Sunday, December 27, 2009

Christmas Comes to Town

This Christmas was such a wonderful, crazy mix of emotions and festivities. Most of the time I just wished that I was snowed in somewhere so I would have an excuse not to go out and face the crowds again in the shopping centers. BC, I would start shopping the week after Halloween and finish shopping the week after Halloween. The rest of time could be dedicated to crafts and cards and consuming obscene amounts of sugar. Last year was the first year that Phil did 98% of the shopping as I couldn't bring myself to leave Lily's side to go fight crowds and shop. As it turns out, I'm not a big fan of shopping, or crowds. I think there actually may be a phobia in there brewing.  We usually do a date night to get the kids squared away and with true Christmas Spirit this year- a friend's daughter donated her babysitting time to us. It was fabulous and meant so much to us. This was just one of a series of events that caused me to ponder the true meaning of Christmas and how to convey to my children that true gifts come from the heart.

One of our big events was an enexpected invitation to a special breakfast with Santa given by Neiman Marcus.  So I felt a little vindicated for spending that extra time finding the perfect outfits..we had another occasion for which they were needed! The breakfast was amazing. Although if it had been planned by a mom, pictures with Santa would occur BEFORE the smorgasbord of yummy treats. The night before was Phil's Squadron's Party, and we had to sneak out early since we knew we had to be downtown by 8 the next morning. It's funny how understanding people are when you tell them you have to be to town by 8am with 4 kids. Of course maybe that was because said 4 kids were exhibiting their lively natures at the time. Upon our arrival in "town",we were shown to a formally set table, with extravagantly decorated cupcakes and pastries. The meal was amazing and followed by the Shining Stars, a great song/dance troupe of kids. The floor shook as they danced causing both Bella and Lily to cling to us like spider monkeys. They were amazing. Of course their final song was a lively rendition of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town".  Lily's eyes grew wide and I saw her poke Phil's shoulder. "Daddy! Is THIS "town"? "  He immediately started chuckling as he told her yes.  She was positively giddy "Santa Claus is coming HERE!" And sure enough as the words left her lips, Santa bounded through the door, pack in hand.  It was magical. Of course in a few years, when one of her  friends has to explain that Neiman Marcus is not in fact considered town, it might not seem so magical to her.

Then I started shopping. This is when I started questioning the true meaning of Christmas. I don't like to shop when it is necessary much less than when it is crowded. That is why I am a pack rat- I stuff away things so that some day I can spend a whole bunch of time searching for that one thing I squirreled away to save myself a trip to the store. I used to love wrapping presents- now I hurriedly fold the paper together and figure I can blame the wrap job on the children. But mostly I don't have the time to spare to be the perfectionist I want to be. That bothers me, but then I try to remember big picture. Big picture is that the best part of Christmas was walking around looking at Christmas lights. It began to sprinkle and the kids pretended it was snowing. It was still 76 degrees out. The best part of Christmas is that gift that touches you. They each got to open 1 gift Christmas Eve night and since I hadn't wrapped any yet- they got to pick 1 sent from Grandma who had the foresight to send Snow. I am convinced it is the stuff they stuff on the insides of diapers- you mix water in it and it swells and then you put it in the freezer and it gets cold. Bella took a taste...that stuff probably causes cancer, great. Phil tracks Santa's Flight with Norad and then we assemble the cookies and carrots and egg nog on a special plate with Mickey on it that my Grandma and Aunt sent and we tuck the sugarplums in. The whole while, magic is in their eyes. Lily is putting the pieces together. So santa lands on the roof? Yep. And he comes and leaves presents tonight ?Yep. Maybe he can get Phillip's helicopter down while he's on the roof. Brilliant. (Phillip flew a toy helicopter up there on his birthday...we have been waiting for it to blow down...and waiting...and waiting.)

