Monday, June 20, 2011

Fun at camp!

The three older kids spent last week at their respective camps: Bear at a Lego Mindstorms camp, Jaybird and Mouse at a Fillies and Foals horseback riding camp. All three kids just loved their time at camp.

Bear spent the week building robots out of a super-advanced Lego kit that included various motors and sensors and other robotic parts. They designed their own robots, then hooked them up to a laptop to program them.

Really, what more could a boy ask for???

Bear holds one of his creations, which he's
going to hook up to a laptop.
The girls were head-over-heels crazy-wild about horse camp. Well, not literally head over heels, fortunately. But they sure loved their horses! Mouse rode a horse named Katie, and Jaybird rode one named Marshmallow -- a cute miniature horse that I think made the whole thing do-able for her.

We actually weren't going to send Jaybird, because she has such severe separation anxiety that we anticipated signing her up, paying a small fortune, then having to drag her there every morning. But the class was small -- three girls, including Jaybird and Mouse, and the third was a dear friend of Mouse's whom Jaybird knew as well. I actually decided to sign her up on the spot the day I first dropped them off.

It turned out to be a good decision, since Jaybird loved it so much. I think it was a real confidence-booster for her. She went from not speaking at all on the first day to speaking with the staff and riding her little horse all over the arena on her own on the last day. She just glowed with pride! (See the video.)

The only downside to all this was that it rained on the second to the last day, leaving the trails too muddy and wet to do the long trail ride they had been promised at the beginning of the camp. Mouse in particular was in tears over that for days. She still gets a long face when the subject comes up. She has changed her mind about what to be when she grows up: She now wants to be a horsewoman. And a mermaid.

Hopefully, we will get her out on the trail sometime this summer -- she is going to another camp later in the summer (generously paid for by the grandparents of her friend, who moved to the Twin Cities but is visiting for this camp), and supposedly her Girl Scout group is going on a trail ride (although we have yet to hear word about when).

In the meantime, she plays a lot of Pony Trail on her Nintendo DS. :)

The girls had to muck out stalls as part of their camp, which
is good. Jaybird insisted that I take a picture! I asked the
instructors whether the girls could take their manure rakes
home for the purpose of cleaning out their room, har har.


How green does your garden grow?

After all the work I did relocating those garden beds, and making new ones, I'm happy to report that things are generally coming along very well in our little garden. We planted a whole bed of lettuce -- no need to worry about cutting lots of it for salads. There is truly nothing better than eating a salad of buttercrunch lettuce, red leaf lettuce, parsley, and chives that you just cut ten minutes ago. Too bad all the lettuce is shot by the time the tomatoes come in.

Here is the lettuce bed. Peppers and radishes
are in the far part of the bed; lettuce in the
foreground. Peas will grow up the trellis

A closeup of the lettuce, with a nice view of the peas.
You can't see them, but I interplanted carrots. By the time
the lettuce is done, the carrots should be nice and tall.

And here are those radishes; we grew a mix of different kinds.
We have about fifteen tomato plants, so I am hoping for a bumper crop this year. I grew them from seed. Unfortunately, I'd labeled what types they were by row, on the outside of the tray, so that when I moved them around, I lost track of which plant was which. Oh well, should be very surprising when they all come up!

The berries -- the strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries -- are all running several weeks behind. We will have no apples this year. Apparently the Macoun, which bore heavily last year, alternates between heavy crops and light crops. This year we didn't even get flowers, which may be why the Golden Crisp isn't producing any fruit either (lack of pollination). Oh well. Better luck next year.

We have some additions: I brought home a grape vine that is supposed to be excellent -- super sweet grapes developed for Minnesota. I also bought a Northland cherry tree.

I do like my fruit. :)

Bear writes for Gracewatch!

Hello, this is Bear. Mudpuppy has found a sudden spurt in his way of talking. One of his favorite words (as of now) is okay. A conversation would go like this: “Mudpuppy, do you want to swing?” “Swing!” “Say up, mudpuppy!” “Up!” “If you want swing say okay!” “Okay!” “Okay, swing!” (End) If you would say okay to him, then he would say it after you, quite clearly.

Another thing is that Jaybird and I have enlisted in the summer library program. Jaybird is still in level 1, but I am in level 3. We have only been to the library 2 times as of now, so that’s why I haven’t passed already. Mouse hasn’t signed up for the summer library program, sadly.

(Good using the fake names, Bear!)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Last day of school

Mouse and her friends, all members of the apparently notorious "Ant Club."

