Saturday, October 19, 2013

What Are We Doing Today?

Every morning, Beatrix asks "What are we doing today?"

Usually the answer is something like "Going to school, then dance/circus/violin/etc."

To which she replies "And after THAT?"

This weekend has been a little slower. Patrick and I both have bad colds, and she has a minor one. But we still wanted to get out of the house today.

We started the day with the Springboard for the Arts Health Fair. We pretty much go every year, though Beatrix was pretty unhappy the first year we went that it was nothing like a fair, with no animals or rides or cheese curds. This year she was happy to decline the flu shot (since we had already had the mist, which might be why we are sick), but ran around stamping her passport so she could get a prize (a princess book, because Springboard wins!) We got a lot of good information about MNSure, also worth its weight in gold.

We then hit a small batch of fairly new shops along Minnehaha Avenue — Junket, Tumbleweed, Paris Apartment, E's, etc. — that I had been wanting to visit for some time. Part antique store, part reuse centers, part thrift shops, they were a very enjoyable place to visit as a family. Many are only open a couple of weekends a month, so it felt even more special.

After refueling at the Blue Door, we headed home for a rest before going out to an art opening, enormous scale pieces called The NOLA Series, in a West Seventh gallery that was new to me. Finally, we hung at home for the evening, and Patrick and I got to watch Before Sunset after B went to be (we watched Before Sunrise, for the first time in years, last night).

All in all, kind of quiet and mundane, but filled with lovely little moments. I'm glad to know that there's usually something that we are doing that day that meets with Beatrix's approval.

(nothing on the calendar for tomorrow though, yikes!)

Monday, October 14, 2013


Tonight was the PTA Open House for Beatrix's school. We attended and learned A LOT, but maybe not in the way that was expected. We learned:

1)  Always save the slip that comes home in your student's backpack.
I remembered the event while at a client's, and I had not seen the slip in awhile anyway, so I went to the school website. There was nothing about the event on the website, but I found a link to the (separate) PTA website; by going there, I found the event time of 5:30.

Except that the event was at 6:00pm (which we realized when we got there at 5:30 and there was no one there and the sign in front said 6:00). Which gave us time to go to the store and pick up some apples.

I also learned by this that I had better start following the school's principal on Twitter.

2)  Free stuff attracts people.
Tonight's event had flu shots/mist (cue big tears from Beatrix when she realized that), and a pizza dinner (yum). Attendance was good, and it was fun to meet some other parents and see Beatrix's BFF Alex and "second mom" Clara.

But the main thing I learned was:

3)  The Saint Paul schools are desperately in need of a cohesive marketing strategy.
Tonight, I learned that Randolph Heights is one of only three schools in the state that has an accredited Core Knowledge curriculum, which is really awesome. It validated my sense of why it's such a great school, and that it builds on knowledge and teaches in a way that makes sense to me. It made me feel even better about the school. I'm excited about what Beatrix will learn there.

Except, it's five weeks into the school year, and it would have been really great to know this in advance!

Now to give the school credit, there is a "Core Knowledge" snippet on their newly-redesigned web page template (along with several other snippets on Gifted & Talented, Responsive Classroom, Special Education, etc.) But, on the main page comparing Saint Paul schools, it does not mention this particular curriculum (though the school right above it does). Truth be told, though we toured schools and I spent hours comparing them, it did not even occur to me to compare each school's chosen curriculum — or even that each school might have a different curriculum. And though I can't believe I missed this factor, I would bet many — or even most — other parents do as well.

Last week I read an article about how Saint Paul schools had 37,000 students and were unlikely to hit their goal of 40,000 by next year (as an aside, it also said Minneapolis schools had only just over 34,000 students, which seemed really strange!)

Now don't you think that one way to reach that enrollment goal would be to provide clear and comprehensive information about the school choices, thus empowering families to pick the school that best suited their child's learning style?


(don't even get me started on the money for a marketing strategy, because I will explode about some spending choices I don't agree with...)

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Why Blog, Anyway?

