Saturday, January 30, 2010

Facts of Life, Part Vingt

Jarrah: Mommy, when am I going to get boobies?

Sam: Not for a while yet. Probably when you're 12 or 13. I think I was 13.

Jarrah: How long is that?

Sam: It'll be a while. But you'll get 'em.

Jarrah: Are you 13 now?

Sam: No, I'm a bit older than that.

Jarrah: Let's count. Are you...14?

Sam: Older.

Jarrah: 15?

Sam: Older.

Jarrah: 16?

Sam: This is going to take a while. I'm a LOT older.

Jarrah: Are you...91?

Sam: Um, a bit younger than that.

Jarrah: 64?

Sam: A bit younger.

Jarrah: This is so hard.

Sam: You're telling me.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

The Plot Thickens

Today's kindergarten tour was the most confusing yet. I guess after two wowza tours I was expecting them all to be like that, to be plunged ever deeper into the bottomless pool of quandary, but...I guess not.

And to make it even weirder, today's school was the one I assumed would end up being "the one." It's across the street from Jarrah's preschool, and people often joke that the preschool is a feeder for this school's kindergarten.

But I wasn't feeling the love. And I am big on feeling the love. It's how I've made most of the important decisions in my life.

It was also weird because this was the biggest dog and pony show on our schedule. David took the whole morning off from work because it was scheduled 10:30 - 12:30. It was even called "Kindergarten Forum" instead of just being a tour.

It began in the auditorium with a welcome from the principal. The joint was jumping. Several babies tried to take my seat. That was all pretty standard. And then the very first person she introduced was a super-enthused gal who runs the after-school program, a sort of paid day care that lasts until six. She was really sweet and talked for quite some time. And I kept thinking, What is the message here? We haven't heard word one about this school, and now I know everything about what happens after it's over.

Then we heard about the PTA for a long time. I wasn't sure which made me more tired--contemplating all the volunteering I was not-so-subtly being asked to do, or wondering how long it took for each of these gals to get their fabulous blond highlights.

Then the principal came back and talked about what they serve for hot lunch. And now I was thinking, Where is the pitch? When do you tell us why we should want our child to go here? I seemed to be missing that part.

Our tour of the classrooms was led by a smiling lady who never made a sound. She walked us through the school (nothing to write home about) and pointed to the garden, the playground, other stuff that I couldn't identify because there was no sound. I whispered to David, "This is the mute tour." And for some reason, that set me off on a giggle fit. I giggled my way through the rest of the soundless tour, in which we shuffled en masse in and out of each kindergarten classroom.

There was some aimless standing around, during which I confided my skepticism to David, and he said he knew what I meant. Then we realized everyone was in the library (the instructions must have been silent) and we hurried in to hear the school nurse talk about shots.

Finally, the three kindergarten teachers (on their lunch break) came in and held up a sign with four talking points. These were:

1. We cover material that the government would like your children to know.
2. Don't pack chips--think fruit or cheese.
3. On the first day, "kiss and go."
4. Send a backpack with a change of clothes in case your child pees, but otherwise, don't send anything.

Despite the bare-bones approach, I found myself liking all three of the teachers. They had a wry, I've-seen-it-all-and-survived kind of intelligence in their eyes. That was the best part of the morning, meeting them.

The program ended with scary talk about how difficult it is to choice into the school, but you shouldn't give up hope. Maybe they don't have to sell themselves, I thought. Maybe everyone is clamoring to get in and I'm just missing something. What am I missing? I don't know, since they didn't seem to mention it. Oh, there was some talk about overhead projectors and how they are good for displaying grubs. I remember that now.

But I'm really annoyed with myself because I don't feel drawn to this school at all. But it's so popular. So I must be thinking with my heart instead of my head. Which is a clever way I get myself into trouble on a regular basis. Must. Be. Rational. But how?

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Place Your Bets

Well, the auction was awesome. I mean, I think it was. I didn't get my voice back. I just spent the evening rasping with the microphone pressed to my lips and finally a table of friends called me over and said "Have you considered working as a phone sex operator?" I squinted at them and said "Who told you about that?" David said the comment he heard most was "She sounds like a porn star!" As my Facebook friends have pointed out, that's only a good thing depending on the porn star. David took lots of photos, but since everyone's complexion (especially mine) is a lovely shade of seafoam green, I've put the kibbosh on posting them.

It took me awhile to get my sea legs, but time and a Cosmo helped. Cosmos are like some kind of truth serum to me. I have one (and I mean one) and next thing I know I'm telling a hundred people that they really need to bid on the Hooters basket because "you and your family will look SOOOO CUTE in these t-shirts!" Apparently, I also returned to the scene of a joke about Iowa Meat Farms (which really is very good) about 80 times, urging everyone to bid because "you don't want to miss out on this meat! I can personally attest to the AMAZINGNESS of this meat!"

