Queen of Pith

life, love, sarcasm

An Education of Violence

Posted on October 16, 2015 in Children School


Classroom after a violent outburst by a student in Kent, Washington

When I was a kid, students with special needs were in classes without the general student population. In many cases, they were in some trailer away from the main building of the school. That was also before many mental and learning disabilities were diagnosed correctly. Students with Autism, ADHD, Asperger Syndrome, and other illnesses were either thrown into the special education trailers or just considered weird or hyper in the general school population.

Fortunately for kids with special needs the ostracizing has become passé. Teaching now is all about inclusion – including all children in the classroom. It is great for all involved. Healthier children learn empathy and diversity, while the kids with special needs get to be included and just maybe, not bullied as much. My daughter had children in her classes with ADHD, Cerebral Palsy, Autism, and more.

But there is a problem.

When school systems make changes or implement programs, they do it with an all-or-nothing approach. Zero tolerance for drugs in school. Students can get suspended for bringing Midol. Zero tolerance for weapons. Students can get suspended for slicing an apple. Zero tolerance for gangs. Students can be suspended for holding up three fingers in a photo.

It is the same with inclusion.

First, let me start with this sad story from Lynchburg, Virginia. An autistic 11 year old was arrested after having a tantrum at school. He also was charged with felony assault on a police officer after the school resource officer had to restrain the boy and the boy fought back.

It’s not the first time a child has been arrested in school for tantrums.

These stories break my heart because these kids have a medical condition and their behavior can be violent as a result. But including violent children in with the general school population?

To my knowledge, unless a child has been in juvenile detention in our school system, all children are included in regular classrooms. As I said before, I think that is great for the most part. The problem I have with inclusion is that it includes the violent children.

There is one child who has been in several of my daughter’s elementary school classes. Just recently I learned that they had a safe word between the students and the teachers for when this child would get violent. When the safe word was said, the kids would gather in part of the classroom to avoid being hit by this child. This child has thrown chairs, scissors, and more at teachers and other kids. What makes me even angrier is that NO ONE at the school told me about it. I heard about it from another parent. When I spoke to my daughter about the violence, she told me more. She’s pretty laid back about school, so it didn’t bother her. But why is this being treated as a normal thing?

We teach our kids not to be bullies. We teach them that violence isn’t the answer. We teach our daughters not to accept violent behavior from a partner, yet we all violence in the classroom so we don’t make one child feel excluded? This is crazy!

Doing a quick search, I found our school system isn’t the only one dealing with this issue.

Bad Axe school parents concerned about safety, discipline
Special-needs student’s classroom outbursts led classmate’s parents to seek restraining order
Teachers, parents in Kent concerned about violent outbursts in class
Naperville teacher hurt because violent student not expelled
Parents angry because Vista School District won’t remove violent special needs student from class

One friend of my daughter’s was actually purposely placed in a class with this child because she calmed him down. That’s a lot of pressure for a nine year old. And what about HER safety and education?

School systems have a tough job. We are parents are terribly irrational at times when it comes to our children. Honestly, that is one of the main reasons I did not go into teaching – the parents. But this all-or-nothing approach school systems take on issues has got to stop. How about taking a common sense approach to issues in our schools? Inclusion is a wonderful concept and has a place in school. But when the actions of one student affects the health and safety of others, it is time to place that child somewhere where he can get the best education based on his needs and where other children and teachers can learn and teach in a safe environment.

Crippling Doubt

Posted on October 13, 2015 in Blogging

I have this problem. I want people to like me. Everyone. At the same time I don’t try to pretend to be something I am not. So when I am having to interview for a position, it seems that people want me to be someone I am not.

I apply for certain things because I know I can do it and do it well. Rock it. But people look at me and reject me or what is on paper for someone who have the right pedigree.

Yes, I am good at my career choice, but am limited to settling for where I am. It’s like I am chained to where I am, and when the see the light of freedom, it’s snatched away because I don’t seem a fit the ideal.

And I am impatient. It’s a big negative. I want to know where I stand. Don’t leave me hanging or bother mailing a letter. Tell me right away if I am not going to work out. Because what you don’t know about me is that I obsess. I can’t just not worry, cry, get frustrated, and assume rejection. I can’t. I want to use my talent. And I do take every rejection personally. I know I shouldn’t, but I do. It’s part of the way I am wired.

Thanks if you read this. My thoughts are totally disjointed and I just needed an outlet.


Popping the bubble wrap

Posted on August 27, 2015 in Children Parenting

Once again, my community has been stuck by tragedy as two young people were killed while doing a live broadcast on a fluff piece on a Chamber of Commerce event. They were both engaged to other people, one was engaged to the morning producer who saw her fiancée killed on live television. Understandably, schools were put on lock down in the area of the shooting, (I live 90 minutes away), while they searched for the killer. Some schools near chose to also go on lock down.

Since my eldest was born in 2004, (son was born in summer 2007), the following has happened in our community:

  • 2006 – A prisoner escapes and kills a security guard and police officer
  • 2007 – The massacre at Virginia Tech
  • 2011 – A Virginia Tech police officer is killed during a regular traffic stop, (this is the first one that affected me as a parent when my child said, “Mommy, we had Army men at our school today!”
  • 2015 – Two reporters shot and killed on air

I find that after all these tragedies, I just want to go home and hug my kids. Not so much for their protection, but because I needed it. Selfish, I know, but I am being honest. Because in each one of these events, I either knew one of the people killed or had friends who knew a victim.

