Friday, March 30, 2012

Kiss on the Lips

Anna June got a package from Granny yesterday, and in it was this awesome pair of wax lips. AJ was pretty excited. I wasn't aware the hallway was being used for a photo shoot, which is why a ghost-like me appears behind AJ, in her self-selected school outfit.

Sending everyone, especially Granny, a big kiss for the weekend.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

A Girl and Her Money

I've talked about trying to teach Anna June about money before. Recently, for her birthday, she was given some cash, and I've let her do what she wants with it, within reason.

The first purchase was books. We got her school's Scholastic order form, and, where I usually buy her only one book each time, she picked out a package deal: 12 books for $20. I think we went in half with her - so she got 12 brand new books for $10. I guess this teaches bargain shopping or how things are cheaper by the dozen. Or else that Mom and Dad are softies for books.

The second purchase was a flashlight. Recently, on a night where she absolutely, positively was too scared to go to sleep in her own room, I pulled out my phone, in desperation, and googled "my four-year-old is too scared to go to sleep." There was a parenting article, which I read to her. In retrospect, it was sort of like showing my hand in a high-stakes game. But one of the suggestions was to let kids who are afraid of the dark play flashlight tag. I had never heard of such a thing, but AJ figured out that one would definitely need two flashlights to accomplish the job. Since we were down to one flashlight, we ventured to The Right Stuff thrift store in Leeds, and AJ selected a yellow flashlight marked down from 99 cents to 50. So, she made her next purchase. This taught the thrill of the unexpected bargain - I didn't notice the markdown ahead of time.

The next purchase was in conjunction with the flashlight - we needed batteries. So we went to Dollar General and got some D batteries (Next lesson: batteries can be expensive!). She also saw a brightly colored Slinky knock-off. So she got a toy (fun!) and batteries (useful). She was pretty excited and pleased.

Finally, we come to her most useful purchase of all: her very own, traditional alarm clock. After a couple of days with her dad's old clock radio, AJ confessed that what she had really, really wanted was a traditional alarm clock with the bells on top. We looked online and ordered her one - it is plain and very grown up, no characters. (BTW, Granny, I know you said you had a Princess one, but I couldn't imagine it was exactly what AJ wanted, so we went ahead and ordered this one.) For less than $12, shipped, AJ could have the alarm clock of her dreams.

When it arrived, I read AJ the package. "Loud alarm," it said. Once, when she heard it ring, she said, "It IS loud!" and I said, "Well..." and she said, "Just like it said it would be!" Lesson: reading is important for product information.

The first day, AJ was devastated by my disregard for her self-sufficiency. She had knocked the new clock from her bedside table across the room, and, I went in and picked it up, returning it to its rightful place and I turned it off. AJ was FURIOUS! That whole morning was one constant tantrum. She made me promise not to do it again three times, and made me write myself a sticky note just so I'd remember to leave her alone.

Sure enough, ever since it has arrived (over a week, now), she has wanted it set EVERY night, and she's gotten up on time EVERY morning. I realize this will not last, especially when she figures out the snooze function, but it has been a life saver! Every morning about 6:20, she gets up and gets herself dressed, then presents herself to us - ta da! all ready for school. She is much happier when she gets up on her own, even if she has help from her trusty new clock. If I wake her up she hates me, but if the same job is outsourced to a machine, no problem!

Last night we were a little rushed getting to bed, and she promised she'd pick out her own clothes in the morning. With her getting up so early and consistently, I decided it would be OK. She picked out the following to wear: a blue and white striped shirt, pink and green plaid shorts, knee-high pink, green, orange and black socks, and pink flower shoes (with orange and green accents). And pigtails, for some reason, with one blue and one white ponytail holder. She looked ridiculous, but adorable. The good news is that she got herself dressed, and nary a tear was shed. Both Ben and I were on time for work today, and she even got to get her own breakfast (I pulled down boxes of cereal and breakfast bars and I let her select her own while I was showering). That kid is on her way to independence. And possibly getting tickets from the fashion police.

(Side Note: I read this article on the subject of letting your kids dress crazy. Based on all that, I'm GLAD I let AJ dress however she wants - I don't want to be one of those controlling moms who has to have their kid clad in the best of everything and keep up with appearances. I really, really don't. As long as she's relatively clean and has clean clothes, I don't mind if she doesn't match - if she's happy, I'm happy. Also, she's pretty likely to wind up at a school that requires her to wear uniforms, so, she had better enjoy it while it lasts.)

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Swine and Wine

On Sunday night, Anna June, Ben and I went to Old Car Heaven for the annual Swine and Wine Twilight Supper. This year, the event supported the Druid City Garden Project, an urban farm in Tuscaloosa, AL.

Rusty, as one of the chefs providing food for the event, gave us some much-appreciated VIP passes. The food, provided by some of Birmingham's top chefs, was delicious. They got together and roasted entire pigs overnight: talk about slow food! Rusty's pig was done on time, and, as roasted entire pigs go, it was gorgeous. For someone so young, Rusty has actually roasted a lot of whole pigs: he's done Swine and Wine before, but has also been an annual supplier for Altamont's Roast Pig Feast since he was still in high school. For a culinary tradition that seems to be dying, Rusty has worked hard to preserve it in Birmingham.

Anna June surprises me with her culinary tastes. She basically likes what she likes. Sometimes, she'll experiment on her own, like putting Gatorade in yogurt, or making sandwiches with hummus and saltine crackers. She had a complete and total meltdown the other day because I put the jelly on the SAME SIDE of the bread as the peanut butter, and refused to eat the sandwich. We discussed ahead of time what kind of food would be at the party: there would be macaroni and cheese, as well as other meats and veggies she'd like. She tasted everything on her plate, from cornbread muffins to sausage, but thought everything was "yuck". She did eat her whole serving of Rusty's roasted pork, though. She sampled other things, which was the important part. The idea of gourmet food, to me, is to take simple food and do something that makes you experience it in a slightly different way, and, because it wasn't what she was used to, AJ dismissed it. She had enough bites to count as dinner, though.

