Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Wanting to go to school

This morning, for what might be the first time since second grade, Connor told me he wanted to go to school. The context was that today was his last SOL (state end-of-year test). He has learned that after the SOLs are finished, school actually gets pretty fun.

For starters, his reading group was self-selected. And even though he has had outstanding groups all year, it's a nice treat to be surrounded with friends. Nicest of all was that three of the boys are natural fit partners, and the fourth seems like a good fit - though I'm not sure Connor has ever noticed him much. The three grouped quickly and the fourth was looking for a group so the three boys invited him in. It was a nice gesture that made me proud. Connor has been a real "tester" of my nerves lately, so I needed a reminder that he's not a surly turd all of the time.

His gifted teacher scored a few robots from the PTA, so he knows that programming is coming up, which should be fun. Related, I was looking for report card folders a few days ago because both children's teachers sent me a note that I still needed to turn the folders back in with my comments. (My former self used to get these returned a lot more quickly!) I ran across Connor's third grade folder, and noticed he had scored a 98 percent in math...on the beginning of year pretest. I didn't absorb this much at the time, but looking back - all I can think is "just what exactly did they think they were going to teach him?", given their utter lack of creativity in deviating from the curriculum. Ed pointed out that they could've just given him a school computer and told him to create a video game. It would've allowed him to develop a useful skill (programming logic), it probably would've been fun for him, and it wouldn't have required much in the way of additional resources (certainly not anything beyond what Ed and I could provide). Programming now? Awesome. Programming then? I think it would've been a good fit.

His math class has turned into a fun design project that will require a fair amount of math application. He's interested in the project, and reports to me about it pretty regularly. Oh, where was this project all those days he was bored?

I still have absolutely no idea what he does in writing or Social Studies.

Science has kept him interested the entire year, and there's a sense that it's only going to get better.

I remember last year, about this time, the gifted teacher and I were talking and queried "why can't we do this kind of learning all year long?" because the classes really do come alive.

And of course, there's field day, fifth grade lock-in at the school, and a few school parties yet to enjoyed.

I do believe we're going to get to the end. Now...to keep from crying when I say good-bye to Helen's teacher for the final time since she's retiring this year. I am grateful every day that Helen had her as a teacher. She was a perfect fit teacher for both Connor and Helen.


Monday, May 9, 2016

Glebe 5K - 2016 Recap

Another school 5K is in the books - and even with a slightly longer course (an actual 5K, rather than the 3 miler of years' past), both Connor and Helen got a PR. More importantly, I got to run with Connor and he ran a perfect race, complete with negative splits AND a super fast finishing mile, and Helen went sub-30 for the first time! Proud mom here!

Our training was not as consistent as I would've liked. We got most runs in (running 3 days per week for a month), but not all - including missing some key longer runs. What I think helped Connor a lot was a day he and I went out and ran the race course (mostly), starting from our house. This is key, because it means we get the two fairly big hills on the official course, plus one more that's between our house and the course. This means I can tell Connor he's running a harder course than the actual race, which gives him a lot of confidence for the race. Helen and I also had two great neighborhood hill runs. On one of them, she was just not into running. We decided we would head out and see how we felt after a half mile, giving ourselves permission to turn back early. As soon as we got out, we noticed that our neighbors have some amazing flowers. So we bopped from street to street, looking for the most beautiful flowers, which was enough to keep Helen's mind off the hard physical work she was doing. We ran a lot of hills that day, completed almost 3 full miles, and at the end, Helen felt great. A second run was a good long hill up to return a friend's keys, followed by sprinkles that looked like they would turn to pouring rain soon (which they did), which gave us good motivation to run home, fast.

Per usual, getting Helen to the startling line was perhaps the most difficult aspect of the race. Although her training runs were done remarkably well, steadily improving pace and pretty much keeping up with Connor most days - she requires a LOT of race day accommodations. She had decided to wear her running skirt and a tank top (an outfit I can certainly support, as it is my preferred race day outfit as well), but a chilly predicted start meant she wanted to add my running sleeves and her running tights. But the sleeves got left at home on race day, so she insisted she needed to run with a bulky, zip-up sweater she owns. She needed music playing for her via my iPhone (I sing to her, but have never carried music for her) and she also needed water. (I always carry water for Helen when we run, so this last one was not a surprise.) For a brief period, she also wanted Ed (now known officially as the running sherpa) to carry a squirt bottle and spritz her throughout the race as needed. I did draw the line there, given that Ed has only 2 hands and if one of them had water and one had my phone, there simply wasn't going to be room to carry a squirt bottle, too. Helen and I compromised when I told her my parents (who were visiting for the week) could stand on the course and spritz her as she ran by them. (Luckily, it was too cool on race day to even contemplate this, so the squirt bottle was left at home.) Finally, she decided to wear my LUNA visor, which has a built in sweatband, but even after adjusting it to its smallest size, she needed another sweatband beneath it to keep it in place. Both of these items, along with the sweater that got shed mid-race, would also end up in Ed's hands.

