Monday, June 29, 2015

Currently: Thinking about Colleges, Hybrid cars, Rest & Food

It's Monday and I'm back home. I went to the National PTA Convention this weekend and my daughters tagged along with me. Yes, it takes special kids to come along to a convention and actually attend some of the sessions.  During the convention, I was the featured blogger for the Family Reading Challenge launch and our family inspiration videos were posted.

Along the way, we stopped by Wake Forest University for a college tour (how did we get to this point already?!)  When I was in high school, I didn't do any college visits, I fully picked my school site-unseen.  Nowadays, however, college visits are expected and encouraged - and lots of them. I know folks who have visited ten, fifteen and more colleges with their soon-to-be-grad.  I don't think we'll do that many, we'll have to find a reasonable number.  If you've got a high schooler or recent grad, how many college visits did you all go on?

I drove a Ford Fusion hybrid for the trip.  Somewhere around 400 miles into the trip, the "E" light finally came on, I pulled over to fill up and with about 11 gallons, $30-some it was full and ready for another 500 miles.  Wow!  I usually drive an SUV (because we have to fit a family of six) so you can imagine the comparative cost and gas-savings.  I've got a while until my next car purchase, but this hybrid movement is something to think about.

When we checked in the hotel, I recalled again, my desire to one day check in to a hotel with no agenda but to get my full money's worth of the room rate. I want to sleep late in the comfy bed under the overstuffed comforters, have lunch on the pool deck, sip a drink during Happy Hour at the bar, sit on my room balcony reading a book.  Generally, I'm at a hotel for a convention or on vacation. Obviously, a convention schedule is crazy packed. And vacation, sometime is not as leisurely as we expect because we've got to get to the thing today before the lines get long.  One of these days, I'm going to stay in a hotel for no reason at all.

I'm recommitting to my workout plan that has sadly fallen to the wayside for no real apparent reason. But after a few days of grits, biscuits and sweet tea, I need to get back on it.  (More on what to eat in Charlotte coming up in separate post.)

I'm ready to cook. After a few days away, it's time to clean out the fridge and cook a meal, gather around the table with my full family and catch up.  Admittedly, it may take a few days for all that to come together with swim practice, PTA meetings, and basketball practice, but we'll get there.

What are you currently up to?

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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Vacation Together - Read Together. #FamiliesRead

Join the PTA Family Reading Challenge!
We’ve followed a boy who lives within the gears of a train station clock.  Run with a  boy turned superhero when struck by lightning. Solved puzzling cases with kids in a mysterious society. Cheered on a would-be prince restored to his throne. Cried through a first-love trip to Amsterdam. Looked for the lost class guinea pig with twin sisters.

All from the blanket in the yard, cuddled up in bed, and riding in the car on cross-state roadtrips.

Of course, it’s all through the magic of books.

Since the kids were babies, I’ve read to and with them. I want my kids to share my love of reading, obviously for all the academic reasons – its necessary requirement for school, it makes one a better student, there’s a bunch of reading tests in school – but also because it’s great entertainment. Books are available on every subject imaginable and about all kinds of people doing all kinds of things. They can make you laugh or cry or think or wonder. And they’re portable!  Especially now with all the e-reader options on iPads, tablets, phones - there's really no excuse to not have a book with you.

And summer is a great season to get the kids reading. The long days, hours by the pool, enjoying an ice cream – they all go well with a good book.

As we pack our suitcases for vacation, everyone has two book tasks.
  • Select a book to read, whether a paper book or e-book for downtime.  The books have to be long enough to last past us pulling out of the driveway; other than that, there’s little rules.  Reading is the perfect end-of-the-day, calming activity. Parents can read aloud, or give the kids a turn to do so. Or everyone can read quietly, together.  I always end up packing more books than I can finish in how many ever days we'll be gone, but hey - you've gotta have goals.
  • Select an audio-book for travel time. When we do road-trips, we like a story to pass the hours and miles in the car.  The book has to be something everyone will enjoy, so this causes the most discussion and negotiations.  It also results in us driving around an extra block before parking, just to get to the end of the chapter and chit-chat waiting for dinner as we talk about what character we like (or didn’t) and what we think will happen next.

