Thursday, June 17, 2010

Formula (Bag) for Success

     I take Tim to the Metro every morning at 5:45 am. We figure that we can save some money on gas and wear and tear on our Suburban if he takes the train to work in the morning. One afternoon I noticed the bag he stuffed all of his important "teacher" papers into as well as a  massive chemistry textbook, his sweater, and his lunch. It was a fairly large black vinyl bag with beige trim on the top. Up near the top zipper was a small tag that read "Enfamil LIPIL."
       Hmm....I pondered. Tim is a veteran teacher who has teaching credentials in life and physical sciences. The range of topics he's taught includes, but is not limited to: biology, chemistry, geology, algebra, physics, geometry, health education, and driver's education (I know - that last one's hard to believe but true). He's usually at school earlier than most teachers and leaves later than the rest. He works year round and teaches before the bell rings to signal that class has begun and is still shouting out last minute instructions as his students leave the class room. His department chair described this scene and I totally believed it. He pours dozens of hours into preparing to teach a newer subject, with detailed, publisher-worthy notes to help his students digest the materials more easily. His students' scores on state standardized tests are the highest of any teacher in his department. This is significant in itself. With a student population of almost 5,000 and over 20 teachers in his science department, I was impressed, but not surprised to learn this fact.Tim is an accomplished and well-respected teacher. And despite his boyish smile and quirky charm, at almost 6'4" with broad shoulders, he's a commanding presence in the classroom, too.

     And he carries a diaper bag to work.

     As he wrestled his diaper bag into our gas-saving little gray Corolla several times this week, I couldn't resist making a couple of comments about it when I picked him up from the Metro station.
     "Hi honey. How are you? Did you have enough formula for the day?" or
      "Hey Tim. How was your day? No one decked you on the streets of East LA as you carried a diaper bag to work, did they?" I was quick to reassure him, however, that he was manly enough to pull off a diaper bag briefcase. I let him know that his masculinity was not at all affected by his choice of carrying bags. After all, he is a Modern Man.
     The puzzled look on his face, slight shrug of the shoulders, and tired silence indicated to me that he didn't care about his choice of a carrying receptacle for his school stuff. Do you think I offered to buy him, let's say, for Father's Day, a well-appointed briefcase or a stately-looking canvas satchel? Nah. He would've declined it immediately for the following reasons:
1)Tim is very pragmatic. His diaper bag is perfectly capable of performing the job he needs it to. Why spend money if you don't have to?
2)It's not pink, floral, or frilly.
3)He is the ultimate absent-minded professor if there ever was one.
4)He is the father of six girls. Need I say more?
     No wonder I adore him!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Corner Office With A View

     I've been promoted! Sort of....We finally moved Julia out of her little nursery off our bedroom into the girls room. We managed to cram her crib into their room that already has two bunk beds-  one with a full size bed. Yes, it's a tad crowded (please don't call the fire department!), but it's very workable for now.
 ---Mother with a large family and very few bedrooms tip #1---Don't have any unnecessary toys, books, or clothes in the bedroom overflowing with kids. I've learned that kids don't need a lot of clothes and  books tend to get strewn all over the floor and ripped apart. This is very, very  bad (given that I have a love affair with books and the utmost respect for most of them). Solution: keep books only on beds and very few of them at that. And toys- oh those things we spend a ridiculous amount of money and time buying, sorting, organizing, and picking up again and again. Same principal applies, however:  the fewer toys, the better. Most of the girls' toys are stored in their closet up high and out of reach. The rest of the toys - and a limited amount at that - are stored in our large, spacious playroom (thank you, God!).
     Anyway, our plan when we constructed Julia's nursery off our bedroom was to eventually make that little room an office. It's in the southeast corner of our home and the view out of that window is the best view in the whole house. There are city lights to the south at night, a majestic mountain view to the north, and a peaceful field view to the east. Pure visual pleasure! So, after hours of wrestling with dozens of outdated files in our lonely filing cabinet that had been subjected to our scary, messy garage, I hauled it into my office. It fit perfectly in the corner next to my next desk and even looks quite satisfied  now that it's updated and ready for official home business!(That was some project! Tim saves everything! But not anymore....shh...) An organized filing system is critical to important documents that can't be easily "computerized." So, after negotiating the space and use of various pieces of furniture in and around my house (and basement) and buying some small things, I  set up "Mom's Office - Keep Out Or Enter At Your Own Risk." The only thing missing is an internet connection, but one more trip to Best Buy for an ether net cable splitter ought to do the trick.

