Monday, May 25, 2009

In praise of the community pool

We live in country club territory. There are three country clubs within five miles of our home. Swim team is a big deal around here; in the summer SUV windows are painted with slogans such as "GO HOX!" It's a beautiful thing: healthy kids, healthy competition.

We don't belong to a country club. But I'm not sorry about it. Dave belongs to a prestigious golf club an hour from our house, which I wish he'd use more often. We don't do swim team because our tendency has been to spend at least a few weeks each summer at Tahoe and take an extended vacation every other year. This doesn't lend itself to to being a good swim team member.

We don't have a pool at our house, nor do we want one. Sure there are a few days a year when I wish we did, days when it's well over 100F degrees and I would just love to throw the kids outside to burn off their energy. But Dave and I both grew up with pools and were in agreement that as adults, we didn't want the hassle of maintaining one.

Instead we joined the local community pool, which is perfect for our needs. It draws from the homes surrounding our elementary school and every afternoon it's full of kids that our kids either know or recognize. I love it there. The kids swim as long as we'll let them. I plant myself on a chaise under an umbrella, chat with the moms and dads or immerse myself in a book, magazine or technobabble, and look up every so often to see The Pinks' face-eclipsing smiles. It also gives me an opportunity to get to know the parents who I do not often see at school because I spend my days banging away at this laptop or volunteering in individual classrooms, not on the PTA.

We were at the pool today for a few hours before having some friends and family for dinner. Polka dots seem to be in this year, as well as brightly striped beach towels from Target. It was crowded and fortunately we got there early enough to get a good spot. And so BBQ season begins ...

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Paris Goes to Lake Tahoe!

But not this weekend. This weekend Paris actually went to her own book release party at The Candy Shoppe.

"Uncle" Bryan and Tucker Real Estate hosted said event, while more than 60 people came and went, and during which Paris read the fourth book in the My Friend Paris series, "Paris Goes to Lake Tahoe."

We were happy so many friends and family came out to celebrate with us, and to support our local sweet shop. The books are for sale there and on

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Burp Cloths

I spent more than an hour tonight embellishing cloth diapers for Thing 1's teacher, Mrs. W. They are now officially known as burp cloths. Adorable ones at that.

Earlier this year Paige did a pee-in-your-pants funny Postponement Parenting post. A few months after that she blogged that her daughter's teacher, Mrs. W, was pregnant. I stalked Paige until she finally picked up her phone and told me that it was not the Mrs. W who was Thing 1's teacher, it was the other Mrs. W who teaches first grade.

Still, I knew that our Mrs. W was not far behind. She's in her early 30s and has just been married a few years. Sure enough, later in the school year our Mrs. W announced her new body shape was not due to a month-long burrito binge but due to a due date. I actually figured this out a month before the word was officially out and no one believed me. Hey, I've been pregnant twice: I know the signs. Mrs. W is very thoughtfully having her baby this summer.

First grade is my favorite academic year. If done right, the kids learn to love reading and the possibilities it opens them up to. The best part of the year is now: the life cycle of a chicken. No joke. This unit culminates with the arrival of an incubator and eggs. The children watch the eggs, guess when the chicks will hatch and brainstorm then vote on names for them. This is all carefully timed so the chicks hatch right before Open House. Thing 2's class named their chicks Jellybean and Fuzzy. Fortunately she has not asked to bring one home. Yet.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

I was a really good mom before I had kids.

We're embarking on new territory. Thing 2 just tried out for the Soccer Academy, the more competitive group for 7-year-olds. I am stressed about this. I really don't care if she makes it or not. I am stressed because I wonder if it's too much too soon. Have you read the paper lately? It's full of stories about pushing your kids too hard and the sports-related injuries they suffer at much too young an age. Still, she wants to do it.

This topic is timely because it's rare that I question my parenting choices. Whatever we screw up will be resolved by therapy.

Just this week I read the book "I Was a Really Good Mom Before I Had Kids." I hated it. I blogged about the authors' new book last month and was happy to borrow this one from a friend. There was every reason to like it. I'm an involved parent. It's my job to raise smart, socially conscious children. But this book just rubbed me the wrong way. I tend not to whine about this stuff or give it so much thought. I'm sure the authors wrote it to reassure women that they are not alone. Yes, there is a lot to motherhood. Still, if I thought about it too much I'd freak out about the huge responsibility it is and lose whatever's left of my sanity.