Selecting a book for family reading, as kids get older and with different age kids, can be a challenge. Here's a few that we've enjoyed together.  Note that with the audiobooks, one of the kids has usually read the "real" book first, then wants to share it with everyone else.
  • The Mysterious Benedict Society, Trenton Lee Stewart - book, audiobook
  • The False Prince (series) - book, audiobook
  • The Invention of Hugo Cabret - Brian Selznick - book (but not the movie)
  • Scumble; Savvy - Ingrid Law - book, audiobook

The girls and I are traveling and listening to The Selection. This story about a girl who is selected, along with 34 others, to vie for the position of princess is a mixture of The Bachelor, Hunger Games, and The False Prince. I am just waiting for the Prince to send them all into the woods, looking for weapons as an archer shoots at them, only to discover one of them is the lost princess. Though my daughter assures me this is not going to happen.

Summer may not seem like the time for academics, but reading is the perfect lazy day activity. And reading together makes it even more fun.  So grab a book, gather the kids and enjoy.

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I’m proud to be taking part in the National PTA’s FamilyReading Experience Powered by Kindle and the Family Reading Challenge.  I’ve always loved reading and am excited that our largest parent advocacy organization is giving parents the incentives and encouragement to get engaged in their child’s education by reading.  
How to Raise a Reader - tips & stats from the National PTA #FamiliesRead
Check out the website - - for more information on the challenge – including how to win prizes for your family!  Share your families summer reading selections and experiences on social media with #FamiliesRead.
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Monday, June 22, 2015

Currently: Reading, Crocheting & Enjoying Snowballs

We have arrived to my favorite season of the year! Sure, the spring breezes and rain showers are nice, and fall crispy cool air is refreshing relief from the heat of summer, and a daily excuse for hot chocolate is great in the winter but give me the season of soaking in the sun, sipping on iced sweet tea, long days of nothing, a pile of books to read, and ice cream.

The longest day of the year, also known as the summer solstice, officially begins summer.  I celebrated with an ice-cold, delicious Baltimore snowball (chocolate covered strawberry, if you were wondering.) I have been derelict in my parenting duties and my kids were under the mistaken belief that the concoction of ice and watery flavor sold on the truck that comes to school picnics was a “good” snowball. I had to rectify that. It only took one sugary flavorful spoonful of a real snowball to make them (well, three out of four) converts.

Borrowing on the idea of The Longest Day, the AlzheimersAssociation used this day to increase awareness this disease, and fundraising for research of and support for those suffering from it and their caregivers.  Participants in the day were encouraged to pick an activity to participate in all day, to “symbolize the challenging journey of those living with the disease and their caregivers.”  I chose to crochet, one of my favorite hobbies and since handcrafts are reported to help stimulate the brain, I thought was a good fit.  Continuing in the idea of charity, I made hats for women going through chemotherapy who may lose their hair. I made three during the day, taking my yarn to the kids’ swim meet, stitching in between making dinner, and while hanging out with the family celebrating Father’s Day. They were so easy, I’m thinking of making some more. Any ideas of where to donate them to – leave in the comments.

In book-nerd fashion, I have anticipated the opening of the new library in my area.  I know – it’s going to have books just like all the other ones, but I’ve still got going to check it out on my list of things to do. And I heard they have a coffee shop!

On a related note, we have signed up for the National PTA Family Reading Challenge. This new initiative encourages families to read together. Okay - we do have a fun, vested interest in the program – we were one of the families selected to be in the “Inspiration” videos. My daughter and I talk about family reading traditions.  We’ve signed up for the summer challenge because I love reading and think its very important for children to not only be literate but to enjoy reading for their own entertainment and education.  I’ve mentioned many times on here about getting kids reading, especially in the summer so their minds don’t turn to mush in the sun.  As the kids get older, the reading together thing gets harder, it doesn’t seem as cool, but in a previous post, I shared some ideas.  Another note on the family challenge –(and my kids favorite part) there’s prizes from Amazon and Kindle.

I’m making good progress in my tidying and decluttering effort. As recommended in the book I’m using as my guide for now, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I’m committing huge chunks of time – cleaning out the kids’ closets and drawers for now. We packed up bags to donate to the local clothes exchange and another pile of bags of trash. At the same time, a friend was looking for donations of old t-shirts and yarn for a summer camp – yay!! We had a pile of all those logo/camp/event t-shirts that I didn’t know what to do with and I had a bag of yarn scraps. Perfect.  I love when I can donate my old things, it seems like such a waste to throw them away. The house is feeling so much lighter, now.

