My Convertible Life

Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Convertible Life in Review

When my sweet husband asked the other day about my "hopes and dreams" for the coming year (yes, he's that awesome -- not only did he ask, he even listened to the answers), among the items on my list was to get back to blogging.

I want to write more in 2013. I've got scores of posts in my head that went unwritten this year -- our successful camping trip in July, books I've enjoyed, kid stories I'm afraid I'll forget, random observations about the world. Who knows if anyone would have read them, but at least I would like to have written them down.

I also want to read more of what other bloggers are writing in 2013. There's an amazing network of talented writers who let me lurk in their online lives, but I've been even worse about blog-reading than I have about blog-writing lately. In the coming year, I hope to do a better job of returning the happiness of leaving comments on posts (thanks, Brenna!).

So I've been skimming back through my 2012 posts to get a kickstart for the new year. Thanks for indulging me as a I share a personal favorite from each month of the past year...

January: Watching Him Go
Where I get sentimental about how my son doesn't need me anymore.

February: Best Friends Forever
Where my friend's loss reminds me how lucky I am to have great friends.

March: My Lenten Sacrifice
Where I gave up Catholicism for Lent.

April: Redshirting for Kindergarten
Where I get on my soapbox about holding back boys.

May: Why You Should Vote Against Amendment One
Where I campaign (unsuccessfully) for a step in the right direction.

June: Pippi Wants You to Call Her, Maybe?
Where get a lesson in pop music from my daughter.

July: Every Age He Ever Was
Where Anne Lamott says it better than I can.

August: Rules of the Name Game
Where I discuss some very serious (ahem) parenting questions.

September: Things I Learned on Vacation
Where I share random knowledge and photos from the beach.

October: Why We Need Books
Where I borrow from the WSJ because I can't find time to blog myself.

November: Where I Attempt to Write a Post about Politics That Doesn't Offend (Too Many) People
Where I do just what the title says, on the eve of the election.

December: A Prayer for the Living
Where I try to put words to the ache left after Newtown.

Do you have a favorite post from your own blog in 2012 -- or from another blog you love to read? Share it below in the comments so we can all enjoy.

And happy new year!

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Friday's 5: Signs of the End of the World

Yes, I know it's Thursday. But I'm posting today just in case the world actually ends tomorrow. Which it won't.

But just in case it does (which it won't), here are the when-pigs-fly signs that proved the end was near (even though it isn't, but if it does, then I totally called it so there):
  1. I've finished my Christmas shopping. It's only Dec. 20 and I'm done -- still waiting for a couple of gifts to arrive in the post, but everything is purchased and on the way. I've even wrapped most everything already. This is highly unusual.
  2. I've been exercising. That fact alone isn't crazy, but I've been exercising regularly since this summer. Not only that, but I've been regularly working out with friends at the school track three times a week, including a 5:45 a.m. boot camp on Wednesdays. In case you missed it, that was ante meridiem. Even when it's dark and cold outside. This has never happened before. Ever.
  3. I read 12 books this year (not counting children's books), plus one that I listened to. And only four of them are considered young adult literature (and none of them involved 50 shades of anything). That's a more than 200 percent increase over last year, and I've still got time to read more over the holidays. This is a positive trend. (Next on my list, coincidentally, is The Last Myth: What the Rise of Apocalyptic Thinking Tells Us About America by my long-time friend, Mel Gilles, and her husband Mathew Gross). 
  4. I bought skinny pants. I know the rest of you have been wearing them for ages, but I just bought my first pair in November. They feel a little ridiculous and I can barely get them over my calves, but at least I'm attempting to be on trend. If nothing else, my husband seems to enjoy the view.
  5. I just let my son ride off on his own. Granted, I watched him and his little bike almost the whole way, until he disappeared around the corner to the friend's house that's all of two blocks from our house. And yes, I did call to be sure he arrived safely. But he went on his own. Someone hold me, please.
So maybe tomorrow won't really be the end of the world. But at this pace, it's sort of the end of the world as I knew it. Thankfully, I'm on vacation until 2013 -- so I feel fine.

Monday, December 17, 2012

A Prayer for the Living

When seniors Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold stormed into Columbine High School and murdered 12 classmates and one teacher before committing suicide on an April morning in 1999, I was an 11th grade English teacher in Charlotte, NC. That afternoon, I sat on a desk in front of the television in my empty classroom, paralyzed by the story playing out on the news.

That could have happened at my school, I thought. Could have happened at any school. And I was terrified, trying to imagine what I would have done if I'd been the teacher facing the end of a loaded shotgun.

This past Friday, when the news alert landed in my inbox with the headline "'Several' Students, Adults Dead After Elementary School Shooting In Conn.," I was frozen again. But this time the fear was different. This time I wasn't in a North Carolina classroom -- this time, my son was.

The rational part of my brain knew he was fine, knew the situation was unspeakably horrible but also hundreds of miles away. Still, the rest of me -- all the mom parts of me -- needed to get to my son as quickly as possible and hold him close.

Since Friday afternoon, I've read pieces of articles, heard bits of stories, all of which stop me in my tracks and reduce me to tears so that I'm forced to look away. After Columbine, I was scared. But Sandy Hook has pierced down under my skin, broken into my heart in ways that I cannot really explain except to say that I am a mom now. When I think of those in the school who were both teachers and parents, I cannot even comprehend what they experienced.

I hear the story of the police officer who slipped his badge under the door so the kids in hiding would know it was safe to come out, listen to the rabbi talk about trying to help a grieving mother breathe, read about one father who found his child alive and another father who didn't, imagine the terror everyone must have felt -- and my brain simply starts to shut down. My heart constricts, my stomach drops, I can't breathe. If my child were among the missing, I am certain that I would simply cease to exist.

And yet these parents are still breathing, in spite of it all.

So that is all I can think to pray for today. Please, God, help the survivors to breathe. Find air for them to fill their lungs so they can find a way back to living. Make space for them -- the parents and students and teachers -- to catch a breath now and then that will be deep enough to force the pain out and lift them up to the light for just a moment.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Forty

There's a scene in When Harry Met Sally (which I watched at least 847 times in high school and college) where Sally is sobbing on her bed with Harry about how her ex-boyfriend is getting married and he never really loved her. In the course of her tissue-laden despair, she chokes out the following exchange:

"And I'm going to be 40," Sally sobs.

"When?" Harry asks, puzzled.

"[Sniff, sniff] Some day," she wails.

I used to quote that line all the time with my friends (who also watched the movie 847 times) and laugh because 40 just seemed so impossibly old and far away. Until it wasn't.

Because "some day" turned out to be yesterday.

Just like that I'm 40. And I'm here to tell you that it is SO not at all old.

Everyone keeps asking me how I'm doing. But between the surprise tickets for a date night to see Shawn Colvin (my husband is amazing), sleeping in both days of the weekend (ibid), a pile of cards and well-wishes from my family and friends, and the birthday cake ambushes at our neighborhood Christmas party (complete with a rockstar 80s soundtrack) and my office (I'm very gullible), 40 is turning out to be a lot of fun.

