Saturday, December 6, 2014

This week in immersive learning: Theoretically December?

Well, welcome to December!...uh, I think?  

Someone forgot to tell the weather that it is almost time for the midwinter holidays... We have spent a LOT of time outdoors, no bundled...We're trying to fully enjoy it while we can, but it also feels kinda uncanny and a little unnerving...but I've been trying to prioritize outdoor time over indoor instruction since we don't know how much longer we'll be able to enjoy being outside for big chunks of time.

Hazel practicing moving from wobbly-thing to wobbly-thing

This week was the big show at the Alzheimer's home.  We took advantage of the lovely weather to meet and rehearse in a lawn across from the facility before we went inside, so we got to run through the entire thing a couple of times to make sure it was fresh in our bodies before heading in.  It was lovely, one of the kids in our group is an accomplished violinist, and he bookended the performance with some beautiful music.  The show itself went splendidly, the kids had a blast and the audience seemed delighted.  Afterwards, everyone came together to sing 'Jingle Bells', and there was much laughter.  It ran a bit short, so Cadence volunteered to recite a shel silverstein poem she had memorized, and she did so with ease and grace, and everyone loved it.  I was so proud of the kids!

It was also a great opportunity to talk to the kids about alzheimer's, and aging in general, and why these folks were living there.  We prepared them ahead of time to be understanding if their audience behaved in a manner that would be considered strange for adults, and I was very proud to see that everyone in our group interacted with and treated our hosts with the utmost respect.

The hardest part for me was the emotions that bubbled up when one VERY enthusiastic and excited woman in the front row continually singled out my kids from the crowd and shouted (not in a mean way, she was attempting to be friendly) "DO YOU LOVE YOUR NANA?" over and over and over again..."Nana" was the term my mom wanted the kids to call her, and having this woman fixate on that obviously made me think of her. It reminded me of how Alzheimers was my mom's worst fear, and the very bittersweet thought that she will never be old, she will never deal with that particular horror, and I will never be faced with the choice of putting her in a home such as this...I was grateful all over again for having had the ability to care for my mom at home, but of course I miss her so much, and she was so young...The kids told me later that similar internal reactions to this incident, each tailored to their own memories and emotional journeys.  I am so grateful that they are able to talk about these hard subjects, and also very proud that even with the internal pangs, they were able to treat this woman with respect and keep a calm, grounded perspective until we left.

And of course, when we did leave, we all headed to a nearby playground to run out all the adrenaline!  (also it was like 70 degrees...what??)

Holiday dress on the right...Cadence opting for bike shorts because her dress was too hot, on the left. December??
While we were there, Hazel made friends with a little girl her age, and they played so well together that we stayed well past our scheduled exit time.  Socializing is so important to being able to grow up and operate in society, so I count that as a priority, too.
They really liked this stone turtle.
Cadence has continued the revisions on her lego plane, making it more complex with each new pass.  She is increasingly excited by her progress, but still doesn't feel that she is anywhere near completion of the project.

It has become a tradition in our family to do a sort of advent calendar, where each day we take on a new winter-themed craft.  It's a lot of work, but a lot of fun!  I'll just hit on a few of our projects here:

The idea here was to make puff paint by mixing shaving cream with elmer's glue and then using beading stones to add detail.  After drying, you should be able to peel your creations off of the tin foil and then use them as window stickers.

Unfortunately, I evidently grabbed shaving GEL instead of shaving CREAM, and the results were a hilarious blue mess. I wasn't home for the actual creation, James took on that task and was the one to discover my mistake, but they decided to press on anyhow as a sort of experiment.

Strangely, the paint did end up getting sort of puffy after they stopped messing with it...but I failed to get a picture before they discovered the gel-like puffy texture and tore them apart in a sensory experiential flurry of destruction.  Sorry snowmen! No window stickers, but a lot of fun and cool experimentation with the properties and chemical reactions of different substances.

This project worked out exponentially more flawlessly.  For this one, we used construction paper and wrapping paper (and a little bit of masking tape) to decorate our front door, and turn it into a snowman!