And it’s more than the national events.

I learned not too long ago that in DD’s classes, they had a safe word for when one of the students, (possible schizophrenic), started to get violent. They had a hiding place. They also had places to hide for other reasons. She happily told me about how cool one was because it was by books.

Looking back, it is not all that different from the air raid and tornado drills Bubblewrapboywe did.

Most parents want to bubble wrap their kids during times like these. Homeschooling kids, buying various safety items – physical things. I am different. I hide everything. The kids don’t see me cry. I don’t tell them what happened. I shield them from news on TV and radio. That is my form of protection.

Then one day DD and I were talking about something and she said, “Oh, like what happened at Virginia Tech?”

That was jaw-dropping.

See, I want my kids to be as innocent as long as possible. They already know there is bad in the world. But I just want them to feel like where we live IS a safe place. Kids need that reassurance. I need that reassurance.

But no matter how hard I try to hide the evils of the world, the kids will learn about it. I can’t hide it forever. So I am popping the bubble wrap. I am not going to go out of my way to tell them everything that is going on. But they need to know why Mommy is sad. They need to learn that crying is OK. Being angry is OK when expressed in a healthy way. People are going to hurt and disappoint them. People already have. I have.

At the same time, I refuse, absolutely refuse, to keep them inside and hide them from the world. I thought yesterday how I could have the kids stay at home and go to VT since it is so close. But that’s not a healthy attitude. I can teach them about risks, consequences, but most of all I can teach them how to love people and reach out when they see someone or hear of someone in pain. It may not have stopped all of the above events from happening, but maybe it can stop just one more tragedy.


The Hell of buying a family car

Posted on August 18, 2015 in Cars Money

noshameAll advice is in bold. If you want to skip the back story, Click “Want did we want”.

Let’s take a little trip down memory lane.

Back in 2004, I had my first child. We had a pickup truck and a four-door Honda Civic. Life was great. Well, vehicle-wise. I mean, I stayed at home with this kid. What the hell was I thinking? But I had that handy Civic with the fold-down seats where we could store the Pack-n-Play, a small arsenal of diapers, bottles, toys, clothes for the trip, clothes for the poops, clothes for the pukes, and a small plastic bag of clothes for the husband. Somehow, it all fit.

Then I was going to turn 35 soon. DS was almost three. It was time for baby number two.

The Civic wasn’t going to cut it.

We looked at our options. We weren’t on the Dave Ramsey plan then, so we looked at new and used. I found a Saturn Relay 3 online for about $22k. It was used with 200 miles. Yes, 200. It was AWD, had a DVD player, and all the necessary things a growing family needs in a traveling entertainment center and café. So we drive the 300 miles to the dealership and come back with our new payments and van, er SUV.

What we didn’t know was that Saturn was going out of business in a couple of years. We knew it was a GM vehicle, (which I have avoided GM like the plague), but it was a Saturn. And Saturn seemed to have their act together. Also, we didn’t know that the Saturn Relay was one of the WORST used cars to buy. Ever. http://www.autoguide.com/auto-news/2013/02/top-20-used-cars-to-avoid-consumer-reports.html/19

Now to be fair, the van did last us nine years. It did get us through some massive snow storms. During that time, we replaced the tires a couple of times, some sensors, lamps, and had several other piddly bits replaced.

But at 147,754 miles in the middle of freaking nowhere Connecticut in the heat of this summer, the thing crapped out. And I mean about-to-blow-a-rod crapped out.

So long story short, (too late), we were in the market for a new vehicle. We rented a car, got home, and left the crap Saturn in Connecticut.

For two weeks, we were a one-car family. For one of those weeks, we were down a kid, so it wasn’t too bad. But once we had both kids back, a tooth extraction for a kid, school starting shortly with one kid going to child care and one going to middle school in the morning, (no, we are not on the bus route), two parents with an 8-5 work day, me having nightmares and waking up with massive TMJ pain from clenched teeth, I would be damned if we would remain a one-car family.

Now my husband is the take your time and research kind of guy. I love him for it. I am the get this done and get it done NOW person. So we butted heads a little. But once we learned that the P.O.S. Saturn was going to cost more to repair than it was worth, we seriously looked at cars.

What did we want?
Forget what we WANTED, we needed the following:
A van or SUV
Under $15,000
Third-row seating
Needs to last us about ten years until the youngest starts college

Cool to have, but not important
DVD player

Where we looked
Local dealerships (two large ones and one small one)
Local paper

What brands we looked at
Toyota Sienna
Honda Odyssey
Acura MDX
Kia Sedona
Ford Flex
Ford Explorer
Nissan Quest

We knew we needed something to haul the kids and their friends to sports. We travel 1500 miles during the holidays and take gifts and who knows what else, like say, oh, a Spotbot, (that’s another story). That meant we had to have third-row seating. That limited our choices to an SUV or minivan. Since we had an emergency fund and didn’t want to completely deplete it, $15,000 was our max.

Because we needed something to last us a while, we were mostly interested in Honda and Toyota products. Ford was an option because I have a family member who works for Ford and can get parts cheap. I can also get a new Ford with a family discount, but considering that a new car loses 20% of its value after a year, I will let someone else take that hit. So if we got a new Ford Flex at the starting MRSP, (no bells and whistles, no taxes, etc.), with the family discount, it would cost $24,735 for a car that would be worth $19,788 after a year. That’s well over $10,000 of our budget. So. No. We researched the prices, reliability, and resell value of the above makes, as well as other non-GM makes, like Chrysler, Volvo, VW, etc. At the end, it came down to the Toyota Sienna and Honda Odyssey.

