Thursday, June 15, 2017

Memorial Day Camping

I'm not a huge fan of camping. Mostly, I don't like the mess that comes with it. I also don't have access to the internet and my computer, so I can't sneak in an hour of work in the evening. And while yes, I can admit this is probably a good thing, because of the hours I work - it's pretty necessary for me to spend some time in the evening catching up.

However, everyone else in my family loves camping. This has resulted in the three of them taking trips without me, while I am away doing something I prefer. But this past Memorial Day weekend, Ed planned a trip, and though he gave me the opportunity to opt out, I figured it was about time to show up at one of these.

On Saturday, I went running with friends and then hopped in the mostly packed car. Ed, characteristically, did the driving, which allowed me a little time to nap. I had decided to bring my friend Pico to enjoy the trip with me, and he settled right into the car. (Pico, as some of you know, is my favorite child because all day long he sits quietly, making not a sound. True to form, he kept his calm all weekend long.)






We arrived at camp, got set up, and then we waited out a brief shower before heading over to the lake to rent a paddleboat. Having older children makes paddle boats pretty nice. Not only did I not have to worry about someone jumping off the boat, I enjoyed being a rider the entire hour.

By the time evening rolled around, we were hungry. Ed had forgotten to pack some of the s'more ingredients, so he headed into town to get them. As our hunger mounted, I decided to try and execute Ed's plan of campfire pizza. And guess what? It was a total success - and I would do it again!



Sunday, we went on a lovely hike, although Pico spent most of the time hitching a ride with Helen.


That's Pico peeking out of Helen's hood.


Helen and Connor spent much of their time deciding how high and far they could climb, without causing me to have a heart attack. (See why I like Pico best?)

In the end, I'll call it a successful camping trip, thanks mostly to Ed's planning and Ed having learned that the thing I really hate about camping is all the stuff sitting around out of place for days after the trip. I believe everything was tucked back into its place before Monday night.

Elaine


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Middle School Math

In reviewing blog posts from last year, I can only guess that the reason I didn't record my fight with the school district for an adequate math class was because I was a woman suffering from policy whiplash and administrator induced PTSD. But as I sit on the other end of the year, I think it's worth putting down on these archives. If nothing else, Connor can read it later and know that I did my part, and eventually, the school system did its part as well.

Connor had amazing first and second grade teachers. They moved right along with him and when he needed a challenge, they handed it to him. Third grade crushed Connor's and my soul. By fourth grade, he had a set of teachers that cared but, after the school year ended and I talked with them (after having met with them multiple times over the course of the year), they told me that they knew they had failed Connor. The strategy is to teach to the middle, go pick up the students who are struggling, and then turn to the kids who are bored. The strategy, almost always leaves nothing for the kids seeking enrichment. Typically, it meant a packet of work with no explanation or assistance. Fifth grade, he had a teacher who was quite impressive, but in the end, just couldn't give him what he needed.

At the end of 5th grade, students in my school system take the Math Inventory (MI - formerly the SMI). The math inventory, coupled with the end-of-year tests are used to determine a student's math placement in middle school. Connor's score indicated he was ready for geometry. That's an 8th or 9th grade class in our school system (on the advanced track).

The school system assigned him math 7 for 6th graders. That class is two full years below where Connor tested. I talked with the gifted facilitator (not helpful). I talked with the math teacher (she was supportive of anything to get Connor into a better class, knowing he was facing boredom and knowing how bad that can be for everyone involved). I had meetings with the assistant superintendent of instruction for math. And, after our first meeting, she told me Connor could be skipped ahead an entire grade level (which I rejected) or she would get the principal at the middle school to put him in algebra, so one level below geometry. This was what I wanted, so I was happy with that. Present at the meeting were the math department head and the head of middle school math.

The assistant superintendent retired, the  principal balked, so I started down the path of talking with the middle school math coach and the math department head. They were unrelenting. We had more conversations than I care to recall, and with each one, I sensed time slipping right through my hands.

