Family, Work

my hat progress

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I had expected to hear the front door slam; waiting for it to reverberate throughout my house this morning.  Instead, it was  a quiet click.  The son ran late, once again, and yelled at everyone and thing in his path; finding fault in all things besides himself.

Progress.

The work computer continues to freeze and I am unable to send PDF attachments.  Another tile broke on my kitchen floor.  Something, which appears like mold, is on my garage door entry wall after being inundated with rain for the past few days.  The dog refused to be found to be put outside.  My mood at 7:39 am was sour, indeed.  The bills are waiting to be paid.   The property taxes deadline for our home and business sit in my inbox looming.    There is always something. 

I feel the bile in my throat rising; the dull ache in my head starting to pound.  I decide I need to breathe.  Deeply.  I reach for my coffee hoping the caffeine will kick in.

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I breathe deeply.  Slowly.  In.  Out.  Inhale.  Exhale.

I am discovering that organizing brings simplicity.  This seems like an oxymoron since a lot of my time is invested in organizing.  Usually I am on the go-go-go, distracted and shopping, buying, orchestrating.  I had not realized that I had declared the month of December as a calendar free zone until today.  My subconscious mind has been influencing me; fighting my natural tendencies.  It is slowly winning.

Progress.

I silently made a promise to myself, this year, to make this December as stress free and simple as possible.  To honor my family; to give them their time due.  In all my hustle and bustle thinking I was doing all of my activities for them; they were the ones who suffered They got the least time with me; with no quality.  Wifemom was busy with her various hats: the work one, the school one, the friend one, the Santa.  The wifemom hat hung in the corner, waiting….

This December my wish is to truly be me.    To be present to love and see.  For holidays to be stress-free.  To be an actively involved member of my own family.  Simplicity.

My December calendar is filled with various school activities, meetings, work projects and deadlines.  But I can now choose what to do with the white spaces; to de-clutter my life and to forfeit things to give me time.    I stare, daily, at my growing sons remembering the thoughts and impressions I had at their ages.  These same values and perceptions reside in me, even now.  For years some of them were lost; forgotten or hidden away to deal with another day.  But it is in these years, that my boys currently reside, where my values were formulated.  It is these years that I weather the storms and winds that blow off my wifemom hat.  I must fight to keep it on.

The vacant spaces on my calendar are moments I am free to be with my family.

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As I mentally work through my issues, organizing is helping me find my way.  The impulsive buyer, within, is becoming thoughtful.  With the 11% plummet in black Friday sales projections it appears many consumers in this country are on my same trajectory.  Business analysts ponder if consumers have less money to spend or are more discerning in where they put it.  Our economy is slow to emerge from the depths of the great recession.  I, too, now watch where my dollars are spent.  I creatively consider ways to show appreciation to vendors and customers without buying meaningless things.

But after wracking my brain, the master-of-the-obvious hubs stated the logical.  Why not just ask them what they like?  This goes against my grain; but since these gifts are to show appreciation I finally did call to ask.  And surprisingly, our customers were forthcoming and grateful for the question.  People do not appreciate receiving junk or things that have no value to them.  The best gift given is with thought and consideration.  Creativity.  Simplicity.

And with renewed purpose I can enjoy my search for things people truly enjoy.  The joy of the season of giving has slowly returned.  To give thanks.  To remember traditions new and old.  To honor my religion.  To remember my family who have come and gone.  To renew my values; passing them along to the next generation.    And most importantly, to expect nothing in return.

At night the hubs quietly sits.  He listens.  Patiently.  I am blessed that my extrovert tendencies are balanced by his introvert ones.  What he cannot help me process ends up typewritten here.   I think I have truly lost my mind.  But in losing it; I’ve gained a new one.  A fresh perspective.

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I am not obligated to host either side of our families for Christmas, nor the eve, this year.  I have moved dates earlier in December or to next year to be able to sit still and gaze at my fully decorated home’s twinkling lights.   The boys have requested a designated day to bake cookies.  Although my mind conjures up excess pounds, I will remind myself of moderation.   I am finally listening to what my family and heart whispers.  See us.  Be with us.  With the coming, this Advent season, my mind can finally settle down as the nights grow long.    It is hard for me to sit still.

