Monday, October 31, 2016

The Veil Is Thin

Over a romantic lunch at Bruegger's today before meeting with our financial planner, I remarked to Patrick that this is always a tough time of the year for me. I'm not sure what I think of an afterlife, but it does feel that the veil between worlds is very thin this time of year (and the mornings very dark).

It perks up for Halloween night, however. Beatrix gets SO excited about it. For the past several years, we have always trick-or-treated with a group of her school friends. This year, or wonderful friends Heather and Justin (and Holly and Marie) hosted a spaghetti dinner in their garage, so everyone could eat and then head out. We stopped quickly at the governor's first, though — he was handing out a huge variety of MN foods, including sea salt caramel Nut Goodies which are The Bomb. We also got a chance to tell him what a good job he is doing:

All twelve of the kids gathered before we headed out:

We hit "Halloween Street" before it got too busy, and then several blocks around. When I was a kid, I had a nice enough time going out with my dad, but seeing Beatrix run around with her closest friends and share the experience makes me SOOOOOOOO happy (shuffling through leaves with their parents who we also love, holding the occasional red solo cup is not too bad either....)

Happy Halloween, everyone!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Small Domesticities

I slept in a little this morning after perhaps too much butter beer at a Harry Potter party last night. So when I woke up and saw a post on FB about how to clean a front loading washer, I decided it was my penance.

Here's the site, for full info: The Chic Site - How to Clean Your Front-Loading Washer. The short of it is that I cleaned the entire gasket area really well with vinegar and a toothbrush — and, well, yuk. There's also a little drain that was filled with scum — who knew? Ok, so probably the rest of you do this weekly or something, I'm not exactly a domestic goddess.

I'm also not the greatest visually, but I made a noble attempt at cleaning out the dead planet from the garage window boxes and filling them with some red dogwood twigs I was given and some old dried hydrangea. I don't think it's half bad. This is something I never would have attempted a year ago, but I credit my friend Susi for encouraging me to take some chances with floral design.

Yesterday Beatrix had a class at the Loft, then trick-or-treating in Highland, we went to the Halloween event at Gibbs Farm, and we had the aforementioned Harry Potter party. Today is another Halloween party and Zoo Boo (plus taking the dog to the groomer's), so these were once little domestic moments in the midst of all that.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

School Start Times

It started in a well-intentioned way a couple of years back. A number of studies show that teens are not getting enough sleep; they need between 8-10 hours a night (so the studies I read average it at 9 hours), and are averaging somewhere between 7-9 hours. We all know what it's like to be tired — you pay less attention, you are not as "sharp," you don't succeed as well. Recommendations from these studies included suggestions such as managing homework so kids are not up late, taking away technology devices so they are not texting/gaming/etc. so late (the glowing screens also are shown to be a sleep impairment), to insisting they go to bed at a reasonable time, to ... school start times.

Some vocal parents in Saint Paul have taken the latter as a way to solve some of the severe attention and test score issues Saint Paul high schools are facing, and have lobbied hard to change the start times for high school (currently generally at 7:30) to 8:30 or 9:30.

SPPS looked into it, but it soon became a transportation problem rather than a school problem. There were not enough school buses to effect that change. They looked at high school students using public buses, but MTC was not able to accommodate that many more riders. So it was tabled.

But recently is has come back, and it looks like within a month there will be a wholesale switch, with high schools changing from a 7:30 start to 9:30, muffle and magnet schools generally remaining at 8:30, and the lion's share of the community elementary schools (serving most of the preK-5 kids in the district) starting at 7:30. In my own daughter's case, this means that school will start — and end — 2 hours earlier.

The problem is that this is a problem not simply switched by a switch in start times. It's more complex than that, and those reasons are not being considered. It's bad deduction.

