Monday, October 10, 2011

School of Choice

We have moved from a school system that has three elementary schools, one middle school, and one high school to a school system that has 21 elementary schools, 7 middle schools, and 6 high schools. 
On Friday I had the opportunity to visit two of the schools through a series of "Patron Tours" put on by the school system.  It's a way to let people in the community know what is going on with the school system and the various schools and programs offered in the schools.  I am truly overwhelmed by the choices here.  Someone asked me today what high school the girls will go to.  There is no simple answer to this question... all the "ifs" and "maybes" play too big of a role.

Our first stop was the Arts & Academics school.  It cover 6th - 12th grades and, as the name implies, works to integrate arts and academics together.  What an amazing school.  We visited a video editing classroom where about 20 7th graders were working on editing footage... each on their own computer.  No one had to share.  Then we went to a science room where the teacher could ask a question and each of the kids could repond immediately on a handheld device so the teacher could decide if he should go over the material more in depth or move ahead.  We saw the "Composition" room where over 20 keyboards/computers were set up to allow kids to create their own music.

And this is just the proverbial scratching of the surface of what's available at this school.  There is dance and literary arts and dramatic arts and... well, you get the idea.  All I could think is how the kids leaving this school are probably already half-way to a career... and then, "how do I get my kids in?"  See, you have to apply to get in and there are only about 80-90 new students accepted each year with over 300 applying.

Then we went to an elementary school.  The principle there described it as a "true urban school" with lower income families and a wider ethnic diversity than most of the schools in the system.  We watched 4th graders look up vocab words on iPhones and watched 2nd graders "tape" themselves reading for fluency on iPhones. 

But what I found truly amazing this day was where we went next... to a classroom filled with low-functioning autistic children.  We were warned before going in that a lot of them didn't like noise or commotion, that it was probably best not to try talking to them like we'd been doing with the other students the rest of the morning, that we should just quietly observe.  The kids in this classroom had just gotten some iPads with a special program that allowed them to communicate with their teachers.  For some of these kids, it was the first time they were able to communicate.  The iPads were customized to each child and what "motivated" them, whether it was M&Ms, the swing, a string of red beads they liked to play with, or wheat crackers.  Each kid was learning to touch what they wanted to do or have.

As I watched these kids, I was hit square in the chest by the amazing blessing I have in my three daughters.  They are healthy.  They have no learning issues... no speech issues... nothing to stop them from understanding me or communicating with me (except perhaps their own stubbornness on some days).

And the problems I was fretting about that day and the day before melted away.  And since Friday, I have tried to keep hold of the picture of the boy trying to press a button to tell his teacher he wanted to swing... and be thankful for the noisy, talkative chaos in my life.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Mornings... with a (small) side of applesauce

Mornings.  Need I really say more?  I don't know of anyone with kids who has a smooth, peaceful morning.

Ours is always filled with griping and complaining. 

"I'm tired."

"My finger hurts."

"I can't find anything I like for breakfast."

And then there's the jockeying for position on the couch, or the tug-of-war over the favorite blanket.

"She's touching me."

"I was sitting there."

Inevitably, someone spills something, and then it feels like everything goes to hell. 

I have been trying to be more pleasant.  More accommodating.  More slow-to-anger.  I have been trying to make mornings better around here.  (I have been trying to embrace the morning chaos.)  But sometimes I don't have any control over what happens.  Like this morning.

As I scooped applesauce into a container for Abby's lunch, Ella let out a blood-curdling scream.  I am not even kidding.  This is NOT for dramatic effect.  It scared the snot out of all of us.

Then she burst into tears.  This is not unusual with Ella, but the screaming is.

Turns out that, as she sipped from her water bottle for school, she sipped a bug.  Not just any ol' bug... an earwig.  Ewwww....  If there's one bug I can't handle, it's a earwig. 

And then sat crying... and crying... and crying...

I was already feeling a bit on edge from all the standard morning complaining, but then Abby went to the counter, picked up the applesauce I was getting ready for her and said, "Is this all the applesauce I get for lunch?"

REALLY?!  Her compassion is just overwhelming.  I'm pretty sure my jaw dropped open.

So I am standing there, hugging Ella with my heart breaking for her and the way her day has begun, and then feeling like an utter failure as a mother because my other daughter can't seem to muster any compassion for her sister... or maybe even finish scooping up her own applesauce.  She's nearly 11 for &#@! sake (I am trying to stop swearing... sometimes it works, sometimes my daughter nearly swallows an earwig and all I feel like doing IS swearing)!

The worst part... it was time for Ella to leave for the bus.  So I watched her drag her feet down the driveway, looking over her shoulder at me, with tears in her eyes.

I don't have a happy ending for this one.  I'm still crushed and on the verge of tears myself. 

Mornings suck.

Monday, July 4, 2011

The Fourth of July - Oh boy...

For the last three years, Fourth of July weekend has meant one thing in our house... Red Bud (which you must yell in your most red-necky voice.)

Red Bud... (sigh) is a national MotoCross race.  I'm sure I don't have that quite right, but it's something with motorbikes that takes up the whole weekend and crams thousands of people into a small plot of land somewhere near Buchanan, MI.

