Archive for July, 2007

Ranch to the Rescue

Sunday, July 29th, 2007

Last June at the end of my daughter, Valerie’s, freshman year in high school, her teachers’ handed out the summer reading, researching, and writing assignments that are due on the first day of class in August. Although I had to sympathize with Valerie that having homework over the summer is a burden that not even college students have to bear, I figured that a thousand pages of Homer (that’s the Homer the Greek, not Homer Simpson) along with her usual athletic activities would be enough to keep her busy when she awakened each day”¦at the crack of noon.

After about a week, I found myself in circular discussions with her that went something like this: She would say, “I really don’t want to read The Iliad today.” So I would reply, “You’ve been very diligent, why don’t you skip reading it today.” Then she responds, “I can’t skip reading it today or I’ll get behind.” “OK,” I say, “then you should read it today.” Then she starts over with “I really don’t want to read The Iliad today.” A few more rounds of this and I felt like it was going to be a long summer.

I started wondering how the most famous 15 year old on the planet spends her summers. No, not any of the perpetual teenagers: Lindsay, Paris, or Brittany. I was thinking of Hermione. She’s bright, focused, and academically motivated, a lot like Valerie. Since Hermione lives in a world that is pre-Internet and pre-iPod, and she can’t indulge any of her witchly powers around her Muggle parents, does she spend her months home from Hogwarts in a funk, flopped on the couch watching British game shows?

Since I’m only a casual consumer of all things Harry, I did a quick search on the Internet and found that before Hermione began her fifth year at Hogwarts, she spent the summer with Ron’s family at Grimmauld Place. I guess that J.K. imagined Hermione constantly whining to her mother about whether she’ll have time to be a Gryffindor prefect and still take the honors-level “Defense Against the Dark Arts” class so the author took pity on Mrs. Granger and shipped Hermione off to the Weasley’s.

Since sending Valerie away isn’t really an option, I thought instead I could create a schedule of household chores for her to do for which she would get paid. I was pretty sure that she would run out of summer before I ran out of dusty blinds for her to clean.

But then a wonderful thing happened. A close family friend with a ranch “hired” Valerie and in a sense, rescued me. He saw exactly what Valerie craved: an opportunity to work and feel some independence in a safe ““ if high maintenance ““ place. I don’t know if he really needed every fence post on his 60 acres repainted or if he’s just making sure she has plenty to keep her busy for the summer. Either way, I’m grateful. She comes home too tired from her ranch hand duties to have much energy left for teenage angst, our friend is gratified by seeing her grow in confidence, and she loves earning money that doesn’t come from Mom and Dad.

Next summer, when she can drive and has to find her own job? I think we’ll look back on this year with a lot of fondness. 

Harry Potter and the Deathly Trojans

Sunday, July 22nd, 2007

There are two tomes on my 15 year old daughter’s nightstand: The Iliad and Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

The Iliad is the assigned summer reading for her 10th grade honors English class next fall. For her (and it would be for me too), having to read The Iliad is like being prescribed some nasty medicine; you can only tolerate it in small doses, it’s really unpleasant going down, and you just can’t wait until you get to the end of it so you don’t have to take it ever again.

However, when it comes to reading Harry Potter, if she could consume all 759 pages in one gulp, so to speak, she would.

The contrast in her attitude between the two books started me wondering: Was there ever a time when The Iliad was the Harry Potter of its day, and will the Harry Potter series ever turn into The Iliad?

Here’s what I mean: when a teenager reads The Iliad in 2007 it is with much whining and only done under duress; the context of the Greek gods doesn’t make much sense to us today. However, maybe there was a time 2000 years ago when everything “Iliad” was celebrated just like everything associated with Harry Potter is today. Perhaps young people stood in line for hours dressed like King Agamemnon and Helen to be the first in line at the amphitheater to hear Homer recite for the next eight hours, or maybe they had Trojan Day at the fair to boost attendance, or perhaps parents were intrigued by the idea of sending their kids to “Achilles Adventures” summer camp.

And when did reading The Iliad stop being fun?

