Wednesday, September 30, 2009

More Merriment

The pastry chefs complete the cake (Boston Favorite Cake from The Fannie Farmer Cookbook, with the same butter frosting we use on the Christmas butter cookies):

Playmobile characters are set on top to represent our 2 cats:

Tall candles to lessen the chance that we accidentally set the Playmobil on fire:

Obligatory group shot:

Official make-a-wish moment:

Special guest cake-cutter:

And opening gifts:

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Weekend Stuff

Our weekend started rather unexpectedly Friday noon with a call from a daycare -- I'm listed as an emergency contact for a boy there, and he needed to be taken home because he had a fever. Except no one was at his home, so he came over here and slept on the couch for the rest of the afternoon.

I drove him to his dad's work place at quitting time, and then set out to drive them both home so they didn't have to mess with the bus. And the little boy threw up in the car. The dad panicked, and started saying we should go to the emergency room. Umm, no, let's hold on a minute ... within a couple of more minutes it seemed like his fever had broken and he was saying he was hungry. Presto, no emergency room needed.

The next day we had planned to have him over to our house since his dad had to work and weekend daycare is so expensive. He seemed much better, although with coughing and a runny nose. Thalia and Annabeth entertained him most of the day, earning service hours for use towards various Girl Scout things. Annabeth selected and read appropriate books to him, figured out a healthy snack -- I think those things have something to do with a Junior badge on child care.

In the meantime, the Great Tree Felling continued at the neighbor's house. The black spruce is now history. Well, actually there are still piles of branches here and there. We were trying to figure out what we could do with the wood. Apparently it's used for making cellos and other musical instruments -- not something we were planning to do any time soon.

Also, this is how far I can go into the splits:

After viewing the Front Splits Fast program once the kids have shot ahead of me on flexibility. We've decided this needs to be hush-hush, so that when John comes and offers $20 to someone to do the splits Thalia or Annabeth can take him up on the offer, sort of like a card shark but with the splits (if you're in our dance school this scenario makes sense; it you're not, don't worry about it). So, dear Internet, mum's the word, and I hope you can keep a secret, okay?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Library Acquisitions

It seems as though homeschoolers can never have enough space on the bookshelves for all of the books and instructional DVDs they amass.

Not that our recent purchases have much to do with standard homeschool subjects. Unless you consider them under the heading of Phys Ed and/or physiology.

In other words, if you're not interested in those topics, this post will be crushingly boring.

FIrst up we ordered Zena Rommett's Floor Barre. I couldn't decide between Series II,which is for beginners/intermediate, and Series IV for the young dancer. By ordering from and using a gift card I talked myself into getting both. And I'm sort of glad I did.

Series II is for adults. It's a film of a class she is giving to several dancers.

Cons: The sound isn't that great -- sometimes she seems to be muttering. Sometimes the filming isn't so great -- I don't really want to focus on blue-leotard-guy's head, thank you, I'd rather see what his feet and legs are doing. No time is spent with close ups of corrections such as showing the precise placement of body parts (she verbally corrects and an assistant gently guides the student's body to the correct alignment). It's very long, and you can't skip through various bits to get to the specific exercises you're interested in. The pianist is incredibly distracting -- what's with the left hand flipping all over the place? -- the music and gestures remind me of Chico Marx.

But, my understanding when I purchased was that this DVD is actually a supplement to a live class -- in other words, it isn't meant to be a stand-alone product that will teach Rommett's floor barre methods to the general public. So I'm not too disappointed, since I feel like I'm getting a nice peek into her classroom.

Pros: It's really amazing stuff. If you really work at it you can feel your muscles developing. The pace of the exercises is very slow and controlled. Also, these are professional dancers taking the class, and some of them are flubbing up, so it's sort of heartening to see pros struggle.

After working with this DVD a few times we tried Series IV for young dancers. In this DVD Zena Rommett is working with a single young dancer. The sound is MUCH CLEARER, although her voice does start to fade out (perhaps she was tiring -- she looks rather old in these DVDs). The moves are different, and she emphasizes different things -- for example, for the young dancer she doesn't mention how to gradually point the toe as a deliberate action (although the student does it anyway). My biggest quibble is midway through the class Rommett decides to use a different approach so the student can do something or other better -- it's a moment when you realize that this is really a customized class for an individual rather than a follow-along DVD for home viewers.

