Saturday, December 31, 2011

More Merriment

This past week we continued our Christmas celebrations in Indiana, visiting my parents.  This shall be remembered as the Cupcake Christmas -- my sister-in-law provided dessert in the form of a cupcake sampler from a shop in Lafayette.  She cut them up so we could try the different flavors.

Action shot of a bacon cupcake sampling (the base is supposed to taste like pancake; the frosting was very light and fluffy, with a maple flavor):

I also forced the kids to play some of their recital pieces in the main lobby, which is always popular with the people around there, but fairly unpopular with the Thalia and Annabeth:

Then back home late Wednesday night, by which time I was thinking ahead to our next adventure, which was a wedding Friday afternoon.  I had absolutely nothing to wear.  So Thursday morning after taking Thalia to the doctor for yet another vax for the trip to the Dominican Republic, I went to Hancock Fabric and got some poly/rayon ponteroma (on sale for 30% off, plus I had a coupon for 15% my purchase -- woot!).  I used Butterick 5523,  purchased months ago on sale.

I slapped it together Thursday afternoon and evening.  Unfortunately, I chose the size to make based on my measurements and the fact that I had read a review that it was snug through the bodice back.  When I tried it on I looked like a little girl playing dress up in her mom's closet -- I was swimming in it.  That's when I remember that a prime measure for choosing a dress size when sewing is the shoulders -- mine are narrow.  So I took the sleeves off, undid the side seams, walloped about a half inch off all of the vertical seams, and sewed it back up (fortunately I hadn't serged it, choosing instead to use a narrow zigzag, which was pretty easy to rip out).  It was still a little loose, so I put a couple of tucks in the back, made the self-belt thingy, for which I covered a couple of buttons in the purple fabric (I had some large button forms already -- who knows why those were in the button box, but I'm glad they were there), tacked the belt over the tucks, and was ready to go.

In the meantime, Thalia had tried on all of her fancy dresses and discovered that the ones that were an appropriate length no longer fit.  She asked if I could take in the bodice of her 8th grade graduation dress (Simplicity 4070), which was now too big and baggy (as she's gotten taller she's apparently gotten more slender).  This time she styled it with a big black belt and taller shoes.

 It would be better with black shoes, of course.  And the bandaid (from the vax) on her arm brought to mind a tattoo, which I suggested as being sort of edgy with this dress.  Also, a black leather jacket would be edgy, not that she owns one.

So now she has visions of making another of these, but in red with black lace, for a future formal dance.  Also a leather jacket and 6 inch black heels.  No tattoo, though.

The giant Christmas tree at the Metropolitan Building:

View from our table up on the 42nd floor:

Thalia was seated at the other end of the room, with a view of the Arch.  And Rick was running around talking to people when someone offered to take the picture. The wedding was really beautiful, by the way.  The bridesmaids wore purple dresses with little belts in the back (just like me!), except theirs were floaty chiffon.

And I think that's the END of Christmas.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Random Bits of Christmas

We went to a 9pm Christmas Eve service (and Rick sang the actual words to the song, not switching up   Nobis Pacem with Obese Possums as he had threatened).  It was a lovely service that ended up with everyone holding lit candles while singing Silent Night.  Annabeth had never been to anything like that before, since we stopped messing with that sort of thing when she was little and we were living in northwest Ohio where it was too cold and snowy to be dragging a little kid around to Christmas Eve services late at night.  

Of course, that meant that we didn't get home until fairly late, particularly since on the way home we discovered a large subdivision totally lit up with luminaries, thousands upon thousands of them.  They probably do this every year, but we'd never seen it before since we'd never gone out on Christmas Eve before.  We ended up driving around it some just to look at all the luminaries, and got slightly lost.

So, home late, and still had to finish up the annual treasure hunt -- Rick had to finish writing the clues, which this year were a takeoff of Madeline since he and the girls had been reading that aloud a few days before.  Then the clues had to be hidden (the kids were in bed by this time, and theoretically asleep), and the final gifts hidden away at the end of the hunt.

Which meant that when the cat came in the room and stood on my nightstand announcing that the Christmas tree lights had come on at 5:45am, I was totally dead, and tried to shoo him out of the room.  Except the kids were up by 6am.  Self portrait of how I look with less sleep than I need to function rationally:

In spite of the lack of sleep, it was a fun morning.  Santa brought Thalia the latest Percy Jackson book, a fluffy Panda Pillow Pet, and a sweatshirt from the Lotus Casino (which all makes sense if you've read all the books):

I got this swanky vase that they'd found at an estate sale. (This Christmas featured quite a bit of secondhand shopping and some crafting -- Dave Ramsey would be proud):

 Annabeth was thrilled to get convertible mitten/gloves, and as a bonus they were Hello Kitty themed (these were from Thalia):

Oddly, no pictures of Rick opening gifts.  Be assured that he was quite happy to get a Thor Christmas tree ornament.

Next, omelets for breakfast, along with smoked turkey. I was surprised to find a bit of bone in mine, since it was supposed to be boneless turkey.  Then I realized that it was actually a large chunk of one of my molars.  Ack!

Rick headed out to go to church.  The rest of us opted to be heathens, figuring we'd already gone to church the night before.  I took a nap and sulked about my broken tooth.  Thalia lounged with her Panda Pillow Pet
 and Annabeth apparently painted her nails and took dozens of pictures with the camera, which I just now found when I loaded the photos to the computer.

