time in her room without her sister. She's getting older, too. She needs her own space that doesn't include me or her sister. Again, I don't begrudge her that. But I was prepared to enjoy a night with my family, and instead, I was left wondering what to do with myself.

    Not to sound too maudlin, I didn't lose it or anything. I managed just fine, and we did enjoy some family time over the weekend. I know this is not the end of the world, merely an adjustment.  It is just another step on the way to that ultimate goal of them having full lives as independent adults. And more proof that as soon as I think I've got this motherhood thing figured out, it ups and changes on me as the girls continue to grow.

    Wednesday, September 29, 2010

    Our Glass Houses

    Emma Donoghue's Room examines just a few short weeks in a 5-year-old boy's life. On Jack's 5th birthday, he wakes up in the Room that is all that he is ever known. His mother was kidnapped 7 years earlier, and Jack has only known this Room since the day he was born.

    There is a gripping escape, and the second half of the book follows Jack and his Ma's struggles to adapt to the Outside world. Ma loses it when her entire life is being questioned in a TV interview.

    The Outside world is eager to judge, demonize, and idolize the heroes and villains that are mere human beings. As much as Jack's Ma is considering a heroine, she is still questioned and judged for every decision she has made from the discovery that she was pregnant with Jack through his five years of life.

    What mother among us could survive that kind of scrutiny?

    When my daughters were younger, just the stress of worrying how they might behave once Outside, in the grocery store, was exhausting. Would my toddler have a fit? When they were too big to sit in the cart, would they stay with me? Would I be judged harshly if one of them ended up in tears?

    My girls are, for the most part, happy and well-behaved children. But they have their moments, and I absolutely hate it when these moments are in public. I am sure that everyone around is judging me as a bad mom.

    When I see a mother struggling with a crying child in the grocery store, I want to give her a hug. I want her to know that it's okay, that I'm not judging her. That I'm willing to give this family the benefit of the doubt that they just might be having a bad day.

    Having put my daughters in therapy at relatively young ages, I have had to answer some hard questions about their lives, about my X, about our routines and my discipline techniques. I remember once feeling so small because a therapist commented on us moving around so much. What I heard was, "you're not providing a stable home for your children." And that almost broke me. I cried in the car, I cried at work, I cried at night after my children were asleep. My brain kept repeating, "I'm failing them, I'm failing them, I'm failing them."

    But there are also so many beautiful moments that no one else sees. All of us belting out a favorite song in the car, moments where we crack each other up, moments where we hold hands for no other reason than to feel connected to one another. And catching my daughters sharing beloved moments as sisters is one of my favorite things of all.

    I felt incredibly ill-equipped to take on this task of motherhood. It got that much harder when I took on the role of single parenting.

    But last night, as we were talking about why X didn't have shared custody, why I made the decisions I did, Sylvia told me, "I guess it ended up being a good thing, because my life is kind of awesome."

    I can breathe now. I can feel that we're going to get through this. I wept; I couldn't help it. All those years of feeling inadequate, all those years of feeling stressed and completely overwhelmed, and not nearly qualified. All of the questions I've had to answer, and those answers that I gave and then questioned, and all of the time-outs and squeezing just another ounce of patience for these beings that I love so that one moment of hearing my daughter call her life awesome, it was all so worth it.

    I may have been the only one to hear it, and she might say something with too much attitude to me tonight in public, and I will still wonder what other people think of our family. But deep down, I will know that we are going to be just fine.

    Read more posts on Room at the book club site, From Left to Write.

    While I was given the book to read for free, I have not been compensated for this post.The link to the book is connected to my Amazon Associates account, and any purchase made from it will generate a small referral fee for me.

    Saturday, September 25, 2010

    The Preamble to Putting it Together

    I'm still processing, still operating on a minute by hour basis. I start the day with plans of what I'll get accomplished, but get caught up in trying to respond to the most immediate needs and requests. I think, just deal with this now, and then I won't have to worry about it. The "do it now" policy. But sometimes, the requests come in faster than I can deal with them and I find myself at the end of the day realizing I never got to my to-do list.

    But I'm not beating myself over it. Being in this processing frame of mind means I'm taking all these things in, and figuring out how to change my routines, my operating procedures for the long term to maximize results. I am hoping that by really thinking about these things, then when I do start making changes, they will be easier to implement and stick with them.

