Friday, October 5, 2018

Bears!

This vacation actually took place in the summer of 2017. But...somehow the post got caught in my drafts, so I'm posting more than a year late!

We went way up North in Minnesota to check out the bears at the Vince Shute Wildlife Sanctuary. It's both a terrible and wonderful place.

Years ago, Vince Shute - a Minnesota Logger, was shooting black bears left and right so he could run his business. Eventually, he got tired of doing this, and decided the bears didn't want to mess up his business, they were hungry. So he started feeding them. And while this did solve the nuisance bear problem he faced - they stopped getting into his cabins and disrupting his business, it also created a problem that persists today - bears looking for food at what is now the Sanctuary (the logging business ended quite some time ago), rather than in the wild.

Today, of course, we would never open an operation like this. We know it's a bad idea to feed bears because they will, no doubt, start to rely on that food. But at this point, the operators of the Sanctuary don't see a way out. If they stopped feeding them tomorrow, the bears would become nuisance bears in the nearby town, and nobody wants that. They've opted, instead, to feed the bears the highest quality diet they can, emulating what the bears search for in the wild to the extent possible (no more sour-dough pancakes from Vince!). They do this for most of the non-hibernation months - and guess they feed about 400 bears a year. Some return a lot, some for brief periods (I'm not actually sure I believe that last bit).

From 5:00 - 8:00, Tuesday - Sunday, visitors can pay a small fee and enter the Sanctuary. From there, you can take a bus out to a platform, and then sit and watch bears.

It's nuts. Truly. We saw 20 - 40 bears there every evening we visited. We saw baby bears climbing trees every evening we visited (what could be cuter?). We saw a bear that likes to lounge in front of a cabin, bears that went up on their hind legs and growled - everything you can imagine. It's the only sanctuary dedicated to black bears in the world, and getting there is not particularly easy.

My best friend from elementary school and her two daughters met us there. The four kids were perfect companions, with two introverts and two extroverts running around from sun up, when they would often relight a fire left smoking from the night before before playing a few games, paddling around a bit, and checking out the area our cabin was in.







Thursday, September 27, 2018

The Air Kiss

A couple of days ago, I decided to run some errands with Helen while Connor was at his piano lesson. Helen has a few friends having bday parties soon - and sometimes it's nice to go to the toy store a few miles from our home rather than the one up the street to get a little variety. We moved deftly through the shopping process and had a few more minutes to spare, so I decided to go to the music store a few minutes away to pick up a book of music I've been needing to grab for Connor.

The music store was a madhouse. Is it possible that every single elementary student deciding whether to rent or buy their instrument had coordinated with each other to hit the music store? It felt like it. I couldn't find the book, and then it took a while to hail someone who worked at the store to help me, and it took her a few minutes as well.

After saying no to roughly ten million music doodads (think pencils, stickers, buttons), we were finally out of the store, with book in hand. Helen trotted around to the passenger side of the car, and I decided to toss my purchase into the backseat.

I was moving too fast and flustered, I suppose, but somehow I managed to smash my finger in the door. It was far enough in that I had to open the car door with my other hand to free my trapped finger.

The pain was so intense, I thought I might black out. Helen heard me scream and came running to my aid - immediately pronouncing that she knew I had smashed something in the door from the terror in my voice. My finger was bleeding, I was holding back tears, Helen was asking if I needed ice, I was groping for the first aid kit hoping for a band aid. It was a mess.

And then Helen said "I'm so sorry - do you want me to give it a kiss? Well, maybe just an air kiss?"

It was so sweet, that I immediately thought of all those times when she was little and just needed a kiss to feel better and head on her way.

I guess the instinct to comfort sunk in - even if the kiss is not actually a physical healer. Indeed, an air kiss was just what I needed.

Elaine

Monday, September 10, 2018

Pocketknives

We took a family vacation that lasted 17 days. Our internet was junky or nonexistent, and I’m not particularly enamored with my job right now, so I just turned my work email off. I had warned people before I left that I wouldn’t be available – and I wasn’t. That’s rare for me, because long ago when I moved to part-time, I made a deal with my boss that I’d be available on my days off if an emergency arose. Even though I’m full-time now, that habit is a hard one to break.

In any case, on day 8 of the trip, the children acquired pocket knives. The little one spent a car ride asking, from the backseat, for things she could cut. I sat in the front, muttering to her father “it’s on you to take her to the clinic when she cuts herself “. It was a good example of why having parents willing to take different risks is nice for kids. I would’ve just said “no” to the pocketknife. And in fact, when I was approached, I could tell some negotiations had already taken place, and I made the quick decision to let Ed be the bad guy. I told her to ask her father.