Until we hit the desserts. She came back with a plate of strawberries, banana pudding, and a brownie made with bacon, at my request, for me. I started talking to others at our table, and, before I knew it, AJ had scarfed down all but a bite of my brownie. Later, they passed around brownies made with goat cheese, and we tried those, too.

Speaking of passing around, the VIP area was well-staffed. Experienced servers took away cleaned plates and refilled wine glasses. The Avondale Brewing Company was present, and they were serving my favorite beer, Spring Street Saison. It was perfectly paired with all the delicious food.  The seating was also more plentiful than last year, which was a plus to some of us who may be slightly claustrophobic.

AJ also enjoyed the kids' activity area. One of the choices at the face painting station was a red, stylized "A" for Alabama. She selected this, instead of hearts, rainbows, or other standard options. I suggested she really wanted the A for AJ instead of U of A. The artist asked what color she'd like, and she chose green. It soon smeared, though, and AJ didn't let me get a picture. She planted tomato seeds in a starter pot, and we brought that home as a souvenir. She colored a picture of a pig reclining in a mud puddle that said "Swine Time". Other kids made crafts with glitter and colored with chalk.

We also enjoyed the live music from Lou Wamp and Swing Shift, the same band as they had last year. It's a family affair, and the kid who impressed us last year has grown a bit but is still exciting to watch. AJ and Ben took the opportunity to dance a bit, photo above courtesy Beth. It was dark in there, to say the least!

It was a great event. Rusty and his crew worked really hard. I'm very proud that he keeps getting mentioned (and rightly so!) alongside our area's most talked-about and written-about chefs. I am also impressed that he can still stay up all night in the name of his craft. Thanks again, Uncle Rusty!

Monday, March 26, 2012

Pony Tail

Anna June is in a phase where she wants me to brush her hair "longer" so I can put it in a ponytail.

Mostly, it ends up like a little stub. She always wants me to tie it with a ribbon. I've explained to her that I have to secure it in a ponytail first...Just because Cinderella can tie her hair up with a ribbon does not mean that it would work in real life - indeed, I have first hand knowledge that a ribbon-only ponytail will not stay.

She's been having me cut very short ribbons from our ribbon stash- because evidently, the ribbon I cut the day before just will not do. They're not even long enough to tie in a bow - but she doesn't want one. Just a knot.

Who knows what phase she'll enter next?

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Name That Tune

Anna June likes to sing, but, well, she often misinterprets the words. Here's a clip from today.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Pre-Literate Critic

Anna June's school secretary sent home a note to the parents suggesting that, in celebration of the first day of spring, the children should each draw a picture of a flower or bring a flower to their teacher.

AJ was examining the note in the car.

"Why does it have so many of these?" she asked, pointed to the exclamation points.

I thought she was pointing to the gratuitous instances of clip art.

Instead, she was pointing to Ms. Donna's excessive use of punctuation.

Once AJ finally got me to understand what she was asking, I said, "Well, I guess she was really excited. You're really only supposed to use one, though."

Ben chimed in, "Wait - did AJ just correct her teacher's grammar?"

Yes, yes she did.

Since I don't have a flower garden, we picked a couple of sprigs of pink azaleas from our bush. The teacher was so appreciative, you would have thought she used several exclamation points herself.

And she did a good job of acting surprised. Not only did the note come home with the kids - and presumably the teachers would have had to handle the notes in order to put them in the folder to be picked up - the note was posted in the school, and the suggestion was made in the monthly newsletter. Remind me not to tell any "secrets" to AJ's daycare administrators.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

You Go First

Anna June is brave, but not always. Mostly, her cowardice has shown itself only on McDonald's Play Places. She's been to several, of varying sizes and degrees of scariness. Mostly, she'll get there and just stare at it. After all, to the naked eye, it is a confusing maze of tubes. To an experienced kid, though, it's an endless source of tunnel-climbing-slide based fun.

Last night, AJ decided she wanted to play, so we stayed to play. The other kids in the play area were still eating, so she basically just sat there.

AJ tried to get me to go with her. There's a sign that says parents can play, too, but there was no way that my giant purse and I were going to get stuck in a tunnel at the Irondale McDonald's.

One little girl jumped up and ran through the play structure, then came back and sat with her mom and grandma. I told AJ to go ask her if she'd like to play with her.

AJ asked, after staring at her for a minute. The girl said no.

AJ seemed sad, but I was probably sadder. I was wondering just how bad it would feel to get stuck in one of those things. I was calculating - if I went and put my purse in the car...if I bring my phone with me...

Luckily, another family saw AJ's distress. The little boy (maybe 5 or 6) asked his mom's permission first, then got up and asked AJ, "Would you me to help you?" She said yes, and they were off like shots. The giggling began immediately. Soon, his little sister joined in, and the girl who was too shy to accept AJ's invitation came along, too. AJ came down one of the three slides and announced that it was easiest to go down the blue one. She kept me updated, and let me know when she had been down all three.

Eventually, all the mamas checked their watches and we decided it was time to head home. I told AJ she could  go on one more trip through the structure. "4 more times?" she asked. I had to admire her negotiation tactics. "Well," I said, "2 more times." She accepted my terms, and didn't even fuss when I asked her to get her shoes on and leave.

She had a great time, and all it took was a little bit of courage.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Disappointment to Joy

On her birthday, she opened a Dora flashlight, her gift from us that I hastily selected at Publix the night before. Poor AJ didn't even like it from the beginning. I tried to get a picture of her in her nightgown, excited to open a useful thing featuring one of her favorite characters, but I couldn't even get her to look up. All I could get was hair.

