Monthly Archives: March 2011

Gimme 5 – Travel Tips – Be Prepared for Bloody Marys in Your Lap

Today’s Gimme 5 is all about travel tips and being prepared. It makes me feel like a boy scout giving the advice to “be prepared.” I guess all the boys’ activities are rubbing off on me!
1. Refill, Restock, Replace
The first tip is to check any pre-stocked supplies when you are packing to see if anything needs to be refilled, restocked, or replaced. Or better yet, restock your supplies when you return from your current trip. This tip is especially important if you need medicine on a daily basis. A couple things I never need to replace or stock is shampoo/conditioner or a hair dryer – all of the hotel rooms I have been in lately (read, for the last 7 years) have those items readily available.
I also wanted to share a tip sent to me from Bianca:
“One thing I like to do when I travel (to minimize on the liquids) is to take a snack size Ziploc bag and fill it with cotton balls (I count one for each night I’m traveling and put in one spare) and then I squeeze eye makeup remover all over them. Then I close the bag and let them saturate. Then, while I’m on my trip, I just take out a moist cotton ball and use it to remove my eye makeup at night. No need to bring the bottle of remover!”
I liked this suggestion even though I don’t use eye makeup remover. It applies to all kinds of other liquids that come in bottles that are bigger than the 3 oz. travel size.
2. Label Your Luggage – 98% of bags are black.* Be sure to label your bag with current contact information. (I recently found one bag that I got out for the kids to use and it had a tag on it from when I was in high school.) Labeling your luggage means labeling it on the outside of the luggage, in the luggage, and around the luggage. I always have a laminated business card on each bag, along with a business card or identifying information inside my bag (actually I put a card in each zippered pocket/section), and I also have an identifying  handle wrap that is bright blue. This marking or labeling can mean putting some kind of distinctive marking on your bag like colored duct tape on the handle or bottom/back of the bag. These steps help distinguish your bag from others, especially if your bag is black. Or better yet don’t get a black bag in the first place – I can always find mine because it is a dark green!
* I don’t know this for sure. I made it up because it seems like 98% of all bags are black!
3. Carry Cash – I hardly ever carry cash, but I have run into some taxis and restaurants that don’t take cash. I make a point of stopping at an ATM by one of the gates that I fly out of frequently. It can be a very big pain in the butt to ask the taxi driver to stop at an ATM so that you can pay him. Having adequate cash on hand is very important if you travel internationally.
4. Mind Your Manners – Shit happens… delays, security snafus, a plane change, a security check  where everyone has to deplane with their bags, whatever it is; when shit happens, find something to do that is constructive, helpful, or positive. Listen to music, talk to someone around you, make a new friend, but don’t start complaining or worse, berating an airline employee – none of that will do any good, or make the security check go faster.

5. Be Flexible – I don’t mean do Yoga in the aisle of the plane, even though I have seen that done; what I mean is, shit happens (see #4 above). And when it does, Be Flexible.  I once had an entire Bloody Mary spill on me right after I got on the plane – we were climbing in altitude and about three seconds after the stewardess set it down on my tray, the entire drink slid into my lap. Yep, that’s right, an entire Bloody Mary, in my lap. It ran right down my leg, into my shoes, there was ice all over me and the seat, and everything soaked into my pants. I thought I could just wipe the tomato juice off and let my pants dry – and change my (not so) white shirt. Nothing doing – when I got into the tiny plane bathroom, it was clear that my pants were soaked all the way down the leg and were not going to be wearable. I went back out and got a complete change of clothes out of my suitcase. I changed into a different outfit (complete with a sheriff’s badge as I was coming from Texas at that time) and I proceeded to make 5 new friends on that flight.
If you have a favorite travel tip – please leave a comment. I look forward to hearing what your favorite travel tips are.
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The Tale of Two Grandmas

My grandmothers are awesome – let’s just state that right up front to start this tale! I’m working on this project where I am writing some guides on how to share photos online and the end-user I have to keep in mind is someone who isn’t that comfortable with the internet but wants to share and print photos with their friends and family. At the same, I had just come home from a visit with one of my grandmothers and we had spent a ton of time looking through old photos and slides. Both of these things got me thinking about my two grandmothers and how polar opposite the are when it comes to computers and the internet.

