Saturday, April 26, 2008

All 3 kids have spend the last few days with friends somewhere. It must be the nice weather. K has been hanging out with school friends, going on sleepovers, and playing football in the street with a bunch of kids. I used to love doing that stuff. J has also been out every day at friends' houses and last night was invited to a 6th-8th grade dance at a nearby school. She had a lot of fun and was so cool about it. What I love about J is that there's never any pretension. Nothing is fake about her. What you see is what you get. She has so many really deep, long-term friendships and feels no need to try and impress anyone for approval (unlike what I see in most middle school cliques). 7 of her best friends were with her lastnight (3 boys, 4 girls - ages 10, 11, 11, 11, 12, 13, and 13), all of whom would do anything for her and vice versa. She has way too many activities and things to focus on to start thinking about boys "like that". I envy that kind of self image and confidence.

W's been at the playground every day, meeting new kids, riding his scooter, and playing basketball. He make friends very easily. Yesterday I watched as he ended up with 3 other boys for a basketball game. I see him get patted on the back and do that fist-bump-that-turns-into-a-cool-handshake thing with the new kids and wonder how he knows that. He could get a game of cops and robbers going in no time and spend hours there. He shares his things and knows how to not get taken advantage of. He's big for his age and doesn't get messed with - and he knows it. But he'll always make time to run over to me for a hug and kiss.

I love springtime.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Today was a wonderful day with the homeschool group for their first geography club! It was very well organized and such a pleasure to be a part of. When we got there tons of food from Spain was spread out on the table. There was gazpacho, flan, chorizo, paella, tapenade, bread, natilla, and leche frita. We brought churros - which are our favorite Spanish dessert. (Click on the picture of the churros for the recipe!). I decided I was actually going to cook (instead of buying something from the many many ethnic restaurants around here) and I was so excited to get the kids involved and everything. So I had everything ready - down to the pastry bags and fluted tip - and everything went wrong. The first bag exploded, I then used a heavier Ziploc baggie, but the fluted tip shot right out of it, then the dough was too thick, then dough was all over me and the kitchen, then I thought I was going to have a nervous breakdown.

K had woken up by this point and just said, "Mom, let me do it". I handed her all the stuff and she was a true professional. She doubled up the pastry bags, snipped off a corner and the tip sat perfectly inside. She spread the tip open a little wider so the dough flew out easier. She got the oil to the perfect temperature and made beautiful ribbons of churro. After 2-3 minutes she tonged them out into a container while I was ready with the powdered sugar. She did the whole batch fairly quickly and I couldn't thank her enough. I resign myself to the fact that I am completely and unarguably culinarily challenged.

The kids presented their reports on a small stage and spoke into a microphone attached to a big amplifier. About 20 kids gave a report on different things about Spain. I was so impressed with many of the littler kids who were so comfortable in front of a crowd and with the shy kids who used every nerve in their body to accomplish a few minutes of public speaking. My kids happen to love being the center of attention and did really well.

When if was over, some of us walked around the block to a nice playground and just relaxed. J, W, and I stayed about an hour and then headed over to a large park by the dance studio for over 2 hours of professional photos being taken. All 3 company teams were there to have shots taken for the studio website and a recital montage on the big screen. The theme was "on tour" and all the kids had to wear rock-n-roll shirts, denim, skulls, roses, and other cool things. It was a gorgeous day and the kids went to so many different areas of the huge park for good pics. They looked like movie stars and many people asked us what was going on, lol. W hung out with some of the other dancer's brothers who were there and skateboarded, played with a puppy, ran around in the playground area, and really enjoyed the day as well.

J went to her friend's house after the photoshoot. K spent the day at a friend's house, too. W and I got home around 7 and we are all just relaxing now from a huge day.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

J was at a friend's house the past 2 days creating and running a juice-and-cookies stand on the block. They did very well, I must say. Yesterday they made over $15 selling a well tested grapefruit-orange juice combination in small cups for $.50 each. They used the "free sample" ploy and got most of the tasters to come back for more. A few people put a dollar in the jar just because they were so cute, lol. Today they decided to reinvest some of the money they made back into their business. They made a big poster for their stand and bought more juice, a case of water, and cookies. The weather wasn't as great as yesterday, but they still made about $9. Not bad for a couple of little entrepeneurs.

