Sunday, October 26, 2014

Epic School Photos

School photos are always terrible. I purchase them each year out of some strange sense of obligation, and then when they arrive at my house, I hope they'll at least become points of family humor in the future.

On school picture day, Helen asked me if she could wear her wings. I was the pick-up parent that day, not the drop-off parent, so I told her she should ask Ed. I didn't want to break her heart and tell her no, because she had clearly carefully thought about her outfit, but I also wasn't sure wearing wings to school was kosher.

About five minutes after I arrived at my office, I received a phone call from home. It was Helen. She queried me once more about the wings. I asked her what Ed had said and she told me he had said to call me. Well...OK then.

In my moment of indecision, I decided to punt to the teacher. "Helen, if the wings are important to you, you can wear them - unless Mrs. H. tells you they're not allowed." And with that, she packed them in her backpack and headed off to school.

When it came time for photos, she ducked out of line, grabbed the wings from her locker, put them on, and hopped back in line.

Her teacher was surprised, but decided that it was a pretty impressive feat for Helen to remember them at the right time, so she gave them a pass. (When I told her we had punted to her, she laughed and thanked me. No way was Mrs. H. going to play the role of heartbreaker, which I guess I knew deep down.)

Helen got home that day and told me "everyone was giggling at my wings - even the older children!" She was so proud of her clothing choice.

The photos came home. And they are full of awesome. Definitely the best school photos that have ever graced our door. Even Connor's photo was good! I'm almost sad I didn't order more of them!


Friday, October 17, 2014


Parenting Helen and Connor can be a study in contrasts. Where one sees opportunity, the other finds obstacles. One skips, the other walks with a steady pace. One smiles when she sees anyone, one hopes he can remain in the background.

And so it was no surprise to me when Helen came home with her first spelling test two weeks ago. Teaching Helen to spell is like teaching a dolphin to walk. She is trying to figure out a system, but then all these words come at her that break the rules! So then even the words that follow a system baffle her, because she's expecting them to have a trick. While Connor can memorize pretty much anything, Helen memorizes things with meaning. Ask her to retell a story, and she can do so brilliantly. Ask her to spell "saw", after spelling it several times, and she will look at you with a blank stare, try and sound it out, and tentatively say "S-O-W?". Spelling a word once correctly is no guarantee that it has been learned.

The first spelling test had 8 words on it. Helen gleefully showed me her paper and proclaimed "I got TWO RIGHT!". And she was super proud, and I, of course, told her to "rock on, sister", because I don't worry about this stuff. Ed laughed and said "she is your child", because we both know Connor, who shares more of Ed's demeanor, would have come home and said "ugh, I got six wrong".

Neither Ed nor I can recall Connor taking spelling tests this early in school. We're wondering if they're new since he was in first grade, or if his teacher (who is the same as Helen's) just exempted him until he knew how to read, sensing that they would be a terrible thing for Connor.


Thursday, October 16, 2014

World Series Bound

It was a tense few days while the Royals made short work of the Orioles. Connor was visibly upset the first day, less so the second, and by the morning of the fourth game, he just asked if I could please root for the Orioles on the hopes that the Orioles would make it back to Camden and we could go to another play-off game together. I thought that was pretty sweet of him. I really did just want the Royals to sweep and move on. I kept my cheering to a near nonexistent level and agreed with Connor that indeed, another post-season game would be fun to go to together.

During game 1, Connor wore the lucky shirt, because he wanted to be a sport. Until the Royals started winning.

Then Connor took off the shirt, cheered every time the Royals got out, and threatened to throw the shirt away. Not good. Not good.

Game 2, he wore his Orioles jersey (as he should) and were officially a house divided. I tried to squeeze into the lucky shirt to keep the charm going. Breathing was not easy.

The shirt was not working so well, so I decided it needed to be worn by someone who was reasonably close to fitting in it. Thankfully, Helen took on the task.

The Royals are now headed to their first series since 1985. Cross your fingers that the luck doesn't run out, the baserunners from KC are able to move swiftly, and the outfield continues to make amazing plays!

Most importantly, Connor has agreed to wear the lucky shirt for the Series! We will be a house united again!


Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Being Seen

Last year, the gifted resource teacher at Connor's school asked me how things were going. I told her what I thought - without sparing her many gory details. She wrote back "thanks for the honesty". I'm sure she was more than a little surprised, but I have to hand it to her, she did try and change things. I wrote in that letter, among other things, that I got the feeling my child was sitting in class reading all day, being ignored by his teachers, because he was being quiet and not interfering.

