Monday, November 1, 2010

Halloween 2010

We started Halloween weekend with a 3 a.m. Call Time for Katie on the "Bone Boys" set downtown. Ron went with her since it was so late, met the directors, the costume people and the caterer! It was all pretty impressive. They were filming at the jail on Guadalupe. Later that day, Ron went to San Marcos to pick up Michael, who is without a car but in his last year at Texas State University.

Friday night was Pflugerville High School’s last home game, and the Lady Panther Dancers had their “Bone Dance” to do. Everyone was excited to see it.  Ron and Michael met up with Julie and Allen in the stands.

Grandma, Cydney Romano, and Jose Benitez met up with Sue & Katie at the house. Their plan was just to come during the 2nd quarter and leave after the Halftime Show.  The show was great, Alyssa had a stunt where she had to be held up in the air in the splits and spun in a circle! Temperatures dropped and we buggaloo’d out of there when the show was finished!

While the game continued, we picked up Chocolate cake, microwave BBQ, mashed potatoes & macaroni (mainly for Jose since he had had oral surgery that morning). Grandma stayed back at the house to warm up with some tea, and Katie crashed on the couch.  (She had to go to Friday morning classes right after shooting the movie, so she was operating on about 45 minutes sleep!)The game ended and we all converged back at the house. 

On Saturday, Alyssa had 3-4 parties to go to as a Dallas Cowboy Cheerleader.
Michael’s Druid celebration was held at Mt. Bonnell on Sunday night. He thought the candles and dark clothes might have been a little spooky for passersby. Ron ran him back to San Marcos afterwards.
Katie helped hand out candy at our house, then left for a Cast party Halloween in South Austin.
Alyssa was originally going to have people over to trick or treat, but that fell through. Halloween falling    on a school night, curbed a lot of people’s plans. So she went to Vicente Rodriguez’s house and met up with a lot of people there. Then she went visiting people and came home.
With Sue hobbling around with a broken foot, we were lucky to get any Halloween decorations up at all this year!  And we never even carved the pumpkin that Katie brought home.  So we added some orange and purple lights to the front porch, plugged in our fake jack-o-lantern, and embraced another Halloween.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

NOTHING is ever simple

“Professor Garbor, I have some bad news. I never checked the expiration on my passport and it expired months ago. So we’re working on getting a new one and it looks like I’ll be on the flight on Thursday, instead of Monday. I am soo sorry. Is this going to mess everything up?”

I don't believe in Revisionist History. So while Michael's trip to Belize was wonderful in many ways. it wasn't perfect - not the trip, not the days leading up to it, not the people involved.  But if you're reading here, you'll know I'm going to simply tell it the way it happened.

Michael is a lot like me. He's a People Organizer. When he first starting seriously planning his trip to Belize with his Anthropology class, he set up a Facebook Group. This would allow pre-trip information and post-trip pictures to be shared easily. No one would become a bottleneck. He posted reminders they had received at meetings, so no one would forget important deadlines. Everything seemed to be going smoothly.

Airfare was purchased a month in advance, suitcases were nearly ready and we were sitting around on the last Sunday afternoon before Michael was to leave. Julie, her boyfriend, her kids, her dogs, plus Grandma, plus our five. The topic of passports comes up and how the prices have risen significantly.  Julie and her ex-husband had traveled extensively and she was certainly the most "in the know." As we’re all chatting, Michael flips to his own passport.   The color drains from his face. He goes upstairs to show me, “Expiration: 2/28/10.” In all of his prepping for the trip, he never thought to look at the expiration date!  His plane for Belize was to leave in 48 hours - possibly without him now.

But we're all problem-solvers. So Ron grabs the laptop and I gets on the PC, quickly looking at passport renewal information. Many of the sources look like it might take a month to renew - 2 weeks at the minimum. Finally, we both stumble on “Same Day Passports.” And they have an office in Austin. Interestingly, they boast that they are available 24/7. So I find the number and Ron makes the call. And, on a Sunday night, a man actually answers the phone. Ron describes the situation and the man thinks he can get a passport for Michael by Wednesday. Ron and Michael would need to be at their office on Monday morning at 8 a.m.

As solutions are being found to the passport problem, I move to the airline issue. The roundtrip air flight was booked through Orbitz. Finding the itinerary, I look to see if anything is available on Thursday and what the costs will be to change the flight. With only 4 days advanced planning, the available flight is only $100 more! Tack on the “change of flight” charges and the Orbitz charges and we’re at $280 more. But Michael now has a seat on Thursday morning flight. There *were* some Wednesday night flights, but since he’d have to take a water taxi for the first time, it seemed best to not do that at night. Plus, if there was a glitch at the passport office, we’d be frantically doing this all over again.

