Welcome to my adventure. This blog started out focused on parenting and school but now that Katie's nearly baked, it's way more about me these days. My experiences, more likely my point of view and good times to share.
Welcome! I'm glad to have you aboard.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Every Body Eats! Unleashing Katie's Passion for Learning

Yeah, it sounds nuts. What the heck am I talking about?

When I learned a long time ago that neuron connections are vital for a rich, healthy brain, it became my focus. I wanted to make sure that when I took information, I was building new connections and hopefully improving my ability to retain what I was learning.
"More neurons equate to a more complex organism. A central preoccupation of neuroscience is deducing the way billions of neurons produce the human mind." from 100 Trillion Connections
Ever since I walk around trying to take in new information and relate it to existing information hoping to connect and cement that new knowledge into my internal database. It seems to have worked for me and became my top priority for raising my kid. Build her neuron connections.

I have been less interested in what she learns than how she's learning it. Whenever there's been an opportunity to stop the conversation and relate the content to other things, I've done it. That "pause" button on our TiVo remote is the most-used button the dang thing. No show goes unpaused. We are always stopping to analyze, debate, question, relate and even fact-check the information that's coming our way.

And last night, I got to see some of the fruits of my labors!

We attended Every Body Eats with a panel of guests and food expert, Michael Pollan. The venue was packed and warm and based on discussion; not the kind of event a 13 year old puts high on her list. I had no idea how the night was going for her while we were there but boy did I find out when I got home!

Katie blasted in the house at 9pm saying she needed to finish watching a video she has started on nutrition that is part of her science fair project. Okay, I said, go ahead. The next thing I knew she was asking me about details of the talk - Monsanto, DuPont, more about corn and GMO corn, nutrients - and I just kind of watched it unfold.

"Mom, tonight was totally about my project!" she exclaimed about 20 minutes later. She was suddenly synthesizing information in new ways and I was watching her connect information from different sources and getting how they related or conflicted with what she was thinking. I didn't realize it but she was putting together the information that supported her hypothesis for the Science Fair and she was so excited.

I have loved watching her grow over the years.

Not just the obvious ways but how reading and math provided the foundation for learning more complex concepts. How she has been able to move from me helping her with home work to finding help online and with her peers. And now how she is taking responsibility for learning what she will not be taught in any formal way. That kind of learning many of us still pursue when something grabs our interest.

Her new holy grail: contributing to the body of knowledge. We'll see how that goes. In the meantime, this is so fun. She's helping me build new neuron connections!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

It's Grassroots Baby - One Otter at a Time! Join the campaign!

Um, yeah. Katie pretending to be a fish. Don't ask.

I am a fan of Kickstarter.

If you don't know about this organization yet, you owe it to yourself to learn more. It's a giant portal that hosts projects asking for donations from folks from all over. I have helped three projects so far and I love the process. It's grassroots, personal and powerful.

An organization puts their "ask" together, makes their case and sets a goal. Funders - like you and me - pledge a donation and if they make their target in pledges, we are all in. We pay. If it doesn't happen, the organization regroups and figures out their next steps. It's entrepreneurial, high energy and a lot of fun. It's a cool way to be "in" on a project without having to do a lot of work.

Which brings me to my "ask". Please consider a donation: it's all about the otters.

Those are the otters down there. You can't see them all.
Living in Santa Cruz, a favorite hangout is Moss Landing, just a few miles down the road. It's a marine sanctuary (and part of the Monterey Bay) and there you'll find so many birds, fish and animals you know you are someplace special. There the otters grow huge and they are hilarious as they spend their day eating, grooming and raising their families. But they are also in danger.

So imagine my delight when I saw this awesome Kickstarter project on a local Facebook page: Otter 501.

Your pledge will help the team continue their mission of environmental education. This is exactly the kind of outreach that has whet Katie's interest in life sciences. Now that she's in 8th grade, I can't tell you how proud I am of her interest in the environment, biology and pursuing her education in a way that might lead to a career in research. I truly believe living in Santa Cruz County and having access to such amazing resources partly responsible.

Please consider a pledge to this worthwhile cause. You only pledge what you can afford.

I pledged $300 so I could get the presentation brought to Shoreline Middle School here in the Live Oak District. I want the message to reach as many kids as possible! I am hoping this Kickstarter Project is funded because I can't wait to see this film with the kids from Shoreline.

Here's how you can learn more.

They are so fat and happy here in the harbor. We love watching them.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Blog Action Day 2012 - The Power of We is the Key to Successful Parenting

There is nothing that rings more true for a single mom.

