Monday, October 21, 2013

Defending myself

A few weeks ago, I walked into preschool to pick up Elizabeth, and one of the teachers started laughing and said, "Oh mama, do I have a story to tell you." My heart sank. There are lots of embarrassing things Elizabeth could have told her teachers, the question was which one.

Here's the transcript.

Classmate: Why do I have to come to school every day? I want to stay home.
Teacher: You come here because your mom and dad go to work. They have jobs and earn money for your family.
Elizabeth: Not my mom. She doesn't have a job.
Teacher: Even if she doesn't work outside the house, it's a big job taking care of you and your brother and sisters. She keeps the house clean and does the laundry and cooks dinner. There's lots of work at home.
Elizabeth: No. She makes me and my brother and sisters do all the work. She doesn't do anything.
Teacher: Well what does she do all day?
Elizabeth: She plays on the computer.

At this point, I started sputtering. "But I do have a job! I really do. I'm a writer, so it looks like I'm playing on the computer but I'm actually working. And the kids do chores in the house, but I still do most of the cooking and cleaning."

I was mortified.

The teacher, however, just laughed, and said that they know not to believe everything the kids tell them.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

What I did on my summer vacation, Part 1

So. . .  we've survived the summer, mostly. It's still stupidly hot. Yesterday afternoon I came up with the brilliant plan of going running while Campbell was at soccer practice. It had cooled off all the way to 96 degrees, so I figured I'd be fine. My run quickly turned into a walk and then into a slow shuffle with lots of stops in the shade. In related news, I'm an idiot.

Anyway. The kids are back at school. Ella is in 7th, Lily is in 5th, Campbell is in 1st, and Elizabeth is in preschool three mornings a week. They are all mostly happy to be back with their friends. Not so happy about the early wake-up calls, though.

I finally feel like I can sit down and catch my breath. Or, at the very least, I can go for more than five minutes without being asked to referee a "she started it first" argument.

It was a good summer.

Ella and I started it off with a trip to South Florida for a climbing comp. We flew into Ft. Lauderdale late on a Thursday night, and ended up not getting to the hotel until 1:00 am Friday. My plan had been to request a late check-out at the hotel, sleep in, and then play on the beach for a few hours. Then I saw the hotel. The place had the word resort in its name. I don't think that word means what they think it means.

Instead of sleeping late, I woke Ella up early, and we went out for breakfast at the beach. It was lovely. Honestly, I am happiest any place where I can see water and smell salt in the air. I could have sat on the restaurant's deck for hours.

After breakfast, we went to the beach for an hour and then checked out of the dump. From there, we drove down A1A all the way to South Beach and then over to Key Biscayne. On a whim, I decided to stop at the Miami Seaquarium. I have a big philosophical objection to marine parks, but it disappeared when I watched Ella watching the dolphins.

She was able to go eye to eye with dolphins and sea lions and otters. And she loved it. She also got to go on the rope course. She was so good at it that the guys running the place couldn't believe it was her first time.

That's her, way at the top.

After the Seaquarium, we checked into the hotel where the rest of the team was staying. Ella let out an audible sigh of relief and said, "Oh thank goodness" when I opened the door to our room. It was new and spotless and I didn't have to throw my shoulder into the door to get it to close. 

The comp itself was not great. In my humble opinion, it was poorly organized and run. I signed up to volunteer at some of the sessions and ended up unbelievably frustrated at how they were treating the volunteers. Plus, the AC had gone out the night before. So we were in a warehouse, in Miami, in June, with 200 people. By the end of the day on Saturday, it was a sauna. A friend of mine was going to come watch the comp on Sunday, but I waved her off. There was no need for her to sit in there and broil. 

Ella climbed well considering that she missed 9 months due to injury and surgery. She took the disappointment of not making nationals a lot better than I did. I was actually quite proud of how she handled herself. 

Once the comp was over on Sunday, she and I went down to the Keys. I lived in Florida from 1978 through 1994, and I had never once gone to the Keys. When you live within 10 minutes of Siesta Key Beach, there's not much need to go anywhere else. 

We stopped at a little pull-out area and floated around for about an hour. I really wanted to drive all the way to Key West, but I didn't want to drive back from Key West at 9:00 at night, so I resisted the temptation. 

