Thursday, May 31, 2012

May's Days

The end of May is HERE and I would be remiss not to mention a few highlights that were glossed over here on this blog - days and occasions we celebrated, amidst the angst, anger, and frustration of the deceptive and damaging work of the Board of Supervisors.  Without further ado.......

I received an invitation to a Mother's Tea at Leo's school.  The invitation stated that we should "Dress to Impress."  Leo interpreted this to mean.... a bright plaid shirt; cute blue chinos; boat shoes; and.... his favorite tights.  I was definitely impressed.  
Leo graduated from preschool.  I took so many photos this day, but this one was my favorite, because he looks both so ready to head off to kindergarten, and yet so content to stay safely tucked at my side, lovingly embraced.  Like many mothers I know, the day felt bittersweet.  I am proud and happy of this giggly, friendly, mischievous, and incredibly kind-hearted boy - and yet my heart aches when I think of how much my world will change in the fall when the ratio of boys-at-school to boys-at-home shifts in a way that cannot possibly feel balanced for my liking.  Watching Leo walk across the stage to accept his "diploma," I felt more grateful than ever for the one boy still snuggled close on my lap. 
Leo thrived and flourished under the guidance of the beloved Miss Barbara.  She is a wonderful, patient, funny, calm, and experienced teacher who loved my boy.  And I love her because of it. 

Mother's Day was such a lovely day!  No tears, no gnashing of teeth, no wailing, no tantrums from anyone - children or my own - which was quite a relief, given last year's disastrous day.  We celebrated with a picnic lunch at a local vineyard. The food was delish; the company, divine.  My favorite photo from that day - only Aidan stayed in place; the rest of us ran from far away places once the timer on the camera was set.
Aidan had the best school year of his life, under the incredible guidance of his gifted teacher.  Perhaps Mrs. Henning's most amazing attribute as a teacher is her ability to create a cohesive, cooperative community of learners among the diverse group of students in her class.  Her classroom was organized, inviting, friendly, and lush with opportunity for learning.  She holds high expectations of her students, yet she is compassionate and kind.  She is funny and fun, yet knows how to bring order to chaos with a single hand gesture.  She exudes love of children and a passion for teaching, and Aidan flourished in ways I could have only dreamed.  I am filled with gratitude for the gift that Mrs. Henning gave to Aidan - the gift of his second grade year.

To celebrate the beginning of summer, we presented a "Butterfly Kit" to the boys on the last day of school.  Five larvae arrived in our mailbox, complete with instructions on how to care for them as they moved from larvae to chrysalis, and as we're still waiting and observing (in a larger habitat), to Painted Lady Butterflies.  Pax absolutely loved to watch the caterpillars as they ate their way though TONS of food, growing in front of our very eyes!  One morning, we measured them against a penny held to the side of the cup.  In the morning, the larvae just barely reached beyond the edge of the penny.  By afternoon, it was fully sticking out of each end and was noticeably fatter, too!  Very exciting stuff, I tell you!
For many years, as much as I love our house, I've hated the lot it was built upon (that we chose, for the record.)  The front yard is one huge hill going up from our house; the back yard is one huge hill going down.  But in summer, the trees fill in all around, the ground becomes lush with ferns and wild growth, and with birds chirping everywhere, it feels almost like we are in a treehouse sanctuary of sorts.  Recently, I was struck with sudden inspiration to make our "wild" backyard much more accessible and play-worthy.  So the kids and I have set about creating a cool little "clubhouse" in our very own backyard, hauling down scrap lumber, propping up big logs to serve as borders, fashioning seats and tables, organizing an "outdoor mailbox" and deciding who gets to sit on the mossy rock - a place of honor.  Tonight, we packed a picnic dinner and headed down the hill for a lovely little meal amidst the creepy crawlies, next to the creek that feeds the lake just a few hundred feet from where we're sitting, and with the crickets chirping in the background.  This picture does not do it justice, because it was awesome, the first of many more adventures here to come. 

Ah, Summer: the best is yet to come.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Mad Scientist!

When Aidan decided that he wanted a science-themed birthday party this year, I wondered if I'd met my match in party planning.  But I love a good challenge, and after just two internet searches, I realized that this party of his was the best of both words:  Teacher Meets Mom.  Eureka! 

The party turned out to be among my most favorites.  Most of the guests were in Aidan's class this year, and they were truly a joy to have at our home - he has many kind and sweet friends, that is for sure.  Since we haven't done a big party for Aidan in several years (his choice), it came as a rather unexpected surprise to have such a calm and lovely party.  No tears, no fights, no wrestling matches (which is more than I can say about a certain pirate party we hosted recently).  :o) 

I managed to get a lot of fun photos from the event, and although I usually try to avoid photo overload on my blog, I'm making an exception this time.  (However, as a general rule, I try to avoid including photos of other people's kids on my blog if I don't have their permission... so some of my favorites, including a group shot of the party bunch, are not included here.)

Welcome to the Lab!

 Be sure to wear a lab coat, please...
 The Mad Scientist with the Origin of (his) Species:

Preparations are complete and ready for the scientists!

"Scientific Progress Goes 'Boink!'"

Thursday, May 24, 2012

What a Cache!

School's out and summer has officially begun - even if the calendar won't say so for another month!

Day 1 of Vacation:  Any seasoned mom knows how rough the first transitional days are from school routine to summer vacation.  Wisely, this mom vacated the premises for much of the day, leaving the wailing and gnashing of teeth for Jeff to deal with.  Any seasoned dad knows better than to keep three kids cooped up in the house on a summer day, so he decided to attempt geocaching with the kids.  Despite enjoying a wonderful adventure of an entirely different kind (namely, meeting a man who is hiking across the country!), no geocaches were found on the first attempt.

Jeff, of course, was more determined than ever to find the caches.  So on Day 2 of summer vacation, the  5 of us set out together to Unlock the Mysteries Hidden on the nearby Rail Trail:

(awesome new hiking sticks from Grandma and Grandpa)

After we typed in the coordinates into the GPS and set off, we carefully tracked our progress until we knew we were exactly at the coordinates where the first cache was hidden.  Looking high and low, after just a few minutes, we heard Aidan say, "Hey, I think I found something!" Out came this ammo can, filled with treasure!
The thrill of finding a hidden treasure was magnified by the connection we felt to others who had made the discovery before us, and the wonderment of who might find it next.
We logged our find, selected a few treasures from the bag, and chose a few to leave in return (including the camp-style can opener that the hiker the boys had met the day before had given to each of them, as a gift).
Finding one geocache practically made us Bounty Hunting Experts.  Confidently, we set off toward our second cache, located about half a mile or so from the first.
This one, dubbed "Treasure Chest" online, was a little bit trickier to find.  But we did it!!  It was first established in 2006 - very cool.
Lots of cool and creative treasures in this oversized cache bucket - I LOVE the magnetic words that a fellow logophile left!

After signing the log at this cache, we learned that it had been found most recently on St. Patrick's Day by another family in our community.

These are some of the tokens left behind from others who have found the cache.  Essentially, the tokens are a physical marker of your finding the cache (in addition to signing the log book).  Individuals or families create original tokens and write their name and where they are from on the token before leaving it in the cache.  I am really excited for our family to design and create our own - we'll definitely revisit these first two caches to add our tokens to the mix.

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!  (Pax's choice from the Treasure Chest)
Geocaching was so much fun.  It took our previously-enjoyed family activity - hiking - to a new level, with the added incentive of finding and leaving treasure. It prompted some good discussion on what to take and what to leave, and it was gratifying to see the kids turn down "ordinary" treasures like dollar bills in favor of more unique finds. I love the whole concept of geocaching,  where technology actually fosters connection and community instead of hampering it.  I have long thought that a single hike through the woods opens you up to discovery and experience beyond imagination, if you just pay attention;  geocaching has added a whole new dimension to our exploration.

We're heading to California in a couple of weeks, and we hope to find a few places to hunt for geocaches.  How cool will it be to log ourselves in as "visitors from Virginia"?! 
Some great resources on geocaching - 

Official site - 

Some helpful tips and cautionary advice - 

More info on the tokens, especially if you want to take it to the next level (minting your own)

“Let children walk with Nature, let them see the beautiful blendings and communions of death and life, their joyous inseparable unity, as taught in woods and meadows, plains and mountains and streams of our blessed star, and they will learn that death is stingless indeed, and as beautiful as life.” – John Muir

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Public Comment.

I did what I could tonight.  I gave voice to the storm that has been raging inside my heart for two weeks, battering me against the shore, easing off for a few moments, then walloping me again.  It is such a uniquely desperate feeling to fight for something over which I have absolutely no control.

Tonight was a family effort.  My mom, still recovering from oral surgery, put kids to bed so that Jeff, my dad, and I could attend the Board of Supervisors meeting together.  She encouraged us with the reminder that "speaking truth to power is never easy, always worth doing."  My dad preceded me in delivering his own comments to the board, and his delivery was passionate and forceful, with the perfect balance of clever wit and hard facts.  We were a good tag team, and in his emphatic and direct delivery, he gave me the courage to be a bit more assertive and forceful in my own.

My Public Comment delivered to the Board of Supervisors tonight:

My name is Anne Carter.  I hold a current teaching license in Virginia, and I serve on the PTO Board of Central Elementary School where the oldest of my three children attends.