Next was the search. If you only get one piece of advice from this post, let it be this, buy a subscription to AutoCheck. Not CarFax, but AutoCheck. Most dealers will already let you do CarFax for free. Also, in a couple of cases, accidents were listed on AutoCheck that were not on CarFax. But using the free CarFax from the dealers and using our paid AutoCheck, we were able to do some great comparisons. AutoCheck even lets you go by license plate. This was important with a couple of the Craigslist ads where people did not cover the license plate.

We used Cars.com and AutoTrader which allowed us to compare vehicles. There were also dealership ratings, which really were not helpful for us, but they are there for others. We were able to put in so many factors, like price, mileage, third-row seating, makes, models, and more. Still beware. They do not weed out places that sell for parts. There is a local dealership that sells wrecked cars for parts, etc. So we could see a 2014 Honda Odyssey for $15,000, but it was wrecked. We printed out our choices. If you do this when going to a dealer, make sure you have the stock number. One of the dealerships we visited has a huge inventory and it takes a while to look for stock without the number, so bring that to save time. Also, if you are testing a vehicle with a DVD player, bring a DVD with you! Same with a CD for CD players or your phone for Bluetooth.

We went to three different dealers in the area – the mega dealer, the big dealer, and the small dealer. No, we didn’t try their porridge. First, we went to mega dealer.

I was a little apprehensive about going to these folks. Their commercials are obnoxious, they are huge, and their reputation as a used-car dealership had not been great a few years ago. But we were limited in our choices, so we went there.

The salesperson was great. She was very nice and even had our since of humor, (“Look! You can fit about five dead bodies in this trunk!). She didn’t ride with us when we test drove. The one thing I liked about her even more was she said to the van take up the local mountain to test the power. She told us to turn off a certain street and turn around and go up the mountain because at that point we would not be able to get a running start and would start halfway up the steep incline. We took Honda Odyssey #1 for a ride. It was really nice, smooth, and had a lot of power. The van had over 100,000 miles, but handled beautifully. The issue was the body and cleanliness. It was not that great for the price. It would work if we couldn’t find anything else, but it was just OK. It had been in an accident, we knew this from the CarFax and AutoReport, but it was minor.

Then came the Toyota Sienna. This one was a newer model than the Honda, had more bells and whistles, and of course, cost more. It was at the top of our price range. We took it out for a drive. It was not as smooth as the Honda, the DVD player didn’t work, and when we went up the mountain all sorts of warning lights came on. We told the salesperson so she would know. She wasn’t thrilled. Now, this is where we were bad customers. We told her we would call back, but never did. It was well over a week before we purchased another vehicle, but we should have called.

Off to the big dealer. They had a Honda Odyssey (#2), totally decked out with a DVD player, backup camera in the rear view mirror, sliding doors, and more. Once again, it was on the upper end of our price range, but, eh, why not. Now this dealer has no-haggle pricing. What you see is what you get. The salespeople do not get a commission. They make a point of telling you this. Honestly, it’s nice, but I didn’t care. I did not feel pressure at other dealers. We tried out the Odyssey. We took it the same route as the past vans. It handled smoothly. The DVD player worked. But, once again, it wasn’t clean. I found a crayon and some other things in the seat pockets. The front bumper was loose. One of the sliding doors wasn’t working properly, and more. The salesperson seemed pissed and knew he lost the sale because of shoddy work from the mechanics.

I will talk about the small dealer later.


If you choose to look at Craigslist, buy AutoCheck, a backbone, and a BS detector. You will need all three. We looked at three vans on Craigslist. Two were Honda Odysseys and one was a Nissan Quest.
Honda Odyssey (#3) required us to drive 45 miles away. It was a great deal and came with a DVD player, a navigation system, and sliding doors. We met in a public parking lot. I tried out the van in the parking lot while my husband the van’s owner waited. Things were a little shady. The guy was not American-born, (this normally would not be an issue, but see the part about the Nissan later). The DVD player was still in the box and hadn’t been installed, but the guy told us he paid $100 for it. Then for $300 we can take the van to the dealership and get the sliding door that is broken fixed. And the navigation system? It was a Garmin he bought. When I asked him why he wanted to sell, he said “Because my wife wants something else.” Later, we looked up the vehicle on AutoCheck. The van was recently bought and sold at an auction. So the van he had less than a couple of months. So his wife wanting something else was a lie unless he happened to buy a van without his wife’s knowledge and she decided she wanted something else. We caught him in a couple of lies and decided to pass.

The Nissan Quest was also a great price and was the luxury model. It was well-kept and looked nice. We met in a public place and tried it out. Once again, they were getting rid of it because the wife wanted something else. This guy was also not American-born. The Craigslist posting had two numbers to text – one for the son and one for the dad. I think I was talking to the son by text, but we met the dad. Once again, this guy insisted it was taken care of by a local mechanic, (one we use). I looked at the van and noticed it looked like it may have been a handicapped van at one point because of how low to the ground it was. But it handled well and we said we would go home and think about it. It was quite a deal! We ran the AutoCheck and there were no accidents, flooding, or title issues. Then we looked at the report closely. This van had been bought and sold at an auction one month before. Sound familiar? I texted the son to see when they purchased the vehicle. He said he was out of the country at the time, but would ask his dad. Funny, I never heard back.

