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Rite of passage: crawling into the play structures to find your kids

When my daughter was young, one of our favorite places to play is a local play-area at a Rec Center near us. The indoor play-structure was built with a tree house theme in mind, and all of the tunnels stretch out above the room, like the branches of a tree. It’s great because the parents can stand or sit down below and chat while their kiddos crawl through miles and miles of tubing above. There are many different compartments, most all with windows overlooking the room below. There are different slides throughout so that you can easily get down…only to run around like a crazy person on the squishy floor of the play area and climb the spiral stairs up again.

Claire and I went there many times. Our Moms’ Club et there on occasion (more now, in colder weather, since meeting at a park to play is so nice-weather-dependent). It was great to meet my friends and chat while Claire played with the friends she knew in the group and meet new friends who happened to be playing there that day as well.

But, it wasn’t always like that.

At first, Claire didn’t want anything to do with the looming structure. The stairs were too enclosed, and the tunnels too confining, and she’d get three steps up and start crying for me. The whole thing turned into more of a stressor than a playful relaxing time, so I opted not to go to the playdates at the center. Our group had so many activities during the week that it was fine to pick and choose.

Eventually, we started going again. Claire started getting more and more comfortable with going up the stairs into the structure by herself, and the more she did it, the more confident she became. Sometimes she’d venture out on her own, and sometimes all it took was an older or more confident explorer to say, “Hey! Come play with me!” and off they’d go.

And, then, we reached a new level….

Toddler Tact: A Village of Witnesses

One of the things I learned early on about motherhood was how open our lives would be as soon as our child was verbal. You have no more secrets when your child starts to talk. None. In our particular situation, our lives have been an open book for a long time now, because Claire has been speaking in sentences since she was 17-months old. This has been great in avoiding the typical tantrums caused by miscommunication or the frustration of a communication break-down, but has certainly kept us on our toes, especially in public.

We’ve always been very straightforward with her when it comes teaching her about her environment. She is a veritable sponge, always asking questions, sometimes to the nth degree. She’ll ask what something is or what something does, and we’ll tell her. We try to use the proper scientific names and explain things so that someone of her age can understand, and we are always amazed at her recall and memory.

She may have the ability to remember these things, but learning the proper places and tone to discuss them is still a work in progress.

For example, about a year ago, Claire was just a few months past 2 years old, and we were in Target. We weren’t talking about anything in particular, but I’ll never forget the look on the poor unsuspecting woman’s face when Claire looked right at her and said, ”Did you know boys have penises?”

Letterboxing: Finding More Than Just Hidden Treasure

What is Letterboxing? Amber wrote a post here, but I thought I’d add a little update of our own.  Honestly, before Amber’s post, I’d never heard of it. I thought maybe it was a craft idea or a new exercise routine.

Well, it’s not!

Oddly enough, being “crafty” helps, and you do get your exercise, but it’s more about finding hidden treasure…and more.

With Letterboxing, you are given clues to a hidden box containing a carved stamp and logbook. (Some are so tiny that there’s only room for the carved stamp, so you just log those finds online. The site we use most often is AtlasQuest) You find this box and use the carving to put a stamp in your book. You then use your own personalized stamp to mark the logbook that was in the hidden box. This is similar to Geocaching, but you don’t need a GPS to play this game, and you don’t “take something, leave something,” you just stamp the logbooks with the stamps and leave everything the way it was when you found it.

The thrill is in the hunt and the collecting of all the cool stamps.

When Amber wrote about Letterboxing last month, my daughter Claire and I set off to see what we could find.  What we found was not only hidden treasure but a new obsession.  It’s become the perfect hobby for a kid and a kid at heart.

We’ve now found over 40 traditional boxes and 5 hitchhikers in 6 different states!  (Hitchhikers are stamps hidden inside other letterboxes and then moved by the finder to another random box, and then picked up by another finder and moved again, and so on.)  The states on our list so far: Colorado, California, Hawaii, Nebraska, Iowa, and Missouri.

