Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Because There Were Just Too Many Hours in the Day

Two weeks ago, Sarah sent me a real estate listing for a house down the street from them. She said it was great. I laughed at her and then Thomas and I went to look at it anyway.

It had a strange layout, the sort one would call "custom-designed" on the flyer. And one did! The house was big and the yard was great, but it just didn't feel like home. And I had no interest in going to the trouble and expense of moving just to go across town. Even to have Sarah and Ryan as neighbors again.

But it did get us thinking. Just one week later I saw a listing for a house in Redwood City that was in our price range, larger than what we have now, and--best of all--just 1.5 miles from Thomas's office. So the girls and I went and looked at it and a couple of others on Friday (5/12). Thomas looked at it on Monday morning (5/15). We put an offer on it on Tuesday (5/16).

Now we've gone from not really thinking about moving to making an offer and listing our current house; getting estimates for movers; scheduling window cleaners, house cleaners, painters, the gardener and a stager (not my idea); renting a storage space and truck; booking the Broker tour and scheduling the photographer for the virtual tour. ALL before next Wednesday. Why? Because on Wednesday, we leave on holiday for two weeks. Timing is everything.

So why are we doing this to ourselves? Right now, Thomas has a one hour commute each way. That means that he gets to see the girls for about two hours a day during the week--assuming that Charlotte (as much a morning person as I) wakes up before he leaves at 7:30 to catch the train.

In addition to being a great house with lots of light and space, the new place has an enormous backyard that is, to put it kindly, crap. It looks as if no one has touched it in years--tall, scrubby grass and weeds and most likely, rocks. Lots of rocks. But I looked at it from the deck and saw terraces and an herb garden. Masses of flowers and tall grasses. A hammock swaying in the breeze. Hannah and Charlotte chasing Argus across the lawn. And maybe even another Japanese Maple, since Thomas won't dig up the one we planted two weeks before we found the new house.

Friday, May 12, 2006

All in the Family

This afternoon, just as I was getting ready to take Charlotte up for her nap, the phone rang. Nothing unusual about that. But if I'm putting the girls to bed or reading a story or supervising bath time, I don't answer it. That's what voice mail is for. This time, I answered.

The voice on the other end wasn't clear. Low and indistinct. Mumbled. Thinking it must be a wrong number, I went to hang up when I heard a woman's voice, "I'm an awful mess," followed by mumbling that began to sound more like moaning. I thought it must be a prank call but still something made me stay on the line.

"Ma'am? Ma'am? Are you alright? Where are you?"

As I strained to hear, only two of the next words were audible: "heart attack."

"Where are you? What street are you on? Ma'am?!"

The moaning tapered off and the line went dead.

Shaking, more aware than ever of my own pounding heart, I hung up and scrolled the caller ID. Two incoming. Which one? Which one? There was a name I didn't recognize. I wrote it down, trying to stay calm as the call log kept rolling from the number to the name to "out of area" and back again.

I gave the 911 operator the phone number and name, all the while vaguely worried that she would think I was a prank caller. The operator said they had the address and were sending help. They also have my name and number and now, two hours later, I keep hoping they'll use it to call and tell me she's OK. That it wasn't a heart attack or stroke. Or even that it was a prank, after all.

But I sit here wondering what would have happened if the girls and I hadn't cut short our errands and come home early? What if I hadn't answered the phone, going instead to change a stinky diaper and put my sweet Charlotte to bed? Would the woman have been able to dial another number? Did I wait too long trying to get her to tell me where she was? But most importantly, is she alright?

I need to know these things, not to satisfy my own curiosity or because I'm looking for recognition, but because in that one moment when she picked up the phone, she somehow got me. She asked for help and I tried my best to give it. It would have been so easy, after the first few mumblings, to just hang up and go on with my day. Instead, that one ephemeral contact plucked and made tangible a strand of the web that holds us all together, and now I'm left pacing and worried like family waiting for the doctor to emerge from the operating room.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

My Pick for Vice (?) President

While everyone else is busy deciding the daily front runner for the 2008 Presidential nomination, I thought I'd offer up my choice for Vice President.

Barack Obama says he's not running for President in 2008. That's fine--it's nice to see someone with the humility to think he's not quite ready for the top job yet. That being said, I think that whoever does get the Democratic nomination needs to seriously consider choosing Mr. Obama as running mate. There is really no need to offer it to an also-ran as Mr. Obama has already proven that he has the character and charisma--not to mention brains--to be an asset to any ticket. He also has the ability to connect with people and comes across as warm, charming and sincere.

