Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Chess and Soccer Rule My Life

I may not have a lot of time to post here in the next couple of weeks. We're hosting a chess tournament on the 10th, and even though I've delegated a lot this year (in preparation for the possibility of me not being around next year) there's still a lot of little time-consuming details to go through. But I'm looking forward to it -- it's always fun, and I have a fantastic group of parents to do most of the work, and the kids always have a good time.

And most of the little time I have for blogging may be going to my soccer stuff. My beloved French guys are playing a game next week, and the LA Galaxy is all over the news because of the Beckham transfer. Sorry if this bores you. (But how can soccer bore anybody? It's beyond me.)

I'll post whenever I get the chance.

Monday, January 29, 2007

An Unfair Pairing

At church yesterday, the pastor called the kids up for the Children's sermon. When the children were all gathered around, he asked them, "Where did you see God yesterday?"

Now, my sixth-grader is MUCH too old to go up to the front of the church with the little kids, but one of his schoolmates and fellow chess players was up there. She said, "I was at a chess tournament yesterday."

The pastor said, "Oh! A chess tournament! Did you see God in your opponent?"

My son leans across the pew torwards his sister and mutters, "Now THAT wouldn't be a fair match!"

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Suddenly We All Love Chess Again

You have no idea how much I did not want to go to this tournament after my little e-mail faux pas the other day. I actually dropped the three kids I was driving off at the school and then left to go get coffee. I NEVER do that -- I tend to want to be there to support the kids from beginning to end. I showed up again just in time for the coaches and judges meeting, where I managed to completely avoid the tournament organizer until halfway through the first round, when I had to go back to the parent room to make a loudspeaker announcement to try to clarify some results discrepancies.

And that's when she came up to me. And I'm thinking, "Oh. Crap. Where's a trapdoor for me to drop through."

But instead I apologized profusely, and she said, "No, it got me thinking that maybe you're right. We'll do things differently next year." And they're sending players to our tournament in two weeks, so there are apparently no hard feelings. And all is well. And I'm TOTALLY going to check the "To" windows of every e-mail I send for the rest of my life.

It was a fun day, actually. I haven't judged at the last two tournaments I've been at, and I'd forgotten how much I enjoy that. I like to take the 1st-3rd section. It's good to be there with the kids when they're at their most emotional, to help them collect themselves or work on their sportsmanship or just kind of nod and say, "Yeah, I hate to lose too."

And my son had the tournament he needed for his self-confidence after the MLK Day disaster -- an elementary-only tournament without a high level of competition. There was only one higher-rated player, and she had the good grace to lose round 3, so they didn't have to play each other. He won all five games, something he hasn't done in more than a year (after doing it two or three times in 4th grade.) So he won the 4th-6th section and qualified for Tournament of Champions -- something he tried for desperately all last year but couldn't manage because two extremely high-rated players moved into our district. Fortunately neither of them was there yesterday. And then on top of that he won all of his games in the blitz (speed chess) tournament afterwards and took first in that also, and qualified for the State Blitz Championships as well.

Plus our 4-6 team did unexpectedly well and took 2nd. And the weather was sunny and 55. It's amazing how that can affect you after months of clouds. All in all an extremely good day.

So what this all boils down to is that yesteday morning I was 100% certain I would stop doing this next year. A combination of the e-mail incident, plus the four @#$% hours I spent trying to order our tournament trophies online on Friday, plus a somewhat critical e-mail from a parent. (And let's ignore the fact that it was completely deserved -- something I'd promised to do but dropped the ball on. Still.) I'm at that awkward spot where burnout meets love for the kids meets a sense of duty,combined with the knowledge that if I DON'T run the program next year it will probably die. Or at least take on an unrecognizable form.

So I guess this means I'm back on the fence again.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

"Who Wants An Ugly, Stupid Kid?"

I don't generally blog the news, but every once in awhile I'll read something that just pushes my buttons.

Meet Jennalee Ryan. She lives in Texas. She sells embryos. And not just any embryos. Smart, beautiful embryos. (Because these things are SO under our control.) She takes the donor sperm, combines it with the donor egg, and sells the result to anybody willing to fork over her fee -- approximatealy $5000 a pair.