My Grandma Edith is  going to be 89 in April. She was a nurse and worked for my grandfather’s geology company for years, color coding well core samples. She now does tai chi every day. She plays viola and cello beautifully. She makes incredible jewelry, does intricate silver work, and uses the rocks that my grandfather finds and polishes to turn them in to jewelry. Over the years I have learned many things from her. Using the computer isn’t one of them!

We have tried to set up a computer for her and my grandfather to use (he would actually send emails). But I never saw her use it. We even volunteered to go down to the library and set up a free gmail account, so that she could email us when she went to the library. The whole idea of email is foreign to her. She actually writes letters and makes phone calls. I think she is one of three people that I know who still hand-write letters. I don’t think we will ever get her to use a computer – for email or for any other reason.

My other grandmother, Grandma Frances, is 92 and is the polar opposite. She taught math, shorthand, and other subjects in high school until she retired in 1976. She uses the computer for all kinds of things – she uses Quicken to balance the farm books; she uses it to email all of us family members; she tracks all of our birthdays and addresses – from her children to all of the great grandkids! She hasn’t shared any photos with me online, but I am sure she can figure it out with the instruction sets I am writing! She is the one I credit with getting me interested in photography. She took the time to explain the camera, how it worked, and more importantly, she trusted me to use her Canon camera when I was 10. This trip, we had a blast looking through her old photos and slides. We even got the slide projector up and running to share silly pictures with my kids – like the ones of my dad from the 70’s with an afro, and the ones of our cows, and my teddy bear. She sent me home with a stack of slides and pictures to scan in!

Today’s blog is a tribute to these two lovely ladies who each have their own strengths. These are ladies 3 and 4 in my effort to highlight 30 women this year. Read more about the others: BFF, Michealene Cristini Risley

Red Cross, Johnstown Flood, Japanese Earthquake and Tsunami

How Can You Help with the Relief Effort for the Earthquake and Tsunami Disaster in Japan?

In 1889, the South Fork Dam broke, unleashing over 20 tons of water and massive amounts of debris onto Johnstown, Pennsylvania, a small coal and steel town of ~10,000 people. Officially, over 2,200 people died in the flood and ensuing fire, and many more went missing and were never found. To a small town like Johnstown, the scale of the disaster is not unlike the earthquake and ensuing tsunami disaster in Japan today.

As unlikely as it seems, one great thing came out of that disaster – The Red Cross began offering disaster relief services. Clara Barton, the founder of the Red Cross, led with disaster relief efforts after the Johnstown Flood. The Red Cross has been assisting with disaster relief efforts ever since. In 2007, I was lucky enough to visit the Johnstown Flood National Memorial and learn more about the Johnstown Flood disaster. The sheer scale of it was awesome. The videos posted of the tsunami disaster are even more awesome. The destruction is unbelievable and sad. My heart and prayers  go out to those who have died in this disaster and to those who are working like crazy in the recovery efforts.

I know many people are looking for a way to help with this recovery effort. The Red Cross is a neutral organization that assists in disasters like this worldwide. I saw a message today that United Airlines will even match miles as donations under their Charity Miles program when you donate to the Red Cross.  These miles will be used to help transport people to/from the disaster area in Japan. I am sure we will start seeing more and more programs like this to help Japan recover.

Please consider donating miles through your own airline affinity program or donating cash to the Red Cross.

You Gotta See the Race to Nowhere Movie

After 4 previous attempts, I finally saw the movie Race to Nowhere last night and I later posted a comment on a Race to Nowhere share on Facebook:

Sonya L. Sigler I have been an advocate for no homework for so long – I wanted our school to volunteer to be a test bed for a “no homework policy.” I would prefer that my kids play sports or take music or do nothing or explore the park down the hill from us… and I was lucky enough to see the movie tonight in San Carlos, CA.

By this morning, I had been attacked for my opinion that supported a “no homework policy” that our elementary school district had merely discussed 4-5 years ago.