And then, the math coach proffered a compromise. She would take the top 20 or so students based on their MI scores (at least 1100), CoGAT scores (at least 130), and state test scores (these last tests are useless because every child in the class scored 100 percent on them). She'd stick them in the same room. The class would be called Math 7 for 6th graders, but she guaranteed the content would be rich and Connor would not be bored.

With a lot of skepticism, I relented, crossed my fingers and said a quick prayer to St. Anthony. I met with the teacher of the class and the math coach outside of conferences once, and I had a rough patch of email with the teacher which ended in Connor telling her "my mom said not to send this stupid stuff home to me". (For the record, he at least cleaned up my language, but I thought he wouldn't bother repeating the sentiment. The prior evening, as he had done for about a week, he handed me his iPad because this ridiculously easy program wasn't working. I couldn't get the stupid program to work again and I said "take this piece of sh*t back to your teacher and tell her not to ever send it back home with you".) By the time I emailed the teacher the following day, she'd already had the exchange with Connor, and the program never came home again.

But guess what? Once the class got on track, it provided an actual challenge to Connor. The school system kept its word. No one could be more please than I when Connor brought home is new MI score. He came home with a score indicating he had not just advanced "one academic year" - the stated goal of the school system, he had advanced 2 academic years. Which means he now owns a score indicating he is proficient in 12th grade math (the test considers geometry to be a 10th grade class - so he's now two academic years farther along than he was at the end of last year).

This is a miracle. I am grateful. Connor lit up when I told him how much progress he has made. It provides the perfect reason for WHY you challenge kids. I would say Connor was interested in the class about 60 percent of the time, which is light years ahead of where he's been the past several years. It is also about the level a math coach told me he needed to be at to stay interested in math.

Last I talked to the math teacher, she wanted to keep the students together for another year, but it's not guaranteed. Added to the fact that a new principal starts in July, I already know what I'll be spending July and August doing. Because I cannot handle going backwards and watching Connor sit in a class next year bored out of his mind. I need that class to keep going for my sanity, as does Connor.

Bur for now, I am really grateful the compromise worked out. One year of middle school math is in the books!

Elaine

Friday, June 9, 2017

Hershey

Last weekend, Helen and I went to Hershey Park with her girl scout troop. We had planned to have the whole family join, but Connor came down with strep throat on Saturday night (and learned the lesson of never going to an urgent care clinic without a book). Ed stayed home with Connor.


Helen is even wilder now than she was last year, which I remember thinking was pretty wild. There is not a roller coaster in the park that she didn't love, and for some strange reason (overcast skies? kind of chilly?) there were almost no lines at the park. We rode more rides before 4:00 than we usually get in during a longer day. Helen did indulge my love of the bumper cars once, but mostly she was a thrill seeker.


Lucky for me, a few parents that went with us were hard core roller coaster riders, even opting to ride coasters the girls were too short to ride. That meant I had a nice balance of riding and resting. I think only one parent kept her feet firmly planted on the ground throughout the day.


I had feared this would be a trip where the Girl Scouts essentially bought tickets for the girls with their cookie money, but then didn't actually spend time together - but that didn't happen at all. For most of the morning we were a pretty tight group (facilitated by the almost non-existent lines) and in the afternoon, there were essentially two groups making their way through the park.





This is my favorite - since Helen is clearly trying to look afraid.


And this one does the best job of summing up Helen's day!

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Math Dice Volunteer

Many weeks ago, the gifted facilitator at Helen's school asked me if Connor would be interested in helping her out with the after school math dice club. (Connor's middle school lets out about an hour before elementary school.) When Connor learned it was his former gifted facilitator who had recommended him for the position, he was thrilled, and happy to participate.

I am really proud of Connor for the commitment he made. He attended every session and, because it was on Wednesday, he also waited an extra 15 minutes after every session to walk home with Helen (she was participating in a different after-school activity that let out 15 minutes later than math dice).