That was a huge mistake. Because while I see almost no benefit to having the contraptions and plenty of risk, he sees dreams fulfilled. How powerful is a girl wielding a pocketknife?

So far…not powerful enough to injure herself, but that bar of soap that crossed her path is full of regret!

Thursday, September 6, 2018

Teen in the House


I am the mother of a teen. That’s the kind of news that starts to sink in a few days before it actually happens, and then continues a few weeks after that. It’s not that I either want or expect my children to stay eternally young. I like all of the stages we’ve traversed together, and I look forward to more.

But when you have a teen in the house, there is just no way to deny that time is moving forward. Quickly.

We’re on vacation in Jackson, Wyoming, and while Ed and Connor make their way through a ropes course together, I have opted to play the role of chaperone to Helen. She’s too young- or more likely-too small to be with them. She’s stuck on a smaller course. It kills her. I know.

And this is somewhat ironic, since just a few hours earlier we went hiking to a rock that our travel book declared made a great place to jump into the lake – at least 25 feet below. Helen was the first to take the leap, and Connor only followed to save his pride.

Regardless, as I look up at Helen, it hits me like the proverbial ton of bricks.

Parenting from here on out involves a lot of trust. Trust that the world will provide a safe place to tether to, and trust that your child will find those places and tether on.

It’s a series of moments when I realize that my heart is doomed to dangle dangerously outside my body, and the best thing to do is let that happen.

And even when I’m not sure what the ending will be, the story must be written in someone else’s handwriting.


Elaine

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Institutions

As Trump's presidency unfolds, I find myself walking very lightly most days.

Some concerns I have are about today - will these children ever be reunited with their families? Will the investigation be completed before another election? How compromised is our government and how much more so will it be in the near future? And note, a friend I was running with who has held high level defense positions said to make no bones about it, our president is compromised. I believe her.

Most of my fears are longer term. Will my children grow up in a more racist, more sexist world than I came of age in? Will my democracy be stronger than whatever is trying to undermine it? Will the US get backed into a corner and come out swinging dangerously? And more.

It occurred to me the other day that Ed does not have anxiety about our world. He is not worried that alienating our allies will be impossible to fix. He does not fear a world where the budget is so messed up we will not be able to provide assistance to anyone. By all accounts - he seems fine.

And so I asked him - how can you be fine when I'm struggling to breathe on occasion - and though it doesn't happen often, I still hold back tears when I think about the state of our country too long? How is this even possible? Because I know Ed is a compassionate, brilliant person.

His answer was simple. He believes our institutions are strong enough to keep everything together, in the end. I had to process that for a minute. His faith in our system of government is so strong, he can simultaneously say what is happening is truly horrible, but also know in his head it will be fine.

That was mind boggling to me. Until it occurred to me that he, I'm guessing, has never been let down by the institutions around him. He's never been in a meeting where someone talked over him and took credit for his idea. He's never had the President of another company talk shop with everyone in the room until he walked up and chose to talk about children with him instead. He is always seen in exactly the role he's participating in - and I know not one single woman or person of color that can say the same thing.

We have all been knocked around unfairly - and each time it has happened, I suspect I've lost a little bit of my faith in these institutions. I have spent so much time curating a world for my daughter where she knows, without doubt, she is deserving of every space she inhabits - that the notion that the bigger world hasn't come along is maddening.

I have two voices inside me. One that tells me my daughter is in for a world of hurt, and one that tells me this nightmare will end.

Elaine


Friday, June 29, 2018

Summer...Summer...Summer

For a few years, we created a summer list, which proved to be excellent motivation to get out and about during the summer. It turns out, a lot of these activities became embedded in our lives, and we've done them over and over. One exception? Picking fruit. This always seems like such a wonderful idea, but the bottom line is that it's hot, dirty, often in the sun - and usually costs about as much as buying the fruit at the farmer's market, which is what we do now.

This summer will be a little heavier on the hiking side than typical because we're heading to Yellowstone for a couple of weeks at the end of the summer. While there, we plan to hit a few hikes and stay overnight in tents. Presumably, it will not be quite as hot in Wyoming as it is here in DC, or we'll be so used to the heat that it won't matter. (Note: it was already 80 degrees when I set out on my run this morning at 6:00 AM!)

We're lucky to be at the point we are with the kids, which is that they can make it a day outdoors expending energy without accompanying that with a lot of complaints. It's true that I have developed the ability to just ignore complaining small people, but I believe they have actually stopped complaining. The one issue that still causes a bit of forethought on my part is snacks, because my children would eat candy and chips all day if given the choice, but I know they need some protein to keep their bodies fueled.

