Monday, March 22, 2010

One of THOSE weekends.

Hello Monday morning. Everyone woke up tired, the gray and drippy weather doesn't help. Katherine was off to school at 6:45 to play in the 8th grade flute ensemble for breakfast with the "Schools to Watch" observational group. Rebecca will have lunch with the same group as part of the nominated student panel to field questions about a number of school issues. It's all a lot to ask of a Monday.

It seemed we didn't stop this weekend, though I know we did. I clearly remember scrapbooking with my mom on Friday afternoon as well as spending a few hours reading on the front porch in the blissful summery warmth while the boys tried to maim themselves on brand new roller blades. I had gratefully and blindly accepted that winter and the accompanying chill were gone, so today's typical March weather is doubly unwelcome.
We took full advantage of the amazing sunshine and t-shirt time. Bright and early Saturday I drove Katherine over to Osbourne Park HS for Les Folies Francaise. From 8-3 hundreds of kids celebrated French culture: food, music and art from France it its former colonies. While she was gone, my mom picked up Rebecca for a day out and a sleepover. Becca had quite a surprise when they arrived at the Capital Area Cake Show in Fairfax. She is a big cake decorating fan which so far amounted to watching all the cake shows on TV (Cake Boss, Ultimate Cake-Off...). She recognized some of the TV personalities at the show. There were demonstrations and classes and samples and competitions and stuff to buy. She was in cake heaven and discovered fondant tastes pretty good.
Not surprisingly she's very excited about starting her Level 1 Wilton cake decorating class at our local JoAnns next month. I'm excited because this is a portable and useful hobby for her. When we go back overseas who's to say she couldn't make a small business out of this, birthday cakes for Embassy/Consulate kids perhaps? Just the possibility is exciting.
While Mom was picking up Rebecca, I took Jonathon to church for his First Penance. This is the first we've done in the States. There was a short service then 6 priests ready to hear confessions. Compared to last year's class of three (my middle two and a friend) this is like a business process. I'm sure the First Communion Mass/ceremony will be nice, but it definitely won't have the flavor of the Philippines or India. Remember this from 2008?
First Communion celebrants
For all the anxiety of pulling that day together, it ended up being beautiful and very special.
Jonathon and I came home and we all ate a quick lunch before we ambled over to Montclair ES for the spring carnival. Along with the games (1 ticket each) and the pony ride ($2 each) and the food (multiple tickets each) and the tables of stuff to buy (cash only), there were performances on stage ranging from Judo to magic shows to "All That and Jazz" dance. Oh quick aside, when All That and Jazz was coming up we were manning our game booths (Ian had Plinko, I had a toddler version of SkeeBall). A girl came by to get her friend, shouting "All That and Jazz is coming up, let's go watch, they have really inappropriate dance moves!" She wasn't kidding. There was a recent conversation on a parenting board about choosing dance programs that recognized the ages of the kids and taught dance minus the sexual innuendo. All That and Jazz is not one of those groups. The make-up is heavy, the costumes are skimpy, the moves are suggestive - all this from girls 12 and under. And you have to pay for it??
The games were fine, the boys liked the Cupcake Walk and Beat the Dealer. But by far the favorite part was the Silent Auction. Each class in the school gathered donations for theme baskets and the library was covered. From a "go green" basket to "coffee lover," "Redskins football," and "movie night" there was something for everyone. There were also bunches of other auctions. A basket filled with $1 scratch lottery tickets, a number of movie dates with teachers, lunch with a fireman at our local station, hot air balloon rides, a year of doggie nail-clipping, I figured it was our duty to bid on something - and hope to get outbid - so the boys settled on an outdoor play basket with roller blades. Well, $52 later we won the basket. Nicholas said near the end of the auction he stood by it to ward people off. I'm not sure that's in the true spirit of a fund-raising auction, but since I was manning a game and missing the live auction anyway....