Sperm donors have doctorate degrees, and egg donors must be young, intelligent and attractive. According to Ms. Ryan, "We are helping couples and putting good genes back into the universe." Gosh, what a worthy goal. Because there are absolute NO PhDs or intelligent, attractive women who are, like, really ugly on the inside, right, Jennalee? And we all know that the only personal qualities that count in life are educational level and physical attractiveness.

Jennalee herself sums it all up nicely: "Who wants an ugly, stupid kid?"

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

E-Mail Stupidity (OR: What Kind of an Idiot Am I?)

Okay, what kinds of stupid e-mail errors have I done in the past?

Let's see. A woman from church accidentally left something with my husband, then e-mailed saying, "Can you drive it to [location twenty miles away]?" During rush hour. During the Christmas season, when we all know how quiet and tranquil life is. I forwarded it to him with the comment, "Gosh, she doesn't want much, does she?" Except I didn't forward. I replied. Oops.

Or my mother-in-law (who somehow does not share our sense of humor and takes life VERY seriously) sent one of her always-helpful little e-mail forwards, something about perfect gifts for mothers (spa trips, manicures) and fathers (Home Depot gift cards, car repair kits, etc.) Um. Yeah. That's so us. So I forwarded it to my husband at work with the comment: "Guess this proves it. I'm not really female, and you're not really male." And um...well... Darn it, why do the Reply Button and the Forward Button have to be so close together!!

And then we have today. I'm sending a team to a chess tournament this weekend, and one of my moms forgot to register her son. So I sent her the e-mail address to contact the organizer. And...well, AOL has this cool feature, where if you go up to the "To" box and type in the first letter or two of the address, it will automatically fill in the rest. And I REALLY thought I hit "cut" to remove the organizer's address from the box so I could paste it into the body of the e-mail for my chess mom.

Now, for the record, this is traditionally a very poorly-run tournament put together by people who are only in it to make some extra money for the PTA. I don't think they even have a Chess Club anymore. There's a general tournament format that most schools follow which creates a great experience for the kids. This tournament chooses not to follow it, which is their choice. I've been doing this for ten years now, and I've served on the State elementary chess board (woohoo, are you impressed?), so I'm happy to give my thoughts when they're asked for, but I don't butt in otherwise. I offered my advice the first year, they chose not to take it, and now I keep my mouth shut and warn parents in advance what they can expect. We keep going back because it's one of the few January tournaments that's nearby.

So in my letter to my parent, I said something like, "There's no reason they couldn't go a little bigger. They have a huge site and they're so stingy with trophies anyway, it's not like extra players cost them anything." (And I've mentioned both of these things to the tournament organizer directly, although a little more tactfully.) And I could have SWORN I took the tournament organizer's e-mail address out of the "Copy To" box.

Well, oops. The funny thing is, in general I am not a snarky person behind people's backs. It just occasionally slips out with people I find frustrating. And it somehow seems to find its way back to them. I guess this will teach me to even have these thoughts!

And the saddest part of all is, I really don't care. I am so burned out on doing this, and this is my last year. If I can just survive Saturday, I'll be okay. Maybe I'll skip the tournament. You know, go to a spa, get a manicure...

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Oh, This is Just SO Wrong!!!

Warning: The following may be innapropriate for sensitive viewers. I'm not kidding.

(Everybody else? Well, enjoy this little spider documentary.)

Monday, January 22, 2007

Another Wonderful Search String

Another great search string to get to my blog! Okay, not "Play Strip Soccer" great, but still great.

"1998 is david beckham what's wrong with this country sarong wearing"

I have no clue. Anybody? (And by the way, the searcher was from England, and probably not at all happy about the Beckham-to-LA transfer.) I had forgotten I'd even mentioned the sarong where Beckham was concerned, so I had to do a Blog Search. By gum, there it was.

I, on the other hand, AM happy about the Beckham-to-LA transfer. I think it's marketing genius. I think it will raise the profile of soccer in America.