It's not that The Butcher is a big MotoCross fan.  And it's certainly not that my three daughters are, or, God forbid, me.  It it this... one of The Butcher's best friends owns a porta-toilet business and usually is the one to clean out the crappers of the huge, giant RVs that are camped there.  And... The Butcher... helps.

Yes, you read that right... my husband helps clean out the crappers.  But money is money, and friendship is friendship.

So our Fourth weekends were usually taken up with camping in a private lot at Red Bud (because, really, who wants to be by the crapper trucks?), listening to the engines rev until the wee hours of the morning, only to be awakened bright and early to some disembodied man yelling "Good Morning, REEEEEEEEEEED BUUUUUUUUUUD" at a truly ungodly hour.

Admittedly, the kids loved it.  No bedtime, junk food, four wheeler rides with dad, red neck watching.  Me, not so much - don't get me wrong - I do enjoy some good red neck watching.

OH - did I mention the helicopter rides that fly out over our campsite every 20 minutes?  Yeah... fun.

With the Big Move, I thought for sure this Fourth would be better... but, alas, this is not to be true.  The Butcher's been working on a roof all weekend (because, ya know, money is money), and I've been trapped in a rental house with three bored girls trying not to drink the rest of the box wine by myself...

At least Poirot was on last night... oh and there are no helicopter flyovers.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Chaos Wins

Okay, I'll admit it.  I have gotten to a certain age where I find it necessary to use two kinds of deodorants.  I think it's one of those perimenopausal things that Oprah was going on and on about a few years ago... back when I was too young to pay attention to it.

Anyway, I like to use one that you twist and the stuff pops out of some little holes at the top.  Do you know what I mean? 

This morning, I hopped in the shower after my new crunch regimen (another necessity from this "aging" thing), lathered, rinsed (but did not repeat - have you seen how long my hair is?!), hopped out and went to apply my deodorant.

Open, twist the knob and apply to the left arm pit... twist again... nothing happens... twist again... nothing...

Sadly, deodorant is not like hand lotion.  When you're running low, you can't rub two armpits together to spread out the last little bit of deodorant.

Luckily, as I mentioned, I use two kinds.  So I think perhaps chaos and I came out even in this one.

Thursday, June 23, 2011


In my last post I wrote about my recital sickness... how I was missing the annual dance recital.  We didn't really talk with the girls about it, but I thought they were probably missing it too.  So we decided to fill their day with distractions.  And what a neat one we found too...

Okay, a confession...WE didn't find it.  Our friend Caryl asked us to meet up down there.  So, in the interest of full disclosure, it was her idea.

We took them to Portland's Rose Festival.  The Rose Parade was on Saturday, but since we're not really "parade people" (I'm sure our kids are parade people - John and I just are not), we skipped that part and took them to see the floats on Sunday.  This was MUCH better because we could get up close and see all the cool details of the floats.  Like the bee above...his beads are painted walnuts, hazelnuts, and well, other kinds of nuts.

I liked these:

And the girls really liked these:

Abby and Caryl checking out the flowers
This parade is like the better-known Rose Parade (you know, in Pasadena) where every covering has to be from nature: flowers, seeds, grasses, etc.

Then we walked along the river, sidestepping copious amounts of people, their children and dogs.  The girls were excited to see a man with a huge yellow snake around his neck...just walking through the crowd.  Nope, not a side show...just keeping Portland weird.

During the Rose Festival, they also have dragon boat races.  Not that I'm into rowing, or anything requiring physical exertion, but this looked like fun.  Some of the teams dressed alike or had funny names (for the life of me I cannot remember a single one right now!).  A crowd had gathered on the grass to watch and cheer them on.

We finished off with a libation at Rock Bottom Brewery and a Max ride back to the car.  And yes, the girls loved the Max...their first real "train ride."  (But trust me, that's a post all to itself - such interesting people ride the Max.  I kept having to remind the girls to stop staring.)

Monday, June 13, 2011

Recital Sick

This weekend was truly the first time I spent most of the weekend thinking, "If we were still in Michigan, I would be (insert activity here) right now." 

It was recital weekend there and I kept thinking about my fellow dance teachers (I really want to write "comrades in arms") at Connie Cassidy School of Dance  and all the struggles/problems/frustrations... and joys... that occur in these two short days.  Saturday is spent filling the stage as quickly as possible with class after class for rehearsal.  Shoe changes happen rapidly (and not so rapidly), last-minute tickets are sold, and questions about nearly everything are answered.  And on Sunday, nine months of weekly classes boil down to two hours on a red-curtained stage.

For nine years, I have spent a weekend in June in that theater, and I really missed it this year.  I kept remembering all the things I would do to move things along and solve problems and help where I could.  I kept thinking, "I should have told (insert name here) about (insert problem here)."  But I'm not so deluded as to think it can't be done without me.  And perhaps that bothered me a bit too...

