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.

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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!

You packed what?!? In a carry on?

Can you vacation for a week with only a carry on?
After traveling so much for work, I finally put together a packing list for my travels. I also put together my briefcase and travel bag so that they are ready for any trip at a moment’s notice. Now it takes me less than an hour to pack and get to the airport. This practice has served me well for work, but it also comes in handy for vacation travels too. Most people tend to over pack for vacations (and in general) and after a couple of mishaps where my checked bag didn’t arrive when I did, I have downsized things. This downsizing led me to stop checking any bags and just use a carry on suitcase along with my briefcase. Now, I even do the same thing when we are on vacation.
I just took a week-long trip to Florida to see the shuttle Discovery launch. The weather near Orlando and Cape Canaveral was supposed to be warm, with a chance of rain. Jacksonville was supposed to be colder with rain likely – both of these things led me to over pack for warm weather and rainy, colder weather…
I’ll admit, my carry on was bigger than what I usually take for business because it was for a family trip and I wanted to have enough entertainment on hand to minimize the whining and fighting among my three kids. Usually I have my pre-stocked briefcase, but this time I had to recreate that with a slightly bigger bag. I used one of my Creative Memories scrapbook bags that was square and big enough to fit a 12×12 album – this turned out to be perfect in many ways. I know it wasn’t quite the Sharon Stone “run off to Paris at a moment’s notice with a LBD and a thong in your purse” strategy, but it worked for me this trip.
Carry On Contents:
  • Book 1 – for me – Tom Brokaw’s The Greatest Generation (you’ll need the tissues on this list) – I finished this
  • Book 2 – for the kids – Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass (the original) – We never touched this book
  • Uno card deck – We never touched these
  • Phase 10 card deck – We never touched these
  • Bandana – used once
  • Golf ball – good for rolling out knots when you travel – definitely used
  • Tennis Ball – good for keeping kids entertained no matter where you are, and its good for rolling out knots
  • Mini-nerf football – good for keeping kids entertained, this and the tennis ball ended up in the kids’ bag as the trip went on
  • Jabra hands-free speaker phone and USB charging cable (I have small ears and don’t like to use a blue-tooth headset, is I bring this mini speaker phone that attaches to the visor)
  • Toilet Kit (in its very worn zip lock baggy)
  • Tissues
  • Lip Balm
  • Lip stick
  • Mints, meds (all in same tin)
  • Hand sanitizer
  • Hand Sanitizing wipes (in a travel pack)
  • Gum (2 packs – in in carry on, one in purse)
  • Chocolate
  • Hand cream
  • Sudoku (a few pages from our daily calendar)
  • Small binder clip (must have come from my briefcase)
  • 3 pens, 1 highlighter (I like to take notes while I read)
  • Business cards – you never know who you will meet (and you need one anyway inside each bag for ID)
  • Knitting projects – 3 projects in their own zip lock baggies
  • 1. Socks that I had knitted and wanted to knit again slightly smaller (I really should have started these before I left because I needed to see the You Tube Video on the figure-8 cast on method to start these toe-up socks)
  • 2. A new sweater project to be knitted out of this cool Japanese silk and stainless steel yarn – it is knitted in the round and much faster than than those darn socks that I had to start 8 times.
  • 3. Hat – knitting it for a friend of a friend of a friend to replace one she loves. Tried this twice on this trip – one crochet, which I undid, and one knitted, which is part way done.
  • Knitting kit (in a cosmetic bag) – scissors, stitch markers, etc.
  • Tape measure – not sure why this ended up in there, probably just moved it from my knitting bag
  • All in one tool – ruler, paper clips, stickies, tape flags (all useful for knitting and note taking)
  • Camera (very nice, 15 MP camera)
  • Telephoto lens
  • USB reader for camera memory cards
  • Camera charger – vitally important on vacation
  • USB Cable – for kids devices
  • 6 Magazines from my reading stack (this is what I thought I could read on the flights out – but with a read-eye, I slept the majority of the time –  this just made my bag heavier later)
  • Other printed reading materials (for work and pleasure)
Purse (I fit my purse in the carry-on)
  • iPad and travel keyboard
  • IPad wall charger
  • Headphones
  • iPhone USB charger cable
  • Business cards
  • Latest pictures of my kids
  • Gift cards
  • Lip stick
  • Lip balm
  • Travel/disposable toothbrushes
  • 2 Safety pins, paper clips
  • USB memory stick (8GB)
  • Fountain Pen refills
  • Cash/Change (I always get more at the airport just in case)
  • iPhone (in its case which doubles as my wallet)
  • Cash/Card case
  • Extra memory cards (I even bought more while there)
  • Vitamins
  • Sand – this was unintentional
  • Receipts – this was intentional
Suitcase Contents
1. Small Outside pocket
  • Eye Shades (I put this in there each trip)
  • Ear plugs
  • Allergy meds
  • Computer power cord
  • USB connector for phone/ipad
  • Spritzer (for moisturizing my face)
  • Tea bag (or two)
  • Energy bar
  • Conference pin
  • Cards (needed only for travel – i.e. Hertz)
  • Airline drink tickets (these are also in my briefcase)
  • Hair band, hair clip
  • Pen (or two)
  • Fountain Pen Refills
  • Nail polish (in its own zip lock baggy)
2. Bigger Outside Pocket
  • Pen for journals (I use a specific one for journaling)
  • 4 Journals (mine and each kids)

