Thursday, October 30, 2014


Today Cook and I attended parent-teacher conferences for both kids. Here is what we learned:

1) Our kids are much better behaved, more attentive, quieter, and more perseverant at school than they are at home. Skipper's Japanese teacher asked us "Is Skipper ever silly at home?" and all the teachers seemed to want our kids to talk more in class.

2) Skipper's teachers don't know how well she can read, or how many of the hiragana she knows. She's withholding that information pretty effectively. (This does not reflect on the teachers, as even Cook and I don't really know how well she can read. She really hates to be exposed in any way.)

3) Both of our kids are doing exceedingly well in school, and are appreciated by their teachers. I suggested several areas we think Duchess needs to work on, and her teachers provided specific examples to demonstrate her strength in those areas, leaving me feeling like some kind of terrible pushy parent who never thinks her child is good enough. Am I?

4) All of our kids' teachers (Skipper has a Japanese teacher and an English teacher and Duchess has a homeroom teacher and a math teacher) seem pretty competent, which is nice. They also seem to care about the kids, which is very nice.

So... it's all good.

Also, the kids went to nature day camp yesterday; they're going again tomorrow. Duchess's camp theme yesterday was a role-playing game - essentially, Dungeons and Dragons for ten-year-olds running around in the woods with foam swords, shooting each other with foam-tipped arrows while pretending to be a Cougar Kin Ranger (Ranged).*  They also practiced lighting fires and throwing knives, of course. I can't really think of a camp better-suited to Duchess, and she loved it, in spite of being, yet again, the only girl in the group.  She is very enthusiastic about going to the overnight summer camp version of the roleplaying theme, because a WEEK of running around the woods with foam weapons! If Duchess does not end up leading a chapter of the SCA in college, I will be extremely surprised. Skipper liked her camp (in which her group went on a quest to find a pumpkin and make it into a house for a homeless faerie)** okay, and even participated a little bit. Yay!

*As opposed to a Ranger (Melee). Got it? See, if you're Ranged, you get one arrow, and if you're Melee, you get a sword.
** This is the kind of camp where it's spelled faerie. We're talking deep nature nerds here.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Tips for the Fat Lazy Bike Commuter

Now that I've been bike commuting an 8-mile round trip almost every day for a few months now, I feel qualified to make some recommendations to others like me, who are neither fit nor fearless. Here is what I have learned.
1) Wear clothes that wick, especially for your underlayers. I'm usually a natural fibers sort of person, and I do not perform any activities that have led me to think that I might need "technical" underpants. I guarantee that nobody in Patagonia's design or marketing departments has me in mind as they do their work. However, I have learned that sitting around all day in sweaty clothing is crummy, and apparently "technical" means "hey, your clothes don't have to STAY sweaty!" So unless you're bringing a complete change of clothes, I highly recommend some nice synthetic wicking fibers.
2) Find a good place to change. I do not recommend my own changing spot, a humid, stuffy public restroom where homeless people also go to change. Ventilation would be nice.
3) Take it slow. Stop for pedestrians. Chat with other slow bicyclists and pedestrians. (You're going too slow to chat with anybody else.) Notice the scenery. Is that a bird singing? Isn't this nice?
4) Wear antiperspirant, even though it's a little disturbing, and definitely doesn't go with your philosophy about what people should put on their skin. I am already continually in danger of violating of cubicle-world etiquette because I have a very hard time not blurting out whatever I think to the person who happens to be nearest me, and I do not need to give my cubicle neighbors another reason to request a seating re-assignment.
5) Wear your boots. They're still the best.

Saturday, October 25, 2014


Hi! We're still hectic. We make dinner in our new slow cooker a lot. Anybody got a good vegetarian slow cooker recipe? 

Last weekend we went to pick pumpkins, plus the usual round of extracurriculars. (Duchess's Chinese teacher, who was irked last year when Duchess chose to participate in the Vietnamese fan dance rather than the Chinese pony dance, asked Duchess to perform a Chinese dance at a conference downtown in November. I'm not sure where she gets the idea that Duchess has the dance chops or the level of commitment to perfect a solo dance performance in a short period of time, but they're working together independently to make it happen, and Duchess is enthusiastic, so I guess it's all good, if a little weird. But it means more time on top of everything else.)