We have discovered hiking trails we never knew existed. We’ve discovered new parks. We’ve discovered cute little eating establishments right under our noses.

We’ve used Letterboxing clues when in other states and cities not only to add some letterboxes to our collection, but to discover and explore the area in a way a true “tourist” wouldn’t normally get to do.  Finding letterboxes while on a road trip, especially if it’s a long haul you’ve done many times before, adds excitement to what could be a rather boring ride.

We have learned how to use a compass correctly.  (Not every clue involves a compass, but some do.)  We’re really good at deciphering clues. We’ve finally learned the true meaning of stealthy and discreet, and the episodes of screaming, “WE’VE FOUND IT!?” at the top of our little lungs are very few and far between.

We’ve found patience and persistence when it comes to finding the challenging ones, and we’ve found acceptance in letting them go if we can’t.

We’ve also found some pretty cool adventures to add to our box of memories, too, the most exciting having to do with being chased by bees, avoiding large spiders, and something we’ve affectionately named, “The Adventure Near the Skunk Bridge.”

As the weather is turning warmer, we’re looking forward to doing more Letterboxing Lunch-dates with some friends. There’s nothing quite like a nice sunny picnic lunch followed by a hidden treasure hunt. Until then, I have some “inside” letterboxes on my list for the days that are too cold or snowy, and I’m hoping one of them is big enough to hide this hitchhiker we picked up last month.

That’s the other thing I’ve learned: Letterboxers say the funniest things, especially when taken out of context. Leave it to something like Letterboxing to raise the eyebrows of eavesdroppers everywhere.

What about you? Have you been letterboxing yet?

A little visit from Reality

“Sometimes I miss my old life,” I mutter to myself, as I am sitting at my computer, looking at my calendar, phone in hand.

All of a sudden, Reality slaps me in the face.

“Which old life?” she spats at me. “The one where you worked so hard to get into a private college, studied your heart out and graduated with honors? The one where you were in search of a life in the social work field, only to come home every night and cry because you realized that you weren’t really helping people? That you really couldn’t help people? The life where you realized that to be a good counselor you had to care, but to continue to be a counselor you had to not care? That life?”

I am stunned. I hadn’t even heard her come in. “N-n-no. Not that part,” I stutter, remembering how devastated I’d felt at that moment. The realization that what I was going to be when I grew up wasn’t making me happy and that I needed to be happy to function properly had created mass confusion in my brain. The world I’d created for myself threatened to crumble around me.

“But, I fixed that. We moved away. I got into another line of work, using the other part of my major. Life was so free and uncomplicated then,” I say wistfully. “…problem solved.”

“HA!” she laughs in my face. Her wicked eyes crinkling with her smile. “You mean the job where you had the fancy title and were in charge of so many things, but had to get up at 4:30 in the morning to drive all the way up there? To be there early because of your

Choosing a charter school in Denver: Fantastic choices abound!

“Have you thought about any of the Charter Schools in our area?” the Preschool Director asked me, a helpful lilt in her voice. I’d told her we were trying to figure out where to send our daughter in the fall, and I knew the process started early. We still had more than enough time to figure it all out, but it was something that had been weighing on my mind. She could tell from the look on my face I had no idea where to start.

I looked down at the packet of information in my hands. The preschool had provided us with information they’d gathered over the years on all the different neighborhood schools around us, and for various reasons, we weren’t too keen on sending her to the school closest to our house. As it was, the way the boundaries were drawn, our official “neighborhood school” wasn’t the closest to our house anyway.

If I was going to be taking her to school every morning anyway, we may as well choose a school that felt like home to us.

Jefferson County allows every family to choice enroll into whichever school would best fit their needs. It was lottery-based, so applying wasn’t a guaranteed spot, but the odds of us getting into at least one school at the top of our list were pretty high.

But, which schools did we put on that list? The choices were daunting.

“Well,” I said, searching for the right words. “I just can’t justify the expense of tuition for a private school education, especially for something that’s not college-level,” I said. “I love supporting public schools.”

