Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Giving: They Get It

I don't think I can take any credit for this one, since I've always struggled with being, essentially, a pretty selfish person. But our kids were born with a greater generosity than I've ever had and all in all we've tried to emphasize Christmas as a season of meaning and family, not a holiday of getting presents. Luckily, we set things up from the get-go by announcing that Santa brings one present per child, and on Christmas Eve we've given the kids each a book and that's it. So they've never expected a pile of presents under the tree and I think in retrospect that was a good path to take. I especially feel for families who have built up a Christmas tradition of mountains of presents and then this year find themselves in a financial pinch (as so many of us are in this economy). With kids, it's always harder to undo than it is to do.

Although they are essentially good-hearted kids, I was still really moved this year to see how Mackenzie and Asa have embraced this as a season of giving, not getting. First of all, Mackenzie went to pick out Asa's present. He went to a local bead store and picked out by hand a bunch of different beads, all in Asa's favorite colors. He wrapped them up with different kinds of earring wires and a craft-style case to sort and carry it all in, and voila she had her own earring-making kit. She took that kit and made earrings not just for me, but for many different friends, and even the moms of her friends in the neighborhood. When she ran out of beads, we went back down to the bead store and she used all of her money to buy more. In the process, she bought some ceramic beads for Mackenzie in the shape of a dragon's head and teeth and made him a necklace that was really cool in a 13-year-old guy kind of way.

So for me, that was really the Christmas gift that shone out during this season, way more important than anything that could land in my stocking: watching our kids get that giving is the greatest gift of all.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

The Dream Role

It's been a crazy and emotional week around here. For almost two years, Asa has known that the theatre where she's been performing would be doing the musical Annie. Of course, as with so many little girls who fall in love with the story and the music, she dreamed of auditioning for the play and most especially for the lead part. So for quite some time she has been working hard on her vocals, stage presence, and other aspects of performance with the idea in mind that when the time came she would have a shot. Well, this week the time finally came. They announced the auditions and with a few days to prepare she started rehearsing the song "Tomorrow".

One thing I'll say about Asa is that when she puts her mind to something she is a very hard worker. In her favor is the fact that she memorizes things extremely easily (often to our dismay as she can recite word-for-word things like commercials you would rather forget). But she spent a lot of time on this song with me giving feedback, working on even minor details like where her eyes were looking, breathing, volume, timing, phrasing, and diction.

When the auditions came along, there were of course a number of girls hoping for the part, many of whom were quite talented. She knew it would be tough. Luckily, she got called back with a smaller group to a second audition (thus prolonging the agony of waiting to know of course). These girls were all so good, and I think it's a tough thing for any kid to go through working so hard for something and knowing that you might not get it. She has a great attitude though, and I've been impressed before when she's gone in for auditions and not gotten the part she wanted, just how mature she can be (much more so than I think I could be under similar circumstances!). She just sticks her chin out and troops on.

Well, the bottom line is that she found out yesterday that she got the part!!!!! So after a few months of memorizing a LOT of lines and singing a LOT of songs, she's going to stand on the stage and perform as Annie, which is really a dream come true for her. I'm so excited and yes very proud of her and all the hard work she has put in so far. She is so much like Annie in real life, so spunky and kind, good-hearted and mischievous, that I know she'll do just great.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Crazy Weekend Part 1: Robotics

Last weekend was the culmination of several months of craziness: robotics team meetings and Nutcracker rehearsals, endless details to manage (where in town can I buy a pink leotard? tri-fold presentation boards? Do I have all of the team permission slips filled out?) Of course, it was all worth it as we headed off to the regional robotics competition with our team Veni Vidi Roboti excited to see their robot on the field and present their research project, and as Asa took the stage in her first dance solo.

Unfortunately, bad weather in the form of horrifying ice and sleet made the roads a skating rink (32 accidents in one stretch of I-5 alone) and this complicated our plans greatly. The night before the robotics tournament, we still weren't sure if it was even going to occur, but finally after 3 hours of delays, the tournament did take place on Saturday for which I was very grateful. These kids have worked way too hard to miss out on competing!