SO Christmas came to town. I have Bella, naked skating( think bambi with kneepads) in the back, Lily on her scooter that has a special scooter for Barbie that attaches to it- Kiera left as soon as humanly possible to compare gifts with her friends and Phil, Phillip and Stewart tend to the technological things that need tending on Christmas morning. It was a really good Christmas just because it was.

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Thursday, December 10, 2009

This is my favorite part of the holidays, the together times. 
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Every year we make a Gingerbread house(or train, or mini house- depending on rations and time..)
decorate cookies and take a trip to the mall to visit Santa and ride the train. This year we get to have breakfast with Santa, so the girls and I went to the mall so they could ride the train.  We have found the decorating is faster and a lot more fun if friends are invited. Aspen helped us with the Gingerbread house and Madelyn, Sophia and Olivia helped with the cookies. 

We always write letters to Santa and this year I was thrilled to participate in Macy's Believe Campaign. For every letter in their store mailboxes, a dollar is donated to the Make a Wish Foundation.  Lily and Bella both wrote their own, but I wrote a couple too for them in case Santa is too strapped for time to translate toddler scribbles.  Last time I was in the store- I picked up some for Phillip and Kiera who both wrote nice letters asking how Santa was and hoped that he was keeping warm in the North Pole. I was all tickled that they didn't go on and on about what they wanted and hoped the spirit of the season was present. I asked them if they wanted to add anything about what gifts they wanted and Kiera said- Oh I'll tell him that IN Person.  Apparently she doubts the middle-mail person. If you have time- stop by Macy's and drop a letter in the box to help more wishes come true!

A few days ago I was touched when Phillip came home from school and asked about getting one of "those ornaments on trees".  Here they are called Lokahi Trees, the trees in the malls with wish lists from children in need. Tomorrow we venture back to the mall to do some angel shopping- there were still A LOT of angels on the angel trees and it broke my heart to see so many kids asking for basic necessities for Christmas.  This time of year I am grateful for these silly furlough fridays that give me that extra bit of time to spend doing the things that matter with my kids that we usually have to cram in.  Tomorrow's lesson will be on the spirit of giving. No matter what you have, there is always someone with more or someone with much, much less. I am always amazed that those who have the least to give- whether it be time or material- are always the first to give.  I hate to say it- but I can only name a couple of gifts that I got for Christmas as a child ,but I clearly remember how magic Christmas felt. I remember the smell of cookies baking- my stomach hurting from eating too much frosting while decorating. I remember the jingle bells ringing outside stores. I can't think of a time when we weren't handed a dollar or change to slip into the red buckets. I remember worrying that the ornament shaped by my tiny hands wasn't good enough and the elation when my mom gushed over how wonderful it was.  I remember the spirit of Christmas. Now I only hope to do it justice when I pass it on to my children.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Just smile...

It just doesn't slow down, does it? The days are blending to weeks. The tree lighting was yet another exercise in my central nervous system tolerance.  Last week, we procured dresses that were to everyone's satisfaction. By everyone, I mean everyone lacking a y chromosome in our family. I grabbed the first red aloha shirt in Phillip's size, threw it at him- to which he responded- cool, Thanks. Now mind you -I had been on 3 separate dress hunting trips with the eldest of the princesses. She liked the dresses we picked out for the little princesses, but of course it did not come in her size. She held up a different red dress and said- hey mom, how about this one? Of course that one was also not in her size.  Fast forward a week - I find aforementioned red dress in store, procure with sweater and present to princess. Princess erupts in tears and shouts- I was just showing you that one- I didn't want it. I won't wear it. I want the blue one. After shouting profanities in my own head, I calmly and rationally tell her they are wearing red, blue is not an option. Princess storms to room. I return dress to store. Return home to father and princess solving dilemma by finding a red dress hidden in the abyss that are the princess' quarters. 