Her whole face broke into a smile, and she laughed. “Charter Schools ARE public schools; they’re not private,” she said. “They don’t have tuition! They’re free!”

I was stunned. What? I gasped out loud. “Well, let me rephrase my answer,” I said with a smile, the possibilities opening before my eyes. “Please tell me more about Charter Schools!”

That conversation was the beginning of MY education into the choices available for us in Jefferson County.

Why was a Charter School so appealing to me? It fit our needs perfectly in the following ways:

I love the curriculum.

Charter schools provide a curriculum that differs from a typical neighborhood public school. (Despite having differing curricula, Charter Schools are still required to meet State Standards.) Some examples of the different types of curricula would be: Waldorf, Montessori, or Core Knowledge, to name a few. Our school does the Core Knowledge (it’s not Common Core, despite the similarity in names) with a mix of Saxon Math and Shurley Grammar, and I love it. It’s been the perfect fit for our child.

Because we were looking at starting the school in her Kindergarten year, the fact that Specials were being offered to the Kindergarten classes was also a big plus. As a Kindergartener, she would be exposed to Spanish, Technology, Music, Art, Physical Education. Many of the neighborhood schools I visited started offering the full-range of Specials to children in First Grade and beyond.

Charter School Pic2 MHMLevelized Learning

Along with a robust curricula, our charter school provides levelized learning. My daughter was “ready” for Kindergarten well before the time she reached the magical age dictated by the Jefferson County School Calendar. Because the Charter School accommodates different learners at different levels within the same grade, she’s always been challenged. The needs of those in her class that struggle are met, as well. The way the teachers get things to flow so nicely in class never ceases to amaze me.

Class Size

Speaking of teachers and how well they work with the kids, a typical class has 28 students with a Teacher and an Assistant. So, for a majority of the day, the student to teacher ratio is amazing. Many Charter Schools operate with Wait Lists. According to their charter agreements, they are only allowed a certain number of students. Enrollment is based solely on the luck-of-the draw. In Jefferson County, the Choice / Open Enrollment process starts in January.

A level of parental involvement that was not only tolerated but encouraged

Many Charter Schools request a certain number of volunteer hours per year, per family. Not only does this provide the schools with creative cost-saving measures, it builds a sense of community.

A budget overseen by a Board of Directors and available to the public at any time

Another draw toward the Charter School, for me, was how well they are able to maintain their budgets. Charter Schools have the ability to be fiscally conservative in certain areas in the face of looming budget cuts at the district level. Despite being a public school, the funding they receive is not equal to that of a neighborhood school when it comes to PPR (Per Pupil Revenue), so it can be tricky at times. The flexibility to be in charge of all that is refreshing. All of this is done with a transparency that has been required since Day 1, and I love that.

For us, Charter Schools are the best of both worlds.

They provide the feel of a specialized learning environment but do so in a public school setting. The minute I walked through the doors at our Charter School, I knew it was our home. As we start our fourth year there, I am so incredibly thankful for this option!

JoAnn as been writing at The Casual Perfectionist since 2007. On Twitter, she is @ThisJoAnn. Offline, she can be found writing, watercolor painting, cajoling hedgehogs, conducting covert missions, decoding secret messages, and pretending her life is more exciting than it may very well be.

An important win for Jeffco charter schools: one mom’s impassioned perspective

The Jefferson County Public School Board of Education Meeting was the place to be on Thursday night. It was standing room only, literally, and by the time the meeting officially started at 6:30 p.m. people were being turned away due to fire code and space issues.

As a concerned parent, voter, and taxpayer in Jefferson County, this meeting piqued my interest. Up for discussion was the equalization of funds for public charter schools. I felt it was important for my voice to be heard, so I wrote a letter to the Board (below) and spoke at the meeting. It was amazing to see so many parents there!

The Board majority approved a $3.7 million line item for charter schools. In my opinion this is a huge step in the right direction.

