My Convertible Life

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Weather Is Here, Wish It Were Beautiful

You see that little star, just at the top left of that ugly looking hurricane?

That's my vacation.

I'm trying hard not to complain. With any luck, we'll just miss a day or maybe two and still have a lovely (albeit shortened) week ahead. I should just be grateful that my home and my livelihood aren't bracing in the path of Irene's mess. And after a decade of last August and early September beach trips, I guess we were due for a big storm

But damn it! I still want to have a little temper tantrum and shake my useless fists at the weather map. Grrrrr.

Think I liked it better when the only hurricane I had to worry about was this one.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A Family Tree in Google's Branches

Yesterday I met my forty-eleventh cousin.

That's not technically accurate, but that's what my grandmother would have called him. 

Actually, his great-grandfather and my great-great-grandmother were brother and sister -- which makes us third cousins once removed. Trust me on this one.

I found him online. No, not like that. Even weirder, actually. 

A few years ago, I was googling myself (that still sounds dirty, doesn't it?) to find some online articles I wrote in grad school. One of the links that showed up took me to someone's online family tree -- and I was in it. Along with my parents and grandparents, my brother, my husband and my son. But I had no idea who the guy was that posted the tree. Freaky, huh?

Long story short, I emailed him, discovered that my great-great-great-grandfather was his great-great grandfather -- and given that that makes us very distantly related in the present day, we'd never met or really even heard of each other. Except that he'd done all this genealogy research and pieced together an extensive family tree that he posted online.

And through the magic of social media, we became Facebook friends and began keeping up with each other's families. Then yesterday he came by with his wife and youngest daughter (after calling ahead, of course) while they were in town visiting friends. They turned out to be lovely people (not that I should be surprised -- they are related to me, after all) and we had a really nice visit.

It's a funny thing to think about, but we're all related to loads of people out there who we've never met -- and most of them, we never will. I'm sure there's a lesson in there about being nice to strangers and treating everyone like your brother. But then again, maybe we're nicer to strangers sometimes than we are to our own family.

So instead of looking for some great moral in all of this, you might want to stick with the high entertainment factor of finding yourself online. Go ahead and google yourself. You never know where you might turn up.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Punch Buggy Orange!

"What's your punch buggy report, Mom?"

That's what Junius asks me every day. My punch buggy report.

And by that, he means he wants to know how many Volkswagon Beetles I saw that day so that he can add the number to my total from the day before.

Because with Junius, punch buggies isn't just a game for road trips. It's a lifetime cumulative total sort of game. We actually made him let us all start over at zero when he hit 100 the first time, so technically we're on our second round game at this point. He keeps a mental tally of his own score, plus totals for me and my husband as well.

It's pretty funny -- except that we're all crazy competitive. On family trips, my husband and I totally keep playing even when the kids have fallen asleep in the car. And Junius and I think it's a little unfair because we don't spend as much time in the car as my husband, so we don't have as many opportunities to see them.

As for Pippi, not surprisingly, she's just invented her own variation of the game. It involves shouting "Punch buggy green!" any time she sees any green car. Or when one of us sees an actual punch buggy, she sweetly asks, "Was that one for me?"

Guess we all like to win, even if we have to make up our own rules.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Friday's Five: Worst Things Your Kids Say in the Car

We'll be heading out on our annual beach trip later this month. I'm already counting down the minutes to sand in my toes, salty breeze in my hair and a ProCo shrimp burger in my mouth.

But before we arrive at the beach, we have to survive the car trip. Thankfully we're past the stop-in-the-empty-community-college-parking-lot-to-nurse stage and the frantically-grope-around-the-rear-facing-seat-to-find-the-pacie stage. They entertain each other more than they used to -- and more often than not, they'll sleep through part of the drive.

But there are still some phrases that I hate to hear come from the back seat while we're driving. There's the classic "Are we there yet?" -- usually first uttered as we turn left out of our neighborhood. And then there are these winners:
  1. "Mommy, I have a booger." Usually followed by the sound of my husband gagging. At least I've got tissues stashed in the glove box. The trick is to get the tissue around the kid's finger before said booger gets wiped on (ahem) something else.
  2. "My mouth is itchy. Is there peanut butter in this?" When your son is allergic to peanuts and you're 30 miles from the nearest hospital, the last thing you want in the car is a reaction.
  3. "She won't let me look out her window." Really? And how, pray tell, is she stopping you from pointing your open eyes toward the expanse of glass wrapping around our car?
  4. "I have to poop. Now." Usually yelled about 3 minutes after we leave the rest area. This is the primary downside of children who are potty trained. 
  5. "I can't see the movie on my screen." For some reason, one of the screens in our two-screen car DVD player set is showing up strangely green and kind of dark. I do not know why and cannot seem to fix it. And seriously, I spent HOURS in the car as a kid with NO TV and NO BOOKS (car sickness is a bitch) and I survived. Get over it, kid. 
So how about you? What car comments make you want to pull over at the next exit and hitchhike back home?