The next day we got up at o'dark early and flew back home to reality, which included three happy kids and one very relieved dog. 

Next up, how I flew to Atlanta with four kids and didn't need to resort to getting drunk. 

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Listserv follies

I had dinner last night with my cousin-in-law, and he and I had a discussion about how the older we get the less patience we have for stupid people. Lately, I seem to be surrounded by stupid people. Either there are more of them around, or my stupid-person sensor is extra sensitive these days.

Our neighborhood listserv is filled with stupid people. People who make me yell, "Don't you have anything better to do??!!" at my computer. I think the heat of summer is making the stupid people even stupider. I'm ready to move.

Last summer, the listserv was filled with complaints about non members, misbehaving teenagers, loud music, vandalism and trash at the pool. "Why doesn't the management company do something about this?" people asked. So this summer, the management company hired a pool monitor to make sure everyone signs in, keep the place neat and prevent teenagers from acting too much like punks. Within 24 hours, there was a note on the listserv complaining about the Nazi pool monitor. I think that has to be a record.

Apparently this particular resident didn't like that Jason the super-friendly pool Nazi dared to tell him that glass isn't allowed on the pool deck. The complaints flowed from this point on. Everyone posted things that the pool monitor did or said that they didn't like. It was insane. It also turns out that several members of our neighborhood threatened the pool monitor with physical harm. Charming.

At this point, the moderator stepped in and shut down the thread. Peace reigned for about a week, at which point people started complaining about rude teen-agers ding-dong ditching. Each time someone had their doorbell rung, the person would post the time and date to the listserv. One could argue that the continual e-mails were more annoying that kids playing pranks. But I'd never dare suggest such a thing to this group.

While we were in Atlanta, a listserv announcement arrived with the subject ROBBERY IN HIGHPOINTE! There have been reports of smash and grabs in neighborhoods out here lately - a "cable" truck pulls up in front of a house, the door gets kicked in, and all the electronics disappear. This is what I expected based on the subject line of the e-mail.

But no.

Sometime after 10pm the night before, someone had snuck into this resident's yard and stolen 6 - SIX - of their solar-powered landscaping lights. But ha! the joke was on the thieves because they broke two of the lights in the process of yanking them out of the yard. In all likelihood, some bored punk-ass teenagers had yanked the lights out and run off with them. This was not a crime warranting an ALL CAPS e-mail.

The resident then went on to inform everyone on the listserv that she owned a gun and had every intention of exercising her second amendment rights should any criminals set foot in her yard again. Then came the chorus of "me too" e-mails where other residents begged crooks to make their day.

I was thisclose to wading in to the thread to point out that a. the 2nd amendment doesn't give you the right to shoot people who walk into your yard, and b. I wasn't so sure I wanted to live in a neighborhood where amateur Dirty Harrys were going to shoot my kids for chasing their ball into the wrong yard. But then I remembered that it's a bad idea to poke the crazy and deleted my draft.

From there, the threat devolved into a discussion of why we live in a gated community if the gates are never closed and how some people moved here specifically because of the front gates.

Then we had the four zillion messages reporting door-to-door salespeople in the neighborhood. "At 4:10 a guy from Ben's Bug Service rang my doorbell. I told him to go away" read the typical message. And then everyone else who had met Ben the Bug Guy had to chime in. One resident pointed out that our neighborhood has a "No Soliciting" sign at the entrance and asked what good the sign did if all the door-to-door people just ignored it. Another said she called the sheriff's department to report that a salesman was violating the no soliciting rule and that the person at the sheriff's department had told her they wouldn't do anything about it. The nerve.

A reasonable person waded on in to the fray and pointed out that our No Soliciting sign has absolutely no legal standing. The sheriff's department is under no obligation to enforce our HOA's rules. That led to more demands for closing the gates during the day.

This week's furor was started by a message from a resident threatening the "people in the gold minivan - you know who you are" who dared to walk their dogs off leash in an undeveloped section of the neighborhood. The sender complained that the owners were breaking the leash law and being irresponsible pet owners by not picking up their dogs' poop.

The people in the gold minivan replied, in a self-righteous huff, saying that they believe dogs should be allowed to run free and hunt things and that they have lived here longer than anyone else and have always let their dogs run in undeveloped areas and no one has ever complained before.