     For the six years I've lived in this house, my "office" has been in a central location, accessible to all the kids and in full view of any visitors. It's been miserable, especially in the last couple of years with more kids home using the computer for school, games, "socializing," etc. To keep my papers and bills organized has been exceedingly challenging. To have a quiet place to work on record-keeping, budgeting, planning, and so on has been non-existent and profoundly discouraging. For most of our married life I have paid the bills and managed our paperwork and finances. Tim and I discuss our budget and financial issues fairly frequently and without much disagreement (especially the small stuff), but I take care of the nuts and bolts and daily expenditures of our household. This is due to the fact that I spend most of the money (I consider part of my job title "Professional Consumer") and have a lot more time during the day to make phone calls. Tim recently asked me if I'd like him to take over paying the bills, but I declined the offer. I requested that instead we meet once a month to discuss how I've done on our budget and what needs and financial issues are coming up. We haven't met yet, but now that I can invite him into my office for an appointment perhaps it will happen soon. I can sell him on the point that my office has a beautiful view!
     In all the many papers I perused while sorting through our file cabinet, I came across some old notes from a women's meeting at church. I was reminded how impacted I was by a comment our former pastor's wife made: "I look at my role as a home schooling, full-time homemaker as my job." This is my "career" were the scribbled notes on my handout. What a thought! Years ago someone estimated the dollar value of a full time homemaker to be about $70, 000 per year. I think the more kids you have, though, the higher the number! (So, maybe about $110,000 for me - yeah, right!). A career implies a wardrobe (I really try to avoid sweats), continuing education like websites, books, and discussions on meal planning, housecleaning, managing a family schedule, etc, and regular pay raises - oh, I'm sorry, I've become delusional (I really need to spend more time in the real world with more adults). I just make sure that, in lieu of a regular paycheck, I go to Bean Town on Saturday mornings BY MYSELF for a large diet Coke (light ice, please) and my favorite chocolate chip orange scone (the best ever). Although, when Daisy asked if she could go with me this last Saturday, I  couldn't refuse. We shared my scone, she got a gumball for 1 cent, and we played Mickey Mouse UNO. What a splendid date it was!
     But really, though, full time homemaking is not viewed as a highly desirable career choice. Who studies to be a "homemaker"? My mom used to encourage me to get a degree in home economics (do such majors exist anymore?) because of how versatile it is. I opted for social science instead which afforded me hours of studying and listening to lectures on history and political science, to name a few topics. My intellect was stimulated and challenged from those classes, although I did not find them helpful to me in any real world sense.
     Interestingly enough, which celebrity figure, notwithstanding her jail time a few years back, makes loads of money on domestic, homemaking things? Billionaire Martha Stewart! I think people really do want encouragement and guidance on how to cultivate a beautiful, productive, enriching home environment. The "domestic arts" really are valuable. And the truth is - not many people can manage a home well without years of working at it, trial and error, and a real vision for it. Just doing the laundry and dishes and changing diapers doesn't make for a well kept  and peaceful home. Although, let me clarify, in those years when I  had lots of little babies and toddlers that didn't sleep and made constant messes (Julia would still fit that profile), I was doing GREAT if I got the laundry and dishes done and had managed to avoid a raging diaper rash on my baby and toddler's bottoms because I had regularly changed their diapers. There are different seasons for different standards.
     In fact, there are different styles of homemaking, too. Mine tends to be the "Well, the mess isn't bothering me enough at this point to do anything about it yet" approach. This is not a style I encourage any woman to aspire to. Truth is, every working mom I know has told me that staying at home and raising kids full time is harder than going to their job. Wow- maybe they need a corner office with a view! (Really, though, my hat is off to all those ladies who can juggle working outside their home and motherhood. I really admire that kind of skill and talent.)
     Well, now that I have a charming and private office, I'm eager to sort through weeks of receipts to see how much money I've spent so far this month. Who am I kidding? I never want to do that, but at least the view from my office is fabulous!

