Month: October 2010

Screams and Scares and Pizookie Pie

Oh my. There are two things battling for Most Scary Aspect of Last Night: Maris Farms’ Haunted Woods, and my caloric intake.

BJ’s in Tukwila is known for good beer and pizookie pie (a large, warm cookie with a scoop of ice cream on top); the have this unfortunate aspect of their menu, however. Like most 1Up to Applebee’s type places (Cheesecake Factory, anyone?) they  have a menu that rivals a phone book, so that you actually spend time reading it. They should get Patrick Stewart or James Earl Jones to read it, I’m sure they could lend the proper gravitas to something as ubiquitous as a Cobb Salad. I digress…

At the end of the BJ’s menu, in very very small print, is the nutritional information (including horrifically realistic calorie counts) for everything you can get there. Having something as seemingly innocent as chicken pasta got me nearly four-figures in the hole, and the couple of glasses of wine followed up with most of a Cookies and Cream Pizookie Pie pretty much finished me. I’m fairly certain I’ve had enough calories to power me for the week. Scary, scary stuff.

Then we went to Maris Farms. Maris Farms is located out on the Sumner-Buckley Highway, and you just know as you exit the 410 E you aren’t in Kansas anymore. We were passed by a large red pickup truck with ANTLERS on either side of its rear-cab windows. ‘Nuff said.

The Haunted Woods at Maris Farms is ostensibly 30 minutes (not including line wait, which we didn’t have much of thanks to fast passes) and it feels longer. If you’re a screamer (Hi!) you will be hoarse at the end of it. If you’ve been there before, note that they do change it up — I went last I think 3 or 4 years ago, and there was definitely some novelty. The souvenir mud lining the base of my jeans and my black docs was part and parcel of the fun. This year it included dead bodies, zombies, ICP kids, hillbillies with chainsaws, ghosts, vampires, people being sawn in half, people being medically experimented upon, a weird set of walkways that make you feel like you’re being squeezed out of them, trick floors, pitch-black mazes, and people just scaring the hell out of you.

It is important to note that there are porta potties just outside the entrance and exit, but nothing midway.

I think I’m good for another 3-4 years.

Trick or Treat!

Halloween has recently had to tie with Thanksgiving for my personal favorite holiday, but up until then was the absolute fave. ‘Tis awesome. You get to dress up as someone else, you get to eat candy, you get to give other children candy and hand them back to their parents. And you get to do things to your front yard that involve bones and dead plants and it looks good.

This year I optioned not to do my traditional Halloween party — the personal party will be at Maris Farms in their Haunted Woods, and that’s all good and I will blather about that maybe after I actually go. To get my costume fetish on, though, I participated in our floor’s Halloween Contests.

That’s right. FLOOR. As in some 70-odd people on one of the 15 floors of Expedia got together under a common goal: beat the pants off of the other 14 floors for prizes and notoriety. And that’s right: Contests! The two up for grabs were for best kids activity and best decorations. Originally intending to do haunted pirate-age, we switched gears to Haunted Alice in Wonderland.

I give you a chance, dear readers, to guess who put herself into knee socks, a blonde wig, and a black headband.

If you guessed yours truly, you are correct. Much to my everlasting chagrin, I put my most charming sweet innocent shy naive and unassuming self forward and got in Alice character for three hours yesterday. But this didn’t start yesterday.

Four weeks ago a small band of folks got together and charmed some cash from the higher-ups on the floor. (My higher up is the most awesome, by 250%). We committeed up and figured out games and theme and who could bring what. As the weeks crept by we had images in our head of the new Alice in Wonderland’s tea party (complete with Mad Hatter): a small pile of books in the corner of a long table, with mismatched linens and dishes, and of course, haunted items. (Did your Wonderland Tea Party include severed fingers, a skull, and some prepackaged brains? no?).  Large paper mushrooms (and 3-d ones, with the help of redecorated umbrellas), trees, flowers, bats, spiders, a small graveyard, a castle, and a red mountain circled the periphery. The movie and soundtrack to Alice in Wonderland played in the room, Jabberwocky was written on the whiteboard, and Cupcake Royale donated 200 miniature cupcakes as an exit gift. Everyone brought in mismatched chairs, we spread spanish moss over the floor (plastic first!), and developed puzzle pieces and games (bean bag toss, find the coin in the pool, and “fishing”) for small children to play in order to get to the Grand Prize — a conference room table piled with candy and the Mad Hatter.