But how will he play? Well, that's the question, isn't it? It he an in-his-prime guy who needs a fresh start, or an over-the-hill guy looking for lots of $$ and a soft landing? Or both? I'm anxious to find out.

So anxious, in fact, that I've volunteered to write the LA Galaxy blog for The Offside. Because I don't spend NEARLY enough time on the internet researching soccer stuff.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

A Guilty Confession

I have a very guilty confession to make: I just took my Christmas tree down yesterday. And the worst part is, it wasn't an artificial tree. Seriously.

Now I do have to say that we generally don't take the tree down until Epiphany (Twelfth Night, Jan 6) anyway. But still. This is pushing it, even for me.

Thing is, Christmas was all muddled this year. With my daughter off at college, and then the five-days power outage, and then the four-day snowstorm plane delay... It felt like the entire month of December was just a waiting game. And then we got back from Denver, and life still felt off-balance. Truly, I feel like I'm sleep-walking through the month of January. And putting up Christmas decorations is a family thing, but taking them down is generally all me. So there's another reason to procrastinate.

And then we had a snowstorm, and a cold snap which made the snow stick around. And then we had another snowstorm... And then another set of flurries. And you just can't take down a Christmas tree when there's snow on the ground, right? At least not in Seattle, where it never snows. (I know, I'm attempting to justify. Is it working?)

But my youngest son and I finally got the deed done yesterday. The bad news is that the procrastination caused us to miss the Boy Scout tree pickup, so I need to chop the tree up and put it in the "Yard Debris" recycle bin. (This is Seattle, so we recycle everything.) Which means lopping off every branch, and then cutting the trunk till it's no more than five feet or so. Which is actually kind of fun. I have a set of brutally powerful branch loppers than can chop branches that are up to two inches in diameter, with the application of a few muscles. Which makes me feel so...manly. And which, tomorrow, will make me feel so...sore.

So now it's done, and the branches are all in the bin, and my driveway is covered in pine needles.

Happy New Year!

Friday, January 19, 2007

The Designated Driver

So my youngest (having more or less shaken off the events of last Monday) is in the all-district Honor Choir. The other two singers from his school are girls. All of them are in sixth grade, in the late-eleven-to-early-twelve age group. The age where they flirt by being really, really annoying to each other. I drove both ways last night, and they spent the entire time going through minute details about why THEIR favorite video game was better than the other person's favorite video game. ("But can YOUR game shoot spiders at you?" "But can YOURS let you create your own characters?"

One of the most interesting things about being a parent is being The Driver. It's funny, but kids tend to forget that you're there. The child who is a closed clam in real life suddenly becomes animated. And you are the witness.

When my older son was in eight grade, I drove he and his friends to a skateboard park once. Remember that eighth grade is the age when they become too cool for everything and stop talking. But one of his friends found some of my youngest son's action figures and Bionicles in the car, and the next thing I know they're all playing like six-year-olds. As a parent you have to store these things up inside your brain as a reminder -- during those months where your child will not open his mouth -- that yes, there is a real person in there. A person who will probably return, eventually, once adolescent turmoil subsides.

When your kids start to drive themselves, it's a mixed blessing. Yea! No more drives to soccer or choir practice, then home, then back again. But...well...you miss the time. It's harder to stay caught up on life when you're not side by side for those fifteen or twenty minutes two or three times a week.

If I could give two pieces of advice to every parent in the universe, they would be:

1) No headphones in the car. Ever. Kids don't need another excuse to tune out. And
2) Drive every chance you get.

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Don't Read This if You're Easily Offended

My husband plays guitar and sings in an Irish band. They're pretty good. They've got the Irish schtick down completely.

They're currently preparing to play for two hours on St. Patrick's day at a little local Irish pub. And they're working on a new song, which my husband played for me this morning, and which I unfortunately can't get out of my head.

It's about a young man who is invited by a young woman to come home and meet her parents. With unfortunate results. And the chorus goes:

Don't......pet......the dog.
He gets it confused with romance.
Just leave him alone, Or the next thing you know,
He'll be asking your ankle to dance.

Giggle. I love the irreverence of the Irish!

