Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Assisted Reading with Brainzy!

A few mornings ago, I spent time in Helen's classroom. She showed me she starts her day by finding any place in the classroom she likes (she prefers the floor by the front door, which gives her access to all the comings and goings of the room, and is more comfortable than her desk chair). She then opens up one of her "just right books" that have been assembled for her in a cardboard box and starts reading.

She proudly read two of her books to me and was ready to read a third, but by that time, the classroom teacher was ready for me to take on the day's photocopying and pencil sharpening. As I was listening to Helen read, I noticed that she's getting pretty good - though she is nowhere close to being able to read her favorite books yet.

Enter Brainzy. Brainzy is an online site full of games designed to enhance reading and math skills for children ages 3 - 7. Although Helen is at the top of the age range, there's plenty for her to do on the reading side, since this year is her first introduction to reading. Helen has been testing out the various games for me and gives them a big thumbs up!

Helen loves the games for two reasons. First, there are sequenced levels that she enjoys playing through. The games are interesting to her, and definitely require her to think about various aspects of reading - initial sounds, rhyming words, and ending sounds. Second, she is very much aware that Connor has iPad time allocated to him each day, and she very much desires some time of her own. Using Brainzy makes me feel a little less guilty about sitting her in front of a screen, since she does need to practice her reading.

In addition, there are many read along stories which Helen has enjoyed listening to.

Brainzy is a subscription service that would make a nice holiday gift for young children in your life. With over 300 math and reading activities, there's bound to be something the child in your life will like - plus, it doesn't add to the pile of toys and clutter that live in most homes with children!

There are subscriptions for both students in teachers. More details can be found here: Helen uses Brainzy on her iPad, but she's also tested it out on my laptop. Some of the games seems to work a little better on the laptop, just because Helen can move the mouse around a little easier.

Happy holidays!

Disclosure: Helen has been testing out a copy of Brainzy that I was gifted. Thank you,!

Saturday, December 13, 2014

National Botanic Gardens

Every year, we visit the National Botanic Gardens several times over the winter holidays. They have an amazing train display, and even though Connor's love of trains is not as strong as it once was, he still digs it.

I don't know if it was getting out of school early, the sunny day, or just the memory of trips in the past - but our trip this year might have been the best yet. Because it was a weekday afternoon, a few weeks before Christmas, there was almost no crowd when we arrived. Helen and Connor were eager to ham it up for the camera, and insisted on going through the display twice. On our second loop, we ran into several friends from school, which is something that doesn't happen often in our crowded city.

While in the display, Connor even tried to help Helen view a small piece that was above her head.

We made a quick pass through the rest of the gardens as well, and as soon as Connor realized Helen had stopped to be photographed in the mist, he put on his goofy smile and stood tall.

We found the big Christmas tree on the other end of the Gardens, which was next to a train. Such fun.


Thursday, December 11, 2014

1,000 Miles - and Resolutions Met!

This year, I had two running related resolutions: Run a half marathon in sub-9 minute miles; run 1,000 (sometime between when I posted these resolutions and when I signed up for the Moms Run This Town miles club, my goal switched from 750 to 1,000 - so the record here shows 750, but I was gunning for 1,000).

I ran a sub-9 minute half marathon in March (8:58) and again a few months ago (8:36). Today, at the weekly track workout which I have missed only one time when I've been in town (and I was very sick that morning), I crossed off my second goal of running 1,000 miles. By the end of the year, I'll add another 75 - 100. For perspective, that is like running from my current home in Arlington, VA to my childhood home in Topeka, KS.

In doing this, I have worn out one pair of running shoes completely, and another is very close behind. I acquired six or seven other pairs of shoes that I rotate through - depending on when I last wore the shoe, terrain, weather, and speed goal for the run. More than once, I have heard Helen exclaim "Mom has another pair of running shoes". I'm somewhat convinced that rotating through similar shoes with small differences helps keep me injury free. And my general mantra is that another pair of running shoes is a lot cheaper than knee surgery.

Had I not decided to run a marathon in the spring, I'm pretty sure I would take the rest of the year off. But instead, I'll be meeting a friend at 5:30 tomorrow morning to kick off the final miles of the year.