Then, when she did decide that she was OK with the gift, we opened it, only to hear some kind of rattling and the thing wouldn't work.

So we exchanged it for AJ's gift of choice: new markers in their very own carrying case, and with a doodle pad of plain, white paper. She loves them. She shared them with her friends at Zumba on Thursday night. All the kids were spread out on the floor, coloring their own creations with AJ's new (thankfully, washable) markers. Who knew such happiness could be found at the grocery store? 

Monday, March 19, 2012

Busy Girl

Anna June had a great weekend, but we were busy. Here are some of the highlights.
 (Photo Jeff Roberts, Birmingham News, via

- Ben fixed our dryer, which was making a horrid squeaking noise. He figured out the problem, ordered the part, and replaced it all by himself. I am so proud! I'm also proud of AJ for entertaining herself while I helped a little by removing lint and holding things.
- AJ and Ben had a breakfast date at Big Blue Bagel, which AJ decided to call Little Blue Bagel, because their bagels are not that big. She had her usual: blueberry bagel with blueberry cream cheese.
- Skyping with both Grandpa and Granny.
- Visiting Granddaddy for a whole afternoon/evening. It was in the 80s, and she took off her long-sleeved fancy dress and ran around the backyard (barefoot, and in just a pair of shorts) and played with the dogs. She also watched TV: A show I'd never heard of called Almost Naked Animals and a movie I did know about called Racing Stripes.
- Highlight for me: Ben and I had a date afternoon/evening, which included shopping for new pillows, running to Aldi, eating dinner and watching a movie that we had started, but couldn't finish due to the dryer's horrid squeaking noise. 
- No nap either Saturday or Sunday, which made dinner, bath, etc. difficult
- The St. Patrick's Day Parade in 5 Points South. AJ and her friend Mallory collected lots of candy, beads, and other random throws. It was hot, though, and I think the highlight for AJ was getting some cold vanilla milk from Starbucks.
- Coloring. This girl is a coloring fiend. She says she wants to be an artist when she grows up.
- We're not rolling out all the birthday toys at once, but sort of one at a time. AJ opened her baby doll, which she named "Hawaiian Punch."
- Picnic in the backyard, and playing ball with Radar.
- Making plans to visit Milwaukee. Southwest had a sale, we took advantage. We'll be seeing you, Wisconsin!


Friday, March 16, 2012

Party 2 of 3

On Anna June's actual birthday, March 7, I went to eat lunch with her at her school.
I've been meaning to do this for a while. In fact, I had an elaborate scheme to visit one of her soccer lessons and stay for lunch, but that never panned out.

AJ was so excited I was actually coming. It made me genuinely wish I had done it sooner.

The kids all sat down in their usual, mostly boy-girl-boy-girl pattern, although my presence and the birthday girl's special status sort of threw off their rhythm. They folded their hands and bowed their heads, and sang the blessing to the tune of "Mary Had a Little Lamb":

Thank you, God, for our lunch,
for our lunch, 
for our lunch,
Thank you God, for our lunch.

They waited until everyone at the table had been served, and then, they said "Bon appetit!" before digging in.

Almost as if they planned it for the special occasion, they served a very-AJ friendly lunch: Grilled cheese (really, toasted cheese) sandwiches, chicken noodle soup with saltine crackers, fruit cocktail, and milk. Actually, AJ didn't much like the fruit cocktail.She used to like it when she was smaller. At home (when we cook at home, which is, sadly, seldom!) we've been trying to eat fewer canned fruits and vegetables, because fresh or even frozen tastes so much better, and we can all do without the preservatives and sodium. Maybe this has rubbed off on her.

I was surprised to see that they ladled the kids' portions of the soup right onto their little sectioned trays. I guess bowls were too easy to tip over. Fortunately, they served me an adult portion in a bowl.

For dessert, I brought cupcakes.

After the cake pop disaster of 2012, I decided that for these cupcakes, I would bake and frost them myself, but from a mix and can, respectively. AJ chose white cake with vanilla frosting, and black and white polka dot cupcake liners. I didn't get a shot of those, but who wants to see cake when you can see 11 happy kids eating them?

Actually, it just so happened that we had enough to share with the 4-year-old class, which eats lunch at the same time as the Threes. All the kids from both classes kept coming up to AJ to tell her happy birthday and to thank me for the cupcakes. These children are so sweet, and they are learning social graces and to be polite. That right there seems to be worth the tuition.

Here are a couple of shots of the class lining up to go back to their classroom.  AJ is the line leader, a coveted position.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Alter Ego

Anna June has been writing her name, AJ, backwards, as JA on occasion. Ben came up with the idea that Anna June is our daughter, but June Anna is her evil alter ego. In fact, just this morning, before she got up, he mentioned that we hadn't seen June Anna in a few days and she was due for an appearance. He was right.

At 6:20, which I admit is way too early, AJ's alarm clock went off. She didn't hear it, although she was sleeping right beside it. She was in that good, heavy, deep sleep that no one gets enough of in our house. I turned it off, and told her to wake up, and boy, was she ever mad.

"But it's not morning! The birds aren't even awake!"

Whoever came up with Daylight Savings Time did not have kids. I've tried explaining to her why it is still dark when she wakes up, but she doesn't care.

She was totally exhausted, and didn't want to sleep last night. Eventually, she did.

But she didn't want to wake up. I convinced her to get up and wake up her dad, which she did by tickling him, but then, she returned to her bed. I found a radio station on her clock radio and sang, loudly and badly (I read that another mom does this to motivate her kids to get up). It didn't work. She declared that "We Are Family," is a bad song and that I had Bryan Adams' "Heaven" turned up too loud. I turned it off, but she still wouldn't get dressed. I threatened to take her to school naked or in her pajamas. So help me, one of these days, I will do it if she keeps having these mornings of June Anna..