And will there be some point in the future when Harry Potter moves from hugely popular phenomenon, to classic literature, and then becomes assigned (boring) reading to a generation that can’t relate to Muggles anymore than we can relate to mythology? I’m sure there’s a couple of millennium before this happens, but I can hear the conversation now. “Can you believe that teacher assigned us 4,000 pages of Harry Potter to read over the summer and we have to summarize every chapter? I have no idea what they’re talking about ““ they have these strange names that all sound alike. And the battles ““ who can tell what’s going on?”

Maybe that teenager’s parent in 4027 will have pretty much the same response as I do when my daughter complains about how hard it is to understand what’s happening in The Iliad.” Just get the Harry Potter Cliffs Notes.”

Dirty Secrets

Sunday, July 15th, 2007

I don’t think I’m alone in this, that as life gets busier the ways we spend our time gets pared down to what is essential. For instance, before we started our own business, I cleaned the house once a week from top to bottom ““ those busy little cobweb producing spiders would make a bolt for the nearest exit when they saw me coming with my extendable duster and I imagined that the cats actually liked the smell of Pine Sol at the bottoms of their litter boxes.

Now however, with sales calls, billing, and occasionally checking to see how many movies the kids have watched in one day, I feel that if I’ve kept the pink mold in the bathrooms at bay for another week and I’ve vacuumed up the tumbleweeds of dog hair, the house is clean.

However, circumstances can arise which serve to point out the areas of neglect. This happened a couple of weeks ago on an especially hot day when I decided to raise the blinds and open the window in our bathroom to try to get some cross ventilation going. This particular window faced north and until that day, I had ignored it through numerous wet winters and record rainfalls.

I raised the blinds and let them fall back down immediately. “There’s something black and scary there!” It wasn’t Darth Vader’s face or even a big spider that I saw. What horrified me was the thick layer of black grime that was covering what had once been a white aluminum window frame.

I took a breath and summoned up the courage to raise the blinds again for a closer look. Not only was the window frame itself obscured with gunk, but this black plague had worked its way into the paint surrounding the window. I lifted up the bottom edge of the blinds to find that they had become two-toned: white at the top and black on the bottom half. “That’s disgusting!” I shrieked.

For a few minutes, my brain scrambled to come up with what to do now that I had uncovered a deep, dark secret of my housekeeping”¦or lack thereof. I could ignore it, after all, not once have the kids ever said to me, “I’m really grossed out by that glop of toothpaste, styling gel, and hair on the bathroom countertop,” so I know they have a pretty high tolerance for stuff that makes me cringe. And it would only be over my dead body that anyone besides Steve, me and the kids had access to this particular bathroom in the house, so I really didn’t need to worry about judgment from any guests.

But could I sleep at night knowing that the toxic sludge was probably creeping out of the bathroom and making its way down the hall into the next room? In fact, thinking about the other rooms in the house got me started thinking that it’s been a long time since I lifted the blinds on several other windows in the house. Who knows what evil lurks beneath them?

Okay, so I’m getting a little carried away. It’s nothing that a roll of paper towels, Clorox, a toothbrush, and some elbow grease can’t take care of. And I will as soon as I finish this month’s invoices.

Thank Goodness It Wasn’t a Sleepover

Sunday, July 8th, 2007

On January 2nd, as we’re putting the Christmas decorations away, Jennifer asks me what I think we should do to celebrate her birthday. Since her birthday is the 5th of July, I told here that we had plenty of time to work out the details and she needn’t worry that I would let a momentous event like her 11th birthday pass by uncelebrated. Jennifer likes to plan things out very carefully”¦

The options about how to celebrate her birthday started with a discussion about having a sleepover. She and her friends love going to these, however sleepovers are a concept that I frankly don’t understand. Sleeping on the floor in unfamiliar surroundings is what happens to you and your buddies after you are all put into a squad car on “Cops.” But when you’re young, the opportunity to do something a little daring like consuming massive amounts of sugar, jumping on a trampoline for hours and then staying up past midnight doesn’t sound like torture”¦but fun.