The rest of the day was spent quietly -- fire in the fireplace, watching movies, playing with gifts.  A nice way to spend the holiday, other than the tooth issue.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

So far ...

So far we've had a rat in the tree:

We've gone to see Beauty and the Beast:

We've made butter cookies:
And decorated them (after an emergency trip to the store for sprinkles, etc., when we realized we were almost out):

Including a special cookie Annabeth made for Santa (which I think is so awesome I sort of want to lacquer it and keep it forever):

And had our special family reading of the Christmas story while the kids used the manger scene to act it out:

Still to come: the Christmas Eve service at church, which we usually don't go to.  But Thalia and Rick are singing in the choir.  And Rick has discovered that the words "Nobis Pacem" sound a lot like "Obese Possum", and is wondering if he can get away with singing it that way.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Busy Hands

Annabeth went to a birthday party earlier this week.  She made a scarf for her friend out of fabric she found in the basement, plus some  pompom fringe.

 I had purchased this fabric years ago, probably from Sewzanne's.  Never used it, obviously, and now the kids aren't interested in wearing things with little pink ballerinas.  But her friend loved it -- she studies dance, so it was very appropriate.

Also, I've been knitting a scarf for myself.  Something to do while waiting, which is how I seem to spend a lot of my life.

 I had the yarn, Lorna's Laces sportweight in Cranberry, in the basement for about as long as I had the fabric.  I think I was going to make the kids warm socks; the red color reminded me of Little House on the Prairie.  (I had amazing intentions about what I was going to make the kids over the years.  Also, we have interesting supplies squirreled away in our basement, some of which are holdovers from those projects that never saw the light of day.)

And we've had the annual cat-in-the-Burger's-box photo.

Every year someone sends us something from Burger's Smokehouse.  Every year the cat wants to sit in the box.  And we take the same photo of him in the box every year.  Another Christmas tradition fulfilled.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Ten on Tuesday: 10 Things I have to do before Christmas

Bridgett participates in the Ten on Tuesday meme, and when I saw her blog post today I thought this was a particularly good topic since it involves making a checklist of things to get done this week, which many of us are doing anyway, so it's sort of like multitasking blogging (okay, was that sentence long and run on enough?).  So here's mine:

1. Take Thalia to the county health department for a typhoid shot.  Which isn't particularly festive, but seemed like a clever time to go do it because we're not slogging around to lessons and classes this week.

2.  See Beauty and the Beast at the Fabulous Fox.

3. Wrap presents.  Nary a present has been wrapped by me yet.  The kids have done theirs.

4. Receive more presents from UPS and/or mail.  Because they've been shipped, but haven't shown up here yet.  Which has put a crimp in that whole wrapping scenario.  In the meantime, attempt to not dwell on what will happen if they DON'T show up here.

5.  A bit more shopping needs to be done.  I have the items in my mind, it's just a matter of locating them in a store (this is usually the dreadful part, since merchants seem to have  a startling lack of ESP about what I want).

6.  Make Favorite Butter Cookies from the recipe published in the Post-Dispatch in the early 1980s.  These are the official Santa cookie of our household.

7. Finish pants that are half done.  Actually I don't need these until next week, so I could spend Christmas Day sewing.  Hmmm, that sounds rather attractive ....

8. Help make a present for a family member who I don't think reads this, but maybe they do.

9. Get hair cut.

10. Find time for a nap.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Holiday Weekend

A trip to St. Charles Christmas Traditions, which was about 40 degrees warmer than last year.

 This year the kids collected about 17 or 18 out of 33 character cards, which was much more than last year.  They wanted to find The Town Crier, but alas, he was either on break or else just not there Saturday afternoon.  (The Town Crier falls into the category of people-we-know-playing-characters, thus the appeal, particularly since they must stay in character while talking to us).

Sunday was nearly an actual day of rest, for a change of pace.  In the evening we had a piano recital.

Annabeth warming up beforehand, hence the hat and jacket.  She played Chopin's Waltz Op. 64, No. 1, The Minute Waltz, and also an arrangement of The Holly and the Ivy.  She did a great job with both.

And here's Thalia warming up to play a duet of Sheep May Safely Graze with her teacher, followed by Joplin's The Entertainer (original version).  And she, too, did a great job.

I videoed both kids playing, but not sure I want to subject the world to that much piano recital (the Joplin piece alone is about 7 minutes long). 

We're now taking a semester off of piano.  Thalia has too much school work this year  to spend the practice time. And Annabeth wants to take the opportunity to try violin. (Optimally I'll mention this to the people in charge of the Musical Theater debacle -- that Thalia's giving up piano due to lack of time, while still stuck in a musical not of her choosing which is sucking up a few hours a week  -- and they'll feel racked with guilt, particularly since the head of the place is first and foremost a piano teacher.)

We're rounding the curve and just about in the straight away as we head towards Christmas!  

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Status Report

1. Santa has been visited.

2. Cards (most of them) have been completed and put in the mail.

3. Fall Product sales are over, paperwork turned in to Neighborhood Coordinator, money deposited.  I'll turn in our troop's proceeds today.  I already threw out/recycled most of the flotsam.

4.  Co-op is over for 2011.  So are theater classes.  Last ballet class is later this week.  Feels like acres of free time spreading out in front of us.

5.  The Christmas dishes have been unboxed and are in use.

6..  Creeping closer to the "done with the presents" finish line.