Susi Crowe OK Sonya, no homework for high school students, really!?? Explore the park down the hill with the girlfriend, a case of beer and country music playing…or let’s make sure kids have time to play, which nowadays means playing on the computer, the Iphone, the Xbox. Great productive plan that you have, let’s you off the hook from being involved w/ your kids homework and spending the time as a parent taking them to activities they are interested in, so YOU have more free time……

It was interesting to me to see that 1) all kinds of judgments had been made (I don’t do homework with my kids; I don’t take them to activities they are interested in; I hold this opinion about homework so I can have more free time; my kids listen to country music..I could go on) and 2) leaps to certain conclusions had been made without even asking for more information or an explanation of why I want my kids to do things other than homework or why I would think that volunteering our school to test the policy was a good idea. I had one comment of support:

Sarasota Homes ‎@Sonya – I LOVE your attitude and thoughts toward education. I was a high school teacher/coach for 16 years. I don’t want my kids “racing to nowhere” and that’s exactly where politicians (on both sides) demand they go…. Kids NEED to be kids. Great support here!

This “no homework policy” that I mentioned was merely a discussion that the school board had 4-5 years ago (three superintendents ago) and it hadn’t even been implemented.  As far as I know, not one of our district schools has tested a “no homework policy.” What I do know is that schools in our elementary school district (San Carlos) and high school district (Sequoia Union) have made strides to coordinate homework assignments and work loads. I posted a further explanation:

Sonya L. Sigler I have a little bit longer explanation about what no homework means in our family and with the school my kids go to AND what the “no homework policy” was that was discussed in our school district about 4-5 years ago. We, as a family, focus on music, sports, scouting, and visiting National Parks. So, it is different homework than busy work sheets and homework given because the teacher couldn’t get to the info in class. Then there are chores on top of that. My kids also go to a project based school so there isn’t a lot of busywork homework; most of the homework assigned is related to a project unit. The “no homework policy” that was discussed in our school district 4-5 years ago that I wanted to volunteer our school for would have looked at a few things: 1) coordinated homework among the teachers so that not every subject had an hours worth of homework every evening; 2) the homework time (targeted time to complete it) would vary by grade level; and 3) the homework was related to reinforcing concepts in the curriculum as opposed to busy work. Thankfully we do most of these at our school already. But I am sure there are improvements that we can make related to homework. My kids are in a K-8 school so we haven’t gotten to the heavy work loads in high school – however my philosophy remains the same for that and the high schools in our area are trying to coordinate the homework assigned among the classes.

I think there is enough work for our children to do in school and in class without giving them more than an hour or two of homework each night. One of the main points of the movie was that after a certain amount of time the point of doing the homework becomes ineffective — I think it was an hour for middle school and two hours for high school students. The high schools in our area ARE trying to coordinate the type and amount of homework given across the subjects. At SCCLC, we have targeted homework by grade level and I think that the time expected to be spent on homework is not excessive as it relates to each grade level at our school.

From a family perspective, it all comes down to managing priorities and choices. Everything is a choice. Spending 4 hours on homework instead of playing baseball is a choice. Spending time playing an instrument instead of doing busy worksheets is a choice. Spending time exploring National Parks is a choice. Spending time with Boy Scouts is a choice. It’s all a choice. We choose to have our kids play sports, play an instrument, participate in scouting, and explore national parks. That doesn’t leave a lot of time for homework, or as suggested in the snarky facebook comment, playing video games. BTW – We do limit screen time of all types – we don’t ban it, we just limit it to 2 hours on the weekends. And, even with a full time job, I do squire my kids around to activities that they are interested in…currently, for my three boys that list includes baseball, basketball, flag football, bowling, rifles, archery, 4H, Scouts, soccer, dance, and music lessons – I don’t think I’ve ever been accused of not being involved with my kids – some would say they are over scheduled and that I’m too involved. But, truth be told they are doing the activities that they choose to do.

Our family has chosen to concentrate our time on the activities that are important to us – sometimes that doesn’t include homework. The consequence of these choices will vary – sometimes my son has to wake up earlier to do homework or stay up later than usual to finish it. Sometimes he may have to spend lunch or recess time finishing up something. Sometimes he may not turn it in at all – this has led to an interesting discussion about doing extra credit work to cover times when he can’t finish his work or turn it in. But, at least we know what the choice is that we are making as opposed to blindly trying to do it all.

Re high school, my thoughts on homework are the same. Don’t kill yourself trying to do it all just because someone has assigned homework. Talk to the teachers, advocate for your child – or better yet, have your child advocate for themselves (or in a group of students)  when it comes to managing homework loads.

