Friday, December 19, 2014

A Visit with St. Nick

There are a lot of places where you can go see Santa this time of year, but I've made it our tradition for the kids to have their chat with him at the Children's Museum of Indianapolis. After all, although Santa's helpers often fill in for him at other sites, it's always the genuine Santa, Jolly Old Saint Nick himself, who sits on the couch here for the children's visits.

It's also a convenient excuse to spend the whole day at the museum, the kids love the winter-themed exhibits--
The sliding pond: Some of the kids' friends already find the Children's Museum too baby-ish, I'm told, but my two are the ones who will still be there, in their 30s, happily sliding on the pond and building with blocks and riding the carousel over and over.

--and here, unlike at most other places, you can take your own photos of these magical moments:

Syd still gets a little freaked out anticipating visiting with Santa--she was consumed by the "naughty or nice" question this year.
Will, on the other hand, couldn't give a flip how naughty she was--she wants a robotic dinosaur for Christmas!
I couldn't hear what they were saying, but considering that Will's letter to Santa this year stated that she'd been "somewhat good lately," there's really no telling.
 Try as I might, I am just not one of those "breathe deeply; focus on the moment" sort of people. I know that if you're frantically rushing through the Christmas holiday, stressed and struggling to get everything done, then you're doing it wrong, but dang it, that's just the way that I operate. Right this second, for instance, as I write this, I'm freezing under a blanket and waiting for Matt to text me with the time that the furnace repair person *might* be here, I'm deciding if I should have the kids make popcorn or cut up apples to bring to their math class party that starts in 55 minutes (and I'm about to have to get out from under this blanket and go kick their butts to get ready for it!), I'm hoping that the internet works at the community center where the math class is held so that I can sit in their library and finish another paid writing gig there (and email a couple of customers to explain that my shipping deadline was indeed firm, so they will want to cancel their orders) so that I can then work on some big handmade gifts when I get back home, I'm wondering if I should email Will's aerial silks teacher to nag her that I don't yet know her performance call times for tomorrow, and I've just this second realized that instead of working on my own handmade gifts this afternoon, I'll actually need to guide the kids through making theirs for their dad instead, since this is the last day that we'll have him out of the house until Christmas.

But I do enjoy these special times, as fleetingly as they come and go, as hard as I work to manage them and plan them. I memorize the expression on my true believer's face as she nervously contemplates whether she has, in fact, been naughty or nice this year. I smile at my ten-year-old, as blissfully "ice fishing" for stuffed fish as the couple of toddlers next to her are. And once I have snapped many, many photos of my children talking with Santa, and I'm positive that I've gotten THE shot, then yes, I do put down my camera, breathe deeply, wonder what they're saying to each other to make the kids giggle like that and Santa to have that particular expression on his face...

... and yes, fine. For a few seconds, I focus on the moment.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Nutcracker 2014: Momma's Little Angel

I told myself that this week I would only work on the tasks that must be completed before Christmas--etsy orders, homemade gifts, the ever-burdensome job of finding a chicken sitter, holiday memory-making--and, indeed, much of my time is taken up by advance work for my paid writing and editing jobs (wouldn't want to be stuck writing on Christmas Day to meet the next day's deadline!), but there are a few topics that I wanted to write about here before Christmas, and so I've decided that this fulfills my promise to myself.

Because writing about The Nutcracker wouldn't be nearly as fun AFTER Christmas!

Although Syd has participated in some pretty intense, large-scale stage productions before, and she's danced in ballet recitals before--on this very stage, in fact--we have never been involved in anything as intense, as exciting, as large-scale as this, the kiddo's first role in our university's yearly staging of The Nutcracker.

We're fortunate, here, to have a stellar ballet program, and a pre-college program that is both as stellar, and is the pool from which the children's roles in their productions are chosen. Auditions for this year's production of The Nutcracker took place way back in September, and Syd was cast as an angel, the usual role for children in their first and second years of ballet (the children in the Creative Movement program, who are all under the age of seven, are not invited to audition).

