Friday, April 28, 2006

School Board Election

Waldo Jaquith wonders who we plan to vote for in Charlottesville's school board election. I'm still trying to make up my mind about my second vote, but I'm certain that my first will go to Ned Michie. He says, in today's Hook, that his priority issue is, “Closing the achievement gap for at-risk kids—but that doesn't mean we'll back off from what makes our schools excellent.

Yes. One thing that causes me to rant endlessly is lowered standards in public schools. I see evidence of this all the time. My eighth grader never studies, does all his homework on the bus, or during lunch, is taking the most advanced classes available at Buford, including 10th grade honors-level geometry, and gets all As and Bs. He's bored and rebellious and had decided that the only class that isn't a complete waste of his time is geometry. The geometry teacher at Buford rocks. I feel like middle school is just a holding pen. Last year, I was so upset that the final unit in his English class was to watch television commercials and read magazine ads, that I pulled him out of English altogether and taught that class to him at home, choosing a novel for him to read and having him write a thesis paper on it which he presented to the Buford principal for grading. The school gave him an A for that quarter, although I thought he deserved a C. I really appreciate that Tim Flynn was willing to work with me on that. I hope my son will be happier next year when he gets to CHS.

Anyway, you can't claim that all kids are successful if you've simply dumbed-down the curriculum so that it's practically impossible to fail. Kids know when classes are lame and they know when they're being treated with condescension. They're not going to be motivated if they know a class is a joke. Please keep providing classes that are truly challenging. I feel that Ned Michie won't fail C'ville's intellectually advanced students, but neither will he abandon those who struggle.

Also, early in Ned Michie's first term on the School Board I called him at home over an issue that had me greatly concerned, and he was gracious and helpful.

For my second vote, I'm vacillating between Charlie Kollmansperger, Sue Lewis, and Juandiego Wade. All I have to go on, at this point, is the Hook's profile of them. I like that Kollmansperger was a special ed teacher. I like it that Sue Lewis' pet peeve is “Using educational jargon when there are just a handful of people who understand it.” Agreed. It's not that I can't understand educational jargon, I just find it to be pompous, inflated, fatuousness. I like Juandiego Wade for mentoring a group of young men from fourth grade through high school, and for the fact that he attended International Night at Buford (it seems he does not have a child there, since he mentions that his daughter is of preschool age) and that he's aware of unfair negative publicity the schools get.

Day in the life of a hip SAHM

Today is one of the two happiest days of the month for thousands of area residents: UVA payday! I had the day off, and some money to spend, so I got to pretend to be a hip SAHM. I've been feeling deprived, as the only remaining person in the civilized world never to have tasted a bubble tea, and after a hard morning of homeschooling, we needed some refreshment. And what do you know—a new place, Tea Time Desires has opened on the downtown mall, directly across the street from the Twisted Branch Tea Bazaar.

Tea Time Desires sells bubble teas, in a wide variety of flavors, slushies, milkshakes as well as dumplings and cold noodle dishes. My kids each got a slushie, kiwi and mint. I ordered a latte-flavored bubble tea. I'm a little unclear on the concept of bubble tea: “Hey! Let's put tiny eyeballs in flavored drinks that have no apparent relation to tea and call them bubble tea!” Not to criticize Tea Time Desires. I'm sure their bubble teas are all that a bubble tea should be, and more. Mine was certainly tasty, but I couldn't get used to the bubbles—they are pulled up through a giant straw as you sip and there's a slight resistance as the bubble exits the straw and is birthed into your mouth. It's exactly like that—a little birth each time a bubble squeezes through the straw. My children liked their slushies, but could not finish them. I don't think bubble tea is something I'm going to crave regularly, but they are one of those things it's fun to experience. In general, we liked the atmosphere at Tea Time Desires and we'd like to return and try some of their non-tea offerings. I'm especially curious about the tofu and vegetable bun.

We rounded out our morning with a trip to the McIntire Rd recycling center. Since our renovation started, I've had to start storing the recycling in my car, and it's imperative to stop by and unload stuff often. Those plastic milk jugs start to stink almost immediately, no matter how well you rinse them.
Finally, we stopped by the library, downtown. I just love the library. We exited with a bulging totebag of books including a biography of Amelia Earhart that my ten year old selected and a new novel by Philip Pullman, Clockwork, that my seven year old wants to read. I think it will be a little hard for him, but he insists he wants to read it and I don't want to discourage him. I got The Jewel in the Crown by Paul Scott and Anywhere but Here by Mona Simpson.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

City council election

Can't I just vote for Dave Norris twice?

