stop me before I volunteer, again

 

I think I have a problem.

I can’t stop volunteering.

A few months ago I was elected head of my neighborhood association.  10 Saturdays out of the year I run the meetings, bring the refreshments and in general voice the concerns of our community to the city.  So far I threw a block party, longwood block partyhelped get some trees planted, advocated for some issues with our local councilmanherb wesson with constituents , and got a website up.

The jewel in my unpaid work history was my mayoral appointment to the Central Area Planning Committee.  Roughly twice a month I am one vote on planning issues that come before us.  I get to go to city hall and I have a laminated pass.  Never has anyone felt so excited to be accepted as a civil servant. Maybe because of all the years of freelancing, I like going to an important building with a clip on badge and working.. albeit with no salary.commissioner Brogdon

I’m also on a few committee’s for my daughter’s school. ( charter, underfunded).  So I take some interest in the school board races.  There are few that do.  It’s pretty un sexy, but in LA we have a mammoth school district and unlike other cities the mayor and the council have no control over them.  So, it’s a whole other empire.  Charter’s, while somewhat apart from regular public schools, still must be granted their charter through the school district.  So, the LA school board is “our” school board as well.   Teacher’s unions tend to not like charters because the teacher’s are outside of the union.  Charter’s are suspicious of teacher’s unions and afraid they will try to shut them down.

My take on all this is that parent’s are discerning consumers of education.  So, charter’s magnets, traditional, private they will be existing with each other. But, we need to put our best foot forward. There are people in our area who would be interested in going to the local public school, but they don’t offer tours.  “Why?’  is what we have heard more than once when calling the school…that sound you here is the interested parent filling out an application for a charter lottery. No surprise, it’s under enrolled.  A mile away a traditional public school does do tours and shows itself well. That school is humming along.

So,  heard some charter parents were rally around one candidate in a special election to be held August 12th.  Good lord, the only thing lamer than having a special election in the dog days of summer would be starting school that day.  OH, that is what LA unified is doing.   I spoke to some of my political mentors about one candidate, George McKenna.  He is a retired teacher and administrator.  Years ago they made a “Stand and Deliver” type movie about his work turning around a tough school starring Denzel Washington.  A friend set up a lunch for us to meet and I went, even though he looks nothing like Denzel.  While not a movie star, I found a charming Southern man who was very thoughtful and earnest about helping children.  Before I could order an ice tea he was talking about trying to get mental health services to students in LA schools who come from troubled places.  It was one of the concerns that reminded me of how vast the LA school system is. By the way since I was a kid I have thought the district should be broken up, but fat chance of that happening.   But, what can happen is for the grip to be loosened a bit on school so that a school can cater to their particular community.  This was something Mckenna and I agreed on. Well, we agreed on quite a bit.  From the good deviled egg appetizer to how a lousy principal can sink a school.

I told him, look the charter’s are scared of you.  He didn’t know why.  “I’ve gone on record as saying if a local school is working, charters wouldn’t exist”.  He was surprised the Teacher’s union backed him because of this.  He believes in traditional, charters, magnets, whatever works for children, not one ideology. I was touched by his sincerity and persuaded by his intellect and experience. He is being outspent. “Can Denzel give you some money?”

“I don’t know how to get to him.” he said.

So, before my after lunch espresso arrived I volunteered AGAIN.

“George, maybe I can throw you an event.” My dear husband was eager to hear about my lunch.  Later we attended a political meeting that a neighbor of ours had invited us too.  On the way out he met George.  The candidate was walking by himself having just thanked the group we were attending for their support and was on to the next.

“You need to go to 5 events a day.” Mark said earnestly.

“I wish it was only 5.” George said in his honey dripping accent.

We walked away and Mark said, “Let’s do grilled cheese.”  He was totally on board.  We must have done at least 3 grilled cheese events for Garcetti.  Now that the famous Thursday grilled cheese nights at Campanile are gone for good, it might be a bit of a draw for folks.  Former council members Nate Holden and Jan Perry who are my friends are also hosting.george mckenna fundraiser

The story has been picked up by a local online publication.  Come by if you care about educating the young, or just want to eat.  Don’t make my volunteering in vain!

