Tuesday, August 30, 2011


As the last activity with her brownie troop from her old school, Erin bridged to a junior girl scout this weekend. The girls had a small ceremony with a current juniors troop from the local middle school comprised of girls who just graduated from our (old) elementary school.


Then the troop co-leaders handed out some wings emblems that will be placed on their new juniors vests.

Then all the girls took a walk across a large pedestrian bridge and when they reached the other side all the brownies were given their new juniors green vests to wear as they walked back across.

The ceremony was followed by a potluck picnic and social at a nearby park, and sad goodbyes from us to this troop, after three years together. Erin joins a junior troop at her new school, who completed their bridging ceremony earlier in the summer. Kate and Allison begin brownies at the new school as well.

new year, new school

School started nearly two weeks ago and I haven't posted anything about it sooner because I felt like I didn't have any good pictures to show here. I've even brought my camera to school on two or three other days, attempting to get photos of the girls in line for class or coming out of class or something, but what I took didn't turn out well and most opportunities were missed because as I stood waiting for the moment I wanted to capture someone always came up to me and started a conversation. Ah well.

The new school is in the neighborhood of our new house. It's about the same size as their old school and has a similar-ish academic reputation, generally, meaning both schools have "really good" test scores. Their old school tests higher, but then only two other schools in the state ever manage to test as high as their old school and there's more to life than that. This school has a great reputation also, academically and otherwise. But this school doesn't sevral things that the kids are used to: grade combo classes, classes grouped into villages, or team teaching. Kate and Allison are in totally separate classes and can see each other at recess and lunch, but that's about it.

The girls picked their first day of school outfits, but they didn't choose anything particularly special, or new to wear. Allison wasn't looking forward to this next adventure. Kate wasn't either, though it wasn't so outwardly apparent. Of all of them, I would have expected Erin to be the most upset because she is really getting gypped in this move. The 4/5 classes at the old school get all kinds of special privileges. They are in their own section of the school, they do more extensive, even overnight field trips, they visit Washington DC during spring break in 5th grade, they have various mentoring and leadership opportunities with the younger kids.
4/5 grade here doesn't stand out so much.

Unlike their last school, everyone lives nearby and biking or walking to school is common. Their old school didn't even have bike racks. They've asked repeatedly to be able to bike to school once we move. I think that's a great idea.

My observations are that the parents are VERY organized about...everything. And they are serious about fundraising for their school. And everyone knows everyone, as I discovered at the parent social after the kids were off to class that first day, which meant everyone knew right away that they didn't know me. Many of them set out to change that right away. This was all an entirely different experience for me.

I've met a lot of nice parents so far, and many of them are neighbors on our street or our cross-street or the next block or two over. They not only know the street where our house is, they know OUR house.
"Oh yes, the construction across from Jill, next to Marion."
Those families don't even have kids at the school, by the way, but they know them anyway.
"We live not even two minutes away, you'll have to have the girls come by to play when you move."
I don't know how many times I've heard that, again, totally different from the experience at our old school and our old neighborhood.

The lower grades get out a half hour earlier than the upper two grades, so I picked up K&A and we discussed their first day while we waited for Erin. They took a school tour and seemed to know their way around just fine already. They each liked their teacher, and I asked them, "You see, this will be a great school for you, won't it?"

"NO!!!" they answered in unison.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

how's that orthodontia working out for ya?

Erin hasn't had braces yet. So far the work has been with upper and lower jaw expanders and headgear to shrink the overbite.

Before (on crazy hair day at school last fall):

A few weeks ago. And not that you can see in either photo but her four bottom adult teeth which were crowded, overlapping, and crooked are now totally straight. It's been seven months since she started.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

nevermind the music, just dance

We stayed at the outer banks as long as we could but we had to be home in time for Erin to do her next dance competition at a small Highland Games not too far from home. So we got home on friday evening and the next morning Erin and I were there.

This was Erin's second competition and I have a lot to learn about this all of this, though I'm learning more and more as we go along. One thing I'm learning is the same thing I'm learning about what goes on at some other activities my kids have been doing, like softball for example. There is a level of precision and professionalism and attention to detail that I just assume in everything, but almost always reality falls short of that.

This was a serious competition with no trophies given for merely participation. The kids have worked very hard, winners are determined, the dancers in the top skill level are competing for prize money. It seems kinda important to get the details right.

In girls softball the umpires are trained and paid but you just wouldn't know it when you watch them work. In Highland dancing I saw some very strange judging by a paid professional during Erin's first competition and though I think the judging was better this time, there was a big problem with the music. Commonly they have a live piper play the music at competitions but at this one they used recorded music.

The beginner group was first, dancing the Fling. When the music started I thought, "Hmmm, that sounds weird. I've never heard Fling music like that before," but dismissed it as my own ignorance. After all, I don't even sit in on the girls' lessons, but I know it isn't the same as the practice music we have at home, on a specific CD the teachers directed me to get as being standard Highland dance music.

The music here was sorta kinda similar, but really kinda not. None of the beginners were able to step off at the right time when it started. The judge ordered the music stopped and restarted. They did a little better the next time, though she also signaled them, which normally wouldn't be done and wouldn't be necessary. Erin looked a little off while doing this first dance and then she became lost and missed several parts. The other kids looked kind of off too.

Erin was furious as she joined me off stage.

"WHAT was that music?!?"
"I screwed up the WHOLE THING!"
We talked a while and I told her I noticed the music was strange also and it seemed to be throwing off a lot of people but if she just listened for the beat and did the she knew that she'd be fine.

The next dance was the Sword and though the music was still strange, she did better this time.

