mamamusings: kids

elizabeth lane lawley's thoughts on technology, academia, family, and tangential topics

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

homeschooling lane

While we were on our vacation, we made a decision to start homeschooling Lane. Gerald and I felt that the school he was in had become a toxic environment for him, slowly killing off his self-confidence and love of learning.

Today I read a horrifying NY Times article about a young man being bullied in an Arkansas school district, and I couldn’t help but wonder why these parents continue to send their child to that school. To make a point? At what cost?

To homeschool a young child requires privilege—enough money and resources to be able to serve as both parent and teacher, enough patience and social support to be able to manage your kids 24 hours a day without public school teachers to take them off your hands for 8 hours a day.

But to homeschool a teenager requires far less of that privilege. I hope that Billy Wolfe’s parents can find a better solution for their son than sending back into that horrific environment day after day.

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categories: kids

Friday, 26 October 2007

twenty-minute emergency zelda costume

For months, Alex has been saying that he wanted to be Link from the Zelda games for Halloween, and I’ve been putting off looking for the costume. This week, I discovered that you simply cannot buy one of those costumes (unless you want to pay nearly $100 for a serious cosplay version), and he was seriously bummed.

This afternoon, my guilt kicked in bigtime, since tonight at 6:30pm is the middle school Halloween dance…so at 3:30pm I headed to Joann Fabrics. I picked up 2.5 yards of a cheap green cotton fabric, and some elastic for the hat (that I ended up not needing). I got back home at 4:30pm, and used the basic idea from this step-by-step guide. I used one of my oversized t-shirts as the cutting guide, and then I simplified the process by making the sleeves part of the one piece tunic, and by simply cutting a slit in the neckline to create the illusion of a collar. A few minutes before 5:00 the cutting and pinning was done. Then I used Alex’s sewing machine to sew up the seams on the tunic and the hat (which we cut to fit his head, meaning no bottom seam or elastic were necessary). At 5:15 it was finished. He was delighted, and I think I’ve earned a parenting gold star.

Here’s the costume just after it was finished:


And here’s one of him wearing it:


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categories: kids

Friday, 17 August 2007

update on lane

Lane saw the pediatric orthopaedist today, and the news is encouraging. The left arm looks good, and they replaced the cast with a waterproof one so that he doesn’t have to worry about keeping it dry. That will help a lot with bathing and showering. The right arm is still stable, which is encouraging. He’ll have to keep the splinted full-arm cast for at least 2.5 more weeks, but after that if it’s still stable and there doesn’t seem to be a bend (not sure what she meant by that) they’ll switch that one to a waterproof forearm cast, as well. In the meantime, I’ve ordered a waterproof cast cover so he should be able to start bathing and showering this weekend.

No additional restrictions on his activities (other than not participating in gym or sports)—he can continue to try to figure out strategies for typing, dressing himself, etc.

We discovered last night when he called me complaining about a rash that he seems to have an allergy to codeine. :( So they’re taking him off the Tylenol with codeine, which is probably a good idea at this point, and switching him to just a combo of acetaminophen and ibuprofen.

The Dragon Naturally Speaking software arrived yesterday, and Lane’s started puzzling out how to get it to work with his favorite programs. It’s a challenge, but he seems to be making progress. (In a few hours he went from “It won’t work with my AIM or Second Life software” to “I can get it to work about half the time.”)

My mother returns to Rochester from Mexico today, and will be able to help Erin out with the necessary care and feeding. And we’ll be back late Sunday night.

In the meantime, the suggestions here have been great…many thanks to those of you who offered up such creative and useful ideas for coping strategies!

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categories: kids

Monday, 13 August 2007


Well, the cruise may be is off.

Lane fell off his bike today and broke both of his arms wrists. I hate that I’m 2500 miles away from him right now. Erin’s with him at the hospital, and will take great care of him, but I want to be there.

It’s not clear if he’ll really be able to travel this week, or if he’d even want to go on the cruise with two broken arms. The good news is that we have travel insurance for the trip, so we can cancel and get a full refund if it looks like traveling is a bad idea. I don’t have many details at the moment, but will update when I have more information.

We don’t know a lot more just yet. The right arm break is apparently pretty bad, and they’re not yet sure if it will set properly. If not, the trip is definitely off, as they’ll need to do surgery. Even if it’s iffy, the trip is off, since they’ll need to check it soon and possibly reset, so being gone for ten days will be hugely problematic. Only if it turns out being a clean set will we get the okay to travel. They have to sedate him to set the arms and put on the casts, so until that’s done, and the follow-up x-rays are complete, we won’t know much more. Friends and neighbors are already stopping by the hospital to make sure Erin’s holding up okay, too. I’m grateful for both the trip insurance and the health insurance, not to mention our wonderful family and friends. But I wish I were there.

Spoke to the orthopedic resident after they set his arms. The left wrist fracture was stable, but the right was is not. As a result, they want to check in a week—if it hasn’t stabilized they may need to do surgery at that point. So, no cruise. Thank goodness Gerald got the trip insurance! Microsoft will change our flights so that we can fly home this weekend to be with him. The whale watching tour company refunded our deposit. And we’ll rebook and take a different cruise over the winter when he’s fully recovered. It sucks, but it could have been much, much worse.

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categories: kids | travel

Monday, 30 July 2007

what's a parent to do?

Me: I talked to Lane today. He managed to solve the malware problem on his computer by himself.

Gerald: How?

Me: He did a lookup on the IP addresses associated with the ads, figured out what company they were from, and then searched for common .dll files associated with that company. He found four of them in his system32 directory and deleted them, then checked his registry to be sure there was nothing else from the company. Now everything works.

Gerald: What are we going to do about him?

Me: Well, we can talk to him about better safety and security practices and keeping his virus and malware scanners up to date.

Gerald: No, I mean what are we going to about having a kid who’s such a [freak]ing genius with computers? It’s scary.

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categories: kids

Wednesday, 25 July 2007

why you shouldn't let your kids fly delta as "unaccompanied minors"

This was a busy travel week for the Lawley family; Alex arrived solo from Rochester (via United) on Monday afternoon, 45 minutes before I got on a flight to Chicago. Then Lane left solo for Rochester (via Delta) on Tuesday morning, 15 hours before I flew back to Seattle.

This was the first time the boys had traveled by themselves, and I wasn’t too terribly worried about it. All the airlines now charge a hefty “unaccompanied minor” fee for kids alone ($99 for United, $75 for Delta), and in return they promise to keep track of your kids and their tickets, get them to their connecting flights, etc. Since they’re both seasoned travelers, I figured there’d be no problem.

With Alex, there wasn’t. My mom put him on the first flight in Rochester, he connected without incident at Dulles, and Gerald and I met him in Seattle. United handled everything perfectly, and he was in good spirits when he arrived. (Although a little cross about the garish red and white striped button they’d made him wear, which he felt looked quite awful with his camo-print t-shirt.)

With Lane, however, Delta screwed up royally, and the more I think about it the angrier I get.

He made it home safely, and my mom picked him up at the airport as scheduled. But he nearly ended up in Albany rather than Rochester. Why? Because some idiot Delta employee in Atlanta PUT HIM ON THE WRONG PLANE. WTF? How the hell does that happen? How do you put someone on the wrong plane? Thank goodness someone on the flight realized it before they took off, and they relocated him to the correct plane for Rochester—moments before it was supposed to leave.

Yes, all’s well that ends well. But it was a pretty upsetting experience for all of us, including Lane. And it has seriously shaken my trust in Delta airlines. There are few responsibilities as important as taking care of a child’s well being, and they dropped the ball on this in a very big way. So today I’m dealing with Delta’s “customer care”—at a minimum, I want the unaccompanied minor feel waived. But I would expect that they’d do more than that if they want our business in the future, including giving us an explanation of how they intend to improve their procedures so that this doesn’t continue to happen.


