Wednesday, April 26, 2017

National Math Festival

There is no dearth of amazing things to do on the weekend around here, but there's a trick in finding balance. Do we need some outdoor family time? Would it be better to have some one-on-one time? Can we attend a festival without feeling overwhelmed?

Overall, I think we do a good job of mixing it up - and though it saddens me to let some really great opportunities go by, sometimes it's what the cards call for.

Last Saturday was the National Math Festival. Over the years, many people have told me how great the event is, but I've never managed to get myself or a child there. Often, I feel overwhelmed at the thought of dragging into DC on the weekend, or there's a playdate arranged, or I decide the kids need less, not more, academic enrichment. (Though they get basically no suitable enrichment at their highly rated public schools - despite honest effort by the teachers, in most cases.)

In any case, the day was drizzly, Helen had softball midday and Connor had baseball in the late afternoon. Helen had a playdate with a friend in the morning, opening up the opportunity for some one-on-one time with Connor. I floated the idea of the math festival, and he was game.

To compensate for my dread of riding the subway on the weekend (I seriously love having the option of metro during the week, but the weekend comes with the risk of very long delays, which make me nuts), I decided to risk driving. (Driving comes with its own problems, almost all revolving around traffic that's out of my control.) The drive in was not only smooth (thank you, Waze, for the excellent directions) but thanks to a second app on my phone (Parking Panda), I was able to easily find a cheap parking spot within a few blocks of the festival. (At this point, I had basically won the day because Connor is convinced I can't use my phone, but I had already used it TWICE to make our trip easier.)

The Math Festival was fantastic. We opted to attend a few lectures - one of which was mind blowing, and the other of which hit the sweet spot of Connor's interests AND the level of difficulty was perfect. He left with great questions, thoughts that kept coming up throughout the weekend, and a set of SOMA cubes - which are pretty fun to play with.

Most of all, we spent the better part of the day hanging out with each other, and I am all too aware that this is a state that won't last long.


This piece of art is crocheted, and was on display at the festival. Connor not only indulged my desire to go into this room, he struck up a conversation with an artist who had made a portrait using only two shapes in a non-repeating pattern. I felt a little weird snapping a photo of that piece of art - so I give you this one instead. I love it because I love when traditional women's crafts are elevated to art.


I am a little disappointed that I didn't go back with Helen later in the day. I hate the idea of reinforcing that math is for Connor and not her. But, I wanted to attend with just one child at a time since they have very different math abilities at this time. And, she had played one of two scheduled softball games, was wet, and a friend invited her over to play. She was excited about that offer, so I figured that's where she should go. About the time that playdate ended, another friend invited her over for a sleep over, which she was very excited about - so heading back at night wasn't an option. This did allow the rest of us to sneak over to Mussel Bar for dinner - which, if you are wondering, is a horrible place to eat the day before a 10 mile race.

Elaine

Elaine

Monday, April 24, 2017

Penguins...and Yogurt

Years ago, our first South African au pair arrived and the first night at dinner, we were talking in broad strokes about what we knew about South Africa and asking lots of questions. At some point, Ed piped in about a penguin that lived in South Africa, which he had read about in the newspaper.

Having just helped Connor with a report on King Penguins, I wasn't so sure Ed knew what he was talking about. More to the point, our South African au pair had no idea what Ed was talking about, so it wasn't long before we decided Ed had just misplaced the penguin from whatever story he had read. But Ed would not be deterred, and occasionally he would tell me that he knew there were penguins in South Africa.

And not that surprisingly, he was right. Today, I would bet a lot of money that the article he read made the point these animals are in trouble. In the last 100 years, the number of African penguin breeding pairs has dropped by 97 percent. Today, scientists estimate there are roughly 25,000 breeding pairs left. The reasons are many and are not surprising - oil spills, loss of nest burrow sites, and a reduction in prey caused by commercial fishing.