Part of what the movie was shedding light on is – take a step back and evaluate the situation. What is right for your child (and why)? The sky isn’t going to fall if your child doesn’t get into “a good” college. Taking AP classes just to get into “a good” college is a prime example of doing something for the wrong reason. Doing well in an AP course is a choice; does it mean that you have to read the entire textbook? No, it means you need to be able to understand concepts and understand the bigger picture – that is what is tested on AP tests. The point of an AP class is that it IS accelerated learning. It requires you to digest an enormous amount of information. If all of your child’s courses are AP courses – you are really saying that they should be in college – becuase those AP test scores translate into college credit. The point made in the movie is – look at what your child is doing and why they are doing it. If your child  is only taking an AP course because they think it will get them into the right college – rethink the situation and make a change, if necessary.

There is one scene in the movie that was particular poignant for me – it was the scene where a boy says that he wanted to quit school altogether because he didn’t get the grade he wanted and now probably won’t get into the college he wanted. In retrospect, I did a lot of things in high school because it would look good when I applied to college. I didn’t get into Harvard or Stanfurd, which were my top 2 choices, and those rejection letters were very hard to take. My mom didn’t even believe me when I called her at work to tell her I didn’t get in to Stanfurd. Ironically, I got into my back up school, UC Berkeley, on early admission, which was based upon my grades and test scores alone.  Granted this was in the 80’s and now admission to the schools in the UC system works slightly differently, but my point is that I survived and I went to a great college anyway even though it wasn’t my first choice. (As a side note – I really loved that there was a clip of the Cal Band in the movie – I spent a lot of time in the Cal Band when I was in college). Did I go to a school that matched what I needed (as the movie suggests)? No, I probably would have done much better at a school like Colorado College that does block learning on one subject per month, not 6 or 7 classes per 15 week semester. I think one of the most important points in the movie was to focus on finding what works for your child!

Many thanks to our San Carlos PTA Coordinating Council who sponsored the evening last night and worked hard to bring the Race to Nowhere movie to our District. I urge you to bring it to your school district! Have a panel discussion. Have schools explain what their homework policy is. Have kids explain how it is affecting them or how they are coping with the work loads. Proactively work at finding a solution for you and your child(ren). I urge you to see the movie if you have a chance.

If you have thoughts on this post or what can make the situation described in the Race to Nowhere better, please leave a comment.

Are Thin Mints the Perfect Food?

I love this time of year – the Girl Scouts are out in full force, selling cookies – in front of Trader Joe’s, Starbuck’s, Safeway, etc… but door to door? Hardly – they now have online set ups and parents to help them sell to all their friends. I haven’t seen a door to door girl scout in a very long time. About a month ago, when the order forms first went around by email (through their parents), I bought 5 boxes of Thin Mints. I did this so that each person in our family could have their very own box of Thin Mints.

Predictably, Jasper’s box was gone in a matter of minutes; Bryce didn’t open his box; Greg opened his box and shared right then and there with everyone in the Snow House; And McKinley and I shared most of our cookies while skiing over the next few days. We ate most of Bryce’s box of Thin Mints on the way home from the snow and we even had a few left to take with us on our trip to Florida the next day. (That would be where I discovered that I don’t recommend eating travel-crushed thin mints in white pants…).

Now onto the Top 5 reasons why Thin Mints are the PERFECT food?

  1. Thin Mints come in a single serving sized sleeve of cookies – OK – technically it is 3.75 servings in a single sleeve, but who’s counting?
  2. Thin Mints can be used to make a cheesecake crust. Try putting a sleeve or two of Thin Mints into the food processor with a tiny bit of butter and you’ll see what I mean.
  3. Thin Mints are a Great Mardi Gras/St.Patrick’s Day party food – who knew that Thin Mints went with lime jello blocks and whipped cream? 
  4. Thin Mints are great from the box, in the car, before you even get home and into the house! Everyone knows this!
  5. They are great straight from the Freezer. I hide sleeves of the Thin Mint cookies under the vegetables in the freezer drawer – no one in our household, but me, looks there.

I love Thin Mints, but all these extra works outs are killing me. Hopefully, the Girl Scouts will be sold out soon!