Update, 7/26: After I provided them with the receipt number by phone today, customer care did refund the $75 (or so they say; I’ll believe it when I see the reversed charges on our Amex bill). But when I asked them to please provide me with information on how this was followed up, and what changes (if any) were instituted to prevent it from happening again, they said I’d have to go onto the website and write a complaint, because they weren’t empowered to follow-up with me directly. Ridiculous. I’ve updated the title of this entry so that it can leverage my Google page rank to bring the post up when someone searches for Delta and “unaccompanied minor.” Here are some other key phrases that should help: “children traveling alone” “kids traveling alone” “children flying alone” “kids flying alone” “unaccompanied child” “child flying alone” “child flying solo” . Any others that should be added? Put ‘em in the comments. I’m already the #2 site for “delta unaccompanied.” :)

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categories: kids | travel

Wednesday, 16 May 2007

time keeps on slipping, slipping, slipping...

Holy moly, how did it get to be mid-May already??

My older son turned thirteen yesterday, which means I’m now the parent of a teenager. Wow.

Only 2.5 weeks ‘til I head back to Seattle for the summer.

The day after I arrive in Seattle, Gerald and I celebrate our fourteenth anniversary. We rock!

But between now and then there’s grading, grading, and more grading. And packing. And time with the kids, who’ll be in Rochester for most of June to finish school. (Then they’ll each split the summer between Rochester and Seattle—first Lane for four weeks in Seattle, then Alex.)

I’m feeling a little overwhelmed at the moment. But in a mostly good way.

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categories: family | kids | microsoft | travel

Monday, 26 March 2007

geek humor starts early

On the way to Buffalo yesterday, this conversation took place in our car. (Context: I was grading student websites on the trip while my husband drove…yay Verizon broadband card!)

Lane: Why aren’t your students using Flash on their websites?
Me: Because I don’t let them use Flash in this class. The focus is on HTML and CSS techniques. They study Flash in other classes.
Lane: That’s stupid. Why do you discriminate against Flash?
Me: (exasperated) I don’t discriminate against it, it’s just not appropriate in this class.
Gerald: (fanning flames) Admit it, you’re discriminating!
Me: No, I’m not. Flash gets “separate but equal” treatment.
Lane: We already know that doesn’t work. Just watch—pretty soon there’ll be an “Actionscript vs. Board of Education” lawsuit!

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categories: humor | kids

Sunday, 19 November 2006

history translated into IM speak

Last night, Lane showed me a project he’d done for his social studies class. He had created a fake chat room transcript in which the participants were America, England, France, and Spain during the events of colonial times.

Gerald and I both loved it, so I convinced Lane to link to it from his blog.

Go read it, and if you like it, leave him a comment!

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categories: humor | kids

Friday, 6 October 2006

preteen rebellion in the digital age

It’s one thing to know that your kids are likely to reject your basic ideas about what’s good and what isn’t. It’s another to watch it unfold in front of your eyes.

Lane scored a home run in the rejection of parental values category with his Powerpoint paean to bullet points. (The link is to his blog entry, which in turn links to the Quicktime version of the actual presentation.)

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categories: kids

Thursday, 3 August 2006

the freedom/responsibility curve

Lane and I are in my office this evening, and we just heard a staff member and a student having a discussion in the hallway. The staff member was (I think) talking about his small child, and he was bemoaning the fact the child seems not to appreciate how good his or her life is.

In an aggravated tone, the staff member said “I mean, you get the first five years of your life free, and maybe the last five years, and the rest of the time in between you’re working your ass off at school or at work. Why can’t kids appreciate how good they’ve got it during those first five years?”

Lane looked at me and said “It’s true, isn’t it?”

And I said “Not if you pick the right job.”

We talked about it a bit, and I ended up drawing this curve on my whiteboard:


Little kids, I told him, have few responsiblities, it’s true. No school, no work. But they have very little freedom to match that. Other people tell them what to do, and how and when to do it.

As you get older, your responsibilities increase, but along with it so does your freedom.

If your responsiblities get too overwhelming, your freedom starts to decrease again, to where you have no time to do anything than what’s required of you by others.

So, somewhere in the middle is the sweet spot…where you’ve got enough responsibility to be able to earn your freedom, but not so much that you’re trapped by it.

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categories: kids

Saturday, 6 May 2006

to tell the truth

A few days ago, Gerald asked Alex if a character in a show they were watching was lying. “No, he’s just not telling the truth,” Alex replied. When pressed on the difference, he explained that “There are three kinds of not telling the truth—sarcasm, fiction, and lying.”

They amaze me sometimes.

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categories: kids

Wednesday, 28 December 2005

worth repeating

From Jenny Levine’s blog:

The Shifted Librarian: Morning Conversation with Brent:

Brent: You’re always on the computer — you’re addicted to it. What are you doing — are you talking to someone?
Jenny: Yes, I am. And I’m not always on the computer…
Brent: Can I talk to them?
Jenny: Not right now you can’t, no. And I don’t think you’re one to talk, Mr. I’m-Addicted-to-Instant-Messaging.
Brent: I’m not addicted. I just like talking to people.
Jenny: You know, you can talk to them on the phone, too.
Brent: Not to five people at once I can’t.

I think Brent and Lane would get along really well…

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categories: kids | social software

Tuesday, 29 November 2005

revenge of the grownups

My father just sent me a link to a NYTimes piece called “What’s the Buzz? Rowdy Teenagers Don’t Want to Hear It” that totally cracked me up. Here’s the key concept:

Mr. Stapleton has taken the lesson he learned that day - that children can hear sounds at higher frequencies than adults can - to fashion a novel device that he hopes will provide a solution to the eternal problem of obstreperous teenagers who hang around outside stores and cause trouble. The device, called the Mosquito (“It’s small and annoying,” Mr. Stapleton said), emits a high-frequency pulsing sound that, he says, can be heard by most people younger than 20 and almost no one older than 30. The sound is designed to so irritate young people that after several minutes, they cannot stand it and go away.

Oh, I so want a room-sized version of this. Wouldn’t it be lovely to have a room that kids couldn’t stand to go into, but grownups could sit in and relax? Or to turn this on in my office at RIT when I’m willing to talk to colleagues but not students? The possibilities are endless…

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categories: humor | kids | technology

Tuesday, 1 November 2005

lane's marketing campaign

Lane’s been working tonight on a variety of advertising materials for his new toys-for-tweens blog.

This is the one I liked the best…

if (gift.knowledge = false) {
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      } else {
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categories: kids

my son's new venture:

Lemonade.jpgMy son Lane came downstairs last week and announced that he’d come up with an idea for a new domain name (his old one, he’d determined had too many hypens and was too difficult to remember). I asked him if he was sure his new idea wasn’t already registered, and he assured me it was available. (For an 11-year-old, he’s pretty tech savvy. Dunno how that happened.) “What’s the domain name,” I asked? “,” he replied. (As in “I so want one!”) I blinked, surprised, and asked him if he was sure it was available. He was sure—and he was right.

So for about $8 I registered the domain name, and set it up on my multi-domain hosting account. And then we had a little talk. I pointed out that if he ran it as a blog, and regularly posted information about products he thought were cool, that he could actually make money from the site. He was dubious—it hadn’t occurred to him that a web site could make money rather than simply consuming it. So I told him about Chris Pirillo’s site, and gave him a rough estimate as to how much money Chris was making through Google Adsense. He was suitably impressed. The clincher was when I added that he could probably make that part of his homeschooling—there’d be a writing component, an economics component, a technology component. What’s not to like?