But I also missed seeing all the hard work come together.  There have been years when I felt like certain classes would never pull something off, and they did.  There have been dancers that I thought would never "get it" and they did.  Strangely, I also missed all the goofs and problems and catching the eye of a fellow teacher with the look of "What just happened?" flashing between us.  And I missed seeing each dancer grow up as the years passed.

This year I'm also filled with guilt over the-recital-that-wasn't for my own daughters.  I miss the after-church rush of eating lunch and getting dressed into beautiful costumes.  I miss the frustration of trying to get Abby's long hair into a bun (or whatever she has in mind), and trying to get Ella to do something (anything PLEASE) with her hair.  I missed the battle over just how much make-up I would allow.  And the excited car ride to the high school...

And I missed the goofy grin I would get watching my girls dance... (the same grin I once chastised MY mother for wearing during my performances).

We didn't talk about it much at our house.  I know the girls are disappointed.  They love recital.  And we were so close... the costumes are hanging in their closets.  But it was time to put our family together again.

So I spent this weekend being "Recital Sick" (like being home sick) and trying not to show it.  I think we did a good job of distracting the girls from the day (and I'll tell you about that later), but it didn't work so well for me... (sigh)

Tuesday, June 7, 2011


I have found that with each of our moves, we have been left with a hankering for some restaurant or place we've left behind.  When we moved from the Northwest ten years ago, that place for us was Edgefield.

Walking up to Edgefield's side entrance

It holds special memories for us because it was one of the first treasures we found when we hit the Portland area.  A little poor in both cash and friends, we'd head around the corner to Edgefield.  It's the county's old "poor house" that the McMenamin troupe has refurbished into a B&B, complete with gardens, extra restaurants, a brewery, a winery, a distillery, a three-par golf course and more.  Our "night out" would consist of wine tasting in the grotto-like wine bar while we dined on oyster crackers.  Sometimes we would splurge on the fifty-cent tasters.

But more than that, it's enchanting.  There is artwork everywhere - and I mean everywhere.  Even lighting and the necessary evils of buildings (like exhaust systems) are turned into something beautiful.

Edgefield outdoor light

Tiny, old outbuildings become charming settings with tables for two.  Winding paths lead to unique finds... like this one:

So, we were excited to take the kids there on Memorial Day.  The weather was iffy (and always is here it seems), but we were able to get in a few holes of golf - Wren only had "to go" once on the course - and end our time sitting outside while the kids slurped up chocolate shakes in the sun/rain/sun.

It was a good day...

But now I could really go for some Glenlord pizza...  (sigh).

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

A Three Hour Tour

I know I promised pictures of all the quaint details of our house, but you'll like this better.  I promise...

The Butcher came home last week and announced we were going on a hike Saturday.  The trip to the trail head was to be about an hour and he heard the hike was awesome, ending at a beautiful waterfall.  He even invited a friend and his kids to come along. 

It was going to be great - a wonderful reconnect-with-nature day.

But we woke up to this.

Rain.  Not just your typical Northwest Drizzle, but actual pouring rain. 

The Butcher would not be dissuaded as he packed a backpack with snacks, grabbed a handful of ND baseball caps (I swear, at one point we all had on ND baseball caps), and made sure the kids had "rain gear."

And off we went.

About an hour down the road and after much "Let me check the GPS," we turned around.  And a little after that, we turned around again.  And the kids complained of all the "turning around."  The "hour down the road" turned into two, and I reminded him of another "three hour tour."  Pretty sure he didn't appreciate that.

During the drive, the rain stopped and we finally made it to the trail head.  We piled out of the cars, checked to make sure we had coats, hats and snacks and headed into the woods.

Yes, it really says 2.2 miles.  We took a four year old on a 2.2 mile hike into the woods... and back to the car.  And truly, she did great.

And we were all rewarded with this.

But truly, the best parts involved singing silly songs along the trail (Wren turned it into "99 Barrels of Beer"), finding good "potty spots" for all the kids, forging a stream to stay on the trail, and getting to spend some time with some of my favorite people.

And the rain held off until we were all securely back in the cars...

Friday, May 27, 2011

Moving... on

Well, it's been a bit... and the chaos has swelled to high tide and now seems to be receeding.

We have made the move across the country, back to Washington where the Butcher and I lived pre-kids. 

But now we're here with three kids... how things change.

I have decided to take a page from my favorite blogger, Gabrielle Blair of DesignMom.  She's spending the year in France with her husband and six kids and often posts remarkable pictures and stories about their travels and daily lives.  So far, she's offered "tours" of the amazing house they are renting, told stories about French schooling, the markets, their travels, their parties... and more.  So, here is Vancouver, WA...  not quite France.

Here is the house we are renting...

It doesn't have a fancy name like the French house, but I'll come up with something soon... any ideas?

Note the spacious front yard, the extended drive, and the flourishing planting beds....

And here is our "land"...

Alas, there is only room for a table on the patio... our al fresco dining will have to wait.

We have tried to spruce it up with flowers.  Here are some we bought:

And a planter I tried to put together...

And of course, Poe...

Next time I'll show you all the charming attributes of our rental... just like Gabby does.

Kiss Kiss,