Sunday, January 29, 2012

A week in Review

Tuesday and Wednesday I was consumed with thoughts of political power. How it gets attained and what politicians do once they have it.

A Soccer Mom's View of the Gov.
Tuesday morning Governor Christie took the stage for a Town Hall meeting at Bridgewater's JCC. I was (apparently) one of few Democrats in the audience. I went with an open mind. I didn't learn anything new (I left before the press conference where he made his statement about a gay marriage referendum instead of via legislation through the legislature).

Afterwards I drove a retired teacher home. She wanted me to put up one of the "I support teachers and staff" signs (see previous post). We talked about "soft persuasion and hard tactics". She felt that teachers wearing certain colors of clothes were the softest tactics out there. I told her I found them manipulative - since they aim to get to parents via kids. I said I felt it sends a subliminal message to kids that teachers don't want to be there (she disagreed). Anyway, I was thinking about it some more - only a very few especially close teachers supported me when I ran, and none of my teacher-friends put up a sign for me. Finally I think it makes parents like me feel like teachers don't see how much families in Bridgewater are supporting schools already, unless we have signs up.

In the evening, there were two other "acts of power". The President held his State of the Union Address. My son had to watch it for his Social Studies homework. The "most powerful person in the world" (well, after oil executives and Stephen Speilberg and Bill Gates... and) presented his vision for 2012... and launched his election stump. It wasn't his finest moment: I'm his target audience and I was bored after a few minutes.

And of course, the Board of Education was having a meeting where they discussed ending budget voting and moving BOE elections to November.  away the only real power that local communities have to respond to the direction a district is taking. Going to the podium sometimes feels useless because many of the members of the board of education seem to have pre-determined agendas. As voters we CAN yield some power by voting down budgets. For some, this is a anti-tax campaign. For others, it is a way of saying "we don't like the choices that our district is making". And that can mean many things which is why it IS better to state "I am voting no because..." if you do so. I'm not done thinking about this...

40th birthday gift? "When I get old I'll wear more purple?
Wednesday was politics of a different kind. A misunderstanding turned into a huge "thing". Which turned out to be a non-issue, but not before I spent a lot of time and heartache stressing out over nothing!

Thursday night I spent at a meeting discussing the district. Can't say more now, but I can say it was way too long and I have to rethink the amount of time and energy I am committing myself to before I volunteer for ANYTHING.

After a "challenging day at the office" on Thursday I spent Friday rethinking my new business. I have to sit down and make a plan that can work because the status quo isn't what I wanted.

Saturday: I ran 8.3 miles!!!!  Then I ate whatever I wanted without guilt. C got highlights in her hair (I caved) and N went to a party, but didn't have a good time. I'm not sure if it is a "thing" or not. He's never asked to leave a sleep-over before... very odd behavior for him. But I mustn't overthink this.... The best part of the day was sitting by the fire and relaxing for a couple of hours.

Today is Sunday. Instead of church or an impromptu coffee date with MR I slept on the sofa with Diego. Later I finished some knitted items. Three gifts. One of them my kids said was "too silly" to wear.

And now it is time to put the turkey in the oven. I should have done that 3 hours ago. Lazy days and Sundays....

Monday, January 23, 2012

The next logical question....

Last week The Patch had reported on Tuesday's BOE meeting. where, among other things, they discussed recommendations for medical services and tutoring. This brought me to take the discussion (in my head) a step further.

When a kid struggles teachers sometimes suggest parents have their child "evaluated". Although the BOE meeting discussion seems to have been about the appropriateness of giving names for tutoring or medical care, I believe the natural a follow up question is what next?

If "the school" suggests a medical evaluation, should it be obligated to accept a doctor's diagnosis? What if there is a list? Would a doctor from this list would be "automatically accepted" over a doctor not on such a list?

Currently even if a physician evaluates a child and reports the findings to the school, the school's Child Study Team (CST) re-evaluates a child before creating an IEP (if the school chooses them to be evaluated. The school may say the child doesn't need accommodation, even without a CST evaluation).  This can be a contradiction to an external professional's findings). Would having an "approved list" mean that the district could drop retesting children, saving the district time and money (not to mention repeated stress for the kid)? Should an MD with specialization in diagnosing children's disorders trump a CST's assessments, or does the CTS know better what is an "issue" based on BRRSD's standards?  Getting accommodation for children who are only mildly to moderately affected by a disorder can be very frustrating.

