Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Waiting For President Obama

Word broke late Friday afternoon that President Obama would be speaking at CU Boulder and immediately I knew I had to be there. The President of The United States, in my town, at my alma mater? My enthusiasm waxed and waned as rumors of the student ticket lines were deep into the thousands, I assumed there wouldn't be many tickets left for the general public. 

The big question Monday morning was, did I want to wait and try to get tickets? I sent my husband by the ticket line on his bicycle commute to work to see how it looked. At 8:45 in the morning, the line wasn't bad at all, so I decided I'd give it a shot. 

When I arrived around 9:30 am, I was around the 100th person in line with an estimated 1500 tickets available, so I was guaranteed a ticket. Luckily I was waiting in the shade and was sitting around some pretty friendly people. The time passed fast, before I knew it I had these in my hand:

The tickets were handed out in a pretty straight forward fashion, one ticket per person. I scored two tickets because J dropped G off in line with me after she got out of school! It was later decided that I would take Sj with me to see the President speak, just because of logistics. I anticipated there would be lots of waiting around, due to the security to get into the event. I was correct, there was a lot of waiting, but Sj was great company.

This was the second line to get into the building and from what I later learned, the short one! It took us about 45 minutes to get through the security. The screening was by Secret Service Agents, it felt like mock airport security. The Secret Service Agents were very professional, but were sweet to Sj asking her if she was excited to see the President. Of course she was, she was beaming the entire time!

Once we settled into our seats, we had to wait yet again! Sj being a cordial and friendly 8 year old taught a group of CU Law students how to play go fish. We ran into some friends that sat right behind us and once again, the time passed quickly. At one point during our wait, I found out via twitter that President Obama and his motorcade stopped on The Hill to pick up some food. While the waiting was hard, I thought it was awesome he took the time to meet some people on the street. 

Finally the moment we were waiting for! Here's one of the worst photos you'll ever see of the President. Still, I couldn't refrain from the photo op. I only had my iPhone on me, decided to keep my load light due to security warnings. I took a few shots when he first arrived on stage, then put down my phone to focus on his speech. I have a lot to say about his speech on student loan interest. As you can imagine The President was a very charismatic speaker, we felt so lucky to be in his presence!

After his speech ended, Sj and I made a bee line for the closest spot we could grab to the stage. The President took about 10 minutes to stop and chat with the students that were lucky enough to get a spot right on the railing adjacent to the stage. This is by far the best photo I captured and of course, he had his head turned! Shucks.

The Denver Post had a great photo gallery and this photo was my favorite! When I was scrolling through the photos online, I couldn't believe I found one that featured us in the audience! Now, you can barely tell it's me (the circle I used for editing washes us out), but I promise it is.

If wanted to get technical, I could boast that there was a photo of us and the President featured in the Denver Post. I mean come on, don't we look fabulous? Tee Hee!

The reaction to his speech has to come separately, but I promise it's almost finished! What an amazing adventure, I would wait all those hours again to be in the presence of the President any day.

In case you are interested, here's the speech:

Saturday, April 14, 2012

And Then There Were Two... Ballerinas In The Family.

Somewhere in this group of precious ballerinas, is my girl. She was beyond thrilled to finally be performing on stage in front of an audience. Watching her makes me smile.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Kindergarten At 4, A Celebration Story!

Kindergarten can be one of the most stressful decisions a family is thrust into making, typically complete with much internal dialogue, tons of reading, and plenty of advice seeking. Is my daughter or son ready, should I hold them back, she's not emotionally there, will they get picked on, are they mature enough, I don't want them to be the last one driving, he'll be bigger for football, she doesn't quite seem ready. Those are all other's words. Words I've read, words that have come up in countless discussions. There is no formula, age cut off, or magical red shirting to give a child the perfect school experience. We simply have to give a look at the whole child and make a decision and watch how the path leads from there.

Being an elementary school teacher and working right up until giving birth in September, Kindergarten cut off dates were at the forefront of my mind. While I thought a third week of September due date was enough of a cushion to not have to worry about Kindergarten cut offs, I remember telling my Doctor when I was a week late, this baby has to be out before October 1st. My oldest daughter was born, on the cut off day for our school district. On THE day, people. One may assume my mind was made up in utero, but truly it wasn't, I pinky swear promise. I'm also going to throw into the mix right now, I am the product of starting Kindergarten at four, graduating at 17, and escaping unscathed to tell about it. 

While initially I wanted to share an anecdotal account of my 8 year old's Kindergarten experience, I have decided to list out what we considered when we made the decision to send her to school at four. Please note, she is now ending her third grade school year, headed to fourth grade. Gulp. While her overall school success has yet to be determined, being a few years out I know we made the right decision at this point and time.