Dilemma 2- footwear. I have approximately 85 shoes scattered outside my back door. That is approximately 10 pairs of shoes per child. How is it that none of said shoes fits any of said children? HOW? Lily says these ones are too little and these ones are too big and I want one that's just right. Bella's adopted an old pair of Lily's which are 2 sizes too big, Kiera's wearing a pair of green slippers of Phillips because of 85 shoes, not a single one belongs to her. Well, about 4 do, but all of their mates are mysteriously missing and although she can wear green slippers with everything- mismatched shoes are not allowed, and Phillip stole a pair of my slippers because none of his fit and he can't wear one of the 4 pairs of cleats out there to school because it is against the rules. So I embark to Payless with Lily who is a stickler for comfort- a paper cutout of Bella's foot and an idea of what sizes the kids wear.  I have also learned that the only child I can buy shoes for is Bella.  Lily tried on about 10 pairs. All were too big and she swore they were perfect. Of course I have been repeatedly chided for having her in shoes that are too big because they fly off her feet as she goes careening down the hall at the hospital. So I am hell bent on getting her a pair of shoes that fit. We find such shoe. But Bellas have to match and those don't come in Bella's size. We finally find matches. Now we have to get matching for Kiera- no such luck. I convince her it is acceptable for Kiera's shoes to be different since her dress is different.  Kiera's current slippers are a size 4. I get her a size 4. We get home and they are way too big. She shrugs and says she can grow into them, they have a strap. Of course I was armed for tantrum con5. whew.

Wardrobe malfunction-While we are at Payless, which is not so much less... Lily declares that she wants to wear a headband to light the tree. Ok. 3 stores later- I get her to settle for a crystally headband because I cannot find a red headband with a flower on it that she MUST have. They come in sets of 3- but in order to get 3 crystally ones, so all girls can have one- I have to get 3 sets, fine. We finally get home an hour before we have to leave.  The girls get washed up- which sucks because now I have 3 heads of hair to dry and fix. I go to unzip Bella's dress- the zipper is mangled. It's never been worn. I didn't notice before I cut the 12 associated tags off because I was  trying to avoid the scene of mere peasant tags touching any of the princess' skin. I shake the dress in front of Phil who with brute force unzips it.  He can tell by the evil glare that that was the wrong answer...he offers to go exchange it. Mind you we are now t-minus 30 until we have to be out the door. The event coordinator called me 3 times last week to confirm time, date and location- he was a little high strung- I was half expecting my phone to ring any minute with a very polite but urgent reminder. 

I try to tie up remaining loose ends. Phillip's dress pants don't fit. I'm pretty sure they fit a week ago when he decided to dress up as a spy and roll around in the grass. Crud. We settle for a  less tight version. Lily has been begging to put her pants on and I keep telling her she's not wearing pants and she keeps saying- yes I am! Finally she brings me her pair of tights and we wrangle her in them.  As we finish, Bella bounds through the door in her new dress, all smiles. It is all coming together.

We make it to the hospital and are immediately greeted by the event organizer who gives us the run down. We usher the kids to a quiet corner courtyard to grab a quick photo and let them get their wiggles out. I don't know why I keep trying this approach, there seems to be an unending supply of wiggles. The kids are acting goofy- Lily is refusing to wear the headband she had to have and keeps lifting her dress up over her head. I am on my 3rd round of my keep your hands at your sides and don't make funny faces lecture when a PR rep comes to interview us. Lily promptly pulls her dress up and makes a funny face. Phillip and Kiera have decided that there's no time like the present for a good game of freeze tag and Bella takes a tumble into the bushes. This is why I don't go out.  A few minutes before start time, we work our way to the seats. They are front row.  Less than ideal and front and center for public meltdowns. Too late to back down. We take our seats. It starts to mist. Phil runs to get the umbrella. It is now pouring. We all run under the awning at the entrance to the hospital. The good news is that we are no longer front and center- the bad news is that there is no view of the lights.

Lily is called up to the little candy cane switch on a platform. Remember- I tell her- hands at your sides and when you feel shy, look at me and smile.  She steps up, stops and turns, puts her hands at her sides and smiles. Thatta girl! She helps the General turn the lights on, turns puts her hands at her sides and smiles right at me.  The ceremony ends and I take her in front of the hospital to see....she looks at me  "I did that?"  I nod. "I did that!" She looked thoughtful for a second, then put her hands at her side, looked at me and smiled.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

O Christmas Tree!