The team had a great time at the tournament. They really impressed me with their morale, their coolness under difficult circumstances, their ability to work as a team, and their overall positive and encouraging attitude. Unfortunately, the robot took on a mind of its own at the tournament, with programs that worked fine on the practice table suddenly going haywire on the actual competition table. It was very frustrating for the kids, but they really were very professional about it all. I was extremely proud, both as a coach and as a parent, of this team. I know that we coaches really did our job well not when the robot scored high (it didn't), but when the kids accepted what had happened, worked to fix what they could, and moved forward with a positive attitude. This is not easy for adult engineers, so to see a team of kids accomplish this was impressive.

Of course, the robot performance is only 25% of the total competition, with the rest coming from the teamwork judging, robot technical judging, and the research project presentation judging. I knew the team would knock the socks off of the judges in those areas and they did. They ended up winning first place in the research project category. I haven't posted anything about their project up until now, because I didn't want to give away their subject publicly. The theme this year was transportation, they were to identify a transportation problem in their community, and propose a solution for that problem. Almost all of the teams at the competition chose things like pedestrian safety, school bus scheduling, walking and biking to school, etc. Well, our team chose the solar system as their community, and the problem of orbital debris (or "space junk") as the problem. Their research involved things like calling up a NASA representative, metal recycling specialists, and arranging a tour for themselves at a local metal recycling facility. They really poured a lot of energy into this project and it showed. I'll have to post the text of it here later this week as it was truly impressive. I could tell the judges were really impressed with what they had accomplished.

Lastly, the icing on the cake for the competition was that they got a Core Values Nomination from the head judge. FLL takes their core values very seriously, and they place a big emphasis on teams exhibiting these values, including the value of "gracious professionalism" which means competing like crazy but respecting and exchanging ideas with your competing teams. Here you can see a moment that occured in a hallway between competition rounds where our team and another got a moment to discuss their robot designs. This is really what FLL is all about, right here, the learning and growth that occurs when these kids share what they've learned with each other.

Before we went to this competition, I had told the team that I didn't care a bit if they won or were the absolute last on the robot table, but if they came away from the competition having done their best and worked well as a team I would be very happy. Well, they accomplished all of that and then some, and as always I'm honored to have been a part of their journey, and very proud of all the work that they put into this competition. Having the head judge acknowledge their teamwork and core values really just confirmed what I knew about these great kids.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

On Our Way to Robotics Again

It's that time of year again, when our robotics team heads off to the regional tournament with a robot built and programmed and a research project completed, and I as a coach am pulling out my hair trying to keep track of all the details, equipment, and schedules that need keeping track of to get us all there in one piece. For me, this week is probably the single most stressful of the entire year, mostly because I don't want to be the person who messes everything up in forgetting something crucial!

Watching the team present their research project and robot at the public library last week, I'm reminded that it is all more than worthwhile. I know just in watching Mackenzie over the four years that he's been involved in this program, it has given him many things. Most especially, the confidence to speak in public about complex subjects, and the ability to reach out to experts in various fields to ask for their assistance. This year the team did their research project on Orbital Space Debris, quite a hefty problem to try to solve. One of the things Mackenzie did was to call up the NASA representative for Oregon and Washington and ask if he would assist in answering some questions. He also picked up the phone and arranged for a tour of a local metal recycling facility.

Watching these kids answer questions from the audience at the library about their research and their design and programming of the robot, I was struck by how much each of them has developed in maturity and poise and public presentation skills. I know for Mackenzie too it has sparked an interest in all things engineering and programming related, and his programming skills this year have really taken off. For this year's competition, he wrote a line-following program that navigates the robot around the table following the black lines on the mat. Each year that we've done FLL robotics, his abilities in these areas have grown and grown.

So wish us luck as we travel to the competition this weekend, I'm excited to celebrate all that they've learned and accomplished as a team this year.

Monday, December 07, 2009


Both of my kids were sling babies, other than my running stroller they were never in a stroller (didn't own one), just carried around. Of course, Mackenzie almost broke my back, hitting 20 pounds at about 2.5 months old! But still, a sling is the best parenting "equipment" I ever owned.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

A Star Is Born

At the end-of-term recital for her stage performance/singing class, Asa performed The Climb by Miley Cyrus. Wow, she knocked our socks off! Lately, she's not only been playing the piano, but has started playing and singing at the same time. I'll have to get it on video sometime as it truly just blows me away. She is a dynamic performer and I have no doubt that if she really does want to follow her dream of being a singer, she totally has it in her - stage presence, voice, musicianship - she's a star! And I'm not just saying that because I'm the mom. :-)