Tuesday, May 25, 2010

down on the farm

For the past couple of months the kids in the twins' village have been learning about farming and I chaperoned a field trip a couple of weeks ago to a large working farm in the hills nearby. Since I was with Allison's class the last time I joined a field trip I went with Kate's class this time. Below was my assigned group for the day, including Jake, one of Kate's best friends. Allison got to sit right across from me on the school bus though.

When we arrived the kids gathered for pictures and pet some baby chicks which were held by their teachers.

The we all met the owner, Farmer Rob. It's obvious that Farmer Rob hosts a lot of school groups because he is very, very good at speaking to small children, keeping their attention, and keeping them interested and entertained. Farmer Rob told the kids a little about his farm and what he does, then we set out for a wagon ride to the other side of the farm to get to work.

He talked to us about field plowing, and recruited three little girl "horses" to help him and another student pull the plow. Then he and the kids used a machine to remove corn kernels from their cobs and we gathered these kernels and went to one of his empty corn fields. The kids lined up and expertly planted some corn seeds for him. Who says good help is hard to find?

The kids also got to climb on some tractors and wagons, feed some goats, chickens, and rabbits, and help Farmer Rob check the progress of the apples in the orchard.

Farmer Rob also grows christmas trees and I was thinking that maybe we should take a trip there this winter and cut a tree for ourselves, which is something we haven't done in the past.

The field trip came towards the end of the farm project the kids have been doing in class, where they put together individual farm books and plotted out a farm of their own. I remember when Erin did this project 2 years ago and I still think it's remarkable as it reinforces understanding of money and math as well as learning about different domestic animals and plant science.

This is Kate's farm plot. The black is the road, brown is dirt, green is pasture land, yellow is vegetable crops. If they wanted to buy two horses for example, they had to have sufficient funds for the purchase and the fencing, and realize that each horse requires so many acres of pasture. Then they had to plot that in their farms accordingly. Each child ended up with a farm that was planned out by them and was unique.

Finally, it was farming unit open house day at school and the parents could come to class and have the kids explain their finished farms and show them off. That day fell on a work day for me, so daddy came to school and to each of the girls' classes and saw the finished products.

Fortunately, I don't feel like I missed much since I'm in class every week and I've been helping the kids with various stages of their projects all the way along.

time flies when...

...your kids play softball. Wow, what a busy spring we've had, but softball season is now over and we successfully juggled our 3-day a week/2-team schedule for the past 10 weeks.

Last saturday morning the twins played in their final game, and it was a great wrap-up for them as I think they each played their best game of the season. Kate hit 3 pitches and played pitcher.

Allison hit one pitch and played third base, which normally isn't so extraordinarily exciting since the plays are usually at first. But as luck would have it a large number of hits came straight to her so she was very busy fielding and with the help of a teammate she made one out at third. Not much grass-picking going on that day.

Erin's season unfortunately ended a week earlier. Starting in this age-group the teams play a double-elimination tournament during the final two weeks of the season, and a champion team in each division is decided. Erin's team lost their first tournament game against a team that was just plain better than them, but the Comets managed to keep the game close and lost 4-6. I was proud of all of them.

For their second tournament game they played a team that was decidedly NOT better than they were, but we had a truly terrible umpire. Most of the league's umpires in this division are teenagers who are baseball/softball players themselves and trained/hired by the league. I've seen some very questionable performance by these kids all season long but since the results of regular season games never really counted for anything, I didn't give it much thought. I did think they'd step up the quality of the umps for the tournament, but I was wrong.

The 14 year-old who served as umpire for Erin's second tournament game was fairly clueless, asking the coaches for help making calls and calling something one way then changing his mind afterwards and reversing himself. It was a confusing mess. Erin has two teammates who pitch really well and the best of those was pitching this final game. I swear she was on fire that day, throwing strike after strike, yet nearly everything she threw was called a ball by this kid.

If the pitchers throw 3 balls then the coach of the opposing team comes out to pitch and naturally they throw slower and friendlier than our pitcher does, so that enabled the other team to rack up hit after hit when in reality a large number of their batters struck out. It was blatantly unfair and the other parents and I were frustrated as we watched our team's greatest advantage neutralized and lose 1-4. Ultimately, I don't care that Erin's team didn't go farther and I know they weren't the best team, but I do care about fairness and I've complained.

The losses never really bothered Erin though. She's a good loser (at least when it comes to softball). In the afternoon before the closing ceremonies her team got together for a team pizza party and then we went to the main field where the champion teams in each division were awarded and all players got their participation trophies. Camera problems again! I took some pictures of Erin's whole team together, but they've disappeared. Aargh.

The players on her team range from 7 to just shy of 10, and as one of the younger players I can't help but notice how short Erin looks compared to some of the oldest teammates.

Erin's softball playing could have extended into the early summer because a competitive travelling team portion of this league was gearing up for the year. When Erin learned about the try-outs for that team a couple of weeks ago, she begged me to let her go. Her coach is also a coach of one of the travelling teams and she spoke to me about Erin's enthusiasm and having her try-out. I discussed it with John after learning that would mean 2 multiple-hour practices per week plus tournaments out of our county all day every saturday and sunday for the next month. We decided we just couldn't manage all of that, given homework and girls scouts and the fact that Erin won't be out of school until later June. Maybe next year, we said, and I felt guilty because I think that's the first time Erin asked to be able to do something (productive and worthwhile) and we turned her down. I like for the kids to be able to pursue whatever they want to pursue and find a way to make it work, but I suppose the older they get and the more involved these options are, the more I'm going to have to accept some limits. John is much better at realizing how crazy is too crazy. I'm not so good at that.

