My Convertible Life

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Head Shot

Not even a right-side hair part and the magic of Instagram can camouflage the latest addition to my head wound. This frickin basal cell is not going away without a fight.

And in case you're wondering, it's been seven weeks since my surgery. Seven. Also, have to keep this bandage dry for a week. While it's 100 degrees outside. While I'm taking my kids to the pool. While I'm supposed to be wearing a hat that will no longer fit over my head.


Thursday, June 23, 2011


They say that admitting you have a problem is the first step toward recovery, so here goes.


My name is Cyndi.

I am a bookaholic, a binge-reader. And it's causing me to lose my mind.

Last Saturday night, instead of going to bed at a reasonable hour so that I could have the energy to get up at 6 a.m. with my children while we let the Daddy sleep on Father's Day, I stayed up late reading. Actually, I stayed up until 2 a.m., plowing straight through to the end of my book. Captain Saturday by Robert Inman. Nothing was wrong, I just couldn't stop reading.

I've probably been like this ever since I started reading Morris the Moose Goes to School at age 4.

Before I knew it, I was devouring The Chronicles of Narnia, Nancy Drew and The Bobsey Twins, the Anne of Green Gables series, Little House on the Prairie and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farms.

Then it was lots of Judy Blume and some of these favorites, followed by every one of the Sweet Valley High books (which I borrowed from my friend's collection a couple at a time).

At some point in high school, someone loaned me copies of The Handmaid's Tale, Bonfire of the VanitiesSkinny Legs and All and The Cider House Rules -- it was like feeling the power of the ocean for the first time and realizing that backyard swimming pool wasn't so refreshing after all. For my senior English class, there was Heart of Darkness and The Metamorphosis and plunging into Hermann Hesse's Demian and Narcissus and Goldman, then Ibsen's plays like A Doll's House and Hedda Gabbler -- that was the year I decided to be an English teacher.

In college, I didn't have as much time for "pleasure reading" -- but being an English education major meant I got to read plenty for classes. Rediscovering American classics like The Scarlet Letter and The Great Gatsby, finding whole new territories in One Hundred Years of Solitude, wandering into the amazing North Carolina writings of Kaye Gibbons, Clyde Edgerton and Lee Smith, taking women's studies lit-based classes with A Yellow Raft in Blue Water, Madame Bovary and Tracks.

I also dated a boy whose parents owned a bookstore (I may have had a harder time letting go of them and their shop than I did him) -- they introduced me to more Margaret Atwood, Tom Robbins and John Irving plus Doris Betts, Michael Lee West, Robert Inman, Ferroll Sams, Alice Walker, Barbara Kingsolver and more.

Once I started teaching, there was even less free time to read, so I spent my summer breaks diving through the high school reading list -- The Bluest Eye, Ellen Foster, A Raisin in the Sun. When I left teaching for Wales, I read the British versions of Bridget Jones and the first three Harry Potter books while I learned all the local lingo.

I've always consumed books as much as I've read them -- but it seems that the less time I have to read, the more likely I am to binge once I start. Which makes me afraid to start a book. Which makes me afraid to put it down once I start. And so the cycle continues.

More recent reads include Water for Elephants (which I finished early on a Sunday morning while plying my children with cartoons), The Help (which I practically swallowed whole while abandoning my children to friends at the beach), Lift (which I read sobbing on the beach while my husband entertained the kids) and the first two books of the Clockwork Dark series by my friend John Bemis (book three should be out soon!).

And of course, there's Anne Lamott -- one of the few non-fiction writers I've really followed, starting with Operating Instructions (which, if you are a mom or plan to be one you absolutely MUST read). Oh, and there's always David Sedaris, too.

Clearly I could go on and on. And on.

So you tell me... are you able to read just one chapter a night? or do you find fiction impossible to put down? And what titles are the ones that kept you up until the wee hours? Not that I need help staying up too late, mind you, but I'm always up for suggestions.

Note: If you're planning to buy books, please go to your local independent bookseller. If there's not one in your area, you can borrow mine -- Quail Ridge Books and Music will let you order online, send you a confirmation from a real live person, and ship your books straight to you.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Soporific Stairs

In case Pippi's last staircase nap wasn't funny enough for you...

This is what happens when you wake up at 6 a.m., play hard all morning, walk at the grocery store instead of riding in the cart, spend mid-day paddling around in the big pool and then resist taking a nap.

We can only guess that she sat down at the top of the stairs to slide down on her bottom, then leaned back and fell asleep.

Truth is, I was just jealous.