Of course, depending on who gets the top spot, geography may come in to play since there is still a belief that a ticket without a southerner is doomed. But with just a quick look back over the past two presidential elections, we see the traditional pairings: Gore (Tennessee)/Lieberman (Connecticut): Won the election but lost the presidency. Kerry (Massachusetts)/Edwards (North Carolina): Nope.

So how does Mr Obama stack up? Some highlights from Project Vote Smart:

* Voted to allow the direct negotiation of drug prices with the manufacturers
* Voted against an amendment that would open ANWAR to drilling
* Voted to allow judicial review of enemy combatants
* Voted to increase federal Pell Grant awards
* Voted against a bill that bill that offered liability protection gun and ammo manufacturers, dealers or importers and their trade associations
* Voted to repeal the extension of tax rates for dividends and capital gains in order to provide more than $45 million to the military for procurements and operations and maintenance funds for the Army and Marines

Wow! He looks great on paper AND on camera! Maybe he'll change his mind . . . See, this is the idiocy in handicapping the race two years before the election.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Rhymes With Prick

I've avoided writing this for a few days now in the vain hope that I'd stop being pissed off about it. But just when I think the current administration has scaled the heights of stupidity, they find another peak. I guess I should just be happy that they continue to exceed expectations. Mine, anyway. So what am I so annoyed about this time? Russia.

Russia. Acknowledged nuclear power. Has some influence with Iran and North Korea. Former opponent in the it-wasn't-really-that-long-ago-let's-not-go-back Cold War. It also wasn't that long ago that Bush looked into the Russian president's eyes to get a sense of his soul. Creepy, but supposedly Putin passed the test. Fast forward to this past Friday when the Bush administration, in it's infinite wisdom, sends pitbull Cheney out to bitch-slap the Russian government on, of all topics, the human and civil rights of its citizens. He told them to act more like a democracy.

I'm guessing he meant things like authorizing warrant-deficient wire taps in clear violation of existing legislation. Locking up foreign citizens for who-knows how long without trial or even acknowledging custody. Issuing signing statements that subvert or deny the actual intent of Congress. Claiming vast powers to the executive branch because we are in a conveniently open-ended war. Refusing to turn over documents requested by Congress. Hosting town hall meetings where "ordinary citizens," hand-picked for party loyalty, get an opportunity to pat the president's head and tell him what a great job he's doing. You know, Bush-style democracy.

Yes, Russia needs to improve. Yes, they seem to be taking a turn back toward the practices of the old Soviet Union. But as a truly wise man once said, "let he who is without sin cast the first stone." Especially when publicly casting stones at an historically proud and suspicious nation. One that we need to help with all the other people we're busy taking jabs at.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

The Great Escape

For someone who doesn't consider herself to be particularly religious, I have a lot of religion-focused books on my reading pile, including:

Misquoting Jesus: The Story behind Who Changed the Bible and Why, Bart Ehrman

No God But God, Reza Aslan

Heroic Leadership, Chris Lowney

To be truthful, I had to return No God But God to library as I wasn't able to get to it in two cycles and someone else was waiting for it. I'm so ashamed. Not that I was hoarding it, but that I had to take it back, unread. I know libraries are wonderful places. Really, they are. But I want to keep my books. I want to be the first person to read them (unless they're really old, of course). I like to buy whatever interests me and get to it when I have time. And I like to know that, once a book has been read, it is safely in my library. Maybe I'll want to re-read it, or keep it for reference (yes, yes, I know I can get the info online), but mostly, I just like to hoard books.

It was a wrench, but I had to get rid of a lot of my books after we moved to California. The available space has been gradually squeezed in favor of cans of play dough, Creatrix sets, Candyland, mountains of crayons, markers, sheets of construction paper, cardboard . . . And the lower shelves of the bookcases were no longer safe and offered more temptation to climb than Hannah was able to resist. So I sorted and resorted. I put books into boxes and took them out again. Some of these books I'd had since I was a kid. Some since college--most of those I boxed up. As a near-penniless English Lit major, I had to buy most of my books used or in paperback, and then resell at the end of the term to pay for the next batch.

You know you have a problem when you're offended that the used book store won't take everything. It's not about the money--they're not paying you that much. But these were more than just paper and ink; they were companions. They'd made me think and discover, laugh and cry. They never minded when I was too busy to pay attention to them, leaving them to collect dust on the night table. And they understood when I was depressed and, if I read at all, could only read certain of them over and over and over again.