    Along with this process, it seems every day that the world is getting smaller. On this last week of performances, a cast member remembered that we'd worked together back when I was in high school! And a friend saw that I was FB friends with one of her friends. More and more, these different worlds of mine are finding their cohesive balance. And that gives me hope that I really can balance all of this.

    Instead of thinking of all these things as different, as things that need to be juggled, I'm finding the connections within them.

    I know, this is all a bit vague, but I'm hoping that this post will soon be followed up with more concrete answers!

    Thursday, September 23, 2010

    More on education

    Specifically, homework tips for teachers from this parent over at Parentella.

    So much for blogging more - time is not on my side these days!

    Tuesday, September 21, 2010

    Education: We Are All part of the Problem

    I've been thinking about Race to Nowhere for days now. I certainly picked up some useful tips on how to better parent my children throughout the remainder of their scholastic career, but now I'm ready to rant.

    I'm surprised that before seeing this movie, I never thought about the fact that test-taking companies (those that administer the state standardized tests, the AP tests, the SATs, etc.) are making billions of dollars. In the last 20 years, the tutoring industry has also become a billion dollar business. There are business owners literally banking on the fact that our students will not be able to perform at what is considered an acceptable level without outside help.

    Before getting any deeper into the weeds, I want to address the question of whether or not education should be considered a right or a privilege. If parents can be penalized criminally if our children miss more than 3 days in a school year, then that argument is moot. Our citizens are actually required to be educated.

    Moving beyond that into the argument of whether or not such requirement is an unfunded mandate; well, as things are these days, it is mostly an unfunded mandate.

    However, the more important argument should be, at what cost?

    Having an educated citizenry can only benefit our country. When we look at what makes us proud to be an American, we look first at our people and what we've accomplished. We look at landing on the moon first as one of our greatest achievements. That simply could not have happened without well-educated, creative thinkers able to see what could be possible.

    We start to go off the rails when we assume that everyone needs to be good at everything. We lose credibility when we state unequivocally that everyone should go to college. There will always be a need for a working class. We rely heavily on service industries. That's fine. I have no issue with that. I believe that some people work to live, and some live to work, and that in the end, we mostly balance it all out.

    However, when we criminalize parents for taking their children on vacation, something is very, very wrong. Many districts are beginning to do just that. In our district (and in others that I know of), children that have missed more than 3 days of school in the entire year are reported to a truancy officer, where both the children and the parents are held liable. 3 days out of 180 is simply absurd! And let's not forget that we've already de-valued education by adding furlough days. So, the families are held to a higher standard than our government?

    It's criminal not because the state is quick to punish parents, but because of the money that the school loses for each absent pupil per day.

    Unfortunately, there are other special interests that capitalize upon the education machine. Yes, I'm talking about teacher's unions, and a few educational associations that do not always have our students' best interests at heart. And of course, there are some parents groups and administrators that seem more interested in exercising power than quality education. In many ways, public education has already been privatized.

    No one is free from fault, and no one person, sector, organization, or business is entirely to blame, either.

    I recognize that I'm part of the problem, too. Sometimes, I allow the grading game to get the best of me. Sometimes, I've been guilty of putting too much emphasis on Riley's abilities in Math and Science, rather than on her qualities as a kind, thoughtful person. I have allowed my displeasure to make Sylvia feel bad about herself instead of recognizing a bad test score as a challenge to be overcome. I have fought some battles for them that probably should have been fought by them.

    And to be fair, everyone involved most likely has just as good intentions as I do. I'm sure the test taking companies feel they are providing a valuable service and contributing in a meaningful way to the educational process. Teachers want to make a difference. But we all get paralyzed by our fears.

    I fear that I will be perceived as an apathetic, or worse, bad parent. Teachers fear for their jobs. Administrators fear that District mandates will impede their process. And so on and so forth. I don't think very many good decisions are made based in fear.

    So we need to move past those fears, recognize our own faults, and go back to our idealism a little bit. We need to believe that we can make a difference. We need to maintain a healthy perspective on the ultimate goals, and the ultimate prizes at stake. We all need to do better, and we need to do it now.

    Image: Race to Nowhere

    Monday, September 20, 2010

    Single, but not alone

    This post is in celebration of National Unmarried and Singles Week.