Connor was a champ. That kid needs a pacer and a bottle of Gatorade and he is ready. He has totally internalized the "go out easy", but also has a fantastic kick at the end which he proved he could sustain for a long time. And his easy is not that easy anymore.

We got tangled up in traffic at the start. I didn't want to start at the front of the pack because it's too tempting to try and keep up with the super fast racers (who will run sub-20 minutes 5Ks). The middle of the pack is good for pace, but the race starts with a big bottleneck, and that's difficult to get through. It definitely cost us time, but not much distance. The course was changed from running around a field to start (too muddy!) to running out and back on a street. My parents were stationed about half mile into the race, and having them cheer was great. The whole course is out and back on a bike trail so we also got to see them toward the end when Connor was just killing it.

This is just about at the end of the race. Connor is running an 8:24 mile, and speeding up. 
Helen is free as a bird - Ed is balancing everything, without missing a step. Importantly, Helen can hear the music and is one song ahead of where she needs to be to finish her playlist. She's definitely feeling good here.

Connor's official time was 27:20. Helen's official time was 29:21. As fast as these both are, they were both 5th in their age groups. There are some fast kids out there!


Saturday, April 30, 2016

Three Sneaky Health Boosts for April - Barleans Omega Swirls and Fortiflax

In my ongoing search for a  way to boost the nutritional content of my food and my children's food, I happened upon an offer to try Barlean's Swirls and Barlean's Fortiflax. I am not a supplements kind of gal, and my children are suspicious of anything that looks at all different. It was a reach, but with enough recommendations, I decided to go for it.

First, when someone hands you something that they claim tastes like key lime - but is made with fish oil - you should definitely be suspicious. I skeptically dropped a teaspoon into my standard Stonyfield vanilla yogurt - and surprisingly, I had concocted key lime yogurt, rather than the weirdo product I was expecting.

So now, I swirl a teaspoon full into my morning yogurt and walk around all day feeling extra healthy. It actually does not have even a hint of fish oil taste, which is surprising - and awesome.

The second substitution I made was in my banana bread. I was totally nervous about dumping flax into the recipe in place of flour - because Connor is super sensitive about both looks and taste.  Luckily, Helen was the first to taste the bread, and she could not stop telling everyone about how it was the best banana bread I ever made. It does not look exactly right, but the flax ends up looking like I tossed extra bananas in there, so it works. I substituted about a half cup of forti-flax for a half cup of white flour. The break did not rise as much as normal, but it was close. I'll definitely make this substitution again.

Finally, Ed treats the kids to smoothies some weeks. He tosses whatever frozen fruit we have in the freezer, adds OJ, possibly some yogurt - and now he adds a spoon of the berry flavored Barlean's Swirls. Again - no fish oil taste, so that one is a keeper.

I can't say we've had any radical health changes - but I don't think that's what the experiment was about anyway. I do feel like I'm able to boost the nutritional value at little to no cost in taste or texture to some breakfast favorites. Plus, secretly, there's a brand of yogurt other than Stonyfield that has a key lime flavor, and occasionally I think of going non-organic just to get it. And now I don't have to!


As a Yogetter Stonyfield blogger, I received samples of Barlean's products and yogurt free. All opinions are my own.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Thumbs Up

I don't know quite when it started, but at some point, Connor started looking over at me when he got to first base. So far this season it has been on a hit once along with a pile of walks. When he's taking his bag, he looks for me in the stands if his team is away or where I like to stand with my camera on the first base side, and then gives this wonderful smile and a thumbs up to me. I smile back at him with my own thumbs up and nod, with the key to my move being as subtle as possible. I want Connor to know I saw what he did, but I also want him to know it wasn't a surprise to me (even if it was!).