Ten days to go!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

This Weekend

Round one of Christmas was completed Friday night when some of the relatives came over.  Grandma and Grandpa were on their way from Indiana to Kansas City, and stopped at our house, plus an aunt and uncle came by.  We all had dinner and exchanged gifts.

Thalia had a chance to show off her new hat:

Yes, she is aware it looks rather like a chicken landed on her head.  She found it at an estate sale, and realized it would be perfect for Eulalie MacKecknie Shinn (Music Man).  Actually, it'll also be good for Elsa Schraeder.  Or, for that matter, Hello Dolly, Easter Parade ... lots of posssibilites for about $10!

Annabeth stuck with the more traditional Santa cap:

That party broke up late, we all got to bed waaaaay too late.  And were up the next morning so Annabeth could go to a dress rehearsal of the Christmas musical her choir was in at church.  And Thalia worked at the Christmas tree lot at church (required service hours for kids going on the trip to the Dominican Republic -- in addition to raising the money to pay for the trip, getting all the required immunizations and paperwork, and all the other falderal surrounding traveling overseas, they have a bunch of service projects and meetings they're required to attend).

Then zoom home, grab sandwiches to eat in the car, and off to Thalia's ballet class in a drastically different part of the county.  Followed immediately by a trip to a Panera's in yet another part of the county so Thalia could meet with some kids from her history class -- they're going to be debating feudalism in class, and were getting their arguments lined up.  They're the pro-feudalism team, in case you wondered.  I spent the time talking to another mom who decided to hang out there.

In the meantime, Annabeth and Daddy went to the climbing wall and indoor pool.

After that, it was home, order pizza, watch Christmas movies (White Christmas followed by Rudolph) and generally collapse.

And up the next morning to get to church for the Christmas musical!  Except what we didn't realize is that the music director (who is also Thalia's new voice teacher) had decided Thalia should be song leader.  Well, Thalia knew it, but hadn't bothered to tell us.  So she was up there doing a great job of leading everyone in "Infant Holy, Infant Lowly" before the musical started (particularly crappy picture since I wasn't sure about the etiquette of snapping pictures in the middle of worship -- I'm pretty sure  it's considered bad form):

Then on to the show, Arrest These Merry Gentlemen.  Which, by the way, is a cute musical.  It's sort of a send up of Dragnet.  Annabeth played Jo Sabbath.  She had watched some Dragnet videos to prep for the role.  Really, all the kids did a great job.  They did it for 2 services, by which time some of them looked sort of exhausted (the little girl in the white dress behind Annabeth's elbow was one of those  starting to fade, but she sang an absolutely awesome solo and totally stole the show by being so flippin' adorable).

Then lunch at Elephant Bar to celebrate a successful show.  Followed by more climbing wall and pool -- the climbing wall is now closed for the rest of 2011 for maintenance, so it was important to get those last hours in, you know.  The girls spent the evening babysitting for the neighbors.  Rick and I planned to spend the time planning and executing on Christmas gifts, but instead spent the time researching washing machines, since our 10 year old machine has started randomly filling with water when not in use.  A festive end to the weekend!

And now plunging into another week ....

Thursday, December 8, 2011

More about that.

You know, that Musical Theater thing that's been bugging me.

Total side note: Musical Theater is always a bit weird.  One time my friend Chris, who leads a kids' theater group in another city, commented that a lot of the homeschoolers in her group were pretty odd.  And I just sort of snickered, because homeschooling attracts an odd crowd (including those who pulled out of school because their "differentness" made/would make them the kids who got picked on in the halls), and theater groups attract an odd crowd (remember, the entire premise of Glee is that kids in the arts are "different", getting slushied in the halls), so the intersection of the the two sets would be uber-bizarro.

But this incident was just so odd I keep pondering how someone thought this was a plausible idea.

The short version:  The Place We Go To (for theater classes) held auditions for Oklahoma.  And then the next week announced the cast.  Except they'd switched the musical to Sound of Music without telling anyone until they announced the cast list.  Sorta like a bait-and-switch, but with musicals (edited to add that this wasn't a deliberate bait-and-switch -- they weren't being fraudulent so much as being really, really stupid).

The long version:  The Place We Go To has musical theater classes for teens once a week; they're in the evenings and attract kids from local schools as well as homeschoolers.  The first part of the school year focusses on general technique in acting, singing, and movement.  The kids put on a Fall Showcase to demonstrate to their families and friends what they've learned so far.  After that auditions are held for the spring musical -- these auditions are open to any teen in the area, and are advertised in various  venues that are typically used for local audition news (I think most cities have places you can browse to see who is putting on what, and decide if any of it is something you'd like to prepare an audition for).

Additionally, teens can sign up for a second class each week called "Advanced Musical Theater" which gives them extra hours to work on the above.

This year The Place We Got To hired a new director fresh out of school (IU -- yeah, insert that whole IU/Purdue dynamic, given that we're Purdue grads).  And she announced that the Advanced Musical Theater class would focus on audition techniques -- how to prepare for a professional audition.  Cool!

Also, they announced that the musical they'd be putting on was Oklahoma.  So the kids, particularly those in the Advanced class, started to think about which roles they wanted, how they should audition for those roles, etc. etc.

Really, the kids had somewhat cast the show in their minds by late October -- they could sort of see who the director favored (fact of life: directors have favorites.  So do teachers.  And managers.  Kids know this.), who was really good, who "fit" the various roles.

