Monday, June 30, 2014

June 2014 Wrap Up

What a crazy busy month from end of school to transition to Camp Mommy.

What went down?

- Finished two books and NEED to finish 3 more before Sunday flight to Spokane.  I hope there isn't a pop quiz on day 1! Let's hope I can skim read on the plane and on the first night before class!
- End of 2nd grade, Preschool Age 3-4, and year 14 of teaching
- Went to Duke Lemur Center and the summer food truck rodeo in Durham for Father's Day
- Lake weekend with high school girlfriends and their families
- Went to the Zootastic Park (north of Charlotte)
- Finalized plans for Ian's "big boy bedroom"
- Ben attended BMX camp, Science in the Summer, and Town of Cary Nature Camp at Hemlock Buffs Nature Preserve
- Ian went to YMCA Kidercamp and Cricket Club
- Hosted two separate book clubs and Bunco, so I could use my porch.
- Beach weekend to see the Hunter Family
- Ben's 8th birthday party at Dave and Busters
- Have watched an insane amount of soccer with the boys. Gooooal!!  Luckily we are now adding American Ninja Warrior and Summer Wipeout to the rotation.
- Camp Mommy in full swing with a super cool water board almost finished and more daily fun arriving later this week with a field trip to a NEW place!

Favorite Pic of the month- From the day we arrived to see the Hunter family, we decided after dinner to take a short walk on the beach.  We had been there less than five minutes when one of Laura's twin 4 year old boys stripped down to his underwear an ran into the ocean. Ian decided to do the same but tried to one up him by going naked. Luckily I talked him into staying in his underwear.  Seven year old Eli and eight year old Ben looked like castaways on Survior, covered in muddy sand showing us their muscles.

It was exactly the way to kick off summer.


Through the Looking Glass- 10 Year Anniversay

Ten years ago today I took one of the biggest leaps of my life and had weight loss surgery.  I've written about the why and the 2nd step of having plastic surgery, so I won't rehash the details.

As much as anyone can verbalize that appearance doesn't matter, and it is what on the outside that is important, appearance or the perception of appearance does matter.  It plays into how you see and what worth you give yourself, how you compare the quality of your life compared to others.  It can determine if you get the job, continue the relationship, can get pregnant and/or stay pregnant, or how a total stranger can make a quick judgement without ever knowing your name.

I can tell you that it took a very long time to get to the point of being ready to make the surgery decision.  It took hard work in therapy, a realization that excess weight was equal to any other self destructive decisions I'd already made, and that watching what my dad went through before his premature death in 2001 and the current life my mom currently had in 2004 were not ones I wanted.

Ten years ago the surgery was not commonplace and was only offered in three hospitals in the entire state.  I researched doctors and went through nearly a year pre-approval process with my insurance to prove that I was indeed a worthy candidate.  The only person that I had heard of in the media who had had the surgery was Carnie Wilson.  I, unlike her, decided to keep the process crazy quiet, even from my mom and brother. In hindsight, I should have sought support.  It would have made the process easier, even if there was a shame factor to overcome in the decision to have the surgery.

Ten years out I have put back on about 30 pounds of a 147 weight loss. I did undergo IVF and took other fertility meds, gestated and birthed two children, and also went through two plastic surgeries in the last decade. I can also tell you juggling taking care of babies/toddlers as well as caretaking for my mom out of state was hard on my body for the 5 years I did both. I felt pulled in every way possible and felt like I was treading water just to maintain.  When life hits high gear, exercise is usually the first thing to go.

I've continued to make every effort when I can carve out time and maximize what I do.   Working with a personal trainer last year was money well spent creating a series of 30 minute intense workouts are now a staple of my week.  It is too important and I've come too far to rest on "I'm too busy" as an excuse.  I tell myself when I'm clock watching, to remember how much better I will feel after. Since the summer started I've been going at 5:45 to do a class or getting in by 6 am to run laps and do TRX strength training.  Have I gone everyday?  Nope, but I'm doing what I can to make it a priority and again try to keep up with making it part of my day once the school year returns.

Ten years out I'm feeling joints that hurt in the morning, the inability to exist on less than 6 hours of sleep, and the repercussions still when I make poor food choices.  Alcohol, most fried food, many meats, and Chinese food are all still difficult and in my heart of hearts know better than to eat/drink. I feel like I'm looking down the barrel of a gun as I roll into my 40s.  I don't want to live in fear of being diagnosed with illness, but also have remind myself daily I do as much as I can and only focused on what I can change.

It is my goal by my 40th birthday in January to be down 10-15 pounds.  I'm hoping that I can kickbox and eat a non-pork rind diet my way into 2015 closer to my goal weight.  Weight is but a state of mind, and I will take how I feel and continue to make it to birthdays without a degenerative illness diagnosis.

