Sunday, August 31, 2014

Thursday, August 28, 2014

First day of school

First day of third grade, age (nearly) nine

First day of kindergarten, age five and a half

Monday, August 25, 2014

Camping trip

My friend and I took our kids to Little Basin State Park, north of Santa Cruz, for a very short stay: one night for her family, two nights for mine. A good time was had by all.

One person we met asked us if we were on a class trip, which was a strange question because there weren't that many kids with us -- only five!

Isaac was the only boy, but he survived. The kids are lined up in age order here: nine, eight (very nearly nine), seven, five and a half, and four.

Happy kids

Silly kids

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

What's happening?

What's been happening? This time of year is a always a time of flux, a time in between states of being: a bit more than two weeks since we've been back from France ... less than one week until school starts ... one week until I fly to Boston to visit my new niece ... a bit more than two weeks until Isaac's ninth birthday. And one week since my last blog post!

I have been trying to squeeze in as much Summer as possible, and actually I am feeling a little squeezed by it! Yesterday I took the kids on an all-day trip to Golden Gate Park where we visited the Japanese Tea Garden and Stow Lake; one of Isaac's summer must-dos was to row a boat. Last week I took the kids to the art supply store where I bought all-new paints and a palette with a lid for Laurel, and I set up her easel in an outdoor painting studio; in the first three days she made at least 20 paintings. We set up the tent in the back yard to practice for an upcoming two-day camping trip with friends; we go tomorrow to Little Basin near Santa Cruz. We are making preparations for a "How to Train Your Dragon" birthday party for Isaac; among other things, it involves making 12 papier mâché dragon eggs.

And in academic news, I made an alphabet chart and the kids have been practicing their respective letters: Laurel is learning to recognize lower-case printed letters, and Isaac is learning to recognize cursive letters.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

After-school activities

The kids resume school on Tuesday the 26th of August, which is two weeks from yesterday. Where did the summer go?!

Today Isaac actually took his first baby step toward resuming school: a tutor came to our house to give him his first private lesson in cursive handwriting. Yes, they learn cursive in third grade! His teacher had recommended Isaac get a head start on it, since he has rather serious problems with visual-motor coordination and spatial planning. It's not hand-eye coordination, mind you, but some kind of brain processing glitch which throws off how he interprets visual images. We've been working on strengthening his skills by, believe it or not, playing Battleship (which requires you to read a grid) and drawing 3-D tanks (which requires perspective drawing).

Isaac didn't complain at all: not about having to take a lesson, not about wasting his summer, not about having to learn cursive, not about how difficult it is. He's a good kid.

I am also beginning to think about fall extracurricular activities. It is a big philosophical quandary for me, because I want the kids to have lots of unstructured free time, and then on the other hand I want to provide them with opportunities and enrichment.

As they have for the past two years, I want each kid to do one sport/physical activity, be it team or individual. They don't get much of that at home, so it makes sense to outsource! Laurel wants to continue with gymnastics. I encouraged Isaac to join a kids' track and field club, but he wasn't interested, so he will either resume tennis or take a boys' gymnastics class concurrent with Laurel's.

But going on to add a second activity, Craig and I have decided that we can't put off music lessons for Laurel any longer. She has such an affinity for music, and such a good ear, that it would be a pity to waste it. And music lessons would benefit Isaac as well, although he hasn't shown any strong interest on his own. We will probably enroll them both in Suzuki method piano for the first year, since both kids will benefit initially from the early Suzuki emphasis on training the ear rather than on reading music. Isaac would like to switch to trumpet someday, and Laurel perhaps to voice, but for now having both kids on piano seems simpler. (There's less driving that way, too!)

And what else? For Isaac there's a robotics engineering class that looks good, and a carpentry club, and two of his good friends are in Cub Scouts, and his teacher suggested Odyssey of the Mind...

But I am not sure we have the time, energy, or finances for more than two activities per kid per week.

Family wedding

We didn't go to Michigan just to play at the lake -- we were there to attend the wedding of Craig's brother Wade, and also to enjoy some time with Craig's family.

Most of the family stayed at the bed and breakfast at the wedding site, which was a bird sanctuary belonging to the Michigan Audubon Society. We were there for four nights, and the kids had a great time: being doted on by their grandparents, hanging out with their aunts and uncles, playing with their cousins, doing puzzles in the dining room, and then of course there was the beach.

Three generations at Lake Michigan

The wedding was on a grassy bluff overlooking Lake Michigan, and it was a beautiful setting. Craig as a groomsman wore a white linen suit, I wore a silk dress, and I even tried to dress the kids up somewhat! During the ceremony the kids sat in the front row with me and were very well-behaved. We guests got to participate in a sing-along of "Love Me Tender." And the food was excellent.

As is always the case at weddings, Laurel was bewitched by the bride, and she followed Shelly all around!

