Thursday, January 28, 2016

Pinewood Derby - Year 5

Connor ended his pinewood derby career last Saturday night. In first grade, he had the fastest car in his group and in third and fourth grade he had the best looking car in the larger pack. This year, he was gunning for best looking car again, and he came close.

His space shuttle received second place and a medal, which he loved. First place was a hotdog.

I think my favorite car was the shark he made for fourth grade. Two other boys came with sharks this year, perhaps inspired by his car from last year.

I missed the event entirely. Helen had a yoga event with her girl scout troop, and rather than being the one hour class I expected, it was at least an hour and a half. I arrived just as things were wrapping up. On the bright side, that meant the event ran more smoothly than in past years. On the downside, I have no photos to commemorate the actual running of the car.

From first to fifth - bus to shuttle.
As each event passes, Ed ticks off one more "last thing" as his two years of leading the boys comes to an end. Connor has told me he's enjoyed having Ed lead the group, although he realizes it might be at least a little fun to have someone else lead the group since he could be naughtier then!


Thursday, January 21, 2016

Smart = Bad = So Don't Educate?

When I was growing up, there were plenty of "cool" kids who were also smart. Yes, we had more than our share of the uncool, I'm sure, but being in an upper-level class wasn't grounds for being a social outcast. And even if it had been, it wouldn't have been a huge deal because the school was big, the classes were full, and no doubt there were plenty of peers available in the class.

Which might be part of the reason I cringe when I hear people talking about being smart and uncool in the same sentence. And it hurts a little more when it's a gifted resource teacher who utters this sentiment.

At a middle school information night, Connor and I went to a break-out session on gifted services. The teacher acknowledged that - except for math - there are no leveled classes at the school. And whether I agree with that or not is somewhat immaterial. But when she tells the group of parents and students that one of the reasons for this is that it would be "social suicide" to identify a kid as gifted,  or super smart, or anything other than a 100 IQ middle of the road thinker, I want to reach out and smack her.

Because in fact, school culture is something that the community builds. And it can, actually, be cool not just to be the star football player who may - quite literally - be sacrificing a piece of his future for the school, but also to be the smart kid who's able to process information at very fast speeds. S/he may solve a problem you don't even know you have.

I could give you several examples from my own middle and high school experience.

Also, it is not lost on me, that this excuse for not having leveled classes is the laziest excuse out there. A child who is gifted who doesn't want to be identified as such can always choose to drop down a level in classwork (if levels actually existed) if being in a class of high learners is too uncomfortable. Why we would take away the option of being grouped with similarly minded peers is beyond me, and I dearly hope there's a better reason out there.


Wednesday, January 20, 2016


Yesterday morning, the forecast called for 12 degrees and windy. I love my Tuesday runs with a friend who lives close by, and I was planning on running - until I got her note mid-day on Monday suggesting maybe the treadmill or the pool would make a better setting for our Tuesday morning meetup.

She had a point, of course, and I told her I'd do either. I figure once a year it's a good exercise to try and run on a treadmill at a gym, remind myself that I do not like the gym, and then hit the streets the next time it's cold.

To my surprise, she opted for swimming. I have not swum for more than ten consecutive minutes since 2004. I learned that I am not only unable to perform a flip turn anymore, I am scared of doing so. I'm worried I will hit the wall with my head.

We arrived 15 minutes before the pool officially opened and still, all of the lanes labeled medium speed were filled, and the one lane with fewer than two people in it was labeled slow. My friend is actually a super fast swimmer, so she decided we should just hop in the open fast lane. We split the lane, and I'm guessing the only reason nobody joined us was because they saw one half of the lane dominated by someone who knew what she was doing and the other half of the lane with me, struggling away.

Just like the first many track workouts I went to, I was unable to finish the workout. But I did pretty much swim for 50 minutes, with only a few brief rests - so that seemed like a good enough start. In fact, I've decided that although I am a sworn non-cross trainer, I'm going to try swimming once a week. I don't know how long it will last, but it just might happen that I'm able to use the last eight punches on a pool pass that is dated 2011! (That's how long it's been since Ed and I purchased the 20 swim pass, back in the days when Helen or Connor was taking lessons and Helen was always begging to go to the pool.)

Let's hope it translates into a faster running speed!


Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Goal Met!

Helen went door to door peddling her sugar discs. Pretty much every door she knocked on had a willing buy on the other side. At first, her goal was to sell 75 boxes and get a charm bracelet. But after she did that, she set her sights on 115 boxes in order to score a stuffed animal. And she succeeded!

We did have to make a few last minute drives to homes where I knew there were no girl scouts in order to get those last few sales in. But she happily ran up the driveway with Connor by her side. I went to a few houses with her and we learned that one of our neighbors was the top seller every year for her troop and another neighbor had met an ORIGINAL girl scout. I'm looking forward to helping Helen deliver boxes to that man, because I'd love to hear more of his stories.

The incentives definitely motivated Helen - and they also resulted in perhaps my proudest parenting moment yet. Faced with a math error that left Helen one box short, without hesitation Connor chimed in that he would buy one more box from Helen. Connor likes his money, so this was a big deal.

I'm already curious about whether the girls will get to opt into prizes or not next year. But for now, I'll call this a sale successfully ended!


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Arlington Public Schools Deliver Another Migraine

I remember Kindergarten Information Night like it was yesterday. The thought of Connor being in the wrong setting for kindergarten made me so very sad I got a migraine. Last night, as I sat in on a middle school orientation, I was awash with those same feelings of sadness - and that same terrible headache.

There's a county middle and high school program that is filled by a lottery. The theory the school purports to follow is that if you give children responsibility, they will behave responsibly. I can already see my sister's eyes rolling as she tells me that some day, I need to step out of my hippy-dippy self. But even her eye roll isn't making me second guess my gut.

Connor needs to be in this school.

Well, maybe he doesn't need to be in this school. But I do believe it is where he would thrive. Which is not to deny that every other applicant would thrive there or to suggest that Connor is more deserving of a spot than anyone else.

Spots are assigned based on neighborhood population. Students from far away neighborhoods tend to be less likely to apply than students close by, so reportedly have better odds of getting in. We live a few blocks away from the school. Of course.

Connor's odds of getting in are tiny. And while normally I throw my hands up to the fates and say if it is to be, it will be. But tonight? I'm wondering if those fates can hear me and if they can, I'm begging them - please look down on my best little guy and gift him a spot in that school.

I just know it's where he should be.


Tuesday, January 12, 2016


A few months ago, my friend Tracy and I decided to mortgage our homes and take our children to see Matilda at the Kennedy Center. We had fantastic seats, which turns out was an even better choice than I initially thought. Prior to entering the theater, there was a warning, mentioning that in Matilda - people talk loudly and in strange accents, and perhaps the audience-goer might like to check out the Kennedy Center's assisted listening devices. They also had printed out sheets with the lyrics to several songs (which were useless because the theater is dark - and though I thought about lighting Helen's sheet with my phone, I decided this was just too gauche).

I later learned, that the Washington Post reviewer had this to say about the acoustics of Matilda:

"... the hall’s sound system or acoustics are so atrocious that they have the capability of transforming merrily expectant theatergoers into embittered Scrooges. I know that I am not alone in my belief that the biggest of the Kennedy Center’s performance spaces needs a thorough rethinking on how it handles large-ensemble musicals, because virtually every time one materializes there, I receive emails from people who have emptied their wallets for the show, only to discover they’ve paid to hear half the lyrics — at best."

Thankfully, we could hear just fine.

And oh, wow, was it amazing. There is something different about a first-run touring cast. It was as good as Broadway. I was in heaven. A few days before the show, I had pulled out a few songbooks and Helen and I had been crooning away. I'm looking forward to getting a copy of the score for this show so we can enjoy some more time with the piano.

It's been awhile since we made it to a full-length musical, and though Connor was once my willing theater buddy, it's not his first choice activity these days. But he didn't want to miss out on this experience, and I was delighted to take my seat between both of my children.


Monday, January 11, 2016

New Year's Resolutions

Helen was asked to come up with some resolutions for the year, as well as answer a few questions about the coming year.

Not shown in the photo below, but my favorite of her resolutions was to learn to bake chocolate chip cookies. I remember a friend of mine knew the recipe for cookies so well, she could whip up a batch without even consulting the cookbook. What I can't remember is exactly how old we were. But, 2nd grade seems as good of time as any to learn this basic skill, so we set to work on it last night.