Looking back to my teens and early 20s, I'm not sure where I thought I'd be at 40, so I have no way of knowing if I've arrived. What I do know is that I have a wonderful husband, two beautiful (albeit obnoxious) children, parents and family who love me, a fairly healthy body (thanks in no small part to a kick-ass neighborhood boot camp), really wonderful friends, a good part-time job, a lovely (if messy) house, and too many other blessings to count.

So take that, 40. You don't scare me at all.


Friday, November 30, 2012

Friday's 5: Holiday Recipes

One of the downsides of actually learning to cook (and doing it regularly) is that you're bound to make some stuff that tastes bad now and then. This week I got a little too adventurous and tried to make pumpkin quinoa pancakes (see photo) -- the muffins are so good, I though it would work.

As it turns out, not so much. They weren't awful, just not very good -- not worth the effort.

But at least I'm trying. And blessings on my sweet husband who eats whatever I make with a smile. My kids? Well, not always.

Anyway, December is the season of cooking, with holiday meals, parties and treats at every turn. So here are links to five recipes that might be useful for some of those dinners plus a bonus recipe for a treat:
  • Kale with cranberries: I know some of you are kale-haters, but I promise you this one is easy to make and delicious to eat.
  • Brussels sprouts and carrots: A simple recipe combined with a grammar lesson -- what more could a nerdy cook ask for?
  • Pumpkin soup: This one works just as well with butternut squash or other similar veg. Delicious as a starter course or a lunch option.
  • Butternut squash with cumin couscous: Like the soup recipe, this is another that makes great leftovers for taking hot lunch to the office.
  • Lasagna: The official title of this recipe was "The Best Lasagna" and they're totally not kidding. You'll want to make an extra for the freezer.
  • Marbled chocolate treats: Perfect for cookie exchanges, teacher gifts or your own holiday dessert.
When you're done cooking, let me know and I'll be right over for a taste. Or maybe just leave us a link in the comments with your favorite holiday recipe to share.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Let Them Eat Pizza (with a gift card!)

Meal planning doesn't happen as religiously around here as it used to -- but I'm trying to get back into the habit. With or without a plan, we still probably eat pizza about once a week, or at least every other week.

So when the local marketing team for Papa Murphy's Pizza asked me if I'd like a gift card to try out their pizza, I was happy to accept. They recently opened a store in Raleigh that's near Cameron Village, so we stopped by last week on our way home from the library.
Papa Murphy's has a little video so you can see for yourself, but it's sort of like Subway for pizza except that you take the pizza home to bake it. They have some signature combinations that you can choose from or you can pick your toppings -- then they assemble the whole thing fresh in front of you. The nice part of that for us was getting the half-and-half arrangement required to keep both kids and grown-ups happy.
When they assemble your pizza, they build it on this paper plate that can somehow magically go straight into the oven -- if you're keeping track, that's one less pizza pan to wash after dinner. My only fear was that the family size pizza almost didn't fit in my oven (see photo), but it turned out fine.
As it turns out, the family size is enough for my family at dinner (four of us, served with a salad) and lunch again the next day (for two of us). Tasty pizza, made fresh, served hot out of the oven -- all in all, a successful dinner.

And now, thanks to the lovely Papa Murphy's team, YOU TOO can walk into the store, whip out your gift card and take home dinner -- if you enter to win here. I'll even throw in a spiffy PM water bottle and coffee travel cup (now you're REALLY excited, I can tell). It's just what you need to take a break from all the holiday turkey coming up.

Because we don't do a lot of giveaways over here at My Convertible Life, I'm going to keep it simple. First go to the Papa Murphy's website to be sure you can get to a store nearby -- and while you're there take a look at the other menu items, like cookie dough, salads, lasagna, cookie dough, bread sticks, cookie dough. Then just leave me a comment below with your email address and/or Twitter handle so I can get in touch with you if you win. Entries must be received by 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 18, 2012.

It's that easy. Just like bringing home the pizza.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Recipe: Pumpkin Quinoa Muffins

Quinoa. Also known as "keen-wah."

It's one of those foods I felt like I was supposed to be eating, but then the healthy breakfast recipe I made with it was so disgusting that it made my kitchen stink and I actually took the stuff outside to the garbage can. And then I was left with this open bag of organic quinoa that I couldn't bring myself to toss because it was so expensive.

Twitter and Pinterest to the rescue, of course. Unfortunately I no longer remember which person tweeted the link to this recipe from Once a Month Mom, but it is awesome. Seriously.

Click the link for the complete original recipe, but here are my notes and adaptations. My kids and husband go through these so fast, that it's almost not worth making them without doubling the recipe...


Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups brown sugar
  • 2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 3 tsp pumpkin pie spice
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cups cooked quinoa (I've found that if you cook 1/2 cup of dry quinoa in 1 cup of water, you get a generous 1 1/2 cups of cooked quinoa, which works fine.)
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups pureed pumpkin (This is about what a can of pureed pumpkin contains, so by doubling the recipe you don't have that half a can of pumpkin sitting in the fridge.)
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup butter, melted
  • 4 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1 cup semi-sweet mini chocolate chips (They taste just fine without the chocolate chips. But because my children fight over things like who got the muffin with more chocolate chips in it, I found it was easier to put a scoop of muffin mix in the paper liner first, then place 5 chocolate chips in each one, then another scoop of mix on top. Yes, that's what my life has become.)

The original recipe is for 12 muffins, but I can usually get 18 out of it -- meaning that the doubled recipe gets me 36 muffins. If you prefer to make big heaping muffins, then maybe you'll only get 24. Also, she suggests freezing them and microwaving for breakfast, but they've never lasted long enough at my  house to get all the way to the freezer so I can't vouch for that step.

When you make these, let me know. I'll be over with hot tea for both of us.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Where I attempt to write a post about politics that doesn't offend (too many) people

On Tuesday, I'll be voting for Barack Obama. I can tell by the silence that you're not the least bit surprised.

That's part of why I've been largely absent from Facebook for the past several weeks, except for my Instagram feed and today's shoutout to my amazing husband who ran a half-marathon in under two hours (woot woot!).

But otherwise, I've been intentionally avoiding Facebook for two reasons:

  1. I don't want to read all the nastiness that people spew about the candidates they don't like. It doesn't matter what side you're on, I just can't stand the ugly. Not surprisingly, I get more worked up when people are posting lies and absurdities about candidates I support -- but I really can't stand any of it. Cheer for your team, but don't trash the opposition. I'm only on Facebook to see pictures of your kids anyway.
  2. I never know when something I post that's related to politics will offend someone else. After the Democratic National Convention, I shared an image of Michelle Obama from a friend's page that I just thought was cool. Turned out that one of my relatives thought it was blasphemous. Oops. Whatever she saw was the total opposite of what I saw, but in her eyes I guess I was just as bad as those referenced in #1 above.
I knew it was time for me to stop engaging in election-related banter when my 80-year-old uncle forwarded an insulting joke about President Obama (and his supporters) to me a couple months ago. I don't know why he sent it because I assume he knows we don't share political views, but he did and it was really stupid and I completely over-reacted by sending him a terse email lecture in reply. Haven't heard from him since because he's probably still laughing too hard at how uppity I got.

At that point I decided I'd do my best to keep my political opinions to myself unless asked for them. Or unless I'm on Twitter and watching the presidential debates, in which case the filters are off but you really don't have to follow me until the mess is over.