The original posters responded by threatening to call the sheriff if they saw the dogs off leash ever again.

There were a few more back and forths before the moderator stepped in to remind residents that personal attacks were not allowed. She also pointed out that the management company doesn't even subscribe to the listserv, so posting complaints about the management company and its policies does no good whatsoever.

Things have been silent for the past 48 hours. But I'm not holding my breath that the peace will last much longer. We're in for a string of 100+ days, and those always bring out the stupid.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Why I went to the Capitol

Yesterday something amazing happened in Austin. Our current "governor" and his cronies tried to cram a piece of draconian legislation through the process during a special session. It was an omnibus bill, SB5, containing all the abortion restrictions that they hadn't been able to pass during the regular session, which ended in May. The number of votes needed to pass bills during special session is different than during regular, which means legislators love to try sneaky things.

Even though I live near Austin, a very, very liberal city, I still feel pretty disenfranchised. My state and national legislators are all right wing republicans who in no way, shape or form represent my political views. I write e-mails to them about things, but I know it doesn't do any good. If I get lucky, I get a form response two weeks later that has absolutely nothing to do with my issue. But I keep sending them, with this glimmer of hope that somewhere in the office, someone is keep tabs on the number of opposing voices they're hearing. Having worked in constituent relations for major elected officials, I know it's a dim hope.

SB5 was just one more item in the list of things I have felt powerless and voiceless about.

But then . . . Sunday night during testimony on the bill in front of the Texas House, something amazing happened. Individuals gathered to stage a citizens' filibuster. Testimony from people opposing the law went on for hours and hours. Folks camped out in the hallways of the Capitol through the night. Supporters from around the country started having food delivered to the people waiting to give their testimony.

The citizens' filibuster only slowed things down for a day, but that was enough for there to be a chance of a filibuster while the bill was up for a vote in the Texas Senate. And one senator, Wendy Davis, with the support of the rest of the Democratic delegation, announced her intent to stage a filibuster. The rules in the Texas Senate are incredibly strict. The speaker has to stay on topic the entire time, cannot sit down or lean against anything, is not allowed to eat or drink or use the restroom. Senator Davis was looking at a minimum of 13 hours on her feet talking nonstop.

Groups started putting out calls for people to submit testimony on how SB5 would have affected their lives, and Senator Davis's office was inundated with heartbreaking stories from women who had had abortions for one reason or another and who, if SB5 were enacted, wouldn't have had access.

On FB, I started seeing pictures from friends who were in the gallery to support Senator Davis. They wanted her to know that she wasn't alone during this ordeal. I really, really wanted to be one of those people there in support, but I didn't see a way for it to happen.

But then, while I was at climbing practice with Ella, I saw more posts on Twitter asking people to come reinforce the crowd in the Senate gallery through midnight. And that's when I decided I was going to go and I was going to take Ella with me.

In the car we did have a difficult discussion about what abortion is, exactly. I kept my tone neutral and only answered the questions she asked. I emphasized that I was upset because I'm tired of legislators, mostly male legislators, telling women what they can and cannot do with their bodies. I'm tired of being told that we are less than, that our opinions and feelings don't count. I'm just tired of it, and I wanted to stand up and say "No! This isn't right."

On the way to the Capitol, I envisioned a few hundred people milling around and texted Wendi Aarons to let her know we were on our way. What we found when we got there was beyond belief.

When we joined the line, we were halfway down the flight of stairs to the second floor. From there, the line went up the stairs and all the way around the rotunda, down a hall, up a second flight of stairs, around the rotunda once, through the Capitol library, around the rotunda again, and then down the hall to the gallery. As spectators left the gallery, guards would let in an equal number of people. 

And here's the thing. No one, and I mean NO ONE, was complaining. Thousands of people standing in line, and there were no problems. No one argued about having to be in line, no one tried to cut or cheat. It was like the happiest, most positive party you could ever imagine. 

Every once in a while a person would come through with a cooler and hand out bottles of water to anyone who wanted one. And then a bag of granola or trail mix would be passed down the line. People let strangers use their phone chargers and took pictures. 

I still get weepy thinking about it. 

After an hour of standing in line in which we managed to make it around the rotunda once, Ella and I gave up and went off to explore. I knew the odds of our making it into the gallery by midnight were slim, and I was just happy that we were there to witness the goings on. 