When I look at this picture taken about a month before my surgery in 2004 when my friend Laura H came to visit, it makes me sad.  While I'm smiling, I also know that I was unbelievably unhappy and uncomfortable in my own skin.  Posting a picture publicly in a swimsuit would be akin to being naked in a crowd.

From one of the Disney Water parks last summer, when the boys and I were making a train on the lazy river. Sure, I still see things that I want to improve, but more importantly I see the two children that are walking this Earth in part to the decision I made ten years ago today.  I want them to know me not as a mom that couldn't because I physically was unable, but rather as their mom who served as a role model for taking a given situation and making the best of it.

Through the looking glass on the other side is a beautiful vantage point.  It gives me hope that I have reversed or staved off illness until much later because of the decisions and lifestyle choices I made.

Friday, June 27, 2014

2014 Camp Mommy Chronicles- Vol 2

There is a point usually towards the end of the summer where I look back and say, "man, that went fast. Just WHAT did we do with all those days of summer break?"

I can say this week was full, but not crazy full.  Here's the highlight reel from week 2 of Camp Mommy

Ian- 2nd week at KinderCamp at the Y,  Can I just say that I LOVE YMCA counselors.  Love them.  It was "Camping/Outdoors" themed week with a hot dog/s'mores family event today.  They made binoculars and then took a nature walk along with the usual crafts, swimming, games, daily dance party/cheers.  Ian is in love with one of the counselors who walks him in each day.  Thank you YMCA for unending patience.  You must have a mandatory Valium lick for all employees.

Ben- We managed to get a spot in the FREE!!! Science in the Summer Program that is run by Glaxo Pharmaceuticals.  I didn't know Ben was eligible to participate last summer until after all the spots had been taken.  It was tops on my list given it has a great reputation and did I mention a FREE science themed camp for 3 hours for a week?!  They made toothpaste (not tasty, but his chemical compound writing on the bag kills me), made model atoms, made crystals, learned about chemical compounds through fire and other experiments.  On the final day they had student demonstrations.  Ben presented how a lava lamp works. Give him a set of Bongos and a fake ID and I think he is ready for college.  In other fun, Ben and Bill joined our neighbors for a Durham Bulls game last night and reported back many $1 concessions eaten, and lots of 8 year old boy happiness expressed.

Mom- I had about 2 hours a day sans kids by the time I did drop offs/pick ups with boys in 9-12pm camps. I worked almost exclusively in the yard with most of my free time.  This sadly is what happens when you have a March snow that kills your hydrangeas this season :(  

 I managed to get to the gym almost every day uber early to maximize my time to get something done.  Along with the super excitedness that comes with going to the optometrist, hitting up lots of errands, and another freeze ahead session, it was a productive week.  I did make it out with earrings on for a girl's night and also to host summer bunco.

On the Big Summer Fun list we tried our the toy zipline during the week with success.  We ran two lines from our deck into the yard at a steep angle.  First the boys did load up stuffed animals, small cars, Legos, and balloons and raced them.  An hour into the activity they had resorted to dropping the umbrellas off the deck with animals attached to the handles.  It was an experiment in gravity, and also how long it takes to break a $5 umbrella from Dollar Tree.  Speaking of "the money tree store as Ian calls it"  We stocked up on total crap to make our cheap crafty ideas over the next weeks of Camp Mommy.  On the menu in case you missed my earlier Big Summer Fun List?

Freezer Chalk
Marble Racing
Water Balloon Pinatas
Painting with flyswatters/spray bottles/sponges
Recycling wind chimes

We are leaving early in the morning for an overnight trip to Charlotte to my high school friend's lake home. This will be the third summer we have met up with our families for a day on the water in their boat and dockside with all things kid friendly.  My friend messaged me that she had rented sea kayaks, paddle boards and a water trampoline for the kids. Uh.. hello.. does she not know me well enough to know that I am going to be on that trampoline faster than the kids.

Happy weekend-

Sunday, June 22, 2014

2014 Big Summer Fun List

I am excited about Camp Mommy for Summer 2014.  I've always been a "love fall kinda gal," but there is something so awesome about more relaxed days, a bounty of local produce, and the ability to make our own schedule to include as much or little as we want.

Yay that summer is in full swing!

On my fridge I keep an old treasure hunt clues as a reminder during the school year that summer fun is coming! Someone said to me recently that they hoped the V boys would one day remember fondly all the crazy trips we did on summer vacation.  I hope more than anything that they will recognize parenting their own kids that time spent cultivating our relationship was more valuable than anything I purchased for them.