I had expected much of the time commitment that came with months of weekly rehearsal (and nightly practice at home, with a "practice candle" made out of a paper bowl and a pipe cleaner, and "Scene: The Enchanted Palace and the Kingdom of Sweets," performed by the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, on repeat on Spotify, but I didn't quite expect the hours--absolute hours--of daily rehearsals opening week, so much so that I still wonder how the children who had to attend school managed it, because I know that I sure declared it a school holiday! I was worried that Syd would become tired and stressed, so I devoted that week to supporting her, making sure she got plenty of rest and ate plenty of nutritious food, making sure she washed her hands often, making sure she had a lot of play-time and unstructured time when she wasn't needed at rehearsal.

Syd, of course, was not tired and stressed (well, that Saturday evening performance wasn't quite as fun as the matinee performance a few hours prior, but that was the only one). She loved it. She loved being backstage with the other dancers, she loved wearing her costume, she loved getting peeks at the scenery and props used in other parts of the show, and she loved, loved, loved performing. Just loved it.

Frankly, I was the stressed one. The daily rehearsal times were emailed to the parents the night before, and those were simply the times that your child had to be there, in the required uniform, her hair performance-ready as specified, carrying her backpack with street clothes, water bottle, quiet activity, and healthy snack. She mustn't be tardy, even though driving and parking on campus can be very, very tricky. She must be there at exactly those times, even if there's another child in the family who also has to be places right then. Again, I can't imagine how families with inflexible schedules that can't accommodate all this complicated prep and transportation can possibly permit their children to participate.

And about that hair... I had to STUDY for that hair. I had to Youtube "flat performance bun," skim video tutes until I found one that matched the ten-step how-to included in the 30+page parent's guide that we were given, watch it several times (and yes, that video is done by a child. A child had to teach me how to do this hairstyle), and practice it on both children before I felt confident to do it for real on the first tech rehearsal day:

It was very important to me that this bun be perfect every time (Gee, I wonder where Syd gets her Type-A perfectionism?), and every time I made a bun, I'd make a little note to myself for next time--less hairspray at the beginning; brush the hair into the high ponytail gradually, not all at once; note the placement of each bobby pin so that they don't overlap; place the ponytail slightly off center to the left, since the majority of hair will fall to the right, etc.

Wouldn't you just love to be me?

And yes, because I know you're as interested in this as I was, the bun was perfect. Every. Single. Time. Other parents photographed it to help them make their own buns, it was that perfect. Here it is, from every angle, just so you can admire it as I did:


My stage-makeup skills weren't nearly as good. I don't understand blush, and Syd had to tell me how to do the mascara.
 See? Perfect.

Mind you, I'm saying all of this like it was a pain in the butt, and it was, sure, but it was also so, so worth it. The kid loved it. She got loads of free ballet instruction. She got to be onstage, in front of an audience, doing ballet with a first-class cast, which was a big deal to her. She got to look like this--



--and it's adorable. 

She even got to be on TV, if you count the livestreams of every performance, every single one of which I watched. I even, because it's apparently the 1980s again (Aunt Pam, I swear that I remember you doing this!), had Matt take photos OF THE TV while she was on:

Syd's the blurry angel at center left.
Now she's second from the left.

Matt missed her other close-ups, which I, of course, wouldn't have done, but I didn't want to tear my eyes away from the screen to take the photos in the first place, so I probably shouldn't complain.

We attended the final performance, and at that one, I finally understood why I'd been trucking the kid back and forth to hours of rehearsals for months. Apparently, at the rehearsals, they'd always rehearsed to the music, and the children had been trained to not just count, and not just follow their partners, but also to listen to the music, and to follow the musical cues. And so during this particular performance, when the entire orchestra inexplicably--I still don't understand how it could possibly have happened, and I used to play violin in an orchestra--skipped several measures, the children were not thrown. It could have been disaster, with the children carrying on with their correct choreography, no longer in sync with the music, ending their number too late, and what about the Snow Queen and her Cavalier--how would they come in on time, with the angels still on stage? However, even though their choreography meant for them to do several other things, the children immediately heard the music change and without hesitation, they all skipped the same measures that the orchestra did and followed the new musical cue. Having watched the previous four performances online and actually knowing what had happened made it incredible to watch, for me--nobody else in our group noticed anything unusual.