At some point, third grade just crushed my soul, and I got to the point where my attitude was more "just get out alive" than "make something good out of this". Even after discussing the year with Ed and other friends, I still can't quite put my finger on the cause of the terrible year. Maybe it's as simple as the huge test load crushing all inspiration in the room (which has been changed for all subsequent classes); maybe it's an attitude that resources should be spent on the students with the greatest academic needs (a fair point, but doesn't help my kid); maybe it's even worse that the teacher's just didn't care (I have a hard time believing this one, but since I've never come up with an answer that I find satisfactory, this one stays on the table).

This is a conversation I had with Connor's math teacher last year:

Me: The homework being sent home with Connor is too easy. It's not a good use of his time.
Teacher: I agree. The homework doesn't challenge him at all. It's too easy for him.
Me: Then can he just skip it?
Teacher: Everyone does homework.

Me: Blank stare. Thinking - Where do we go from here? This conversation occurred about 3 weeks into the school year.

This was a great foreshadowing of what the whole year would be like. I met with the teacher several times, I tried to offer suggestions:

Me: Maybe the spelling words, which are very simple and do not serve much purpose for Connor, could be made more difficult - so they could serve to enhance his vocabulary, since spelling isn't really a problem for him.
Teacher: That's not the point of the weekly spelling words. The point is to recognize patterns.
Me: And that's the only point?
Teacher: Yes.

Teacher: It's difficult to know what Connor is thinking, because he mostly just sits and reads.
Me: Why don't you require him to fill out a reading summary for each book he reads? That way, you can at least assess what he's getting out of the book. And he can have practice writing, which he needs more practice doing than reading.
Teacher: I hate to do anything to discourage reading.
Me: He read three novels in class last week - a little discouragement is not going to hurt him.
Teacher: OK - that's a good suggestion - I'll have him fill out summaries.

That lasted for about two weeks.  And only because I told Connor to do them. His teacher just wasn't going to take it upon herself to inspire him. Now, to be clear, Connor enjoyed reading all those books last year, and he enjoyed hanging out with his friends, but school was a long, cold march many days.

This year, when I went for the first conference, I almost cried tears of joy. The teacher quickly blew through the academic check list - and then she showed me his self assessment. How does Connor say he feels about school? He is bored. She told me she was going to change that. I believe her. She told me her plans, and she asked if that seemed like something that would likely interest Connor. The math teacher, who changed up Connor's homework by week three, wanted to confirm the level of work, and noted that she thought it was still too easy but wanted to confirm with me before she stepped it up another level (she was correct).

And then the homeroom teacher brought up two issues - and as she described Connor, it became clear that in the six weeks since school has started, the four teachers who are responsible for his education this year know more about him than last year's teachers admitted to after the entire year.  Neither of the things the teacher brought up make Connor a difficult student for the teachers involved. In other words, there is no reason these issues need to be addressed from their standpoint, I suspect, except to help Connor. I know how much an inspiring teacher can matter, and I walked out of that conference feeling like I had added six bench players to my parenting team - the four teachers and the two specialists that will be called in to observe Connor, and determine if anything needs to be done to assist him.

At the end of the conference, I couldn't help but think what a wonderful place Connor was in this year. I have no doubt that this is going to be an amazing year for him. And after last year, I think we both need it.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

My new protein laden diet

When I'm not running, I like to read about running. Mostly, I am concerned about a running injury, which all runners seem to get at one time or another. One of the things that can help prevent injury, is eating a ridiculous amount of protein. According to this article, I need about 66 grams of protein. There are a lot of articles that report similar numbers.

I've been trying to figure out ways to conveniently increase my protein intake, basically not disrupting the normal flow of dinner time. For me, this has meant that I try and make sure my snacks all have protein (or chocolate, but that's just because I like chocolate - and I particularly like chocolate in the middle of the day when I get bored at my desk).

For a while, I was eating Greek Yogurt from the farmer's market at my desk, but they stopped producing the full fat version, and I'm not particularly fond of light yogurt. I turned to nuts and oatmeal for a while, and occasionally I would just eat a boiled egg.

But recently, I've settled on a new source of protein in the middle of the day - Petite Creme. Stonyfield sent me a box to try, and in the name of product research, I quickly devoured two of them.

It is somehow different from yogurt. It tastes exactly the same to me. I'm getting a walloping 10 grams of protein with each container I consume. That's a pretty good chunk of my recommended grams of protein!

My kids would not eat most of these - because they have actual chunks of fruit in them, which have not been whipped or blended or made to somehow disappear. This is good for me. It means they'll keep their paws off my snack!


I received the above Petite Cremes from Stonyfield. I have since purchased my own, and will continue to do so until I get bored with them. 

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Book Club - Dataclysm: Beware of the Internet

Helen occasionally gets her hands on my iPhone and decides to play the role of household documentarian. Usually, it's fine, but a few months ago, I was in the shower and heard the familiar click of the camera. I told her she needed to immediately take the phone to her father and make sure whatever photo she took was deleted.