I always look back at past summer fun lists for ideas on places and activities we tried and liked, those we didn't have to do, and those that were "meh experiences, not to be repeated".  The next two weeks are the least busy of our summer so I'm hoping to plug in some adventures during hot afternoons that we are not at the pool.  I also linked up for easy access for craft ideas and locations/hours as several people have asked for my annual summer list.  I'm super excited about some new places to visit and new things to make/do.

I'm excited to be a kid at heart with my boys, reliving the best parts of being out of school for the summer.  I love that it's only a short walk down the greenway to the secret swing and some creek playing. My brother Brian and I grew up exploring our neighborhood, building secret hide outs, and having fun over our summer break. I'm happy that this tradition lives on in my sweet V boys, Ben and Ian.

2014 Big Fun List

1.  Create Camp Mommy 2014 field trip Tshirts
2.  Make an outside zipline for toys
3.  Mystery Trip/Scavenger Hunt
4.  Duke Lemur Center/Parlour Ice Cream Storefront
5.  Make Freezer Chalk
6.  Visit the Scrap Exchange and replenish the art box/LocoPops Storefront
7.  Go to a food truck rodeo and try new foods
8.  Make an outdoor water wall
9.   Field Trip to SciWorks in Winston-Salem
10.  Pullen Park in Raleigh + Visit at least 4 other area parks
11.  Stay in a lakehouse and ride in a boat (also be drug behind on the boat on a float)
12.  Visit Morehead Planetarium 
13.  Meet up with Uncle Brian in South Carolina
14.  Volunteer with the NC Food Bank and SPCA Pet Pals Club
15.  "Brown bag" photo treasure/nature walk
15.  Make a "Wipout" obstacle course outside
16.  Marbles Kids Museum/Krispy Kreme Doughnuts
17.  Make Water balloon Pinatas (with prizes inside)
18.  See a movie outside (Movies by Moonlight, Morrisville Parks/Rec (June only movies)
19.  Durham Science and Life
20.  Go fishing and crabbing
21.  Make a marble launch 
22. Durham Bulls Game on $1 Concession Night
23. NC Transportation Museum and Dan Nichols Park in Spencer
24.  Beach weekend
25.  Ride go karts (Frankie's Fun Park or Adventure Landing)
26.  Make recyclable Wind Chimes for our porch
27.  Have a backyard camp out (includes fire pit cooking hot dogs and smores)
28.  Visit the big farmers market for a veggie taste test and hush puppies at the Farmer's Market Restaurant
29.  Trip to the NC Zoo
30.  Annual road  trip to visit Grandmommy Pam, Uncle Jamie, Aunt Katie in Florida
31.  Make homemade ice cream
32.  Check out the NC Museum of Art Drop in Studio
33.  Trip to the NC Zootastic Park at Lake Norman
34.  Buy family movie night treats at Rocket Fizz 
35.  Family "kids cook and game night"
36.  Spend the day at 3 Bears Acres
37.  Visit the YMCA and Lake Johnson spray park and pool as many times as possible!

What's on your summer fun list?  We will be in Charlotte, Greenville SC, Atlanta, and Destin FL for parts of our summer if you have recommendations.

May your summer be this fantastic!

Friday, June 20, 2014

2014 Camp Mommy Chronicles- Vol 1

I'm going to try to instead of a giant "what did we do all summer wrap up"come August, try and keep up Camp Mommy week by week.  Since this is the first week of summer vacation here's what our week at Camp Mommy looked like from June 16-20th.

*Note- I have YET to post our annual big summer fun list. It is coming!  I've had a couple of friends ask that I post the links of local places and pass on to them.  It is coming... soon... real soon... I promise! 

Both Ben and Ian were in 1/2 day camps this week to

1. Give mom some much needed time to start on her giant to-do list around the house before July, "aka gonna be gone from NC for 19 days"
2.  After talking over the summer budget with Bill it was a mutual decision that given the amount of current fighting between Ben and Ian,  that lots and lots of hours at home together is not a good plan for the boys or for mom.

We opted to have someone doing camp at least part of the day for most of the summer.  Mom tried to get into a groove with Ian to attempt to ward off four year old arguments.  Most were usually about stupid stuff like putting on sunscreen, wearing shoes, not eating fruit rolls ups for breakfast.

You know, the things that at age four are all encompassing.

This week Ian went to KinderCamp at the YMCA in the mornings.  Ben loved this camp at the same age and I conspired with Ben to talk it up big time.  Ian happily reported going to the spray park or kiddie pool, going on a fossil dig, a nature walk, arts and crafts, and his favorite, "a fairy hunt" Ian's recollection of the event included a "bad man," "being quiet" and the" fairy lived in a tube by herself and was sad until the kids came to see her."

