Friday, October 24, 2008

So Many Women, So Little Time

women-s-conference-maria-shriver-arnold-schwarzeneggerI have to admit that when I first heard about The Women's Conference taking place in Long Beach I was a little skeptical. I didn't know anything about the event, and for some odd reason was picturing something like a large quilting bee - a huge room filled with women crafting and speaking in hushed tones. Every once in a while one of them would take the stage to make an announcement like, "I've just finished my 67th square!" and everyone would put down their needles and politely clap. At the end, the men folk would show up and begrudgingly serve the women punch and sandwiches, because, well - it was the women's day after all.

So when CVS/pharmacy offered me a ticket to this year's sold-out event, I hesitated a little. But after checking out the website and seeing the roster of speakers, I quickly accepted. Maria Shriver, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Madeleine Albright, Christiane Amanpour, Warren Buffet and Bono - these were just a few of the names on the roster. I was starting to realize I was probably way off about the whole quilting bee thing. But I was secretly hoping the men folk would still be serving me a sandwich at the end.

Here's a rundown of my Women's Conference experience. The part where I'm laying on the restroom floor was really the only low point:

The Good: I decided to go to the pre-event festivities the night before the conference, something called Night at the Village. Tickets were only $25. So what if it cost me $50 in gas to get there and back?

The Bad: Right before leaving on Tuesday night, our cat took a big crap on the bed. I figured he was pissed that I was going to a Women's Conference, as opposed to spending the evening scratching his chin and watching him fart on the couch.

The Bad: When I got to the Convention Center, there were a million people in line waiting to get in. Curse all you women and your conferences!

The Good: I cooled my heels in the bar at the Hyatt next door, where I sipped a pomegranate mojito and noshed on tempura calamari until the line dwindled down. I was starting to think this Women's Conference was a really, really good idea.

The Good: The 'village' was a huge indoor marketplace filled with sponsor booths and shopping stalls and tons of free samples. I loaded up my free tote bag with soaps, brownies, buttons and more tote bags. I tried not to be too piggish, but when a guard offered to forklift my bag to my car I knew it was time to stop.

The Good: Donna, Liz and Jill, my fellow bloggers at the L.A. Moms Blog were there, too. Jill used her connections to score us a front-row table for the opening presentation, which featured a short speech by Maria Shriver. She was wearing nice shoes.

The Not Bad, But Not Good Either: Rachael Ray, being interviewed by Valerie Bertinelli. I think I've heard it all before on Oprah. Or on those Jenny Craig commercials. I kept wishing Rachael would stop talking and whip up a 30-minute meal.

The Good: The poem read by 18-year old Roshawnda Bettencourt, winner of the California Poetry Out Loud competition. She blew me away.

The Good: My friend Tracey was there, and we discovered the margarita booth...

The Surreal: ...and went straight from there to watch some L.A. Moms Bloggers get their free flu shots at the CVS booth. Probably the only time I'll ever witness a medical procedure while sipping an alcoholic beverage.

The Very, Very Bad, Possibly The Worst: I got locked in a bathroom stall. After futilely jiggling the lock, banging on the door and praying to the restroom Gods, I knew there was only one way out. I put my bags down, and crawled out underneath the door. In a dress. And then practically had to crawl back in, because I couldn't reach one of my bags. I'm waiting for the whole thing to show up on YouTube.

The Awesome: The next morning, at the actual conference, I got to hear Christiane Amanpour speak. What an inspiration. Made me want to get off my ass, step away from the computer and travel the world. Sort of.

The Sad: I left early, to attend the memorial for our school principal. I missed the second half of the conference, which meant I didn't get to see Bonnie Raitt perform, or Bono give what I heard was an incredibly moving speech.

The Good: I no longer think the Women's Conference is a scene out of a bad Amish movie. I'm definitely going next year, and no amount of cat poop will stop me. But I'm definitely not wearing a dress.

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tags: | maria shriver | |

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Our School Will Never Be The Same

in-memory-of-errol-haftWe got a call from our elementary school earlier today that our beloved principal, Mr. H. had passed away over the weekend. We're all reeling. The girls are taking it hard - Kiyomi especially, since she's still attending the school and had just asked me yesterday when I thought he'd be coming back. When I told her the news, she started to cry, and said that school will never be the same without him. I have to agree.