Roller blades that switch from sizes 1 to 4 fit both the boys. A remote control car that really works. An electronic football/monkey in the middle game. Kites, hula hoop, loads of bubble and sidewalk chalk, bounce balls, jump ropes, frisbees, beach towels, a big plastic hamper, and an assortment of little kid games that will go in the next donation drive. It was a good choice and I'm glad we won. Funny, it was Jonathon's class basket. We'd even donated some of the items, but didn't know it until we carried the basket out and the class mom said so. At home the roller blades came out first. The neighbor girl across the street took pity on the boys and lent them padding. Helmets are next on the list.
After picking up Katherine and hearing how she'd won 3rd place in the art contest, we spent the rest of the afternoon outdoors soaking up Vitamin D. Katherine had her boyfriend over, they hung out on our backyard play equipment after taking a walk together. He seems like a nice kid, lives right around the corner near the ES.
Sunday was another gorgeous day. The boys packed off to Sunday school, my mom dropped off Rebecca at church and I caught up a bit on their day together. The surprise cake show was very well-received, they went shopping, ate out, bought and watched "New Moon." I think my mom had a good time too. She couldn't stay since my dad was flying out later that day, but she'll be back on Friday to see the girls' final show. After church we descended on Target and Best Buy, then Panera for lunch. Another fabulous afternoon soaking up some sun before taking Katherine to school for a flute ensemble practice at 4 p.m., followed by youth group choir practice at church at 5:30 p.m.
Then of course this morning up at 6 a.m. to get her up so Ian could take her to school by 7 a.m. *yawn*
I'm looking at the next two weeks as a "must get through" time, but that's not really fair. There's a lot of good stuff going on. I'm still plodding along with my school work. History is fun, Geography less so, but time is winding down and it all has to get finished.
This week is the girls' show. They'll perform for each of the grades during school along with two night performances for parents. I'll be going both nights, because, why not? With two performers for each lead role the performances are split. Katherine is playing Ms. Darbis on Wednesday night and for the 7th grade performance, Rebecca is in all the shows, and my parents are coming for the Friday night performance. I won't want to see anything HSM related for a long time, but the girls put a lot of effort into this and I know how much it means to have someone in the audience.
Friday is career day at Saunders MS and Ian is manning a table on the Foreign Service. Which reminds me, I need to pull some stuff together so it's not just him and a table. What say you... a poster or a tri-fold? I hope he remembers to pick up some materials to hand out.
Saturday my mom is taking the boys for an afternoon to see "Up" at her office, along with crafts and snacks.
Next week is Holy Week and Spring Break. Ian is taking the week off and I plan to take the family downtown one day (oh, he'll love that on a day off, won't he?). We'll see the cherry blossoms later, so I'm thinking the zoo while the weather is so great.
We're tired but it's a generally happy tired, not completely associated with the rain pouring down or the fact it's Monday. I'll be glad to welcome the sun back anytime though. Anytime, sun, anytime.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Hey cool, I won something.

I'm a member of, a website where we keep track of the books we've read, the books we're reading, and the books we want to read. You know all those times someone says "Oh you should really read this great book" and you promise you will, then you get to the library but forget the title and that's the end of it? Goodreads lets you virtually toss the books onto your imaginary nightstand. I have all my "to-read" books ranked by their reader rating and when I'm on our library site I pull up the goodreads list and put whatever looks interesting at the time on my hold list at our neighborhood library. It's brilliant.

Periodically goodreads has contests to win a newly released title straight from the author. Loads of authors are on goodreads too, so if you're fan of Paulo Coelho or Frances Mayes or Neil Gaiman, you can stalk follow them there. I put in the contests for whichever books look interesting and seems I'm on the receiving end of Every Last One: A Novel by Anna Quindlen. Cool.

A blog of web stuff

I like reading stuff on the web. It's fun, for the most part a least moderately stimulating, and some of it is touching. Of course there's plenty that's none of that, but I try to pick and choose my info inputs. Here's some bits and pieces I think everyone should read or see.

Like this Embrace Life video. It really should make you cry.

This should also make you cry, but for different reasons: the Washington Post reports that "Schools, health care, public safety lose millions in Va. budget" We already received a copy of the Prince William County school budget report, and it's not good. No COLA or pay increases for any reason for the teachers, cutting the specialty school bus services, increased student population and a cut in teacher positions, more kids on reduced or free lunches and ton of money in deficit.... It's painful to read about and as painful to experience.
More bad news come from our border posts in Mexico. Consulate families are on authorized leave and Consulate employees are currently earning danger pay after three U.S. Consulate related deaths in two drive-by shootings in Ciudad Juarez. Those killed were targeted in retaliation for a crackdown on drug traffickers, and the U.S.-Mexico collaboration, and were among dozens killed recently in Mexico.
To end on a high note, check out the latest Blog Roundup at A Daring Adventure. Lots of familiar names on that page. The blog has been moved to Typepad so you can find all the old links gathered there to peruse. It's a fun site to read through, so go for it.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

It's all about family

Thursday I had one of my oldest friends visit me.

She and I were in middle school together at the American School of Niamey in Niamey, Niger. Now, Patricia lives with her gourmet chef husband who works at (I believe, don't quote me) Forty1North. He also offers cooking classes from his home if anyone is in the area. They have an adorable little boy, Will, and live in Rhode Island. When she came down to visit her dad and grandparents, she drove even further down to spend some time with me and see our home and family. The last time we were together, she was pregnant, practically due even, and living in DC. Now she has an almost 5 year old child. How time does fly.
3/11/10 - Old friends.
Trish was my best friend in Niamey. Though the years have passed and we each developed new friendships, this is one of those that will always be there. We don't talk often but now follow each other's lives with the blogs and facebook and it's wonderful to feel reconnected, even if we do only see each other once every 5 years or so. She didn't make it to my wedding, I didn't make it to hers. We don't live in the same town even when the GlobeHoppers do make it back stateside. But there will always be a special place in my heart for her.
Sunday we went to the Messiah Methodist Church in Springfield for the spring concert of bluegrass mass, touted as 'where Africa meets Appalachia.' I don't really know how to qualify it. There were spirituals, country, bluegrass, a lot of banjo, mandolin and fiddle. A "mass" of sorts, by the loosest definition only though. My mom sings with this group when she can, it's a condensed program so they practice hard for a few weeks, perform, and that's it for several months. The next thing is Handel's Messiah again in November. I enjoyed it for the kids to watch the instrumentalists, the mandolin player was amazing and the kids noticed his fingers fly. We don't do much now that we're in Virginia, instead relying on the ease and comfort of just being here for our entertainment, but every once in a while we do try to get some culture, no matter how different it might be. A performance of bluegrass mass in a Methodist church? Why not. Just about anything is worth seeing/doing once, and all told it really was pretty well done.
Next weekend is another busy one. We're going separate ways on Saturday - Rebecca is out with my mom all day, Katherine to a French program at Osbourne Park HS all day, Jonathon to his First Penance, and then the boys to the Montclair carnival. On days like that my primary goal is to just not lose anyone.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Up weekend.

No matter how frustrating and difficult things might get in a particular aspect of life, in general things are great with the Hopper clan. It's hard to see the loads of happy things when there's a gray cloud, but here you go, some "silver lining."

