Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Homework - Help!

I was always a good student, in all subjects. For math, I took all of the college prep classes and passed the necessary math in college. Granted, there was not much of a math requirement for a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, but I took what I had to. So I feel like I have a pretty good handle on it. I can balance a checkbook, figure square footage of a room, measure for curtains or for sewing dress hems.

(Reader: imagine a sufficiently ominous/scary music bit for effect here).
Then my daughter came to me with her 7th grade homework. (AAaaagh! Not that!)

I don’t remember there being so many different kinds of numbers: composite, prime, whole, rational, real, reciprocal, and integers. When did they come up with all of those? What do you need so many kinds of numbers for? A number is a number! Dividing fractions, common denominators, cube roots – remember how to do those? I don’t! Negative times a negative is a positive, positive times a positive is a positive, negative times a positive is a negative – it’s enough to make your head spin!

Okay, so I sit down and try to drag some recollection from my classes (so long ago!) and begin to try to help her understand the assignment. I think I get it and start to explain it to her.

This is when it really gets good (insert more ominous music here) – she tells me they don’t do it like that anymore!

What? Can they really change HOW you do math? Aren’t there formulas and equations and an order of operations? How do they expect us to help our kids to succeed with their schoolwork if they go and change it all on us? It’s hard enough to remember how we were taught, but to have to learn new ways of computing word problems? No thanks! And I don’t know about you, but how much of that stuff do you actually still use in your day to day life? None! I can honestly say I haven’t had to graph a parabola, or figure out how many apples and oranges Susie and Billy are sharing, or anything about trains leaving stations traveling in opposite directions. Of course this line of reasoning doesn’t go over real big with your kid’s teacher.

I said earlier that I was a good student, I’m a fairly intelligent person. So I do what anyone would do in my situation – I yell to my oldest daughter to come help. She’s in 10th grade, they can’t have changed things in the 3 years since she learned it. Oh, but they can!

I don’t get it (and honestly, I don’t want to), but I have confidence my daughter will - it will just take time. In the meantime, she can call Uncle John who teaches math in high school.

And I’ll tell my daughters that I’m a whiz at English – unless they decide to change it on me.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

I’m With Stupid

Today is Ask a Stupid Question Day. Really, you can look it up! Ask away – this is your chance. Anything, no matter how dumb - today’s the day! Whatever has been nagging at you, find someone to ask.

Here are some things I’d like to know:

*Is Tweety bird a boy or a girl? (Well? Do you know? I’m taking a poll, look to the right. Make sure you give your answer!)
*How many licks DOES it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?
*If “bra” is singular, why is “panties” plural?
*Why is there Braille on drive-up ATM’s?
*Can I ask you a question? (I think this is my favorite!)

So go ahead. You can ask anything – start it like this: “This might sound stupid, but…” Leave a comment on this post and ask your stupid question you'd like to know an answer for. (Maybe someone can come up with an answer!)

Now if someone can just tell me why hot dogs come in packs of 10 and buns come in packages of 8…

As Forrest Gump says, “Stupid is as stupid does.”

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Family Stories

When I was very young, my parents took an interest in tracing our family tree. My mother started doing historical research, interviewed family members, wrote to distant relatives and was able to come up with fairly detailed genealogies for both sides of our family. As part of the research of the paternal side we visited small cemeteries deep in the hills of Muskingum and Guernsey counties. Believe it or not, I have fond memories of running and playing tag with my sisters in the graveyards amongst the tombstones on many beautiful, quiet, hot summer days, while our parents took careful notes of dates and names, and sometimes took rubbings from the headstones of our ancestors.
An interest in genealogy is a family trait that I inherited. I enjoy research in general - with ~20 years spent at the library I’ve done more than my share of looking for answers, and have often been told I’m good at it. Even my current job requires quite a bit of research. The historical anecdotes of family trees are fascinating to me. So I took on the responsibility of maintaining and updating the family tree. Thankfully, in this computer age there are boundless resources available. My first task was to computerize the research that my parents had done into a genealogy electronic database program so I could easily identify any gaps. Then I turned to online resources. I discovered links to family lines that my parents’ research would never have uncovered. I located long-lost family members, and I met strangers who we are actually related to. Currently, our family history is rather detailed and complex. The software program I use allows you to print your family “story” which I printed out and presented to my dad a couple of years ago. To see the work that had been started years ago by my mom combined with my new exploration – well, it was a gift he still treasures.

