Monday, June 29, 2009

Take Me Out to the Ball Game

My family engaged in the great American past-time last night, a baseball game. We are lucky enough to have several minor league teams within half an hour of our house and enjoy hitting a few games each summer. Yesterday happened to be the Community Swim Association day with the Grasshoppers, so we enjoyed spending time with friends while also catching a ballgame.

Last night's trip to the ballpark started with greeting the team's mascot, a grasshopper. As a child, my family and I regularly attended minor league baseball games. Then Greensboro's team was called the Hornets, though, and acted as a farm team for the New York Yankees. I still remember seeing Don Mattingly and Derek Jeter play in Greensboro's War Memorial Stadium years ago.

Of course, my family and I also strolled around the stadium before the game began to check out our food selections for the evening. I don't know if your family is like mine, but my children and I always seem to plan an event around the junk food selections available during it. For me, I'm now perfectly happy munching on a bag of peanuts throughout the game. As a child, though, I would always get ice cream in a small baseball helmet.

We settled in to watch the game- Curly Girl and I enjoying our snacks and chatting with friends, Patrick discussing swim team things with other parents at the game, and Car Guy trying to focus on the action. Car Guy definitely inherited the sports addict gene from his dad. My son will watch and show an interest in learning about almost any sport. We haven't tried cricket yet, so I'm not sure about that sport, though.

Knowing my love of animals, it should come as no surprise to you that the bat dog is one of my favorite things at Grasshoppers game. Yes, two dogs take turns picking up the bats from home plate and even fetching balls from the outfield between innings.

We enjoyed a great game. The Grasshoppers led until the WV Power took the lead with a grand slam in the seventh inning. After a disputed double play, the Grasshoppers tied it up in the ninth inning. Finally, in the bottom of the eleventh, the home team clinched the win with a home run. We also witnessed a triple play which was way cool to see.

Car Guy and his pals were growing a bit antsy, though, since they were waiting to run the bases after the game. After hanging in there for the two extra innings, the kids were set loose on the field after the players had exited the game.

We had a great time at the game and are actually pondering taking in another baseball game this weekend.

Friday, June 26, 2009


Aaaahhh . . . fantasies. Everyone needs to indulge in an absorbing fantasy every once in a while. After all, life would be rather boring if we each didn't escape to our own little corner of our minds every so often. Admit it, you have fantasies. We all do; it's all just a matter of how "interesting" they really are or choose to become.

I'll even tell you that the opportunity to escape into another world, another life, offers one of the reasons that I truly enjoy reading. There's something incredibly appealing about slipping into another being's reality for just a few minutes or hours at a time.

In the past, I haven't really enjoyed reading traditional adult fantasies, though. They all seemed too heavy on science fiction which I'm really just not into. Perhaps because I taught upper elementary grades or since Curly Girl adores fantasy novels, I have tended to focus on fantasy books targeted toward children and young adults. So here goes . . .

Angela's Top 10 Fantasy Books and Series:

10. Eragon series by Christopher Paolini

I have to admit that I haven't actually read this series, but I included it since everyone else in my family adores it. Even though haven't read Eragon, Eldest, and Brisinger, I've heard large chunks of them read aloud while Patrick was reading them to Curly Girl (when she was younger) or to Car Guy (now). After reading them with her father in the past, Curly Girl has since read the series on her own, and Car Guy is absolutely obsessed with the world of dragons portrayed in the books. My seven-year-old has even renamed his sword Eragon and frequently struts around the house acting like his newfound hero. Hubby and Curly Girl place this series between Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings difficulty-wise, with it definitely evoking shades of Tolkien.

9. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

After much prodding from Curly Girl, she and I read The Hobbit aloud in the spring. My daughter had already read the book twice before, but knew I probably wouldn't pick it up unless she asked me to read it aloud with her (our nightly bedtime ritual). I enjoyed it, and especially found it funny to send my children into giggles by raucously singing the dwarves' songs aloud. I'll definitely need to read The Hobbit again though to tap into a deeper level of meaning within the book, and I also plan to read Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings trilogy fairly soon.

8. A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L'Engle
I first read A Wrinkle in Time as part of a Children's Literature class that I took years ago, but enjoyed it again when I read it aloud to my fifth grade class a while later. It's a great traditional young adult fantasy complete with different worlds and time travel. L'Engle also speaks of deeper ideas though, like the importance of being true to yourself and the danger of conformity.
A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, Many Waters, and An Acceptable Time complete L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time quintet.