And of course, she asked "why", because for all I know, she photographed the toilet. And I told her "you must never take a photo in a bathroom". I figure it's one of my better pieces of parenting wisdom. Because no matter what the intention, digital photos have a way of making their way around.

I took a moment to think about how lucky I was that I grew up without Facebook and the internet, so my mistakes could stay tucked away in the memories of me and my friends. That's not a luxury Helen and Connor have. This blog, for example, will need to come down at some point because they will be creating their own stories on their terms, and won't want my version of events in the public domain.

And reading Dataclysm, by Christian Rudder, is a reminder of just how public our lives can be. The author takes data from Facebook, Twitter, a dating site that he created with friends and more, and pieces together all sorts of information about people - information that people may prefer to remain unlinked and largely unknown.

The photo Helen took of me was deleted. And hopefully there will be no bathroom photography sessions in the future. But more hopefully, my children won't end up in a tough spot because some mistake they made gets broadcast more widely than they would want.


This post was inspired by Dataclysm: Who We Are (When We Think No One’s Looking) by OKCupid co-founder Christian Rudder, where he analyzes online data to find out that people who prefer beer are more likely to have sex on a first date. Join From Left to Write on October 9th as we discuss Dataclysm. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Arthur and Helen's iPad World

Connor, like many fourth graders, loves playing games on his iPad. Helen, like many younger sisters, loves to look over his shoulder. I'm sad to report that she can probably play a mean game of Minecraft at this point and can definitely make a run in Temple Run, a byproduct of watching her brother play.

So finally, I have caved, and Helen gets her own iPad time a couple of times each week. She has two games that are hers, which she desperately adores. Her favorite is Arthur's Big App, which I received a free review copy of. It's rated for children ages 6 - 8, so Helen is definitely the target audience.

The game is based loosely on scenes from the book series, which Helen adores. So far, she has figured out four pieces to the game:
  • A music game in which kids can play notes on a piano
  • A smoothie game in which kids create smoothies for Sugar Bowl customers by moving ingredients into a blender
  • A library game where Helen must shelve and find books 
  • and a freeze tag game in which kids “freeze” ARTHUR characters
The game keeps Helen entertained. She only plays for about 10 minutes at a time, but my guess is that if I allowed it, she could play the game for at least a half hour.

Helen is so thrilled to have something of her own on the iPad, and I feel less guilty than I do when she's hovering over Minecraft, a game clearly designed for someone older than her.

The game is nice because it's challenging for Helen - possibly because she has limited experience, but she can figure it out - so she's not annoyed by it. Since all her friends are playing on their iPads, it's nice for Helen to get a little street cred and be able to talk about her games, too. Of course, when her friends come over to play, they don't sit and hover over the app like Connor's friends hover over theirs. They're still running around making all kinds of crazy and having fun outside or in the playroom. 


As mentioned in this post, I received a free copy for review purposes. Helen adores it. And it has rekindled her love of the book series, which is one I happen to enjoy as well.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon

"It's very hard in the beginning to understand that the whole idea is not to beat the other runners. Eventually you learn that the competition is against the little voice inside you that wants you to quit."  - George Sheehan

Two weeks ago, I won an entry into the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon. My goal after running the Rock and Roll Half last spring was to run enough that 10 miles was easy - because when I try and run a marathon, I want to not have to start from scratch. I think I've done that pretty well.

But running is a funny thing. Even though I've been running a lot of miles since the spring, my goal race for the fall was the Trail Half that I finished two weeks ago. Training for the trail was more about figuring out how to move on the trail, than gaining speed. I still completed a speed workout that I've been going to every Thursday since just before Thanksgiving each week, but I wasn't wholly focused on getting faster.

I was hoping to hit 1:45 or 1:50 in the race today, but that wasn't to be. Unfortunately, if I want to get a lot faster, I need to train to get faster. So I went into the race able to do the distance, but not the time. I ran the first 5 miles at pretty close to the pace I'd need for 1:50 (8:26). I ran the next five at 8:44, and the final 3.1 at 8:56. Total time = 1:52:35 (pace = 8:36), which I do feel great about - even though it didn't meet my ridiculous goal. My legs feel much better today than they did after my first half, and I'm pretty confident I gave the race everything I had in the tank. I feel good about that, too. I had wanted to see if I could go out fast and hold on. Not this time, it turns out. But I'm guessing I'll try it again some time, maybe in a shorter race.

For the first 5 miles, I ran the race saying to myself "Why are you doing this? It wasn't a planned event. You could be sleeping, or preparing to go hiking with the kids and Ed. You waste a lot of time on this sport."