Here's a list of some of the issues that mothers today struggle over:
  • Organic vs non organic
  • TV vs no TV
  • Potty train at two vs potty train at three
  • Barbies and guns vs no Barbies and guns
  • Work vs stay home
  • Music class vs gymnastics class vs no class
My views on these things are moderate. Organic when possible. TV after homework is done and on Saturday mornings so we can sleep in. Potty train at two to reduce the number of diapers that go into landfill.

Until 18 months ago Dave traveled 75% for work. It was just the way things were. We had three kids and I was the mom. Now that he doesn't travel for work we share in parenting duties fairly equally; I appreciate it because those early years were pretty busy!

The only part of the book I liked was the Dirty Little Secrets. Here are a few gems:
  • I tell my daughter, "You are only two years old. It says right here on the package that you can only have two cookies."
  • I tell lies. Soccer's been canceled; we can't go. Or, the pool's not open; we can't go.
  • I want my own apartment because I don't like people touching my stuff.
  • Sometimes I think, "I can't believe I gave up nine months of drinking for this."
Yet this week I questioned a parenting decision. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Preview: Malaga

As I mentioned, this year's adventure is to Andulucia, Spain, to just outside the town of Malaga. Dave's friend Andy did junior year abroad in Valencia and ten years later married the Spanish beauty he met there. We planned this trip thinking that Carmina would show us around. Sadly, Andy and Carmina are no longer married but Andy's coming with us and we're hoping to see a pseudo-insider's view of the Costa del Sol.

This house is a bit different from the others we've rented. Its grounds are more extensive with several buildings on it. The main house has four bedrooms and there's also a pool house and three other buildings with guest accommodations. The property is used frequently for weddings and has been in several films. The owners have received rave reviews on Trip Advisor and are young and British; I anticipate that they will be as lovely as were John and Lydia, who set the bar exceptionally high.

My brother is not coming with us this time as they just bought a new house. My parents are. They joined us in Italy we barely saw them. Really and truly. We had dinner with them two nights and they joined us in the pool for an hour one afternoon. The rest of the time they left before we got up and busily worked on their check offs. We'll see if this year is the same.

People seem to love Spain. My brother spent three weeks there after college. My husband has been there. One of my colleagues just came back from a trip with his husband, their 2-year-old and their extended family. I'm a little scared about a place where dinner begins at 10p. When was the last time I spoke in full sentences after 10p?!

After our two weeks on the Costa del Sol we're heading north to Barcelona before flying home. Ever since I took a European architecture class in college I've been dying to see Gaudi's Sangrada Familia Church there. The day is quickly approaching! I've watched Cheetah Girls 2 enough times to know that Barcelona is my kind of town!

If you read my previous post and think this is your kind of trip, speak up. We just had a cancellation for the second week and have room for four more people. The airfare is at an all time low as I type.

The fun begins Sunday as we are having the Week 1 families over for brunch. Strangely enough, three of the four Week 2 Provence couples are going on a wine tasting trip together in Paso Robles this weekend. And they weren't all best buds before the trip, either!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Clear expectations and meticulous planning

A few of you have emailed me asking exactly how one orchestrates a successful overseas home rental.

The answer is: clear expectations coupled with meticulous planning. It's a little scary wiring thousands of dollars overseas hoping that you're not being taken. I'm always relieved when we arrive at a rental and find out that it really does exist.

We've been lucky two out of three times. The apartment we rented for four days in Paris was disgusting. The location and view were pristine but there was no hot water and it was filthy. We didn't use the kitchen at all.

Fortunately our longer home rentals of Mas de Gancel and Villa Fantino were even better than they appeared online.

Mas de Gancel's owners, native New Yorkers Lydia and John Dean, restored an old farmhouse and added vineyards and American amenities like extra bathrooms, a modern kitchen and a fenced-in pool. Not only did they put together a vacation rental with all the comforts of home, they also founded GoPhilanthropic, a travel company for the socially conscious. During our time in the Mas, Thing 1 was bitten by a spider and needed medical attention. Lydia rushed right over and took us to their doctor. Everyone pretended that Thing 1 was one of the Dean's kids and voila, we were home in an hour with prescription meds. If you have time, read the Dean's story. It's touching.

