Ice Bucket Challenge

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When my friend and fellow DA board of Trustee member Jamie Spatola put the call out for trustees to join school administrators and teachers to take the ice bucket challenge for ALS of course I answered the call. Never do I pass up an opportunity to make fun of myself on behalf of a good cause. In this case the cause is very close to the Durham Academy communities’ heart.


DA Alum Chris Rosati has been suffering from ALS for the last three years. He is an amazing guy with a great smile and infectious positive attitude. I was lucky enough to get to spend time with him interviewing him for my column that will appear in the next issue of Durham Magazine.


Quade Lukes, a classmate of Carter’s had challenged our head mast Michael Ulku-Steiner to take the ice bucket challenge which involves pouring a large bucket of ice water over your head or donating money to an ALS related charity. What I hope is that people will do the challenge and donate money.


As with all these viral things it was not a creation of a PR machine, but of some people who actually had ALS. They said if you pour a bucket of ice water on your head you can challenge three people to do the same, thus the pyramid effect.


For our challenge today Michael enlisted his colleagues and trusted side-kick Lee Hark who named three people we were challenging, Steve Hartman of CBS news who has interviewed Chris Rosati multiple times, Wool E. Bull for being the heart and soul of Durham and Vanilla Ice because Lee is apparently in love with Ice-Ice Baby after his viral video on the weather related school closing he and Michael made together last winter caught the Ice’s attention.


It seems like everyone in the video deserves the right to challenge three people. So on behalf of the dozens of us who poured the freezing water on our perfectly dry and warm heads I am challenging anyone who reads this blog to take the ice water challenge or even better take the easy way out and make a donation to an ALS charity. I am thankful that I am able to lift a heavy bucket over my head and I want to thank my body for continuing to work, unlike those with ALS. Let’s find a cure for this horrible disease.



Just Because I am Talking Does Not Mean You Have to Listen




Last night was the Durham Academy Auction. It was a beautiful night. The Co-chairs Jane Waters and Kim Leversedge did the appropriate amount of worrying about how the moneymaking side of the evening might go. I know having chaired auctions that no matter how beautiful the decoration are (and Pokey Schiff and Kristy Rosenberg are rock stars on that front), and how many people you get to buy tickets and after all the wrangling the acquisitions people do to get good auction items you still lay awake at night fearful that your auction will be the one that does not raise the money you want it to.


Jane and Kim did everything they could before the auction and then they entrusted the baby they spent all year birthing in my hands as auctioneer with my new sidekick Assistant Headmaster Lee Hark. (For those of you who don’t know Lee he is a world class sidekick as can be seen from his international You Tube hit Durham Academy Weather Announcement). For the record I asked Lee to help me on stage at the auction in September, long before Headmaster Michael Ulku-Steiner made him famous.


Lee and I had to get to the Washington-Duke an hour before the auction for the “sound check.” This is the time that the techy guys wire us up with mikes, mine being the over the ear little wire on my cheek and Lee’s a microphone clipped below his bow tie. We practice our witty banter in a giant ballroom full of tables and chairs, but devoid of the 350 guests. All sounds fine. But having been a charity auctioneer I know this sound check means nothing. Well it just means that the techy guys know their equipment is hooked up.


In the world of charity auctions there are three ways of making money. A silent auction where now a days people bid using their phones – brilliant, worked great last night, made a ton of money thanks to some generous parents bidding up a class project. Then there is the Fund-a-need portion where people just give money for the love of the school; no goods or services are traded. That too was done by our own phones and raised 30% over our goal, great job and thank you.


The last way and the reason I exist is the Live Auction. We had ten items, painstakingly curated to ensure that all demographics were covered, something for kids, boys, girls, grown men, women and families. The live auction is what gives auction chairs angina. What if no one bids? What if the donor of an item who is in the room is embarrassed by a lack of interest? What if no one pays attention?


