Friday, March 28, 2008

35 days without a car and newspapers

We did it, we went more than a month without owning a car. Yes, we did find it necessary to rent a car for about a total of 8 days out of that 35 -- couldn't shirk our duties as the parents of a t-ball player -- but we went the better part of a month without a vehicle. I should say, *I* went the better part of a month. My husband had his scooter for travel to and from work. But I did it. I hauled bags of groceries and two toddlers in a jogging stroller for miles. We walked to the library, the bank, the park, the mall, the movie theater and school.
We learned to go without things we didn't need because we didn't have a way to get them. We enjoyed spending more time at home and less time with the television. The dog got a lot of exercise and we got a lot of strange looks from our neighbors.

It's all come to an end. Our new Altima was delivered this morning. I'm hoping I've learned a few lessons from this month. In being forced to spend time walking with my kids instead of in the car, where the radio is turned on or the kids are looking at books or toys, I learned a lot about them. We had lots of talks about math, bugs, dinosaur bones and litterbugs. My kids have learned that life isn't always super easy and sometimes you have to carry shit yourself. Lucas has already seems to want to be a bit more self-reliant after a month spend helping me carry bags and things.
The new car is fine, it's generic and something I'll use to get places that are too far to walk, but I hope we can keep the slow pace and enjoy each other's company and enjoy the beautiful city we live in.

As I was preparing dinner tonight a young man came to the door. He was selling subscriptions to the L.A. Times. I've been meaning to restart my weekend subscription for some time, but haven't gotten around to it. It was so nice to talk to an intelligent 16 year old and he seemed very nice and articulate. Usually when I come across a teenager these days and I say something to them, they stare at me with bug eyes and do not respond. It is so weird. I don't remember ever not responding to an adult when I was a teen. But they seem so afraid these days. Maybe I'm just freakin old. Anyway, this kid was a breath of fresh air.
I used to deliver the newspaper -- it was my first job, when I was 12!! Yes, at 12 I was riding around on my bike delivering papers after school and going around by myself collecting money each month. Can you imagine? Now kids don't have that opportunity. There are no more evening papers and I'm sure there never will be again. It was so cool to have my own money at a young age. I used to babysit at 12 as well. These days there are few families that would entrust their kids to a 12 year old. How is a young person to earn money? I think it was a really good experience for me... to earn my own cash, and not by washing my mom's car. It was something separate from my family and it was only by my hard work that I could come by this money -- mostly used for movies and candy:)

Monday, March 24, 2008

Easter was good

All ready to head to Aunt Katie's

We had a very nice but tiring Easter. The kids were up way too early and there were way too many jelly beans floating around the house. I was stoked that Jelly Belly introduced some "natural" jelly beans, so that means no more meltdowns due to artificial colors. My son is extremely sensitive to food dyes, so we try to be careful but usually allow him to have a few things on holidays. Now I don't have to. Whole foods has gummi bears, jelly beans and even fake m&ms without artificial colors. Yeah!!!! I have found a place online that sells lollipops with no fake colors -- I keep those stashed in my purse to give after doc. appointments. If you saw my son about 20 minutes after he ingested artificial colors, you would be amazed.

After the morning watching the new videos the kids received from the bunny, we headed out for our holiday hike. It's become sort of a ritual to hike to the top of Tarantula hill (the kids call it a mountain) on every holiday. It's a nice way to burn off the excesses consumed during a holiday breakfast.

top of tarantula hill

Then it was off to Aunt Katie's for some extended family fun. My sis has an awesome house and yard and the 11 cousins were treated to a huge egg hunt. The eggs weren't huge, but there were a huge number of them. Everyone walked away with bulging bags of easter eggs. My kids were good enough to allow me to remove all the illegal candy. There was wine, ham, angel foodcake with strawberries and cream, and good coffee. The weather was gorgeous and I had a very relaxing time. It is so crazy that just a year ago I would not have even had a minute to sit down because I would have been chasing my kids everywhere. This year it was like, "Lucas, no, I don't know where he is." They are totally good to be on their own while at a party. It is nice and I don't know if I could start over again.

