Thursday, July 31, 2008

Random acts of hula hooping

The Bob, Cooper and I, went out this weekend for ice cream at the Dairy Joy in Weston MA. This is very expensive ice cream. Although they do give you MONSTER helpings, it is soft serve and it began melting before I had even paid for it. Next time I get a hankerin' for ice cream we will find somewhere else to go.

I digress. After we left the Dairy Joy, we went on "an adventure ride" as my mother used to call them. The Bob decided to just drive west on Rt. 117 until such time as he decided we would either turn around or go somewhere else. We discovered we live very close to a state park, where one can put a kayak into the Sudbury River, which is cool because we have two kayaks that have not been used in two summers as I was preggers for one of them (you try to get in and out of a kayak pregnant without falling in) and then we had this infant who seemed to suck all of our time and attention away last summer. We might figure out how to get them into the water this year.

Then we happened upon the Bob's version of Mecca - Dunkin Donuts. So we pulled in and the Coop and I stayed in the car while he went in for his fix, I mean our coffee. As we sat in the car, we were facing the road, and across the road was a gas station. An older style station, with only two pumps and someone pumps the gas for you. There was a young woman in perhaps her late teens or early 20s standing in front of the pumps, barefoot, in a sun dress that covered a bathing suit. She was talking on a cell phone. There was a hula hoop leaning up against one of the pumps. I sat there, puzzling through what in the world she was doing at the station, when she proceeded to hang up the phone, pick up her hula hoop, and hula. And hoop. Right there, barefoot in a barely covered up bathing suit at the corner of Rt. 117 and Concord Rd. in what was probably Lexington MA at that point, hula hooping. Then she put it down, and wandered into the station. A minute later a car pulled in and lo and behold, hula girl comes out to fill the tank. She WORKS there. Bare feet and hula hoop and all, she is a pump jockey.

I don't know why, but this made me extraordinarily happy.

Once upon a time in a land far, far, away, called Cleveland...

There once lived a little girl who was in the 4th grade. She very much wanted to play an instrument, but in her school you couldn't begin playing wind instruments until you were in 5th grade. However, they would let you begin playing stringed instruments in the 4th grade. So the little girl went to the introductory class and learned all about violins, violas and cellos. She tried them out. The violin was too screechy she said. The cello was too bulky. The viola though, the viola was just the right size and tone. So she made the decision that fateful day to play the viola.

The viola is sort of the ugly step sibling to the violin. Not as flashy, doesn't get the solos and is certainly not as popular. There were in the girls' high school orchestra only 6 violas, and 20 first and second violins.

The choice of the viola was prophetic. It's role in the orchestra mirrored the girls' role in life with her family and friends. The viola is the moderator, the instrument that brings harmony to the two sides of the music; bridging the highs of the violins and the lows of the cellos and bass violins. It often gets the off beats, the syncopated rhythms, rather than the bold and dramatic melody of the music. The viola is the mediator, the blender of music.

The girl played this instrument from 4th through 12th grades. She never aspired to be first chair, she just like playing. She never wanted to be the star, but enjoyed being part of the whole. Once she graduated from high school though, the opportunities to play the viola became few and far between, and eventually it was put away and almost forgotten.

That was 1982. 26 years later the girl is a woman and has found the viola in a closet and realizes that an instrument is meant to be played. This instrument needs a new home. As logical as that is, it is REALLY hard to take that next step and find a new home for it. Ebay? Craigslist? It isn't a particularly valuable instrument, it is a student instrument. But it probably has some monetary value, but more so it has emotional value and the girl didn't expect it to be this hard. She probably couldn't even read the music now if she wanted to, and realistically she is not going to play this instrument ever again. So it is time. But it will be sad...

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Rudolph, he's not just for Christmas anymore.

Cooper has a Rudolph that the Bob "made" for him at the Build a Bear store for Christmas last year. He LOVES this Rudolph. It has a button that makes the nose light up and it plays the Rudolph song. Just music, no words. But that is bad enough. Endlessly, Cooper plays the song. At least now he knows how to push the button himself. He used to demand one of us push the button.