Thalia decided that she really wanted to play Ado Annie.  It would be a fun role for her.  She selected her music somewhat accordingly -- she sang If I Loved You from Carousel (which is basically a musical made up of songs and plot lines Rogers and Hammerstein had left over from Oklahoma).  She contemplated doing When I Marry Mr. Snow to emphasize her interest in Ado Annie, but we didn't have the music.  She worked on the song with her voice teacher for several weeks.  She also selected a monologue and worked on it.  The director had commented that it would be really cool to have separate auditions for singing, dance, and acting, but that wasn't going to work in a class that meets a couple of days a week for a couple of hours at a time.

So, the big day roles around -- auditions!  One of the guys, Senior Guy, hopes to be cast as Curley, and sings Bless Your Beautiful Hide from Seven Brides.  Another friend performs something from Hello Dolly -- she'd like Laurie's part, but knows that the director really likes another girl better ... and so on and so forth.  The kids have been discussing who is going to sing what, which monologues they're considering, for WEEKS. The kids audition in front of the director and the head of The Place We Go To -- the two will discuss the auditions and do the casting.  The director announces that the cast list will be emailed out by 3pm the following Monday.

Except, the following Monday we get an email that the parts will be announced in class.  Well.  THAT'S nerve wracking!  Are they actually going to read the cast list aloud in class?  Really?  When you hear what part you got, you sort of need a moment to catch your breath so you can be gracious, you know?  Especially when you're a kid.

I drop kids off at The Place We Go for class, and hope for the best.  Later, Thalia calls to tell me they need a ride home after Tech Theater class (sometimes they get a ride with someone else).  I ask her what part she got.

"Elsa Schraeder"

Okay, the name sounds familiar, but I can't place it in Oklahoma.  I'm confused.

"Yeah, they switched the musical to Sound of Music.  As soon as I found out, I knew I'd be cast as Elsa Schraeder, and I was."

(Note:  The cast list was actually hung up on a sheet in the hallway rather than being read off in class.  The kids were totally giddy with relief about that.)

Well.  THAT'S weird.  I hang up the phone, and it rings again.  A friend whose daughter is also in the musical theater class.

"So, Gail, what do you think about the musical?"  Her voice sounds strained, like she's remaining calm on the outside, but would really, really like to explode.

We talked.  A lot.  About the difference between the two musicals, one of which focusses almost exclusively on one particular role (Maria), whereas the other has various strong characters, including a kickbutt male role that Senior Guy would be perfect for (he in now Von Trapp, with one solo in a range that he doesn't sing well in, and a song he doesn't especially like -- ironic that Christopher Plummer also hated the musical, yes? -- and this is his final musical for this place since he's graduating in May).  About the way it was handled.  About the idea that people might have decided differently whether or not to audition if they'd known it was Sound of Music.  Might have strived for different roles. About the fact that work on the musical won't begin in earnest until after Christmas, so they had plenty of time to re-audition if they wanted to change the show.  Etc. etc.

So.  Rick decided to be proactive, and sent an email to the head of The Place that was gentle, supportive coaching about the concept that she needed to act quickly to put out the fire that was starting to rage. Are y'all familiar with the book  Mistakes Were Made?  It was pretty much like that -- total entrenchment in the decision.  Sigh.  Emails flew around, phone calls were made.  And a couple of weeks later:

-- Still doing Sound of Music.  Except they haven't worked on it at all due to other scheduling considerations regarding a Christmas show.  I think maybe they'll start looking at the music next week.

-- Realization by Powers That Be that they don't actually have a big enough cast, since you can't double the children as the nuns and guards, since all those disparate roles have to be together on stage.  Gee, if they'd told people they were doing Sound of Music, I wonder who else would've shown up.  Annabeth noted that she might've auditioned.

-- Leisl quit.  Her entire family quit EVERYTHING, effective immediately.  They've been taking classes there (dance, voice, piano, acting) for 7 or 8 years.  Huge supporters. So now notices are going up for open auditions for Leisl, any girl ages 12-18.  Oops.  Her younger sister had been cast in the musical Annabeth is doing this spring, but I think that group has someone to take that part.

-- Thalia has revealed to us that she wouldn't have bothered to audition if she'd known it was Sound of Music.  She says the only decent role (in this venue**) is Maria , and she wouldn't make a good Maria.  Also, she knew she wouldn't get the role of Maria since she isn't the director's favorite.  She would've auditioned for COCA's spring performance instead, or perhaps waited until next semester for some later productions around town.  ** The Muny put Sound of Music on in 2010, and Thalia would've been thrilled to play pretty much any part up on the big stage with professional actors, but this production is with her peers.

I know every place has its quirks and warts.  Any place you go for dance or theater or sports or WHATEVER is going to have issues, because people have issues.  But this whole thing really amazes me.  The Place We Go keeps calling the switcheroo "unprecedented".  Um, maybe it's unprecedented because it's a stupid thing to do.

I think I've left out enough of the juicy gossip of the whole thing to actual make this public.  Part of me doesn't care, since foolish decisions seem to be par for the course when it comes to this entire story.

So, Chris, whaddya think?

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


1.  I get a lot more done when I don't bother writing on a blog in the morning.  I've been doing yoga, lifting weights, have the Christmas cards ordered and in hand, have written those annoying emails I'd been procrastinating about, sewn a pair of pants, and am now working on cleaning out the dining room for use when relatives come to dinner on Friday.

