Thursday, May 27, 2010

Ellie Is a First Grader!

This week clobbered us a bit with end-of-year busyness - including gift procurement. We make end-of-term gifts for the girls' teachers and helpers.  Since the number of gifts is usually  between one and two dozen, economics are a factor in our decision about what to make, as is time.  This year we wanted to do something the girls could help with (ruling out hot wax) and slightly healthy if food-related.

From a book of such ideas, we decided on dipped strawberries that were supposed to look like balloons against a blue sky (photo at left).

The instructions made this look very easy. I've melted candy and dipped foods into it before (pretzels, crackers, etc.). We had containers, foam, food coloring, and wooden kabob skewers. All we needed were the strawberries! Couldn't be easier, right?

The girls loved the idea. They loved helping. Ada helped me wrap the foam and push it into the containers. Both girls helped dip strawberries and sampled the chocolate. But there were some hang-ups.
  1. It turns out that liquid (including food coloring) ruins candy coating and powdered food coloring isn't readily available at the 11th hour.
  2. And produce stand strawberries aren't necessarily as long lasting and resilient as store-bought giant monstrosiberries.
  3. Also, as with all such projects, tiny time-sucks like hot gluing fluffy clouds and tying tiny ribbons kept Paul and me up past 2:00 am.
So there were a couple extra trips to the store and some modifications to the design. Results:

Hopefully they tasted good.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

"You're Crazy"

Last Thursday I ran in a pair of bright green Hometown High School Physical Education shorts that are helpfully emblazoned with a giant "L" so everyone can see my size at a glance.

Naturally, I don't condone stealing of any kind, and certainly not from public schools. But gym shorts are sort of a special category. At my high school, gym was required for what seemed like forever. And you couldn't buy your own uniform (unlike at my first high school) but you had to wear one. This put girls at the mercy of the woman working behind a little half door in the middle of the locker room. Every Monday she'd look at you, determine your size (student's input not requested or heeded if offered) and hand you a uniform for the week. Every Friday she'd watch you closely to insure that you dropped all components in the laundry bin.

I got the impression that she hated her job or else delighted in making us suffer because she was always handing me these nasty little polyester size smalls. They looked more like cheap, unflattering volleyball bloomers than gym shorts. Toward the end of my high school career the school invested in a few longer, looser-fitting cotton gym shorts. These were obviously in high demand! I rarely got them, and always wanted to keep hold of them when I did.

But I'm no good at stealing. Fortunately, I have two little sisters, God bless 'em. But honestly I have no idea how this particular pair of shorts made it home, so I cast no aspersions. I was just glad to find them in my drawer one morning last week while searching for non-wicking attire to wear in the rain.

I graduated from high school in 1993. What this means: the 18-year-old elastic was completely shot. No problem, I figured. They never had very much stretch to begin with. Other than the wide elastic waistband, the fabric itself has no give whatsoever.

As long as I keep moving and keep my glutes firing, the shorts should stay up just fine. Hah.

Naturally, at the furthest point of my loop, the shorts started to go. I rolled the waistband and kept moving. Then I rolled it again. Again. The shorts were now as short as their polyester predecessors and still sliding.

Good thing Thursday's run was a short, easy workout. I spent about a mile running comfortably, another mile yanking up my shorts every few houses, then walked the last half mile while staying decently clothed. (Apparently it's the bouncing up and down of my running style that encourages clothing to slither from my body.)

Moral of the story: stealing never pays? But I still love these shorts. So maybe I'll just invest in some new elastic.

(Today's blog post title thanks to a telephone repair dude I met en route. It's raining lightly, everything slick and yucky, and he's standing outside loaded down with electronics, probably about to climb up some big pole. But I'm crazy?! Maybe so, because no one's paying me to run. Anyway, he said it with a smile.)

Sunday, May 23, 2010


To support my assertion that runners love to talk about their sport, this week brings you two posts on running from me. This is the boring one. So, to add interest, a picture!

Saturday was the St. Louis Science Center's annual Run for the Stars fundraiser, my second 5k "race."

I'm very slow. But I transitioned from walking to running just a month ago and I'm already jogging 3 miles pretty consistently. My longer weekend runs are about 4 miles.

