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.

Friday, November 14, 2014

This week in immersive learning: Coping with hard stuff.

First thing's first:  HAPPY BIRTHDAY, CALLIOPE!!  Our baby is definitely not a baby anymore...and of course we had to celebrate her growth with a party fit for a curious, imaginative soul like our Callie.  All three kids helped in party planning...thinking about what we needed, what we would have to get, and how to make it fun for our guests without breaking the bank.  They went through a few ideas that were wonderful, but a bit outlandish in terms of pricing, so we had to rethink within the terms of what was realistic.  Ultimately, it was an "art" party, we had giant rolls and reems of paper, glitter glue, markers, crayons, glue, popsicle sticks, pipe cleaners and puffballs...all sorts of crafts out and invited guests to create their own artwork, freeform.  It was pretty grand. The one real "party" item they insisted must be present:  BALLOONS.  So we got balloons.  Calliope wanted orange (her favorite color) so we spent a long time in the store looking for just the right orange balloons...and in the end she opted not to get any of the fancy ones, but went right for the good ole solid orange balloons with no bells, whistles, dinosaurs or frills...those were just perfect.  (And she was SO PROUD of having picked them out herself! she told everyone how these were HER ORANGE BALLOONS! THAT SHE PICKED HERSELF!!! It was so amazing.)

getting some reading practice in with all the birthday cards!

It was certainly a hit with the birthday kid, who promptly zonked out once it was done, cuddled up with her new Boo!
classic post-birthday sleep hugging your newest cuddly treasure
This week we also got to visit Kelly at work!  The farm she is working for has regular farmers market appearances, so we headed out to Dupont circle to see her in action and get to learn a little bit about the flowers she works with.

They had a wide array of flowers, as well as wreathes and pumpkin bouquets...we had a lot of fun exploring the different smells, textures, and looks of the various types - and even got an added bonus of getting to see a film crew in action, since Kelly was being interviewed for a student documentary as we first walked up.  It's always good to get to see things being created - right there in the action.

Another cool unexpected thing we encountered:  Praying Mantis!  Evidently these guys abound on the farm, and they had a few stowaways hidden amongst the flowers.  Whenever they found one, they relocated them to this bouquet so that they can make the return journey after the market and be released back at home.  These were the biggest ones I have personally seen up close, and the kids were really fascinated by them.  They were mostly still, but when they did move, it was with slow, somewhat jerky movements, all quite deliberate.  Definitely a treat to see!

There are at least three in this photo.
We also had the pleasure of getting to hang out with Pat and Scott!  We don't get to see them often since they live on the opposite coast, so we relish whatever time we can get.  We ran into a friend of theirs on the street, who recommended this playground, so off we went.  It was a pretty cool one!

on the...tri-totter??
Not sure what's happening here, but I love all of it - foreground and back!
And as always, we got some body control practice in by flying!

It's a Hazely starfish!
It was hike week at 4H, and we got some pretty spectacular views in.  The terrain here was quite different than our previous hike had been - much more rocky, fewer trees and underbrush...and we had our first experience hiking with a dog!  Pita joined us for this one, and seemed to have a lovely time, except for a momentary scare when a bigger dog attacked her for no apparent reason.  We were walking in opposite directions and without any discernible warning or reason, the big dog picked poor Pita up by the scruff and tossed her...Thankfully she was not hurt, and the other dog's owner was on it immediately, apologized profusely, and gave me their contact info in case any problems arose down the line.  Other than being a bit shaken, Pita didn't seem to have suffered any for it...She's a pug, so she's got plenty of extra skin on her scruff to protect against just that kind of attack, and I scooped her up even as the other dog was being pulled away, so it was all fine in the end.

It was a good teachable moment, though.  We talk a lot about animal safety  - about there being no reason to fear them, but it is important to respect them and remain alert around them, for everyone's benefit.  I have always been careful to explain that if an animal feels threatened or trapped, they may lash out, so you need to be aware of how you are changing the environment as you enter and move about a space with any living creature.  Its one thing to understand that intellectually, but quite another to see first hand how a frightened animal can lash out.  I can only think that - since we were moving in a pack of loud, energetic kids moving quickly down the path - the other dog must have gotten spooked and lashed out...but whatever the reason, all the kids in the group that day got an up-close taste of what it means to be around a threatened animal, and also - thankfully - a great example of how to behave in a situation like that from the other dog owner.  The fact that the response was to immediately pull the dog away, apologize, and then humbly but affirmatively check in with me about Pita's condition and volunteer to provide contact info is really great.  It could so easily have ended with the other owner blaming us or walking away to avoid confrontation or something - The response here was classy, and responsible. And for the record, I was also civil and polite. We treated each other with mutual respect in this encounter, high stress as it was, and I am actually really glad all the kids got to see that.