When evaluating making lists, perhaps the BOE should lay out clear policies on what they how BRRSD implements or interprets external evaluations from these lists. (and maybe they have them and I'm unaware).

I've had similar conversations with many frustrated parents. My guess is you also know someone who has a bunch of related questions. Go ahead and ask!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Inspiration... part 2

Since Vogue Knitting Live I've been so busy that I just finished today's blog.

"When knitting becomes a career" from women who know
Vogue Knitting Live's final Panel was strong food for thought. Entitled "When Knitting Becomes a Career", the message was really transferable to other kinds of businesses. Industry executives like the Editor in Chief of Vogue Knitting, Trisha Malcolm** (3rd from the right) and Laura Zander (far right), owner of Jimmy Beans Wool  plus several other incredibly successful professionals shared how they began in the industry and their experiences. At least one panelist admitted that she simply doesn't enjoy knitting anymore because it had become a duty, not a labor of love. Debbie Stoller (far left), author of the famous (at least in the knitting world) book series "Stitch and Bitch" claimed that she actually finds the writing process arduous and hinted that she misses deadlines. Her books (like Fiona Ellis' work) are a fun read even if you don't knit.

Of course panelists discussed a common predicament the world over: achieving the holy grail of work-life balance. Only two of the panelists admitted to having it.  Erin Slonaker, the Editor in Chief of Yarn Market News (an industry publication) glanced at her counterpart at Vogue Knitting magazine as she stated that she works normal business hours, and few weekends or evenings (although this panel took place at 3pm on Sunday). Ms. Malcolm replied something like "I know, and I can't believe it. I'll go on Facebook and your status says "I just baked a pie" and I wonder 'how does she find the time?'" 

Ms. Malcolm's advice to women wanting to launch a business was to "hire a house cleaner". It must go far beyond that... her 12-hour workdays would lead me to outsource everything. Cleaning is the easiest part. It's driving the kids to activities every day, sometimes beginning at 4 pm and helping with homework that is time consuming.

The one common quality among them (even the pie-baking one) was a strong work-ethic. They had a drive to be successful. Only one of them had planned to make a career of a hobby. Yet somehow they all combined what their interest with a paycheck. Beyond some who launched businesses and needed it to be successful to stave off financial ruin, no one really talked money as a goal. Ms. Zander admitted to making mistakes and near-daily tears. Yet they all had rewarding interactions with people in the industry and LYSs (local yarn shops). They saw a bright future for everyone: brick and mortar stores, online enterprises, a growth for designers, yarn-makers and knitters. Did you know that more people know how to knit in the US than play golf?

As I watched these well-spoken women I thought to myself, each one of them could be someone I know. They were all smart, creative and funny. I realize that success is something we define for ourselves, but they had a common way to achieve it:

Hard work. There's no substitute. It's like losing weight: Eat less, exercise more. Easier said than done.

Oh and if you are wondering about career choices and educational backgrounds? It doesn't matter - most of them had higher degrees... in something completely unrelated to knitting!! I guess I'm on my way then.

The women spoke positively in their outlook for the industry. They encouraged the audience to start a yarn shop even in this economy (my big dream, but not in the cards now)....  But according to Ms. Zander if you are serious about starting a new business, perhaps the best thing you can do for yourself is take an accounting class!

Talent, intelligence and practical. My kind of women! Congratulations on a great panel and fantastic weekend. I'm fortunate to have been part of it!

**I wish I could have included all eight panelists in the blog today, but then it was simply too long. When I saw the poster for the panel I commented to KK "with eight panelists, how will everyone get a chance to talk". The only complaint I'd have was that with so many people it was hard for the audience to retain the information and some speakers took more of the spotlight than others. If I could have, I would have liked to have met Kirsten Kapur. She is a local designer and I only discovered her work last month when looking for a locally-produced pattern. A bit serendipitous that she would be on a panel when I'd just bought her work. I wish I could include ALL the panelists in today's blog. Apologies to those talented women who didn't get "a shout out". All the panelists made a contribution to my leaving Vogue Knitting Live inspired and impressed.  Pam also blogged about Sunday, including the Panel. You can read her impression of the day here

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Inspiration is all around us....