If you have another reason  why Thin Mints are the Perfect Food – please add it in the comments!

Gimme 5 – Eating (for Success) in Airports

Gimme 5 – Eating (for Success) in Airports
I travel a lot for work and when I travel, my good eating habits tend to go right out the window. Over the last 18 months or so, I have tried to focus on eating more healthy  all the time, not just when I travel. When I went to Florida for a family vacation a couple of weeks ago, I had a rather rude wake up call about my efforts in this area. Most everywhere we went, the food was fried or greasy or in the carb category. Basically, the menus consisted of everything that I wanted to avoid AND have been trying hard to avoid for the last 18 months. Over this week of family/vacation travel, I thought about how eating and traveling can work with a healthy eating focus and I came up with a few tips for eating (for success) in airports.
1. Scope it out – don’t just stop at McDonald’s, Gordon Biersch or TGIFridays because it its the first thing you see or is close to your gate – check out a map to find a healthier alternative. One of my healthy favorites is the Jamba Juice store in the Charlotte airport. On this trip we found a new restaurant in the Phoenix airport in the US airways terminal (which is the award-winning Terminal 4). The BarFly had opened the day before we sat down for a meal before taking the red-eye. The BarFly menu contained interesting salads and grilled steaks – which we a better choice than fried shrimp! Although it was probably 1,00o calories, their Mac ‘N Cheese was fantastic – it was a grown up version of Mac ‘N Cheese with bacon or pancetta. To find this restaurant – we traveled the length of the terminal to check out  all of the food choices and then we decided on a place that had more menu choices than hot dog, hamburger, or fried “anything.” What ever your method of scoping out the restaurants, it will be better than just stopping at the first restaurant you find.
2. Be Picky – If you can find one of your favorite food places or a restaurant with healthy choices on the menu (for example, salads that go beyond the house salad of iceberg lettuce and an unripe tomato wedge)  you will have a higher likelihood of finding a healthy food choice! I tend to prefer Starbuck’s Coffee or Peet’s Coffee, because I can usually get yoghurt or fruit in addition to my favorite beverage. If I’m not picky about the place I eat, I usually find that the chili-dog at the airport bar looks great and goes with the beer I just ordered…
3. Drink water – Drink water when you are in the airport. Drink plenty of it! Go ahead…go ahead and drink tons of water while there is a big, convenient, and (usually) clean bathroom close by. It sure beats having to go in the tiny, cramped, and usually smelly airplane bathrooms! Besides you want to stay hydrated when you travel – it cuts down the chance of getting sick!
4. Small portions/take it with you – Eating successfully with a focus on healthy food usually involves eating less food altogether. I try to order something small if possible. If there isn’t any thing small to order small, consider ordering something that is easy to eat half of and then take the other half with you for a mid-flight snack. Half of a Muffuletta sandwich from the New Orleans airport is likely to be much tastier than anything the airline snack boxes have to offer! If I know I am going to arrive past 9 pm at my destination, I usually order a chicken caesar salad from Peet’s Coffee & Tea (in the San Francisco airport) and eat that for dinner. Unless I have gotten upgraded to a first class seat, I usually try to take something on the plane with me and avoid the snack boxes.
5. Choose one healthy item – If you are in a hurry, it can be rally hard to find a healthy choice. Most places have a few healthy choices. You can usually find yoghurt, fruit, popcorn, hummus and veggies, or hard-boiled eggs. Some places offer healthy sandwich choices – one of my favorites on the go is a Caprese salad sandwich.  The best Caprese sandwich I ever had was running to catch a plane to San Diego and there was a cart vendor outside the SFO gate with several sandwich choices and I just grabbed one because it looked good. Well, it turned out to be one of the healthier sandwich choices and it was fabulous! You can always find one healthy item among all of the unhealthy choices!
When trying to eat healthy in an airport – take a moment to think about it – just don’t get the first thing you see. If you do I guarantee you, you will pick something that sounds tasty but is NOT healthy. At least that’s how I am – because I will always end up with a carmel apple rolled in pecans from Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory or something equally tasty, but not so good for you. Yeah, I know there was an apple somewhere in there under all that carmel… but I’m not sure that counts as healthy.
What is your favorite tip for eating healthy in airports? If you have tips for eating healthy while traveling, please share it in the comments below.

