Thursday, July 24, 2014

Playing Games

Elizabeth's Aunt Meg introduced her to the phone game Draw Something. Similar to Pictionary, you draw a clue and your opponent has to guess it. Meg is very artistic and talented at drawing, and Elizabeth enjoys art so they've been sending pictures back and forth.

Elizabeth invited me to join her in the game. Unlike Meg, I am not good at drawing, and fat fingers on a tiny touchscreen does me no favors. Elizabeth may enjoy playing with me only to laugh at what I try to come up with. Sometimes she gets home from school and exclaims, "Mommy! What is this?"

Well this morning I opened up our game and was thrilled with my clue. I wonder if she will get it? Can you? Sadly, this is one of my best efforts. And I still did it wrong! Once you figure out the clue, can you also find my mistake?

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

When Positive Reinforcement Turns Negative

I never pretend to know it all. I have a lot to learn and I'm always learning. Every day a person or experience teaches me something, whether it's good or bad. I also do a lot of teaching. I admittedly don't always get it right, but I try to behave the way I want my children to behave. Sometimes it works and they develop good habits such as always wearing their seat belts. Other times I need to remind them over and over again to do something or to not do something.

Fortunately, I've had the opportunity to sit in a lot of elementary school classrooms, and I've picked up some tips on how to manipulate children into making good choices. The most powerful I've seen is the giving of positive reinforcement to peers. "Thank you for pushing in your chair, Emily." Suddenly, the kids who didn't push in their chairs are going back to their desks and pushing in their chairs. And no one yelled at them or even told them to do it. Genius. I decide I'm going to try this at home.

You see, after dinner Elizabeth always clears her place at the table and takes her dishes to the sink while Matthew leaves everything where it was to go do something fun, fast. So after dinner last night I thanked Elizabeth loudly for helping to clear the table. Without a word, Matthew walked from the family room to the kitchen table, picked up his plate, and walked to the sink. I didn't say a thing but was thinking, "I did it. I got him to do it. He's learning. This is so great!" He set his dishes by the sink and I was opening my lips to thank him when he picked up Elizabeth's dish and put it back on the kitchen table. Oooooh. Mom was denied.

Hmmph. Teachers don't know everything. I bet they learn something new every day, too.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Summer Soundtrack

Summers are fun. It's also fun to relive them through music. So when I was a preteen and teenager, every August I'd make myself a cassette tape of the popular songs from that summer. I don't know where those tapes are now. I suspect my parents threw them out, but I wish I could listen to them today to see what's on them. I bet memories of the Summers of '88 to '94 would come flooding back. Or not. Who knows? But I'm sure I'd do plenty of smiling and even laughing if I listened to them now.

The other day I was reading an article about the top ten songs of this summer, and I didn't recognize many of the song titles. Am I officially an old fogey? I listen to the radio--maybe not the coolest stations but it's still popular music. Occasionally I go to classic rock, but we're mostly tuned to the pop stations. Unless a rap song comes on. Yuck. And even though these two sort of ruled the summer, Iggy Azalea's and Ariana Grande's music just isn't my cup of tea.

For the kids and me, it was pretty much a OneRepublic summer. If we weren't listening to them, we were listening to ten other songs that prompted me to ask, "Do you know who wrote this?" Elizabeth caught on soon enough and would automatically sigh, "That guy from OneRepublic?" "Right!" She is now well-versed in Ryan Tedder's songwriting and can find the similarities in the openings of "Love Runs Out" and Adele's "Rumour Has It." Yeah, he did write that. He also co-wrote that new Maroon 5 song so we may be setting ourselves up for a Ryan Tedder fall, too. I don't know, though. Jason Mraz is gaining strength with his new album and I'm liking it. A lot. But it's hardly fall yet, even though I think it is because I'm all alone while the kids are at school and have time to ponder stuff like this. It's definitely not summer anymore.

So although I'm not going to make a cassette tape to celebrate Summer 2014, I came up with a few songs that will forever remind me of these past few months. These aren't necessarily my favorite songs. In fact, I dislike John Legend's song of cliches so much that it doesn't stay on for longer than a few notes, and when I really listened to what Sam Smith was saying I no longer cared for that one. If you have a pretty song then write nice lyrics for it, people! But Paramore really is fun and that's what summer should be.