 

 

 

The Graduate

preschool graduationMy last baby has graduated from pre school. It was a lovely affair held in our back yard.  He had been at the school for nearly 3 years.  The hat wasn’t part of the ceremony, but dang it, I wanted to see one on his head so I ordered it up.graduation party for kids

I was part of the planning, which was a piece of cake compared to what I was doing the next day, spearheading our neighborhood block party.  We had a great taco vendor I knew provide the food.  I didn’t want anyone to worry about bringing a dish.  We set up a little amphitheater in the deeper part of my yard.

home party for pre schoolersWe asked parents to bring blankets to sit on and collected pictures of the kids through the years they had been together and hung them on string with cloths pins.  I cannot take credit for this idea, but it is one to steal.

preschool graduation

school guinea pig is in the cage

The kids marched in from behind the little chairs singing with their teachers Dewi and Douglas the chorus to Kool and the Gang’s “Celebrate”.  We sang with them. Dewi has been with Rex since he was 2 and half. That’s a heartfelt hug. When it was Rex’s turn to get his diploma I delighted in not only his accomplishment, but at how happy his friends were to see him go up and get hugs from the teachers and get his honor. He also got the book they had been keeping on him while he was there.  When his teacher spoke about working with the kids she teared up and I cried enough to make a bit of sound.pre school record

The kids played, adults drank wine, we had an ice cream truck.  Couldn’t have been better.

Though it’s a sweet little school it’s an unattractive semi industrial area of Hollywood.  It always a challenge to park as big swaths of the street are designated commerical loading for the production companies.  It has been an ongoing battle and I thought we had made head way with hour Councilman that we need Green zone, that gives you 10 to 15 minutes to drop off.  We also had a parking officer who let up on us this last year.  One can’t drop off little kids casually.  There is also an abandoned yard next to it ( Thanks to the DWP who own it and have left it to rot)  Though in the the course of their schooling the kids and teachers took little walking field trips and found the cool bits in the neighborhood.  Then the kids photographed their favorite thing.  Quite rightly my son took a picture of a fireman. That’s my boy. So, it wasn’t in rolling hills, it was ok.

after one year of preschool

after one year of preschool

On Monday they had a last half day.  When I picked him up I gave out hugs and presents to his teachers.  This was it.  I wouldn’t ever be a pre school mom again.  Door shut.  It’s a sweet time of life and I’m glad I got to experience it again through my kids.  I appreciated more with them then I did in my own time.  Which is why I think Rex is so wise to see it’s value now.  As we drove to a play space that a smart mom had set up for us to meet and have a pizza party Rex shared this:

“Momma,  I’m sad.  I want to stay in preschool for the rest of my life and play with my friends.”

I understand, I said.  I didn’t say.  It doesn’t get better.  This is the most carefree you’ll ever be in your life.  You are right to be sad about this passing moment. In a few years, more of life’s detris will come crashing on you, play while you can my son!

Then I dabbed away my tears with the parking ticket I had just gotten for parking in a commercial loading zone near his school.  Maybe, after all, I was ready to move on.

out of sync

As so often happens in my life.  I’m out of sync.  I’ve been working for my chosen mayoral candidate like I’m getting paid, I’m encouraging voters like, I dunno, it’s a right people have DIED for and then I see this:  Only 16% of LA voters voted.  It’s not just the mayors race I was keen on.  The school board race is darn important and a battle between entrenched LAUSD ( a behemoth) and parental choice.  Comic and former co worker John Fugelsang recently twittered “If you supported the Iraq War you don’t have a right to complain about the deficit.” Here, here. If you live in LA  and you complain about city services, pot holes, the schools, and you didn’t vote SHUT YOUR PIE HOLE.

Don’t tell me candidates don’t talk about what they would really do to solve problems.  Yes, they do.  I was front and center, and not looking that good, the day after the election.

from LA Daily News

Eric Garcetti came in first, but didn’t get 50% of the vote so he and Wendy Greuel now have a run off for May 21st.  Sure, he starts with general campaign stuff, but then did get into specifics  ( I’m sure it’s the same for all the candidates).  On TV that night they only showed a quick clip of him saying something general.