First of all, there are a lot fewer studies about elementary-aged kids and sleep. Those that exists, however, show that younger kids need significantly more sleep than adolescents, generally 10-12 hours. These children are also already showing signs of sleep deprivation in classrooms. That means that an elementary-aged child, who generally rises 2 hours before school begins, would have to go to bed between 5:30 and 7:30pm — which is often before at least one parent would even get home from work.

It also means that schools would end significantly earlier in the day, generally at 2pm. Again, in a fairly traditional working day of 8:30-6, that means that the child's school day would end halfway through the parent's work day. A parent would either lose literally half the work day, or the child would need to be in after school care (pretty much right up to bedtime, given the scenario above).

Current after-school offerings at SPPS are 1) over capacity and 2) expensive. Pay-per-service care such as Discovery Club and S'More Fun are full throughout the district, with no more staff, or especially space, to add more. Current cost is $11.80 for 2 hours, so at 4 hours a day that would cost us $118 a week, or about $4,900 a year (which is similar to the cost of simply pulling her from SPPS and sending her to FT parochial school — NOTE: in fact, having just checked the tuition, Discovery Club as outlined above would cost substantially more, in fact almost twice as much, as sending her to all-day parochial school at St. Thomas More). The district's free after-school option is EDL, which is even more limited; currently in most schools is is offered 2 or 3 days a week, for 2 hours, and for limited grades. In Beatrix's school, again as an example, EDL is a great program, but is only offered for 1.75 hours 2 days a week, for a total of 50 days throughout the year, and only for grade 3-5.

Nor is there any direct correlation between later start times and student success. The studies assert that high-schoolers "do better" with more sleep. None of the data ties that to higher test scores, or higher grades, or anything that can be evaluated, or even to safer schools or fewer students leaving the district, which I am sure is what concerns the school board. They just say it's "better."

Nor is the financial cost being taken into serious consideration. While the earlier proposal was deemed "too expensive," the current 3-tier system proposed is "only" 2 million dollars more. 2 million dollars, on a district that is already looking at a 20 million dollar deficit this year (as opposed to the 15 million faced last year). Where will even that 2 million come from? If we did magically have 2 million extra, couldn't we use it for things that are categorically demonstrated to increase student success, such as smaller class sizes?

The start times are dependent upon the bussing — remember 2 years back when there was an enormous problem with bussing, and it took the majority of the school year to finally get kids to and from school on time? Or the fact that bussing used to be for kids over 1 mile from school, and it was moved back to half a mile several years ago, dramatically increasing the number of busses needed?

Instead, we have come up with a compromise system that starts the majority of students dramatically and dangerously earlier, and spends more money, in order to only possibly solve another issue.

But wait, it's even simpler! Those very same oft-quoted studies have one sort-of buried suggestion — that the optimal school start time for teenagers is between 10-10:30. So we COULD still achieve these same goals, at presumably no cost to the district and no after school consequence, by simply flipping the tiers to 8:30/9:30/10:30? Why aren't we investigating this option?

If I was brilliant, I would have some resounding end paragraph here. But I need to get to work, and my child needs to get to her pre-school violin lesson, the one she would lose if school started earlier (and remember, her school had to cut music due to budget deficits).

ETA: To make clear my summary points:

Disassociating parent convenience and other factors,

1) Is there any definitive, measurable proof that later start times for high school increases student achievement? Because I don't see any.

2) Without such proof, should we spend a minimum of 2 million dollars extra in busses alone on it? Definitive no. If we have an extra 2 million lying around, it should be spent on things specifically correlated to student success, such as smaller class sizes.

2) If there is not such proof, is that something we should do anyway just in case it would help? If it would cost money, no, see point #2 above. If it would not cost money (such as moving high schools to a 10:30 start from the current 7:30, and then having an 8:30/9:30/10:30 tier)— maybe.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

If You Don't Go to Other People's Funerals...