 Here was the actual description from the Kindercamp Facebook page including a picture of Ian following the fairy dust, aka glitter.

Today the floaties went on a walk to find a fairy! We followed the fairy dust down the stairs, quietly walked over the bridge so we would not wake up the troll, once we were over the bridge we had to call out for the fairy, then we finally found her at Shrek's house!

Age four is so very tiring.  The non stop questions, the boundless energy, pushing every.single.limit possible. BUT, I love that Ian's character is developing, cocooned in his sweet, dynamo body.

Ben tried a brand new camp for him this past week, Town of Cary BMX camp.  We heard about the camp from our neighbors who had done skateboarding camp and raved about the week.  Before signing Ben up, I went to the Cary SK8 Park and talked to the manager about who was teaching, group size, ability level, and safety equipment needed.  Normally I'm not a super helicopter type parent, but given that a broken arm or leg would keep him on the sidelines from swimming and other summer activities, I wanted to make sure it wasn't something we would regret.

I would say that it was a total success in that we left the camp this morning after camper demonstrations and directly went Bond Park Community Center and traded out a week of art camp for another week of BMX. The instructors were fantastic and each day at pick up they actually stopped us to let him know what he had really worked hard doing that day.  Super Duper Score.

What did mom do this week?   Massive amounts of yard work, met up with a friend for coffee and inappropriate laughter, joined a summer life group at my church, started the first of six required books for July teacher conferences, finished up a season of Mad Men.  I spent time not playing games of CandyLand, Chutes and Ladder, Cattan Jr, making eatable play dough, making Four Square boards out of sidwalk chalk, walking the dog after the heat of the day doing what I wanted and frankly needed.

I pulled together my summer to-do list, to read list, and finished up some overdue mail.  I did a freezer inventory and planned a weekend freeze ahead session with my friend.  Oh yes, I also managed to work out or do some class every day this week. Monumental yay, especially the one I drug myself to at 5:45 in the morning to make.

Dear summer vacation, I have missed you so, so much.  While you have been hot at Hades all week, you are a reminder that slower paced days are the hallmark of your beauty.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Poster Boys

School's out for summer... school's out forever, until August 25th!
From our weekend trip to the beach to see friends, a much needed start to the summer.

Ben and Ian are poster boys for summer vacation! 

Friday, June 13, 2014

A Dog in This Fight

 I can count on one hand the number of posts about school in the past year. Heads up today,  it is about school. If you are local and know the events that have happened with public education and want to skip reading, I understand.  If not, all I ask is that what worth do you assign to the person that spends more waking hours a day with your kids if they attend school? This is a long post today, because it has been a very, very long school year.  Thank you for reading if you choose to today.  

I typically give the same two word answer when people ask how work is going, "it's rolling."  The reality is it has been a year like no other.  It is a year that leaves me wondering what is next and on what timeline is my own exit plan?  The bottom line (if you want to skip to my bottom line, head to the italics at the end) is that I love what I do. I love working with students, even the ones that are challenging beyond measure. It has taken me a long time to get to a point where I can honestly say that I think I was put on this Earth because I do this job well.  Being able to teach subjects I love and working with students is at the core of why I get up everyday and keep going back.

Yesterday was the end to the school year.  And yes, I am using the SAME end of school photo as last year. Nothing sums up this year better than when I returned to my room earlier in the week, after giving a 3 1/2 hour End of Course math exam I found that the teacher giving an exam in my room took EVERY.SINGLE.THING off the walls for a class not even taught this year (and not what the kids were taking a test!)

It this year had a theme song it would be "one step forward and about 912 steps  backward (in mud, loosing your shoes, with someone asking you do do three other things at the same time everyday for 10 straight months.)" There is no temporary "crunch time" in teaching when it reverts back to normal.  Everyday feels like a bigger and bigger fire that rages and when you feel it might be under control, it returns.  You hit the year running in August and likely you don't stop until you are literally running to your car in June.

I digress, which fair warning, I'm going to do today and today only on this topic. I'm tired.  Beyond it's the end of the school tired.  Tired in a way that only if you have walked a day in my shoes do you really and truly understand  working in a public school in under the political conditions of this state is tired.  Bill and I abide by the "no work talk at home rule." I try and keep the same rule for friends.  I don't want to sound like negative Nelly, but I will tell you that I have a dog in this fight. I cannot finish off this year without a post about what the last ten months have looked like in this profession.  

We finished this year with students still testing yesterday after loosing nine school days due to weather. We had not one single workday to finish up and pack up the year.  I have been working late for the last weeks to avoid being the last car in the parking lot. For the first time ever my car is not loaded down with files and binders to work on over the summer.  I took only the bare minimum needed for the first week of school, but little else. I need the next few weeks to recoup and frankly not think about school.