Last year, Connor was one of 6 students that represented his elementary school on the math dice team. When he played, he played to win, though he would often modify the rules when he played against me because I was unwilling to play by the actual rules. This year, he learned to sit back, keep it interesting for the younger students in the club, and LOSE to them on occasion. As far as I can tell, he was a bit of a celebrity. Our neighbor's son was in the class, and when I would see him, he'd tell me how great a player Connor was. And then, at a neighborhood festival,  there was a small crowd of young children pointing at him and explaining to their mothers "there's the math dice guy!".

At the end of the session, the teacher told Connor she'd gotten him a small gift, but forgot to bring it with her. This really excited him, as he truly was expecting no gift. So - he learned a lot about keeping the game fun for younger participants, sharing his love of something with someone else, and not expecting anything in return.

Yesterday, he received a 10-sided Rubik's Cube -  I don't even understand how to move the pieces around, let alone solve even one side. I'm pretty curious whether Connor will figure it out this summer.

Elaine

Monday, June 5, 2017

Night in - pass the popcorn!

It has admittedly, been a busy few weeks (end of school year rush, travel to graduation, etc). And while it's been fun - it has meant that Ed and I are more likely to plop down on the couch and watch the ONE TV show we've been into lately than head out the door.

Popcorn is our standard snack, because it makes me a feel a wee less guilty than the sugar treats I adore. And while Connor has become an expert popcorn maker, he's not always available. So I cheated. When G.H. Cretors offered me some popcorn, I said "YES" and then I posted a photo on facebook and said I wasn't sharing any. And that wasn't far from the truth. I ate almost all of it by myself.

A few years ago, my friend in Chicago introduced me to mixed caramel and cheese popcorn, and that is an unusual, but delicious, treat. I hadn't had it since she visited, because I just don't see it around here. But now I can buy it at the grocery store. And, fun fact, G.H.Cretors is a Chicago brand so maybe people from the midwest just love this combo? Maybe we have more finely tuned palates when it comes to balancing just a little sweet with some salty? I don't know - but as a Kansan, I can assure you I feel for the combo.

What's more, my brother-in-law saw my selfish Facebook post, so when I arrived in Kansas for my niece's graduation, he pulled out a bag of  jalapeno white cheddar and since we had run a few miles that day, what we did to that bag of popcorn was a bit destructive. That flavor has the bonus that my picky children won't even try and share because - spicy!

So...cheers to stay-at-home date night, and the rest that I need, and the ease of bagged popcorn that - while not as buttery as Connor's style popcorn, is darn delicious.

Elaine

G.H.Cretors sent me this popcorn. I then sent Ed to the store for more. Opinions my own. Apologies to my brother-in-law for eating so much of his popcorn.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Yogurt salad dressing by Helen

We have a LOT of greens in our refrigerator right now. In part, this is because I go to the farmer's market weekly and stock up. In part, it's because I received a few boxes of greens from Taylor Farms. We have some eating to do in my house. And, although I can sit and eat a bowl of kale at work (in my attempt to clean up my mid-day diet, which sadly has devolved again to Twizzlers and peanut M&Ms) my kids are not super thrilled to do this.

Dinner salads are an easy sell - and Connor eats them without dressing (which is how I typically eat them as well). But it was a wild and crazy night last night at our house, and I needed to occupy one child because she would not stop whistling tunes intended to drive her brother crazy and another child because he would not stop his non-stop singing and dancing of the Macarena (which he must have picked up at school). Rather than have them share kitchen table setting duty, which requires them to pass each other multiple times, I set Helen up with some Greek Yogurt, pepper, meyer lemon olive oil from a fancy story near us, and my friend's home made mustard (which at this point I am sparingly using because it's almost gone) and told her "make some salad dressing".

She was, admittedly, a bit skeptical. I knew it would be a win for my beet salad (the greens provide a little bitter, the beets are sweet, so it needs something tangy. I did not know it would become Helen's very favorite thing in the world and would end up drenching her bowl of greens.