There are books I've lost or loaned out to never see again: a former co-worker borrowed Wally Lamb's She's Come Undone just before he and the agency parted company; I misplaced a very old copy of Paradise Lost; The Birth of Venus is still with a friend (not that I'm rushing you, Sarah!). And those I was unable to finish, though I'm happy to say there are few in that category: The Quark and the Jaguar comes to mind. And the Nanny Diaries, because it was, what's the word: dreadful? God-awful? Anyway, I can't remember everything I've read over the years, but for good or ill, most have left their mark.

Hannah seems to share my love of books, sitting quietly for, oh, minutes at a time, until she remembers to ask if she can watch a movie instead. Charlotte also adores books--shaken, gummed and ingested. But I have faith that in a few years, they'll find that books provide a window on the human condition, and can help them escape for awhile and explore and understand people and parts of the world they may never see. For now, I just have to keep explaining to Hannah why she may not draw funny pictures, any pictures, in Mommy's books.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

What a Mom Wants

Every year, just before Mothers Day, someone tries to come up with a dollar amount for the many jobs that a mother does, whether she's a stay-at-home mom or goes to work part- or full-time. This year, pegs that amount at $134, 121 for stay-at-home mothers and $85, 876 (on top of regular salary) for working mothers. These numbers include average pay for the jobs "that best matched a mom's definition of her work based on number of hours spent per week) [including]: housekeeper, day care center teacher, cook, computer operator, laundry machine operator, janitor, facilities manager, van driver, CEO, and psychologist." They have a nifty (yes, I said "nifty") little program that lets each mom determine her "salary" based on number of children, geographic location, hours spent on each type of task, etc.

My friend over at HeadButler says that marketers are expecting Americans to spend more than $10 billion on Mothers Day this year. This includes meals and gift such as books, CDs, jewelery, flowers, cards, spas, clothing, etc. I didn't see included "check for $134k," although does allow you to print out a sort of keepsake version of the check that says "This is what we would pay you if we could."

I thought there was something else missing from the list so I decided to conduct my own, completely unscientific poll to see what moms really want for Mothers Day. The answers ranged from "brunch, flowers and spending the day with my family" to "having the entire day to myself." Of course, once I mentioned the response of the second group to members of the first, there was sort of a "You can do that?" gasp. Many of the women had the idea that, if they even thought of asking to be alone, it would be, as one put it "perverse." One formerly full-time working mom said that when she was working, she wanted to go to brunch and show off her kids. Now that she's a stay-at-home mom, she wants breakfast in bed and then the day to herself. But, as I said, completely unscientific, based on a very small sample.

There was overlap in the answers because so many of us are torn. We want to do the brunch/family thing because we truly love them. And because we don't want to have to clean up after a breakfast at home. But we really, really want to have time to ourselves. To use the bathroom alone. To take an uninterrupted shower. To eat our breakfast before it gets cold or soggy because we're busy making sure everyone else is taken care of first. To not spend the day sorting, washing and folding the laundry or doing any of the myriad other items we don't get to during the week. So I have a suggestion that retailers everywhere can back enthusiastically. Starting this year, let's make it Mothers Weekend rather than just Mothers Day. (In lieu of the check, that is!) Husbands, partners, here's your plan:

Wake up early. Get the kids up, fed, changed and out of the house. Preferably before we get up. Bonus points if you wash the dishes before leaving. Take them to the park or a baseball game; you can come home after we leave for the day. Where will we go? Well, you will have thoughtfully provided a gift certificate to a spa, salon, masseuse and/or a shop that doesn't sell children's clothing. Then we'll have a nice quiet lunch and a glass of wine--alone. Maybe see a movie, browse the bookstore or meet a friend for coffee. Don't worry, we'll pick up dinner on the way home. And after a nice relaxing day, dessert . . . well, we'll leave that to your imagination.

The usual, of course! Brunch, flowers, spending the day with the family. Any other little gifts you'd like to throw in are always appreciated, but not expected. I, for example, am partial to books, but jewelery is generally a safe idea if you're at a loss.

I'd like to thank my friend, Barry, for sending me the original Reuters article. I'm sure his wife will be getting something really shiny for Mother's Weekend! And no, pots and pans don't count. Save that for her birthday.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Another Turning Point

So Bush is declaring another turning point in Iraq. Now, I'm no math whiz, but I did ok in geometry. I'm going to go out on a limb here and assume that these all are right turns. Which means we're forming a nice square, which may as well be a circle. We've become an obsessive-compulsive dog, turning in squares before calling it quits and going to sleep.