There was no room left for the usual magazines or work files this trip (the paper goods in this outside pocket can make this bag heavy and front heavy…)

3. Mini zip pocket on the big outside pocket
Plastic bag, zip lock bag (This saved me once from having to give up my newly purchased Japanese cosmetics at a security check point in SFO when they were clearly  unsettled in how to enforce their ransom regulations on liquids – because at that point they were all making it up as they went along).
4. Inside the Suitcase
Little top pocket
  • golf tees, ball marker
  • nail polish remover packets
  • jewelry (trip related) – this time, 2 necklaces (which I didn’t wear)
  • ceramic nail file (which I bought on the trip)
Bigger pocket
  • Girlie things – tampons and pads, individually wrapped (so they can go in your briefcase or purse if needed)
Trip specific Clothes – (in addition to what I wore on the plane – which was long pants, long sleeved shirt, cardigan, scarf, closed toed shoes)
  • 2 pairs of shoes (flat sandals and heeled sandals)
  • Long-sleeved pajamas
  • 2 bras (I could have taken just one other or none)
  • 2 bathing suits (I could have taken just one, but didn’t even end up wearing any swim wear)
  • Bathing suit cover-up pants – these were definitely for a beach trip
  • Jeans
  • Light weight pants (didn’t end up wearing these)
  • Cropped pants
  • Shorts
  • 4 long-sleeve shirts ( could have used less of these and more short sleeved ones)
  • 3 short-sleeve shirts
  • Scarf 1
  • Scarf 2
  • 3/4 sleeve sweater
  • Linen hoodie-type pull-over sweater
  • 4 pairs of socks – didn’t need all of these because I didn’t take tennis shoes
  • 8 undies – I always pack an extra (and one in the carry on if they make me check my bag)
*I completely forgot my rain coat and straw hat… which I would have worn on the plane (for the coat) and smashed/rolled into my bag (for the hat).
*I stuffed the (empty until you are through security) metal water bottle and baggy of food in the kids backpack, otherwise, that would have been in my carry-on too.
I know this seems like a lot once its put down on this inventory list like this, but most everything in my carry on or purse is very small or travel-sized. I usually color coordinate my clothes so I don’t have to bring 7 of everything for a week long trip. I rolled everything in the bag so that it fit better in the bag and in/around my shoes. My favorite part of this bag, and I have never seen one like it since I bought this one on a lark at Tuesday Morning, is the computer pocket on the side – the computer slips into its own pocket and lays cushioned between clothes.
Have happy and safe travels – please share any of your own packing tips and tricks.

Day 8 – PEI or Bust – Oklahoma City to Hot Springs, Arkansas

Day 8 57196 odo 8:14 am

As we are leaving Weatherford, OK, the home of astronaut Tom Stafford, it is VERY foggy and overcast. It always takes longer to roust everyone out of bed and into the car than I think it will. It worked so much better when my brother and I drove across country in 2001 and we would get up around 7 and take showers. I would breast-feed McKinley then we would get on the road and drive for an hour before eating breakfast at some greasy spoon. You always felt like you had accomplished a lot before 8 am.

Getting the kids dressed, fed and into the car by 8:14 am should feel better than it does. Now we are headed to Oklahoma City to see the bombing memorial set up there a few years ago. One of the first things we saw was a license plate that said JASPER on it – an old rust colored clunker, like a Dodge Series K car. We see many pick-up trucks and old American cars and a lot of semi-trucks. Not much else on the road once you get outside of the SF Bay Area. We saw our second Mercedes today of the entire drive so far. We saw our first one driving from Albuquerque, which was a candy apple red one headed towards Santa Fe.

Bryce took one of the best sunset pictures from our trip out the window of our car driving into Oklahoma last night. Driving along the highway, you can see lots of funny things (see News of the Weird, below) including a unique guard rail system with poles and steel cable rather than the metal guard rail. I suppose the steel cable system would work just as well if the cables are tensioned properly. But the poles looked like a Semi truck would just take them with the truck and have a new hood ornament in place. Not too reassuring.