She hated the clothes she had picked out. She hated the replacements I let her pick from the closet. I don't even remember what she ended up in - all I know is that, eventually, I got her in the kitchen.

I had her try some kiwi that I had cut up last night. I'm sure she's had it before, but she didn't remember it. At first, she was turned off by the seeds, but I told her it was OK. She asked cautiously, "Are they yummy?" I told her yes. She tried a bite and I asked her what she thought. "I like it!" she said.

And just like that, Anna June was back. We were able to get through the rest of the morning - teeth brushing, hair combing, and getting out the door - relatively easily. Huge thanks to Ben for delivering her to school safely. I'm taking her to Zumba with me this afternoon, but if June Anna shows back up, we're not going to stay the whole time.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

America's Next Top Designer

Back in November, AJ's class had a fashion show. The parents brought in disposable cameras so the ones not being models, or in AJ's case, the fashion designer, could be the photographers. I think the teacher took these pictures and had them hanging up in her classroom. This week, they finally came home in AJ's folder. Without further ado, here's our future designer:

Tuesday, March 13, 2012


In light of yesterday's post, I felt you needed an update on Anna June's education situation. We did not get a spot in the Avondale 4K program, but we are not throwing in the towel just yet. Ben and I were under the impression that a second classroom was being created, but evidently, it had not been finalized to the point where they could draw names for that class. Therefore, 58 kids were registered for slots, and only 18 were able to "win" them. Then they pulled 15 additional names for the waiting list. The person in charge of the lottery announced that, should a second classroom be added, those 15 on the waiting list would not be eligible for the new class, but would have to wait and see if anyone dropped out or was deemed ineligible for the first one instead. Unfortunately, LK's son, Sweet Pea (aka Grey) was picked to be #15 on the waiting list, which I believe is a worse position than we're in, having not been called at all.

We're still going to make our presence and continued interest known to the superintendent and Board of Education, so that they can continue to work on creating this classroom. The interest/need is obviously there. Most of the families in attendance didn't get picked for the class or the waiting list, and there were a lot of disappointed parents.

If we don't get a slot in the new classroom, we are likely to stay at McElwain for one more year. Anna June hates transitions, and does poorly with them, so we don't want to send her somewhere for only one year and then have to move her again. So, we're holding out hope that we'll still get it for 4K, and if not, start there for K, where there's no lottery. Regardless, we need to be working with her more at home. She wants to learn!

But as far as AJ is concerned, she's OK with not being picked. During the drawing she leaned over during the drawing and asked to tell me a secret. "I don't want to go to elementary school," she said. In the car afterwards, we talked a little more about it, and she elaborated that she didn't want to go to a school where there was a principal. We told her all schools had one, and she'd have to live with it.

There are other things happening in the Gallitz house, although that was the big news of the day.

We are pretty much done celebrating AJ's birthday, but we've kept it going for over a week now.  (In fact, all the pictures from her first party are here.) Last night after dinner, we had cupcakes - leftover from her party on Saturday - for dessert, and AJ decided to take some of the whipped frosting and use it as nail polish, pictured poorly above. Her silly imagination keeps us laughing, shaking our heads, and cleaning up messes constantly. This was right after she spilled some of her red Gatorade into her banana yogurt, and then swirled it around like it was intentional, and she acted like it improved the flavor. She asked for a peanut butter and grape sandwich the other day, since we were out of jelly. She wouldn't let me cut the grapes - they kept rolling off! I try to let her experiment in the kitchen - maybe she'll be a chef someday. 

Anna June got some money for her birthday. As I was putting it away in a safe place, she said, "I need a new clock." Her old one doesn't keep time very well, although it is cute. She may have been in a purging mood, as we spent several hours on Saturday afternoon cleaning, organizing and rearranging her room. We discovered a lot of toys and things she thought she had lost (although, sadly, we still can't find her polka dot lovey). We moved her bed, vanity, and toy organizer. We're getting rid of things she's outgrown, although some of them will break my heart. We moved the rocking chair out of her room. It would be a natural thought progression, then, to get rid of the clock - surely a thrift store find originally- that doesn't work. AJ wanted a clock with an alarm to help her get out of bed. I thought this was a great idea, and a good way to spend her money. But Ben chimed in that he wasn't using his alarm clock and she said she'd like that instead. (See, I keep telling you we have EVERYTHING!) I set it up.

Unfortunately, Monday morning came and the appointed time came and went and I didn't hear beeps or a scared kid reacting. I went closer and found I had set the clock radio to radio, and it wasn't on a station, so that didn't help a bit. When I told her it was time to get up, she complained, "But I'm still exhausted!" Ben set the clock correctly last night, and, this morning, I took Radar outside and returned to a wide-awake AJ getting dressed already. It was AMAZING, especially since just the day before she had been a whiny mess that we both had to hold down to get dressed. She agreed this way was much nicer. I know this enthusiasm for a beeping clock will not last, but I am enjoying it while it does.

And, one more thing. This morning since things were running smoothly, I took AJ with me to vote in the primary. We ran into a friend with his toddling twin girls there, too. I was pretty excited to see these kids getting first-hand exposure to the voting booths and the cool machine that sucks them in. They all got stickers, too. I know that my late grandmother would have loved it. And, also exciting, the school where we vote had entrepreneurial students holding a bake sale - so we got muffins in honor of our contribution to the democratic process. AJ had lots of questions, including asking about what all the signs were for, and if I still wanted President Obama to be President. She also asked why we were taking a different way to school and if we'd pass her dentist's office.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Why I Hope to "Win" the Lottery

I wrote this piece the other day, and I realized I had no idea where to submit it. Then I realized that I have a blog, so I'll just publish it myself.  Then I thought I scheduled it to post Saturday, which evidently I did not. So much for the best laid plans - I hope it's not a harbinger of the week.

