Monday, January 23, 2012

Musings from a reluctant PTA President

When I asked Rebecca Geisen to write about her experience so far as PTA president, I knew it was a tall order - she has a lot on her plate!  So I'm grateful that she found time to let us in on a slice of PTA life, told from her perspective.  Thanks, Rebecca, for sharing with us!  /Lora

She writes:

Somehow this school year, I find myself Co-President of the Lewis Elementary PTA. A teacher (who is also a parent) at our school thought myself and another mom would be great for the job and her flattery and confidence blinded me. I thought “I can do this!” I had participated with the PTA the previous two years and had some ideas for making it more inclusive and welcoming. Here was my chance. The other consideration was that the outgoing president assured us that “everything was in order” so it should be a piece of cake. Hmm.

So how is it going?

Well, the first week of school we were notified by the IRS that our non-profit status had been revoked because no one on the PTA FOR THE LAST THREE YEARS had bothered to submit a postcard to the IRS, despite numerous notices and warnings. Then our fundraising coordinator quit in December. I did not anticipate having to start a new organization, navigate taxes and make the IRS happy. Fortunately, we have a strong supportive board and we are making the best of the situation. Our best coping mechanism is to have our monthly board meetings at the bar at Country Bills.

If you are contemplating running for a position on your PTA Board, please know that it is a big responsibility. You are managing an organization and certain obligations have to be met and you are accountable. It requires diligence, patience, grace and super-human communication skills. You must be prepared for the unexpected. Because you are working with volunteers, people come and go – often at the worst time. Also, parents are very passionate and have a tremendous amount of ownership for events and programs that they organize and volunteer. Toes sometimes feel stepped upon. If that is not your cup of tea, you can have just as big an impact by simply volunteering for your favorite event. Many of our most valuable parents operate behind the scenes and don’t even come to regular meetings.

Despite the challenges, I am a committed PTA parent. The PTA serves such an important function in many schools, especially with such tight school budgets. Being part of your school’s PTA is a great way to support your school and have a say in how money is spent to support critical programs and materials that you may not otherwise have, such as garden programs, on-line academic programs, library support, etc. While PTAs focus a lot on fundraising, for many schools, it is the backbone of the school community. In my school, the PTA is very involved and we have an amazing group of dedicated parents who help with community events and fundraising. I am humbled by their energy and dedication and amazed at the talents they bring to the school. So, would I do it again? Overall, it has been a very rewarding experience, one that has helped me in many other aspects of my life – but you might want to ask me again in 5 months!

Rebecca Geisen
Water Bureau

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Kindergarten for Kieran - Story to Help Moms Through Kindergarten Process

When Lora asked several of us moms who have recently gone through the transition to Kindergarten to write a blog post about our experience, I was glad to share our story in the hope that it might help other cityMamas in their process.
Kieran insisted on wearing this muscle shirt for his first day; his teacher is  Hawaiian, plus we had the heat wave!
Personal Scenario
We live two houses from the boundary of Irvington School, and Boise-Elliot is our neighborhood school. We moved there three years ago (partly because our location would put us in Grant instead of Jefferson), but had heard mixed reports from neighbors about Boise-Elliot. Apparently about five years ago several families tried attending the school the hope of making positivie change, but they all transferred within a few years.
School Choice Process
Parents interested in participating in Portland's school choice process need to school themselves. Scoop on Schools is a fantastic resource developed by parents who wanted to help other parents navigate the system. I love the way that it is set up as a step by step process, which breaks it down very well. The PPS site is also good for dates, etc., Portland School Choice Process. Here's a great article about school choice in Portland that highlights Scoop on Schools...the site literally helps you through every step of...except crossing your fingers.
Finding a School
I attended an open house at MLC (Multnomah Learning Center) in NW, and was very impressed overall. However, it is very competitive to get in (many families from great school in SW and NW apply who don't "need" to transfer, plus the application process includes a self-portait by the child and a referral from childcare professional!). But in the end, we didn't apply because it would have been a hard commute by bus, and because it is a magnate school, we would have lost our chance at getting into Irvington.
We applied to attend Emerson Charter School in the Pearl, and I really loved their experiential learning approach and environmental focus. However, everyone elses wants to go there too. There are about 200 applications for less than 20 slots...we were something like number 147 (and the two other families from CityKids drew higher numbers). I wish every neighborhood school were modeled after Emerson...
I went the open house at Boise-Elliot trying to have an open mind, and initially had a good impression. I happened to meet two other parents I knew who lived out of the neighborhood who were hoping to lottery into the school, thinking it was better than others in North Portland (but easier to get into that Sabin/Irvington). As a Title 1 school, they receive extra funds. But in the end, my red flag issue was that they have NO recess help reduce the acheivement gap and give more "academic hours." I asked about when kids get outside, and they said "when it's nice"...this is Portland! I was sent home praying that we got into another school...
The next day I went to the Irvington (K-8) open house, and I was really impressed. They were very well organized, but more importantly, all the Kindergarten teachers spoke for 15-20 minutes about their academic approach to literacy, math, etc. They were obviously very passionate about their work and could articulate the details very well. The PTA was also very impressive.
(I also consider Buckman Arts magnet school, but I missed the mandatory open house.)
In the end, I anticipated the letter from PPS perhaps more than my own college admissions...and we were relieved and happy to successfully lottery into Irvington Elementary.
Starting Kindergarten
Overall, Kieran has been very enthusiastic about Kindergarten and is doing well. Since he'll turn 6 at the end of January, he was ready to move on from preschool (he attended CityKids). He wasn't very emotional about leaving preschool (he was very excited about our family vacation to Denmark in the month before Kindergarten). He was also fine starting Kindergarten, but his dad dropped him off for the first several days. At the end of the first full week I dropped him off, and he was a blubbering mess...I hadn't seem him like that since he was a toddler...thankfully, I held it together and he acted like nothing had happened when I picked him up that afternoon.
Like I've heard from other parents, Kieran was exhausted for the first month of school. He would fall asleep every night before his two year old sister, by around 7 (before it was dark at that time!). There are a lot of new routines for everyone to learn, like checking lockers and school lunch payments (it turns out that Kieran is part hobbit, and would routinely eat breakfast at school after having eaten at home...he's a growing boy...but it meant that he racked up a bill unbeknownst to us!) We make lunch 3-4 days a week, and thankfully, he's not very picky (although he gets bent out of shape if I don't cut his sandwich in two!).
After our first parent/teacher conference, we confirmed that he's ahead of his peers in math (already where most will be by the end of the year). So, we've begun positively challenging him at home through "family math" games his teacher recommended, and he loves the free computer game, Rock Hopper. We also plan to start him on the Khan Academy whenever the more basic kid game loose his interest. He also needs to boost his writing confidence, but we're happy to see him thriving in Kindergarten.
Final Thoughts
Get open houses on your calendar early...they all seem to happen within a two week span. Focus on the positive, connect with other parents, and only worry about what you can control. Savor the preschool age and good luck with the next adventure...

