Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Like daughter, like dog

Yesterday I came home from the store to a quiet house. Usually when I come back into the house, Holly waits by the door to greet me. It's as if she was left alone for hours, even if I just go to check the mail. Yesterday she wasn't anywhere on the first floor.

I saw some stuff that had been on my desk scattered on the family room floor. I knew why Holly wasn't greeting me.

I made soup for lunch. When I brought it to my desk, I put the bowl on a cork hot pad. I put the dishes in the dishwasher before heading to the store, but left the hot pad. I didn't have a reason for leaving it there. I just didn't move it before leaving. The last thing I did before I left was turn off the TV. This requires two remotes in our house. I was standing by my desk. I put the remotes on the hot pad and left.

Since Holly didn't offer a detailed explanation. my best guess was that she was sniffing around the hot pad, managed to pull it off the desk, dropped the remotes on the hardwood floor and ran upstairs after the noise from the remotes hitting the hardwood frightened her.

In fact, she stayed upstairs for about two hours. She didn't come down until I called her to go get the girls from school. Even then she came down slowly, with her ears back -- as if she was waiting to get into trouble.

When the girls were younger, the blond twin put herself on time out one day. We never did figure out why. She simply announced that she was bad and she was putting herself on time out. As we walked to school yesterday I thought about how funny that was, and how funny it was that Holly did the same thing when she misbehaved.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The crash that never ends

Every once in a while someone will ask if everything is quiet in the neighborhood now that the crash is cleaned up. I just sigh and say it might be out of the news, but in our neighborhood, the plane crash is still an active, living creature.

The plane pieces were all gone by the time we arrived home after a long weekend in Lexington KY. I kept passing the site looking for signs of the crash. Other than the candle/flower/ribbon memorial, you'd never know anything happened. Of course, I didn't realize then what was about to happen.

For days after the crash our block was busy with what I called "crash tourists." People kept driving around trying to figure out where the crash happened. We always knew which cars were crash tourists as they drove very slowly, like they were searching for what they saw on the news. Sometimes these people just wanted to see the site. Sometimes they got out of their cars like they were exploring something interesting. At some point the neighbor closest to the crash site put up "private property" signs around his yard. His house was the one everyone saw on the news, with the destroyed Cadillac SUV in the driveway. People started wandering the closest yards like they were on a sightseeing tour.

Every few days there was activity at the plane crash site. Mostly there were investigators doing their jobs. We never asked what they were doing. We knew they were there because police cars would position themselves at either end of the block. As soon as we saw a police car, we knew we had to go around the block.

One afternoon, about a week after the crash, Daddy and I were standing at the school pick-up corner with Holly. All of a sudden ambulances and other official vehicles drove down the block. A police vehicle positioned itself at the corner. The block was off-limits again. This time we had a sick feeling. If there were ambulances, it meant they were still looking for human remains.

Another day Daddy came back from walking Holly to report that there were officials doing a grid search at the site. He said there were a lot of official vehicles. I looked outside and saw a police car at the end of our block.

The next day we heard some strange noises from the crash site. Daddy walked down to find workers cutting down all the trees near the accident. The next day we saw that the house closest to the crash didn't have any landscaping. I learned later that workers in protective gear took every tree, bush and plant. Since materials from the plane and passengers were spread across a large area, everything was considered a biohazard.

We had a Mother/Daughter event at the girls' school the same morning that the landscaping was being removed. Daddy walked to the corner to ask the police to let Grammie come to our house. Everyone else had to show an identification card, but they just waved Grammie through. It probably helped that they could see her pull into our driveway from the corner.

We thought it was all done, but we then had more activity. A week after all the landscaping was removed, there was equipment working at the site again. This time they were removing all the grass and the top layer of soil. It turned out the grass was all considered a biohazard as well. The next day there were flatbed trucks with new sod ready to replace the missing grass.

I'm certainly not complaining about the work or the inconvenience. The plane crash was a terrible tragedy. It was just interesting to see what happened after the news stopped reporting about the incident. I can only hope for the sake of all those families near the crash site that the work is almost over. It's time for them to find some peace and quiet.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Lexington a great family destination

This was originally posted on The Chicago Moms.