I chose to be a single mom. When I wasn't married at 34 - and there were no prospects on the horizon - I decided I would go ahead and have a kid using a sperm donor. I also knew I would be on my own raising my child and I decided early on that my journey would embrace anyone who wanted to participate.

The Power of We
became a rallying cry for me. I found a care provider for Katie who had worked in early childhood development and taught me ways to parent and guide her (in particular about the RIE method* that has helped me with Katie and so many other children).

The Power of We
was a promise my old college roommate, Sandra, made when she jumped in and helped me when Katie got colicky. She'd walk in to check on my around 6pm every day and I could walk out and get some fresh air and a break. Thirteen years later Sandra is still very involved in Katie's life providing a welcome respite from a driving mother (me) offering different energy and an fantastic extended family (she's Creole with six sisters and a zillion relatives).

The Power of We
brought my mom and me together around a common goal as she taught me to master all the operational issues associated with being a mom - from feeding to sleeping to mastering the bath. Over the years I have called her with every kind of problem looking for advice or just a shoulder to lean on.

The Power of We
is just another way of saying "It Takes a Village" and anyone who has raised a child knows you really, truly don't do it alone. It takes an orchestra of teachers, coaches, friends, family, and so many more that provide guidance, direction, inspiration and correction to both you and your child as they grow.

The Power of We is what I teach Katie now that she's old enough to start giving back. It started with her friends and teaching her how to listen and offer support and help. It moved into taking action in the community with Girl Scouts and the Second Harvest Food Bank. And now I am seeing her consider "the greater good" as she thinks through ideas for her science project or thinks about what she might want to do with her life.

In a world where so many want to emphasize individual achievement and rugged individualism, I believe The Power of We is our hope for the future. Not to sound too "Obama" about this, I truly wouldn't be where I am today without the support of my family, friends and community.

That is The Power of We.

*Interesting, I did RIE with Katie nearly 12 years ago and loved it. I always told Katie what I was going to do with her before I did it and I still do it today. Even as an adult, there's nothing I hate more than one someone tries to make me do something without a heads-up. No wonder kids always scream when someone shoves a Kleenex in their face without warning! In searching for a link to REI now, I see that somewhere mid-2000's, it became a "fad." Whatever you read, know you can adapt REI to fit what works for you. It's the intentions that are meaningful.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The College Solution: Our Fantastic Evening with Lynn O'Shaughnessy

We attended one the best events about college finance and planning last night at Santa Cruz High School.

Steven Shapiro (who I met with privately) had told me I needed to go and he was right. Lynn O'Shaughnessy was amazing. While Katie started to wear out, I think I could have stayed for another two hours. The information was that good and her speaking style was fantastic.

I'll do my best to share the highlights - which is to say those things that I took notes on. I think it's safe to say subscribing to her blog and buying her book The College Solution are two good bets. I believe almost everything I heard is in her blog or book in one way or another.

The big takeaways:

Know your kid. Think carefully about what colleges will work best for your child. Big schools aren't personal and don't necessarily guarantee and education. Smaller schools are focused on teaching, have smaller class sizes and more access to instructors.

Financial aid is accessible for nearly everyone. You just have to know how to be a good consumer. I believe this is where her book/blog can really help. She has so many insights on how to approach aid. Oh yeah, and those sports scholarships everyone thinks exist, the really don't. 2%. That's how many kids get sports scholarships. But there are a ton of schools that give merit-based aid.

Where you go to school doesn't determine career success. She cited studies that compared Ivy League kids with non-Ivy League and the biggest predictor of success is the nature of the child, not where they went to school. Duh. It also doesn't affect grad school. Here's her write up from a study on where kids who go to Harvard Law did their undergrad work.

She spit out a ton of websites that can help you figure out costs, search colleges, even help kids figure out how they rank against their peers and their chances of getting into specific colleges. I found this blog post from Lynn that lists most of what she shared with us. She's screened the (apparently there are tons more) and she likes the ones she's listed and spells out her caveats.

She recommended two more books:

Colleges that Change Lives which talks about the value of smaller schools. It was interesting to hear her talk about this because I went to USC for one semester as a freshman in 1980 and I HATED it. I was so miserable. I was lost in a sea of students with no access to my professors, teaching assistants that barely spoke English and no personal experience at all. I transferred to UC Davis where I fell in love with school, my major was small and intimate (Rhetoric) and even my minor in Psych which was much larger, was still close and inviting. Big schools can really be a challenge for a kid who needs to feel like they belong.

Students' Guide to Colleges. She really likes this book because the kids actually write up the reviews and provide insight on how things really work, the nature of the professors and much more.