Friday equaled Band Festival day for Katherine's concert band. They'd prepared three songs and skipped out of school around lunch time to Stonewall Middle School where they joined about two dozen other middle school bands. Each band was scored on their performance and then a sight reading piece. Pieces were graded I to IV, I the easiest and IV most difficult. The judges' scores were opposite, a score of 1 highest and 2, 3, 4 successively less. Saunders had a march (each group did), a grade II piece and a grade III piece.
My mom came down for the day, Ian was fobbing, so we piled into the car for the 45 minute drive to Stonewall and arrived just in time for Saunders' performance. The pieces were done within 15 minutes, and on the last one Katherine (currently in the flute 3rd chair) played a small section with just her and the first chair. Makes a mom proud to see that the practice and effort pays off.
They scored a 2, and will get to go on their band field trip to Busch Gardens.
3/12/10 - Katherine (3rd chair)
This morning, I packed the boys off to their school for a chess tournament. It was a non-elimination tournament, four rounds, a point per win, half point per draw, and 2.5 points earned a medal or trophy or something. Jonathon drew his first game, won the second and lost the last two. Nicholas lost the first three and won the last one. It reminded me of swim meets: parents brought beach chairs and tables, DSs aplenty, snacks and drinks, games, laptops and chess sets. There was plenty of junk food to buy, and between rounds the kids wandered around bored and hungry. From 9 a.m. to nearly 2 p.m. (roughly an hour of actual playing time in there) we sat in the converted cafeteria while the gym next door was chess center.
3/13/10 - Jonathon at his first chess tournament
3/13/10 - Nicholas at his first chess tournament
Jonathon's primary group (gr K-3) was the largest, then the elementary group (gr 4&5) and the MS&HS group. The Hopper boys didn't get any awards, but I do think that those small tastes of victory will encourage them to join the chess club next year at school. I tried, I tried hard, last fall to get the boys interested in chess club but they simply said No. This coming fall, no ifs, ands or buts.
Tomorrow we listen to my mom sing a Bluegrass Mass with the Messiah choral group she sings with, so another fun day. My crocuses are blooming and the rest of my patches are full of green stuff waiting for a string of sunny days to burst into color.
Little flowers in the lawn.
Hope you're having a good weekend too.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Bullies and Bullying

It's hard enough being an adult and dealing with nasty folks. I know when someone doesn't like me that issue clouds my mind with anger and hurt and prevents me from seeing the myriad good things in my life. One mean person and my day, my week, my however-long-until-I-don't-have-to-see-them-again is ruined.

So when the bullying happens to one of my children, I feel not only angry and hurt and derailed, I also feel a loss. A loss for another part of their childhood and a loss in my own abilities as parent. I can't DO anything to wipe that nasty, insecure, rude, violent child out of my own baby's life. And I know that my kid has to go back to the same place, see that same person and deal with the same cruelty day after day after day.

If we were overseas I'd know all the kids or at least recognize them in the hall. I'd talk to the teacher, the counselor, the principal and arrange a meeting with the offending child AND their parents and things would be changed. I know that, because I've been on the other end of bully dealings too (thank you Jonathon and your lack of self-control in Kindergarten). But here, what can we do here? In the land of "say anything and you might get sued.... or worse" what can be done to protect a child who is rammed into lockers in the hallway and called vile names in passing, who has rumors and lies spread, who has to wade invisibly through 450 kids to get to the next class safely? And who has had this slowly escalate since the first week of school as a new kid with no history!? Who is watching out for her?

We've always told our kids to be the better person. Ignore the nasty kids, they will always be there but how we behave matters more. Stick with your friends, those kids who support you and are good people. Trust that the truth is stronger than whatever dirt they choose to throw at you. Stay strong, believe in yourself, keep your head up.

But sometimes that's not enough. It's definitely not enough when periodic snottiness turns into bruises. No one lays a hand on my kid and walks away with a giggle and a sneer. Today the counselor gets involved. Tonight we make a plan. I have no clue what that plan will entail but something will have to happen, and I'm open to suggestions.

This little parasite doesn't get keep hurting my kid with no repercussions.

Friday, March 5, 2010

*tap tap tap* is this thing on?

Moveable Type moved our site from a server in Hong Kong to one in the U.S. It seems everything is still around. I should really back it all up, huh?

We're here, that's all that matters.