Mouse and her teachers: Ms. Carol (teacher's assistant) and Mr. Jason, who
substituted for Ms. Ellings during her maternity leave.

Mouse with her beloved Ms. Ellings.

Bear with his teacher, Ms. Wrobleski.

Jaybird and Mr. Eric.

Jaybird and Ms. Heather (teacher's assistant).

We had two children “bridging” on the last day of school (June 8): Jaybird is moving from Children’s House to E1, and Mouse is moving from E1 to E2. (For the uninitiated, in the Montessori method, children stay in the same classroom for three years at a time.)

That meant a real marathon for Mom and Dad and little Mudpuppy. We arrived at school at 9:30 for Jaybird’s bridging ceremony, stayed for cake and then a picnic in Mouse’s classroom, then stayed for Mouse’s bridging ceremony. We got out of there around 1 pm—long past Mudpuppy’s nap time. He held up pretty well, considering!

It was a TEARFUL day. Some of the children bridging from Children’s House to E1 cried, and that made their teachers cry, and that made everyone in the audience cry. Jaybird did not cry, although she said she ALMOST did.

They keep the Children’s House bridging ceremony very simple: there are no speeches from the teachers, no preamble of any kind, other than a short concert of songs that the children have learned during their years in Children’s House (“Days of the Week,” “Seven Continents,” etc.). Each child is called to the front by their teacher, who says a few words about all the child has accomplished during her time in Children’s House. Then the child receives a spider plant, which she carries over a bridge on the stage; on the other side of the bridge, she is greeted by the E1 teachers.

Mr. Eric, Jaybird’s teacher for the past three years, had some very kind words to say. “You have grown so much in your skills and confidence,” he said. “You are a graceful person, always kind to the little ones.” And always responsible and respectable. “I will not forgot how much you learned about friends. A lot of people want to be your friend; you should continue that in E1.”

After the Children’s House bridging, we went to a pizza picnic in Mouse’s classroom. The kids, including Mouse, were WIRED. Eating lunch on the classroom floor with her, plus Mudpuppy (who naturally wanted to explore), plus Jaybird, was a challenge.

The students had spent the morning making friendship bracelets for the departing third year children; all the third years also received laminated sheets with comments, compliments, and farewell messages from all their classmates and teachers. Mouse just glowed over that.

Mouse’s bridging ceremony was a little different than Jaybird’s; each student was paired up with another student in the class who said something nice about the bridging student; then each student walked across the bridge (with a lot more confidence and poise than we saw in the Children’s House kids!).

The real drama began after the bridging ceremony, when it was time to say goodbye. I went to get Mouse in her classroom and told her it was time to go, and she just bent her head and began weeping, obviously trying to hide it. Several of her classmates saw her and came over and gave her hugs and said goodbye, which made her cry even harder. Her teachers also came over and gave her hugs, and we managed to get a few pictures of her with them.

The floodgates really opened when we got home, though. She cried off and on for two days, especially in the evenings! She is really devastated that her close-knit group of friends is breaking up. One is leaving for another school; another is moving to China; and another will be staying in the same school, but with only a one in three chance of being in the same classroom. She will also have new teachers next year, and she really loves the ones she has had.

We tried to console her with an ice cream treat at the Lakeview, to no avail.

Kind of a warm-up for things to come, hmm???

Bear’s end of year story is pretty straightforward: he’s glad to be done, and sorry his teacher won’t be returning next year.

Here is a short video of Jaybird's bridging ceremony. There is lots of background noise due to the 30+ preschoolers in the room.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

The yard sale of DOOM!

As those of you who read the "Attack of the Killer Plastic Toys" post know, we have been on a quest to rid ourselves of much of the junk we're drowning in, beginning with the Killer Plastic Toys.

We started out by spending the past few weeks sorting all our toys -- well, the ones we could hunt down, at least. That fun and exciting task took about 20 hours, give or take five hours. In the process, I threw away about five kitchen garbage bags' worth of broken toys, toys with missing pieces, etc.

Last weekend, it was time for Phase Two of our grand plan: a yard sale that would simultaneously relieve us of the burden of our superfluous things, ease our conscience by giving them to new homes rather than throwing them out, and raise money toward adoption expenses.

This epic event is going down in our family history as the Yard Sale of DOOM. It killed four days, between the set up, the actual sale, and the cleanup and redistribution of the remains. It nearly killed us, too, given that it was HOT (what, 90s, both days?) and that we were doing tons of hauling boxes back and forth. And it ended up not making that much money in the end. The words, "Never again!" have passed several lips.