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I will post details later...but here's the pics from Thanksgiving, Christmas Tree Decorating and The Tripler Tree Lighting!  A little shower forced the show under an awning, but Lily did great!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Uncle Bob's Pineapple Upside Down Cake

Every year on November 12th we make a Pineapple Upside down cake in honor of my brother Bob's birthday.  The kids start asking about it as soon as November rolls around.  The cakes are usually hideous looking and sometimes fall apart- but they always taste good.  When we moved to Hawaii, we tried fresh pineapple...It was interesting. All the kids really want is the cherries so we've amended the recipe to include crushed pineapple and a whole jar of cherries.
This year we ended up with 4 extra kids hanging out, helping. Mostly they helped lick the bowl until Lily commandeered it for herself. Phil arrived home to find her face replaced by a bowl.  After this point, no one else was interested in the bowl or Lily's literal interpretation of- who wants to lick the bowl?.  I made pineapple cupcakes for each of them to take home as compensation. Phillip took an initiative and at one point I asked him to measure 1 cup of brown sugar for the caramelized bottom topping. hee hee. He decided that it logically went into the batter and dumped it in. The cake was extra sweet this year.

Kiera kept explaining to her friends that this was Uncle Bob's birthday cake, he's in heaven.  We make it every year.  My Grandpa is in heaven too. We don't make a cake on his birthday.  Just Uncle Bob's.  Allrighty then.

Then it is time to eat the cake. As the children "help" the cherries are not evenly placed as I would have done. Everyone has placed handfuls in hopes that would be their piece. Kiera looks at me and asks- can we sing Happy Birthday? I think that would be weird. But of course we just made a cake for their dead uncle's birthday...what's a little weird among family. So as I tried to cut haphazard pieces with equal amounts of cherry goodness, Lily and Kiera sang a rousing round of Happy Birthday.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Furlough Friday Fieldtrip

I just shake my head. Furlough Fridays are the Bad SNL skit that just won't quit. The news stations do their take, the radio talks about it nonstop. Friends even mention national news stories about Hawaii having the fewest days of school per year, before the furloughs. Eh, Bygones. I decided that I was going to try and edumacate my children on these Fridays they are now off school.  I asked Kiera if she would rather go to the museum or the zoo. She said zoo. So I took the morning to teach Phillip and Kiera about vertebrates while Lily and Bella colored zoo pictures. Then we made each of them a Zoo Book to take along and record observations of the different types of vertebrates. Lily and Bella basically just lost their pencils and complained the whole day about losing their pencils- but Phillip and Kiera both said learning at the zoo was fun.

I was worried that the zoo would be packed and every other parent would be doing the same thing. Nope. It was empty. Of course it has been unusually warm here still and the VOG is really bad. According to my other mom friends, everyone took the day off to go shopping and the malls were packed. The exit to the mall was backed up onto the highway. People that have to work- put their kids in "Furlough Friday Fun" care at $25-45 a day. So people will pay for "fun" care, but not education. Okey dokey. Talk about a great economic stimulus plan. People who don't work, take their kids shopping, people who do invest in child care programs which go on field trips to local sites, and the hoodlums who are unsupervised generate business for the local police enforcement. Yea.

Not me,  I learned the difference between amphibians and reptiles and am really grateful for google via Blackberry.  We did learn that the Honolulu Zoo is heavy on mammals and lizards. And we did have to reprimand monitor lizards for 'wrestling' on the rocks because they might fall and get hurt. Phillip looks at me and whispers "they're not really wrestling, are they?"  Nope. "Eww that's disgusting." At least we didn't have to linger after that.

I also was reminded that Honolulu is a tough place to teach the nakey babies of mine that it is a socially acceptable practice to wear clothing in public. "Why doesn't he have a shirt on mama?" "His pants are falling down. They are too big for him" It doesn't help that the beach is across the street from the zoo, but really- could you throw a shirt on?