We use to send them to camps and other outings with Stonyfield tube yogurt, but Stonyfield has recently added resealable pouches to its lineup, and that's a big help for on-the-go snacking. Like other Stonyfield products, it has 25-35% less sugar than competitors, which means I don't feel like my stomach needs to do gymnastics to process the stuff. And, my children have yet to notice the missing sugar.


We've been testing these babies out at the pool, at camps, and even in our own backyard. We'll definitely be packing them for our trip. And, pro-tip, stick it in the freezer a few hours before your adventure or overnight and you have a cool treat to take along on your travels.

Because it's summer, we are loading up on sunscreen as well. I was lucky because Stonyfield partnered with a brand that is already in my house, Badger Sunscreen (and if you have extra money in an MSA you can purchase a case of sunscreen and get reimbursed from your MSA, like, ahem, I did last year!). Why is Badger already my brand of choice? Because every year it gets rated highly by the Environmental Working Group.


So, coupled with the fact that I am still trying to spend my money where my heart is - which is with companies working to protect my children and the environment, I'm feeling quite prepared for our summer vacation.

We'll be testing the sunscreen and yogurt pouches in a couple of weeks when we vacation at a lake in Upstate New York. Hopefully I'll remember to post the photos of my not hungry and not sunburned children!

Elaine

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

New Commuting Partner

This week, Connor is enrolled in a camp on Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning. When I signed him up for it, I *thought* it was at the college campus a few blocks from my office. I learned that it's at that college - but at a satellite campus north of my office, which is only important because it means the drive in would be much worse than my commute.


When I was still in the phase of thinking the camp was by my office, I told Connor we could be commuting partners. He could hop on his bike, follow me, and then we could bike home together. I did not tell him that biking home was essentially straight uphill.


Then, I received the notice that this camp was not where I thought it was, but an out of town friend who is sending her child to the same camp later in the summer told me there was a magical shuttle that would take Connor from the main campus to the satellite campus. Problem solved! So I came clean on the difficulty of the commute home, which Connor was OK with.


Yesterday, we commuted together in what I can only describe as my best bike ride into work yet. And, as much as a broken record like I know I sound like, I do believe we have reached the glory days of parenting. He was an absolute sport as I issued warnings about various roads, cars, other bikes, etc. We rode the shuttle together in the morning, but then he rode it back at the end of the day on his own. Yay to me, since that meant I didn't have to ride the bus AND could get in another hour of work.


And then we started our bike ride home. I told Connor we could catch a bus if he wanted, but he decided to go for the ride. He crushed it. And, just for sport, on the very last uphill on our way home when he knew where he was, I hear him cruising by my with the standard bike warning "on your left". Of course, when he reached the top of the hill he was about dead, but I think it was worth it to him to pass me.




Day 2 morning commute was uneventful. Trying to decide now if I risk three days in a row or if I decide we should commute by subway tomorrow.


Elaine

Monday, June 4, 2018

Encore Stage's Pinocchio - a Real Treat!

My children and I haven't been hitting the theater much lately. Mostly, we've just drifted towards other things. But when I received an offer to go see Encore Stage and Studio's production of Pinocchio - I tested the waters and got a resounding "yes!". BONUS: It turns out my friend's daughter was in the show - so that was an extra treat! I highly recommend the show and hope you go see it next weekend.

The Important Info:
Encore Stage & Studio presents Pinocchio
WHO: Encore Stage & Studio—Theatre by Kids, for Kids!
WHAT: Pinocchio
WHEN: June 1-10, 2018
Fridays, June 1 and 8, 2018 at 7:30 pm
Saturdays, June 2 and 9, 2018 at 11 am and 3 pm
Sunday, June 3 and 10, 2018 at 3 pm
WHERE: Gunston Arts Center – Theatre One
2700 S. Lang St. Arlington, VA 22206
WHY: Travel with Pinocchio on his road of misadventures, meeting many kooky characters along the way. From Pleasure Isle, to his showdown with the Great Fish, Pinocchio tries to find his way back to his father, Geppetto. Will he learn to choose truth and kindness on his quest to become a “real boy?” Come and see! We recommend this production for ages 4 and older.
TICKETS: $15 Adults, $10 Children, Students, Military, and Seniors. Tickets are available online at www.encorestage.org or by calling the box office at (703) 548-1154.
My Thoughts:

We attended opening night, and even though I went my daughter went to the show exhausted from her school's field day, she was on the edge of her seat through the whole performance. Here were our favorite things.

1. PLOT TWISTS: OK, maybe I've just forgotten the story, or maybe I thought the Disney version as the ONE TRUE THING, but we were surprised. Multiple times. And the surprises didn't detract from the timelessness of the story, they just added to the fun of the production. I won't spoil anything, but just know going in that this is not the standard telling of the tale.