It wasn't supposed to turn out this way. He went in for surgery, and from what I've heard there were complications. But we had word as recently as last week that he was doing better and was even expected back at school soon - I'm sure he wanted to be there to greet parents at back-to-school night on Tuesday.

That's the type of principal he was - hands on, and completely accessible to kids and parents alike. He knew every kid by name, and they knew him as the kind and gentle person he was. He was strict, but never harsh. He made the kids laugh. They made him laugh. I had so much admiration and respect for him as an educator and as a person. Over the years he became more of a friend to Rigel and I than just our children's principal, and I always felt extremely fortunate to have someone like him at the helm of their school.

He was one of the people that ignited my passion for the public school system, and we often had talks about how to bring more families from the neighborhood into our campus. I've struggled recently with the administration at Kira's middle school, I was looking forward to talking to him about what I experienced and my weariness with the system. I'm sad I'll never have the chance to have that talk with him.

I liked him from the moment I met him, which was six years ago when Kira was entering 2nd grade and Kiyomi was entering kindergarten. He had a dry, sarcastic sense of humor which I immediately related to. I remember one of our first conversations was about how I was stressing over some lost test results from Kira's previous school and he calmly told me, "I don't think her missing 1st grade math scores will hurt her chances of getting into Harvard." I told him I hoped he was right, but that I'd hold him responsible if she ended up cleaning the fryer at Del Taco.

Four years ago, when Kira was in the third grade, she had a problem with a 'friend' who was bullying her. It was making her miserable, and without telling her I went to Mr. H. to ask his opinion on what to do. We talked for around forty-five minutes, and I told him I wanted to find a way to solve the problem without Kira feeling like she was a 'snitch' and risk some sort of retaliation from the girl. Mr. H assured me he would handle it, and I knew he would. That same day she came home from school, happier than I'd seen her in a long time, and told me about a visit Mr. H had made to their classroom. She told me how amazing it was that he happened to bring up the topic of bullying, the very thing that had been on her mind all morning! She told me he talked about how you should treat other people, and about considering other people's feelings, and what it means to be a friend. Kira knew the talk had an impact on her 'friend,' and she felt so much better after that day. And so did I.

Our school was a wonderful place because of Mr. H. He took the school from just another struggling campus in the district to one that was recognized for its academic achievement. He was loved and respected by the kids, the parents and the teachers. He touched my children's lives and I truly feel they are better people because of his dedication. He leaves behind a wife and two young children, who my heart breaks for.

Goodbye Mr. H. You will be deeply missed. Our school will never be the same without you.

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Friday, October 17, 2008

When Your Favorite Ride Is The Parking Tram

A couple of weeks ago we went to Disneyland, and as we were boarding the parking tram I made a remark, in all seriousness, that it was my favorite ride in the park. Another mom, who was carrying an infant and sitting with two toddlers turned to me and said, "Me too." As you can imagine, this exchange caused Rigel and the girls to groan in embarrassment - what kind of old grandma conversation was that, talking about how taking transport from the parking lot to the gate was some kind of thrill ride? Maybe me and that other mom should just get out our walkers and shuffle on over to the first-aid station for a nap? They didn't care to hear my explanation, about how nice it was just to sit on a cool bench while the tram putted along at two miles an hour, the wind at my face, and then came to a nice gentle stop in Downtown Disney right in front of...La Brea Bakery. Theme park ride designers take note: You'd have moms everywhere in the palm of your hand if you ended every ride with a nice warm cappuccino and a brioche.

My girls have a hard time believing it, but there was a time when I actually liked roller coasters. The anticipation as you headed up the track, the brief pause as you caught a glimpse of the drop ahead of you, and then a few seconds of sheer terror as you plunged downward, screaming and feeling like your stomach was exiting your body through your throat. You'd stumble as you got off the ride, hold your stomach as it churned the corn dog, Coke and licorice around like a big toxic milkshake, take a quick lunge for the bushes, wipe the vomit from your face and then get right back in line! It was great fun.