The kids really took the lead on this once I explained the concept.  The designed, cut, and taped everything they could reach (though I helped a tiny bit with the scarf design and reminded them to think about scale when cutting out the carrot nose.)  I lifted them so they could do the bits they couldn't quite get to on their own. the result was really cute!

They enjoyed that one so much they decided to revisit it the next day, and added arms, feet, and the little puffball of a floppy, santa-like hat (I think the window is supposed to be the hat).

This one was a little more chemistry based.  Crystal structures!  Yay!  

For this project, we made a solution of borax and water, and then poured it into several different jars.  We made snowflakes out of pipe cleaners, and then used pencils and string left over from our halloween bat project to suspend our pipe-cleaner snowflakes in the borax solution.  When we revisited them many hours later, crystals had formed on the strands of the pipe cleaner, making shiny, sparkly snowflakes that evoked the idea of real ice!  

These will likely end up being tree ornaments, though they are surprisingly heavy!  

Crystals even formed on the fine hairs of the string!

Kelly was here for this one, and she tried it out with a colored pipe-cleaner.  While perhaps slightly less evocative of a quintessential winter, it looks really cool!

This one happened to be in the bottom of the pot we had used to make the solution...since the crystals were also creeping along the floor, this one has large, flat proportions where it had at one time connected cleaner to floor. it was really cool to look at & explore!

Lastly, I realized that I haven't been including very much of the digital artwork these kids have been creating non-stop!  This little experimentation with color showed up in my photo gallery, so I'm not sure which of the three created it, but I thought it merited sharing anyway, to represent the class of kids' work that I all to often neglect to include here.

So...onward into winter we go! HEAVE HO!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Reel Life (ha!)

Photo credit: Hunter Curry.  A nice representation of my weird struggle; also a still from some of the footage that has been making things...'difficult.'
For the past, oh, 15 years or so, I've been wanting to put together a reel.  Not in that "hmm, someday I'd like to..." sense, but in the active, "I'm doing this now" sense.  And yet...and yet there is always SOMETHING.  At first, it was simply a matter of obtaining footage.  Then my focus shifted slightly, and I needed different footage.  Then, it became a technology issue.  Formats have changed so rapidly over the years that by the time I had collated everything, the formats were incompatible with the hardware.  Then, it became all about the software.  These days, it is usually something comical, like "sorry, your version of final cut pro isn't compatible with the fancy schmancy new format this feature was shot in, so you need to upgrade.  But oh, you need to increase your RAM, and by the way, you have to upgrade your OS first.  And did I mention that this will render your encoding software obsolete?  And how about we throw in some hardware malfunctions while we're at it, and now you don't have access to decent quality versions of any of the footage you do have...Great! now that you've done all that, hey look-this codec isn't editable, so you need that encoding software. Oh look!  switching to premiere is now cheaper than upgrading final cut!  Now you get to migrate the entire project...Rinse, repeat..." (don't worry, that wasn't really supposed to make sense.  It's not a literal list of what happened.  That would be so very much longer...)
Anyway, between technical glitches, endless bouts of waiting on footage, life changes, format/program/hardware changes and general craziness...well, I have nothing to show for all of that work.

So, I've had enough.  I'm tired of the endless drama that has constantly delayed getting even a tiny glimpse of my work together, and I want to try to be more proactive about my career, and so I have done the unthinkable.  I have taken those bits of terribly degraded footage, those copy-of-a-copy-of-a-copy bits of blurry motion and smushed a few of them together and didn't even bother to tweak it so the titles don't blur.  It's messy.  It's unprofessional.  It doesn't land anywhere near my standards, but it is fun, and it is at least something I can share with my friends.

Don't worry, I am still working on getting an actual, substantial, truly well done reel...but in the meantime, here is my cobbled-together-with-chewing-gum-and-a-prayer sizzle reel (focused on my action work, which - as I learned during the process of making this - I have depressingly little footage of).  Take it as it were; at least I had fun editing it to the music.  Enjoy.