Do parents understand that the school board makes choices that directly affect their children’s schools? That even if you don’t have children you have a stake in how our future generations are educated? In other cities they must.  Chicago has 48% for city elections.  One of my picks was defeated, one won and the other Antonio Sanchez is in a run off.  I do not live in his district, but I still go and hear him speak and wrote a little check for the dude and while I did I yammered on about changes I wanted to see to the school system.  Do you think they listen to people who don’t show up, knock on doors or write checks ( not Bloomberg money here, probably enough to get some subs for hungry volunteers)?  Why would they?

In this country people have died trying to vote.  In other countries they still do.  It’s your responsibility to be educated about the issues and the politicians.   If candidates seem to have a narrow scope it could because they are targeting the handful of people who come out to vote, unions and old people.

In LA everyone else is too busy complaining about the pizza and pining for snow.  Be where you are, live where you live.

 

This is why you should cook for people

So few people cook that if you do they will think you are a rock star.

They will talk about how good your cooking is.

Especially if it’s a pot luck.

Rex’s school said they were doing a community night. Now, none of us parents really understood what that was.  I had been cajoling the room parent ( a dad, thankfully who gets acerbic humor) that we needed  a wine night for the parents to bond.  I’ve been down this road and after pre school the parents aren’t as much fun.  Let’s hang out while we still like each other.  But, this community night threw off our planned wine-o night.  Well, that’s okay, I’m sure it’s a chance for them to tell us how genius our kids are when they finger paint or some profound reflection about blocks.  Don’t we all want to hear that stuff? So we all trekked into the teeny, tiny classroom per instructed and brought something to eat or drink, per instructions.  I made a savory tart.

However, it was really a wine-o night in a teeny, tiny preschool room with teeny tiny seats.  One of the teachers was there, but there was no slide show about development or where they were going to go to college.  The parents are a great bunch and we did all enjoy the gab, but it would have BETTER to have been in full sized chairs. Also, there were only a few bottles of red wine brought ( my kingdom for a dry white) and when one latecomer brought in a  bottle after all the others had been drained, the opener had vanished.  I snuck into another group of captive parents to grab theirs. 

I hurt for them.  They were in the teeny tiny chairs IN A CIRCLE. No chance for sex jokes in that set up. They looked glum.  I ran back to my room.  “Ha, ha, the Dolphin room ( names changed to protect the innocent) is in a circle”

“suckers”  jeered one dad. As I tore into the last remaining bottle.  Back off I yelled, in my head, it’s all for me!

So, the other issue is the FOOD.  One other mom made meatballs, good choice.  There was a cheese plate on a dish that wasn’t level, so when you went to the cut the cheese (no fart joke intended) it kept flopping over.  There was a couple of other things in PACKAGES.  In some cases, not out of their packages. How appetizing. No one touched them.

I made an inadequate savory tart.  Ricotta cheese, some spices, carmelized onions on puff pastry.  I had high hopes for it, but it was a bit on the dry side.  I have done better in the past.  But, people like it, because so few people cook.  People don’t even know what home made food looks like anymore.

I could get evangelical, but instead I’m going back to the drawing board for my savory tart.

The morale of the story is: cook for people, they appreciate it and drinking is more fun in an area where your kids don’t nap.

Saving for college (sponsored)

As frequent coolmom readers may know my family had our savings stolen from us thanks to Madoff, Stanley Chais and other cronies.  My entire retirement, forced to sell our home and Vivien’s and my step kids college fund vanished.  Nothing like having your future put in jeopardy to focus the mind.  After that disaster I have become far more active and alert to the issue of building a nest egg.  As we all know, in the economy that might mean putting change in your kids piggy bank. And as you may have heard college costs are akin to the space program, so some planning is in order

Recently, a bunch of So. Cal bloggers converged in my favorite restaurant, Campanile, natch, to discuss saving for college.  As the wine flowed ( wine, it should be the official drink of motherhood) we discovered that the mom bloggers went from “What is a 529?” to a the super savvy “why is California one of only 13 states in the union that doesn’t give a tax incentive for 529′s?”