It's interim time at school. Second quarter report cards were delayed a few weeks, it's hard to see that there's enough material to warrant interims already but it's on the schedule so it must be true. Both girls made honor roll last quarter again, and last week Rebecca earned a positive referral from her science teacher. Each quarter there's a referral day where kids get to take a bit of time out from their class, get a snack, play some games and just be recognized as good kids. Rebecca's referral read: "Rebecca is an outstanding student. She is always upbeat and happy. She is willing to help others. She has great ideas and is wonderful to have in class." Well no surprise there. Her grades are one thing, but it's always nice to be told that you're cool to have around.
Speaking of grades, Jonathon earned straight Bs last quarter and last week a recommendation for Signet came in the mail. His biggest educational issues are of the handwriting/spelling/getting-thoughts-on-paper variety. He reminds me of Katherine in so many ways, he's disorganized, he reads a ton, he catches on to everything, he figures out complicated problems in a distinctly Jonathon way, and his latest round of standardized tests were way up there. This year's tests so far for him (every school we've been to seems to use different ones.. so far we've been through IOWA, MAP, CogAT, NNAT, SOL, and soon we'll be heading into the ACT, SAT, etc. realm too) were the CogAT and the NNAT. Have you ever heard of a stanine? Well I hadn't so I looked it up. A stanine looks like a bell curve broken into 9 sections with 6-9 above average. In both tests, Jonathon got scores of 8-9. His grades are one thing, and he has issues with fairness and some emotional outbursts, but it seems like the inner tickings are moving along pretty well. I'm excited for him and hope he gets into Signet because I know he'd really do well. Nicholas started Signet last week and says Wednesday is his favorite day. He was chosen to be weather man on morning announcements for a few weeks (if you know Nicholas, that is a big deal since he doesn't like to speak in public) on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and now much of Wednesday is spent in Signet too. Add to that guitar lessons that start up on Friday mornings before school (both boys will go) and the year is going to wrap up on definite high notes.
The boys will be in a chess tournament this coming Saturday as well. They haven't played chess in a while, not since we moved here, but we've pulled out a board and Ian has been playing with them. This is a non-elimination tournament, just for fun, no pressure. I enjoy playing chess but I'm terrible at it so I can't teach the boys anything.
Summer is coming, and I cannot wait. This week is springlike, mid-50s to mid-60s, sunny, wonderful. I have a single crocus blooming and plenty of green stuff coming up just waiting to explode into color. I know this week's weather is a tease, but I can't help feeling hopeful that winter is done done done. Please let it be done. Bring on spring. Better yet, bring on summer. Summer plans are starting to come together. I've signed up Rebecca for a 2-week "Showtime" camp, and the boys are doing a week long Civil War camp. The Civil War camp reads: "Kids will re-create a camp site, prepare authentic rations, drill with wooden muskets and find out how the soldiers enjoyed spending their free time. There will also be a live fire demonstration." If you're going to live in the South, by Manassas battlefield and Yorktown battlefield and Fredericksburg.... Civil War history is the name of the game this summer. Since the camp isn't until mid-July, we'll spend the earlier weeks reading up.
Frogs Swim Team is also on the schedule. That runs May-July, I haven't received an e-mail about it yet but Rebecca and the boys all need the hard exercise it provides. Katherine does too, but for her we have something else currently in the works. Keep your fingers crossed, it's a long shot but would be totally wonderful if it worked out. Flute lessons for Katherine through Arts&Music will be once a week for half an hour to keep her practicing every day and fixing her method before she starts band in high school. She's willing to try marching band next year, I think she'll have a blast.
It's really nice to see the calendar filling up. We'll take some days to do local things, go to the zoo, bowl, see a movie, walk around the museums, play tennis in our neighborhood, and spend plenty of time at our lake beach. There's the 4th of July and the Folk-Life Festival. Sometime in August we'll go to the beach. The beach is the highlight of my summer, honestly any vacation I ever want to take. This winter has really made me miss Chennai and the daily wash of heat, the beach at Fisherman's Cove, the pool at the school. I'd take being able to work around the house and in the yard, windows open, painting, gardening...