So now I'm about to break my rule two days before the election -- but not about the presidential race. I don't believe anything I write about Obama will make you vote for him anymore than putting his campaign in my yard will cause you to suddenly change your mind. (If you are on the fence, I encourage you to read this piece from The New Yorker.)

But I do think the two signs I have posted in my yard might make a difference because they're for local races. In case you live in Wake County and you're still reading my ramblings, here's my two cents:
  1. Vote Caroline Sullivan for Wake County Commissioner. She's smart and she gets it. And if elected, she'd be only member of the Board of Commissioners who has children in the Wake County Public School System (they're in middle school). Given the important role that the Commissioners play in providing local funding for public schools, I'd say that's a significant qualification. (You should also vote to re-elect Betty Lou Ward.)
  2. Vote Sig Hutchinson for NC Senate. Somehow I got on the GOP mailing list, so I've been getting pummeled with outrageous mailings about how Sig Hutchinson has been raising my taxes. That's pretty impressive given that he hasn't held any office that would give him taxing authority. I know Sig from his great efforts over the years to expand our greenways and public parks. I trust that he'll bring a vision for Wake County and for NC that matches mine -- one that focuses more on quality of life for the state's residents.
If that's not enough opinion-sharing for you, just let me know -- more than happy to overshare and give you all sorts of lectures about why you should vote for Beth Wood (state auditor), June Atkinson (state superintendent of public instruction) and Sam Ervin (NC Supreme Court). But I don't think I can write about those without violating item #1 at the top of the post. So we'll just leave it at that.

Happy voting, y'all.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Saturday WSJ: On Why We Need Books


During the week, my husband gets the Wall Street Journal delivered to his office. On Saturdays, it comes directly to our house.

I never have time to read all of it -- and honestly I probably don't have the attention span for all of it anyway. But I love skimming through the "Review" and "Off Duty" sections for a glimpse into the life I don't lead. Complicated recipes with ingredients I've never heard of, raincoats that cost thousands of dollars, high speed cars with no room for booster seats, and luxurious travels to faraway lands.

I also really love the writing in the Saturday WSJ -- seems there's always some article that makes me interrupt whatever my husband is doing to read a passage out loud to him. Sometimes it's a clever car review, a couple weeks ago it was a review of an Xbox360 game, occasionally it's about a trip maybe we could one day make together.

So I've decided I'll try to share a passage with you each week -- a snippet of a favorite something from that Saturday's paper. Think of it as a virtual clipping sent in the mail.

Here's this week's excerpt from "My 6,128 Favorite Books" by Joe Queenan (emphasis mine):

Books as physical objects matter to me, because they evoke the past. A M├ętro ticket falls out of a book I bought 40 years ago, and I am transported back to the Rue Saint-Jacques on Sept. 12, 1972, where I am waiting for someone named Annie LeCombe. A telephone message from a friend who died too young falls out of a book, and I find myself back in the Chateau Marmont on a balmy September day in 1995. A note I scribbled to myself in "Homage to Catalonia" in 1973 when I was in Granada reminds me to learn Spanish, which I have not yet done, and to go back to Granada.

None of this will work with a Kindle. People who need to possess the physical copy of a book, not merely an electronic version, believe that the objects themselves are sacred. Some people may find this attitude baffling, arguing that books are merely objects that take up space. This is true, but so are Prague and your kids and the Sistine Chapel. Think it through, bozos.

The world is changing, but I am not changing with it. There is no e-reader or Kindle in my future. My philosophy is simple: Certain things are perfect the way they are. The sky, the Pacific Ocean, procreation and the Goldberg Variations all fit this bill, and so do books. Books are sublimely visceral, emotionally evocative objects that constitute a perfect delivery system.

Electronic books are ideal for people who value the information contained in them, or who have vision problems, or who have clutter issues, or who don't want other people to see that they are reading books about parallel universes where nine-eyed sea serpents and blind marsupials join forces with deaf Valkyries to rescue high-strung albino virgins from the clutches of hermaphrodite centaurs, but they are useless for people engaged in an intense, lifelong love affair with books. Books that we can touch; books that we can smell; books that we can depend on. Books that make us believe, for however short a time, that we shall all live happily ever after.

—Adapted from "One for the Books" by Joe Queenan, to be published Thursday. 

Monday, October 15, 2012

Catching Up

Hey friends... still here. Hope you are, too.

I have about 427 posts rattling around in my head and enough time to sit down and write about none of them. This makes me sad, except that I guess it's a good to thing to have a paying job, a freelance gig, two active children, a fabulous husband and a neighborhood full of awesome that are all keeping me busy.

So I figure I'll try to get back into a blogging rhythm by catching you up on some of the latest developments from recent posts at my convertible life...

  1. Winners! Thanks to all of you who voted (or tried to vote) for our Instagram photo in the Thomasville Furniture Facebook contest. Courtesy of your clicks and my husband's genius, we won! Now we have to figure out which of the fantastic sectional sofas they're offering will actually fit in our strangely long and narrow family room. Will invite you all over for a sit once we get it in the house.
  2. Calming down. After lots of reading and conversation, I've talked myself off the ledge following the superintendent's firing. I still think it was really poor timing and very poorly executed, but I'm willing to accept that there were real problems that we didn't see from the outside (interesting article here) . I've still got a lot of questions -- just hoping that the school board gets themselves together quickly. Bob Geary at The Independent said it all better than I can.
  3. Assignment 2.1. Post-firing, the school board found itself a miracle -- agreement on student assignment. Okay, not all of student assignment, but at least agreement that they needed to revert to the previous base school assignments instead of the new proposed ones. It actually didn't change anything much for my house, but it made a big difference for most of my neighborhood.
  4. Remodeling genius. I don't really know how this started, but I've had thousands of hits on this post over the past month via Pinterest. The post, which is almost a year old, includes a photo of how we (and by "we" I mean "our fantastic finish carpenter") built a corner separation using molding between the family room and the kitchen. Apparently there are a LOT of people who needed this tip. And you're welcome.
And now I'm out of time again. 

Just know that I miss y'all and our virtual conversations. Thanks for hanging in there with me.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Best Non-Political Vote You Can Cast All Year

Okay, people. We need your help here.

My brilliant husband learned about a contest to win a Thomasville Furniture sectional sofa by posting an Instagram photo of one of their couches on the company Facebook page.

And because he is so brilliant, he took our kids on their school holiday Wednesday (while I was at work) and captured this hilarious photo of Spidey and Butterfly Girl relaxing in the Thomasville store.

Now all we need is for you to click over to the Thomasville Furniture Facebook page and vote for our photo -- you have to "like" their page first in order to vote (sorry about that). If you vote for us and we actually win, I promise to let you come hang out with Junius and Pippi on the new couch. We'll even let you choose your own costume.

Here's the link: https://www.facebook.com/Thomasville/app_364041783617057 (Note: Lots of people are having trouble with the link. Not sure what's happening, but it might not be mobile-friendly. Try going to https://www.facebook.com/Thomasville and look at the top of their feed for the link to the promotion.)

And may the odds be ever in our favor.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Vacancy: Leadership of the Wake County Public School System

I keep peeking out my window for a glimpse of the airborne porcine wonder.

