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August 2007
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October 2007

September 2007

Little Known Secret

I'm going to let you in on a little known secret, something even most people local to Southern NE don't realize, September is the best beach month of the year around here. I know, you're skeptical, but I'm telling you it's true. Technically, summer just ended last weekend, but even now it's still in the 70's and 80's. And the water temperature in September is the warmest it gets all year, it's been working up to this temperature all summer. The beaches officially close for the summer Labor Day weekend, so they're free. Doesn't get better than free. And just about everyone stops going to the beach Labor Day weekend, so there are no crowds, no trouble finding a parking spot or getting the best spot on the beach.

Now most people have moved on to apple picking, hayrides, pumpkin carving, football and other fall activities because the start of school basically signifies the end of summer for us. But September is the best time to head to the beach. I've been spending my lunch hour walking the sea wall (now with my working ipod) and it is a little piece of heaven. It's not too hot or humid, there aren't swells of people to maneuver around. I don't have to fight for a parking spot. So go ahead, buck the trend, be a rebel - go to the beach instead of the orchard.


Halloween Fever

Pumpkin_2 Fall is hands down my favorite season. Fall in NE is a major part of why I could never live in another part of the country. I adore the changes in the weather. Summer here is hot, humid and feels like, well, summer. It's a great excuse to take time off and go to the beach. Even the first half of winter is great. And there's nothing better than spending a day snowed in the house, curled under your favorite warm and cuddly blanket in front of the fire. You're actually forced to take a day of rest. It's fabulous. Of course that last half of winter and first few weeks of spring here are misery. It's cold, raw and you're just aching to feel the warmth of the sun on your body. Sometimes I visit the tanning salon during the months of January, February and March just to warm myself up and infuse myself with a little artificial sun light. And who doesn't love spring? After the long dark and dank winter, the temperature starts to warm, the trees are in bud, the tulips start to sprout, the grass start turning green, the birds are singing and somehow it seems all is right with the world again. But fall is still my favorite.

Leaves2 I love crisp, clean smell of the air, and the colors of the foliage. I love apple picking, home-made apple pie (mine is the best you'll ever eat and that's no exaggeration) and the smell of leaves burning. I love the routine of fall. The kids back in school, helping them with their homework (Trouble's learning to read small words and LT is learning his colors, or more aptly, trying not to). And Halloween is coming and I LOVE Halloween. It is my favorite holiday. I love the corn mazes and spook trails (I can't wait until the boys are old enough to enjoy them), we try to bring them on ones that aren't too scary. Usually when people see you have young kids with you they keep it rather mild. The Jack-o-Lantern Spectacular with all the beautifully carved pumpkins lit up in the dark. I love the costumes and the parties, the scary stories and horror movies.


For the past four years we've dressed up the entire family. The first year Trouble was Scooby-Doo, I was Velma and Blackstone was Shaggy. (You can see I'm pregnant in this one, so LT got to be Velma too.) The second year Blackstone didn't get into it, but LT was Superman, Trouble was Spiderman and I was Cat Woman. The third year Trouble was a turtle, I was a bunny (The Tortoise and the Hare), LT was Curious George and Blackstone was The Man in the Yellow Hat (This was the year before the movie came out. I am just a woman ahead of her time. Of course if it had been the next year, more people would have known who Blackstone was.) Last year Trouble was a wolf, I was Little Red Riding Hood, LT was the Hunstman and Blackstone was Grandma.


Halloween_2 Rest assured, this year's theme is currently planned and under development, though I think we may have a slight kink in the plan. LT wants the same costume as Trouble. I'm going to wait until we have the costumes and then see where we are. If LT is still adamant he wants a costume like his brother's, I'm going to relent. I'm not causing my kid undo stress by forcing him to wear the costume I chose for him. (I'm still stewing over the year my mother made me be a Smurf and my sister got to be Smurfette.) The theme will still work, it might even work better.




The Counter Fiasco

The counter top people have to come back and re-measure on Wednesday, which puts us back another week. Why do they have to come back? Because my husband and I have never designed a kitchen before and we both work full time. They came last Wednesday and called because they wanted to come early. I told them to talk to Blackstone since he's the one who was supposed to meet them with the contractor. They ended up just meeting with the contractor since they came early. Mistake Number Two: never should have let them come early. We'll address Mistake Number One later.

We had decided to put a back-splash on the counter, easier to clean, more sanitary. Then later we talked with the contractor and he suggested we put tile between the counter and the cabinets. He actually had to rip out part of the wall and put in new sheet rock due to the laminate that had been previously glued to the wall. So, in order to paint we'd need to prime and plaster the sheet rock and wouldn't tile be just dandy instead? We agreed, tile would be just dandy.

