Friday, November 28, 2014

Black Friday

Anna June and I spent the entire day together today, as Ben had to work. This rarely happens, and she asked me when the next time will be when we have a day with just the two of us. Sweet, right? I think she was just trying to mentally prepare for the next one.
NO-vember is going well, but I have buckled down and tackled some projects that were long overdue. Today, we went returning.
That's right. We didn't stand in doorbuster lines, get deals or buy gifts. Instead we exchanged clothes that are perfectly fine and mostly the right size because AJ just didn't like them. We went to Walmart, Gymboree, and Marshall's. God help us.
The clothing-related tantrums have been out of control lately. It took her 3 hours to finish getting dressed yesterday because she hated all socks, tights, shoes, and sweaters. Crying was alleviated by distractions, which only prolonged the process.
So I decided that perfectly good new clothes she refuses to wear needed to be taken back before the end of the return period.
Sorry, Granny!
We sorted, found receipts, and set out on a very busy shopping day. AJ agreed she would look for clothes at these stores. She held up her end, eventually finding a sweater and pajamas at Walmart and panties, hair clips and more jammies at Gymboree. By the time we made it to Marshall's (after supper), she was essentially done and just could not find a thing.
AJ declared she hated shopping. I told her I did, too, but hated to waste money by letting beautiful new clothes sit in her closet with no hope of being worn. At least this way, we'd get something.
Maybe this epic adventure will remind her next time that maybe she should just be strong and make the clothes work for her, lest we spend the day running from town to town again.

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Thursday, November 27, 2014

Another Turkey

Anna June is a whiz at crafts. A couple of Saturdays ago, she wanted to replicate a turkey craft she had seen a teacher making in after school care. She assessed what was needed, and came to me and asked if we had any construction paper. We didn't. So we went to Office Depot and bought a large pack containing all the colors. We looked at a smaller one, but AJ did not like that the "red" looked pink. We decided on the large pack, and AJ declared, "I think it is worth it."
At any rate, I was impressed by a lot about this craft.
1. She envisioned and executed the plan all by herself, with the exception of driving to the store.
2. She figured out what materials were needed (like a container of Clorox wipes to trace the circle).
3. She wrote something she was thankful for on each feather.
4. She drew several feet for the turkey before she settled on these.
5. No tears were shed when we could not find the googly eyes but she took my suggestion of what to use instead.
The craft turned out so great I will ignore that she glued it to the table and be content I got laundry done.
It is all about being thankful, right?

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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

God Bless America

Anna June is at Grandma Hazel's house today, as school is out for Thanksgiving. We're eagerly awaiting the joyous celebration of all the bounty our country has to offer. We are thankful to God for our family, about 30 of whom will join us tomorrow at my parents' house. We are thankful we are not in retail and don't dread the day after Thanksgiving. We are thankful for our home, our jobs, our friends, and our country that is still the best despite its flaws. I won't go on and on listing my thankful list - I want to know: what are you thankful for?

Tuesday, November 25, 2014


Anna June has been coloring seasonally.

We're getting ready for the big day.

Monday, November 24, 2014


Sometimes I wonder about the world Anna June is growing up in. There is a lot of negativity going on tonight: in Ferguson, on television, on the internet, and everywhere. I'm just going to leave this picture right here and meditate for a second on what is good.

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Sunday, November 23, 2014


Anna June came with me to shop for a hat on Thursday night, after my silk scarf slipped all day. We are pretty pleased with the results, although AJ disapproved of everything.
My coworkers had crazy reactions. You would think they had never seen a hat before. I gave anyone who laughed an earful.

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Saturday, November 22, 2014


Anna June won this puzzle with her tickets at the arcade at Disney World. She put it together all by herself the other day while we were doing something else. She is getting to be a puzzle expert.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Football Ambivalence

Anna June is growing up in a weird place: an ambivalent household in a land of football culture.

Ben and I have always been sports fans, but only moderately. Baseball is clearly our favorite sport, and even though I'm a Braves fan, through the magic of the internet, we've been watching Brewers games for the past couple of seasons and AJ and I can certainly name more Brewers players than Braves.

Let's pause for a moment while I sigh a resigned sigh.

Anyway, football has been fine, but there's always been something about it that has been a little off-putting.