Here's my completely unscientific week-before-the-race preparation schedule:
  • Saturday (7 days out): practice run of the (hilly!) race course, with NO WALKING.  This lets me know what to expect on race day and also gives me a ton of confidence.  I know I can do this, no matter how hard it feels in the moment, because I've done it before. . . 
  • Sunday (6 days out): four mile run.  Ouch.
  • Monday (5 days out): no running!  Jillian Michaels video with hand weights.
  • Tuesday (4 days out): jogging on the mini tramp to coddle feet and knees, again with the mini dumbells.
  • Wednesday (3 days out): rest
  • Thursday (2 days out): 2.5 mile run (and walk)
  • Friday (1 day out): rest

Saturday was also the girls' first half mile fun run. They did so great! Some of the other dads carried their little ones to keep up with the crowd but our girls did the whole half mile under their own steam. I am so proud of them! (Here you see them inside the Planetarium, warming up. Ada loves her "running skirt.")

My parents - longtime runners and enthusiasts of the sport - came down to cheer for all of us. Paul and a friend ran the 10k while my dad and I did the 5k - the two races started and ended together, which was fun. My mom and my friend Elizabeth watched the kids during the adult races. The girls had a blast in the inflatable obstacle course and bouncy house. After running I had a few minutes to catch my breath and slurp down some fluids, then it was time to line up for the kids' race. Fortunately, they allowed "pacers" on the course, so I ran with Ada while Paul encouraged Ellie along.

And after that: off to Ellie's last soccer game of the season.

Awesome day.

(Paul snapped the top photo with his phone shortly before the races started. Runners were beginning to file down to the starting line. I'm chatting with my mom, Ellie beside me. Ada is talking to my dad, who's sitting on the curb.)

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Friday Photo Blogging

Spring "candid" school photos with optional props. (Ellie still loves her beads!)

First ice cream of summer.

The first lost front top tooth!

Tonight, Two Quick Rants

First, A SUDDEN COUNTRY by Karen Fisher.  I'm reading this for one of my book clubs and I'm not too glad about that.  In fact, I've been rather cranky in general for the last few days.  (Checking calendar. Well, surely this is at least partly the fault of the book.)  Obviously, I can't put the darned thing down and have been neglecting much of the rest of my life in order to stumble headlong through the story.  And to think I thought I'd never read Madame Bovary again!  Set her on the Oregon Trail and bob's yer uncle.

Second, there's the matter of personal interests.  I've noticed that runners like to talk about their sport: routes, distances, times, goals.  This is unsurprisingly.  Even in such a solitary sport, surely some need for connection or acknowledgment is likely to occur.  But my eyes generally role back in my head when my husband wants to go over his runs in excruciating detail.  (Conversely, I'm sure he find my running anecdotes fascinating. "And then, I smelled BBQ smoke!")

I'm coming the long way 'round on this one but am almost to my point.  It's Hollywood, you see.

Lots of our movies and television shows are made (developed, produced, filmed, set, whatever) in southern California.  And it's true that a lot of people live in L.A.  I don't.  In fact, over 280,000,000 Americans don't even live in SoCal!  (And that's not getting into the rest of the world similarly consuming our programming.)  I'm sure that there are quite a few Los Anglophiles out here in the wilds.

But maybe some of the rest are like me: not particularly interested in your city.  There, I said it.  I have nothing much against L.A., I'm just tired of seeing it all the time on so many different TV shows and movies.  So, now: Law & Order - Los Angeles?  Really?  Sigh.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010


Tonight's blogging is pre-empted by IEP preparation.

8:00 am meeting tomorrow.  Is that even morning time?


IEP tips for parents:
  1. Bring your child when practical. Our girls are very good at these meetings and Ellie's presence helps keep the team focused on the child rather than the diagnosis or scores.  (Before Ellie was old enough to attend I brought pictures.)
  2. Bring food for the whole team.  It's not a bribe, but it sets a nice mood.
  3. Come prepared with thoughts and questions about things like how the child did against her current goals, what sorts of goals are practical for the next year, and what are typical grade level expectations for the same time frame (if applicable).
  4. Don't be reluctant to share any concern you have.  Often you're not the first to have a particular question, complaint, or worry.
  5. Relax. It can be fun! These meetings are rarely adversarial . . . or at least they don't need to be . . . 
  6. But at the same time be firm when you need to be. You are your child's advocate and while you're not at school with your child all day (probably) you do know your child best.
Just my two cents.  I've been to about 8 of these school district IEP Meetings for Ellie, but I'm hardly an expert yet.  I've got about 12 more years to practice!

IEP for people who have no idea what I mean: Individualized Education Plan.

