Tell the Bees

I was in the middle of composing a light-hearted post to bring this blog back to a happy place, when I received shocking and terrible news. The grandmother of a sweet little girl who is in my service group and is also a member of the soccer team I help coach was killed in a car accident yesterday afternoon. It happened not even a mile from our school, where she had just dropped her granddaughter off for soccer practice. The little girls played for an hour to the wail of sirens, not realizing what had happened.

Tell the Bees, by Sarah Lindsay

Folklore tradition dictates that bees must be formally told about significant events in a family’s life such as a birth or a death, lest the bees take offense and abandon their hives. In some parts of rural New England and Appalachia, when there is a death in the family, hives are draped in crepe and food is offered to the bees. Sarah Lindsay captures the dissonance one feels when life marches on, even after a personally earth-shattering event such as the death of a loved one. The bees partake in the family’s pain, but then “fly out tomorrow to look for sweetness” against an immutable landscape.

Wishing that this family may find comfort and sweetness in their memories of a loving grandma.

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Ruffled feathers

I’m still processing what happened tonight. In my Facebook post I wrote, “I think the voice of reason carried the day.” The “think” reflects the fact that it really wasn’t a clear cut victory.

On the one hand, it was clear that there are people in our school community who are not happy with the way the PTO has been operating. I was so very grateful to all of the people who came out and spoke up about their disaffection with the PTO’s lack of strategic vision, and not only in regard to my proposal. A motion was made to form a committee to enumerate principles that govern the legitimate spending of  PTO funds. The committee will evaluate whether or not it makes sense to carry over ever increasing balances from year to year and what constitutes a legitimate spending proposal.

On the other hand, the president steadfastly maintained that my proposal could not be put to a vote. And for very different, but equally flawed reasons:

1) Fiduciary responsbility to the donors under section 501(c)(3).

I admit I had to do a little research into this one. The PTO bylaws state that: “This PTO is organized exclusively for charitable and educational purposes, including, for such purposes, the making of distributions to organizations that qualify as exempt organizations under section 501(c)(3)…” Doesn’t this actually support my request?

2) It would be unfair (the word ‘unethical’ was used) to people who’ve donated money to not know exactly how that money would be spent.

When I write checks to charitable organizations and (in the past) to this PTO, it would never occur to me that I needed to know exactly how my money would be spent. If I make a donation, I’m assuming that the organization will use it as it best sees fit. And the use of the word “unethical” in the context of helping Haitian orphans is really pretty ridiculous. 

3) The executive board has the right to determine what can be brought to a vote, because “What if some crazy person brought up a crazy proposal…? As these words came out of the president’s mouth, she glanced at me sideways and said, “Of course, I don’t mean to imply that this is a crazy proposal!” I couldn’t resist, “Uh, yeah…it wasn’t like I was proposing that we install stripper poles in the hallway.”

But even if some crazy person did bring up some crazy proposal: this is exactly what votes are for, no?

3) It’s not appropriate to use money given to the school that will only benefit people outside the school.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. This is selfish, shortsighted, and untrue. We are teaching valuable lessons to our own children when we empower them to help others.

4) It would be a mistake to bring this issue up for a vote, because it would be too divisive.

The issue really became divisive because opinions were summarily squelched! 

At the end of the meeting the genuinely sweet president hastened to disabuse me of the notion that my proposal couldn’t be discussed, just that it couldn’t be put to a vote! ?!?!?!?!

The majority of the people in the room argued that funding Make a Difference Day does in fact support and enrich the education of “our” children. But instead of dipping into that ever-growing pot of gold, it was decided that all proceeds from the first of several Kids’ Night Out events, (if you’ll remember, this was our service group’s fundraiser that was appropriated by the PTO), would go to fund the Make a Difference Day project. Members of the executive board argued that this was the only way parents would be able to know exactly where their money would be spent. I have mixed feelings about this. Yes, I’m glad that PTO funds will be used in one way or another for this project, but it doesn’t address the basic fact that a reasonable request for funds was not even allowed to be put forth for a vote. It doesn’t address the fact that we have ample funds here and now that could be used for this purpose.

