Thursday, April 21, 2011

A Recap of My- I Mean Jake's- Kindergarten Year

Alternate Title: Why You Should Donate (Money and/or Time) to Great Public Schools

If you've read my blog for awhile now, you know that a year ago I was totally stressed out about where Jake was going to go for Kindergarten. I mean, there are many options in Los Angeles, it's so complicated to figure out the system, and in the end it sometimes boils down to little more than luck (read Magnets and Charters...). And because there's not really a standardized timing for when you are notified about school acceptances, you sometimes need to commit to one school before you've heard whether or not you have a spot at some of the other schools (read If you think...). But you probably also know that we somehow made it through that stressful time, and are now at a school that we love even more than we ever thought possible!

So, how did we get so very lucky to end up an amazing public school that we truly love, with a kindergarten teacher that we respect and adore, a principal that really listens to the children and their parents, and a group of families that are just as committed and involved as we could ever have hoped or expected? We won the lottery! And if that sound facetious or ridiculous, then you don't have a kid in Los Angeles.

You see, here in La-La Land, if parents don't want to send their kids to their neighborhood school, and they can't afford/don't want to send them to a private one (let's be honest, it's usually the money), then there are a few options. One is to find a charter school (or several), enter their admissions lottery, cross your fingers and hope for the best. So we did. Along with the other 10 schools we applied to, we picked a brand-new start-up charter practically across the street from our house. WISH Charter (isn't that an awesome name, even if it's a little tricky to clearly enunciate?) was originally planning to open in the Fall of 2009, but getting through the bureaucracy of LAUSD takes longer than you think, so it was put off until 2010. So we applied to this little school that had no track record, with a facility in serious need of remodeling, but a philosophy that was in line with our beliefs about what public school should look like. It was (originally) our back-up option in case nothing else worked out.

As it turns out, we ended up with a few options, a couple of them private schools. We weighed the pros and cons (the cost of private school being a huge con!), and decided to take a bit of a risk on the brand new public charter school. It was exciting to think that we'd be helping to build and shape this school as it grew. We went into it ready to volunteer our time, get involved and contribute our voices to WISH's community.

And get involved we did! It started with simply attending a meeting to help plan the summer mixer. Really, I just wanted to start getting to know some of the other parents and figure out how I could help. But everyone there was so excited to do that, and so much more- start building a school library, plant gardens, have shirts with the school logo, paint murals and beautify the school. Before long, there was talk about finding a hot lunch option and starting a recycling program. And the ideas honestly kept coming- but not just ideas, but people ready to make it happen! Did you know none of these things exist without the time and energy of many enthusiastic people to get it all off the ground?

If anyone had told me a year ago just how much work this would take, how much time and energy we would devote to this school... Well, I probably would have just brushed off their warnings, to be honest. I mean, people tell you how much work it is to have kids, and we still went forward with that- not just once, but twice.

So, what was my role in all of this? None of those things. And kind of all of it- we did all of it, and more! It started with a simple question about fundraising- how could we bring in some money to help support all of these amazing visions that the parents had for this school? I wanted to set up a few "passive" fundraisers- you know, the kind where you link your grocery card to the school so that a small percentage gets donated back each time you shop. And a few fundraisers at local restaurants- again, families attend and the restaurant donates a percentage back. And from there the ideas grew- fundraising events, grants, corporate sponsorships. We wanted to do so many great things for the school, but pretty much everything takes money, so we needed to find some ways to bring it in. And so I was put in charge of fundraising for the school.

So, how did we do? Pretty darn well, if I do say so myself. We (my fundraising committee and the school's parent association in general) set goals for ourselves. First, we wanted to bring in enough money (through events and passive fundraisers) to support our Arts, Music and PE programs at the school. As many other public schools are cutting these "extras," our goal was to always keep them fully integrated within the curriculum. By raising money to cover the costs of these specialists' salaries, program supplies and materials, it would take the burden off of the school to pay for them. We did a car wash (okay, we didn't wash the cars, but we partnered with a local business, got our cars washed, and got a nice donation to the school). We ate out at restaurants every month (such a chore, you know how I like to cook at home!). We put on a Holiday Boutique, raffles, a booksale, a silent auction and more. Our teachers even donated their time for fun activities with the kids that parents could bid on- Jake got to have breakfast at the beach with his kindergarten teacher and a few other students. We tried it all, and had lots of fun doing it. I'd like to think that all of our fundraisers did even more than bring in money, as we also bonded as a school community during these events. But bring in money we did- we have a couple more events before this school year is over, but it looks like we'll be able to fully cover the expenses of our thriving Arts, Music and PE programs.