Anyway, here are some photos from our visit to the pumpkin place. If you have time to kill, you can see photos from previous visits in 20072008, 2010, and 2011. (I'm pretty sure we went in 2009 and 2012, but there is no evidence.)

It has been grey and rainy. Skipper has now conceded the need to occasionally wear a raincoat or a sweatshirt over her t-shirt and shorts uniform. You will notice that she's wearing the same beloved outfit in every photo in this post. She will wear two other outfits, but only if the primary outfit is unavailable.

Skipper seems to be powering along at school and her after-school program in a reasonably happy and successful trajectory. She wrote this all by herself. 

If you're having trouble deciphering, the four facts Skipper knows about bats are: 1) Fly, 2) Mammals, 3) Vampire bats suck birds' blood, and 4) Eat bugs. Please note the evocative drawing of the sad bird whose blood has been sucked. 

Here is a portrait of the author.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

People who try

Yesterday Skipper performed with her taiko class in public, in front of probably 80 people at the end of the harvest festival at her school.  She worried about it, but she didn't balk. She was obviously nervous during the performance, and seemed pretty lost, but I don't think that's outside the realm of normal for a five-year-old with exactly three taiko classes under her belt. She was very, very proud of herself.

Last week, as Skipper was talking about something she was going to do, she said "... because I'm a person who tries new things." I wanted to take a moment to shed a few happy tears, but I just said "Yes, you do try a lot of things." And she does, damnit. She tries new things on a daily basis, lately.
In other news, Duchess is wrestling with a lot of Big Things about adolescence and self-presentation and who she wants to be in the world. She's started dressing differently, consciously choosing clothes she identifies as more sophisticated, and spending time making her hair as straight and sleek as she can given her limited tools. She struggles with how to present and identify herself at school- is she going to try to hang out with the Cool Girls, or is she going to sit with the Nerd King* and make up silly songs? Only time will tell. In the meantime, she also tries new things.
*He's back! Turns out the Magic TAG school is much less flexible than this one about letting him skip school a ton to pursue his own projects. So he's back, though he's in a different class than Duchess, and she spends time with him at recess whenever she can. This exposes them both to ridicule, both because of the cross-gender friendship, which is not really socially permitted, and also because he is very short and Duchess is very tall, so they look silly together in a way that calls attention to the gender problem... Of course the Nerd King handles this with his usual aplomb, which gives Duchess some courage.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Who would want a pumpkin that's just orange?

Skipper went on a field trip. She brought home a pumpkin. (It's green and knobbly. I asked her if she had a lot of choices, and she said dismissively, "yeah, but the other ones were just orange.") She also, the same day, had her first day of kung fu aftercare, so it was a long hard day of doing hard new things. Skipper, as you know, hates to be revealed to be less than perfect, and joining a class that has been running for a month of weekdays is the sort of thing that makes her feel very exposed. The kung fu teacher said that every time Skipper seemed to be panicking and "brimming over" he asked her if she wanted to skip the thing they were doing, and she said "I will do it." Skipper's life is full of moments when she has to push forward into the thing she doesn't want to do, often because the alternative feels even worse to her. She's usually pretty tired by the end of a day of pushing painfully forward, alone, while around her other kids seem to be bobbing easily along. She's doing really well, honestly. She seems to be settling in to kindergarten, she likes her teachers and classmates, she likes school, she likes kung fu... It's just not easy. I think there will be many more moments of ease as she gets more and more comfortable in her routines, but it's never going to be just easy.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Executive function, extracurriculars, and more.

We* continue to massively overdo the extracurriculars. This fall, Duchess has gymnastics, swimming, ultimate frisbee, ballet, kung fu, electronics, and Mandarin. (Soccer and piano have fallen by the wayside, as was necessary to make room for all these other things.) Skipper has gymnastics, swimming, and taiko (and will be doing kung fu as part of her afterschool care). These are somewhat staggered in the calendar, the girls take some things at the same time, and some things take place after school, on site, which makes it a little less ridiculous, but we still have a few weeks this fall when Duchess will attend nine extracurricular activities in one week. NINE.