Jasper spotted an elk yesterday and a doe and fawn this morning. We saw more mowers today. We saw  signs for the “Canadian Valley Technology Center” about 20 miles outside Oklahoma City – sounded like an oxymoron all the way around to me. We passed towns names Church of the Rock (or maybe that was just a church name – I wonder what they worshipped), Antlers, Atoka, Muddy Boggy Creek. We saw Broken Arrow (instead of Broken Bow, where my Aunt and Uncle live). We passed Daisy, which had a population of 118 and where the Freewill Baptist Church welcomes you. And that’s where everyone was Thursday night.

The Oklahoma City National Memorial was simple, but moving. There is a long pool of water between gates marking the time of the bombing. We were there right after July 4th and saw a woman taking down all of the red, white and blue decorations. She was unceremoniously dumping the wreaths in a box on a cart. There were an amazing amount of tributes to the bombing victims on a chain link fence running the length of the memorial. It was the same way when we visited the Flight 93 Memorial in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

There was a museum at the memorial too. Jasper and Bryce weren’t very interested in going to this one, but by the time we got out of the museum and walked around the copper and glass chairs dedicated to each victim, they were suitably interested. Bryce was very interested in the interaction between your skin, the water and the copper. One of the more moving things at the memorial was the ability to put your hand in the pool of water (about 4 inches deep) and place it on the memorial wall to leave your hand print. It was a nice reminder of how we are all interconnected.

Once we left Oklahoma City, it started raining those Texas-sized rain drops, even though we were in Oklahoma… It started raining so hard, people were hydroplaning about the freeway. I kinda felt like I was back in Hendricks County (Indiana) during one of those freak summer thunderstorms, with hail the size of golf balls. In the pouring rain, we passed the Middle O’ Nowhere Market in Reagan, OK. Somewhere in all that rain, (now I feel like I’m back at home in the midwest and have to talk about the weather), I succumbed to the drive thru at a KFC and A&W RootBeer place to get chicken strips, green beans, a biscuit, and a Dr Pepper that tasted suspiciously like diet coke –  blech – on all accounts! I only made it through the biscuit. Note to self – stick to Starbucks!

Now we are headed to South Eastern Oklahoma and the Chickasaw National Recreation Area. Not so surprisingly, we ended up on the road that was the most expeditious, which was a toll road – the Indian Trail Turnpike; although it was our first turnpike of the trip, it certainly would not be our last. We have somewhere entered into the Chocktaw Indian Nation. After my foray into the Navajo Nation, I’m sticking to the roads that aren’t faint and dotted on the map. I’m stickin’ to those brighter lines!

We stopped at the Visitor Center at the Chickasaw National Recreation Area to get our Junior Ranger booklets and go on a hike to explore the hot springs. Who knew there were hot springs in that area. During the torrential downpour that followed us the whole day, we had this amazingly lovely green dragonfly follow us on the trail. Then when we turned back, we spied an armadillo. We watched him for a few minutes – I kept getting closer and closer  to take pictures of him because my “would have been very useful at this moment” telephoto lens was in the truck. The armadillo (which has very bad vision as a species) finally spotted us and turned and waddled off. The boys got a great kick out of seeing an armadillo up close! (It reminded me of my friend Alison’s hilarious story about armadillos, more specifically, as she puts it, “blowing on an armadillo’s bum.”)

Soaked, we still had to pick up a bag of trash each to finish the Jr. Ranger program. I like the Jr. Ranger Programs where the kids have to pick up trash… makes them more responsible! We found about 400 cigarette butts. What a nasty habit! Yuck!!! There were so many cigarette butts that we made up our own game –  if you walked over one and then someone else behind you spotted it, then they could ask you to come back and pick it up. The Visitor Center building had been built by the WPA in the 30’s and felt like the heating system worked like it was still in the 30’s. Once I was frozen from the rain and ancient heating system, the boys finally finished their booklets and earned the Jr. Ranger badge. Outside, we spotted one of the cutest things  of the day: two little girls who laid down their giant golf umbrellas and scooted under them to play while they were waiting.

A few days ago when we crossed the Continental Divide and accidentally hit a chipmunk, I made a joke about road kill and a smart ass remark about it making a good dinner in Arkansas. McKinley didn’t get the joke, so that meant I had to explain it to him. Not good when you have to explain your own prejudicial joke to your child. But it did give us a chance to chat about stereotypes and eating other types of animals that you hunt.