And the music apparently was an issue for most everyone. I was watching some of the Premiers (the dancers at the very highest skill level) and some of them were being clearly thrown way off by the music too, something I've never seen before since those dancers have been dancing for YEARS. Among the six Intermediate dancers (the class right below Premier, still a couple of classes above beginner), four of them were disqualified during one dance for being so out of step with the music. The judge let all six redo that dance. This was all entirely unheard of.

I walked over to Erin's teacher and asked her what's going on and she was positively furious that they weren't using standard recordings. As kids were making huge mistakes and the judge ordered songs restarted throughout the morning she was visibly very annoyed. I thought she was annoyed at the kids for their mistakes, but as it turns out, Erin's teacher explained that she was annoyed at the organizers for having screwed up.

Erin danced in all five possible beginner dances. At her last competition she only did four because she didn't feel that she knew the fifth one, the Flora, well enough yet. I guess the whole music problem caused someone to finally change the CD because when it came time for the Flora a conventional recording was finally used.

Erin's timing here is a little better than the girl next to her:

And later the eight beginners were lined up together to receive their awards. Erin got a fifth place medal for one dance, a fourth place for another, and for the Flora, the newest dance for her, she took second place!
She explained her much better performance in the dance she's had the least practice with by saying it was the only dance that used the right music. In that she was absolutely correct.

As much as these events are clearly stressing me out, Erin enjoys them. Competition #3 is coming on labor day weekend.


One day we drove down to the southern tip of Hatteras Island, where we were staying, and took a ferry to the neighboring island of Ocracoke, the island famous for the pirates who hid out there a few hundred years ago, most notably Blackbeard. Blackbeard was also killed there.

The ferry ride was scenic and nicely breezy and fun for everyone.

On the island we didn't seek out any historical places. It was blazing hot and we kept our walking around to a relative minimum. Someone gave us a tip to check out a little arts and crafts place that was really off the beaten path. We drive down these very narrow dirt side roads to find it, but it was worth it. I think everyone in our group ended up buying some things here.

Then we visited some places not off the beaten path and found some things for the kids.

Not many visitors come there from the west.

The best part of the visit, apart from the Ferry rides, was probably the large ice cream cones and shady large porch at the ice cream shop that afternoon.

On another day, after Mom and Peter had left for home, the rest of us went to visit the lighthouse on Hatteras Island, notable because it's the tallest lighthouse in north america. I wanted to get a picture before the girls and John and Jeff and I climbed to the top, amid many warnings that if we thought it was hot and humid outside, just wait until we experienced climbing 12 floors of stairs in that little building.

No one was much in the mood for pictures.

But the climb inside really wasn't nearly as bad as the rangers warned us it would be, and the view from the top was fantastic!

Back at the bottom the girls were a little more willing to at least look at the camera while Jeff took a photo.

Though it's kind of a pain to get there (2 flights plus a 3-hour drive from Norfolk, VA), the beaches and ocean at the outer banks are really nice and the warm ocean is a great change from what we know at home. I'm sure that we'll be back.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

outer banks beach bums

We spent a week at John's family's beach house on the outer banks of north carolina, the first visit there for me and the girls. After a much less than great travel experience getting there, everyone got down to the business of enjoying the beach right away.

The weather was a bit of a shock at first, bringing me flashbacks of summers in Chicago. I woke up at 6:00 on our first morning after arriving at the house late the previous night, and I figured I'd sneak out to the nearby grocery store to get some drinks and cereal and things I know my family likes. When I stepped outside, even at that early hour, I was just blasted. You just have to get used being sticky all of the time.

Our first day was overcast all morning, not that it seemed to lessen the heat and humidity at all. Having the ocean to cool us off was great.

Uncle Jeff spent time on the beach fishing, though he didn't catch much and when he did he always threw it back. Still, he seemed to enjoy it. The girls loved collecting the plentiful shells.

We were all having a fun first morning, and then the wind picked up a little bit and another family on the beach, a good 30-40 yards away, started waving at me and shouting something as they packed up to leave. I couldn't hear them very well so they just pointed behind me, towards the sky. I turned away from the ocean and saw these huge black clouds coming towards us, rapidly:

John and I gathered our things and the kids and started the short walk back to the house. At the top of the small dune separating the homes from the beach, I took another photo. The house on the left side in the photo is the Fergy house.

It was about lunch time anyway. So we came in and ate and what turned out to be a not really impressive storm rolled through, sprinkling a little off and on. But the worst of it passed quickly and after a little while we went back outside.

A view from the balcony:

Just as in Hawaii, Allison by far spent the most time playing in the waves. She loved it.

Kate almost always had a shovel in hand.

Erin tried the waves off and on, and Kate did a few times too, but Allison was always all smiles.

Sometimes Jeff had a fishing assistant. Allison thought she'd try her goggles in the ocean. About 5 minutes later they were lost.

Later that afternoon the sun came out, and Oma and Opa arrived from Pennsylvania.

After dinner that night Grandma showed the girls how to attract and feed the pretty gulls from our balcony.

The next day Mom and Peter arrived from the Raleigh area.

And much of the week was spent like this. Get up, eat breakfast, go to the beach, come in for lunch, come in for dinner. Lots of hard work involved.

Allison and Kate watched some big boys boogie boarding. Though they didn't have boogie boards they had fun placing their boards on the beach and tried to remain standing as the surf came in.

Dad brought a bean bag tossing game along and everyone played at various times, though no one was able to beat him.

There was always a lot of digging and building going on. Castles and moats and ditches and these little seats in the sand which Jeff and John tried to surround with tall enough walls to keep the water out. When the water rushed in and took down the walls and flooded the seat, the girls laughed hysterically.