Monday, May 17, 2010

What I Want to Write

I haven't been writing much about writing lately. And that's because . . . I haven't been writing much lately. I've been freelancing more lately. Like, for money. That's important, and it takes up a lot of the time I used to spend writing creatively. (And blogging.)

It's really really hard to keep up with: raising kids, running a household, menu planning (and shopping and preparing healthy food), keeping active, freelancing during "free" time, AND creative writing.

It can be done, of course. In fact, I've done it! (Although when I'm writing busily I often let exercise and eating-in slide a little bit.) So the real reason I haven't been writing as much lately must be something else.

I believe it's because I'm still trying to figure out what to write. Write what you read! goes the standard advice. Well, I like to read lots of stuff. I've tried to write what I read, and even some stuff I don't read as much of for variety.

And after much effort I've determined that it's a real struggle for me to write
children's lit
sci fi and fantasy
and . . . mysteries. I've worked the longest at writing mysteries! I've studied really hard! I've practiced! I've loved reading these all my life! I'm an active member of Sisters in Crime! And maybe one day I'll write a mystery that I think is good enough to share with others.

But in the meantime, where the writing feels most real and most natural and most fun and most exiting is when I'm writing something a lot like . . .

Literary fiction or maybe book club fiction ("commercial fiction," I suppose, though I don't really tend to see the two as such distinctly different genres as some do). So: commercial literary fiction. I think I have drool on my chin. Upmarket fiction.

But the derision!
The pretension!
What unpublished writer could claim to be writing a book like that?!

Those books, the ones that might have stamps from prestigious awards on their covers, the ones with thought-provoking readers' guides, the ones that "use too many words" (as determined by a writer friend of mine who's all about pace and urgency and cutting out all "unnecessary" description) those are the books that really touch me, that really get me excited, that make me think:

I want to do that!

And so. I live. I experience. I feel. I read. I think. I practice. I write.

And someday, hopefully, I'll have a novel I'm proud to show others.

(Image from

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Enter Stage Next

The most exciting part? The basket holds a cup of water! Ellie can't really ride independently yet, but she's exciting to keep trying. This might be the summer for a tag-a-long.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

How To Save a Life

I've decided to come out against car seats.

One night last week, as we passed the mall on our way to a park, we stopped at a red light next to a giant SUV. A toddler/preschooler stood on the hump on the floor in the back, leaning his head between the two front seats to chat with the driver.  As we watched, the kid bounced around, leaning forward, hopping up onto his own seat, then wiggling around some more. He was obviously unrestrained, and this was a busy road, a busy intersection, a busy time of day. (For locals: Manchester at Ballas shortly after 6:00 pm.)

I grabbed my armrest then turned automatically to check on my own children, ages 3 and 6, securely restrained in their five point safety harnesses. Paul was shocked. "Should I honk?" he asked. "Roll down my window and say something to her?"

No way. I'm sure she knows the law, or at least knows that toddlers are supposed to be in car seats.

But I've been wondering about the law myself, lately, and decided to look it up when we got home. Ellie will finish kindergarten in the a couple of weeks, and then she'll be a first grader. She's a pretty compliant kid, but she's getting a little tired of the car seat. (In the van she's in a full 5-point safety harness, but in our second car she has a simple backless booster. She'd prefer not to ride in either of them.)  Periodically she asks me if she can just sit on the actual seat of the car. And the answer is always no.

But maybe soon? I thought. Because not only would it be a lot less hassle not to have to worry about car seats. Also, how long before she can sit up front with me?

The world of travel has changed dramatically since I was a kid. I know that the way we do things now is much safer, that fewer kids die in motor vehicle accidents, and I'm all for that. We always follow adult and child restraint laws, plus a little extra protection just to be safe (like keeping Ellie in the full car seat when she could legally just be in a booster).

But wasn't it nice when we got to sit next to our parents in the car, manipulate the car's heating, cooling, and radio? See out the same windows as the driver? Have easier conversations that don't involve hollering from the front seat to the back or turning around to look constantly? There's this huge barrier to intimacy we've constructed by keeping our kids "safe" in the back seat.

For how long? In Missouri:
  • Children less than 4 years old or less than 40 pounds must be in an appropriate child safety seat.
  • Children ages 4 through 7 who weigh at least 40 pounds must be in an appropriate child safety seat or booster seat unless they are 80 pounds or 4'9" tall.
  • Children 8 and over or weighing at least 80 pounds or at least 4’9” tall are required to be secured by a safety belt or buckled into an appropriate booster seat.
The National Standards say "at least age 8."