Both DVDs end with barre exercises performed standing. My understanding is that floor barre is, indeed, to be done prior to a regular class so that your body can use it's new understanding of alignment in the vertical position.

Overall, I really like having 2 different DVDs because I notice different things in each one. Annabeth prefers the Series IV, while Thalia like Series II. We are all much better at understanding instructions to degage, coupe, passe/retire , extend our leg in attitude vs. grand battement, etc. etc.

Next up, since Annabeth had nearly hurt her ankle during drills at dance class, I decided that enough was enough (way too many kids are injuring ankles and feet), and purchased a used copy of Dancing Longer, Dancing Stronger, which has strengthening exercises that are helpful to prevent injuries. Side note: I ordered an inexpensive used copy that was listed as "Very Good Condition" and it arrived looking like a brand new copy; hurray for used books.

I read through it myself, then started figuring out the exercises. Many for ankle and foot strength are what we already have in The Perfect Pointe book. And many of the leg strengthening exercises are duplicated in Rommett's floor barre, although the book doesn't force one into the slow, deliberate pace that makes you work so hard (it also lacks Rommett's memorable way of saying "now point your foooooooot"). Fascinating how all of this stuff repeats, eh?

I've also recently pulled out a book I'd purchased months ago and never read: Progressive Plyometrics for Kids. Well, actually I'd read it and then set it aside. Now I've gotten it out, actually took the DVD out of the back and watched it, and started doing some of the stuff in it. The DVD is well done -- simple and to the point. The exercises are varied and fun. Annabeth and I did one session of Bronze Level so far, and it was like one of those gym classes from years and years ago, with the two of us zooming around the yard, jumping around, figuring out which exercises were easy and which were hard. I'll admit that the "fun" factor might be because it was just the 2 of us -- I was never really a huge fan of gym class, but maybe if I'd done it individually with an adult who focussed exclusively on me I would've felt differently.

Our other big purchase for the month was Lisa Howell's new Front Splits Fast book and DVD. I never, ever would've spent so much on an item I'd found on the internet EXCEPT THAT we have her Perfect Pointe book and know that she puts out high quality products. It arrived last week, and Thalia and I read through the book. We've popped in the DVD a couple of times, and, wow, I could watch this over and over just for the sheer geekiness of hearing her explain how the bones, muscles and fascia work together -- this stuff absolutely fascinates me. Also, I'll admit, it's fun to listen to Howell's accent.

Frankly, much of the information isn't new to me. I've read Eric Franklin's Conditioning for Dance, I've been doing yoga for years, etc. etc. But Lisa Howell has put it all together in a nice, neat, seemingly do-able package.

So far we've all done the pre-test (oddly, I was the most flexible in the 2 specific tests used, which were a seated forward bed and a leg raise -- I guess all of those mornings of yoga have accomplished something). We've learned to massage our necks. We've tried some new stretches. And Thalia decided that her kicks were a wee bit higher in dance class last night. But we're not even halfway through all of the instructions for all the stretches; we're somewhere in Step 3 of How to Use This Course page, and already noticing results. Woosh. I wonder if we'll get to the point that we can lift our feet over our heads? Stay tuned.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Work in Progress Wednesday

The sock:

I've turned the heel and am working towards the toe. I'm worried that the heel is a little loose for the intended recipient. But not worried enough to rip it out and re-do it.

Someone saw me knitting these and wanted to chat about knitting. She asked what I was knitting. "Socks." Oh, but what kind of socks -- slippers? bed socks? "Just regular socks." Well, what was I planning to put on the bottom/soles? Wasn't I worried that the wearer would slip while wearing them? No, the wearer will have shoes on over them ... because they're SOCKS, like you put on your feet right before your shoes. The conversation went on and on and on this way. Very surreal.

Other things we're working on:

Helping the neighbor cut down her Black Spruce (so far the lower branches are chopped off and hauled away),


Doing the splits.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

100 Species Challenge

1. Strawberry
2. Black-eyed Susan
3. Rose of Sharon, Althea
4. Potentilla
5. Vinca
6. Grape Hyacinth
7. Tiger Lily
8. Lespedeza
9. Plantain

10. English Ivy

Former residents had planted English ivy in a couple of areas in the back. And we ripped it back out.