The counter top guy comes out and he has me on the phone and tells me that the back-splash height won't work under the outlets. They need to go smaller or we could forgo them since we're tiling. Rather than hang up with him, call my husband and call the guy back, I say to just go with the smaller back-splash since we'd already agreed we wanted it. Well, turns out it won't be so easy tiling between the outlets and the black-splash but since neither Blackstone nor I were there to talk this out and I had to do it over the phone, we didn't figure that out until we talked to the contractor after the fact. So, we figure no big deal, we'll call the counter top people right back and tell them to drop the back-splash. But of course, it's not that simple. They have to come back out and re-measure for the counter without the back-splash and it will cost us $275.

Wouldn't it have been nice if someone mentioned that to us when they asked us to come early? Said something to the effect of, "We'd like to come early and, oh and by the way, if there are any problems that could potentially cause us to have to come back out and re-measure because you weren't there to thoroughly discuss the options with your contractor, there will be a $275 charge for us to come back out." I doubt I would have agreed to let them come early had I known they'd screw us for being accommodating. I'm thinking I'll post the name of the wretched company and write them a scathing letter after I get my counters in. I'm NOT pleased. However, I'm not about to drop them since I've already paid for the darn thing and mostly just want my darn kitchen back already. And how many silestone companies you think are in the immediate area? I'm just not about to even look down that road. I tried calling and arguing this with them but since the contractor signed off on it, they won't waive the fee.

Now the contractor we're using is a young kid that just turned twenty. He's green but reliable and pretty good, but he doesn't know his way around the counter top people and such yet. He has agreed to take the $275 off his bill because he feels responsible, which is good of him. He is  partially responsible since he signed off on the counters and should have made the point to clarify the tile/back-splash situation with us before he did. But he was also surprised that the company charged to come back out. I suppose you could consider a green contractor as Mistake Number 1, but I like him. At least he shows up and doesn't go MIA on a bender for a week like the first contractor we had. Though I wonder if we'd have the same problem if we'd had the company we purchased from perform the installation. Of course we wouldn't have this problem if the darn counter top people had come at the agreed upon time too. The "What if?" game always gets you nowhere.

So far this debacle just confirms my desire to never opt to build my own house. Now Blackstone has this dream of someday building our dream house from the ground up. I'm sure for many people this is a dream they hope to realize one day, but not me. I can just imagine our kitchen gutting times ten. Because as much as there have been delays, extra expenses and endless aggravation, I understand that it's not because we are having an invariably worse time than anyone else re-doing their kitchen, it's just the way these things go. It always takes longer, costs more money, and causes more stress than you initially anticipated. No, my dream is not to build the painfully perfect house. I'll take the house that's close enough and already done behind door number two, Alex. Or perhaps I'll just keep the one that already has our money, blood, sweat and tears poured in it.

But what I'd really like to know is, is my anger at the counter top people misplaced? Am I taking my frustration of a delayed kitchen out on a company that doesn't deserve it? I feel they should have warned us if we weren't going to be able to be there early that there would be a charge to come back out, that they should have mentioned there might even be a need to come back out. But perhaps my perspective is distorted from too much MSG from all the frozen food and lunch meat?


Bleeding Heart

I am not the most emotional person. You can attribute it to my being an INTJ, my stoic Swedish genes, the wall I built around myself through childhood and adolescence - whatever it is, it takes a lot to get me worked up. But once I reach that breaking point where I can't ignore the emotions bottling up inside, watch out cause it's going to get messy. I don't deal with my emotions well and I try to remove myself from volatile situations I can't handle. This is one of the many reasons I quit teaching. There were way to many emotions flying around. It was like static electricity and was constantly getting zapped.

One of the sophomore girls was transfered into one of my classes, she was being dropped a level because everyone, her parents, teachers, guidance counselor, thought it was a good idea for her to take a bit of a breather from her honors classes. She needed a break from her academic work load because she had been raped - by her boyfriend, in her own bed - when her parents were away. At least that's the version I heard third or fourth hand, and I wasn't going to ask her about the particulars. My heart went out to this poor girl. She was only fifteen years-old, a smart girl, great student, cheerleader, but understandably depressed. She was able to coast effortlessly through my class, she did the work, answered the questions; but the light had gone out of her eyes. You could see she was inherently sad and carrying the weight of the world on her shoulders, but trying not to show it. I was not legitimately supposed to know about her circumstances, so there wasn't much for me to do. It made me want to cry every time I looked at her to feel so helpless and angry.