In other news, there is no other news. The pit and sump pump are getting addressed on Thursday. Bob said he could be here for this, I said NO I WILL HANDLE THIS. They didn't even try to discuss the cost that might be associated with this adjustment to their system. They probably got the big heads up from the guy who came out to see the situation last week. Don't try to even talk about charging this lady, her basement freaking flooded and they lost a treadmill.

The treadmill. Sigh. I have been on a campaign to lose weight. I was probably 20lbs over what I should have been when I got pregnant. Getting pregnant over the age of 40 kicks your ASS. I have been easily 50lbs overweight ever since Cooper was born. I have, in the last 2 - 3 months, lost 12 lbs. I am in the next size down in pants. I need to lose at least another 20 lbs. but I am taking this 2 or 5 lbs at a time. If I say I MUST LOSE 20 lbs. I will not. But I honestly don't know how this is going to happen without my beloved treadmill. I am able to walk outside and get my butt moving right now in the way God intended, in the big bad outdoors, but come November I will find the dark and the cold and eventually the SNOW a huge deterrent. So I will need a new treadmill. I seriously cannot afford a new treadmill every 2 years. I want this damn sump pump to WORK so my basement never floods again. I want to get a new treadmill and know it will be in my life for 10 years. Minimum. I also lost an exercise bike. This SUCKS.

You might think joining a gym would be cheaper, but considering I would never go, not really. But I need me my exercise. I can't just diet. My body goes into super famine mode and says HA you think you will lose weight by reducing calories? We will stop burning them off then. HA. So I have to force it to work harder, burn it off.

I am taking donations for a new treadmill. Sigh.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Building an ark...

Expensive Sump Pump
Pit of Despair
Idiotic steps to the pit
What was under the grate
Grate cover with microscopic holes

Well today sucked donkey balls big time. Some background - we moved into this house three years ago. The winter that Cooper was born, 2006, our basement flooded. I came home at lunch and smelled something odd, which turned out to be the furnace objecting to being flooded. This past spring we decided to pay $2100 to install a sump pump system. The water comes in in one place. There is this demented set up outside our basement door, which ideally would be covered by a bulk head or hatch way, but it isn't. There are steps leading down to a pit just outside the door. Water collects in the pit during torrential down pours. If enough water collects, it runs in under the door and eventually floods the basement.

The company who shall currently remain nameless that installed the pump system installed a sump pump which you can see in the picture above, which is supposed to be able to pump out 36,000 gallons of water an hour. That would be MORE than sufficient, provided the water ever GETS INTO THE SUMP PUMP CHAMBER. They installed a grate just inside the door, that ostensibly was to catch the water as it came in, and would direct it to the pump. Except the manufacturer thinks that the grate should be made with TINY LITTLE HOLES that would channel the water to the pump, rather than holes the size of the Grand Canyon.

I called yesterday to say we needed someone to come look at it because the Bob called me to inform me that flooding was occuring but he managed to catch it early. With our $100 sump pump I might add. This morning as the heavens opened and I was contemplating the need to know how big a cubit is so I could begin building an ark, I called again to say someone needed to get to our house TODAY. Not tomorrow, not Saturday, TODAY. And then this really nice guy showed up, saw the problem, pulled the stupid grate out, tested the system without the grate in place and shablazam, the water goes right into the pump. No flooding. Now someone else has to come and install a bigger grate, but for now there is a solution.

So I appreciate the dude who came out today, but now my treadmill is dead. AGAIN. The first time we flooded I lost a treadmill. This time the Bob found it shorting out - it was running, at top speed, all by itself down there. So I think it is dead.