Because any day when I find myself agreeing with Paul Coble and John Tedesco is a day when pigs are flying, hell is freezing over and the end must be fast approaching.

This afternoon the Wake County Board of Education voted to remove Superintendent Tony Tata. I'll be the first to admit that I was skeptical (to put it politely) about him when he was hired. With only four months of education experience in the Washington, D.C., school system, the retired army general was one of those Outsiders Who Can Fix Public Education. As a former teacher, I generally bristle at the notion that someone with little or no education experience is somehow more qualified to run one of the nation's largest school districts.

But my sense of Superintendent Tata -- and what I believe the majority of the general public sees -- is a man who has (for the most part) kept a calm, professional face on what has been a ridiculously crazy school system. Since he was hired, he has followed the direction of the Board of Education, calmed some of the initial chaos with the old board, continued to work with the new board when they were elected (minus an embarrassing name-calling issue with a few members that showed poor judgement but for which he publicly apologized) and generally embraced the idea of innovation to move the district forward. I don't necessarily love Tony Tata, but I have no reason to hate him.

When the district was mired in a school bus disaster at the beginning of this year, Tata stood up, took responsibility and started working on a solution. He might not have made everyone happy, but I haven't seen grounds for immediate dismissal. I've heard rumors that he has bullied principals and undermined school board members, but none of that hearsay has been confirmed by any credible sources. (And if I learned one thing in journalism school, it's verify -- if your mother says she loves you, check it out.) I've heard just as many stories about parents commending him for his responsiveness.

The school board members who voted Tata out of a job today are the ones that I voted and campaigned for. I want to believe that they know things -- real, substantial, documented, horrible things -- that I don't know. I want to defend the district and the board and encourage people to believe that our school system is making decisions that benefit all students. I want to trust that all of this chaos is heading toward the right solution.

But from where I sit, it's really hard to imagine what's worth a $253,625 buy-out and yet another massive distraction from what the board should actually be talking about: teaching and learning.

Our kids deserve better. Our teachers and principals deserve better. Our community deserves better.

Instead of focusing on student achievement, teaching quality and what's going inside our county's classrooms, I'm thinking about who is going to fill the void. Who in the hell is out there with an ego big enough to want the job of Wake County Superintendent or an ego small enough to actually be able to handle it?

Monday, September 24, 2012

Student Assignment 2.0

The devil is in the details.

That ought to be the tagline for the Wake County student assignment plan.

The latest twist in the on-going (and seemingly impossible) search for the perfect plan involved returning a base school assignment tied to each address in the county. Until last year, every house in the district was automatically assigned to a specific school -- if you didn't apply to a magnet school or some other option, then that's where your kids went to school (we'll call this Old Plan).

For this year's plan (we'll call it New Plan 1.0), the school board did away with base assignments, having every family rank their preferred schools from a list of options (based on your address) and then placing them depending on certain criteria and available seats. Doing so gave the district more flexibility in filling available seats and avoiding wildly overcrowded schools.

Real estate agents (as a group) and some families protested this element of the new plan, saying it was unreasonable for newcomers to the area to be able to buy a house without knowing  where their kids would go to school. The new approach also meant that, depending on a variety of factors, it was possible to live across the street from a school and not get a seat there. You can see why people were frustrated.

So this summer the school board instructed district staff to revise New Plan 1.0 to reinstate base assignments tied to addresses. And regardless of the plan, they've promised to allow anyone already in a school to stay at that school until they graduate. Sounds like they're being responsive to legitimate complaints and frustrations, right?

Enter those devilish details.

Because when the district released the base assignment plan (we'll call it New Plan 2.0) on Friday, it turns out that they didn't simply go back to the school assignments that people remembered from Old Plan. In some cases, they got new assignments that pulled them away from where they were used to attending. And that left lots of people with a big surprise (translation: trauma) when they plugged their address into the online school finder Friday night..

So while I'm quoting cliches, I'll add You Can't Win for Losing as the clear motto for the Wake County Public School System. Seems that every time they try to adjust for one problem, they create six new ones in its place.

This scenario may not have played out in every neighborhood, but I don't think mine is the only one. With New Plan 2.0, here's what I think the school district was trying to do:
a. Keep a whole neighborhood together instead of splitting between two elementary schools.
b. Keep people at schools close to home, even if not at their absolute closest school.
c. Connect elementary schools to middle schools on the same calendar.
d. Relieve overcrowding at one school to fill empty seats at another school.

These all sound like good things, except that (ah, there's those details again) their solution was to assign most of my neighbors to:
a. A different school than the one they (or their address) have attended for many, many years.
b. An elementary school that is less than 2 miles away but would require riding the bus or at least crossing a very busy 6-lane street with no crossing guard instead of the school that they can currently walk less than a mile to.
c. A middle school that is 9 miles away and on a year-round calendar even though there's a traditional calendar middle school in our walk zone.

Yeah. They're not happy.

There are bigger policy issues at stake here -- how do we ensure that every school is a great school, how do we support teachers and principals to do great work, how do we help students get the attention and services they need, how do we ensure that no school is overwhelmed by poverty? But no one can think about those big questions because all they hear is more change, more uncertainty, more arbitrary decisions.

Oh, and tomorrow it sounds like the school board might fire the superintendent. Because nothing helps calm nervous or angry parents like a sudden leadership vacuum.

Oy vey.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Pillow Talk: Post-Game Edition

Conversation with Pippi at last night's very late bedtime after going to a college football game:

Pippi: "Mama?"

Me: "Yes, Pip?"

P: "Tonight? At the stadium football game?" [I'm guessing she adds the "stadium" to distinguish it from "arena football" or "in-the-backyard football."]

M: "Uh-huh?"

P: "The walking banana... was wearing a necktie!" [giggling as she remembers the man who walked past us in the stadium wearing a full banana costume]

M: "Yes, he was -- that was silly."

P: "I'm going to tell all my friends at preschool!"

M: "They will think you're hilarious, Pip."

P: "What if there was a walking carrot? And a walking strawberry? And a..." [more giggling]

M: [trying not to laugh] "Okay, time to be quiet and go to sleep."

P: "Mama?"

M: "Yes, honey?"

P: "I'm a goof ball. If anybody needs a goof ball, they can call me at my phone number. It is nine-zero-eight." [still more giggling]

M: [shaking my head in wonder] "Good to know, Pip."

Thursday, September 20, 2012

On Faith and Biscuits

Is it wrong to select your church based on its proximity to Biscuitville and its faith formation schedule?

Because I'm pretty sure those were the two main criteria that landed us at our new spiritual home.

I'm not proud of this. But sometimes I think we, as parents, make decisions based on what will cause us the least amount of angst. And right now in my life, I'm realizing that choosing anything that takes me more than 10 miles from home or adds evening activities into an already overfilled week causes me much stress. That stress then makes it harder for me to pray, to focus, to actually listen while I'm at church.

So we've signed on at a Catholic church that's less than three miles from our house (and even closer to Biscuitville) and offers faith formation classes* for BOTH kids right after mass on Sunday mornings. Did I mention they have BOTH a 2nd grade AND a pre-K class? And we get to drop off BOTH kids for an hour on Sunday morning?

You see my point, right?

Now the real test will be if we can actually get ourselves up, dressed and out the door in time for mass. Send prayers, y'all.