After we talked about “monetization strategies” (as I’ve learned to call them now), he realized that without readers, he’d be unlikely to make much money. So I made a deal with him. Once he had more than three entries, and had committed to at least five entries a week, I’d post an announcement here to get him started. With any luck, some of my faithful readers will take a look, and (if they like what they see) give him a quick shout-out via a link.

Why should you bother? Well, as a parent of two “tweens,” I can tell you that it can be a challenge to know what’s hot (or is it cool?) in their world at any given point in time. I’ll see something in a store that I think is great, and they’ll roll their eyes in exasperation at my cluelessness. I want to play Katamari; they want to play Jak X. And with the holidays almost upon us, I think there’s some real value in having a kids’-eye view of what’s new and notable. Got kids you need to shop for? This is a great way to get ideas.

This isn’t Lane’s first foray into blogdom—he kept a (now-defunct, due to spam overload) blog about his trip to Japan nearly two years ago. And he’s been maintaining his own domain for over a year, teaching himself Javascript so that he could start to build his own virtual world. But this is his first attempt at an online business, and I’d rather have him doing this than delivering papers on cold, wet mornings.

So go. Read. Enjoy. Comment. Click ads. Buy gifts for your favorite tween. Subscribe. And link to him, wouldja? Give a kid a break…

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categories: kids

Friday, 7 October 2005

happy 9th birthday, alex!

3boysdec96.jpgToday is Alex’s 9th birthday. We started the day with his big-ticket gift—a Lego Mindstorms Robotic Inventions 2.0 set—and will end it with a dinner at the Space Needle (his requested venue).

I realized today that in some ways, Alex inspired my first blog, long before “weblog” made its debut in the dictionary. Take a look at this pregnancy updates page…stories about my pregnancy, each individually dated and presented in reverse chronological order. Sure looks like a blog to me. :)

There are other nice things on that long-forgotten site, as well. A photo of Lane holding Alex in my hospital room the day after he was born, the detailed birth story (warning: contains gory and painful details), and even my far-too-optimistic and ultimately useless birth plan.

It’s such a cliché to say “they grow up so fast.” But that’s because it’s so very true. He’s not a chubby-cheeked baby anymore—he’s a sleek pre-teen with a sharp wit and an impish smile. But he’s still my baby.

Happy birthday, baby!

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categories: kids

Sunday, 12 June 2005

fun things to do upon arrival in seattle

Alex and I will arrive in Seattle the evening of June 23rd, and we’ll have almost two weeks before I start work on the 5th. I’m looking for suggestions—what are the most fun things that he and I can do together during those weeks?

Top of the list right now is a visit to Pike Place Market, where he’s really looking forward to watching the fish get tossed around, and eating fresh brioche at the french bakery. But I know there have to more things that will be fun for him, and I’d love to hear from people with kids (or grandkids, or friends) that age who can give us a good list. If there are web sites associated with your suggestions, feel free to link to them, so that Alex can do some exploring in advance.


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categories: kids | sabbatical | travel

Friday, 6 May 2005

birthday baseball

Just booked my older son’s birthday party for next weekend, and I’m already looking forward to it. We’re doing it at a Rochester Red Wings baseball game, and the party package is both fun and affordable.

Hot dogs, soda, ice cream cake, balloons, logo baseballs, and bleacher seats for everyone. Woohoo! What better way to spend an evening in May?

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categories: Rochester | family | kids

Tuesday, 5 April 2005

magical moments

This morning you and I were playing on the floor in your bedroom — I was hiding the phone and you were crawling all over my torso and legs to find it — and you suddenly stopped, your face very close to mine, and you leaned in and pressed your nose to my cheek. We stayed in that position for several spectacular seconds, a hesitation that altered history, a moment so intimate it felt like it could end wars. I could feel you grinning on my skin and even though I wanted to scoop you up and cover you in kisses I let you hold your face there for as long as you would. I know there are only a handful of moments like that in life. Thank you for that one.

No, thank you, Heather. Your monthly “newsletters” — love letters, really — are always moving. But this one, in particular, gave me a shiver of happy recognition.

Even now, with my boys well out of toddlerhood and into their “tweens” (aged 8 and almost-11), there are still remarkable moments like that in my life. Moments when they throw their arms around me with abandon, and I bury my head in their hair and soak up the smell and feel of them. Moments when I wake in the early morning and find that one of them has snuck into our bed and snuggled up against me while we slept. Moments where I can step outside of myself for a moment and see how gloriously blessed I am to have these two children in my life.

Thanks for the reminder.

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categories: family | kids

Sunday, 27 February 2005

video game store lament

I took my older son to a local game store (HO/RC) yesterday that specializes in used game systems and games, and lets you trade in old systems. He had a GameCube that he no longer wanted, and three games that we don’t play—Super Mario Sunshine for GameCube, and Gran Turismo 3 and GTA Vice City for PS2.

They had a PS2 with a missing drive cover (perfectly functional) for $100, but only gave us $25 credit for the GC and games. When I challenged it, the owner was extraordinarily rude to me, suggesting that I drive around and find out all the places that would rip me off more, and then come back so he could rip me off for less. We had a few more exchanges like that, all of which involved him being extremely rude and dismissive towards me (after all, I’m just the stupid rich mom, right?).

What I should have done at that point was march out the door with our stuff in hand, bought a new slimline PS2 at Sam’s (with 2 games included) for $150, and sold the rest on eBay. But I was tired, and stressed about my slew of upcoming trips, and he so wanted to get it right there and then (I’d been promising this for a while). So I went against my good instincts and did the transaction. It left me with a very sour taste in my mouth, though, and you can bet I won’t be back in that store again—nor will I encourage anyone else to go there.

When I searched for HO/RC just now, I discovered that they’re also a prolific eBay vendor—but with a reasonable number of negative and neutral reviews, which doesn’t surprise me at all. I’d be careful doing business with them, if I were you. That attitude towards customers is a very bad sign.

Sometimes I think that what I ought to do is open up the ultimate gaming spot geared towards parents as well as their kids. There’s not much out there that targets tweens, really. The hands-on museums are for the younger set. The game stores and arcades are more for the teenagers (and the parents hate being there). So why not create a place that tweens will love, and that their parents won’t mind taking them? Model it on places like Chuck-E-Cheese, with food and drink available, and places to sit. Put in a coffee bar and free wifi so that parents are willing to hang out while their kids wander around and/or play. Set it up like CEC, so that kids can’t leave without the adult who brought them—that lets the parents relax, possibly in a separate glass-walled area so their kids can be seen but not heard. Hire teenagers to work there, and have them wandering around, available to talk to/encourage the tweens who are the real target. Sell card games and video games and computer games, and provide space for kids to play—for a price. (Maybe a monthly fee…)

I’m not much of an entrepreneur, but I bet something like this would do really well. There’s a huge market out there that’s pretty much untapped for this age group and their parents. Give us gamer moms somewhere to go that doesn’t leave them feeling the way I did when I walked out of HO/RC. Please.

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categories: Rochester | big ideas | kids

Wednesday, 17 November 2004

getting ready for greece

Haven’t been writing much this week because I’ve been swamped with end-of-quarter grading—alas, I’ll have to find an Internet cafe (or test out the international capability of our departmental AT&T dial-up accounts) in Athens this weekend to finish projects submitted on Thursday, but if I’ve got to grade, doing it in Athens beats doing it in Rochester!

We leave tomorrow afternoon, and will arrive in Athens at midday on Friday (Rochester to Dulles, Dulles to Frankfurt, Frankfurt to Athens), and will stay in Athens through Sunday night. Monday morning we’ll be picked up early by George the famous taxi driver, who’ll be our guide for two days in Delphi and Meteora.