Sara's Summer of 2014 Soundtrack
"Love Runs Out" by OneRepublic
"Am I Wrong" by Nico & Vinz
"Rude" by Magic!
"Sing" by Ed Sheeran
"Believer" by American Authors
"Stay with Me" by Sam Smith
"A Sky Full of Stars" by Coldplay
"Me and My Broken Heart" by Rixton (easily Matthew's favorite tune right now)
"All of Me" by John Legend
"Raging Fire" by Phillip Phillips
"Cool Kids" by Echosmith
"Ain't It Fun" by Paramore
"Maps" by Maroon 5
"Love Someone" by Jason Mraz

Monday, July 21, 2014


Just kidding. But not really.

The kids went back to school today so, thanks to our carpool arrangement with the neighbors, I do have some freedom from about 8:00 to almost 3:00. I'll comfortably drop off the kids at 7:45, and Hannah will pick them up in the much more chaotic parking lot at dismissal. Hey, it pays to be a morning person. My commitment is about ten minutes and hers probably ends up being twenty. That means more freedom for me! Unfortunately, that freedom is more about getting things accomplished rather than doing fun things I want to do because my must-do list is a mile long. I was working like a dog this morning and exercising what I feel might be manic behavior. I reminded myself that there are a lot more school days so I don't have to do it all today. There's really nothing to report except some cleaning and errands.

I was excited when the kids ran through the front door after school because I had been looking forward to hearing about their day. Elizabeth said she thinks sixth grade is going to be really fun, and Matthew proclaimed that this was the best day of his life. When I asked why he said, "I love school. I love my family. I loved everything about today. I love PE." I think the PE teacher's everything-is-awesome attitude must have rubbed off on him. Fine by me! This kid came home and was so excited to start his homework. He had to do it. Now! When I asked him if he wanted to go out for popsicles first he said no. Who is this kid? I hope he sticks around. His homework was to decorate a box of tissues for his classroom. Clever.

He worked on one side tonight and gave it a Minecraft theme. Of course he did. For a change, Elizabeth was the impatient one who just wanted to go out for popsicles already!

But let me back up to share some photos of the kids this morning. First, I really don't know why they can't blink at the same time. Gosh!

our next door neighbors/carpool buddies, Alex and Luke

Matt on the playground

Who are all those old ladies sixth graders?!
So after school and after Matthew's homework, I took the kids out for a treat to our favorite Mexican popsicle place called Paletas Betty. They gave me more details about their school day over a cool treat. Bonus: I captured a photo and no one blinked.

We're hoping for another fun and productive Day #2!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Go for the Bronze!

The highest award a Girl Scout Junior can earn is her Bronze Award. In order to earn it, girls must invest twenty hours towards a service project that is sustainable. They must come up with their own ideas for projects, weigh the pros and cons of each, choose a project, do the research needed, complete the project, and then prepare a summary and presentation of their work.

Elizabeth had been wanting to earn the award for the past two years. We started researching a project about a year and a half ago with one of her friends, but it fell apart. This time, another of her friends was on board and they saw the project through.  I'm really proud of Elizabeth. She took the responsibility seriously and worked hard. She went to the first meeting and presented four project ideas. After they narrowed down the ideas, she did her homework by making phone calls or sending emails. After they nailed down the project, she did her research and her part to make it happen.

The project they chose was to plant a tree at their school. While planting a tree doesn't sound like a project that would take twenty hours, these girls are ten years old and had a lot to learn. As a Girl Scout leader, I understand that their activities are supposed to be girl-led. There's a fair share of manipulation you have to do when the girls are younger, but now that they are older I've really tried to take several steps back and allow them to work through things either by themselves or together. At this point, leaders are more like coaches--there to teach them the skills but they gotta do it while they're out there on their own. So when it came to this project, I made sure at least Elizabeth was thinking things through for herself. There were a lot of steps and she took them slowly and one at a time.