I took the responsibility of convincing one of the ninth graders in my lower-level class to move up a level. He was a decent student, worked hard. It just took him a little longer than some of the more average-level kids. Though often the work he turned in was better, since he actually took the time to think about the assignment and do it correctly. Once he moved up a level, still in one of my classes, he had a difficult time adjusting. Not to the class work, to the other kids, some who saw him as the perfect target for their taunting and jokes. This kid, I'll call him Alex, was so sweet, and he took their jokes to heart. It tore me up because I felt responsible for convincing him to change classes. It may have been the right thing for him to do academically, but socially, it was torture. I think one of the reasons he'd been in the level he was, was to remove himself from these kids. He was hiding out. I suppose it could be that I did the right thing in pushing him into the correct level, making him face his demons. But it felt like I'd taken a kid who was terrified of the water and shoved him into a pool, and was just standing there, watching him fight to keep his head above water.

Alex was talking with me one day after class, it was right before mid-terms and the kid was down in the dumps. The bell had rung and he just continued sitting at his desk after all the other kids had left. I asked him how he was doing and he just shook his head.

"I'm just really sick of it," he told me.

My third sense was tingling.

"Are you stressed about your mid-term? I'm sure you'll do fine," I told him, which was the truth.

"No, it's not really that," he said. "Some days I just feel like . . . " and he put his hand to his head as if it were a gun and he was pulling the trigger, and made an exploding noise.

"Alex, it's pretty serious if you're talking about suicide. Are you sure you're okay? I can write you a pass to the guidance counselor," I offered.

"No, that's okay. I'll be alright," he sighs.

"Well, I'm going to mention this to your guidance counselor anyway. Is there anything I can help with? Let me write you a pass to your next class," I say. "You're going to be late."

He takes the pass and heads to his next class. I already have a room full of new students laughing and talking in front of me and don't even have time to process what has just happened or how immediate my course of action should be. I can't talk with his counselor now, it will have to wait until after school. I didn't really think he was serious, but even when a kid is joking about suicide, it's not good.

Alex and I sat down with his guidance counselor a few days later, which was rather uneventful. We let him know that there was help available to him if he wanted or needed it. But he never brought it up again. I'm sure Alex turned out just fine, but he shook me up.

There was nothing in my training about how to deal with a potentially suicidal student or a rape victim. I was not emotionally prepared to handle it. It was not what I had signed up for.


Manic Monday

Monday was a whirlwind. I stayed home because it was LT's first day of pre-school and I wanted to be home in case there were any problems (though I didn't expect any) and I wanted to pick him up. LT was very excited to finally be going to school like his brother. His only disappointment is that he doesn't get to take the bus.

I used the two hours to myself to finally unpack the boxes for my desk and get that organized. I'm taking two classes this semester and I want to get prepared before things get in full swing. One is an online course, so getting my computer's speakers hooked up was rather important.

I picked up LT who was completely non-plussed about the big deal of his first day and ran some errands. When it was time to get Trouble at the bus stop, it was raining. Bus stop's a tenth of a mile, so I put on our raincoats, grabbed an umbrella and headed to the corner. It started down pouring while we stood there for five minutes. During this time Blackstone calls to inform me that due to the weather, the plane is not flying to Block Island tonight and he'll have to take the ferry to the meeting he has to go to which means he'll have to stay over night since the ferry doesn't run that late. Oh, joyous news. This means I don't only have the kids by myself tonight, I also have them alone in the morning which means I have to wake LT up at 7 and get him dressed to walk to the bus stop again.

Trouble is dropped off and I slip on his raincoat and we start to walk back in the torrential rain. There is one small intersection between our house and the bus stop and it has flooded out completely. There is no way around it unless we turn around and walk two blocks out of our way. We all took our socks and shoes off and waded through the newly developed pond. By the time we get home, we all need dry clothes. Blackstone flies in and out of the house with just enough time to shower and pack a bag. After dinner, I realize at the last possible moment that tonight is the night I'm supposed to sign Trouble up for Tiger Cubs. I tell Trouble to put on a pair of jeans since he's wearing fluorescent green track pants with a red-checked, button-down shirt, and as we're walking out the door I realize he's put them on backwards. I point this out and he tells me he put the tag in the back.

"Your zipper is on your butt," I tell him.

"I don't care," he says.

"Good. Neither do I," I say, and we leave.

The hall in the basement of the church is chaos. They have tried to set up a craft for the kids, but since the scout leaders are working with the parents getting the kids signed up, the kids are running wild. My two were actually among the most calm of the group which is unusual. Somehow they're much worse at home than in a group. During the chaos, Blackstone calls to check-in. A short phone call since I can barely hear him. Then it's home for homework, baths and bed.

I've been thinking about what the next few months will entail. There will not be a functional kitchen until October and I'm back in the office five days a week. We now have Cub Scouts on Monday night, I have school on Wednesday night, boys have swim on Saturday morning and I have my online course. Oh and Blackstone has an average of 2 or 3 night meetings a week. What do think can I fit in piano lessons and karate? Yeah, probably don't want to over due it.