Honda Odyssey #3 was a 2009 LX model with under 80,000 miles. Now the guy selling it I knew, sort of, through work. So this was someone I could get my hands on if need be. I printed out the ad. They were asking $12,500 for it. We looked it up on Edmunds and Kelly Blue Book and they were asking a little over, but they had stupidly bought the extended warranty, so we would get that as well. The van was clean and the wife honestly told me that she backed into a pole one time. They were also the only owners. WIN! Everything was great, even after the test drive in a public place! So we emailed an offer of $11,000. We were ready to pay full price, but wanted to see if they would go lower. They said they would call us the next day. So we waited, and waited, and finally I get an email from the wife. She basically told us thanks, but no thanks, that the price was too low and good luck in our search. What? So I looked up the van on Craigslist again. They increased the price to $14,000. It seems husband and wife did not agree on price. BTW, it was just this week that I saw that ad was taken down. I guess someone finally bought it.

Small dealer

After trying out #3, we went across the street to the small dealer. He had all used cars and he was closed on that Sunday, so we could look around. We saw a Honda Odyssey (#4) and a Toyota Sienna (#2). We ran AutoChecks on them and they came back pretty clean. They both had small fender benders, but nothing horrible. The Sienna was older, the Honda was newer, but it was the very basic model. We would have to open our own doors and look out the window for entertainment, but we could still fit a few dead bodies in the back, although the cloth material would be harder to get the smell out than leather. We came back to visit that Monday. The van was being cleaned and a new air compressor was being put in for the air conditioning, so we could come back the next day to test drive. There were no ratings online of the dealer, but when I asked around, I heard nothing but praise. One guy was even best friends with the owner, which helped us a bunch. So we went back for the test drive. Once again, it handled beautifully, but the AC was still broken. We liked the van a lot, and with promises of having the AC fixed, we said we would like to buy, but no paperwork was signed until things were fixed.

***Insert drama***

A friend of ours found out we were looking and wanted to sell her van. This woman has OCD so I KNOW the van was in good shape. It was a Toyota Sienna (#3). Under 100,000 miles and the luxury model. Oh it was beautiful. I was in tears though thinking that we would let down the small dealer. I mean, I was stressed to the max. Then she gave us her pay off price. After taxes, tags, etc, it would be $4000 over our budget. Now we could have done it, but our emergency fund would be almost gone. We hemmed and hawed for a couple of hours and then decided to decline.

So drama over, we purchased our new-to-us van from the small dealer. He threw in a warranty and was just overall great. The “processing fee” was about $300 less than the bigger dealers. Now we will have to get a DVD player. We had to get some floor mats. But we spent about $11,500 overall to get a quality Honda Odyssey with just under 110,000 miles.

So what is the lesson?

Research – You cannot research enough. Read Edmunds for editor and user reviews. Don’t go by just the star rating because people can be stupid and put one star when they mean five or they rate the dealer and not the vehicle.

Know your budget – Do NOT go over your budget. If you get a car from a dealer, expect to pay $300 – $1000 in fees and taxes. In our case, our tags are still up in Connecticut, so we needed new tags which is more.

Craigslist advice – When searching, you have search options. Make sure to choose “clean title” in the search. Also, always meet in a public place with at least one other adult. Do not make the deal there. Think about it and use AutoCheck to check the status of the vehicle. Also, do a search for the Craigslist post. On a couple of cases I saw the same post was made in other states. And if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Private party – Know your state’s laws on taxes, records, titles, etc. Chances are you will have to meet up with the owner at the DMV to do everything.

Walk away – Do not let emotions take over. Until that paperwork is signed, you owe the seller nothing. Be ready to walk away. There is something else out there for you.

Travel if you must – We had a specific kind of vehicle we were looking for. It almost came to the point where I was going to look at one 100 miles away. If you know what you want and can wait, then wait.

Drive a lot – We drove seven vehicles and looked at 10 (inside and out) total. We drove on the mountains, on the highway, and took the neighborhood streets.

Test it – We tested the cruise control, the DVD player, the stereo, the windshield wipers, the brakes, all electronic parts, and looked under the hood while the engine was running.

Take it to an independent mechanic – We didn’t. Probably should have and did do that with our previous purchase for husband.

I really hope this helps someone. Come see me in ten years. I’ll sell you an Odyssey.


My daughter is pulling away – and that’s OK

Posted on July 21, 2015 in Children

My eldest is 11. She is really an awesome kid. In less than a month she starts middle school. She’s excited. I am a little scared because I remember middle school. It’s when kids who were close for the past six years or longer start to pull away from each other. Hormones take over what little logic there is in the kids’ brains and there will be arguing, tears, and overall days where I will want to put my kid in a box, leave her outside of K-Mart with a sign that says “Free to a good home.”

Right now, I am enjoying the fact that she needs me to tuck her in at night. That she tells me everything that is going on with her physically and emotionally. That she tells me about crushes without me asking. That she loves the same music as me. That she looks up to me.

But I feel some of that slipping away. And it’s OK.

During vacation there were days when she would just go off from everyone and watch videos on her tablet. I would go to see her and ask if she was OK. She said she was OK. She just wanted to be alone. She laid in bed for a day just daydreaming. Once again, she was OK, but she asked to be alone. She asked me to shut the door after I left at bedtime. After getting home, she went to a week-long camp for middle through high schoolers. I stopped by last night because I forgot to give her sunscreen. She was playing a game with some older kids. She explained the game to me, but went on playing.