MY POV at dinner, lady on the right is the smarty pants who runs Scholarshare, far left always fun Sarah from MomsLA, and my new fave Kristen from Rage against the mini van. My wine glass at bottom of frame.  Dry, white, with minerality.

The dinner was sponsored by Scholarshare.  This is the State of California’s 529.  Each state has them, but only one per state.  If you are in the “what’s a 529″ camp think of it as a 401k for children.  The money grows tax free until your child goes to college, or a trade school, not for a motor cycle.  Anyone can contribute at anytime… so if you would rather grandma not buy another Barbie for your daughter, ask her to put that money in the fund.  The reason Scholarshare took us out to dinner so we ( the various bloggers) would write about it is this:

1) they just started with a new fund. , TIAA-CREF which they are fired up about.

2) they have lowered their limit for entry.  To start get into their fund one only has to start with $25.

3) Contest!  Scholarshare is having a contest on Facebook till Sept 26th.  They want people to “tell their story” about saving for college.  Winners are chosen at random so if you don’t have a super sad sack story, it’s cool, you still have a chance. Two winners will get $1,529 ( get it, 529, get it?) for their kids, you guessed it, 529.

4) They have lowered their fees.  Since we have been rebuilding our financial selves Mark and I have been automatically deducting money from our account for our little kids into a 529 from a different state.  Thumbs up for that plan as I don’t count that money in my monthly budget, so I don’t miss it.  However, after this dinner I did think …hmmm I need to check my fees on our 529. (according to Scholarshare The annual asset based management fees now range from 0.18 percent to 0.62 percent, vs. 0.25 percent to 1.06 percent with old plan).   A child can have more than one 529 so theoretically I could open one with Scholarshare with the State of California and even keep the one in the other state.  I won’t say which one it is, but it rhymes with Ball Sacka.

Here is when I put the wine glass down and really started paying attention: I asked the well spoken rep from Sacramento what is in it for the State of California to get the word out about a fund that they don’t make money on? She said… wait for it… because they know that if people have 529′s they will cost the State less money. If people don’t save they are shelling out for more grants and loans.  Now, we know how bankrupt frugal this and other states are, and if their pencil pushers have crunched the numbers and figured 529′s offset their load they are probably right ( then I picked up the glass again)

Here I am listening, being interested and calculating in my head.

On that last shoot I did with my kids ( previous post) I tried to buck my kids up by telling them they were putting money towards college.  That does help Vivien hit her mark, but Rex countered in a sing song voice, “mommy, I’m not going to college.”  As he shoved red vines in his mouth taken from the craft services table (craft service is Hollywood for junk food) I’m going to chalk up his negative attitude about college to him missing Oliver.  However, if my 3 and half year old still feels like that in 14 and 1/2 years  ( oh, that is going to go fast) he can take the dough and go to junior college, carpenter school or I can give it to Vivien for her education.  No buying tattoos with this money.

No, not a motorcycle.

So, check out the plan, the contest also HERE.. sidebar… Scholarshare is sponsoring a talk October 17th that I am very interested in.  UCLA’s Dr. Dan Siegel will speak on “12 strategies to nurture your child’s developing mind”. I’ve read one of his books and got a lot out of it.

back to school brain

 

The first day went great.  She loves her teacher.  It was nice to see some parent friends, but I couldn’t settle.  One single mom friend asked “will you be my wing man to find me a husband?”  Normally, I’d be all over that strategy, but I was looking for new cubbies.  “I’m focused on back to school.” In my head I sounded like Arnold in the Terminator  “where is Sarah Connor?”  Then also conincides with the total absences of Dolly.  Dolly is our main baby sitter and does a total wash/scrub/clean of my house every week.  She is with me some nights, but because my husband is gone- always– and I can’t be left alone with these kids. Although I do love going to Campanile for some wine and food and talking to adults.  ANYONE who walks by.  I wanted to be a mom, not a prisoner.  She is gone for a few weeks on a trip.  I have no glass to break in case of emergency.

Oliver has JUST left for college and I find I’m quite sad at his absence.  A little flavor of empty nester while I still have a little kid who vomits in my face.  With second grade comes almost nightly homework.  …ugh, that’s another post.

How is the school season for you?  How long till you get in your groove?  Does it ever kick in? And would you have washed the dress?