I learned this, because tomorrow (April 25th) is World Penguin Day - and as part of that day, Stonyfield yogurt is kicking off their support of the AZA SAFE (Saving Animals from Extinction) program. They're supporting the program in several ways - but big ones are making a substantial donation and also doing their part to keep toxic pesticides out of the environment. The penguin is one of ten endangered species the program aims to help.

As a big kick-off event, Stonyfield and AZA are hosting a Facebook Live for kids and their parents to get a firsthand look at these awesome animals, and learn about the conservation work being conducted. The broadcast will be direct from  Mystic Aquarium in Mystic, CT at noon (EST). It will broadcast from the Stonyfield Facebook page  You can also check this out for a little AZA-Stonyfield humor.

Further, Now through the end of September families who buy two specially-marked YoKids yogurt multipacks will receive a FREE kid’s admission to their local AZA-accredited zoo or aquarium when they also buy an adult ticket.

For my crew's part - we headed up to Baltimore on the Monday after Easter to visit the Maryland Zoo. I'm not sure I've ever been there - we tend to head over to National Zoo (which is not nearly as big, but is very close). And guess what the Maryland Zoo has?


Even though our visit was cold, drizzly rain, we had a fantastic time visiting the zoo. Connor was a great sport. For some reason, I decided it was going to warm up, so I convinced him a jacket and shorts would be fine. I was wrong. We were both freezing.


We brought a snack (there's even a pavilion for picnickers) and also had some pizza from the zoo snack bar. We needed warmth!


And I think Helen and Connor stayed in here just so they could be warm for a few moments.


Elaine

I was gifted tickets to the Maryland Zoo - which was a real treat, and inspired our trip when I realized the kids didn't have school last Monday (surprise!). Opinions are my own.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Born in China

Last Tuesday, Helen was off at a birthday party, leaving Connor free to be my date for "Born in China". Although we had friends living in China for a couple of years, Connor and Helen were both too young to visit and too young to leave with my parents for a couple of weeks. That was probably our best shot of ever visiting.

After seeing Born in China, I got a little sense of what I'm missing. The movie follows a group of pandas, golden monkeys, and snow leopards through a year, providing incredible images of what life in diverse habitats looks like. Of course, it is nature, which means it can be a little harsh for this mama!

Every time I see a panda cub, I think back to the first baby panda at National Zoo. It was born about the same time Connor was born - and though Connor was the mightier of the two at birth, a few months in the panda was bigger. Friends of ours had passes to see the pandas many times, and because the timed passes were often for daytime hours when most people were working, Connor and I were their guests a lot!

The movie is slow paced, allowing the viewer to really let the beauty sink in. My only complaint was that sometimes the narration was a little campy - and at times seemed to be driven by anthropomorphism more than research. Perhaps the traits they were describing as human really were what the animals were feeling, but I think the movie might have been more powerful without this angle being on display so overtly.

Both of us enjoyed the movie, and I definitely enjoyed the chance to hang out with Connor. We had dinner beforehand and even got in a quick shopping trip since we arrived at the mall an hour before the movie started. I can finally ditch some of Connor's clothing that he has grown out of!

Elaine

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Standing Together

*I just looked in the "draft" folder of this blog, and realized there were over 100 draft posts. Talk about starting something and not finishing! In any case, this was obviously written a few months ago, but I figured I might as well make it permanent.

It's really this simple. We are so much stronger when we stand together than when we fail to support each other and tear each other down. It's obvious, right? And yet, seveeral recent incidents have left me confused / upset / feeling alone.

Helen's friend told me not too long ago that she hoped Hillary didn't win because she wanted to be the first President. This sentiment made me want to explode. Because in my heart, I know that the chances of Helen's friend being elected President are a million times higher if Hillary is elected now. I realize Helen's friend is 8, and she hasn't experienced glass ceilings and sexist undertones at meetings. She hasn't watched a male colleague pass her idea off as his, hasn't had someone tell her she's being too emotional, and if a boy has spoken over her to make his voice heard over hers, she's probably elbowed him or shouted louder - because at 8, that's a totally cool reaction. She hasn't strategized with other women in the office about how to amplify voices at staff meetings (and if you think that isn't happening, read this). I think I handled the comment well by telling the friend I was extremely hopeful that Hillary would be elected and that I thought we were all better off if she was.