We're Alabama fans when we have to choose, but honestly, we root for UAB, our alma mater, when it comes to college football. Our program is in danger of closing, through a complicated political and financial assessment process that is ongoing. There has been a lot of buzz in the past few weeks about saving it - and athletics in general at our university - and it almost feels like a battle cry. On top of that, I got free tickets because I'm an employee. I almost feel like I HAVE to go to the game tomorrow.

Except I don't.

It's No-vember, after all.

I do believe that one person makes a difference, and a sea of UAB green will both intimidate and impress visiting undefeated Marshall, a conference rival.

Earlier this season, I read this article by local blogger Wade Kwon, and I tweeted to him that I wish I had written this myself. I can identify with his disgust with all the aspects of the game he mentions.

Then, my high school friend Matthew Goldenberg wrote this piece in the Yale Daily News. If you can get past how Yale-specific it is, he makes the point that we should be doing more to make the game safer.

And I am even working with a grant that partners with the NFL, interested in advancing the health (and safety) of young African-American men. Because the grant was awarded in Minnesota, the partnership is specifically with the Minnesota Vikings (hold your booing), but should expand across the NFL in time.

I don't hate football.

But I may have better things to do.

Like nothing.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

No Progress

For years I have been complaining that Anna June does everything well except sleep. Unfortunately, this is still the case.

We have not had night terrors lately, but the nightmares are bad enough. Often, she will call out for me in the middle of the night and not even wake up, but then, I am awake.

The worst is actually getting to bed. She has FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) worse than I do, and we just go get in our bed and turn out the lights when we put her to bed. Then, pretty much, we fall asleep, as we're exhausted from the night off interrupted sleep before. This pretending to go to bed ourselves does not work, as she pops back up in our room over and over. Tonight we thought we could have a conversation while sequestered, but she came in to announce we were being too loud. Sometimes we think we could do something calm, like watch TV, but she keeps coming back up like a Jack-in-the-box, causing us to pause repeatedly. Not worth it.

We calm her, we do routines, we tell her she is loved and safe. If she stays in the bed she calls out for me repeatedly.

We have bribed. We have threatened. We have taken things away. We have tried closing doors. We can't get her to go to sleep.

She feels the frustration, too. Tonight she called me in there to ask me, "How do you go to sleep?" I told her the same thing I tell her every time: be still and quiet. It may not be working. I'm scared to look.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Misery Loves Blogging

I asked Anna June if she is would like to blog tonight.
"No," she said. "I'm too happy to blog."
I still don't know what she was happy about, but if she's happy, I am happy.
In other news, I had (another) cyst surgically removed from my scalp on Tuesday. Because of the delicate skin, the dermatologist was able to put a couple of stitches in, but then had to use staples. Nothing like holding your head together with office products. It does hurt but I am fine, otherwise. AJ and Ben did not like the scarf configuration I chose. I tried again today and did better.
I hope your day is much better.

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Tuesday, November 18, 2014

That Time Already?

Anna June had fun taking over the blog for the past three days. It may become a regular thing, but tonight, we were doing some Pinterest searches related to a friend's upcoming holiday party and we lost track of time.
AJ liked deciding what to write about. I liked this, too, as it took the pressure off me - at least I knew she would approve.
She told me that, as an introvert, she does not especially like being blogged about. But she did not mind blogging about me, for example. She wanted to write about toilet papering the living room until her dad told her I had already posted about that. She deleted her draft and started over, this time writing a tutorial rather than something more personal.
But I am ignoring her wishes because I need to brag about her. As you know, she made all A's the first nine weeks of school. Recently, they had an awards day, honoring the kids who made honor roll. AJ was the only one in her class that made all A's! That was worth going for!
Anyway, the next nine weeks is already half over, and AJ got her progress report today. She got all A's again! I will never stop being proud of her for this.
Maybe she will be back discussing something less personal tomorrow.

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Monday, November 17, 2014

How to make a house out of a card board box.

I kind of made a house out of card board.
1.get a big box
2.get the markers out
3.draw a fire place
how to make the furniture.
1.get two card board boxes but one has to be bigger than the other one.
2.put the bigger one facing the fire place then put the smaller one in front of the fire place.
And you have a chair
by Anna June

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The habitat house

Mom helped build a habitat for humanity house.and if you look at the pictures.You will notice that mom is not in any of them.By Anna June

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Guest Post: Our trip to Krispy Kreme Nov 2

This is when we went to Krispy Kreme. And we enjoyed the donuts. But they were sold out of ghostbuster donuts. By Anna June

Friday, November 14, 2014

The Rundown

Anna June is six, so right now, toilet humor is funny in our house.