However, hosting a sleepover for a half dozen tweenagers at our house really isn’t something we can handle and function the next day. Our house was built on one of those open floor plans that was popular in the 1990’s which means that when one of the cats sneezes at one end of the house we can hear it at the other end. Plus, the image of me emerging from the dark might cause serious trauma to her friends. I’m imagining when the uncontrollable giggling sets in at 1:00 am and I shuffle out to tell them to settle down for the hundredth time. “Wow, did you see Jennifer’s mom last night, she was really scary! I’ve been having bad dreams ever since!”

Thankfully as an alternative to a sleepover, Jennifer suggested going to a nearby “fun center” for miniature golf and arcade games and then returning back home for ice cream sundaes. The timing on something like this is crucial; if all went as planned everyone would have an opportunity to try their skills on Dance Dance Revolution and be scraping the Magic Shell off their bowls just as the dads started arriving to pick them up. Unstructured time after four hours of sensory overload can be a dangerous thing.

Our timing was only slightly off which meant that for about 20 minutes there was a pack of girls fueled by Icees and Gummi bears swarming the house in search of anything that they could lay chase to, such as each other and in particular, the cats. At this point I’m wondering how any parent has a sleepover without massive doses of Prozac. Since it was a beautiful summer day, I sent them all outside and stood watch with a hose nearby in case of spontaneous combustion.

After all the girls had left with their mood ring party favors glowing nuclear blue, my daughter deemed the day a great success. As we’re throwing the away the empty cans of whipped cream, she comments to me, “I’ll bet the cats are really tired from having all those extra people in the house.” I’ll second that.

Missing the Target

Monday, July 2nd, 2007

I usually write about non-controversial topics that involve with our kids and family business. The challenges in those two areas consume all my brain power so I happily leave the more politically-charged issues to the editorial page writers.

However, there is one topic that impacts my world very directly, is a hot button for a much broader audience, and is something I feel strongly about. Deep breath”¦here goes”¦I love Target stores and I can’t wait for one to be built here.

There”¦I’ve said it. Now I should probably run for cover.

The reason this has been on my mind lately is because several times a day, I pass by a local retailer who has a sign that reads, “No big box stores in Petaluma” outside their store. This statement seems to equate “Target” with “evil” which is a concept that I don’t buy ““ if you’ll excuse the pun. Instead, if there were signs that said, “No racism” or “No hungry kids in Petaluma” ““ those would make sense to me.

While I don’t necessarily regard Target as the font of all good things, it is certainly a place that helps me meet one of my major responsibilities: taking care of my family as efficiently and economically as possible. I can’t help but think that the folks who don’t want a Target built must have extra time and money. In other words, they don’t have kids. So for them, taking an extra hour and $5 in gas to drive 15 miles up the road to the Target in the next town is just fine with them.

It’s interesting to me that the “No big box” sign that I mentioned is outside a toy store which obviously feels threatened by the specter of Target. However, this independent store sells entirely different products than Target so I don’t see how Target will draw business away from them in any greater degree than the Kmart across town currently does.

For instance, if I wanted to buy a Bratz doll (which I guarantee I never will) I would go to Target, but if I wanted to buy a Brio train piece for a child’s birthday present, I would continue to patronize this store regardless of whether there was a Target in town or not.

Plus there’s something that Target will never be able to compete with them on, and that is the level of service they can provide. There have been numerous times I’ve gotten assistance choosing an age appropriate and unique toy. Whereas, I know if shop at Target, I’m entirely on my own.

However, the people who oppose the big box stores think that if there isn’t a Target in town that I will surrender to the lack of options which will force me to shop at local stores. That is not the case. What actually happens is that I just end up driving to a Target in a different city in order to get what we need and that city gets the $17.44 in sales tax revenue from my $225 purchase. If there was a store in town in which I could buy cute flip-flops for my daughter for $9.99, save at $2 on Listerine, look for a lamp, and pick out a shirt for myself, I would shop there. But then again, that would be a Target store, wouldn’t it?

I just can’t see anything immoral in wanting to get what I need, close to where I live, and save a few bucks in the process. Did I mention how much I like Costco too?