* If you're not Catholic, "faith formation" is the same thing as Sunday school. It's just not always on Sundays. And it used to be called CCD or the "Confraternity of Christian Doctrine." Now you know.

** And also? That picture is more than a year old and yes, she's chewing with her mouth open. But look how cute and happy she is at Biscuitville!

Click here to read more posts about why I gave up Catholicism for Lent and how I keep finding myself Catholic after all these years.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Best Anniversary Gift Ever

Tomorrow is my anniversary -- or as Pippi calls it, my Wedding Celebration Day.

Number 11.

Apparently the traditional gift is steel (which seems like maybe I could count the metal rooster we got this summer at the flea market, but according to the Bloggess, that's for 15th anniversaries), but I haven't actually bought a present for my husband yet. And I have no idea what to get.

Maybe that's because he doesn't really need anything. Or because the things he'd really want -- like a week with me on a private beach or a convertible BMW -- are completely out of my budget.

But the truth is that I know anything I come up with will pale in comparison to the Best Anniversary Gift Ever of 2005.

In keeping with the traditional linen for our fourth anniversary, I gave him the perfect gift: a quiet night's sleep in our freshly made guest room. Alone. Because that was the year that Junius was born.

Junius was a delightful, beautiful blessing of a baby who never ever slept for more than 45 minutes at a time unless he was being held. So he slept in our bed propped up on my chest every night for the first three months of his life. That's why the best thing I could have possibly given my husband that year was a night without me.

Giving him the chance to sleep undisturbed not only between feedings but through an ENTIRE NIGHT was the absolute most luxurious thing I could do for him. And now I don't really know how to top that.

What I do know is that I love him very much and that marrying him was the single best decision I've ever made.

Now quick - post some gift ideas in the comments here. I promise to give you credit if I steal incorporate your idea.


Friday, September 7, 2012

Friday's 5: Things I Learned on Vacation

We spent last week at the beach. It was glorious -- even with one rainy day and two cloudy days. I won't bore you with the details of drip castles and sunscreen and sand in the bath tub and trying to force Junius to let me take his picture. But I will share with you five random things I learned while at the beach.

1. Good books are even better with cocktails. Before I left for the beach, a friend recommended that I bring a copy of Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. And she suggested that I enjoy a mai tai along with it. Spot on, with both recommendations -- although I'd add a good gin & tonic to the beverage list. As a result, I've decided that all literary selections should come with a drink menu.

2. Some women shave their faces. Not because of a hair issue, but to slough off dead skin cells in order to look younger. And by "some women" I mean someone other than me who may or may not be one of my friends at the beach. I'm not a dermatologist, I haven't tried this, and I'm not making this up -- I'm just sharing. And no, I don't have a picture for this one.

3. Beach olympics are perfect on a cloudy day. You'll be totally jealous when I tell you this, but one of our friends organized "olympic events" including sack races, hula hooping and water balloon tosses -- complete with a hand-stitched olympic flag and "Chariots of Fire" playing in the background. There were also olympic ring tattoos and gold medals for everyone. See? Jealous, right?

4. Dress appropriately for the battleship tour. They don't tell you this on the website for the USS North Carolina, so I'm going to give you the straight truth. We stopped in Wilmington on our way home to tour the WWII battleship. Being an actual battleship, it's very interesting, seriously enormous and crazy hot (no air conditioning) -- all of which they mention on the site. What they don't tell you is that you SHOULD NOT WEAR A SKIRT. My above-the-knee swingy knit skirt was great for the temperatures, but not so smart for climbing up and down the dozens of ladders all over the ship while strangers stand below. Now you know.

5. Popsicles are for breakfast. Or at least they are on check-out day. In year's past, I've always ended up throwing the leftover popsicles in the trash -- not like they're going to survive the trip home in the cooler. This year I was awarded Rock Star Mom status when I handed my kids popsicles and paper towels and sent them out on the deck at 9 a.m. while we packed up the house.

Now it's your turn. What random knowledge have you acquired this summer? Share with us so that all may know...

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Rules of the Name Game

Now and then, I write about something controversial here at My Convertible Life. Things like redshirting in kindergarten, voting against Amendment One, assigning students to public schools or pole-dancing on Sundays.

But after a serious discussion with our beach friends on Sunday night (what... you don't sit on the beach at night with your friends and discuss parenting rules?), I realized I may have missed weighing in on an even bigger, more controversial debate: what name children should use when addressing adults.

Among the group of about seven parents, we could not find consensus about whether to use Mr/Mrs Lastname or Mr/Ms Firstname or some combination of the two. And we may have been drinking a few mai tais, which probably clouded our capacity for agreement and raised the volume on our discussion.

So, like all good parents, I turned to Twitter and Facebook to crowd-source the answer. Here is what I learned:

  1. Lots of you have strong opinions about this issue. (Who knew?)
  2. There is no definitive answer.
Yeah. Not so helpful.

Given the clear gap in parenting guidelines, I'm going to invent my own based on the range of replies I got. You may now follow these rules and recommend them to your friends:
  1. It's never wrong for a kid to call an adult by Mr/Mrs Lastname. If you need an easy default, that's it. If your child says, "Mrs. Garbanzo, may I have a cookie?" she can always say, "What nice manners you have. Of course you may -- and please, just call me Ms. Lucy."
  2. It's easier to correct the formal to informal than the other way around. In the previous scenario, if your kid said, "Ms. Lucy, may I have a cookie?" she's going to feel bitchy having to say, "Yes, you may, but you have to call me Mrs. Garbanzo."
  3. If you live in the South, you have more leeway for using Mr/Ms Firstname. Most of my Facebook/Twitter experts seemed to feel that it's "both sweet and respectful" in a Southern kind of way.
  4. If you have close friends who know your kids well, you can use something less formal -- either Mr/Ms Firstname or Auntie/Uncle Firstname (although that can get confusing with your actual relatives) or even just using their first name. The only non-relative adults I called by their first names (to their faces) when I was a teen were my BFF's parents and my piano teachers.
  5. When in doubt, your children may refer to me as The Queen or Your Royal Highness. This goes for my own children as well.
In analyzing the debate, I observed two things:
  1. The rationale for using Mr/Ms Lastname seems to be respect -- that it's a way for children to respect adults and to recognize that they are expected to listen to the adults. This is certainly the case for calling your teachers (once you've graduated from preschool) by their surnames.
  2. The rationale for using using Mr/Ms Firstname is a little less clear. For some, it's probably just a general desire to be less formal -- calling a young mom Mrs. Garbanzo might have her checking over her shoulder for her mother-in-law. For others, it's a way to demystify names ahead of the shift when kids become adults themselves -- after you've spent 20 years calling someone Mrs. Garbanzo, it can be tough to start calling her Lucy even when you're more of a peer. I still have friends from high school whose parents I cannot bring myself to call by their first names, more than 20 years post-graduation.
Okay, so those are my rules. What are yours? 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Guest Post: Organization for the Disorganized


When my online friend Evelyn over at Momsicle asked if she could guest blog about organization, I jumped at her offer -- then I realized she wouldn't be coming over to my house to demonstrate and I was a little disappointed (both because I could really use the help and because I'd love to meet her awesome self in person). 