I think I didn't really appreciate this was going on until Connor's team was playing a team composed mostly of other boys from his school. It's a big night for all of the boys, and I went over to say hello to several of the parents with boys on the other team. Of course, as Connor zipped down the first base line after a walk, he looked for me and did this signature move. I responded. And at that moment, another mom looked over at me and said "you are so lucky - how do you get him to do that"? It dawned on me - I am the luckiest mom in the bleachers. (Her child is the youngest of three and he is just much more 'grown up' than Connor.)

Connor is either the youngest or close to youngest team member. And possibly that explains why he's still willing to give his mama a smile. He hasn't quite reached that point where he wants to pretend I don't exist. (Though trust me, he would die if he got hurt on the field and I followed my instincts and ran to him.*) I like to think it's also because I have exactly one cheering word I shout for him "bravo" (which I use with care), and one phrase I compliment with regularly "atta boy, that's how we run". (Nobody else in our circle uses the word "bravo", so I always figure when my kids hear it, they will know exactly who said it. And I do appreciate a good hustle on the base paths, and so far Connor has never disappointed me by not going fast when he's called to do so.) I have worked really hard at sitting calmly through games, even as parents around me are shouting. I leave it to the dads who stand by the fence and the coaches to send out their words of wisdom (there are a few who do this with absolute calm, and it's a real art form to witness).

My only regret, is that I may never have a photo of our exchanges. You see, if I had my camera up when he was ready to give the thumbs up, he might decide not to do it, because it would be clear I couldn't communicate back to him with my own gesture. I'm thinking about setting up another parent with my camera to capture the moment - but I'm afraid of destroying it if I try.


*For the record, he did get hit in the head with a pitch last year. It smacked off his helmet and into his arm. Every part of me wanted to rush onto the field, but I am aware that every part of him was simultaneously screaming at me to back off. And so I sat perched on the edge of my seat as he trotted to first, and the mom sitting next to me urged her husband (a coach!) to go check on Connor at first. She knew exactly how I felt, and she also knew her husband could get an accurate read on whether Connor was actually hurt. (He was not - thank you helmet. I do not regret spending money on that piece of equipment.) Afterwards, he expressed gratitude for my sitting tight, and tried to convince me the ball didn't actually hit his helmet, which made me worry more!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Race recaps

I haven't run a 5K without a child by my side for a few years, so when a friend mentioned a small, evening, local 5K that I've been curious about (Crystal City 5K Fridays), Ed and I decided to go for it. We totally missed  my friend at the start - but eventually found her afterwards, and she'd found another friend, too. That's a win, overall, since the race inspired us to go have dinner and beers afterwards.  Even though we were a bit sweaty, we ate outside and were in a sports bar after that, so it wasn't too gross.

There were no age group awards, but that didn't stop me from looking up my group (40 -44) and then bragging on facebook that I won it! (24:14). The race was a bit bizarre at the start because right as the starting bell chimed, I got a call from Helen and Connor. Ed and I stepped off the course, fielded the call (TV troubles at home) and then hopped back onto the course and officially started. This meant we started behind EVERYONE! I set an immediate goal to not get beaten by any running dogs (goal met).

We wove in and out of other runners for the first mile,  found a relatively clear space at mile 2, and then cruised into the finish. Ed beat me by 7 seconds. I recovered a lot faster than he did, so there's some solace in that. Still - although he will say he didn't think I was trying, let the record note that I was trying, and felt like I was going all out.

While it is very empowering to pass a bunch of people (I was passed by 2 - Ed and another guy), it's also pretty tedious to be running around people for such a significant part of the race. Lesson learned - tell the kids no TV when we're away (kidding!).

On Sunday morning, my friend came back from the Netherlands and ran the GW Parkway Classic 10 miler. I have never signed up for this race before, because it is a huge time sink. You must be at the busses to get to the start by 6:30 (and past runners urged 6:15) and then after being bussed to the start, you stand around for over an hour waiting for the race to begin (8:00). Normally, I would've been thinking about how I could've run 10 miles, showered and had a cup of coffee before the race started - but today was all joy. A large group of friends had gathered to run together - and we even stopped and took photos at a scenic overlook.

Also, because I have never run a 10 miler, I automatically got a PR! (1:24:34). All of my miles were faster than 9:00, and the last two miles were a pretty good clip faster than the others. During the race, I felt tired, but after the race, it took about 3 minutes to feel fully recovered. Clearly, I need to figure out how to work harder during the race.

