Friday, November 23, 2007

Mother's Little Helpers...

Aidan shows off his dishwashing attire. The floor ended up a bit wet, the jacket was suitably soaked - but he told me he did end up with one dry hand! Meanwhile Quincy was unloading the washing machine and loading up the dryer. I was taking the time to wrap a few xmas presents out of sight.

Putt Putt! AKA Miniature Golf

After a rather lame hike by a beautiful reservoir (the big chain link fence got in the way of the view just a bit!), we took the kids out for their first ever game of miniature golf. We could have done without the wining about whose turn it was to go first, Aidan may have quite a little hip bruise from a Quincy shot gone wildly wrong, Pete may have just eked past me in total number of 2 putts, but in general it was still pretty fun. My camera just died shortly after this shot. Hopefully it is just the battery and I've ordered another - I can't survive long without a camera especially with a birthday coming up followed by the holiday season!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

birthdays everywhere. Yesterday Quincy had a party in a park to go to. Today at party at Randall Museum (sort of a tiny zoo we can walk to) for 2 classmates followed by one for a brother and sister at another park. Last weekend Aidan had one at the Party Place - a place with sort of a giant climb thru structure thing followed by pizza followed by an hour in the "arcade". The previous week he had one at a place that was filled with bouncy things called Pump It Up. The week before that was a mock sleep over and theoretically watching Karate Kid movie (apparently most kids just watched a few minutes then bounced off the walls). The week before that Aidan had his nerf gun party. 3 cousins always celebrate their birthdays when we see them for Thanksgiving. Quincy agreed to do a joint party with Ellie on Dec. 9th. He had told me he wanted a sushi themed party - but that was a few weeks back and he was no longer married to the idea. Julia and I sat down and went over the guest list that I had gotten out of the kids one morning before school when Ellie came over. There are about 5 classmates they said no to and only a few people from past classes to be included. Ellie had more of these people from the past which was part of Quincy's original reason for saying no to a joint party. Understandably he only wants his friends at his party. We're going to have it again at the old preschool - a great young party venue 1) it isn't your house 2) it has both inside and outside play space so weather isn't too much of an issue 3) it is pretty cheap 4) there are lots of toys and also a kitchen. We will do sushi making as an activity and perhaps also snowmen making with marshmallows and pretzels etc. I'm in charge of getting goodie bags so on Friday I headed off to Japantown to see what I could find. We decided to go with paper, pencil, Japanese eraser (they make ones that look like sushi etc). Turns out there is a very nice dollar store there. I selected a few things I liked and brought them home. I showed the bag to Quincy last night and asked him what he thought. This was his response "I think this would be a great party gift to give out. Number 1 it is easy to carry, number 2 it can come in handy and number 3 it is not a lot of stuff we have to get".

At yesterday's birthday I met some parents. One couple I was chatting with have their kindergartener at the other Japanese school in town. The public school my kids go to have only 13% free lunch kids, the district average is around 60% or a bit higher. They said their school is at 90%! Unreal. The program they are in used to be located far out toward the ocean but a couple of years ago it got moved nearer to Japantown in the "projects". Only half the school does Japanese (like at our school). The school they moved to was being threatened with closure. Half the Japanese population departed for other schools - it decimated their program. I was fascinated to talk to them about it. They are vehement in their support for the program although it was not originally one of their 7 schools in the lottery nor high up on their second list. As one of them said, they have to live up to their lefty politics. The dad said it is nice to be able to say high to people he would ordinarily have nothing to do with. They value the "diversity" and the education said diversity brings their kids. I asked if their son had come to them with any stories about dad's in jail, getting shot etc. He said he had heard anecdotal stories but not from his kid. He did say clearly some kids have some behavioral issues and some come to school without breakfast (no food at home). I read somewhere that a lot of these kind of kids suffer from post traumatic stress disorder - obviously making it hard to concentrated on learning (as does an empty belly). I just can't imagine putting my kids in that situation, especially Aidan ("there are no REAL bad guys in San Francisco are there?"). Another dad from our school was sort of arguing with the other dad that he wanted a place where his kid could focus on learning and not be distracted by that other stuff and diversity training was really something modeled by parents and not something you just get at school. I am glad there are middle class folks that are willing to take that leap of faith and enroll their children into schools that don't look like themselves and try to make it better for everyone, but I am also glad not to have to be that family. It is one thing to walk the walk yourself, it is another to make your kids do it. As most any parent, I just want to shelter my kids as long as possible.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Creative financing.