2. Also, the Crazy Train visited Musical Theatre class last week.  Of course, one could argue that the Crazy Train is never very far away from any theater production, but this was a particularly whacked out situation.  So I spent several days NOT writing about that, even though I was thinking about it a lot.  I still may write about it.  But now it won't be a matter of droning on and on in righteous indignation, you know?

3. The outside lights are mostly up.  We put them up on Saturday, which was before it got cold out.  Score!

4.  The gifts we need by this weekend are almost all purchased.  We're down to the odds-and-ends part.  Also the part where we need to dig out the wrapping paper and tags.  Which are hidden behind all the boxes we pulled out looking for the decorations.  Which still aren't all the way up.

5.  Schedule for last Sunday:  Be at church at 7:30am so Thalia could sing with her sextet for the first 2 services.  Then home for lunch, and back at 2 for a rehearsal for Thalia that lasted until 4.  Annabeth's musical rehearsal was from 4-5:30 at church, with a parents' meeting at 5:30 (significant because it meant a coherent adult needed to be there).  Then Thalia at the church at 6pm, with the concert starting at 7pm.  None of this would've been such a big deal if we lived closer to the church.  Or if Thalia had her license and we had an extra car for her.  But, you know, whatever.  We spent the day driving back and forth.

The concert was pretty cool, which was to be expected because the music director at our church is amazing.  You could see that he was totally in his element directing all the disparate parts.  Also, the whole thing ran like clockwork.  Again, that's having someone in charge who knows how to put it together, as well as how to run an organized rehearsal.

6.  I should be doing something else right now.   More later.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving 2011

Wednesday was cool and wet.  I made a pot of chicken-with-wild-rice soup, and another, bigger pot of chili for supper.  We lit a fire in the fireplace and spent the pre-Thaksgiving evening watching the original Tron followed by Tron Legacy.

On Thursday got up bright and early to watch parades.  I made the various foods we were taking to Thanksgiving dinner over at Rick's aunt's house:

1. Roasted Green Beans -- snap stem end off of fresh green beans (we did about 4 pounds worth).  Dump them in a roasting pan, thrown in a bunch of chopped garlic, drizzle with olive oil; cook at 400F, stirring every 5 minutes.  When they look as done as you'd like, take them out.  We like them somewhat crunchy.  People tended to pick them up with their fingers and eat them like french fries.

2. Sauteed Collard Greens -- chop up some onion and slowly sautee in olive oil until tender and sweet.  Throw in chopped collards.  Cover pan to steam, utilizing water left clinging to leaves as well as some other water thrown in from the tea kettle (or whatever).  Cook until bright green.  Serve to crowd that doesn't usually eat collard greens and feels a bit adventurous putting it on their plates at Thanksgiving.

3. Celery stuffed with sunflower butter.  Self explanatory, right?  Very popular as something to nibble that wasn't sweet or otherwise junky. Also satisfied the sense of trying something new, since many of the crowd had never tried sunflower seed butter.

So, yeah, when I looked at the table I realized we were in charge of all of the green.

Anyway, we had a pleasant afternoon over there.  Much talking and laughter.

From there over to Rick's sister's house to see her new wooden floor.  This stop also featured pie and a viewing of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving.

Then home.  Although Rick was a bit regretful that we didn't have a longer drive home ... for years and years we spent the time after Thanksgiving stuffed in a car with all sorts of luggage, listening to Christmas CDs.  We considered maybe head over on the J.B. Bridge, then up north and come back into Missouri  at Chain of Rocks, then loop back down on 270, making laps around the county.  But, alas, we didn't have our Amy Grant Christmas CD with us (although David pointed out we could just download everything off of iTunes, it just didn't seem the same, you know?) so we came straight home.

And I spent the night having some sort of weird reaction to something I ate.  I finally got up at about 4am and sat reading a book in the family room.

Today was nice out (as was yesterday) so it was a great day for raking.  Not that I wanted to rake -- really, I wanted to sew -- but the last big drop of leaves is now up off of the yard, as are several hundred more of the Sweet Gum Balls.

We've spent some time organizing the Christmas lights, but don't have them up yet.  Tomorrow is supposed to be rainy, so who knows what we'll get up when.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Co-op Science Week 12

Continuation of light and optics.

We started off by playing with a set of spinning top optical illusions I'd found at Hobby Lobby.  It included Benham's top, a spiral that produced the waterfall effect, and some disks that worked better under fluorescent lights.  We discussed briefly why these things appear the way they do; I included the information that scientists don't know everything about these illusions, so the kids could maybe discover more about them some day.

Next, discussion:

What produces light?  (Sun, lightbulbs, flames; the moon simply reflects rather than producing)
What happens to light? (travels in a straight line forever unless it hits something)
What happens when it hits something?  (sometimes passes through whatever it hits; may convert to heat or other energy; may bend)

While talking about these things, did the demo of shining a flashlight through index cards to show this concept (although I just cut notches in the bottom of mine instead of punch holes -- directions in Super Science Projects about Light and Optics by Allan Cobb).  Answered repeated queries as to whether we could set the modeling clay on fire with a firm "No".

Vocabulary words:  Opaque, transparent, translucent.  I broke these down into their roots.  Mostly I was surprised that some of the kids didn't know them.  Shone flashlight on cardstock, copy paper, and through glass.

More vocabulary:  reflection, refraction.