I am a work in progress.  I hold the wifemom hat in my hands; anticipation building.   I can simply enjoy the holidays this year.

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Family, School

the inner core; finding depth

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I listened to my girlfriends as they lamented about science projects.  Its requirement is a noose; a struggle of wills for the parents of children who do not enjoy the sciences.   I, too, felt the pressure as I stared at empty display boards; anxious for them to be complete.  The projects were built, the data recorded.  Both the hubs and I have science backgrounds (you would never know it based on my retention of knowledge) and he brings his enthusiasm to all scientific endeavors.  His role is to assist with the building and recording.  My role is to proofread and assist with the report and presentation.

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On Thursday night I tiredly sat next to my son as he typed data and printed graphs.  I tried to inject cheerful enthusiasm as I read Amanda Ripley’s book, The Smartest Kids in the World; modeling my love of science and data.  I worried how he would graph his results. I was happy to discover that his sixth grade science teacher had given her students the links to a graphing website; and I soon found myself over his shoulder making suggestions.  He batted me away.   This son enjoys math and played with his graph; excited to visualize his data in a meaningful way.   Whilst working in a neurogerontology research lab I had also found what interested me most; data and probabilities.   Statistics.  I repeated this same process with the youngest child as his nimble fingers flew across my keyboard.  I was surprised.  He had learned how to type!

In past years I have been a huge proponent for technology in the schools.  Each annual survey I lament the lack of it.  Why couldn’t our kids learn to type?  My eldest learned PowerPoint, Excel and Word in third grade at another school.  Our current school’s computer lab was used for AR (Accelerated Reader) testing.  The computers did not have  a typing program.  Nor did I notice any Microsoft Office applications.

Much as I enjoy reading I feel that the cost of various assessments really have no application to the real world.  I mean, seriously?  Does anyone know how AR relates to the real world?  It is assumed that AR teaches kids to love to read.   But really, it teaches kids how to test.  But in the real world people have to know how to type, to make sense out of data and organize it into tables and graphs in Excel.  And to present information, PowerPoint is the industry standard.  It is no wonder that the US results on the PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) were below average in math and science.  We were doing above average in reading but we were below average in all other categories.  And the US spends more money, per student, than most countries.

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I continued to read my book as my youngest typed his report and came upon how parents can influence their children.  The author questioned how parent involvement affected children’s performance in school.  To her surprise, parent involvement in the school aka PTA parenting, did not mean better performance.  Instead she discovered the following.

“…one high-impact form of parental involvement did not actually involve kids or schools at all:  If parents simply read for pleasure at home on their own, their children were more likely to enjoy reading, too.”
~ The Smartest Kids in the World: and How They Got That Way, pg. 111.

http://www.amandaripley.com/blog/to-bake-sale-or-not-to-bake-sale-the-american-parents-conundrum

I can easily model that behavior.  It is rare to find me without my e-reader and my kids have followed suit.  They do not need AR to learn and discover the joys of reading.  I do not need to volunteer countless hours in the classroom.    Education dollars are spent on smart boards and iPads (LAUSD is a complete mess).  These innovative and technological items do not prove our students perform better or improve the quality of their classroom experience.  Amanda Ripley discovered this as she followed the experiences of three foreign exchange students living abroad in three countries who have surpassed ours on the PISA test: Finland, South Korea and Poland.

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The recent 2012 results were in math and the US continues to be below average.  The Common Core Standards were formulated in 2010 in answer to students’ performance on this international benchmark.  These standards will fully be implemented in fall 2014.  Forty-five of our states have adopted this curriculum but there is a lot of political debate and rhetoric over its implementation.  The federal government takes control away from local jurisdictions and money is being allocated towards tests and assessments to quantify the implementation of these standards.

