Tuesday, August 18, 2009

This week's vents . . .

One of my favorite spots in the AJC is the daily vent. There are some very imaginative, frustrated, angry, snide, and silly people out there, and they don't mind sharing every thought that crosses their minds. One recent gem: "You're in a movie. Shut Up! It is that simple." Been there. Felt that.

The appeal of venting is its anonymity. A fed-up-to-here rant about a long line, out of stock item, tailgater, healthcare mal-form, messy kid, bad date, encounter with a government office, etc. is simply sharing. A heated bark directed at the person who has just annoyed you, or about that person in the hearing of his/her friends/coworkers, can bite you back.

"Facts always get in the way of a good vent."

People relish repeating someone's toxic vent to everyone around them. The vent begins to take on a life of its own, until the original setting and the facts are obscured by the vent itself. That's a convoluted way of saying that we all love a well-turned phrase, and the facts get in the way of that enjoyment.

Vents are born in "it's not fair" land, a reality populated by polar opposites, irreconcilable differences, and misunderstandings. It's a place to rant anonymously, to cast aspersions without taking the consequences. It's the modern-day suggestion box for the passive aggressive.

I love venting, for all its fervid ardor and inherent off-the-wall craziness. You know you work with, live next door to, shop alongside with the people who roar their angst, anger, and amusement in rampant anonymity. But it's nice not to know WHO exactly is putting hand to keyboard or calling in on the telephone line.

Keep the Vent, AJC. Let the residents post on your Discussion Board, City of Dunwoody. Keep recording those anonymous parents, DeKalb School Watch. It's informative. It's provocative. It's FUN.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

You gotta love August?

One of my favorite comic strips has been running a series of vignettes called "You gotta love August": flashlight tag, dozing on a hammock, stargazing, catching fireflies, lolling in the hot weather, cooking outdoors . . . obviously, the family lives someplace outside surreal Georgia, where school starts after Labor Day and August is vacation time. Friends in Virginia always shake their heads when I moan that we have to go back to school mid-August. Their post-Labor Day school start moves fluidly toward a mid-June ending, and their public schools (urban, diverse) regularly hit the high notes on national scores, which seems to be all anyone cares about these days. The only good thing about a late May start to summer break is that the crowds at the beach and Disney World are much smaller. Apparently, much of the country is still in school.

Education leaders in Georgia are holding desperately onto the premise that having a semester end before Christmas is better for test scores. Problem is, test scores aren't supporting that premise. New programs roll out like clockwork (new math! higher benchmarks for reading! No ITBS in 8th grade! block schedule! no homework! no F's!) but the underlying weaknesses in education management have far greater impact on student performance than anything else.

I'm in the thick of the battle for student performance, and have been since we enrolled our children in Austin Elementary School many years ago. We've often joked (a bit smugly) that the schools in Dunwoody are the best private education for the dollar because the quality of teaching and the keen participation of parents have nurtured a very high quality of educational experiences. That's still true today, as we move through middle and high school. Thank goodness for the highly skilled, creative teachers who populate our schools. Way to go, parents who help create and manage quality-of-life programs for students and faculty (PCMS Academic Teams Boosters and DHS Arts Alliance are two of the latest initiatives). Hurray to school leaders who figure out ways to serve the students within the chokehold of bureaucracy and federal testing mandates.

It's a parental prerogative to insist that our children be treated with kindness and understanding. But we know, as adults, that life isn't that nurturing. College professors and future employers aren't going to coddle our kids or cater to their every angst. As pragmatic parents deal with public school challenges, they teach their kids how to get what they need out of imperfect systems. There's always going to be a teacher or boss or rush chair or judge who really, really shouldn't be in a position of authority. Oh, well. Work through it, put it behind you, and move on.

You gotta love August.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Aw, come on!

I abandoned my poor vegetable garden for a week while I was focused on several volunteer- and work-related commitments. Finally, I checked it to see how many weeds and insects had invaded the patch.
Throughout the summer, when I've tended it carefully, the harvesting has been modest, though satisfying.

After a week of neglect, I just picked four huge cucumbers and another handful of green beans. Many, many more are on the vine. There are very few weeds, and no signs of hungry insect pests devouring flower buds and leaves.

For pete's sake. I did better leaving it alone than checking on it every day!

That's life. You know all the sayings, about the watched pot and while the cat's away and letting a kid figure things out for himself. Sometimes it takes inattention for things to grow.

Of course, for overachiever micromanagers like me, inattention is anathema. It's just hard to believe that good things come to those who wait AND LEAVE THINGS ALONE.

All right, garden. I'm going to leave you alone for another week. Let's see if this was an anomaly or a learning lesson!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Three am and all's swell.

Sleep deprivation is a temporary torment you get through when you have babies and another thing entirely when you hit menopause. I need seven hours solid sleep. Just one off night gives me the achy, sloggy, can't-think blues.

Nonetheless, I awaken drenched in a hot flash most nights at 3 am. For the next hour or two, I am wide awake.