We were looking for a place close enough to visit for a three-day weekend that seemed a world away from our suburban Chicago home. After clicking through a few ideas, we stumbled upon the Kentucky Horse Park. As soon as we found it, our horse-crazy daughters were begging us to take them.

Our research started with the Lexington Visitors Bureau website. While our girls would have spent three days at the Kentucky Horse Park, we wanted to sample more activities. As with all short trips, you have to make hard decisions about what to do and what gets put on the “future visit” list. Visit Lex helped us organize our trip into different activities on different days.

We started by creating three different day plans. One included historic homes and a downtown walking tour. A second one took us through the driving tour of small towns and horse farms. The third had us spending the day in the Kentucky Horse Park.

The weather was beautiful and sunny on our first day, so we decided to do the downtown walking tour. It was lovely and peaceful to walk downtown Lexington on a Sunday. We had a hard time finding a place to eat, until we stumbled upon Limestone Blue. What a find! The food was so good and the service so friendly that we didn’t want to leave.

We visited two historic homes during our stay. The first home we visited was the Hunt-Morgan House. Our girls studied the Civil War last year, so the stories about Confederate General John Hunt Morgan fascinated them. Our tour guide was informed and interesting. We also visited the Mary Todd Lincoln House. What was interesting about this historic home was that it really reshaped your vision of Mrs. Lincoln. When our girls learned about Mrs. Lincoln in school, their teacher focused mostly on her post-White House years. It was her childhood and education that really interested them.

We tried to go to Ashland, Henry Clay’s estate, but our timing wasn’t right. The funny thing was we probably learned as much about Henry Clay thorough other tours as we would have if we visited his estate. We saw Henry Clay’s law office during the walking tour. We heard stories about Mr. Clay at the Hunt-Morgan House and the Mary Todd Lincoln House. We read about him during our Transylvania University tour. Henry Clay had his hand in everything during the early days of Lexington.

Our driving tour was breathtaking. The rolling hills, white fences that stretched for miles, dry stone fences and fall colors combined for a relaxing tour. More than once I said to my husband, “I can understand the appeal of being here.” We were just a few miles outside of Lexington, but it was as if we had driven hundreds of miles. I could not think of an equivalent drive in the Chicago area. You’d have to drive for hours before you’d find that kind of beauty and serenity.

The dry stone fences fascinated me. Apparently, I’m not the only person who found them interesting. There was a display outside the Kentucky Horse Park explaining dry stone fences and the connection with Kentucky. There was something serene about the fences.

When we travel we visit the Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives website to find quirky local places. The site came through again with a recommendation for the Parkette Drive-In. Our girls thought it was so much fun to have our food ordered via the old-fashioned, two-way speaker. It seemed like ordering food via a speaker would be old, considering that they grew up with the technology at businesses from pharmacies to restaurants. The whole atmosphere was a throw-back to a time when their parents were little kids, about their age.  We told stories about going to a place like the Parkette Drive-In with our parents. The food was good; the bonding was better.

The Kentucky Horse Park lived up to our girls’ horse dreams. The first thing we noticed was how beautiful it was as you scanned the grounds. It was pristine and picturesque from every angle. As soon as we entered, our girls put their carefully planned day into action. We managed to see nearly everything, and still took a horseback ride. The Horses of the World show was beautiful and interesting. We managed to learn a lot about different breeds in a short time. The Hall of Champions was in mourning as Cigar had recently died. The flowers outside his stall added depth to the show, which brought back memories for even the most casual horse-racing fan.

Our Kentucky Horse Park planning misstep was that we didn’t allow enough time to wander the International Museum of the Horse. We were able to see most of the exhibits, but there was more we wanted to see. The International Museum of the Horse is a highly interactive place with ways to keep everyone entertained in all galleries. Our girls sat in a tent listening to Arabian horse legends in the Al-Marah Arabian Horse Galleries. They watched as Mom and Dad told stories during the Calumet Farm: Five Decades of Champions exhibit – in part because they didn’t believe that we actually knew anything about horses. They thought they were the horse experts. When we went through The Legacy of the Horse, I kept pointing out how beautifully dressed people used to be at events like horse racing or horse shows. It was my not so subtle effort to reinforce the idea that flip flops were not always considered stylish foot ware. They started pointing out some of their favorite details to distract me.