Here is the reality of charity auctions…less than ten percent of the people in the room have any interest in bidding on anything in the live auction. Live auction items are there to make big bucks. They are not $50 items but thousands of dollar items. That being the case as the auctioneer I know that if you are not interested in bidding you probably are going to talk to your neighbor during the auction and that is all right with me.


My job is to have meaningful bidding conversations with the few who have money they want to spend and get them to spend wildly. It is not my job to make everyone in the room sit quietly and listen to me. For all the people who love me and those with a vested interest in the outcome of the auction, all the people talking makes them crazy. Lee said to me, “You are so funny and people are missing some great material.” Yes, it is nice when you really have an audience wrapped around your hand and they are laughing at just the right moment, but charity auctions are not those events.


Last night was no different. What did happen was exactly was should happen. Enough people were enough interested to pay close enough attention to keep bidding on every item. Everything sold for more than we thought it would. Two really generous donors, Sheppy Vann, retiring Pre-school head and chef extraordinaire Amy Tournquist of Watts Grocery, both had donated items that were going so high that they agreed on the spot to double their donated items. That meant double the amount of work for them, but double the amount of money for the school.


The Live Auction was a big success. Lee, as sidekick did an impressive job modeling the Lilly Pulitzer items. Lots of generous people bid and kept bidding and that’s what I like at an auction. I don’t care if you are talking to your neighbor. I want you to come to the DA auction and have fun and if the spirit or the auctioneer moves you, spend a little money.


Thanks to all the people who worked so hard all year to pull this thing off –the rest of the steering committee I have not already mentioned, Elizabeth Aldridge, Michelle Beischer, Stacey Burkert, Mimi Hansen, Linsey Hughes, Ann Leininger, Caroline Rogers, Nicole Smithwick, Laura Virkler and Molly Walsh. Thanks especially to Sarah Motsinger who calmly and brilliantly staffs the auction all year, Leslie Holdsworth my rock and the whole development office who are invaluable spotters for me during the auction.


The night was a knockout. I was one tiny cog in a big wheel. I say a huge round of applause for all the people working so hard for so long. Congratulations, you did it.

Good Luck or Bad Luck, Who Knows



If I had an American Indian name I would like it to be Chief Making Community, but more likely it would be Squaw Who Thinks She Knows.  Today I had a coffee at my house to help welcome new Durham Academy ninth grade mothers and give them a chance to meet us moms who have been around for a very long time.  About fifty of the moms were able to make it and many were new to our community.   So many friends generously brought things to contribute to the table and even more offered, but I had to start refusing their contributions because it was after all just a coffee.


I love to get people together and give them a chance to discover what they have in common and find new friends.  I feel like people who know each other are much more likely to make a better community then people whose children just happen to go to school together.  It also never hurts for our children to know that we Moms have a network of our own and are talking to each other.


The normal conversation about how our children are adjusting to upper school, be they new to DA or not was a common thread.  For the most part the kids are making their way and are exhilarated by their new surroundings.


I was talking with my friend Frances about a challenge my child is having that as an upper school mom I need to stay out of.  Standing back and letting Carter deal with a difficult person is the best learning I can let her do, but not easy for me as a Mama Bear.  Frances told me that in her family they have a saying based on an old Japanese story that goes like this:

A young man lives in a village and one day his horse dies.  The people of the village say to the young man that this is very bad luck.  The young man replies, “Good luck, bad luck, who knows.”


The next day a large group of soldiers come through the village looking for young men to draft into the army, but they each must have a horse, so he does not have to go because his horse just died.  The villagers say, “You are very lucky.”  He replies, “Good luck or bad luck, who knows.”


The difficulty that a child may be dealing with might actually be a good thing, a learning opportunity.  I know that hearing Frances’ parable was good for me.  I don’t know what is best or what the future might hold, but I do know that with the help of my community things are more likely to work out.  If I had not held this coffee today I’m sure I would not have had Frances’ wise words to put me in a more centered place.  As a Squaw I do know this, I really like promoting community.