For more sudden-onset napping genius (plus a spot-on analysis of "The Roly Poly Pudding"), be sure to visit Naps Happen.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Friday's 5: More Children's Books

When I was a kid, I'd spend my summer visiting the Elbert Ivey Memorial Library in Hickory, NC. I don't know why I still remember the full name, but maybe it's because I spent a lot of time there. I'd take a cardboard box with me, fill it with books, read them all and return to my summer reading program stamps. Check out, read, repeat.

Even though I'm supposedly a grown up now, I still love children's books. So even though I gave you a 5 list of books last week, I've got a back-log of kids' books to write about -- we've been going to the library a lot lately and coming home with a sack full each time.

So here, in no particular order, are five more kids' books for you:
  1. Hubert Horatio Bartle Bobton-Trent by Lauren Child: If you know Charlie and Lola, you already know about Lauren Child's quirky stories and wonderfully textured illustrations. This story -- about a long-named boy who is much more responsible than his loving but flaky parents -- is downright hilarious and the main character's name is just plain fun to say.
  2. Plantzilla Goes to Camp by Jerdine Nolen and David Catrow: Mortimer is heartbroken when he can't bring his pet plant with him to camp. Through postcards home, we find that Plantzilla isn't happy about it either.
  3. The retired kid by Jon Agee: Being a kid is hard work. So this one retires to Florida and makes friends with Ethel, Myrtle, Harvey and Tex. But Brian finds out that retirement isn't all he hoped it would be.
  4. Brontorina by James Howe and Randy Cecil: A book that combines ballerinas AND dinosaurs -- it just doesn't get any better at our house. Brontorina wants to dance, but she just doesn't fit in the studio. Thankfully, her friends Jack and Clara are there to help out.
  5. Mary had a little ham by Margie Palatini and Guy Francis: Mary's very talented pig, Stanley Snoutowski, leaves the farm for Broadway -- but he never forgets the girl who first believed in him.

Monday, June 13, 2011


One of the keys to peaceful parenting is figuring out which rules and decisions you're willing to fight to the pain and which ones you're willing to just let go.

There are times that I'm in the middle of a knock-down-drag-out with Pippi when I hear the little voice inside my head saying, "Really? You're going to have an epic battle with this three-year-old about not wearing polka dot leggings with a different pattern polka dot shirt?"

Sometimes the answer to that question is "Yes, damnit. I am the MOM and I make the RULES and she needs to understand that the fashion police WILL stop her." At which point I become the crazed mom that other moms watch from a distance to make themselves feel better about their parenting.

Other times, I come to my senses and realize this is probably part of that overly dramatic flair that makes Pippi so hilarious. (Note: If you see my children wearing plaid with stripes or some other craziness, please know that they dressed themselves and that I'm trying to be a better parent about it all.)

But early on, I think my husband and I agreed that hair styles would not be our hill to die on when it came to battles with our kids. I really like Pippi's hair in a short bob, but she wants long hair "like a princess" -- so it's slowly inching its way down her little back.

With Junius, he hasn't been so opinionated. But now and then, he gets an idea that just won't let go.

So yesterday, after their regular father-son outing to Sport Clips, Junius came home with this:

Because who says you can't be a sweet, sensitive kindergartner and still have a bad-ass mohawk with some styling product in it? Now I'm just waiting for him to ask for the hair dye.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Friday's Five: Children's Book Recommendations

It's been a good long while since I posted a list of children's books -- guess we've been too busy reading (and everything else) to write about them.

Pippi and I are off to the library this morning to get some new reads -- hopefully less "Barbie Rock Star" and more of what you'll find on today's list. Here, in no particular order, are some of our latest favorites from library (plus one from a friend) that have been keeping us all entertained:
  1. Big Smelly Bear by Britta Teckentrup: Bear stinks and he doesn't care. But when a friend tells him the truth, he discovers that getting clean isn't all bad.
  2. The Yawn Heard 'Round the World... by Scott Thomas and Tatjana Mat-Wyss: Always smart to read a bedtime story about yawning. This one has fun illustrations and a great rhythm to it as a little girl's yawn gets passed around the globe.
  3. A Confused Hanukkah: An Original Story of Chelm by Jon Koons and S.D. Schindler: I realize it's not Hanukkah season, but this one is still funny. And having grown up in a very Jewish neighborhood, I like sharing this story with my kids.
  4. Lilly's Purple Plastic Purse by Kevin Henkes: Lilly loves her purple plastic purse, her sparkly glasses and her shiny quarters more than anything. So much so, that she gets in trouble with her favorite teacher and learns a tough lesson in the process.
  5. Bertil and the Bathroom Elephants by Inger Lindahl and Eva Lindstrom: This funny book appears to be out of print, but is still available at the library. Who knew that Bengali bathroom elephants liked to eat raisins, cause trouble and listen to jazz?