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Dear Jefferson County Public School Board of Education,I am the parent of a student who attends Woodrow Wilson Academy, a JeffCo public charter school in Westminster, CO. This is our third year at this public charter school.Our assigned neighborhood school is not the closest school to our house, due to the way the boundaries are drawn. When I researched the bus and logistics, I discovered it would be cheaper and quicker to drive my daughter to and from school myself, so I explored our options through choice enrollment. Since I’d be providing transportation anyway, we looked for a school that would be the best fit for us.I drew a circle around our house on the map and researched the different schools in that radius.

As you know, JeffCo is a fantastic district. In that radius, I found a variety of different public schools, both public charter and district run. I visited every school on my list, researched the curricula, and filled out choice enrollment paperwork for our top choices.

As luck would have it, we got a spot in our top choice. This public charter school has a curriculum that challenges and enthuses my daughter, a wonderful level of parent involvement, and it IS a public school.

Yes, we’re a charter school. Yes, we’re a public school. Yes, we’re proud to be JeffCo.

It saddens me when our differences are used to pit us against each other, when in fact we’re on the same side and have the same goals. All JeffCo parents have a choice on where to send their children, and we all have our children’s best interests at heart.

The reasons vary, but the results are the same: we care about our kids, regardless of which type of public school they attend.

As a JeffCo parent and voter, I’m concerned about the equalization of funding for public charter schools. The wording in 3A/3B did not exclude public charter schools, and denying the equalization of these funds does a disservice to ALL public school kids of Jefferson County.

If I dropped my child off at our neighborhood school, she’d be worth $1,400 of the mill levy. Because I drop her off in front of a public school that happens to be a public charter school, she’s worth $247 dollars.

My child’s worth should not be based on the name on the door that’s held open for her every morning.

Frankly, it’s not right, and it sends a message of inequality that disappoints me.

We’re on the same side. Our kids are the focus. We’re all JeffCo.

Thank you for your time and consideration in this matter.

Sincerely,

JoAnn E. Rasmussen
JeffCo Parent and Voter

Colorado floods: Flash flood a good reminder to have a home evacuation kit ready

The afternoon that the Lower North Fork Fire started, I received a text alert on my cell phone from the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department. It was a mandatory evacuation notice, and my heart leapt into my throat. I looked out my home office window in Arvada to see a huge plume of smoke to the south.

My immediate thought went to our Evacuation Plan. In my head, I started our four step process:

1) Where is Claire, my kindergartener? (in her room playing)

2) Where are my cats? (both asleep on our bed)

3) How quickly can I get to the three “Go-Bag” backpacks we have hanging downstairs? (less than 30 seconds)

Becoming Mothers: Our One and Only

My husband and I never wanted to have children. It’s true. We were happy being childfree. We loved the life we had, and we didn’t want to change it. Our Family of Two was perfect.

For years we followed This Plan, and it wasn’t until the year I turned 30 that my mind started to open to the possibility of having a child. I know the fumes from that cliché are potent enough to smother someone, but what can I say? It’s true.

After an honest discussion, we realized that we were still on the same page, even though The Plan had changed slightly. One is more than None, but people change their minds all the time, especially when the word “never” is tossed around.

We joked we were on The Binary Plan, which is computer geek-speak for

Do you have an Evacuation Plan?

The afternoon that the Lower North Fork Fire started, I received a text alert on my cell phone from the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department. It was a “MANDATORY EVACUATION” notice, and my heart leapt into my throat. I looked out my home office window in Arvada to see a huge plume of smoke to the south.

A mandatory evacuation?!

My immediate thought went to our Evacuation Plan. In my head, I started our four step process:

1) Where is Claire, my kindergartener? (in her room playing)
2) Where are my cats? (both asleep on our bed)
3) How quickly can I get to the three “Go-Bag” backpacks we have hanging downstairs? (less than 30 seconds)
4) All of this was followed quickly by my plan to call my husband at work from my phone when we got to the car. (My cell phone connects through my car stereo as a totally hands-free option.)