As for the child whose house burned down? For now, the school, the county, and individuals in our community are donating money and gift cards. The principal says that for now the family is saying that this is enough. The issue of taking care of our own children in need will hopefully be addressed by the committee being headed up by none other than my own husband.

So is this a victory? Sort of.


All Sunday evening we heard the wail of sirens and felt uneasy. Late that same night I learned that while I was “flaming away” writing my last post, a fire was destroying the house of my son’s classmate. Everyone escaped without harm, but all the family’s worldly goods and pets were lost to the flames. (I had to groan when I saw how our rinky-dink local paper ineptly summed up the story with the headline: “Guinea pigs die in fire that destroys Albemarle home”).

I know people in our community who are whipping out checkbooks and going to their ATMs to help this family. At tonight’s PTO meeting we will discuss what we as a school can do to help. I’ve been told that my funding proposal for our Make a Difference Day is “too divisive” to even be put to a vote because the money will not be used for “our children.” So instead, I’ll propose that the PTO write a big fat check to this family immediately. NO fundraising. Just fork it over, please. This is one of “our” children, and there’s an immediate need. We’ve got the funds. Let’s show some compassion and human decency.

And how about this for another proposal? I’ve also just learned that our guidance counselor has been going to churches and other organizations outside of our school for vouchers and donations to help the very few needy children at our school. When parents are asked to replenish the front office’s snack supply “for kids who’ve forgotten theirs,” what they’re really doing unwittingly is providing Goldfish and Cheez It meals for the very few of OUR kids, who wouldn’t  get enough to eat otherwise. Why couldn’t we put aside some of our PTO money to help with these expenses?

This is a school that draws from some of the wealthiest country club neighborhoods in this county. This is a school whose PTO has an obscene amount of money in the bank. If this PTO is really so concerned that the money get used for our own children, then for God’s sake, let’s unclench our fists and use it for our own children!

I want my money back.

WARNING: Flames may erupt from your computer as you read this. You may want to have a fire extinguisher handy.

My children have all gone to a tiny elementary school located in an idyllic rural setting. It sits across from a horse farm dotted with hay bales and a cluster of outbuildings with red tin roofs that glow in the sun. Every morning a staff member is posted at the door to enthusiastically and warmly greet by name every single child who walks through those doors. For the fifth straight year in a row, the school has been given the coveted Governor’s Award for Academic Excellence. There’s a lot to love about this school. And I have loved it for years. And because I’ve appreciated it so much, I’ve written check after check to the PTO, I’ve bought countless rolls of wrapping paper I didn’t need, wreaths I didn’t want…And I’ve given my time.

Since my youngest child was a baby in my arms I’ve been helping to lead an after school program as part of the PTO’s line up of enrichment classes. When I interviewed for my current full time job I made it clear that I would have to leave early on Friday afternoons in order to continue working with this program that I believe is so important. Though teachers for the other enrichment classes are paid, and the classes offered for fee, my fellow co-leaders and I have never asked for or received payment for our services, and we have always offered the class for free. Why would we take money and charge for a class that teaches kids that they can make a difference in the world through their own actions? Over the years we’ve raked leaves around our schools, visited nursing homes, helped set up homeless shelters, raised funds for earthquake-devastated Haiti, and much much more.

For our fall session, we always lead our school-wide  Make a Difference Day project. Last year we gathered enough supplies to make over 90 hygiene kits for the Robert Ford Haitian Orphanage and School Foundation. Dr. Ford, a local pediatrician who now runs the foundation set up by his father, came to talk to the kids. Here are a few of the things we learned:

-The orphanage grew from 50 to over 70 after the earthquake in January 2010.

-Every child is given 2 meals a day, which is 1 more than the average child in the community receives.

-The orphans have never seen running water in their lives. They walk considerable distances to a well to fill a bucket of water, which they’ll use over the course of a day.

-Many walk 2 hours to get to school.