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Born and Bred, Baby

  Okay, so I was looking at some Yelp Reviews and this woman claimed proudly that she was a born and bred native Pasadenan, "born and bred, baby." I thought, Is that a claim to fame? So am I. I  have noticed in my adult life that many people are transplanted to Pasadena from other states or surrounding areas. So few people I know were born in Pasadena and have lived here their whole life. But I have, baby,  I have.
     So, what about that? I remember being born at Huntington Memorial Hospital. I remember the squeezing sensation, the bright lights, those rubberized hands on my fuzzy head of hair. Oh, just kidding - I only imagined what it was like. OK - back to reality and out of the Freudian psychoanalytic take on my earliest memories. But really, my earliest memory at around age 2 is featured in this old blog post .       
     And then we moved to South Pasadena in April of 1973. About a year later I attended Calvary Pre-School. I have vivid memories of climbing the big playhouse steps to play "store." I delighted on filling my little kiddie basket with pretend food and taking it to the register. An early shopper in training! (I don't recall having any customer service issues then. How things change over the years!)
     Then there was my first grade teacher, Mrs. F. at Marengo Elementary School.  She used to bite her fingernails to the nubs. Her perfume smelled so lovely, though. Apparently, the principal thought so, too, I later found out. (Much later!) I distinctly remember my math worksheets in 1st grade; the colorful squares and triangles I added up to get a total. Early math merriment! Too bad it never really caught on...
     Skip to Mrs. Taylor in 6th grade. She was a dynamic and remarkable teacher. She would regularly take groups of students to the Norton Simon Museum. She gave us a snack of cookies and juice beforehand. Yum. The museum was cool. I haven't been back there since, but have aspirations to. One of these days.

 Then there was 8th grade when I ran for some elected office. I think secretary. I remember my election speech. My Dad coached me and I realized what a great speaker and teacher my Dad was. I lost the race, but learned valuable tips from my Dad about public speaking that I still use today.
     South Pasadena Middle School has always been beautiful and historic looking. Their auditorium had the most stunning art work, too. I'll never forget the beautifully tiled ceiling. Apparently it's under construction. I vividly remember the assembly when they played music while waiting for everyone to get seated. The music they played, you might ask? Some new artist whose first hit song was "Holiday" - Madonna perhaps?
     Then there was South Pasadena High School. It's been completely renovated, but I remember how charming the old school used to be. In that  learning establishment there existed the most horrid cliques of the nastiest folks that could be found anywhere. I believe they've all grown up to be magnanimous and successful individuals at this point in their lives (one can hope at least). I didn't go to my 20th reunion, although I really wanted to. Julia had been born just 6 days prior and I was still recovering from my tubal ligation surgery. The night of my reunion had been a particularly difficult night as well. At any rate, I have fun memories of high school there. I was a B Honors and AP student. One striking memory was when I did a skit with the year book staff for a school assembly. I pretended to be "Lola" and danced along to a Barry Manilow song of the same name. I'll never forget the garish makeup and hot pink feather boa around my neck. Ever since then my nickname has been, well, you guessed it: "Lola."
     During my high school years we used to shop at the Plaza Pasadena. Anyone remember that shopping establishment? It was on the edge of the bad part of town, there had been the murder of a young girl at the mall, and in its later years, it looked like a ghost town. About half the stores were vacant and it was a scary place to be. There had been an increase in violent assaults both in the mall and the parking lot from what I recall.
     It was also close to Old Town Pasadena. That area 20 years ago was the seedy part of town. There were quite a few abandoned buildings, a really old Woolworth's, and XXX book shops and video stores. Nasty! Well, as the time passed, the Plaza Pasadena was ripped down, Paseo Colorado was built in its place, and Old Town has become filled  with high end shopping  stores and fancy restaurants now. How 20 years can totally revitalize an area! My mother would hardly recognize Colorado Boulevard if she could see it now.
      On Friday nights during elementary school, across from the Plaza Pasadena, we'd go ice skating at the Pasadena Ice Rink. My sisters and I would each take a friend, pile into our old blue Suburban, and my mom would take us ice skating. We would skate to "Hot Child in the City" by Foreigner. Remember that one? It was a blast. My mom loved ice skating. It was fun watching her and hearing the stories of her early skating years on frozen lakes in Illinois. On the way home, we'd stop by Shakers on Arroyo Parkway and pick up a pie for my Dad. Another yum.
     There are so many memories of the Pasadena area that I have. It's a great place to live. I'm thrilled to live right next to Pasadena, but still be in small town Sierra Madre.I wouldn't want to live anywhere else. "The boundaries have fallen in pleasant places" indeed.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Last Day of School