Cooper fortunately could go to school while we stayed home to deal with this. I almost needed the batmobile though to get there. There was flooding everywhere. I had to turn around at one point because the road was flooded and a car was stuck in the middle of it up to the windows. I did not just abandon the person to drowning in their car. The police were already there. I leave that kind of rescuing to the professionals. Besides my superhero outfit wasn't in the car.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Blogging moment of crisis

Once upon a time, before I was enlightened, I kind of mocked blogs. I thought they were public diaries, journals that pre-internet you would only have read if you broke into some one's bedroom and found their personal stash of their inner most thoughts and feelings. I am NOT a person who has ever enjoyed journaling or writing in a diary for the sake of recording my own thoughts. As a teenager I was given a diary here or a journal there, and while I am completely addicted to the physical item itself, with all the pristine, unadorned pages and beautiful covers, I HATE writing in them. When I did attempt to write in them, I hated my penmanship, then I hated what I had written when I reread it a week or month or year later. WHAT DRIVEL, how pathetic I was thinking I was in love with that boy or wanting that thing I didn't get for my birthday or whatever. I thought blogs were just an invitation to have other people read that same drivel.

Then a friend started a blog because she and her family, including her twin daughters, moved to Switzerland for a year, and blogging was an easy way for her to keep all of us left stateside up to date without writing four hundred emails. This seemed like a good reason to blog. I started this blog mostly because my side of the family lives 3000 miles away and I thought that it was a great way to make my life with Cooper and the Bob etc. available to my family. This might save on all that uploading and emailing pictures to them, I thought. Nevermind that my family looked at the blog once or twice and then promptly forgot the URL or that it even exits.

Then I began reading other blogs. Great blogs. Mostly 'mommy blogs' with a few written by men or non mommy women thrown in. But the mommy blogs are the ones that grabbed my attention, and drew me in. I found BlogHer, which led to more blogs. Seriously, you could spend all freaking day reading blogs.

I found REALLY GOOD writers out there. And amazingly, people making a living blogging. There is a lot about blogging I don't know. I don't know how to make it look fancy like Mr. Lady at or how to even embed that link so it is hyperlink.

Then I began reading the reports back from the BlogHer conference. And supposedly there are 35 million mommy bloggers. 35 MILLION. I suddenly feel so inadequate. I do. I am not normally a competitive person. You say "I dare you to do ___" and I say "See ya". I don't usually feel the need for external approval and am quite comfortable with who I have become in my life. And this crisis of blogging isn't really about approval, external or otherwise. I think it is about doing this the best I can. And I don't even know where to start to improve my blog. I want a fancy masthead! More pizazz on the page. I don't have a clue how one Twitters or if I even want to. I am not on facebook or myspace or any of those social networks. I don't have time. Especially since my child has decided that going to bed before 8:30 is for babies.

So I am just having a moment. I feel on the cusp of either being mediocre or getting better at this. And I hate that place. If anyone is reading this blog, and I wouldn't even know that because I don't think my sitemeter thingy is tracking anything, but if anyone DOES read this and has any suggestions about resources I could go to on how to do this better, I would appreciate the feedback.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Money Monday

Here it is, your riveting and vastly fascinating second installment on everything you ever wanted to know about college financial aid, but didn't have a clue how to ask.

Today's installment is inspired by a conversation I had with a friend who is trying to help a neice who lives in Canada find aid options here in the states. How does one qualify for aid, you might ask.

Most financial aid at colleges in the states falls into several categories. There are scholarships, which means you don't have to pay them back, but you have to do something to qualify, usually of an academic nature but could be based on a talent like kicking or hitting various kinds of balls really well, or being able to shoot a ball through a hoop, or even playing a musical instrument really well. These are usually offered by the college itself, but might come from an organization like the Rotary Club or a parents' employer. You usually have to continue to qualify for these by meeting some guideline, like getting a certain GPA.

There are grants, which are also "free" meaning you don't have to pay them back, but they are usually based either on financial need or some other criteria the college sets. These can come from the college or sometimes from the state the student is a resident of. The federal government also offers need based grants, like the Pell Grant. Usually you have to apply each year for these, and they may or may not change if your need changes. There may be an academic qualification too each year, it depends on the guidelines set by the agency awarding it.