While on vacation this summer as we walked through a wooded path to the lake, I spotted an old forgotten family cemetery through the trees. Making our way off the path through the forest, we climbed over a portion of rusted wire fencing. It was a beautiful, quiet, hot summer day. We wandered over the graves and explored the tombstones, many broken and leaning on others, some so old and worn they could not be read. We called out to one other the names and dates of soldiers, infants, families – each lost in our own thoughts. Looking back on the experience, the genealogist in me hopes that some descendent has documented their stories. But my thoughts that day were taking me back to another cemetery, another family, another story…

Sunday, September 21, 2008

High School Musings

High school seems like a whole other lifetime to me. I graduated over 25 years ago (now that's a statement that will make you feel old!). I have some good memories from those times, and bad memories too of course (high school girls can be so mean). It's such a short span of years that you spent there when you look back at it.

I signed up for Facebook recently, just to look at a friends' photos on her profile. I started looking around the FB site a little and discovered a few old friends from high school that I hadn't talked to in years. I've added them as friends now on FB and re-connected with them, and discovered that two of them have actually gotten together after all these years and are now engaged.

Then at a friends' house this weekend, she introduced me to their new neighbor. Amazingly, we had gone to high school together - I recognized her right away, after sooo many years. Though we hadn't been close back in those days, we did have some mutual friends. We spent some time reminiscing and talking about who ended up with who, the class couple that actually got married and are still together, all our old friends and what they're doing now.

Hopefully as my daughters go through their high school years I can offer some insight. Those years have an impact, but the dramas and relationships are easily forgotten over the years. Though it may be hard to believe now, any tragedies experienced - no matter how big or small - will recede from memory as they grow older. The friendships can continue through the various stages of life, but it will take effort. The boys that break their hearts are just stepping stones along the way to finding "the one." Things that happen now, friends and enemies they make in high school - they all help make you who you are, but they don't define you. Enjoy every minute of it - the good and the bad.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Going green, er... pink

Recycling again, but this time as inspired by "Pretty in Pink."

Remember that 80's teen movie? With Jon Cryer as the fabulous "Duckie," Molly Ringwald played "Andie," and Andrew McCarthy's wealthy character "Blane" ("His name is Blane? Oh! That's a major appliance, that's not a name!") was to take Andie to prom. Then when Andie's father buys her an awful second-hand dress and she gets another hand-me-down dress from her friend, she takes the dresses and reworks them into her own creation.

Great movie, awesome soundtrack, and perfect inspiration for K's homecoming dress. Instead of hitting the mall and trying on armloads of gowns looking for "the dress," a co-worker gave me some of her college-aged daughter's old dance dresses. K was instantly infatuated with one of them in particular. With some adjustments - cutting out excess fabric, sewing in some extra seams, getting rid of the puffy sleeves, and shortening it to tea-length - it is homecoming ready.

Now we just have to hope her date doesn't turn out to be a jerk like "Blane" in the movie, or her Daddy might make him the next recycling project!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Going Green

Like everyone else, we are recycling. And of course we are trying to instill it as a habit for our daughters to help save the environment. We save our pop cans, D crushes them as one of her daily chores, and they are later turned in for cash. We save and re-use paper for notes and quick print jobs. I pack the girls' clothes up and pass them on to my co-worker's young daughter. We do our part.

