Soap Box

30 01 2008

All year I have heard complaints from the girls regarding their school library limiting their book choices.  The school has a program called “Accelerated Reader” that tests the children and assigns them a level of book that they should be reading.  The books are labeled with a specific color for each level.   And…. get this…. the kids are not allowed to pick books at the library that are above their level.


 I just finished writing the following email to their principal (sorry if it bores you but I’m pissed and want more than one person to read it):

 Dear Mr. Principal Guy,

My name is Shari Lastname and I am the parent of two girls who attend Meeker Elementary.  I absolutely love the school, the teachers, and the parental involvement that makes the learning environment so fantastic there.  However, I do have one concern that has been weighing on me all year. 
I am, to be quite honest, horrified at the limitations the AR reading levels impose on my girls, and the students in general.  I have heard comments all year regarding being limited to only certain books within their level.  Sophie, who is in third grade, started reading the Lemony Snicket series with zeal at the beginning of the school year.  Because these books are at a level higher than her STAR test put her, she was told she couldn’t take the AR tests for these books.  I find this odd, because each evening for many months I would get an enthusiastic update from Sophie on the lives of the Baudelaire children in exquisite detail.  I find it hard to believe that she would not be able to pass any AR test about these books with flying colors.
She has also mentioned, along with similar comments from her sister Maya, that books above her level were refused to her at the library.  They have both been told to put these “higher level” books back and choose other books within their level.  I completely believe that the ability to choose any book they are willing to tackle should be their right.  I am sure that they would run into something that they did not understand, or enjoy, at some point, but that is an important part of learning and exploring books that might normally be outside of their comfort zone.  Just last night I took them to Borders for some fresh reading material – emphasizing to them to carefully choose something challenging and new.  They were so excited to find something that they had never read, and currently are curled up with “Inkheart” and “Peter and the Secret of Rundoon” (both outside their “levels”).  I would never tell them to put these books down in favor of a book in their AR level just to earn points, and I don’t think the school should do so, either. 
I have always read “difficult” books to them since they were very young to encourage them to never limit their minds.  As a humorous case in point, when Sophie was asked in her preschool class to introduce herself, she said, “Call me Ishmael.” (Inspired by the audio book we were listening to at the time.) 
I have done some research on the Accelerated Reader program and definitely see its benefits.  Overall, it encourages children to read, and to read a lot.  It improves scores.  I see the statistics on the Accelerated Reader site, but of course this comes from the company itself:
I also have found the pro and con comments on the Wikepedia article about AR interesting:
The following article and its comments was enlightening (I have put the comments that summarize what we feel in the body of this email below):
“Using the STAR test (not all schools go for this part of the package) to evaluate reading levels is terrible. I cannot imagine that being allowed in my district.

Wrong headed administrators, with the best of motives and trying to maximize anything that will enhance reading scores, sign off on using AR point totals for grades, restrict access to books, for example, “That book is too high/low for you or “put that book back–it is not an AR book” They reduce a school library into a reading laboratory of leveled reading.

Happily, I have never worked in a situation like that.

AR is a tool and it can encourage and motivate kids to read. Like a hammer, it can work beautifully but you have to be sure of your aim or else you end up with a very sore thumb.

I guess I always felt that I was the reading-motivator-in-chief at my school. It was my role and job. Kids respond to passion and enthusiasm and also appreciate an adult taking a personal interest in their reading life. Give me a budget to buy fantastic books and I will not rest until I find the right book for each child.”


“I hear the moans from the children coming into our school library when they need AR books. They have trouble finding books that they really want to read at the “correct” level. They find it tedious to search the shelves for a book that they actually want to read with the correct color coded spot on the spine. They know what they like and want to read but if it isn’t the correct level then they can’t have those books and have to keep sifting through all the other books hoping to find something of interest. I see kids wanting to read and the AR program limiting them.”

And this chart:

Under disadvantages it lists:

“Children tend to focus only on AR”

“Teachers tend to limit kids to AR books.”

“STAR program only allows children to read at their present reading level.”

Could you please let me know the logic behind the limiting of books at the library to AR levels, and if this is a district-wide policy? 

I appreciate your time,

Shari Lastname

Proud Parent of Maya and Sophie Lastname


What We Did This Weekend – African Snot Melon Edition

28 01 2008

Sorry, no  pictures this time.  Camera batteries died, but we survived.  Piano recitals are now checked off the list!

Saturday (after Skating and the birthday party, but before the piano recital) we stopped off at Tacoma Boys to pick up some fun fruit and snack-type foods for the Game Night that I was hosting that evening.  They have amazing food – their produce, seafood and steaks can’t be beat.  Plus, you can find all sorts of strange things that make party hosting fun.  I bought a “Horned Melon” completely for the looks of it….