At mile 8, I considered dropping. The race takes two courses at this point - one for people running a 6K (which has a different start than the half) and one for the half marathon. I could cut over onto the 6K course and be out of the race a half hour early. It seemed like a graceful enough way to drop. But my running group was working the aid station at mile 8, and after all they did to lift my spirits, shouting "we have a mother runner" and then cheering, I wasn't going to tell them later I quit. Also, I promised myself there would be no quits this year. But mostly, those cheering moms shut that little voice up inside my head, something I hadn't been able to do on my own.

It was a good moment to remember that running is as much a team sport as an individual sport.

This is me at mile 8, and my friend Erin handing out water and cheering.

This is also me at mile 8, pretending I am feeling fine.

One thing I did right today was under-dressing. It was 40 degrees at the start of the race. But I was baking by mile 8 of the last two halves, and this time, I at least wasn't hot! Lesson learned on that front.

I'm still trying to decide what my goal for next year will be. I had intended to take another year to qualify for Boston, but 8:36 is exactly the pace I need to qualify for Boston. So if I can figure out how to hold on for twice the distance, maybe next year will be the year.

Many thanks to all of the volunteers at the race. It was glorious to see the sun rise as the race started, running on the GW Parkway was an absolute thrill, and the weather was perfect.

I look like a wreck at the end of the race, but I promise I did not feel as bad as this photo suggests.

This is the moment after the race when I decided to eat everything in site. Also - note that I am wearing my lucky Royals hat rather than my typical Nationals hat. I was hoping someone would notice it and cheer for the Royals, which is what I do every time I see someone out here in Royals' gear. 
Official results.

After the race, I called Ed to see if I needed to drive out to his campsite with the kids and bring Helen home before a planned 4 mile hike. Joining them on the hike would not have been a good idea. But no need for me to head out to the camp. Helen was a champ and kept up with the 4th and 5th grade boy scouts as she climbed to the top of a mountain. You go girl!

It is not lost on me that I was super lucky to get to go home, take a nap, and spend the day tooling around with no real responsibility.


Friday, October 3, 2014

Orioles - Game 1; Royals - OMG ARE YOU TRYING TO KILL ME?

At the outset of this post, I may have to admit that some of us (me) may not have what it takes to get through the post-season. Sure, it was thrilling when the Nats made it to the post-season two years ago. If I hadn't been mired in the stress of Connor's broken arm, I probably would've enjoyed it even more (and I would've been at the one home game they won, rather than sitting in a waiting room as he had surgery). It was exciting to have a home team in the play-offs.

But until just a few days ago, I don't think I had realized that having the Kansas City Royals in the play-offs would be at least a million times more exciting. And stressful. Partly, this is because they appear to like to take their time winning games, which means I've been up, with butterflies in my stomach, trying to will a victory from my home on the east coast. Wildcard play-in game? 12 innings and bed at 1:00. Last night? 11 innings and bed after 1:00 - but no sleep until about 3:00 because even though I had been downing antacid tablets like my kids eat candy on Halloween, it wasn't enough. I am, of course, thrilled for each game the Royals get to play. But wow, this play-off business is harder than it looks!

But luckily, Connor's Orioles know how to win a game - in 9 innings. At 2:00, I snagged Connor from school, wrote my standard reason for leaving "family", and he hopped into the car. I was wearing the only orange shirt I own and a black running skirt. Connor was decked out in full Orioles regalia.

Before the game got underway - yay - elbow room, like is good!

We had to arrive early, because the best I could do for tickets was Standing Room Only - and while the view is essentially the same view as the right fielder has, it requires a lot of preparation. First, you must arrive early so you are right on the rail. You must make sure to use the restroom before you get to your spot, because you will not be able to get back to that spot again. You must pack enough food - but not too much liquid - that you can survive the game. I packed one other item which was truly obnoxious - a camping chair. I gave it to Connor to sit on before the game, but packed it up about a half hour before the game started.

During the game - hey guy in black - be careful with that elbow! Guy in orange - you are way cool, chatting about the Os and high fiving whenever something good happens.

We were surrounded by O's fans (of course), and the game was a good one - at least until the 8th inning when the O's decided to drop 8 runs on the Tigers and then it was pretty much over. We stayed until the last batter came up to bat, and then we ran out of the stadium. Connor's early morning running has paid off here, because even though he was really getting tired at this point, he sprinted to the car and we were home pretty quickly.

The Os will play at noon today, Nats take the field today at 3:00 (Connor, Ed, and I will be at the game), and then my Royals will try for another improbable win at, I'm almost crying typing this, 9:00. GAH! I'm not sure I can make it.

Connor owns a surprising amount of orange clothing, so even when it got cold - no problem!
Cheers, Connor. Now let's keep rooting for the Royals and the Os so I can wear my Royals jersey - which may have never been worn in October before - into Camden Yards.