Thursday, April 28, 2016

Thumbs Up

I don't know quite when it started, but at some point, Connor started looking over at me when he got to first base. So far this season it has been on a hit once along with a pile of walks. When he's taking his bag, he looks for me in the stands if his team is away or where I like to stand with my camera on the first base side, and then gives this wonderful smile and a thumbs up to me. I smile back at him with my own thumbs up and nod, with the key to my move being as subtle as possible. I want Connor to know I saw what he did, but I also want him to know it wasn't a surprise to me (even if it was!).

I think I didn't really appreciate this was going on until Connor's team was playing a team composed mostly of other boys from his school. It's a big night for all of the boys, and I went over to say hello to several of the parents with boys on the other team. Of course, as Connor zipped down the first base line after a walk, he looked for me and did this signature move. I responded. And at that moment, another mom looked over at me and said "you are so lucky - how do you get him to do that"? It dawned on me - I am the luckiest mom in the bleachers. (Her child is the youngest of three and he is just much more 'grown up' than Connor.)

Connor is either the youngest or close to youngest team member. And possibly that explains why he's still willing to give his mama a smile. He hasn't quite reached that point where he wants to pretend I don't exist. (Though trust me, he would die if he got hurt on the field and I followed my instincts and ran to him.*) I like to think it's also because I have exactly one cheering word I shout for him "bravo" (which I use with care), and one phrase I compliment with regularly "atta boy, that's how we run". (Nobody else in our circle uses the word "bravo", so I always figure when my kids hear it, they will know exactly who said it. And I do appreciate a good hustle on the base paths, and so far Connor has never disappointed me by not going fast when he's called to do so.) I have worked really hard at sitting calmly through games, even as parents around me are shouting. I leave it to the dads who stand by the fence and the coaches to send out their words of wisdom (there are a few who do this with absolute calm, and it's a real art form to witness).

My only regret, is that I may never have a photo of our exchanges. You see, if I had my camera up when he was ready to give the thumbs up, he might decide not to do it, because it would be clear I couldn't communicate back to him with my own gesture. I'm thinking about setting up another parent with my camera to capture the moment - but I'm afraid of destroying it if I try.


*For the record, he did get hit in the head with a pitch last year. It smacked off his helmet and into his arm. Every part of me wanted to rush onto the field, but I am aware that every part of him was simultaneously screaming at me to back off. And so I sat perched on the edge of my seat as he trotted to first, and the mom sitting next to me urged her husband (a coach!) to go check on Connor at first. She knew exactly how I felt, and she also knew her husband could get an accurate read on whether Connor was actually hurt. (He was not - thank you helmet. I do not regret spending money on that piece of equipment.) Afterwards, he expressed gratitude for my sitting tight, and tried to convince me the ball didn't actually hit his helmet, which made me worry more!

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Race recaps

I haven't run a 5K without a child by my side for a few years, so when a friend mentioned a small, evening, local 5K that I've been curious about (Crystal City 5K Fridays), Ed and I decided to go for it. We totally missed  my friend at the start - but eventually found her afterwards, and she'd found another friend, too. That's a win, overall, since the race inspired us to go have dinner and beers afterwards.  Even though we were a bit sweaty, we ate outside and were in a sports bar after that, so it wasn't too gross.

There were no age group awards, but that didn't stop me from looking up my group (40 -44) and then bragging on facebook that I won it! (24:14). The race was a bit bizarre at the start because right as the starting bell chimed, I got a call from Helen and Connor. Ed and I stepped off the course, fielded the call (TV troubles at home) and then hopped back onto the course and officially started. This meant we started behind EVERYONE! I set an immediate goal to not get beaten by any running dogs (goal met).

We wove in and out of other runners for the first mile,  found a relatively clear space at mile 2, and then cruised into the finish. Ed beat me by 7 seconds. I recovered a lot faster than he did, so there's some solace in that. Still - although he will say he didn't think I was trying, let the record note that I was trying, and felt like I was going all out.

While it is very empowering to pass a bunch of people (I was passed by 2 - Ed and another guy), it's also pretty tedious to be running around people for such a significant part of the race. Lesson learned - tell the kids no TV when we're away (kidding!).

