Thursday, October 30, 2014

Autumn and Electricity

Autumn is my favorite time of year on our university's campus, and we've taken full advantage of it, finding ourselves playing among the leaves in the woods and around the creeks before and after opera performances, during Girl Scout field trips, on the way to and from ballet classes, and on this particular afternoon, just for Will and I, during her sister's Nutcracker rehearsal:

Will and I were rushing across campus to catch the tag end of our university's Science Fest--normally we spend several hours at this event, but this was also Fun Show day, so a brief stint in the electricity lab was the extent of our science enrichment:

Riding a bicycle generator and lighting lights! We also got demonstrations/explanations of solar- and wind-powered generators.
 And yes, I say "our" science enrichment, because it was me that pestered the poor undergrad supervising this gadget--it's scanning for wavelengths in the air, picking up, on this afternoon, wi-fi and cell phone signals and a few other little unidentified frequencies:

I asked him if the cell phone spike would spike higher if I held my cell phone right up to the antenna, and got the go-ahead to experiment--it did! Would my Nook also cause a spike on some frequency? Nope! My car remote triggered a loud clicking on another antenna that had been quietly emitting static. It was so cool!

What it's actually for, I don't know, but I totally want to build one for myself now.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Horseback Riding to Music: The 2014 PALS Fun Show

One of the few things that I was legitimately sad about, when I began homeschooling, was the fact that the children would miss out on performances, and I'd miss out on attending them. As a child, I remember music pageants, Christmas performances, school plays, etc. How sad that the kids would miss out on these precious opportunities to perform for an audience!

Snort.

Yeah, the kids participate in PLENTY of shows, homeschooling or not, and Matt and I get absolutely our fair share of butt time on back-less bleachers and in dark auditoriums, watching them shine. They dance ballet, they fly on the silks, they walk the runway, they skate to music, and they ride around the arena.

This year's horseback riding show, the PALS Fun Show, was even more special and exciting for the kids than last year, as their riding instructor has just really outdone herself in making sure that the kids have an interesting and enriching curriculum. You already know how much I love the homework that she gives them (a weekly assignment to research and report on a horse breed; I also ask the kids to research and report on that breed's country of origin). This year, she also thought that the kids might enjoy performing as a mounted drill team in the Fun Show, so she choreographed a routine for them, practiced it with them for ages, and sent me home with the patterns so that the kids could practice it at home (they taped it out in our big family room and ran through it until perfect every single day).

The kids got to choose the music for their performance, and after much listening to many songs, and my realization that my kids don't really ask for or take a lot of interest in non-narrative songs (their only real favorite album is The King, the Mice, and the Cheese by Stevesongs, and that's really more of a musical), they finally settled on Blondie's "The Tide is High" and the Indigo Girls' "Get out the Map." For a while, Will was pushing for "The House of the Rising Sun," and for some reason the thought of them performing to it was super cracking me up, but I'm pleased that they eventually followed the path of the girl bands.

I really like arriving early, so that we can watch other riders perform:

I just like watching the other riders, but the kids do seem to always glean some new information or source of inspiration. For instance, the kids always ride with their horses on a long lead held by a volunteer, and another volunteer walking next to them (one of my favorite things about PALS is that it's EXTREMELY aggressive about rider safety), but as they watched other riders navigating the trail course in the arena, they noticed a kid, about Will's age, who was permitted to ride completely without walkers! GASP! They were enormously impressed, and have declared their new goal in riding to be showing their instructor that they can control their horses well enough to be permitted to ride without walkers.

Of course, I like the walkers! One lesson last term, the kids were practicing leading their horses, and Syd, walking while holding the lead right next to her horse's muzzle, tried to halt her horse but didn't brace herself so that when he didn't obey, she was pulled right off her feet. Before she could fall directly in front of her horse's front legs, however, her sidewalker snatched her up and set her back on her feet, and the lesson continued without a pause.

You'll notice the walkers in this video of their performance--one holding a loose lead in case she needs to take control of the horse, and one walking/jogging next to each child in case she needs to take control of the child. You will not, however, notice the music; although I'd been looking forward to getting a little teary while watching the kids perform to a couple of my favorite songs, I'd been very slightly bummed that this meant that I wouldn't be able to put their performance on YouTube to share with family and friends--can't play a video featuring songs that I don't have the rights to! And so although the kids were bummed that the stereo futzed during their performance and didn't play their second song (of course the kids carried right on, though, the troopers), I was actually pretty pleased--all I had to do was a little trimming, and I have a nice clip of the drill team performance, without that pesky music:


And after the performance, of course, are the judges' comments (Will has excellent posture!) and the prizes--


--and the fun times! Fun times include getting one's face painted, doing arts and crafts and coloring pages--

--hanging out with the other riders, and apparently eating one's weight in cookies, from what I witnessed with my own children, at least.

It was, indeed, a performance to make a Momma proud, and the perfect show for the kids to take part in--they worked hard, they were pleased with the results, and they've geared themselves up to work towards even bigger accomplishments.

And they have trophies! I wish that *I* still did stuff that won me trophies...

