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Saturday, June 25, 2016

What Do Your Kids Collect?

My middle son started out by collecting soft things when he was two, maybe three.

In his collection was the ribbony edge of his favorite white blankie, some of my t-shirts, and the soft skin between my finger and thumb. 

When he felt something he liked, he rubbed it between his forefinger and thumb and said, "this is in my collection."

 Now he collects coins. At first he only wanted novelty coins, like those extra large pennies you can buy at national park gift shops, but now he's moved on to state quarters, wheat head pennies and buffalo nickels. He also won't throw away the really awful joke-a-day pages from his tear-off calendar. 

The youngest one collects every single thing. Stuffed animals. T-Shirts. Magazine subscription postcards. Notebooks. Novelty socks. 

The older one is collecting cards. Baseball, football, soccer, hockey, pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh and more. He also collects small toy animals, pins from different cities we visit, and once I found an enormous pile of gum wrappers in his desk drawer.

I collect books and hate parting with them, even the ones I didn't really enjoy. And my husband collects tech and interesting spirits.

But my middle son's collection of textures can't be gathered into a box or placed on a shelf.

"Where do you keep your collection?" I asked.

"In my heart."

Monday, June 20, 2016

A Facebook Debate About Gun Violence

I strongly support the need to reduce gun violence in our country. 88 Americans are killed every day from gun violence. I talk to friends and family about this topic a lot, and I know who shares this belief and who does not. And in the past, I've been really reluctant to talk about this with people who I know disagree with me. I didn't want to get in an argument, and I know how hard it is to get people to change their opinions.

I'm not a hypocrite. I don't have an open mind about this topic. I freely admit I wouldn't go into a conversation with a gun enthusiast and consider the possibility that there is nothing to be done about gun violence, or that limitless gun ownership would ever be a good thing.

I will talk with responsible gun owners about ways we can keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people. (You can help by taking action here.)

But a few days, I tossed some caution to the wind (why?) and decided to engage some gun enthusiasts. I admit I did not start out with a super polite and friendly approach. Sorry. I was mad.

The context: there's a club in the Pittsburgh area designed to encourage women to own and shoot guns and support their businesses. It's called Pistols and Pink because women like pink (?). I went once and shot a target with a handgun. But on a Friday in June they had a rifle night, less than a week after the shooting in Orlando. It just felt so insensitive to me.

So as you read, you can see my comments. 

Yes, I inserted some sexual politics into my gun violence tirade because they are connected. Also, I tried to blur out everyone else's faces and names. Please let me know if you catch one I missed.  It's going to be hard to read sometimes because there are comments from several different people. 

This section includes classic "everything is a weapon" arguments. 

Here's a section of comments where I get called 'part of the problem.' I don't think our country is perfect, in fact I think there are a lot of problems. I'm not sure which problem this commenter is referring to, and I was reluctant to ask because this commenter was very aggressive. I should note this commenter was male. Back to sexual politics: both male and female commenters engaged me, but the female ones did eventually make some effort to compromise. 

One of the first times I'm called "stupid."

Here the argument diverges from gun violence to education, respect, parenting, etc. 

And the appearance of the "bad guys don't follow laws so don't make them" approach. Also appears in tandem with the "we need to protect ourselves" approach. And a quick detour to a critique of the justice system. 

Honestly, I really got the sense these people are living in constant fear and paranoia that they are going to be attacked any minute and need weapons on call 24/7. I couldn't imagine living like that. That seems like a serious problem that needs to be addressed. 

So above I brought up that other constitutional rights are limited, and then I get accused of slander. I'm not a lawyer (but some of my friends are) but I'm pretty sure I didn't slander anyone. I am pretty sure I hurt their feelings and offended and insulted them (see the comment re: girls). But they called stupid. Are we even? 

 So I thought here we had reached some common ground on preventing dangerous people like terrorists from buying guns.

But read on for "black helicopters."