Ellie might never be over 80 pounds and 4'9", so we're fortunate she'll age out of her booster in another couple of years.  (Can you imagine carpooling a few second or third graders, all in car seats?! I guess I'll be experiencing that challenge soon enough.)

As for my question about when children can ride safely in the front seat, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says not until s/he's at least 13 years old.  Thirteen!  In Missouri, children under 12 years old must ride restrained in the back seat.  But passenger safety organizations such as SafetyBeltSafe U.S.A. recommend going even further and keeping your child in the backseat until he's ready to drive himself.

You know what's safe? Never let your child in the car.

You know what's not safe?  A kid whose first experience in the front seat is driver's ed.


Sunday, May 09, 2010

Newsflash: I'm a Nerd

JOHN WILLIAMS IS THE MAN! A Star Wars-themed four-part a cappella musical tribute.
Performed by Corey Vidal (vocals by Moosebutter)

Thursday, May 06, 2010

A Couple of Weeks Ago


New toy! (Almost but not quite as fun as driveway chalk.)


Ten and a Half Months

Last June I decided to get a little bit healthier.  This happened:

Things started off well.  My body was so shocked that I was active and not snacking that pounds fell off.
  • A. Vacation
  • B. My birthday
  • C. A friend scared me into getting serious about weight loss by nominating me for something. (I take the threat of public humiliation seriously.)
  • D. November and December: vacation from diet and exercise to focus on National Novel Writing Month and Christmas.  These are both full-time jobs.  But I started January with a vengeance and the two pounds I gained disappeared immediately.
  • E. In-laws came for a visit.
  • F. Walking transitioning into running.

So. Yay!  I'm not there yet. But I'm more than halfway to my goal and this is why I love my Wii Fit.  Who cares if I only lost half a pound from last week if I can look back and see how far I've come in less than a year?

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Nothing to Read Here

I read a book intending to review it for the May meeting of Barrie Summy's Book Review Club. I decided against writing the review, though.

You know what everyone's mother says about if you can't say anything nice . . . ?

Well, that's not the case here. It's more like I'd be damning the book with faint praise.

And since I didn't have a really strong reaction to the book either way I'm simply not going to review it.

So I could dust off an old review, like this one of Percival the Plain Little Caterpillar.

Or I could review another book I've read recently, like Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls or Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Stout.

Or I could just take a month off. I've chosen to do the latter. I'll also include a list of the books one of my book clubs has discussed:

The Tender Land by Kathleen Finneran (memoir)
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel (graphic memoir)
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber
Plainsong by Kent Haruf

Night by Elie Wiesel (memoir)
Kindred by Octavia Butler
Birds of America: Stories by Lorrie Moore (short stories)
House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende
A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah (memoir)
The Dispossessed by Ursula K. Le Guin
The Dangerous Life of Altar Boys by Chris Fuhrman
The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
Bearing Witness by Michael A. Kahn
White Teeth by Zadie Smith
Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey

Altered Carbon by Richard K. Morgan
Rob Roy by Sir Walter Scott
Lamb by Christopher Moore
August: Osage County by Tracy Letts (play)
Blue Shoe by Anne Lamott
Him Her Him Again the End of Him by Patricia Marx
Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris (memoir/essays)
Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury
Prep by Curtis Sittenfeld
The Women by Clare Luce Booth (play)

The Member of the Wedding by Carson McCullers
Innocent Traitor: A Novel of Lady Jane Grey by Alison Weir
Lipstick Jungle by Candace Bushnell
The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Life of Pi by Yann Martel

Going Away Shoes by Jill McCorkle (short stories)
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan
A Sudden Country by Karen Fisher

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@Barrie Summy

Monday, May 03, 2010

Kid Power

We're all about polling data in our house. You never know when it will come in handy. A few weeks ago, people were still asking me if I was pregnant all the time. (Since then I've started wearing snugly fitted shirts and the questions have diminished in frequency. Also my abs are getting strong from sucking in all the time.) Given recent public interest in my (non)gravid state, I asked the girls if they'd ever want a new baby in our house.

They each thought for a moment.

"Not today," Ellie replied.

"No baby," Ada said. "I want a brother. A BIG brother, not a baby brother. His name's Calvin."

So there you have it. The children have spoken.