From start to finish our Lexington experience was a delightful was to spend a long weekend for all of us. It took about 6 hours to go from Chicago to Lexington. It was a trip worth taking, and we’re planning our next Lexington visit already.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Sorrow and gratitude

We were in Lexington KY when the call came. I heard the phone ring, but couldn't find the phone quickly enough to answer it. When I listened to the message, I immediately turned on my computer. Our neighbor called to say a small plane crashed on our block. He said our house was fine. In fact, somehow through whatever version of divine intervention you believe in, no homes were hit.

Now that we're home I'm very glad we were in Lexington when the plane crashed. Everyone from the neighborhood was at the crash site. The pictures were horrible. The stories were worse.

A fifth grade boy down the block talked about finding body parts on his front lawn. He said he saw plane parts everywhere. He closed by telling us that he was afraid to go to sleep and loud noises frightened him. He shuffled back and forth staring at his shoes. He said he didn't think he wanted to go to a haunted house this Halloween. It was heartbreaking.

Another neighbor was one of the first people at the crash site. He said it didn't look real. He likened it to a movie set. He walked through looking for survivors, but quickly realized no survivors would be found.

Other neighbors talked about the sounds as the plane passed over and the crash sounds. They looked grim when they talked about the days after when the neighborhood was blocked and you showed an ID to get past the police stationed at each end. It was all so overwhelming.

The strangest part was driving by the crash site for the first time. There were flowers and candles set-up as a memorial. There were some marks on the ground where the plane hit. Amazingly enough, there were no other signs of the crash. Somehow the plane went down without taking out even a street sign. I was told that a tree was hit, but I couldn't tell you where it was.

The neighbors who were here have a common story, which is gratitude. We are sorry that the three doctors in the plane died, but everyone is truly thankful that the plane didn't crash into a house.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Monday through Friday Nine to Five

When the girls started taking piano, Daddy said they could practice any time Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. until 5:00 p.m. In other words, they could only practice when he was at work. Now they are pretty good pianists so they can practice any time.

Since they joined the school band they are expected to practice those instruments every day as well. The girls are excited about having two instruments. They spent a lot of time yesterday talking about their new instruments and practicing. Of course, they've only had one lesson so the only thing they could practice was blowing into the mouthpiece.

I banished them upstairs into the spare bedroom/office. It wasn't that it bothered me, but Holly just hid when they started blowing out those high pitched sounds. It was an interesting reaction from Holly, who regularly howls when they play piano. She wasn't interested in howling with their wind instruments. They practiced upstairs while Holly stayed downstairs.

Daddy came home to find them bubbling about their instruments. They showed him all the parts and explained everything they learned. When the girls were getting ready for bed I said, "Remember the Monday through Friday 9 to 5 rule? I think now it's all practice, all the time." Daddy just smiled. It has been a standing joke in our house, but now it's done. With two instruments it will be all music practice all the time -- at least for this year. The brunette twin is already talking about dropping her flute to join choir next year. If that happens, then we'll get to hear her practice yet another new instrument next year when she works on her voice.

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Pretty in paint

When I was in Girl Scouts, we received a badge book. We would flip the pages and decide which badges we wanted to earn. Now Girls Scouts go through journeys so they are assigned projects and badges. To complete a journey, the girls must complete a related community service project.

This was how we found ourselves in a shelter for women and children painting the common area today. The space was used for families to do their laundry, as well as for children to receiving tutoring or participate in activities. It was dark and cluttered and dirty and depressing.

We planned this for months. First we spent time talking about the families who lived in the shelter. We planned the space after considering the different ways the families used it. We looked at dozens of paint chips, talking about how different colors would look. We had an adventure buying materials at a local hardware store. We created lists so every family knew what to bring. We made a plan.  Today we executed the plan.

We discussed a division of duties with the shelter staff. There were only a couple of things we asked them to do. The big one was to get rid of excess stuff that accumulated there. People donated items to the shelter and what wasn't immediately needed ended up piled up in the basement. We had to clean out a lot of stuff before we could even start painting. Unless we removed some stuff we didn't have enough space to move the furniture to paint the walls.