Saying Yes To Kindergarten at 4:

Sj's oral language developed consistently and on par with the majority of her peers. What I believe set her apart was the linguistic acquisition of her vocabulary and articulation. She could carry on a conversation at two, having a very short window of what I would consider to be "baby language". Her articulation also gave us a deeper understanding of how she was feeling, allowing moments where other children may shut down more easily not being able to verbalize how they were feeling, she could tell us. This was huge for us, it allowed us to feel like emotionally she was ready.

Sj was drawn to fine motor skill activities from a young age as well. By two she was coloring, painting, drawing, cutting, pasting with ease. She was drawn to art. At preschool she was always engaged by craft projects and showed consistent ability to focus at the task on hand.

Her experience at preschool for two years was always an easy transition. She loved school and would've gone five days a week if we sent her. We never saw huge gaps in her ability to "keep up" with her older classmates. She easily worked in groups, with partners, and on her own. She was thriving in preschool, having experiences that she was ready for, that I wouldn't of been able to give her in our home. Our conferences with her experienced teachers instilled in us that she was at the right place in her development.

We felt drawn to seek out a half time Kindergarten experience. With Sj being on the younger end of the spectrum, I felt like full time Kindergarten would've been a difficult transition for her. Plus half time Kindergarten still provided us with time to take art, dance, or gymnastics classes. We could still do afternoon activities like go to the Zoo and Natural History Museum, we still had playdates. While I can't exactly recall when she stopped napping, I can almost guarantee she was comfortably resting with a few naps per week, at the age of four. When she turned five, there were no more naps. I had a vastly different experience with my youngest, that stopped napping at two, but I'll save that for her Kindergarten story.

All signs pointed to go. We had conversations with our pediatrician, with her preschool teachers, and I chatted with my friends that taught Kindergarten. I read many view points and didn't find huge gaps that convinced me to hold back for a year. I also knew if the decision turned out to be a total disaster, we could put her back in a private preschool until the following year. We decided to move forward with our decision to send her to a public, five days a week, part time Kindergarten.

Concerns About Sending My 4 Year Old To Kindergarten:

My biggest overall concern was that she wouldn't be ready to handle school everyday. I didn't know if the experience would take a toll on her. After visiting her new school, I was worried that Kindergarten felt so down to business and that play based Kindergarten was extinct in public schools. Here's a post I wrote about her first day of school, Where Did Sissy Go?

Most of Sj's preschool friends were boys. I distinctly noticed that her gross motor skills were not even close to where her male counterparts were at that age. While she would be off drawing pictures at playgroup, her boy friends were figuring out how to climb on top of the countertop. I didn't think this would be a huge factor in her Kindergarten experience. She was also dancing ballet and taking a gymnastics class and doing just fine keeping up. By no means was she excelling at gymnastics, but it was a positive experience for her.

Three years later:

Sj is off to fourth grade next year. My mind hesitates when I say fourth grade, as fourth grade seems way too grown up to me. How can my first born be headed to Upper Elementary school, just two years away from middle school... Her Lower Elementary school experience has overall been very positive. Sj is reading and writing above grade level. She has a deep appreciation for literature and enjoys writing her own short stories and poetry. Just this year she has received advanced grades in those subject areas. Emotionally she seems to be at par with her girlfriends, I don't think any of her teachers would even know that she was the youngest in her grade. She's a leader in her classroom and often is allowed to give lessons to younger classmates. She is very well organized and takes pride in her schoolwork. Homework is not a battle, she completes a weekly packet days in advance (a trait she does not get from her parents, we are procrastinators through and through). She can hang with the best of them and I have to remind myself she is younger, sometimes almost a year younger than her fellow classmates. We've also had the good fortune for her to attend a school that has multi-age classrooms (1-3 and 4-5), which allows learning to happen at the level that is needed. With someone like Sj and her ability to focus, it has given her the opportunity to work most often above the "middle" where one would anticipate she should be working. We haven't had a completely glowing, stellar elementary school experience. There's been friendship drama and lots of emotional maturity that we've had to really process through. Honestly, I don't think there is any escaping the ups and downs that come with forming friendships. So is life, in my opinion.

Overall I feel confident in our decision to allow our oldest to start school at four. Frankly I find myself biting my tongue when I hear outrageous factors coming into play when a parent is deciding if their child is ready to take on Kindergarten. Remember that, I don't want her to be the last kid in her class to be driving comment? That mom was completely serious and I was completely floored.

My strongest advice is talk to other parents, talk to your pediatrician, talk to family members, read all perspectives, talk to the preschool teachers, talk to teachers your child may have had in extracurricular activities. Recognize your child for their strengths and weaknesses and make a decision. There will always be options if the decision you have come to was not perfect. None of us are perfect and can predict a child's experience. Be kind to yourself and always put your child's needs first.