So no, she will not be coming over to your house either. But she's got some great tips here and I'm looking forward to testing them out myself. Because I think we all know I could use the help. Then after you read her post here, be sure to click over to check out her lovely blog (all the way from the WEST COAST!).

* * *
From Evelyn at Momsicle

I'm a disorganized mom with many neuroses coping mechanisms. My husband and I have moved with two young kids twice in 2012, so I've put my adaptive behaviors through the pants press of life a couple times--to crisp them up under high heat. If there's anything that tests your organizing skills it's dismantling your house and putting it back together.

For me, when the clutter is tamed it feels like my breathing calms down and I don't shudder every time I look around.

I shudder quite a bit, but after two moves and a lot of stress I've started to rely on a couple of tricks. Maybe you'll find something helpful, and then I'll be happy. Please share your own tips so that I can try them!

Momsicle's tips for improving the organization of a kid-filled house:



1. Label things. Labels bring the logic that lives in your head into the real world. I love labels on kids' bins, garage shelves, linen closets, really anywhere. When many people live in a house and many people come to visit, labels help everyone remember where things go. I did label the kitchen at our last house and my husband thought that went a little too far. I am in love with the removable, printable labels that 3M Post-It makes. Other brands like Avery also have them, and eBay seems to have great deals so you don't have to pay through the nose.

2. Purge. My mom's motto is "When in doubt, throw it out." Do I need ten vases? No. Do I need 8 sweatshirts? No. I probably need three or four. So we purged things in the last moves. And now I have a bin set up in the garage labeled "Goodwill." I can collect things as I come across them, rather than searching later for the things I've forgotten I wanted to give away.

3. Speaking of purging, send your old electronics to Best Buy. (Another idea from Krista.) We were keeping sooooo many old cords and defunct gadgets (not to mention a 6,000-pound stereo system from the '90s). The stuff the kids don't play with all went to Best Buy--including an old air conditioner. If it has a cord, they pretty much take it.

4. Keep some organizing bins handy to tame things that need to go in and out of the house. I have three near the front door for things that we need to discuss and take action on, things that need to be mailed, and things that need to be returned. This idea came from Krista Colvin (see below).

5. Shop at Goodwill for storage containers. I am addicted to storage bins. I haven't met one I can't find a use for, but when you search for organization advice online the first recommendation is DON'T go out and buy all kinds of bins and shelving helpers. C'mon!!! What does a disorganized girl have to live for if I can't at least get some motivational bins. They make me feel whole. But they are expensive and I shudder when paying full price for clear plastic. So head to Goodwill, and for $1-6 a pop, you're set. 

6. Visit Krista Colvin over at Organize the Whole Shebang.  She has great ideas for how to deal with the C word ("clutter"). I don't know her and she's not paying me. A friend saw her speak about family organization and when I stopped by her site I stayed and read five or six posts. That says a lot about a blog.

7. Tame your Tupperware area. You may be able to relate to having a section of your kitchen where plastic leftovers containers are having a permanent anarchy convention. Each time I thought I'd tamed the beast, this conversation would ensue... Husband: "Are you sure we have a lid for this?" Me: "Yes! Yes! Dig deeper!" So we purged all the random plastic containers and are sticking with only one brand that has interchangeable, stackable lids. Space-saving is up and fights are down.

8. Rework the layouts of your rooms to think about HOW you use a room first, then what looks best. We used to have our computer tucked away in an "office" space, but does a hair-brained parent ever sneak away to a sacred spot to work at home? Never. I'm always writing or responding to things while in the middle of feeding someone, burning cooking a meal, or supervising play time. The computer and office stuff are now next to the kitchen. Similarly the file cabinet is now near where I bring the mail in, rather than tucked away in a place where I will never bring things to file.


Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Book Review: A Simple Thing

When TLC Book Tours contacted me about writing a review of an upcoming book, I'll admit I had two immediate thoughts:
  1. Yay! I love getting a free book.
  2. Oh. The book will probably be crap.
I realize that second thought wasn't really fair, but honestly I figured no one would be sending me a fabulous book for free. A fabulous book would sell plenty of copies without any help from my little blog, thus no one would need to mail me a copy. So my expectations for Kathleen McCleary's new novel, A Simple Thing, were very low.

Turns out, I was pleasantly surprised. On the spectrum between Nicholas Sparks (I'm sorry if you're a fan, but the books are terrible) and Lee Smith (sure I have a North Carolina bias, but she's awesome), McCleary falls neatly in the middle. This book might not get taught in anyone's English class, but it's a worthy contender for a good beach read.

The novel, McCleary's second, is centered around Susannah Delaney, a mother so desperate to protect her children (one from her own destructive teen tendencies and the other from bullies attacking his quirkiness) that she leaves her husband and home behind to take the kids to an off-the-grid life off the coast of Washington state. Parallel to Susannah's story runs the present and past of Betty Pavalak, a 50-year resident of the island with her own tale of marriage, motherhood and secrets.

I read the book in about a 24-hour period, thanks to some free time during a visit to my parents' house with the kids -- but also because it's a very readable, engaging story. The balance of story-telling between the two women -- both their separate lives in the past and their increasingly connected lives in the present -- keeps things moving along in a way that makes the book hard to put down. I actually found Betty's story more interesting than Susannah's -- she's a stronger character, if you ask me -- but the book is ultimately about Susannah (and her kids, her husband, her mother).

Parts of the book tended toward the predictable and there are a few pieces of the plot that are overly convenient, but McCleary thankfully avoids some of the cliches and traps that you'd expect in, say, a Sparks novel (again, apologies to the fans). Truthfully the most painful part of the book for me was thinking about Pippi while watching Susannah attempt to parent her rebellious teen-age daughter -- my daughter is only four, but I am already very, very afraid of what lies ahead. And I just don't think I have what it takes to move across the country to a remote island without my husband in order to get Pippi to make good choices.

I don't want to give away too much of the story -- it's a quick read and you want to leave the surprises ahead -- but I do want to share a quote from the book that really struck me. It's something that a character tells Betty at one point and then she shares it later with Susannah:
"Don't confuse guilt and shame. It's okay to feel badly about something you've done. But don't let it make you feel badly about who you are."
Now you totally want to know what she did to feel badly about, right?

You can learn more about Kathleen McCleary at her website and you can read what other bloggers have to say about the book by checking the TLC tour schedule. (I've resisted the urge to read other people's posts so as not to color my own -- but I'm sure I'll be peeking now that I'm done writing.) McCleary will also discuss A Simple Thing on Book Club Girl on Air on Tuesday, Aug. 21, at 7 p.m. ET.

Full Disclosure: TLC sent me a free advance copy of this book. How cool is that? But they didn't pay me for this post, I get no kick-backs from anyone purchasing the book, and all the opinions included here are my own. Because what kind of a book nerd would I be if I weren't honest about my opinions of books? Seriously, people.

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Finding Francis

My Lenten sacrifice was useful, but it didn't stick.

After Easter, as my husband and I talked about our impressions of the Episcopal church (based on our visits during Lent), we had plenty of good reasons to join -- and yet somehow neither of us seemed quite ready to let go of being Catholic.