Another fundraising goal was to obtain grants or sponsorships to help support getting new programs off the ground or subsidize what we had already started- the library or recycling program for example. This was a challenge as it turns out, and we learned that in this economy (aren't you tired of that phrase?) people are reluctant to put money into new schools with unproven track records. "We'll get 'em next year!" is my motto on that.

Our last fundraising goal was the biggest- to raise enough money from direct donations (i.e. people writing checks) to cover the budget deficit caused by the state pulling funds that the school had been relying upon during budget planning. At over $1000 per student, that left a big gap in the budget- about $140,000 in just this year alone. Did you know that charter schools generally receive less money per pupil than traditional public schools (estimates are between 22-40% less)? That they have less access to funds, and often have to pay a monthly rent until a suitable property is offered to them by the school district (as required by law)? It ain't easy being charter- you have big goals about how you want to do things differently than the traditional local schools, but less funds to do it with. We haven't hit our direct donations goal, but we did make a huge dent in it. If anyone knows a big donor looking for a cause, send them my way...

So, what's next in year two (aka first grade)? Bigger and better, of course. I recently accepted the position of co-president of WISH's parent association for next year. To be honest, I'm not sure yet what that looks like and what my role will be in regards to fundraising. But I do know that I am excited to be doing it at a school that continues to grow into everything I had hoped it would be.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Menu Planning, Two Weeks at a Time

Breakfasts: Granola, fruit, yogurt, muffins. We have some blueberry,  banana chocolate chip and cornbread muffins to eat up. Yummy!

Lunches: Leftovers. We have a bunch of things in the fridge from last week- chicken and rice, chicken burritos, dinners from Hangar 19 and Gladstones. And of course, there's almost always leftovers when I cook dinner since the kids rarely eat much of what I make. :(

As for dinner, here's the plan-
  • Chili (I made this at the beginning of last week, but forgot that the recipe makes twice as much as I can fit in my crock pot, so we're having it again!)
  • Cornbread muffins
  • Pesto pasta with chicken (I'm going to base it off of this recipe and use pesto we picked up at the Farmer's Market.)
  • Steamed veggies
  • Leftovers
  • Meatballs
  • Mashed potatoes
  • Going out with my sweets
  • Leftovers
  • Leftovers
  • Leftovers
  • Leftovers 
  • Macaroni and cheese (looking for a yummy recipe... let me know if you have one!)
  • Green salad

Sunday, January 9, 2011

I'm not ready for New Year's Resolutions...

...Or maybe I am ready. I mean, I only have one: Finding Balance. It's not very specific, but certainly important considering how my year ended up (with me feeling like there wasn't nearly enough time for any of the things that I thought were important). I feel like I'm doing okay balancing so far, although we're only a week into the year.

But I think it's also important to revisit my goals from last year- the ones that I wrote when I started this blog back in March. It was Brody's birthday, which is quickly approaching again. My baby is going to be two soon! Before that anniversary, I figured I better check in to see how far I've gotten (or just how off track).

So here's my original list of what I wanted to change:

-Lose weight
-Have a more active lifestyle
-Cook food at home
-Eat healthier food (less fast food)
-Find a hobby
-Spend less money at Target
-Improve the world (volunteer)
-Drink less soda
-Use reusable bags
-Spend less time on the computer
-Stop reading emails, etc. while driving
-Let Chris know that I appreciate him
-Keep my car clean

The biggest success? I lost the weight that I wasn't sure I was ever going to lose. And more importantly, I've kept it off for several months and didn't even rebound during the holidays. Hurray! I'd like to say that I'm eating healthy and exercising and I've changed my whole life around to be far more healthy. I'd like to, but I can't. No, what really happened is I went on Weight Watchers, semi-starved myself for a few months, and then have tried not to binge-eat since then.

I think part of my problem was that I eat when I am stressed or bored, and at the time when I started this blog, I was stressed out about being pretty much a full-time stay at home mom to an infant (which also made me a little bored). Some stay at home moms are amazing at their job and think that's the best thing in the world. And I know that there are other moms who have to work full-time and just wish they had the option to stay at home. Neither of those are me. I need to work part-time in order to have a break from a life revolving around sleep schedules and breast feeding and dirty diapers.