Kat Stroot Sizzle Reel from Kat Stroot on Vimeo.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

This week in immersive learning: thanksgiving

I had all three kids sit down and write out their letters to Santa this week.  I like this exercise because - in addition to getting in some handwriting practice - it is an opportunity for us to sit back and think for a moment about what we really want...and what does that mean?  We always have interesting discussions about what to ask for; do we go totally grandiose with the most giant expensive materialistic bauble we can think of?  do we go completely in the other direction and only ask for things we need?

We decided that it was not appropriate vehicle for say, a grocery list, though it would still be a very nice gift to not have to spend the time or money on them, but that isn't particularly special, and it's ok to want special things somethings.  At the same time, Cadence was quite opposed to giving Santa too much work, and spent a lot of time narrowing down what it was that she wanted most, so she could prioritize that, and ask for just the important things without a lot of unfair superfluity.

Hazel really enjoys what has become a tradition now of incorporating wildlife rescue into our midwinter celebrations; be it donating to support the cause of her sisters' favorite endangered species or asking Santa to donate on her behalf. 

The result was that they both landed in a pretty human middle ground.  Cadence wrote:

Dear Santa, 
What I want for christmas is an American Girl doll
(PS I also want to donate money to the people in need.)
From Cadence.

She finished off her brief note with an illustration, although it kind of muddied her message a bit, I think:
Cadence's note
Hazel tried to write out her letter, but I think the excitement got the better of her and it ended up being an energetic string of 'R's with her name thrown in...but she told me that it says:

"Dear Santa,
I would like a kit to help animals stay unsick and alive, and also an American Girl doll. 
Love Hazel"

And she also added an illustration, for clarity.
Hazel's enthusiasm took over
And of course, since she is an artist, she decorated the envelope as well.

Cadence attempted to help Calliope with her letter, to mixed results...Calliope also wanted an American Girl doll, but she also insisted that she wants Nala for christmas.  Nala is one of the two resident dogs at Urban Evolution, and while Callie adores them both, she has a soft spot for Nala's calm, mama-dog demeanor.  Cadence, in trying to reason with her that Nala already had a home and a family who loved her, wasn't up for grabs, and suggested a Nala costume instead of Nala herself...Calliope somewhat reluctantly agreed to let Cadence write that down, but I think Cadence rushed through it in part because we all knew that wasn't REALLY what Calliope meant...she wrote it out quickly on top of the illustration Callie made and they stuck it in the envelope before it could become a problem.

On a writing kick, I suppose, Cadence popped up in front of me later on with a list of dishes to make for thanksgiving in one hand, and a list of the necessary ingredients to buy in the other.  In a sombrero and sunglasses, like ya do!

Puy seems intrigued, too!
There was much violin-ing!  Cadence and Hazel have been tasked by their teacher with practicing together, and playing composition/rhythm recognition games as well as getting used to playing duets. This is great, except that then Calliope wants to play too, but usually she just uses the violin of whichever sister isn't currently this presents a problem.  I still have my 3/4 size violin from when I played, so I let her (carefully) play around with that.  She was thrilled, and frustrated, since it was so darn big.

Eventually, we decided to see if it would work better as a cello.  It didn't quite work, but I think it was easier than trying to hold it up!

Cadence got it into her head that she was going to build an airplane out of legos, and has spent a decent amount of time engineering her way to that goal.  She's proud of what she has done, but not satisfied yet and continually returns to the project to make improvements and change things as she comes up with better solutions.  It's fabulous.

One of the earliest versions.
We also got to visit one of our favorite places with some friends this week:  The National Zoo!

The surprise hit of this particular trip were the American Bison.  They caught our attention in part because this exhibit is new and this is the first time we'd seen it, but all three kids (and especially Cadence) were quite taken with them.  We spent a surprising amount of time at this one station, watching the two bison there, and reading every single plaque more than once.  And then coming back to re-visit them later.  Cadence has already asked for my phone on multiple occasions so that she can look up even more bison facts!