PART 1....

I've just come home from two of the most inspirational days I've had in years. I was at Vogue Knitting Live. I feel like I've had a massage and listened to Mozart for two days on a quiet beach instead of the truth: fighting some 5,000 yarn-crazed women (and about half a dozen men - they stand out) in a busy Midtown hotel to touch intricate knitwear.

Yesterday was fabulous. KK and I spent the day together touching hundreds of balls of yarn in all kinds of fibers in every color imaginable. Had we not had a nice lunch and some down time (spent knitting, and watching fashion shows - it was, after all, Vogue knitting) I would have collapsed from sensory overload. KK hangs with local knitters who apparently have unlimited funds so she learns by osmosis and gave me a taste for Tahki and other gems. Like me, she is a woman on a budget. I bought one skein of yarn yesterday and today I bought another skein plus a a book that I had signed by the author today. Not bad, considering I stood surrounded by temptation to spend.

Although I missed having KK with me, today's agenda inspired me inside and out.

I started with a three hour design class with Fiona Ellis. (My friend Pam had introduced me to her work last year when she interviewed her and did a book review last year). Most of my extended family are artistic and creative.  I've never called myself an artist (AND I CERTAINLY DON'T QUALIFY AFTER WHAT I'M POSTING TODAY) but...

Picture is on the left, my swatch on rt. Not quitting my day job to design yet.
 today I got a taste of what it feels like to create your own designs. It is certainly a feat to make something that works for others too.

I picked the image with the eggs (at the left) as the basis for my inspiration because eggs represent the beginning of life. I liked the softness of their visual image combined with their tactile contrast (which often happens in yarn - you touch something you expect to be soft, but instead it's rough surface surprises your fingers, or the opposite can happen, tricking the senses). Eggs are natural, and I like things made by nature (albeit collected by man). I liked the subliminal feminist message: eggs represent the basis of women's powers, and like women the image shows their curves and roundness, creating life itself. At a quick glance, eggs appear monochromatic, but really (like yarn) they have hidden changes in color, as in variegated yarn.

After focusing on a portion of the image, from a design perspective the carton became more interesting than the eggs (more obvious with the picture in hand). Finally, eggs' represent feminine imagery - imperfect curves, hard exteriors and soft interiors and vary in their form, hue with visible imperfections. As I tried to translate these thoughts to graph paper, and eventually to my knit swatch, I found the negative shape of the carton took presidence over their circular geometrical  pattern. Ms. Ellis suggested that I could vary the shapes of the eggs, or even spread them over a wider space. Although it is hard to see in the picture here, I also experimented with the swatch by removing the eggs' color entirely and used patterns (knitting the eggs on a pearled background) to emulate them. The whole experiment would have gone better if in my haste I hadn't grabbed the wrong needles. Next time I try this experiment I hope I will be less literal. Kate  (another student) was a much more creative swatcher. Clearly she will go far in her newly established career as a knitwear designer - even Ms. Ellis loved her creative eye.  Kate and I had a nice lunch together and I hope we will stay in touch.

Fiona Ellis' class emphasized the importance of powering down. No computer, no cell phone. A simple but vital lesson.

I see why my relatives basque in their creativity and have chosen careers in creative fields: visual, musical or even the written word. This morning's class reminded me that with the proper inspiration, and time, I too can create something meaningful (for me). My first try may have resulted in dull, unimpressive ovals with in a drab background, but to me, this swatch is like the women in my life: full of texture, color and the unexpected.

Tomorrow: Part II. It's time to power down and be inspired by Downton Abbey. I'm sure that there's inspiration in their costumes, the scandal and (for me, at least) their language. I wonder if Fiona Ellis may be turning to PBS (or the CBC in Canada) for design-inspiration too.....

Friday, January 13, 2012

Happiness is a smile...

On Tuesday my son woke up and said "ONE MORE DAY!"

Wednesday he couldn't wait until after school. He attends NJ Film School and it was the first class of the second session.  It's nice to have a happy and inspired boy. He is in the children's film making class. You can see their work from last season on the website above.