When we got out of the line, it snaked down to the first floor, across the rotunda, out and back down one wing, to the front door and down the sidewalk. And again, there were no problems. Ella and I went up to the fourth floor just to take in the sight. 

From there we went over to the Capitol Extension and found the auditoriums where CCTV had been set up so people could watch. Both were standing room only. People were yelling and cheering and legislators were popping in to thank everyone for being there. The crowd was men and women and families and people of all ages, and it was amazing. 

We sat on the floor of one auditorium for a while, only to have nothing happen. The president of the Senate, David Dewhurst, had called a point of order, and the legislators were debating the rules of a filibuster away from the microphones. Senator Davis was still not allowed to sit or lean or eat or drink while the debate was ongoing.

I decided to show Ella around the Capitol. I used to work in the complex and spent a lot of time wandering the halls. The view from the underground rotunda still gets me every time. That's the statue on the top of the Capitol poking up.

We were back in the main rotunda when word filtered through that Dewhurst had called a third point of order and ended the filibuster. The roar from the crowd was deafening. We stood there for half an hour, joining in. Ella did ask why people were cheering when the bill was going to go through after all. I explained that it was important to make noise and to make ourselves heard, to make sure the Democrats in the Senate chamber knew we were still out there.

Organizers finally got everyone quiet enough to announce that the Democrats were arguing the point of order and trying to stall for more time. As long as the session ended without a vote being taken by midnight, the bill would fail. So everyone just sat down and waited quietly.

At this point we heard roars from outside the Capitol. Dewhurst had ordered that the doors be closed and locked and no one else allowed in. Hundreds of people on the steps were chanting "Let Us In!"

My phone was dying by now, and I my terror of crowds was starting to kick in, so Ella and I left the building and sat on the front steps for a while. We talked to friends, we talked to complete strangers. It was just amazing. I know I keep saying that. But it was.

Ella desperately wanted to go back in the building, so we went around to the north entrance hoping the line for security would be shorter, but the doors were still locked and no one was being let in.

So we went home, intending to watch the live feed from the Senate floor. But I fell asleep. Whoops. I woke up at one and went online for updates and was stunned that the whole thing was still going on. I stayed up until just after three, when Dewhurst issued his snippy little statement about how an "unruly mob" had made it impossible to vote on the bill properly before the session ended.

Now this is a brief victory. There is absolutely nothing stopping "Governor" Perry from calling another special session and bringing the bill back up. In fact, he probably will make an announcement soon. But at least last night, we made our voices heard. We stood up with Senator Davis and said NO.

I'm beyond proud that I was there to do my tiny part. And I am glad that I was able to show Ella that people can stand up to injustice and have it make a difference, no matter how small.

There's now a petition afoot to draft Senator Davis to run for governor, and if she does, I will be campaigning for her.

Friday, May 31, 2013

This is why we can't have anything nice

Yesterday afternoon I noticed Elizabeth sitting on the floor concentrating hard on an art project. I did a a double take and screamed in horror.

Her art project was my floor.

When I sent her to her room, she had the nerve to look surprised.

Thursday, May 02, 2013


This school year has been a tough one around chez hok health wise.

Thanks to knee surgery and strep, Ella missed so much school in the fall that we got threatening letters from the school district telling us she'd have to repeat 6th grade. I appealed to the principal and the attendance committee, pointing out that we had informed the school in advance of her knee surgery and had worked with her teachers to make sure she stayed current on her work. As for the strep, we had a note from our doctor saying she was sick and not allowed to go to school. Oh yeah, and she's a straight-A student.

A week later we got a letter from the principal informing us that they had wiped all of Ella's absences from her record and everything was fine.

So when I got a letter from Lily's school about her absences, I figured we'd go through the same process. Lily has been sick a lot this school year, and she has missed a lot of days as a result. But I've kept in touch with her teacher, and she has stayed current on her work. She's also a straight-A student.

All this is to say that when my kids stay home from school it's with my permission and because they are sick. They aren't skipping school to hang out behind the 7-11 and smoke. When I get a recorded message from the school informing me of their absence, it's never a surprise.