On Monday, March 12, we will find out the results of a school lottery to be able to register for Pre-K at Avondale Elementary School. I know the question that is coming, so I'll go ahead and put it out there: Why would we want to send our white daughter to an almost all-black school?

The answer is complicated. It is fraught with emotion, fear, rebellion, and hope.

Birmingham, Alabama, the epicenter of the Civil Rights Movement, in 2011, once again has segregated public schools. Although I was not yet born in the time of Freedom Riders and sit-ins, I cannot imagine that the current situation is one that those brave people envisioned.

I realize that I will probably be seen as a hypocrite, anyway. Ultimately, I would like for my precious, precocious child to attend The Altamont School, my alma mater. I have no idea how we will be able to afford this, but I plan to make all the sacrifices that my parents did in order to send my brothers and me there. I absolutely believe it is the best school in the whole state, and it is where my heart has always been, since I first set foot on its campus. I hope that AJ has the same love for it as I do, and as my parents do. It is convenient to my home, and that is not by accident.

But Altamont begins in 5th Grade. For elementary school, we have three options: 1. Move. We could move to the suburbs, pay more in gas to commute to work, pay more in taxes to live there, and have to sell our home in a terrible economic environment, possibly losing some of our investment. 2. Suck it up and start paying for private school. We are surrounded by some fantastic private schools in our area, both religiously affiliated and independent. They are also insanely expensive (Altamont included) and we are in a lot of debt, due in large part to the failure of our computer business in 2006. 3. Stay where we are and send her to public school.

WHAT? Stop the presses. Don’t I live in the City of Birmingham, where the schools are terrible? Yes, I do. They’ve been doing nothing but getting more terrible for the past several decades. What can explain this downward spiral? There are a lot of reasons, but the easiest one to spot is not the easiest one to talk about: White flight.

Many white people my age have bought homes in the Avondale, Forest Park, Crestwood, and Crestline Park neighborhoods. Many thought they’d move by the time they had kids, and then couldn’t sell their houses. There are lots of great things we love about our neighborhoods. We do love living in the city, with all of its amenities, and we love the suburban – yet historic – feel of our neighborhoods. We love not having too much traffic. We love being able to come home for lunch if we’d like. We love easy access to interstates, shopping, parks, and attractions. In our case, we love living in the area where I grew up, only a mile and a half from my parents, and three miles from my grandfather. I love being close to my church. I love not having to get on the interstate to get home every night.

Mostly, though, we love our neighbors. One friend who lives in the neighborhood, LK Whitney, told me about the renaissance happening at Avondale. I had no idea they had a Pre-K program. LK told me about a group of her neighbors who were trying to get together to show interest and learn about this program.
After our first meeting, which included parents in our school zone with kids, Dr. Curry (Avondale Elementary’s Principal) and Dr. Witherspoon (Birmingham’s superintendent), we were very, very interested to see where this experiment was going. You see, there was a room full of white parents, wondering if our neighborhood school could work for us. The school is around 95% black, and around the same percentage “Free or reduced lunch,” which is a standard way of measuring poverty.

We heard good things about the school. Innovative programs, involved parents, good test scores, new technology, dedicated volunteers, and arts programs are all there. All that’s missing is the white kids.
We believe that black and white kids deserve the exact same access to good education.  We believe that children benefit from a diverse educational environment. When they leave school for college, and ultimately for the work force, they are not going to have to work with only one race of people, with only one kind of background. This group of parents does not want to continue to see stories about Birmingham City Schools on the wrong track – enrollment decreasing, poor test scores, etc. We want to see these schools succeed, whether or not our kids go there, or only go there for a little while.

Our friends and neighbors being involved in our neighborhood school really transcends the racial issues. It is imperative the parents become actively involved in the school, no matter which kids go there. This group of people, interested in the absolute best for our kids, is a group that will be involved and stay involved. I would be proud to work alongside any of them in a school anywhere.

With all that being said, we’re still waiting to find out if we’re chosen to be in the Pre-K class at Avondale. The district is not able to offer this program in every elementary school. Therefore, we are hoping our name is called Monday in the drawing.

I live in the 35213 zip code, which is largely Mountain Brook, but where we live is in Birmingham. We get Mt. Brook’s newsletter periodically, which is an advertising vehicle for their Board of Education. Yes, they have fewer schools to look after and they’ve long been the best school system in the state, due in large part to the high taxes on high property values. Another reason for their success, if I can generalize, is that there are lots of parents who are financially able to stay home, and they have the time as well as the inclination to volunteer, raise money, and be actively involved in their children’s lives. In this newsletter, they are constantly reminding their residents to keep their tax dollars in Mountain Brook and to even use Mt. Brook in their mailing addresses so that catalogs, when applicable for them to collect tax, will have it directed to their city instead of to Birmingham.

A year or two ago, we had an opportunity to move to Mt. Brook. We turned it down. Ultimately, it wasn’t for us to move to a duplex with more traffic just to avoid paying tuition, and then to move again when our daughter went to Altamont to save money on the taxes. There are other factors, too, but mainly, even though I’ve lived most of my life on its edges, I’m just not a real “Brookie”.

Up until now, with our daughter turning 4 this week, all the talk we’ve heard from politicians about “our children” has just been talk. Now that we actually have one, we’re starting to pay attention to this conversation. I have a feeling that whether our child ends up in the Birmingham Schools or not, I will be listening at the local, state, and national levels to the conversation about education, which, of course, is the foundation of our society. If education succeeds, we succeed.