What did end of the school year look like in 2014? It looks like going to the mat in the final days for students with legit medical exemptions due to hospitalizations (three in fact, a record for one semester) to not take finals, making phone calls to parents on the drive home about returning books as not to have their kid's graduation tickets pulled, it looks like jaw dropping revelations about real reasons reveled as to why someone was out over 30 days in class then playing interference with her counselor and the dean of students so that they still graduate. It looked like a 6:30 am arrival time in downtown Raleigh to set up for 8 am graduation earlier this week. It looked like hauling books, moving furniture, scraping gum off desks and all the physical tasks that relate nothing to teaching content but must be done.

It looks like the exhausting year that was 2013-2014.

Again, allow me to once again say that I love what I do.  I honest to God appreciate an email from a few days ago from a parent thanking me for going the extra mile to follow up with their daughter to get her exam date changed not to be the day before her baby was due.  Or the parents that found me after graduation to thank me for Congrats on Graduation card I wrote them about their son that had to drop my class due to a severe head injury received at a varsity game in the spring.  I advocated that he come back if possible to finish to graduate and helped facilitate the who, where, when to get him out of my class as it was not needed and an extra burden to his recovery.  This student lived for Friday debate and when I saw him post school return and welcomed him with a big hug, he asked me clear as day if I had ever taught him, that he didn't know me.

It is a recognition that every student is a valued son or daughter.  You treat students and their families how you would want to be treated, communicated with, supported, because getting some students across a graduation stage is a community effort of Herculean effort.    

I've been media silent for most of this year as item after item about education reform in NC has worked its way through the news cycle.   From public school tax dollars funding private school tuition, uncapping the number of new charter schools, many with few guidelines allowed other than they are funding with state money, dumping Common Core after only a year of implementation and oodles of time planning and prepping new lessons, new grading and attendance software that wasn't fully tested and crashed continuously (including for most of yesterday when final grades were due.)  It is the fact the district didn't buy the part of the software that compiled parent data so I've been keeping paper records like it was 1989 all year.  It was the message from our state Legislature sent loud and clear that we don't value you. Period. *Unless we want to stand next to you and film a campaign ad, and in that case we are all about some lip service.

One of the current issues being considered is teacher tenure.  In NC we do not have teacher unions as we are a right to work state. After 4 years in NC you earn "career status" and have a right to a hearing before you are dismissed.  You are still evaluated multiple times yearly by all your administrators, you still have to submit evidence of your effectiveness, you still have to maintain professional behavior, positive test scores, the list goes on.  To be lead to believe that I am some fat cat soaking up a paycheck while doing nothing doesn't jive the number of hours I work long past the 40 I'm contracted to work. It doesn't reflect the committees, the meetings, the professional development that mostly happens after the contractual workday is over. Most of the work outside actually teaching is non paid work that must be done for a school and their stakeholders to be served.  Without IEP meetings, planning graduation meetings, and sitting through testing administration meetings as well as all the other meetings, school does not happen just like in any other business.

I'm in a very tight spot.  To resign at this point means that every bit of retirement that I've put back is forfeited. I can retire on a partial amount I saved at 20 years vested AND at a minimum age 50, essentially keeping me in the classroom for 10 more years.  I want to say, "oh, it will pass quickly" but in my heart of hearts I know that if the last year is any indicator I think my health is going to be the determining factor if I make it another decade."  I can still keep and move any 401 k contributions which I am maxing out as much as possible each month.

Several proposals in our current Legislature is an unheard of 11% raise but to give up tenure, another is a smaller raise with no give up of tenure, yet another is subject specific for raises (math, science, and hard to fill ares only.) Yet another only gives raising to teachers in their first years as NC is in the bottom of new teacher salary in the Southeast.  Yes, SC is the better Carolina when it comes to teacher compensation.

Given I am making the same frozen salary from 2008 and that my salary is not inflation indexed, I'm stuck. Given that the current climate has taken away pay for advanced degrees, I'm stuck (although I am grandfathered in under current law.)  Given that accepting a pay raise is akin to likely being forced out early with a non renewed contract because I have become too expensive. This seems like a risky option to forfeiting all retirement savings if I haven't reached age 50.  At service year 20, the projected 11% raise is flat for the final ten years of service if you want to retire on full benefits after 30 years.  Most teachers like me in the 10-15 year range are sticking it out at our same frozen salaries and trying to get to 20 years and not take any offer that strips tenure from our contract.