So we decided to try a different Catholic church -- a Franciscan one this time, father from our house but closer to our personal philosophy. Still Catholic but somewhat separate from the hierarchy of the diocese, Franciscan priests tend to be less politically and socially conservative (and I just made a wildly sweeping generalization, so apologies to those more knowledgeable).

Anyway, on our first Sunday at this new Catholic church, the priest began the mass by welcoming everyone to the service. As he continued, welcoming visitors from other faiths, I braced myself for what I expected to be a polite churchy way of saying that those visitors would not be welcome at the altar during communion. It's a practice that I understand (because only Catholics believe in transubstantiation, so other faiths cannot receive communion), but one that always makes me cringe.

Instead, this is what he said: "If you are visiting us today from another faith, you enrich our service with your presence."

What?

"You enrich our service with your presence." 

Wow -- didn't see that one coming. That one phrase, spoken so simply, set a completely different tone for the mass for me. Maybe it's because my grandmother never converted to my grandfather's Catholic faith -- through more than 50 years of marriage -- or maybe just because I have so many wonderful, spiritual friends who aren't Christian, much less Catholic. Whatever the reason, it was enough to open my clenched fist just enough to accept the sign of peace.

And so the search continues...

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Wanted: An Impossibly Perfect Student Assignment Plan

What's even more elusive than the Holy Grail, Big Foot and my abdominal muscles that never quite recovered from two c-sections?

A student assignment plan for Wake County that will make everyone happy all of the time.

This is not news. For those of you who are regular readers -- or who get trapped into conversations with me around town -- you've heard me soapbox about this before.

The problem is that so many things sound like good ideas in theory -- attending a school close to your house, having guaranteed feeder patterns to keep kids together from elementary through high school, getting to rank school choices based on your own preference, opening new schools with volunteers instead of reassigning students -- but they don't always work so well in practice.

What if the school closest to your house is horribly overcrowded? What if the guaranteed feeder patterns tracks your child to a high school you don't like? What if you don't like any of the choices available to you? What if no one picks the new school and it goes unused?

And then the real kicker for members of the school board is that (again, in theory) they can't just think about what's best for one or two kids -- they have to make decisions based on what's best for all kids and for the county as a whole (assuming, of course, that they're concerned about such things, which they probably are).

Last month, at a meeting that lasted into the wee hours of the morning, the Wake County Board of Education once again attempted to change course for how the district assigns its 150,000 students to the 165 schools across the county. In a move that may or may not have seemed like a political ambush, depending on your stance, the board majority (who happen to be Democrats on the non-partisan board) voted -- over the strenuous objections of the (Republican) minority that had made its own hostile and aggressive moves a couple years earlier -- to direct school system staff to develop a new plan.

For those of you who've lost track, that would be a new plan for 2013-14 to replace the plan that was new for 2012-13.

Ugh.

It's possible that the "new new" plan might just be a blend of the "old" plan and the "old new" plan or maybe a tweak of the "old new" plan -- I want to believe they're just trying to correct some of the bigger challenges instead of throwing the latest baby out with the bath water.

But even though I'm not a huge fan of the new plan -- a lack of base assignment tied to your address seems unsustainable and the lack of attention to diversity seems fiscally (if not socially) irresponsible -- I'm even less a fan of having a complete overhaul every two years following a school board election. And at the rate things are going, it's looking like we could be trapped in a two-year pendulum swing, with voters (and parents) continually frustrated on one end or the other.

I wish I had a solution -- or a magic wand -- but I don't. All I've got are some suggestions:
  1. To parents: Remember that the very element of the plan you love most might be the same piece that ruined another family's year. This stuff is complicated at best and impossible at worst, but no one on the school board or in central office is purposefully trying to mess with your family.
  2. To the district staff: If you're going to tie addresses to a base assignment, please do a thorough review of the existing node system first. When a one-block street with only 16 houses on it is split between two nodes with different school options, there's a problem.
  3. To the school board: Quit being Democrats and Republicans and start being representatives for public education that makes good sense. Be socially and fiscally responsible about implementing a plan that sets schools up for success and uses facilities wisely.
  4. To the students: Work hard and be nice to your teachers. While the school you attend can certainly make your life more (or less) challenging, it doesn't have to determine the results you get from your education.


Tuesday, July 17, 2012

J-Fest 2012: How Big is 7?

A few months ago, we were looking at baby pictures of our kids with our kids -- a little trip down online memory lane, telling them stories to go along with the photographs -- when Junius suddenly burst into tears.

"I still want to be a baby," he sobbed. "I don't want to be big anymore."

The big cracking sound that followed was the sound of my heart breaking -- both for him, that he would be so sad about turning into such a wonderful big kid, and for me, because sometimes I wish he were still a baby too.

Since that night, we've been a little more careful to point out the advantages of being big (better food, the ability to read, not having to sit in poo). We've also tried to censor ourselves before we say things like "how did you get so tall?" or "don't grow up too fast!"

The truth is that watching your child grow up is about the craziest science experiment you can witness. When he's just a baby, no matter what Anne Lamott or Einstein might say, it's hard to imagine what he'll be like when he's 7, much less 17.

So for those of you who want to know what 7 (and parts of 6) look like, here's what Junius is doing that's different now from a year ago:

  1. The hand-holding days are mostly over. While this is somewhat practical -- it's easier for me to keep a handle on the Pip now that Junius can navigate parking lots and sidewalks on his own -- it still makes me incredibly sad. I love the loose-but-safe feeling of his little hand in mine, but now he just slips free nearly every time I try.
  2. Baby is optional -- and by Baby, I mean the small, white bear that he's slept with every night for the past six years and who he used to fake nurse when I was feeding Pippi. You can throw Blanket (with a capital B) in the same category. He still keeps Baby and Blanket in his bed and takes them on car trips -- but when I suggested he might want to put them in his bag for last weekend's sleepover birthday party at a friend's house, he looked at me incredulously and said, "No way, mom. That's for babies." And he slept just fine without them. And he stayed up until midnight playing at the party. Midnight.
  3. High dives are there to be conquered. Last week while visiting my parents, Junius decided to go off the high dive -- as in, climb the ladder 10+ feet in the air, stroll to the end of the diving board, jump off without hesitation, smack straight into a huge belly-flop (at which point I stifled a scream and raced walked calmly over to the edge of the pool), swim to the side and climb out like nothing had happened. Of course, about 5 minutes later, the cherry ice he'd eaten before the jump came right back up and landed on my foot. But other than that, the kid was unphased. I am still recovering.
  4. He can bargain with the Tooth Fairy. When he lost his front tooth earlier this month, he placed it under his pillow with a note that read, "May I have 5$ [sic] please?" He wrote this because a fifth-grader at his school said he'd asked for $10 and only got $5, so Junius interpreted that to be the Tooth Fairy's limit. And because he asked so politely, the Tooth Fairy totally fell for it.
  5. Seven hundred eighty-three pieces are not too many. He pooled the money he got for his birthday (including a "paycheck," as he called it, from his grandparents) and purchased the 783-piece LEGO police station. Then he proceeded to build the entire thing in less than a day with very limited assistance. Seven hundred eighty-three.
I realize that those of you with 10-year-olds or (gasp) teen-agers, this list sounds like small potatoes. But for those of you wondering when your kid will finally be old enough to wipe his own bottom? Just look at all the excitement still ahead!

