Thursday, February 24, 2011

Denise and the very snowy day...

Everyone who knows me knows that I do not care for snow. It's messy. It's cold. It snarls traffic. But it is also gorgeous and fluffy and changes a landscape completely. It's a rarity in Portland at all let alone in Portland in February.

So this morning when I woke to a nice covering of snow I was at a crossroads. Looking out my front door I could see snow everywhere. But also blue skies peeking out and the lighting was gorgeous. I wandered out in my slippers; camera in hand hoping my neighbors weren't out to see my wild pre-shower hair and I snapped a few pictures then back inside I went.

I put my camera on my desk and sat down to my breakfast. But like an insistent puppy my camera kept staring at me...then back at the door...then back at me. You think I am joking, but I swear it was! So I tried reasoning with's cold outside (wear a coat), I was going to get a workout in (walking in the snow is a workout) I already have a picture of the snow (off the porch! Imagine what it looks like in the park!) I was going to clean bathrooms (really? Bathroom cleaning over a walk in the snow?) Okay, so even I wasn't buying that last one...I bundled up and decided to take my camera for a walk.

I do not consider myself a photographer. I am just someone who takes a lot of pictures. An obscene amount of pictures as anyone who has ever tried to get someplace fast with me will attest to. I have friends who are true photographers and they take pictures that will stop your breath for a moment with their beauty. But me? I just take pictures of what catches my eye. Like the sun coming out behind a grove of snow covered trees or the needles of a pine tree covered in fresh powder.

The thing I always thought distinguished everyone else from photographers is what they see. Photographers seem to see things we don't. You see a picture they took and you think, I have walked past that sign a hundred times and I never saw it that did you? But the one thing I have realized is that it's not just that photographers see things it's that they are looking for things. Like snow flowers.

Or a moss face...

Or splashes of color in a white landscape.

So maybe it's not that they have a special way of seeing the world it's that they take the time to actually look at the world. To explore. To slow down a little and pay attention. So maybe I am starting to become a photographer after all. Maybe with my camera in hand I take the time to really look at the world around me. To see things a little differently. Even myself.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011


I have never been the type of woman to have a lot of girlfriends. If you were to ask me I would tell you through my life my closest friends have been men. Because of my early relationship with my sister and my middle brother I just learned to trust boys more than girls. And then in school this idea was reinforced. There was less drama, less back stabbing, less nonsense. If a boy was mad at you he told you and told you exactly why, if a girl was mad at you she told everyone else and smiled to your face. This was my early experience in elementary school and middle school with the difference between boys and girls as friends.

Now I usually had one or possibly two close girl friends but not a big group. I am a loner by nature and a super low maintenance friend. In fact a woman that I would consider one of my closest girlfriends I haven't seen in years, haven't talked to on the phone in almost as long, talk to online a few times a year but think of often. The reason I still consider her one of my closest friends is that she understands that my lack of contact isn't a lack of love or concern, it's just the way I am. And I also know that if she ended up in Portland or I ended up in Memphis we would pick right up where we left off never missing a beat.

But sometimes what you think you are and what you are don't completely mesh. Last night I had drinks with a group of women I used to work with. I have talked about them before in previous blogs. Smart, funny, talented and beautiful to boot. The kind of women insecure women hate. And to see them all in a group would make almost any woman insecure. Thank God I got exposed to them one at a time and grew to respect and cherish them each individually before realizing how incredibly intimidating they were as a group.

I had been talking to another friend earlier about having drinks with these ladies and how it was nice to see them all again. And how comfortable the relationships were. In every group you play a part, the role that is yours. In this group I am still the mom. I don't have to change anything. I am the oldest by a chunk, I have been married the longest, I have the oldest child, I had worked for the company we all worked for the longest, I am the mom, the den mother, the voice of experience, the been there done that one. And I am comfortable in that role.