If this group of parents is successful, our kids will be better off. They’ll live in a more integrated city. They’ll get a more realistic picture of this area and the country. They’ll benefit from the educational opportunities that the city, state, and nation mandate and support. They’ll have a common background with more kids. They’ll have a tie to their city that others may not have.

We believe we can change the face of Avondale Elementary by working as a team. If we all go together (or at least, as many of the kids as get in to begin in 4K!), we can have the encouragement necessary to fight this necessary fight. We’ve been encouraged by everything we’ve heard from the Principal and the Superintendent. As AJ put it, “You’ve already been to SEVERAL meetings!” We’re all doing this on a trial basis, so we are starting this knowing that we just may not be able to finish it. We have nothing to lose. As Superintendent Witherspoon pointed out, "You're already paying for it anyway." If this group of parents is brave enough to send their kids there, we can change the school, and then the school system. In the long-term, property values can go back up, and it will be easier to recruit talented people to the area to improve our economy.

The suburbs in this area were grown almost entirely by people leaving the city, and an obvious reason for their departure was the crumbling schools. We can change the entire economy of this area with our kids. I'm asking for your support in this endeavor. Are you in?

Friday, March 9, 2012

Big and Little

Anna June was singing one of the songs from Barney last night: "Big and Little". If you're not familiar with the tune, you can find it here. Honestly, like most songs from the big purple guy, there's not much to it. But AJ was inspired, and I don't know by what, to sing it a few times while we were getting her ready for bed.

It reminded me, though, that at age 4, AJ is definitely somewhere between Big and Little. There are many things that she likes that are definitely big-kid worthy, but some are definitely in the baby category. In fact, she asked for a replacement polka dot lovey for her birthday, but I keep telling myself the real thing has to be somewhere at our house or Mom's. She'll watch Arthur, which I think is for older kids, and then want to watch Barney, which is surely for littler ones. She still likes her blocks and stuffed animals, but has recently wanted bigger-kid toys like a bike, scooter, Barbie, kite and jump rope (and yes, she has all of those things now). Even the books she likes are varied - she likes listening to big kid stories like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Mr. Popper's Penguins, but she also really loves the baby books she has, like The Very Hungry Caterpillar. It sure makes it hard to de-clutter when she's in this phase!

We're wondering how her social interaction is really coming along, because she's very sweet and helpful to her teachers, but she's not big on playing with the other kids. I tell myself that they all mature on different schedules (Ben and I both heard the word "mature" quite a lot when growing up), and AJ doesn't want to be involved in the 3YO struggles going on around her over toy cars and crayons. She hangs out almost exclusively with grownups. But if we have a play date with another kid, she's all about it, running around and playing. This is when we know she's fine.

When we were at the basketball game, she was pretty interested in the mascots of Blaze and Vulcan. She asked me if Blaze could fly. She wanted to go down and see Blaze like the other kids, but when we got there and I got my camera out, she shied away.

This morning she put herself in time out, because she was not going to get dressed. Not sure if that's mature or crazy.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Party 1 of 3

Here are some pictures courtesy of our cousin Judy, from AJ's birthday party at Rusty's BBQ on Sunday.

Oh ketchup, you're so hilarious!
She blew out all 4 candles, though it took multiple attempts.
She got a jump rope, which was her greatest wish.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Happy Birthday, Anna June

Dear Anna June,

Happy birthday! You are 4 years old. You surprise us every day, just like you did the day you were born, when you decided to get a little bit stuck on your journey into the world. You made it though, just like we make it every day, with a little help from professionals, and of course, God.

You are about 42" tall, having grown about an inch since September. You are tall like your dad. On your current trajectory, you will be tall, thin, and blond, and therefore, once you're a teenager, I will probably be unable to relate to any of the struggles you'll surely go through.

Genetics are funny, though. In this picture, you remind me of my cousin Claire. You got dressed up for your birthday party on Sunday (the first one of three this year) and we went into Wal-Mart for a few things and your dress just about perfectly matched the display. You love doing all sorts of things like this.

Although you have an eye for what matches, you absolutely refuse to wear what I suggest. As you can see in this picture, you have your sweater on like a cape, because it felt weird on your arms. I wasn't going to take you out in public with no sweater, so this was our compromise. The shoes and socks you picked out were not my first choice, either. We butt heads a lot, you see.

But then, sometimes, you can be the sweetest, most thoughtful kid. I hope that when I remember you as a three-year-old, I will forget the night terrors and remember the sweet cards you make for anyone who is sick. I hope I will forget the wardrobe-induced tantrums and remember that you prayed for your teacher's lost kitty to come home (he did). I hope I will forget the time-outs and spankings and remember your vivid imagination.

Ever since you were an infant, your teachers have consistently told me that you were their favorite. I know this cannot be because of nap time. It has to be from the sweet way you act and how loving you are towards your teachers and your friends. It is amazing how much you've grown and learned. In fact, I saw an article this week that talked about what kids need to know before starting kindergarten. AJ, I think you've already learned all those things. Who knows what adventures we'll have in store in the year in between. You'll just have to learn to read, I think.

Yesterday morning, I asked you if you'd be too big to snuggle with when you are four. You said you wouldn't. I will hold you to it.

I love you, and I am so happy to be your mom,


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Go Big Green

Photos courtesy Jerry Tucker (and by courtesy, I mean I had to pick up his phone and email the pictures to myself)

On Wednesday, Anna June attended her very first UAB game. We went to see the Men's Basketball team play the Tulsa Golden Hurricane. It was an exciting game and UAB won by just 4 points at the end.

I should have realized before we went that we were not taking Anna June to a basketball game. We were taking her to a Popcorn-Candy-Nachos-Water-Bathroom-Mascot game. The two guys sitting next to us deserved an award for how polite and understanding they were every time we got up to do something other than watch basketball.