Both kids wrote out their reports for an upcoming hs geography club event this week. I helped W with his. I have to say that not only has W's reading ability jumped ahead several more hurdles, but his handwriting is gorgeous! It came out to a page long and he's so ready to read it in front of the group. J wrote up a couple of pages already and will probably enhance her report with pictures like she always does.

B's and my 15th wedding anniversary was this weekend. We bought ourselves a new GPS to celebrate! J and W presented us each with cards and gifts (K slept over a friend's and wasn't there). They used some money from their Easter gift cards to spend on us - I got all choked up. J got me a beautiful magnet and B a picture frame. W got me a lip gloss and B a small address book. They did this all on their own and I am so incredibly proud of them.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Everyone's loving the readalouds. It's such a simple way to connect with the kids. They get so much out of it, too - and I don't just mean learning. I'm reading with J at nighttime and with both kids during the morning. We read The Velveteen Rabbit the other morning and the kids got so into that story, they couldn't stop talking about it for days. I'd never read it myself and I got emotional at the end when the fairy tells the rabbit to go run and play. We'll be reading all the classics we have at home first, before we head to the library or bookstore for more. Some of what we have are ones that were forced down J's throat in 2nd and 3rd grades, but she's all into reading them again to understand them this time. She picked Trumpet of the Swan, which is a great story. W likes it too. I just love the relaxed reading time with the kids.

The other day we met up with the homeschool group for a walking tour of a nearby neighborhood. Many of Queens' neighborhoods were so carefully thought out and put together. Due to the many people living here, the house/apartment setups needed to be practical and accomodating, yet they still included beautiful architecture and aesthetic design. Queens is part of NYC, but it's no Manhattan. It's almost suburban in many areas. There's a perfect amount of greenery and nature here for me. Nature, wildlife, picnics, gardens - plenty of that here. I couldn't imagine how mentally stable I'd be living in what's considered a rural area. I mean, I feel like I'm going to lose it after 2 days at my mom's in the suburbs. I love living in Queens and the walking tour made me appreciate it so much more. Today I'm going to open all the blinds and windows, read with the kids, tidy up, and play basketball with them in the backyard. :)

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

J's 2 dance solos were on Sunday morning. Early. J has never been a morning person and whenever competitions scheduled her before 11am I knew she'd be tired and not stretched enough. We had a great year of solos being held after 5pm, which J feels is her best time of day. So, with both her dance solos scheduled before 9:15am this time, I was concerned for her. We got her dressed at mom's, she threw her team gear on and we were out the door before 8am. We got a panicked phone call when we were 1/2-way there that the comp was running 1/2 hour early and J would be on in 8 numbers (about 20 minutes). Ugh, now not only was J going on at 8:30am instead, but we were really late.

We got there in time, ran to the dressing room, did a last minute costume pinning, makeup-touchup, and hairspray and her coach whisked her off to get backstage. I was a mental mess. I felt bad about being late and having to rush and I just hoped she was in a confident mood today. They called her on stage and she performed beautifully - but to me, it's always beautiful since I have no full understanding about technique or what the judges look for. The teachers, studio owner, and parents came up to me afterwards and said it was the best they've ever seen it. I couldn't even hear much of what was being said as we only had 3 minutes to get changed for J's next dance.

Awards were at 10:30 and the first thing they announce are the judges choice awards. These are for choreography, precision, showmanship, and fabulous feet. They called out J for the precision award! Precision (i.e. technique) has always been the one area she gets point off on.


for J's Jazz Solo Age 11, (there were 4 in her category)....

she got her adjudication award....





