Eleventh Time

The Girl’s birthday, falling in mid-December, is during a most inopportune season: there’s Christmas, school concerts, church obligations, another friend’s birthday (in early December). There’s just no time to have a party, so once again, we put it off. Last year, we turned it into a New Year’s Eve party with two of her closest friends; this year, we waited until today.

The girls started with a little slime-making — it’s an obsession L has had for some time now, and we’ve gone through countless bottles of glue over the last year.

The interesting thing, for me, was that only one of the two girls from last year was present this year. The other has had a falling-out with L. L explains that it’s a complicated social situation, and while I thought such dilemmas would not be appearing in elementary school, I guess it’s just a harbinger of things to come.

But there are always new friends, new adventures.

Snow Days 2018: Day 3

Today we did a lot of cleaning. Too much for L’s taste. But strangely enough, part of that “too much” was something she chose herself. Deciding that E’s closet was hopelessly chaotic, she took it upon herself to pull everything out and reorganize. And then complain that he wasn’t helping.

At eleven, she’s such a contradiction: she’s a mix of child and teenager, switching back and forth unexpectedly. So mature one minute, so childish the next. Then back to mature: she made her own cake for her belated birthday party tomorrow.

K was there to assist, to advise, to do some tricky parts, but even some of the seemingly tricky parts, like removing the cake from the form, the Girl insisted on doing herself.

I look at these pictures and I can imagine what it will be like when she’s older still, perhaps coming home for a visit, cooking with K and chatting about this or that.

Snow Days 2018: Day 2

We woke today to a cloudless sky and a temperature the comes as a direct result. It produces a conundrum: we have so few snowy days here in South Carolina that we want to take advantage of each and every one, but it’s so cold that the prospect itself of going outside is chilling

Still, we bundled up and headed outside mid-morning. That process needs careful choreography: the Boy needs help getting his layers on, and if I get him all bundled up before I even begin my own layering, he’ll get hot.

“Sometimes, when I’m on the playground,” he explained to me today, “I get so hot that I get cold.” So we try to avoid that.

When we finally made it outside, the snow, now frozen over, was like a skating rink. The kids flew down our neighbors’ hill.

They ride together; they ride solo; they ride feet-first; they ride head-first.

And there were a few quiet moments, when I caught a shot of them walking back up the hill, perhaps not quite aware that I’m about to snap a picture.

They’re both growing up faster than K and I thought possible.

Snow Days 2018: Day 1

There’s a price for everything: a snow day when you’ve already used your allotted make-up days means there’s a chance you’ll lose a day of spring break or have to go to school one Saturday. If it’s just one, the state — because then it becomes a state issue — might just forgive that one day. If it’s more, that’s a litter trickier. We’re out tomorrow for sure (hence “Day 1”), so we’ll be two days behind. That’s not too bad, but there’s a good chance school will be canceled Friday as well, which makes it all the more likely we’ll have to make it up.

But even if we do pay for it, who cares? The kids had a great time; the dog had a great time; K had a great time; I had a great time.

Cue: old MasterCard ad tag line.

Solo Baking

We made chocolate chip muffins last Monday during our unexpected snow day. I helped a bit — not a lot, but a good bit, especially in the middle.

Today, the Girl decided she wanted to make muffins again, this time vanilla. She found the recipe online, checked the ingredients, made a shopping list, called K to see if she needed us to pick anything up for her while we were at the store, convinced me to go (didn’t take much), mixed, poured, baked, and cleaned up after herself.

This is not to say there weren’t moments of frustration. It turns out she didn’t check eggs closely enough, a fact we discovered after we returned from the store. No problem: she went to the neighbors and asked for an egg, taking them some muffins when they were done.

She wanted to go to the store by herself, to walk down to the CVS about a half-mile down the street, but that was a bit much. Still, all these signs of growing up…

45

We started by taking down all the Christmas stuff. I rooted around in the crawl space to close up a little gap from the unfinished laundry room into the crawl space that the little white cat liked to use.