Now that Brody has gotten a little older, life has gotten a little easier- no more breast feeding, and the sleep schedule (although certainly not perfect) is much, much better. Even potty training is on its way. And starting last fall, I was able to pick up a few more hours at work, which gives me less time for boredom (at the eating that goes with it). Which all adds up to a skinnier me! I mean, I'm certainly no super model, but I do feel much better after leaving behind that extra 25 pounds I've been carrying around for way too long.

And as for the other goals on my list? I don't think I was nearly as successful with those, although there was definitely at least some progress in each of them. There are a few that I am trying to revisit as this new year has begun- making time to cook at home for most meals (and therefore eating healthier and drinking less soda), spending less time on the computer (although hopefully blogging with a little more regularity since it helps to keep me sane), and having a more active lifestyle (I need to find at least one class at the gym that I can commit to on a weekly basis). I was doing all of these fairly well for awhile last summer, but then I got caught up in working more hours and volunteering at Jake's school and wasn't quite able to balance it all.

Time to start balancing...

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Menu Planning... Starting Afresh in the New Year

Okay, new year, time for new resolutions. This is my year of trying to find balance. I want to continue working, volunteering at Jake's school, being home with the kids... but I don't want to feel so stressed out trying to fit it all in. I need to revisit my goals from last year. Things were going pretty well until the school year started in the fall, and I no longer seemed to have enough time for everything. I stopped cooking, didn't make it to the Farmer's Markets to buy fresh produce, and our eating habits suffered. And I honestly don't remember the last time I made it to the gym. Miraculously, I haven't really put any weight back on (at least not yet), but now seems like a good time to get things back in line before they go quickly downhill.

Finding Balance. Not sure how to make it happen yet, but I do know that it all goes better when I plan everything out ahead of time. Maybe it's just the act of making the list itself that helps me feel more organized. So, here's my first list for 2011- meal plans for this week and next. Happy New Year!

  • Leftovers
  • Chicken and rice casserole with broccoli
  • Leftovers
  • Dinner out
  • Soup and grilled cheese

Monday, December 20, 2010

Stress over the holidays? Naw...

It's well after midnight and I've been lying in bed for at least half an hour, but it feels like much longer. I'm tired, but nowhere near falling asleep. Usually when this happens, there are about five dozen things that I am thinking about that absolutely positively need to be done ASAP, but I've decided that I need sleep even more than I need to get them done. Tonight, no such worries. Was it the Coke that I drank right before bed that is now keeping me up? Probably not since I've gone back to drinking way too much soda, and the caffeine is running through my veins at a pretty constant level.

I actually think I'm at a pretty good place right now in terms of my things-to-do list. My Christmas shopping is pretty much done, and almost all of the presents are even wrapped. I'm off from work for two weeks, and managed to get all of my reports done before leaving. Of course, there are some things that just didn't get done before I left Los Angeles with the boys to head home for the holidays (Chris will join us later). Like sweeping and mopping the floors so that the house would actually be clean when we return. Or writing my notes from work. Or our Christmas cards. I'm still hoping to get those done this week, though, even though I know it means many people probably won't actually receive them until after Christmas. Is that important? I don't know- it's something that I think really would have bothered me in the past. Which made me start thinking.

A friend that I hadn't seen in awhile was visiting recently during my absolutely most crazy busy week of this year. Which is saying a lot considering I feel like life has been pretty nonstop crazy since Jake started kindergarten this year. I was in the midst of organizing some continuing education courses for work, while juggling fundraising events and meetings at Jake's school, on top of my usual routine of work and caring for my kids. And on the first day of the series of three courses, it was pretty chaotic- the AV equipment wasn't doing what it was supposed to (even though I had checked everything out ahead of time, and it worked fine on the trial run), and the kids that were supposed to come for demos were calling out sick. Of course, everything was worked out, and the courses ended up going great. But I remember my friend asking about how I was doing it without appearing overly stressed. Basically, what she asked was, does having kids make you no longer "sweat the small stuff"?