Knowing that, and she was in kind of a grumpy mood, I decided to share my mishap with her this morning.

It is in the 20s here this morning, so I put on my good gloves to take Radar outside. Even though I took my right glove off, somehow, I still got poop on my left glove. I was disappointed, but I thought it would make AJ laugh.

"Know what just happened to me? I got poop on my glove."

Without missing a beat, AJ said, "Are you one of the three little kittens?"


Today doesn't have to go far to be better than yesterday. I walked in the cold with a friend to an event - that was not taking place; it's scheduled for today. Then, another friend and I managed to blow a fuse in our makeshift break room at work by running the microwave and toaster oven simultaneously. There was a last minute scramble to get a faculty member to a conference, leaving some tasks undone. The dance teacher for after school care did not show up. AJ had 4 tests at school on the computer, and did not do well on one, which she took very hard. I made dinner and burned some bacon, which Ben graciously cleaned up but AJ ungraciously complained about the smell, ran from the dinner table, and held her nose for a long period of time when she actually did come sit down. And on top of everything, TJ Maxx closed in our neighborhood. 

But the rest of the week has been really good.

Over the weekend, AJ and I mostly stayed home. We got into her "Fun Box." She drew a card that said to toilet paper a room. She chose the den. Here are some pictures.

It was a low-cost, fun way to spend part of an afternoon. Then we went to Sonic and spent some of her gift card (the gift that keeps on giving), taking a break from our Halloween candy eating.

On Monday, Ben took not one but two professional certification exams, passing both. He's now a CASP (CompTIA Advanced Security Professional), which he says, "This is a technical certification that is approved as a baseline certification for Department of Defense (DoD) Directive 8570.1M tracks as follows: Information Assurance Technical Level III, IS Manager Level II and IA Systems Architect and Engineer Levels I and II." Also, took the exam for CISSP, which dovetails with the curriculum he studied for his Master's degree. He says, "[This] grants me status as an Associate of (ISC)² working towards CISSP." In other words, he'll be an all-the-way a CISSP after he gets relevant work experience. This is a sought-after certification, and we are very proud.

Also on Monday night, since school was out the next day for Veteran's Day, we visited my parents and my favorite veteran, my Granddaddy Jerome. We had spaghetti  - they even made a meatless version for AJ and me since it was Meatless Monday! 

On Tuesday, Ben and AJ had lots of fun together. They went to the park where AJ practiced riding her bike.  Also, AJ finally got so sick of the mess in her room that she cleaned it up - all by herself.

Wednesday was even good - how can things be bad on taco night? AJ had Chess Club in after school care and had a good time learning on the computer.

I hope everyone has a great weekend!

Thursday, November 13, 2014


Every now and then, AJ likes to draw. Please don't send art supplies - we already have a house full. And like I said, it's only every now and then. But lately, a theme of butterflies has emerged.

These are on Crayola Mess-Free Color Wonder metallic paper. She drew, cut and colored them herself.

This is one she did while waiting at the veterinarian's office, in marker.

This one, in crayon, is from church.

This painting is from Sunday School.

And this last one, I am pretty sure she did at after school care.

 She said she's only good at drawing butterflies and houses. That's better than her parents! 

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

That Time We Did the Right Thing

Anna June learns from us all the time, whether we are trying to teach her anything or not.

Recently, we went shopping at Ross. I was on a quest for the perfect nightgown for our trip, and AJ and Ben started browsing in the toy section.

With my purchase found, I was headed to the register. Ben walked up to me and said, "I found a $10 bill over in the toys. What do I do?"

Briefly, I thought, "Hey! Finders keepers!" Recently, I had a $10 in my pocket because I hadn't wanted to carry a purse where I was going. It was still folded up on the dresser the next day and Ben asked me about it. I told him I wouldn't lose it, but then, after putting it back in another pocket, I did. (Sorry, honey.) In my mind, the Universe could have been giving me back what I lost.

But instead, I said, "Let's turn it in." I had to set a good example for AJ, after all.

The cashier said, and the security guard confirmed, that it was their company policy to take down the name and phone number of the person turning in the money. If no one claimed it after a certain period of time, it would be mine.

That was a win-win situation, but for some reason, I decided that I didn't want it back. I didn't want to give them my info. I told the cashier she could keep it if the owner was not found.

They insisted that I write down my name and number. I did, and we left the store.

Later that night, the phone rang. It was high election season and I expected another politician's robo-call. Instead, it was a lady with a thick accent.