The first batch was greeted with smiles, though this is something we plan to do many more times. Helen was able to do everything except whisk the melted butter and sugar together and take the cookies out of the oven. Next time, I'm hoping she masters the first, but I'm not really ready for her to master the second.

More fun - she's looking forward birthday! Cool! Maybe that's what she wants to learn to make cookies for? Maybe she's looking forward to me being gone? (My oldest niece graduates from high school on MAY 17!)

And she wants to try lemon? This makes no sense. But she knocked it off at Faccia Luna on Saturday night when neither Ed nor I were inspired to cook. She told me she wanted to try something else, but when I told her she had written lemon on  her form, she asked me to pass the lemon, and took a bite.

She's been talking about "Kung Fu Panda", which is one of the many movies I know nothing about, so this one made a lot of sense to me. I think she watched the first movie on New Year's Eve, so hopefully the library will have the third at some point so she can watch it, too.

Things she wants to learn? Perhaps she ought to add spelling to her list. (Actually, she's a great speller, but seems to have missed the mark on this worksheet.). She wants to learn multiplication so she can play Math Dice with Connor, I suspect.

And finally - her travel plans are pretty impressive. We'll hit Prague and Vienna this summer. But we're all going to need to be a little older to travel to Africa or China. Maybe a friend of mine will move there (or back, as would be the case with China) so we can get to one of these places in the next couple of years.

Happy New Year, Helen!


Friday, January 8, 2016


I'm not exactly certain how it started, but at some point, Helen decided she loved roller skating. So much so, that we went to the local middle school gym on Saturday night, which hosts a skate night throughout the winter. Unfortunately for her, that love of skating did not translate into the speedster in the rink she fancied herself. But the numerous knocks to her tush as she hit the ground that night did not result in her fondness fading. In fact, it only inspired her to figure the sport out. (And kudos to her friend, who was falling - hard - all over the place and just kept telling Helen - let go of your mom's hand! It's OK to fall! That's how we'll figure it out! - Note to the universe, I want to emulate whatever is happening at that house, because it's something good!)

Since our skating adventure, I've been letting Helen cruise around on the basement carpet and the kitchen linoleum - two surfaces that are smooth and slow - and she's been somehow convincing her friends to join her when they come for playdates. Knock on wood, I have not had to call any parents to let them know the kitchen counter and their daughter's head had a meeting. I did have one mother pick her daughter up and exclaim that next time, she'd be sure her daughter had wrist guards, elbow pads, and her helmet. This mom is clearly better at the safety side of parenting than I am.

For Christmas, Ed's mom gave Helen and Connor each a pair of roller blades. After seeing mine (circa 1994 - when I was a nanny for the summer! - why did I keep them so long, I do not know), the kids decided they must be easier than the traditional skates. And finally, last week, Helen made a triumphant roll from our house, down the street, around the corner to the end of the block, and back. She wanted to cruise around the entire block, but I reminder her that hills were probably not her friend.

The verdict? She loves them!  Thank you, Grandma Lynn!


Thursday, January 7, 2016

Jingle Bell 5K

We did, indeed, make our family goal race. We did not get there early enough to join a group photo, but friends we were running with were kind enough to snap us as we headed to the start.

At the start of the race, we saw a favorite teacher. When I met her, she told me she only ran if being chased by a bear - but last fall, she started running, and voila! She's a runner! (I try very hard to not pester her about school stuff, but she knows so much about how to educate children, and she is so very good with Connor, especially, that it is very hard!)

I ran with Helen and we clocked a 35:48 but most importantly - she ran the entire race. Inspired by the numerous dressed up dogs - which we counted along the way - Helen just kept on trucking. I had a ton of fun running with her, and am already excited about our next race together. She barely complained and I only had to sing about a dozen Christmas carols and Taylor Swift songs to keep her moving. She even carried our jingle bells for part of the race! She was having fun, and has spent a bit of time letting everyone know of her awesomeness already.

Connor crossed the finish line at 30:28 (last year he ran this same course at 33 and change). Not his goal, and he was bummed at first, but he basically ran once a week to get that time. After a few hours had passed, he decided he was pretty happy. But before getting to that point,  he had pretty much decided he should just quit running. In Connor's world, there is progress and there is failure. And once you find failure (real or imagined), it is time to turn back. Mostly. This is something I'm trying to work with him on - and running is a good place because I fail to meet my goals pretty regularly. But I still love getting out there.