A long, long time, ago, I spent my junior year abroad at a magic program called the British and European Studies Group in London. This small program consisted of students from a number of American liberal arts colleges, mainly with a theatre, English, and/or history been, and brought them over to work with British tutors. It was in that year that a lot of magic happened, for me and for almost everyone else enrolled. I learned I was smart, I was capable, and that I could do anything I put my mind to. Or, as my friend David put it:
I walked away from London with a writing career, darts and a wife.
Earlier this month, one of my amazing friends from that year, O'Bryan Broecker Worley, passed away due to a sudden blood clot.

It had been 28 years since I had seen her (or most other people from that program, with a few exceptions), but I wanted so much to go to the funeral. I wanted to see my amazing friend Fran, who I have kept up with and most recently saw here just a few weeks ago. I wanted to see Renee and Jenn, who I had not seen since then but who I kept up with sporadically, and I wanted to see Kris, whose own husband had passed away just last month (and I had not made it to his funeral). I wanted too tell her parents how much I thought of her, and meet her amazing daughter, and her husband, whom she had loved more than life. So when airfare turned out to be ridiculous, Patrick said "Let's just drive," and so we did. That's my husband, always up for a road trip and for making the impossible possible. And I think he realized how much I needed to go.

So on Friday we drove to Indianapolis, and got to spend the night with Richard and Elaine. We got to meet Ginger Mae, and celebrate Richard's birthday with him, and have a tasty dinner, and watch the transformative #HamilDoc with them. It reminded me that whenever I get a chance to see my BFFs, I should take it.

The next day we drove to the church, and I attended the funeral while Patrick and Beatrix explored a little. A church so full of people who cared, who loved O'Bryan fiercely and who she loved back. A chance to see these amazing women in real life.

We checked into out AirBnB that we shared with Fran and her fiancé Pate, an incredible little cottage in the back of a bigger house on Southern Parkway. The cottage was adorable, the garden filled with magic, even a koi pond:

We drove around and explored just a little on our way to an Irish bar to meet the others. Louisville is an extraordinarily pretty city. I would love to go back someday, maybe stay in the same cottage, and just settle in for awhile.

At the bar, we did shots, snacked a little, marveled at Kris' amazingly organized scrapbook. Jenn read us a letter from our friend Adam, which brought back more tears (apparently I had ones left after the service, who knew?). Damn you, Adam. And also I love you.

We headed over to Dan and Taylor's house where more people were gathering. I don't know how they had the strength to hold that kind of gathering, but I am glad they did. It made me feel closer to O'Bryan to see her knitting basket, her carefully canned jars of produce, the comfortable home she made — and brought more tears. I sat on the porch until late with Fran and Renee and Jenn and Kris, and I had no earthly idea how, but those years melted away and it was just the kind of night where we could go back to the kinds of conversations we had when we were all together in London — just maybe a little richer and more complex with age. And Dan told us stories about how he met and fell in love with O'Bryan, and it was wonderful.

A long drive back today, where we could appreciate such random things as acres and acres of windmills and lunch at the "Cowfe" at a farm-themed attraction. (Get it, "cow-fe"? And soooooo much dairy...)

It was an an exhausting weekend in so may ways. And also one of the most important I can remember spending. So important to connect with these people, to have a husband and daughter willing to go along to make that happen, to make  little adventure out of a long drive.

So much of what we discussed this weekend was how happy O'Bryan was with her life, an amazing life with so much good in it. And dear friend, I can honestly say the same thing about mine. You are loved, O'Bryan, and you make other people love each other. That's a powerful legacy.

Friday, October 21, 2016

All The World's a Stage

Somehow, despite my love of Shakespeare, I had not yet read any of the Hogarth Shakespeare project books. However, it's safe to say that there is no author whose work I love more comprehensively than Margaret Atwood. It gives me great pain to know that I will never be able to read her Future Library book, because I know there will always be one things she has written out there that I will not get a chance to consume.