"Is this Laura?" she asked.

"Yes," I replied.

"This is ________. I am ________'s mother." I figured it was someone I was supposed to know from school.

"Um, hi," I said.

"________ lost his money in the store and they told me you found it and I was just calling to say thank you." She sounded so grateful. She probably needed that ten dollars more than I did, I thought.

"God bless you," she said.

He already has, I thought. "You, too," I said as I hung up the phone.

Soon afterward, I found my missing $10 in my car, wedged between the seat and console, where it had been all along.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Lessons from No-vember

Anna June is having a great month so far. We are trying to force ourselves to slow down and savor the moment.
Unfortunately, this has not stopped the epidemic of whining around here. I read a parenting article that indicated it continues only because I allow it. Ouch.
It has been hard to turn down cool events and fun parties, but there are more coming soon. AJ has enjoyed staying home. It has brought us moments like this.
AJ has been drawing, painting, and coloring. I have been sorting and filing (but not nearly enough). Ben has been studying.
AJ has been having nightmares - last night it was about a tarantula, last week it was about divorce. She complains she's scared but nothing seems to soothe her. On Friday night I let her sleep in our floor
because I was too tired to fight it. The "being scared" increased since then - I am afraid I let her regress too far.
I myself am in a bad cycle of fatigue. I get so tired I crash at AJ's bedtime, only to wake up in the night unable to sleep. I try staying up later but just cannot make it.
Perhaps it will resolve itself soon.
In the daytime, left to her own devices, AJ is pretty joyful. She does puzzles, plays games, watches TV that I don't understand, like Power Rangers.
Overall, so far, so good. I hope the lessons of listening to our family rhythms go past this month.

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Monday, November 10, 2014

Halloween 2014

Besides going to Disney World, Anna June also celebrated Halloween in October.

Anna June went trick-or-treating disguised as a ghost.

A couple of years ago, AJ wanted to be a ghost, but our homemade costume did not make the cut. We looked online for ghost costumes, and they were all terrible.

Nonetheless, when Ben took AJ costume shopping, they came home with a ghost costume. She was delighted. We were underwhelmed, but glad to see her happy.

We were glad things were set before our trip so that she would be ready for trick-or-treating on Halloween night without any last minute runs for costumes

At the block party earlier in the month, we had spoken to a few neighbors who indicated that AJ was their only reliable trick-or-treater. One couple asked AJ what her favorite candy was so they could make sure to have it. Driving up and down the street throughout the month, I saw more and more decorations, knowing the burden was sort of on us to ring those doorbells and get that candy.

We'd be trick-or-treating on our street, despite all of the other events and parties we got invited to after we'd already committed! AJ's friends CJ and Lily wanted to hang out with her on Halloween, and asked her to go to Boo at the Zoo, but I said no. So they decided to come with us instead.

Our plan - 1) school and work as usual, leaving at 5:00. 2) a quick can of soup plus a bag of salad at home for dinner and 3) trick-or-treating on our street around 6:00.

At 5:50, the call from the driveway came. AJ still had to get dressed. She abandoned her meal and ran to her room to change.

Then - guess what - she HATED her costume. She didn't want either of the TWO princess costumes granny sent, either. Can I just reiterate that we had a whole family outside our house waiting for us? She did not want to wear the ghost mask, hood, or chains. She did not want to wear shoes I selected for her and ended up in her cowboy boots, which are becoming her trademark. There were tears. Lily rang the doorbell, so I gave her some candy and asked her to wait some more. AJ eventually got dressed, reminded that she had PROMISED her father she'd be content with the costume, or else he would not have bought it.

Once we got out the door, things were not much better. AJ's costume was thin, and it got really cold and windy. I had already told my co-workers that I can predict the weather on Halloween - if AJ's costume is skimpy, it will be cold. If she has on thick long sleeves, it will be hot.

So now we had a ghost, Supergirl, and an Army soldier, plus two moms, hiking up the hill. We had fun seeing all our friends, and they were surprised to see AJ with her entourage.

Our neighbor Stella took this picture of the kids and me:

These are the only pictures I got on Halloween of my little ghost. This is at Aunt Connie and Uncle Tim's house, where we came in for a second to get out of the cold. I assure you it was dark out, so no one saw through the sheer costume like you can here.

 This is what the mask looked like, although she had it on the back of her head.