Lastly, feel free to get in touch if you have any more questions about our experience.


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Recipe of the Week - Moroccan Lamb Patties

This recipes is posted over on my farm blog, but it's so good and a great weeknight recipe I thought I'd give the link here. Enjoy

Start the New Year Off Right

Post from Beth Giles at NW

Beth Giles
Professional Organizer/Senior Move Manager
NW Organizing Solutions
We help families bring order to their homes
Become a FAN on Facebook and see weekly tips

Start the New Year Off Right

A new year means a new calendar.
Use only one calendar to list meetings, appointments and tasks. If you use more than one, there is always the risk of forgetting to keep the others up to date.
A portable calendar is also essential since it may need to be referenced on the go.
Make sure all family members are able to view the calendar. If using an electronic one, it may be helpful to print it out weekly so others can use.
When a calendar serves more than one person, as in a family, daily space for notes is especially useful. It's a great spot to list reminders and tasks.
Set a time once a week to do a calendar check with all members of the household. Events and plans change so make sure to check if things you put on the calendar weeks ago are still happening. This could be as simple as bringing it to the table every Sunday evening to discuss the week.
There are some great calendars on the market. Stop and think before you buy one. Does it just look nice or will it meet your organizing needs?

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

What's For Lunch?

Leftover mashed sweet potatoes (cooked and mashed in apple cider); turkey meatloaf "muffins"; cuties.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Recipe of the Week - Twice Baked Potato

This is a fan favorite and you can make enough for two or even three dinners. Just double/triple everything except the broccoli. You can add a new veggie each night to keep it fresh.

Twice "Baked" Potato
Time - 45 min
Servings - 4

2 large russet potatoes
1/2 c shredded cheddar cheese
4 strips turkey bacon
1/4 c or more low-fat milk
1/2 t salt
1/4 t pepper
2 head broccoli
bunch chives
low-fat sour cream

1. Pierce each potato with a fork, place on a folded paper towel and cook in the microwave for 8 minutes on high, flipping over at 4 minutes. Check to make sure the potatoes are soft all through big piercing with a fork. If not soft, cook for another 2-4 minutes. When the potatoes are done, place on a wire rack to cool. Wait at least 15 minutes or more.
2. While the potatoes are cooking and cooling, cook the bacon in a skillet over medium-high heat until crisp. Cool on a paper towel. When you can handle the bacon, break into 1/2 inch pieces.
3. Also while the potatoes are cooking, cut the broccoli florets from the stalk. Chop the chives.
4. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut each in half lengthwise. Use a spoon to scoop out the soft whites, leaving the skin intact. Error on the side of leaving more whites in the potato to keep from puncturing the skin. Place the potato white in a bowl and mash. Mix in cheese, bacon, milk and salt and pepper. Adjust the amount of milk to your desired consistency.
5. Scoop the potato whites back into the skins, allowing it to mound up slightly. Place back in the microwave and cook for 1 1/2 to 2 minutes to make sure all cheese melts. Set on 4 plates to cool slightly. [One half a potato equals one serving.]
6. While the potatoes are cooking and cooling again, steam the broccoli until just fork tender. Place on plates with potatoes. Serve with chives and sour cream as toppings.

Notes - If you double or triple the number of potatoes, you need to add 1 minute for each potato the the original cooking time in step 1. To keep the leftovers, let the potatoes cool completely to room temperature. Double wrap each individually in plastic wrap and place in fridge. Just reheat each in the microwave and serve with veggies. Steamed beens, small salad or cooked corn kernels are great side dishes.