Related: My youngest will have the exact opposite experience. She missed the Kindergarten cutoff, having a December birthday. She'll be the oldest in her class, 10 months older than Sj is at the same grade. She's already reading and writing in preschool and I wish quite often she could be in Kindergarten now. Her story will be told, soon enough. 


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Tuesday Tips: Say Goodbye To Toxic Sugar? [w/ videos]

The studies are in, sugar is toxic to our bodies. Every little sweet nibble sending our taste buds into overdrive and our dopamine levels through the roof, is bad for us. Bad, bad, bad. While I hate to be the bearer of bad news, this can't actually come as a surprise, right? Deep down, we already knew this.

I know how my body feels when I consume higher levels of sugar than normal, it feels like crap. After the sugar rush is over, my body feels depleted and weak, most of the time I want to take a nap post-sugar crash. When I detoxed off of sugar in January, I honestly felt like I was detoxing off of a hard illegal substance. I was irritable. I spent one night from 5 in the afternoon until the morning with a pillow over my head, I was miserable, sensitive to noise, achy, and overwhelmed by a dull malaise. But when that detox phase was over and I was eating a diet free of processed sugars, I felt incredible.

With the new studies confirming what my gut instinct may have already told me, how do we use this information to make informed decisions?

Sugar is not going away from my house, it's simply not. Here's the bigger problem to me, the appearance of sugar in items we don't even think of containing sugar. Ketchup, pasta sauce (that's just all sorts of wrong), crackers, bread, peanut butter, the list goes on. If we are not consciously recognizing all the small doses of sugar we are eating through out the day (snuck into foods we don't think are "sweet") then when we do choose to have a special treat, it's just overload on our bodies. The sugar consumption is taking a toll on American's health.

Our first line of defense, is keeping our EYES WIDE OPEN to what items come into the house already containing sugar. I will not purchase any food products for our home that contain High Fructose Corn Syrup, not one. I also think HFCS is not the only culprit, we need to look at sugar in all forms that sneak into our foods. Organic processed foods are not the solution, they are just made with an organic form of sugar (note: STILL TOXIC). Pay close attention to food labels and make sure when you do recognize sugar as an ingredient it's not in the first 5 ingredients, as the list starts with the item it contains the most of.

Here's a partial list of forms of sugar, there are probably over 50 easily:

1. Sugar
2. Brown Sugar
3. Cane Sugar or Juice
4. Brown Rice or Rice Bran Syrup
5. Beet Sugar
6. Malt Syrup
7. High Fructose Corn Syrup
8. Dextrose
9. Maltodextrin
10. Sucrose
11. Fructose
12. Agave
13. Date Sugar
14. Barley Malt
15. Honey
16. Maple Syrup
17. Caramel
18. Sucanat
19. Lactose
20. Glucose

If I consider my job to be the first line of defense in keeping unhealthy food items away from my family, then I have take the job seriously. I tow the line, no super processed foods, no GMO's, no hydrogenated oils, no crazy artificially colored foods, no HFCS, no junk (we call it what it is). I have conversations about food with my children, ALL THE TIME. We make choices together. We are huge fans of fresh fruit for dessert with a square of dark chocolate. Our love of dark chocolate is not being sidelined anytime soon. I let my girls choose treats all the time and I am always amazed when they ask for a banana with peanut butter and some semi-sweet chocolate chips for dessert over cookies we have in our pantry.

Everyday we chose what to consume, some days are better than others, but the bottom line is to make wise informed choices. Your body will thank you...

Here are the 2 pieces featured on 60 Minutes last Sunday:

Monday, April 2, 2012

Start Showing Up

Mt. Crested Butte, Colorado
While inevitable that a days worth of actions are not going to be chock full of delight and wonderment, I can't help but fall back on the statement, start showing up. I go through phases of my attentiveness to home matters, my personal goals, and what exactly I want my waking hours to accomplish. Maybe one day it's nurturing friendships, another it's taking on a new adventure with my girls, always shifting in my mind thoughts and actions knowing variety is one key to maintaining my personal happiness.

Recently I've been showing up at the gym, on a variety of hiking trails, and on the yoga mat, which makes me realize that I haven't been showing up in other places. Like this blog for example. It's a little give and take. Only so many hours, what do I want to do with them? Instead of focusing on what I haven't been doing, I'd rather set my sights on how to better incorporate the things I've been neglecting into my routine. Those three simple words, start showing up, are my new mantra. Breathe them in and most importantly create the actions. It's funny when you start showing up, you begin to recognize what showing up means, and that is a powerful way to shape your life and relationships.

How about you, where do you want to start showing up?