As for Miss Kiera Faye. We have started a new regimen that includes "home-homework" as she calls it.  A good friend who is also a teacher pointed out that we probably wouldn't get much support from the school and pointed me in the right direction to help her with some additional skills.  Some days I think it's an attention thing and some days I swear she is not firing on all cylinders.  Time will tell.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Approaching Adequate

And let the celebration of mediocity continue. Yep it's report card time. If there's one thing I have learned this past year, it's not to sweat the small stuff.  You gotta pick your battles. When Phillip started school here, I wrote the DOE numerous letters regarding the inadequacy of the grading system here. In an effort to make sure no one gets left behind, everyone gets pushed forward whether they are ready or not. It's kinda like pushing kids off into the deep end of the pool. You can let them wade in the shallow end and play, eventually they will learn by trial and error how to combine leg and arm movements to propel themselves around. You could teach them to swim using time honored approaches reducing the amount of time it takes them to learn to propel themselves. Or you could toss them into the deep end and see who swims and who almost drowns. Then you save the kids who almost drown and take them even deeper and toss them in again until they get it.  That's what no child left behind does. 

Here there used to be 3 grades, ME(exceeds expectations, A), MP(Meets ExpectationsB,C,D), WB(Approaching expectations, F)- in my mind it has always been Meets Expectations, Mediocre Performance, Well Below. The grades do not necessarily indicate performance and are not based on numbers whatsoever. . Huh? The first parent teacher conference goes over the grading system and how it is applied to their work. The reports are to"inform you of the progress towards achieving the Hawaii Content and Performance Standards". They do not assign grades- they merely indicate if your child progresses along this same pattern, they probably will achieve that result on standardized tests.   Now they have added a fourth criteria, because 'well above', 'at' and 'below' didn't give parents enough info to go on, go figure. I guess some parents were put-off that their ME children were scoring in the 50th percentile nationwide. I thought we didn't have to know numbers? Now we have DP-which is Developing Proficiency(mine) Approaching Expectations(theirs). WB is now Well Below Expectations.  I guess in about 3-4 years they will add MA, Above Expectations. And then in another few years they will eliminate the confusion and attach an alphabet related scale with A being the highest and F being the lowest- or failing- no I'm sorry that is politically incorrect- well, well below expectations.  After that they will start attaching percentile ranks to said numbers and like that- It will have taken Hawaii 10 years to reinvent the grading scale and prove why it works. Don't even get me started on the poor military families who have to PCS with the worthless report cards from here.  Had to do it in Colorado when we put Phillip in school there- the admin said they would just test him since the reports told them nothing they needed to know. Bingo. Look at the state test scores and you know.We have this nebulous curriculum based entirely on a standardized test results so children are programmed to perform well towards that test whose numbers drive the entire educational system here. The children do well on the Hawaii test- but nationally are failing miserably- aka below 50th percentile. But numbers don't matter.

There's an Australian comedian that Phil has me watch sometimes on YouTube. His schtick is "Harden the F#@! Up." It's like Jay Walking, but pointing out the complete lack of tenacity in certain people.   Sure Hawaii wants every child to succeed, great. Handing a child a piece of paper that says "You succeed" does not success make.  Not only that, It devalues the piece of paper that children who truly do well get that says they succeed.   Hawaii's grading system needs to Harden the F#@! up.

So yesterday we get the kids report cards. I do the cursory scan and a lump gets stuck in my throat. Kiera has a WB. I am a failure. I have failed. (See we had grades when I went to school and I am quick to accept accountability and blame. I know that failure IS an option in life and am glad I was prepared for that fact growing up.  After all, winning is the sweetest after the spoils of defeat. )  I start back at the top. She has 2 WB's overall and DP's in every content area(what most people call subjects). But I got 3 MP's- she points out.  I feel like I am going to be sick. I knew I needed to work more with her- I just had NO idea how MUCH more. Not that this card tells me what I need to do. I read the teacher comments, hoping for some modicum of guidance, Kiera is a pleasure to have in class, follows directions and works well with others. She needs to make extra effort to ask for help. A good worker and wonderful friend.