P.S. I figured out the sitemeter thing. I just needed to find the HTML code and paste it back into the template.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

New Blogger/Sitemeter SOS

Question for anybody with Sitemeter. I switched to New Blogger and changed my template, which apparently caused me to lose my links to Sitemeter. Does anybody know how to add it back without going back to zero?

Sometimes Being a Parent Is No Fun At All

I spent all day Monday at a chess tournament. A very painful experience. My eleven-year-old son, who is pretty good for his age, played in the Open (ultra-competitive) section, for kids up through high school. His coach thought he was probably ready. He thought he was probably ready. I had my doubts, but it wasn't my choice.

But I was right. He got crushed. He lost the three games he played (something that has never even come close to happening before) and got a bye for the last round.

I think that was what hurt the most. Because a bye is given (when you have an odd number of players) to the one who is at the bottom of the table. Dead last. And he's fully aware of this, because as the big fish in the elementary tournaments he's done his share of comforting other kids who get byes. It's a slap, and he knows it.

There's nothing more painful as a parent than watching something like this. Sure, it's a growth experience, sure they'll learn from it. But ouch. It hurts. It hurts them, and it hurts you to watch them. And for the few days after something like this happens, you'll be watching your child's face, and you'll see a shadow pass across it, and you'll know that he's thinking about the fact that he wanted to succeed, really wanted to succeed, but failed.

And the rational part of you says, yes, but where would they be if they did only the things they were absolutely certain they could succeed at? What if they never took a chance? There are a whole lot of people living their entire lives with their heads down in a cubicle, working jobs they hate, because they're so terrified of the possibility of failure. Because they never learned that failure isn't fatal, and that life is a series of opportunities, and that not all of them work out.

My older son went out for the soccer team at the high school last year. From my maternal perspective (and his rec coach's), he's really good. He played on the sophomore team as a sophomore, so it made sense that he'd make JV as a junior. But he didn't count on the fact that the coach had a sophomore son, so the coach's goal was to pack the team with as many of his son's friends and teammates as possible in preparation for creating the ultimate uber-team for his son's senior year. More than half of the varsity and JV players he picked were sophomores. And no room for my son.

My son was disappointed (not that he, y'know, communicated this, since he's a teenage boy), but he turned around and went out for track. Made varsity. And a month later ran for, and was elected, senior class president. So I guess that's my lesson as a mom, right? The positive life effects of coming back from failure.

(Except I'm still really, really ticked at the soccer coach.)

Will a day like Monday make my younger son more likely to run for class president and less likely to be a cubicle slave? I dunno. Maybe. Probably, even.

But for now, at this moment, it still kind of hurts.

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Protecting Ourselves From...?

The temperature hit about twenty degrees last night. Extremely cold for Seattle, where a standard winter weather forecast is, "Rainy, high of 46, low of 45." Seriously. There was an article in the paper yesterday about the lack of available beds in homeless shelters in this kind of weather.

Don't tell anybody, but thirty homeless men are sleeping in our church this month. Not that we're y'know, sneaking anything by anybody. We've done the permitting thing and it's all above-board. And we've been doing this every January for years. (Twelve different area churches host the program for a month at a time.) But for some reason, nobody seems to know about it. It's never made the papers. On the rare occasions it's mentioned, they generally don't give the location. And that's a good thing.

Because the homeless are really scary, don't you know? They're all, like, pedophiles and sex offenders and thieves and vandals and stuff. Or at least that's the impression you'd have if you'd attended the hearing last month for a tent city that another nearby church has applied to host for three or four months.

I understand that people are scared. And I also know that there's a much higher incidence of things like mental illness and substance abuse in the homeless population than in the population at large. But I also know that these are real, actual people. And wishing them away doesn't work. And thinking they should just go away to someplace they deserve to be, which is anywhere other than our kind of upper-middle-class high-tech suburb? I don't have words for how much that attitude offends me.

I'll admit that I have a hard time empathizing with fear in general. I volunteer in prison. I've been thrown off horses multiple times. (Although granted, not lately!) I once helped catch a rattlesnake in a garbage can. (And actually enjoyed it.) But I can kind of sympathize with people who are afraid of the unknown. Although I do have a hard time understanding why there is so little interest in knowing the unknown. Go down and eat dinner with these people! They're not that scary. But it's so much easier to cower and complain.