I wandered around the room and blathered on and on, and mostly people seemed to be smiling at me. There were a few quizzical looks. I'm ashamed to say I used the mike as a bully pulpit at one point and announced "I am sooooo parched. Could someone bring me a cosmo?" Next thing I knew, the super-cute skinny bartender covered in tats was smilingly handing me an extra-large pink frosty glass. He even left his post to do it. L'Chaim!

It was Casino Night at the temple, and I had my work cut out for me trying to get people to do anything other than gamble, once they got settled. Which is pretty cute, since they were playing with and for fake money. Every now and again, a roar would go up from one of the tables, and it really did add to the atmosphere. The raffle was amazing, but David and I didn't get anything. I did win (David says I'm to stop referring to it as "winning") a Sumptuous Spring Spa Package (that may or may not be the actual name) in the silent auction, so I'm psyched about that.

The food was yummy, though you had to chase it down. My favorite were the meatballs skewered on fluffy rosemary sprigs, like little evergreen trees with a surprise at the end. There were not enough of those. And the lemon squares, though I resented not having a fork. Forks would have busted the bottom line? Not a fork to be seen all night.

Not sure I'll be asked back to this gig, but then again, it's our last year at the preschool. I wanted to go out with a statement. And maybe I was okay, because yesterday at pick-up, Director Judy approached me with a plate of her homemade, adorable, dice-shaped chocolates, as a thank-you.

Yum. Now if only she could wave her wand and get me my voice back. I sure do miss it. I've realized that my voice is my gift to the world, and without it, I'm nothing. Depresses me like mad.

Monday, January 25, 2010

School Stuff

I've got school on the brain.

1. Jarrah is having a special relationship with a boy in her class named Levi. I heartily disapprove of all this "Oh, you're going to get MAAAA-REEED!" talk that I hear being bandied about. I mean, puh-leez. They are five. Let's not romanticize or sexualize what is perfectly sweet without the rhetoric. But it touches me because he says "I love you, Jarrah!' when they are leaving at the end of the day, and Jarrah speaks of him rather gushingly, when previously she spoke only of "playing kitty" with Amelia and Sophie. Today I watched them pouring water into a tunnel they'd made for their trucks and chattering about a princess who was going to be eaten by a dragon at the end of the tunnel, and it pained me that they might never see each other again after June. Which is, of course, ridiculous. Because I'm sure SHE will forget about him five minutes later, while I'm pining on my fainting couch.

2. This morning we had planned to go on another school tour. But this particular school has the cruel and unnecessary policy of scheduling tours at 7:40 a.m. When the alarm went off at 6:15, David and I both coughed a lot, noted the inky blackness of the out-of-doors, and then I said "How about we do this one next week?" which he didn't even bother to answer since he was already asleep. I followed suit in about 30 seconds. Which is pretty scary considering that WHICHEVER OF THESE FIVE SCHOOLS we choose, her start time is GOING TO BE 7:40 A.M. I foresee a lot of tardy slips.

3. This past Friday night, the three of us went to Dana Middle School to see our friend Julianna in a variety show. We've seen Julianna in dance recitals before, but we weren't really sure what a variety show entailed. The first thing I noticed is, that's a nice freakin' school. With a really deep stage. And then we started noticing that some of the kids--MOST of the kids--were eerily talented at something, which I guess is why it's called a talent show and not a "passable skills show." These kids did everything from unicycling to hip-hop to playing violin and singing "Tuxedo Junction" simultaneously. I teared up when a little girl sang a song called "My Darling" that her father had written for her--I'm seeing "AI" in about five years. I didn't really understand the mime interludes, but I adored the tiny person who hula-ed her hips right off to Elvis Presley. She rocked the house!

The most exciting part of the show was Julianna's skit, an extended joke about a candy store with audience volunteers. The skit itself was mildly amusing, but the thrilling part was Julianna's performance, because that girl is gettin' herself some comedy chops. She did this extended Valley Girl riff on Nerds that had me LOL, partly because she was so funny, and a teeny bit because I loved that she was so funny. My girl is growing up, and it pleaseth me well! In point of fact, it was Jules's 11th birthday that day, and she had the birthday glow. And it hurt my heart a little bit to see her all tall and trendily dressed with her swingy hair and her pre-teen fabulousness, and to recall the pot-bellied baby with the blonde 'fro who waddled around. How can she have changed so much? How can I have gotten so old? And how freakin' fast am I going to be having these "Sunrise, Sunset" feelings about my Jarrah????

Afterward, David said "Well, I've definitely never seen a variety show before."

"Get used to it," I said. "I'm sure there will be many more in your future."

Oooh, that will be awesome. Is it too soon to start the hula lessons?

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Stuff and Nonsense

So, the other day it's raining and I'm trying to find a table in Panera (it's always raining here lately; it's like I moved to Seattle without my knowledge) and it's crowded in there and loud and suddenly I'm like Dear God, am I having a hot flash? Because I am freakin' burning up and feel like I might pass out.