So . . . what are you doing at three am? I've consulted friends and family to share frustrations and empathize over each other's chronic sleepiness. Our nocturnal activities are surreal and splendid.
  • Get up, iron clothes, and go to sleep on the sofa.
  • Read something really, really boring. Like a book club pick or a business magazine.
  • Wander around the house checking doors and lights.
  • Just go ahead and stay up. After you've tossed and turned for a couple of hours, it's time to get up anyway.
  • Take Tylenol PM. Not every night, though you really need it, but once or twice a week just to catch up on sleep.
  • Check email and shop on eBay.
  • Blog. (Okay, that's me.)
  • Organize the linen closet.
  • Dust. You'd like to vacuum, but the family might object.
  • Take the dog for a walk. (I saw one neighbor do this as I stared in frustration out the window. Bless her. It's good to have company.)
  • Watch one of the cable news channels. Trust repetition of news stories to induce sleep (breaking news! celebrity couple breaking up! government official caught lying! storm topples trees!).
  • Googled "insomnia" and found http://www.well.com/~mick/insomnia/. The entry titled Green Cows - And Other Animals Of Color is just plain weird.
  • Make to-do lists (a great idea since you'll be too fuzzy to think straight the next day).
  • Pray.
What works for you?

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Recreational food shopping.

The grocery list is an important communications tool in the Knitternall home. Each of us adds to it during the week, and I edit when I work on menus, check the pantry, and add essentials.

  • Chocolate syrup (please?)
  • Dishwasher stuff
  • Chocolate ice cream (please?)
  • TP!!!!!!!!!!!
  • Grown-up cereal ("grown-up" underscored several times)
  • Chicken piquant - 4 small chicken breasts, 2 lemons
  • Veggie bacon (2 points)
Depending on what's on the list, I head to Wal-Mart, Publix, or Kroger. Wal-Mart is first pick when we need lots of cleaning supplies and dog food. Way cheaper. Publix is my go-to store most weeks because it's close by and familiar. Kroger is less convenient, but has terrific sales on meat, poultry, and frozen foods. I visit Costco once a month for bulk items such as toilet paper and frozen chicken breasts. These shopping trips are straightforward, routine, and necessary. They've also become much more expensive lately.

People in Dunwoody like to talk about food shopping. They share special finds at Whole Foods and Trader Joe's (the salmon! the oatmeal!), praise a Fresh Market crown roast that was both investment and indulgence, order their Thanksgiving smoked turkey at Olde Hickory House, and fret that a favorite goat cheese provider at the farmer's market won't have the special blend they love. The lemonade cake at Wright's Gourmet is a must-have for a teacher dessert buffet or church committee meeting. The creative people at Trader Joe's suggest combining this sauce with that chicken to create an affordable, easy, tasty dinner. A high protein cereal is out of stock at the natural foods store, to the dismay of its fans.

This sensory enjoyment of food shopping is a mark of our affluent culture, and a shock to visitors from other countries (and less affluent parts of America) where food is necessity, not recreation. Not everyone is comfortable with this affluence, hence the growth of backyard gardens, the local food movement, and interest in back-to-basics comfort food.

People seem to fall into two camps: planners and spontaneous shoppers. Undoubtedly, the planners save more money and always have what they need on hand. Spontaneous shoppers grab what looks good, have duplicates of things they forgot they had, and make multiple runs to the grocery store. One friend always shops on Sunday morning because it's quiet, less crowded, and she can calculate her spending and savings in peace. Another picks up dinner on the way home from work because she can't plan ahead whether the family will be together that evening.

I wonder what life would be like for all of us if we couldn't be planners or spontaneous . . . if the food we ate was the food we had. The answer isn't just in third world countries. Drive a few hours north, to the Cumberland Mountains region of Tennessee, for a taste of reality for many, many people.

Just thinking . . .

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Caution: New Driver

The teen earned his license Thursday.

Hoo, boy.

On the advice of many friends, we avoided the Roswell Road DMV and headed north to Blue Ridge for the big test. Unlike the dismal, congested, dirty, cranky environment of urban DMVs, the two-person staff was friendly and relaxed. The driving examiner spoke matter-of-factly and even teased him a bit. There were only two people in the tidy little office when the teen and T arrived for his appointment. And his road test was easier thanks to little traffic and development. Since we don't plan to let the teen drive on Atlanta's crowded Perimeter or Georgia 400 without us for the first six months (confining him to Dunwoody), we were happier with a more low key setting for his test.

We presented the teen with his own set of keys, a gas card to be used ONLY for gas, and a magnet alerting everyone around him that he's a new driver.

He took his first solo drive last night, taking his sister on an errand to Walgreens and a celebratory brownie sundae at Bruster's, both just half a mile from our house.

T did a splendid job training the teen. The tween will be ready in less than two years for her lessons. With him.

'Cause momma doesn't do driving training. I can't handle the terror.