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Band in the Neighborhood (from Kansas)

It's not every day that a neighbor invites us over to hear a band play at their house. So when Marty announced they were hosting Abandon Kansas in their over-the-garage music studio earlier this week, I strolled out my driveway and across the street to hear what the fuss was about.

Two hours later, I was making chat with Jeremy here like a little groupie and clutching two new CDs in my hand. And I've been listening to those songs ever since.

If you weren't lucky enough to get the invite to the show (meaning that you're not lucky enough to live close by), then just be glad that I'm here to introduce you. So here's what you need to do:
  1. Go read Marty's post about how she met Abandon Kansas earlier this year. 
  2. Go to the AK website and listen to their songs. Buy some music in your format of preference. Tell Jeremy that we sent you.
  3. Sit there and be jealous that my neighbors are cooler than your neighbors.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Junius Loses His First Tooth

This actually happened last Wednesday,
one week after the shark teeth showed up.
And yes, the Tooth Fairy remembered to come (phew!).

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Big Teeth

Someone hold me.

Not only does my sweet baby boy have his first wiggly loose tooth, I discovered something even more terrifying today. Behind those tiny, adorable, bottom front teeth are two great big boy teeth poking through.

Look at them in there! How is it possible that I just saw them today?! And he's so very proud -- especially when my husband told him he's like a shark with two rows of teeth.

I'm not entirely sure why this seems like a bigger deal than starting first grade or riding the bus or all the other big boy stuff he can do now. Maybe because it's the start of his grown up face -- a visible sign every time I look at him that he's growing up faster and faster every minute.

Whoever said that the days are long but the years go by so quickly really wasn't kidding. Going upstairs now to kiss his sleeping forehead one more time before he's suddenly 17.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

School Labels

This week I sent my son off to first grade at a Failing School. And I'm not alone -- of the 163 schools in my district, 141 of them are Failing Schools.

At least, that's the designation according to the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Of course, I've actually been in my son's school, met his teachers, talked with his principal, seen what the kids are up to. I know that it's not a Failing School.

His school is the place where he learned to read, add and subtract last year. It's the place where he made new friends and played with old ones. It's the place where  teachers and administrators worked hard to teach all students and help them succeed. It's the place where parents and grandparents volunteered their time and money to make a difference. It's the place where Junius was excited to come back and start first grade.

But because his school missed the mark with six subgroups of students out of the 23 they're required to report, his lovely school is labeled a Failing School. And because it's the second year in a row that the school has been labeled in this way (last year they met 22 of 23 goals), they are required to offer families the option of transferring to another (specified) school in the district.

And this brings me to my concern about No Child Left Behind. I realize I'm not the first (or last) person to write any of this, but it feels really personal now that it's my school. While I don't dismiss the value of assessing student progress and holding schools accountable (because, honestly, is anyone arguing that we SHOULD be leaving some children behind?), I think it is dangerous to use this all-or-nothing approach.

For those of you not familiar with AYP (Adequate Yearly Progress) and NCLB, here's a quick primer of how it works in elementary schools:
  • Every student in grades 3-5 takes two end-of-year standardized tests, one in reading and one in math.
  • The school is responsible for reporting test scores for each of the following groups that has at least 40 students in it across the tested grades: white, black, Hispanic, Native American, Asian, multiracial, economically disadvantaged (measured as students who receive free and reduced-price lunch), limited English proficient (meaning English isn't their first language) and students with disabilities (also known as special ed). 
  • Using these measures, most schools have several subgroups (plus their scores for the school as a whole), but not all 10.
  • Counting each subgroup twice (once for reading and once for math) plus the school as a whole and a few of other measures under consideration, the elementary schools in my district have as few as seven and as many as 33 subgroups. The more diverse a school is, the more categories it's responsible for meeting (and thus, the more challenging it is to make the goal).
  • If just one student group in one subject (math or reading) at a school does not meet the targeted proficiency goal, then the school is labeled a Failing School. That means that, depending on the target goal, it's possible for the test scores of 10 children in a school of 600 could determine whether a school is considered a failure.
When the general public hears "Failing School," they're not picturing my school. But if you're a new parent to the district or the school and you see that label on my school, wouldn't you be looking for another place to send your kids? And that would be a real shame because you'd be missing out on a great school.

On a happier note, take a minute to look back at Junius heading off for his first day of kindergarten last year. Same backpack, but a smaller boy. Man, he's growing up fast!