See? Even Jesus is sad. He is thinking: "If only these people would have listened to the whole 'Blessed are the poor' thing...."

On the upside, we had fun interacting with neighbors and customers, made some pocket change, and ended up getting rid of almost everything (by donating the remains, not through the sale). Besides what we sold, we gave away seven big bags of clothing and about ten large plastic totes of toys, not including some large toys we got rid of. (The guy at the loading dock at Grace Place raised an eyebrow and tactfully commented, "Gee, your kids sure have a lot of toys," after the fifth box.) Lest anyone think us cruel, I would just point out that the kids' shelves and bedrooms are still overflowing with toy options.

Oh, and the kids acquired four new toys on Saturday, the same day we were busy getting rid of stuff in the yard sale -- two through McD "Happy Meals" (I forgot to say no toys), one as a belated birthday gift to Jaybird from our neighbor, and one from a treat sack that Mouse received at a birthday party she was attending.

Next up: "The Closets of Chaos" and "The Basement of Fatal Death." Stay tuned!

Things Mudpuppy can do now

1. Eat strawberries on the front steps!

2. Say "car" and "down" and "more" and "please" and "outside" (the last two not so well that anyone else would recognize it)!

3. Climb up steps, and back down again!

4. Get bread out of the oven! (We don't let him, but when he hears the timer beep, he toddles into the kitchen, grabs the oven mitts, and peers into the oven door.)

5. Go to sleep by himself!

6. Give hugs and kisses!

7. Unload a grocery cart, clapping after each item lands with a thump!

8. Walk confidently through a store, all by himself!

9. Get into a line with his classmates when the bell rings!

10. Pretend to read while turning pages in a book!

11. Use the toilet by himself!

(One of these things isn't true...can you guess which one???)

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Yummy for the tummy!

This was the scene at the Lakeview Drive-In during the ride around the lake that Jaybird and I went on last Sunday. The other kids wanted to stay home, so we splurged on a banana split.

Quote of the day:

"Dad, why don't you go get us some napkins, and I'll just stay here and keep an eye on this ice cream?"

Memorial Day

On Memorial Day, we went up to the Saint Mary's University campus and did a May Day "crowning" (in quotes because obviously we couldn't get to the statue to crown her). We prayed the Angelus with the kids: ". . . And the Word was made Flesh: And dwelt among us...." And we prayed for peace.

As anyone who has read this blog for a while knows, we have a very ambivalent attitude toward these "military" holidays. On the one hand, we have family and close friends who have volunteered with the military, and we know many good people in the military. It does seem appropriate to honor the sacrifices they make for the sake of the good.

On the other hand, we are mindful that the Church has always taught that war has no place in the kingdom of heaven, that it is always a failure of humanity. And we are aware that, too often, our military has been involved in actions that can only be described as horrific; the indiscriminate firebombing of whole cities comes to mind as deserving condemnation. More recently, we read this L.A. Times minute-by-minute analysis of how a U.S. Predator drone killed 23 civilians, including two small children, in Afghanistan. More disturbing than the civilian deaths (thousands have been "collateral damage" in the past ten years) is the attitude of the drone team as revealed by transcripts of their chatter, which can only be described as sickening: their enthusiasm for killing their "targets," their mockery of the civilians' prayers by the side of the road, their resentment at cautionary suggestions that some of the targets may have been kids. Their cavalier attitude upon learning that their targets were civilians, including women and children, reminds me of the kind of black humor and self-excusing talk that we're told is common in abortion clinics. It's another example of why resorting to violence as a solution to social problems ultimately hurts us more than it hurts our victims.

Later that evening, we went to the Winona Catholic Worker, which is usually host to a handful of veterans --  some of them homeless, others hungry for food or conversation. We heard that earlier that day -- at about the same time that we were doing our May crowning -- the workers were getting cursed out by an angry veteran dressed in his uniform, complete with various medals; he had apparently come straight from one of the many Memorial Day ceremonies around town. He was angry with the Catholic Worker volunteers because they'd just told him they didn't have a bed for him that night.

Perhaps I would feel less ambivalent about these military holidays if we said fewer words around stone memorials during services that conflate respect for our veterans with a subtle endorsement of the wars we send them to fight. Perhaps I would feel more warmly toward Memorial Day if we truly remembered our veterans -- beginning with the ones who need food, shelter, and someone to listen to their stories.