For reflection we talked about mirrors, and how the light bounces off at the same angle it hits.  I had made  a shoebox periscope using cheap little mirrors from the craft store (Hobby Lobby?  Michael's?) and a bunch of duct tape (by the way, it was amazingly tedious to get the mirrors lined up correctly).  Pretty much everyone was familiar with the concept, but no one had actually made one before.   Again, I used the directions from Allan Cobb's Super Science Projects about Light and Optics We shone the flashlight through it, we used it as a periscope, we shone a laser pointer through it.  I had to keep moving one kid's head since he seemed determined to have the laser pointer reflection go right into his eye in spite of my saying we were NOT going to point it into anyone's eyes.

Speaking of which, Rick loaned me his nice red laser pointer he uses in presentations -- one of the nice, expensive ones.  He has a friend with one of the green ones, which would've impressed the kids immensely, I'm sure, especially since I told them that in many places it's illegal to shine them up in the sky at night, and that you can't even take them into some countries.  As you can imagine, the set-the-clay-on-fire, shine-the-laser-in-the-eye crowd instantly realized that their deepest desire was to obtain strong laser pointers and shine them in the sky.

For refraction, I drew a picture on the board of a bird's eye view of all of them holding hands and running in a straight line; the line was at about a 45 degree angle to a body of water.  As the first kids got to the water they had to slow down since it's harder to run in water than on dry land ... eventually, the line looked bent.  I got this analogy from Vicki Cobb's Light Action, which is a book  I would highly recommend if you're explaining this stuff to kids.

We refracted light with water .  I put a coin in the bottom of the bowl, had everyone stand where they couldn't quite see the coin, then filled the bowl with water; the penny appeared (I'm pretty sure this same demo is one of the experiments in Apologia Physical Science).  Then I placed a penny on the table, put an empty glass on top of it, filled the glass with water, set an index card on the top of the glass (so we couldn't look straight down into it) and the penny was invisible.  This one really confounded one of the kids, who thought I'd done something or other with the penny even though he was watching every thing we did.

We also shone the flashlight through plastic prisms (purchased cheaply at Hobby Lobby) to bend the light and see a bit of a rainbow.  It was a gloomy day, so we couldn't use sunlight to make better rainbows, unfortunately.  Again, all of the kids seemed familiar with the concept, but they enjoyed messing around with the prisms.  And we shone the laser pointer through the prisms, too.

Finally, we made Movie Wheels.  I had shown one I'd made to some of the kids the week before when we made thaumatropes.  They were surprisingly enthusiastic about this.  Well, most of them were.  One boy wanted to play with the tops -- we had him sit at a different table, and he eventually started making some rather sophisticated paper airplanes.  Another wanted to make it, but wanted someone else to do the work -- pretty funny.  We have a mirror in the room, so they could view them in there or else stand in pairs and view each others'.

A few of the kids said they'd studied all of this before, but they are enjoying studying it again.  That's what we're after -- a hands-on supplement to the curriculum they're doing at home.

Sunday, November 20, 2011


Saturday was a lovely day -- it was perfect for raking leaves.  Too bad we weren't home long enough to do any raking.

-- In the morning, a make-up class in Theater Skills in Maryland Heights.  The teacher had been sick earlier in the week.

-- Then home for lunch.

-- And off to U. City for ballet class.

-- And from there directly to Pattonville High School Auditorium for the Fall Showcase, wherein the performing arts students from one of the places we take classes show what they've been working on thus far this school year.  This included monologues from the Theater Skills class:

Thalia did a monologue from A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, which was rather earnest and angsty.

Some songs from Rogers and Hammerstein's Cinderella for Annabeth's Musical Theater class:

Seen here making Cinderella's coach -- the kids who were the wheels were supposed to do forward rolls as they moved along.  I wish I had a video of Stepsister's Lament, but our camera chose that moment to cease focussing.

And the older Musical Theater kids performed numbers from Pippin:
Thalia singing Magic to Do.  I've decided to believe the out-of-focus pictures look arty, in keeping with the Fosse-style choreography.

-- Home for supper.

-- Then to Nerinx Hall in Webster for their production of Phantom of the Opera.  Which was excellent.  But I really dislike their theater due to lack of leg room.  (Of course, the fact that I'd spent much of the day either sitting in a theater or sitting in some creative arts building on a crappy seat didn't help matters.)  Several of the guys in it were from SLUH (Nerinx is all girls), and Thalia actually recognized some of them.  The Phantom was played by a guy from Pattonville, coincidentally.  Small world.

So, overall I felt like we sort of had a marathon of performing arts going on.  I awoke Sunday morning with the main musical theme of Phantom running through my head, although I kept tending to sing, "Join us.  Leave your fields to flower...."  In the meantime, Rick kept singing "Ten Minutes Ago".  

Of course, Sunday was cold and rainy, and perfectly awful for raking leaves.  We had church -- Thalia's choir sang -- and then returned in the afternoon for a rehearsal of the musical Annabeth's group is putting on in a few weeks.  Other than that, we've been doing the stuff we didn't have time for yesterday, like washing the dishes and letting the rats have some free range time (hey, guess what!  Annabeth had handed me a donut-hole to put in a napkin in my purse earlier!  Guess who found it!).

Friday, November 18, 2011

Homeschool Update

This morning it occurred to me that it would be really cool if someone did a homeschool weekly report/wrap-up in haiku.  Not that I'm planning on doing it, but it would be fun to read.

See, I've done the work of coming up with the concept -- now I'll pass the torch to someone else for the detail work.

(I spent much of September contemplating how an existentialist would write a homeschool weekly report.  For that matter, what would homeschooling look like in an existentialist household?  Anyway, another concept that someone else can work with, right?)