    After taking Bella DePaulo's Are You Single at Heart, I realized that I probably am.

    Now let me just throw in the disclaimer: this isn't to disparage marriage or coupling, but to contribute to the voices that are saying, I'd rather end up single.

    It was hard to admit this at first because it seemed to go so against the grain of what we're supposed to want. It has helped that I have found a community of others that feel the same way.

    As I've mentioned, Bella DePaulo is not just "among" those, but my personal hero. Her articles both at Psychology Today and now on her personal blog are great resources, particularly when single parents are being demonized in the political arena! I am grateful for her ability to use her passions to create rational arguments. It's a gift I don't have, and knowing she has my back is of great comfort to me.

    I can't remember how I first "met" Rachel Buddeberg, but I'm grateful that our paths continue to intertwine. As Bella has identified her, she is rising in the ranks in her role as a single-minded change agent, and I'm giddy to say I knew her when!

    Alternatives to Marriage Project
    is an amazing organization, doing great things for the unmarried and singles. It's a simple mission, really. Do not penalize those who have decided not to join the "institution" of marriage. They are working to create equal opportunities for those of us who might need a loved one that isn't a spouse to care for us in the hospital, to keep federal funds from being bribes for marriage, and like Bella, standing up when someone calls us a "national disaster."

    Footloose Femails is an email group of happily unmarried women. We celebrate one another's accomplishments, support one another in times of need, share laughter, talk about home-buying, single women in the news, and vent off some steam in the face of singlism. Basically, an awesome group of amazing, accomplished women from all around the world of which I'm proud to be a part.

    As you can see, I am far from alone. But I'm proud to be happily single!

    Sunday, September 19, 2010

    Weekend Wrap-Up: Information Overload

    There is so much I want to say, but I can't focus my thoughts just yet.

    I saw Race to Nowhere, and I strongly recommend this movie for anyone who cares about education. There was a Q & A after the screening with filmmaker, Vicki Abeles, who is committed to engaging in an education revolution. I'll definitely be writing more about it, both here and at Parentella.

    I had my first Leadership class, and it was quite the eye-opener for me. I said recently that I didn't feel right about talking about how much I've accomplished, and realized it's because I'm ready to do more. I don't mean this moment; I still have a lot of things going on, but this year will be about formulating a plan for myself.

    Sylvia's show has been going great! This Friday night, her fellow dancers from the Club came and Sylvia was absolutely gleeful! They loved the show, and were so proud of her for being a part of it. Some friends from my work also came, and had a good time as well. It was an exciting night.

    I'm still in the midst of processing most of what happened last week. I thought I would be bursting to write this weekend, but mainly, I've just been exhausted. I'm really hoping that this coming week is a tad quieter to allow for some time of reflection.

    Oh, one more thing!! This week is National Unmarried and Singles Week! Single Women Rule is hosting a blog crawl. The first post comes from Nicky Grist, Executive Director of Alternatives to Marriage Project. Why is there a National Unmarried and Singles Week? Bella DePaulo and Rachel Buddenburg explain at The Huffington Post.

    Thursday, September 16, 2010

    Back to School thoughts; nearly 5 weeks in

    I had Back to School Night at Sylvia's school last night, and woo hoo, it didn't suck!

    It seems they put all the best teachers in 8th grade. And it's no wonder her Algebra teacher is so good; she was the Math Chair for 4 years and is now the Faculty Chair. She helped write a textbook, she helped write the CA State Standards, AND she's blond, pretty and looks about 19! If she wasn't such a great teacher, I might just have to hate her.

    Sylvia's Science teacher used to work for NASA so yeah, she knows what she's talking about. The English teacher gives them time to journal every day, which I think is awesome, and her book report projects are open-ended; the kids have free reign to express it in any way they wish. Sylvia's already decided she's going to do a skit.

    Riley had a crazy Math assignment last week: she had to figure out how to spend a million dollars. We could've spent it on real estate alone, but Riley was very practical about what she wanted.  A 3-bedroom was big enough, three flat screens were enough, an $85 bike was enough. We were stuck with over $300,000 left for far too long! I finally talked her into a more expensive house, and we "spent" the rest on furnishings, appliances, some clothes, an $18,000 timeshare, and we gave $40k to charity. It was pretty fun, actually! I wanted to factor in taxes, closing costs, and invest some, but the point of the assignment was to use the prices we found on the internet to do the math so Riley was decidedly literal.