The girls were natural painters. The parents alternately painted, trained and supervised. We were busy, but it was fun. Daddy and the blond twin painted a bathroom while the rest of the troop and the parents painted the walls.

The girls' cousin Zach came with us to help. He needed community service hours for high school. We needed his help to get everything moved, rearranged and painted. The girls all liked having Zach around. Zach went from being the youngest child in his family to being a big brother to five girls, even if just for a day.

It took longer than we hoped, but it was a job well done. The shelter staff came by to ooohh and aaaahhhh during and after the painting. We took photos to document their work transforming a drab, dirty space into a bright, pretty area with plenty of space for crafts and tutoring and relaxing. We were all covered in paint and tired, but it was a good kind of tired. Our girls were so happy with the project. They talked about how much fun they had and how happy they were to help the shelter families. They compared the amount of paint on their hands, clothes and hair.

We had hoped they'd internalize the experience and realize how much they have to give, not in terms of money, but in terms of their time and energy. They did finish their journey and earn their badges. I'm pretty sure they also learned that there is truly something satisfying about spending time helping others. It would be best lesson of the day.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

It’s time to stop complaining about Common Core

This was originally posted on The Chicago Moms

During our recent parent orientation, our daughters’ teachers explained that they would not have math books this year. The fifth grade students would receive math worksheets as the school decided to test Eureka Math. Apparently Eureka Math doesn’t come with a textbook. Now we get to spend our evenings doing online research so we can figure out how to help our daughters with this new math program.

It’s déjà vu for us. We spent last year trying to figure out Origo Math, a program with such terrible quality control that the fourth grade students spent a lot of time finding errors in the worksheets. Every math class became a game called “which problems are wrong today,” which annoyed the parents. It seemed to all of us that a company filled with mathematicians should have been able to create a program without so many basic errors. Origo Math didn’t donate the program. Our school district spent a lot of money on it. Last time I checked, no one was paying our fourth graders to correct Origo Math.
This year we’re subjected to another new math program. We have been told that Eureka Math aligns with Common Core standards better than Origo Math. In other words, last year the district used our children as test monkeys for a failed math program so this year we’re testing another math program on these same students. In the end, they have to unlearn Origo system and learn the Eureka Math system. We left the meetings frustrated and angry with the ongoing Common Core excuses.
It’s time for school districts to figure out how to implement Common Core. As a parent and taxpayer, I’m tired of hearing about how the school district is “trying” to find the best ways to implement Common Core. For years now our local school district newsletter has been heralding all the hard work being done to get ready for Common Core. They’ve outlined the arduous task in excruciating detail. Still, since Common Core has ruled our educational landscape, all we have heard is how our award-winning, high performing school district is “trying” to figure out what will best meet Common Core standards. Really? What have they been doing all these years?
This week our girls had substitutes two days in a row so their teachers could receive Common Core training. Our very expensive property taxes funded these meetings. As a parent and taxpayer, I’d like to understand what exactly is getting done in these meetings? At some point don’t they have to actually teach Common Core? Simply meeting and complaining about Common Core isn’t providing our students with an education.
I am not complaining about Common Core. I’ve read about it extensively. I’m pretty well-versed on the pros and cons. In the end, whether teachers like it or not, it is the new standard. At this point, I don’t understand why our school district, which had years to plan, can’t provide its core service – an education – to meet Common Core standards. From conversations I have with friends across our area, it’s a frustration parents in many school districts share.
Please don’t tell me how it has caused schools to reinvent themselves. In the corporate world we do this all the time. I look at Common Core as a new boss. In corporate America, new bosses show up all the time. You have to figure out the new boss’s priorities and adapt. We don’t get years to plan. We don’t have training meetings during our work days to analyze and complain about the new boss. We just have to figure out how to keep the new boss happy. If we translate this into Common Core language, it’s time for teachers to stop complaining about the new boss and just get onboard.  It’s time for school districts to figure out how to implement Common Core so that an entire generation doesn’t get left behind while they are planning. Illinois children deserve better than what they are getting.
Shari writes about life with her tween twin daughters at Two Times The Fun. Image courtesy of Free Images.