And then there are my running friends, a sub-group of which ran Ragnar with me. Every single person did everything they could to get the team across the finish line. It included saying a run was too much, picking up extra legs, our VOLUNTEER - a mother of two of our teammates - switched from volunteer to runner by donning a pair of running shoes and taking a leg. Now that's teamwork! We were so lucky. It was such a clear example of everyone working together and just doing whatever it took. Heck, two of our injured teammates drove the vans (a surely thankless task), one of whom eventually picked up a leg as well. It was crazy. I am so lucky to have these women in my life. Another woman who was doing a different race the weekend of Ragnar has come through so many times when I have emailed some ridiculous request about meeting some random time and place to help me through miles. She even sacrifices her husband sometimes telling me I should hook up with his group.

I was at a bachelorette party on Saturday night and I know half of the women well and some I really didn't know at all. The women I don't know well took the lead and planned an amazing weekend (I missed Friday, which I had thought was a bad choice and it ended up being worse than I could've imagined). I was having so much fun on Saturday that I wore a kids' headband with sparkly things on top and served as wingman for the bride in accomplishing a few ridiculous tasks on the checklist the planners had devised. Apologies, Kent Narrows. I promise we will not be back. Again, so lucky to have the bride to be and her friends in my life. The whole weekend was about coming together to celebrate a common friend. Even one of the women telling me she was voting for Trump (I was wearing a Hillary shirt) couldn't dampen the spirit of unity in the group.

**New material, added today.**

It is easy to get really sad, these days. I am surrounded by thoughtful people working very hard to keep this country on what we perceive to be the right path. We call, we write letters, we talk about important issues of the day. And despite the losses (Gorsuch is now on the Supreme Court thanks to the republicans deciding to change the rules rather than nominate a more moderate judge), there have been some victories. Namely, 22 million people who were threatened with losing their health care still have it and tax reform that dumps tons of benefits on those who least need them isn't even close to passing yet.

So hang on, folks. Find someone you trust, stand together, and let's right this ship!

Elaine






Tuesday, April 11, 2017

5K Training Season Begins

The elementary school 5K is coming up in May, so Helen and I have started preparing for it. Last year, Helen needed a lot of assistance. She requested that Ed (1) have an iPod playing her music; (2) carry water; (3) carry the arm warmers she borrowed from me when she warmed up; (4) carry the visor she borrowed from me after it started annoying her; and probably more. A friend dubbed Ed the "running Sherpa". She had a great race, including a sprint to the finish.

We started this year slowly, as usual, logging a couple of half mile runs. On Saturday, we went for our first long run - which was 1.8 miles. We stopped once to fuel with a Hershey kiss, stopped a second time to see the dog park, and ended our run at Starbucks for hot chocolate. Afterward, we found a Starbucks a few blocks further down the street, which is our goal for this weekend. Our big plan was to run to get hot chocolate, shot at the nearby farmer's market, and then have Ed drive us home. Thankfully, Ed was game, because I'm not sure Helen could've managed running back home. (The path there is mostly downhill, home would be uphill - with a backpack of veggies!)




She definitely understands that it's not possible to just hop up and run 5K. This means she's willing to train, but would kind of like to skip it all together some days. At the finish of these races, she is always so proud - that I don't have it in my heart to have her skip it.



Connor won't be running the race this year. He's got a Boy Scout camping trip that weekend. I've thought about trying to run it "all-out", but I'll do whatever Helen wants, given that this is really her race.

I ran my own 5K not too long ago. I went out with friends the night before, had trouble waking up, and essentially drove to the start, grabbed my bib, and started running. Not ideal race prep, but it was fun. I won the entry - and in the end, I was glad I ran it. Official time was 24:51. I had decided I should at least run a sub-8:00 minute mile - and I came it at 7:59. Phew! 7th in my age group - so nothing too grand, but solidly respectable. Now though, I kind of want to run when I'm ready and see what happens.