    What I love about Riley's 5th grade teacher is that homework is encouraged by peer pressure. As it is, they only have homework (besides reading) on Mondays and Wednesdays, and if everyone turns in their homework for both days, then the following week, they get to walk to the park across the street for lunch and play games. Riley was totally motivated to get that assignment done, even if it meant staying up late, because she didn't want to be the one keeping the class from this special privilege. It has cut down on my nagging dramatically!

    While I don't want to get too ahead of myself, this school year may not produce as many ranting posts as the past couple of years!

    Wednesday, September 15, 2010

    I want to blog again

    I've been perpetually tired, but having a hard time going to sleep. I've decided it's because I'm not writing enough. So I'm determined to get my blogging mojo back!!

    Sylvia's opening weekend of her show went so great! We're all having tons of fun, even if it does mean we have way less "free" time.

    Here she is (with her sis) in all her Oompa Loompa glory.

    As my loyal readers know, I'm a huge fan of The West Wing. So you can imagine how excited I was to see Toby Ziegler (aka Richard Schiff) live and in person! He actually said hello to me! So I told him I watch West Wing every day of my life. And he suggested I get out more. We had a good laugh. And it makes me smile every time I think about it.

    Thanks to everyone for the kuddos. I purposely did not get into how much I've grown and changed because, frankly, I get nauseated even trying to write that anymore. I mean, yes, I know, I've accomplished a lot, and I'm doing a good job, but I feel like I've written all of that before. But I felt warm all over, reading your comments! Thanks for that.

    I was really hoping this week would be quieter, what with no rehearsals and all, but sure enough, I was supposed to go to Open House at the Club  (which I blew off), and I have Back to School Night at Sylvia's school this week. I'm beginning to realize that any efforts to slow down our schedule at this point are an exercise in futility. It is what it is.

    I told Sylvia that I'm a little concerned about re-entry issues. I think, for people like us, it's easier for us to juggle a lot of things in the air, but the more free time we have, the more our productivity wanes. She did her homework without any fuss, so I hope that I was worrying about nothing.

    Still, I will not add any more titles for the remainder of the school year. Between the PTA, the Booster Club, the Leadership class, the Club committee, as well as parenting, working, blogging here and at Parentella, I think I've reached my cap on commitments!

    Granted, this is a pretty lame post, but hopefully, I'll have something of substance to say soon!

    Tuesday, September 14, 2010

    Yahoo! Mother Board: Balancing school lunches

    The Yahoo! Mother Board has asked us to talk about how we get our kids to eat healthy school lunches. Once again, I say that it's all about balance. And once again, I also say that our family is a work in progress.

    Because of time and financial constraints, I haven't been to Whole Foods in a while. I'm back to picking up regular peanut butter and enriched wheat bread at our local grocery store. We are far from perfect, and I'm okay with that.

    I make the girls' lunches four times a week and they eat from the cafeteria once a week. That's as much for my convenience as anything, since I usually don't feel like making them lunches for the next day on the nights when I have a PTA meeting. I could (and should) investigate more what's happening in their school's cafeteria, but for now, I'll leave that to Jamie Oliver.

    The girls' lunches generally consist of a sandwich, a piece of fruit or cereal fruit bar, carrots or veggie chips, and string cheese/trail mix/gingersnaps from the organic aisle. Not the best, not the worst. Again, I'm okay with that.

    I'm raising girls, and while healthy eating is important, I also need to be aware of not focusing too much on weight issues. My girls are not in any danger of becoming obese; they dance regularly which is just as much exercise as a soccer game, they run around regularly (sometimes too much, if you ask me), they love to swim, jump and hike. Their physical fitness is not a concern.

    Having said that, I want to be sure that they are happy with their bodies. I don't want to say no to ice cream because it's fattening, I say no because it's not healthy. And I don't always want to say no. We don't actually have any ice cream in the house right now, but I do sometimes throw in a piece of candy or goldfish crackers in their lunch. And I sometimes say yes to requests to buy Oreos or donuts. They know I'm not going to buy them every trip, they know I'm going to limit their intake, but I figure, I don't want them "dealing" sandwiches for cookies at lunchtime either, so I can't say no all the time.

