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.