First she had to email the principal for permission to plant the tree. That sounds like something you or I could knock out in a minute, but she'd never sent an email before so she had to learn how to do that on the computer and figure out what to say and how to say it. I think she first typed chicken-pecked, "I want to earn my bronze award. Can we plant a tree at school? Where should we put it?" Well that doesn't beat around the bush, it also doesn't sound very polite or explain much. I read that and realized that I had to take my coaching job seriously, too. So we backed away from the computer for a moment and discussed exactly what she wanted to tell and ask the principal. Her second draft was less rough, and her final draft was loads better than the original. It's obviously written by a fifth grader, but she learned how to communicate more professionally and with respect.

Dear Mr. H---,

I'm working on my Bronze Award for Girl Scouts and I would like to make more shade. My solution is to plant more trees or a tree at the school. I was wondering if I could meet with you before or after school on Thursday or after orchestra to talk about this possible project.


Elizabeth N---

Next she met one-on-one with the principal. I was there but sat back and let her do the talking. Of course, prior to the meeting we again discussed what she was setting out to accomplish and how to go about doing that respectfully. Though she didn't say exactly what I would have said, she was confident and polite and eventually got the answers to her questions.

So in the last few weeks, she's set up a time and place on the school's campus to plant the tree, worked with her friend to pick out a tree from Home Depot, and today they showed up with shovels and planted the tree with some help from Sophia's dad. Sophia's mom snapped this photos of their hard work.

There's a new tree on campus just south of the sixth grade classrooms courtesy of Elizabeth and Sophia. They and their peers can see their tree every time they change classes. All that's left to do is to figure out what to make and sell to recoup the money they had to pay for the tree themselves, put together their project summary, and give their presentation to the rest of the troop. I hope they inspire the other girls to work towards their Silver Award within the next three years. I have a feeling these two are already planning on getting that one, too. No manipulation necessary.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Tender Moments

Elizabeth and I had a sweet moment today. I was playing my guitar and she came in the guestroom to listen. I finished what I was doing and asked her if she wanted to play. She's held it and strummed it before, but today she looked like she really wanted to play something. I asked if she wanted to learn a chord; she smiled really big and nodded.

I taught her the E chord, gave her some tips, and within a few minutes she was almost strumming-picking-strumming it cleanly. We were both smiling and enjoying the moment. Those are the times I hope she remembers the most when she reflects on her childhood--the relaxed and enjoyable moments.

I wonder if Matthew will remember our sweet moment watching the moonrise the last time we went camping. He and I were walking to the restroom and I could see the glow of the moon above the mountains. I scooped him up and told him what was about to happen, so we stood there together and watched the moon come up. I said, "I'm 38 and never saw a moonrise until now. You saw one when you were seven! How cool! I'm really glad we got to share this moment." He replied, " Your breath smells."

Leave a tender moment alone, Matt.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Peace, Peace, Peace

That's my new mantra. I've found myself repeating it in my mind (and sometimes out loud) nearly every day this week. It's working. Well, it's helping. Most of the time.

I have a bad habit of taking things too seriously, getting anxious, and losing my wits when under pressure. I really have to stop all that because there's a lot going on that's really good and I'm focusing on the wrong things. I need to pay attention, be mindful, and be present instead of allowing my mind to fly off into some land of insecurity and worry when I'm in uncomfortable situations, especially now that the start of the school year is upon us.

Oh man, I have to speak in front of a room full of teachers. They don't even care what you're saying so don't sweat it.

Oh man, what if I run into the one, two, or ten teachers who intimidate me or make me nervous? Relax. They won't even notice you, what you say, or what you do.

Oh man, I have to greet these parents tonight? I know people but not everyone. If I don't know them do I ask if they're new to the school? How insulting would that be if this is their fourth year here? You gotta figure that if you don't know them, they probably don't know you. And if you haven't seen them in four years, chances are you won't see them again until next year's Meet the Teacher night.

Oh man, why did I say that? or Why didn't I say or ask that? or Geez, Sara. Get a hold of yourself! Well that's a good one. Yes, get a hold of yourself, woman.

Just breathe, calm down, and repeat "peace, peace, peace" until they all think you're nuts. Better yet, accept that you're human--just as everyone else is--and be yourself. Only be the version that's brave, confident, and fearless. Yes. Do that.