What I wish, though, is that everybody who has a problem with sheltering the homeless would step outside tonight, for an hour or two, or ten. Just hang out, try to stay warm. And then tell us that what we're doing is wrong.

Or better yet, keep closing your eyes. Because we don't need your help. We just need you to stay out of the way.

Oh. Sorry. Just a little bitter today.

Stepping down off my soapbox now...

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Danger Dog

A few years back I read a trivia question that asked which animal was responsible for the most deaths in the US. I'm thinking: Rattlesnake bite? Mountain lion mauling? Getting thrown off a horse?

Nope. The most common cause of animal-related deaths is tripping over your dog.

Happened to me today. Well, fortunately not the dying part. Just the tripping over the dog part.

I should have expected it. My fourteen-year-old blind, deaf "pup" loves to follow me around. And when she finds a place that is a) warm and b) close to me, she'll just plop herself down and stay there, as close to underfoot as possible. (At least until she gets hungry, at which point she'll flip her food dish over, grab it in her teeth, carry it to me and whack me in the shins till I feed her. She has me well-trained.)

So today I was up on a stepstool, scrubbing out the microwave. And I didn't see the dog plop down directly behind the stepstool. So when I stepped down, instead of stepping onto the kitchen floor, I stepped directly onto the dog. She shrieked, I shrieked, and I fell straight backwards from the first step of the stepstool.

Of course, I had to laugh. (I couldn't cry. Or even swear much, because my eleven-year-old was standing there looking terrified.) But...well...ouch. My wrist and shoulders feel funny, and my ribs feel funny, and I have a ferocious, whip-lash-y headache.

But the dog is fine. Stupid dog. (But I still love her.)

Guess that will teach me to look before I step next time.

(Oh, and by the way, I have convinced myself that the sounds I heard last night were her smashing head-first into the laundry room door. Which she does, because she's blind. Because...well...what else could they have been?)

Icy Streets and Poltergeists

I was up till 2:30 last night, because my husband was out of town. It's fun sometimes to pretend you're a teenager and stay up till the wee hours. My youngest son and I started watching Bend It Like Beckham at 10:30. (LOVE that movie!!) Then I sent him to bed, did a little quilting, played around on the computer...I figured I could sleep in this morning.

I was dozing off at 3:00 when I was awakened by the sound of a car struggling to get up our hill, which is a sheet of glass. Wheels spinning and sliding and engine revving... Which always concerns me, because we're towards the top and the teen-mobile is parked on the street. So anything sliding backwards from the stop sign would hit our car.

Well,that car made it out, so I was starting to doze off again when another car started up our hill. Our steep cul-de-sac has maybe what, 12 houses on it? Why the heck are two cars trying to get up it on nearly impassable roads at 3:00? I don't get it.

Well, that car made it out, and I dozed off. Woke up at 4:00 to what felt/sounded like an interior door slamming downstairs. Loudly. Lay there with my heart pounding for several minutes. Didn't hear anything else. The dog wasn't barking. I convinced myself it had just been the blind, deaf ancient dog running into the door of the laundry room where she sleeps, like she frequently does. (Despite the fact that the laundry room isn't directly under my bed, and the slam felt like it was.) Fell back to sleep.

Woke up again at 8:00 to what was DEFINITELY an interior door slamming, right underneath me. It shook the bed.

I got up. Both boys are still in bed, my daughter's off at college. Nobody's up. So I grabbed the phone and crept downstairs, the phone on 9-1...

Nothing. The door I'm certain I heard was standing open. Nobody lurking behind the closed sewing room door. The ancient dog is fast asleep. The computer and TV and anything else worth stealing are all in their places.

This is very, very strange. And I'm trying to decide how freaked out I should be about it. And I'm so tired I think I'll just go back to bed and think about it later.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Let It Snow, etc.

This is a picture of my husband and me in Denver between Christmas and New Year's, but it could have been here last night. The only difference being 2" (here) vs. 12" (there.)