C is in good spirits, too. Although she doesn't "love" going to Tae Kwan Do, she said "it's great to feel like I'm the best at something". Whether or not she is the best isn't the issue but the feeling of mastery helps build confidence. I've been more relaxed with her too lately and it makes a difference. I hope it lasts.

T is in overdrive. This is his busiest time of the year. He comes home and relaxes by re-building a computer in the basement or building a fire and finishing work fireside. I'm worried about his lack of sleep, but he already has a mother, and he's a big boy.
Knitting: great gifts!

And me? I'm very challenged with the new business, but I'm learning every day.

This weekend is a special one for me. I'm going into New York for Vogue Knitting Live with my friend, knitting blogger and professional journalist, Pam. I've been wanting to go for a very long time. It's decadent - spending money and time on something I enjoy. I'm taking a class on inspiration/creativity by Fiona Ellis and a class on "turning your passion into a business". I hope the lecture translates easily to other things. I can't wait to be filled with the touch of countless yarns and colors in all shades. Two days to forget everything I need to know, and just be filled with things I like with people, who like me, appreciate yarn's creative possibilities and tactile loveliness.
This is nice, but knitters see it's easy

This made the resident teenager laugh: "Vogue? Vogue magazine is hosting an expo for knitters? It has a magazine for knitters? Why? Who would read that?"

Glad I can serve as entertainment for my trendy young daughter. Once I figure out what to wear I'll be smiling all day.... it's Vogue and women (the vast majority) who can see right through my simplistic knits. At least I'm not "knitteratsi" (a real word but I'm not sure how it's spelled). No one knows me, so I guess it doesn't matter.

Finally - a shout out to my lovely sister-in-law from whom I received a lovely HAND WRITTEN note. Remember those? Hope your wrist is better and you are over your cold. Let it snow in Boise! Your card put a smile on my face!

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Supporting teachers and staff

If this were 1978 can you imagine the kids' graffiti?**
Every day I see these signs.... and the Italian-mother-guilt-trip extends itself from the grave and I feel like crap. Mamma-Gloria was a teacher - Spanish, Italian, English and she even covered a French teacher's maternity leave. She HATED PTA Moms who requested teachers and pushed for their kids to get into special programs. "If they don't see my kid is gifted then there is something wrong with the program." According to my Mom teachers knew best.

Yet, she always gave a gift to the teachers at Christmastime (sometimes wine!) and made sure we had what we needed to succeed, but didn't run booths at the Blacktop Carnival. She said she'd spent enough time at school (she quit when she was pregnant with me).

My Dad had a different approach - he came and talked to our classes about Science. At 86 he still teaches a course at his local hospital. A couple of years ago he went into N's 4th grade class and talked about living in London during World War II. Parents still comment that their kid found it very interesting.

I'm very involved, but I'm selective in what I do, picking activities that (I feel) support academics. I focus on the libraries, or when the kids were smaller, helping in the classroom.

If teachers/staff don't get that parents who offer their time to the school are supporting them, what can we do?

Yesterday I was driving up Country Club and passed five signs. I came home wondering if my kids' teachers know that *I* support them? Do they misunderstand this blog (like they misunderstood what I stood for as a BOE candidate)? Do they misunderstand what I say or what I mean when I speak out?

So I asked myself - how can I show my support without putting up this sign? (Which I think supports union propaganda, and education). I did one thing.

I hope that it makes a difference. If every parent did something similar (I wrote thank you notes) to remind teachers that they care, would the signs come down? I feel like they are breeding hostility in an already-volatile atmosphere. A misguided guilt-trip.  Can't teachers picket the Wade building instead of their own schools, where kids are pretty much the audience? Or maybe the Municipal building so that our Mayor - who is a teacher - sees their discontent?

I care and I want to show teachers I care. My kids care too, but they don't need to see this. Keep the kids out of the negotiations! "Kids first"? Kids are getting the (subliminal) message first - teachers don't want to be there.

I want them to have excellent working conditions because it reflects on the students. But I also want them to appreciate what they have - a supportive community of families who picked Bridgewater because of the schools. I want teachers who WANT to teach my kids, because teaching is special work. I'm not saying do it unpaid! Or even at an unfair wage - I'm saying that teaching kids isn't like other professions. You have to like children and want to be there, or else you will suck at your job. For years I worked as an administrative assistant. I didn't like the work but I performed well at my job anyway. Teaching isn't like that!