7. Stuart Little by E.B. White
Who doesn't love E.B. White? How can you not love Stuart Little and Charlotte's Web? Stuart Little is partially a sentimental pick. It was the first chapter book that I read aloud to Car Guy (He was three at the time.). After listening to the book, Car Guy kept asking for a pet mouse. Since I really didn't want a mouse in the house, the mouse request morphed into a hamster, then a guinea pig, and finally into our rabbit, Nibbles, that we have now. Even if you have seen the Stuart Little movie, read the book. It is such a delight.

6. The Giver by Lois Lowry
I'll admit that The Giver isn't one of my favorite books, as in "Oooh, I just love to lose myself in it," but it is one of the most thought-provoking books I have read. In this Newbery winner, Lowry creates an alternative world in which she examines the role of free choice and mind control in a society, euthanasia, psychotrophic drugs, and the purpose of families and citizens to a country's security. Heavy stuff, reminiscent of The Handmaid's Tale, but for a younger audience. Due to the novel's content, I would only recommend it for middle school students and up. In the interest of full disclosure, I have written and published a literature guide on The Giver (

5. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
Pure fun and delight! Car Guy and I just finished reading this together and thoroughly enjoyed it. Dahl's books are exactly what children's fantasies should be- imaginary worlds, amusing characters, and unadultered joy. Even if you have seen the movie (and who hasn't?), read the book. As usual, the book and movie differ in several aspects. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory also makes a great read aloud with early elementary children. Car Guy and I enjoyed it so much that we began reading Dahl's James and the Giant Peach the other day.

4. The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
Love them, love them, love them! Curly Girl, Car Guy, and I read the entire series together, often tackling several chapters a night because we just couldn't put the books down. You can read The Chronicles of Narnia on so many levels of fantasy or allegory, and they are interesting to all ages. I admit that The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is my favorite of the series, and The Horse and His Boy ranks as my least favorite of the group. It is also interesting to note that C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien were close friends who inspired each other to write The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings series.

3. The Harry Potter
series by J.K. Rowling
Who doesn't love the Harry Potter series?
I'm sure you've already read all seven of the books, but if you haven't you must do so immediately. I still tease my husband about his refusal to read Harry Potter several years ago on the grounds that it was a kid's book and too babyish for him to waste his time on. Needless to say, once he started reading the series he quickly zipped through the first three books and has since escorted Curly Girl to several midnight book-buying parties to purchase the next installments in Harry's adventures. Curly Girl and I are now anxiously awaiting the day when Car Guy and his dad finish reading Brisinger, so she and I can read Harry Potter aloud to Car Guy. I can hardly wait to see how he soaks up the books. Btw, The Prisoner of Azkaban marks my favorite volume in the series.

2. The Twilight series by Stephenie Meyer

I'm going to admit that I engaged in some serious fantasizing and enjoyed some interesting dreams while reading Meyer's sensual series. Come to think of it, I may need to break the books out again soon. Thinking that a young adult vampire series was below me, I didn't read the saga for quite some time. Once I cracked open the books, I was completely sucked into them, though, and spent many late nights agonizing about the merits of Edward vs. Jacob. (In case you're wondering, I'm definitely an Edward girl- the more dangerous and forbidden, the more appealing.) Yes, the books are hot, in a sexual-tension-leave-it-up-to-your-imagination sort of way. In my opinion, the first two books (Twilight and New Moon) are fine for middle grades students, but I'd hold off on Eclipse and especially Breaking Dawn until the high school years.

1. Tuck Everlasting
by Natalie Babbitt
Beautiful, thought-provoking, engrossing, a masterpiece- I truly can't think of enough accolades for this book. Babbitt's novel is worth
reading purely for the book's imagery. When teaching, I always used Tuck Everlasting to explain precise, descriptive language to my students. Amazing book which makes the reader question how much he/she would give up (love, family, friendships) to live forever or to choose die as mortal humans do. Yes, I have seen the movie of Tuck Everlasting, and it doesn't even compare to the book. Read it; you'll love it. I promise. In the interest of full disclosure, I have also written a literature guide for this novel (

I hope you have found a fantasy novel or two or three to read by yourself or with your children. Inspired by my list, I think I'll try reading an adult fantasy book soon. Perhaps I'll start with Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil or something along that line. Or maybe that's just my vampire fantasy rearing it fangs again.