First Day Down



How did I get so old that I have a freshman is high school?  Actually how did Carter get so old?  I feel like it was just yesterday that I was bringing her to Durham Academy for Pre-K.  Mrs. Ellis and Mrs. Stafford met us at the door to a big world of real school.  I remember sitting in the pre-school great room with the other mothers who became my wonderful friends, waiting for her school day to end at 1:00.


It feels like less than the time it takes to read Goodnight Moon Carter has gone through the pre-school, the lower school, the middle school and is starting the last school she will attend at Durham Academy.  How things change.  I dropped her off this morning at 7:45 in the morning and picked her up at 5:45 this evening.  A long time for me to wait to hear how she liked it.


Happily she reported good news, relief for a mother.  She liked her teachers, even though she may have a quiz tomorrow, she did not get lost, enjoyed the afternoon carnival, loved reconnecting with old friends she had missed over the summer and meeting new kids.  I hardly could ask for a better day for her.


First days are memorable although I don’t remember a thing about my first day of high school.  I spent my freshman year at Wilton High School, a big public school in our Connecticut town.  I can’t say I learned much.  I think I was one of five hundred in my class.  I had to ride the school bus to and from school and I would get home at three in the afternoon with nothing to do having done my homework on the bus.  This was well before title nine so girls did not stay to play sports unless you were a cheerleader.  I was never going to be a cheerleader.


My father found my education lacking and decided I should go to boarding school.  I was totally against this idea until I went to visit The Ethel Walker School and knew I would love everything about it.


I started as a sophomore and I do remember my first day well.  I was the only girl excused from taking a singing test since the Choir Mistress decided from my speaking voice I was not singer.  Also that first day I was put in a Latin class with only six other girls all of whom were “old girls,” meaning they had been at EWS at least one year and were used to the rigor and they all went on to Ivy or Ivy equivalent schools.  It was not my best class.


My rooming situation was no better than Latin.  I had two roommates and the three of us could not be more different.  Lizzy was the innocent daughter of an ex-pat living in Mexico City and seemed to have stepped out of the 1950’s.  Anne was all tomboy, good at sports and not really interested in classes.  I was somewhere in the middle.  Despite the rough first day, and really rough first year, I did fall in love with boarding school, my friends, my teachers, the camaraderie and the traditions.


I count myself lucky that I can keep Carter at home and still send her to a school that offers an education that is better than I had available at either of my schools.  I know these four years will fly by based on the speed of the last eleven.  I am already sad thinking about her going off to college.  I just want to hold on to these moments a little bit longer.

Eighth Grade Graduation

8th grade graduation

8th grade graduation

When I was a kid we did not graduate from eighth grade, but today was Carter’s closing exercises for her middle school.  For Carter the end of middle school means that she will move to another school campus next year so it is fitting to have a ceremony to commemorate completing four years of school.

As a parent I am thrilled to have middle school behind us.  I don’t know anyone on earth who loved the years between ten and fourteen.  Outside of the time from birth to two years old, middle school years represent the greatest change a girl makes, both physically and emotionally.  In our house the physical definitely rivals the emotional and I think they are both fighting it out to see which one is the winner.  Judging from the great differences in the boys in Carter’s class many of them are still in the throws of the great change.

I want to publically thank every teacher Carter encountered in middle school.  I have said it before and I’ll say it again, it takes a very special kind of person to want to spend time with adolescents.  The most important thing that Carter learned was her own voice.

There is so much ahead for her and her classmates and I hope that they go forward with kindness and respect for all people and a greater curiosity for the whole world.  But now at last everyone gets the rest that comes with summer break.  Although the sleeping in will be short lived since Drivers Ed starts Monday.

Tonight the kids will have a big party to celebrate their “graduation.”  It will be a last goodbye to some kids who are moving on to different schools.  Those friends will be missed, but new students will be joining Carter’s freshman class in the fall changing the whole dynamic.  Middle school is done forever. Hooray, Hooray.