So the newly-released Hag-Seed delighted me to no end. It's the story of The Tempest, as performed in a correctional facility, in an educational program directed by somewhat of a has-been director. And it's such an embarrassment of riches:
-  not just a Shakespeare story, but perhaps my favorite
-  plenty of theatre in-jokes
-  a little bit of Canadian political humor (from the pre-JT days)
-  a prison bent, a la the ever-amazing Ten Thousand Things theatre company
-  as mentioned before, fantastic writing by Atwood; she is perhaps at her best under this kind of constraint

I loved this book, and am now anxious to pick up the rest of the project books!

(as usual, book provided free from Blogging for Books in exchange for an unbiased review)

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Lessons From Hamilton

Anyone who knows me knows that I am (still) obsessed with Hamilton. And, that above all, I love to read. So, Alexander Hamilton's Guide to Life, by Jeff Wilser, would seem to be a no-brainer "like" for me — and for the most part, that's correct.

Wilmer gives more than a nod to Lin-Manuel Miranda's genius, and also plaudits to Ron Chernow's Hamilton — though the fact that Wilser calls it "without a doubt the second-most pro-Hamilton book in history" (after Alexander Hamilton's own papers) is dubious. I give that honor to Chernow, or to Miranda's Hamil-tome.

That said, I enjoyed the conceit of this book. It's divided into short essays in theme-based sections (Romance, Office Politics, Leadership, etc.). The essays bring up some fun facts, and some general ideas, and are written in a light, friendly tone. The writing itself is a little offhand to me, and could stand with a bit more gravitas, but I'm also not one who thinks that you should choose your presidential candidate by who you would like to have a beer with.

It's a quick read, and a fun book, and a great way to get your extra Hamilton fix in now that the cast no longer runs Ham for Ham.

(as usual, book provided free from Blogging for Books in exchange for an unbiased review)

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Library Closed

The other day I posted on a neighborhood page:
Our Little Free Library has been totally pillaged lately - as in, someone comes every day and totally cleans it out to take it to Half Price Books or something. I think we're going to close it down for awhile, which bums me out.
And I do mean "totally pillaged." I love it when the books fly off our shelves —it means that people are reading — but this was about the 12th time in the past couple of months that someone had completely cleared it from stem to stern. I'm a voracious reader, when everything from an ABC board book to old-school westerns to Faulker's As I Lay Dying all go in one fell swoop, I know that something is up.

After I posted, I noticed that a LOT of people were posting in neighborhood pages about this. Especially in my neighborhood, it seems like one person is coming along and emptying everyone out.

Our friend and neighbor Julio noticed my Facebook post; he's a reporter for the Pioneer Press and his interest was piqued. So he started checking out the story,. and found that the problem was even more prevalent than even I had thought. He wrote a great story about it here (and took a picture of us in front of the empty library this morning, though the dogs were bummed because they thought they were going for a walk.)

His story went viral, and today I was called by WCCO, and tonight we were on KARE 11 about it.

The story has actually raised a lot more controversy than I thought (pro tip: never read the comments), from people who think LFLs are dumb, or ugly, or don't understand how they work, or don't see why anyone uses them, or think that we already somehow have "enough" books in society so they are redundant, or don't understand why we are upset about people taking books that are free. I liken the last statement to cookies, honestly; I like to bake cookies, and I like to share them. I love to have people over for cookies. But if you come over and always eat all of my cookies, and don't share with anyone else (or basically take my cookies and go out and sell them), I'm eventually not going to want to give you cookies anymore.

I love my Little Free Library, and I love to share books. I think they do a great job of building community, and I hope to open ours again soon. I disagree with the people who say that naturally people will abuse them simply because they are free — because I just don't want to believe that about humanity. I want the kids walking down to Webster/Obama school to be able to grab books as they go to school, and I want to put out books I have just read and enjoy ones that people drop off there. I just don't want one person to ruin it for all of us.

ETA:  One thing I should have made clear in this post yesterday — I do NOT see this as an issue caused by used booksellers! I love used bookstores (especially Sixth Chamber on Grand at Hamline, go support them right now while there is construction outside their shop!), and one of my closest friends is an online used book dealer and I love the fact that she is constantly on the lookout for good books and trying to find them great homes where they will be read. The sellers I have met have always had the highest integrity, and one has even offered to send us a box of books to restock!

Monday, October 17, 2016

White Orchid

Yesterday was all about cleaning out the garage. We listed some furniture for sale, have a big free pile outside, and got everything else well-organized. We'r not quite ready for winter, but it's better.

As part of that, I brought in a table and chairs I had purchased off a neighborhood BST board awhile back. Today, my friend Jennifer brought me a white orchid.

I love the way this all looks in our front window, and the tone it sets for the room!

Thursday, October 13, 2016

More Camp CoCo

List posts are for the lazy, or for those who are just not going to get around to writing a full post but want to hang on to a few thoughts:

-  Very smooth, first batch Two Gingers by a campfire, passed between people. "Just one goat!"
-  Sitting on a moss-covered rock overlooking a beautiful lake and discussing your "Why?"
-  G&Ts in a dining hall with a view that Tattersall would envy.
-  Loving Nora, and thinking Dessa is The Bomb.
-  Thinking about things differently after talking to Robert Stephens (even, or maybe especially, the Instant Pot).
-  Climbing up a mountain in the dark, so that we could watch an amazing sunrise over Lake Superior.
-  Conversations — waves of conversations.
-  My husband hitting it out of the park with his keynote.
-  Stars.
-  Content. Inspired. Curious. Grateful.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Camp Coco - String Art

It always bites you in the butt.

Friday morning, right before we left for Camp CoCo, I tweeted:
I'll never be a lifestyle blogger. The current trend for string art and wall weavings confuses me and makes me think it's 1971.
Then we got up to camp, and I found out the community-building craft project was...string art.

And I think I rocked it, if I do say so myself.

That's just one example of how Camp CoCo changed my viewpoints and maybe even my life. More to come — but now I'm off to two meetings. That never changes.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

A Proper Drink

My visit to Lawless over the weekend inspired me to pick up A Proper Drink, which had been sitting on my nightstand for a bit, once I realized that it was a meatier book than interest-style cocktail recipes (though there are some of those, too, and I am considering revisiting the book by drinking my way through it).

I'm glad I picked it back up. The chapters are tasting-glass size, just enough to give you a little sense of the movers-and-shakers who revitalized the craft cocktail movement (who knew that a TGI Fridays in London had such an influence?) Simonson is an engaging writer, and the stories are interesting, especially if you already hold an interest in cocktails and popular history. My only quibble — and this is an issue with the "mixology movement" as a whole — is that relatively few women have a place in the narrative. That's the cold, hard truth, but it's unfortunate.

(as usual, book provided free from Blogging for Books in exchange for an unbiased review)

Monday, October 3, 2016


More foodie posts!

Tonight after school Beatrix had Rec Check, piano, then Brownies. That meant that she ate mac and cheese in the car between events, but that Patrick and I could go out for dinner while she was earning a plein air painting badge, so we purposely chose a place she would not want to go.

I had heard about Ghebres Ethiopian restaurant on a neighborhood Facebook page, so we wanted to check it out. It's on Snelling right across from Fasika, which I have also never been to. When we got there the place was almost empty, so we were seated quickly and courteously.

The menu is small, but has the essentials, Patrick chose a curry cabbage, and I got a curry potato and carrot. They were served together on a round of injera, with a small side of lentils and of spicy greens.

The cabbage was amazing, as were the lentils. The greens were a little spicy for me, but a nice contrast. The potatoes were not the smaller pieces I am used to, but more of a wedge, and perhaps as a result, undercooked. However, they cheerfully brought a new order, though by that time we had to plunk them in a to-go box so we could go get the kid, so I have not really tried it yet. Right now as I type, I'm still cocooned in the warm injera feel.