As you may know, Central prides itself on creating students who are STARS - an acronym for the following character-building traits:
     Show Citizenship
     Take Responsibility
     Act Kindly
     Respect Others
     Stay Safe.

Tonight, it is the "Take Responsibility" that concerns me most.  When you, the Board of Supervisors, failed to approve a tax rate of $0.68, you made a very grave error.  Your 11th hour decision was made behind closed doors after a "small group of concerned citizens" persuaded you with their "data" to slash funds from our school budget, despite months of previous planning to the contrary.

Well, please hear me when I say this.  Gathered in this room tonight is another "small group of concerned citizens."  Tonight, I ask you to listen to the data that WE present, that you listen to OUR voice.  Additionally, I hope that you lead by example for our students; that you take responsibility for this grave mistake you have made.  And that you make it right.

Your decision to approve a drastically reduced tax rate will produce a ripple effect in this community, one that may start as a single wave but promises to swell into a full-blown tsunami.

Your decision denies programs to support the marginalized and under-served populations in our community, including illiterate adults; at-risk preschoolers; elderly and disabled folk who rely on JABA and JAUNT.

Your decision denies access to the state-of-the-art high school that finally mirrors the excellence that has been cultivated for years by the administration, teachers, and staff at our high school.

Your decision will force underpaid teachers to work on furlough, teaching in classrooms - or trailers - with increasing class size coupled with decreasing resources and materials.

Your decision undermines every single character trait we hope to cultivate in our students - citizenship; responsibility; kindness; respect; safety.

Your decision is your failure to invest in our schools, our staff, our children.  It is your failure to invest in our future.

Some have suggested "compromises" to the school budget.  This is difficult for me to accept, because as far as I am concerned, there is no compromise when it comes to the education of our students.  You cannot compromise excellence.  You cannot compromise the future of our children.  But your actions are forcing us to do just that.

Therefore, I implore you to take responsibility for your grave mistake, and attempt to repair the problem you have created by reallocating funds in order to implement the plan detailed by our Superintendent earlier this evening.  In doing so, you will demonstrate your commitment to our students, your investment into their future.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

From Aidan and Leo to the BOS

May 13, 2012

Dear Board of Supervisors,

Please give us back the money that you said you would give us.  You cannot take away the money that we need because the schools cannot buy what they need.  We are running low on school supplies, like glue sticks. We are in danger because of the money shortage.  Our students don’t have enough safe  places to go to because we have to be in the trailers.  I felt really scared when we had the earthquake and I had to be in a trailer instead of a school.  It is also really scary when we have high wind warnings.  We also don’t have good places to hang our bulletin boards because they keep falling down in the trailers.

I felt really super duper sad when I found out I couldn’t go to Careysbrook Elementary School.  Careysbrook seemed like it was going to be an awesome school. 

The high schoolers won’t have their music room that they always wanted.   

There is no choice for you to not do it.  You have to make sure that adults can learn how to read, so you can’t cut the adult reading program.  Reading is very important! 

What are you going to do with the money, anyway? And why are you taking money away from our schools?  Will you please answer all our questions? 


Aidan Carter (Class of 2022) and Leo Carter (class of 2025)

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Finding His Voice

My heart and my mind have been consumed by the troubles of an under-funded school budget, the deceit of our local supervisors, and the constant worry of what the next school year brings.  I vacillate between feeling empowered and encouraged to feeling helpless and hopeless.  I struggle with finding a way to Advocate, Voice, Object, Persuade, and Fight what is happening in the local community with being Present, Patient, Loving, Tender, Gentle, Fun, and Funny with my children.  I keep saying that fighting the Board of Supervisors is my new full-time job, yet my Career - my Aidan, my Leo, my Pax - wonders why their mom is so short-tempered and angry, why she keeps crying, why she keeps hyperventilating in front of the computer, and why she didn't shower until 4:30 this afternoon.  [If you know me even just a little, you know that this is EPIC.  Not showering until 4:30.]

I could go on, and on, and on.  And I might, at a later date and in a different post.  But now, I want to celebrate the gift that was handed to me, in a moment when I needed it most.

The boys were getting ready for bed.  Aidan was already in another room, engrossed in one of the later chapters of The Lightning Thief (Rick Riordan - Percy Jackson series).  Leo was in the bathroom, brushing his teeth and practicing, for the umpteenth time, the song he'll sing tomorrow at preschool graduation.  Pax was alone in Aidan and Leo's room, and I was trying to hurry him along in his book selection.  With just the slightest twinge of frustration, I implored (for the fourth time), "PLEASE pick your book out-- Aidan, or Leo, or whoever you are!"  


I stared at him.