Amanda enjoying the spoils

Hope you all had a great weekend!

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Crap! We are being invaded!

I went to pull up the blinds in my kids' room this morning and I looked up and out the window. What I saw truly horrified me -- wasps, many of them. I've written before about our spring battles with these suckers, but this year is going to be horrific considering it is only the 2nd day of spring.
There were 5 or 6 wasps in our eaves -- it's hard to describe, but there are little sections and in five sections a wasp was preparing a nest. Yes, bam, bam, bam, bam, bam, 5 little nests being created right next to each other. My kids had a fun morning watching all the action. I was counting the hours until sunset when my husband could move in for the counter-attack.
What the hell is going on? When we lived a few miles away, I rarely saw a wasp cruising our yard. This house seems to put off some sort of wasp pheromone.
I'm scared shitless.
We usually eat lunch outside when the weather is nice, so today we had to bring our little picnic table out front to eat -- there was no way I was hanging out in the backyard with those predators.
My husband knocked down all the nests this evening, but I know they'll be back.
I was so looking forward to spring and summer, but now I only wish we could live in perpetual fall.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Never thought I'd say it and another reason I like my name

I never thought I'd say it, but here goes, satellite radio is freakin' cool. I always thought of it sort of like Tivo -- I don't have Tivo and I'm still totally high and mighty about that:)
I felt the same way about satellite radio until today. Why would I pay to listen to the radio? The only thing on the radio that I pay for is NPR and that is about the only thing I've been listening to lately -- aside from kid music.
Today I found it necessary to rent a car, so I hauled myself, two kids and two booster seats down to the rental place. They had a Hyundai Santa Fe (which, god help me, I love!). The car came equipped with satellite radio, which was programmed to an '80s station. Okay, I was diggin it. The songs weren't the ones you hear over and over on some local radio stations. This evening I was driving to the library to return some books and I turned on the "Heart" station. Holy shit, it was like Kost without the corny djs and letters from lonely hearts. First they played a Chicago tune that immediately transported me to 10th grade. Then I was treated to Barry Manilow's "Mandy", which has a new place in my heart because of my daughter's name. There were a couple more goodies and I found myself sitting in the library parking lot listening to many songs from my teens. Total goodness. On the drive home I flipped to the comedy channel and even that was pretty cool. I don't spend very much time in the car, so I don't think I could justify $12/mo. If I did drive more often, I would totally get this in my car.

Speaking of cars, we should have one sometime next week. I am torn about the whole thing. When I rented the car today and was driving around for errands I felt very free -- but I don't want to feel that way. It's like wanting to give away all of your material goods for the good of others, but still finding yourself coveting someone's pretty earrings or new sofa. It is so damn hard to be less materialistic, especially when you have kids and you want to see them dressed in cute little outfits. They don't give a shit, but I do. I can't resist. Is it important? No -- I know this deep down, but I've been programmed and I can't seem to delete that file from my brain.

Ah, yes, my name. I've always rather liked my name. It is a bit old-timey, and not at all "cute", but for some reason I've always been proud of it -- perhaps too proud.
When we named Amanda, I thought it was cool that she had a bunch of songs with her name in them. My son Lucas isn't quite as lucky -- there are a few songs out there, but some are a bit explicit. There are a bunch of songs with my husband's name, Phil, but they are mostly instrumental, blues or jazz, and he does not like Blues or Jazz (damn him, because I do).
My name, surprisingly, was flush with songs. I didn't even expect one. Eddie Money sang a song called Maureen, as did Sade (love her) and Fountains of Wayne. There are some others, but those are my favs. Cool.

So, who sang a song about you?