As Ethiopian restaurants go, I still miss the one I used to go to with my mom in Cedar-Riverside, where we always got the hut. Ghebres is good and worth a try, especially since it's new and the people are so friendly. I'd be interested in trying a taste-off between there, Fasika, and Flamingo, but not sure that that would not put me into an injera-coma...

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Night Out - Stewart's and Lawless

Yesterday was Randolph Heights' Fall Festival (hundreds of people over a few hours, indoor history exhibit, carnival games, the BunnyClogs, all kinds of fun!). I worked my *ss off for 5 hours, but then Beatrix had a friend's birthday party that night, so I could take Patrick out for his birthday.

We had dinner at Stewart's, which is the new incarnation of Cafe 128. I have to admit I was never the biggest fan of Cafe 128; I always found the prices high for basically eating in a basement rec room. The re-design makes it feel far nicer (though without losing the retro glam, in fact improving on it), but the new menu is a big improvement. It's kind of all mixed together — apps, main courses, and sides — which encourages you to try different thing together. Price points are reasonable, and it feels far more authentic than the old place. Patrick had the Lake Woebegon Shore Lunch (basically walleye with potatoes fried in bacon), which was well-flavored and hey enjoyed (though I could not sample the potatoes, too bacon-y). I had a nice grilled cheese sandwich with a flavorful tomato aoili, plus a side of fries that we shared. There's now a full liquor license, and the cocktails were a little uninspired but nice enough. Service was quick and friendly, so we had plenty of time afterwards to grab a drink at our next destination...

...which was Lawless Distillery. I had heard a lot about Lawless from my friend Rebecca, who appreciates the atmosphere and fine bartending. We needed a place where we could just sit and talk, and thought it might fit the bill. And it certainly did; as I tweeted:We walked in and looked over
This place is magic. Like a balm for the soul.
The first thing I appreciated, when we walked in, was the sense of place. It was clearly a distillery, where spirits are actually made, but the bar area made it clear that they were also appreciated. It was funky and speakeasy-esque, without presenting an annoying, over-hipster vibe (like some other places which will remain nameless). You know the neighborhood coffeeshop you go to because the coffee is great, and it feels comfortable, and they are not navel-having snobs about their beans, and you feel like you could stay forever. Lawless is the alcoholic version of that.

We sat down at the bar, where bartender Adam quickly realized we were celebrating Patrick's birthday, and brought us a couple of shots of a very Christmas-y tasting hibiscus concoction, followed by a couple of cups of punch. He kept up great banter, and guided us to two fantastic cocktails. I think it's safe to say that Patrick does not normally order a tiki drink, but his tiki-inspired Old Fashioned was a complex, outstanding drink. At the same time, my simple gin and tonic was probably the best G&T I have ever had; equally complex and full of flavor.

We watched Adam work for awhile. The drinks are multi-faceted, but Adam was both deft and meticulous, and quite entertaining to watch. He reminded me of the bartender at The Franklin, which until now had been one of the best bar experiences of my life.

After awhile, he noticed we were having quite a deep conversation, so he came back over to check on us. That's when we told him about the last week, and got into a long-ranging conversation of any number of topics — all while he managed to serve other customers and bring us a couple more double shots. Throughout it all, he was the consummate host, the kind of bartender you don't think exists anymore, who appreciates people, and his craft, and the evening out.  (We even found out that he turns 24 today, so happy birthday, Adam!)

(And then, at the end, he told us not to worry about the tab, and that he appreciated that we had come in that night. But I have to say that even without that, I would be raving).

To say that this is exactly what we needed is the understatement of the year. Lawless earned themselves two very loyal customers last night. As Patrick tweeted as we left:
Local folks, go to @LawlessMN and see Adam at the bar and thank him and tip him well because he treated me with such love tonight.