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




Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Two Years

Two years ago, a woman who lives about a mile away from me responded to a group run invitation for a run not too far from us. Based on a prior post of hers, I suspected we were pretty similar runners - so I sent her a message and basically said "hey - I'm in your neighborhood and looking for a Tuesday morning running partner". Lucky for me, she said "let's try it" and now, two years later, we've both overslept and missed a run once (I think), we've missed a few post-marathon Tuesdays as our bodies recovered, we've been out of town on vacation a few weeks - but other than that, we've met to run. We've probably run more than 500 miles through our neighborhood together - and I'm so lucky to have her.

A few weeks ago, during some computer maintenance, my running log spreadsheet got destroyed. Ed tried to help me recover it but to no avail. So when Jenny reminded me it was our anniversary last week, it was all the sweeter.

As it turns out, she's a lot faster than me - so she slows down on Tuesdays, I speed up, and always - we chatter about kids, school, a little bit of politics, and whatever is happening around the neighborhood. I can't imagine starting Tuesday any other way.

Elaine

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Start of school

Also from the draft pile - started in September:

Another year has begun, and with that comes the close of summer. On the bright side (for me), running has become a lot more pleasant. My legs were even red this morning when I returned home - because it was 53 degrees! Also on the bright side (for me) is that everyone now has their (almost) normal schedule. Piano and violin lessons resume next week, and in a couple of weeks Helen's after-school class will begin. Then, except for the random work travel and early release from school days, things will be steady. And, as a result, I'm back to riding my bike - which is a great way to commute.

On the downside, my children have both begun their steady drumbeat of "I hate school" rants, which I mostly ignore. Because guess what? I hate it, too. But I'm not homeschooling either of them and I can't imagine paying for some expensive private school (which may or may not be deemed better) when I could instead save that money to send my children to college - or me to Paris. Always, I want to be in Paris.

This year, Connor has a computer science class, which purportedly is difficult enough to make people quit. Hopefully, this will provide at least a tiny bit of challenge to keep him interested. If nothing else, I suspect he'll have the opportunity to create a few games, which should be fun.

His math class is a disaster. Last year, the district implemented a new class for his cohort. Though it held the same title as several other sections of the class, it consisted of a group of very high-scoring students on multiple exams. The teacher pushed those kids hard, and while it barely provided challenge, it did at least interest him about 40 percent of the time. In contrast, a few kids dropped the class because it was too time-consuming, and I learned only recently that several parents complained the class was too hard. Sigh.

And, I suppose partly in response to those complaints, Intensified Algebra has no special section. Instead, it's a group of students from his last year's class as well as students from other classes. Predictably, as I finish this post off in January, the class has not been a challenge. The only challenge is walking the tightrope of turning enough homework in to maintain an A. Connor's lack of organization keeps him from turning several assignments in each quarter, though I do believe he completes most of them.

I've never quite pinned down how much Helen truly hates school. She'll say she doesn't like it, but she definitely likes chatting it up with friends at lunch and hanging out at recess. It's never clear to me whether her drumbeat of "I hate school" is just her reflecting Connor's angst, or her own. She, at least, has the distraction of the school musical, and this year she's singing in a choir across town which has been fun.

On the bright side - we're about halfway through the year now - which means respite is just 5 months away.

Phew!

Elaine



Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Damn Video Games

I realized that I have over 100 draft blog posts sitting in my unfinished queue.  I wrote the blow in October. I'm an effing soothsayer. And I wish that wasn't true!

Video games are going to be the death of me. We reached an all-out low in our household this summer, which ended with a phone termination (briefly), and a website termination (permanently). And while, now that we are over a month out, Connor can talk about my terminations being both reasonable and warranted, it has become obvious that I'm a dog chasing its own tail.

There is no end.

I'm always running around in circles.

Elaine


Friday, January 26, 2018

My First Shot!

A few weeks ago, I was in Chicago for work. I decided to attend the conference, in part because Hamilton was there, and I desperately wanted to see it. Because I have tickets for all of my family in New York this coming summer, I decided I would just get a (relatively) cheap seat for Chicago.

My dear friend's brother-in-law in the house manager at the Chicago theater, so I emailed my dear friend and asked him if his brother-in-law could confirm the "obstructed view" seat I had my eye on was just a little bit bad, and not terrible.

He came back with "my brother-in-law will get you house seats", which translated into "the best damn seat in the theater for less than half price - cheaper than the obstructed view seat I was mulling over. But, better than that, an hour before the show, my friend's sister texted me with the instructions "meet at the stage right door, 10 minutes after the last note sounds" and that is when it hit me that I was getting a backstage tour!

The show was amazing. From the first note to the last, it did not disappoint. And during that tour, I met Miguel Cervantes, who is playing the role of Hamilton. He allowed me the below fangirl moment, which still makes me smile.


I felt a wee bit guilty attending the show without Helen. But I quickly got over that, knowing that soon enough she will get to call Hamilton her first Broadway show.

A week later I was in Chicago again - just for the day. I considered staying overnight just so I could see the show again! It was that good.

Elaine

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

In between...

Having a 10 and 12 year old in the house means we are basically always in-between something and often, on edge. And I'm not just talking about being between the activities we are running to and from.

For starters, I'm trying to grow independent children. I need them to be able to care for themselves at some point, and at a later point, care for me. One of the things they take on themselves is scheduling their own entertainment. They call their friends, their friends come over, they leave the house to go see friends, etc. And while they are generally very good about asking me before they make these calls or disappear, they ask with an urgency that means "CAN I, AT THIS EXACT MOMENT, HANG OUT WITH MY FRIENDS". And sometimes, often, I am in the middle of my own thoughts figuring out how I am going to stack my errands into the day ahead, and it hurts my brain to switch and think about their friends. But not only am I interrupted once, which generally comes with me mentally restacking my day so that I can be home if friends are coming over, I am often interrupted two or three times because they get on the phone and must negotiate the timing of their hanging out. Before they had this independence, I would attend to the task of asking their friends' parents if they could come over when I was ready, and the parent almost never answered at the moment of the ask, so it was a long, deliberate, process.

We are also in between being annoyed by the existence of parents and being grateful for the existence of parents. We used to lean hard toward the latter, and we're creeping towards the former. I remember the days of arguing who had the privilege of sitting next to me. Now, I am sometimes greeted with eye rolls. However, the 12 year old will also dance a silly dance as the 10 year old plays violin and we all wait for dinner to cook. We share hand dances in the car, laughter over the Simpsons, and can still run around the house being a little crazy. Guessing all of that stuff will come to an end at some point, but 12 and 10 are still firmly planted in both worlds.

The thing about both of these balancing act - time with friends  / time with family; time being silly / time being annoyed - is that I sometimes feel like I'm getting whiplash as my brain does a little ping pong dance between all these states.

So this morning, when my running partner and I ran across a little creek, I said "you must have so much fun with your children here". And, yes, she agreed, this was a magical spot. A spot where rocks splashed in the stream, leaves floated along, and everyone enjoyed the outdoors. Her children are much younger than mine. I kind of miss the days of knowing where everyone was.

Elaine