AJ trick-or-treating at our house at (almost) the end of our trek.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Disney Trip: More Epcot

Anna June may not have been very adventurous on our journey to taste our way around the world, but I had a great time sampling the small plates from various regions at the Food and Wine Festival.

If I recall correctly, here are most of the dishes we tried:

China: Mongolian Beef in a Steamed Bun (me), Black Pepper Shrimp with Sichuan Noodles (Ben), Chicken potstickers (AJ)

Germany: Schinkennudeln Pasta Gratin with Ham and Cheese (me)

Mexico: Rib-eye Taco (me, with sampling by AJ)

Ireland: Cheese Selection (AJ, although we helped)

Greece: Chicken Gyro with Tzatziki Sauce (Ben), Spanakopita (me)

Puerto Rico: San Juan Breeze -Non-alcoholic lemonade (AJ and me)

Hawaii - Maui Splash Sweet Pineapple Wine (Me.) - By the way, this was the only disappointing thing we tried. Ben pointed out before I ordered it that I have never liked fruit wine, but I couldn't be dissuaded.

We also had other snacks in the park. AJ and I had a Mickey Mouse ice cream bar. AJ had a pretty delicious fruit cup. Ben had fish and chips over in the England section, at a place that's part of the year-round attractions.

This looks like a lot of food, but it really wasn't. Each plate was tiny. Ben confessed that he doesn't like eating that way (grazing) because you can't ever really get full.

We did have fun looking at all the permanent buildings, some of which were exact replicas of famous foreign landmarks. 

When we went back to the hotel and AJ was asleep, I went down to the dining room and got us some late-night dinner. We weren't inclined to travel super early on a completely empty stomach. Ben got a salad and I opted for the turkey sandwich, based off Thanksgiving dinner. "Oven-roasted Turkey, Mashed Potatoes, Cornbread Stuffing, Cranberry Mayonnaise, and Watercress on Texas Toast served cold with House-made Chips, Pasta Salad, or Coleslaw" It was definitely the worst thing I ate the whole trip. Who wants cold mashed potatoes? On a sandwich? I should have read the menu more closely.

We enjoyed our trip "around the world". Ben and I have talked about going back one day just the two of us, but I don't know if that's realistic or not. Maybe we should just renew our passports and go to one of the real countries instead.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Disney Trip: Epcot

Anna June was pretty excited about our trip to Epcot, but not as excited as I was. We were traveling during the Epcot Food and Wine Festival. I don't necessarily consider myself a foodie, but I do love to eat. Here was a chance to experience food from around the world. I couldn't wait to get to the "giant golf ball."


I thought AJ needed some sunglasses - that was another thing we forgot. She and Ben picked out a pair of Minnie shades near the gate while I went through security with my oh-so-stylish fanny pack. As soon as the shades were paid for and the tags removed, AJ put them on for about half a second and declared them unacceptable. Then she had the meltdown to end all meltdowns.

"There's no crying in Disney," some good-natured female passerby assured us. This did not help.

I calmly tried to address AJ's reasons for crying, but really, there was no reason other than she was exhausted. I explained to her that we had a lot of money in these tickets and we could not just leave. It would be like lighting money on fire, her dad said. In a few minutes she calmed down and, we started back on our trek around Epcot to figure out where everything was.

I figured a calm distraction was in order first, so we went to see the 1986 Michael Jackson 3D film, Captain EO. My comment as we were leaving was "That was the most Michael Jackson thing that ever Michael Jacksoned."

There were some things we had reserved our Fast Passes for, so we knew we would do those. One was Spaceship Earth, which we all liked. We also did the Nemo ride, which was neat - cartoon characters were superimposed on an aquarium of real fish.

The other Fast Pass was for Mission: Space, a simulated training session for a mission to Mars. Since AJ is a thrill-seeker wanting the whole experience, we went on the "orange" team, which was a more intense version than the "green team." Ben actually reached for the airsick bag. We were both messed up for quite a while afterwards - possibly days. AJ loved it, of course.

We walked around the international area for a while in between our rides, and eyed the food we wanted to sample. We picked from so many different ones - I don't even want to think about how many calories were consumed or how much money was spent. It was my kind of fun.