On Sunday morning, my friend came back from the Netherlands and ran the GW Parkway Classic 10 miler. I have never signed up for this race before, because it is a huge time sink. You must be at the busses to get to the start by 6:30 (and past runners urged 6:15) and then after being bussed to the start, you stand around for over an hour waiting for the race to begin (8:00). Normally, I would've been thinking about how I could've run 10 miles, showered and had a cup of coffee before the race started - but today was all joy. A large group of friends had gathered to run together - and we even stopped and took photos at a scenic overlook.

Also, because I have never run a 10 miler, I automatically got a PR! (1:24:34). All of my miles were faster than 9:00, and the last two miles were a pretty good clip faster than the others. During the race, I felt tired, but after the race, it took about 3 minutes to feel fully recovered. Clearly, I need to figure out how to work harder during the race.

Photos to come when my friend posts them.


Tuesday, April 19, 2016


We had our best dogsitting experience yet a week after spring break. Helen's friend's dog needed a place to stay, and we were happy to provide it. Parker was the first dog that didn't feel the need to follow me everywhere. Parker was also happy to claim Helen's bed as her own - and in a true act of kindness, Helen agreed to exchange beds with Connor every other night so that he could sleep with Parker, too.

We took that little dog everywhere - to see the cherry blossoms, to watch Helen practice softball, to the nature center, and on our runs. She was a trooper!

She became expert at sitting only on the area of the sofa that I had covered with a blanket (thank you) and let the kids play with her all the time and walk her whenever they wanted.

For Helen's Rhyme and Cheese story this year, she wrote about her experiences dogsitting. The title? Compromises.


Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Seasonal Cookie Houses - Walkers Shortbread Castles

Building gingerbread houses is so passé, right? And at least in my house, nobody even likes gingerbread so it's never as satisfying to take them apart and eat them as it should be. But if cookies and homebuilding are your thing, the folks at Walkers Shortbread have laid down the gauntlet. Check out the Outlanders castle -  in edible cookie form.

I fashion myself a bit of a baker, and I am in love with the idea of making a perfect gingerbread house. But after many barely passable attempts, from a kit, I was excited to go a different route.

So tonight, in honor of the SNOW that may fall this week (yes, this makes me almost cry, I would REALLY like to close the door on winter and start running with fewer layers), Helen and I made our own cookie house. It's held together with an icing made from butter, vanilla, milk, and powdered sugar (yum!) and my taste testers report it was delicious.


I am officially over winter, but it was a nice day brightener to find cookies in the cabinet gifted to me by the folks at Walkers. Maybe next year, I will build my house even larger and score a spot on a TV show making cookie houses. Or not. Either way, the kids are eating this and loving it.

Math Dice

The gifted teacher at Connor and Helen's school runs a Math Dice team. Math Dice is a game for math nerds, so our house is totally up to the task of playing it. And, because some members of the house are supernerds (cough *Ed* cough), we not only play math dice at our house, our resident supernerd created a computer program that can play math dice against you.

And so it was that for a few weeks, we'd play math dice after Helen went to bed. Connor is a somewhat savvy player, but I'm a "blurt it out if you got it" kind of player, which means Connor would do much better in a tournament than me.

In brief - you roll two twelve-sided die.
Multiply the numbers you roll - this is your target.
Roll 3 six-sided die and use those three numbers to make an equation that gets you as close to the target as possible.

For example, if we rolled an 8 and 6 in the first step, the target would be 48.

If we rolled a 2, 3, and 6 on the next step, the winning equation would be 2^3*6.

If Connor and I were playing, I would shout "36 (6*3*2), no, 48 - bam! Old lady has mad skillz" and Connor would look at the dice carefully, and then say "48" and remind me that only your first answer matters. He would get the point. Although Connor has basically modified the rules when he plays with me to be that he has to land on the correct answer before I do, which gives him a lot more challenge since the modified rules allow me to get my best answer, not my first answer.

There is a trade-off between speed and accuracy - and basically the first responder is stuck with her first answer, and the second responder can take as long as they wish. This fact becomes important at tournament time.

At first, probably half the 5th grade wanted to be on the 6 person math dice team, but after many lunches playing the game, I suspect the group was whittled down to about a quarter of the kids (about 20 kids?). Connor made the team, and he was thrilled. He also got chosen as one of the 4 people on the team who participates in what is known as the "head-to-head" portion of the tournament. Students were selected for the team based on their "paper challenges" which is a version of the game where you have as much time as you want to write down your answers and then head-to-head play with other students.