Elaine

Thursday, April 6, 2017

The Leprechaun didn't forget us - but he was late

I ran with a friend the morning of St. Patrick's Day. It was a lovely run, and a bit of a celebration to honor a baby of hers that didn't live. During our run, we talked a little bit about family traditions, and one in our house is the annual leprechaun visit. Annually, the leprechaun visits with a riddle, sends the kids running all over the house looking for clues, and eventually gives them a few coins (often from their banks, which the leprechaun appropriated because he forgot to get new ones). As we talked about this, it never even dawned on me that he was supposed to have visited the night before.

By the time I got home from my run, Helen was pretty upset that there hadn't been a visit. Connor figured we had just been skipped. He was off to school and Ed reported he didn't seem that upset. But the lucky thing for our house is, that even though our regular leprechaun failed to visit, that night we would not be left unharmed. A replacement leprechaun headed our way. I missed the event, as I was out running (again), but by the time I got home - there was much excitement. Though how s/he escaped the slime trap Helen had set is beyond me.

No photos this year, but I did want to note the tradition lived on - though in a slightly revamped form.

Elaine

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Play ball!

It's baseball / softball season again at our house, and both kids have gotten a game in. Helen played in a rescheduled game on Saturday afternoon (Ed was out raking the field bright and early, which paid off when her team was able to play at 3:00 that day, delayed from 10:00). Connor's team got their first game in Monday night - just before the rain (thank you weather!).

Helen's team is largely unchanged from last year. There are a few new girls, and several dads helping out. I have mixed feelings about this pile of dads. Obviously, it's great that they want to support their daughters - but it strikes me as a little annoying that they're all in for a sports activity but not big volunteers in other parts of their lives. It could be as simple as timing. I suspect many would say it's because they actually know how to play ball, so it's a natural fit. Maybe that's it. But I can't help but wonder about the message being sent "you're valuable to daddy when you're playing ball!". Hopefully I'm wrong. The other issue I have with the pile of dads is that there are probably half as many coaches as players. And while this could create an atmosphere for a really efficient practice, I sometimes worry that the girls see so many adults on the field as a sign that they (the girls) must not know what they're doing. That also makes me kind of sad.

Every year, a few new rules are introduced. This year, the girls can keep running until the ball is under control in the infield - though still they don't take bases on overthrows. Possibly most exciting is that by the end of the season, the girls will be pitching. Helen has been to a pitching clinic and generally seems interested in the activity. I hope she at least gives it a try, though she has already expressed fear at hitting another girl. I assured her that part of this level was learning how to jump!

Helen made an out at home plate when she was playing pitcher (though she just stands there- the coach does the pitching), fielded several balls, and generally displayed competence on the diamond. She had fun. Her whole team has improved. There was only one call to "stop playing in the dirt" and one girl caught a ball in the air! This is pretty much the most amazing thing a kid can do at this level.

Connor is playing in the same league as last year, but with a new team. Most (maybe all) of his team moved up a league. But Connor's birthday keeps him in the younger league for another year. I'm not sad about this. Ed reports that the boys in the next league up are BIG! Connor had a great first game. He walked his first time up, stole second and third, and was left stranded. His next at bat was a basic repeat, except he ran in from 3rd! His third at bat he hit a single into the outfield and eventually stole home. That was quite exciting, though did leave quite a bit of dirt on his WHITE pants. His final at-bat, he represented the third out and the tying run. He got two strikes, a foul tip, and then hit the ball. One kid scored on his hit and the next got thrown out at home, ending the inning. He was definitely excited by the whole affair.

Afterwards, Helen and Connor played on the playground, which always makes my heart happy.

Elaine

Saturday, March 18, 2017

How am I? Bitter.

The President's skinny budget was finally released. It's gross. Just gross. Cuts to tiny programs that make huge differences in people's lives and giveaways to the people who least need them. And it's hard to walk around these days and not be bitter.