Like at the circus, I ignored AJ's pleas to go home, because I was enjoying myself so much. Like after the circus, I regretted it.

But we won't dwell on that.

We had talked about taking AJ to a game this year, but given all the other exciting things we've been doing this season, basketball fell to the wayside. She's just not that interested yet. We're trying to expose her to basketball a little, though, because at this point in her life, she is tall and seems to have some kind of rhythm and agility. I would love for her to play when she is older.

I'm on the awareness committee of the UAB Benevolent Fund council, and someone had the idea that since we were making a landmark donation to the United Way this year - over $1 million! - we should do something a little bit more attention-grabbing for the UAB community. We hit upon the idea of presenting a "giant check" at halftime, and the idea was embraced. Our Athletics Department decided that the last home game, which was Senior Night, Fan Appreciation Night, and Employee Appreciation Night - would be a great time to do it. Even though it scheduled for a weeknight, I called my parents and asked if they'd like to join us for AJ's first basketball game.

Ben stayed home, but Mom and Dad were able to come. Dad insisted that we get the good seats, and I was very glad: We had great access to the game, and all the amenities of the arena.

Before the game, when we were getting ready, I begged AJ to wear her UAB shirt. She refused at first, but I promised to give her a dollar for her piggy bank. She then accepted. I realize it was a poor precedent to set, but I really wanted her to at least wear something green. When we got to Mom and Dad's house for our pre-game dinner, she insisted that her granddaddy go put on a green shirt instead of the one he was wearing. He agreed, and we didn't even have to bribe him.

At halftime, after the presentation, we walked around and said hi to many of my friends in attendance. One remarked, "Can you believe how much money we just gave?" I reported back to my committee that our mission was accomplished. Someone who gives to the fund, who had his 2 little boys with him, noticed and was excited and impressed.

And the game was pretty great, too.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Cake Pops - Fail

Anna June sometimes gets interested in what I'm reading and doing online. Recently, and I'm honestly not sure how we got on this topic, she spotted a recipe for cake pops when I was on Pinterest. I looked at it, and thought, "It looks kind of involved."  But they were so cute and AJ liked the pictures of them so much that I began to try to figure them out for her birthday dessert.

The project reminded me both of why I don't usually try things beyond my skill set. But AJ had fun with me preparing them, so I suppose that is what matters.

Meanwhile, here are the details of my fail.

The recipe I pinned is here. After I swore off Pinterest temporarily, I tried using a Google search to find the same exact recipe, and I couldn't find it. (This is why pins are useful...because who bookmarks everything AND remembers what it is called?) The instant I went back to my board called "AJ's 4th Birthday 2012," Ben was right over my shoulder in the office, asking, "What are you doing on Pinterest? I thought you gave it up for Lent." Here's why he was disheartened: he loves me, but he knows that if I got graded for Arts and Crafts, I would not pass.

So, of course, I explained that I was just looking for this ONE recipe I pinned. And I'm Protestant anyway.

I printed the post. The text here is from the author, with my comments in red based on what I learned.

Cake Ball Mix

What you need
1 batch Dark Chocolate Cake forget this! I read in her intro that most cake ball recipes call for boxed cake! I think Betty Crocker was really a Kraker anyway and just changed her name. Therefore, to support Ben's distant (although I can't prove it) relative, I purchased one of her fine chocolate cake mixes.
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
2 cups confectioner's sugar
4 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon milk (or more, as necessary)
Bake the cake and let it cool completely on a rack. This is a very moist cake, which is ideal for this recipe. It's best to let it cool overnight at least. Note: this means this recipe needs more than one day.  Which also should have translated to: Laura does not have time to fool with this. When it is completely cool, break the cake into a large bowl. Crumble it with forks or your fingers until it is in fine crumbs.
In a separate bowl, whip the cream cheese, butter, powdered sugar, and milk together until smooth. Pour into the cake crumbs and mix with a spoon. Then continue mixing with your fingers, kneading and mixing until fully incorporated into the cake. I found out you can also stir really hard with a spoon or spatula, since my finger-mixing helper had already abandoned me at this point. That was another sign I don't have time for this project - if it's longer than AJ's attention span, I shouldn't start it. Check to see if it will roll into a ball. It should: this makes a very malleable, easy-to-handle cake mixture. But if it needs a little extra moisture, add milk a spoonful at a time.
When the mix is completely done, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm. Note: We found out that this takes longer than we planned. Basically, do it overnight. So that means we're up to day 3 on this project, but I did this on day 2. You can leave the mix refrigerated for several days at this point. I left mine in the fridge for about three days before making the balls. You could probably also freeze this.