Photos to come when my friend posts them.


Tuesday, April 19, 2016


We had our best dogsitting experience yet a week after spring break. Helen's friend's dog needed a place to stay, and we were happy to provide it. Parker was the first dog that didn't feel the need to follow me everywhere. Parker was also happy to claim Helen's bed as her own - and in a true act of kindness, Helen agreed to exchange beds with Connor every other night so that he could sleep with Parker, too.

We took that little dog everywhere - to see the cherry blossoms, to watch Helen practice softball, to the nature center, and on our runs. She was a trooper!

She became expert at sitting only on the area of the sofa that I had covered with a blanket (thank you) and let the kids play with her all the time and walk her whenever they wanted.

For Helen's Rhyme and Cheese story this year, she wrote about her experiences dogsitting. The title? Compromises.


Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Seasonal Cookie Houses - Walkers Shortbread Castles

Building gingerbread houses is so passé, right? And at least in my house, nobody even likes gingerbread so it's never as satisfying to take them apart and eat them as it should be. But if cookies and homebuilding are your thing, the folks at Walkers Shortbread have laid down the gauntlet. Check out the Outlanders castle -  in edible cookie form.

I fashion myself a bit of a baker, and I am in love with the idea of making a perfect gingerbread house. But after many barely passable attempts, from a kit, I was excited to go a different route.

So tonight, in honor of the SNOW that may fall this week (yes, this makes me almost cry, I would REALLY like to close the door on winter and start running with fewer layers), Helen and I made our own cookie house. It's held together with an icing made from butter, vanilla, milk, and powdered sugar (yum!) and my taste testers report it was delicious.


I am officially over winter, but it was a nice day brightener to find cookies in the cabinet gifted to me by the folks at Walkers. Maybe next year, I will build my house even larger and score a spot on a TV show making cookie houses. Or not. Either way, the kids are eating this and loving it.

Math Dice

The gifted teacher at Connor and Helen's school runs a Math Dice team. Math Dice is a game for math nerds, so our house is totally up to the task of playing it. And, because some members of the house are supernerds (cough *Ed* cough), we not only play math dice at our house, our resident supernerd created a computer program that can play math dice against you.

And so it was that for a few weeks, we'd play math dice after Helen went to bed. Connor is a somewhat savvy player, but I'm a "blurt it out if you got it" kind of player, which means Connor would do much better in a tournament than me.

In brief - you roll two twelve-sided die.
Multiply the numbers you roll - this is your target.
Roll 3 six-sided die and use those three numbers to make an equation that gets you as close to the target as possible.

For example, if we rolled an 8 and 6 in the first step, the target would be 48.

If we rolled a 2, 3, and 6 on the next step, the winning equation would be 2^3*6.

If Connor and I were playing, I would shout "36 (6*3*2), no, 48 - bam! Old lady has mad skillz" and Connor would look at the dice carefully, and then say "48" and remind me that only your first answer matters. He would get the point. Although Connor has basically modified the rules when he plays with me to be that he has to land on the correct answer before I do, which gives him a lot more challenge since the modified rules allow me to get my best answer, not my first answer.

There is a trade-off between speed and accuracy - and basically the first responder is stuck with her first answer, and the second responder can take as long as they wish. This fact becomes important at tournament time.

At first, probably half the 5th grade wanted to be on the 6 person math dice team, but after many lunches playing the game, I suspect the group was whittled down to about a quarter of the kids (about 20 kids?). Connor made the team, and he was thrilled. He also got chosen as one of the 4 people on the team who participates in what is known as the "head-to-head" portion of the tournament. Students were selected for the team based on their "paper challenges" which is a version of the game where you have as much time as you want to write down your answers and then head-to-head play with other students.

At the tournament, you get points for each head-to-head win you get, and the time allotted to do this is capped. That means, a player who can get through a lot of rolls has an advantage over a player who only rolls a few times. I've heard that students intentionally try to slow the game down when they're against a good opponent, which can hurt that opponent overall. They stare at the dice after the first responder and take a ton of time before either giving their own answer or conceding the point.

Math Dice has served as a great respite from the rest of school, and we are so lucky to have this great program at our school. We'll be cheering Connor on in a few weeks as he attempts to bring home an individual and team award for our school. Historically, our school has not done very well at the tournament - but Connor is really trying to change that.