Well, hot flashes are going to have to wait. Because what I was having was a wog. (A note: I have recently begun Googling words that I use in this blog to be sure I'm using them correctly. And imagine my chagrin when I just saw on Wikipedia that yeah, sure, "wog" is "Australian slang for illness," but it's also British and Australian slang for racial slur. Hello! It's such a cute little word! Now I must retire it!)

So, yeah, I was getting sick. And somehow I got a bit better, and then sicker STILL, so that I've completely lost my voice now. I mean, I can't talk. Readers, do you know what this is doing to me? Me NOT TALKING? It's like the sun not coming out for a week. Oh right, that's happening, too.

But it's particularly inconvenient this evening, because I am supposed to MC the preschool dinner auction, and that seems a bit of a tall order for someone who emits a little raspy squeak when she tries to yell at her child. I mean, really.

So that's what's happening here. Oh, I've been holding back on sharing the outcome of the Vanilla Coffee Treasure Hunt, because I suddenly got a bit self-conscious that, well, maybe some of you are starting to think I'm a bit off in the head. Which maybe you thought already, but still. And if you're thinking "Oh, she's just fishing for reassurance that we would never think such a thing," then, well, yeah.

So I'll keep this brief. David mapped out a route (seriously, he found an app for that) between seven potential coffee oases, and we hit them one by one. The first five yielded bubkes. (That is Jewish/Yiddish slang for "nothing," and there's nothing offensive about it, unless you're a chicken.) I was getting a little panicky. Actually, I was starting to despair. Then, suddenly, I found two tins in the CVS right near our house (the map took us outbound first.) There was singing and rejoicing in the streets. I started to get a little crazy, and checked all the supermarkets and liquor stores we passed. Nope. But mildly satisfied with two, we knocked off for dinner at the Outback Steak House (how funny is it that no one ever notices David is Australian when we go there?) and there was one more CVS nearby.

And the entire shelf of French Vanilla was old school. FIVE TINS. Bringing me to a grand total of seven for the quest. Not too shabby. David was a total downer and pointed out the expiration dates on the bottom: March for two of them, February for the other five (however, like Twinkies, these babies will probably still be standing after the apocalypse.) "Still," he opined, striving for a mournful tone, "it probably means you won't find any more after a month or so."

"DON'T SPEAK." I said, holding up a finger. Not that one, Readers. Give me a little credit, even though I'm the crazy lady with the coffee fetish.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Halloween In January

I am out of control when it comes to recapping events, so I'm going to limit myself to a list of highlights for Jarrah's recent 5th birthday party. David has created a Flickr slide show of the party and some stunningly gorgeous photos of the children with his fancy new camera--see if you can find yours!) so if you have five minutes, you can have visual aids, too!

So, seriously. Go look at those pictures. Then we'll talk.

Foot-Loose and Fancy-Free

I swore that this year I wouldn't stress. I am a stress monster, and it doesn't help that we always invite 20 kids and 40 parents, like we're hosting a wedding. But I wanted to invite her entire class. Or rather, I had my marching orders. Jarrah chose the theme--"Halloween," so I casually mentioned in the E-vite that the kids could come in costume. And many of them did! I decided not to decorate at all--last year, the Pirate Booty almost sunk me. But the YMCA provided orange and black balloons, and Calvin and I baked chocolate cupcakes with orange frosting, which were cute AND delish. I finally had an excuse to fill the goody bags with candy (cheap, coveted, biodegradable) and the weird time I was offered--3:30--did not lend itself to any particular meal. The kids never want anything but cupcakes anyway.

Team of Experts

Our 48 Hour Film Project, you may recall, exceeded all expectations in 2009 in large part because of the Point Loma Actors boost. This production was similarly endowed. Lisa and Eva showed up in costume and submitted to becoming Toilet Paper Mummies. They danced, cavorted and led "Red Light, Green Light." They were like the Good Fairies of Birthday World. Lord love 'em for it. And Calvin, who HATES to be mentioned in this blog, is just going to have to deal, because he not only researched games and cooked and carried stuff, he made sure I never freaked out by instantly handling whatever situation was about to bring that on, so I could just be all hostess-y and not let the guests see me sweat. And musical chairs would not have been possible without the bold intervention of Thomas, my brother-in-law, and Steph, my dear friend. Mary and Paul, of course, have been on clean-up and present pack-up detail for four years running, and we are ever-grateful.