An Inspiring Woman for International Women’s Day: Michealene Cristini Risley

Celebrating Michealene – Today is the 100th Anniversary of International Women’s Day. It is a day for celebrating the strides women have made around the world. As you can see from the news lately, we have a long way to go in many countries, but the celebration is about the progress. I want to tell you about an amazing woman that I have the pleasure of knowing and she should be celebrated today for the work that she has done (and is doing)!

Follow Your Dreams

I first met Michealene Cristini Risley when we worked together at Sega (yes, that Sega – I was very popular with my “video-game crazy” cousins at the time). She was the head of licensing and I worked with her on setting up Sega Studios in Los Angeles. She was working on a division to film games and make digital video games. I know it sounds quaint now that everything is digitized, but back then (1994) it was a novel idea! At the time, she told me wanted to be a film maker and I was having a hard time seeing it. Not seeing that she could be a film maker but seeing how it was going to happen with the job she had at the time. Well, it is a matter of baby steps, taking one step at a time to reach your dream. When she left Sega she took that one step and then another and then another. She produced one film and then another. The important thing I learned from her is to take the first step.

Tapestries of Hope Film

Following her dreams, Michealene made a film about girls being raped in Africa because of a bogus and completely untrue myth that if you sleep with a virgin it will cure HIV/Aids. Tapestries of Hope premiered last fall and is playing in other places as it is scheduled. In making this film, she went out to breakfast one morning with her crew and came back to find armed agents shouting and carrying on. She (and her assistant) were arrested and thrown into 5′ x 5′ jail cell with squalid, sub-human conditions for three very long days. A man read about the plight on Facebook and called the CIA. Her husband hired human rights lawyers and she eventually bribed her way out of prison after being interrogated by no less than 15 men. She immediately left the country – thankfully, with her film in tact. With this film, Michealene was able to showcase the work of Betty Makoni and the Girl Child Network in Zimbabwe. Following her dream has shed light on terrible conditions in Zimbabwe and the work of another amazing woman. I urge you to take a look at the film.

What Can You Do?

You can take one step today – take one step towards reaching your dream. If you are working towards your dream you probably already know what that step is that you need to take. If you don’t have a dream that you are working towards – write it down and figure out one step that you can take today. Michealene isn’t stopping with this one film, she is working on another project – writing a book  about here experience in Zimbabwe. She is also encouraging support of legislation like the International Violence Against Women Act (IVAWA), which did not make it out of the 111th Congress. If you are interested, you can support the efforts of groups like Women Thrive Worldwide, which worked on this legislation. Happy International Women’s Day!

Thank you Michealene for all of the work you are doing and the inspiration of truly following your dream!

Am I Really a Special Ed Advocate?

Having a child with special needs or special ed requirements can be disappointing, overwhelming, and unexpected. But, as you will discover (or already have discovered), your child needs you. Your child needs you to advocate for them with many people who do not have your interests or your child’s interest in mind. Your child needs you to have their best interest in mind at all times. Your child needs you. Period.

1. Get Over Yourself

I don’t mean to be or sound harsh with this advice of “get over yourself” because you will need to do just that to advocate for your child and his/her needs. I’m not sure how my section title ended up in this giant font size, but I decided to leave it that way because this is the big one; this is the difficult one. This one you have to do before you can do anything else. Get. Over. Yourself. It may take months or years of denial before you accept the role of your child’s advocate, but you will need to accept your advocacy role to do what is best for your child. If you find yourself asking “why me?” or “why my child?” types of questions, you fit squarely in this category. You may need to do some soul searching and acceptance of the situation before moving on. Once you have accepted that your role is being an advocate for your child’s needs and education, you can focus on educating yourself and making decisions about what is best for your child.