Then birthday: the Girl did most of the cake. K made the kwasnica. Great day.

Dickensian Afternoon


It was so foggy this afternoon that I could think of only one thing: the opening to Dickens’s Bleak House:

LONDON. Michaelmas Term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln’s Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snow-flakes — gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun. Dogs, undistinguishable in mire. Horses, scarcely better; splashed to their very blinkers. Foot passengers, jostling one another’s umbrellas in a general infection of ill-temper, and losing their foot-hold at street-corners, where tens of thousands of other foot passengers have been slipping and sliding since the day broke (if the day ever broke), adding new deposits to the crust upon crust of mud, sticking at those points tenaciously to the pavement, and accumulating at compound interest.

Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards, and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little ’prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon, and hanging in the misty clouds.

The dog and the kids spent the day indoors. A miserable day if you want to go outside. Dzien barowa.

On the Proper Use of Time

1

At times, the school year seems to extend endlessly, a pile of days that stretches beyond our sight, under which we all seem to be crushed slowly. If there’s a class that’s an inordinate challenge, the weight of that pile seems to double, and somehow, no matter how well things are going in the year, a few more days seem to be tossed carelessly on the pile as third quarter approaches. “What?! I’m this exhausted, and we’re just now in the back half?!”

Decorating his pinewood derby car

Other times, the year seems entirely too short, something requiring calipers to measure. The list of standards the state requires teachers to cover seems to require twice the days the state allocates for the challenge. Some standards seem as if they might take a lifetime to master in and of themselves. “Assess the processes to revise strategies, address misconceptions, anticipate and overcome obstacles, and reflect on completeness of the inquiry.” I’m still working on that one. “Determine appropriate disciplinary tools and develop a plan to communicate findings and/or take informed action.” Ditto.

An unusually-attentive Clover

In between those two, the powers that be, in their infinite wisdom, allocate a certain number of days to testing. In the decade-plus I’ve taught in the States, that number seems to grow every year. In the case of the hard-to-handle classes, it’s a relief in a sense — for the obvious reasons. It’s tiring keeping them focused and engaged every day, and a test is just the right mind-numbing exercise to make the period pass by fairly painlessly. They get little to nothing out of it, and they put little to nothing into it, and everyone knows that’s what’s going to happen, but we do the dance anyway, and everyone goes home with their dance card happily filled. And yet for those same classes, it’s a nightmare, for teachers already feel we’re trying to cram too much into to little.

It just doesn’t seem like the proper use of time.

2

Wednesday afternoons are often when I catch up with school work. The Girl has choir practice, until five and K and the Boy are out doing the grocery shopping as they wait, and so when I arrive home, the house is empty and silent. I make a cup of coffee, get out some papers to grade, or more likely, load this or that website that now holds my students’ work and begin assessing, or I start sketching out my plans for the next week’s activities.

Frustration at the difficulty of cleaning up after an experiment

Today, however, I had a thought: I don’t have anything to do for school that is terribly pressing; my school is quite near the Aldi where K and E are shopping; I could easily pick up the Boy and take him home for a bit of playing. I called K; she asked the Boy; he was thrilled. Home we went, talking all the way about what we might play.

Said clean-up

We settled on cars, with a bit of blocks. And in the midst of it all, out of seemingly nowhere, we ended up building jails for the misbehaving cars. E designed one, which meant he placed the blocks, and I hunted them down for him if he couldn’t find them. Then we tested it, which meant he rammed a big car into the jail to see if it stood. It didn’t; the bad car escaped. So we did it again, alternating who designed the jail. No jail held the prisoner for longer than a few moments when the Boy really set his mind and muscles to the task.

The final jail

We made a big mess. The Boy got semi-hurt as he crashed his car into the pile a bit too hard. I accomplished absolutely nothing for school.

It was a proper use of time.