We didn’t win.

I think.

Here’s my quandary: we didn’t win, we didn’t even place, and I honestly do not know how that is possible (we checked out other floors and agree there was only 1 that was better). Even the lady running the event isn’t sure how it’s possible. Every parent and child who walked through that room had their jaw drop, were amazed at the depth of detail, and thrilled that not only did the kids have interactive games but little prizes along the way. People, I had parents requesting me to be in pictures with their kids. I had kids and parents saying “This is just like Disneyland!”.  So yes, we didn’t win the contest.

But I haven’t seen the folks on my floor this excited about anything in a long, long time. We started decorating Thursday night at 2pm, folks got in early on a Friday to help decorate in the morning. We had volunteers for the games stations, people bringing in their GOOD dishes from home just to lend authenticity. The level of excitement and happiness and *care* on the floor was beyond anything I’ve experienced in my six plus years here.

I am personally proud of our floor.

And in my opinion, we *did* win. So there.

Birthday

Today is my birthday. I’m 37.

When I was a kid, I looked forward to my birthday first and foremost as the day when everything would magically go right: there would be cake and presents and I’d be the star of the party. Oh, and presents. Wait, I already said that. At any rate, there would be wonderful awesomeness and it would rain down glitter and stars and balloons and even when I was in junior high (which I hated, hated, hated) it was still a pretty good day to be had.

The thing is, when you’re a kid, you spend a lot of time planning and daydreaming about your next birthday — usually starting the day after your last one — and then you get to the big day, and then you start daydreaming of the next one. These daydreams are punctuated in pause by Christmas (or Hanukkah or whatever other large family occasion one celebrates) and occasionally ameliorated by summer break or vacations.

In my 20’s, my birthday was still special, but of course then it involved alcohol, a check from my parents, and some sort of dining-out thing. Occasionally it included a trip to Vegas (for, living in San Diego, Vegas is a cheap and expedient trip). The amount of daydreaming and expectation surrounding the actual day, however, did start to dwindle.

In my 30’s, I had a child, sold and bought a house, got a divorce, and embarked on a new career. All of these things chipped away at the birthday expectation time, until we arrive to this, my 37th birthday.

I just realized yesterday that today was really IT.

Here is an absolutely accurate account of how I have spent this birthday:

1. Woke up. Late. As in, I hit the alarm clock one too many times. So, I spent my at-home birthday morning rushing around the house like a wildwoman, dressing in the first convenient thing (grey dress, black boots, tights), fed the dogs and off I went.

2. Oh crap, I didn’t moisturize. And I’ve run out of in-car moisturizer. Target time, where I buy moisturizer. And Oil of Olay’s latest foofy answer to wrinkles and eye bags (I kid you not). Anti-aging cream as the first purchase of the day: it says something, doesn’t it?

3. Oh crap, I didn’t eat breakfast. Ok. Top Pot time, even though I wasn’t  all happy about my weight (which was -2 on Thursday but +1 on Friday. I have worked 5 of the last 6 days so I do not know what is up there).

4. To work, barely in time for meeting 1. Then there’s meeting 2, some more work stuff, blah blah. Then it’s off to

5. The Chiro, who is Always Chiropractic & Wellness, and I highly recommend them.

6. Well adjusted, I went home to walk dogs and sort out this and that whilst I waited the 20 minutes for the

7. Parent Teacher conference for the boychild. Boychild is doing well, we have plans to increase the wellness. And stuff. So then I rush back to

8. Work, where there are more deliverables and stuff.

And that’s really my day. I may go out later … it’s looking like I will… but I can’t help but think this is a comment on my relative age: the day has revolved around the boy, wrinkles, work, and the generalized responsibilities of the suburban single parent. There is no birthday check in the mail, there will not be presents and cake and candles, and I’m fine with that. At least I haven’t got to the point where birthdays are a chore, or to be avoided.