I spoke with the assistant principal at Lily's school about appealing the attendance committee's decision to deny her credit for the school year, and I explained that she really had been ill. I also pointed out that she hasn't fallen behind in her classwork. The assistant principal said she would present my comments to the attendance committee and inform me in writing of their decision.

Frustratingly, their decision was to make Lily and one of her parents (me) attend credit recovery class for 6 mornings. This means she and I have to be at school by 7:05 and then have to sit in the library doing busy work until 7:40. Lily finished her entire packet of worksheets on her first morning, so today she and I both just sat and read.

I get that there are families for whom school is not a priority. I get that there are kids who will skip school given the opportunity. I get that schools receive funding based on the number of students in the seats at 10:00 am each day.

But I also get that Lily is essentially being punished for being sick, and I am being punished for following the district's illness policy.

The result is that for the next two weeks, Lily and I will hang out in the library being bored, and for the rest of school year, I will be sending Lily to school no matter how high a fever she has or how much she's barfing. I am going to be the mom who sends her sick kid to school to infect everyone else. Yay me. But that's apparently what the attendance committee wants.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Interview

Back in September I wrote about how Ella had sent an interview request to Neil deGrasse Tyson of the Hayden Planetarium and his office had said yes and then we never heard back. Uncle Ty decided he was a man on a mission, and put a link to my post on a lot of forums he frequents, including the Texas Concealed Handgun Forum. And it worked! We got a nice e-mail from the head of media at Star Talk Radio letting us know that they hadn't forgotten about Ella.

We did happy dances of joy around the house.

And then nothing again.

So Uncle Ty once again decided he was on a mission and started pestering the Star Talk folks.

Last Monday we received an e-mail from Dr. Tyson's office asking if Ella was available to do a 30-minute Skype session on Friday.

There was wild joy and celebration. Uncle Ty is now definitely Ella's favorite uncle (who is actually a cousin once removed, not an uncle).

As we counted down the minutes until our scheduled time, I was a nervous wreck. Ella was calm as could be, acting like interviewing world-famous astrophysicists was an every day thing.

We had some trouble connecting to his office. You would think Skype would be relatively glitch free, but no.

When we finally connected, I might have actually gasped out loud, "Oh my gosh, it's HIM." Maybe.

My biggest worry was that Dr. Tyson would be all "OK. Let's get this over with." I wanted Ella to finish the interview still thinking he was her hero.

Turns out I shouldn't have worried. Dr. Tyson was incredibly generous with his time - Ella's interview lasted about 45 minutes. He was funny and charming. He could tell that Ella was nervous, so he warmed her up with a few questions.

I sat off to the side, holding my phone up to record the interview because we hadn't been able to get the app that records Skype to work and grinning like an idiot. It's a good thing Dr. Tyson couldn't see me.

Ella asked him about string theory, the Large Hadron Collider, going to Mars, Harry Potter, living in Austin, and he answered every single question.

It was just awesome.

At the end of the call, he told Ella to take a screen shot of their faces together. She got a big kick out of it.

Ella has posted a transcript of part of the interview over at her website, The Magnolia Post. I have posted the full interview over on YouTube. The picture is lousy, but the audio is great. You can even hear me snort laugh when Ella tells Dr. Tyson an inappropriate joke about the Higgs-Boson. In her defense, she didn't realize why the joke was inappropriate.

Thank you to Dr. Tyson, Elizabeth Stachow, Jeff Simons and Uncle Ty. You all made a 12-year-old science nerd's dream come true.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


I am still reeling about the explosions at the Boston Marathon yesterday. I know others have and will continue to write much more eloquently than I could ever hope to. But, still, here I am writing.

As I do every year, I watched the marathon online. It was a perfect day for the race, and I ignored my writing deadlines to spectate. I got all misty eyed watching the runners cross the finish. Having finished marathons, I know the feelings of joy and accomplishment and exhaustion the runners were experiencing. I will never be fast enough to qualify for Boston, but I can still celebrate with those who are. 

I turned off the feed after a while and got back to work. Two hours later I went back on line and was shocked at what was in my Twitter feed. It was incomprehensible. This is the Boston Marathon. Bombs don't go off at the Boston Marathon. Who blows up a marathon?

I ignored my work for the rest of the afternoon and watched for updates from running friends who had been there. At long last, everyone reported in. One friend was walking up Boylston Street to meet her husband at the finish. She was yards away when the first explosion went off. Fortunately, her physical injuries are limited to cuts from flying glass and ringing in her ears.