2. Educate Yourself

My husband and I spent an enormous amount of time educating ourselves about special ed and the special ed process, but there are so many things that we didn’t know, still don’t know, and probably, don’t want to know. But, in order to help our children, we needed to educate ourselves about the needs of our children and the special ed process within the school district. Thankfully, with the internet it is much easier to find information, people, resources and medical treatment or doctors. We attended seminars and conferences, asked many questions of our doctors, did a ton of reading, but it is still a learning process. Three resources that are extremely helpful in getting started in your own education are:

  1. Top 10 Mistakes Parents Make in IEP Meetings
  2. You Gotta Know the Rules If You’re Gonna Play the Game
  3. Ten Related Services For an IEP You May Not Know About

A word of explanation about these recommendations — One of the most helpful items I ran across was a list of the top 10 mistakes people make with IEP meetings. We certainly have made our share of those! Another article that is very helpful is one that my friend Grace Tiscareno-Sato wrote on knowing the rules of the game. These are just two examples of the type of information that is out there. Take the time to find this type of information and educate yourself – it will definitely be time (and money, in some cases) well spent!

3. Decide What is Best for You and Your Child

You are your child’s own best advocate. You know your child the best, you spend the most time with them – use all of that knowledge, reflect on it, and then decide what is best for you and your child. This acknowledgement even ended up on one mom’s top 10 list of things she learned from having a special needs child. I had lunch with a friend who I wanted to introduce to a special ed advocate, and after the lunch she said “You are right. I am the person who knows my son the best. I have to stop letting others decide for me.” You decide what services are appropriate for your child – there are many to choose from and you may not even know about them. Don’t let school districts, special ed directors, doctors, or anyone else decide for you. Use what they have to say as one piece of information you consider in making decisions, but don’t let them tell you what to do or decide for you.

No parent sets out to become a special ed advocate when their child is born, but that’s what happens when you find out your child has special needs or requires special ed services. Accept it, educate yourself, and do the best you can for your child.

If you have other advice to share about special ed advocacy or your experiences with it, please leave a comment.

Gimme 5 – Packing Tips

Packing Tips
I figured that since I wrote about our trip last week and I still had packing on the brain that I would jot down a few packing tips while I still remembered them.
1. Bring Your Own Water Bottle/Food – bring a water bottle whether it is metal, glass, BPA free, whatever; but make sure to bring one. With the dry air on planes, you will get dehydrated. One of the best ways to travel safely and stay healthy is to stay hydrated. Bring a water bottle with you and fill it up after you go through security. Otherwise you will have to dump out the liquid to keep the bottle. If you don’t bring a water bottle, be prepared to buy bottled water once you clear security. Also, don’t rely on airlines to feed you, or more specifically, don’t rely on airlines to feed you anything healthy. I always bring almonds, cheese sticks, and energy bars in my briefcase because everything on the in-flight menu seems to be carb heavy. Airports seemed to be closed when I arrive from the west coast.
2. Roll Your Own – Clothes, that is. Clothes fit in your bag and can be more flexible when they are rolled up. Rolled clothes also fit into shoes and tiny spaces. I tend to travel with clothes that can be rolled and unrolled with a minimum of wear and wrinkling (because I hate to iron things). Over the years, I have assembled a few sets of designated travel clothes – all of which are very comfortable and travel friendly. More importantly they can be rolled and unrolled and still look good .
3. Pack What You Can Carry (or Roll) – Sometimes, if I have packed for a trip that involves a lot of files, I end up with too much paper in my bag and then it is too heavy to carry easily. Even with my briefcase sitting atop, my carry-on can be front-heavy. This means that one arm and shoulder will carry most of the weight burden and be two inches longer by the time I find a cab. This unwieldiness usually results in a sore shoulder and a visit to the chiropractor when I return. More likely, it will require a massage that I won’t have time for, which is a huge bummer! Nothing is worse than not being able to handle your bags or being exhausted from walking 50 yards with them through security. So, pack only what you can carry (or roll) easily. Note: Most new bags have 4 wheels and can be scooted along rather than tilted and dragged. This makes a positive difference for your body, but those bags with 4 wheels are hard to fit in the overhead bins.
4. Pack What’s Important to You – journals, reading material, teddy bear, inflatable neck pillow, noise canceling headphones, etc. Do what works for you, and for your comfort…but, be prepared to have to check a bag if it’s too much, too big, etc. If I have to check my bag (which sometimes they make me do on small regional jets, even though it fits under the seat in front of me), I take out my journal(s), knitting, and computer – everything else is replaceable. (Some would say the computer is replaceable, and it is, technically; but it is a HUGE pain in the butt to replace a a computer and restore a back up, if you even have it backed up AND my computer usually has my presentations on it). This “important” packing tip also includes meds. Don’t forget to pack meds that are important to you. I can go a few days without my thyroid meds, but I am sure there are other meds out there that I wouldn’t want to be without! Don’t forget to pack the meds you need for your trip, plus a couple of extra just in case.
5. Be Electronically Prepared – Nothing is worse than a dead phone containing your hotel reservation (and you have no print out of it.) Bring a charger, wall plug, USB charger, whatever you will be able to use on your trip. I bring both a wall charger and a USB plug to charge my computer, iPhone and iPad. I have chargers that live at home, at my desk, and in my travel bag. Yes, I have three sets – it’s that important… I once had to find an Apple store in Phoenix because I had forgotten to put the Computer power supply that lives in my travel bag, back in my travel bag (see the picture of it living peacefully in my pre-packed travel bag). Thankfully, I had enough time that evening and there was a mall not too far away, AND a local colleague with a car could give me a ride to purchase a new power supply. Unless you are into exploring malls late at night – don’t forget to be electronically prepared for your trip!