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Tinkerbell and the Vampire

As the kids and I were packing on Sunday, I suddenly had a panicked thought and burst out with something like, "Oh, no! Kids, you have to go put your costumes on RIGHT NOW!"

Because if the kids are going to be in California with their grandparents for Halloween, then that's where they'll be wearing their costumes, and so if I wanted to take pictures of them in their costumes, it had to be before I packed them! Yikes!

Fortunately, the kids were excellent sports, and put on their whole Halloween costumes for me, just so I could take photos of them.

Sydney is Tinkerbell:


She created her entire costume with very little adult assistance--I showed her how to draft a dress pattern to her measurements, Matt showed her how to transfer it to fabric, I threaded elastic through the casing she sewed in the top of the dress, I helped her bend the wire of her wings, and I showed her how to glue the clear cellophane to the wire. Syd thought up the entire costume, then watched a Tinkerbell movie and paused it whenever Tinkerbell showed a new angle, so that she could sketch her design from all sides. She sewed her dress, cut out the details at the bottom hem, drew a template for the wire hanger wings to follow, then spent hours painstakingly hot gluing clear cellophane gift wrap to them.

Fortunately, because Syd can be quite hard on herself, her costume turned out just the way she wanted!

Well, except for the part about the wings making her really be able to fly. That part didn't work out at all...


Will's usually an easy girl to please about Halloween costumes. For her vampire costume, she let me wrap one of my old homemade Moby Wraps around her head as her hood. Matt bought her a black shirt and black pants from Goodwill, and although she was going to make her old standby, the plastic fork fangs, she actually received a set of fangs as a favor at a Halloween party, so she was good to go!
  

Again, this costume surprisingly doesn't confer any superpowers, either; nevertheless, leaping the chain that blocks the drive-in's driveway remains a fine pastime for young daredevils:


The kids will actually be trick-or-treating in La Jolla this year, and they've already been teased quite mightily about the treats that a swanky neighborhood like La Jolla shall surely yield--full-sized candy bars! Each kid her own pony!

For my part, my health is going to take an outstanding turn for Halloween this year, since unlike in previous years, I have not had to buy Halloween candy and then buy it again five days later because I ate it all, and in the best of all possible circumstances I will not spend all next week sneaking treats from the kids' Halloween stashes, either, because the day after Halloween they have another five-hour plane ride to get through.

Know what makes the time pass quickly during a five-hour plane ride?

Eating all your Halloween candy, I'm going to bet!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Years of Jack-o-Lanterns

Matt has teased me, since the children were very small, about my tradition every year of buying the kids a Funkin to carve, and then keeping that Funkin, with the kids' name and the date on it, for... well, forever.

"We don't have anywhere to DISPLAY three years (then four years, then five years...) of Jack-o-lanterns!" he'd point out quite reasonably. And, of course, there were also the real pumpkin Jack-o-lanterns to display, and the squash, and the lights...

Yeah, no room on that cozy porch outside our cozy house across the street from the park and a mile from downtown.

But we don't live there anymore. We live in a sprawling, oddly-shaped house outside of town, now, with lots of porches, a couple of them quite roomy. And one of those porches, it turns out, is the perfect spot to display several years' worth of Jack-o-lanterns, all in a row just like they should be:

We don't have neighbors real close, and don't expect any trick-or-treaters this year (in fact, our own trick-or-treaters are flying to California right. This. Minute!), and so this low stone wall, facing our large picture window, is the perfect place to make a Halloween display that faces its most important audience--US!

I made that Halloween bunting ages ago, and I love pulling it out every year. In fact, I may make one for every holiday, now that I see how nice it looks in front of the wall:


I was given these spider lights for free from QVC, as part of the You're Home with Jill DIY Halloween Challenge, and I really like them. They're sturdy and realistic and even though they're Halloweeny, Will has already requested that we hang them in her room after the holiday.

We're going to. Of COURSE.

And then, yes, you do get to see every single Jack-o-lantern, all in a row, just because this year I finally can!

 







Now, don't you think there's plenty of room on that wall (or the ground in front of it) for several more decades of Jack-o-lanterns?

Sunday, October 26, 2014

My Latest: Halloween and Wood Burning






One of the things that I'll definitely be doing next week with the kids in California (Weep! Wail!) is kicking the DIY into high gear. I've got several projects that I'd like to get created and written up--black walnut ink and dye, another bookshelf makeover, a portable set-up for a wall-mounted Hot Wheels track that is super getting on my nerves, a T-shirt quilt for a baby cousin, some new dyed play silks, etc.--and I'm enthusiastic about the idea that the more of my paid writing that I get scheduled then, the more time I'll have to spend with the babies when they get home, lightly tanned, arms full of souvenirs, flush with adventures.

I'll just keep telling myself that this time next week they'll be back home with me!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Fire Station Field Trip

I know that fire station field trips sound like something for the preschool set, but I assure you that there's much about fire safety, civics, and STEM-in-action to be learned by even my advanced scholars of the fifth and third grades.