Monday, December 8, 2014

Bucket Lists

As part of a school literacy week project, both Helen and Connor had the opportunity to write bucket lists. Their bucket lists were to include 10 things they wanted to do prior to turning 12. With only 2.5 years left, I'm pretty sure we won't hit everything for Connor - but they both have a fighting change of getting through several.

Connor's list:

1. Stay awake for 24 hours in a row. (Maybe he's thinking of another international flight?)
2. Run a half marathon. (This would be fun! And doable! We're going to shoot for a 10K this fall.)
3. Stay with just my grandparents for 3 weeks. (Ahem, Grandma Carlene and Grandpa Rodney - maybe you shouldn't have made things so fun this past summer.)
4. Climb to the top of the Eiffel Tower (Oh lord - do you not remember how tiring it was to get to the first level a year and a half ago?)
5. Get taller than my mom. (A virtual guarantee, though maybe not before age 12.)
6. Eat 5 muffins in 1 meal. (Ick.)
7. Get $2,000. (Better get the raking business going again - and remember to take out the trash every week to get your allowance!)
8. Get a 30 game winning streak in Pokemon. (I seem to be able to lose no matter what deck we play with, but I'm not sure I'm ready for this.)
9. Run an 8:30 mile. (I think he's already done this - but he'll certainly be doing it consistently by spring.)
10. Go on a roller coaster that goes upside down. (Calling cousin Emily and Uncle Bill!)

Helen's list:
1. I want to climb to the top of the Washington monument. (Lucky day! I learned last week that they are opening tours to walk DOWN the steps in the near future. Not quite the dream, but close.)
2. I want to get taller than my mom. (Fat chance, sister. You're a peanut just like me.)
3. I want to get a job. (Boom! I support that - although by 12 might be a bit of a stretch.)
4. I want to stay up all night. (Ugh. This does not bring out the best in you, Helen.)
5. Jump off a moving swing. (Should I up the MSA for next year?)
6. I want to do a cartwheel. (You will. Probably in a few weeks.)
7. Go on a roller coaster that goes upside down. (Calling cousin Emily and Uncle Bill again!)
8. Go to Ohio. (?)
9. Learn how to read. (You're almost there!)
10. On violin, learn 110 more pieces. (This will be fun! You've got 2 already with 1 more close behind.)


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Jingle All the Way - Family 5K

This morning, I ran Helen's first 5K with her. It was a crazy amount of fun for me. We started out with a friend of hers, but he was traveling a bit faster than we were going to manage. From running with Ed in the morning off and on, Helen has learned that it's best to find a pace you can hold, and then stay the course. So rather than burning out trying to keep up, she just kept putting one foot in front of the other and let him go.

And at about mile 0.5 she asked, "have we gone a mile yet?", which is the running equivalent of asking "are were there yet" as your family heads off on summer vacation, and you haven't even escaped the city limits. No, not a mile, Helen, but we are so strong.

I sang about every holiday song I know. Helen was inspired by every baby she saw being pushed in a buggy, and we laughed a lot at the silly costumes people were wearing and all the dogs running. Extra points if the dog had on reindeer antlers!

By the time we saw a man running around with cracked eggs falling out of an egg carton, only Helen was able to shout "SIX GEESE A-LAYING", which I thought was pretty clever. We had previously seen 4 Calling Birds.

At mile 1.3, I was pretty confident Helen had run further than she ever had before, so I cheered her "distance PR". Shortly after that, she started complaining about:
  • being unable to breathe
  • her foot hurting
  • her shoulder hurting
  • and so many other aching body parts that I can't even remember them all.
I just smiled and cheered her forward, shaking my jingle bells. Two or three times, we had to walk. Helen just could not fathom running any further. Before we started walking, I would ask her to name the point when we would start running, and every time she picked up the pace before that agreed up on point - always because a dog or baby passed us that she just had to get a closer look at.

Helen crossed the line with a net time of 39:14, which is an average pace of 12:38. According to my watch, we ran positive splits - slowing down just a little bit with each mile, which was to be expected. Helen sprinted across the finish line, and she is really proud of herself. She plans to write a story about the race in Writer's Workshop at her school tomorrow, and I am very much looking forward to her version of events.