Today I attended (much of) the Minnesota Blogger's Conference. Originally founded four years ago by my friend Missy and Patrick's friend Arik, the conference has undergone a lot of changes over time, from a kind of rough-and-tumble beginning at CoCo, to honing for two years, and then a slightly pulled-back-but-still-incredibly-valuable event today. The conference is involving more people — more volunteers (it seems), more people on the steering committee, more topics — and even more male presence (it looked about 60/40 female to male today, a big difference from Year 1 where the group photo with Patrick and a whole bunch of hot women would make a lesser wife very jealous). As it addresses more ideas and topics, it also struggles with some growing pains, but the sheer ability to meet lots of other bloggers, and learn how to be a better blogger while doing so, is incredibly valuable.

(you would think that after all these years and networking and education that this would be a better blog, but I digress...)

A lot of the bloggers there today were new to the conference and even new to blogging, with many having written for less than a year (many of those people maintain multiple blogs as well; how do they keep it up?) Many people who I have known for years through Twitter and blogging were not there, and made me think about how they have subdued their online presence lately — and I miss them. Life is so changeable, and the online efforts that are so important to you at one point in your life can become your total last priority a year later; they ebb and flow just like real life friendships and time do. But it doesn't mean you miss your friends any less.

With new people come new emphases. This year, at least in the sessions I attended, there was a lot of talk about SEO and optimization and making money and the like. Again, important to others — totally not my scene.

Which is what made my friend Kate's remarks on the first panel so much more striking. I've been a Kate fangirl since I first encountered her (also at MNBlogCon), in a break-out session led by the fabulous writer Kate Hopper (who was not at the blog conference today because she was speaking at the Minnesota Book Fair, see earlier comment about shifting time and priorities). When it came time in that break-out to read what we had written, Kate (Selner's) piece was so raw and poignant and beautiful, wrapping up cooking and remembering her mother and everyday life that it forever changed my relationship to all of these things. So, Kate's like that.

Today, her comments were true to that vein. About being your authentic self, about writing what you are called to, about not worrying about analytics and optimization and branding and monetization — but about what you are fully called upon to write.

That's why I write this humble little blog, with its sporadic entries and wide-ranging topics and enormous inconsistency. But even more, it's why Patrick, whose blogs are thousands of times more successful than mine could ever hope to be, also writes — which gives that approach a lot of validation. I'm not saying that the slick, optimized blogs don't have their place in the world.

But I'm going with Kate's approach every time.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Ain't No Party Like a Grandpa Party

At least here in Saint Paul, our orchestra (the SPCO) is back from strike and playing. I had not realized how much I had missed them until we attended a free family concert today.

With corporate sponsorship, the SPCO has these events a few times a year. Often they are over in the rehearsal hall, and feature crafts and an "instrument petting zoo" and the like, plus a short concert. This one was actually over in the Ordway, and was targeted towards an older audience, with an educational narrative, some musical examples, and then a full movement from Mozart's 23rd Concerto.

The best part, though, is that we got to go with both grandpas! Grandpa Kenny was in town, so he and Grandpa Dennis came with us. Beatrix got to sit between the two grandpas for the concert, and then share some of her strawberry pancakes at brunch afterwards. Beatrix was so excited about this last night that she started calling it the "grandpa party," which kind of stuck.

I don't get to enough classical music — which I know makes me part of the problem that is affecting the industry. It was wonderful to enjoy the Ordway, and to remember being part of the first house staff to work there. The hall has aged gracefully, and the concert was really fun. Beatrix, who has just started playing violin, loved watching the strings and played along with the piano.

There's a whole political landmine I could step on with the current, one-year plus lock-out of the Minnesota Orchestra — and so I won't. My logic and feelings lie 100% with the musicians, and I am happy to discuss them with anyone in person. The economic issue that former governor Arne Carlson presented towards the economic importance of the orchestra the other day was compelling, as is of course the consideration of the role that the musicians play in our educational system here. But sitting in the hall today, the main reason I can make for the importance of classical music is completely emotional, how it makes you feel and sense and be. And for someone that relies on logic as much as I tend to, that's pretty compelling.