The mission of Common Core was to create common educational benchmarks so that children would emerge from high school with consistent educational backgrounds; student readiness for two or four year accredited programs nationwide.    A high school diploma did not mean that a twelfth grader had the same education from state-to-state; even district-to-district.    These Common Core standards focused on depth of information; critical thinking.  The PISA tests worldwide indicated this is where our students lacked.  How could they enter the twenty first century’s burgeoning global economy and compete worldwide?

I had just blogged about finding character and motivation when this book appeared on my newsfeed.  Curious, I browsed it, purchased it and ravenously read it; barely putting it down.  Anyone who has had contact with me in the past three days has heard me talk about it.  I’ve been digging deep to find my core: my values and who I am.  This has me considering what I want  my kids to become.  All kids need common core values and these educational common core standards are supposed to level the field and raise the bar.  But will they?   The author wondered what made kids in other countries value education above all else.  How did these countries rise from the ashes to become educational super powers?  And what are we doing wrong in the US?

I was meant to read this book at this time.  For all the hours I have spent within my children’s schools I had no real understanding of what the Common Core curriculum was about.  I knew it would teach kids to critically think and add depth to the content.  The countries with the smartest kids did not have a lot of technology; nor did their parents involve themselves in their classrooms.  Educational standards were set high.  The teachers were the cream of the crop.  Teachers were not the education majors in college with the “soft” curriculum.  They had a longer period of student teaching and mentoring; up to a year.  It was tough to be accepted into the prestigious university education programs.  If you taught math in high school you took extensive math courses at university.  The kids respected their teacher’s accomplishments and so, put in the work to perform to their higher levels of expectations.   It is human interaction that drives this process; not technology or ineffective, frequent testing assessments.  Throwing money at a problem doesn’t produce a better outcome.

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I share this all with my girlfriend.  We both ran late for our designated coffee date; set 45 days prior.  Just like I, she also is on the hamster wheel of PTA parenting; a phrase describing the various parents who volunteer countless hours to improve the quality of the schools they serve.   But those hours don’t translate to smarter kids and I share this with her; the girlfriend who spearheads most school drives.  She is spent, as am I; realizing that we can better serve our goals by being engaged differently.

We’ve both come to realize that human relationships are most important and we are making the time to maintain and cultivate them.  As parents we have guided our children, read countless hours of stories, proofread assignments and actively worked within our respective schools; sharing our talents for their needs.  But  we also have realized that we are in a different stage with our children now.  We have to let them go, to make their mistakes.    It is now our children’s turn to figure it out and to understand the consequences;  to find their own inner core and discover who they are.

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When I have computer issues I naturally turn to the hubs, the computer scientist, to fix it.  I get annoyed when he doesn’t; when he pushes me to figure it out; to critically think.  I will never learn if he always comes to rescue me.  Do I really want to learn another digital graphic design program?  Nope.  But it is this process of patience and perseverance, that allows me to grow.   Though my college transcript grades and test scores are higher than the hubs; it is his ability to problem solve, to think outside the box, that makes him more flexible to change.  It is this innate ability that he has; that makes him invaluable.  He is the innovator.  I am the one who implements.  He repeats this Chinese proverb (usually when I’m frustrated and close to giving up) as he patiently makes me problem solve.

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.

When I parent my sons and they claim I don’t understand, I say au contraire.  I do.  I empathize.  It’s hard to think outside of the box.  To persevere and find solutions.  Things do not come easy and life takes a lot of work.  You’ve got to dig deep into your inner core and have the grit to follow through.  Education is a tool to cultivate but it is the implementation that matters.   It is what you do with it that makes the difference.

Family

Simple treasures

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Mind over matter is what I keep telling myself.  I had no idea how hard it would be for me to change my consumer mindset.

After returning from early morning Black Friday shopping I got online and cyber-shopped.  This year I know what I am searching for and am trying to find the best deals.   As my inbox gets inundated with retail emails I inevitably end up on their websites perusing items I had no intention of buying.  Several times as I filled my online carts I had to tell myself to close the browser and to stop looking.  It is ingrained in my holiday and giving psyche to shop impulsively and get the retailer’s high.  I already have the items needed for creating my consumable gifts AND the two items, drawn for the hubs and myself for the family gift exchange, are en route via UPS.  It took me a total of thirty minutes to complete my required Christmas shopping.  Problem is, I can’t seem to stop.