However, I know that when she comes home from camp, she will want me to snuggle with her. She will still want me to pick a stuffed animal out for her at bedtime. She will still tell me of any crushes. She and I will still sing the same songs. But one day these things will be no more too.

And it’s OK.

Because in order for her to survive in this world, she needs to pull away and be her own person. She needs to do that sooner so she can have a clue when she goes away to college and to become a responsible adult.

As long as she knows that I will still be here for her, to gossip, sing, talk, and snuggle.


Sporting the Community

Posted on May 21, 2015 in Children Sports

“…pervasive emphasis on performance over mere fun and exercise has driven many children to focus exclusively on one sport from an early age, making it harder for all sports to attract casual participants. But the decline of baseball as a community sport has been especially precipitous.”

I had this conversation not too long ago with another parent. She has explained to me whylacrosse baseball is lacking in our area, and she pretty much said what is in this article. There is one person in particular she blamed on the lack of baseball. This coach was so competitive and elitist that other teams floundered. There was a good-sized baseball league in town a couple of years ago, but apparently he ran the league out of town.

Other sports in our area are seeing more of an increase in participation, (lacrosse, football, soccer), because baseball and softball are all travel and competition. I was surprised to see no slow-pitch softball at all for girls. Baseball teams are scarce.

In addition, there is a bit of an economic gap as well. I know with our local lacrosse league – you can rent equipment cheap from the league. And with the girls’ leagues at least, there are a lot of parents willing to carpool and help get kids to the games. These are community teams!

I understand if your kid has the talent that you want them to step it up. I know several parents with really talented kids who will go far. It’s not fair for a kid who wants to compete and has the skills to stay in a regular league. Not fair to the other players too. I think DD is good at lacrosse and a little raw in basketball, and we are willing to step up to a more competitive league if SHE wants to. But I am not relying on her to become the next big star, Olympian, or get a full athletic scholarship, (although I joke about that).




All the Heroes

Posted on April 16, 2015 in Virginia Tech

Yes, it’s that yearly post about April 16, 2007.

Today I want to talk about the heroes of that day.

L_librescuLiviu Librescu – Born in 1930 in Romania, he was a survivor of the Holocaust, refused allegiance to the Communist Party, fled to Israel, and then was killed on April 16, 2007 at Virginia Tech. This brave man was killed as the thing tried to come into his classroom. Librescu held the door to his classroom closed and 22 of his 23 students managed to escape.


L_porteMatthew La Porte – A 20 year old from Dumont, New Jersey was a political science major and a member of the Corps of Cadets. He was in room 211 of Norris Hall that day. When the shooting started, his professor said to move to the back of the class. La Porte instead went to the front of the room to put a heavy desk in front of the door. When the thing came in the classroom, La Porte charged at the thing. He slowed down the thing and saved several lives in the process, giving others time to save their own lives. He was awarded the the Airman’s Medal by the Air Force. The Airman’s Medal is the most distinguished honor that the Air Force confers for heroism outside of combat, typically involving the voluntary and selfless risk of life.
There were others, Trey Perkins, Derek O’Dell, and Katelyn Carney were in their German class when the thing came in and began shooting. The thing left only to come back. These students had nothing with which to block the door, so they put their feet against the door to keep the thing from coming in again.


Then there are the heroes I personally know – Blacksburg police officers, the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Deputies, and the Blacksburg Rescue Squad members. These are people I work with, hang out with, and joke with on a regular basis. They did not hesitate to go in and do what needed to be done. These are the people Mister Rogers talked about when he said, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

l-runningl-rescue l-hugging


You are not a bad parent

Posted on April 9, 2015 in Children Parenting

mugWhen my daughter was born, I felt this need to be a stay at home mom. That was the best for the child, right? So I stayed at home and was miserable. But if I worked, my child would be in daycare! She would be taken care of by a STRANGER! After all the best caregiver is her mom. Instead of working, for two years I fought off bouts of depression because I didn’t get a shower in or the house looked like I had six kids instead of one.

I saw working moms all dressed well, hair perfect, makeup on talking about things that didn’t involve poop, diapers, spit up, and nap times. Hell, they were showered before noon! I was insanely jealous! I compared my life to theirs, and knew I had to change.

So I started working part time which led to full time and I was much happier. I felt guilty for not feeling guilty about leaving her with someone else. But you know, I should feel guilty because I should stay at home and sacrifice my life for my daughter. But instead, I was going to show my daughter how women can have it ALL! I was going to exercise, eat great, spend quality time with her, and come home in my dress clothes and be that powerful example.

Except, I ate like crap, didn’t dress up more than I needed to, and makeup? Pffft. I kept comparing myself to others and it was wrong. Everyone’s circumstances are different. I was starting to accept this fact.

Then came social media, and the site from the devil himself, Pinterest.

Every week on Twitter or Facebook there is a story about how to be a better parent. Here are ten things to do to make sure your child does not end up a serial killer, (oh that would make a great blog post). STEM classes your daughter MUST take to get a head start. Why your child needs constant reassurance. What words you should NEVER say in front of your child. Activities your child should be doing. How not to over-schedule your child. Why YouTube is bad for your children. Why your child’s favorite video game that they eat, breathe and sleep is good for them. Why you should co-sleep. Why you shouldn’t co-sleep. Why your kids shouldn’t eat fast food. Why you should grow all your own food and make the kids eat a pound of kale a day.

Then there is Pinterest.