And now The Nutcracker is over, and we can all concentrate on Will's upcoming aerial silks show. It was a wonderful experience for everyone, especially for my kiddo who loves ballet and loves the stage.

Next year, she's hoping to win the role of a baby mouse, or perhaps even a soldier!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

My Latest: Homemade Clothing Tags, Toilet Paper Tube Toys, and a Ceiling Fan Pottery Wheel


a look at this pottery wheel that uses a ceiling fan motor--I think I'm going to make this!


I suppose that I should tell you that I'm super stressing out this week, with some big etsy orders to fill, Christmas presents to make, and various other festive holiday requirements to complete, but honestly, I'm still riding on the relief of having passed Nutcracker season, and nothing else compares. 

I'm sure that NEXT week, when I've got to finish those Christmas presents and wrap them right this minute, and then pack, and then finish up all the rest of my holiday prep by the deadline, I'll be stressed again, but for today, I'm going to eat a bacon, egg, and kale sandwich on toast while drinking coffee and reading the newspaper. I'm going to drag the toaster oven outside so that the kids and I can make melted bead Christmas ornaments. I'm going to do a little more research for Girl Scout cookie sale season (starts in January!). I'm going to work on some Christmas presents, but probably not finish any. I'm going to get the kids to write their letters to Santa, and email the paleontologists at the Children's Museum to tell them that we'd like to work in the fossil prep lab this week. I'm going to take one kid to chess club, and then we might all go out for a doughnut, as she's been wanting.

Plenty of time to get stressed next week!

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Endangered Animals in Infographics and Artwork

Our Endangered Animals Unit Study has been working much like the horse breed research homework that the children's horseback riding instructor gives them. Once a week or so, I asked the children to each research an endangered or extinct animal, fill out a form about that animal (found in this The Loneliest Animal Teacher's Guide), and then create either an infographic, using Piktochart, or an artwork about that animal.

Along with that, we'll often search Youtube together for videos that show the animal, leading to, in one notable instance, Will describing the Hector's dolphin as the "Total. Cutest.Dolphin. EVER!!!" Tangentially, I won't let the kids browse Youtube alone, but it's one of my favorite things for us to do together--I love how everyone's interests spontaneously flow, whether we're searching for only the My Little Pony musical numbers, or watching the astronauts in the International Space Station, or speculating about the monetary worth of that kid who does all the toy reviews.

Here's an example of an infographic that Will has done. I'm actually pleased to see the mistakes that she's made--misspellings, irrelevant text and images--because they represent concrete skills that she can work on. It's always good to have a plan!

Here's an artwork that she created about a different animal--the luminous lizard, perhaps?

Syd's not as into this unit, but it's an excellent one for Will, as it's got her happily creating both written and graphic content, two things that she's often reluctant to do.

Now if I could just find the magic formula to get her to do fractions without pitching a fit, I'd be all set...

Here are some of the other resources that we've been enjoying during this Endangered Animals Unit:

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Code a Christmas Tree in Washington, D.C.

Will isn't as into Scratch as some of her friends are--well, I take that back. Sometimes Will is VERY into Scratch, but other times she's very into Minecraft, or Zoo Tycoon, or Little Big Planet, or Lego Marvel Super Heroes, or FEZ, or Tokyo Jungle, or the links on my Links for Kids page, so I should say that Will isn't as perennially into Scratch as some of her friends are.

Nevertheless, when I showed both kids this Made with Code project that allowed them, using a Scratch-like interface, to code a light show on their state Christmas tree in Washington, D.C., they were both really excited. I mean, obviously! I want to code a light show, too! Unfortunately, I'm not a child, and I have to code light shows in my own time, on my own equipment. Next year, perhaps...

The only disappointment in the process is that, as far as I can tell, there are no webcams or livestreams, so the kids can't, you know, actually *see* their light shows, but the site did tell each of them approximately when their light show would play on their tree in D.C., so I guess if you were local, you could head over and camp out and watch it in person.