The end of this summer saw a huge recycling proposition from K & D. They gave up their swingset in the backyard. (OMG! I still can't believe they've outgrown it!) Our good friends S & A have an adorable daughter and cute little boy, and they were thrilled with the offer.

The day came for the playset to be taken apart and transported to their house for reassembly. K & D spent some time in the backyard that day, having a last swing and taking some pictures:

The dad, S, came over after work that day and began by taking pictures of his own - to show how to put it back together, and marking pieces for easy reassembly. His father-in-law and brother-in-law arrived and the three of them had it taken apart in no time. They left many pieces bolted together to make their job easier when they got it home, but it made the parts incredibly heavy to move from the back of the yard, over the fence and out to the driveway. My husband helped too when he got home from work, and the four of them managed to move even the tall tower part mostly in one big section. They loaded it all into their pick-up trucks and transported it 26 miles around the outerbelt to their house, looking very much like the Beverly Hillbillies or Sanford & Son in their junkyard truck.

As they drove away with their precarious load, I went and looked out at our backyard. The absence of the playset brought a tear to my eye - because my girls are growing up. I thought of all the fun times that so many children have enjoyed on that playset over the years - the daycare kids, birthday parties, friends, cousins and neighbors. Those days with my little daughters are past, but they'll always be my baby girls.

We received a thank-you note from S & A in the mail yesterday. They included pictures of their cute kids swinging and sliding on their "new" playset, with huge grins on their little faces. Those pictures were all the proof I needed that this recycling project definitely made a big difference!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Where were you...?

That's a question you'll hear this week for the rest of your life. Where were you on 9/11? Where were you when the planes crashed into the towers? Where were you when the towers collapsed? Those that lost someone that day will always have their personal loss, a hole in their heart and soul. But everyone has their own story of that day, and most are eager to share theirs. This tragedy didn't happen to them, but because of how it has changed who we are and where and how we live, everyone has taken it on as part of their own personal history.

Where were you...?

I was on a leave of absence from the library where I had worked for almost 20 years. I had a home daycare at that time so that I could be at home with my girls for a few years. Parents had dropped off their children that morning, we had finished breakfast and I had put my older daughter on the bus for school. The Today Show was on in our home office just off the kitchen. When they broke away for a report that something had happened at the World Trade Center and one of the towers was on fire, I woke my husband who was due to go into work in a couple of hours. As we watched in shocked disbelief, the plane hit the second tower. The daycare children and my youngest daughter were in the playroom, totally oblivious to the fact that the world had just undergone catastrophic change. I sat glued to the events unfolding on the screen and rocked one of the babies I was caring for (as much to comfort myself as the little one) and I watched stunned as the towers collapsed.

We were in contact with my daughter's school and were reassured that their day was to go on as planned, there was no need for early dismissal. The next concern was for my husband. As metropolitan areas across the country were closing offices downtown, I was certain my husband wouldn't have to go to work - they surely would close the library where he works (the same library I was on leave from) and show some concern for their employees at such an uncertain time. Unbelievably, the decision was made to be open regular hours and my husband was required to drive into downtown as everyone else was essentially evacuating the area. And I turned in my resignation - one month shy of 20 years working there. I was not going to go back and work there - I didn't want to work someplace that held that little regard for their employees and their families.

That date, those people, these events changed my life. Changed our world. Changed ... everything.

Where were you the day planes fell from the sky? I was rocking a baby.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Change is good

We were set on the idea that our daughters would go to parochial school. They were enrolled in a small, local pre-k thru 8th-grade private Catholic school beginning at age 4 for both of them. Looking back now, we don't regret them attending there - it was a good foundation to begin their education. The Christian values that were instilled in them at that young age are a big part of who they are today. However...

When the tuition was increased by over 50% in the course of two years, we felt it was time to analyze the situation - were we getting our money's worth? Were we happy with the education they were getting? After much discussion and observation, we realized there were a couple of problematic areas for us at the private school, the main one being how everyone was treated exactly the same - which may sound like a good thing, but... there was no enrichment, no honor roll, everyone was expected to do everything adequately - not to excel at anything. Essentially, students weren't pushed to strive for anything above mediocrity.