Then there is money that you have to repay, i.e. loans. There are some that the student can get without any cosigner, but those are usually limited to a certain amount based on what class level the student has achieved, freshman, sophomore, etc. There are private student loans, but those need a cosigner in most cases, because they are credit based and most students don't have the income and credit history to get approved by themselves. There are loans that can be borrowed by the parent, and these are also credit based, so if the parent has lousy credit, it can mean they won't be approved.

In almost all of these cases, most aid requires that the student be either a US Citizen or an eligible non-citizen (has a green card) in order to qualify. A college might have money they award to foreign students, but it won't usually be a full scholarship, although it can be. It is all up to the college at that point. Many loans are available to non US Citizens, but they will require a cosigner who is a US Citizen or eligible non citizen.

To apply for aid, most colleges will require a student to file the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) and may have their own institutional aid application as well, or use the College Board CSS Profile form. This will allow the college to determine eligibility for all possible aid from all possible resources. Sometimes, if all the student wants to receive is an academic scholarship, all they need to do is apply for admission and they may receive an academic award. But the rest of the aid usually requires the other applications to be filed.

I think that is enough information on how to apply for aid, next time we will discuss what that aid award means, and if you need more, how to ask, nicely.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Rocking out

Because I love my husband, we went to a concert, on a school night. Ugh. If I go to bed later than 10pm I am almost useless the next day. But the Bob wanted to see John Mellancamp so we went to his concert last night.

First of all he was playing at the Bank of America pavilion in downtown Boston, which is a great venue. Easy to get to, lots of parking although you have to pay, but it is only $10. Easy to get out of after the concert. It is also a sort of outdoor venue, so you get to view the waterfront of Boston down the street from the World Trade Center and Seaport hotel. When the concert is over, unlike some other venues in Boston, you do not have to exit several hundred or thousand people through one small, birth canal like entrance, but you all exit out several gates onto an open street. There is one theater in downtown Boston, the Orpheum, that makes me VERY uncomfortable when entering or exiting. Everyone has to go down steps to the bottom of the theater where you all cram into this small space and pop out on the other end like you have gone through being born again, with several hundred of your closest friends.

Anyway, the concert was excellent, if you like Mellancamp's music. He is like this aging leprachaun. He doesn't seem to really change, but he is getting older like the rest of us.

What was disturbing, to someone who is as noise and sound sensitive as I am, is the number of small children, and I mean toddler sized children, that were at the concert. I could barely hear after it was over, what are they doing at this concert? Since the sound is not just an auditory experience but a full on body pulsing with the sound experience, I am surprised their little bodies weren't reduced to liquid from the music. I may be just an old fashioned gal, but it seems wrong for kids that age to be at that kind of concert. However, it was fun to see Mellancamp's 14 year old son play with the band during the encore. It was kind of a family oriented concert.

Beyond that it was vastly entertaining to people watch. He appeals to a very broad spectrum of people. From the middle aged people who have grown older with him to the bikers to the crazy drunk dancing women out on the town, it was all fascinating.

Cooper stayed home with his babysitter, one of the teachers from his school, and he was fine. He even slept late this morning, just for mommy.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Pooooooo, pooooooo, peeeeaaas

Contradictory to what you might think, this was NOT Cooper announcing he had pooped or peed. This was Cooper begging to get in the pool. The letter L does not currently exist for for him. We have an inground pool, and I finally got the chemical balance right, so the water cleared and it stopped looking like either a weak cup of coffee or later, antifreeze. That is a scary color for pool water, florenscent green.

Anyway, I figured we had a 50/50 shot at Cooper liking the big pool. He loves all other forms of water, but the big pool is, well, big. At least much bigger than he is. Last summer he was less than thrilled by it, so I wasn't sure what we would get. I put him on the first step of the pool, (these are what is refered to as "wedding cake steps" as they resemble a wedding cake and make walking in and out of a pool easy) and he boldy stepped down to the next step, which put the water at around his chest. The next step would have put him under the water, but he knew that somehow, grabbed onto my hands, and with the strength of an Olympic gymnast and pulled up to keep himself above water. I am constantly surprised by how strong he is.