For more than 20 years, running has been a huge part of my life, part of who I am at my very core. When things aren't good, I go running. When things are good, I go running. I've met some of my best friends through running. I've run countless races and worked as a volunteer at dozens. This year I volunteered at the finish line of the Austin Marathon. Training for and running the New York City Marathon was one of the best experiences of my life.

And this is where I lapse into incoherent rambling.

I don't know what to do or what to say. So this morning I put on my NYC Finisher's shirt, laced up my shoes and did what I know how to do - I went running. 

Tuesday, April 02, 2013


This is my dad, runnerdude in the comments. Except he now rides his bike insanely long distances, too, so maybe he should change his name to i'm67andcankickyourassdude. 


Runnerdude is tall and skinny. When he is not in business casual attire, he wears a pretty standard uniform: jeans or khaki shorts, a t-shirt from a 10k race, and running shoes. He also loves doing crossword puzzles.

I think one of the best days of his life was when he was finally old enough to qualify for the senior discout at McDonald's. He will drive past Starbucks to get his "senior coffee" at McDonald's. Also, he usually has exact change.

Last week, Lily had a dentist's appointment, and after she was finished we went to McDonald's for a "yay! no cavities" treat. (I know. I know.) As we were waiting for a our food, a man walked up to the register next to ours to place his order. I would not have paid the least bit of attention to him had he not ordered a "senior coffee" and then handed the cashier exactly 54 cents.

I turned and looked, and it was like runnerdude was standing right there. The guy was tall and skinny, wearing khaki shorts, a race shirt and running shoes. He took his senior coffee to a table, sat down, and whipped a crossword puzzle out of his pocket.

I nearly died.

But it makes me wonder which of them is the evil twin. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Continuing the Conversation

I wrote the following post four years ago when Prop 8 was enacted in California. It still says everything I believe about the issue. Since I wrote that post, we've continued the conversation with all the kids in small ways here and there about how any person should be able to marry the person he or she loves.

Today I'm going to talk politics, which I don't usually do, because this isn't that kind of blog. I don't know exactly what kind of blog this is, but it isn't a political one. Also, if you're going to leave a hateful comment or send me an e-mail telling me I'm going to hell, don't bother. You're not going to change my mind, and I don't believe in hell, anyway. I'm open to polite discussion, though.

This morning I was listening to NPR while driving the girls to the bus for camp. Of course, the lead story was about the overturning of Prop 8 in California. This led to an interesting and encouraging discussion with Ella about the issue. Lily didn't say much, but I could tell she was listening intently.

Me: Do you understand what the news is about?
Ella: Yes. It's about whether two girls or two boys can get married to each other, like Aunt P and Aunt S.
Me: Right. The law right now says that only a boy and girl can marry each other, not two girls or two boys.
Ella: Why can't two girls or two boys marry each other?
Me: That's a good question. Some people think that it's wrong. Some people say that it shouldn't be allowed because of the bible.
Ella: What do you think?
Me: I think that two people, boy-girl, girl-girl, boy-boy, if they love each other and aren't married to anyone else already should be allowed to get married.
Ella: And they can't be brothers or sisters.
Me: Right, they can't be related.
Ella: So Aunt P and Aunt S should be able to get married if they want to?
Me: Yes, if they want to.
Ella: The only problem I see is that if too many boys get married to boys or too many girls get married to girls, there won't be as many babies born. But I don't think that's going to be a big problem.
Me: No, probably not. There are lots more straight people than gay people. And gay couples can have children.
Ella: What do you mean "straight"?
Me: Well, when a boy likes girls and a girl likes boys, that's called being straight. When a boy likes boys, that's called being gay. There are some people who think that gay people choose to be gay and that they should just choose not to be. But scientists who study the brain say that whether you like boys or girls is part of how your brain works. You don't choose to be gay or straight any more than you choose to have brown hair. 
Ella: Gay also means really, really happy. Like SpongeBob.
Me (trying not to laugh): Yes, SpongeBob is totally gay.

The discussion ended there, but I was pleased with how it went. I answered her questions as she asked them and put things in terms she could understand. My hope is that my kids' generation will grow up believing that of course any two adults can get married if they want to.