Our school site learned in late September that, oops, the district didn't have enough $ to fund us fully. Go on, find a teacher to "consolidate" (i.e. fire). You are $40K short, no, 20K, no 30K, well, we don't really know how much... Hmm. OK. This is a plushy school, hey, just ask the parent groups to pony up the extra. We have 2 parents groups and we each have over $200K sitting in the bank. Time to get rid of the librarian. We have a GREAT principal. Newish, but great. He asked the school district 3 times and got 3 different answers. How much do we need to pay to keep our librarian. $16,000 was the common answer. Oops! Sorry, we really meant $29,000. Turns out your librarian (who isn't credentialed thus we won't give you the $16K in city tax $ to use for librarians that you are owed) has worked for 30 years and is paid a lot more than the average librarian (I think that amount was $24K for 1/2 time - her other 1/2 time is spent at school under the auspices of the special ed department - separate budget - she helps kids read or something). Turns out our district (and probably most of them) use cost averaging for schools - each school gets a certain amount of site funding based upon number of students and a complicated formula of how many students qualify for things like free lunch, have learning disabilities etc. They then are assessed average costs for salaries - average principal, average secretary, average teachers, average lunch ladies, average librarians... (we are one of only about 3 schools to have actually had a librarian until this new tax was passed a couple of years back). We have many teachers who have been here much longer than average (hence earn much more than average - teachers are of course paid by # of years worked, not ability as they are union employees). Quincy's teacher has been here for 30ish years. Aidan's teacher about 10. The librarian about 30. In general this accounting method benefits our well established school - we get assessed average costs but in reality the district has to pay our staff much higher than "average". It really sucks for struggling schools that have poor teacher retention and are filled with brand new teachers - paid less than average, but the school site is assessed average rates. Make sense? Anyway, I seem to be one of the few who understand this (altho perhaps can't explain it). Turns out we would have to pay $29K to keep our librarian (and remember we are giving up a district provided credentialed one who is "free" to us) and our school would only be credited $24K for her. Kind of sucks! Turns out we have a mom who has a middle school kid at a school that had the same thing happen. When this happens to them they just fund the lowest paid teacher and get credited back more than they pay. Pretty smart huh? Our nifty principal hadn't heard of this, but he went back and made it happen. We now only have to pay $16K to keep our $29K librarian - and the school gets an extra $8K on the books to use against something else (or rather to help offset the funding deficit). It is unreal that public schools are so unbelievably under funded. We face union strikes every few years (for paltry cost of living increases and medical coverage - not for extravagant things). The parents have to fund the art teacher, PE teacher, music teacher, and librarian. Oh yeah, and all computers in the school classrooms and computer lab and teacher. And field trips. Our school has a much higher socio-economic group than the average in the district - only 13% of our kids get free lunch while district average is around 60%. Our parent groups raise over $300K each year to pay for our consultants. Did I mention that we had to "win the lottery" to get into the school? You put down up to 7 schools on your application and hope for the best. Our school was the #1 most requested school the year we applied.
crosswalk update

Apparently $270,000 was set aside in the mayor's budget for the work near the school. The DPT (dept of transportation) is just turning in a grant application (to the state and feds) for more $. Apparently $200,000 are earmarked to create a block long sidewalk (and retaining wall where necessary) and the remainder is for things like road paint... Amazing how much stuff can cost. Didn't you used to be able to buy a whole house - a nice one only a decade or so ago (not in the bay area of course) for $200K? Now you can't quite eek out a sidewalk for that amount. Crazy. I just read the grant application. I'd give us $.... Think it is likely to be a bit of a long shot however as there are people in much worse shape. It will be months before we hear anything... I have my fingers crossed but am not holding my breath.

Quincy was a clown for halloween we discovered that kids water based markers are EXCELLENT for use for face painting - much easier to apply and remove than face paint! FYI...

cousin Ellie was a forest fairy

Quincy's class after the school parade

Aidan was a ninja - hard to see in the dark!

We trick-or-treated on Belvedere St. again this year. The police cordon off the street each year and apparently if you live on the street, when you buy your house it is "disclosed" that this is a huge trick-or-treat street. I seem to recall hearing a figure of $500 for candy per house - altho that is awfully hard to believe! I prepared dinner for Julia & Phil and also Mai Ly's (Aidan's classmate) mom. Butternut squash soup, a black bean salad (get it - orange and black?) and another salad that had chicken and couscous and arugula and a host of other things. It was pretty good. The kids had hot dogs and seasonal pasta - orange and black spaghetti. The spaghetti was pretty cool. Then we headed out for trick-or-treating with Aidan, Quincy, Ellie, Maggie & Mai Ly (also dressed all in black but at least not sporting full face mask like Aidan). We all had fun and the kids averaged about 2 1/2 lb of candy which was around 75 pieces of candy. Not a bad haul. We'll inevitably still have some around come next Halloween...

Just before vermin were discovered in our house, we enjoyed a nice visit from Nanma Phyllis. She brought all her rain gear so we were blessed with dry weather and even some spectacular weather. Here is a pic from the sidelines at Aidan's soccer game. The kids had 1.30 and 3.30 games and this year they have both been playing at the Marina Green (right by the bay). In between their games we went and wandered around Fort Baker which is right under the golden gate bridge. Pete had to have this photo.