For instance, yes, we covered stop, drop, and roll, and why you shouldn't play with matches and lighters (I shared a quiet look and laugh with another mom during this portion of the presentation, as I'd previously told her how I prepped the kids to give the "correct" answers to the firefighters by explaining to them that the firefighters are much more conservative on this issue than our family is, and it's best not to upset them by telling them that your mommy lets you light matches, yes?), and what a firefighter in full gear looks like and why you shouldn't hide from them, but there was a lot more information suitable for the older kids that they are now.

We got an excellent review of emergency escape plans, a wonderful explanation of the importance practice; the firefighter carefully explained to the children that the smoke and noise of a fire are extremely disorienting, so you won't be able to navigate your home as well as you think you will, and if you're suddenly woken up, the disorientation will be even more severe. The firefighter suggested that we practice our escape plan on hands and knees, as that's how we'd move most safely in a real fire. He also suggested that we practice middle-of-the-night fire drills, because he said that many children simply won't wake up to a smoke alarm, and even more children will simply roll over, bury their heads in their pillows, and fall back asleep.

Everyone loves touring the fire trucks, of course--
Yes, Syd chose to wear her fashion show outfit on this day.


But I was also pleased that we got a look at some vehicle rescue gear, including the jaws of life (the firefighter explained that the jaws of life work using hydraulic power, and on the way home we had an excellent discussion of hydraulic and pneumatic power, and our vacation to Disney World!) and this wonderful airborne ladder:

This field trip inspired us to get our emergency evacuation plan for this new house down pat (thank goodness for our bizarre FIVE doors to the outside, our bizarre crank windows that won't have to be broken to be turned into escape routes, and a certain drive-in movie sign that makes a fabulous meet-up point), and fits right in with both levels of the Girl Scout First Aid badge, for which we're undertaking a study of medical and emergency personnel of all sorts.

I also think this trip has inspired our culinary efforts, as these firefighters are definitely getting a big basket of muffins hand-delivered after the kids return from their California vacation!

Friday, October 24, 2014

In Memory of Ballantine, a Good Kitty

Our Ballantine came to me and Matt twelve years ago as a tiny, tiny kitten, back when our local Humane Society was not the nice place that it is now, but instead bank after bank of dreary, small cages, and they'd give you tiny, flea-riddled, ill kittens just because they had a better shot with you than with them.

In fact, we adopted two kittens that day twelve years ago, but even tinier, even more flea-riddled, even more ill grey Prudence didn't survive her first night. After that, tiny Ballantine slept in our bed every night, in between our two pillows, so that I could wake up, reach a hand out, and check that she was still breathing every hour or so.

I named Ballantine after the building that houses the English department at our local university, since that's where I spent the vast majority of my time in those years. On the weekends or evenings when I had work to do in our grad student lounge in that building (they had MUCH faster internet than we did at home back then--we were still on dial-up!), Matt and I would actually bring little Ballantine with us, because we couldn't bear to be away from her for that long--she was too cute! We'd sneak her in and bring along little dishes of food and water and even a litter box, and I'd work and play with her and watch her explore.

Ballantine grew into a fine, sleek, sweet-tempered cat--

--who was good company for me when I got pregnant and suffered terribly from hyperemesis gravidarum, and near the end of my pregnancy when I was too paranoid about going into labor to leave the house alone. After Willow was born she switched much of her loyalty to Matt--what was that small, yowling, grabby thing that I always insisted on holding now?--but remained fine and sweet-tempered and good company.

When we moved house to a safer neighborhood, Matt and I, after a giant amount of angst, tentatively made the decision to let Ballantine roam outside, as she clearly so longed to do, and were happily rewarded for our risk by the fact that Ballantine never, to our knowledge, left the yard, never hunted small animals, never did more outside than make a comfy little nest for herself from which she could watch the world go by.

Still more Matt's cat than mine, Ballantine's favorite time of day was night, when Matt and I would finally lie down to watch a movie together before bed. Sensing the very second that Matt lay down, Ballantine would appear from whatever indoor nest she'd made for herself and run to the bed, leap onto it, and settle herself down onto Matt's chest, her face exactly right in his face. Matt would try to scootch her down so that he could see past her, and she'd gradually, with all the subtlety she could muster (which was not much), scootch back up until their noses touched. Matt would scootch her down, she'd scootch back up, and so the night would progress.

In the last few years, Ballantine suffered constantly from some sort of mystery rash that made her want to scratch her back and her belly until they bled. Vets had various theories, none of which panned out, and so she lived a life of constant itching and discomfort with the same even temper that she lived out her years of perfect health. Her suffering ended abruptly, unexpectedly on Wednesday morning, however; she had a delicious breakfast of dry cat food, then just fell over--seizure? stroke?--gasped a few times, and with the kids and I looking on, horrified but still totally uncomprehending, she simply died.

We laid Ballantine to rest in a fine spot in our backyard, a multiflora rosebush behind her, a Syd-made plaque at her head:

She had a happy life, she made all of our lives happier because she was a part of them, and as is the reward of all good kitties, she will be deeply missed.

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