I thought we had enough problems trying to make sure legal gun sales had background checks. I wasn't scanning the skies for black helicopters.

I feel bad for this lady above who was threatened and I'm glad she's safe. But the statistics just don't bear out that having guns in the home make women safer. Or children. 
Her situation is the exception to the rule, the anecdote that you remember because it is so wildly different from the overwhelming majority of interactions with guns. 
In the next photo, I'm asked why I'm even on this post. 

There's the Chicago argument again. And I'm the one accused of spouting talking points? Really???

And more commentary on bad parenting. 

I'm trying to keep my kids safe. 

I have shot clay pigeons. It was fun. 

The discussion has continued to today, and someone took the time to bring up when 8 children were killed by a knife in Japan. That was terrible. It also gave me the chance to point out that 8 children are killed EVERY DAY in the U.S. by gun violence. 

And I was asked to leave the post. 

But LOOK AT THIS. Yesterday, a person who earlier called me stupid and didn't have time for my idiotic comments agrees we need background checks. This was like a sun beaming through on a winter's day.

Ok, I'm sharing this one because I need to confess that there seemed to be a real lack of strong writing skills by many of the people commenting against my POV. I'm not trying to generalize, but some of the comments were really hard to read and decipher. There were a lot of errors. I can't say that there is a correlation between a problem reading/writing and being a gun extremist, but maybe there is a connection between the fear aspect that underlies this intense need for protection and a struggle to operate in our society that really demands literacy to succeed.

Here's a classic comment about how we should switch focus from guns to other dangers. I haven't responded, but I think a good response is: we should care about all of these things. We don't have to pick one and ignore others. People like to make this argument about cars, too. 

I'm intrigued by the common thread in these posts about the government not enforcing the laws enough. What kind of answer would satisfy that opinion for these people? What kind of resolution embodies "better enforcement" to them?

Ok, so there are some snippets and screenshots of the debate. 

Was it worth it? Probably not. Maybe. I don't know. 

I still feel nervous every time I get a Facebook notification, that there's going to be some kind of threat sent to me. 

But I feel nervous putting my kids on the school bus or going to the movie theaters, too. What if there's a shooter there? What if I didn't try and do anything to make us safer and a shooting happened in my community? What if I did nothing? That scares me even more. 

Facebook debates can be pretty useless. But you can take meaningful action here. 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Summer Boredom Busters

My kids get bored over the summer. There, I admitted it. We aren't perfect.

Sure, I sign them up for camps (check out this one for technophiles) but this summer they asked me if they could do a week on/week off of camps. I agreed, but with the caveat that I would still be working and they would have to entertain themselves.

Now, we all know what's going to happen.

Plan A: I trick them into leaving me alone.

Plan A Example:
Kid: Mom, I'm bored.
Me: No, you're not. You're fertile ground, just waiting for an idea to sprout and bloom.
Kid: What are you talking about? Are you trying to get me to weed the garden?
Me: Great idea!
Kid: That's ok, I'll find something else. [nuclear explosion]

Plan B: I come up with stuff for them to do and don't get any of my work done.

Plan B Example: Kid: Mom, I'm bored.
Me: Let's play games all day! I'll teach you how to knit! We'll go explore the wide world!
Kid: Ok, but I probably won't be satisfied when we're done!
Me: Oh look, weeks have gone by and I haven't written a word on my manuscript! [nuclear explosion]

There had to be a middle ground, some third option I wasn't considering. And it couldn't be "play on the iPad/computer/PS4." Because before they do that, they have to do this little thing I call a "Tech-List." (like a checklist. get it?)

They also have time limits for devices!

Tech-list Example:Kid: Mom, I'm bored.
Me: Ok, what is something you wish you were doing?
Kid: Playing on the iPad.
Me: Did you do your three things?
Kid: Grumble. Sigh. [Heads off to accomplish three tasks. Loses track of time reading. Finds me later to tell me about good part in book.] 
But if they don't get lost in a book, they can only use devices for 30 minutes, so we're back to square one.