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I physically stepped away from my computer and decided it was time to decorate; much to the hubs’ annoyance.  I hauled boxes indoors and my Christmas elf, with reindeer antlers, heard me and joined in the fun.  The grumbling hubs yelled to the older sons to turn off the computers to get this decorating ordeal over with.  Bah humbug!  As they took care of the outdoors the youngest and I unwrapped ornaments from boxes and tissue paper.  Each year it feels like we are opening Christmas gifts as we handle the ornaments that we gaze upon one month out of the year.   I had a renewed sense of decorating purpose after perusing Pinterest and realized that, over the years, I have collected the classic patterns of tartan plaid.   It became fun to scavenge amongst my home for my plaid tablecloths and ribbons.  Most years when a theme inspires me I am off to the home decorating and craft stores adding more bulk to the storage boxes in our garage.  Last year it was silver and gold metallics.  This year I am saving money by rediscovering what I have AND have my classic theme! Priceless!

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When the boys returned indoors they shook their heads.  Mom has gone over-the-top stated the eldest as they stared upon our artificial tree.  But the youngest and I stood back and admired our handiwork.  Our normal tree looked quite different with a few simple touches and tricks-of-the-tree decorating trade.  We added artificial flowers to fill in gaps and oversized bulbs in coordinating colors; adding interest to my collection of ornaments from over the years.  Each ornament tells a story.  The Crate & Barrel glass ornaments with ships inside were delivered to our former Virginia Beach home after our wedding.  Only 3 of the 8 remain after the cross-country move and five more moves since.

The Hallmark and Pottery Barn framed ornaments have been collected since our eldest was born; a tradition I decided upon during his very first Christmas.  I had been inspired by my in-laws when, much to the hubs’ shock and surprise, they gave us a collection of Star Trek ornaments they had collected over the years.  They, and the hubs, are avid Trekkies and my mother-in-law purchased two each Christmas; one for her home and unbeknownst to us, one for ours (his sister is NOT a Star Trek fan).  Each year our upstairs balcony showcases the 20+ Star Trek ornaments to the oohs and aahs of our sons.   It was then that I pondered something to pass down to my sons someday.  Thus, I frame each son’s picture from birth through age 17.  Someday I will give each son 18 ornaments to place on his own tree IF I can bear to part with them.   These are my favorites.

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Simple traditions.

Today I had promised the hubs to plan nothing on our schedule.  The house was decorated and clean and I found myself dressing to go shopping!  I physically had to stop myself and headed downstairs to light the first Advent candle.  What would I do with myself?  No laundry.  Dishes were put away.  Gifts were bought or en route.  Crafts were done.  Schedule was clear.  I sat on our couch, turned all the lights on with the remote and attempted to clear my mind.  I thought of all the deals and sales I could be perusing.  Instead I forced myself to quietly sit.  To clear mental head space.  To gaze at the decor and enjoy it.  To remember the reason for the season.

This.  Is.  Hard.

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The hubs laughed at me as he found his lost and forlorn wife trying hard not to do anything.  It is my nature to jump in, head first, into the holiday madness; creating more work and stress for myself and those around me.  He made me a cup of Indian black tea, patted me on the head and left me to my own devices as he returned to the man cave to open his nothing box.  My eyes eventually fell upon my personal Christmas tree; given to me by my bff so many years ago.  This tree holds the coffee, drink, wives and book club ornaments collected from years past.  The light bulb turned on.  I know what to do.

And so, book-in-hand with my cup-of-tea I sat on my couch and read the rest of the day away.  Happy first day of Advent.  Bruno Mars’ Treasure song plays in the background.  Simple pleasures.

Family

off pace

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So many blessings to be thankful for.  I need to keep writing them down.  My gratitude journal sits nearby but I have not been very good at putting pen to paper.

#365.  The pitter-patter of rain on this Black Friday.