I can't and won't give up tenure, not for any amount of money.  I'm not cocky and don't fear that at some point I won't be renewed. Yesterday one year contracts rolled out to anyone without tenure meaning that you can be non renewed for any reason or no reason at all.  This is what will become of my job without tenure, a year to year contract that is at the Principal/District's will.

Granted, this is a better plan than the "25% law" floated for much of this year that gave a $500 raise for 4 years to those teachers deemed the top 25% of their school in return for giving up tenure by June 30th.  In addition EVERYONE lost tenure by 2018.  No criteria was set by the law passed to decide who would be in the pool, and in my county, 75% of teachers met the top 25% turning into a Hunger Games mentality pitting teachers against one another in not sharing materials or best practices in an effort to be competitive. In the final weeks of the school year, the law passed by the Legislature was deemed unconstitutional by the State court system.  To say that education in NC is a total mess is the understatement of the year.

Sadly, I knew multiple teachers who did opt in for 25% consideration.  The same ones that don't have a spouse with a salary to carry their family income.  Ones that work 2nd and some 3rd jobs to make ends meet.  Ones that when I see them in the hall, they look like death warmed over from lack of sleep and utter exhaustion.  This could be your child's teacher.  The same one that you want to make fireworks happen, ensure learning, and love on your child in your absence for 8+ hours a day.  I totally agree when someone complemented me earlier this year that "all I have to do when I do home it focus on my one job" that I am a kept woman by their standards.

Don't mistaken honesty in this post with bitterness.  I could walk tomorrow with Bill's support and find I'm sure something that would pay the same.  I likely would be bored to tears, but would have less stress.  I am not bitter. Not at all, I am disappointed that the profession I started in 2000 feels like a bait and switch of epic proportion. All I want is to be paid like the professional I am and have earned the right to be recognized due to years of experience and education. Falling from around 24th in teacher compensation fifteen years ago to the bottom five states would be hard for anyone to swallow.  I recognize that no one enters this profession for the money.  I didn't leave a job in banking for the money, I left for the sole reason I started in the profession, to teach something I love to students.

The Students
The Students
The Students times a million, gazillion times, it always comes down to the Students. 

Give me a chance to plant seeds, to acknowledge that a student who didn't then did, students that are the bain of your existence until they (and also you) finally realize the sweet spot of mutual respect.   It is students who tell you give you hugs and high fives and all the other cheesy moments that movies and tv and only half get it right.  I again will tell you to listen to the Harper High School Series from This American Life if you really want to know why it is a job like no other and one that is impossible to walk away from easily.   

Teaching at the heart is about the relationships you cultivate between you, students, and their families.  A complement from a student stays with me through the hardest of days, all the ones I told you I was "rolling along" on.  "Mrs. Vinson, You did more to help me and it had nothing to do with anything you actually taught me."  Those are words to live by in this profession.

I will be renewing my national board certification on my own dime over the next year.  The outlay in expense is worth the bump in salary for the 10 years the certification buys me.  This salary bump has yet to be on the Legislature cutting block and from all indicators I have until January to opt out with only a small penalty.  Those are chances I am willing to take while the dust settles around the NC Legislature and their ever changing decisions about how to reform education. 

I have a dog in this fight, and if you have children in school, or a taxpayer whose money is funding schooling you do too.  Think back to what teachers you remember and why.  Some I'm sure were not great, but what about the ones that pushed you, wrote college and scholarship letters on your behalf, believed in you, treated you like an adult for the first time ever.

What is their worth to you now as an adult? What is their worth to you as a parent of a student? 

As I write this, I've now been able to get the first night of full sleep in a good two weeks.  I'm beach bound over the weekend to see my dear friend that I met as a 1st year teacher with the boys.   
A much, much needed change of pace and a renewal of perspective for the next few weeks.  

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Almost Wordless Wednesday

This might explain why I'm taking Aleve like a made fool this morning.  I have sore muscles in places I didn't know I had!

What was suppose to be a cutting garden for arrangements had to be changed to a partial shade bed after I tracked the total amount of light the area I had already dug out gets daily.

The result is a bed of daylillies, hosta, salvia, and hybrid begonia all that should return next summer.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Eight is Great!

Happy birthday, sweet Ben!

Today you are eight.

Yesterday we celebrated with a party for you and friends.  Originally you wanted a sleep over, which I promptly reminded you that no girls could attend.  Then it was a go-kart party, for which I reminded you that a parent would have to ride with each friend.  A third choice of the newly opened Dave and Busters was thrown out, and bingo if we didn't have a winner (and a place that cleaned up.) You chose Pokemon as a theme including specially made pokemon balls for each friend attending thanks to Dad's burgeoning Pinterest abilities.

