My Convertible Life

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: (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 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...