Villa Fantino was another find. The house was 400 years old and its walls were 18" thick, which translated to lots of privacy. While its kitchen was not as clean and modern as Mas de Gancel, its location was prime, on the outskirts of Siena, and we were there right before the Palio. We did not anticipate the stunning views from the property and the grounds were ideal for the kids, three acres on which to run around. Olive oil is made on the property from the olive trees there. If you got a hostess gift from us that year, chances are that it was olive oil I brought back. I love this picture of my brother, Ice Cream SIL and my 15-month-old niece in one of the hill towns we explored.

What does this all tell you? Essentially, I look and look and look until I find the right property. And then I hope that it really exists.

Things that have worked for us:

1. I am a dictator. I pick the house. I pick the dates. There is no negotiation.

2. Lodging expenses are shared. We take the cost of the house and divide by the number of bedrooms. Choose how many bedrooms you want and send us a check. Then your spot is guaranteed.

3. Food expenses are shared. Everything in the house is fair game for everyone else to eat. Everyone shops and saves receipts. We divide it up by number of mouths at the end. If you're the kind of person who likes to split the check down to the cent then this is not your kind of vacation.

4. Come for one week and one week only. We stay for two weeks and have two sets of visitors. We suggest that you go someplace else first and then come visit us. This way you can do laundry at the house midway through your trip and you are adjusted to the time change when you join us.

5. The first one up in the morning makes breakfast for all the kids while the rest of us sleep in.

6. Leave your judgment stateside. Everyone parents differently. Everyone travels differently. Assume people are doing the best they can and that their intentions are good. I'm not much of a drinker. You are. You drink as much as you want and I'll buy as many shoes as I want.

As silly as it sounds, one of my favorite parts of the trip is the initial provisioning run. Neeracha and I have this down to a science. We take the larger of our two rental cars to the local supermarket. We then meander up and down every aisle and fill two carts with everything we need and everything that looks interesting. She's a ham junkie. I'm a cheese junkie. Dave likes crunchy snack foods. Sean needs coffee. We buy beer for the boys to tide them over until they can pick out some wine.

Next: Malaga preview.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

The countdown is on.

Five weeks from now we'll be on our summer holiday.

Every other year we take a big family vacation. This is the year. We have a formula and it seems to be working. We rent a large home with a pool someplace interesting for two weeks and invite our extended family and friends to join us.

Our first trip was to Siena, Italy, in the Tuscan countryside. We called this trip Nine under Nine because we had nine children with us, all girls and all nine or under. The Pinks were 3.5 and 7.5. The travel there and back was brutal but the trip was amazing. So amazing that the same group of people came two years later, plus a few more. Our second rental was in Provence, France. Again, it was a great time. This summer we're going to Malaga, Spain.

People frequently ask me about this way of vacationing. All I can say is that it works for us. We get quality time with our extended clan, a good dose of culture, and there are a lot of kids around to entertain each other. I am incredibly picky about where I put my head down at night so the search begins more than a year in advance as we are looking for lots of beds and baths on at least a few acres with a pool.

What exactly do we do? Most days we leave the house 10ish and sight see. (The housekeeper tidies up while we're out.) We return around 4p and swim or nap. We strategize over dinner and either go out, have the chef come in or take turns cooking. The kids go to bed around 10p and the adults stay up late, drinking whatever we bought while we were out and about. Some days we all go out together. Some days we split up. Some days we go further afield and stay through dinner. But most days we regroup at the house in the late afternoon and compare notes.

If you don't have a friend like Neeracha to travel with, you need one. She speaks four languages fluently and picks up the ones she doesn't very quickly. She can also read a map while driving, which is good because I dislike doing both overseas. She blogged exhaustively while we were in France, which thrilled Thom and Sara because they came a week later and thus got a sneak preview. She's already on the ball this year and got us advance tickets to the Alhambra.

Highlights of years past:
1. An entire day shopping the Italian outlets with Neeracha, Amanda and Ice Cream SIL.
2. Being the only Americans at one of the pre-Palio banquets. (This is the first picture, above. Our banquet, one of 13, had tables set for 600.)
3. Having Chef Ronald prepare and serve us meals at the house in Provence. (This is the second picture, above.)
4. Daily gelato
5. Pont du Gard
6. The open air markets

Yes, I'm excited to be doing this again. I will be more excited once I get on the plane and crack open the travel books.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

I am adult enough to admit it:

I am a Twilight junkie.

I have all read four books plus the Midnight Sun draft on Stephenie Meyer's web site. I have seen the movie more than five times and have my own copy. I listen to the soundtrack in the car.