At the tournament, you get points for each head-to-head win you get, and the time allotted to do this is capped. That means, a player who can get through a lot of rolls has an advantage over a player who only rolls a few times. I've heard that students intentionally try to slow the game down when they're against a good opponent, which can hurt that opponent overall. They stare at the dice after the first responder and take a ton of time before either giving their own answer or conceding the point.

Math Dice has served as a great respite from the rest of school, and we are so lucky to have this great program at our school. We'll be cheering Connor on in a few weeks as he attempts to bring home an individual and team award for our school. Historically, our school has not done very well at the tournament - but Connor is really trying to change that.

Go TEAM! and go Connor!!


Thursday, March 31, 2016

Beer Me - oh who are we kidding, just pass my Stonyfield

This has been possibly the worst week of arguing with teachers of my life - and that is a high bar, I assure you.

Part of parenting, most even, is letting go. And I do understand this, but there's a small part that - even at age 10, is being an advocate and teaching your kid how to advocate for himself. And so it is that on Monday, he was given the following math problem (this is from memory, but if it's not the exact wording it's damn close).

  • Jamal woke up to find 42 inches of snow outside. This was three and a half times as much as when he went to bed. The new snowfall was five-sixths of the one-day snowfall record. What was the one-day snowfall record.

I glanced at his homework at dinner and noticed an answer of 50.4. I looked at Connor and before I could even question his answer he laughed and from there, life devolved. 

Connor: "I know mom. It's not the right answer - but it's the answer Mr. G. told me to put down."
Me: "But Connor, that answer is wrong."
Connor: "I know."
Me: "Did Mr. G explain to you how he got that answer?"
Connor: "He said something about snow melting."
Me: "Connor, that is ridiculous. The modifier of importance is "new" and I see he has marked your calculation of "new" snow (30 inches) as correct. 30 is not 5/6 o f 50.4."
Connor: "Mom, I know."
Me: "Maybe I'm missing something. Let's confirm with Dad when he gets home."

Eventually, Ed and I had Connor correct the problem, knowing that there was a decent chance a second math teacher would be grading the work, and a wrong answer wasn't going to fly. We even underlined the word "new".

And Mr. G argued with Connor and the rest of the group the next day about why 50.4 was the correct answer, and had Connor change it back to the wrong answer.

So here's the dilemma. I've been telling Connor when he disagrees with the teacher, he needs to ask for an explanation that makes sense to him. He needs to understand why the teacher has a different opinion - and why his answer was wrong. Presumably, they could discuss the problem and come to agreement.

No dice.

So I emailed the teacher and he defended his answer - with absolutely no logic - so I guess more properly he reiterated his answer, and then said that he and the other teacher had agreed to accept both answers.

And all the while I'm thinking - you have just taught my son that when you are wrong the best shot you have at getting through the argument is digging in, hard. That is not a lesson any child needs to be taught - which a friend of mine noted as well.

I'm still beside myself, but rather than eating my way through this with crap food, I'm sinking into some new Stonyfield Yogurt that arrived in my mail a few weeks ago.

This one was plain - but there's a whole bunch of flavors but rather than the fruit being mixed into the yogurt when it's packaged, it's in a little sidecar thing and you can mix in as much as you like.

My recommendation?  All of it. Because life is crazy and stressful and that extra bit of strawberry or blueberry sometimes makes all my problems disappear. Or at least I get a nice protein boost to fuel a run!

I'm a Stonyfield YoGetter and received free yogurt in the mail. Total delight. I loved it. Thank you, Stonyfield.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016


Connor has become a newspaper reader. For years, we sheltered the children from news - going so far as to never have even NPR playing in the car or home when they were around. When something scary happened in the world, we would wait to discuss it until evening. On the rare occasion that someone came home with information we would've preferred they didn't have, we'd suss out what the child knew, explain it in as simple a term as possible, remind the child they were safe, and we'd pretty much all move on.

Connor is 10. In the past ten years, wars were raging outside our home. Black men were being gunned down by police as if for sport. Coalitions fighting economic injustices were camping outside the White House. The economy collapsed. Housing prices rebounded, at least partially. Children went to school one morning in Newtown and never returned home to their moms. The finish line at the Boston Marathon exploded. The day Connor came home from first grade asking about 9/11 was one of many days my heart broke. What good was this information to a first grader?But in our house, one day was pretty much like the next. Love wins. Treat people kindly. Stop bickering with your sibling. Dinner is served.