So on a run during our recent family road trip, I pondered my two options. I thought I'd try and make a list of things my kids like to do and when they came to me complaining of boredom, I'd hand them the list.

As I ran, I thought about what each kid liked to do. I started thinking of activities that would interest them.

Then it dawned on me. I didn't need to catch fish for them, I needed to teach them how to fish. Making this list could be something for them to do.

(That's a metaphor, but we will also go fishing this summer.)

Instead of giving them ideas when they are bored, my plan is to ask them to think. (Yes, thinking is possible over the summer, children.) So my real plan, Plan C, is the Summer Self-Assessment.

My kids don't like to admit it, but they actually love school. They love having their brains engaged. They love challenges and puzzles and reading and achieving. They are being raised by me and my husband, so this is no surprise. So my plan is not to hand them answers on a dish, but to turn the search for answers into its own summer activity.
Plan C Example:Kid: Mom, I'm bored.
Me: What was your favorite subject in school?
Kid: Science.
Me: Ok, grab your microscope, go out and pick some flowers or find a dead bug and look at them under the scope.
Kid: I can do that?
Me: Yep.
Kid: Cool. [heads off to explore the natural world.]

OK, so that example is a little optimistic. No one ever agrees to your first suggestion.

But the Summer Self-Assessment will go something like this:

  • Do you feel like doing a quiet activity or active one?
  • Do you want to be indoors or out?
  • Do you want to play alone or with someone?
  • Do you want to do a brain challenge or a physical one?
  • Do you feel like learning something new or doing something familiar?
  • Do you want to be creative or chill out?

Hopefully, by thinking about those questions, they'll be able to pinpoint a project or task that will interest them. Or at least I can buy myself some time.

And yes, I'm still making a list as a backup plan because 1. I'm a Virgo and love lists and 2. My kids aren't as good as making lists as I am because none of them are Virgoes and if you want a list done right ask a Virgo.

So, here's my list of activities based on areas of interest. I will add things as I think of them, and I'd love suggestions from you, too.

Look at things through your microscope
Look at things under the magnifying glass
Grow those sea monkeys
Plant the seeds I never planted
Clean the fish tank and learn about algae
Learn how to identify poison ivy in the woods
Cook something and learn about chemistry
Identify every tree on our property
Find and id bugs

Make math worksheets for your brother
Count everything in the park
Learn algebra
Measure everything in our house
Time yourself running around the park
Build with Legos

Play chess against yourself
Learn solitaire
Learn how to play hopscotch
Write up a D&D adventure (also Literacy)
Invent a game like the Civil War game my brother and I invented
Play all the board games on our shelves

Create a picture using only natural materials
Paint these sun catchers I bought that no one will paint
Draw with sidewalk chalk
Find out which of the markers in our giant tub don't work anymore
Weave something
Create a map of a mysterious world
Create a map of our neighborhood
Draw portraits of our family

Read a book you've never read on our shelves
Write a book for your brother to illustrate
Create a scavenger hunt for your brothers
Create missions for your brothers
Try writing poetry
Write a letter to a family member or friend
Start a journal
Write a summer bucket list
Write down predictions about the future

Clean up your room
Clean up MY room
Fold laundry
Run around the park four times
Work on your hut (more on that here)
Call a friend and chat
Practice a sport
Practice your instrument (see above)
Take a nap
Find a climbing tree
Swing on the swings
Go on a walk

2015 Summer Fun at the Water Steps

Thursday, June 9, 2016

2016 Family Road Trip

We started off summer with a family road trip! (Last year we headed to Manitoba.) Part of the reason we left town was to get out of the house during our renovation. Still several more weeks of that to endure, but so far so good.
I don't know what's going on.