Monday, June 22, 2009

First Swim Meet and a Bit of Bragging

Last week was crazy, hectic, chaotic, and all about swimming. It's amazing how you suddenly become an "expert" on something once your children become involved with it. For me, it's swimming.

I can swim, at least I thought I could until I tried to swim several laps last summer. When my children laughed hysterically at me, I realized that my previous "swimming" had consisted only of diving in, splashing around to cool off, and hanging out by the pool. I'm proud to say that Curly Girl and Car Guy can really swim, though. Their father swam year-round growing up and in a Division I program in college, so, thankfully, the kids inherited their dad's swimming gene.

With Curly Girl on injured reserve because of her knee, Car Guy marks our family's only competitive swimmer for the summer. He debuted this past week in two swim meets, and our only goal for him was to make it across the pool without stopping to hold onto the lane rope.

After warm-ups, I was a nervous wreck worrying about Car Guy getting to his event, being in the right place, having his goggles, keeping his swimsuit up, etc. He was cool as a cucumber, though.

His first event was the 25 meter backstroke, and he looked so tiny holding on to the wall before his start.
He chugged on along and made it down the pool, though. Unfortunately, he turned over onto his stomach at the end and got disqualified. He remedied that problem at the week's second meet, however, and seemed quicker, too.

The 25 meter freestyle was his second event. I couldn't stifle a giggle as he strutted (Yes, he really strutted.) to the block and curled himself into a diving position. Regardless of how he looks at the beginning, he always just steps into the pool. We're still working on that diving thing.

25 meters is a long way for a seven-year-old. Car Guy's stroke looked great for the first twelve meters before devolving into a mix of Australian crawl and doggy paddle for the second half of the lap.

He finished without holding the lane rope or touching the bottom, though, and was all smiles to boot.

Now for a bit of bragging...

Anyone who has known me for more than fifteen years knows I never planned to develop any domestic skills. Heck, I had trained Patrick to do all the laundry and mending around the house until my mother messed up my plan by telling my new husband that I could actually sew on a button and wash my own laundry.

So I am as shocked as anyone that I now enjoy cooking, and I really adore baking which allows me to indulge the bread-and-sugar lover in me. My parents came to our house last night to toss some burgers on the grill for Father's Day, and I decided to try out a new peanut butter cake recipe. It was amazing, really sinfully amazing. I don't even want to tell you how many times I licked the beaters, bowl, and spoon after completing the cake and homemade peanut butter icing.

Here is the recipe: The Reese's Cups were Curly Girl's addition. She chopped the candy, and we sprinkled the chocolate-and-peanut-butter morsels between the layers and on top of the cake.

Sinfully good, amazing, but with way too much sugar for my comfort level. After eating the cake, I spent an extended time with Wii Fit today and will also be running tomorrow. If I could swim laps without looking like an idiot, I would do that, too. For now, I'm going to leave the swimming to Car Guy, though.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Cat Wrangler, Part 2

It's 6am, and I just traipsed downstairs to make my early morning cup of hot tea. While my tea was steeping, I glanced out the window to check the baited humane trap on my front porch. (See Cat Wrangler below which explains why a trap is on my porch.)

At first, I was super-excited because a cat-size gray animal was contained in it, but upon closer examination I realized that the trap holds a possum. Yes, I have a trapped possum on my front porch, and I will definitely be calling Animal Control to dispose of it.

I know that "Smoky" the stray cat has been eating the food we have been putting out for her. We frequently see her during the day, and she hangs around our front porch waiting for some kibble. I had been thinking she ate quite a bit of food for a small cat, though. Now, I'm wondering if I haven't been feeding a possum all along, too- EEEKKKK!

I admit that part of me would have liked to have seen the possum climbing the brick front steps to get to the food, but the amusement of the sight is greatly tempered at the gross factor of a possum on the porch. I currently feel like I'm in a Beverly Hillbillies episode.

What to do? What to do? I don't mind feeding the cat, but have no plan to be known as the neighborhood possum feeder, though. At least my neighbors will get some amusement out of this. They weren't too happy about the me, the bleeding-heart next-door, trying to aid and abet the stray cats in the area.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Cat Wrangler

When I awoke this morning, I anticipated a fabulously calm and productive day.