There are still tough days ahead and more sacrifices to be made, he says. But only by the same people who have been asked to make the sacrifices over the past three years. Not me. Probably not you. Nope--only the military and their families. People like my sister and thousands of other military families who have to watch as spouses, sons, daughters, fathers, mothers go off to Iraq, not knowing if they're coming home again. And once they are home, not knowing for how long.

Of course this latest turning point does not mean that we're declaring victory. After all we did that three years ago. You may have missed it--t'was just a small affair. Probably didn't even make the evening news. I mean, we wouldn't have wanted to go all out since we still had troops fighting and flag-draped caskets being loaded on transports. No one could be that tone deaf. Right? Right?


I'm sure I've repeated myself a lot here, but this time it will be intentional. A couple of modest suggestions (originally posted 3/27/06):

1) Eliminate the federal income tax for all active-duty military personnel. After all, we pay them with tax money and ask them to put their lives on the line every day. This should NOT apply to any member of Congress, the federal judiciary or the administration. Especially not members of Congress, since they already have a lovely three day work week.

2) Offer the ability to assign GI Bill benefits to a family member after a pre-determined number of years of service or immediately, in the case of death or catastrophic injury.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Back to Nature

This past weekend we decided to explore a bit more of our new home state with a trip to Yosemite. "Wow!" doesn't quite cover it, but it's the thing I kept hearing from my mouth. C'mon! I know more words than that--some of them were even on the SAT (gulp) 19 years ago. But "Holy crap," the other phrase that came to tongue, seemed sacrilegious and it's not something I want Hannah to be saying to her grandparents in a couple of weeks--or to perfect strangers, for that matter. And, let's see: Hannah's first word was "clock" sans the "l." Might start to look bad if Charlotte's first word turned out to be "HolyCrap!"

We left home around noon on Saturday, arriving on the valley floor around 5:30. This left us just enough time to do a drive by of the highlights and go racing through the Visitors Center shop in search of the restrooms. And by "racing through," I mean "dragging Hannah by one arm as she tried to grab something, anything, from the shelves. She just couldn't live without the foam deer visor. Unless she got the lolly pop instead. Or the stickers. How about a mug? OOOO--snow globes!" After successfully navigating that obstacle course, we were off to the hotel, just a short hour and 20 minutes away. Charlotte expressed her immense appreciation of the passing scenery and winding roads by vomiting all over herself. Ah, good times.

Our first full day in the park, Hannah proved once again that she is a natural mountain climber, preferring to leap from rock to rock to rock, ignoring the gasps, one delighted, one not so much. Put her in a stroller and she whines and cries to get out. She'd rather walk? Great--out you go! But no, after maybe twenty feet, it was:

"How's about you pick me up?"


"How 'bout you carry me?"

Ah, repetition and rephrasing. The toddler version of yelling a question at non-English speakers.

When we finally stopped for our picnic lunch, Charlotte was so happy to be out of the stroller that she struggled to get down from my arms to better peruse the menu options. She spurned the daily special of french bread, brie, fruit and turkey, in favor of the house specialties: First a little sand, followed by the small pile of leaves, with fresh pine cones as the main course and a bit more sand to finish it off.

Travel Tips:
*When traveling with small children, it's always best to choose a hotel that offers something entertaining for them, too. A pool, a playground, small insects: Did I forget to mention the ants? (Have I also mentioned that I am not what one might call "high-maintenance?" Sure, I appreciate 300+ thread-count sheets as much as anyone, but it's not a necessity. Warm, dry, in-room bathroom and not sleeping on the ground. Works for me. )

* Take your own baby bedding. Rustic is one thing, but Baby by Burlap crib sheets are another matter entirely.

*Don't leave the box of donut holes on the counter. Even if the box is unopened. "Why are the sprinkles moving?" is not what you want to hear first thing in the morning.

* Take a night light. Hannah won't sleep with the light off. Charlotte won't sleep with it on. So, forget the night light and you may find that your music options for the evening are a choice between KWHinE and WSHrieK. Both available in stereo for your listening pleasure!

* Don't stop watching their faces. The utter joy of a child who is allowed to climb rocks, splash in puddles, paddle in a lake and eat pine cones is truely one of the wonders of the world.