Next, Michael needed to reach his teacher. The first numbers were not working. So he dug through is suitcase to find alternate contact numbers. His teacher was already in Belize and he wasn’t sure he’d be able to reach him. But, success! Professor Garber answered the 3rd number.

To say that Professor Garber is laid back, is an understatement.

Dr. Garber

“Maaaan. Shit happens, ya know? Especially when it comes to traveling. It won’t be a problem. We’ll probably still just be setting up! Call me if it changes, but we’ll look for you on Thursday."

A few more pleasantries were exchanged and that was that.

Monday, Ron and Michael went to Same Day Passports and completed the paperwork for the passports. The total charge was going to be $525. This would get the expedited passport to us on Wednesday morning. If there was a snag and the expediting is denied, we would have to pay an additional $290 but we could have the passport by Wednesday night. At this point, we had already invested about $6000. If we had to add another thousand to it, it’s better than walking away leaving $6000 for nothing. So we did.

Michael and Ron came back. Ron went back to work and Michael went back to house-sitting. (He was in the middle of a weeklong house-sitting for a house FULL of pets in the nearby neighborhood) With passports on the brain, Ron started looking up the regular costs, so the rest of the family could have passports. He noticed that there were extra steps if the applicant applied for a passport before reaching age 16. Michael’s expiration date was one month before his 21st birthday, so it seemed likely that he HAD applied before he was 16. So Ron called SameDay Passports, and she pulled up the date for the original passport issue date. Sure enough, Michael had completed the paperwork at 15, before he went to Japan. This meant they had completed the wrong paperwork at Same Day passports.

Nothing could be done locally to fix this.

New instructions: Ron had to call the State Department in Houston to make an appointment. We had no idea whether this would be the next day or weeks from now. Luckily, he got an appointment for 1 p.m. the next day, Tuesday. I had to get to Same Day Passports to pick up the passport and the other paperwork that was there for them to TAKE to Houston. They close at 5 p.m. but agreed to stay a little late since it was their error. What time was it when Sue found out she had to go across town in rush hour traffic? 4:55 p.m.

So with paperwork in hand, Ron and Michael trekked to Houston Tuesday morning. They found their way, with the help of Katie’s GPS, without problems. As they were chatting with the man completing the paperwork at the State Department, Ron and he discover that they KNEW each other. Both were stationed together at Sheppard AFB. That’s all fine and good, but now he has to get someone else to come swear Michael in, since he “knew” him. At this point, what’s another few minutes?

But the Same Day Passports people were again incorrect when they said he would be able to leave the interview with his passport. In fact, it would take 24 hours. And they could not mail it to us, they would have to pick it up there. So, that meant Ron and Michael would have to stay overnight in Houston. This turned out kind of fun, since I found online that the Museum of Natural Science was actually easily accessible to where they were. And, Tuesdays are open late until 8 p.m., so they were able to spend a decent amount of time there.

Is it too soon to say maybe luck is changing? As I type, it’s Wednesday morning. We are waiting for the 2:30 pick up time for the passport. And, if all goes well, they’ll get back tonight and Michael will board his plane Thursday morning for Belize.

Just to toss a few good things out:
- Michael was really lucky his teacher is laid back and not caring if he arrives late. This trip is for credit that he needs for his upcoming senior year.
- We were lucky to get a flight on Thursday, and it was only $100 more. I thought the point of reserving your seats way in advance was to keep costs low? Hmmm.
- Same Day Air returned all our money, and going to Houston to do this looks like it will cost a fraction of the “convenience” of doing the passport thing in Austin. Of course, we had to add on gas (but they took the Prius!) and hotel fee. But still, it’s not going to come up to $1000. More like a $500-$550.
- Ron and Michael got to have a little time at the museum together in Houston. They have similar interests so that works.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Gratitude Journals

Let’s face it. Teenagers are on a roller coaster when it comes to their emotions.  It’s so easy for them to get swept up in the drama of day to day living.  This easy tip will help raise their spirits if it’s a particularly low day, and help reinforce the good if all is going pretty well. Not to mention, it's a good life skill to carry you forward into adulthood. It's not like rocky roads happen only in adolescence!  Parents just need to give teens tools to help them cope.

Start a  gratitude journal. Maybe something nice from the local bookstore. Or maybe just a spiral they can keep near their bed. But the ONLY thing that should be recorded in this particular journal is gratitude. 

The whole process should only take a few minutes before bed. Sit still and think about how the day went.  From start to finish.   If you begin to think of something that went wrong, for this little span of time, put that aside for now and keep the focus on what went right. After walking through the entire day, list at least three things to be grateful for.

Here are a few questions to maybe think about.

Who did you see?
Who did you talk to?
Did you read anything that made you feel good?
How was the weather?
How were your pets when they saw you?
Did you exercise? How did it feel afterward?
Did you watch anything funny happen?
Did you see anything beautiful?

Our entire attitude is affected by what and where we choose to focus.  Hasn’t everyone had the experience where all was well until ONE person did or said ONE negative thing? And then all the good was tossed out the window and replaced with an overwhelming feeling of discontent?  So, instead of being swept away by the squeaky wheels in our lives, let’s get back in the driver’s seat. Let’s deliberately pull the positives to the front of our minds.

Try this for a month. See if it helps.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

This is THE YEAR

I turned 49 on my last birthday. You know how kids always want to be older? So when mine would have a birthday, they would quickly remind me that that meant they had COMPLETED that year and they were actually in the next.  Seven wanted to be  Eight, Thirteen wanted to be Fourteen, but Forty-Nine... she KNOWS what's just around the corner. She isn't so quick to jump to that one.

I'll just say it out loud. Fifty. 50. Five-O.
And when my dad turned 50, I told him if he were furniture, he'd be worth more as he's finally an antique. Not so with humans. Wasn't I cute? Not so funny anymore.

I've never been the type to hide my age. Maybe it's too many years of Popeye saying, "I am what I am!"
I don't color my gray hair. Although my kids beg me to. I finally got them to admit that they simply think I'm that much closer to dying by having gray hair. Irrational? Probably. I'm not ruling it out, but it's not high on my list. Plus, Ron is 10 years older than me, and has white hair. He has for a while now. I think my little gray "highlights" seem appropriate! ha!  But I will say that a plus to having gray hairs is that they come in wavy and thicker. I've always had limp brown hair...this is simply making it more interesting!

I've spent a lot of my adult years raising kids. I'm still not done. And now my mom has moved here, so I help her as well. I think they call us The Sandwich Generation when this happens. It's easy to just go with the flow and spend the day putting out other people's fires. But time keeps going. And now there are probably more years behind me than ahead of me. I think it's time to work on my own personal Bucket List.

Maybe the winds are all about to change...

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

What Should They Learn?

I read a blog about "What should children learn?" They were trying to think outside the box. They wondered if the focus on traditional subjects is really all that important. Seeing the responses was interesting. I had an inkling that my list would not resemble too many others, but with 3 teenagers, and 2 grown step-kids with children of their own, here's what I think are the most important things children should learn:

  • Kindness and compassion. Learn how to put yourself into other people's shoes.  When everyone else jumps on a bandwagon against something someone did, hold back a little bit.
  • Live in the moment. Realize that there are about 16 waking hours in a day. And when they're gone, they're gone. There's nothing wrong with having a little "down time" but make sure you have some "up time too."
  • Listen to people when they talk to you.  Give them your full attention.  Think about what they're saying but also why they might be saying it to you.
  • Learn healthy eating choices and find exercise that you like and can do nearly every day. You're going to be in this body for a while - longer if you take care of it
  • Learn your strengths and your weaknesses. Do something about or with both. Take time to get to know yourself.
    • Learn about the nature of advertising and marketing. 
    • Learn how to pursue your interests. Learn how to find information on the internet.
    • Be brave. Try new things. You never know what you might actually like.
    These are what come to mind when I think about what children should be taught.  In school curriculum, I think they call these "threads." They are supposed to permeate different subjects year after year. I like the idea of these topics being the important threads.  I believe the reading, writing, and math will present itself.  And if you need these more traditional "subjects" for a job you'd like to pursue, that's why we have community college.

    Thursday, February 4, 2010

    Sleep Issues & Real Life

     For years, I've let my children sleep however late, and go to bed at whatever hour. It worked well for our homeschooling lifestyle. We got up early when we needed to be somewhere. We went to bed when we were done with our day. But I would frequently be accosted by people saying,  "How will they be able to hold down a job - follow a schedule - adhere to expectations -- if I never impose any on them as children?" Well, it's a non-issue. It's like practicing the act of waiting in line. Or working on eating. Honestly, when they were younger, I'd think, "well, they just won't choose a job that conflicts with their natural rhythm." They seemed to be night owls and there are plenty of jobs that "start late."

    But that's not what happened.

    What actually happened is that they found a job they wanted, and they made their own rhythm cooperate. They are not late to work. I sometimes don't even get up with them! They have alarm clocks. They shower. They manage just fine thank-you-very- much (I don't mean that snappy tone for you all - just my long ago naysayers!) Katie proved this to me when she went to stay with her grandma in Dallas so she could attend a month-long intensive drama program. She got herself up at 5 a.m., checked her email, fixed her breakfast, showered, dressed, and caught the city bus to go downtown. She was 15. She's nearly 19 now, and if she needs to be at work or go to an audition or take a class, she gets herself there on time. She is aware that she needs to go to bed earlier than usual, and just goes.

    Michael and Katie's first jobs were at Barnes and Noble. They had a lot of 7 a.m. shifts.  They were never late because they wanted to sleep in.  At 13, Alyssa started going to cheerleading competition on weekends. We frequently stayed in hotels and had to be at the competition by 7 a.m. That meant she usually needed to start getting ready around 5:45. She jumped right up and started getting ready. Now she's in school and has to be up by 7:30 every weekday.  She has no problem with it. Sure, she sleeps until noon on the weekends when she can, but she stays up late then too. And it's not because she had to practice to do this.

    So, that's my real life experience with kids and sleep schedules. No one needed to rehearse getting up early. They did/do it when they need to.

    Just an interesting little fact... at least to me.

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010


    So today didn't start out great. Actually, it's been several days of not-good. But sometimes, when you get to the end of your rope, and you're just hanging there, you can look around. And if you CAN, you can see. Or you can hear. Or something you already knew can come back to the surface...

    My friend Teresa just called to tell me about this great Improv Class that her kids are taking downtown. She said the teacher just had so much great positive energy she wanted to tell me some of the stuff she heard. Teresa said, "She's talking about IMPROV, but I think it's way more than that."

    Instead, look what the Improv Teacher says...

    ....Say Yes to everything and then just add on to it.

    ....It's all about failure. It's gonna happen. It's what you do with it that makes it good. So laugh it off and turn it into something good.

    ...Keep moving. Keep moving. Keep moving forward.
    No stopping and dwelling.
    You throw stuff out and keep moving on.

    ....There are no Buts in Improv

    Indeed. Life really is made up of Improv. One Improv act after another. The audience always thinks there are no rules. But there are. Because GOOD Improv follows a few basic steps. Just a few. I can handle a FEW rules.

    I think I'm about to improve my Improv act. ;)

    Friday, January 15, 2010

    Katie and College

    For years, Katie has vacillated about what she wants to do for college. Or if she even wants to go.  She liked the idea of Conservatories. And really liked the idea of living in New York.  She would read the bios on the playbills, see where the actors studied, and explore their option online.

    Katie is still 18 but has spent most of her teen years pursuing acting, dance and voice. She has coaches and teachers and an agent. She drives all over Central Texas honing her craft. So we were in no big rush to "do college." She just didn't feel like it was a good fit.

    She hadn't studied traditional subjects, so she felt like she'd be pretty far behind, if she tried to test for college placement. But last year, she started looking at other universities, like NYU or Carnegie Melon.  Since neither of these options are inexpensive, we decided she might want to take community college to knock out the basics and then she could just take the upper level courses at the university that fits her.  After all, who needs Carnegie Melon's College Algebra? or NYU's U.S. History?  Unsure of what plan to pursue, she thought it would be wise to keep all doors open. So she took the College Placement Test for community college.

    The Compass Test, as it is called, has 3 sections: Reading, Writing, Math. She started with the Essay. She had to write a persuasive essay about whether freshmen college students should live in the dorm or be allowed to live off campus. Weird topic, right? But it just so happened her brother had JUST started college and had the exact dilemma when he found that all the dorms were full! So, she passed the essay with flying colors.  She didn't pass the questions section for writing, however. Nor did she pass all of the parts of the Reading section. And she didn't pass any of the Math - but we didn't expect much differently in this area. Actually, by the time she got to the math, she kind of blew it off expecting she'd need developmental classes for it anyway.

    So, a less than stellar performance on the Compass. However, she was glad that her online writing had given her enough practice to do well on the essay portion.

    Time passed. She worked on more shows, took more lessons. She back-burnered the whole "college thing." But this year, over Christmas, she decided she wanted to look at it again. It turns out, she was dreading the whole re-test option. When we saw a counselor at the school, she said Katie could retest, or she could just accept what she tested at and take Developmental courses. This option really made Katie happy.

    The Developmental courses are each broken down into 3 parts. For instance, Fundamentals Reading, Dev.Reading I and Dev Reading II. She would need all three parts of the Math. But she would only need the last section of Reading and 2 of the 3 for Writing. If she completes the Reading soon, she can take other classes while continuing to work her way through the Math courses.  So she signed up for Developmental Reading and Writing. (By the time we got there, most of the developmental classes were full.) She will only need one more Writing after this, and her 3 Developmental Math courses.

    I think it's interesting that you can complete all of the high school reading, math and writing in 3 semesters at Community College. It seems like a much better use of time. At least it has been for Katie and Michael.

    So, Spring 2010, Katie is enrolled in College. She starts mid-February.
    She's excited.