So we made the switch, and were second-guessing ourselves at first. But then... we saw the proof that we made the right decision.

(Prepare for the bragging to begin...)

D started 5th grade at a public intermediate school - only 5th and 6th graders, but there were about 1500 students in the building (big jump from the 250 total students they were used to). It was a fairly new building - bright, colorful, air-conditioned, and had a great computer lab, library, music room, art room, etc. - far exceeding the facilities at the old private school. The first week there, she was elected to student council. Friends were made and she loved her teachers. When grade cards came home - all A's. These were the first A's we'd seen since at the Catholic school they used the +, check, and - grading system (which is awful in my opinion). Then her classes went on a learning field trip to Exchange City and D's classmates voted her as the mayor for the day. The A's continued. At the end of 5th grade at an assembly with the parents, she was chosen by her teacher as the model student of their class. Sixth grade continued in the same manner - she was elected for student council again and made honor roll every grading period. She was in the choir and she started playing the trumpet and took to it naturally. She memorized 120 places of Pi and won a class prize. And at the end of 6th grade at the assembly with the parents, she was given an award as one of just 9 sixth graders that got straight A's the entire year (that's 9 out of 800 - pretty awesome accomplishment!).

(And the bragging continues...)

K's introduction to public school was at the local middle school as an 8th grader. She was voted as student council rep (she ran every year at the old private school but was never elected). K was in the choir and selected for solos/duets, she made the Power of the Pen team (competitive creative writing), and was chosen by one of her teachers to receive a Pride Award for her positive attitude and leadership. She eagerly gave up her afternoons in the Spring to be a track statistician. Even with her busy schedule, K still managed to make honor roll every report card. Freshman year at high school saw more of the same - she joined the yearbook staff and Pencil Dust (the creative writing magazine). She was in the choir and each performance had a solo/duet. In the Fall, in order to go to all of the away football games, she volunteered to be the water girl for the varsity football team. She got to ride the bus with the sports med staff and got to watch each game from the sidelines. (And as a bonus she got to be around the upperclass football players!) If you know K, then you know how much she likes to perform - she auditioned for the Fall play and got a part with a monologue. She auditioned for the winter muscial and got a role in "Once Upon a Mattress," so she got to dance and sing - all while wearing a pretty princess dress and crown (a dream come true)! In the Spring she auditioned again and got a role in a one act play. All this stage time, as well as Saturdays that she gave her time to paint the set and props, earned her an invitation to join the International Thespian Society. You'd think all that would be enough, yet she still offered her time to the track coach back at the middle school and went to their meets and kept stats for them again. And her grades? Honor roll of course.

Currently, K is in her sophomore year of high school (for details on her schedule, see my earlier post: Back to Reality). This year D is at the middle school for 7th grade. She is changing classes for the first time and has a locker for the first time. Her schedule includes classes with 8th graders (pre-algebra, language arts, science) as she is in the accelerated classes because of her good grades the previous years. She's in the band playing trumpet again. We'll see what the rest of the year holds for Miss D, but I'm confident she will continue to thrive in public school.

Did we make the right choice? If they had been left in the private school, would they still be stagnant? Would they be satisfied being average? I think its evident that adequate just doesn't cut it for our girls!

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Vacation, our way

Summertime last year saw many of our friends heading off on exciting (expensive) vacations to exotic locations. Plans for our time off were just to stay in town and find ways to keep everyone entertained, cheaply of course. But I really wanted to "get away" and it had been several years since we had actually been on a vacation, so I formulated a plan. I suggested to my husband that we could go on vacation even with our limited resources - I would come up with a destination (somewhere not too far since both of our vehicles are older) and activities (something for everyone), and still keep costs minimal. After spending a couple of days discussing ideas with friends and co-workers, and researching various possibilities online, I found the answer.