There are still little bits of root sprouting up near the foundation of the house...

and bits of it here and there in the lawn....

We managed to kill all of it in the bed around this maple (which also featured poison ivy mixed into the English Ivy -- which is a common problem), but we weren't able to get all of the dead vines off the tree trunk because the trunk had started growing around them.

Hairy vine no friend of mine. Which is supposed to refer to poison ivy, but after whacking back this particular stand it seems appropriate.

Whenever I think of Hedera helix growing like crazy all over the landscape I remember my friend Mickey, who used to work at a florist. She said that whenever a bride-to-be came into the shop to look at wedding flowers the owner would tell a story about how some bride had used English ivy in her bridal bouquet and then planted it in her garden. Mickey said the story was actually untrue, but they ended up selling a lot of ivy in bouquets because it sounded so cool to do that. Then we all guffawed at the gullibility of the people buying the ivy based on this story -- because openly laughing at stupidity was considered appropriate in that time and place. I later moved out of New England to the south, and commented to my cousin how much kinder southerners were since they didn't openly mock people, and my cousin, who lived in Atlanta, said, "No, they're just laughing at you behind your back." Hmmm. In the meantime, we eventually moved to a house in Dover that had this really oddly-placed ivy, and I swear it came out of a pot that the former resident had placed up on the front porch, so it was sort of like the bridal-bouquet-thing coming to life to haunt me. All of which goes through my head -- even the bit about laughing behind someone's back versus laughing in their face -- when I see escapee ivy in the landscape. Which is a lot of luggage for one plant to carry, but the ivy seems to be bearing up well under the task.

On the other hand, they make dandy houseplants.

Since I've noticed that people have a distressing habit of googling their way to my notes on plants looking for actual helpful information rather than weird anecdotes about my life with the plants, may I refer you to this web site for more information about Hedera helix.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Weekend -- Scouts!

First official GIrl Scout camping trip!

(I actually wore shoes.) (We were in the platform tents -- my feet never touched the ground without shoes, which were shaken out first. Because the tents had RESIDENTS.)


The canoeing instructor goes to our dance school. Which is either because practically every female in the area belongs to Scouts, or else because once you start Irish Dance you can never leave.

Archery. Too bad Thalia wasn't there, as she's our family archer.

Foil dinners.

Pouring rain in the morning.

But she's still smiling because it's SO EXCITING to be camping!

Friday, September 18, 2009

Weekly Report 9/18/09

We haven't had a weekly report for a couple of weeks because, well, we haven't. We've been gone, we've been busy, blah blah blah. You know how it goes.

So this will be a mash up of about 3 weeks.


Science co-op has started, and is okay so far. It really forces her to get the work done, no matter what else is happening. She tends to scoff at much of the current work as incredibly easy, but that's typical at the beginning of a new class -- with kids coming from such different backgrounds the book and instructor need to make sure everyone has the same foundation. Thalia's comments so far have been that everyone else forgot to write their names on the papers they handed in (she had figured it out on her own, but, oh, homeschool students, sometimes you can be so clueless in a classroom situation) and that the people who wrote the book they're using really, really, really don't believe in global warming. So, in addition to learning about Physical Science she's getting exposure to different ways of thinking and viewing the world.

Math continues to be Jacob's Algebra. She reads it on her own, does the work, I check it. At some point I'm going to have to actually teach this stuff, but apparently we haven't reached that point yet (she's in Chapter 2, for the record). She's done some work in other algebra programs before, so this is review, although she notes that the approach and emphasis are different in Jacob's.

Writing this week has centered on Thank You notes. Analytical Grammar review weeks also provide some writing practice, as well as grammar review.

History is going slowly but surely. We read Story of the World together with Annabeth, discuss it and work on maps that pertain to the area we're reading about. Then Thalia reads and summarizes a section of National Geographic Almanac of World History.

Latin hasn't happened for a couple of weeks. And we need to find a decent middle school Spanish program.

Drama class has been a lot of fun. Piano is challenging, dance is hectic.