I continue to vacillate over it. The kids enjoy it all, and I see no harm in trying a lot of stuff during one's brief childhood. Nobody (except maybe Duchess, faintly) has any delusions that anybody in our family is going to achieve fame and fortune or really anything** through pursuit of these activities. Everybody is allowed to quit stuff they don't want to do. Neither kid is at all inclined toward independent physical activity, so it seems good to have them engage in structured physical activity rather than lie on the couch all day. I think language is a good thing to learn early in your brain development. I think that sending Duchess off to middle school feeling like she can do dorky electronic things as well as the boys will be a good thing.*** I think that it could be useful that Duchess is learning how to wire a security system, should she choose a life of crime. I think that both my kids are going to need social connections that are not just school-based. I think that giving them a feel for moving through a learning curve and gaining competence is a good thing. But. But here I am dutifully toting my children around the neighborhood to do activities, like the kind of helicopter parent I never thought I would be, not leaving them to play independently and develop character and executive function like they should be, or having them develop competence in life skills rather than ballet.****

Oh well. It's a short window. Soon Duchess will be saying no to everything. (Possibly not. Duchess is a yes person to a degree that may overpower the adolescent instinct for no.) Skipper will probably be saying no to everything even sooner. And almost every one of these activities are located within walking or at least biking distance, so at least I'm not literally chauffeuring them around. So meh, we'll keep it up until we get sick of it, executive function be damned. And they probably won't need executive function when they're part of the matrix, though I imagine it could be valuable in a criminal career.

*By which I mean I, in the role of enabler to Duchess. Cook couldn't care less, though he's usually willing to schlep kids to their things, and Skipper would be perfectly happy, in a world without Duchess, to stay home all the time. 
** Though I admit I secretly hope that Duchess will somehow be influenced by her once-a-week parks and rec ballet class to have better posture. 
***Ultimate frisbee and electronics both turn out to be extremely boy-heavy environments. Ballet, gymnastics, and swimming are the opposite, however, so it probably balances out.
**** Though while we have long ago dropped the weekly dinner-cooking program, the girls clean the bathroom every weekend. Duchess cleans the toilet, thoroughly and usually without complaint, which I do find mildly impressive.


Skipper still only wears four t-shirts and four pairs of shorts. She's let the underpants battle go for now, and the sock battle has been totally ended by my incredibly brilliant purchase of a set of days-of-the-weeks socks. She won't wear any sweaters or jackets, or any longsleeved shirts. (Fortunately, the weather has been quite warm.) She hates wearing her glasses, and fights them all day long. She is very proud of her status as second-best reader in her kindergarten class. She has many strong opinions. She is rapidly improving her monkey bar skills, which is closely associated with success at recess in kindergarten at her school.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Quick update

It's finally really fall, and there's rain and the kids are realizing that this whole school thing is for real and will continue for quite a while.

Here's what's up, briefly, before I go to bed to sleep to wake up to another day of preparations, dropoffs, work, pickups, dinner, cleanup, bed:

My job was extended, and will probably last the rest of the school year. Our babysitter is working until the end of next week, so we've been trying to figure out an after - school plan for the kids. Skipper is now enrolled on a trial basis at the afterschool kung fu program that Duchess used to do. (Duchess still does evening classes there, but won't do the after school program because she has Mandarin and electronics classes after school three days a week, and will go to the onsite childcare the other days.) They don't usually take kindergartners, so we're all watching to see if this works. Skipper is worried about being behind in the class, but excited to leave the school classroom a few minutes early with the other Bus Riders.

Skipper had her first taiko class today. It was strict and very active and very loud, and Skipper was very worried about it, but it seems to have been a success.

I still like my job, though my new job description is still alarmingly vague. If I didn't have to wear work clothes, and had paid vacation time, it would be perfect. Stupid pants with inelastic waistbands.

Duchess has been reliably informed that a 5th grade boy has a crush on her. Duchess has also declared her intent to be more fashionable, and wants to get her ears pierced for her birthday present from me and Cook.

I'm still resisting accepting the new busy paradigm, and really haven't figured out how to get a decent dinner on the table every night. Tonight Cook and Duchess had burritos from the cart pod, and Skipper and I had cheese sandwiches and sliced bell pepper.

That's the news.