Now I'm going to go work up a little cry over some baby photos while Junius is asleep...

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

J-Fest 2012: Blog Post Retrospective

The ol' blog has suffered some in the past year -- every week seems busier than the last, with less and less time for writing. And sadly (at least for me and my interest in actually sitting still and posting), Junius's birthday week has been no exception.

Crazy when real life gets in the way of writing about my real life, huh?

So while I work on getting a few more J posts together, here are some of my favorites from his year of being 6:
  • Jan. 17, 2012: Watching Him Go
    Because I'm not sure I'll ever get used to watching him walk away from me, even though that's just what he's been doing since he learned to hold up his own head.
  • Dec. 5, 2011: Showing Your Work
    Because my boy is a (qualitative) genius. 
  • Nov. 14, 2011: Sign of Fall
    Because he's just so flippin' happy.
  • Nov. 3, 2011: A Warning about Halloween Masks
    Because I'm so glad his face isn't frozen like that.
  • Aug. 4, 2011: Big Teeth
    Because he might actually be a shark.

Monday, July 9, 2012

J-Fest 2012: Every Age He Ever Was

This is what happens when you blink:

That's my Junius -- from day one to yesterday, when he turned seven. When I look at that progression, it kind of makes my heart ache in ways I don't completely understand.

So instead of trying to find my own words, I'll give you Anne Lamott's instead. I read her Operating Instructions in the final days of my pregnancy and the early days of Juni's newborn chaos -- clutching and grasping at the story of her son's first year, relieved to know I was not alone and that it just might turn out to be worth it. 

Now Lamott's son, Sam, has become a father and together they've written a new book about her grandson's first year. His name is Jax -- he's unplanned, but welcomed with love. In Some Assembly Required, here's how Anne describes watching Sam hold Jax:
"My wild son, who like most boys smashed and bashed his way through childhood, with branches and bats and wooden swords, who shut down and pulled so far away as a teenager that sometimes I could not find him, now taking tender care of his own newborn, a miniature who is both unique and reflective. Sam is still every age he ever was, from the fetus to the infant to the adolescent to the father. And Einstein would probably say that Jax is already every age he will ever be, but in such super-slow motion relative to our limited perspective that we can't see the full spiral of him yet, only this tan bundle of perfect infanthood with a blue butt."
That's what happens when I look at Junius. I see the wiggly fetus and the snuggly baby and the chunky toddler and the smiley preschooler that he once was. And when the light is just right, I get a glimpse of the gangly teen and even the handsome man he will be.


And it just about melts my heart.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Pippi Wants You to Call Her, Maybe?

In the beginning there was Carly Rae Jepsen, bouncing and singing through my car stereo via my husband's iPhone. If you want to listen in, click the play button here: Call Me Maybe

Why had my husband downloaded this poppy tune onto his phone? I have no idea.

But there it was. And I mocked him a little. Okay, more than a little.

Then he showed me the video of Jimmy Fallon singing the song with Jepsen. With the Roots playing as their band. On elementary music classroom instruments.

And the whole family was hooked. We particularly like the man in the back left with the bongos on his shoulder -- I cannot make my head do that, but damn I wish I could.



We listened to the song about 847 times during our family road trip that weekend. So much so that for the past week and a half, I haven't been able to keep any other songs in my head.

Apparently I'm not alone.

On Friday, Pippi was sitting at her little table coloring and entertaining herself for a few glorious moments while I ate my lunch -- when suddenly I realized she was singing the same line from the song, over and over and over again.

When I asked her if I could make a movie for daddy, here's the performance I got:

So the video quality isn't exactly Jimmy Fallon -- but honestly, I didn't actually expect her to perform on command because she pretty much never ever does that. Ever. Which is why the video is vertical.

But you gotta love the gum smacking, sunglasses flipping, cheesy grinning four-year-old stuck on the line about how "all the other boys try to chase me." There's no coaching going on here, but clearly some quality pop culture parenting. And it places Pippi in the ranks of Colin Powell, as well.

Oh, and you're welcome. Now the song is stuck in your head, too.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Recipe: Delicious Kale with Cranberries

I'd never even heard of kale until it arrived in my Produce Box last year. Tried making kale chips -- because that seemed to be the item most people were raving about -- but the texture and flavor both left much to be desired. I disguised the rest of last summer's kale in stir fry and decided that would be enough of that.

Then I accidentally ate the most delicious sweet and savory kale side dish at a friend's house and discovered a new love for the super healthy green. Here's the recipe (taken from allrecipes.com), along with my annotations. 

Ingredients

  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced (I used the pre-minced garlic in a jar)
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard (I used honey mustard)
  • 4 teaspoons white sugar (would recommend using less than that -- I used 2 tsp agave)
  • 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
  • 1 1/2 cups chicken broth
  • 4 cups stemmed, torn and rinsed kale
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries (I used Craisins)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds

Directions

  1. Heat olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Stir in the onion and garlic; cook and stir until the onion softens and turns translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in the mustard, sugar, vinegar and chicken stock, and bring to a boil over high heat. Stir in the kale, cover and cook 5 minutes until wilted.
  2. Stir in the dried cranberries, and continue boiling, uncovered, until the liquid has reduced by about half and the cranberries have softened -- about 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Sprinkle with sliced almonds before serving.

Let us know -- what's your favorite way to serve kale?

Photo from allrecipes.com.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Instagram Smiles: The True Story Behind the Photo

Instagram is rapidly becoming one of my favorite social networks.

It's a quick, fun glimpse into the lives of my friends (both those I know in person and those I know only online) without all the extra baggage that comes with Facebook -- but it also posts to Facebook, so my friends who aren't on Instagram can still participate.

Plus it's a fun way to pretend that I have some sort of photography skill, which at least keeps me entertained even if no one else is paying attention.

Here's a photo I posted recently on Instagram:

We were in the convertible with the top down -- my husband was driving, so I had the luxury of taking silly photos with my kids. In online responses to the photo, I got comments like "I love your happy children" and lots of "likes."

But in the interest of full disclosure, I must confess that the real scene was not so happy. Here's what I didn't post on Instagram from the same ride home:

That's Junius banging his enormous hard head into his sister's equally enormous hard head, causing her to shriek dramatically in (presumably fake) pain.
So I fussed at him for "hurting" her and he proceeded to pout, duck down and hide behind my seat. I took about four photos like this while I tried to coax him back out again. He mostly moaned, groaned, whined and complained. Notice that Pippi is now only too happy to lean in and smile.
Then he finally sat back up in his seat, but refused to smile or look at me. The two of them took turns (hey -- at least they're sharing, right?) pushing and shoving against each other -- a dramatic re-enactment of the irresistible force paradox.
Eventually he gave up (she's younger, but I think her head is actually bigger), sat back and glared at me. In this photo it almost looks like he wants to smile, but I assure you he did not. As for her? Well, her favorite shtick is to be the opposite of him -- the grumpier he gets, the sillier she becomes.

Nothing like a 6-year-old grouch to take all the sunshine out of driving home with the top down.

For more stylish photos -- including one of my "dessert" cereal from last night -- you can find me on Instagram (and Twitter) @convertiblelife. This post was nudged by my friend Ms. S and by Mama Kat's Writing Prompts.