We timed our visit just right, and got to see the elephants getting fed, and got to watch one trainer play games with one of them - its supposed to be at least somewhat intellectually stimulating, which is crucial to maintaining their health.   The photo caught at a somewhat awkward moment, but the elephant laid down here after a correct response and was leisurely eating a treat.

And it was lunchtime for the iconic Pandas, too!

We walked around the cheetah enclosure because my kids wanted to see if there were still any cubs about. Last time we came, as we rounded the back of the enclosure, two fuzzy little puffball baby cheetahs came tumbling out of the grass and watched us as we watched them, and played with us a bit.  I had warned them that we probably wouldn't have another experience like that, but my attempts to temper expectations were evidently unwarranted...after watching for a while, we were about to turn and go when suddenly:

pretty grown up now!
It was one of the same two cubs, come to play again...though MUCH bigger and faster this time around!  It followed us up and down the fence, bouncing playfully now and again, and the kids would laugh an shriek and was one of those really awesome, sweet moments tinged with a hint of "how strong is that fence, REALLY?"

We even got to see the beaver swimming about on this trip!  That happens pretty rarely, usually they say in their dam, but this time we lucked out. It was really neat to look at the mechanisms at play as it moved through the water!

We must have been walking in just the right direction, at just the right intervals, at just the right times, because we got to see even more special mealtimes.  How often do you get to (safely!) watch grey wolves have dinner?

All white gray wolf
Running with the sealions has become an all-time favorite, and we spent a long, lovely time with them on this trip!

We didn't have all of our classes this week, but we thoroughly enjoyed the time we did have!

Hazel and Calliope got into this (I think 1,000 piece) puzzle while we waited for Cadence at jiujitsu

And we got some hang time in. :-)
practicing! 'scorpion', I believe!
Even Calliope got in on the action!  Perhaps fueled on by her amazing new circus pants (We call them Polly Pants, after our good friend -and their first ever aerial teacher) Calliope asked to be allowed to try straddle back, too!  I helped her very gently, but she has watched me teach that move so often, she basically had it down pat.  Her technique puts many grown ups to shame!

And the big kids got to practice some of their partnering skills.  Partnering skills take so much communication, strength, timing, and trust, and I am happy to say that these guys bring all of that to the table.

And what would a thanksgiving post be without the big feast?

Cadence made a 'pomegranate salad' - which was basically a giant bowl of pomegranate pips, but I didn't argue.  
Yum!  but the kitchen...

Kelly didn't stick around for us to get to spend thanksgiving, but she did leave behind this packet of mushrooms; which she had acquired at the farmer's market but wasn't going to be able to use, but the catch was no one really knew what so...
into the stuffing they went!

Mushroom Mushroom!
Ultimately, I think the night was a success. The kids made color coordinated place settings for everyone - shaped like hearts; as Cadence would say: because thanksgiving is about gratitude and that is like love.
Hazel's face explains how we all felt about all of this food at this point.
Thank you so much to our wonderful guests for coming to join us!  It was such a lovely evening, and we were honored that you chose to share it with us.
Ready to feast!

...and with that, peace out...I'm beat!

I actually fell asleep like that...

Thursday, November 27, 2014


Happy Thanksgiving!

This year, despite everything, we have so very much to be thankful for.  And as a miraculous little reminder, this morning I finally got a clean, sharable video from the kids' silks performance back in August. It reminds me how very grateful I am to have found the opportunities, and perhaps more importantly, the communities here that I have, how much we have been embraced, and how much we have all been able to grow, even in those moments where you think for sure there is no way you'll make it through.  For the fact that we have been able to find adventure instead of adversity, and for the fact that we continue to strive to do so, and to listen and learn how to do so.  And for what it's worth, sometimes reminders like this video pop up to show us our forward momentum when we can't necessarily feel it ourselves. (It feels like an ancient relic compared to their current abilities.  And I'm sure that in another few months, where they are today will seem so distant...)