I have spent a crazy amount of time trying to explain to people what particular policies being advanced by the administration and his daughter mean. I oscillate between thinking they were designed poorly as an honest mistake (so maybe they can be fixed) and they were designed by people who pretend to care just to market an idea, knowing that they're in the end it's just another big giveaway to high-income families.

Do you know what I should be doing? I should be working with colleagues to decide just what would be the best way to address poverty. I shouldn't be trying to hold the line, I should be stretching the safety net as far as possible, granting access to as many people as possible.

And sometimes? It makes me bitter. I want to say "you voted for this monster and when you vote for monsters, monstrous things happen". But that's not who I am. So instead, I call, and I call, and I call. I answer question after question that shouldn't even be being asked.

But when people ask me "how are you", I'm not being honest when I say "fine, and you?".

Elaine

Monday, March 6, 2017

B-Corps - check 'em out!

There has been a lot of chatter about buying products that support one political side or the other. And I am all about following your beliefs. But we could also focus on purchasing products that treat the environment and community well - and there's a mechanism in place to do that - Certified B Corps
Certified B CorporationsTM redefine success in business.
Individually, B Corps meet the highest standards of verified social and environmental performance, public transparency, and legal accountability, and aspire to use the power of markets to solve social and environmental problems.
Collectively, B Corps lead a growing global movement of people using business as a force for goodTM. Through the power of their collective voice, one day all companies will compete to be best for the worldTM, and society will enjoy a more shared and durable prosperity for all.
And...these B-Corps cross all types of products -  from toothbrushes, to yogurt, to eggs - and more! Below is a smattering:
King Arthur flour - a staple in my house;
Stonyfield yogurt - also a staple; and
Method cleansers - which sit in every bathroom in my home (refillable!).
Beyond that, I was introduced to pukka teas, purely elizabeth snack products, and Pete and Gerry's eggs!
I even have a certified B-Corp toothbrush from preserve.
Admittedly, it's going to take me a while to familiarize myself with some of the other products, but I figure I might as well try and save the planet with my wallet. Join me!
Elaine
As part of Stonyfield's blogger program I was gifted the items pictured here. No complaints - and feeling good about incorporating the ones I don't already incorporate into my home.

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Arm Fracture

Helen and her friends regularly turn our kitchen into a roller skating rink. It's a large space covered with linoleum, so other than the hazard of various counter tops, it's a good space for this. On Saturday nights, a local community center turns their gym into a roller skating rink - and Helen loves it.

A few weeks ago, we took one of her friends with us to check it out - and within minutes of arriving, Helen crashed and ended up with a slight fracture in her wrist. She doesn't tend to complain about pain when it's real, and she had been lamenting the fact that ALL OF HER FRIENDS have been in a hospital - and she was even born in one. After the fall, she skated for another 45 minutes and then it was time to head home. I slapped a wrist brace on her that I had from years ago and Ed and I headed over to a neighbor's house to play bridge.

Helen said once the brace was on she felt fine - and indeed, when we went to the ER the next day they were unable to see a break on the x-ray, so they told me to keep it in a brace until we could see an orthopedic specialist. She said the ER's braces were larger than the one Helen was already in - making this possibly the only time in my life when my freakishly small wrists have been useful.

Ed took Helen to the orthopedist who had treated Connor. Given how severe and traumatic his break was - and yes, I still wake up in a sweat over it - this was extremely easy to deal with. Treatment would be the same whether there was an actual break or just some deep tissue damage, so the orthopedist did not take an additional x-ray (the ER PA had told us that the the orthopedist might take another x-ray, looking for bone growth which would reveal where the fracture was).

After consulting with Ed and Helen, the orthopedist recommended keeping the arm in a brace, gave permission to Helen to all her friends that she broke her wrist, and sent her on her way.

After a few weeks with the brace, Helen tends to find it annoying, which I think is a good sign that she's close to healed. She was cleared for soccer and has been playing a bit of violin - but gymnastics and softball pitching remain no-gos.


I am, of course, grateful that this injury was relatively minor compared to Connor's injury at about the same age. Now...to sort out the medical bills and determine which ones we pay and which ones insurance pays.

Elaine