If you have any packing tips, please share them!

A $450 Latte???

A couple of weekends ago I dropped my 9 year-old off for his soccer game warm-up and headed to my favorite early morning place, Starbuck’s. I ordered my usual 7P, XH, CH – which is a 7-pump, extra-hot, Chai tea latte. I like my chai tea strong and I like it to stay hot until I am done drinking it… I hate it when my tea gets cold before it’s gone. Little did I know then, that it would become a $450 latte…

I made it out to the car, with my yoghurt in one hand and chai tea latte in the other and McKinley’s green machine drink squarely tucked under my arm. I hop into the front seat, reach to get the green machine drink and I hit the steering wheel with the bottom of my latte, causing the lid to pop off and dump my entire Venti chai tea latte on the center console and both front seats. I screamed for Bryce, who was waiting patiently in the car, to get me a towel from the back of the car. Instead, he threw me a roll of paper towels. OK, not what I was expecting, but that’ll work too.

Sticky sweet chai tea was everywhere – in fact I am still finding remnants of this spill in my car! I handed Bryce a couple of paper towels and the fur trimmed gloves that were now covered in light brown liquid so that he could clean them off… I worked on removing all of the papers from between the seat and cleaning up the window buttons and stick shift; Then floor mat, ash tray, front seats, other floor mat, cup holder, console storage bin, etc… this took quite awhile as I am sure you can imagine by now. I think this was in reality a sign that I needed to clean out my car.

After all this, I went back in to Starbuck’s to get another latte. The guy at the front counter took pity on me and gave me a replacement free of charge, even though I offered to pay for it (which is kind of funny considering I had used my free drink postcard for it originally). I get back into the car and enjoy my latte and soccer game not suspecting what would result from this little mishap.

After McKinley’s game, we continue on with our errands and soccer games. It was much warmer so I went to roll the windows down – nothing, not a blip, no movement. Bryce rolled his window down just fine using the back seat controls. But the front windows don’t budge. The mirrors don’t budge either. I guess I’ll have to see the side of my car for awhile since the driver’s side mirror is pointing down at my door…I get used to sitting up a little taller and wishing I was sitting on a phone book to see out of my other mirror.

My husband, whose super-hero name is FIXOR, took a look at things yesterday (we’ve been out of town for most of the intervening two weeks) to see if he could fix it. He took the console cover off and popped out the electronic panel that contained all of the console controls. Who knew you could do that? Now I do, apparently. He cleaned it all off and he had everything working except the mirrors, they would still not move in a downward direction. Turns out the sticky chai has turned into a sort of gluey substance directly under a place that was not accessible by any of FIXOR’s tools.

Now this, … this is the moment. This is the moment where my $4 latte turned into a $450 latte. It cost a whopping $450 to order a new electronic panel to control my windows and mirrors. OK, it really was a pain in the butt to drive around all week opening my door at drive throughs and to talk to people. But $450? Really??? Yes, really. And here’s the kicker, my latte would have been a lot more than $450 if FIXOR hadn’t provided several hours of trouble shooting, cleaning parts, and labor to order, pick up, and install the new part. Thank you honey! My windows and mirrors now work like a charm!