He says, in today's Cville, "[Charlottesville would be better if]: we had more affordable housing for the folks that do the hard work of making this city function (teachers, police officers, firefighters, retail/service workers, etc.)"

Thank you! I know, who am I to talk, a homeowner in the infamously overpriced Belmont-- and we're the ordinary working people Norris is talking about--my husband is a nurse and we lived on one income up until last November. But we moved to Charlottesville in 1998, when, if you mentioned Belmont to real estate agents, they'd respond with a shocked "NO!" (Although a neighbor of my brother-in-law, way back in 1998, told me that Belmont was the up-and-coming neighborhood. As I recall, she said, "That's the neighborhood where people our age are buying." And she was right.) So now we have this house, and are grateful for it, but what will we do if assessments go so high that we can't pay the taxes anymore? Sell it? And where would we live then? Kansas?

It's funny, because I come from Buffalo, NY, where there is, incredible as it may seem, a law that requires that all city employees--including public school teachers--live within the city limits. Police are exempt from this law, and possibly fire fighters as well, but it just blows the mind that there is a city that must actually pass a law forcing middle class workers to live there, when in C'ville, those same workers want to live here and can't afford it. And Buffalo, by the way, is a nice city to live in. There is a wealth of huge, gorgeous old houses going for prices that would make anyone used to this area tear their hair in frustration. Mixed comfortably among the houses are bars, restaurants and shops--at least on the west side, where we lived. It's a perfect urban environment. I wonder why Charlottesville is Charlottesville and Buffalo is Buffalo?

Sunday, April 23, 2006

My kingdom for a skirt

It's a slow day at my usually hectic workplace, and I'm trying to do a little shopping. All I want is a basic summer skirt; something that will go with a variety of different tops. There is nothing out there. I've been to the websites of the Gap, J.Crew, Boden USA, and Anthropologie and have now exhausted my online shopping options. The very few acceptable skirts I've seen are already sold out in my size. Linen skirts with a drawstring waist are everywhere this year, and they're all very well, but I bought a skirt like that last year. Plus, I wore it to work recently and a coworker thought I had an isolation gown tied around my waist. J. Crew might want to rethink their designs.

I guess there's nothing else to do, but make a round of C'ville's boutiques. Eloise is my favorite. Their prices are high, but the few items I've bought there are things I wear over and over. Bittersweet is fun, and has lower prices. I sometimes find nice things there, and I noticed a new shop where Sweet Beets used to be. I think it's called George, or something, and from a distance it looks like a clothing store although I could be wrong about that.

In my household, this weekend is dominated by the annual Children's Dance Festival, hosted by Miki Liszt of the Miki Liszt Dance Company. This is a round-up of dances performed by students from schools around the area. I'm stuck at work today, but I watched the dress rehearsal last night.

My two daughters, who study classical ballet under Nicole McGurn with "Class with Nicole" are dancing today. I know most people recoil with horror at having to sit through a dance recital, but I think they're fun. I've always loved dance. Miami City Ballet it's not, but it's lively and most of the dances are well done, and the kids have obviously worked hard.

Edited to add that it hit me like a clap of thunder that I ought to try Banana Republic and there I found what may be an acceptable summer skirt. Banana Republic has a neat "shop for casual looks" feature which displays entire outfits. When you click on an outfit you like, you're given options to buy each piece of clothing, along with the shoes, belt, jewelry, and even the underwear the model is wearing with that outfit. Shopping for the unimaginative, but it's an amusing way to pass the time when you're bored, with nothing to look at other than a computer.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


More renovation pictures. We have also replaced the windows in our old sitting room, for taller ones that won't be too far below the new, higher ceiling. Before:


Tuesday, April 18, 2006


Is anyone else amused by the fact that Kevin Lynch, in an essay published in today's C-ville, called Rob Schilling a “show horse”? He doesn't actually say, “Rob Schilling is a show horse,” but in exhorting us to vote for Dave Norris and Julian Taliaferro, he says, “You can vote for a show horse. Or you can vote for two workhorses.” I know it's immature, but all I can think of is Rob Schilling's hair as a flowing horse's mane. Neigh! I wonder if that was Lynch's purpose in choosing the equine metaphor.