Okay - that's the big picture. Happy to answer questions if you have them. I feel like we can do this now. There's a lot of research to do to find the right schools with the right financial aid packages but at least now I know how to "play the game."

UPDATE: this infographic just came out summarizing student loan debt in the US. Very interesting.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Perspectives on a Memorial: Take Back Santa Cruz for Shannon Collins

I just got back from the Take Back Santa Cruz walk to honor the memory of Shannon Collins

The sound of the bagpipes called us to the corner where she died and marched us through the streets of Santa Cruz to our destination: Camouflage, her store. 

There must have been a couple hundred people - I think we stretched for a mile. This horrendous murder hit me kind of hard. The way she was killed - random, violent, horrific - kind of took me back to my dad and stepmom's murder. Both events shared those traits. 

The crowd was soothing and peaceful. It's always interesting to walk alone and drift in and out of other people's conversations. Overhearing memories of Shannon, discussions of the crime, talk of being hungry and what a nice day it turned out to be. 

I took pictures and just felt at peace. I am happy knowing I live in the kind of place that could come together at such a moment. A few tourists were in town and I explained what was happening. I assured them they were safe and this was a good place to visit. I went to my car to to sit a moment and look at the photos I had taken. I wanted to post them to Instagram and so I had to move my car to get signal. I left the parking garage and parked on River Street across from the pedestrian bridge. 

At the base of the footpath, there was a crowd of transients, or homeless, or hobos as my daughter would say (why are kids using that term, it kind of bothers me). They were in an animated discussion about the walk. One man was extremely upset that Take Back Santa Cruz has staged the walk and lamented that now there were going to be attacks on homeless people because of our action. That there had already been an attack (in fact true) and that more were going to happen because of these activists.

I sat there feeling kind of surreal. I had just walked. I want Santa Cruz to be safe. But I had never heard the strident feelings of this crowd before. These men were articulate. They knew what they were talking about and they were clearly concerned that being in Santa Cruz was suddenly going to be harder for them. I have to say I had a hard time feeling compassion for them. If they were bright enough to understand the politics of the situation, I felt like they should be bright enough to conduct themselves in a way that didn't scare or intimidate other people. 

If anything, I wish they had been part of the walk.

In an instant, the group disbanded. I don't know if someone broke them up or they could see the police on the way or what happened. They just evaporated all going different directions.

It was a strange evening. A Santa Cruz evening to be perfectly honest. With all sides presenting themselves. With everyone having an opinion.

In the neighborhood on Broadway where the attack happened.
The wonderful bagpipes. 
Heading over the San Lorenzo River.
It felt like we stretched a mile long.

Approaching the store, folks fell in to join us.
The crowd grew to envelope the street.

Camouflage was our final destination.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Unlearning Parenting

"Mom, you have to stop," Katie tells me firmly but still calmly. Thank goodness she's patient.

"You know," I said, "I think I am having an epiphany. I need to unlearn how to parent you. I have been doing these things since you were born and now I need to stop doing them. And that's going to be hard."

I went on telling her that from the beginning, I had to anticipate what she was doing, redirect her or tell her what to do almost all the time. From brush your teeth to look both ways and everything in between. As I broke it down - and as she caught on and started thinking of things on her own - we both realized how many things parents do all day to help their kid grow up.

But, as a very smart therapist once taught me, the habits we learn that once served us well, often become bad behaviors when they are no longer needed. This was truly one of those moments. I realized I need to unlearn parenting.

It's super hard.

I am basically trying to break habits that I have worked hard to cultivate to keep Katie safe, to teach her to be a good person, to care for others, to stand on her own. Now I need to shut up because I did my job. She's good. Really good but me telling her what to do now is driving her crazy. And I can see how parents fall into power struggles with their kids at this age - 13 (almost) - because we have been telling them what to do for ages.

But now, it's time to trust them and let them figure it out. They know. Seriously, I know she hears me in her head. My work here is done. If I want to have a relationship with her going forward, I need to stand back and let her go it on her own. Will she screw up? I certainly hope so because that will only positively reinforce my voice in her head.

Of course I'll be there if I see her making big mistakes.

But my approach will be different. Offering her suggestions and alternatives but shutting up in between so she can weigh the options and make her own sound decisions. Oh yeah, and I still have to shut up. Talk less. I tell that to myself all the time. It's horribly difficult. I pride myself on being right. But that doesn't matter. Right this time is backing off and butting out.