Speaking of which, we were in line getting more food when we heard the unmistakable sounds of Wilson Phillips' "Impulsive." "Is that Wilson Phillips?" Ben asked. "Yes," I said. "Wouldn't it be cool if it were actually Wilson Phillips in person?" I asked. We rounded the corner and THERE THEY WERE on stage. We had no idea that they were part of the Eat to the Beat Concert Series. So we hurried to find a spot to stand. After the first song, AJ said, "Can we go now?" I said, "Do you see those three ladies on stage? We are not leaving until they leave the stage. I have been waiting more than 20 years for this."  I wore their tape out in middle school.
We decided to leave before the fireworks show, as we were getting tired and AJ wanted to go swimming in the heated hotel pool. Epcot is a lot of fun and very educational. Maybe our little "princess" will be more interested when she's older.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Disney Trip: Magic Kingdom, Day 2

By our second day at Disney World, Anna June had sort of gotten into the groove of things. After breakfast on the Monday of our trip, we caught a bus from our hotel and took the 20 minute ride back to the Magic Kingdom.

She was itching to ride more rides, so we headed to the Seven Dwarves' Mine Train roller coaster. The line the day before had been at 85 minutes, with no Fast Passes available. We wanted to see if we could get there as soon as we arrived to get in line. I told AJ if it was under an hour, we would wait.

We got in the line, as there was no time predicted for the wait - there are usually signs posted but this one was blank. No sooner did we find the end of the line that we heard the announcement: the ride was closed. Bummer!

We ended up going to the Enchanted Tales with Belle, which is an interactive experience rather than a ride. The kids and some parents were asked to help with the show, so Anna June played Belle's father, Maurice. As such, she got to meet Belle, the one and only Disney character with whom we got a photo op.

Then, we went around the park, and did basically the same type of thing we had done the day before.

We had lunch at Pecos Bill's. It was super crowded.

We ended up in a good spot for the Festival of Fantasy parade, so we watched that. Ben got some great pictures of the characters driving by. AJ mostly was grumpy, as she was tired and hot.

Since we were hot, we got on the one ride we all ended up loving - Splash Mountain. There's quite a bit of anticipation, but there's a 50-foot drop into a pool of water near the end. And the theme is Song of the South, which was the first movie I remember seeing in the theater (in a re-release, of course. I am not quite that old.) AJ got so wet that the washable marker from her DIY Minnie Mouse shirt came off on her skin !

We also went on the Big Thunder Mountain Railroad - a cool roller coaster that was worth the wait.

I think that she changed in and out of her costume twice. Here we are earlier in the day while she's in her costume:

And then later in the day, she's back in regular roller coaster riding clothes.

Eventually, we got AJ changed back into her costume for our visit to the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique.

That morning, we made an appointment for 6:00, and were told to get there a few minutes early. We did, and found that there was not any room in the waiting area. As "princesses" got called back to the salon area, we were able to sit down. I sent Ben for a snack for me (the Dole whips are famous desserts at Disney) and waited some more. It was more than forty minutes past our appointment time before Princess Anna June could be seen.

She got to choose from one of four hairstyles - she chose the "Pop Princess." The pink hair extensions she chose were a perfect match for her dress. The "fairy godmother in training" was very sweet, trying to engage the shy AJ in conversation about all things Disney. AJ wasn't very talkative. The godmother added makeup and nail polish, and when she turned AJ around for the big reveal, the smile was worth it.

Thank you Granny for a lovely experience!

Thursday, November 6, 2014


Anna June is great, except she is not going to bed and I am super tired.
As such, I thought I would share some content that I wrote earlier this week. A local alternative paper, Weld, solicited opinions on the superintendent search going on right now in Birmingham. So I wrote 900+ words, because I could not stop.
The reporter used some of it in his article, here:
Weld article
In case you have trouble sleeping, here is the text of my letter in its entirety.
Dear Cody,

A fellow Avondale PTA member posted in our Facebook group that you're looking for parent opinions about Birmingham's superintendent search. You've come to the right group! I am sure you will get a great response.

First of all, I have great respect for Dr. Witherspoon as well as all of his predecessors. It is a huge job, and it has been an uphill battle for every single one of Birmingham's superintendents.

A few years ago, when we were looking to engage more of our neighborhood's families in Avondale Elementary, we found great support in Dr. Witherspoon. His presence at meetings before we took the plunge to send our daughter to Pre-K there spoke volumes to us. While there were clearly other schools and issues that needed his attention, he seemed to be listening, and we appreciated that. 
I just took the survey from Birmingham City Schools asking what the most important qualities were in our future leader. I filled out the survey, but I wanted to scream that ALL of the qualities are important! Everything listed - from being articulate to knowing the state and federal laws to creating positive work environments - are all key elements we want to see in our next leader. I want to see a great communicator who believes in transparency. I want to work with someone who seeks input but is not afraid to make tough decisions.