Religious Schooling

When Trouble went missing for about twenty minutes last week because he was sent home on the wrong bus, I had a chance to meet one of our neighbors. A genuinely wonderful woman who lives in the house by the bus stop came out to see if she could help. I had my cell phone and she was able to supply me with the numbers for the school and the bus company so I could start making some calls without leaving the bus stop, for which I am extremely grateful. I had never met this woman before and she was still willing to jump in and provide any help she could while I stood in the heat on the street corner with a three year-old and an idling school bus which is roughly as loud as I would imagine a tank to sound. The bus driver was also trying to locate Trouble on her radio and cell phone, while she was having difficulties getting through she assured me that Trouble would make it home safely. She eventually had to leave unable to resolve anything because she had a bus full of other kids to deliver home and had already been delayed with me for over ten minutes.

The lovely neighbor who so graciously supplied me with the phone numbers waited with me as I continued to watch for the bus. She commented on how calm I was about not knowing where my son was, saying that she would have been beside herself. It's not that I wasn't a bit nervous that Trouble was not on the bus he should be, but that I knew there was nothing to be gained by resorting to out and out panic. I understood it was the first day of school and all circumstances pointed to the fact that Trouble was on the wrong bus and would eventually be dropped where he belonged. Besides, Trouble is a bright kid with a better sense of direction than I have and he could do a fair job of directing the bus towards home. I knew the only thing to do was not leave the bus stop until Trouble got there. I'm sure it's the rational INTJ in me that squelches the panic reflex most other mothers would succumb to in that situation.

The lovely neighbor has a daughter in third grade who goes to the local Catholic or Presbyterian school, I didn't quite gather which, I was a bit distracted. She pulled her daughter out of the public school my son attends last year when she was assigned a teacher with a bad reputation and she couldn't get her switched out of the classroom. When I related this to Blackstone he sarcastically commented about how well I must have gotten along with this woman since she's sending her daughter to a religious school, given my anti-religious tendencies. I get his response, but that's not my view on religious schooling at all. And I think the place that these schools are taking in our communities deserves a little reflection.

You may have read some of Polly's responses to my postings of my teaching experiences about considering to send her daughter to private school or home school her. Polly's not the only one not too keen on public schools these days. My former landlord's kids are home schooled, the Peapod delivery guy's kids are going to Catholic school, and I have a several friends whose kids are in the public school system and have mixed feelings about it. I myself have mixed feelings about keeping my boys in the public school system. If I ever feel terribly unhappy with one of their teachers or believe that their education is suffering, I will seek the alternatives. And I haven't ruled out a religious school. Are you shocked?

Now, I don't have any first hand experience with private or religious schooling, but here's what I see happening. More and more parents are uncomfortable with having their kids in the public schools. They see the violence and the drugs and they want to keep their kids away from that. Now a wealthier family may go straight to a high-priced private school. They can afford it, they know the price tag keeps the riff-raff out and they're creating the social networking they want for themselves and their children. But if you're a middle class family, you can't necessarily afford the tuition to a private school, and if you're not into home schooling, that pretty much leaves the religious schools. Now from what I've heard, these schools charge tuition too, they're just not quite as expensive as the private schools, being partially subsidized by the church or diocese or what-have-you. Now, I'm sure some parents decide to go this route because they are focused on religion and that's what's driving their decision. But most people I know who are opting for this choice are seeking it mainly because they want their kids out of public schools and either can't afford or don't want to pay for a private school. It's not about religion, it's about the best education they feel they can provide for their kids.

So when it comes down to it, would I be able to or want to pay the price tag for a private school? I know more than ten years ago the price to our local private school for the year was more than my tuition at the state college. I'm not so sure I would. I also don't know if I'd be comfortable with having my boys in that social network. I'm concerned that they wouldn't be getting the diverse and real life picture of the world I want them to have. I don't want to raise any sheltered, prissy little boys. Not that all private schools are like that, but it is one of my worries. Not to mention they'd probably be two of the poorest kids in the school, not being able to afford all the ski vacations and trips to Europe. So, I might consider sending them to a religious school. I'd want to look over the curriculum and make sure that education was the focus and not church. But if we're talking one religious class a day, then it would be an option. I want my kids to learn about different religions, their histories and beliefs. I just want them to be open-minded and tolerant and realize that there are many different religions out there and they should learn to have respect for all of them, that they should respect people from all ethnicities and belief structures.

I do hope that my boys will be products of our public school system, but I'm not exactly making any promises over here. And I hold no judgment for those of you who have already decided against it. But I do ask that you keep education at the forefront of your mind on your next visit to the polls. If you've already pulled your kids out of the public schools, then you probably realize how much trouble they're in. Either that or you're terribly wealthy and there's a good chance you're republican and I'm wasting my breath.