Speaking of animals you hunt, we saw lots of long horns today. We passed a town named Frogville, which made me wonder if they had frog jumping contests like the ones in Calaveras County, CA. Last night when we filled up, we pulled into an empty gas station next to an adult bookstore which had a full parking lot. I always wondered what men did in places like that looking for “books.” I’m still wondering… I was already kind of annoyed from seeing these sexist freeway safety ads – “My daddy works here and will daddy be home tonight? Be alert be safe…” Don’t they have any working moms along the freeway? Probably not – they have better things to be doing!

We discovered that Broken Bow, OK is right next to the North Pole near the corner of Arkansas, Texas, and Oklahoma. Who knew… Once we made it into Arkansas, the bridge surface was lumpy and road quality dropped significantly. Thankfully – that didn’t last the entire time we were in Arkansas. We saw a ton more political and campaign ads in Arkansas – most of them were hand painted or spray painted. I was impressed that people cared enough to state their opinion and put it out in their yard. We passed Wagon Wheel Dance Land, which was a dance hall. Sounded like it might be a fun place to square dance! We passed Cane Creek, Mud Creek, and Rolling Fork River – which made me a little worried about what we might find in Arkansas. Can you tell it was my first time there and that I had a lot of preconceived notions about what Arkansas would be like???

We had called to home to make sure McKinley made it back safe and to cub scout camp and my husband, Greg, mentioned that we should go to the Diamond mine and see what we could find. We briefly toyed with the idea of going to the Crater of Diamonds State Park to look for my retirement package. But since it was so late and I didn’t know if they had a campground, I decided to keep going North and ended up going to Hot Springs instead.

We arrived at Hot Springs at about dinner time – with enough daylight to find a camping spot, see a little of the area, and then make dinner. There were mosquitos galore, rain drops kept falling on my head… it was incredibly humid (and made me very thankful I live in a no humidity area). Once we were done with our preliminary look at the Hot Springs main street, we hopped back into the truck to go find the campgrounds. We then found out that the campground was temporarily off-limits because of some multi-car accident, which was blocking all three entrances to the campground. Hmmm, they weren’t able to give us an estimate of when it would be cleared or even if there were open camp sites. Not a good omen.

Undeterred, I drove back out the way we came in and then to the south side of town to the entrance way on the other side, and waited. Actually, I didn’t wait very patiently,  I parked and got of of the truck to go talk to the Ranger holding up traffic.  I’ve never been one to accept the stock answer that it can’t be done… as I was walking over to the Ranger, what turned out to be the last tow truck, brought out a very mangled car. He yelled something at the Ranger who then opened up the roads — just like that, we were in. We decided to camp in an RV space because the only two tent spaces left looked dicey, as they were next to guys working on their motor bikes and they did not look like they were going to go to sleep too soon even if there were kids next to them.

We figured out their automatic camp site payment machine and then went to find a grocery store to get something for dinner. The boys decided they wanted to grill hot dogs. We learned that you don’t want to raise (or lower) the grill with the hots dogs going the same direction as the grill slats… you end up with hot dogs in the grill, not grilled hot  dogs. Nothing a little water wouldn’t fix… The camp site we picked turned out to be sheltered from most of the rain… I slept a little bit uneasily waiting for the mosquitos to quit buzzing around me – for some reason they really like me – and I was trying to discern if the rain was heavy enough to come through the trees and get us wet enough to hop back into the truck (because we didn’t have a tent). Well, about 7:30 am the next morning, we found out that the rain WAS heavy enough to come through the trees and get us wet. And we also found out that the boys can get dressed, packed up, and back in the truck in 5 minutes flat when it really did start raining on us!

News of the Weird (and fabulous facts):

  • Why is Diamond Bank’s logo a star?
  • A sign rusted so badly that we had no idea what it actually said
  • Gas was $2.49/gal. in Weatherford, OK
  • International Paper in Oklahoma
  • Gas is only $2.34/gal. near Hot Springs, AR
  • Awesome horse farm outside Dierks, AR
  • Amazing white column house and horse ranch outside Pearcy, AR
  • Weyerhauser in Arkansas means tons of logging trucks and mills,
  • McKinley Hardwood truck
  • First non credit card gas pumps I have seen in years
  • Ambush Adventures for River Rafting (not sure that is who I want planning a river rafting trip…)
  • Sign – Do not drive into smoke – what are you supposed to do? Stop and wait? Yup! Too many grass fires to know what you’d be driving into.
  • Sign – Drive Friendly – not sure what this meant? Don’t flip anyone off? Don’t tailgate? Wave to everyone? Find a driving buddy?
  • NM drivers in NM don’t move over, but they do move over in other states.
  • License Plates spotted today – SC MS