Thankfully that was the extent of the unpleasant excitement!  Then we were on our way, and we got to see this:

It is always slightly nervewracking to have kids (and dogs) on a cliff, but thankfully this group is wonderfully close.  I love the multi-age environment, as it allows the kids some really beneficial socialization.  I have observed much less clique-i-ness in these multi age groups, and I wonder if it isn't at least partially because there is no need for false hierarchies; the oldest kids take pride in being able to help the younger ones and can feel accomplished by teaching them what they have already learned, and the younger ones benefit by having those peers to learn from - and something to aspire to as they keep learning.  Anyway, this is all just to say that we feel relatively comfortable in this kind of environment because everyone has each other's backs, and those among them with more rock climbing skills/knowledge were fantastic with helping those without it - even if that meant warning someone not to go there or asking the nearest adult to intervene. (which has happened, but so rarely is it needed that I don't even remember how long ago that was.)

Ok so maybe it doesn't count as 'hiking' if you're riding in the wrap, but we'll give her a pass. She had great fun!

Pita enjoying the view
On our way out of the park, we saw this giant bird sitting on the dead was eerily beautiful!

Musically, this week, Hazel was just really not feelin' the violin thing for some reason.  Thankfully, she has an awesome teacher who is willing to work with where the kids are at, and seeks to inspire them to find their way back to that happy musical place.  Noticing that we have a hammer dulcimer, she suggested pulling that out and letting Hazel's music lesson this week be about finding new, inspiring sounds.  Hazel wrote this song and asked me to record it:

Sadly, we got some really awful news today...our dear friend Zoe, who meant to much to us, and to mom, passed away somewhat unexpectedly.  I have not been taking the news particularly well, it hit me really hard...we had plans for a family get-together soon, and then grand plans to celebrate the new year by watching the fireworks from her rooftop and having a whole-family sleepover...we weren't ready for another goodbye so soon.  I suppose I should count this as another life experience for the kids, learning about unpleasant things along with the pleasant, but...I kind of think that they've had enough death recently.

With the loss of Zoe so heavy on all of our hearts - she was kind of a surrogate great aunt to these kids - I was more than happy to indulge when we just happened to stumble on opening day of Santa's village in the mall.  (We were there to get Cadence a new coat.)  Why not spend a little time enjoying a spot of frivolity?  I think it is important to be kind to yourself in difficult times, and I want to make sure my kids know to do this for themselves as they grow up and leave the nest...and so, we end up visiting Santa at the mall in mid November. (I'm usually firmly in the midwinter holidays not starting until at least after thanksgiving.)

The kids dressed themselves this morning, wearing matching ruffly dresses, so I am sure anyone who saw us assumed I was intentionally dressing them up and making them meet the big guy for a pinterest worthy holiday photo or something...which was so not the case it's actually kind of hilarious.   (For the record:  I hate ruffles, I value self expression, I find the concept of Santa's village overly commercial and I don't like starting holiday season early.  And yet, here we are.)

The kids had ridiculous expressions on their faces in the photos they took, because once they got in their they were like...uh, why are we doing this?  WEIRD. But they still insisted on doing it, and so I have some classic awkward holiday photos for the memory book.

The experience was pretty neat, though, they had games and interest stations throughout, and since no one else was in line, we got to linger with each one.  This was a scanner, which would scan you and tell you which list you were on - Naughty? or Nice?  (I'm glad all three made the good list, or that coulda been awkward!!!)

Although really, who is surprised?
my ridiculous wonderfuls.
 Last thing I will share for now, a silly (and slightly creepy) takeaway from another of the stations in santa's village:  Elfies.  (you take photos of yourselves and make a few superficial choices, and it spit out this goofy video.

In case you can't (or won't) watch it, here's a freeze frame of the final image, just to give you a taste. you can click here to see it yourself!

Ok all, signing off for now...Quit dying on me and merry happy thanksgivamass early...or...something!