I wish I could find the person who started Pinterest, pin him to my freshly-decorated-painted-with-paint-I-made-myself-from-the-tears-of-a-unicorn wall, and insert into his nether regions long pointy needles I bought for sale while extreme couponing. Then I would bake the perfect gluten-free birthday cake from all natural ingredients I grew myself, and smash it in his perfect face – all while wearing a lovely homemade dress from the cat fur my cat sheds so that poor children in Bangladesh don’t have to die in sweatshops making clothing for overweight Americans.

I tried reading all those parenting articles. I signed up for Pinterest. Then I got freakishly stressed out.

See what they don’t tell you in these articles is that children are not perfect little snowflakes. They scream, they holler, they don’t want to do homework, they hate your cooking, and if you confuse Elsa with Ana on that perfect Pinterest cake it’s World War III.

It is absolutely maddening.

But here is the thing. I started thinking about all my parents did for my siblings and me. There are things I didn’t like. I didn’t like not going to PTA meetings, I wanted them at ALL my events, I wanted them to volunteer at school… which now I understand why they didn’t. But I don’t remember the birthday cakes, the food my mom cooked, what they did or did not say to me that nowadays would be considered a fatal parenting flaw. I remember love. I remember a home where my friends loved to hang out because my dad was funny. I remember them being there when I needed them most.

Our kids see that we are not perfect. Our house looks like it should be on Hoarders. Sometimes we yell, get angry, and eat food that is bad for us. There are days, (OK, I admit, everyday), when I want to nap and let the kids play video games or watch YouTube Minecraft videos all day. There are days when we give in to the kids and let them get their way. There are days we come home from work and are grouchy and it affects how we treat our kids. We are not superheroes or super-parents. There are days we just don’t want to be a parent.

But our family talks, communicates, and hugs. Our kids know that they can tell us anything. And if they grow up to be good people, I will be happy.

And nothing compares to that.



Trip of a Lifetime – Japan!

Posted on July 31, 2014 in Travel

I have been back in the States for three weeks and have yet to blog about my trip to Japan!

A little background
My brother-in-law is in the Navy and he and my sister-in-law have lived all over the world. When they lived in cool places like Sicily or Hawaii, I had young children and really couldn’t go there. And we were getting out of debt.

About two years ago, they moved to Japan. DH and I talked about going, but when we found out they were leaving Japan in winter of 2015, we figured it was now or never. We scraped up the money, had a generous donation, and our awesome families said “yes” to watching the kids. So off we went.

As we planned to travel, we chose July because of the kids’ school schedule. It is the beginning of the rainy season and it is hot and humid in Japan at that time, but it was better than never going. And yes, it was overcast most of the time, but the only thing that affected was our view of Mt. Fuji, (we barely saw it through binoculars).

We took three planes over. I won’t bore you with the delays and sprint outside LAX to the international terminal, (I HATE LAX), but here are some things to know. If you are obese like me or over six feet tall, pay for the premium economy seat. Yes, it’s more, but you will be MUCH more comfortable on the 11 hour flight. I needed the lap belt extender and DH had his legs cramped. We had more leg room on the puddle jumper from Dulles to Norfolk!

When we got to Japan and met up with SIL, we hit the ground running. It was the best way to go!

We stayed in the Kanagawa Prefecture. Closest large city is Yokohama and Tokyo is not far at all. Most of the time we traveled by train, but we walked a lot, took the car a few places, and caught the bus a couple of times. There is one card you purchase and add yen as need be and that works on the buses and trains. Also in some vending machines.

Taya Cavern
Our first trip was with some other Americans to Taya Cavern. I wish I could show you the sculptures. They are breathtaking, but no cameras were allowed in the caverns. It’s an extensive cave carved into a hillside on the outskirts of Kamakura by Shingon Buddhist monks from 1192 until 1720. We got up close to antique carvings of Buddhas, Buddhist saints, fantastic creatures, and Mantras carved in kanji and Sanskrit.

There is a flame in memoriam of those killed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki and stones from ground zero.

Goddess of Mercy 
A visit to the Goddess of Mercy in Ōfuna Kannon. Construction of the Temple began in 1929 by the Sōtō (Zen) Buddhist sect. The outline of the statue was complete by 1934 but work was suspended at the outbreak of the Pacific War. The Ofuna Kannon Society continued construction work in 1954 and the Temple was finally completed in 1960. The statue construction is that of sections of poured concrete and was performed entirely by hand. No concrete pump trucks were used. The surface of the statue is oft painted white. The statue itself contains a small museum and shrine and both are open for viewing.

Next day we caught the bus to Kamakura. There is a touristy shopping area there with a Miyazaki store with Totoro, Kiki, Ponyo and more!


At the end of shopping area is Tsurugaoka Hachimangu. It is a beautiful area with shrines and gardens. This shrine was originally built in 1063 and was moved it to its present location in 1191. The lotus wasn’t quite in bloom, but we did get to see one.

There was a large wooden structure with barrels of sake, known as sakedaru. The decoration of barrels known as kazaridaru signifies a spiritual connection and relationship between brewers and shrines for prosperity. Most brewers donate these sake barrels to shrines for Shinto ceremonies, rituals and festivals. Japanese believe that sake acts as a symbolic unification of Gods and people. (www.farmofminds.com/ai-nihon-kazaridaru-empty-barrels-of/)

On our last day, we headed back to Kamakura and visited the Big BuddhaHe weighsabout 93 short tons and has survived 800 years. Even the great Kanto earthquake in 1923, but it did move him two feet! 