May is the Farewell Season


Spring is supposed to be the season of rebirth and renewal, but for me it is usually the season of goodbye.  I am late with my blog today because in the last twenty-four hours I have attended three farewell celebrations.  Perhaps celebrations is not the right word, but send-offs sounds too casual. I went to a goodbye lunch today for my friend Meg who is moving to Baltimore, then to an ice cream social for Durham Academy’s long time Headmaster Ed Costello who is retiring.


Last night we had the Durham Academy board of Trustees annual thank you those trustees who are rolling off the board and welcome to the newly elected.  Many past board members who came to pay tribute to Ed attended the annual event.  The board members in the room were keenly aware of the good work Ed has done and the quite way he steered the school.


I was lucky enough to get to make the thank you remarks for my friend Sara Pottenger.  I am including them here today not only to pay tribute to Sara, but as a small guide for anyone who is ever asked to sit on a non-profit board, a job with great satisfaction if done right, but little fan fair.  Sara, with lots of experience serving many institutions is one to be emulated.


A Tribute to Sara Pottenger


When I realized that Sara Pottenger was leaving the board I got a little pit in my stomach. For those of you who serve on the board with us there is no way you could tell that my goal in life is to grow up to be like Sara Pottenger, but it’s true. See Sara is my board idol.  But I am obviously a poor student because I have not learned her ways and it looks like my time has run out.


Sara has a sense of grace about her as she quietly and serenely runs her committees and what a lot of them there have been.  We and I mean the entire school is indebted to her for co-chairing the Evergreen campaign with her husband Dave and the Suttons.  As the chair of the development committee along with the campaign for the last three years she has done double duty to ensure the money the school needs is there.  Sara easily could have just headed one of these committees but she has never asked anyone to do something that she was not willing to do herself.  She is by all definitions a true servant leader.


From the day that Durham Academy accepted Sara and Dave’s oldest daughter Tatum sixteen years ago she has been fully involved.  Besides all the regular room parent stuff Sara has consistently been a caller for the gift club for annual fund.  The Pottengers have generously given to the school every year, without fan fair. 


Recognizing talent the board asked her and Dave to serve as chairs as of the New Parents phase in the Cornerstone campaign.  You would think after all these years of constantly asking people to fork over their hard earned dollars to DA, people would run from Sara, but quite the opposite.  Her kind hearted manner and her devotion to our school has made her the perfect torchbearer for all these years.  And many of us have willing followed her into the cause. 


We were lucky to have her serve on the board for seven years; Her first in an ex-officio roll as the president of parents’ council in 2004- 05. She served on the strategic planning retreat in 2006 and then the board recognized that her thoughtful and consider council was needed back.  So Sara has spent the last six years serving this board.  She has had almost every job except President and we all know that being campaign and development chair is harder than being president.  Right David Beischer?


Someone was brilliant enough to have her on Trusteeship and the executive committee as secretary for every year she has been on this board.   Sara leads by example and is always thinking about the long-term viability of the institution. I have never heard Sara bring up an issue that is really about her child.  She understands that her role as trustee is not what goes on with her children, but what is best for everyone’s children.


Sara is obviously a brilliant negotiator because when we got her to head up different development roles she brought along her husband Dave.  Together they make a talented team.  So sadly we are not just losing Sara, but Dave may be retiring too.  Dave is the first to say that Sara is the brains in that team, but I know he is selling himself short. 


Obviously, like Dave, I am a faithful Sara Pottenger devotee. I know that I have failed in emulating her in board meetings for Sara never talks out of turn or raises her voice.  When I grow up I want to be as hard a worker, thoughtful, kind and gentle southern women as Sara.  I hope no one is holding their breath because I know I am not worthy to walk in her footprints and I am fairly certain we will be hard pressed to find another like her.