The twins posed with their team and were excited to receive their first trophies, and after this ceremony we had another party to attend for team Dolphins.

And all three claim that they'll be back next year.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

the blue fleece

For me, a successful school day for the girls has nothing to do with their finishing schoolwork or showing extra-good behavior in class or answering a teacher correctly. I consider the day a shining success if all the girls have their jackets when I pick them up.

I pick up the girls every day, either directly from school on the days I don't work, or from the after school program on the days that I do, and my first question after greeting them is always, "Where's your jacket?" Invariably, every day, I mean every single day, someone doesn't have theirs on hand. Sometimes it's not far away, just left in their cubby at the after school, or one of the ladies picked it up on the playground and it's on top of a bookshelf. Sometimes when I get them from school it's back in the classroom and we dash back in to get it before leaving. But all too often it is no where in the immediate vicinity, and the owner has no clue where she left it, and then my work begins.

At my next available opportunity I have to look through the three massive lost and found collections at the school, which contain items that date back years, I swear. At least the piles smell like they date back years. Actually, sorting through them is a task that's offensive to many senses all at once. If it isn't there I also have the classroom(s) to check, the lost and found at the after school, and also the playground and lunch table areas. Every week I'm on the hunt for jackets, but at least I'm usually successful a day or two after the loss.

A few weeks ago I picked up the girls from after care and Allison didn't have her jacket. "Which one did you have today?" I asked, since John drove her to school that morning and I didn't see her with one. "My light blue one," she answered. That means the brand new light blue Columbia fleece I paid full price for this winter. Drat. And the hunt began. Unlike previous efforts, the fleece was no where to be found. I checked everywhere, all the usual places and more every single school day since then, and it was just gone, and I was really frustrated. Stolen I theorized, but I continued looking. "Are you STILL looking for that fleece jacket?" one of the women at after care asked me earlier this week, as I rifled through their bin yet again.

Finally, yesterday, as I was signing out of my volunteer time in the school office, I decided to go through their lost and found collection for the 23rd time in about as many days, and there it was! I was probably disproportionately overjoyed I have to admit, but finally this particular hunt was over and I could stay out of the lost and found piles for a while.

I showed Allison her found jacket and asked her for the billionth time to please ALWAYS put her jacket in her backpack when she takes it off at school.

This morning, Allison wanted to wear her recovered blue fleece jacket, but it was in the laundry, so she wore Kate's identical blue fleece jacket instead. When I picked up the girls from after care today I noticed Allison didn't have a jacket on her back or in her hand.
"Where's your jacket, Allison? In your backpack?"
"Um...no. I......lost it."

Sunday, May 2, 2010

the catcher and the grass-picker

Our softball spring is moving along. All the girls claim to be having a good time with their teams and their season, but there some differences to note. Erin has the greatest enthusiasm, Kate probably has the most natural talent, and Allison has the most on her mind other than softball.

"She's a grass-picker," another mom explained to me, referring to the description that was used during soccer season on her daughter's team. Yes, that just about sums it up. Though they usually aren't on the grass, she's a grass-picker nonetheless. She shuffles her feet around, digging in the dirt or making patterns, holding her glove in her right hand often, and her attention is no where near the action.

Here the ball is coming right near her, but she doesn't look interested, if she's even aware of it.

Not that it always goes down like that. She has managed to get the ball sometimes.

On the other hand, Kate is pretty much always ready to go and paying attention. She fields balls regularly and does well when placed in the action-packed pitching position (though in her division the kids don't pitch) and at first base. Below is a shot of Allison playing pitcher and getting the ball to Kate at first.

They both enjoy hitting and running the bases.

The girls have had some spectators this year. Opa came to watch quite a few games, Oma watched one of Erin's games on a windy evening one week, and Grandma watched both games on a sunny saturday morning recently.

Erin has been enjoying the new position of catcher and she plays catcher at some point in every game lately--far more often than the other girls. The coach does rotate them through the positions, but they have some say in what they do also, according to Erin.

And really, given that this is a new position in this division, Erin is fairly good at being catcher. She is always very attentive to the pitching, but she hasn't got the hang of trying to catch pop flies yet, so she hasn't made any outs. It's also uncommon for someone to throw the ball to her from the field in order to get a runner out at home plate. Still, I think if she keep practicing at this position that she could become pretty good.

She's also had some chances to pitch this season, so throwing underhand is another new thing the girls at this age are learning. She isn't the best pitcher on the team, but she also isn't the worst, and like most aspects of her playing, just making the effort to pay attention and practice something goes a long way.

When she is not pitching, or catching, she does her best in all the other field positions. She always knows what's going on and tries for any ball in her vicinity. She always knows where the play should be and she calls it out to whatever teammate gets the ball.

Her biggest challenge has been hitting though. She's struck out a number of times, but when she does hit the ball she often REALLY hits it well.

Regardless of how her hitting goes that day, or how her team does overall, she has a great attitude about playing. I just signed up the girls for a one week multi-sport summer camp, in which they'll get lessons in a number of different sports through the week and they'll be given some options about which ones they want to play. I was showing the girls the website of the camp tonight, with the list of sports they can choose from.
"I wanna play softball!" Erin shouted enthusiastically.