Fifteen seconds later, I read the text again and realized that my cell phone number had been lumped into a group of numbers in a different area of the county. The text didn’t apply to me.

But, it could have.

Could you evacuate your home in less than an hour? What about 15 minutes? Could you leave right now? Would you know what to grab and where it is, right at this moment?

Pinterest isn’t for Everyone

If you’ve found this post online, I’m going to assume that you’ve heard of Pinterest. If by some quirk of fate you haven’t heard of Pinterest, it’s basically an online “pin board” for sharing ideas, inspiration, etc.

(Image: Pinterest provided this logo.)

I was “invited” to join Pinterest a long time ago by a caring friend. I politely declined. At the time, I had my cyberhands full already with Twitter, Facebook and my website. Two hands, three things…you can picture the juggling.

Then, Pinterest starting gaining more of a foothold in my various circles of friends, and more people started inviting me. I admit I became rather curious about this site that could cause such an addiction so quickly.

Just a few weeks ago, I finally succumbed to temptation and joined and then abruptly hit my first Pinterest Catch-22.

My first problem with Pinterest: You’re not supposed to pin your own things. Why? This makes no sense to me.

The things that inspire me are photos taken by my husband or me. I’m not conceited. I’m not trying to sell anything. They speak to me. They keep me focused. I keep photos that inspire me as the background on my phone and my computer.

If Pinterest is supposed to be a source of Inspiration or a group of things that inspire me AND things that may inspire others, these photos are a perfect fit. I had them “pinned” on my Pinterest site before I realized that it is a major faux pax.

Ooops.

My second problem with Pinterest: People are pinning things without crediting the original sources.  Because I respect copyright law to the Nth degree, I almost always avoid using pictures I haven’t taken myself…for anything. (Yes, I’ve passed along a funny photo on Facebook that doesn’t have a source clearly listed, but I do that rarely, and it still raises a red flag for me.) If forced to use someone else’s photo, I always document the source. Depending on the photo, this can take a lot of work.

Artists are getting upset that their work isn’t being credited. Recipe Creators are upset about the same thing. I get it. I really do. Because of this, I avoid pinning things from other people.

As I mentioned above, I’m already juggling so many things, I don’t have time for something that is going to create even more work for me, unless I can see the benefit.  (Spoiler alert: I’m not seeing the benefit of Pinterest.)

For those of you keeping track at home: I can’t pin my own things. I can’t pin other people’s things.

I’m reminded of the scene in The Princess Bride when Vizzini realizes he cannot choose the wine in front of himself, nor can he choose the wine in front of The Man in Black.  (Oddly enough, both wine glasses were indeed poisoned, so Vezzini’s “dizzying intellect” was actually pretty close to the mark.)

But, I digress…

Okay, so I’m not allowed to actually “pin” things in good conscience. What about using Pinterest for inspiration? I asked Pinterest Addicts how they use Pinterest, and the overwhelming response was: “Recipes!”

This old dog already has great tricks that work perfectly well:

1) I have an awesome magazine subscription that I use for recipes. 2) I also use this wonderful thing called the Internet. Google, specifically. Have you heard of this? Most of the time, it leads me to two or three top-notch sites devoted specifically to recipes! What a concept! In mere seconds, thousands of recipes are at your fingertips, all including the ingredients you want to use. It’s awesome. You should try it. I’ve been doing it for many, many years to great success. *cough*

Also? I’m not planning a wedding, a baby shower, or doing any more home improvement projects. (May all the corresponding gods be praised!) And, if I were, I’m just more of a type it in and get an answer right away kinda gal. I don’t have time to scroll through hundreds of (albeit beautiful) pictures that may or may not be linked back to their original sources.

Then again, maybe I’m being too harsh on Pinterest. Truth be told, I absolutely hated Twitter until the moment I loved it. Go figure.

So, what about you? Do you wish someone would invite you to Pinterest so you could check it out for yourself? Are you avoiding the invitation in your Inbox? Are you an addict? Do you hate it? Tell us!