After accomplishing a lot this morning (I am all about marking things off my to-do list), my day skittered marvelously astray about lunch time. We're all animal lovers in our house with a history of gathering and caring for strays. To this end, my children and I have been feeding a lovely gray stray cat for a few weeks. "Smoky" now regularly frequents her food bowl on our front porch, appearing shortly after her food appears each day. When I rattled Smoky's bowl today, she quickly emerged from underneath our neighbors' deck followed by five small kittens. Until today, I had no idea that Smoky was a she (She won't let us more than a few feet near her.), much less that she supported a family.

Excitedly and naively, I called my neighbor to ask if she knew a family of kittens lives under her deck. At the same time, Car Guy and I trekked down the hill to check out the kittens who quickly scattered when we drew too near. They were too cute, though, and Car Guy spent much of the afternoon using binoculars to watch the kittens play in our neighbors' back yard.

I like our neighbors; I really do, and I tried very, very hard to be kind and tactful today. After speaking with my neighbors, though, I learned that they do know about the kittens and aren't too thrilled that I have been feeding the mother cat. Our neighbors would be more than happy to dispose of the cats and have an exterminator coming to spray for termites next week, so bye-bye kittens. They also have a trap from Animal Control to try to catch the cats and send them to the pound.

Now, I have never owned a cat, nor can I afford to have six cats spayed/ neutered and updated on shots. But I can't stand the thought of the mother and her kittens being automatically put down or killed by termite poison. After spending much of my afternoon trying to catch Smoky and her kittens, without any luck, I now have the trap on my porch with food in it. I figure if I can catch Smoky and her kittens, they'll at least have a better chance of survival if I'm in charge of their fate.

As my dear, "patient" husband asked me tonight, "What are you planning to do with these cats if you catch them?" I'm not exactly sure, but I won't take them to the pound. I've been to the pound twice and can never handle going again (Note: I can't handle watching Bambi or The Lion King either.) I did ask my in-laws (who have a farm with lots of animals) if they could take some more barn cats, but they're maxed out at 35 animals (horses, dogs, cats, pigs, guinea hens) now.

So, if anyone, has any productive ideas about how to catch these cats I would love to hear them. Any leads on low-cost/ no-cost shots and spay/neuter would also be greatly appreciated, as well as ideas on what to do with these cats if I can actually catch them.

Thank you!

Saturday, June 13, 2009

We love letterboxing!

Curly Girl, Car Guy, and I ventured out to engage in some letterboxing yesterday afternoon. For the uninitiated among you, letterboxing is akin to a low-tech outdoors treasure hunt and offers an enjoyable, low-cost activity to do with your children.

The only supplies required are a small notebook, stamp, ink pad, and pen. To get started, visit On the website, click on "Locate Boxes" to find the clues for letterboxes across the country. You can search for boxes by state, city, or county. To give you an idea, North Carolina contains 891 registered letter boxes. My children and I have located several boxes, including our most recent find, in our area, but it is also fun to search for boxes as you travel or are on vacation. Our family has also located boxes at Chimney Rock Park and even at Dinosaur Park in Rapid City, South Dakota.

Once you choose a letterbox or two from the website, print out the clues and tuck them in your bag of supplies. Before we started our search on Friday, Curly Girl and Car Guy read the clues. (Letterboxing is also a great way for kids to practice reading and following directions.)

After determining which way to trek, the kids set out on the path. Our most recent find was in an area park which we had not previously visited. Letterboxing is also a great way to find those interesting nooks and crannies in your community or to explore a bit more on your vacation.

The kids turned right, counted two lampposts, and then walked 32 paces, as directed, to find the hollow tree which contained the treasure. This find contained straight-forward clues which were easy to follow. Some clues can be trickier to figure out, though.

To prevent random people from running across a letterbox, it should never be in plain sight. You will usually have to look under something or dig around a bit to locate the box. We used a stick to move some leaves before we unearthed this letterbox hidden in the base of the tree.

Next, we opened the letterbox to reveal its contents. This box was in good shape since its placer had concealed the contents in a tupperware container and placed it in several ziploc baggies.

Then, we used the stamp in the letterbox to stamp our family's notebook. We also noted the location of the letterbox and the date we found it.