While I’m looking forward to Athens, I’m particularly excited about seeing Meteora and its famous monasteries. I’ve been collecting links with photos and descriptions over on, and I can’t shake the feeling that this is someplace that I’m somehow meant to see. Here’s a photo from one of the tourism sites:

Meteora Monastery

I’m trying to convince my 8-year-old to blog the trip (the way Lane did when we went to Japan), but he’s reluctant. So I’ve set up a trip blog for all three of us (Alex, my mom, and myself) and we’ll be posting photos and narrative there. (The photos will be posted first on Flickr, of course, so you can keep an eye on that as well.)

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categories: family | kids | travel

Sunday, 31 October 2004

my life as a suburban mom

Yesterday I wore a lot of hats—grateful Al-Anon member at a morning meeting, best friend and workout partner at the gym, politicking faculty member in a chance encounter with an administrator, appreciative daughter sipping her mom’s chicken soup, chauffeur to kids for swimming, Japanese, and cello lessons. I would have been happy to collapse into bed quietly last night, but that wasn’t an option, because last night was also Alex’s birthday party.

We started out at a local arcade establishment, where the kids got tokens to spend on machines, as well as pizza and cake. Because Gerald is friends with the owner, the kids also got to ride for free on the go-karts there—and I went as well. What fun! I had never tried that as a kid, but enjoyed the pedal-to-the-metal hairpin turns enormously this time. We then brought home with us not only our two kids, but five more boys ages 8-10, who spent the night camped out in our living room.

This morning we did tag-team parenting—Gerald got up early to cook pancakes, while I slept in until 9 (around here, that’s very late indeed). Then he went off to run errands and hit the gym while I supervised the seven boisterous boys. Between 9:30 and 11:30 all but one were picked up by parents. And a few minutes ago, my two left with the final guest—they’re off to his nearby house to play video games.

So here I am, in the eye of the parenting storm. It’s still and quiet now, and I can hear myself think for a few minutes. But tonight is Halloween, and the energy level will be building again between now and then.

For over seven years now, I’ve lived in a neighborhood that is much like the one I grew up in back in Buffalo. The kids are close-knit, the parents are friendly. We know each other, we have a sense of community. Halloween is a practiced ritual—our kids will don costumes (my boys are ninjas this year) and band together around 6 (aided by the earlier darkness that arrived with last night’s time change), with a number of parental delegates tagging along behind. They’ll careen from house to house, squealing with delight over the rare house that gives out full-size candy bars, and grousing about those who toss them a scant handful of boring hard candies. Meanwhile, we parents will lurk on the sidewalks, occasionally shouting a reminder to say thank you, or not to trample flower beds.

By 8 or so they’ll be worn out from running, and tired of carrying their bags. They’ll make one last stop at the neighbors who are famous for giving out self-contained drinks rather than candy (heavy, but welcome after a long night of walking), and will retreat to their houses to dump their bags of treats on the floor and sort them out. There’s the “eat it now” pile, of course. Along with the “save for later” and “maybe I can trade it” piles. There’s the “who on earth would eat this?” pile, and—if I’m lucky—a “give it to mom” collection. (They know my favorites, and they also know there are long-term benefits to keeping mom happy.)

After we’ve looked over the piles and given our blessing (we’ve never had safety problems with candy around here, but we still always check), they’ll devour as much as they can, inevitably getting to the point where they feel ill. And then, as the sugar wears off, they’ll crash—hard—and hopefully sleep late tomorrow.

I’ve not been online much this weekend, because being a mom on a weekend like this is more than a full-time job. But it’s worth the time and energy it takes. I’m very, very grateful for the sense of community we have here, the fact that I know my kids’ friends, and their parents…that I know my neighbors, and the school principal, and the owner of the local arcade. It’s a good life that we have here.

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categories: Rochester | family | kids

Thursday, 7 October 2004

happy birthday, alex!

Today is my younger son’s birthday—he’s eight years old! I’ll be rushing home after teaching today for a special family dinner, where he’ll get a super-secret-special present from his grandma that I can write about later tonight.


If you want to send him birthday greetings, he’s alex at his-last-name dot net. (make the obvious substitutions…)

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categories: kids

Monday, 19 July 2004

summer fun

Not much blogging recently because I’ve been busy in the real world, having fun with my family.

Friday night Gerald took the boys to a Red Wings ball game, which was followed by an RPO concert and fireworks. (My stepfather plays cello for the RPO, and provided free tickets for all of us.) He took some photos on his cameraphone, but he hasn’t configured it yet to email me the images, so I can’t put them here (maybe later tonight). The Red Wings won (after 12 innings!), and they had a great time.

Saturday I took Alex to the last few hours of the local airshow. I’ve never been to one, and after watching the Blue Angels practicing outside my office window on Friday, I really wanted to see the whole show. They were spectacular, but even better was the Red Baron Pizza Squadron, a group of four biplanes that do spectacular aerobatics, including the creation of the lovely midair heart shown below. (I’ve got some other nice photos of the squadron on Flickr.)

Air Show

Saturday night we farmed the boys out to friends and relatives, and went to Weez’s birthday party, where we had a lovely time. It made me appreciate how lucky I am to have friends I enjoy so much, and for those friends to be colleagues, as well.

Sunday the boys had music lessons with my stepfather (Lane’s a budding cellist, and Alex has just taken up the viola.) After that, we headed to the county fair for over four hours of eating unhealthy (but delicious) food, and riding the midway rides. The boys finally worked up their nerve to go beyond their favorite rides, like the Dragon rollercoaster (very small, but fast):

Dragon Coaster

Alex agreed to go on the Cliff Hanger if I went as well…so we did it. And it turned out to be great fun—it spins, but on an angle, so you swoop up into the air and then back down again. It does feel like flying!

Cliff Hanger

So today I’m back in the office, trying to focus on getting some work done. Not too successfully, alas. With luck, tomorrow will be better.

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categories: kids

Thursday, 29 April 2004

peace must be our goal

Lane and friends playing recorders in their spring concertLast night I attended the fourth-grade spring concert at my sons’ elementary school. It was the first such event that I’ve been to since we got a digital camcorder as a gift (thanks, Dad!), so I’ve been playing with iMovie this morning.

For family members and other folks affiliated with the school, I’ve made a “web-friendly” (meaning tiny and highly compressed) full-length QuickTime version of the movie . Click here to see it streamed (could be slow, depending on server load), or right-click and choose “save target to disk” here to download it directly to disk and play it locally—it’s a 42MB file. (If you want the higher-quality, uncompressed version on DVD, let me know).

For those with less patience for home movies of kids, especially those you don’t know, here’s a small QuickTime clip of the kids playing their recorders and then singing a verse from a song called “Peace Must Be Our Goal.”

Given the state of the world today, this song—sung by such innocents—touched me deeply. These kids are too young to be drafted, but they’re more than halfway to that age. Will their world be more peaceful than ours? As a parent who doesn’t ever want to send her sons off to war, I can only hope so.

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categories: family | kids | politics

Sunday, 28 March 2004

safety vs censorship

I’ve been thinking about filtering a lot lately. Much of that thought has been spurred by watching my kids—especially my older son—exploring social software. He’s blogging now, and is reading my blog as well. He’s an IM wizard, enthusiastically working with far more open conversation windows than I can manage without my brain overheating. He hangs out in Neopets, and signs online petitions to allow fan sites to post Neopet photos. He does all this wirelessly from the hand-me-down Powerbook G3 that he got for his birthday this year.