Here's Syd's light show, which played last night at approximately 8:34 pm:

And here's Will's, which will play tonight at approximately 5:07, just a little after dusk in D.C.:

I actually like these little limited-time opportunities the best, I think. I don't like the kids to have a lot of screen time, and so each new app or program or game that they're introduced to, however cool it may be, to me really just feels like one more app or program or game for us to clash over on a daily basis. Opportunities like this, however? I show it to the kids, the kids have a lot of fun with it, we all look at it and say "Yay! Wasn't that cool?", and then we all go back to our block building and game playing and book reading, content with having a cool gif to share and a little more coding experience under the kids' belts.

And still forever planning that someday longer vacation to Washington, D.C.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Oh, Christmas Tree

The Christmas tree farm where we buy our tree every year is now located just a few blocks away from our new house. We can even hike there through the meadows that border the woods behind our property.

Of course, on this day we drove over to the tree farm, because we wanted to bring home a tree!

Matt and I don't give a flip about Christmas trees, so we let the children be in charge utterly. We have enough taste that Will's preferred choices always get the side-eye (she's of the super fat tree persuasion, whereas Matt and I are lean tree people), but if the kid wants a super fat tree, then the kid can get a super fat tree... if she can convince her sister of the same, that is. 

And she can!

New this year--we brought a saw, so that the kids could cut down our tree, as well:

Syd got over-excited and waved down the tree guy prematurely, so he basically got to hang out with us for twenty minutes while the kids did this, verrrrrrrry slowly:

Fortunately, in this town there's always stuff to talk about for twenty minutes: the neighborhood that you live in, neighborhoods that you used to live in, university gossip, the universally unpopular parking meter installation, the mayor's announcement that he's not going to run for another term (because of his universally unpopular parking meter installation, we all agree), etc.

Finally, though, after many years of work, the kids get the tree sawed through, the tree guy hauls it to the barn, and it's trimmed, shaken, never flocked, and baled while the kids and Matt have complimentary popcorn and hot chocolate, and then we take it home and put it up and the kid can pose in front of it on her way to Nutcracker rehearsal:

There are just Christmas toys and books (and one forgotten lunch plate, it looks like...) underneath it right now, but soon there will be presents!

Monday, December 8, 2014

Work Plans through December: Math, Grammar, and Handwork

The Nutcracker went amazingly well! Syd was a champ through five performances in four days, and the rest of us were champs at supporting her, if I do say so myself--we had her in perfect hair (which took me 20 minutes to make each time) and makeup and a clean(-ish) uniform, at whatever time they told her to be there on less than a day's notice, for whatever odd length of time they wanted to keep her, sometimes bringing her back just an hour and a half later for another rehearsal. That kid danced her heart out on stage, and thanks to the university's livestreaming program, I was able to watch every single performance, not just the one that we all attended in person yesterday. Overall, the experience was intense, but if your kid loves ballet, then this is what she wants to do, you know?

We're tired today, and we've got relatives in town, but even after we've slept in for a couple of days and the relatives have had to go home, I don't think we'll be returning to a full school schedule this month. Math and grammar are packaged and easy to do anywhere, so I'll continue with daily assignments on those subjects. The kids also have some work to do for their extracurriculars--homework for tomorrow's last horseback riding class of the session, math class on Friday, an interview to plan with an ER doctor for our Girl Scout Co-op next week, and Magic Tree House Club next week--but other than that, I'll be encouraging them to also spend time each day on handwork, both Christmas-themed and for giftmaking.

I usually don't like to take the kids off of a full schedule for that long, because I'm always worried that Will, my kid who has a tough time with transitions, will have a tough time transitioning back, but frankly, at this time of year, with all the extra activities and events and surprises and gifts and specialness and excitement, I don't see how teachers at school can keep their students focused on a full day of school every day, either. I'd rather just give in and let them revel in it while they're young.

And if I do, then perhaps when they're grown they won't turn into Christmas grumps like me!

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