The 2016 Road Trip began with what else - a soccer tournament! Our oldest scored two goals and his team, the U11 Riverhounds, had their best tournament performance of the year. My husband and I were also excited to revisit the hotel in Bethesda, MD, where we had our wedding reception. The hotel is older, but we are hotter. Our food highlight here was a return visit to Pistarro's in Frederick.

Next we crossed the Bay Bridge (which both my grandfather and great-grandfather helped build) and headed to Rehoboth Beach where we spent a fun few days golfing, visiting the birds at the Boardwalk Plaza Hotel and enjoying lots of ice cream. For me, the Fisher's Popcorn was a food highlight, but I know the kids loved The Ice Cream Store (they chose Feel the Bern) and for my husband it was probably a tie between the chocolate ice cream and Thrasher's Fries. Don't worry, I worked off all that junk with an excellent run around the lovely Gordon's Pond. Highly recommend if you're in Rehoboth. We also acquired three new pets: hermit crabs. 

I forgot to mention funnel cake!

Their names are Marco, Dr. Claw, and Steph Crabby.

Emro the Bird was a big hit


After Rehoboth, we had a quick stop over in Salisbury, MD. My husband and I went for a run together and it was so flat, just like I remember from college. Also in Salisbury, we made our pilgrimage to wonderful (and still free) Salisbury Zoo where this rhea bird just can't even. 


Back on the western shore, our schedule included a baby shower and more family fun. The food highlight of that part of the trip was the visit to T and J's Waffle Truck in Clarksville. I was able to get a good run in here, too, at the Warfield Pond park, which was just an old pond with a swamp when I grew up here.

Ate it too fast to snap a photo

On our way back to Pittsburgh, we took our time and enjoyed a leisurely but more important DELICIOUS lunch at Horn o Plenty freshtaurant in Bedford, PA. If you travel the Turnpike, it's a must-go. 

Watching the fresh bread baking

We also finally visited the Flight 93 Memorial. It was a moving experience and the entire family was very emotional. 

Message from my middle son

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

My (Gifted) Kids Talk About Death A Lot

"I'm going to name one of my children after you," our youngest told my husband one night. "So when you are dead, I will always think of you when I say their name."

He was so excited to tell my husband this, because to him it showed how much he loved his dad.

And my husband and I were not surprised at all to hear him say something like this. We were amused, and a little sad, but not surprised at all. Our kids talk about death a lot and it's something we've learned to handle.

This is a photo of my kids playing on the swings
one morning and missing the bus. It has nothing
to do with death,and everything to do with
 living a good, happy life.

Two of my kids are in the GATE program at our school. GATE is "Gifted And Talented Education." The third, only six years old, has not yet met the criteria to be in the program yet, but I have a feeling it will happen. He's a strong reader and writer, he's skilled at math and problem-solving, and he's emotionally intense and talks about death a lot.

Gifted kids are like that. They think about death, talk about death, ask questions about who is going to die when, and what happens after we die. They worry about death and also plan for what will happen next. And while this seems morbid and depressive, this is normal for gifted kids.

Their questions usually come at bedtime, because that's when my kids finally slow down physically and become introspective and thoughtful.

My oldest, now eleven, will occasionally cry and ask, "Is it nothing but blackness?" in his terrified nighttime whisper. I know he wants me to comfort him. Bedtime is not the time to go into existential questions. But I don't dismiss his question. Instead, I rub his back and encourage him to focus on filling his days with things he loves and making people happy. I encourage him to make the most of his life here.

My middle son talks about funerals. Not too long ago he asked my husband (at bedtime), "Will you be sad at my funeral?"

"Very sad," my husband said. "But usually parents die before their children."

"Oh good," said the middle. "Then I will totally go to your funeral."

The middle one also looks forward to what possessions he will get when his older relatives die. Not because he's greedy - but because he wants special mementos to honor his loved ones.