Unfortunately, a perfect human does not exist.

We would like someone with experience, but it is more important that he/she has common sense. We want to take the hard work that has been done since 2012 when we got involved (and started paying closer attention) to not be undone.

Specifically, for Avondale (and other schools) this means the continued support and growth of the Woodlawn Innovation Network (WIN). We've committed to project-based learning, and a new superintendent must understand this vision, and not complicate matters by taking any steps backwards. The plan is to distribute this type of learning across the system.

I'd like to see the unprecedented good press and optimism about Birmingham's future spread through the school system. I want to have a superintendent who harnesses the business community's interest in educating the next generation of leaders, employees, and entrepreneurs. With WIN, we have great partnerships that need to be fostered.

A good superintendent will continue to work with the Birmingham Council of PTA as Dr. Witherspoon has done.

A great superintendent will to get information and input from teachers and principals, but not unnecessarily burden the instructors with reporting duties. I hear from teachers and our principal that the daily paperwork required is cumbersome and interferes with instructional time. Hopefully, a good administrator will know how to balance this.

Any superintendent hired must be aware of the Board of Education's unsavory history, but be able to look past it and work with the new, seemingly functional board.

In my opinion, a new superintendent must not undo any of the tough financial decisions that have been made - we can't come under state control or accreditation scrutiny again. I responded to the survey that growing district enrollment is one of the top priorities of a new leader - and I believe this wholeheartedly. I want every family in Birmingham to WANT to send their children to their neighborhood schools, (and yes, I'll be the one to say it) including white families like mine. The IB programs and career academies are a great start. We just need to keep growing these programs, improving test scores, improving morale, and improving teaching. With greater enrollment comes more federal dollars.

While I'm in favor of less administration, there are some things worth spending the money on. For example, substitute teachers are a problem. They are only allowed to work a certain number of hours per week, leaving them as part-time employees with no benefits. It is quite common at Avondale for subs to not show up or to say that they have already worked their limit of hours. On a recent morning, I witnessed the Assistant Principal calling for a volunteer among her "specials" teachers (art, music, computer, library, counseling) to sit with a class and have their classes canceled for a day - the librarian volunteered, but this meant that some kids would not get library time that week.

Furthermore, the GATE program now has teachers coming to the individual schools instead of bussing the children to a central location. When I was a student, each school had their own or at least shared a gifted resource teacher, and I am in favor of the teachers moving around instead of the students. But some parents hate this idea - they loved the GATE kids meeting friends from other schools. Maybe a new leader could find a balance between the two. An investment must be made in our brightest students.

I don't have an opinion about whether a new superintendent should come from inside or outside the school system - I can see advantages to both ways. I do want the best person for the job.

Finally, I want what is best for the children in BCS - they only get one shot at childhood and their education. While I liked Dr. Witherspoon, I was not on the BoE working with him closely, and they disliked him so much they tried to fire him. I am sure things could have been handled differently in every instance.

I hope someone wonderful is found, and quickly. I don't think that an interim superintendent would be a good idea - the clock is ticking, Birmingham!

Laura Gallitz
PS - The opinions expressed here are my own, and not to be construed as the opinion of Avondale Elementary PTA (where I serve as a board member). They are not even to be construed as the opinions of my husband. :)

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Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Disney Trip: Magic Kingdom, Day 1

Anna June was a little awestruck once we finally got inside the Magic Kingdom on Sunday of our trip.

After the whole process of entering the park (bags must be searched, magic bands must be scanned), we walked in to bustling crowds everywhere. It was as I expected, as my friend had showed me online how it was an anticipated "red" crowd day.

We first walked in to the Main Street area and saw characters signing autographs. It is not like it was when I was a kid and Mickey and Minnie roamed around. Now you have to make an appointment.

We had discussed it before we went to Disney, and AJ did NOT want to waste time she could be riding rides standing in line to meet costumed Disney characters. Furthermore, she's going through a very shy phase. She didn't want to have to speak to people she didn't know. I didn't want every picture to be of me and a character with AJ hiding behind me, so I agreed to that.

The weather was beautiful and hot. The high temperature was around 85 degrees.

As we started walking through the park, she and I saw the famous castle at the same time, and screamed simultaneously, "Cinderella's castle!" 

Through the My Disney Experience app, we were able to see anticipated wait times from our smartphones.