But now? I have a hard time going on anything that looks like it might make me the least bit uncomfortable. Even that first, tiny drop on the Pirates of the Caribbean makes me gasp a little, and Kiyomi couldn't stop talking about how much I was screaming when her and Kira talked me into going on the Matterhorn with them. She didn't buy my story that I was over-reacting for her entertainment, and then pointed out the fingernail marks I had made in her arm as I gripped it around that last turn.

There's a ride at California Adventure called Soarin' Over California that is my absolute favorite, but it isn't exactly a white-knuckler and I know Rigel and the girls usually only ride it to appease me so they can get on with seeing the rest of the park. In fact this last time around they seemed to be a little embarrassed at my enthusiasm (I think Kira's exact words were, "Omigod. Calm down" and I think I saw them trying to walk away from me when I jumped up at the end, clapped my hands and yelled, "More, more!"

As we were leaving the park, Kiyomi came up with the idea of making a ride that would be absolutely perfect for me, one where I could not only sit in comfort but also indulge in my favorite beverage. It would be called Soarin' Over Starbucks, and instead of a virtual ride over the majestic mountains of California and through the breathtaking landscape of Yosemite, it would fly over Starbucks locations all over the world, finally ending the ride in a stop at a real coffee counter where a barista would brew a hot cappuccino for me. Is my kid brilliant or what?

(I just read an article in the L.A. times yesterday that details the renovations they'll be making to California Adventure and I don't see Soarin' Over California anywhere on the map. Note to Disney Imagineers: If you take out this ride, I will personally come over there and punch out your lights. After I'm done riding the parking tram a few times, that is.)

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tags: | disneyland | |

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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

My Tax Dollars Hard at Work

Kira came home from school today, totally upset because two of her favorite classes had been changed. I don't know how I can stress what a big deal this is, seeing as it is SIX WHOLE WEEKS into the school year, and the two classes that were changed happened to be ones that she really enjoyed. What are the odds of your kid actually liking one of her middle school classes, let alone two? I suspected the teachers were handing out free iPods, or letting them text message their friends and eat Oreos in class. But I went to Back-to-School night a couple of weeks ago and met the teachers and saw why Kira liked them: they were engaging and inventive and had a real rapport with the kids. Kind of like me and Rigel, only younger and way smarter and with better hair.

But then the school administration had a great idea: let's pull her out of an environment where she's happy, and doing well and actually enjoying school, and totally stress her out by throwing her into a couple of other classes where she has to start over from scratch. What's next on their to-do list? Leave mean notes in her locker and then pants her after gym class?

Wait! I've got it: It's actually supposed to be called No Child Left Behind Where They're Thriving.

I decided to call Kira's grade-level counselor to find out what the deal was, but he basically threw up his hands and passed the buck on to the head counselor. And this is where it gets ugly, since apparently this head counselor, we'll call her Ms. Head, doesn't like parents calling her to inquire about their children. What kind of crazy parent interrupts the head counselor's afternoon with legitimate questions regarding school policy? Obviously Ms. Head feels that parents should be seen and not heard, and by 'seen' I mean only showing up when they need someone to help at the book fair, or sell pizza at Open House, or serve soda at the faculty luncheon.

Who are you freakish people with your concerns about your kid's happiness? Can't you see being head counselor requires lots of strenuous finger-pointing and nonsensical double-talk and insulting of tax-paying parents?

I could tell she was immediately on the defensive when I started asking about the class changes, and gave me some lame answer that Kira was chosen because she “seemed to be someone who the change would be least disruptive to.” When I asked her how that was determined she answered, and I quote with her own words:

“What?! So you think we’re picking on your child, is that it?”

After digesting this bit of hostility and wondering how I could slap her over the phone, I answered that in fact, she had said herself that Kira had been singled out. Then she launched inte a rambling explanation on school district protocol, and hours of time spent analyzing schedules and careful selecting of unfortunate students. I'm not sure, but she also might have thrown in something about the time-space continuum, where Jimmy Hoffa was buried and unicorns, but this I'm absolutely certain of: She didn't ask one single fucking time what she could do to help my child.

The conversation went no where, and I could imagine her on the other end of the line, rolling her eyes and waving her bony hand in the air to pretend she was swatting me away. I suspect she had more important things to do, like catch up on her Sudoku puzzles or blow off some other parents so that she could make it to her waxing appointment on time.