I expect that’ll be next year.

Time Managed

I love me some Halloween. Love it! I have gravestones I put out in my yard and skeletons I put in my entryway; the season is not complete unless there are two trips to the pumpkin patch. So when I realize that Halloween is 10 days away (pretty much) and I have done no decorating, have no costume, and have a limited number of hours left to contend with all of that, I get a little sad.

Lately I’ve had to force time for things that are not Boy or Work. Things like workouts, seeing friends, dates, hobby time are all limited to a few hours a week. If I have a project due (Harry Potter Hogwarts robe, anyone?) it can endanger the presence of the rest. If I have to travel for work (NYC last week), it can shove everything aside as well. Last week I worked out twice. One bike, one swim. That is not sufficient.

Making time for working out (which is necessary, because with the holidays approaching and cold weather incoming this little heifer gained some weight already) is a really big issue of late. I’ve managed to hit the gym 3 times in 4 days, and hope to get it to a regular 5x week, but it’s at the sacrifice of other things. There are just not enough hours in the day!

One might point out that if I didn’t sign myself up for thirty-odd things I wouldn’t have this problem. I suppose I worry that if  I give up one or two or three I’ll suddenly have pruned too much (like I do with plants) and I’ll be stuck with an ugly empty unproductive life.  The male person teases me about me worrying that my idle hands are the “devil’s playground” and, minus the religious implication, that may be correct.

It’s a mark of a grown up that part of me sees the logic in the Halloween products making it into stores so much earlier in the year. It may take that sort of planning after all.

… in the City

No, no sex. Sorry. This is the public blog.

I write from a Starbucks on the corner of West 63rd and Broadway, next to my hotel. Having stayed up to a dubious hour (1am anyone?) I am in need of the caffeine injection that is being served up, ironically, by a cup of decaf.

The city (or this tiny pocket of it, which is all I’ve seen of NY but for my cab ride between JFK and here — NY cabs always make me nauseous, I don’t know why) is much less odiferous then when I was last here. The combination of a rainstorm and mid-60’s weather makes it nearly clean, and I can see why some would choose to live here. Me, there’s no way: the sheer volume of people can be oppressive.

In true efficient business trip fashion, I’m here for slightly under 48 hours and expect to fly out in my cramped little Delta seat tonight. My only cultural brush was the view of the NY Philharmonic just outside of my window, which was nice. That, and catching Clash of the Titans the night before last while jetlagged.

Yes, business travel is soooo glamorous.

That said, on to the hotel review: The Empire Hotel, which is two doors down from my Starbucks at present. It’s a beautiful hotel, tastefully appointed, with a fitness room (recumbent bike only), meeting rooms, a restaurant (we didn’t eat there last night, opting for a Mexican restaurant with half-naked divers of GiJoe Action Figure size positioned side by side on a tile waterfall), and a lounge. We made good use of the lounge last night.

The individual rooms were purported to be small by NYC standards according to the reviews I had read, but I really didn’t find them so. (Rooms at the Paramount are small). The beds are very comfortable, I wish I had been able to enjoy them more but jetlag left me but six hours each night to actually sleep. Toiletries are Supreme Unleaded, with L’Occitane making them and you indeed smell like Froot Loops when you’re done bathing. This is not a bad thing in the city.

How to Lobby the PTA Way

The title of this blog is also the title of this morning’s presentation here at the PTA Legislative Assembly.  I am watching a very nicely suited and clear-voiced young man telling me how lobbying isn’t a bad thing. He is reassuring me that nonprofits are allowed to lobby on issues, and that the PTA can take a stance on them (the PTA cannot lobby for or against a candidate).

The film is also telling us how to lobby our congressman. As in, don’t go in with cookies and act all reverent, don’t pitch on things other than the PTA. Show up, act professional, have strategy. Introduce yourself and represent your PTA, get into your agenda, and don’t expect more than 15-20 minutes with your congressional member.