All good things, in theory. What’s not to like for a parent who’s as much of an Internet and social software geek as I am? Well…plenty.

Let’s start with the blog. The benefits of his blogging have ben multi-fold and inspiring—it spurred him to write enthusiastically and in detail about our trip to Asia, it made him aware that he had a platform from which he could explore not just his experiences but also his questions and frustrations (like book censorship, for example), it made his teacher (and his classmates, and their parents) aware of the power of student-generated content generally, and blogs specifically.

But with blog readership comes the inevitable blog spam. After the first few “enlargement” comments, I installed mt-blacklist, which helps a lot. But that’s a short-term solution, since the ingenuity of spammers tends to outpace the rate of solution provision. The new MT comment registration service may help more…we’ll see.

But what’s more challenging are the oh-so-difficult questions of public vs private information online. For example, I know not to put my home phone number and address on my blog. But he and his friends haven’t yet developed those instinctive filters for personal information—and on several occasions, I’ve found our home number, along with those of his friends, in a blog posting. I quickly edited that out on the blogs I control—but it left me more than a little unnerved.

Recently, he and his friends discovered BlogSpot, and decided to set up a group blog to complain about every child’s favorite problem—their parents. Anyone with kids knows that good parenting isn’t always popular parenting, but that doesn’t make it any less painful to see one’s children publicly reviling you for what they see as unfair and hurtful actions.

So we had a talk. He reads my blog, and complains (with reason, I think) if I talk too much about him. There are purists who would argue that if I were a real writer, I wouldn’t allow his reactions (or anyone else’s) to change what I write. But I do think about my audience when I write, and I think about how what I write will affect them and my relationship with them—now, and in the future. And I want him to do the same. “How do you think it makes me feel when you write mostly about what you think is wrong with me?” I asked him. I don’t begrudge him his feelings, or his right to an outlet. But I do want him to understand that publicly expressing those feelings can and will have an effect on the people who read them. It was a good talk, a valuable talk. But it remains to be seen to what extent it changes his use of this exhilarating medium—and it also remains to be seen if my husband and I will continue to encourage this level of freedom of expression if we see it as putting him or his friends at risk.

And while we’re on the topic of risk, there’s that pesky IM thing. I walked into the room where he was typing the other day, and he quickly closed the IM window. My parental radar kicked in immediately. “Who were you talking to?” I asked. “Just a friend,” he answered, intentionally vague. We eyed each other. I told him I really needed to know who it was, but that I didn’t have to see what was being written. . “Was it someone I know?” “No.” “Who was it?” “He’s a kid that T (a neighborhood friend) met online. He’s 13.”

WHOOP! WHOOP! WHOOP! (That’s the sound of the all-hands-on-deck alarm that went off in my head.)

“We had a deal,” I said. “IM only with people you already know in person, and not with anyone Dad or I haven’t approved to put on your buddy list.”

He protested, telling me that he could tell this was a nice kid, that he was smart enough not to reveal any personal information via IM, that obviously I didn’t trust him or think he was smart. To no avail in this case—I’m not willing to budge on this rule, and I made that clear. But I’m deeply concerned—we had the rule in place, and he broke it. How do I know it won’t happen again?

So I’m caught. On the one hand, I want to encourage his exploration and use of online media and interaction. On the other, he’s right—I don’t trust him not to make potentially dangerous mistakes. It’s not that I don’t think he’s smart, or savvy, or listening to my warnings. What he doesn’t understand—what he can’t understand—is how easy it is to be fooled, to be taken in, to be taken advantage of. Especially when you’re honest to a fault, as he is—because it’s that much harder to really understand just how dangerous and dishonest so many people “out there” can be.

(As an example of how this honesty plays out, here’s what happened after we found out the boys had been visiting “NSFW” sites on one of our computers—via a phone call from one of their friends’ parents. I had a serious talk with them about appropriate use of the computers, and the risk of lost privileges. I told them that the computer recorded all the sites they went to, and that I’d be checking that on a regular basis. A day or two later, while I was at work, they came rushing downstairs to talk to Dad. “We accidentally ended up on a page that had grownup stuff on it, but it’s okay. We left the site, and we erased it from the history of the browser so that mom wouldn’t get upset!” He didn’t know whether to be delighted at their honesty or dismayed at their obvious mastery of the technology.)

This isn’t a new problem for parents. We all struggle with the “stranger danger” issues these days—how do we keep our kids from being paralyzed with fear at the sight of a stranger while still keeping them safe from the very really harm that lurks around too many corners? I don’t have answers right now, just questions, and concerns.

For the time being, I’m continuing to err on the side of access, with a healthy dose of oversight and communication. But I’m also hoping that better solutions for children’s use of technology begin to emerge. A kids’ IM client that I can configure in terms of access, for example. An easy to install and configure weblog client that lets me approve posts before they go live. Varying levels of access that i can allow or remove, depending on each child’s activities and maturity. I wish I saw more work happening in this space, though I understand that COPPA makes it difficult.

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categories: big ideas | kids | social software

Friday, 26 December 2003

the spirit of the season

my kids, wearing disguises

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categories: kids

Wednesday, 17 December 2003

escape to neverland

Through the generosity of a colleague, I found myself yesterday with passes to see the sneak preview of the new Peter Pan movie. So I packed up the kids, and resigned myself to a less-than-inspiring movie experience.

I was wrong.

The movie was visually stunning and emotionally rich. (I laughed, I cried…) The plot was surprisingly true to the original story, but with darkness and depth that I hadn’t anticipated. The young unknowns playing Peter and Wendy were wonderful—balancing innocence, humor, and sensuality with skill well beyond their years.

It opens for real on Christmas Day, and I give it a hearty thumbs-up. Be warned, however, that the younger kids with us (Weez and brood were there, as well, so we had ages 2, 5, 6, 7, and 9 to poll afterwards) were less mesmerized than the older ones. Weez and I loved it. Lane (age 9) said afterwards, with a real note of surprise “It was way better than I expected.” But Alex (age 7) was more blas╗, and the younger kids found some of the darker parts troubling.

This morning I’m off to see Return of the King, which should be a very different experience!

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categories: kids | movies

Tuesday, 25 November 2003

kids' blogs

My son Lane and I are working on setting up his new blog. He’d really like to see some blogs by other kids in his age range (he’s a 9-year-old 4th grader). Anybody know of some sites I can point him to? Thanks…

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categories: kids

Sunday, 5 October 2003

you are likely to be eaten by a grue

Last night on the way home from dinner at Weez’s house, Lane and I got into a conversation about early computer games, like Adventure and Zork. My first introduction to computer games was Hunt the Wumpus, which I carefully typed into my father’s TRS-80 computer back in the late 1970s, and saved onto our state-of-the-art cassette tape drive, but Zork was the first game I really loved. I bought pads of graph paper, and laboriously mapped out all of the various tunnels, paths, and twisty passages. I told Lane about Zork, and how it was like being part of a story—he’s so much like me that I knew that would appeal to him immediately.

I got so caught up in talking to him about it that I missed our exit on the highway. “Uh-oh,” I said. “That was our exit.” His reply? “It is dark. There might be grues.” I laughed so hard we nearly missed the next exit, too.

So tonight we set out to try to find a copy of Zork to play on our computers—and we were successful. It’s not OS X native, but it works. And it was truly wonderful to sit on the couch, one child on each side, re-exploring the world I’d spent so much time in twenty years ago. They shrieked with delight in the Loud Room, when each command was repeated back to me as an echo. “Pick up the platinum bar.” “Bar…bar…”

After we’d played for a while, Lane asked whether it would be possible to find a copy of Adventure to play, too. I wasn’t sure that would be as easy to find…after all, “adventure” is a pretty common word. But Google came through for us, and we quickly found Rick Adam’s wonderful site, “A history of ‘Adventure’”, complete with downloadable versions.