Career-wise this group is so much more driven than I am. They are in school getting advanced degrees, owning their own companies, owning companies together, working multiple jobs, branching out into entirely new careers paths and succeeding's impressive to watch. When we are talking about business choices and decisions the roles seem to reverse. I am the one wandering and looking for my way after all of these years. Trying this thing or that for awhile while they are all focused and making impressive careers. But the great thing is that there is someone else in the group with a stable long career to look to for guidance in that area as well. Everyone fills a role.

So last night we all gathered for drinks. It was one of those things that just sort of happened. There was a post on a wall on Facebook then a "me too" comment added and another and then we had a date and a plan...and it fell through. I had a client, Meg had a previous obligation...try again. And miracle of miracles the second date worked! It is almost impossible to corral all of us in one shot. And we weren't all there last night, we were missing four but we did have over half of the group so it counts as a success!

As we sat sharing stories and catching up through the night moving in and out of conversations, smaller groups, one on one, all of us together I realized how much I missed seeing them every day. Then Jenn summed it up so well. We were talking about relationships and the challenges we all face at different times and she said, "When we all worked together, we had each other as a vent. We could talk about anything and let that out and then go home." And that was it. When we were all in the same work place we would wander from desk to desk through the day, or gather around the conference room table at lunch, or grab a drink after work and just visit, share, vent, laugh, get advice, give advice every day. Then you could go home and leave work behind, leave that frustration at work or know that the frustration you were feeling at home wasn't anything to worry about, it was normal stuff they had been through it as well. And we all got really used to having that as part of our day.

To having each other as part of our day.

I realized that I am the sort of woman who has a group of girlfriends. I just added them all so slowly into my life that I didn't realize it.

Friday, February 18, 2011


I mentioned in yesterday's blog a set of ideas spurred by a book, the book is Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother and I will be upfront and say I haven't read the book. I read the excerpt that went out with the reviews, I watched a few interviews with the author and that was all. So this isn't a book review but a top end discussion on parenting styles.

I'm going to be right up front, and I know this will shock you, but I am not a Tiger Mom. Okay, maybe that isn't the shocking part, but how about this, I have Tiger Mom traits and at times I think I probably should have been more like a Tiger Mom than I was. We were not the parents that praised everything Christopher did. He really had to do something well to get the "Wow!" response. If he wrote a paper and it was sloppy I made him rewrite it. If we were playing a game and he was losing, then he lost. If he played a piece of music and missed the notes we didn't tell him it was the greatest thing he ever did, we suggested a little more practice. False praise is a silly thing to do. How will kids know they need to improve if you tell them everything they do is wonderful? Now, I would never have called him trash or stupid but I have told him not to be lazy. So there is a little Tiger Mom in there.

In the world of the profoundly gifted kid we ran into a lot of Tiger parents. Christopher's best friend in kindergarten for instance. He was Indian not Chinese but it could have been the same blueprint. Very traditional family. His parents were actually married through an arranged marriage. When I asked Sheri how she felt about that she told me, "Who better than my parents to choose my life partner. Who knows you better and what would be best for you than your parents?" I told her, "Well, I cannot even imagine who my parents would have chosen for me so I am thankful your parents were spot on in their choice for you!" Shiv was an Engineer, with I want to say 3 different degrees, Sheri was an architect. Vignesh (in kindergarten) was taking Tae Kwon Do, piano, swim lessons, tennis lessons and who know what all else! This didn't stop the entire time we have known them. Lessons, after school activities, good grades and all wrapped up into a very polite child.

Christopher has taken Tae Kwon Do, played basketball, soccer, indoor soccer, football, been on the chess team, the Lego robotics team, taken trumpet lessons, extra classes at the college and been in any number of extra bands. The difference being it's all been on him to decide. He wanted to try basketball okay, we signed him up. But we didn't tell him, you must play basketball! He started playing trumpet because his Principal at the time thought it would give him an artistic outlet and since it was based on math he would enjoy it. But we didn't insist on him playing a musical instrument.