    I was horrified last year when Riley told me that one child has her mother bring her McDonald's at lunch about 3 times a week. That is excessive. That is not convenient to drive to a McDonald's and drop it off at lunch time, it's not wallet friendly, and it's certainly not teaching a child any sort of self-discipline. That's not balanced.

    But I also don't think it's balanced to try and withhold everything processed from our children. The more control we parents try and hang onto, the more out of control our children will feel. To me, what's most important in parenting is remembering that the goal is to raise adults that love themselves enough to make the right decisions.

    Sylvia suffered from picky eater syndrome for a long time, and I think it was a control issue more than anything else. She does not have free reign; she has to ask me for anything she wants for a snack when we're at home. I let her have what she wants sometimes, and sometimes I don't. And I hope that this is what she remembers when she's an adult and making these decisions for herself; making mistakes is a part of life, but recognizing them and correcting your own behavior is what really matters.

    Read other posts on school lunches at the Yahoo! Mother Board

    Sunday, September 12, 2010

    My 3rd Blogiversary

    3 years later...

    Granted, lately, real life has rudely interfered with my blogging!

    Sylvia opened in Willy Wonka last night. We really enjoyed the show, and she had a blast.

    Getting there felt like it ate up the last week, but that's okay. In addition to hell week, I had a PTA meeting, the interviews for my Leadership program, and a packed schedule at work. This weekend, I'm just trying to find my strength again. And hopefully some blogging mojo.

    So I've been blogging for three years now. Here are some of the things that have changed, and some that have remained the same.

    When I first started blogging, I was living in my old LA childhood again. By incredible circumstances, when we were looking to move in that area for Sylvia to go to KIPP, the exact same condo that I'd grown up in was for rent. I loved the chance to go back home again. It gave me an opportunity to integrate who I'd been in high school to who I am now. While we may not live there anymore, those opportunities still present themselves, thanks to Facebook and all the reconnections I've made there.

    Sylvia was going to KIPP and thriving academically. That was our dream educational year. I still miss it, I still miss what she gained from there, but now she has grown not just as a student, but as a person. Oh, we still have our battles, and I think we will for a long time, but I see so much in her that wasn't there 3 years ago. She is still sensitive, but strong enough to stand up for what she wants and needs, in all meanings of those words. Most importantly, she has grown to accept her father for who he is. She's not mad at him (or me), she loves him, but doesn't need him. I wanted to believe that she would get there, but I wasn't so sure for so long.

    Last year, I didn't know if she'd ever be able to accept that some peers were just not going to be the friends she wanted them to be. She has learned that if she wants people to accept her for who she is, she has to accept them for who they are. While it's still early in the year and hasn't been completely drama-free, the tone has changed. She's getting through it a little bit easier.

    She's also done an amazing job of staying on top of things at school while still rehearsing every night from 6-10 this week. She hasn't fought with me once about getting her homework done, nor does she really need my help. And even though she's going to bed later, she's getting up easier. She's changing so much, and all of them are signs of overall growth.

    Riley called me her best friend 3 years ago, and still does. She was the new girl at school (again) three years ago, and this year, she'll be graduating with classmates she's had since third grade. She's still her own person, all while continuing to be there for others. She has found her strengths academically, and knows her weaknesses, too.

    What I'm most relieved to see is she doesn't retreat into what I called her turtle shell as often as she used to. She used to suddenly get quiet and it would take forever to get her to open up about what was bothering her. Now, she openly reaches out and says how she feels. She loves to make people smile. Just this morning, we were snuggling, and she reached out to make sure Sylvia was included. She never wants anyone to feel left out. Because of her many experiences with being the new kid, she has been the first to welcome any new kid, or any kid that isn't part of the crowd now. Her friends are devoted to her because they know she is there for them. She learns from her mistakes, and if anything, I have to make sure she's not too hard on herself for making them in the first place. Of course, she's not perfect, but she remains a problem-solver and peace-maker; two qualities that are just part of who she is and always will be.

    There have been times in the past three years where I wasn't sure we would make it through. I haven't felt that way in a really long time. I know that this blog and the community I've found here is a big part of the reason. Thank you for being here, supporting every step of the way so far. I hope to be here for a long time to come.