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Thick or thin

I felt a bit like I have been back in my senior year of high school this past week. We applied at a local private school for my son, who will start kindergarten in the fall. The school is beautiful, small and they have some wonderful programs. The uniforms are an added bonus. Anyway, letters of acceptance were to go out this month and I've been running to the mailbox every day hoping for a letter. Today we got one. I looked at the envelope and it was pretty skimpy -- the Web site said that the acceptance letters would also contain the registration agreements. But the envelope didn't look like it could contain much. I was shaking as I opened the letter... Congratulations, we'd love to have Lucas at our school for the 2008-2009 school year!
We got in! Now there is the little issue of tuition. It's about $7500/year. I'm paying more than that for preschool right now, but if we go to the local public school, I'll pay nothing.
I just get such a good vibe from this Episcopal school and feel that Lucas would really thrive there.
What to do....
I've got about 10 days to make a decision and then talk Phil into agreeing with me.

Monday, March 17, 2008

5 years

It's so hard to believe that some of the young people going over to serve in Iraq now were just becoming teenagers when this whole mess began.

Friday, March 14, 2008

no car days numbered

I've been walking my ass off this week and I've quite enjoyed it. Really.
But all the walking will come to an end in about 10 days -- we have a friend who works for a Nissan dealership, so we'll be leasing a vehicle from them. We did a short lease so that in 2 years we can revisit things and see if we can afford a hybrid. As it is, the altima will get better gas mileage than my van did and I'm hoping that I've developed some good habits in the past couple of weeks.

We walked to dinner tonight with the kids -- the Catholic church up the street (I'm a Catholic who goes to mass sometimes) was having a Fish Fry for lent. They do it every Friday and it was really cool. Lots of friendly people, entertainment, and, all you Catholics can appreciate, a 50/50 raffle. We didn't win the raffle, but the kids had a blast. It really reminded me about the sense of belonging you can feel in belonging to a church. It's the people -- you may not agree with everything the leadership of a church says, but the members of that church often have a lot in common with you.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

The credit game

Fucking Insolent Corrupt Organization

I hate the credit reporting agencies. Who are they to tell me I have average credit? I was checking our reports today and was shocked at our less than stellar number. The reasons astound me and seem so unfair. We have no bad debts. No collections on our accounts, not one single late payment. Yes, we have a high debt-ratio, but all bills have been paid on time year after year. So what's the problem? Simply that we have used our credit and hold high balances on our open accounts.
We've had a difficult year and had to use a lot of our personal credit for my husband's business. On top of that, my husband has taken out a loan for his business in his own name. So, on paper it looks like we are responsible for all the debt, when in fact, his business pays for much of them.
In the past few days we've been able to pay off more than half of our personal debt -- by way of selling my car. And the rest should be knocked out at the end of the month. So, in theory our numbers should go up since we'll have no negatives on our account and also no balances on our credit accounts (will still have that nasty business loan). But it still chaps my hide. I'm a good citizen. I pay my taxes, I pay my bills and I bathe my children. Why does this number go around and tell people that I am less than trustworthy?

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

No car thing

We are still a family without a car and I'm feeling fine about it. I can walk the kids to school in about 12 minutes and then it's 12 minutes back. That is almost the same amount of time it takes me to load them into the car and drive to school, unload and then get back. I say my goodbye quicker now, so I can get to work sooner.
I am spending less money overall because I'm not spending any free time shopping -- I'm at home working, playing with the kids or cleaning the messes said kids create. I have the groceries delivered (I often find free delivery coupons online) and I spend less that way because there are no impulse buys.
Even our dog makes out because she gets to enjoy our company more often.

So, what's the problem, you say? It's the pressure, man. The pressure from the husband, the mom and all of the others who tsk, tsk when they hear we are a family of four without an automobile. I imagine people think I'm some weirdo and one step away from pushing a shopping cart while talking to myself. It's not that I care if people think I'm too poor to have a car. I don't really give a rat's ass about keeping up the the Jones' new BMW. But I do care if people think I'm a bad parent or a bit dim because I don't want a car.