So there. Rough recipe is:
1/4 cup Stonyfield Whole Milk Plain yogurt
1/4 cup meyer lemon olive oil (ours was from Olio)
Pepper to taste
2 tsp mustard (ours was homemade,  it's on the sweet and tangy side)

Serve on top of bitter greens and watch your kids chomp them down.

Cheers!
Elaine

Thursday, May 25, 2017

School 5K

Whew - this wrap-up is late, but for the record, Helen ran her school 5K a couple of weeks ago. We spent the month of April training - and by that I mean I ran with Helen 3-4 times a week for 0.5-1.5 miles. One of our runs would take place on Saturday or Sunday and it was our "long run". Because Connor had a band trip the day of the race, he was able to escape training for the most part, but several times he ran with Helen while I was cooking dinner. That was nice!

I decided to make some of our long runs "destination runs" so we would start at our house, run to a dog park, run to the farmer's market, run to a Starbucks to get hot cocoa - something to make it so we could just get out the door and use our run to get to something else. Then, Ed would come and pick us up when we were done with whatever we had run to do. I think it worked well, and it meant we had some chatting time after our runs, which Helen and I both like.

For our last long run, it was around 90 degrees, so definitely not ideal conditions. Ed joined us as we ran most of the course (only it's a teeny bit harder than the actual course because from our house, there's an extra hill and then we skip a nice flat part of the actual course).

Running and photography is hard! Sorry to cut you off, Ed.
By the time the race arrived, I figured Helen could run it in 28:30 miles, which in my book is a pretty solid run. Helen's official time was 28:36!! I was definitely impressed with her. She worked hard. A friend of hers had decided to start training for the race 3 days before the race, so she did not have as great a race. After Helen crossed the finish line, she went back and cheered all of her friends on.

But - the absolute highlight of the event is that this friend came up to Helen and said "Helen - you were so fast! You might even win an award! You worked really hard for this. I'm so impressed with you." And that is a nice thing for anyone to say. For a 9 year old girl who is tired from running a 5K to say it impressed me a lot.

The only lowlight of the run was when a boy in Helen's class heard her coming up on him in the home stretch. He was exhausted, Helen was running hard and getting faster. He moved to the center of the path to try and block Helen out. I reminded him he needed to share the path and Helen flew by.

Officially - Helen was the first finisher in our family. Ed tried his best to catch her at the end but he just couldn't do it.

Congrats on another great 5K Helen!

Before - with my friend from the Netherlands!

During

After!


Elaine

Friday, May 19, 2017

National Zoo!

For as many times as Ed and  have attended the National Zoo's annual fundraiser, Zoofari, it's somewhat surprising I've never written about the event. It's top notch. Food tents from probably 100 restaurants - all serving small bites of something delicious. (Pro-tip - resist all sandwich and pizza type items, there are usually only 2-3, if you attend. Eating them dooms the stomach to getting full too early. Even though I don't eat meat, I was so full the first year I attended I had to implement a "soup only" rule midway through the event, because chewing would've been too hard.)

In any case, last night was the big event, and again - Ed and I met up with friends and ate, and ate, and ate - and even when it sprinkled a bit, we just kept eating (though I did grab a second plate to keep my macaroons that I was bringing home for the kids dry). Most importantly, we won a backstage visit with an Andean bear with our friends, which will be awesome, whenever it happens. We've won a backstage sloth bear tour so many times, Helen and Connor used to think it was just something our family did annually.

I had prepped for the event by only having yogurt for breakfast and a light lunch, because I wanted me stomach to be empty.


That, friends, is the key to a power breakfast, brought to me by Stonyfield! And also, a power snack, which I employed a few times last week as I made presentations at a few places outside my office.

Besides winning the bear tour (proceeds of which go to fund the zoo's conservation efforts), my friends also won a backstage penguin tour. It takes place in Pennsylvania and is only for 4 people, so my crew won't be joining. But cool - right - given that Stonyfield is partnering with the AZA Safe program and one of the animals being protected by this program  is a penguin.

