My Convertible Life

Friday, July 26, 2013

Friday's 5: Pandora Stations

Among the reasons why I love our TiVo is the ability to stream Pandora through our television. Having music on in the house makes me happy, but we don't have a radio that works well downstairs and I'm generally too lazy to actually put a CD in the CD player -- yes, I still have CDs, so shut up.

Anyway, we have a long list of stations that we've compiled over time -- a little something for every occasion. What I've learned over much trial and error is that sometimes the best stations come not from artists or genres, but from specific songs.

You'll want to tweak them as you listen to steer them in the direction you like best, but here are five of our favorite stations:
  1. Man or Muppet Radio: This station is my kids' favorite, not surprisingly. It includes a range of Disney movie songs from Mary Poppins to Tangled, but also most of the songs from the most recent Muppet movie. My personal favorite is the Spanish-language version of Gonzo's chickens singing "Forget You" (you know, because chickens clucking in Spanish is totally different than clucking in English).
  2. The Girl from Impanema Radio: The summer before I got pregnant with Junius, my husband and I spent a few days in South Beach. Two nights in a row, we went to this great club and listened to a fantastic Latin jazz band. Now, on the rare occasion that we get our kids to bed early, this is the station we pick to bring back that same mood. Goes best with mojitos.
  3. The Dog Days Are Over Radio: Strangely enough, I discovered this Florence + the Machine song via the spectacular Pentatonix on "The Sing-Off." Once I got accustomed to the original version, I found that it pulled together a station of some familiar songs and lots more I didn't know into a really interesting station.
  4. This Must Be the Place Radio: I love 80s music and have more than one 80s-related station set in Pandora. But this one gets to a really nice mix of 80s that my husband enjoys listening to as well (translation: it's not all Bon Jovi and Tiffany).
  5. Flashlight Radio: Sometimes my day just needs a little funk and Parliament is the way to get it. Ha da da dee da hada hada da da. That is all.
Leave a comment with your favorite Pandora station and share the good listening...

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Moral Monday: Paying for Good Schools

In my previous job, I had the good fortune to find myself often attending meetings with Dudley Flood. You can read his full bio here, but he's served in a range of education roles from 8th grade teacher to associate superintendent for the NC Department of Public Instruction, where he retired in 1990. He holds degrees in education from NC Central University, East Carolina University and Duke University. In short, he's got the credentials and the experience to know what he's talking about when it comes to education.

But beyond his resume, Dr. Flood is a great storyteller -- and he weaves a fascinating tale of what he's seen over decades of involvement in public education. One of my favorite comments that I recall hearing in his speeches goes something like this:
People always say you can't just throw money at a problem. But just once, I'd like to try it out and see what happens.
That's what I want to say to our state legislature this week, as they prepare to pass a budget that strips ever more funding away from our public schools. Actually, what I really want to say to them isn't fit to print, so I'll just start with that.

Now of course, I don't actually mean throw the money. I don't mean like a pinata where the kids scramble to stuff their pockets with loose change.

What I mean is this: What would happen if we funded public education so that:

  • Teachers were paid as true professionals, particularly those with graduate degrees and extensive experience, to demonstrate the value of the job?
  • Schools were built to comfortably seat all the students and provide adequate teaching space for all classes?
  • Schools struggling to meet students' needs got extra assistance, including instructional coaches, literacy specialists and customized professional development for all faculty and staff?
  • Classes were small enough for teachers to be able to differentiate instruction and really address students' needs, or teacher assistants staffed most classrooms to supplement instruction and help manage the workload?
I want to know what that would look like. I want my tax dollars to go toward making those things happen. I want to live in a state that makes those kind of commitments.

But instead, North Carolina gets a General Assembly that:

  • Eliminates salary increases for teachers with advanced degrees starting in 2014 and teachers have only had one pay increase (a measly 1.2%) since 2008. Because why would you want to encourage and reward educators for pursuing more education? They're only teaching your children, after all.
  • Argues to remove building authority from local school boards, threatening the passage of upcoming school bonds (thankfully it appears this bill is dead, although it's had more lives than a cat).
  • Funds a $10 million voucher program (in the first year) to give some families "a way out" to leave for private schools without addressing any of the problems or challenges facing students and teachers in the public schools left behind.
  • Removes caps on class sizes and eliminates teacher assistants in 2nd and 3rd grades. If you've ever been the only adult in a room with 30 seven-year-olds for more than an hour, you know this is a bad idea.

It may be true that throwing money around won't fix anything. But depriving schools of the basics needed to get the job done sure as hell doesn't solve anything either.

Instead, targeting money at real solutions could make a world of difference: Ensuring teachers earn enough money that their children don't qualify for medicaid, constructing facilities that get students out of trailers and into well-equipped classrooms, coaching schools in research-based practices to make them more effective at reaching every child, creating environments that encourage learning and generate productive working conditions.

That's not throwing money around -- that's called investing.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

LTYM: Watch Me Read to You!

Who knew that watching a video of myself presenting my writing on stage at the Listen to Your Mother show in May would make me more nervous than actually presenting my writing on stage at the show? But when I got the email today saying the videos had been posted, my heart started racing and my palms got all sweaty.

Watching myself is crazy weird. That's all I have to say about that.