"Pax!"  he said again, with a grin.  He said it perfectly, pronouncing each sound so carefully, the proud grin stretching from one small ear to the other. He knew how good it sounded.  He knew that he was a Big Deal because of it.

I scooped him up.  I kissed him, I snuggled him, I laughed with him and asked him to say it, over and over again. We were triumphant.  "Pax!  Pax!  Pax!"  He loved the sound of his own name, and in that moment, when he named himself, I had a sudden realization of how long I've been waiting for this day, how much my heart has ached for this time to come.  My "late talker," who has made such arduously slow growth in his expressive language over this last year, whom I worry about endlessly - here he was, correcting me, asserting himself in the lineup of brothers, claiming his very own name.

Pax found his Voice, and I found the Pax - the inner peace - I've been seeking all week.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Save Our Schools

I am feeling cautiously optimistic, as it appears as though our efforts toward convincing our Board of Supervisors to amend the budget are working.... perhaps a compromise is in the works.  I've teeter-tottered between feeling empowered and encouraged by the incredible show of solidarity among an enormously diverse group of people united, and feeling utterly despondent and brokenhearted that the efforts of hundreds might be squelched by the decision of 3.  My letter to the Board:

Dear Board of Supervisors,

It is not often that we are given a second chance to make something right after we’ve made a grave mistake.  Your recent decision to cut over $2 million from the school budget was a grave mistake.  The 11th hour decision came as a complete surprise to the School Board members, to two of your fellow supervisors, and to the community at large.  Your “hardball politics” are viewed by some as borderline unethical. 

A good businessman would certainly understand why you cannot advertise one rate and suddenly change that rate to something staggeringly different; you cannot, for example, advertise that an ice cream cone costs $1.50, yet when the customer comes to the register, announce that the price you really meant was $3.  Likewise, you cannot advertise a tax rate increase of $0.68, but suddenly decrease that rate drastically because of the influence of a single private group.  You blindsided the School Board and the community with your sudden change to a lower tax rate, and your decision does not reflect the desire of the majority of voters – and taxpayers – in the county.    

Despite the figures offered in various reports, the total cost of your decision is immeasurable: it is the cost of our children’s education and their future.  You have delivered them a devastating and crushing blow. 

When we, the voters, elected you, we did so because we trusted you to act in the best interests of the citizens and to represent us fairly and accurately.  You have done neither in your recent vote.  We believed that you were invested and committed to a healthy, safe, educationally solid public school system; your budget vote demonstrates otherwise.  Your decision does not reflect those whom you serve.  You have made a grave mistake.

Therefore, I implore you to right your wrongdoing, to fix your mistake.  I do not believe for a minute that any of you wishes to harm the students in this county, and I hold fast to the belief that, upon deep reflection, you will come to realize the error of your budget vote. 

Thomas Jefferson stated, “Above all things I hope the education of the common people will be attended to; convinced that on their good sense we may rely with the most security for the preservation of a due degree of liberty."

Amend the budget.  Restore $1.4 million to level funds.  Provide an additional $900,000 to fund the new high school.  Only through these actions will you demonstrate your commitment to our students, your investment into their future.


Anne S. Carter

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Call to Action

I have written and re-written several posts regarding my state of mind these days.  None are fit to post.  Until I can harness my anger and frustration into a publicly acceptable commentary, I shall post but the smallest tidbit of where my heart is right now.  I authored the following:

CALL TO ACTION: As you are well aware, the Board of Supervisors (BOS) recently approved a budget that cuts $1.4 M from the CURRENT budget, in addition to the $900,000 requested by the School Board for the FY13 - a net loss of over $2M. The School Board, along with the greater community at large, was shocked and blindsided by this sudden cut. The School Board has developed 4 plans that only begin to address this tremendous and unexpected loss: every single plan deeply affects people and programs, including preschool, adult literacy, and vocational education. The options are devastating and incomprehensible. Therefore, it is absolutely imperative that we voice our objection to this budget, and demand that the BOS amend the FY13 budget. I implore you to go to the Courthouse on Wednesday, May 16 at 7:00. Bring your family, your neighbor, a friend. Please be prepared to speak during the public comments forum - the BOS is required to hear the voice of each and every person who desires to be heard - and request that the BOS amend the budget; restore $1.4M to level fund; and provide an additional $900,000 for "Option 3." Our power will be in our numbers. Our voices must be heard. Borrowing from the words of Pr. Martin Niemoller: "First they came for the [teachers] and I did not speak out because I was not [a teacher.] Then they came for the [preschoolers] and I did not speak out because I was not [a preschooler]. Then they came for the [students] and I did not speak out because I was not a [student.] Then they came for me and there was no one left to speak for me." It is our time to speak. Do not assume someone else will speak on your behalf; there is no substitute for YOUR presence, YOUR voice, YOUR witness.