If it weren't for the outside pressures, I could seriously see myself living without a car for quite a while. I was watching a program with Phil the other night and it really scared me. It was a global warming piece -- yes, I've seen An Inconvenient Truth. But this show caught me at just the right time. I heard the message loud and clear that one day soon there will come a point of no return. Got it? A point of no return. A point when we can't save the planet for our children and grandchildren. A point when we give them not hope, but despair. I saw it and said to myself that I've got to take some action. How can I expect everyone else to do so if I don't? I curse the Hummers driving up and down the road, but I still drive from point A to point B when I don't really have to. I spend on things that I don't need. I take a long shower with the water steaming hot. Something about the program made me feel like small changes aren't enough any longer. We all need to make drastic changes.
I already do the little things -- bring my bags to Trader Joes, use natural cleaners in my house, run the dishwasher when full, turn off lights and machines when not needed, bring bags on my walks so I can pick up trash. But what's the biggest problem right now? Our dependence on gas-guzzling cars. Even with the increasing price of gas, I see new large vehicles on the road every day.

In giving into my husband's pleas for me to find a vehicle, I started to browse the listings for hybrid or alternative fuel cars. There is one major problem with most of them -- they are cost-prohibitive. If we do buy a car, we want it to be safe. Any mid-sized car would do, but with a mid-sized hybrid, you are looking at about $25K. VW is coming out with a diesel suv wagon thingy that sounds really provocative, but it doesn't come to the US until September and my husband nearly died when I told him I'd like to wait that long.

If I do cave, we'll probably just go for a standard, fuel-efficient vehicle and try to drive as little as possible. The problem, of course, is that if you have it, you tend to use it. I don't miss it right now, but I don't know how tempting it will be to just hop in the car to grab a gallon of milk like I used to.

This post has gone on much longer than I intended. I'll just close by saying that I'm going to challenge myself to make some big changes in my daily life and I ask you to do the same. Our planet is depending on us to take care of her before it's too late.

They're baaaaaaack!!!!!!!!!!!!

Spring is finally here. But it's not March 20th, you say. Well, tell that to the wasps who have returned to keep me captive inside my house.
They show up every spring and build a nest in the same location -- right under where I take out the trash. I just popped outside to empty the garbage and saw two huge suckers flying up into the eaves. Damn them! Who are they to invade my peace and sanctuary?
My husband has knocked down 4 nests since we moved here and I'll have to send him out tonight to do another. I'm sure we'll have at least one, but probably two more nest attempts before the end of summer.
I had dreams of going to the side of the house to pull weeds after I'm done with work for the day, but I'll have to put it off for another day. If you read some of my posts from last spring you'll know that I have an extreme (ridiculously extreme) phobia of flying, stinging insects.

Sunday, March 09, 2008


Our local elementary school is about a 5 minute walk from our house. We pass it as we walk to preschool in the morning and most days I am hitting the elementary school right around the time that class should be starting. I've noticed something odd recently... a lot of kids are late for school every day. Parents are pulling up to school a good 3 minutes after the bell has rung. Kids run with backpacks and sweatshirts askew -- they run as the school attendants begin to lock all the gates.
OK... my kids are both in preschool and can show up anytime from 8:15 - 9 a.m., so I shouldn't really throw stones, but come on, people. I don't think I was ever late for elementary school. My parents had to manage 7 kids and we were always there on time. I know, I know, we've got a lot going on in our lives. Moms and Dads are both working, so they have to do a lot more to prepare in the morning. But don't we have an obligation to teach our kids how important school is and, equally, how important time is to other people -- the other kids who are in class, the teacher who has worked on the lesson plan....
When we show our kids that we don't have to be there on time, even though other people are, we are teaching them that other people aren't as important as we are. It's an easy way to show kids how to respect other people.

I detest tardiness. Yes, I have been guilty of it and so I try to forgive tardiness in others, but it's one thing to be late yourself and something else to make your child late.