 It was adorable.  And that is what is important in food – its adorability, right?  They told me that the taste was somewhere between a cucumber and a kiwi fruit.  That was correct….but what they didn’t mention is the inside is a gelatinous mess of green slime and seeds and is pretty damn gross….


 They maybe should have called it the African Snot Melon.

Anyway….that is not what this post is about.

While we were at the checkout stand with our African Snot Melon and brick of Aged White Cheddar cheese, one of the employees came up and said, “Would you like a box of apples?  They are “scratch and dents” and I’ll give you the whole box for $7.”

First I said, “No, I don’t think so….”

But then I quickly said, “Well…sure!  We’ll take them, what a deal!”

And it was a deal.  They were beautiful apples.  Fujis, Cameos, Honeycrisps.  Hardly any damage, but they are well known for their PERFECT produce.  Only when I got home and carried the box inside did I realize that I had made a terrible mistake.  I HAD BOUGHT AN ENTIRE BOX OF APPLES.  A big box.  A box overflowing with apples.

Never in a million years could I use them in time. 

 Applesauce?  Great idea, but the girls don’t like it.  Its a texture thing.

Pies?  Sure!  I made 6 (SIX) apple pies yesterday and didn’t even get through the first layer.

I gave a bag each to 4 neighbors and there was still half a box left.  What to do?  What to do?

Then I thought of Freecycle.  I Freecycle (verb) quite a bit – giving away things mostly like the girls outgrown clothes and toys.  I always laugh at what people post on there, and how quickly these things are snatched up.  After Thanksgiving, for example, someone posted the remains of a cooked turkey and it was gone within 15 minutes.  I’m all about waste not, want not….but I’m not so sure about food.  Especially meat.  I have joked to my friends that I could post the remaining two  pickle chips left over from my hamburger at lunch and someone would come and get them. 

I swear.

I posted the apples and I have never received so many eager replies from any other Freecycle posting.  You would have thought they were gold.  I am very glad that someone can use them.  And I am glad that they are not meat.  That is just too weird.  But I did give the person that picked them up some other names to contact if the sheer number of apples proved to be too much for him, too.

You’ve gotta watch out for those “deals”.

Two Down, 80 Million To Go

23 01 2008

The dress rehearsal and recital are over.  She did a wonderful job. 

Good God.  Wasn’t she just a drooly baby just a few days ago?  Look at the beautiful girl she is turning into.  I am so proud of her.


Testable Question – Can Shari Follow a Schedule for 4 Weeks?

22 01 2008

Hypothesis – No friggin’ way. 

Okay.  I am not the most organized person.  I have a nice planner that I barely use, but I just spent the last hour penciling the many activities, etc. that are coming up in the next month or so.  I will need to live by this thing if I am to get by.  This is difficult seeing that I don’t even own a watch because I dislike the control it wields over my life.

Here is a list of things I may or may not remember to go to….

Tomorrow – Violin Dress rehearsal 3:30 – 5:30

                       Violin Recital – 6:30 – 8:30  (and don’t forget a dozen cookies or cupcakes!)

Thursday – Science Club for Maya and Sophie 3:15-4:15

Saturday – Skating lessons 10:45-1:45

                    Piano Winter Festival 2:30-4:30

Monday – Piano lessons  6:00

Tuesday – Science Club for Sophie 3:15 – 4:15

Thursday – Science Club for Maya 3:15 -4:15

And interspersed in all of this is the busiest time of year for my job and Science Fair for the girls coming up on February 20th.  They have already begun their experiments.

Sophie is collecting data currently on who is most likely to wave at her when we pass them in our car on the freeway – men or women.  Women are some damned grumpy people.  Her hypothesis of “Men will wave more when I wave at them when we pass them in our car on the freeway” is being proven true with the data collected so far.  Ladies, please…for the love of all that is holy….wave at a kid now and then, will ya?

Maya is testing whether or not age affects the ability to identify smells.  The subjects are blindfolded, subjected to eight different smells, one at a time, and asked to identify them.  They are common things….vinegar, coffee, cinnamon, maple syrup, onion, peanut butter, and chocolate.  It is amazing how hard it is to identify things by smell when you can’t see them.  Some of the guesses have been fantastic.  “That smells like bunk!” was my favorite.

In looking back at the list of things, I see that they are really not that extensive.  I realize that many people have triple the activities listed above to shuttle their children to.  I have never been the type to over-schedule the girls.  Piano has really been our only extra-curricular activity, with the skating lessons being a small eight-week diversion.

I am glad.  Holy crap.  When does anyone have any time to screw off?