One way in which you have changed the most in the past year has been in your friendships.  You waffle between being fiercely loyal to a single best friend as well as running with a pack of equally active other 2nd grade boys in the after school program.  The day you pointed your fingers and made some cheesy pickup line sound in saying goodbye to one of them left me wondering what happened in the last year?

You have grown in every possible way this yea:r:  in maturity, physically, emotionally.  I feel like I have actually watched your lanky arms and legs grow overnight.  You have lost teeth, had legit growing pains in your knees and feet that  make you cry in the night, and have put on muscles that you are quick to flex in your ability to stay shirt less around the house.

We decided to finish your time in one on one counseling in the fall and while I didn't post publicly the specifics of why and when it happened, it was a major moment in the past year.  I appreciate that you were willing to believe through talking, you find solutions.  I appreciate that in the parent sessions, I found more ideas on how to connect with you now and also as you mature.

As your parent I feel that the decision we made to pursue therapy including the parent sessions I attended, was one of  the best ways I can show you that I love you and support you regardless of circumstance.  I have said so many times that as your mom all I can do is support you, make resources available, and love you unconditionally.  I cannot know what your future holds, I only have the choices I can make today. I regret little in the past year when it came to your well being.  

This past year you again took art classes with Ms. Linda making creations from clay as well as a recyclable mini golf course.  You tried weekly Jr. Jazzercise classes and performed in the Cary Christmas Parade. Not surprisingly you said that JJ summer camp was your favorite.  You continue to love movement in any and all forms.  You told me that you wanted to try soccer so we opted for spring soccer league which you loved playing goalie and are returning this fall.  You spent so many hours outside that over the weekend what I thought was too much sun exposure, causing a hard line of covered vs uncovered skin, it was actually dirt. Needless to say we are not skipping baths these days.

You have continued to be part ally/part enemy to your younger brother.  You told me recently that "I fight with him because I love him." Sure.  You are half of the reason that our home is crazy and loud.  Always.  I hope that your bond continues to grow in love for each other and that one day you can do it without full on wrestling.  Or in the picture below, rolling down hills at a favorite park on a beautiful spring day.

This year in school has been defined as even keeled.  You have stayed on grade level all year in all areas, but also gotten a "good enough" mentality that I hope you will be able to break.   I''ve always said that I am happy with you working to what is your potential. but anything else needs work.  You loved that your 2nd grade teacher loved science and questioning.  You loved any activity that answered the proverbial questions of "how, what, why?"  I appreciate that once again, I feel you were with the right teacher placement for where you are in your development.

Your love of enjoyment reading and I've loved talking history with you. The nonfiction section of the library is usually your first stop.  One moment that stands out was when we were touring the Smithsonian "Price of Freedom" exhibit about US involvement in War.  I debated how much censorship I should impose and decided that I would rather allow you ask any and all questions instead of coming up with your own conclusions.  We've had some meaningful discussions about slavery as well as the dropping of the atomic bomb.

I hope our yearly overnight trip to DC will continue as long as you are willing.  One of my favorite posts titled One Day He Will Get It, recounting our trip, and especially the moment of this picture.  It was a favorite of you at age 7.

With each passing year you are becoming more and more your own person.  While I want you to seek out your own independence, I hope you will still in the quiet moments at hope still climb into my arms, ask to be tucking into bed, and that you will continue to catch my kiss and tuck it away.  It is a sweet ending to every long day.

My sweet Ben, you are a gift of goodness and light.  As we continue to compile our lists of "how mom and Ben are alike" and then high five I cannot help but want to hit a pause button with you at this age.  I look at you and cannot believe that in a short decade you will be graduating from high school.  I want time to stand still for just a bit, as the ache of sadness that friends and future are pulling me away from you.  While all must happen, I wish for this next year to be filled with moments for just us.

Happy birthday, my beautiful blue eyed boy.  May the next year find find you in love with life, the same way I love you.


Friday, June 6, 2014

Frozen on Fridays #5 Made with Love

I think you could say that anytime someone makes something homemade, be it food, or knitting, or even arranging flowers for you it can be said it was done with love.

Such is the case with my friend Katie, who is moving out of state next week.  I can't even tell you under what circumstances we became friends, but I value the time we spent as colleagues at my school when we helped open a new high school together in the fall of 2006.  She single handed developed the now large and very popular program that teaches students the basics of cooking and meal preparation.  

One of the things that will always stand out to me was her planning special after school sessions with one of our student outreach programs called "Boys to Men."  I knew many of these young men, as we shared many students over the 6 years we taught together.  The pride these young men, many whom have less than desirable home situation, took in their final banquet was in part due to the respect and love she had shown each of them.  Katie left teaching to accept a job in the private sector and I am happy that part of her move is a promotion that takes her closer to her family in VA.