Connor and Ed ran the race together. Ed reports that Connor held a steady pace for the whole race, and at the end - Connor was not even particularly tired. I told him that meant he could've gone faster, but Ed preaches slow and steady, and it was definitely a fun race for Connor. I'm not sure what exactly the men of the family talked about, but I understand they talked through the whole thing. During the last mile, Ed had to swipe Connor's stocking cap off, for fear the little dude would overheat. Ed was worried about Connor's red face. Connor's goal was to beat last year's pace of 11:53 minute miles. And he did! This year, Connor crossed the line at 33:23, which is an average pace of 10:45. 

Bravo, all! I failed to capture any in-race photos, but I got everyone to pretend to run in our sitting room, sans the hats we all wore. Helen insisted we pretend like we were running.

Our recovery food was Stonyfield vanilla yogurt, with granola crumbled on top of Helen's two bowls and cinnamon added to Connor's three bowls! They thought we might run out of yogurt - but there's more where that came from! 

About halfway through the race, Helen asked if we could go to Pinkberry, a nearby frozen yogurt shop, afterwards. And while ice cream on a cold day might not be the first treat I think of, there was no way I was going to disappoint Helen during the race. So yes we can go to Pinkberry, Helen! It sounds like a fantastic idea.

The sweetest moment of the whole experience came at the end of the race. Connor congratulated Helen and told her "You have the family 5K record for 7 year olds"! Which is, he pointed out, a title she will hold forever since there will be no more 7 year olds in our home.

Disclosure: This post was created in partnership with Stonyfield. All opinions are my own. Stonyfield was a sponsor of the Boston Marathon last year, which makes me love them even more than I previously did.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Scarf

This past summer, I taught Helen how to knit. She started with some size 10 wooden needles and a ball of shiny light blue yarn that she selected from her box of yarn. We cast on 15 stitches together, and away she went.

When she had free time in our vacation house, she'd pick up her needles.

When we were in the car, she picked up her needles. When she wasn't knitting, she would ponder just what would happen to the scarf she was making. Eventually, she decided that it would be a gift for someone in the family. And then, not wanting to upset anyone, she thought maybe Ed and I could share the scarf. That would be fine, of course.

She made a lot of progress on that vacation. When she came home, she often settled into other projects, but continued to make progress on what was now becoming a pretty decent length scarf.

A few weeks ago, she picked up those needles and starting knitting like it was her job.

And just a few days ago, we cast those 15 stitches off, together, tied on some tassels, and admired this!

By this time, Helen had decided the scarf should be a Christmas present for the whole family, including herself. So she carefully wrapped it up, placed it under the tree, and addressed a card to everyone from the "Christmas Fairy". Connor pointed out that we could all tell it was her handwriting on the package, which was a jerk thing for him to do, but Helen is pretty resilient, so she was over it quickly.

She made it exactly one day before telling everyone it was time to open the present.

She read the card, convincingly stumbling over some of the words she had written.

Even Connor was impressed! And Helen proceeded to wear the scarf the next day. Then it got warm again, and nobody wore the scarf.

This morning, Helen was looking in our winter gear box and remarked "I think I'm the only one who has actually worn the family scarf". So I told her "I would love to wear it today", to which she replied "I already have it on for today".

So, um, no - Helen, nobody has worn the scarf on a day when it was over 60 degrees, but tomorrow, I'm planning on racing you to the gear box and draping your beautiful handwork around my neck!


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Dark Days - New Lights

Ed and I have been in our home for almost six years now. When we moved in, we took care of the biggest issues - adding central air conditioning, replacing inefficient windows - and over time, we've ticked several other items off our list from redoing all three bathrooms in the home to painting the kitchen orange (I still swoon when I see those walls, even though they do not match the floor that I still dream of replacing).

I can feel energy building for a few winter projects, almost all of which revolve around creating brighter spaces.