It's pretty bad. Fortunately I am not alone.

My Ice Cream Sister-in-Law read all four books in four days. She and her friend have picked the book and movie apart, too. She said it made her feel better knowing that me, the working mom of three, who has very limited free time, was having a problem, too.

While we were at the park together, a first grade mom confided that she's hooked, too, and is rereading the books.

One of my neighbors is rereading the books, too, on her daily train ride into the city. She turned me on to the fan site Twilight Moms.

It's not Robert Pattinson, I swear. He seems dirty and not in a den of inquity sort of way. It's not Taylor Lautner. He's very young. It's the story. It's just sweet and refreshing and different! It's a lovely love story.

If you have not read them, just get it over with. It's great escapism.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

I don't know you.

It seems I've been avoiding people lately.

Situation 1:
I've only fired two clients in the ten years I've had my own marketing agency. I genuinely like the work I do and most of my clients are good people; several have become close friends and others have brought me more business as they've moved to other companies. These two just happened to be the exception and I looked forward to never again gazing upon their smug, arrogant, nasty faces that made me queasy every time I saw an email from them.

Except that I did -- on the soccer field Friday night where one of them has a child on Thing 2's team. I'm sure he dislikes me as much as I dislike him so I did what came naturally to me: I pretended not to know him.

Situation 2:
As you know, Dave was in Dubai this week so my free time was practically non-existent. I got a shower in every day but did not always complete the look with a blow out and makeup. The Pinks and I stopped at the grocery store one day after school and came upon a former co-worker. She was someone I really liked but it'd easily been ten years since our last encounter and I was not looking so pretty. Nor was she, fortunately. So I did us both a favor and scooted down another aisle pronto.

Situation 3:
I've lived in quite a few places. Three stints in California, high school in Alaska, college in Wisconsin. I've consulted to more than 25 companies. When I see people out and about I can't always recall where our paths intersected. I attribute this issue to the brain cells I lost while pregnant. Really and truly, there's only room in my head for things that are critical for survival.

A few weeks ago Dave and I were in Costco and I noticed a familiar-looking guy. He looked at me, too, so clearly he was thinking the same thing. I didn't say hello even though I probably should have but we were in a hurry and I just didn't want to expend the energy. Sure enough, he, too, turned up on the soccer field Friday night and I remembered that we met at indoor soccer in the fall.

Three different situations and three different reasons for avoidance. In the first I didn't want to talk to the guy as I would surely have been impolite and said pointedly "Does your lovely wife here know that you are a total a$$hole in a work environment?" In the second I wanted to save us both from wishing we'd brushed our hair more recently than first thing that morning. In the third I just didn't want to struggle with trying to figure out where our paths had crossed while stressing that I had to be home in 20 minutes for my next conference call.

Am I antisocial? More food for thought.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Have I crossed the line?

Are Facebook Friends supposed to turn back into Real Life Friends? (I feel like Carrie Bradshaw as I type this.)

I recently reconnected with Jeff. Jeff and I met on vacation when he was 15 and I was 16. We were never anything more than friends and, because he lived a few hours from where I went to college and I adored his parents, we hung out a lot. Then Jeff went to UCLA and sometime after that we lost touch.

As it turns out, we're both Facebook friends with my cousin Marla. By email he mentioned that he, his wife and son always spend 4 July in St. Helena and before I knew it I suggested we all get together when they're here this summer. The next email from Jeff said, "Let's talk about this. What's your phone number?"

Uh oh. Did I go too far? Was I wrong to assume we'd just resume our friendship, spouses and kids now part of the mix? I'm genuinely happy he married a great gal and that they have a child together. I look forward to getting to know her (even though she is a marathoner and is probably skinny) and to introducing him to Dave and The Pinks.

Jeff and I spoke a few days later. He sounds exactly the same and we picked up right where we left off. I can't wait to see him, and meet his family. Apparently I did not cross the line. But this did cause me to pause and reflect.

I have 200+ friends on Facebook. This is very strange to me because I'm not very social. But because I have consulted to many companies and lived in many places I seem to have a lot of Facebook friends. What was it about Jeff that made me sure we could be IRL friends again, even though we live 2000 miles apart? Is it a secret wish for one of The Pinks to marry his son so her in-laws are a known commodity? Is it because I have so few straight male friends because close male friendships are taboo once you're married? (This is another post for sure.) Is it because special friendships are so hard to cultivate when you juggle a family and career?

Food for thought.