The heat pump breaking down last week didn't help my distaste for the cold. I'm so thankful it didn't happen earlier in the season with the howling winds and the outside temps in the teens. Last week was mild, reaching the 40s and 50s during the day it only dropped to 57 in the house at the coldest so it could have been far worse. The heat pump went out Monday evening. The first guy on Wednesday morning said the capacitor was dead and it was the fault of poor maintenance and an accumulation of dirt in the machine. He replaced the capacitor and left, it quit working again a few hours later. The second guy on Friday morning said the motor died and was due to the original parts being 24 years old. He came back with a new motor and the insurance picked up the tab, though it was less than $300 to fix. Thank goodness. No problems so far and we'll schedule a cleaning soon, just letting the machine work for a bit to ensure that was the real issue. When can we stop using heat please?
Spring is coming, I keep reminding myself of that. My mom and I went to the Dulles Home and Garden Show and saw so many wonderful and expensive ideas for renovating homes, it's nice to dream.
Around my homework and family time, I'm scrapbooking again. My mom had me over last Friday to scrap, and now I'm on a roll. I might finish last summer! Have I done Togo? No. India? No. Any time here? No, just last summer. But it might get done! My biggest hangup right now is not supplies, but photos. All my photos are digital and the longer I wait to print them the more there are to print and then I get all worked up about the cost of hundreds of photos. I know I know, one subject at a time. I should just do Togo. A friend of mine gave me an album to slide photos in, some are already done, and it was only a year tour with no trips (my medevac album is done) aside from one side trip to Accra. Finishing that would be wonderful. I should look into it. Once I finish last summer. See, like everyone else there are only so many hours in the day, and when I get into a project all else falls to the wayside. Right now I should be doing homework, every day I should be doing homework until my classes end in June. But in my downtime I go through shifts... for months it will be reading, then it'll be crocheting (winter months for that, like the tree skirt I started and put aside), then scrapping, then French, for a while it was piano but now we don't have a piano. What that means is that when I do all the other things for consecutive months other hobbies are neglected. Now I'm years and years behind on my photo books, but I will catch up because it's something I enjoy and do want to accomplish. If I get around to it I'll take photos of the pages I've been working on. Photography, that's another hobby I've ignored of late. Easter and the cherry blossoms are around the corner. Cherry blossoms are one of my favorite times in DC so I'll bring my good camera and new Macro lens.
Maybe cherry blossoms will break the photographic funk.
Rebecca's favorite hobby is drama, music and singing; she has a wonderful choral teacher. I hoped she'd learn an instrument this year, but she wanted to sing, so she sings. She does want to continue learning the piano, but see my earlier problem with that. The SaundersMS production of "High School Musical Jr." is scheduled for the 24th to 26th of March. They'll perform once each day for each of the grades, and then Wednesday and Friday nights for parents. She's nervous about it, the kids aren't taking it seriously and it's a mess. There are 2 weeks to go and she says it's nothing like where it should be, like Madras Kids (she has different memories than I do!). Keep your fingers crossed that the kids buckle down and they all make a show to be proud of. This summer her "Showtime" summer camp will be 3 hours a day for 2 weeks to put on a production down at Locust Shade Park. She's excited, I'm excited, it's all good.
I know I've mentioned this before, Katherine is in the process of being Confirmed in the fall. She has classes, volunteer hours, reports... an assortment of preparatory tasks. Two weekends ago she attended the Confirmation Retreat, a two night program at Prince William Forest Park. She was hesitant, she didn't really know anyone and didn't know what the point was. She came back exhausted and happy and plans to be a teen facilitator for next year's retreat. I honestly don't know the details, she says they were up from 8 to midnight, sang a lot, made a banner, ate, had "gift buddies," ate, watched skits... but something happened, something good. The fact that she wants to go again speaks volumes. I'm not signing her up for summer camps this year due to that thing I won't write of (fingers still crossed?) but also because the youth group does a number of activities over the summer, from white water rafting to amusement parks to bowling. She'll be plenty busy.
I'll be plenty busy. All these activities + Ian not taking any summer vacation = hello minivan-mom. Bring it on.