Making adult friends is hard, harder still when distance separates you.  I hope that we can continue our friendship thanks to social media.  I will miss trips to Southern Season and the Carolina Inn for brunch.  I will miss cooking classes and earring making classes. I will miss a thousand conversations in the hall, on my porch, and some of our favorite places to meet up for wine dessert.  I'm already missing you.

One of the things that has meant the most to me is that Katie loved my boys.  She came over to make special treats with them, made them blankets as babies, showered them with little "just because" gifts.  One of her favorite things to make were chocolate chip cookies.  She came over earlier this week for one last cooking session.  These cookies freeze beautifully, that is if you have any left over to freeze! If you use a scoop instead of an everyday spoon they will be uniform and look great stacked and wrapped as a gift.  

Chocolate Chip Cookies  - Katie Lam

Cream together with an electric mixer

3/4 cup white sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 cup shortening (can also substitute 1/2 cup butter + 1/2 cup shorting)

Add in 2 large eggs and 1 tsp vanilla and mix well.

Stir in flour, salt and baking soda with a wooden spoon (do not use mixer)

2 1/4 cups flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda

Fold in 12 oz chocolate chips 

Scoop dough onto baking sheets lined with parchment and back @375 for 10-12 minutes.  

Yield:  2 1/2 dozen cookies and two very happy boys.  
Katie, I will miss you dearly and wish the best for you and your family.  
Thank you for feeding my boys as well as my soul.  I'm so glad our paths crossed! 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Penis plant

I've been getting my porch summer ready over the last weeks.  There is almost nothing I like to do more than sit on either of my porches with a book and drink in hand.  You will find me there most nights after I have put the boys in bed.

Each year I give myself a budget for plants taking advantage of some frequent buyer clubs and knowledge of a garden supply that does mark downs every Monday.  I also usually pick a color pallet to work from, this year I'm doing pinks/purple/silver in the planters and yellow lantana as hanging baskets.  I love putting together plants of different textures and shapes.  I often take pictures of planters that are pre-made that cost 50-75% more and make myself.  

Yesterday I finished up planting ahead of hosting bookclub at my house later tonight.  I still have a hosta and daylilly bed I want to put in this summer when I have more time.  Ben took his first steps while with me at a place that is dig out your own plants about an hour south of Cary.  Something tells me good karma wants me to return next week when I head down to select some plants.  

Last night we were playing outside after dinner when Ben came over to help me water the plants.  His comment, "why does that plant look like a purple penis?"  With every bit of seriousness he looked at me and asked about a minute later "do they make any plants that look like a butt?"

I was speechless.  Of course Ian jumped on the bandwagon and by the time we were gratefully heading in they were chanting "penis plant, butt plant" at the top of their lungs.  I should have tried harder to stop them but I was laughing as hard as they were.  It is moments like this that I know that the Universe intended me to be a boy mom.  

Monday, June 2, 2014

May Wrap Up

Did someone locate my month?  Seriously, wasn't it like Mother's day like yesterday?  How can Father's day be in like a couple of weeks?

May was busy.  Crazy end of school busy which is a whole different level of busy and tired. Friday night I came home, did the lazy mother dinner of "do your own thing" aka let's eat whatever mom can scratch together and call it a night.  After getting the boys in bed I laid down in all my work clothes before heading downstairs to clean up the kitchen.  The next thing I knew it was 6:30 am and Ian was waking me up.

During May 2014 I/we

- Finished spring soccer with tournaments, trophies, and end of season celebration.  Both boys are playing for FC Cary this fall after much happiness with the coaching and organization.
- Child-free overnight during memorial day weekend while Bill took both boys camping. I fell asleep reading on my porch which is this side of Heaven.
- Finished two books good books, Defending Jacob and A Call to Action- Jimmy Carter
- Cleaned and powerwashed all porches and subsequent reward of new summer plants.  Sadly my hydrangeas were partially killed by the winter cold and snow.  No ongoing arrangements for me this summer
- defaulted on celebrating Mother's day due to a vomiting kid. The Duke Lemur Center to be visited on Father's Day along with the summer Durham Food Truck Rodeo.
- Last minute decision to attend Listen to Your Mother 2014, good call for time well spent.
- Weekend trip to 3 Bears Acres.  I should get a kickback for how many times I've recommended this place to locals
- AP Exam review and actual Exam, public policy research project at NC State, read and graded 60+ research papers, all DONE.  My reason to come to work everyday is in the bag for another year!
- Arranged flowers for a friend's 40th birthday celebration.  While a lot of awesome happened in May, the time I spent making something that brought me pure joy was not only a highlight (along with a fun adult party) but also my favorite picture of the month.