Speaking of the upcoming election, I'm still undecided. I'll definitely be voting for Dave Norris—Charlottesville really needs someone on city council who sincerely cares about this city's invisible underclass. But between Taliaferro and Schilling, I can't decide, although I'm leaning toward Schilling. I'm a bit unclear on Taliaferro's qualifications. Even Kevin Lynch has nothing to say other than he was a good fire chief. How that translates into an effective city council member is hazy. Furthermore, I tend to resent it when democratic politicians push multiple candidates as a package, and we're all supposed to be good little democrats and vote a straight democratic ticket. Kevin Lynch has as much right to express his opinion as anyone else, but I'd take more seriously an endorsement that comes from a non-partisan community member. As a democrat, I feel like a rebel by voting for a republican in these local elections. I voted for Susan (?) What'shername two years ago because I thought she sincerely cared about how expensive it is for middle class families to live here. That whole creationism in the schools issue was raised to sabotage her, in my opinion.

Saturday, April 15, 2006


We have windows! Real divided-light windows with real muntins (the strips of wood that divide the panes.) Those cheap windows with the fake, snap-in muntins are an abomination, in my opinion, especially in an old house.

Monday, April 10, 2006

Walls and thugs.

We have walls. Also pictured: some of our old clapboard, peeking out from behind the stucco. It looks like the house was originally white with black trim, which reminds me of summer cottages on the Lake Erie shore in Ontario. That big opening will be a window, but not a picture window. (No!) There'll be a bank of three two-over-two mullioned windows that match the windows in the old part of the house.

And now for something completely different.

A message to the feral kids out there: if you go breaking into cars at night, you may just find yourself getting chased down by a crazed man in a minivan, as happened to a group of local kids in my neighborhood this weekend. They're lucky he didn't catch them.

When we lived on the west side of Buffalo, NY (our hometown) my car was broken into at least twenty times. I never locked the doors, and so was spared a smashed windshield. The thieves would rifle my music collection--they never seemed to want my Tom Waits tapes--and otherwise leave my car unscathed. I never bothered to call the police and never got particularly upset. I decided I'd rather live in the city and have my car broken into every night of the week rather than live in the suburbs. Somehow it was different when it happened here in Charlottesville. Maybe it's because I drive a nicer car than I did in our Buffalo days, or maybe it's that the kids turned on J and moved to assault him when he confronted them. At any rate, it was all rather upsetting. The police came, but of course they didn't catch the kids, who had rifled our car as well as several others on our street. (Nothing was stolen from my car.) J swears he saw them at Stoney's the next day, paying for their purchases with large amounts of change.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

In which I am taken aback

It is time for J and me to select lighting fixtures, so the other day we went to a local lighting showroom. We were the only customers, and if first it seemed like we were about to have the typical customer/clerk exchange: He asked if he could help us; we said we were in need of lighting. “Have you ever purchased a light fixture before?” the man demanded. His tone was pugnacious: Don't you dare think you can come around here and shop unless you've passed “Wall-Mounted Illumination 270”. We gaped at him.

“Yes, we've bought light fixtures before,” I said, a tad defensively, flashing back to the 8th grade playground. (Yes, I've kissed a boy before. Duh.)

“Because this isn't Lowe's!” the man said. “You can't just come in here and walk out with a light fixture!”

Whoa, Nellie! Who said anything about walking out with a light fixture? And I'd left my “I BUY LIGHTING AT LOWE'S” t-shirt at home in my drawer.

We managed to make the light store guardian understand that we just wanted to look, that we understood the concept of ordering lighting and waiting for it to arrive, that we had no immediate need for light fixtures, and so he directed us to a towering pile of catalogs. That semi-hostile exchange dampened my enthusiasm considerably and we flipped listlessly through the catalogs: page after page of hideous hotel-lobby-builder's-showcase-home-show lighting. Their ornate metal curlicues hooked themselves into my very soul, dragging it down into the dust. It was unthinkable that I should put one of those vulgar fixtures in my sweet little farmhouse.

When we got home from this ordeal, I lay on my bed reading and I noticed my bedroom light fixture, as if for the first time. I'd always considered it ugly, but suddenly it seemed sweetly simple: the glass shade, knocked askew by too many children jumping on the bed was charming. The pull string? How gloriously inconvenient! You have to grope your way through the dark bedroom, and climb onto the bed to get to the string. Not that it matters: the light doesn't even work; has never worked.