We ended our talk with me asking her to be patient with me. That unlearning takes time. That I would totally blow it and tell her to wipe her feet before going inside and to brush her hair before we leave and all the other little things we have done for so long to get to this wonderful place of self-sufficiency.

She promised me she'd cut me some slack. And she told me she'd be happy to start telling me what I needed to do on a regular basis. Sounds lovely. 

I hope I don't pitch a fit.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

They tell me 50 is the new 30. I don't think so.

I turn 50 tomorrow. I was fine with it until about six months ago went it felt like everything went sideways. My best friend got breast cancer, I got a thyroid infection and suddenly mortality was scarier than any Freddy Kruger movie.

So, being a writer, I had to make a list of 50 things that are bugging me. My 30 versus 50 list. I bet there something on here that might resonate for you - and it if doesn't, you're not 50 yet! 

Please! Comment with your 30 vs 50 moments. Love to hear them.

The Old 30
The New 50
Examining my face for zits.
Examining my face for old man whiskers.
Fish oil for my cat's hairballs.
Fish oil for my heart.
Perfectly full eyebrows.
Andy Rooney eyebrows.
Avoiding dirty old men.
Flirting with dirty old men.
Nursing my colon after a spicy meal.
Prepping my colon for a picture taking adventure.
"Are you a Cancer"?
Friends with cancer.
Not sleeping because the night is calling!
Not sleeping because monkey brain is calling.
Hitting the clubs at 10pm.
Hitting the sack at 10pm.
Where did I park the car?
Where did I put my keys?
I totally didn't expect that!
I so knew that was going to happen.
Roller coasters are awesome!
Roller coasters mean whiplash.
The unexpected missed period (pregnant?!)!
The unexpected missed period (menopause?!)!
Friends talking about their hangovers.
Friends talking about their ailments.
Getting mail from Planned Parenthood.
Getting mail from AARP.
Sobriety tests.
Cholesterol tests.
Needing to try everything.
Happy just watching.
Fear of falling (drunk).
Fear of falling (bones breaking).
Not getting why people like the Grateful Dead.
Not getting why people like Dubstep.
Savings account?
Retirement account!
Knowing every brand out there cared about us.
Knowing nobody but pharma cares about us.
Finding a bra that looks good through clothes.
Finding a bra that helps me look like I have boobs.
Having cats because they are cool.
Having cats because they are easy.
Getting sun glasses to make me look cool.
Getting reading glasses because I freaking can't see.
Sitting in a meeting that is taking forever.
Sitting in bed realizing another week flew by.
Planning to buy my first house.
Planning to retire and keep my house.
Being a flirt.
Being a cougar.
Posing for pictures to hide a double chin.
Posing for pictures to hide my turkey neck.
Fear of getting busted for having weed.
Needing weed so I can bust a move.
Getting excited about new technology - I am an early adopter!
Getting freaked about new technology - what? I have to learn something new.
I got cold because I refused to wear a jacket over my outfit.
I get cold because I got a chill and my huge coat isn't keeping me warm enough.
Believing a President could change everything.
Knowing a President can't do a damn thing with a hostile Congress.
Getting noticed when I drive around with the car roof down.
Nobody noticing me. At all.
My friends wanted to go for drinks.
My friends want to go for coffee.
Pulling my hair up to get it out of my face.
Tugging my hair down to try and get some near my face.
Trying to figure out all the things I should do before I die.
Trying to figure out if I can pay off my mortgage before I die.
Believing in opportunity.
Believing in hard work and a touch of luck.
Being called immature.
Being called "ma'am".
Loving romantic movies (how sweet!).
Hating romantic movies (that so doesn't happen!).
Checking my weight every day.
Checking my blood pressure every day.
Missing the happy hour freebies.
Not qualifying for senior citizen discounts yet.
Deciding if I should get renters insurance.
Deciding if I should get long term care insurance.
Looking forward to Christmas because it was magical.
Dreading Christmas because it comes around too damn fast.
Thinking having kids will be so hard.
Thinking having my kid leave for college will be so hard.
Waking up at 11am and thinking, just one more hour.
Waking up at 6am and thinking, crap, I gotta pee.
Working hard because I am building my business.
Working hard because I need to earn while I can!
Buying hair color to cover the bad blonde I chose.
Buying hair color for "gray hair" so I don't look brassy.
Saving to buy that thing I really want.
Hustling to give more crap to the Goodwill.
Hating change because they way we were doing it was so cool.
Hating change because I just can't adapt that easily.
That pain in my chest is heart ache. The jerk.
The pain in my chest might be a heart attack. Crap.
Life is just starting to get good!
Life is more than half over.