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Can I Have My School Assignment Plan in Turquoise, Please?

If you're starting to think that I spend a lot of time soapboxing blathering on and on writing about our public schools, you're probably right (just click the "school" or "politics" or "soapbox" labels from the cloud on the left to see them all). But there's a lot going on here to write about -- and sometimes (like this week) I get requests from friends (yes, plural) to share thoughts on these issues.

So brace yourself -- Dr. Convertible Life is about to step up to the podium again. Just remember that some of you asked for it. The rest of you can just re-read yesterday's post and have a good cry. 

Here's my short answer to questions about the two proposed student assignment plans put forth by the Wake County Public School System:
  1. If you like the school you get assigned to and/or if your child has a good experience there, you'll love whichever plan gets picked.
  2. If you don't like the school you get assigned to and/or if your child has a bad experience there, you'll hate whichever plan gets picked.
  3. Either way, there's no perfect solution that will make everyone happy and you're guaranteed to piss off at least one loud group of people (if not more).
The whole thing makes me wonder why anyone would ever want to be a school superintendent or run for school board. Delusions of grandeur? An intense love of hate mail? A desperate need to be on public-access television?

Anyway, here's my longer answer, in case you're looking for more:
  • Both plans offer a grandfathering option -- if you're already in school and you like it there, you can stay and any younger siblings can come, too. The WCPSS website adds that they'll continue to provide the same transportation as well, which sounds like it could get complicated and expensive, depending on the choices people make. (See #1 above.)
  • The Blue Plan appears to offer a lot of choices for parents in selecting an elementary school, but you would no longer have a base school assignment. For real estate agents and homebuilders, that's going to be tricky at best -- there's no promise that links a certain address to a certain school. If you move into a neighborhood after everyone else has already picked their schools and the two closest schools are overcrowded, you will get bumped to a school that is farther away in order to find an available seat.
  • Having all those choices with the Blue Plan is only nice if a) you like the schools on your list and b) the district assigns you to your top choice. Even with a "choice plan," the district still holds the final say in your school assignment. There's no such thing as a total choice plan because, at some point, schools get full and they'll have to send kids somewhere else. If you don't like all the choices available to you, does it still feel like a choice? (See #2 above.)
  • They're suggesting that 90 percent of people will get their first or second choice with this plan. That might be true, but it still only works if a) you like the first two schools on your list and b) you're not in the other 10 percent. (See #3 above.)
  • Priority placements under this plan will first be given to siblings of current students and then to students who live closest to the school. That means that if there are lots of families with lots of siblings living within 1.5 miles of a school and you live 2 miles away, that school will probably be full before they get to your name. (See #1-3 above... you get the idea.)
  • As new schools are opened, they will be filled by choice only under the Blue Plan. No students will be reassigned from an existing school to a new school. It's hard for me to imagine how this will work (like what if only 12 2nd-graders choose that school -- will they be able to hire a 2nd-grade teacher for only 12 kids?), but presumably there would be enough people who want to be at a shiny new school that is perhaps closer to their house than whatever school they were attending.
  • The Green Plan retains the base assignment, which includes a year-round and a traditional calendar option, and is essentially a tweak of the current assignment plan. It uses the existing node system, which is complicated and illogical at times (like when the node line dividing two schools goes down the side of my yard and bi-sects my one-block street).
  • If your base school is a year-round school and you prefer a traditional calendar school, you are guaranteed a spot in your traditional calendar option with the Green Plan. That option, however, is determined by the district and may or may not be close to home.
  • Families will still have a list of magnet options to consider and could apply for those schools through the magnet lottery. In some ways, the magnet options in the Green Plan give you just as many choices (if not more) than in the Blue Plan.
  • While both plans mention a strategy for ensuring that no school is overwhelmed by low-performing students, the Green Plan identifies more specifically how students from low-performing areas will be placed in high-performing schools.
  • No student will be reassigned more than once in any given grade span (K-5, 6-8 or 9-12) under this plan. Some reassignments may be necessary to fill new schools or relieve overcrowding, but current students and siblings could still grandfather in to stay at their existing school.
So I think what it all comes down to is this:
  1. If you're already in a school and you like it there, nothing changes. You are free to form an opinion about which plan is best for the county as a whole without worrying about what it will mean for your child's personal school assignment.
  2. If you are comfortable without a seat in a guaranteed base school, then you'll probably like having the "choices" offered in the Blue Plan.
  3. If you would rather know that your house (and maybe your street or your neighborhood) is assigned to a specific school, then you're probably more comfortable with the "stability" offered in the Green Plan.
  4. Regardless of which plan gets chosen, you'll still have kids within a neighborhood (or even within a single block) going to different traditional calendar, year-round, magnet, charter, parochial and private schools.
And now here's the real bottom line:

I don't have an answer about which plan is best.