But there's a point in life when your child seeks information, and resisting giving it to him will only make it more coveted. And that point has come. We are now subscribers to the Washington Post (I like the NYT better but I figured the local angle in the Post might interest Connor). Connor, in his typical consumer of words mindset, attempts to devour as much of the paper as possible.

It's a real change to have a 10 year old commenting on current events in our house. But I guess I should just celebrate the last 10 years as a victory and get over it. I suspect for the next few years, much of parenting will be learning about how little I'm able to protect my children from the outside world.




Friday, March 25, 2016

Spring Break!

This year,  we traveled to Winter Park for spring break. We had originally planned to go to Steamboat (probably my favorite of all the resorts out west) but Connor's class had an overnight trip planned for the time we were scheduled to be in Steamboat, so we switched weeks and went with what was available.

Our impression before getting here was that Winter Park wasn't the resort that some of the others are, but as far as skiing goes - the mountain is great. The town isn't much, but it has everything we need (restaurants, jewelry stores,  toy stores) and we don't tend to spend a lot of time bumming around the town anyway.

A friend who lives about an hour away came up to ski with us for the day. She arrived a day before us, and was going to stay another day but school testing got in the way of that plan. No matter - we skied our hearts out. Helen and I stuck to the green trails with Ellen and her children while the boys adventured further afield. This was perfect, because for the first time in memory, I had a touch of altitude sickness. Prior to lunch, I wondered several times whether I'd be able to make the day without losing my cookies. After lunch, I felt much better.

Best about our meet-up was probably that Helen immediately fell into a friendship with Ellen's daughters, and the three of them quickly decided there was no need for mothers on the lift chairs. This meant Ellen and I could gab in 10 minute increments up the lifts. And frankly, we are experts at the 10 minute interrupted conversation because we met each other when we were already mothers. Interruptions are our lives!

We took two days off from skiing - one to go to a nearby YMCA ranch which had every activity we could imagine, and was the same place we had visited with my family a couple of years ago as part of our dude ranch vacation. At the ranch, we tried snowshoeing for the first time with the kids, and also enjoyed roller skating, tubing, dodgeball (Connor), ping pong, and wrapped the evening up with a horse drawn sleigh ride and a great dinner. The only thing missing was country dancing (which accompanied a similar event a few years ago). My family goes on these sorts of adventures regularly, but Ed's family tends to go to more mainstream restaurants and hang out at home - without the kitsch that I love so much. To my father-in-law's credit, I don't even think he sees these adventures as ridiculous anymore, and to Ed's credit - he's the one who planned the ride AND planned our dinner with pirates last summer. He has gone from rolling his eyes to jumping in with both feet.

Our other day off brought us to dogsledding, mini snowmobiles, and a bit of shopping. Helen is the proud owner of dangly earrings, which she adores. Watching the kids on the snowmobiles was hilarious. Connor was full throttle (which isn't particularly fast) from the moment he hopped on. Helen, on the other hand, cautiously steered her snowmobile as slowly as possible, letting us know she thought Connor was crazy.

Our condo has an arcade so it is truly unfortunate that my dad no longer travels on our ski vacation each year. He and my mom used to come and babysit while Ed, Ed's dad, and I skied. But now everyone skis, so we don't need family babysitting services. My dad has a thing where he's always bringing the kids quarters. And oh boy, if he was here, those quarters would've been put to good use. Even with limited quarters, Helen has become a pinball wizard. She's barely tall enough to see the console (it's a multi-game system where you move the joystick right and left when you want the electronic flippers to move), and she somehow has added in this little hip wiggle whenever she moves the joystick. It is hilarious. She made the high score board, only to be knocked off by Connor later that day. I got a free guy on Ms. Pacman and desperately wished my sister was with us. She used to own that game and I'm sure her legendary aunt status would be even higher if the kids saw her play.

I somehow jacked my elbow, and am hoping that it magically heals itself. I finally texted my brother-in-law for his always excellent sight unseen medical advice, and he's guessing soft tissue damage, nothing broken. Ironically, the last time we were in Colorado I was texting him photos of a weird rash Helen contracted. Perhaps this place is a bit cursed for us.