This would be our own version of vacation. To keep lodging cheap, camping seemed like the solution, but my husband had 2 requests - he must have a bed, and he needs air-conditioning. So maybe a cabin then - but the cabins I was finding weren't really very cheap. Then I stumbled on a website for a private campground by Cowan Lake State Park near Wilmington (only about an hour away). Beechwood Acres Camping Resort has "camper cabins" - these are very basic structures with electricity but no bathroom or running water inside, but much cheaper rates than other cabins. Since the camper cabins had the pre-requisites - beds (a full-size and a set of bunk beds) and A/C, and the price was right, we booked our stay and arranged for my parents to dog-sit. Everything worked out so well that we made a return trip this summer.

Since the cabin had electricity inside, there was a fridge with small freezer for the food, and we could take the all-important coffeemaker to start each day. We took a BIG tub full of adult beverages and with the great A/C (it was awesome, we were actually cold sometimes even on the hottest days) we only had to add ice one time.

The cabin is directly across from the heated pool complete with volleyball net, basketball hoop, and a bench for lounging around the edge in the shallow end. They have great tunes playing whenever the pool is open (9am - 10pm), and since it's a private campground we could have our red cup beverages with us while we relaxed in the pool.

We grilled dinner when we got hungry and sat around the campfire every night. There is a playground, basketball hoop, cornhole, a gameroom, and goats - Minnie and Maggie - that you can pet and feed. The lake and beach at the state park are just a very short walk away. We did attempt to fish last year, and even went on a short hike to see the water lotuses this year - beautiful! - but swimming is by far our preferred activity. The campground has tent and RV camping along with the camper cabins (the other cabins sleep 5, 6, and up to 10), and is very well maintained with beautiful flowers everywhere and palms by the pool.

We had perfect weather both years and spent hours relaxing, swimming, reading, playing cards, hanging out and re-connecting as a family.
This vacation may not have been expensive, but it was ... priceless!

Monday, September 1, 2008

Trip to the mall

I promised my girls a trip to the mall when we went school shopping last week. So with Daddy off golfing and Labor Day sales calling, we decided it was a perfect time to go.
When they hire those guys that work the kiosk booths lining the center of the mall, what are the requirements?
"Help wanted: Annoying Kiosk Salesman, must be willing to harass innocent people minding their own business that want absolutely nothing that you are selling."
Why do they have to be like carnies at the fair? Any other store, they wait for you to come in. You know what you're looking for, you'll stop in the stores you're interested in - that's the way shopping works. But for some reason having your booth as a divider down the middle of the mall (where everyone can plainly see what you have to offer) gives you the right to accost every passerby with your spiel. I think maybe they get bonus points if they ask you more than once, as you pass by in each direction.
Anyway, I digress.
Each girl had a particular item we were searching for - D wanted a new t-shirt from one of the popular stores (we'll just call them "AF," "H," and "AERO" for the purposes of this post) and K needed new jeans. According to K's friends, she just had to get her jeans at "H" if possible. If you've ever gone into "H" you know it's dark, cramped, hot, and loud. Even making it in the door, it feels like you should give a secret handshake or a password or something. But we made our way through the dim lights and pumped up music to the racks of jeans - only to find out that you have to be 1. a child, or 2. anorexic to fit in their clothes. K being a sophomore in high school is not either of those. Seriously, if you pick up one of their sweaters sized XS, hold it up and look at it - I don't think I know many kindergartners that it would fit. And even if they came in normal sizes, paying $60 for a pair of jeans that come complete with rips and worn spots wasn't going to make Daddy very happy. At "AF" there were similar selection/price issues, but at least it was well-lit and the entrance was wide open, no secret doors or handshakes here, we at least felt like we were allowed to shop there. We had success at "AERO." Pricing was very reasonable, and their sale prices were - surprising! They had jeans on sale, and racks of shirts 2 for $22 and some that were even $5 as a Labor Day special. Both girls came home happy.