So a few teachers who made a difference in my kids' lives got a thank you. (Not current teachers, it isn't right to do that while they are still grading my kids). Over the years they've had plenty of other kinds of "thank yous". I hope they remember them now....

I support our teachers and our staff... in my own way.

** Image from Dick Bergeron's blog Accessed Jan 10, 2012.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Thanks, I needed that!

It was a very hectic fall. Multiple activities almost daily. Visitors. New Business launch. Homework. Sensory overload. Sound familiar?

Then came December's travel craziness. Florida and back for five days. Norway and back for four days, then I drove to New York State (a 4 hour drive) and back for a 4 hours New Years party (plus sleeping). Skiing in the Poconos. I also was in NYC twice in two weeks.

Last week school started up again - and the to do list was as long as the kitchen table.

After a falling out from the fall on Friday night, the stress of the last few months finally caught up with me and my body demanded "Enough!" 

I slept and relaxed more this weekend than in months. I imagine this is what blood pressure medicine feels like. The pillow like a magnet, and my body told me it was time to give in.

Now it's Monday morning. Time to create the weekly to do list. This weekend was a reminder - rest is important too. Make time for it.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Thanks, Dick!

The Courier's Bridgewater blogger, Dick Bergeron, saved me time by writing a blog that I was planning to write. You can read it here.

These signs don't make me more sympathetic toward the union, and as a staunch school supporter, I assume I'm part of the target audience.

But as Dick points out, it's only a hunch.

After my last experience at a BOE meeting I'm not thrilled with them either, but I'll save that for another blog.

Thanks, Dick. Let's get coffee sometime!

Friday, January 6, 2012

to blog or not to blog

Writing and reflecting
Most days I write this blog picturing my sister-in-law sitting with a cup of coffee reading in her sunny living room in Boise. I also see, in my mind's eye, a friend laughing out loud because she is sharing a kind of inside joke. At times I envision a parent here in Bridgewater, reading on a home computer, and I wonder who he is and what he thinks.

I sometimes see a far off stranger, sitting in Romania, Israel or Aruba with a TV on in the background in a language I can't understand.  An aroma of exotic spices coming from the kitchen.

From time to time readers recognize themselves in my blog. Often they are happy with what I've written, and say so. Sometimes, people read things they really don't like.

It is the latter whom I am addressing today:

This blog is an expression of opinion backed up by the facts as I experience them. That's what a blog is. It is not a news broadcast, and I am not a journalist. I stand by my views, and my right to express them.  In the end the reader can choose to take me for my word, or think that I am full of hot air. And, of course, they can always leave a comment, or start their own blog entitled "Why I disagree with Bridgewater's Soccer Mom".  (On a few occasions I've removed an entry after careful consideration).

I know how it feels to read negative things about yourself - it happens to me too. One of life's hardest lessons is learning to deal with criticism. People aren't going to agree with what you do, what you say or how you live. But sometimes, you know in your gut:

When you're right, you're right.

Last night's conversation with a discontented reader only solidified my original opinion. I'm sorry if I hurt her feelings, but my original verdict stands and I don't intend on removing the entry. Clearly I didn't change her mind either. That's the thing about opinions, sometimes they are hard to change.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Hightailing to the High School

Last night was the parents' orientation for the high school.

HIGH SCHOOL. YES - that business-looking complex by the Municipal Building. That place we used to drive by and say "Some day our kids are going to go there!"

The pros:

  • Lots of options. Your kid wants to do a class in fashion design? They can. Computers? Plenty of choices. There's AP Studio Art (but who am I kidding, C isn't interested in that!!!). Lots of business classes. AP Macro- or Macroeconomics, Forensics, Journalism, Women's studies. I found plenty of things *I* want to do, but that weren't offered when I was a kid. Including something called "Option 2" where students can choose online classes, college courses and other programs (subject to prior approval) at parents' expense.
  • Kids come out of BRRSD prepared to attend a large university, since it feels more like a community college than the high school I attended. Heck, it's got a bigger population than "Pine City" (a town next to my hometown).
  • They push students to be more independent
  • Lots of clubs, and the administration seemed keen on students having extra-curricular lives because if they are involved in school activities, they won't skip as much because they are motivated to attend.
  • A web-based program called Noviance helps students plan their careers, manages transcripts, requests letters of recommendation, makes sure students are getting their requirements
  • The Vo-Tech seems like a great program, especially the Academy of Sciences (not an option for my kids, it's too academically advanced/challenging and without having been in AI or E- it seems they won't have the background to hack it). If your kid is into other things, like theater or music the Vo-Tech has half day programs too, beyond what you expect at a Vo-Tech.
  • There are lots of classes, from AP-to super-extra-help. Kids can also take career exploratory courses to help figure out their futures.

The cons:

  • The size of the school. 2900 students means that it is a 1 to 250 ration for student to guidance counselor. All serious guidance needs to come from the home. Guess volunteering as an interviewer for my alma mater is actually going to be of use. 
  • With huge classes, how do kids get to know their teachers? Teachers and students need to make an effort to get to know one another in such a huge place. With bad rapport between the union and the district, are teachers feeling so disillusioned that they don't make the efforts needed to get to know high school kids? 
  • Students who want to do a sport in high school but haven't been training in an elite manner have no chance to play. There are simply too much children and the society we live in means they train at such a demanding level, often from the age of 4 or 5, that you can't choose to play a new sport or an instrument in High School. In fact, I understand that lots of kids choose to go to parochial schools so that they do have more options. (Again, not an option for us). One of the parents brought up the limited options for string players, I'd guess that they should also talk to parents of kids who want to do jazz ensemble or marching band. No private lessons? You won't be good enough to get in.... 
  • There are so many kids that it isn't possible for everyone to get into the elective of their choices. Reading between the lines, I understand that there are a fair number of kids who have to take 2nd and 3rd choices. My friend said her son always got his first choice... hopefully C will be in the same boat.
  •  If your kid isn't independent, they can get lost - or even fail classes if they are blase' about homework. One of the administrators said that homework is graded as "all or nothing" either you did it and you get 100% credit or you didn't and you get 0%. It is possible to ace every exam and still fail a class if your kid is lazy. 
  • The dye is cast already. If your kid wants to do an Honor Class in high school, and they aren't currently in an e-level, they have to get an A- or better both first and second marking periods. Since the 2nd marking period is about to end, and my kid (and maybe yours) slacked off a bit in December, it's sorta too late. Your kid can reapply in June if they get an A- or above as an over-all grade, but there is still no guarantee. (Again I feel a rant coming on about the fact that they should open up admission to e-classes to more children - see how they do, and if they don't do well enough let them drop down, but that is for another blog).
What surprised me the most?

That I feel like C will do just fine. That the biggest adjustment will be me. Losing my kid to adult life. Letting go so she can take her nest steps. The message last night was to give your kids an academically challenging schedule, without overdoing it, so that they don't get overwhelmed. 

Sounds like the biggest life lesson of all: Balance.

(Am posting this now, normally I write, edit, then post - but my to do list (see previous post) is still growing, and now I have 5-6 loads of laundry to fold to boot. First kid will be home in 5 minutes, and I bet she will want something to eat.....)

Monday, January 2, 2012

To do, or not to do

I'm using google documents for my new company. Since my partner is sitting in Iceland, it makes it much easier to share files. Rather than sending one file back and forth ad nauseam. Possibly the most important file is a to do list (like a GANT chart). It's in color, but sometimes hard to prioritize. 
Left: Monday/Tues list, Right: the big picture

Google documents on my laptop works pretty well and is environmentally friendly since I don't use as much paper - but sometimes I need a stronger visual to organize things. As you might know - I'm a list maker. So I created an overview to see where I need to focus. The problem is that now I'm feeling a mixture of a nonchalant "No problem" and "OH MY GOD! HOW WILL I EVER DO ALL THIS?!"

The big list is the overall items. Things that need to get done in general (for work, no personal/family items here).

The little list is the "to do Monday & Tuesday" picked by importance from the big list. But even the first two things could take me a week to sort out.

For now, the best thing I can do is turn off the distractions and concentrate on the task at hand. Taxes, finances and my new website. Sales too.

As RW said a few weeks ago. "You're smart. You'll figure it out." 

And so I will. One checked item at a time. It's a new year. Don't be afraid of the challenges you have set for yourself.