But I loved being part of this show with our amazing producers Marty and Keanne and all of the great cast members, so I absolutely must share it with you. Now go fix yourself a beverage, find a comfortable spot to sit, and settle in to watch our show...

After you've watched all the awesomeness from the Raleigh-Durham show (trust me when I tell you to it's worth watching them ALL), be sure to check out the other 23 cities

The LTYM video launch is made possible thanks to our national video sponsor The Partnership at We are proud to promote their message of preventing prescription drug misuse and abuse.  Take a moment and check out The Medicine Abuse Project to learn more and join me in taking the Pledge.

LTYM Raleigh-Durham would also like to thank local video sponsor Myriad Media for videoing the performances.

Monday, July 8, 2013

J-Fest 2013: A Champion Boy

"He's a champion baby, Cyndi."

That's the first thing I remember my husband telling me about our newborn son after I regained consciousness following the c-section. Once he persuaded me that I wasn't actually dead, that proud new papa talked a blue streak about our sweet baby boy to bring me back to my now-expanded family.

"You should see his hands! He's amazing. Just a champion baby." He said it like I'd had some control over how this tiny baby had turned out, like we had really accomplished something.

And considering that we had just made an actual, real-live person, I guess we really did accomplish something.

Eight years later, that champion baby has turned into a champion boy. Eight.

It's a funny age -- too big to be little, yet still too little to be big. Some days, I think even he doesn't know which direction he wants to lean. And I'm not so sure either.

I love so many quirky things about the Junius who is temporarily trapped between infant and teen...

...that he says "funiture" and "tooken," but can explain the difference between a slapshot, a snapshot and a wrister.

...that he wants me to read to him at night, even though he can read whole chapter books on his own.

...that he asks to snuggle with me on the couch, even though he's so big I can barely pick him up anymore.

...that he cracks up at the poop jokes on Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me, even though he doesn't understand the news context of most of the show.

..that he sleeps with Baby and Blanket tucked close beside him in bed, even though he leaves them at home when he sleeps over at a friend's house.

...that he asks me about my day sometimes, but mostly just wants to know if my favorite part of the day involved him.

In another eight years, he will ask to borrow the car and I will wonder where the time has gone. He'll probably know how to conjugate the verb "to take" by then and he likely won't be clutching a small, white teddy bear in his sleep. But with any luck, he'll still want to curl up on the couch with me and read a book or just talk about the day. And I'll try in vain to resist the urge to tell him he's still my champion baby.

Happy birthday, Junebug. I love you.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Moral Monday: Safe Schools

I wasn't at yesterday's Moral Monday rally. But that doesn't mean I'm not outraged. Unfortunately, much of what I'm worked up about won't fit on a protest sign. Starting this week, I'm going to attempt a Monday post in solidarity with those protesting at the NC legislature -- I realize it's not the same as getting arrested for the cause, but at least it's something.

So much in education policy seems to fall according to political lines. Democrats want more funding; Republicans want more competition. Democrats claim schools are doing well; Republicans claim schools are failing. Democrats want to believe that the latest big idea will save public schools; Republicans want to close them all down.

Okay, that's a wild exaggeration. But you get the idea.

The sad thing is that I honestly believe most Republicans and Democrats -- and the Independents and unaffiliated -- want the same big-picture things when it comes to public education. Safe schools. Quality instruction. Graduates with marketable skills.

Of course, the devil is in the details.

When I hear my state legislature talk about placing armed security guards in schools at the same time they want to cut teacher assistant positions from the budget and increase class sizes, I know they've completely missed the point. You simply can't cut teacher and teacher assistant positions and claim to want safe schools.

For a moment, let's forget about the academic, social or emotional reasons why you might want your young child to be in a elementary classroom with, say, 20 classmates, a licensed teacher and a licensed teacher assistant -- forget about the opportunities for enrichment or additional support. And forget about the professional reasons why you might want a teacher to have working conditions that don't include managing, say, 28 six-year-olds without any additional staff.

For a moment, let's just think about this in terms of security. Having more teachers in the classroom helps keep children safe.

In catastrophic situations, teacher assistants make it possible to protect more children. Think back to some of the horrific school tragedies of the past year in places like Newtown, Connecticut, or Moore, Oklahoma, where teachers, counselors and administrators risked their own lives to protect the children in their schools.

One of the recurring thoughts for me as I read all the stories of heroism shining out on those unspeakably dark days is, "How do you decide?" If you're the teacher in those classrooms, how do you decide which kids you can hold onto in the storm or which ones you can hide in the closet while the school is in lockdown.

Extreme? Sure, and thankfully so. But it's still our reality.

Even under more ordinary circumstances -- ones where students are misbehaving, bullying or (in today's softer parenting language) simply "making bad choices" -- teacher assistants make a difference for security. It can be challenging for teachers to ensure that all students feel safe when it's a large class and there's no teacher assistant.

Another professional adult who also knows the students well -- not just a parent volunteer (as great as they can be) -- makes it possible for one teacher to address the threat while the other adult continues to lead the class. Anytime you can have another set of eyes, ears and hands in the classroom, every child is safer.

So here's my proposal for the Republican-led legislature and Governor's office as they hash out this proposed budget... Remember all that talk about wanting to ensure that our schools are safe places to learn? How about you connect that rhetoric with your speeches about job creation and start by finding funds to hire even more teacher assistants to help staff North Carolina's classrooms.