Still. The kids are out of school again. This is the fourth day this year. It NEVER snows in Seattle. If this keeps up, we'll have no summer. Except for middle child, the senior, who graduates June 13 no matter what. So he's thinking, Snow, Snow, Snow!!!

It's very cold and sunny today. I guess I prefer that over cloudy and rainy. But I'm sure ready for some warm, sunny weather. Which I hear that OTHERS are getting.

A little balance would be nice.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Rollerblades and Shinguards

A funny thing about rollerblading is that when you're out and the wind is at your back, you don't feel the wind, or hear it, or even recognize that it's there. You're just cruising along, smoothly and quickly, and thinking, man, this feels good today. And then you turn around to head back, and WHOOMPH. Suddenly the wind you didn't realize was there is all you can feel, all you can hear, all you can think about.

There's a Life Metaphor in here someplace.

I went rollerblading today, for the first time in ages. Because -- even when life is busy and you really shouldn't take the time -- when dry trails call your name in January you don't say no. The weather reports for yesterday afternoon and evening called for wind, rain and snow (and yes, we got all of the above), but yesterday morning it was dry, with a little watery sunshine peeking through the clouds. Nice weather for Seattle in January.

I love rollerblading. It's the closest you can come to flying of your own volition. It's very calm and soothing and meditative. You just shut off your conscious mind and go.

I also played soccer last night, badly but with gusto, for the first time since Thanksgiving. After a Thanksgiving-to-New-Year's season where it felt like all I did was eat and hibernate. I paid for it last night, when I thought I was going to die. My lungs felt like they would explode. But at the same time there's such an adrenaline rush. Before I played, I'd been thinking, you know, I really could give this up. I'm getting too old for this kids' game. And then I pulled on my shinguards and my cleats, and my stomach gave a little jump. And I got on the field and couldn't remember why I'd stayed away so long.

Yes, I'm sore today. But it's worth it. I may be growing old, but I'll never grow up.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Winter Winds

I decided last night that I really, really don't like windstorms anymore. I dunno, call me silly, there's just something about hearing a tree come down over your bedroom that takes the joy and excitement out of the whole wind experience.

We had another window-rattler last night. Not as bad as the one last month, but still pretty strong. A large branch cracked off of one of the trees in our back yard at about 1:00. Yanked me out of a sound sleep. I literally sat up in bed and cried out -- while I was still pretty much asleep. I woke up my husband by waking myself up, and then neither of us could get back to sleep.

I think my daughter has my camera (Sarah??), but I'll post photos of the last windstorm and the Colorado snowstorm when I get it back.

For now, though, I'm thinking I've had about enough of winter weather. Of all kinds. I noticed the green of the crocuses popping through the dirt the other day. They almost always bloom right about Feb. 1, and then the cherry blossoms start about Feb. 15. I am SO ready.

(And a teensy bit of sunshine would be nice too.)

Friday, January 05, 2007

Time Flies, Life Happens, And My Dog Has Epilepsy

I just realized that it's been more than a week since I posted. This blog isn't even showing up on AOL's "My Routine" anymore, so it's gotten bad! The time I've had for writing since I got back has gone into catching up on French soccer, which would bore everyone reading this. Except, of course, me. :-)

We made it back safely and on schedule, and it is SO good to be home. Of course, it was wonderful to be in Denver too. But there's just something about returning home. After being home. If you know what I mean. It was a wonderful trip. I'll write more about that later.

But for now, the news is that my dog has epilepsy. Not the old one. The big, black, goofy, doofy overgrown two-year-old puppy. He's had several seizures, which are heartbreaking to watch. And it's like he's aware that they're happening, and he's so, so apologetic that he can't leap up and do stuff. He's really a sweet dog.

I took him to the vet today, and she said it's a trade-off. Every seizure cause progressive brain damage. But the medicine they can use to treat it causes progressive liver damage, and once they go on the meds, they can never go off. So they don't start them on medicine unless the get to at least 2-4 a month. And thankfully we're not there yet, at least not regularly, although he's had two this month. Cross your fingers it doesn't get worse.

It's not quite as bad as having a sick child, but it's close.