Fun-Filled and Action-Packed

I chose the gymnastics party at the Y because birthdays in January often get rained out, and because when we were rained out a couple years ago, the Y tossed us in the gym and let us have at it. Turns out that's the "funner" way to party, because this time I had to sign a contract saying no adults would dive in the marshmallow pit. Boo! Still, the structure of the party worked great--the kids spent an hour working the obstacle course, playing under the parachute, and diving into the pit, and then repaired to the "party porch" for games and food. Now, not to kvetch (aw, come on! It's me! I have to!) but there are two things that made me furrow my otherwise untroubled brow: by 5:00, the "party porch" was dark and wind-swept, and while the frenetic children were warm as toast, I caught the parents shivering. Also, my hyper-controlling self did not respond well to the directive: "Just leave all this stuff by the front desk; we'll set up for you." Oh, nooooo you won't, is what I should have said, but I didn't, and later when I couldn't find the iPod speakers, the game prizes, or even the freakin' birthday candles in a timely manner, I regretted it.

Poignant But Hilarious

Watching the kids try to paste individual squares of toilet paper on the mummy girls. Not understanding that the first couple of kids who got "out" on musical chairs were going to cry (broke my heart!) but that later on, kids would deliberately give up their chairs so they could get to their "thanks for playing" lolly that much sooner. Everyone singing "Happy Birthday" to Jarrah underneath the parachute. Kids dressed as princesses and pirates and cowgirls and bumblebees, and especially the Spiderman who bravely walked the balance beam with his vision-obscuring mask on.

Moments and Milestones

Can't believe this is the fourth birthday party we've thrown for Jarrah. (Fifth, if you count the one where she wasn't there and Mary and I wore crowns with our babies' pictures on top.) Each year, she gets a little taller, her hair gets a little longer, and she gets a lot more opinionated. I was also amazed by how cooperative and enthusiastic our little guests were, every last one. They are so well-trained by preschool about listening and circle-time and sharing and whatnot, that we didn't have a single squabble, no one ran crying to mommy, and nearly everyone approached me (me, Readers!) afterward to say "Thanks for inviting me, Jarrah's mom!" A bunch of us went for pizza after the party, and I couldn't stop smiling or feeling the glow of a successful soiree.

Some days you just know you live under a lucky star.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Tooth Fairy

My daughter is one courageous babe.

If you've been around a while, you know that we've struggled with the smile. There's no way to sugarcoat the situation (ha!)--her teeth are crapcake. I believe we're up to 13 cavities now, with two crowns and a root canal.

I have mentioned that the last dentist, a man with the temperament of that white, fuzzy, red-eyed character from the beloved Christmas special, had ordered up three more crowns at our last visit. And I was like:

Yeah, but...NO.

I also said no to the last two crowns, but there was a full-scale smackdown over it, with the good doctor and his minions hoisting me on the petard of child endangerment because apparently I wanted my child to die of infection and sepsis. Seemed to me there had to be a gray area between "fillings" and "slow, painful demise," but what do I know? I'm no dentist. In any case, I lost that one.

But at the prospect of more mouth-filling metal, I was ready to toss his clothes and stereo over the balcony for good. I found a new dentist. She's actually not new; she's the mom of one of Jarrah's school friends, and she's been waving to me in her little green scrubs for four years now. I had a good feeling about her; if only I'd acted on those feelings sooner.

Now I have, and like the famous poet said, that has made all the difference.

At our preliminary visit last week, she took a bunch of x-rays and the first glimmer of hope was where she said Jarrah doesn't need any more crowns.

And then today I brought her in for the first of two filling visits, and she was in the chair for 30 minutes, and here is a partial list of what she DIDN'T do.

1. Say "Owwwww!" Alot.
2. Scream and cry.
3. Try to escape.
4. Hit the hygienist.
5. Fidget.

Now, Jarrah has two speeds in life: full-on crazy, or asleep. So the fact that she lay there quietly for half an hour while two people used her mouth as a storage locker is nothing short of suspicious. But I swear, there were no drugs involved.

Without taking a breath, our new doc sustained a peculiarly high-pitched patter about sugar bugs and princesses that certainly had me in her spell, so Jarrah was clearly too mesmerized to do anything on my list.

Which meant that--unlike all our other dentist visits--I was off the hook for MY usual:

1. Sobbing.
2. Hyper-ventilating while clutching my throat.
3. Repeating "You are my brave girl!" and "Almost done, sweetheart!" in a choked, tremulous voice.
4. Wishing I had a Xanax for the panic attack which I could see coming 'round the mountain on six white horses.

Readers, what I'm trying to say is...oy, I can't say it. I'm too verklempt. But you get the picture.

Doc was even smart enough to give her a "cotton marshmallow" to chew on when it was over, so she didn't chomp through her lip like last time. Genius!

And she sees adults, too. So here's the big question, that possibly only I could think of: Do I join up and make it a family affair, or do I maintain detachment from my child's dentist so as to effectively navigate future (oh, and there will be future) visits without getting emotionally involved?