     What can I say? I lay in bed this morning trying to let that fact soak in to my brain. I thought back to the beginning of the year and all the optimism, joy, and relief I had because so many elements of homeschooling all my kids seemed easier than half the kids being at public school while the other half was at home. How did the year go? Well, Tim wanted to put the middle ones, Chloe and Leanne, back in school this next year. He wanted their school work to be more academic. I resisted at first. I thought their school work was sufficient, even quality work. He wants them doing more school work. All righty then.
     The next issue was whether to prepare Camille over the summer to apply for Los Angeles County High School for the Arts (LACHSA) in the fall. This would involve costly art lessons to prepare her portfolio for submission. If she was accepted, she would attend high school in fall 2011 at this school a half hour from home on a college campus with a lengthy school day of 8 am to 4 pm. Both Tim and I felt that she needs to continue art lessons in some capacity, but how should we best accomplish that? After much discussion, prayer, and a meeting with our pastor, we decided to put her in the 8th grade at Sierra Madre Upper Campus. At this excellent school in our neighborhood they have a phenomenal fine and performing arts program. She would get high quality art instruction close to home for free! I would also avoid homeschooling two kids while having two in public school.
     Elena would stay home because her high school courses are straightforward and she practically schools herself. I've felt for years that Camille needed more structure and outside motivation. We'll take it day by day with her. She's excited about going to school. Tim and I have shelved the likelihood of her going to LACHSA mostly because of the long drive from home and the lengthy day. The driving back and forth would be very costly  and taxing on me and the whole family, especially since Tim couldn't take her in the morning because he now takes the Metro to work everyday to save money. Also, so much time away from home would make it hard for her to be part of our family life and we value that highly. These years are short and fleeting. We want Camille home as much as possible, while nourishing and guiding the artist within her. Apparently, the fine arts program at Pasadena High School, beginning in the 10th grade, is phenomenal. We're not sure she'll go to PHS, but that's something we'll have to evaluate in a year from now.
     Daisy will be going to pre-school in Temple City two days a week as well. She would benefit from getting some outside social time as well as preparation for kindergarten. So I'll just have Elena and Julia home with me quite exclusively. An acquaintance asked me what I would do with all my free time. Ha, ha, I thought. I have to keep up dishes, laundry, and clean up while most of my kids are in school. They'll need help with homework in the afternoons. Besides, I still have a very active toddler and a highschooler to home school. Spare time? I don't think I'll have nearly as much as she thinks I will. We'll see.
     But maybe I'll be able to take a breath every now and then without feeling so overwhelmed at all that I have to do and the latest argument I have to referee -again, for the third time in ten minutes. For now, I'm going to prepare my school girls for their next year, do an inordinate amount of clutter-busting and organizing EVERY ROOM IN MY HOUSE (a lot got neglected this year), and have an exhilarating and fun summer. I'm looking forward to harvesting my vegetables this summer and seeing how my garden will grow. I'll keep you posted.