We'll see what song I'm singing next year when Lucas starts kindergarten -- "we were up so late doing homework, I was out of cereal and my washer wasn't working." I know that I'll be tested, but I hope I can pass. I hope my kids won't be late.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Day three kicks my butt and tv

Day three is done. My 33 year old muscles are aching but I'm determined. Before I had my son, I was a workout freak. I was in excellent shape and hit the gym at least 4 times a week. Since I gave birth, I have become a bit of a slacker. Yes, I chase after the kids at the park, and throw the ball around with them, but I've not dedicated a specific amount of time to exercise every day. I guess that is why the muscles in my back are screaming at me to stop pushing around about 120 pounds for miles and miles -- that's two kids at about 88 pounds total and a jogging stroller that I'm guessing weighs at least 40 pounds.

Walking everywhere is fine and it really doesn't take too much more time than driving around locally -- when you count getting kids in and out of the car, hitting stop lights and finding parking.

We will have to have a hiatus tomorrow afternoon since we must rent a car. We have to attend my aunt's 85th birthday celebration and I'm just not up to walking 15 miles each way:)

As for television, I've started to restrict it. Lucas watched almost no television when he was a little tot. But with the addition of his sister and me starting to work from home, things changed. Somewhere along the line they got out of hand. The kids are early risers -- about 6 a.m. -- and that's not late enough for me to get up before them and get shit done. So while they much on rice krispies and watch some noggin or pbs, I shower, start coffee, pack lunches and check in with work. This started to become a routine of tv from 6:30 to 8. Then, mom has got to have peace while she makes dinner, so they get another 45 minutes or so in the evening. Add in 20 minutes here and there while I make important phone calls or wrap up billing stuff and you are up to a ridiculous amount of tv for a preschooler. The madness must stop. I was all high and mighty because the kids don't watch commercial tv -- Noggin does have some limited commercials, but absolutely no Nickolodeon or Network tv allowed for the kids. But they were watching too much. I started to just say no to tv during the day. At first I was met with much complaining, but the kids are learning to be creative at 7 a.m.
I still have the 30-45 minutes of tv allowed while I prepare dinner, and I don't see that going away any time soon.

I used to wonder how my mom did it -- we only watched limited tv in the evenings and on weekends. But now I remember that we could just walk to a friends house, wander around outside or do whatever the hell we wanted. If we were in the yard for hours, my mom didn't fret. In this day and age, parents have such a short leash on their kids, that no wonder kids watch so much tv. We don't let them ride their tricycles around the block alone, so they hover.
I don't see myself shooing the kids out the front door on their own for a couple of years, so I just have to make sure my paint and play-do cupboard is fully stocked.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008


My kids are at an age where passing gas in front of others is funny. My daughter is very quick to say, "excuse me" before she falls over laughing. My son just thinks it is the funniest thing ever if he has gas while showing me his latest ninja moves.
I don't know at what age this changes, but apparently by the age of 9 or 10, it isn't cool to do this in front of the opposite sex.
We were at my son's karate class today and an older boy, waiting in the wings for the next class, was messing around with some karate moves. He was apparently trying to impress his classmate, a girl, who was standing next to him. Amanda and I were sitting next to them when we heard it... the unmistakable fart. The boy quickly moved to the opposite wall. The girl then went to stand next to him and said, "you stink." He was quick to reply that someone had farted, but it wasn't him. He went on and on about this for about 2 minutes... "someone farted, but it wasn't me."
I was very tempted to help him out and say, "Oh, sorry, I had Taco Bell for lunch," but I didn't. Instead I watched as the red-faced boy went outside to wait for his class to begin.

Day two done

Day two without a car went off without a hitch. We walked down to the market to pick up a few things since my mother and aunt were coming for a visit.
In the afternoon we walked down to the park for Luc's karate class.
So far, living without a car has made me slow down. Even though you might think I would have to speed up because getting places takes longer, the past two days have just forced me to use my time more wisely.
When the kids were all in their class at the park yesterday, I sat outside the room and read -- normally I would drive home and get some work done for about 30 minutes before racing back to the park. It was really nice. I feel like the kids and I don't have to rush places and they stop and pick dandelions and blow the seeds, or they try to avoid walking on the cracks in the sidewalk. I haven't been heard to say, "Hurry up!" quite as much.