The small stuff- like whether our Christmas cards arrive before or after Christmas? Whether or not my notes from September get finished by the end of the year? Whether over the holidays I put back on five of those 25 pounds I lost this year, and then have to work them back off when I get home? Are those the things keeping me up at night?

I don't know, I think there's just so much "stuff" that there's just not enough time to stress over all of it. I think having two kids and a busy schedule has helped me to learn how to multi-task even better than before. And how to prioritize. Like remembering to move our Elf on the Shelf to a new location for Jake to find in the morning. To put on the Phineas and Ferb Christmas CD and dance around the living room. To take the time to let Jake help wrap presents. His favorite part? Writing the "to" and "from" labels. But instead of just a simple label, he likes to write sentences on each package like, "I Love You. Jayden I hope You Have A Great Christmas. To Jayden Love Jake And Brody." All while slowly sounding out each word and confirming which letters spell what he's trying to say.

So no, I didn't really cross anything off my to-do list today. And I certainly wasn't a perfect mom making the most of every single moment. But all in all, I'd say that I am very much enjoying making some new holiday memories with my boys.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Saying Goodbye

There are moments when I consider whether or not I really want to be a parent. Does this make me a bad mom? Like this morning... I don't know why Jake was having a hard time getting ready for school. I just know that everything turned into an argument, no matter what I said. Maybe he was still tired. Maybe he's coming down with whatever caused me to lose my voice last week. Or maybe he's just not a morning person. All I know is that it was a struggle for him to get dressed, eat breakfast, put on shoes and get out the door. And don't even get me started on finishing up the last of his homework from this week- that's a whole other post for me to write. I think I even breathed a sigh of relief as I drove off this morning and Chris took Jake to school.

And then I got some news on my way to work. Earlier, I received an email from a teacher at one of the schools where I provide physical therapy services. Call me ASAP was all it said. Curious, I called her on my way in to the clinic.

"I have to give you some bad news," she said. It was about one of the children that I treat at school twice a week. He passed away on Wednesday. It was a complete shock to everyone, including his family. He had had health issues in the past related to his metabolic disorder. And he was in the hospital now due to some difficulties with his medications. But earlier this week, we still thought he was being released and would be back at school before the end of the week. His teacher didn't know the details- his mom was of course pretty shaken up when she talked to her yesterday. The teacher promised to forward me the details about the funeral arrangements when she knew more.

I hung up in shock, and I think I'm still there. My heart is breaking for his family and everyone who knew and loved him. He was only four years old.

Please hold your children tight and tell them that you love them today. Everything else seems trivial.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Menu Planning... Trying to get back into the routine

Last week was pretty good in that I managed to make dinner at home 5 out of 7 nights. Which was exactly what I planned for, so I'd call that a success! Especially since before that, I've been averaging only one to two meals a month cooked at home.

I learned from my friends on Facebook that maybe everyone else doesn't do as great of a job of cooking at home every night that I think they do. After my post about struggling to make dinner one night, some wrote that they were having pizza delivered, eating Chinese food, or having hot dogs at Target. And others had good suggestions to make it a little easier- crockpot cooking, making breakfast for dinner, having frozen pizza on hand, making soup/chili ahead of time, or using a meal planning website. Great suggestions! My go-to easy meal is usually something from the frozen section at Trader Joe's. They have yummy orange chicken, frozen meatballs (for sandwiches or to throw in pasta sauce), and lots of great frozen veggie combos. I recently sampled their frozen turkey meatloaf with mashed potatoes and ended up bringing those home, too (they're on the menu plan this week!). But for me, the biggest help is just planning ahead and then having the motivation to stick with it instead of having Chris pick something up on his way home from work.

The part that I really didn't do well last week was the exercise plan. I didn't make it to the gym at all. There's so much going on during the week that it's too hard to fit in exercise in the mornings. And then on the weekends, there's always something else with the family that takes priority. For now, I'm going to take that off my list, and just focus on getting back into the cooking routine. Here's the dinner plan for this week:

Sunday: Stuffed peppers (since I didn't find time to make them last week)
Monday: Meatloaf "muffins" with mashed potatoes
Tuesday: Spiral pasta with vodka sauce
Wednesday: Chicken burritos
Thursday: Leftovers
Friday: Italian pasta soup and grilled cheese
Saturday: We're going to be busy all day, so we'll go out or pick something up for dinner

As long as I can make it to the grocery store by Tuesday, I think I can make it happen!