Her first Platinum (highest award given) for a solo. What an amazing way to end the season! It was surreal to see and hear our studio screaming and cheering. I was in shock, B was all teary-eyed and J was beaming. She has reached a personal goal and I know it felt good. And out of all the junior solos in all categories, she placed 2nd - five-tenths of a point away from 1st place. She was up there on a cloud, it seemed.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Lotsa great stuff going on around here. We're in the middle of another competition. This one's in Long Island. It's one of the biggest and best there is - 26 different studios and 544 numbers. 4 of J's groups went today and they were unbelievable! The 3 highest awards to receive at this one are Gold, High Gold, and Platinum:

Small Group Lyrical Age 11 - Platinum Award, 1st Place in category, and 2nd place overall for small groups (all categories ages 9-12)

Small Group Jazz Age 11 - Platinum Award, 1st Place in category, and 3rd place overall for small groups (all categories, ages 9-12)

Small Group Tap Age 11 - High Gold

Large Group Jazz Age 12 (11 yr olds and 14 yr olds together) - Platinum Award, 1st place in category, 1st Place overall for Large Groups (all categories ages 9-12)

This is the best they've done all season and needless to say the whole studio is thrilled beyond belief. Tomorrow she'll do her 2 dance solos and whole company tap production number. I love the way this competition is set up. There's plenty of time between numbers to change, lots of downtime, and we're done early.

Circus class has been great the past few weeks and they're having a show in May. I'm excited about a new homeschool group - very close to home - that we've recently become a part of. We meet on Wednesdays and last week they held a wonderful knitting-felting class for us. The kids got to try out a spinning wheel, check out a bunch of different wools, learn how to knit and felt, and make yarn dolls. Next week we're touring one of the local neighborhoods. It's great to have a group of awesome homeschooling moms so nearby!

Another thing going on around here is that the kids firmly decided that they want more Charlotte Mason in their lives. They've always loved the CM method and now want it to be continuous and more scheduled. I have no problem with what ever they want. As a matter of fact, I even began reading more about CM so I understand it more and not just dabble in the various activities it suggests. In speaking to a couple of other hs moms last week I got interested about "classic literature" and how it was a big part of their hs days. I know how J is a very reluctant reader and I casually asked her what her favorite books of all time were. She thought for a minute and fondly remembered The Wizard of Oz, the Little House books, and Trumpet of the Swan. It really shocked me that those are all considered classic, living books that are so a part of CM. I asked her if she'd like more readalouds and independent reading of books like those and she said she'd like to try it. She asked what other kinds of books fit into that category and I mentioned Swiss Family Robinson, Tom Sawyer, and Little Women. I said that a great story stands the test of time and you'll know one by how many movies were made of it, lol. When she asked what Tom Sawyer was about, I gave her a brief synopsis and she was actually begging me to buy it so she could find out what happens at the end.

I'm still reading as much as I can about the Charlotte Mason method. I remembered lots of it since it was what we started with when J first came out of school 3 years ago. But then we had a strict and boring schedule that she hated after a few months. Now that I understand it better now (and understand J better now) I think I know how we can implement much of the method in a way both kids will love. Well, I am certainly going to try, anyway. I already pulled out every classic, living book we have in the house and we're bringing back the bedtime readaloud. Swiss Family Robinson is the first one she picked and we read a bunch of pages last night. And she LOVES it! Omg. If I knew that these kinds of books would trigger her long-lost love of reading I would have done this so long ago. It makes so much sense.

So readalouds will be more incorporated into our weeks, as will silent reading, copywork, dictation, nature walks (with sketching, and using a field guide, magnifying glass, and microscope), picture study, composer study, a wall timeline, a book of centuries, learning handicrafts, and lots of outdoor play. All of these are the basis of CM and what J enjoys and has asked for after perusing a CM website. W is just excited to have any kind of plan and will go along with whatever we do, lol. They will also continue to do their favorite math and language arts stuff, too, and of course lots of trips. J seems to feel she needs to accomplish at least a few things each day - or week, and having an academic daily (or weekly) blueprint is what keeps her happy. I'm happy she knows what she likes and how she comes to me asking for different things.