He took classes every summer and a few times through the year at Saturday Academy, but they were things he chose. We let him self direct most of the time. That's not to say we didn't parent him. That's not to say he didn't have rules. He had a lot of rules as he will tell you. He had more rules that a lot of his friends did. We didn't force the academic issue, much. I insisted that he keep up studying during the summer, I think summer vacation is a mistake. I would rather see smaller blocks of time given through out a year round school year. So Christopher ended up being home schooled during the summer when he was in elementary and middle school. Work books, educational summer camps, handwriting drills. But we always wondered if we should have done more.

When he decided to go to a performing arts high school we really debated on whether on not to let him or to insist he pursue a more academically challenging path. We went back and forth for a long time and I am still not sure it was the right choice. On one hand it was a small school and Christopher got to play Jazz which he loves. He was comfortable there and really got a lot out of his English, music and history classes. On the other hand we had to take him to the local college for math because they ran out of options for him long before graduation and his science classes were not even close to the challenge he could have taken on.

When the time for college decisions came we faced the same questions. Do we direct this more or let him choose? He has known since he was in elementary school that he wanted to be a video game designer. He took classes, learned programs, designed games and really prepared himself for this path. But as a parent you look at a degree like that, a limited field of study and wonder,"Is this the best path for my child?" And then when you are looking at a child who in the 5th grade was talking to our family doctor about cancer cells and bringing up things intuitively that she learned in medical really wonder if you shouldn't possibly try and steer him into a bigger school with a broader education base.

But when push came to shove we did the same thing for both his high school and his college choices. We realized that they are his choices. He needed to be comfortable to excel in high school. He is academically gifted, outstanding intelligent and socially awkward in the way that only really smart people seem to be. He will tell you this. He will tell you he is shy and reticent to get to know people because he is not entirely sure how to go about it. So high school in a big school would have been a nightmare for him in a lot of ways. Having a graduating class in the 70s was comfortable. His small college with a bunch of other creative game kids is the same thing. He will know his instructors, he will know his classmates, he will know the campus and in that comfort will be able to pursue his dream.

Or at least I hope so. I hope that he finishes his degree, gets a job that he loves and meets someone wonderful to settle down with and raise a family of his own. I hope that he is happy and healthy and content with his life. And if he isn't I will be sure it's something I have done wrong. Because that's what parents do. Part of raising kids is worrying that you aren't doing it right. When Christopher was very little his wise pediatrician said to me, "The only parents that worry about being good enough parents are good parents" that's brought me a lot of comfort. Because I think we all worry we are doing it wrong a lot of the time. Even Tiger Mothers.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Very profound

I was first going to write this blog back in January. A news article in the local paper got me all riled up and I was going to write right away! Then I took a little time off to rest my arms from a bad desk set up and too many days in a row writing, then a book was released that made me think about ways it might tie in to this blog, then I started writing about other things, blog and otherwise and now I am finally getting back to this train of thought.

I wrote a few years ago about my feelings on "Fair" and this sort of ties back to that one. In fact I mentioned the changes to C's high school that were made to make it more "fair" to everyone. This is about a group of parents that want to see the same sort of changes made to the middle school he went to as well.

Most of you know that C is very smart. The definition is profoundly gifted. He scored in the top 99% of both reading and math standardized testing in school. In the 6th grade he took the SATs for a Johns Hopkins study and scored higher than 90% of graduating seniors that year. He is smart in a way that is hard to comprehend at times. Now any parent of a child that is an outlier on either end of the spectrum will tell you that the public school system is not set up to deal with kids like theirs. And really they can't be. The resources are stretched too thin. So parents of kids with special needs (and being extraordinarily intelligent is a special need just like being mentally handicapped is) have to find ways of dealing with their child's special needs outside of the school system.

Sure there are TAG programs in the school and teachers will try to find "enrichment exercises" for bright kids who are bored in class but what this often boils down to is extra worksheets. So more homework covering concepts they got the first time through in class, or more likely when they read ahead in their books waiting for everyone else to catch up. When C was in middle school we reached a head with the frustration levels. Seeing that he was going to be going back and forth between the high school and the middle school within a year to try and get classes that were keeping pace with him we looked for alternative programs. Portland has a school called ACCESS and they will take a certain number of students outside of their district. Criteria to get in are test scores (99% in either reading or math), filling out a questionnaire and teacher recommendations. So we got C a spot in this program starting his 7th grade year.