I tried again, this time calling a different counselor who was a little more sympathetic but lost me when she said that one of the reasons Kira got her classes changed? Was just because "she was unlucky." I was too busy putting my fist through the wall at this point to answer that the true meaning of 'unlucky' was getting two counselors on the phone within the span of ten minutes who didn't give a flying crap about my daughter.

I spend a lot of time supporting my public school system. I've volunteered hundreds of hours serving pizza to neurotic tweens, selling snacks to impatient grade schoolers and spent countless hours riding on stifling hot, bumpy as hell school busses while chaperoning field trips. I've cut out hundreds of construction paper circles, baked untold numbers of cupcakes for class parties and mopped floors in preparation for school staff luncheons. I've cornered strangers in my neighborhood to shore up support for our local neighborhood school, and talked too loudly at parties about the importance of standing behind our local administrators. But at times like this? It makes me understand why people knock the system, and decry public education. And move to France.

I've fired off a letter to the school principal and I'm going to leave it in his mailbox in the morning. If that doesn't work, I'm going to take it to the local superintendent. I'm not sure what I'll do after I've gone all the way up to Oval Office and even ol' Dubya refuses to change Kira's schedule back to the way it was. But I'll handle the situation calmy and maturely, and explain to my daughter that her mom did the best she could to right the injustice in a fair and rational manner.

And then I'm going to give that head counselor a wedgie during passing period.

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tags: | los angeles unified school district | | |

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Friday, October 10, 2008

Cleaning Out My Camera, Part II: This Cat's Got Balls

Here's something else I found while cleaning out the chip on my camera. This is our cat Milkshake. No, he's not dead, or sick and we certainly didn't pose him this way. He sleeps like this EVERYDAY. Unlike other normal cats that like to curl up into a cute little ball or lay themselves sleekly across a windowsill, Milkshake usually saunters into a room, yawns a couple of times, plops down on any comfortable surface and then lets it all hang out, brazenly exposing his kitty parts for all the world to see. I find it mildly unsettling - I certainly don't let Rigel lay around the house like this, and I don't think my cat should either. It's especially rude when you're trying to watch TV, he settles into this position next to you and then farts. (I'm talking about Milkshake, not Rigel.)

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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Cleaning Out My Camera, Part I: Plushies Revolt

I decided to take a break from my strenuous life of napping and coffee drinking and clean out my camera. Rigel bought me this huge mega-chip and it holds around forty-years worth of photos, but it means that I can just keep shooting and shooting and never download them. I realized how dangerous this is, though, when I was at Disneyland and thought for a millisecond that I had lost the camera - there goes all the photos from every single Christmas of my children's lives, not to mention the Beatles farewell concert.

I came across this video that I shot when I took the girls to the AnimeExpo a couple of months ago. I wasn't sure what they were marching for, and wondered what injustices had occurred in order to bring these anime characters together in passionate protest. What exactly were they asking for? Equal rights for plushies? A cap on the price of felt? I never did figure it out, but I'm pretty sure that parasol is considered a weapon in several states.

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Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Miley Cyrus' Sweet 16: If Only All Sunday Nights Could Be Like This

miley-cyrus-birthday-cakeIt's almost impossible these days to come up with activities to satisfy the fickle personalities of my two girls. Kira would rather spend her time IM'ing her friends, and Kiyomi would rather spend her time - well, harassing Kira about her IM'ing. But when I got tickets to Miley Cyrus' Sweet 16 party at Disneyland, a miracle occurred: they actually agreed it was a good idea. I think I may have even seen them hug ever so briefly. So that's why, on Sunday night as most tweens were busy getting ready for school the next day, my girls and I were at Disneyland riding the Pirates of the Caribbean and stuffing our faces with cupcakes piled high with purple frosting.

(Important to note: I only got three tickets, so Rigel couldn't come hang out with us and thousands of squealing girls and their frantic moms. Obviously, he was crushed.)