While I've told you a lot about Jarrah's behavior at the dentist, I've been deliberately evasive about my own. Because apparently there's only room for one courageous babe in this family.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

In Which My Girlish Hopes and Dreams Are Crushed

So, I've been trying to be proactive about my impending coffee drought, and towards that end, I ordered a massive tin of the stuff from Amazon last week. Why Amazon, you ask? Because it advertised both the foul, "improved" version and the ambrosia-like old version together. This seemed like a good indication that both versions were available for purchase. I was looking forward to a long, chilly winter of cozying up by the fire with a sweet-smelling mug and a treasured volume of Dickens. Wait, I don't have any Dickens. Or a fireplace. But the mug part of the fantasy seemed totally achievable.

Until yesterday afternoon, when I received a neat little box from Amazon, via a subsidiary called "The On-line Candy Shoppe." I don't want to hear any smart-alecky remarks from you, Readers.

I tore into the box with a song in my heart and a wish on my lips. And then...


I was devastated. No, that's really inaccurate. I was like a trembling, spotted fawn who teeters boldly out of the virgin forest with the lure of a tender, young carrot, only to be shot between the eyes for my trouble.

Not a pretty picture, Readers. My spilling tears, my heaving shoulders, my shaking hands. I could barely teach my Nia class, so rocked was my world.

But with the bright light of morning, I have rallied. There's got to be a morning after, right? Didn't someone sing about that? The box contained a friendly letter from the Candy Shoppe with a troubleshooting 800 number, which I called. They won't be there until Monday, but then maybe, just maybe, I'll get satisfaction. Or challenge them to a duel.

In the meantime, I told David and Jarrah I have something special planned for this afternoon.

"What is it?" David asked suspiciously.

"It's a treasure hunt!" I sang.

"Yay!" said Jarrah.

"What's the treasure?" David asked, even more suspiciously.

"We're going to drive around San Diego and visit every CVS and Smart & Final [per my smart, smart Readers ideas] and see just how many tins of my coffee we can find! Won't that be fun?"

"No." said David. "That sounds like treasure just for YOU."

"Now I'm surprised at you, dear. Because if it's MY treasure, what is YOUR treasure? Hmmm?"

There was a brief, contemplative pause.

"You are my treasure?"

"Very good!" I sang again. "Also, remember that universal truth: 'When Mama's happy, everyone's happy.' Am I right?"

"You're right." (Though he didn't sound very convinced. Can you imagine?)

Stay tuned for the results of this glorious quest. I have hope, Readers. Truly I do.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Masterpiece Theater With Jarrah

This morning, getting ready for school:

Sam: Hey, did Daddy put that new bubble bath I got you in your bath last night?

Jarrah: Yeah. Thank you! It smells like potatoes.

Sam: Potatoes! It's supposed to smell like vanilla.

Jarrah: No, potatoes.

Sam: I hope not. I got the matching lotion, and that is NOT the kind of thing a girl wants to smell like.

Jarrah: Is it the kind of thing a boy wants to smell like?


Driving home from school yesterday:

Jarrah: Nico and Benja are going on "fo-cation" to CHEE-lay.

Sam: Oh, that's cool!

Jarrah: CHEE-lay is very far away.

Sam: I know! It's in South America. It's the longest country in the world.

Jarrah: Yes, and it's VERY cold there.

Sam: Is that what you heard?

Jarrah: Yes. That is what CHEE-lay means. "Very cold."


Jarrah: Don't laugh. It's a simple fact.


Out of the clear blue sky while eating dinner a few nights ago:

Jarrah: When is Santa coming?

Sam: Um...well...Christmas has passed, so not for a while. (feeling a bit saucy) And anyway, I think we're on Santa's naughty list.

Jarrah: (whispering behind her hand) I think we're on Santa's JEWISH list.


After I discovered that she'd raked a finger across every single one of FIFTY cupcakes that Calvin and I baked for her birthday party:


Jarrah: (crying) I'm sorry, Mommy!


Jarrah: Because...I just can't resist frosting!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Kinder Search Continues

This morning, at the ridiculous time of 8:20, David and I took the second of our five scheduled kindergarten tours. Well, it was my second--his first. I think he's on board for the rest, though.

You may recall my earlier post about maternal angst, neighborhood schools, the San Diego Choice program, etc. Because I've already been on one tour, I couldn't help but view this one through the lens of "compare and contrast." Which is helpful, in a way, but paralyzing in another. And that's just how I roll. Pretty much with everything.

For you locals, the school was Dailard Elementary in the neighborhood of San Carlos. Same neighborhood as Benchley-Weinberger (my last tour) but a little closer to us. Unlike Benchley, Dailard is not a magnet school. According to the principal who conducted our tour, there is one advantage to Choicing into a non-magnet--there's no lottery system. Apparently, magnets have a limited lottery where they favor students from "non-performing" schools, as well as students who would travel a certain distance. We live in "Zone #1," which has last priority. The principal told us that, last year, every student who listed Dailard as #1 on their Choice application for kindergarten was accepted. And that is something to think about. Because if I choose either of the two magnets on our list as #1 and she doesn't get in to them, she won't get #2, either, since the #1's would already have filled those slots. Are you as confused as I am?