We will probably end up buying our light fixtures from Pottery Barn or Restoration Hardware. Call me bourgeois, but at least I can call Pottery Barn and not be challenged to provide my light-fixture buying credentials.

After we left the lighting store, we realized that J had neglected to remove the paint-splattered tool belt he'd been wearing while doing demo on our house and that it was this and his somewhat work-roughened appearance that probably prompted the lighting man to challenge us. It's his loss. We have money to spend, and we'll be spending it elsewhere.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Iris Murdoch

Why did I not discover Iris Murdoch until the age of thirty-seven? Iris Murdoch is the bomb! (Stop wincing. This site is titled “Fatuous Observations,” is it not?) Nancy Pearl, in Booklust, categorizes all of Iris Murdoch's novels as “Books I wish I had not read yet so I could have the joy of reading them for the first time.” I see what she means. You sink into an Iris Murdoch novel the same way you sink into a comfortable armchair.

I started with The Bell, a gently funny novel about a group of eccentrics living in a lay religious community. Then I read The Sandcastle, which is probably not considered her best, but I enjoyed it, and since my copy was a library bound edition with no blurb or any indication whatsoever of what the book was about, reading it was like a voyage of discovery. I like going into books blind like that, and I learned long ago that a book's plot or subject matter has absolutely nothing to do with whether it is a good book or not. Yesterday I went to Alderman and successfully scored Murdoch's first novel, Under the Net, which is not available at the public library.

One of my all-time favorite authors is Barbara Pym, and Murdoch's writing reminds me a little bit of Pym's. I think it's safe to assume that Barbara Pym read Iris Murdoch,--they were contemporaries, more or less-- but I wonder if Murdoch read Pym?

And no, I haven't seen the movie about her—the one with Kate Winslet as the young Iris, but I did rent Antonia and Jane from Sneak Reviews, specifically because a friend told me that it has a character who can only perform sexually when Iris Murdoch novels are read aloud to him. It's a good movie, with the fabulous Imelda Staunton in the role of “Jane.”

Speaking of Alderman Library, I also picked up Flight from the Enchanter—Iris Murdoch's second novel, as well as A Beautiful Visit by Elizabeth Jane Howard, and Creed or Chaos by Dorothy Sayers and Unpopular Opinions, also by Sayers. These last two titles I had scribbled on a grocery list that has been in my purse for nearly two years and I checked them out so that I could finally throw away that grocery list. Both books are collections of essays, and I feel a future entry coming out of Sayer's essay, “Are Women Human?” (Don't worry, they are.)

Saturday, April 01, 2006

The Belmont Stucco Monster

You've probably noticed that a lot of Charlottesville houses, particularly older houses in Belmont, are covered with stucco. My own house has been stuccoed. Alas! There is wood clapboard imprisoned underneath. A neighbor who has lived on our street for over fifty years says he remembers the stucco salesman coming to town. He certainly did a brisk business in Belmont, and I used to say that I was glad he got to our house ahead of the aluminum siding salesman. Now I'm not so sure.

To help defray costs on our renovation, we're doing some of the demolition ourselves. Today I demolished the stucco off part of a small wall. Stucco, I discovered, is very very heavy indeed. It consists of four components: a fibrous underlayer to which is nailed chicken wire. The first coat of stucco is applied to the chicken wire, and the top coat is applied over that. I managed to hook my fingers into some of the chicken wire and I pulled. Stucco rained down around me—the outer coat in large chunks, and the under coat in thousands of small octagonal fragments. This was hard work, and I worried I might get my fingers caught and degloved in the chicken wire, but as hard as this was, hauling all that rubble to the dumpster was worse. Since the house is surrounded by scaffolding, there isn't room to get a wheelbarrow to the back. I had to dump the rubbled into a trash can, maneuver the heavy can down the steps of the deck (Did it tip over? Of course it did!) and squeeze it through the tiny opening between the scaffolding and the fence and finally heave the whole load into a wheelbarrow, take it to the dumpster and then hurl scoops of heavy stucco—it is very much like concrete—into the dumpster, the top of which stands a couple feet above my head. I demolished just half of this small wall, and I threw away hundreds of pounds of stucco rubble--and I made many trips to the dumpster.

I used to cherish a fantasy of taking the stucco off our house and restoring the original clapboard, but now I realize that this would be impossible. Pictured below: the empty space where the old porch was and the new roof. That stucco wall under the roof is the one I was demolishing today.