The parent volunteer debate

I SAID YOU ARE GOING TO VOLUNTEER!

Even though “Stunt Mom” got me out of volunteering in the video in real life I have said “yes” to leading a group of suckers new parents to weed and trim our pathetic  approachable school landscaping.

I was an RA in school ( actually we were CA’s become we were a “community’, but same diff)  and last year a school parent.  I’m kind of an enforcer at heart.  But, I also like to buck the system.  I was recruiting and training a mom to be a room parent this year,  “you can’t worry if people like you. Who cares, you have a job to do.”  Really true in life in general.

So, Mom.me asked me to write a rebuttal to a lady who was complaining about mother’s who asked her to be more active in the school. She didn’t want to be.  She called people like me “PTA moms”. Not accurate.  It’s like calling a stranger who jumps your dead battery the Automobil Club, but I think she uses it as a catch all for involved parents.  Those pain in the asses.

Those know it alls.

Those ME.  So click here to see the essay I wrote.  Let me know what you think.

Learning to Handwrite (sponsored)

Back to school time!  Gotta get the school mojo back now!

I really try to keep Vivien’s sharp brain sharp over the summer. Sure she gets to watch more cartoons, but I always have a workbook that we do a bit of math and spelling and such throughout the hot summer. There is so much data about how kids forget over the summer and it takes teachers 6 weeks of instruction to get the kiddos back on track.
Since I am raising a 21st century kid I’m on her. As she enters 2nd grade I know the homework is going to be more and she will probably need to bone up on some handwriting. Though I plan for her to be a rocket scientist she is still a little girl and bright shiny objects are a great carrot to get her to work. So, when Papermate asked me to partner with them in a video I said, Oh, yeah, let’s write it up.

 

 

Mulching madness

I worked my self into a sweating delirium mulching two large landscape areas at Vivien’s school.  The few who could volunteer, declined.  So many people backed out I didn’t even ask anyone else.  Mark went with me to the site where the city gives out free mulch.  Quality mulch I might add.  Here I am bagging my own.
mulch
We loaded into the Campanile van and the next morning I drove to the school solo. The school was closed while the staff worked on report cards.  I clipped plants, dug my water diversions trenches a little differently and weeded.  Then I unloaded the free mulch bag, by bag, or plastic box.  I had both.  I had no pockets so I had out the key to the van in my bra.

After a couple of hours getting sweating, but making this one area of the school look better I started to leave.  I loaded my shovel, wrench, spade, clippers into the van.

Where is the key?  My bra had moved up half way up my breast with all the physical movement.  I had lost the key.

I had lost the key after I had dumped mulch over EVERY PLACE I HAD BEEN.  I was a panicking.  I lost Mark’s van key once before.

Volunteering at our school doing landscaping.  We never found that key and I had to spend about $300 to get a new key made.  I got down on my hands and knees and started to go through every square inch of mulch.  Keep in mind it’s a fairly large area.  Each of the two beds is about 15 to 20 feet long.  A dad at the school is one of maintenance workers for the site.  He was very kind and dug through the trash with me and combed through several square feet of mulch.

That damm mulch.

It’s one key with a Petco tab on it.

We couldn’t find it.  I dreaded calling Mark who was with the kids at Rex’s hip hop class.

He sounded annoyed, but thankfully he said the magic words, “I have a spare.”

I didn’t think we did.  I waited till he could drive over.

“Stop putting your key in your bra.”

I know, I’m sorry.

Sigh.

super mulch day : mulching as therapy

My lack of work is a blow to my pocket book, a boon to my daughter’s school.  I love being asked my “schedule”.
I don’t have one.  Save shuttling and feeding my children.  A few meetings to try and find new locations for The Tar Pit.
I just had to give up my beloved spin class.  I can’t afford it.

The kitchen is going to be seeing more as well as I attempt to make more food at home and employ more of the knowledge I have gleaned from Chef Peel.
But, today is Super Mulch day.

mulch

I’m dressed like crap and ready to scoop up free mulch the city gives away in order to spruce up our underfunded public school. I’m the head of the landscape committee.  I’m basically the whole committee.

Living the dream.