We spent some of the first day getting the lay of the land. We ended up criss-crossing the park several times in order to go with the shortest wait lines.

We ate lunch at Casey's hot dogs, where we had to have help finding a table. Then, we were all about the rides.

Well, some weren't exactly rides. Some were "experiences." We had not banked on seeing any shows. AJ's a veteran of many fairs and carnivals and she wanted one thing out of this trip: roller coasters.

Unfortunately, the first day had many long lines at the roller coasters, so we did a lot of the "babyish" rides. In fact, after visiting the Winnie the Pooh ride, AJ said, "That was NOT worth it!"

With our stay came three Fast Passes per day. We booked these in advance, but were able to use the app to change them if swaps were available. This cut down on the wait time for a lot of different things.

We did go on Space Mountain, a roller coaster in the dark. AJ did not like this ride. Ben lost his Brewers' hat, as he secured his sunglasses but not his ball cap. Other roller coasters were outdoors, and AJ liked them better. We went on the Barnstormer, which was very short but fun, and that may have been our family favorite from Day 1.

We got back to the hotel in time for the Poolside Movie, which happened to be Dumbo. It was a little chilly out, but AJ enjoyed watching the (kind of short) film. We were going to go swimming, but she suddenly and emphatically complained about her legs aching.

The poor girl routinely has growing pains, but it is possible we just wore her out from all the walking.

She could not be consoled about her legs. Ben went to the hotel gift shop and bought some children's Tylenol, as I had ignored online advice to bring every possible medication - I was interested in traveling light, due to checked bag fees (thank you, Delta). Gift shop acetaminophen was more than $10. At least they had it. And after she took it and a bath, she went to sleep.

We followed shortly thereafter. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Disney Trip: Second Stop, St. Augustine

Anna June is just like every other kid in the history of kids. "Are we there yet?" is the most frequent question asked on road trips.

Although the drive from Jacksonville to St. Augustine was longer than I remembered (hey, I was ten last time!) it wasn't that bad - less than an hour from house to house.

We rolled into St. Augustine on that Saturday morning and met Jeff, Gail, and their three dogs at their lovely home.

I could have spent the day taking pictures of their house. It is beautiful, in a beautiful place, and beautifully decorated. We even had beautiful weather!

But I didn't. It was too pretty to stay inside.

Also at the house, we opened a surprise package from Granny - a fancy dress, complete with shoes and accessories, a Mickey Mouse shirt, and spending money. It was turning out to be a magical trip so far.

We went to the tourist area and hopped on a trolley for the grand tour.

We hopped off to eat lunch at Harry's, a delicious place with New Orleans-style food. There were fantastic corn grits, crab cakes, fish tacos, and more. It was a great lunch!

Then, we continued with our tour of the town, walking and shopping on St. George Street. Aunt Gail had given AJ some shopping money for her vacation, so she bought a shiny seashell and some candy. It was great fun looking at all the different shops and historic places. The town is just beautiful.

Then, we went to the Castillo de San Marcos. This historic fort was one of the highlights of our trip. As we toured around, we got to see how the fort would have been used at different times in history. From what I could tell, whoever controlled the fort controlled Florida. It just so happened that our time there coincided with a weapons demonstration, so we stayed to watch. Even though we don't like thinking about the implications, it was still neat to see how cannon and muskets are fired.

We returned by trolley to where the car was parked. There's a lot of history in this little town - it was hard to soak it all in. We'll have to go back one day.

After a break at the house, we went to dinner at a local pizza place. The food was great! Then we went next door to Marble Slab Creamery, where we all enjoyed some fantastic ice cream. It was getting cold outside - AJ's lips were starting to turn blue - but maybe that was from her blue cotton candy ice cream.

AJ read a little from the book that Gail and Jeff got for her - an Ancient City A to Z. I'm glad we chose to visit the fort instead of the gator farm, by the way.

We got AJ to bed after several attempts. It was too much excitement - between the trip, the sightseeing, and the promise of the actual Magic Kingdom the next day she was on overload. We wanted to stay up talking but we were both exhausted and distracting Anna June from sleeping, so we retired for the evening.

The next morning, Jeff and Gail outdid themselves with a homemade breakfast: scrambled eggs, raisin toast, cantaloupe, kiwi, and Greek yogurt. It was just a great start to our day. We had our drive (long for AJ!) ahead of us and it was great to fill up.

We had a wonderful visit - we can't wait to go back!