We've had a good school year at our year-round base assignment. The schedule suits us well and Junius has learned a lot. We've invested time, energy and money in our school and its PTA, knowing that commitment from parents makes a difference for Juni and all his classmates.

I had hoped for a magnet school -- one that offered languages and extra arts classes -- but we weren't selected and I hate that he's missing all those extras. Junius attends school with one of his best friends, but not with lots of other kids from our neighborhood who get to walk to school together. If we lived in the house next door, we'd be walking to that (magnet) school instead. And even though we've had a good year, I'm still annoyed about that.

The irony of it all for me is that nothing changes for my address in either plan. Regardless of what the board decides, I would still have the same menu of "choices" available as I have right now. The difference is only whether I can request schools through ranking my options or applying to the magnet lottery, but the results are the same.

I find this fact both disappointing and comforting. The former because it seems like the whole assignment debate is all sound and fury, signifying nothing; the latter because at least I'm not bracing for personal change.

What would really solve this whole question? Living in neighborhoods that are racially and socio-economically diverse and ensuring that every single school in the entire county is a great place to teach and learn. But no student assignment plan can accomplish that task.

Map image from WCPSS.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

"The Longest-Lived Survivor"

I generally don't read the obituaries.

I'm afraid of death. Or more specifically, I'm afraid of losing people I love. So I avoid the obits as a reminder of the inevitable.

Except when I was pregnant, when I would quickly scan the obit pages looking for interesting names to use for my soon-to-arrive babies. Even then, I still didn't read the actual obituary. And I never found quite the right name, either.

But today, as I was flipping through the paper, one of the obits caught my eye. Maybe it was the pretty photograph of the deceased, possibly it was the length of her hyphenated name. For some reason, I started reading it.

"Elizabeth Kathryn Herring-Shapiro, called Betty Kaye by most of her family and BK by her husband and countless dear friends, passed away Friday morning, June 3, shortly after sunrise. At the time of her passing at the age of 66, she was thought to be the longest-lived survivor of cystic fibrosis in the nation and perhaps the world."

And then I started to cry.

That she lived to age 66, the obit says, is a testament to both medicine and her "unwavering faith in God, miracles and the power of prayer." I found some hope in the very full life she lived in those 66 years, with a career that ranged from New York model to Governor's special assistant to international tour director. She must have been a great friend to many and was clearly loved by her family.

When we walk in the Great Strides walk each year to raise funds to cure cystic fibrosis, it's not for some broad, altruistic reason. It's for this very specific goal:

I'm counting on never seeing the obit for Jack's buddy. But when it's printed (assuming there's still such a thing as "print"), I want it to say that at the ripe old age of 101, after a rich and successful life, he was the longest-lived survivor of cystic fibrosis.

Photo from the N&O obituaries.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Guest Post: Budget Slaughter Isn't "Education Reform"

I love my husband all the time. But I especially love him when he writes a letter to the editor like this one, completely on his own and submitted today.

According to the state Constitution, North Carolina is required to provide the state’s children with "a sound basic education." While much work remains to fulfill that mandate, the Republican controlled legislature is destroying a half century of education progress and North Carolina’s public education system in one fell swoop.

In addition to cutting general funding and classroom support across the state, Republican legislators want to slaughter nationally-lauded programs such as More at Four, Teaching Fellows and Governor’s School. These cuts imperil students at an early age, take teachers out of the classroom and the education ecosystem over the long run, and weaken the creative and intellectual fabric of our states’ promising young leaders. Budget cuts also affect things like building maintenance – a broad term suddenly meaningful when there’s no air conditioning in your kid’s elementary school on a 95 degree day.

Education is the bedrock of our state’s future. It’s disingenuous to drastically cut funding and call it reform.

Real reform would focus on school finance models, teacher training and creating high performance cultures in schools. Instead while pound-foolish, tea-partying legislators are busy “taking back” their state, they are crushing public education and taking us back to 1950.