As for us, last week was sucked into a miasma of spent working backstage at a ballet.  The kids were supposed to help load in the sets on Wednesday, except I decided to Just Say No, since it would involve missing their typical Wednesday classes.  They were there Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, though.  Annabeth ran the light board, and Thalia was a stagehand.  This was part of a Technical Theatre class they're taking -- earlier this fall they painted the sets for the ballet.

Which is why Jensen's continues to languish in not-getting-done land.  Aaargh!  And Medieval History isn't far behind, moving glacially slow, as though we're trying to recreate the timeline moment by moment in the present.

The co-op classes the kids are taking have stayed up-to-date:  Kinetic Physics and Notgrass World History/Literature for Thalia, Writeshop and Shepherd's Life Science for Annabeth.

And this week we haven't had A Big Event like the ballet, the Fall Formal, the everlasting bad cold, Thalia's Sweet Sixteen party, Halloween, or whatever else took all of that time a month ago.  So we've made progress towards getting back on track.

The big homeschool success of the week was that DAVE RAMSEY IS DONE!  Woot!  That's a half credit of personal finance completed (a little later in the fall than expected, but still before the end of the semester).  The next to last chapter seemed the most complex -- insurance.  We have several family members in the insurance biz, but, wow, LOTS of info.  The final chapter is on real estate, and seemed like it was mostly an excuse for Dave to entertain us with stories of his adventures in realty.  We also have a realtor in the family, plus have moved around the country buying and selling homes, so most of this wasn't news to Thalia.

Overall, I'd recommend the course.  I've heard people express dismay that it doesn't take too long to watch all those videos -- how can it possibly count for a half credit?  Well, yoohoo, that's what the CDRom is for -- look through the suggested activities, do some of them (some are better suited for a classroom, but you can still find plenty to do), take the tests, take the unit tests and the final.  Also, go on field trips -- an estate sale, a cash-advance business (okay, we did that one online instead of actually setting foot in one, and the entire concept was skanky enough to make an impression), follow the stock market.  Watch it as a family and discuss -- what do you agree with, what do you disagree with.  Assign extra reading (Thalia and I read Scratch Beginnings and discussed how the Dave Ramsey material applied -- what was the same, what was different).  It's an easy course to have your kid do, and it has a lot of great information.

Okay, so, failure with Jensen's, success with Dave Ramsey, neutral with pretty much everything else.  And all the other stuff that isn't really "school", like driving practice, ballet, tap, voice, Scouts, blah blah blah.

More tales of successes and failures, I'm sure (at least, I hope I'm not the only one who's got a failure-thing going), when you visit Weird Unsocialized Homeschoolers' Weekly Wrap-Up.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Happy Rat-iversay, Emily!

Yes, we've now had Emily for over a year.  And considering how short-lived rats are, that's worth celebrating.

When we got Miss Em she had been a backroom rat -- the pet store had her in the backroom as unsaleable due to a leaky tear duct.  Rick and Annabeth were rat-shopping, and one of the workers mentioned that they had another rat in the back that couldn't be sold because of a health problem -- were they interested in adopting her?  She had been spending her life in isolation from other rats (rats are extremely social animals, and it's unusual to have a solo rat).  And she hadn't really been socialized to humans, either.   And it didn't help that she appeared to be blind in one eye.  To this day she tends to weave her head back and forth when she's looking at you, as though she's trying to compensate for the lack of binocular vision.

Wow, she was a scaredy-rat when we got her.  She hated to be picked up or have much interaction with people.  But after a year of hanging around here, Annabeth is able to tote her around:

Seen here inspecting a birthday card for Grandma that has picture of some rodent that bears quite a likeness to Emily.  Grandma and Emily bonded last February when Grandma sat giving her Corn Chex one by one until Emily had about half a box stashed in her igloo.

She's happy to get out and explore, especially book bags, briefcases, and purses, which sometimes have random food left in them:

She's posed for innumerable photo shoots:

And been dressed up in Angelina Ballerina outfits:

Mostly, though, she likes hanging out in her cage with her friend, Farley:

Or snuggling up in an old tshirt:

One of her favorite things to do is try to stuff everything in the cage into the cube.  And she's the most persnickety rat we've seen insofar as wanting to use a litter box, which we supply in the bottom of the cage.  She enjoys avocados, bananas, beans, and Corn Chex, but her favorite is fresh raspberries.

How did she celebrate her rat-iversary?  She was out of the cage, exploring the house, and climbed in my purse, at which time she discovered that I had purchased a 2 pack of QBel Dark Chocolate Wafer Rolls a couple of days before, eaten one, stuck the other in my purse and promptly forgot about it.  Emily happily dragged it out of my purse and was quietly enjoying the feeling of being a wild rat who had foraged food AND come up with something so luscious ... unfortunately, Farley came along, grabbed the QBel and started running around the house with it in her mouth, loudly squeaking OMG! OMG! OMG! in her excitement (you know the opening scene of Legally Blonde, The Musical where the sorority sisters are all jumping around loudly singing OH MY GOD!?  Farley was doing the the rodent version of that).  So, of course, the lovely QBel was taken away.  Sigh.  Quite a bit of the chocolate covering had already been removed, though, so I think they'd had enough.

Many happy returns of the day, Emily!

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Bronze Award

Okay, obviously this is old news, but that's how far behind I am on things I've meant to blog about.