You also use your family's stamp to stamp the notebook contained in the letterbox. Most families also sign their names, write the date they located the box, and where they are from. It is always interesting, especially in a touristy area, to see who else has found that letterbox and where they reside.

Lastly, you must reassemble and rehide the letterbox in exactly the same location as you found it. This ensures that other families can locate the box, too.

Just a warning: There is no guarantee that the letterbox for which you are searching will actually be there. The letterbox in the park was the second box we searched for on Friday. The first box we looked for was supposed to be under a train car in a downtown area. I'm guessing that someone found the box and discarded it. Before setting out on a trek, I always remind my kids that there is no guarantee the box will be there or that we will locate it. (This was the first time it actually happened though.) When you search for box clues on the letterboxing website, some will have notes regarding the date the box was placed, the last time the box was serviced, or the last time someone located and reported the box's condition to its placer. If possible, try to select boxes which have been frequented in the last year or so. Also try to print the directions for two boxes so you have a back-up plan if your initial hunt goes awry.

Happy letterboxing!

Thursday, June 11, 2009

La, La, La, La, La,

Yes, I am sticking my fingers in my ears and singing at the top of my lungs. I am trying to drown out the noise of everything productive that I should be doing.

For some reason, the more I have to do, the less I actually desire to be productive. As I sat down to work about an hour ago, I promised myself that I would abstain from blogging until I had completed one of my three current writing projects. In addition to my regular twenty-hour a week job, I'm also working on another standardized testing project. Those projects by themselves wouldn't be too overwhelming, but a "request" for some rather extensive rewrites came in yesterday from another job that I thought I had completed and put out of my mind a month ago. That project is the one I need to finish before blogging, but you can see where I am instead of being productive.

Since I'm not quite sure where to start on the rewrites, I'm suffering from a bit of writer's paralysis. In an effort to further evade productivity, I have also been scouting my book collection for a tome to sink my teeth into over the weekend. I'm currently leaning toward The Historian unless anyone has a better suggestion for a juicy, escapist novel.

You'll be able to gauge my writing progress by how frequently I blog over the next week (Two of the projects are due next weekend). If I am productively writing and staying on task, I won't be around here much. If I am dealing with writer's block, I'll probably blog, go for a run, or box on Wii Fit to release my frustration. Currently, I am playing mind games with myself along the lines of, "Stay focused and write for an hour and then you can read a trashy novel in the massage chair for fifteen minutes." It's all about personal bargaining chips at this point.

Oh well, we'll see how it goes. Wish me luck!

P.S. I've also been wasting time searching for interesting music for the blog playlist. What do you think of the Paolo Nutini tunes? I love them, but I especially like the name Paolo Nutini.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Sex Education

(Warning: Mom, you probably don't want to read this.)

I've experienced a bit of a health scare this past week. You know what, this post discusses the importance of openly discussing sexual issues, so I may as well be honest with you. I flunked my pap smear. Actually, I have flunked two of my last three pap smears. The first abnormal test two years didn't concern me, but this most recent one did. After dodging a bullet once, I thought that doing so a second time was definitely pushing my luck. That and the stress of waiting for my biopsy results put me on pins and needles for the past few days. Good news, though. My OB (whom I absolutely adore, btw) called today to inform me that I passed. So aside from a recheck in three months, I am off the medical hot seat for the moment.

My cervical cancer scare got me thinking, though. My daughter is at the age for getting the Gardisil vaccination, and I have been privy to several conversations with other parents about what this vaccination may or may not communicate to our daughters. (FYI- I have absolutely nothing against vaccinations, even though I am rather put out that after getting the chicken pox vaccine eleven years ago, I still contracted chicken pox from my own two-year-old child. No, it wasn't any fun having chicken pox as an adult and even more embarrassing having to go into the drugstore to fill the Valtrex- usually a herpes med.- prescription that my doctor wrote for me.)

I digressed, back to Gardisil. Yes, I understand that some people feel that offering Gardisil to teens seems like giving them permission to become sexually active. But to me, it just seems like protecting your daughter against a disease which could greatly impact her health. While I completely agree with teaching teens about abstinence, as parents, we have an obligation to provide our children with all the information that is available. While I sincerely hope that my children wait until marriage- or at least until they are in committed, stable, adult relationships- before having sex, I have to also be realistic that this may not occur. To that end, I must be willing to openly discuss sex, its consequences, and how to protect themselves with my children, in an age-appropriate manner, of course.