2. Costumes: My children both do Odyssey of the Mind, and one of the hallmarks of the activity is that the students create everything - without adult assistance. Someone, Encore has managed in this production to create a few key costumes that perfectly straddle the line of professional - yet possible to imagine making at home. At one point, there is a costume worn by 5 cast members at once, and both my children and I said "WHOA! We should try something like that." So, hat tip to Encore here for spawning a bit of imagination off-stage.

3. Clever set piece: Again, Encore walked the line between profession and child-created. When people pay for a performance, they definitely want to see something more than a garage show made with old paint cans and wood banged together. But when a theater advertises that they're supporting children, it's appropriate that children are involved in all stages. There is a jellyfish crafted from an umbrella and shiny strips of cellophane that is fantastic, and a car that rides across the stage and really looks fun. Again, my children and I both made notes about how we could adapt something like this for our own purposes.



Elaine

**I received two tickets to this production, and purchased a third. I highly recommend this clever twist on an old tale.


Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Pay-to-Play

I have brought two significant programs to my children's elementary school - Odyssey of the Mind and an annual theatrical production. I'm sure I've babbled on about both in great length, and if I haven't, it's because I'm too busy during the seasons of the activities to get my thoughts down. But this morning, I wanted to scream.

Our school PTA boasts about the two programs whenever they say what contributions to PTA pay for. The theater program, at least, is one of the more visible programs in the school - mostly because the principal generously allows two afternoon assemblies so the musical can be performed for the entire school. (Our school has no space that a school-wide assembly can take place - about half the school can fit in our multipurpose room where assemblies are held.)

When the program started, I negotiated A LOT with the PTA about how it would be run, and made several compromises so that they would support the program. I put in a ton of hours, before, during, and after the production. The plan was to hand the program over to a parent who helped me out last year (which was awesome, because my job exploded during the busiest time of the musical and absent her, I would've had to give up sleep and things definitely would've fallen through the cracks).

One of the issues we discussed when the program started up was whether and how much to charge students. The theater we work with charges about $7,000 to cover their staff and supplies. We also need to rent rooms at the school on two Saturdays (which cost about $400 each) and then there are other production costs like cast photos and a little party at the end. So...let's say it costs about $8,000 to run the program.

Up to 40 students may participate in the main show in front of the curtain, and another dozen participate as crew for the final two weeks of the show. One of the huge successes of the program is that, in just two years, it has become quite popular - and is fully subscribed. Importantly, it is popular with students who are not necessarily into sports and other school activities. I work very hard to find underrepresented students - though I wish I could be more successful at this.

I submitted my annual budget request to PTA - and received a note back that the parent taking over the lead of the production and the president of the PTA had decided that a FORTY PERCENT price increase for participating students was appropriate. No reason was given, other than "we felt it was appropriate". So...on net, the PTA is now willing to fund about 15 percent of the total budget.

So basically - PTA makes the rules, promotes the program as if they are a significant contributor, and really - is barely subsidizing the program. The program moves much closer to a pay-to-play system, than the school wide opportunity I've been trying to build. We should be moving toward the PTA fully funding the program, given how much credit PTA gets.

It's always frustrating to see programs that I love change. I've seen several programs at the school get downgraded as the original program founder left the school. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that it's happening to this one as well - but it's still disappointing.

Elaine

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Inspiration

Yesterday, Desiree Linden won the Boston Marathon. I was loosely watching a live-feed of the finish line, along with the leaderboard standings. Pretty close to the finish, it looked like she'd be finishing within a second of Edna Kiplagat. In 2011, Desiree's chase at a Boston win ended with a second place finish - by two seconds. I almost jumped up and started cheering when the finish line camera showed she was on her own.

Seriously. By the time she came into view no one else was even close. She beat the next finisher, Sarah Sellers, by four minutes. And Sellers didn't even know she was running for second! In all, US women were seven of the top ten finishers.

But the part I like best? A longtime favorite runner of mine, Shalane Flannagan, needed a pit stop very early in the race. Desiree Linden stopped with her so Shalane - a friend and teammate - would have someone to run with to catch back up to the pack. And on Twitter, when Kara Goucher sent congrats and praise to Desiree - people tweeted back at Kara that she had gotten this whole thing started.

I often think about how in the part of the pack I run, nobody will win. So we cheer each other, we smile a lot, we remind our fellow runners that we can accomplish what we've set out to do. If someone has extra energy, they send it out. If someone needs it, they take it in.

And I'm almost in tears that this is what happens - at least for women - at the front of the pack as well. Today, there is no finer example in sports of how you do it right.

Hat tip to everyone who ran that race yesterday. The conditions have been described as the worst ever.

Elaine