The party took place after the park had closed to the public, and 5000 or so guests paid $250 each for a chance to party with Cyrus and her celebrity friends. The park looked amazing - purple (apparently Miley's favorite color) Mickey balloons everywhere and huge, candle-shaped inflatables towering over walkways. Only certain areas of the park were open, and Disneyland employees did an expert job of cheerfully keeping the crowd within the roped-off areas of the park. Who can argue with a nice lady wearing a plaid vest and waving you gently on your way with a glowing wand? I'm thinking of recruiting her to supervise my playdates.

The first thing we did was line up along the 'Purple Carpet' parade route where we were able to see the celebrities arrive, riding in open cars. Tyra Banks was one of the first to pass by, followed by Steve Carell and Cindy Crawford with their kids. High-pitched screaming from thousands of tween girls accompanied most of the arrivals, and I may have even let out a squeal myself when Babyface passed within a few feet of me. But you had to feel sorry for the cars that were met with only minimal fanfare. At one point the line stalled because the end-of-route interviews were taking a little longer than usual, and a car was stopped in front of us for a few minutes while the occupants looked around nervously. After many murmurs of, "Who is it?" filled the air, one voice said a little too loudly, "Oh, they're nobody." Those 8-year-olds can be so harsh.

There were lots of Disney stars, many of whose names I knew which made me realize I'm watching way too much TV with my kids, and Kira and Kiyomi were ecstatic when they actually got to touch the hand of some guy named Jason Dolley. (Some older girls to the right us looked pretty intent on having Jason touch something other than their hands.) Here's my picture of David Archuleta - the only picture I got that wasn't of the back of someone's head. As you can see I have absolutely no future as a photographer:

When Miley finally arrived, riding with Mickey Mouse himself, the screams were truly deafening. I took a short movie to try and capture it. I haven't heard this much screaming since last Christmas when the Macy's sale started and Spanx were half price:

The main event of the evening was Miley's concert on Tom Sawyer Island overlooking the Rivers of America. Her dad Billy Ray Cyrus did a short set beforehand. This proved to be the only snag in our evening, as finding a place to stand to watch the concert proved daunting; Disneyland employees were intent on keeping the walkway completely clear, so if you hadn't arrived early and grabbed a table in one of the eateries in New Orleans square facing the concert you were required to stand within a roped off area. We finally managed to duck under the rope and squeeze into a space, but it was nearly impossible for my girls to see over the crowd. The situation was compounded by a guy, who appeared to be around 17, who actually pushed Kiyomi out of the way in order to get a better view. I'm going to write more about that incident later and what I yelled at him, and even post a picture I took of him for full humiliation effect. Am I bitter? Why yes, I think I am.

If you've ever stood in line for an hour to ride the Matterhorn, you'll appreciate this: we walked right on - no one in front of us, and no one in back of us. Not all of the rides were open, but the ones that were had a similar situation - absolutely no waiting. And the unexpected treat of the evening ended up being stranded inside the Alice in Wonderland ride; halfway through the ride broke down, and an employee had to come retrieve everyone and walk us out, which offered a rare, up-close look at all of the sets. (Kiyomi was a little freaked out, and kept thinking the same thing would happen when were on the Pirates of the Caribbean, which I admit would be a little scary. I swear there's that one pirate who always looks at me funny.)

There were lots of activities scattered throughout the park: a Hannah Montana dance party, a "Makeover Zone" and a gaming area - unfortunately there wasn't enough time to visit them all. (Also, during the festivities Disney presented a donation for $1 million to Youth Services America.) The evening ended with a big crowd on Main Street singing 'Happy Birthday' to Miley and then a huge fireworks display. By this time it was around 11:30, and my usually tireless girls were practically falling asleep on the pavement, but they insisted on staying until the very last firework had faded. Funny, they perked right up as we were leaving, though, at the sight of the mega souvenir store in Downtown Disney. Apparently spending all of my hard-earned cash on plushies and snowglobes totally energized them.

I can be pretty cynical, but it really is hard to have a bad time at the Happiest Place on Earth, especially for a special event like this. The only drawback? It set the bar high for Sweet 16 parties - I didn't have the heart to tell Kira and Kiyomi that when their big day comes, they can expect pizza and soda in the backyard and a guy who juggles and does balloon animals. Oh, and no celebrities.

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Thanks to Michele Himmelberg in Disney PR and Maria Bailey for making this night possible!

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tags: | disneyland |

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