The younger one does similar things. Like I mentioned, he's already planning to name a kid after my husband (no mention of using my name yet). He's also convinced he's going to die after his brothers and tells them frequently that he'll think of them when they are dead and they believe him.

All of the boys have an order in their heads of when certain people might die, based on their age. To them, life should follow the logical process of the oldest dying before the younger people. But life isn't logical. People they love have died, and sooner than they should have. The boys didn't like it, but have faced it. We talked about all of their feelings - anger, sadness, frustration, confusion, fear - and cried.

I just finished reading Station Eleven, and in that book the author tosses the reader back and forth in time, before a devastating plague and after. When she tells about the world before the plague, she also indicates how much longer that character has to live. She writes things like, "in ten days, she would be gone." While I was reading, I noticed my heart rate was elevated and I felt anxious and upset. I know I'll die someday, but reading this book and knowing the specific amount of time characters had left was very upsetting.

Before I had kids, I think I was able to pretend death wasn't coming for us all. But having children gives you a heightened sense of mortality. And I won't deny that thinking about my death makes me anxious. And scared.

Our society doesn't really cope with death very well and often avoids explaining death to young children. Did anyone ever tell you that someone death was "just like going to sleep?" What a horrible thing to tell a young child! No wonder kids don't want to go to bed when we tell them things like that. I don't even like to say we put our dog to sleep.

I'm not saying I've found the perfect way to explain death to my children, but because of how my kids think and talk, I've had to develop a process for answering their questions. I try to be honest and share both my sad feelings at the loss of someone I love, but I also share with them the ways I cope with grief.

We look at photos together.
We share stories and memories.
We talk about how we would want to be remembered.

I'm not saying our family copes with all of this death talk perfectly, but we're getting better at it. How do you help your children deal with their fears and anxieties? How do you help them deal with life and death?

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

The Summer Camp My Kids Can't Wait To Do

What do my kids want out of summer camp?

Fun. Friends. Freedom.

What do I want my kids to get out of summer camp?

Yes, I want them to have fun. But I also want them to learn things about themselves and the world around them. Get to know new people and build relationships. Maybe learn a skill they can't acquire in school. And it wouldn't hurt if it was something that also inspired their future career.

Does such a magical camp exist?

You bet.

Enter Hi-Tech Learning.

"Hi-Tech Learning offers technology focused programs for ages 7-14 using the programs kids love, such as Minecraft. In our programs, kids have a blast using technology, and parents can feel confident their children are fully engaged in an authentic learning experience that will help them prepare for success in the 21st century."

This magical camp isn't about magic, it's about technology. And kids love technology. I know my kids dream of summer break as a chance for unlimited technology use. But at our house, tech time comes after a Brain Boost (reading), a Jam Session (instrument practice), and a Show the Love (chore).

I was a little worried about signing them up last summer for Hi-Tech Learning. Were they just going to be staring at computer screens all day while summer fun slipped away?

Turns out I had no need to worry.

As part of their Minecraft camp and Video Game Design my children came away with this modest list of SOCIAL skills:

  1. Cooperating on projects - all projects are done with a partner and campers have to check-in with their partners
  2. Problem solving - Instructors don't provide all of the answers.
  3. Peer to peer instruction - If someone can't figure out how to do something, instructors will often ask kids to help each other.
  4. Public speaking - Each camper shares their project with other campers and visiting parents
  5. How to give and take effective feedback - When campers share their games, other campers give two positives, two suggestions, and a helpful comment to solve a problem. 
  6. Considering the perspective of the audience

They also came away with more experience in

  1. Design
  2. Sketching
  3. Planning 
  4. Using logic
  5. Mathematics
  6. Story-telling

Sounds academic, right? I can tell you my kids didn't think they were in school.

And in many ways they weren't - because they were doing MORE than what they get to do in school. In school, so much of their instruction is focused on meeting the requirements of standardized testing. Their ELA experiences don't allow them to explore how to tell a story, they are asked to show how well they can follow storytelling instruction. And their math doesn't exactly encourage creative problem solving when points are taken off for not showing their work.