Hiratsuka and the Tanabata Festival
On a rainy day, we went to the Tanabata Festival in Hirstsuka. Many towns had such a celebration, but this was while we were there. It celebrates the meeting of the deities Orihime and Hikoboshi (represented by the stars Vega and Altair respectively). According to legend, the Milky Way separates these lovers, and they are allowed to meet only once a year on the seventh day of the seventh lunar month of the lunisolar calendar. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tanabata

The festival was crowded, even though it was raining. It’s like many American festivals, there were balloons, vendors, games, and businesses selling their wares on the sidewalk. Over the streets were displays from local businesses. Some were even animated. And here, like all other places in Japan, the obsession with Disney, especially the movie Frozen, was displayed.

The seaside town is so gorgeous. There is a small park with monkeys and birds where you have a lovely view of the beach. On a clear day you can see Mt. Fuji. We squinted through binoculars and saw the outline of it. Too overcast. :(

Yokohama’s Chinatown
Yokohama is a beautiful port town. It reminds me of my hometown area, only clean. Chinatown is the largest in Asia and one of the largest in the world.

If you EVER go to Yokohama, get the dead skin sucked off your feet by the Kiss Fish! These fish suck the dead skin off of your feet. My husband is extremely ticklish and the fish seemed to love him the most!

Home to a U.S. naval base, many of the vendors here speak English. It was here DH and I had food at a sushi-go-round. Most pieces were under 100 yen ($1).

But I saw something I wanted to do badly that was not a typical touristy thing. We hit the Municipal Disaster Prevention Center. It took a while to find since we did not have internet access and the only thing I found said it was behind city hall. It is geared towards Japanese kids, but we had a blast! The people there do NOT speak English which makes things difficult, (like then they found out that DH was a firefighter and introduced the firefighter who worked to him. It was fun trying to communicate about firefighting). When you come in, there is Japanese firefighting gear. It’s not much different from that we use in the U.S., but they have more repelling gear and no hood. Then we walked over to where you could experience an emergency! First you watch a very animated man on a video explain what to do. Then you sit in a fake kitchen. Suddenly a 8.0 earthquake hits! What to do! We go under the kitchen table. Once it is over we had to go to the stove to turn off the gas. BUT WAIT! There is now a fire in the living room. Scream Kasai (fire)! Grab an extinguisher and put out the fire. Then leave the house down the hallway, but there is smoke everywhere! So crawl your way out. When you are done, you get to watch a video!

As with many large cities, there are several areas of the city. The first day we spent there, we went to Shibuya. When leaving Shibuya station, one of the first things you see is a statue of Hachiko. In 1924, Hidesaburō Ueno, a professor in the agriculture department at the University of Tokyo, took in Hachikō, a golden brown Akita, as a pet. During his owner’s life, Hachikō greeted him at the end of each day at the nearby Shibuya Station. The pair continued their daily routine until May 1925, when Professor Ueno did not return. The professor had suffered a cerebral hemorrhage and died, never returning to the train station where Hachikō was waiting. Each day for the next nine years Hachikō awaited Ueno’s return, appearing precisely when the train was due at the station.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hachik%C5%8D

Shibuya Station leads to the famous Shibuya crossing. It is one of the, if not the busiest crossings in the world. Of course, when we first got there it wasn’t busy at all. But later that night, we got a spot at the Starbucks overlooking the crossing and got a better idea of the insanity.

We also went to Don Quijote. It’s like Walmart and Spencer’s. On one floor is household items, turn the corner and there are penis-shaped water guns. Then on another floor are kids’ toys and bikes. One floor had a special area just for adults. It was wild!

In the middle of Shibuya is the Meiji Jingu Temple. At many of the temples, people buy ribbons or wooden plaques and leave wishes. Many were for things like health, peace, happiness, but my favorite written by an elementary-aged student said, “I wish that next year I have Mrs Jinks for a techer.”

Takeshita Street is where the young people hang out and where you can see interesting fashion. Not too many were out that evening, but we did see some BDSM-type clothing on display in a store. OK, maybe not that bad, but pretty close.

A trip to Tokyo is not complete without a trip up the Tokyo Skytree! The tallest tower in the world and the second tallest structure. The height of 634 m (2,080 ft) was selected to be easily remembered. The figures 6 (mu), 3 (sa), 4 (shi) stand for “Musashi”, an old name of the region where the Tokyo Skytree stands. On a lower level is a glass bottom where you can stand and look down at the tiny figures below.

From where we headed over to  Sensō-ji, a Buddhist temple dedicated to the bodhisattva Kannon with a large lantern. 11.7 meters tall, 11.4 meters wide and covers and area of 69.3 meters.

We went to see the Imperial Palace. Well, the gates to the palace anyway. You cannot see the castle at all for security reasons. There was a really neat bridge there, Meganebashi (Eyeglass Bridge). The bridge reflects in the water and looks like eyeglasses. What was interesting, besides the palace guards taking a nap, were the men on the grounds who raked the gravel and were pulling out grass from the area by hand!

But the most fun, for me, was in Akihabara. It’s the electronics district and there are video game stores everywhere and a photographer’s Mecca, Yodobashi-Akiba. Cameras everywhere! We hit the Gundam Cafe and then walked the streets of Akihabara. What a treat! We saw maids promoting the Maid Cafe. we saw this really cute girl walking back and forth down the street with an average-looking guy. Due to the way they were walking and interacting, we think maybe she was hired to be seen with him. Later, SIL and I got our picture taken while putting our heads in one of the many photo displays there when a woman and man came out of a building. She walked in one direction counting her yen while he walked in another direction. Not sure what that was all about for real, but I can take a guess. We also saw a boy band singing on the street.