Then Beaverton finally caught up to Portland, and passed it really. They opened Summa. To qualify for admittance in Summa you must score in the 99% for both reading and math. They started C's 7th grade year and now have full middle schools (6-8) in two locations. It's a wonderful program. Fast paced, challenging, filled with only students who score the same high percentages. It was a wonderful help. The year it opened it was also a huge controversy. Parents whose kids missed the cut off by a percentage or two were not happy. I can understand this. To a point. I know the frustration of taking your kid to extra classes and finding activities to keep them interested and taking on their education in a way that feels like you put them in school for 6 hours a day for their amusement but their education is all on you.

But there is a big difference between a student who scores in the 97% on one test and one who scores in the 99% on both. The pace at which these kids were given information was faster than many college courses. The ideas they were exposed to, the freedom they were given in "figuring it out" in finding the next direction that they wanted to take in a science experiment for instance, was amazing. I have likened it to owning a Ferrari and for years being restricted to driving on a crowded freeway where even though you COULD go much faster everyone around you can't so you are stuck and then all of a sudden the road opens up and everyone around you is in a Ferrari and you get to race open road.

So back to January. It seems as though a group of parents have gotten together to hire an expert on gifted students to try and change Beaverton's policy. The reasoning is that there are many different types of gifted and the program should include all of the TAG students so everyone gets to participate. Because the way it's set up now just isn't fair. This would mean expanding the program from the 326 profoundly gifted students it has right now to 1400 smart kids of varying degrees. Then they want to group those students by ability in the program. Now, I am not sure if the schools in your area do this, but this is the standard way most schools work already. The first week or two of school is placement tests and then you are put in groups Red, Blue, Yellow based on your scores. The same system that wasn't working for these profoundly gifted kids in the first place. And then what happens if you do get your way and your kid is in the slow group all of a sudden? After years of being in TAG, being in the most advanced group all of a sudden in Summa they are the slow one? How do you think that is going to work out?

One of the wonderful things about how Summa works is that the tests were done ahead of time. To get in to Summa you had to place at a certain level so no further dividing is necessary. They start first day learning at a rapid pace. And they all know that they are all profoundly gifted. There is no stigma for being smart or for not being as smart. You wouldn't be there if you didn't meet the rigorous admittance criteria. Still, I get it, everyone wants the best for their child, but this isn't for your child. I am sorry, but they didn't test high enough. It sucks. It's worse to miss something by a small percentage than a large one. I am sorry that you will still have to handle the enrichment and extra learning on your own, but this is not the way to fix it.

One of the quotes in the article had me shaking my head, "We don't want to change the program, we want to expand the number of people who participate in it." Excuse me? Isn't that changing the program? That to me is like saying, I love everything about you except your personality. We don't want to change the program, we just want to lower the requirements for getting in, increase the number of students in the program and then divide the groups by levels again instead of group learning. But other than changes.

This ends the rant blog. Tomorrow I will write the other part of it that I can't figure out how to mesh nicely with this one. Just for a sneak preview hint..."Rawr!"

See if you can figure that one out!

Monday, February 14, 2011

That guy...

So last year I blogged about Valentine's Day, or rather the fact that I am anti-Valentine's Day. So this year I figured I would give equal time to the other side of the equation.

I am friends with "that guy". All of the married or even just dating couples out there know what I mean. At least the male half of the relationship does. "That guy" is the one that messes it up for the rest of you. He is the one that does the romance thing without being reminded or guilted. The one that plans ahead and seems to actually enjoy doing so. So if you are friends with a couple that has "that guy" in it, you are screwed. You bring home your dozen roses and your wife is THRILLED until she calls her buddy to talk about it and finds out "that guy" had a rose bush named after her in the Rose Gardens. You get reservations at the newest romantic restaurant in town and are pretty pleased with yourself until you find out "that guy" had a private chef come to the house and cook a gourmet meal while his wife spent the day in a spa getting pampered.