A normal person would've taken a lot of great food photos last night, but it's really hard to balance a camera, a plate, lines, plenty of fancy cocktails, and good conversation. So, the camera was left behind.

Instead,  I leave you with one of my all-time favorite Zoo photos, for when they used to be open in the morning and allow runners through. I miss that run, a lot.


Admission to the National Zoo is always free (you pay for parking if you decide to park there),  which might explain the many hours we've spent as guests there. They let you bring snacks in (yay!), which makes this a trip that can be quite easy on the wallet.

Elaine

Thank you, Stonyfield, for the zoo recommendations and yogurt!

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Whole Me - Prana Discount Code - Style!

Summer has come, gone, and come again - which is, I suppose, the definition of spring. Seriously, there have been runs in 80 degree + weather, but I was wearing long sleeves a few days ago. Friday's run was cancelled due to a monsoon outside my door, and Saturday's 5K was a perfect 50 degrees.

I've been spending much more time contacting my Senators than I ever have in the past. I needed to remind myself of this:


So while the Senate takes a moment to breathe before they start throwing legislation at us again, I'm focusing on a joint campaign by prAna and Stonyfield: #TheWholeYou. I'm making sure my wardrobe has a few new pieces that are:

  • reasonably stylish
  • travel easily
  • acceptable at bot the playground and at happy hour
And I'm making sure I bring a daily snack to work that will fill me up - without being junk food. Seriously, I need to turn my diet back around if I'm ever going to get faster. I'm taking daily walks at work, and something I'm proud of is that I've started biking to work. In the past six weeks, I haven't used my car to commute and I've only gotten on the metro for 3 rides - twice going home and once going in to work. 

I'm ready for summer, whenever it decides to arrive! This dress will roll up perfectly in my bike bag and be ready to wear once I arrive at work.



Use this code for 15 percent off your order at prAna: WHOLES17CHG.

Disclaimer: I was given this dress, but I actually own several prAna outfits that I purchased, and Ed owns a few shirts from prAna. I like their clothing, and the coat I got last winter is really warm! Stonyfield also send me coupons for yogurt. THANK YOU! 

Elaine

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Here We Go Again

I'm sure I've written this post before, but I can't find it. So, just so the record is clear - it is May and it is no longer acceptable to make any demands on my time related to school. Capiche? School has proven itself irrelevant enough that we are solidly in the "just get through it" stage and softball and baseball are taking up those evening and weekend hours where we might've been able to contemplate school, could we muster the ability to care.

School teachers get this. They're in their own sprint to the finish, trying to balance cramming for state run tests with needing to keep students engaged for 6 more weeks. That cannot be an easy task.

Other parents do not get this. Now that I have children in two schools, I have two teacher appreciation weeks to plan for, along with a coming email about end-of-year celebrations, gifts, etc. I don't reject the notion of doing something for the teachers. They're gutting it out - daily - and I've seen them after state tests finish. Rather than phoning it in (as I have already done), they turn on the good stuff. That favorite lesson plan that doesn't quite fit into the curriculum is sure to make an appearance and the willingness to try something nutty is high. But I do reject the stream of emails reminding me to send in particular items, wear particular colors, bake for this, provide a hand for this, and more.

Here's what I want. I want one email at the start of May laying out every damn commitment you expect me to make over the next 6 weeks. I want 1 signup genius that covers it all. I want to sit down with my calendar and figure out a strategy for getting through that doesn't involve compromising the other work I'm trying to do (both paid and volunteer). And I want 1 email summarizing every item that needs a donation - be it a class party, a thank you gift, or something else. Favorite teacher retiring? Get it on the list. Another teacher is having a baby this summer? Add it. Someone needs to use a hot glue gun to put some precious memories in a book? Yeah, that too. Most importantly, if you've already decided on the date of something, get it out there.

But here, friends, is the golden rule. If the project wasn't started in April, it's too damn late for this year. Hold your great idea until next year or summer. Really, people will appreciate it more and you will forever have my thanks for not adding one more thing to my pile.

Elaine