It’s a testimony to the power of these text-based games that they held the interest of my media-saturated six and nine-year-old sons for forty-five straight minutes—and would have for much longer if I hadn’t realized it was getting late and sent them off to bed. Tomorrow I’ll install Zork on their Macs, and buy them some graph paper.

I feel like a kid again. :)

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categories: kids

alex in the paper, and on the web

alexphoto.jpgIt seems our local newspaper, the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, sent a photographer and a tape recorder to my kids’ school during school picture day last month. My younger son, Alex, is quite a clothes horse, and had demanded to wear his “wedding suit” (from my sister’s June wedding) that day—which made him an excellent subject for the newspaper cameras.

We didn’t know any of this, of course (“Anything interesting happen today?” “Nah.”). Until this morning, when we found Alex’s picture in the paper. Turns out it’s also on the web as a multimedia presentation (requires Flash).

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categories: kids

Sunday, 28 September 2003

alex's "wowser" sentences

After I finished grading papers tonight, I took a quick look through my kids’ “portfolios” of school work from last week. (They bring a folder of work home every Friday.)

One of Alex’s (second grade) assignments had been to write five “wowser” sentences—sentences that are detailed and descriptive—using that week’s spelling words. Here’s his, intact. (Spelling words highlighted in bold.)

  1. I love to splash and play in my pool near my swing-set.
  2. Scooba-divers are people who go under-water with air tanks, goggles and flippers.
  3. I often tell on my anoying bratty older brother.
  4. Why do you park on a driveway and drive on a parkway?
  5. The damp green tree fungus said I know a funny joke.

He does make me laugh.

The teacher “corrected” the last one, placing a comma after ‘said’ and quotes around “I know a funny joke.” I’m tempted to send it back and point out that her changes significantly alter the meaning, and that perhaps he was recounting what the tree fungus said about him. But I won’t, since Alex seems quite fond of her, and being a pain-in-the-ass parent won’t make his life any better.

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categories: kids

Thursday, 4 September 2003

and so it begins again

The kids trudged reluctantly up the steps of their school bus this morning. I trudged just as reluctantly into the basement and onto the treadmill, which ended up being a lot more fun than the rest of my day. Presidential address to the university community (two hours long, made slightly less painful by my discovery that my new 17” powerbook was capable of picking up a wifi signal even out in the giant tent in U Lot), college faculty meeting (don’t even get me started on the pointlessness of that gathering), student convocation (which I skipped in order to rush home and meet my kids as they got back off the bus), and finally a master’s student project defense.

On the one hand, I’m happy to get back into some semblance of a routine. I eat better (fewer temptations) and exercise more (because it’s part of my daily schedule) during the school year. But on the other hand, it only took a few hours for me to remember how much I hate the part of my job that’s not teaching or research—the endless hours of faculty and committee meetings that balkanize my days and cause constant frustration in all the participants.

Skipping convocation was my little declaration of independence, in a way. It’s not that I don’t like convocation…there’s a part of me that really loves the pomp and circumstance surrounding convocation in the fall, and commencement in the spring. The formal welcoming and leave-taking, focused on the students. But going to convocation today meant missing my kids’ arrival at home on their first day of school, and I wanted to make statement—to myself and to my family—about where my priorities would be this year. Now that I’m tenured (as of September 1st), I don’t have to worry that missing a “required event” will cost me my job. So I went home, and was sitting on the front porch when the bus pulled up in front of the house.

The freshman students won’t remember that I wasn’t at convocation today. But my kids would remember if I wasn’t here when they got home. It was the right thing to do.

Tomorrow I’ll try to clear my mind of the meeting-induced negativity I accumulated today, and will start to focus on the grant work (we give our first presentation to the new students tomorrow, asking them to support our work by agreeing to participate) and class preparation. I’ve got a full section of freshmen in my Intro to Multimedia class, and I’m really looking forward to that. It’s a great chance to connect with students when they first arrive, and to shape their perceptions of the department and the university.

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categories: curmudgeonly | family | kids | teaching

Sunday, 3 August 2003

proud mama

It really is back-to-school season. I’ve spent the weekend working on course materials, and my older son just cleaned out his backpack. (“Mom! Look! The missing SandwichKeeper!”) I told him to toss any papers that he didn’t want to save, and he pulled out one and nonchalantly said “I don’t really care about this, but you might want it.”

It’s just a short “research report” on the rainforest, typed on the computer and then printed out. But I have to say, it’s pretty sophisticated writing for an 8-year-old. (He’s 9 now.)

We need to save the rainforest for many reasons. One is that there will be less runoff. The trees will hold the soil so the rain does not wash away.

Another reason is that we will lose oxygen. The trees will take in less carbon dioxide, and they will breathe out less oxygen.

Another reason we should save the rainforest is that there will be more droughts if we do not. The humidity will stop and the dry wastelands will contribute to the global warming so there will be more droughts.

The final reason that we should save the rainforest is that we will not find all the new species. There may even be a plant that can cure cancer, but it will probably be destroyed before we discover it.

This is why we should save the rainforest.

I read it, then say to him “Wow. This is really good. Where’d you find all this stuff out?” “We did research.” “So, did you mostly just copy the stuff you found?” “No. That would be cheating. I did the research, then wrote it in my own words.”

I just wish that more of my 18-year-old freshman students at RIT (a) wrote this clearly, and (b) had such a clear grasp of academic ethics.

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categories: kids | teaching

Thursday, 3 July 2003

start the day with a kiss

Or at least a picture of one.

You don’t necessarily need to know the context for that photo entry to enjoy it, but it adds some depth. Weez’s 19-month-old son Gabriel has a bit of a biting problem—and Weez has the bruises on her arms right now to prove it. We were out last night*, and she was talking about her struggles in getting him to shed this behavior. So, the photos are a nice follow-up.

*Girls’ night out after a workout. Sitting on the patio on a warm night at The Distillery, with frozen margaritas, raspberry wheat beers, and appetizers guaranteed to undo what we’d accomplished in the gym. Bliss.

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categories: kids

Monday, 19 May 2003

suburban snail hunting

We live in a pretty typically suburban neighborhood. Lots of houses, trees, lawns, kids, sidewalks, etc. But we’re at the southern edge of our southern suburb, and beyond us is a more rural area. As a result, some parts of the neighborhood are bordered by woods and creeks.

Yesterday I took Lane (who just turned 9!) down to the creek because he wanted some snails. Generally, it’s hard to take pictures of Lane because he mugs for the camera. But he was so absorbed by his task that I was able to take a number of nice pictures. Here are two of them.

Lane snail hunting 1

Lane snail hunting 2

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categories: kids

Tuesday, 18 March 2003

another reason to homeschool

Over at Idlewords (where they’re celebrating “French Week”), they’ve provided a telling comparison of two school lunch menus. One from an elementary school near Paris, France; the other from one right here in a suburb of Rochester.

Following the comparison, there’s some pretty damning commentary—none of which, as a parent of a child in an American elementary school, I can really argue with.

School administrators (along with many parents) will argue that they have no choice in what they can offer, because kids just won’t eat healthy food. But that is Lord of the Flies logic. If you applied it in the classroom, you would be forced to teach English from comic books and math not at all. In fact, some schools do take this line of thinking it to its logical conclusion, and allow fast food franchises to take over their lunch programs. Many more set up vending machines that give kids unrestricted access to candy, soda, and snacks. The dirty fact about American school lunches is that they are a dumping ground for surplus and substandard beef, chicken and dairy products. Many of these foods cannot be served fresh because they would be too dangerous to eat. This is especially true for ground meat, which is at times so contaminated with bacteria that it would not be legal to sell it in a supermarket.
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categories: kids

Thursday, 27 February 2003

through a child's eyes

Yesterday, Lane (my 8-year-old son) brought me a tumbler full of gatorade, and then stood tentatively near the door. “Dad says you might have food poisoning,” he said, sounding quite concerned. “That, or a bad virus,” I replied.