We continue to work through RightStart D, having reached that dreaded place where the 3s and 7s were scrambled when they printed the book (it was an early printing; I'm throwing it out when Annabeth finishes it, as it's too annoying to use ever again). Annabeth clearly grasps division, so it's mostly a matter of practice, practice, practice until those errors-due-to-sloppiness fade away.

First Language Lessons 4 is surprisingly engaging. It's the same material as in level 3, but more depth and detail. We already know most of the chants so far (such as chanting that adjectives tell WHAT kind WHICH one HOW many and WHOSE, all the while sliding our shoulders side-to-side and giving a "pop" when we hit the strong beats of the chant). She has memorized an Edna St. Vincent Millay poem, "Afternoon on a Hill", for which we spontaneously made up goofy motions. Our grammar lessons are very physical.

We've started back into Latin for Children, in which we are at lesson 10, adjectives. Hey, what a coincidence! We're doing adjectives in grammar, too! Oh, that reminds me, last week First Language Lessons had a lesson on conjugations ... of course, we've slogged through acres of conjugations in Latin, so the idea of conjugations in English wasn't exactly Big News. As a matter of fact, Annabeth was translating the First Language Lessons lesson into Latin as she went along, and then noting, "this is really a lot easier in English." So, yes, the idea of teaching Latin to help your kids with English really works.

History is done with Thalia. Annabeth is learning more from the corresponding literature selections, but the readings in Story of the World help tie all the bits and books together into a coherent picture.

Drama class! Piano! Dance! More dance! Much running around! The weather is gorgeous and the days are full of things to do and explore!

Thursday, September 17, 2009

100 Species Challenge

1. Strawberry
2. Black-eyed Susan
3. Rose of Sharon, Althea
4. Potentilla
5. Vinca
6. Grape Hyacinth
7. Tiger Lily
8. Lespedeza

9. Plantain

A few weeks ago Annabeth showed me a couple of itchy bumps on her waistline. "Chiggers," I diagnosed. "Let's see, what can we use on chiggers...." As a connoisseur of chigger bites (if getting chigger bites were a competition I'd be a world-class competitor), I knew fingernail polish doesn't actually work, other than acting as an irritant and distraction. Annabeth is allergic to lavendar oil ... hmm, how about some plantain? I was musing aloud about what to use, and showed her a picture.

"There's some of that growing out next to the playset," she commented.

Whoa, you ain't kiddin' we've got some plantain, also known as Plantago. So, we crushed some up and dabbed it on the bites. I don't know if it gave a miracle cure (probably not), but the herbal lesson was certainly distracting. And she didn't mention the bites again, nor did I notice much scratching.

Other than dabbing crushed plantain leaves on itchy insect bites, plantain can also be eaten. Young leaves can be cooked (for that matter they can be eaten raw -- which is why you can chew up the leaves to crush them to use as a poultice). The seeds can also be foraged; they are the main ingredient in Metamucil, for the record. Really a handy little weed, giving us free food and medicine. And it grows all over suburbia!

Some species are native to North America, but the most common came from Europe. No poisonous look-alikes exist, so it's a fairly safe weed for a beginner forager or medicinal-herb-gatherer. Plus, I always thought the flowers look cool -- check out the picture at the top of this page. We don't have any of this particular species growing around here, but it's one of the first plants I learned as a kid, mostly because I thought it was such a fascinating-looking plant.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Wordless Wednesday

Work in Progress Wednesday

I started Jalie 2804 a couple of weeks ago. It's a simple pattern that should go together quickly, but I had set up my sewing in the dining room and we had friends over to visit so I put it all away in the interests of tidiness. I just got it back out and still have to finish the hemming.

I love this blue fabric, which is good because I have a boatload of it. I'm not sure what else to make out of it. I've been pondering the latest issue of Ottobre Woman, of course. And Thalia and I had a rather silly conversation about making an Irish Dance solo dress out of it (it would be just perfect for something with a slit up the side, you know, but it doesn't quite have the shimmer you'd want for showing off shimmies ... which led to demonstrating Irish Dance with shimmies).

I put in the modesty panel this time. I'm not sure if I like it. It's lower than my swimsuit tan line.

I'm also knitting away on the socks, but they look about the same as last week, just longer. I'm ready to turn the heel.