I sit with my skinny peppermint mocha and desktop evergreen gazing at the silhouetted trees from my upstairs window.  All is quiet in my household; four happily bundled males fast asleep after a late night of online gaming.  At 2 AM I could still hear the shouts of glee as the middle son defeated his father.  The eldest was asleep in his blanket on the couch as I kissed the youngest son goodnight/morning.  I was reminded to wake him up early for our decorating fest; he is my impish Christmas elf.  Now that Thanksgiving has officially passed Christmas is allowed into our household.

I sat amongst family on Thanksgiving as my sister-in-law hustled about her kitchen making everything perfect.  She was functioning on two hours of sleep and was stressed.  All of her preparations and timing succumbed to the road hazards of life.  There is always some wrench that gets thrown into the works to derail even the most organized, efficient person.  I poured her a glass of wine and wished I had the “How to cook a turkey” list to read to her.  I will have to remember this while I cook the bird on Christmas eve BIG LOL.  I had read it aloud to the hubs on Wednesday and the middle son commented, that is sooooo, YOU, Mom.

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As I type my bff texts from 2,000 miles away if I have survived turkey day and shopping.  When I tell her I’ve been there and done that she responds, “Wow really?  Thought u swore off Black Friday?”  It is 9:25 am and although I went to bed at 2 am; happily awoke this morning and was out the door at 7.  Last evening we drew names for our gift exchange and the person whose name I drew shared what she hopes her Santa will bring.   The scavenger in me succumbed.  Since this is one of the two gifts I have to purchase, I might as well get it for a deal; the hubs full-heartedly agreeing with me.

Christmas cheer is spreading.  When I reminded the hubs that the Christmas decor needed to be put out, this weekend, he groaned.  Our weekend is already full but the youngest joined the conversation.  He enthusiastically asked when the trees would be brought out, could he watch Christmas DVDs and eat his candy cane?  As the lights reflected off the windshield I saw the hubby’s demeanor thaw; a slight smile in the dark.  I chattered away as we talked about Thanksgiving dinner and we both thought ahead to the eve when it is our turn to host.  For those of you who know my hubs, the anti-shopper, I must note that he drove me, at 10 PM, to my local crafts store after Thanksgiving dinner.  We were both wide-awake as I chose greenery and ribbons at discounted prices.  I emerged forty minutes later…the shopper ecstatic.  For years I have coveted the metallic chargers for place settings and I got them for $0.70 each!   As we drove past our Target store the parking lot was FULL.  It was 10:45 PM on Thanksgiving.

I struggle.  I am purchasing items to make my home inviting for family as I rediscover my hospitable self, once again.  How do I balance the materialism/consumerism with what is really important?  I have already failed!!!  As the hubs always likes to point out, why does it always have to entail spending money?  I can’t help myself.  The advertisers have got my number and really are genius at pulling the money from my pocketbook.  I was outraged when I discovered stores were opening at 6 PM on our sacred Thanksgiving evening.  But while our full, distended stomachs digested on protein and tryptophan, after eight hours of being with family; walking off dinner while shopping was just what I needed.  I would much rather scavenge late at night versus waking up early the next morning to sit in line.  It seems everyone else had the same idea.  S.u.c.k.e.r.

I can’t buy hospitality.  It isn’t supposed to be about showcasing your home or the perfect meal.  It’s about fellowship.  Tradition.  Honoring my faith. 

I cringe as I look at the picture above.  With my framed note to remember the real reason of Christmas sits my Starbucks cup.  For the hubs this coffee chain symbolizes capitalism at its finest.  Over-priced coffee, beautiful wrap (the red cup and holiday decor), brand name recognition.  I am addicted to this lifestyle…the over-spending, caffeine/shopping induced high as I frenetically try to keep pace.  I’m doing a poor job of creating space to create peace.  I can’t seem to get off the merry-go-round and sit still amongst the noise of our society to create my own quiet place.  How do I step off this dizzying ride?

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Life isn’t a bowl of cranberries.  I continue to sort through my life trying to mark my space; the hubs beside me.

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Grant me grace.  To get off this pace.  To find my place.  To create space.