He stood silent for a moment, then asked “Mom, why would anyone want to poison your food?”

I reassured him quickly by explaining what we meant by “food poisoning,” and he left the room looking greatly relieved. It was a good reminder of how literally children take what they hear.

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categories: kids

on my living room wall...

crane.jpg …is a gift I received from my stepfather. It’s not a cheerful image—it’s a picture of a shrouded woman, done in muddy reds and browns. Below it is the last stanza from “War is Kind,” a poem by Stephen Crane.

Mother whose heart hung humble as a button On the bright splendid shroud of your son,
Do not weep.
War is kind.

I first read the poem in high school, and it touched me then, in a way I didn’t understand, but that most of us who love to read have felt more than once. And when I saw the picture in my mother’s house after she married my stepfather, I coveted it immediately.

Today, when I look at it, I am grateful for two things. First, for my stepfather’s generosity in giving me the picture. Second—and more importantly—for the fact that my children (ages 6 and 8) are still too young to be conscripted into the war that draws inexorably nearer.

(Will post a photo of the picture later, if time permits.)

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categories: kids

Sunday, 16 February 2003

on the mend

Lane in the Hospital Here's how you know your child is better. You say "don't press the buttons on the remote so fast, you'll go past the channel." And he says, in an oh-so-exasperated voice, "I know what I'm doing, Mom."

He's definitely on the mend...eating bacon, pancakes, and corn pops for breakfast, washing it down with chocolate milk, and carefully evaluating the quality of the Yu-Gi-Oh cards he received from his dad last night.

The surgeon says he may be able to go home later today if his appetite continues to be good. And we'll both be happy to be out of the hospital, where quality sleep is an impossible dream, and even the delights of a remote-controlled bed and permission to wake your mom up by throwing a shoe at her can't compensate for the comforts of being at home.

Thanks for all the warm wishes we've received, via comments, e-mail and telephone. Your support is greatly appreciated!

(you can click on the photo for a larger version. he's holding a Valentine's "bumble-bear"--half bear, half bumblebee--that I gave him before he went into surgery. he's christened him "Mr. Wonka," for reasons unknown.)

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categories: kids

Saturday, 15 February 2003

Lane is in the hospital

Gerald Lawley here, posting a note for Liz. Our son Lane is in the hospital right now for an emergency appendectomy. Liz is with him and asked that I let people know that she will be offline for a day or two.

If you were expecting some of the information she was going to post today, please check back tomorrow.

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categories: kids

Saturday, 1 February 2003

virtual graffiti

This is too much fun. My son Alex is entranced. I'm quite entertained.

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categories: kids

Tuesday, 24 December 2002

more archival kid conversations

This from April 2001, account provided by my mother:

Lane and Alex are sitting in the back of the car: as usual, I can hear much but not all of what they are saying, and I participate in moderation. Just how this conversation began I am not sure.

Lane: I don't believe in religion or evolution. I don't believe in Adam.

Me: You believe in Santa Claus, though.

Lane: Okay, but not in evolution.

Me: Well, you like science and a lot of scientists do believe in evolution. How come you don't?

Lane: Because I am not a monkey!

Alex laughs. I make ineffective attempts at clarification which are ignored.

Lane: Okay, Al, I'll tell you how it was. First there was a pile of mud or something like that. Then a lot of animals came by and each one gave something. Like the bird gave its butt. And maybe the cat gave eyes. And some animal gave a nose, but which one ...

Me: It's hard to think of an animal with a nose that would be right for you, huh?

Alex reaches over to pinch Lane's nose. Lane retaliates. I scold and am ignored. Alex says, "Poopy Lane." Theoretical discussion ends with raucous laughter as boys decide to engage in the verbal experiment of applying to every noun that comes to mind the adjective "poopy." It is clear they have a great future as poets and intellectuals.

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categories: kids

kids and santa

As I was cleaning out my e-mail (again), I found this message from my mother, dated August 2000, in which she recounts a conversation between my children (who were then ages 6 and 3.5):

Today in the car Lane and Alex were discussing the reality of Santa Claus (I gather the North Pole has been much on TV news, and they noticed Santa's workshop was not located or photographed). They want to know what I think, but I manage to get away without answering. Lane is holding out for Santa's reality, but Alex thinks grown-ups could dress up like Santa and just get presents from the stores. The presents do look like they come from stores, don't they? Lane claims the stores get them from Santa, but he does not seem convinced by his own argument. Finally he says, Well, I know Santa is real because I *personally* talked with him on the phone. Alex then does a very good Santa imitation, Ho Ho Ho, and Lane joins in. They agree they sound like excellent Santas. And then, they look at each other a little amazed by what they almost figured out.

I think my mom needs a blog. But she says writing publicly like this would make her uneasy. :-(

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categories: kids

Saturday, 14 December 2002

omnipresent outlines

The topic du jour in blogaria...and in my house, it outlines.

Doc says all blogs are outlines. The Supernova bloggers all seemed to report some version of Dave Winer saying that "everything is an outline."

So this morning, I decided to try the OmniOutliner tool that I read about on Joi's blog.

Here's the scary part. As I was reading through the docs, and trying to puzzle out the tool, my six-year-old son Alex was lying on the prayer rug in our living room, tracing the designs with his finger. And he suddenly said "Mom, why does everything have to have an outline?"

Huh? He couldn't see my screen from where he's sitting. I was temporarily speechless, since he seemed to have given voice to my thoughts, and I couldn't fathom how that had happened.

Then I realized that he was talking about the outlines of the images on the rug.

So here's the dialog that followed...

Me: They don't.

Alex: Name one thing that doesn't.

Me: Air.

Alex: [frustrated sigh] I mean things you can see.

Me: Well, what do you mean by "an outline"?

Alex: [in voice reserved for talking with very stupid adults] An *outline*, mom. You *know* what I mean.

Me: Well, if you mean an edge, or a boundary, you may be right. If you mean a line around the outside, lots of things don't have an the chair you're next to.

Alex: That's *not* what I mean. You just don't get it.

[Which, alas, seems to be true more and more often as they get older.]

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categories: big ideas | kids

Sunday, 8 December 2002

what's a mother to do?

Tonight Lane and I had a long talk about the way he's sometimes teased at school. It's hard to be a smart, sensitive kid--he gets pegged as "weird" by kids with a small-sized worldview, and it stings. There's enough he likes about school and his friends that we haven't pushed the homeschooling option (he doesn't want to do it now), but it worries me.

And it worries me even more when I read articles like this one from a Portland newspaper: Slam site an eye-opening look at cruelty of middle-schoolers:

The rumors. The name-calling. The cruelty. The profanity. The threats. The humiliation.

It was all there, right on the computer screen, on what school kids call a secret slam site. Leigh could not believe what she was seeing. "I was appalled," she says. "The first thing I saw was about a girl my son had known in grade school. She was a neat kid, and they were talking about wanting her to be raped and shot. And they used her name."

I can't help but wonder if the kinds of kids who start and post to sites like the one described in this article have the kinds of parents who send nastily worded anonymous letters to their neighbors.

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categories: kids

Thursday, 5 December 2002

poetic license

More creative work from my son. (I had a choice between posting this, and a rumination on "public good," responsibility, and academic departments. I decided this was the safest way to go. More on the latter when I'm able to shape it carefully enough not to do damage.)