First Day Out

It’s been cold here lately — ridiculously cold for South Carolina. The majority of the nights over the last ten days have been below freezing, which is something here; a substantial number (a majority of that majority?) have been below 20 degrees. In Poland, nothing out of the ordinary; K and I are used to such things. Here? It’s ridiculously cold.

Add to it the tragic fact that we’ve all taken turns getting sick over that same period of time and it’s obvious why no one has done much of anything outside these last few days. The dog is the only exception: she doesn’t really care. The rest of us have done our best to stay warm.

So when we all were home and it was 59 degrees this afternoon, there was only one thing to do.

The Boy and the Girl were happy to jump on the trampoline again. The new trampoline, which should actually have some bounce to it, is still in parts on the basement floor.

“Let’s wait until it warms up,” K encouraged. That was Christmas. It’s still on the floor.

“Daddy! Today it’s warmed up! Can you work on the trampoline?” was the refrain from both the kids, but I was too busy laughing with K as she jumped out of the swing like a teenager.

The dog was thrilled to have someone to play with her again. She’s really such a gregarious dog. She’ll play outside by herself for a while, but she’s always happy to have a companion. And don’t even think about doing something outside the newly fenced area: she’ll stand at the fence and whimper like she’s being abused.

Snowless Snow Day

We haven’t really tried to force the Girl, as she gets older, to learn how to cook. She’s learned how to clean her room, to dust, to wash a window, to clean the hardwood floors in our house, but cooking, we just didn’t really make her. I don’t know about K, but I figured that she’ll learn when she’s interested. That’s how it was with me. Still, as she nears middle school, we’ve been talking about how, at the very least, she needs to begin making her own lunch for the day.

This weekend, she decided she wanted to make chocolate chip muffins. She didn’t want help other than buying the ingredients and going over the recipe with her. The rest, she wanted to do. So when we went to bed last night, it was with the plan of making muffins in the afternoon after school.

Little did we know that school had already been canceled in anticipation of a front that was supposed to bring ice and freezing rain but never really materialized. We woke up, went through our normal morning routine, and somehow, though the local news was on, missed that Greenville County Schools had canceled everything for the day. We found out when L and I arrived at her school only to find an empty parking lot. “It can’t be a two-hour delay,” I thought, “because there would be some cars there. Someone would be there.” We returned home to find that there was no school, so afternoon muffins became morning muffins.

She began cooking, and I, still not feeling 100%, took the opportunity to lie down for a while. I went to the kitchen occasionally to check on the progress, but overall, she seemed to be doing well, with a little help from the Boy. His help with her was much like his help with anyone: only slightly helpful, often less than helpful, but always eager.

L called me in to help her when she was filling the muffin forms. I looked at the dough and had my doubts.

“Did you follow the instructions very closely?” I asked.

“Yes,” she assured.

“And you mixed this very well?” I asked, wondering how she could have done it without using the mixer. It was thick and not easily budged: it would have been a nightmare to do it by hand.

“Yes.”

I took a spatula and found most of the sugar and a good bit of the flour still sitting at the base of the mixing bowl, untouched.

“Oh,” she laughed.

We threw it in the mixer, combined the ingredients thoroughly, and got put everything in the muffin forms.

“Now put it in the oven,” I said.

“Me?!”

The Girl doesn’t deal with heat well. Things that seem only lukewarm to K and me threaten to scald her, to send her to the emergency room with third-degree burns. But with a little encouragement, she was able to open the door, put the pan in, and pull it back out in twenty minutes when the buzzer went off.

And the result? For a first attempt, utterly amazing. For any attempt, really very good. Moist, chocolatey, and perfect. A hit for the whole family.

The upshot of this: the Girl was eager to cook again. When it was dinner time, she wanted to learn to make the rice. Instead of just plain old rice, though, I taught her to cook a quick and easy risotto. After looking through a cookbook and finding a recipe for lemony broiled chicken, she’s ready to cook a full dinner next week.