But Hi-Tech Learning is all about creative.

Shawn Walk, Hi-Tech Learning founder, is a former math teacher for fourth and fifth grade. We had coffee the other day and talked about what we didn't have as kids and why we do what we do now.

"I grew up in Indiana in a working class family. I was the first to go to college," Shawn said. "I loved to mess around on the computer but I didn’t have a creative outlet. I had to find ways to do things on my own. I created this business to help kids get creative."

In Video Game Design at Hi-Tech Learning, my boys created two different styles of games that revealed their personalities. My oldest focused on scoring high points while my middle developed more of a journey in his game. They didn't have to do the exact same thing but could experiment, make mistakes, try again.

Do your kids get computer instruction in school? Mine do, but it entails keyboarding. Just keyboarding. Yes, as in how to use a keyboard. AKA typing class.

I personally feel keyboarding comes along with usage. I never took a typing class in my life, but that didn't stop me from typing out my very first stories (what I did on my sick day home from school) on my grandfather's old typewriter. And do my kids really need to know how to type? Probably by the time they are adult professionals, everything will be voice commands and hand motions anyway.

My boys loved these camps. I will never forget how proud they were to welcome my husband and I into their summer camp and show off their amazing games. My middle son still talks about the game he created on Kodu.

As we got ready for camp this summer, I asked them what they remembered about last year. Here's what they had to say:

"Learning how to use Kodu made me feel like I was in a different world. Also, it was challenging but that made me work harder. Our instructors were really nice and fun. We played tag outside and the instructors played, too, and that was awesome. I felt like I was doing things my dad would do." - The middle guy.

"Playing Minecraft at camp was different than at home because we were all on survival, and everyone had to work together and start off building a home. We worked with partners and on the last day we worked on a giant project like sports stadiums or movie figures. It was sometimes frustrating because we had to switch off, but we had to think about what other people were doing, too. If we decided to work on something the same way, it worked out for both of us." - My oldest.

We are SO ready for some Hi-Tech Learning this summer!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Never Compare One Race to Another

I know better than to compare different races to each other.

But I'm doing it anyway!

I'm comparing the Credit Union Cherry Blossom to my leg in the Pittsburgh Marathon relay, and last year's Pittsburgh Marathon Relay to this year's.

2015 PMR to 2016 PMR

2015 outfit

2016 Outfit

Exact same outfit! Yes, I wore the exact same outfit two years in a row. 
But I did wear different shoes. Probably different underwear (because yes, I wear underwear when I run) but the same shirt and shorts and sunglasses. Am I creature of habit or what.

I ran the same leg, leg 4.
But it was a different distance. This year was a good amount longer than last year! And the exchange point finished up a hill! Ouch!

Thankfully another difference was a faster time. I know one can't expect to improve forever, but this race was a happy spike in the gentle downward aging slope of my pace line. 

2015 Splits

In 2015, I averaged 9:12 a mile and in 2016, over a longer distance, I averaged 8:29 a mile. So that's cool! 

2016 Splits

CUCB to 2016 PMR

You might remember the weather at this year's CUCB 10 Mile was crazy. Thankfully the weather at the Marathon Relay was much better weather than the Cherry Blossom, a little rainy but cool. Warm enough I didn't have to bundle up and believe me, I did not take for granted running freely in my shorts and t-shirt. 

But if you compare my splits from Cherry Blossom and Marathon Relay, they aren't too far off. For this race, I averaged 8:48 a mile over ten miles. But those last two miles were awful.  

So either the clothes didn't hamper me or I was working WAY harder during the Cherry Blossom. I have no way of knowing though, because my Garmin was at zero percent on the day of the relay. Grr! That made me so mad. But I survived without my Garmin. I didn't quite run naked but less "teched up" than usual. And I even loved the run.