For the Bronze Award last year, Annabeth's troop decided to make items for animal rescue group.  One girl made blankets for dogs, Annabeth made cat toys, someone had a paper drive to gather newspapers for a rescue group, and another girl made horse blankets.

To start off her part of the project, Annabeth made cat toys by examining some of the more popular models we've purchased in the past.  She then cut up a pair of blue jeans Daddy was throwing out, sewed up tubes, and stuffed them with catnip.  We figured out which brand of catnip to use by going to PetSmart and standing in the aisle sniffing various containers until we found one with some "oomph".

She decided to stuff the catnip in the toys outdoors for easier cleanup.  She ended up using a plastic bag as a funnel.  Also, she ended up standing farther away from any lawn furniture so that the cats couldn't "help".

Then she took them back inside and sewed up the end.  The first couple were sent for rigorous field testing by our experts, who still enjoy playing with them months later.  Also, the stitching was found to be tough enough to withstand vigorous use.

Later, the troop got together so that the girls could teach each other how to make the various blankets and toys.   That way everyone got to work on everything.

By this time we had purchased a pair of men's jeans at Goodwill (size in the extra-large range -- more fabric for our $3!), laundered them to get out some of the fabric softener (what is it with Goodwill clothes and fabric softener -- they're always saturated in the stuff, and it gives me a headache -- no way I'd subject an animal to that).

And we delivered our cat toys to Open Door Animal Shelter, which I believe is where the dog blankets also went.

In the meantime, Annabeth had been totally captivated with the concept of making horse blankets.  She ended up getting together with a couple of the other girls who wanted to work more on that project.  It took a surprising amount of time to cut out and put together a single blanket, which is somewhat made-to-measure.  This was delivered to Longmeadow Rescue Ranch for use by one of the smaller ponies.

 Apparently the smaller horses have more need of blankets in the winter.  When they come in from their prior living situation they can have issues that have worn away some of their coat (like rain rot).  Also, some of the horses get really freaked out about having blankets buckled about their legs, so these are just a lightweight layer.

They still have the strapping and buckles to make a couple of more blankets, which this particular group of girls would like to do.  No doubt the future versions of the blanket will go more quickly now that they've figured out the directions.   (The girl in charge of this project had purchased a pattern from somewhere, but I've no clue where.  I think to find appropriate webbing and buckles they ended up ordering from a place on the west coast that supplies rock climbers and campers -- mostly because her family is familiar with that vendor from when they lived there, and couldn't find the stuff locally.)

Overall, a decent group of projects, and a good experience.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Co-op Science Week 11

This week was our Fall Open House, so we spent much of our class time getting ready for that.  We stapled covers on our booklets of Newton's Laws.  Several of the kids drew pictures on the front of the booklets.  I brought in our catapults from an earlier session, as well as some other stuff we'd worked on -- sort of a random assortment.

(Click to enlarge pictures, if desired.)
I also had the kids decorate a poster proclaiming "3-5 SCIENCE".  They drew several things we did, and several things they apparently wished we had done.  There was great controversy surrounding the fact that the boys made the letter C into a monster; one of the girls drew an alternative non-monster C which I attached to the bottom of the poster.  Overall I thought it was pretty cool.  Annabeth had given me the heads-up that this is how we should do this, by the way -- have the kids make it themselves.
 One of the boys had brought in more magic tricks to share, having forgotten his last week.  And since many of the tricks they've been sharing have been along the lines of sleight-of-hand and fooling the eye, I thought it was a good time to segue into optics and light.

We started with thaumatropes to show the concept of persistence of vision.  My co-teacher brought in a little plastic zoetrope that she'd gotten in a kid's meal somewhere -- it was way cool.  I'd hoped to make our own rendition of zoetropes, but we ran out of time.  Overall the kids were content to color and decorate things -- a very subdued group. I think the time change really took a toll on everyone in spite of supposedly getting more sleep.

The day before class I'd come up with
New Improved Directions for Making Thaumatropes with a Crowd of Kids:

Cut a couple of 3x5  index cards into squares (if you leave them rectangles they're too flappy to work well).
Draw your pictures on the non-lined sides, taking care that the pictures will overlap appropriately.  Outline in Sharpie -- this helps the picture "pop" when you spin it.  Color as desired. (You want to color it now because once you get the straw on it, it will be too lumpy to color.)

Tape a straw to the back of one side.  If it's a bendy straw, make sure the bend isn't going to interfere with spinning the thaumatrope -- I put this bend against the back of the card, but you could also put it at the bottom.  Or just cut it off and have a shorter straw.  Also, if you use colored straws be aware that the kids will have strong opinions about which color they want.
 I used Duck brand tape to tape it to the back of the index cards because it's wide and easy to tear.
Staple the front to back.  Or use Scotch tape, which is what we used when we ran out of staples.
Spin.  Be impressed with the picture that appears.

The kids were incredibly imaginative with their pictures:  head with hat (that didn't quite line up, so the hat was sort of floating over the head, which was actually pretty cool), person in jail cell, pen writing on blank sheet of paper, jet flying through clouds, smiley face eyes with smiley face smile on the back, fish in a fish bowl ....   Some kids made multiple thaumatropes, trying various ideas.  Probably the most amazing was a dog (or maybe wolf) sitting on a moonlit, starlit hill howling -- on the facing card was another dog/wolf on a hill on the opposite side of the "valley", also howling.  I am in awe of this group, and so glad I get to spend some time with them each week.