-There are 16 year old 1st graders, who never had the opportunity to go to school until the school attached to the orphanage was built.

The kids listened to Dr. Ford with rapt attention. To them, he was a larger than life hero. Afterwards they clamored for his autograph.

Dr. Ford personally delivered the kits to Haiti and took pictures of the kids receiving their hygiene kits so that our own kids could see what they had been able to accomplish:

This year we asked Dr. Ford what we could to help support the orphanage again. He asked us to have a summer clothing drive for the children, and so this has been our school wide Make a Difference Day project for this year. While Dr. Ford was able to bring the hygiene kits with him on one of his visits, it would not be feasible to bring boxes and boxes of clothing. (By the way, he and all of the volunteers pay for their own flights to and from Haiti. The Foundation operates with absolutely NO overhead). In addition to asking for clothing, we’ve been asking for donations that would help defray shipping costs as well as add to our yearlong drive to raise $800: enough to support one orphan for a whole year.

When I learned that our PTO began the year (before fundraising) with over $47,000, I decided to request $500 to help fund the school’s Make a Difference Day project. My initial request was denied because of objections that were raised to the project itself:

-It could take 6 months for the clothes to arrive, or they might never arrive. (It would take less than three weeks. Even if it did take 6 months: it’s Haiti. It’s always summer there and sadly, there will always be orphans who need to be clothed).

-They’d rather just have the money. (Dr. Ford asked us not for money, but for clothes. As my co-leader said, “It’s not as if they can go to the Port-au-Prince BabyGap to buy clothes for the kids!”)

-And the worst in my book: we want the money to stay here, for OUR children.  (Aside from the fact that this is a selfish sentiment – I’m sorry, it just IS, Make a Difference Day IS for our kids. We are teaching them that we are all connected and responsible for one another. We are teaching them that they can make a difference in the world. Engagement in service activity reaps benefits for the receivers AND the GIVERS: students who do service work perform better academically, have better self-esteem, and develop leadership skills).

The PTO bylaws state that funding requests over $500 are no longer solely decided upon by the executive board, but have to be put to a general vote. So, I decided I’d ask for $600 this time around. I asked friends who would be willing to vote for this to come to the next meeting (Tuesday night) to pass this proposal. Many people agreed that this was a worthwhile way to spend some of the money that we’ve ALL paid into our groaning coffers.

On Friday I got a call from the PTO president saying that she had heard from a few parents that they objected to PTO money being sent to Haiti. (OK. I accept that people have different points of view). But her next statement left me completely flabbergasted. She said that she had spoken with the principal, who agreed that this issue would be too divisive, so it would be inappropriate to use PTO funds for this purpose. Uh….have I woken up in North Korea? NO discussion? NO vote? Bylaws Schmylaws?! Maybe we should cancel the presidential elections? I hear they’ve been fairly divisive. As my new peep asked (I’m telling you, she just gets better and better!), “Too divisive? Are they afraid we’re going to throw cookies and deviled eggs at each other?!”

“We’ll support another fundraiser for this purpose,” the PTO president offered. This is NOT the answer. I’m not alone in thinking that it is grotesque to continue to fundraise like crazy when we BEGAN the year with over $47,000. Why SHOULD I put more of my time and money into an organization that doesn’t pay it back out?! And while we’re at it: Why don’t we fully cover the cost of the annual 5th grade beach trip? Why don’t we fully cover costs for Destination Imagination teams? Why don’t we buy a new coffee maker for a teacher or replace a ratty classroom rug – other funding requests that have been denied. Why don’t we cover the cost of  our school’s Make a Difference Day project? My husband figured out that if the money we had at the beginning of the year (before fundraising, remember!) was measured in distance from Charlottesville to D.C., the amount I would have requested if I had been permitted, would be the distance from WalMart to the airport (or 1.5 miles).

And you know what’s really galling? Our service group originated the idea of a “Kids Night Out” to help Haiti in 2010. When it turned out to be a wildly successful fundraiser, the PTO appropriated it for their own profit.

I want my money back. And I want to be compensated for all the time I’ve spent leading this enrichment class for the PTO. That should be at least $600 right there. I’m not going to buy so much as a cookie at a PTO bake sale until things change around here. We’ve ALL paid into PTO funds year after year, and we ALL have a right to decide how that money gets spent. I KNOW that there are parents who have put in AT LEAST the amount I’m asking for who would be glad to have that money go to help the orphanage in Haiti. So PTO, although I’d much rather sit in my pjs on my couch Tuesday night, and I’m the kind of person who avoids conflict as much as possible, you better believe that I’ll be at the meeting. It will be intensely uncomfortable for me, and I think it will probably be intensely uncomfortable for you too. But enough is enough.

I’ll let you know what happens after the meeting tomorrow night…

New Neighbors

There’s “junks”:

And then there’s “junks”:

As it turns out, there’s a high price to pay for collecting “junks.” Until recently, we had a cleaning lady who would come every other week to help us avoid landing on an episode of “Hoarders.” A couple weeks ago she fired us, because our house was too messy to clean. Needless to say, I’ve been a little down about this. But I perked right up after an email exchange I had with a new neighbor who moved into the house up the hill from us. I’m very excited about our neighbors, because: a) the dad volunteered (with only a modicum of arm-twisting) to coach the soccer team that both our daughters play on and b) the mom is my kind of peeps…The following email exchange regarding their daughter’s birthday party is how I know:



I’m so sorry for the late RSVP! We’ve had to cancel our trip to Arlington, so T can definitely come to C’s party. Thanks so much for the invitation!

My new peep:

Great – thanks Adrienne! We will look forward to seeing T.

May I ask an embarrassing question? We sent out the invites & I can’t remember what time I put down for the party…any day now I will be eligible for them to pull the plug because I will have achieved brain death.


HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!! I can’t tell you how delighted I am to learn that I’M NOT ALONE in this vortex of chaos and confusion! I don’t remember at the moment, but I’m sure I can tell you when I get home and excavate the invitation out from under the piles and piles of junk on our kitchen counter!

I was telling your husband at soccer practice yesterday that until last week we had a cleaning lady who came to clean every other week. Last week she came and left without cleaning, because it was TOO MESSY!

My new peep:

OH NO!!! It’s a dire moment when one is rejected by the cleaning person. 

Glad to meet another person who believes in the archaeological approach to filing!

A dire moment indeed…

I’m pretty sure my new neighbor and I are going to be good friends!

(Oh, and check your local listings for our family’s upcoming episode of “Hoarders”).

Junks I Collect No. 2: Kokeshi Dolls

These handmade dolls originated a couple hundred years ago during the Edo period in the northeast part of Japan. They were first made and sold to tourists visiting the hot springs. Traditional dolls are made of wood and are very simple in shape. Rather than having articulated limbs, Kokeshi have arms that are always painted on. While the oldest dolls are made of plain wood, modern ones like these, called “creative Kokeshi,” are typically very colorful:

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The Japanese Tea Garden

Just a couple more San Francisco posts…

The Japanese Tea Garden is one of my favorite places on earth.

The garden was originally created as a temporary exhibit for the California Midwinter International Exposition in 1894. At the conclusion of the expo, landscape architect Baron Makoto Hagiwara offered to create a permanent garden. He lovingly oversaw the garden’s design and building and became its official caretaker until his death in 1925. He and his family took up residence in the garden and he devoted all of his own personal wealth into expanding and developing it into a place of exquisite perfection. In 1942 Hagiwara’s family, who had continued to maintain the garden after his death, was forcibly relocated to an internment camp. They were never allowed to return to their home again.

You can have tea and snacks in the garden’s teahouse, where weekly tea ceremonies are performed. (The teahouse is the low building on the left.

There’s a gift shop right next door to the teahouse full of beautiful displays. These are chopstick rests:


The teeny tiny little Japanese woman in the shop must have taken ten minutes to wrap up my purchases with all sorts of embellishments. Tomorrow, I’ll show you what’s inside!

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