Over the ice people stride, they always like to slip and slide.

I wish I could do it all year round,
it's fun to jump up and down!

The snow is very wet and fluffy,
I also think it is puffy.

The ice is very slippery,
and when I slide on it I yell "WHEE!"!

Some people think snow is a nuisance,
but that is definitely not my two cents!
   -Lane Lawley

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categories: kids

creative writing

Tonight I'm an especially proud mother. My 8-year-old son, Lane, wrote a lovely story this evening that I think is good enough to share. I have not modified the story in any way from the original (typed in SimpleText on his aging iMac...he's agitating for an iBook for Christmas).

Neodude's Big Adventure

Once upon a time, there was a superhero that went by the name of Neodude. He
was a head custodian at a CGI imaging company. His real name is Henry Johnson. He had a 12 year old friend named Laura. Once, they almost got the whole world destroyed, but before I tell you that story I have to tell you this story. Laura and Neodude were eating grilled cheese sandwiches for lunch. Laura was playing solitare on her powerbook G3 when, suddenly it caught a virus! Flabbergasted, Neodude sprayed it with his virus-b-gone (tm) spray. "Thanks!" Laura said. "No problem!" Neoman Neodude said heroically. Across the world, there was an evil man named Dr. E-mail. He got his PHD in evil. He had a powerbook G4 himself. On it, he stored a lot of evil plans. Now, I can tell you the story of Neomans big adventure. When Dr. E-mail was watching television, Neodude sent him an e-mail saying "Nyah nyah nyah nyah nyah!". This made Dr. E-mail so mad, he constructed yet another evil plan. It was to, kidnap Laura, shrink and e-mail Neodude, and take over the world! So, he sent Neodude a hypertext URL saying which sucked him into the computer and right into the clutches of klez-e himself! Neodude saw a pop- up saying, "home page". He hits it and it takes him to Dr. E-mail's desktop. He hits print, saves Laura, and stops Dr. Email from destroying the world with his wrist laser. He gets home just in time for dinner.

The End

Parents of grade school kids may recognize the Dav Pilkey flavor to the writing. :-) The neodude/neoman confusion is due to the fact that his 3rd grade teacher feels that "dude" is inappropriate for use in his writing, so he's trying to train himself to write neoman rather than neodude--though it's obviously a struggle.

So, if you like the story, and are so inclined, you might want to drop him an e-mail at lane at lawley dot net, and encourage him.

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categories: kids

Sunday, 10 November 2002


Tom Coates posted about the new iBlog tool.

Have to agree with him on several counts. First, I'd much prefer a tool that allows you to work on the desktop with whatever server-based tool you'd like. Second, it ought to integrate better with existing "i" apps, like iPhoto and iTunes. (Love the link Tom provided to Kung Tunes, which puts your iTunes info on your web page...) And I think I'm with him, too, on the discomforting usurpation of Apple's "brushed metal" interface (and the tabbed web site interface).

Done better, something like iBlog would be fabulous. I'd particularly like one that could be easily configured for kidblogging. I think my boys would love to blog, if I had a simple, kid-friendly interface that they could run on their (ancient) iMac. Maybe I'll find a talented student who wants to do an independent study with me next quarter and have them build a kid-friendly web interface to MT...

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categories: kids | on blogging

Wednesday, 6 November 2002

rtfm moment

balcony.jpg It finally occurred to me that there had to be a relatively easy way to add a photo to a MT entry, or Joi wouldn't be doing it so often. :-) So I actually rtfm. Here's my first attempt. Since I don't generally dine with personalities as well-known as Joi gets to list, I decided to provide a photo of the VIPs who most often grace my dinner table--and who keep me most firmly grounded in the real world. On the left is my six-year-old, Alex; on the right is my eight-year-old, Lane. This was taken at our cousin's condo in Navarre Beach, Florida, sometime in July. They're holding up their (at that moment) most prized possessions, items purchased in the gift shop at LAX.

This was our first day in Florida after being in LA, so they got to dump Pacific Coast sand out of their pockets into the Gulf waters. Quite the frequent travellers they were this summer. Rochester to Atlanta to Birmingham to Atlanta to LAX to Camarillo to LAX to Atlanta to Florida to Birmingham and finally back home. In three weeks. Never again. (I have never been as thankful for the existence of gameboys as I was during those three weeks.)

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categories: kids

Thursday, 31 October 2002

life is good

A conversation with Lane, my 8-year-old son, about the tradeoff of trick-or-treating rather than story time tonight:

Me: ¤Come on, what╠s better? Me reading a chapter of Harry Potter with you, or you going out and getting a ton of candy and hanging out with your friends?Ë (thinking this is basically a rhetorical question)

Lane: (after a brief pause for consideration) ¤Well, reading with you is better, because you╠re family and I love you and that╠s more important than anything else.Ë

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categories: kids

staying real

My kids are out trick-or-treating tonight. They left filled with that same sense of wonder that I remember from my childhood..."you mean all I have to do is ring someone's doorbell and they'll give me candy???" I love seeing them so happy, enthusiastic, optimistic. It gives me hope.

And it makes me realize how very, very lucky I am to live somewhere where my children can safely go door-to-door, where I know my neighbors and trust them, where someone down the street can take my kids out into the night without causing even a flicker of fear in me. Important to remember that, especially when I get caught up in the frustrations of daily life and academic politics.

I value the online communities that I'm involved with, but I'm not nearly as dependent on them for my (and my family's) well-being as I am on my physical community. I don't see that as being likely to change in the foreseeable future. Nor do I want it to.

I was thinking about that as I was post-processing this year's Pop!Tech (more on that this weekend, after I get this $%^& NSF grant proposal done). Every year they put streaming video of the conference up on the net after the conference is over. Between that and the real-time blogging, why do I need to go? Because the real connections and energy that happen in the opera house during and between presentations is every bit as important as the content being presented. They feed back on each other.

That's what makes me so certain that "distance education" will never completely replace what we do now on campus. The ability to deliver information will improve, and the quality of virtual campus communities will improve, as well. But that won't replace the environment that a good teacher--and a responsive class--can build in a brick-and-mortar classroom. I know there are DL proponents who would argue with me about that...but much as I love and thrive in virtual communities, I simply can't see them replacing the physical classroom in entirety.

Posted at 6:49 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0)
categories: kids | teaching | technology

Sunday, 27 October 2002

the power of fear

It never ceases to amaze me how willing people are to believe things that are frightening--and how skeptical they are about things that are good.

Case in point. I really enjoy Joi Ito's weblog, but he recently posted a link to the fear-mongering "Aspartame is poison" site. This site tosses around plenty of frightening numbers associated with the risks of ingesting aspartame...but none of them are from reputable, peer-reviewed sources. So I searched on aspartame in PubMed, and found at least two articles from peer-reviewed medical journals that refute this.

So why is it that we're so much more inclined to believe the bad than the good? Self-preservation, because we're less likely to be disappointed? Odds, because we've had more bad experiences than good? Or something else? I don't see this in my kids nearly as much as I do in adults--they're generally skeptical of threats ("mom's probably wrong...that steam doesn't look hot enough to burn me"), but optimistic about positive outcomes.

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categories: idle thoughts | kids

Saturday, 26 October 2002

remembering what matters.

It's time to put the computer away, and spend some time with my son. After reading Tony Woodlief's blog post about his daughter Caroline's death, and then the story of her life, I realize I'm wasting precious time in front of the computer.

Posted at 7:33 PM | Permalink | TrackBack (0)
categories: kids
Liz sipping melange at Cafe Central in Vienna