With that, I am so pleased to finally be able to share this with you. We were so incredibly proud of these kids.  They created and performed this piece under my minimal direction - they even chose the music and choreographed it.  They had only one single tech run before the show, and this was their first time doing silks in front of an audience...but despite the strangeness and the jitters, they managed to pull of a great little show- and, actually, especially the fact that those jitters caused many timing issues/mistakes and yet they kept it together and made it all the way through with giant smiles??  That's the good stuff, folks.
Do what you love for the sake of doing it.  It won't always be perfect, and sometimes you'll get stuck on your head during that somersault you've never missed ever, but there will always be sparks of joy, and always a new journey.

Once There Was a Hushpuppy from Kat Stroot on Vimeo.

The title, by the way, is also the title of the music:  Once There Was a Hushpuppy, from Beasts of the Southern Wild. A beautiful, magical, poignant piece (that is one of only two movies both of my kids actually like,) which spoke to every member of my family in a deep and effecting way. Thank you, Lucy.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

This week in immersive learning: family flight

We've kept busy this week!

This is currently Calliope's favorite thing...An ostrich, in a boat.
Our good friend Ian came down for a visit last weekend, and he and James ended up jumping in and taking my silks class.  The kids thought this was great, and enjoyed assisting, and helping them out.  I think it is great for them to get practice with thinking through and verbalizing what they already know - as the old adage says; the best way to learn is to teach...thinking through and getting a deeper understanding of what the essential parts of a skill are, and then communicating how to execute them are actually very complicated skills. It is fascinating to see how the kids are processing their own knowledge, and then watching their progression with being able to express that self awareness...anyway, everyone did well both on the ground and in the air!
Baba, just chilling'...
Ian flies!
Monday we had our monthly meeting for 4H, and the kids began work in earnest to prep for their upcoming visit to a alzheimer's home.  They have a two-fold visit planned:  Some of them will be performing a little skit, and anyone who doesn't feel comfortable performing will be hand making and distributing ornaments to each resident.

I had the great pleasure of working with the performance group.  It was a really nice reminder of how much I love this stuff, and that I do, in fact, know a thing or two about it.  But the credit for that goes to these kids, who were so game, and so enthusiastic, and had so much energy...Hazel and Calliope were not interested in being part of it, but Cadence was.  We did some great work, and after an hour or so we had gone from a chaotic mess of overexcited kids running in circles to a pretty cool skit full of specificity, characters, mini-stories, and a decent energetical flow and nice variation.  I was incredibly proud of all of them, and think we have something really exciting to share!

Calliope and Hazel enjoying a treat while waiting for Cadence to finish up in her computer class
We have been pretty consistently working through the Life of Fred books with Cadence (or rather, she is working through it on her own and checking in with me after each chapter - I think this works best for her, and gives her practice with both reading comprehension and math, among other things.  I do think Cadence is a bit of an autodidact; I have found that the best way to keep her momentum going is to strew her life with access to interesting materials, then sit back and wait until she engages with something and then answer her questions and suggest ways to delve deeper into her studies or a related subject to investigate.  but I digress:).  She seems to really enjoy the stories, and the math is consistently on the "just barely challenging" level, which I  think  means that she is at a decent place, since it consistently gets a teeny bit harder the deeper into the story you get...she'll end up meeting a harder challenge, but it doesn't feel insurmountable.

In addition to our usual violin practice, and our aerial, parkour, and computer classes, Cadence also had a rank test at jiujitsu and now has another stripe to her name (and belt).

Congrats, all!
This week also saw Hazel figuring out technological advantages, when she had me schedule into the calendar a time later in the week to play go fish with her. She set an alarm and everything.  And yesterday was my mom's birthday, which of course brings up fresh heartache...but we used it as an opportunity to bake, and remember her, and honor her.

And of course, reading reading reading -always reading.  And legos and cooking.  These things seem to have become our lives lately, which I suppose is not a terrible thing.
Calliope hones her fine motor skills with legos
Hazel was ill for a spell, and Cadence made this thoughtful card for her:
Score one for empathy AND spelling!
They actually didn't even show this to me, I found it after Cadence gave it to Hazel.

Onward to thanksgiving!

Mom gets to have fun, too!
Circus pants FTW.