And the rain and ice that shut down schools? Nothing. The ground was dry until early afternoon. A district spokeswoman explained it to a local news outlet:

“When an alert of that magnitude is issued we have to consider the problems it would present not only for our bus riders, but also car riders, including high school drivers, who travel over bridges and on curvy roads,” Brotherton said. “We considered the circumstances that occurred in Asheville on December 31st when even small amounts of fog and drizzle quickly turned to ice on roadways and led to treacherous road conditions and multiple wrecks. After a week of freezing temperatures and already cold roads, asking parents, students and employees to travel in the predicted conditions was not a risk we were willing to take. Safety always comes first.”

It’s not the first time something like this has happened; it won’t be the last. But we’ll always make the most of such days.

Counting Costs

How much does it cost to have a puppy? There are the upfront costs — the puppy itself, shots, sterilization, etc. There are the hidden costs — a new fence, multiple harnesses to find the right one, etc. Then there are the destructive costs — shoes chewed, furniture chewed, etc. We’ve been lucky in the latter, perhaps because we’ve been unlucky in the former two. We’ve managed to keep Clover from destroying much of anything of value. She’s learned more or less to ignore shoes. More or less. She went through a gnawing on furniture legs phase, but that seems to have passed as well. However, there’s a chair in the living room that she enjoys chewing the bottom of, which probably won’t make it through her puppyhood.

So I guess we should be thankful…

(A random thought to keep my post-every-day-for-a-month goal going even though I’m not 100% and slept most of the day…)

Memory

The Boy gets on a kick and stays on it for some time. For the last few weeks, it’s been Go Fish. Now it seems to be shifting to Memory.

We have an animal-themed version we brought back from Poland, and it has a ridiculous number of pairs. I haven’t counted them, but I’d say it’s close to forty. I can say this because we were organizing them for a morning game and E wanted more than the fifteen pairs we played with yesterday. I pulled out twenty pairs and there seemed to be just as many still in the stack.

“Why can’t we play with all of them?”

I thought of how playing with fifteen went. It was a surreal experience. I wasn’t really trying to remember anything, to be honest; I was turning up cards, letting the Boy see them, then turning them back over. But somehow, as if by instinct, I was turning over cards to make pairs. It’s not that I didn’t want the pairs; it’s not that I was trying to let the Boy win. I just wasn’t putting forth much effort myself, or so I thought.

We compromised on twenty, but it was a bit overwhelming for the Boy: after several minutes, he’d only found one pair, and I’d found two.

Hard and Soft

We were at Nana’s and Papa’s this afternoon, and I asked the Boy who he wanted to ride back with.

Learning dominoes

“Mama!”

“That’s right — no one loves Tata!” I laughed.

Helping the Boy set up

Later in the evening, as the Boy was nestling into his covers for the night and I lay beside him, he stroked my cheek and said, “Daddy, you’re the best daddy. And I always love you no matter who I ride home with.”

Final game of Memory before bed — just after the snack

He paused for a moment, then added, “It’s just that Mommy is soft, and you’re a hard chunk.”

Scientific Go Fish

The Go Fish obsession continues. Someone plays with the kids every night, and they occasionally play together by themselves. We’ve yet to tackle a four-player game, though I’m not sure why. The kids don’t seem to eager for whatever reason, and so perhaps that’s why we haven’t tried.

Go Fish last night

Tonight, as I was playing with them, I stood to get something from the other side of the room, and I accidentally glanced at the Boy’s cards. (He has them spread out in a chair beside him, so the natural gesture to avoid seeing someone’s cards — looking down when passing — doesn’t work.) I did notice that he had a yo-yo (we play with a picture-based card set), and since I had a yo-yo, I thought I’d do a little experiment.

“L, do you have a yo-yo?” I asked during my next turn. E was set to go next, and I was ready for him to ask me if I had a yo-yo. He had been a little distracted, though, and asked instead, “L, do you have a yo-yo?”

L looked at me; I smiled back at her.

Afternoon reading

“E, I just asked her that,” I laughed. “You should have asked me that just then. Now, I’m going to ask you for it next turn.”

Playing with dough after dinner

He just smiled.