The end result of all of this is he LOVES the big pool. We have a blow up boat, one of the First Step series that he can ride in and honk the horn, but he gets impatient with that quickly and wants to be with me, in the water. Even as he is turning blue and shivering, he insists "nonononono" he does not want to get out. I don't think we will invest in swim lessons this year, but next year we will probably check out what the Y has to offer. I don't feel that I have the skills to do it myself. Since he can't even get into the back yard without our assistance, I feel confident he won't end up in the pool by accident. And the good news is he is proving to be smarter than any of the dogs - another surprise I know. He figured out how to crawl up and out of the pool by the steps. None of the dogs can figure that out. We felt compelled to try and train them to get out of the pool, in case one fell in. Any time we bring a dog into the pool and let go, even if one of us is standing at the steps calling him, the dog goes for the wall. Which makes it impossible to get out. All of them could walk right out of the pool if they went to the steps, but no, they will all swim for the wall, and flail about. Sigh.

Poncho, our little black schnauzer, did fall in last year. He misjudged the distance from the end of the steps off the deck to the edge of the pool, had too much momentum and ran right in. He was two feet from the steps, but flailed at the edge of the pool trying to drown til Bob pulled him out. We wouldn't have known except our neighbor was in his back yard and saw it happen. He called to us and we went to investigate. Silly schnauzer.

We will be getting a pool alarm too. It is hard to know which one is the right one though. I don't need it going off every time a chipmunk losing his balance trying to get a drink. Not that I don't want to save them, but I don't need to freak out when it happens. Sounds like an internet search is in order.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Financial Aid Fun Fact Friday

I have been toying with doing a blog regarding the other half of my life, the professional half. Instead of starting a whole new blog I am going to do a post every so often here. We shall see what happens.

I am the director of financial aid at a small (formerly tiny) private college in the very upscale suburb, Newton MA. That does not make me unique. You cannot go more than 5 miles in any direction inside of the RT 128/95 loop without running across another college. We are lousy with them in Boston.

I have been in this industry for 19 years. I have worked at 5 different colleges in three different states during that time; at a four year state college, two year community college, and then a series of private colleges of varying degrees of exclusivity and size. I have been in my current job the longest of any of them. It is a good gig.

I have a bachelors degree in psychology, but after doing my internship I realized I couldn't actually solve any of the problems of the people I might see in therapy, they are mentally ill. They might be functional, but I am a person who likes to be presented with a problem, we find a solution, implement said solution and NEXT. So I found another profession where that is exactly what people expect of me. I have a masters degree in College Student Personnel, which is a fancy way of saying Higher Education Admin. I will never pursue a doctorate. I have just watched my boss get hers, and it isn't worth the pain and agony.

So here is the thing that most people don't get about financial aid: No one owes you a dime. NO ONE. Not the college, not the government, certainly not me. But everyone thinks that somehow it is the opposite. I actually had a mother yell at me one time, at a different college, much more exclusive, competitive college than my current one, because we didn't offer any grant or scholarship aid to her son. "You admitted him, you owe him something." Well now, no, no we don't. Admission is based on academic performance, in most cases. Since that student didn't qualify for any merit aid, and didn't qualify for need based aid based on a review of his family's income, he got no free money. But somehow there was this expectation of entitlement. I don't know where it comes from, if everyone is sold a bill of goods at the high school level, or what, but there are all these people out there who are surprised when they don't get any offer of aid, or get very little. So today's tidbit, today's bit of wisdom, is that if you have a child, and you think that child might go to college one day, SAVE YOUR PENNIES. Start early and keep doing it. Because no one owes you anything. You might get something some day, but don't rely on that. Don't make guarantees and promises to your child about college that you may have to back peddle from when you can't afford to send him or her to that college. PLAN AHEAD.

The next time we talk about this topic I will share how people actually DO qualify for assistance, and some of the things you can do to improve the odds. Fascinating, no?