Go TEAM! and go Connor!!


Thursday, March 31, 2016

Beer Me - oh who are we kidding, just pass my Stonyfield

This has been possibly the worst week of arguing with teachers of my life - and that is a high bar, I assure you.

Part of parenting, most even, is letting go. And I do understand this, but there's a small part that - even at age 10, is being an advocate and teaching your kid how to advocate for himself. And so it is that on Monday, he was given the following math problem (this is from memory, but if it's not the exact wording it's damn close).

  • Jamal woke up to find 42 inches of snow outside. This was three and a half times as much as when he went to bed. The new snowfall was five-sixths of the one-day snowfall record. What was the one-day snowfall record.

I glanced at his homework at dinner and noticed an answer of 50.4. I looked at Connor and before I could even question his answer he laughed and from there, life devolved. 

Connor: "I know mom. It's not the right answer - but it's the answer Mr. G. told me to put down."
Me: "But Connor, that answer is wrong."
Connor: "I know."
Me: "Did Mr. G explain to you how he got that answer?"
Connor: "He said something about snow melting."
Me: "Connor, that is ridiculous. The modifier of importance is "new" and I see he has marked your calculation of "new" snow (30 inches) as correct. 30 is not 5/6 o f 50.4."
Connor: "Mom, I know."
Me: "Maybe I'm missing something. Let's confirm with Dad when he gets home."

Eventually, Ed and I had Connor correct the problem, knowing that there was a decent chance a second math teacher would be grading the work, and a wrong answer wasn't going to fly. We even underlined the word "new".

And Mr. G argued with Connor and the rest of the group the next day about why 50.4 was the correct answer, and had Connor change it back to the wrong answer.

So here's the dilemma. I've been telling Connor when he disagrees with the teacher, he needs to ask for an explanation that makes sense to him. He needs to understand why the teacher has a different opinion - and why his answer was wrong. Presumably, they could discuss the problem and come to agreement.

No dice.

So I emailed the teacher and he defended his answer - with absolutely no logic - so I guess more properly he reiterated his answer, and then said that he and the other teacher had agreed to accept both answers.

And all the while I'm thinking - you have just taught my son that when you are wrong the best shot you have at getting through the argument is digging in, hard. That is not a lesson any child needs to be taught - which a friend of mine noted as well.

I'm still beside myself, but rather than eating my way through this with crap food, I'm sinking into some new Stonyfield Yogurt that arrived in my mail a few weeks ago.

This one was plain - but there's a whole bunch of flavors but rather than the fruit being mixed into the yogurt when it's packaged, it's in a little sidecar thing and you can mix in as much as you like.

My recommendation?  All of it. Because life is crazy and stressful and that extra bit of strawberry or blueberry sometimes makes all my problems disappear. Or at least I get a nice protein boost to fuel a run!

I'm a Stonyfield YoGetter and received free yogurt in the mail. Total delight. I loved it. Thank you, Stonyfield.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016


Connor has become a newspaper reader. For years, we sheltered the children from news - going so far as to never have even NPR playing in the car or home when they were around. When something scary happened in the world, we would wait to discuss it until evening. On the rare occasion that someone came home with information we would've preferred they didn't have, we'd suss out what the child knew, explain it in as simple a term as possible, remind the child they were safe, and we'd pretty much all move on.

Connor is 10. In the past ten years, wars were raging outside our home. Black men were being gunned down by police as if for sport. Coalitions fighting economic injustices were camping outside the White House. The economy collapsed. Housing prices rebounded, at least partially. Children went to school one morning in Newtown and never returned home to their moms. The finish line at the Boston Marathon exploded. The day Connor came home from first grade asking about 9/11 was one of many days my heart broke. What good was this information to a first grader?But in our house, one day was pretty much like the next. Love wins. Treat people kindly. Stop bickering with your sibling. Dinner is served.

But there's a point in life when your child seeks information, and resisting giving it to him will only make it more coveted. And that point has come. We are now subscribers to the Washington Post (I like the NYT better but I figured the local angle in the Post might interest Connor). Connor, in his typical consumer of words mindset, attempts to devour as much of the paper as possible.

It's a real change to have a 10 year old commenting on current events in our house. But I guess I should just celebrate the last 10 years as a victory and get over it. I suspect for the next few years, much of parenting will be learning about how little I'm able to protect my children from the outside world.