Translated: Kiera is a budding socialite. But mostly my problem is that a month ago when I had our conference she was doing well and there were no major concerns. How are her grades? Oh we don't compile grades at this point. Huh?   To me, WB's mean poor performance across the board and the past month is only 1/3 of the quarter, so she had to have been performing poorly at conference time.  I look closer at the grades. One WB is in algebra. Yes folks, they now teach algebra before multiplication and division. Try teaching an 8 year old to conceptualize that n represents a number- it could be any number, but it is a specific number and then solve for it. I was mystified by that concept in HIGH SCHOOL. I went in to talk to her teacher about that. She said oh no we don't expect them to understand that, we just want them to find the number. Trial and error algebra.  Not really algebra at all then- it's just a guessing game. Kinda like the report cards.  They also have kids do word problems before they read well enough to understand them and the fun abstract math that they represent.  It's hard enough to be analytical when you have all the tools you need- it's tons o fun when you have less than half the tools you need. Yes learning can be fun. But you can also make basics tougher than they need to be. Sometimes you need to get on your hands and knees and scrub the floor. Sure it takes longer than going over it with a mop, but the results are noticeable. I am a purist/ Do times tables and rote math, nothing fancy.  Teach the basics. Nope -we've got this goofy curriculum that has them applying math in everyday circumstances as opposed to learning how to DO math in everyday circumstances. Isn't that the point of becoming an adult- you have to take all this stuff you learned and now apply it? And to top it off- not only do they have to apply it- they have to be able to show different ways to achieve that answer.  Have you ever known someone who just does math in their head?  These brilliant poor souls will fail miserably at math in this curriculum.  It's not that you get the answer- it's HOW you get the answer. LOV ED that concept in Organic Chemistry- think it sucks for addition in the 3rd grade.  31 + 59 is 90. I don't care if you forgot to carry the 1, it's wrong.  The answer is not 80. I don't care if you drew 9 weird liney things and 10 dots and circled the wrong groups- add it.   I think you are wasting your time drawing out 90 dots and you run the risk of counting wrong. Add it. I talked to Kiera's teacher who said that the standardized tests actually test the various methods and they need to know them. MMM hmmm. So let me get this straight- Kiera can add, she just can't show you how she added and therefore gets a WB? Well, since the benchmark is not adding but learning to add using various methods, yes, she demonstrates WB.

So what is a mom to do?  She spends her time printing out worksheets and hours, teaching basic math so my child can use that to figure out her math homework and unfortunately this past quarter, it was not enough.  AND if she continues along this path someday she will get to high school where an A is 90-100% and an F represents below 50% and she will be applying the algebra she learned in the 3rd grade, wait there are no numbers- maybe that is next year. I am not for devaluing children's self worth. I don't want them to feel like failures. I also like Kiera's teacher and think she is a tough grader, which Kiera needs.  Kiera was completely apathetic to the grades. Of course- they are so padded, she doesn't feel the fall. And she is falling. All I know is that if she continues approaching this path she might approach this path sometime in the future when there is a standardized test to test path approachment.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Punkin Patchcapades

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We made our annual trek to the Aloun Farms Pumpkin Patch this morning. It wasn't muddy like last year, and it was definitely more light hearted. Bella all but refused to depart the wagon, as apparently the pumpkin patch was 'dirty'.  It didn't help that 5 feet into the pumpkin patch Lily got all tangled up in briars and screamed like a howler monkey.  It's funny how after all these years my view of the perfect pumpkin has changed. It used to have to be as perfectly round as possible and relatively unblemished. Now- It has to have character, be generally roundish, and not rotten.  It goes much quicker that way and then I can keep my focus on de-briaring the children as they run around looking for their perfect pumpkins.