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Tales from the end of the Oregon Trail

My parents used to live in Oregon City, OR, which is deemed the official end of the Oregon Trail. They have commemorated it by creating a tourist center, with three large, building sized covered wagons that you walk through and see information about Lewis and Clarke and their adventures. VERY exciting.

They now live in Salem, OR, two blocks from my brother and his family. Salem is the state capital, but you would never know except for the capital building with the golden dude on top. Portland gets all the press and no one pays any attention to Salem.

Anyway, now that you have had your geography/civics lesson, on to how things are now that I am back. I have discovered that some time during my absence, my child decided he would no longer go to bed like a little sleeping god, laying down and simply going to sleep, around 7:30pm. No, he decided he would stay up, until he fell asleep on the couch with his dad. And guess who let him - hint - it was his dad. I don't know if this began because I was away, or if it would have happened anyway, like some sort of cosmic joke phase of toddlerhood, but I am NOT HAPPY about it. He is only 20 months old. I am thinking that staying up til 9pm is probably not advisable. But so far, even now that I am home, if we try to put him to bed around 7:30 or 8pm total screaming and crying occurs. I am generally not timid about letting a kid cry it out, but this is all out screaming. For as long as it takes to wear down the parents. I am probably going to have to try to stick it out longer than 10 minutes and see what happens. But seriously, leave the man in charge for a week and all heck breaks out.

Oh yeah, on the plane between Denver and Boston, I sat next to a dude who picked his nose the whole way. AAAAAGGGGHHHHHH. That is all I can say about that.

The only other thing that is of note is that I cannot get the water in our pool to clear up. I have not swum in it yet. It is a milky green color and will not get clear. It should be clear and blue-ish. I may have to call in a professional. It is killing me to have 90 degree weather and in ground pool I am not using. AAAGGGHH again.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Greetings from the Pacific Northwest

Well, I made it out here on Sunday with almost no problem. We had a slight delay getting out of Denver. Seems the plane we were to get on needed to have a mechanical issue checked. Someone "perceived a strange sound" coming from one of the doors while in flight, like the seal might not be airtight. Since maintaining cabin pressure at 30,000 feet is probably a good thing, they were checking it out. It appeared to my untrained eye, that their method of checking this problem out involved putting a guy on a lift outside of the door, while they increased cabin pressure inside the plane. The guy outside the door then moved his hands around the edge of the door, where it should be sealed tight to the fuselage, to see if he could detect any air coming out. Hmmm. Perhaps using a cat with really long whiskers to see if they moved in the breeze might have been more effective. THIS is how you test for a leaking seal on a plane?? For whatever reason they decided to replace the seal, we left an hour late and that was fine. I managed to get to Portland, find my rental car and arrived at my grandparents house to visit for a bit with them and my aunt and uncle and cousin who I haven't seen in 15 years who were visiting from Minnesota. Then I drove an hour south to Salem where my parents live.

It has been a good visit so far. It is hard to see both of my parents struggling with health related issues. As a recovering cardiac patient, my mother is doing well. She is struggling with the sadness and depression that often follow heart surgery, but she is following doctors orders and taking medication. My dad is still working out how to do some things around the house. He had a stroke several years ago, which didn't really leave a lot of physical damage, but it has slowed him down. It takes him a LOT longer to do anything these days. My job will be to make sure there is a plan for chores getting done, like the vacuuming, the laundry and shopping.

Bob reports that Cooper has not had much of an appetite and isn't going to sleep on his normal schedule. He had to bring him home from daycare again on Monday with a fever. ARGH. There is hand, foot and mouth disease, otherwise known as the coxhackie virus, going around at school. He stayed home Tuesday too, but seems to be fine now. Bob says when they get to school in the morning, which is on the campus where I work, Cooper says "Mama, mama" looking for me. ARGH again. I miss them both, but this is the first time I have been away from Cooper and it is HARD. I know he is off his game because he misses me. Just a few more days little bean.