In the meantime, I got into a conversation about spices with the friends who came over and interrupted the sewing. The woman said she gives her kids a mixture of equal parts fresh ginger juice, fresh lime juice, and honey when they start to get the sniffles, and it typically knocks the cold right out (they are from India, and I'm not sure whether this is considered a typical home remedy). Since Annabeth was starting to sniffle last night I stopped off at the store for some fresh ginger root while ferrying her back and forth to dance. We always have limes around. And honey.

For the record, it's a really hot combination...

...but more palatable than my typical concoction of chopped garlic, fresh lemon juice, and honey.

Annabeth took several tiny spoonfuls last night and this morning, but it looks as though I still need to go restock tissues.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Break the Chain

Wendy is issuing a challenge to buy locally for the month of October.

Something to think about, and something to spread the word about.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Graham Feis

The Good

All 4 stages for our dances are in one area. I had been sort of cranky earlier in the week that Thalia's dances were scheduled to be scattered over 3 stages, which is typically tough to keep track of, especially if the stages are in separate rooms. But, hey, we realized Friday night that everything is in the same room, so maybe that seemingly bad scheduling won't be so bad.

The Bad

All 4 stages are in one area ... and it isn't a particularly big area. Isn't there some sort of metric to tell the minimum cubic feet necessary to accommodate X number of dancers on X number of stages? Because on the night before the feis (Friday night) Thalia and I were looking over the setup, and trying to picture how this was going to work, and we just couldn't see this being anything but a mess.

The Ugly

Did I mention that all 4 stages are in one area? One SMALL area? That idea I had that we could look across the room and see what Stage 3 was on while we were sitting in front of Stage 2? There are so many people packed into the place that you can't even see the sign for Stage 3. You can barely fight your way in and out of the room. Egads. What an intimate setting. I can't tell you the number of complaints I heard in passing.

Here's what's a shame -- they had a big pavilion available where everyone could spread out. But there wasn't signage indicating that people could go out there and dump all their stuff there. Also, plenty of room in the pavilion to hang out and wait for a dancer's competition level to begin, BUT the pavilion was a hike from the stages, and there was no way to tell what was going on at the stages when you were at the pavilion. Some sort of large screen that showed what competition was happening on which stage would've been really handy. Clarkson does this at the An Samhra feis, so it's not like people would have to invent new technology -- the stage managers at An Samhra enter the info on laptops as they're running the stage.

So we sat at the stages so we could keep track of what was going on.

Notice the squishiness of that photo? Annabeth is sitting in row 2 of the 3 rows of seats provided.

There's a shot of row 3, then some people packed behind them, standing there watching the dancing. See that guy in the white and green shirt facing the other way? He's standing right behind the 3 rows of the stages on the OTHER side of the room. HELLO, WE ARE A TIN OF SARDINES.

Anyway, setting aside the space problems (and, wow, it's hard to think about anything else when thinking about this feis) there was some weirdness with the timing on Stage 3. I didn't ever quite catch on what the problem was, since all anyone was talking about was how small the room was. Someone said a couple of judges flights were cancelled. ?? Thalia said they didn't want the stage to run too fast, so they had to take a break ... ?? ... then she checked in, sat around waiting for about 20 minutes (not a bad deal, since there was more room in the checked-in seating area than anywhere else) because apparently they were waiting for people from Stage 5. Then the kids were lined up on stage to dance ... then stood there for quite a long time. Thalia revealed that she positioned herself to dance first because she thought her feet would probably fall asleep from standing there so long.

And after all of that waiting, waiting, and more waiting, she got a 1st in that dance. So that was pretty cool.

As the day wore on several people left -- the beginners danced first, so all of them cleared out by late morning. Then it was time for lunch. We had packed a lunch, so Annabeth had time to practice on stage with some of her friends during the break.

(We think the foot movement on that photo is fun.)

And then suddenly things were whipping along. Thalia and Annabeth danced Slip Jig at the exact same time on adjacent stages -- this exact same thing happened at the An Samhra feis last year. Sort of a weird coincidence. Also, their Treble Jigs competed at the same time, although they didn't dance at the exact same time.