In any case, there were some other checks in the "plus" column for Dailard. The principal himself, for instance, a friendly, approachable, young-ish man who seemed super-enthused about his school and its students. Very sweet. The location, which is nestled in the "mountains" of Mission Trails, is quite lovely. And the campus itself--built in 1976, it's probably one of the newer San Diego Unified schools, and it shows. The playgrounds are spacious and new; the buildings are shiny and painted soft colors. The classrooms and library are large, and the computer lab features shiny new iMacs. And there's air conditioning! It looks like a nice place to be.

Other than that, it's just gut feelings, I guess. The students look busy and happy; the teachers seem engaged. We watched a perfectly adorable music class play us a song about the new year. Like Benchley, there isn't great diversity, and the Asian slice of the pie is particularly low. I have a feeling that will be true across our list.

If there's anything that gives me pause about Dailard, it's that it's not a Communications magnet, which has a great attraction for me. I love the idea of all the students at B-W learning sign language, attending the theater together, anchoring a TV news station. That stuff just speaks to me personally. But it's not like the kids are deprived of artistic and cultural stimulation at a non-magnet school--there are just fewer dedicated programs.

And it did not escape my notice that we were watched more carefully on this tour. The principal read over every detail of the school's brochure with us (which became overwhelming) and then led us into certain rooms for observation. At Benchley, they told us to go wherever we wanted and speak to anyone, even to the classrooms for higher grades (and I did.) I liked getting to meet the kindergarten teachers, and even have a chat with one while her students were in the computer lab. I don't know that this actually means anything, but I liked that B-W was so confident about its teachers and classrooms that no one had qualms about leaving us unsupervised.

Of course, comparisons between the two schools are pointless if it turns out I could jeopardize Jarrah's chances to Choice into ANY school by choosing a magnet. If there's anyone out there who understands the current process better than I clearly do, please raise your hand and share nicely with the class.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Something White

I got married in 2001. A researcher by nature, I became obsessively interested in the bridal industry, and considered writing a book about my experience. I didn't get very far, but here is a piece from a chapter on wedding dresses. Since you've probably been panting for a new post all week, and I'm still preparing the birthday party report, here you go...enjoy.

I had already been looking at dresses for some time. The bridal magazines were crammed with them, and that was just the ads! I’d even drawn a few prototypes, which got raised eyebrows from David, who hadn’t even proposed. In my drawings, I included some kooky details like bustles of satin roses, and miles of covered buttons. None of those ended up on the actual dress. But in the end, my dress wasn't far off those pictures.

I knew I wanted a ballgown skirt. It’s so cliched, the idea of being the bridal princess, but I didn’t care! It was my one chance to do it. My mother was annoyed; she wanted me to “show off my figure” in a slim-fitting sheath, something simple and elegant. That just wasn’t me. Simple nor elegant I’ll never be. I even went so far as to consider a hoop skirt, a big wire-ringed slip ala Scarlett O'Hara that would ensure no one could get within five feet of me the entire night, even my new husband. I loved sitting down in the hoop, which would then sproing the rest of the dress around me, leaving my head looking like the topper to a very large wedding cake. Fun, but impractical.

Can we talk about that concept for a minute? Practicality? That really doesn’t come into bridal gown shopping, unless you get one of those nightgown styles that looked like I ought to be sitting in front of a vanity mirror with a monogrammed silver brush doing my hundred nightly strokes. We’re talking about a dress that you can’t just purchase, but have to cultivate a very long relationship with a lot of annoying people to obtain. We’re talking about the most expensive piece of clothing you’ll probably ever buy, but will then wear only ONCE. We're talking about a dress you're later supposed to pay someone to vacuum seal into a decorative box, where it will remain trapped for eternity, or at least until your daughter can turn her nose up at it.

And yet very few people are cynical about the purchase of wedding dresses. There is a lot of lore of mothers and sisters weeping in the salons, so overcome by the vision of the lady in white and all its implications. I didn’t shop with relatives, but I still experienced that magical feeling of prancing in front of several walls of mirrors on a carpeted dais with a stupid smile on my face. Even the ugly dresses are a perfect thrill to put on. I remember at one place I was kitted out in elbow-length satin gloves, a tall paste crown, 10-foot veil, and glass slippers, I kid you not. Then the saleswoman placed a massive fake bouquet in my hand, and I was ready to waltz out the door and through the next several months in this outfit, so wonderful did I feel.

There are the girls that go to their local salon, try on a couple of dresses, and then step into “the one.” This is supposed to be a moment where angels sing, and some sort of white light surrounds you. It didn’t quite happen for me that way. I kept having that feeling wherever I went. I lost five pounds during the month I was shopping for gowns, because I couldn’t stop shopping, and hauling oneself in and out of a 50-pound dress, not to mention squeezing into bustiers and slips so big I couldn’t find my feet, takes a toll on the body. Each day I found myself back in the car hurtling down strange boulevards, looking for bridal salons I had read about in magazines or on the internet. Sometimes they had closed down, and had ominous hand-written signs taped on the windows about who to call if you’ve already bought a dress. It would seem that bridal finery is a difficult business for attracting repeat customers, if you know what I mean. If they can’t make it on referrals and markups, they're not going to survive.

One salon I visited made me instantly nervous. It was a sort of cavernous hallway, with a row of dresses on each side. At the far end of the room I could see a tiny person behind a large desk. There was a hushed feeling to the place, as if any talking would be unseemly, and the place was empty except for me and the woman at the desk. I approached her, and she took an inordinately long time dragging her eyes from her magazine. “Yes?”

“Hi, uh, I thought I might look at some wedding gowns.”

“Okay.” She returned her attention to the magazine.

“Um, is there anything I should be aware of? For instance, how are the dresses arranged?”

“Everything on my right is under a thousand dollars; everything on my left is over a thousand.”

I was stunned. So was she going to judge me depending on which side of the room I approached? Why, yes she was. I was flipping through some dresses on the “under a thousand” side when “See anything you like?” had me prying my finger nails out of the popcorn ceiling. Having approached me with great stealth, there was now another woman standing very close to me, severe in a black suit and dark lipstick.

“Um, well I’m looking for a tulle gown.”

“Tulle?” she snapped. “We’ve got plenty of tulle.” She strode across the Great Divide and started pulling armloads of dresses from the rack. “How about this one? And this? What about strapless?”

A word about strapless. In the season I was searching, it was all the rage. Suddenly every gown was completely bare above the bodice. The problem was, every time I tried one, it gave me a condition I named Shelf Bosom. My bustline was suddenly so shiny and white and high and well, prominent, I was concerned that guests might get confused and use it to stash their drinks and purses during the reception.

I demurred. “Well, strapless just doesn’t seem to fit me right…” A well-manicured hand flew into the air, silencing my foolishness.

“Our seamstress…” she said slowly but loudly, as if I had proved myself a bit dim, “is from EUROPE. I have no concerns on the subject of fit. Now, how about this one? Shall I put it in a room for you?” I hesitated, apparently, a little too long. “You know, don’t try these on just to please me. Frankly it’s a lot of work for me. Do you like them or not?”

“I think I’m just going to look for a few minutes first,” I managed to squeak.

“Fine,” she said, and marched away.

Suddenly, I realized that I didn’t feel safe standing in my underwear with this woman. I just wanted to be very far away from this salon. I turned and fled at full speed, down the stairs and into my car, careening out of the parking lot to safety. I was free! Less than three months later I read in the paper that this salon had gone out of business. I also heard that brides who had already purchased dresses were having to meet people in dark glasses in parking lots to get their dresses out of the trunks of cars. I felt I had perhaps narrowly avoided a world of wedding hurt I could only imagine.

Another condition I urgently wanted to avoid was the one where you have yards of fabric hanging from the back of the dress. In the bridal industry, I believe it’s called a "train.” Whatever it's called, it means there’s a heavy, white dust cloth trailing you, quickly to be coated with black filth, and later, pinned to your rump in elaborate folds and twists by some frantic women you're probably related to like some birthday game gone wrong. Then, you spend the rest of the night with a yardage sale enhancing your (in my case already ample) ass. Yet when I tried on dresses with trains (all of them) and cheerfully mentioned to the salespeople that I was planning to cut them off (after all, is this really that much harder than hemming it?) they would moan and grab their throats and flutter their eyelids in a manner suggesting I'd just announced I was planning to carry a bloody severed head down the aisle instead of a bouquet.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

I Had A Dream There Were Clouds In My Coffee

A ritual that adds a little slice of heaven to my day is about to come to an end. Forever.

Melodramatic enough for you? (If not, stick around. This is my blog, after all. You won't have to wait long.)

Still, that opening statement is hideously true. Pull up a chair, pour yourself something drinkable, and listen a spell.

Here's the sitch: I am not a coffee drinker. At least, not a respectable coffee drinker. I'm like the people who have to scarf their Hostess Sno Balls in the car because they don't want anyone to know they hugely prefer them to creme brulee or tiramisu. (Not me, of course. Moving on.) I do start each day with coffee. Yet the Krups coffee maker I received as a wedding gift is gathering dust. I find Starbucks totally resistible. I don't frequent 7-11 (unless I need Sno Balls. But why would I need Sno Balls? Seriously, Readers.)

So where is this going, you ask? Here's my confession:


I had to put that in bold caps because that's how prominent the stuff is in my life. I mean, I LERVE it. Sometimes, as I lift the cup to my lips and inhale, I close my eyes and smile like those ladies in the 1970s Folgers commercials. Only, ICK on the Folgers. I can tolerate actual brewed coffee...if I drown it in milk (no sugar for me, oddly.) But like Bartleby, "I prefer not to."

What I want is four teaspoons of smooth beige powder that dissolve instantly when the boiling water hits the inside of the mug with a decided splash. I want the stuff that looks like a sun-kissed sand dune, smells like the glaze on cinnamon buns, and tastes like hot ice cream. I WANT I WANT I WANT.

And I may have to go on wanting, craving, YEARNING, unless you, Dear Readers, can think of a way to help me. Don't be a hater now. There's a bony finger pointing the way out of paradise, and I don't want to go.

Not long ago, I noticed that my beloved beverage had a fancy new label. It does sometimes. Upon closer inspection, though, the new label contained a couple of alarming details. First, the words "Maxwell House." Isn't that actual coffee?

Then, the ominous phrase "New Great Taste!" Oh, no. That is not a phrase a fan wants to see. "New" and "Great" side by side are generally an oxymoron. Imagine how serious Coke drinkers felt when they first saw the ads for New Coke. Then I opened the new tin. The powder was...darker. Chunkier? I made a cup. The taste: some sort of monstrous hybrid of real coffee and my beloved vanilla. Sort of metallic. Sort of aspartame-y, even though it doesn't contain aspartame.

THIS. IS. NOT. GOOD. I started Googling to find the revolt that must be brewing. I typed "International Coffees French Vanilla New Disgusting Flavor" and "Instant Coffee Revamp Causes Massive Uprising" and "Life Suddenly Without Meaning." The internet was heartbreakingly silent. The closest thing to community outrage I could find was the comment section of Amazon, where a scant couple of posters said the "sickly sweet and bitter at the same time" taste of the new French Vanilla meant they would no longer buy it.

Clearly, these people aren't in as deep as I am. I don't have that choice, Readers. I've been trembling in supermarket aisles, feverishly perusing the shelves, caving in desperation, piling the tins into my shopping cart, knowing it will taste like poison, needing it anyway.

Not long ago, I discovered a few precious tins of the original formula at my local CVS pharmacy. I bought them, rejoicing, but they are almost gone. Each day, I'm edging inexorably closer to a future with no sweet vanilla happiness in it.

And that's why I need you. You are clearly smart, resourceful people. You read my blog, after all. I need you to focus your sharp, eagle eyes and your multivalent faculties on finding me an untapped stash of Original Recipe. There may be a reward if you do; at the very least you'll have my caffeinated gratitude.

And if you can think of a way to convince General Foods/Maxwell House to stop this life-wrecking folly sooner rather than later, that would be a plus. Because it has to end, right? It just has to.

These are dark times, Readers. Let's restore the (creamy) light.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Stuff I Learned On My Winter Vacation

1. When you have one child and two weeks off, you gotta schedule the playdates.

2. My friends have really, really nice kids. Who knew?

3. I love Jane. (That I knew. Visit us more often, please!)

4. Latkes are good, but apple fritters are better. And still count for the "eat fried stuff" commandment. Also, the "corned" part of the label "corned beef brisket" means something.

5. A "bro-date" is when two straight men have private social time together (courtesy of the Survivor finale.)

6. The free Kid Care at the gym still rocks, even if they only give you 90 minutes now instead of two hours.

7. Christmas lights are one of those things to which Mae West's statement applies: "Too much of a good thing can be wonderful."

8. I don't care for eggnog.

9. If you make multiple batches of fudge, you will eat multiple batches of fudge.

10. If you get a Chinese foot massage for $20 and hear chain saws from the next room, it doesn't necessarily mean that you will be systematically dismembered when the hour is up (though you should tip well just in case.)

11. Don't talk politics with your mother, but do eat her Hoppin' John on New Years Day--it's supposed to be good luck all year, and anyway it's tasty.

12. If you think playing in "real" snow in a San Diego park on a 70 degree day sounds pretty cool, chances are the rest of the city does, too.

13. If you're able to nap without interruption through Alvin and the Chipmunks, it means your kid really enjoyed the movie.

14. Giving international guests a tour of the cliffs, waves and seals of La Jolla Cove on a sunny day in January is a pretty sweet reminder of San Diego's myriad charms. Not to mention the serve-your-own fro-yo afterward.

15 Shivering in the rain for three hours while your kid and friends' kids play at the park shows you were just that starved for adult conversation.

16. You can create worlds of wonder with coffee cups, drinking straws and Scotch tape.

17. Three hours on a private yacht with friends does not suck.

18. Ethiopian food disproves my theory that lentils taste like dirt, injera bread is made with a grain called teff, and using it as a utensil beats the hell out of eating with a fork.

19. I already seem to have forgotten most of what I did in the past two weeks, as if school vacations come with a rare form of sanity-protecting amnesia.

20. There are no sweeter words than "Yay! Back to preschool today!"

Edited to add: Link to Tara Donovan is fixed!