Swimming, holiday lists, conference panels

We went swimming twice this weekend. One of the YMCAs in the general area has family swim until 10 p.m. on Friday nights, and that’s wound up being a fun way to transition into the weekend. The kids had a good time then, and so we also decided to go on Sunday afternoon.

The Sunday trip was one of those parenting moments that you just have to shoulder through, knowing what the outcome will eventually be. My husband and I had agreed the day before that we wanted to go. When we announced it, two out of three kids objected heartily. They wanted to sit around at home watching TV and playing games on the Kindle Fire. We were prepared for this, and didn’t let the initial whining derail the trip. But it was pretty bad. One of those kids even howled for about 20 minutes that he didn’t want to go. The other tried to undermine us by not putting on socks (since you need socks for the kids playroom). We had to stop on the way there, but I had an extra pair of socks in our swim bag. He was thwarted. They went to the playroom for 30 minutes while we ran and had a good time, and then we went to the pool. The kid who’d been howling said he didn’t even want to put on his suit but I said he had to -- he could just sit on the side of the pool if he wanted. Then, of course, he had a great time and didn’t want to leave. This was all inevitable. I knew they’d love it, but if you’re not prepared for the resistance, it can wear you down.

Other highlights: We went out to Outback Steakhouse for dinner and the kids all ate their food with no whining or running off. It actually felt like we got some of the upsides of eating out (not having to cook) without the downsides (being on edge much of the time for some sort of melt down). So...perfect time to plunge back into the baby stage, right?

Now on to the actual title of this post. I spent some time this weekend thinking through what I want to do over the holidays, beyond the usual buying and decorating a tree, and giving presents to the people on my list. I’m intrigued by the idea of a literary Advent calendar (see this Modern Mrs. Darcy post). We have a few Christmas books I could wrap up, and if I get started now, I’m sure I can order some more and have 24 ready to go. Some other things on the list:

Visiting the Garden Railways around here (Longwood and Morris Arboretum).

Making cookies. My daughter and I are going to have some solo time together over Thanksgiving so that may be a good time for getting our kitchen fun in. I’m going to start clipping recipes as all the December magazines come in.

Attending the Young New Yorkers’ Chorus Christmas concert in NYC.

Going to two Christmas parties we wind up attending annually.

Going out for a festive date night on my birthday. (I also want to go to an art museum and go shopping by myself on my birthday, but that’s not holiday related per se).

Going to a Christmas Eve service.

That’s pretty much it. If I hit all these, that will be fine. It was good to realize how relatively short the list is. I think one thing that winds up being stressful for people about the holidays is thinking there are various things they should be doing that they aren’t doing. But when I list it all in black and white, I realize it’s all very doable, leaving space for going swimming at the Y (even if the kids need to be convinced).

In other news: I’m working on an article on organizing great conference panels. I’ve been to so many that are so, so bad. Conferences have them because it’s a way to increase the number of speakers, but often the format just doesn’t work. If you’ve ever organized a good panel, what made it work? What tips do you have?

NaNoWriMo update: 32,300 words. Yeah, baby.

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  • We've been doing the "Book Advent" since 2012, and I just realized that I need to dig out all the books and wrap them AND pack them for our upcoming vacation - yikes. We don't do 100% holiday books, though - here's what we do: http://houseofpeanut.blogspot.com/2012/11/book-advent-new-family-holiday-tradition.html Also, there's only one set of books, not a set per kid as some of my friends are trying to do with 3+ kids (!). Personally, I hate the suggestion of taking lots of them from the library for this project - a few to fill in, sure, but when you're checking out 20+ for 3-4 weeks? That just seems selfish, especially for families who already have lots of books around the house. I'd rather reuse "old" books than take so many out of circulation at the library during a time when kids are out of school for such a long time. (That's my holiday rant for the year, especially as this idea picks up steam.)

    • I am one of those horrible people who checks them out of the library. I go to the library twice a week though and return the ones we have already finished as we go. I try not to be too grinchy about it.

      • Whoops, I'm realizing I misread your comment a bit, so please disregard the next comment. It's very nice that you return them quickly though! They are there to be checked out and if your library doesn't have restrictions on them then there's no problem! Every community is different and librarians develop circulation policies accordingly.