OMG! Everything was YUMMY! Japanese curry! Indian curry! Pizza! Sushi! Kabobs! Pepper Lunch!

Japan Love
As someone with slight OCD, except when it comes to housework, I loved Japan.

The trains run on time, and if you miss one, another is on the way! When you are on the train, people mind their own business. They rarely talk, unless they are with a friend or family member. And cell phone use (for calls) is NOT allowed.

On trains, they nap! Any country where naps are not frowned upon is fine by me!

There are few trash cans in public places because they recycle or burn all their trash.

When at a crosswalk, the Japanese will cross only when the walk sign is green.

There is no tipping in restaurants. They seat you and you call them over when you are ready to order.

Kids are allowed to be kids. They are super well-behaved, but you rarely see them being scolded in public.

If you don’t speak Japanese, no worry. The menus at most restaurants have pictures!

My SIL’s shower was in an entire room! It rocked!

People often asked us what our favorite part of the trip was. I could only say “people watching.” Seriously. I loved all of Japan, with a few exceptions.

Grumpy Gaijin
Squatty potties. I love my western toilets, but some places only had squatty potties. They are supposed to be better for you, but I took my chances with the western toilets, (which are much better than toilets here – bidet, air dryer, and a button that makes a flushing sound so people can’t hear you toot).

No soap. For a country that is so clean, they do not have soap in many bathrooms. We had hand sanitizer everywhere we went.

Men’s bathrooms. Some men’s bathrooms had little privacy – from the outside!

Humidity. I grew up in a very humid area, but my GOD it has nothing on Japan! People carry little washcloths with them everywhere they go so they can wipe their faces.

Little handicapped-accessibility. SIL lived at the top of a hill. To get there and to the train and bus station required a lot of steep steps. In the major cities things were more accessible. Buses and trains are, but getting there can be an issue. Some train stations required escalators or stairs. Some had elevators. Many may have, but I didn’t see one most times.

No benches. There are few places to sit except in train stations. Be ready to stand a lot.

Now I loved Japan, but you may not want to go if you are claustrophobic or agoraphobic. The public transit system is crowded and some places are small.

If you decide to go to Japan:

  • Months before your visit, make sure any medication you have is allowed in the country. Many are, but under a month’s worth – including contacts. You may have to fill out a form, snail mail it to Japan, and have it snail mailed back to you. http://japan.usembassy.gov/e/acs/tacs-medimport.html 
  • Check into your wireless carrier’s international plan options. We did not get a plan for the trip since we had a guide and internet access at SIL’s home, BUT it would have been helpful in some cases.
  • Let your bank know your plans, otherwise your debit card (sorry we don’t do credit) may be rejected. We did and they forgot about my card, but DH’s worked fine.
  • Learn Japanese everyday customs. For example, when paying at a business, you put the card or yen on a small tray. They will return your change or card there.
  • Go for more than a week (not including travel time).
  • Airports may not have the best exchange rates. Check in advance.
  • Credit cards are fine in most places. However, if you have yen, you will never go thirsty. There are drink machines everywhere.
  • Do not go during the rainy season, but at the same time, beware of very busy times, like when the Cherry Blossoms bloom.
  • Plan where you want to go and map it out ahead of time. You need to know the train schedules, stops, and how to get where you want to go.
  • On the international part of the flight, upgrade to at least Economy Plus for the leg room – and slippers!
  • Get a guide if possible for part of the trip. We were fortunate to have SIL. We didn’t need her all the time, but she planned many of our outings and helped us from looking like a stupid Gaijin.
  • Bring a washcloth for the summer heat and to wash your hands after going to the bathroom.
  • Bring hand sanitizer everywhere.
  • If you go to rural areas, bring toilet paper or potty wipes.
  • Bring comfortable shoes.
  • If someone comes up to you voluntarily and speaks in English, chances are they are practicing their English. I say this because a woman started speaking to me and SIL and she asked where we were from. I got all chatty. She smiled a lot. Later I realized she was practicing her English. I should have kept it simple.
  • If they speak English fluently, don’t be an ass and act like they barely speak it when speaking to them. DH saw an English woman do that to a barista at Starbucks.
  • Don’t be loud or obnoxious. Be respectful and understand you are a visitor.
  • There are many places where you cannot take pictures. Looks for the signs with the red line through a camera.
  • Be adventurous with the food. It’s great! But keep in mind beef that is not expensive may be something like beef tongue.
  • Bow. To thank people, bow. Even if you cannot speak any Japanese, by bowing you show your thanks.
  • Japanese is a difficult language to learn. Download or buy a translation app for  help.
  • People will greet you when you come into a store or will try to give you things on the street. You don’t have to accept. Just bow and politely wave your hand in a “no” gesture.
  • Do not tip in restaurants.
  • There are no refills on drinks except water in restaurants.
  • And drink a lot of water. Japanese tap water is just fine. Bring a water bottle.
  • Do stuff off the beaten path.
  • Always look up and look down alleys. Stores and restaurants are not always on the main street or on the first floor.
  • And have FUN!

Update: Missing Person: Jamisha Monique Gilbert

Posted on in Blogging

Jamisha has been found and her death was attributed to hypothermia.

Jamisha Gilbert’s death attributed to hypothermia