Making Cake Pops

What you need
Lollipop sticks (found at Michael's, JoAnn's, or other craft stores) 
Since I had craft sticks ( fat Popsicle sticks), I decided to use those instead, since bamboo skewers (AJ's suggestion) were too thin and pointy, and Michael's is too far away from my house. And it also gives me the hives. Mom suggested the sticks Rusty's uses for corn on the cob, but they were also not at my house.
12 ounces chocolate chips
12 ounces white chocolate bark I only bought 10 ounces, because I don't really like white chocolate that much. It's not even real chocolate. But I should have paid attention to this number...the pot wasn't full enough to really dip.
Edible wax, optional I am so not doing anything labeled optional. Also, who wants to know they are eating wax, although I know we do it every day. And where do you even buy that? It may have made the frosting stickier, but I went with "no". 
Colored sugars, candies, and other decorative sprinkles We happened to have a lot of sprinkles, so I didn't buy any more, although what attracted AJ to this project was pink sprinkles. I probably should have done that.
How to make the balls
Prepare two large flat, not ridged baking sheets - don't worry about whether or not they have sides, you won't actually be baking anything on these - by covering with wax paper or parchment. Take a bit of the cake mixture and roll it into a smooth ball. If you want to use the lollipop sticks, stick one into the end of each ball, pointing upward, as you put the ball back down on the sheet. [Note: I cut the long lollipop sticks in half; they seemed a little long for the size of the balls.] Although Publix uses Popsicle sticks for their cake pops, theirs were not as fat as our jumbo craft sticks. This required larger balls, and they didn't stay on very well. I should have gone by the directions. Repeat until you've used up all the mixture. As each sheet fills up, put it in the freezer so that the balls harden. Add another day at the beginning of this project to thaw, cook and eat everything in your freezer, because who in the world has room enough for two baking sheets in their freezer at the same time? Now we're up to about a week and a half ideal timeline for this project. 
How to decorate the cake pops
Melt chocolate or white chocolate in a double boiler on the stove. If you want to make the coating a little more resistant to melting, add a small square of wax to the pot and let it melt too. Stir well. Dip each ball into the chocolate until covered. I do not own a double boiler and, up to now, I have avoided every single recipe that requires one, because I do not have time to slowly melt anything. I'm a microwave kind of gal - I own a Pasta Boat! Anyway, I decided to use the "melt" setting on my stove top. It took forever, but I thought it was preferable to buying a double boiler. I can't fit one more thing in my kitchen, unless I get rid of my fondue pot. Hey - I could have melted the stuff in there, although I don't have any Sterno, and it would have taken longer than forever.
Dip in sugar, coconut, sprinkles, or anything else you'd like to decorate with. Put it back on the sheet to harden. I asked AJ if we could use crushed nuts for coating, and she said no.
Don't refrigerate these; it will cause the coating to weep or melt. They can be frozen, however.
***** (End of copied and commentary on recipe)

So, the pictures showed these adorable cake pops sitting in coffee cups, stick down. The author did not comment, although anyone with common sense (i.e., not me) would realize that if you put the pop back on the baking sheet before it is dry, it will become flat on the top. So, if you're ever actually going to make this, factor in another day. If you're counting, that means one day to bake the cake, one day to make the mush and refrigerate it, one day to dip it in chocolate and decorate and let dry. So that's three days, not counting the week and a half you need to clear out your freezer. Basically, clear off 2 weeks if you want to make these.

We did it in two days. The balls were not yet hardened by the freezer when we started dipping them, and some of them fell apart. Then, I didn't put them upright, so they are flat. But they are, all that being said, delicious.

I bet you think the story ends there. My husband does not like cake. Once he heard the word "spongiform" in relation to Mad Cow Disease, and has not liked cake ever since. Personally, I could skip the icing, but I don't. Because he doesn't like to come along with me on my project journeys, especially ones involving food, I knew I was in for it.

"They look like balls of poop," he said.

Of course, he had to announce this to the whole family at AJ's birthday party. They all laughed, agreed, and the rest of the party was dominated by more poop jokes than Bridesmaids. It was terrible. Dad declared he needed a pooper scooper to be able to eat his cake balls. It went downhill from there. I am used to their making fun of my cooking, but this was over the top. Even AJ got in on the action, declaring that "They look like doo doo!"

I'm not saying they didn't. I'm just saying that they tasted good, and no one else (even the professional baker in the family) offered to make anything instead. So there. I tried.

Ben did point out how disappointing it is that I keep trying new things and failing ridiculously every time. I mean, I do try. I do learn things. But there's just something missing in my brain - I want to think I'm good enough and smart enough, but somehow or another, there's something that keeps me from really achieving success in anything remotely culinary. I'll stick to the literary, I guess, and everyone else can do the cooking instead.

Here is some photographic evidence of the scene of the fail:
 The best one of the bunch, sadly.

 These are the ones that were not chosen to be wrapped, the ugliest of the ugly. Rusty agreed that skewers would have been more practical.

 The one creative element I added to this whole endeavor was to wrap them like lollipops using regular sandwich bags and ribbon. Here, from a distance, if you kinda squint, they don't look that bad. 

 I wanted to carry them in this cute bucket, but there were too many people coming to the party, and they didn't all fit.

AJ with the wrapped cake pops in the background, showing the candles, that she told me she put in the bucket, but didn't make it to Rusty's for the celebration. Luckily, they had some candles, and we put them in a piece of chocolate pie instead of a less stable cake pop. No way was I burning down the restaurant with those things.

 I guess Ben's assessment was correct. Still yummy, though, and I even had some for breakfast.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Movies and Pictures

Early this morning, when Anna June was still asleep, I got up to work on clearing out our camera's memory card so that I could take pictures at AJ's birthday party tonight. I uploaded a few things, and then, when I couldn't delete from my card, I had to call tech support - which is Ben, who was in the other room. As it turns out, our card is broken. We can get another one, but we were running late (naturally) and we didn't get a chance to. Luckily, Judy took pictures at the party and I'm sure she'll email them post haste.

So, here is a link to the pictures from December 2011. Among them are 4 video clips. The first three are in order, from AJ's Christmas program at McElwain. The other video clip is of everyone trying to hit the pinata at our birthday party. Normally, I upload things to Vimeo, and I may yet. But for now, they are here.

More to come on the birthday party tomorrow.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Wild Week

Anna June has had another wild week. We've not had much luck in the sleeping department. We even skipped Zumba last night to try to get her in bed earlier and she still didn't get to sleep until 10:00! It's been ridiculous - we're going to try to get back on track this weekend, but I don't have high hopes.

There are more stories to come from this week, and a couple of pictures (although not of her), so I will leave you with just these coloring pages she brought home yesterday. As you can see, My Little Pony has had quite the makeover since we were small - I can't say I like the new stylized look.