      • Beth, as a librarian I have to point out that this isn't grinchy at all! The library is still buying the books, after all. Libraries are a huge market for the book publishing industry (although not always treated as such), so you are supporting publishing and authors by using the library.

    • @ARC - I hadn't even considered the idea of doing one set for each kid. Wow. Such is the joy of the internet, I suppose. You get excited about something and then find out someone's one-upped you :) We are doing 50-50 -- half old books, half new that I just ordered from Amazon. I really don't mind buying books. I got a dozen kids' books for the price of taking our family out to dinner, and I like to support the publishing industry. Given that it's kind of what pays my bills and whatnot.

      • Oh, I love buying books too! BTW, we bought one illustrated by LeUyen Pham and it has become a favorite around here :) We have another of her books on the wish list as well. For our book advent, two of the books prior to the 24th are new and holiday-themed (one for each girl) and then we also get a new book on the 24th and 25th (not holiday-themed and go into our regular collection for the rest of the year). Pretty much everything is shared now that the 2yo can (mostly) carefully look at a book with paper pages.

  • Hi Laura, thanks for another enjoyable blog post to read! I've not commented before but I'm a longtime reader of your books and this site. To pipe in about organizing a quality panel: from my own experience assembling these groups for events, a top priority is to gather a diverse enough group that there will be at least a few opposing viewpoints to keep the conversation circulating. You can recruit the most impressive, well-spoken, and sought-after experts in the topic at hand to speak, but if they all have similar approaches to their craft, both the audience and panelists are likely to become bored. Having an effective method of timing speech is especially key in panels, so as to prevent one member from monopolizing the conversation. If possible, it's great to have a staff member serve as timekeeper to signal to presenters and/or moderator when certain time benchmarks have been reached. I like to organize a lunch or coffee group with the panelists beforehand to allow them to get to know each other and become accustomed to each other's communication styles before they appear on stage together. Also: have a shortlist of EXCELLENT moderators (the ability of the mod to effectively work the group dynamics and keep conversation sticking to the agenda can be just as, if not more, crucial than the caliber of the individual panelists, particularly if you have a very outspoken group), and always have a backup mod on hand. Losing a moderator for a key discussion at the event is more likely to derail things than losing a solo presenter.

    • @JessTM - thanks for these. They are great tips. I think the opposing view points (to stir up debate) is important. A key part of that, of course, is that you need a panel topic that lends itself to opposing view points. Not all do, because the organizers haven't thought through that. Also, agreed on making sure one person doesn't dominate. I attended a panel many, many years ago featuring two household name people and one guy who was not. The third guy did most of the talking, and that's really not what people came to the panel to hear.

  • I can't help admiring the kid who intentionally didn't wear socks to get out of going to the Y, and then you for thwarting him right back-- sounds like you are in fine form for adding a fourth to the family! I love the MMD's idea of a literary advent, but we usually just collect the holiday books in a basket near our coziest couch and find that we enjoy them that way too. We've done a store bought pocket advent calendar with an activity per day in each pocket though, and that's been great. I make a list of activities we'd like to get to as you've done, write them on slips of paper and pick one that will fit into each day's schedule. The kids then check the pocket to see what we'll do that day. It's not a lot of work because simple things (like dollar ornament making kits from the craft store) are mixed in with things we always do anyway, like decorating the tree or baking cookies, and bigger events like going to the Zoolights festival or a sleigh ride. For us, it's a good way to make sure we're celebrating enough but it's still manageable (especially because the surprise element means I can switch an activity for a simpler one if the day goes off the rails at an earlier point for some reason!). Thanks for the reminder that I should a start in my list :)

    • @Anjanette- It was pretty funny in the abstract, if not right there as we were pulling the car over and realizing we might have to turn around. I'll report back on what the kids think about the advent book calendar. At least I'm excited!

    • @Jay - I would be happy to bake with them. There are just two things -- one is that I like doing stuff like that one on one and I'm going to get a lot of time with my daughter over Thanksgiving since my husband is taking the boys with him on a trip. They're older and less likely to be a pain during a plane trip and a wedding. And second, they haven't gotten as into it. The middle kid will do some, so next time I get a chance, I wouldn't mind doing cookies with him. My husband baked Christmas cookies with the two boys last year.