That's the Treble Jig lineup. Thalia is with the tall kids on the righthand stage -- she's just to the left of the girl in pink. Annabeth is with the short kids -- she's 3rd from the right of the shorties.

In the end, Thalia's had some good results, Annabeth had mediocre results, and we survived. I'm sure Graham will learn from the experience and try something different next year. I'm sure we all hope they do.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Work in Progress Wednesday

I was working on a muslin for Thalia's solo dress, and regretting the dark blue fabric, which is difficult to mark. Also, the fabric is thin and therefor has more give than a heavier fabric such as you'd actually use in a solo dress.

So I had this clever idea to use some velveteen a neighbor gave us. Except now that I'm into it, I realize that it's way too heavy, since it's upholstery velveteen. Also, the little nappy bits that are falling off all over the place are driving me nuts. Also, the color is

wrong enough to suck the joy right out of the project.

I'll be looking for some heavy white or cream fabric, and start over on this project.

Speaking of starting over, the lace collars are ugly. It finally crossed my mind that what I should've done is made a mock-up in white fabric, and use that as a template. I'm not posting pictures of what I've got so far because it might mentally scar some of the people who will be expected to eventually wear them.

On a brighter note, I started a pair of socks on our trip to Kansas City:

9-to-5 in Dream in Color Smooshy "Strange Harvest".

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Kansas City Feis

This is our third year to go to the Kansas City Feis.

In the past we've stayed at the Hyatt at the Crown Center, which is attached to the Westin which is where the feis is held. This year we stayed at a Holiday Inn a couple of miles south, mostly because we had done the "stay any 2 nights, get 1 night free", and this was our free night. Plus the Holiday Inn had a really pretty pool:

That was the view from our room. Notice how wet that pavement is? It was in the 60s and raining, so no pool time.

Instead, we headed to the Crown Center to check out what was going on there. We shopped at Gatos for our cat-related needs, then headed downstairs where we discovered

a Nathan Sawaya exhibit. We took some quick snapshots, figuring Trish could go on Saturday and take really cool pictures, since that's what Trish does. Except Trish didn't come.

It's a really cool exhibit. We highly recommend it.

Sorry some of these are blurry. We just got a new camera, and we're figuring out which settings work for what, like taking pictures of sculptures through plexiglass, for instance.

Then over to the Westin to check into the feis and check which stage was where. Also, here's the bathroom:

(We took lots and lots of pictures this trip.)

And stopped by the Sheridan's there in the Crown Center on the way out:

Back at the Holiday Inn, we hung out in the lobby/library watching tennis on the big screen television and playing Battleship. Annabeth is stretching out, getting ready for the competition.

The next morning we arrived bright and early. But the Birthday Girl was already there!

Then on to the serious business of getting ready for the feis. I put wigs on heads:

Kids put on makeup, warmed up, got dressed, generally geared up for the cut-throat competition ahead of them. Look at these two competitors, for example -- they're about to compete against each other and about 20 other girls. Can't you see the tension on their faces? Intense, isn't it.

By some miracle, Annabeth's stage WHIPPED through the competitions. THIS HAS NEVER HAPPENED BEFORE IN THE HISTORY OF THE UNIVERSE. Really. They zipped through everything and were finished by about 11:30. By which time Thalia was through about half of her dances.

So Annabeth had time to wander around Crown Center with friends (and the camera):

And still had time to get back to Thalia's stage and play around with the camera some more ....

It's against the rules to take pictures or videos of the dancers on stage

but we still manage to amuse ourselves with the camera

We didn't visit the Irish Fest this year even though the weather was absolutely perfect for it. There were performers inside the Crown Center, though. Have they done this before? I can't remember. But that was enough for us.

Overall, a great feis. Annabeth's stage ran very well. Thalia's stage was slow, and at one point they lost track of the judge (okay, really the rumor was that the judge wandered off to have a smoke or something). The organizers switched competitions to other stages as they became open, allowing competitors to finish more quickly. Most of the results for our competitions were posted almost instantaneously. We had the impression there were fewer people attending than in previous years, but maybe they were just spread out differently.

We came away with a first place and some thirds and fourths. And they gave out medals for fourth! Woohoo! Overall, I think our school did quite well. Headed home Saturday afternoon, already making plans for returning next year.