Even if we do end up with a car this weekend, I hope I can keep up the slower pace.

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

1st morning

Got the kids out the door at 8:15 a.m. Walked the .86 miles to their school. Dropped them off, chatted with teacher for a moment and then headed the .86 miles back home. I got back at 9 a.m. and now it's time for work. Not too bad.

+++++++ Continued
First full day is done.
Got a bunch of work done and then walked down to pick up 3 kids. We made it about halfway to the park and my nephew's mom pulled up -- she got off work a bit early. She took the boys and headed to the park. Amanda and I tried to beat her, but my jogging stroller was no match for her German wagon. The kids had a great time at their class and chatted about it as we strolled home from the park. Overall the day was very good. The kids don't miss the car, yet....

To be quite honest, I think I could do this for a while, but the outside pressure is great. It isn't in the nature of a Californian to be without a car. I'm getting grief from all sides, and add to that the pressure from my husband who feels that not owning a car says something about his manhood -- not something good.
Today my mom seemed quite dismayed when I told her I had no car. Others have also looked at me like I have 3 eyes.
Whatever, I may give into the pressure, as I usually do.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Car free day 1 and kindergarten worries

Well, I've been car-free for about 6 hours now... so far it's alright:)
We rented a car over the weekend so that we could drive around town to check out some used cars. Nothing was knocking our socks off. In fact, everything was scaring us away. We have decided to just take things one day at a time. I dropped the car off at the rental place (at a local mall) and then walked the 1.5 miles to pick my kids up from school. Then we all walked the .8 miles home. The fresh air seemed to do them good.
I've mapped out some routes to places we normally go and things should be ok, until I want to see my mom, and then I'm going to have to find a bus route or cab it. Tomorrow we'll walk to school, I'll come home and dig into work. I'll bus it out to the mail place where I pick up my work mail and then I'll pick the kids up (plus cousin) and head down to the park, .5 miles from school, for a class they are all taking. We'll then walk home from the park (.75 miles).
On Wednesday I'll do some work in the morning, then I'll pack the kids into the double stroller and walk the 1.75 miles to the library, spend some time there, hit the park next door for some fun and lunch and then walk 1.75 miles home, stopping to pick up a few things at the market.
That's the plan, anyway... for any of you who know me, that could change at the drop of a hat.

As I said, we'll take it slow and if I go too crazy we'll just have to figure something out. Ideally, though, we'll stick with this plan for about 3 months and then lease a new car. By then all debts (except for the house) will be paid, kids will be in school full time and we'll be in a much better place.

Now on to kindergarten news....
My son will be starting the big K in the fall. I've been looking at a couple of local private schools -- we might win the lottery this summer -- and one of them is just wonderful. It actually costs less than I'm paying for his preschool, but my husband has been waiting for the day that freeschool starts. So, while I know he'll most likely have to attend our neighborhood school (a mere .25 mile walk), I wish he didn't have to. I never went to public elementary school, so I don't know much about it, but my mother has planted the seed that public education stinks.

On the way home from preschool today we stopped by our neighborhood K-5 school to pick up the kindergarten registration packet. The woman in the office was nice enough and I know that many parents like the school, but still, I'm nervous. After reading through some of the paperwork, I think I have a right to be.
The school gives you this list of things to work on with your child over the summer. Things like counting, identifying colors, learning the alphabet (these kids are 5, haven't they known these things for a while?) and reading. The reading bit was what got me. The flier says, "Familiarity with books -- read a lot of book to you child!"
No, I don't have a typo in there, I'm quoting the flier!
Now I'm freaking out. I may not always use the proper grammar and my spelling is atrocious, but I'm not teaching a whole classroom of 5-6 year olds.
I'm really worried -- I'm really, really worried.