"That guy" doesn't even do it to make you feel bad, which makes it so much worse! He's just doing what comes naturally to him. He's not trying to out compete you. He is just trying to make sure that he is doing all that he can do to make his partner feel special. Now the particular "that guy" in my life is like this for all holidays. He and his wife have been married just a few years longer than Brent and I have so if I weren't so anti-celebration Brent would be in huge trouble. For their 20th Anniversary he booked a romantic week away in wine country where they did tours and tastings and a hot air balloon ride. (I actually have two "that guys" the other one did a tour of Italy for their 20th but he is only "that guy" when it comes to travel instead of a general all over "that guy")

Anyway...he also takes off her birthday from work so he can spend the day with her every year. When we first became friends I remember scheduling a meeting with him and him having to move the date because it was on his wife's birthday and he would be out of the office all day. He was shocked that not only do I not have Brent take my birthday off, I didn't even take it off myself. To be fair, I do celebrate my birthday for an entire month, so it's not that unusual to expect I would take the day off. But my idea of celebrating my birthday is people bringing me sweets and telling me how young I look. That's it. His idea of a celebration is a day doing what ever his wife wants, pedicures, massages, dinner out, maybe a weekend trip away to a bed and breakfast. See? He is "that guy".

So Valentine's Day for "that guy" is like the ultimate day. The "that guy" in my life, even proposed on Valentine's Day. This year because his wife's job requires that she get up early dinner out on Monday night would be inconvenient so he moved Valentine's Day to Saturday. But I guarantee you that he will not let the day pass without letting his lady love know she is still his favorite Valentine. In all the years that I worked with him I would marvel at his Valentine's Day efforts. He is the father of three daughters so not only would he do something special for his bride, but he would then do a lovely gift or dinner with his other girls. And then he spreads out from there.

I can remember being in a business meeting with him the week of Valentine's and he took the time out to tell people how he felt about them. Reduced the biggest bear of a man I've ever met into a blubbering baby. It was really something to see. And he does it all very unselfconsciously. You would expect one grown man telling another how much he respects and cares for him to be awkward, but it was a lovely moment. When it came time that same meeting for my turn in the spotlight, he first told me to shut up and sit still, he knew I wasn't comfortable with speeches or praise but wanted to let me know that he appreciated everything I did for him and his business and then he gave me a cookie. Which as you all know, baked goods are the gift of choice for me. See? He is "that guy".

As much as I am not into the celebration I enjoy hearing about what he is doing and how he is doing it. It's a view into a world that though I don't understand it or need it I can appreciate why he does it and how it makes him and his family feel. So for all of you out there whether you are like me and would just rather not celebrate, or if you are "that guy" or aspire to be "that guy" or fall somewhere in the middle I hope the day is filled with all of the things you like best. And if you are looking for gift ideas...remember baked goods!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Stop and enjoy the perfection

This morning is gorgeous. It was very windy yesterday and it's not stormy today so the air is crystal clear. Bright and sunny. The sunrise is spectacular.

After taking Brent to work this morning I was sitting at a stop light looking up at the sky and there was a jet flying...the trail was hit by the light of the rising sun in such a way that it glowed bright white in the sky. So below the contrail line was the bright orange, pink, yellow of the sunrise then blue sky then the glowing white of the contrail itself. It was beautiful and I thought I would like to be able to sit and watch the whole time the jet flew but knew eventually the light would change and the cars behind me would not be happy with my choice. For a second I started to regret the leaving instead of enjoying what I could watch while I waited.

Then the light changed and I had to turn and focus on the road ahead. Leaving the beauty of the sky behind. The morning radio show I listen to went to commercial right at that point and I changed the channel only to hear Jeff Buckley singing "Hallelujah....hallelujah..." and my heart filled with the beauty of the moment. Perfection.

By the time I got home the trail in the sky was a broken patch of vapor trail in the blue...moments of perfection are fleeting, but they are all around us waiting to be found. Just remember to enjoy them while they are happening instead of looking past them.