Believe me, these discussions make me uncomfortable, too, and are not the easiest thing to do. Our children will certainly learn about sex somewhere, but I would prefer for them to hear about it from their parents, rather than gather inaccurate information from their peers. I've experienced both ends of the spectrum. As a public school teacher, I taught 5th grade family life to tween girls who did not know about getting their periods. I was shocked that their mothers had not previously discussed menstruation with them, much less shown them pads or tampons. What would the poor girls had thought if their periods had started at school? Believe me, nothing quite compares to the look on a girl's face when you explain to her how to use a tampon. When I taught middle school, I very quickly learned that many eighth grade girls knew and had experienced much more than I had at their age, however.

My husband and I try to openly discuss sexuality with our tween daughter, but we don't see any harm with calling in reinforcements when necessary. To that end, we enrolled Curly Girl in our church's human sexuality weekend for fifth graders last year. I will admit to being shocked that the co-ed class kept the boys and girls together and openly discussed all aspects of sexual behavior. There is something amusing, though, about hearing a minister speak about enjoying sex. Parents came for part of the class, and I was taken aback when I saw the slang words for sex and the human body that the fifth graders had heard out in the world. (Again, if kids don't learn about sex from their parents, they're going to hear it somewhere.) The comic relief occurred, however, when one of the boys grabbed a tampon (Remember, I said the class openly discussed all aspects of human sexuality), swung it around his head by the string, and yelled, "What's this. . . a cat toy??". Yes, he did, and it was hilarious. Hey, I'm all for males learning about feminine products. I, for one, have certainly sent my husband to Target with tampons on the list of things for him to purchase.

The way I see it, my job as a parent is to teach my children about the world in which they live, even if that world contains topics I would prefer to gloss over. But I can't and shouldn't do that- to avoid discussing sexual topics with Curly Girl and Car Guy, as he grows older, would shirk my parental responsibility and miss out on a golden opportunity to grow closer to my children.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Triathlon Time (Part 2)

Today was the big day! Triathlon Day! In March, my husband, daughter, and I signed up as a relay team for an area triathlon (

We were all super-excited about competing as a family until Curly Girl blew out her knee four weeks ago ( After Patrick and I decided that we still wanted to race, he picked up Curly Girl's swim leg and also completed the bike part of the race. Curly Girl and Car Guy then took on the important role of family cheerleaders.

Honestly, the worst part of triathlon day is getting up at the crack of dawn to leave the house by 6am. After arriving at the race site, adrenaline and excitement kicks in while you pick up your timing chip, get your numbers marked (I'm still working on scrubbing all the permanent marker off my arms and legs. Hopefully, I'll be more successful in the shower tomorrow morning.), and set up your gear in the transition area.

Since the swim was in a pool, the triathlon began with a staggered start based on swim times. Patrick enjoyed a great 300 meter swim and even tossed in a bit of butterfly at the end of the leg.

Next, he transitioned to the bike and turned in a respectable 12K bike ride.

When Patrick returned to the transition area, I grabbed our timing chip from him and headed out on the run. After waiting around for a while, I was ready to get moving. I did feel a bit guilty though when other runners on the course would comment to each other, "Keep going. You're doing great, etc." Since many of them had already swam and biked, I felt kind of lame just running my measly 5K, especially after I learned that a 73-year-old woman finished the entire triathlon by herself in an hour and a half.

After I came across the finish line, we hung around the race area for awhile. They had free pizza, beer, and snacks. We couldn't pass that up!

Since Patrick and I accomplished both of our goals (Finish alive and not finish last), we definitely want to try another race. We're hoping that Curly Girl's knee will be completely rehabbed by September because we want to try the Angels Race Triathlon on the same course with Curly Girl turning in our swim leg.

We had a great day, but I'm really tired. Everyone else in the house hit the sack long ago, and I am now off to join them. Good night!

Friday, June 5, 2009

We Don't Turn Off Our Brains in the Summer

Summer is here, and it is time to ponder our family's plans for the season. I always tend to struggle with the kids' summer activities. The school year is simple to organize- school, sports, etc., but summer is difficult because I want Curly Girl and Car Guy to keep growing without making it actually seem like they're working.

We have tried a variety of approaches over the years- half-school when we did one-two hours of school about three days a week; brain maintenance when Curly Girl and I worked on math about thirty minutes a day so she didn't have to relearn the multiplication tables in the fall; and doing absolutely nothing when Curly Girl was in organized school.