It may not stay this way long, but if CM is what she likes now, then I have no problem helping her create a workable schedule, taking them places they're interested in, providing the resources for them they need, and knowing when to back off and let them own it. There's nothing better than seeing your kids excited about their lives and their learning. I love homeschooling.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Just got back from a long competition weekend. J's day was Saturday - we got to the venue around 9am and left there around 11pm. It was a very very long day, but her numbers were spaced out pretty well and there were some good periods of downtime for eating, hanging out, and relaxing. W had friends there to play with and since the weather was nice, he had lots of outside time to Heely and throw a ball around. By the time we got back to the hotel, we were all totally wiped out. We left after breakfast on Sunday morning and did some more relaxing when we got home. None of us wanted to move, we were just so tired. But we still had a great time, lol. The top scores were silver, gold, and platinum and except for a few numbers, everyone in J's studio came away with a silver award. This was probably the toughest judging I'd ever seen. Now we have one more schduled competition this coming weekend and then we're doing an optional in Queens in May.

K stayed with MIL this weekend and slept over a friend's house Saturday night. MIL really enjoyed her company for the weekend and took her out to eat on Friday night. My sister took her out Saturday afternoon for a few hours to get Indian food and walk around the shops over in the next town. It was so nice that they got to spend time together. K loves going to the competitions, but I can see how it can get real boring for her when it's all day long like this one was. Next weekend the venue is in Long Island right near my mom's house, so we'll all stay there instead of a hotel. It's great because my whole family can come see J dance.

This morning W sat on the couch reading a Captain Underpants book and J did several pages in a Spanish workbook. We played a few games of Set, J cleaned out a caboodle-type box to maybe use for her dance accessories, and W is trying to dissect a plastic dinosaur head while making, playing back, and warping a bunch of his own voice recordings. I love watching where the day takes them.

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

The kids are doing great with their schedule. They still look forward to getting started in the mornings. It's nice that they love Charlotte Mason's methods - there's nothing tedious or boring about them. One thing that they enjoy about this method is doing many subjects with short lessons (15 min max). I will even use a timer - the kids love that. Of course if there's something they want to keep doing, that's fine. This week they've been focusing on reading, writing, math, readalouds, art, science, history, and geography.

J is liking The 5 People You Meet in Heaven and W read Green Eggs and Ham and The Foot Book to me. J's writing was copywork of Rosetti and Wordsworth poems and W did nursery rhyme copywork and a page or 2 of Writing Sentences. J's still plugging away at the Teaching Textbooks program - she even picked out new yellow headphones to use with it and W's math is from a fun Flash Kids workbook, where he's skip counting by 2s (up to 20), 5s and 10s. He's still into the Magic Treehouse series and we're starting from book 1. He narrates back a great summary of the story, his favorite parts, and what he think will happen next. We have about 7 of the books and he piled them right up to read in order with me. Art has been everything from drawing to crafts to creative cooking. The other subjects have been mainly active readalouds, videos, and website games.

Yesterday I was cleaning out the dining room closet and found a double boiler used for melting chocolate. J was so excited at the thought of making chocolate lollipops that we went right out to Michael's Craft and got a bunch of stuff and got right to it when we got home. We got white and brown chocolate, dry-hard icing tubes in 4 colors. We had some old flag and snowman molds and bought some happy-face ones too. We had the best time! The kids were amazing at this! I have to say we made the most beautiful lollipops I've ever seen. When B came home he asked if we bought them - they were that cool. And the kids did it all: boiled, stirred, melted, poured, chilled, and decorated. I oversaw the process and joined in at various steps along the way. J wrapped each one up and wants to give them away at dance tomorrow. I did take pictures, but somehow they've disappeared out of my camera. Oh well. We want to do this again real soon. (another excuse to eat chocolate, lol)