Soccer season is drawing to a close. Here are a couple of pics of Quincy at his 8.30 a.m. (yes, it really was ungodly early for a Saturday) game. Aidan didn't get to play as all games were canceled as of 12.30 due to rain (and his was scheduled for 2.30). Some kindly parent brought Krispy Kreme donuts for their half time and post game snacks. The kids were very appreciative! Quincy has come on well this year. He is a remarkably fearless goalie - scoops up anything that rolls even an inch over the goal box line (or whatever it is called) right in the face of flying feet even. Of course he stands so far out that good opponents can shoot past him - but that is a small thing. He clearly loves playing - he SKIPS down the field after the ball most of the time. Perhaps not the best approach, but hey, he sure looks like he is enjoying himself!

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Why does time fly when you are having fun?
Aidan asked the question this morning. Apparently staying home for lice treatments wasn't ALL bad. I remember pondering that question as well at around his age. I don't think I answered it to his satisfaction.

Oh my. As I lay in bed this morning cuddled head to head with Quincy I noticed Aidan standing at the base of the bed, freshly showered and shampooed, scratch scratch scratch on his head. Uh oh. Over to the light for you young lad. Sure enough I remove about 5 eggs in no time. Phyllis is just about to head off to the airport - well, since I'll be keeping the kids home from school they can accompany Nanma to the airport with their daddy. There is some magically folk called "the Hair Fairies" and another mom tells me a friend had a great experience with them. I call their # but they don't open until 10. I trek down to Walgreens and ponder the chemical shampoos instead. I select one that claims to be a fun "blue" color with a watermelon scent, metal combs, and some combing gel product that professed to make the combing easier. I did take a peak at Quincy's hair and indeed he too was infested - or at least had eggs.

The boys and I all shampoo up for the requisite 10 minutes. After the gel I start combing. Wait a minute! There are LIVE lice coming out on the comb!! Weren't the chemicals supposed to kill them?!? No matter. Out them and their little eggs come. Aidan led the way, Quincy had a few and I think I had one. ICK. I realized of course we needed new towels as the old ones might possibly still have critters on them. So I reach for new ones - but OH NO! Turns out MICE have been pooping on them! A couple of weeks ago I found the same and washed them all. I couldn't figure out what the mice wanted with towels - this time it was clear - apparently the Aveno oatmeal stuff for bath in the wire basket directly above is tasty. That is now gone from the house and more towels needed to be washed... Stupid (or should I say clever) mice. We discovered that we had some a few weeks back. We managed to catch a couple in traps and put most everything away and Simple Greened the heck out of all sorts of places. I even put out poison - which seems to have been completely ignored (perhaps for the best as I have heard horror stories subsequently from friends about the smelly messes that can't be found). One eve we were awoken by a mouse chowing down on a dark chocolate bar in a plastic bag that was stashed in the bookcase near our bed. No more of that! They also enjoyed a bag of dried cranberries before I discovered that that cupboard was not secure. Turns out they like to hang out on the TOP of our fridge. They like walnuts. They are especially fond of grocery store "everything" bagels. They completely ignore peanut butter baited traps. (the manufacturers recommended bait).

Back to lice day. We broke the news to Pete who enjoyed an itchy day. Turns out he seems to be louse free lucky guy! Just thinking about it makes you itchy though. The kids did a good job vacuuming up and stripping their beds - and even submitting to hair treatments. On-line I did some reading (esp after the chemicals seemed to have had such limited success). Mayo encased heads overnight seem to be popular. Also salad dressing - or at least oil mixed with or followed by vinegar. OK - smother the beasties with oil and then vinegar dissolves away the "glue" that holds the eggs in place. Sounds like a plan (oh yeah - invest in tea tree oil to add to shampoo and maybe some tea tree shampoo as well and heavy conditioner). Oil for 3 hours. OK. First up, Aidan. Olive oil. Ziplock baggie. Oops - dripping/oozing out of the bag... Lots of protests. I recall the person saying petroleum jelly much less messy than oil. DON'T DO IT! I switched for Quincy and myself. All seemed fine. Until time to wash it out. Aidan's washed out well (I did use Dawn dish soap - they all said use DAWN and only Dawn) and I managed to comb out one additional egg. Did I mention that earlier in the day I did a dry hair head check? Couldn't find any on Aidan but cut out an additional 6 eggs off Quincy. I washed my hair multiple times with Dawn, then shampoo. Upon multiple website recommendations I powdered up in gobs of cornstarch. Later on I also tried Simple Green and bar soap. Hah. I need to figure out a hair do that will work for me that has a "wet" look. Quincy seems to be in even a worse state. He may end up shaved if things don't improve.

I feel that we will win against the lice. Thanks to preschool experience (watching others) I know how hard you have to work at it. I also feel we can eventually get the mice to give up and leave us alone. Apparently the school had someone in checking heads today (Quincy's class hasn't been checked yet) and sent home 30 kids from 9 classes. Infestation. Clearly if people are relying on the shampoos they will never get rid of them all.