The best part of this race was that Shake Shack opened early and everyone at the race got a free drink. I wasn't going to tell the kids this, thinking I'd just cash the coupons for lunch someday, but Ed mentioned it - and that was enough to inspire our trek to get our prize.

Same time next year, gang.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Favorite Running Photos

I ran about 1,400 miles in 2015. I ran almost all of those miles with friends, several of whom I started running with during the year. My first run with my current running partners was to go see the Cherry Blossoms - and that resulted in one of my all-time favorite running photos (upper right hand corner in front of the Lincoln). To my eye, we look like Charlie's Angels (a show I used to watch in my piano teacher's basement during my sister's lesson).

Another favorite from last year was our Christmas lights run, which we set off early to do in hopes that a few of the DC trees would still be lit. The sun was rising over the Washington monument, which inspired one of the many "jumpie" photos we took over the course of the year. For whatever reason, my timing is terrible - and I probably don't jump that high, I am regularly not in sync with the other jumpers. But on this day, I nailed it, and the photo totally makes me smile because of the memories that it holds.

That's me on the far right with my belly hanging out!
And finally, possibly my favorite of them all is one we took with Albert Einstein on Courtney's last long run. I miss her, still. But I can't find the photo - so I'll have to just remember it for now.


Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Running with my Brother-in-Law

My sister's husband took up running last year. The great thing about my brother-in-law taking up anything is that he does not mess around. He dives full-stop into the new hobby and doesn't look back. He completed a half marathon last year and is already training for a full in the spring. He's in Kansas, so this will mean he'll be doing a fair amount of training in bad weather conditions. The good thing about that (and I speak from my own experience last year), is that all of those bad days will really show him that he can run in anything.

Over Thanksgiving, my whole family came to visit - which was a huge treat for me. It not only inspired us to go on the Mount Vernon candlelight tour, which I loved and was something new to take my parents to, it got me out the door for a 5 miler Turkey Trot.

I'm not exactly sure what my brother-in-law's goal pace was, but at some point I decided we simply could not spend more than 50 minutes running. And we didn't! We crossed the finish line at just over 49:30. It was such a joy to run with my brother-in-law, and also fun to see a friend out cheering whose home is along the course. At one point, I sprinted in front a bit. I wanted to catch a good running photo - and while I'm not sure I did that, I at least got a running photo.

Here's to many more runs in both our futures!

Before the race.

Guessing this is mile 4.5 or so - you can see my brother-in-law is not dying, though he is definitely hot. The course was very sunny, making it much warmer than anticipated. I figure we can knock it down to 45:00 the next time we run a five miler.


Monday, January 4, 2016

Channeling Energy

Connor loves his electronic devices. He also loves jumping on the trampoline, playing baseball and soccer, running around in the backyard, and climbing - but if he had no limits on what he was going to do - he'd choose electronics and then books.

I don't really want him on devices all the time - I still think breathing air outside, interacting with people, and creative thinking are good things. But, I also don't like telling him he can't do his favorite things, especially when he's got a long string of days where he's under the daily time limit Ed and I set for him on electronic game playing.

So, we've opted to try and channel Connor's electronic energy into something more creative than racing pods, blowing things up, and whatever else it is Connor does on his iPad / 3DS / xBox. Enter - Jamtech. This one day program offered Connor the chance to build a video game in a day. It's a long and intense day, and it's really designed for someone older than Connor - though elementary students are invited to attend as long as they have an adult with them.

Ed attended with Connor. Either of us can program, but my sense is that Ed enjoys it more than I do. Also, the event was right after Ed got over being sick, so sitting and coding was probably a better option for him than chasing Helen around all day.

They came home with a game that has been reasonably fun to play. But more importantly, Connor decided to create another game to give to his cousins for Christmas. And since one of his cousins got a laptop for Christmas, it might work out to be a nice little combo.

I was impressed that Connor came up with the task on his own - and then pretty much completed it on his own (though there was a problem moving the game from developer to player mode which Ed and his brother resolved on Christmas Eve).

Here's to more coding in 2016!