I love summer break. We all need a change from the hectic school-year routine, but I detest the idea of turning off your brain in the summer. I certainly want my children to realize that life constantly involves learning. Humans shouldn't just turn on and turn off their brains at will. We don't suddenly become couch potatoes in the summer, and if your children are like mine, they start messing with each other when they grow bored.

After mulling over the options, Curly Girl, Car Guy, and I have reached a compromise for this summer. This year it has worked out that June and the first part of July will be dominated by swim team which means that most mornings will be spent at the pool, and we have several trips and weekend jaunts planned for the second half of July and August. But, in between those times, I have no plans to let my children turn their brains to mush with constant video games and television.

To provide some structure, we'll put our Netflix to good use by watching some literary, history, and science-related movies and documentaries. My current queue carries "Apollo 13," Discovery Channel's "When We Left Earth" series, "Rome: Rise and Fall of an Empire," and "The Tale of Despereaux," among others. I have also asked each child to select two to three areas on which he/she would like to focus this summer.

Car Guy surprised me by choosing writing in cursive and learning to type (What bizarre choices for a seven-year-old boy!). True to form, he has already pulled out the cursive workbook I picked up for him, and he has also been working on his typing. Mr. Methodical cracked me up the other day when he took Dr. Fry's Computer Keyboarding for Beginners and the wireless keyboard into his room. For at least half an hour, he carefully examined the directions for finger placement on the home keys and practiced typing innane patterns like "JK ASDFG LKJH GFDSA." Since there is absolutely no way I will allow my blossoming reader to lose any of the progress he has made, he will also be reading every day this summer. I have already printed out the Magic Tree House passport (, and after reading each book, he enjoys answering questions to earn passport stamps. I have also made an executive decision that he will learn the 0, 1, 2, and 3 multiplication tables.

Getting Curly Girl to commit to projects has been a bit more challenging. Where Car Guy plans like I do, creative Curly Girl is ruled by the chaos theory. In her defense, she will be volunteering several times this summer at our local history museum and with the Red Cross Youth Club, as well as rehabbing her knee with lots of physical therapy. I would like her to select some projects for the summer, though. All I have managed to wheedle out of her so far is reading, music, and art. My issue is that these are the same activities which usually fill her time, so I'm working on ways to encourage her to delve deeper than she usually does. For reading, we are going to get a head start on our school year reading list for Medieval history and Literature by jumping into retellings of Beowulf, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, The Canterbury Tales, and Dante's Inferno. Tomorrow, we are heading to the music store so Curly Girl can select some new piano music to work on for the summer. I believe she is looking for some Bach pieces, Broadway show tunes, and Bella's Lullaby from "Twilight." I would also like her to pick up her guitar and teach herself to play it again, as well as work through the drawing book which she begged me to purchase, but has yet to use.

After seeing it down in writing, I feel much better about our summer. The season is a balancing act between relaxing in a slower gear, but not becoming a sloth. I hope you and your family have a fabulous summer full of fun, relaxation, exploration, and learning.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Teen Angst

A friend remarked the other day that "Thirteen is the new Eighteen." From my perspective, this is terrifying, but true, and has been painfully evident around our house recently.

Almost-twelve-year-old Curly Girl wants to grow up so quickly that it is heart-wrenching to watch. I recall the middle school years, but I certainly don't remember them fondly. They were hard enough to navigate twenty-five years ago, but the thought of my own daughter picking her way through the current minefield of adolescence sends me into an emotional tailspin.

At this point in my parenting career, I feel completely inadequate and incapable of accomplishing my goal of raising a well-adjusted, self-confident young woman. I regularly feel that I am driving her away from our family and/or into years of therapy. After surviving the physical exhaustion of parenting an infant, I thought my task would get easier. Seven-year-old Car Guy makes me feel the most confident about my parenting. Yes, he is a very active boy with lots of imagination, spunk, and spirit, but at least I feel that I can protect him and keep him safe. When parenting a preteen, the entire world seems to be at odds with me. Combating the onslaught of negative influences feels like a never-ending battle which I cannot possibly win.