Friday, March 18, 2016

Helen's Odyssey of the Mind Experience

Helen had a fantastic Odyssey coach - the same woman that coaches her soccer team. Her coach had participated in the program as a kid, and was excited to coach a team. When I was getting the program off the ground, my biggest fear was not being able to find a coach for Connor and Helen and I contemplated coaching two teams. That would've made me completely insane, and because of the demands of Connor's team, I'm guessing Helen's would've fallen through the cracks somewhat.

When I told the woman who would eventually become Helen's coach that I hadn't had anyone volunteer to coach a team - but I had one parent with experience volunteer to assist, she jumped right in. It was at that moment that I knew we could have a successful year.

Did the primary teams get started off on a good foot? No. Did everything end up completely perfect and awesome for Helen? Yes.

The original team I put together was a mixed gender team that included a boy up the street who was in class with Helen in first grade. Both the first grade teacher and the gifted teacher have observed the two work well together, so I was excited for this collaboration. The original team included a male and female coach, which both coaches (who have previous experience) thought was good. As things would play out, another parent ran a huge recruiting effort which resulted in two additional teams. Helen and this student were split. She ended up being placed on an all-girl team, and after hearing comments from three of the four other coaches, I'm confident saying that Helen's team was clearly the team that worked the best together.

By the time competition day arrived, Helen had been talking about her skit for weeks. She went from wanting a very tiny part to wanting a much more central role. She handled the larger role beautifully. She was confident, she delivered her lines well, her acting was fantastic.

Most importantly, she's very excited to be on a team next year, and has asked me to coach her team. While coaching two teams would've have been crazy this year, if it comes to that next year, I know exactly how to handle it. Particularly since the middle school lets out much earlier than the elementary school. I told Helen I'd coach her team if she needed me, but did point out that she had a great experience with two coaches this year and I didn't want to mess with that.

This has been such a fun experience. I am so glad to have brought the program to the elementary school. Hopefully, it'll get some big roots and continue to grow.


Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Is there a point when we stop saying things, because the message just doesn't seem true?

The longer this campaign goes on, the more pessimistic I find myself. So a few days ago, when the principal at my children's school posted a photo of a girl on facebook with the shirt "why be a princess when you can be the president?" my only reaction was "we keep telling them that, yet not one example".

Which started me thinking about the million other things we tell our daughters that ring hollow, for the most part. And so I decided I would run a Girls Excelling in Math and Science club at Helen's school next year. As the name suggests, this is a club focused on math and science for girls - and the introductory materials for potential group leaders are very powerful.

For example, they not only cite the research that, particularly in middle school - girls drop out of math and science, but they point out things that teachers do that encourage this. For example, teachers often call on the student jumping out of their chair waving their hand, the student with the first answer, the student who blurts something out. (And even if the teacher doesn't call on the student blurting something out, that student has likely taken the wind from the sails of the student who will eventually answer.) Girls aren't as likely to do any of these things.

When it comes to science experiments, girls become the data recorders, rather than the people performing the experiment - hands on. And of course, the data recorder is important - but it shouldn't be the girl's job all of the time.

The solution? The club guidelines ask club leaders to always wait about 15 - 30 seconds before calling on anyone for an answer. While waiting, the leader should look around encouraging all of the girls to come up with the answer. The leader is silently letting them all know that each of their opinions are valuable, whether they come to the girl immediately or it takes a few moments. The leader should, of course, rotate who she calls on, to give everyone air-time. I love this advice, and I'm going to start using it in my book clubs. Often, I'm sure I let the person who seems most excited talk, because their excitement is contagious.

The next important thing about the club is that the club is run by women - and the leaders are called on to bring in examples of scientists working in various fields. In this way, our daughters can see people who look like them in the jobs we are telling them they are qualified for - yet every book they read will be loaded with male examples and the female examples will be few and far between (Curie, McClintock, Goodall, Lovelace, Carson, and Hopper).

So I sent an email to several parents at our school who seem to know everyone. I asked if they could connect me to a mother, grandmother, or even a high school girl who was a scientist (whether or not that person was currently working in a science field). I can cover math, but I'd love a science partner.

The response so far?  Nada.

And so I'm left wondering, in a ridiculously wealthy community that hosts plenty of highly educated women - are there really no scientists?

This might be harder than I imagined. Thankfully, a friend reminded me that AAUW has a local chapter, and they likely get requests like this all the time.

So continue to hunt, I will.