What We Did This Weekend – Snowed In With Guppies Edition

21 01 2008

There’s one in every class….the sucker-Mom who can be roped into anything. 

Maya’s class has been involved in a very hands-on ecological experiment involving guppies over the past few months.  Sadly, a very few guppies survived the classroom experiment.  Maya’s group, however, had an exceptionally tough and resilient little guppy named “Ali”.  Ali faced an uncertain future on Friday when the project wrapped up.  Maya is convinced that any guppies that were left in the classroom were destined for “The Big Flush” and volunteered us as Ali’s keepers for the remainder of her precious guppy life.

I agreed wholeheartedly that it was the right thing to do.  So off we went to procure a small aquarium and two friends for Ali.  All are female, and I thought that I was very smart in choosing these as to avoid being a spawning ground for guppy babies.  Unfortunately after much googling regarding guppy sex, I have come to the conclusion that the two from the pet store are quite pregnant. 

And they can have anywhere from 2 – 100 babies at a time.

That’s not all.  Guppies can also store sperm enough to continue inseminating themselves up to 4 times. 

Doing the math that could mean that I could become the grandmother to up to 800 guppies.

*Sigh*   Sucker.

But Pepper adores her new friends:


Saturday was “Snowed In” day in our little town.  They bring in 20 semi-truck loads of snow from the mountains and dump it in Bradley Park and proceed to let the kids go crazy for an afternoon.  There is food and music and snowman building contests and snowball fights and sledding.  It doesn’t seem to matter that the snow turns into dirty slush relatively quickly – the kids still love it. In the picture below you can see the sledding hill on the right side.  I’m far away in this picture, but it is bigger than it looks….


The city even provided sleds which the over 1000 people that attended the event fought over for 5 hours.  You can see Maya, victorious in her sled snatching ability, below….


There was a woman from the Tacoma News Tribune there taking pictures for the paper.  At one point Sophie came breathlessly running up to me yelling, “Mom!  Mom!  That lady wants to know if it is okay if my picture goes in the paper!!  Is it?  Is it okay?”  I assured her that it was.  She ran back to the lady and proceeded to talk to her for the next 10 minutes about her life.  The woman was completely cracking up – this was a picture for the paper, not an interview.  Below you can see the photographer kneeling in a blue coat.  She just finished taking the money shot that was put in the Sunday Paper (see here).


This is the end of that same run.  Sophie seems ready to go again.  Her Friend Leslie, however, seems to need a moment to relax and catch her breath…


After they were cold enough we went on a 1 mile carriage ride around the lake in this beautiful contraption….


It was very fancy.


Man.  Our weekends rock.

Customized Work Environment

17 01 2008

At our company we are working toward a truly customized work environment (of course it has the acronym CWE).  Work at home a few days per week, work 4 10’s instead of 5 8’s, work in the office the core hours of 10-2 and the other hours when it works best for you….whatever applies in the situation and can be handled by the company is up for grabs.

They truly want to get more cars off the road, limit the need for additional office space and push the idea of a paperless work environment.  I am all for it.  I currently am working at home one day per week (Thursdays) and hoping to add more in the coming year.  It saves me money on train tickets and/or gas and lets me actually take the girls to school and pick them up.  They have a happier and more engaged employee for it.

 There is a benefit that I didn’t expect.

You cannot believe the difference in work style when one is conducting their normal workday bra-less.  My emails flow smoothly with only vital information, my phone calls are calm and comfortable.  My spreadsheets lack formula errors.  It is a beautiful thing.

Unbeknown to me, the restriction of a bra was (and unfortunately still is 4 days a week) provoking an undercurrent of angst and irritability in my work.

 I either need more days working at home ASAP or an all-company bulletin must be put out making bra-less days welcome and accepted across all lines of business.

Would it be mixing metaphors to say that it would be good for their bottom line?

Goat Herding Heritage

15 01 2008

Maya was instructed to write about a city that she has visited that illustrated her heritage.  This is what she wrote (the number of goats and length of walking were slightly exaggerated I believe): 

I haven’t visited a city that’s part of my heritage but I have visited the *****  Ranch.  There is a lot of work and places to see. 

One of the hardest activities I had to do on the ranch was goat herding.  The part that made it hard was getting the goats across the very shallow river.  There were at least more than 50 goats and their kids.  Luckily we had a dog named Penny with us who helped us keep them there. 

Just to get them across the river took about an hour and my Uncle Erik had to carry some of them by the horns across the river.  Then the rest of the journey took about another hour.  The next part that was pretty hard was walking across long itchy grass while wearing sandals. 

When we got to the end it was about 2 miles away from my Grandma’s house on the ranch.  So the whole trip took about 2 hours and 4 miles.  That is a story about my heritage.