Here’s to summer! Pass the sweet tea and share how you are starting off your summer!

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Friday, June 19, 2015

The AME Church is My Church Home

I grew up in an AME church.  I still return to that same church on the occasional Easter or Mother's Day to worship with my in-laws and visit with my Pastor and his wife and old friends. To this day, our Pastor's wife is the epitome of "Church First Lady" to me and our church is the model of church home that I'm still looking for for our own family. I spent many evenings in choir rehearsal, usher meetings, YPD meetings, and waiting for my dad while he attended Trustee meetings.  When other teens were at the movies and parties, I was at revival and church conference. I ate a lot of fried chicken dinners and saran-wrapped yellow cake on Sunday afternoons. I spent a week each summer at Vacation Bible School with my friends. I met my husband in that church.  That little church, is my church home.

Unfortunately, church shootings and attacks in places of worship isn't a new thing.  Neither is a White man killing Black people out of hatred and evil, regardless of the inevitable claims of mental illness and some sad-sack story of his confused motivations. The debate on the access to guns, also, is something that is not a brand new discussion. I had to nod in agreement when a TV commentator on late night said that the fact that nothing in our gun laws changed after the shootings in Sandy Hook - when schoolchildren were shot in killed in their classrooms - there's little hope that they will ever change.

On Wednesday night, my children were in Bible study.  In fact, they had begged me to take them because they had such a good time on Tuesday night, so I drove back and forth taking one to her swim meet and the others to church.  Then, what a change overnight.  On Thursday night, I had second thoughts about taking them back.  I was on the other side of town, so it would've been easy to use that as the perfect excuse.  But we went. Because we can't operate out of a place of fear.  And what does that say about our faith if we fall to fear?

The adult lesson for Thursday night was out of Exodus, as Moses stood on the banks of the Red Sea, wondering how the children of Israel were going to cross over and escape their oppression.  He said to the people, "Fear ye not." (Exodus 14:13) The minister said that there are reminders to "fear not" at least 365 times in the Bible - one for each day of the year.

We keep moving, trying not to be afraid. But we keep finding less and less places to feel safe.  So what are we supposed to do?  We keep loving our kids and teaching them to love others. We hug them and pray that they are safe until we see them again, whether its when they get off the school bus or we pick them up from church or when we wake up in the morning. We keep praying, holding on to faith and holding on to hope.

I don't know that I have anything else to add to the conversation around the killing of nine people in Emanuel AME Church in Charleston SC.  But this is my small voice in what I hope will be a large, cacophonous noise for change.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Father's Day is for Dads... Can We Leave it That Way?

This weekend is Father’s Day. It’s for dad, daddy, pop-pop, papi, papa – fathers.  For many people, young and old, it’s a sad reminder of the dads who aren’t present in their life, for the myriad of reasons why, spanning from choice to illness to death to prison to deployment to even not knowing who dad is and many others.  And there’s a lot of moms out there trying to fill that space. But it’s not mom’s day – that was back in May, it was called Mother’s Day.

There seems to be a growing trend over the recent years to honor the single mom on Father’s Day. I think I’ve actually seen more ads for gifts and cards for mom than dads for this weekend. 

Single moms, no doubt, have quite a challenge in raising their children alone, for whatever reason they are alone. And this is where I note that some of my favorite people are or were single moms and I acknowledge all that they are doing for their children.  But they aren’t dads.  A dad is a male parental figure. Moms aren’t that. No matter if they are the one who brings home the bacon, changes the tire, cuts the grass, coaches basketball, as well as cooks dinner, plants the flowers, and sews dance costumes. (Yes, I know I am invoking strong gender roled tasks here.)  Regardless of all that, mom is the female parental figure. Give her the honor of a really hard working mom. Give mom extra flowers on Mother’s Day or even give her an extra day and let her celebrate Mother’s weekend.

Don’t let dads off the hook or reinforce the “my kid doesn’t need a dad” message by letting mom take the glory. Don’t make moms have to man-up by celebrating Father’s Day.  Don’t dismiss the memory of a father.  Don’t take away from the dads who are there and present in their kids life by making them share it with single moms.

To all the kids who are missing their dads this weekend and everyday, God bless you.

And to all the dads out there, hanging out with their kids this weekend - Happy Father’s Day.

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Friday, June 12, 2015

My 5-Skein Local Yarn Store Rating Scale

I shop for yarn a lot. Not because I have to or I need more yarn. It's part of the crochet/knit hobby.  I go to local yarn shops to wander around and see what piques my interest and I almost always find a yarn shop when I travel.  To my husband’s unbelief, I also almost always buy something.  In considering my shopping experiences (some good, some not-do-good) and chatting with other yarn-ie friends, I’ve come up with a simple, 5-skein rating of yarn shops. Shop owners – take note.

We’ll start with the basics. Neat, clean, bright – without that, we’re not even getting to the rest.  The yarn – it’s got to be yarn-snob worthy. No 100% acrylic, scratchy, I could pick this up at my local craft shop in the aisle over from the paint and glue (although, I have picked up some nice yarns there, too, but that's not what we're looking for in the LYS.)  This is pretty much the low bar of entry to even be considered a yarn shop worth rating.  I.e. this is my house and my yarn stash if I could get a retail license for my basement.  Now, what’s it take to actually get some skeins for my local yarn shop rating?

1 skein – Shops get 1 skein for saying “hi, welcome to my shop, can I help you?”
Doesn’t seem hard right? Given that most shops are only a couple hundred feet square with the check-out desk in eye-sight of the front door, the owner or some key employee generally sees everybody who walks in the place.  And usually, there is not a big crowd in the shop.  Greeting a shop visitor doesn’t seem too much to expect. You’d think.  I’ve been in shops where this doesn’t happen. The owner sees me come in, says nothing, and keeps on stitching or putting up inventory or drinking her tea or whatever. I can tell you how many skeins I have bought when someone, shop owner or employee, has not spoken to me: zero.

1 skein – Shops get 1 skein for being nice to crocheters and having crochet tools. 
No skeins are awarded for knitting needles and row counters, nope. Why? Because, pretty much every yarn shop is designed for knitters. So for this skein on the rating scale, a shop has to stretch and reach out to crocheters.  And having that one ole 1977 Red Heart granny-square, fringed poncho pattern does not count; there’s got to be the newest Interweave Crochet or patterns that have been written within the last year. Even free patterns for a simple scarf, printed really nice with suggested yarn. I’ll take that. And have some crochet hooks and row counters. And don’t roll your eyes when I say I “crochet.”

1 skein – LYS get 1 skein for having other interesting yarn-related stuff. 
Some shops have unique buttons or cute knitting/crochet tote bags, scarf pins or needle cases. I don’t generally buy all that stuff, but every now and then I need a button or a scarf pin. Well, I don’t actually need one, but if there’s a pretty one, I’ll buy it and another skein of yarn to go with it to make a pretty scarf or sweater.

1 skein – Shops get 1 skein for paying some attention to the customers.
This is a different point than the “speak to me when I enter” skein.  When I ask a question, I expect that the shop owner acts like they would like for me to buy some yarn. Perhaps they are doing so well that they really don’t care if I by anything or not, but they could at least pretend like they care.  When I ask what’s this variegated yarn look like when stitched, don’t tell me to look it up on Ravelry. When I ask how to do a particular stitch, in a shop with “ask us for help” signs all over the place, don’t tell me to look it up on YouTube. I can tell you how many skeins of yarn I have bought from shop owners who did not offer any assistance: zero.

1skein – Shops get 1 skein for having a snack or beverage, coffee or wine, I’m not picky.
There aren’t too many yarn shops who would get this point, but I’m holding out. I did go to one shop in London that served wine – there was a cooler in the back of the yarn shop and you could select whichever wine went with your knitting or crocheting project. I’ve never seen this in the U.S., I guess we have some different kind of alcohol license thing that they don’t grant to yarn shops.  I also don’t know that I’ve been to any that serve coffee. Most don’t seem to mind when you wander around with your own cup, but I would probably stick around longer if there was a fresh pot brewing.

There – 5 skeins.  That doesn’t seem so hard, does it? I mean, even in my own basement, I can score a couple of those skeins (I do have wine and coffee), so surely a local yarn shop can do as well as me piddlin’ in my yarn stash.

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