- - - - -

As I have remarked before, Laurel loves women in dresses, and especially fancy dresses, so I guess it makes sense that she loves brides. She was fascinated with the brides at the weddings we attended in 2012 and 2013, as you can see from this photo of her dancing rapturously with my cousin Sibyl at her wedding:

May 2013

Thursday, August 07, 2014

Home again

I guess everyone knows we are home again! In fact, today was our third day back. We had a delay-plagued flight home from Michigan on Monday which brought us back to the San Francisco Bay Area a few hours later than expected. We got home around 10:00 p.m., and since then things have been getting back to normal.

We are nearly back to normal sleeping patterns, Craig is back at work, the suitcases are unpacked, the laundry is done, there are groceries in the fridge, we went to the library, we went to Thrift Town, and the kids have each had a playdate with an old friend. Whew! 

Laurel poses with our summer's luggage

Speaking of suitcases, in case you were wondering, here's a photo of five of the luggage items with which we traveled this summer:
  • huge suitcase (red) [checked bag]
  • domestic-size carry-on suitcase (green) [checked bag]
  • international-size carry-on suitcase (brown) [sometimes checked]
  • Isaac's backpack (blue)
  • Laurel's backpack (green)
Not pictured are an additional three items:
  • my purse
  • Craig's briefcase
  • carrier bag for the kids' car booster seats [checked bag]

Does that sound like a lot? But we are packing lighter every year! Here's a photo of the luggage we took to Germany in 2011, which involved 12 or 13 items, although that included a portable crib and a stroller. And this year we left the red suitcase behind and used just the two smaller suitcases when we went on shorter side trips, such as our driving tour of Normandy, the conference in Hungary, and the wedding in Michigan.

I guess eventually our luggage needs will increase again -- when the kids get bigger, and their clothes and shoes get bigger too, they might eventually each want their own carry-on suitcase!

- - - - -

You know, it was a demanding five weeks for packing: we needed fancy clothes for the conference banquet and the wedding, and swimsuits for the lake, and clothes for muggy summer weather, and clothes for chilly summer weather, and of course raincoats!

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Sleep around the world

Greetings from Manistee, Michigan, the lakeside site of Craig's brother's wedding! Today is Saturday, our third day in Michigan, and the day of the wedding itself. We are staying at the B&B where the wedding will be held, and there is much excitement and hubbub, you can imagine.

Actually, at the moment there is zero hubbub, thank goodness. I am still in bed, even though it is 9:30 a.m. (and I have been awake since 7:15). I am afraid that if I get up and dressed, I will wake up the kids, who are sleeping on air mattresses on the floor, and they desperately need their sleep. I mentioned before that in France they had been having trouble falling asleep until terribly late. They were doing okay for the first few weeks, but then in mid-July we stayed up past midnight two nights in a row to watch fireworks, and that threw off their schedules. They became chronically sleep-deprived; in the mornings they couldn't sleep in late enough to make up for the deficit, and in the evenings they couldn't fall asleep any earlier.

Why not? Who knows! Of course we tried putting them to bed earlier, but it never worked. The hot muggy nights in Lille and the mosquito bites from the open windows made falling (and staying) asleep difficult for all of us. We did keep moving from place to place every few weeks, but we were mostly in Lille, so the bedroom should have been familiar. Sharing a room was a distraction they somehow never got used to. It was all bad.

I had hoped we were on the path to correcting this trend -- Wednesday night, after we arrived back from Europe, we stayed at a motel in Grand Rapids and we all fell asleep around 9:00 p.m. -- but the past two nights we have been in Manistee we didn't even make it into bed until 11:00 p.m. due to some logistical issues with the bedrooms. So if my being stuck in bed now means I can buy Laurel a night of 11 uninterrupted hours of sleep, it's totally worth it.

I know some kids find their own circadian rhythm without trouble, and even without a schedule or parental guidance they go to sleep when they're tired and wake up when they're rested. It seems like it would be natural, doesn't it? However, my kids have never done this. Even as toddlers they never once "just fell asleep" on their own on the floor or on the couch. And even now they would rather suffer agonies of exhaustion than put themselves to bed.

Did you mention the possibility of a nap? Ha ha ha ha ha ha. Ridiculous. Laurel stopped napping before she was two years old, and now only naps when she is deathly ill.

Actually, Laurel gets so wound up when she's overtired that she can't fall sleep. For instance, she never even dozed off during the flight from Brussels to Washington, D.C., despite having to get up early to catch the plane. She becomes manic, and she literally can't stop talking or running around. She also becomes incorrigibly combative. If she were an adult, they would haul her off to the county jail to sober up.

Luckily we still have a few weeks before school starts to adjust to our own Pacific Time. Right now she is not in a fit state for kindergarten!

Lake Michigan

On the beach yesterday: