You should take a look at query_posts(). That should allow you to filter what posts are retrieved and processed in The Loop. Although, as I mention in the second post above, I am having issues with this method as well.
I am using a similar header and am using is_page() to determine the “active” page.
For my sidebar, I have written short methods that test where the user is. I have different sidebars if they are on any “blog” page, Pages that have children, or any other page. Don’t know if this is the “preferred” method, but seems to be what is used in various examples in the Codex.
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