  • Replace the ceiling fans either by getting rid of them entirely, or updating them to something a little less junky than what we have. While the current fans are functional, two of them lacked lighting when we moved in (Ed has added light attachments to them), and none of the four are particularly appealing. The last family needed them to help out with the window / wall unit air conditioning, but we don't seem to use them that often. This feels like a project that will cost more than it's actually worth to any buyer, but will make us a little happier.
  • Replace the fireplace mantel. Right now, the mantel is a horizontal fixture above the very old and dirty bricks. I'm convinced that if we had a mantle that fully encased the brickwork, so included pieces that went from the horizontal shelf to the floor, the room would instantly look brighter. If that doesn't work, we might tile over the brick as well. This feels like a big bang for the buck sort of project.
  • Replace the knobs on the cabinets in the kitchen. Ours our gold, and dingy, and you can scrape black gummy dirt off them if you are feeling particularly bored. I would like to switch them to brushed nickel, which should be brighter, and will match the ceiling fans we purchase. This also feels like a big bang for the buck project, but maybe I'm underestimating the cost of knobs.
  • And finally, after balancing precariously on a chair to replace a bulb in one of the ceiling fans, only to have Ed come lend a hand as a piece of the ceiling fan almost fell on my head, I have been inspired to replace all the ceiling fan bulbs when we get the new fans with these fancy LED bulbs from CREE - which are supposed to last for TWENTY TWO years, which is long after I hope to leave the house. I plan to acquire my first such bulb while tooling around Eastern Market during their event this weekend where they're giving out 15,000 free bulbs!
If you, too, are hankering to replace bulbs, or enjoy the thought of avoiding replacing bulbs for a long, long time - join me!

The Great American Bulb Swap is coming to DC!

Find it at Eastern Market at the following times this weekend.
11:00 AM- 2:00 PM, Friday, December 5th
10:00 AM- 4:00 PM, Saturday-Sunday, December 6th-7th

Give me a wave if you see me. We can talk about all the fabulous things in our homes we're going to light up once we get our hands on these bulbs!


Friday, November 28, 2014

The Oh Sh*t! Road

Connor spends much of his time in his own world, observing little of the action around him. Helen spends nearly all of her time cataloging every single thing going on.

Last weekend, we went to the Kennedy Center to see a show together. On the way home, we hopped on I66 and Helen remarked "this is the oh shit road". And indeed, she reminded me that the previous time we got on this very road, a few weeks earlier when Connor, Helen, and I were at the Kennedy Center to see the National Symphony Orchestra, I had nearly crashed the car and exclaimed "oh shit" during the quick affair.

Not my finest parenting moment.


Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving 2014

Marathon training season started for me today, followed by a game of Risk in which Connor utterly crushed me. During the game, Connor announced that he and Helen had waited until 8:00 to wake up (a rare treat for Ed, indeed) and Connor had even set the table for breakfast before Ed came out to put something on the table - surely a good omen for the day.

Helen ran a half mile and Connor ran a mile as I told them we were participating in 37 days of awesome by running every day until New Year's. The original challenge I signed up for was to run at least one mile every day, but Helen feels she needs a little time to work up to that. 

Next came cheesecake (the dessert Connor requested) and banana bread (the bananas on the counter called me to end their misery) baking, a decadent seafood platter put together by Ed to take to our neighbor's home, and then back home for the main event with just the four of us. It's not our typical Thanksgiving, but it did provide a nice break. Friends joined us for cocktails and dessert to top off the day. Helen and Connor went to bed giggling, zipped up in the double sleeping bags that Ed and I first used on our honeymoon in Alaska back in 2001.

The 3.5 pound red snapper that we baked in salt, something which is becoming our traditional fancy meal.

There is cheesecake! We will conquer it later!

Potatoes Anna - so much buttery goodness.

The perfectly baked fish. We consumed about half of it - so there's plenty for leftovers! It's almost like having a giant turkey at our home!

Happy Thanksgiving,

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Good Toys

The basic standards for a good toy in our house is that the ratio of hours of entertainment must be high relative to the amount of space the toy takes up. A yo-yo, for example, need only be used by a child for a few hours but a pretend kitchen better be the center of a child's play for many, many hours. Recently, I've been doing a little clean out, and I've added the criteria that the toy should be able to be played with by both Connor and Helen, offering each of them something.

The marble runs in our home have been lifted up in status recently. Helen can build and test one route for the marble to come down while Connor builds another, often with the more complicated pieces, more twists, and a little more craziness.

The recently completed run?

I love this toy, so I'm always thrilled when it's revived from the shelves it normally sits upon.