Curly Girl wants so desperately to grow up completely, instantly, right at this very moment. Over the past week, I have been wrestling with a multitude of parenting-related questions:

When do you let her go and when do you rein her in?
Patrick and I have kept a rather tight hold on the activities in which our daughter is involved. She does a lot (piano lessons, soccer and swim teams, church activities, community theater), and her father and I have become well-acquainted with the other parents, adults, and children involved in these activities. Curly Girl is approaching the age, however, where she wants more freedom than we are willing to give her. She has recently started volunteering with our local teen Red Cross Club, and this week's activity was putting up posters around town advertising for an upcoming blood drive. Great idea! Great project, but I felt like the most over-protective mom asking the club's coordinator for more information (Where are you going? Who will be driving?) before allowing my daughter to participate. The activity turned out to be well-organized and well-chaperoned, and she had a great time. I'm just not ready to do the drop-off and pick-up thing on a larger scale (i.e. at a movie or the mall). I know it's coming; I'm just not there, yet, though.

When do you allow your children to be exposed to the world and when do you protect them?
Patrick and I have tried very hard to teach our children about the world while protecting them from information they may not yet be emotionally prepared for. For example, Car Guy enjoys reading the newspaper each morning. But since he is seven, I only let him peruse the sports section, comics, and selected articles (Science-related articles are big hits.). I just don't see any need for him to read articles about rape, murder, or other atrocities that occur in our world. On the flip side, we now allow Curly Girl to read all of the newspaper and watch the news. We want her to ask questions and search for answers. After reading The Breadwinner together, Curly Girl and I enjoyed great conversations about the role of women and the plight of women's rights around the world. She is certainly old enough to investigate social injustice, but, unfortunately, teen culture emphasizes sex and physical appearance over more important worldly issues.

The topic currently confronting our family involves how much freedom to allow Curly Girl in regards to tv, music, movies, and book selection. We do not and will not allow either child to have computers or televisions in their rooms. Curly Girl is itching to be set free in the Young Adult book section, though, which sends me into convulsions. So far, she has accepted that we monitor her reading choices, but how much longer we can reasonably do that, I really don't know.

How do you overcome your child's feeling of "no one understands me?"
This is one of the really tough questions. I so clearly remember the painful feelings of thinking that there was no one else like me in the world. Recently, Curly Girl seems to be wallowing in her differentness. Hey, I think different is good. I'm all about being different. Aside from talking and offering reassurance, how do you help your child genuinely realize that almost everyone feels completely abnormal as a teenager? Honestly, the whole talking thing is the parenting area where I struggle the most. I'm not a talker; I'm an internalizer. I just think about things until I work through them myself or push them down and forget about them. I'm also not a very "warm-and-fuzzy" person; I'd characterize myself more as a "Suck it up and deal with it" kind of gal. So when Curly Girl started bemoaning the state of her life earlier this week, my first thought was "Get over. You just got back from Europe, we're going on a mission trip to Kentucky this summer just so you can see how good you have it." See, I really need to work on this being-more-understanding-and-talking-about-feelings thing.

How do you encourage your children to be themselves, in spite of all the pressures forcing them to conform to the world?
This may be an impossible task. I love and value my children's uniqueness, but the world frequently doesn't. We withdrew Curly Girl from school and started homeschooling her precisely to avoid squeezing a square peg into a round hole. I want my children to blaze their own trails; I want them to be self-confident and do things their ways. The world doesn't say this, though, especially to girls. It says "You have to be a size 2, tan, make dazzling small talk, and be perfect in every way." I totally get wanting to look your best, but it is so painful watching your daughter navigate an awkward stage. To make it worse, tomorrow she gets braces on her teeth. As adults, we all know that the challenging adolescent years will end, but for preteens they must seem to never conclude. My daughter used to be so self-confident, now her reaction seems to be all-insecurity all the time.

I also want to encourage Curly Girl to utilize, not hide, her academic gifts. Nothing drives me crazier than to see a brilliant girl act less-than-intelligent around her peers. I get it; I so completely get this. I hated, despised the sixth through ninth grade years, but they improved when around tenth grade I decided that I would be myself, regardless of what others thought. For me, that meant shedding the worry of trying to fit in with the high school social scene, but I never truly felt normal until I went to college, anyway.

Retrospectively, I realize there is a light at the end of the dark hall of teen angst, but as a parent, I want to spare my daughter from the painful insecurity and social trauma that accompanies the adolescent years. That is most likely impossible, however, but I certainly would like to try.