To demonstrate this (including how to prepare), they have a sampling of people to show how PTA people act “wrongly”, and then “correctly”. This sample of people is the same people and includes the Scooby-Doo swirly effect to back up and show the “right” way after showing the “wrong” way. The sampling of people reminds me of the bridge of Star Trek – every creed and color accounted for. I wish I could say that about today’s attendees, who are 75/25 female to male, and 95/5 white to nonwhite.

I find this a bit patronizing, but useful. Do I see myself meeting with my local representatives? Yes. Do I see myself going to Olympia? Quite possibly. Do I see myself dressing in a navy blue power suit to do so? No. (But I won’t be wearing jeans and Doc Martens, either).

The Advocate

About a month ago I volunteered (again) for something in my son’s PTSA (again). This time, it was Legislative Advocacy. 

To put this into perspective – every PTA/PTSA in Washington State is encouraged to have a Legislative Advocate to present and appear for their school at state events.  There are thousands of schools in the state of Washington. There are not thousands of Legislative Advocates here at the Sea-Tac Marriott, perhaps there is a thousand but I estimate it’s more like 700.

I’m at the Sea-Tac Marriott for the annual PTSA Platform Conference. For two days we go through all of the issues – getting funding, teacher tenure vs. performance, quality of food in the schools, math and science emphasis, literacy, etc. – and then vote on behalf of our school. The larger your PTSA constituency, the more votes you get. I get three this year.

The agenda for today starts with breakout sessions on the variety of topics – in the case of my school, according to the survey we provided to our members, we’re interested in Math & Science, Literacy, and Funding Schools First. Ergo, to these sessions I will go (am going…) in the next three hours. Then there’s Advocacy Training—how to look at the issues, how to get people fired up, why advocacy is important – and caucusing.

The polls open at 9:30pm and are open for 1 hour, 15 minutes.

That’s right. My day as the Advocate started at 7:30 and will end slightly over fourteen hours later. As unpleased as I am with this – and largely it’s because the original agenda I saw released us for the day at 5:45 – I am already finding this a pleasant surprise in other areas. I didn’t honestly expect to be vociferous today; you’d think everyone else thinks the way you do. But when the man in front of our Issue Education Session on Math & Science got up in front of the “class” and asked what was wrong with Math and Science in schools, this is what I heard:

·         I’m worried that kids that like math and science are unfairly labeled as nerds in school

·         My kid only got xyz grade in science last year

·         I’m worried that kids with math majors can’t do anything for a job but teach

Hearing this I thought it prudent to speak up. We need consistency in math and science education, both between schools and through the grade process. We need to start science in our classes earlier – the scientific process (hypothesis – method – experiment – results – review) can be used in not just science but a variety of other fields, even within the purview of schoolwork itself.  To my way of thinking, what children are labeled as – whether it be as a result of what subjects they enjoy, how they dress, or other affinities they have – is not a fault of the subject. It is a fault of the parents, who need to educate their children on how to deal with discrimination and rejection; it is a fault of the school for allowing an environment where such discrimination and rejection is tolerated. It is not a fault of the math curriculum.

Likewise, your child’s score is not a fault of the curriculum – if most of the other kids are scoring within the norm. There’s this thing called statistical analysis (we’ll get into that later) which has this concept called a “bell curve”. It looks like a bell and if most of the kids are in the bulb of the bell and your kid is not, they’re either super-succeeding or failing.  If they’re super-succeeding, get them into an honors class. If they’re failing, help them with their homework (or find someone who can). As to the ability to get a job with a math degree beyond teaching: there are many successful statisticians who seem to be doing just fine with their 150k/year jobs, thanks.

The definition of an Advocate is a person who speaks or writes in support or defense of a person, cause, etc. There is a difference in being an advocate for your child (which is your responsibility within the context of your child and your child’s school, for example) and being an advocate for your school. In short: we are not here to address your individual issues with your children; we are here to address our collective issues with the educational system.

Bleh

Lately I’ve been attempting to keep in shape with the full-contact pilates and swimming. I’ve succeeded in the sense that I’m not gaining weight… but I’m not losing it, either.

In other news, this picture reminds me of the pain that is full-contact pilates. This would be the “Petulant Child Pose”.