Come play in my world for awhile!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Say Hello to the...

I wish I was better at blogging, but I'll get there... maybe. A friend sent me a tool that I could insert into the html code of my blog so that I could count the number of visitors. Sounds fun, right?! The tool came with idiot-proof instructions for installation, and yet I still got an error! Notice there is still no counter on my blog.
Anyway, after I solve the html mystery I am going to try to add some music in key spots. This post would be perfect! The girls swim for the Hammerheads, and it kills me not to have the theme music to the movie Jaws playing in the background. So wrong, yet so right!
Emily got the first ever Hammerhead ribbon. She took first place in the backstroke. It is a shame that I couldn't get my video file on here (boy, I should keep a list of all my tech troubles. We can check back at the end of the year and see celebrate all of my progress. Don't laugh.) Her age group was adorable doing the back stroke. They were all trying so hard to kick that they looked like they should have been in A Chorus Line. They were kicking that high!

Abby won ribbons in backstroke, freestyle and breast stroke. She is a little fish! She was so proud when they called her up three separate times.

Rachel was the surprise of the night. She hasn't really had any formal swim team training. She competed with girls who had been swimming on teams for a few years, and held her own. She earned three ribbons! She is tall and strong, and I think that really works to her advantage.

Hannah is our little competitor (followed closely by Abby!). She has had NO swim lessons let alone swim team experience, and she ribboned in all three categories. She needs to work on her starts and her entry dives as she gets a slow start, but she recoups her time with sheer strength and determination.

Emily before her first race. We tried the swim cap thing, but she looked like a conehead! We decided to take it off.

Abby had the same conehead problem. We are going to have to get some mentoring on how to wear a swim cap.

Rachel and Hannah were so excited they actually stopped squabbling with each other. And they got their swim caps on properly. Score!

These are the stinky feets pics!

So these are the pictures that I wanted to include with the Field Day post. I have been having ridiculous tech problems, and couldn't get my computer access to enough bandwidth to actually achieve a photo upload. Do you like how I used the word "bandwidth" in a sentence? I'm pretty sure I used it correctly, too. All this blogging is making me feel very 21st century and techie!
So this is Emily during the Sneaker Hunt. She was definitely a part of the problem! She was the one that I originally referenced that did not want to put her shoes on until she had removed all of the blades of grass from her socks!!! I tried to explain that this is a race, and quickness (not cleanliness) counts. I had an out of body experience when I told her cleanliness doesn't count.

This is Rachel's new posse. She has hooked up with a great bunch of girls. Aren't they cute?! The boy with the extra stinky feet was in her class. Rach said he took his shoes off in class once and stunk the whole classroom up before the teacher could tell him to get his shoes back on. His shoes should probably be classified as biological weapons.

Here is Rachel finishing the Hat and Bat relay. I honestly don't know why this picture is in here, but it was such a pain to get pix in my blog again that I am going to keep it here -- just on principle.

Here is Hannah's class. They were one of my initial groups. I tried out my initial comedy routine with them. I was going to type out my little spiel on the blog so you could all revel in my wittiness. But as I thought it back through it doesn't really seem that funny. The kids thought it was funny, though. I think. Did I mention that it was really hot and I didn't have any water?!

Here is Hannah half through the Sneaker Hunt. She looks like she is running hard!

Here is the first set of kindergarteners. They were just getting ready to unleash their mischief upon me. It's hard to believe that a bunch of little cuties can cause so much trouble!

And here is round two of the kindergarteners getting ready to throw their shoes in with the first groups shoes. As I reflect back I wonder if part of the problem was that I was trying to take pictures when I should have been monitoring the kiddos more closely. Hmmmm.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways...

So I get asked a fair number of questions about year round school. Leslie, you were the most recent person to ask so I dedicate this post to you :)

What exactly is a year round school? Year round schools run on a schedule where there is no long summer break. Children attend the same number of days as they would in a traditional calendar school - no more and no less. Basically, the formula is 9 weeks in school followed by a minimum of 3 weeks off. In our situation, the kids are off for about 4 weeks in the summer (July), 3 weeks in October, 4 weeks in December/January, and 3 weeks in April.

Why offer a year round calendar? Well, there are definitely some documented, as well as personal advantages. I'll cover those in the next section. In Wake County North Carolina year round schools were implemented as a means to deal with explosive growth. Raleigh made the Money magazine Top 10 Places to Live list for a number of years, and the crowds descended. With so much undeveloped land and so much good press, the district literally could not build schools fast enough to accommodate the influx of students. In Wake County children are assigned to either Track 1,2,3, or 4. At any given time only three of the tracks are at the school. This enables the school to accommodate 25% more students without expending capital on school construction. It is actually a genius concept, but I am glad I am not in school administration. The constant cycling in and out of students has to add a thick layer of complexity to the job.

Why do I love the year round schedule? Overall, I prefer the year round calendar hands down. Here are the advantages as I see them:

  • Burnout. Right about the time the kids start to get into a rut at school they get a break. The kids seem more engaged in the learning process on this schedule. There is research that supports that the shorter breaks more evenly spaced are more conducive to learning, too. Bonus!
  • "Summer slide." I always felt obligated to do enrichment activities over the long summer break so that the kids didn't forget what they spent an entire school year working to learn. The kids didn't enjoy it, and frankly, neither did I. While we still read over the breaks I don't feel there is as much need to refresh the other stuff.
  • Travel. The frequent breaks allow us to tag along with Pat on business trips. It also allows us to travel during off peak times. The net result is that we have done a lot of traveling.
  • Endless summer. On a traditional calendar the kids started to get antsy by the end of July. As a result, I spent a lot of time (and money) scheduling camps and activities to break things up. Three weeks is enough time to relax and be a blob, but not so long that the novelty of being a blob has worn off.
  • Small school vibe. Even though there are 700 kids at the school it feels very intimate. Hannah has 17 kids in her class, and there are 17 more in the other track 4 second grade class. That is her world. The different tracks run independently of each other so it is almost like a small school within a school.
  • More friends. Because everyone isn't on the same schedule it just seems like your "circle" is larger. This is hard to substantiate with actual fact, but it feels true. Take that for what it's worth.

So what's the down side? I suppose there is a Yin to every Yang, but overall I haven't found too many aspects that I don't like. Here are the disadvantage as I see them:

  • Many schedules. If you are on track 4 and your neighbor is on track 2, then you don't have breaks at the same time. In fact, I debated actually categorizing this as a positive. We Belinskis tend to travel as a herd and keep to ourselves at times, and this has really pushed us to get out there more. This hasn't been an issue, but I could see how it could be. So I'm leaving it here as a negative.
  • Paradigm shift. We are still of the mindset that we see family in the summer. By the time we see parents in Montana and Canada there isn't very much left of summer! Going forward our rule is going to be one trip per break.
  • Small school vibe. I know I just said this was good, but there is a small problem with the small school! Sometimes there are kids that don't mesh well together for a variety of reasons. The controlling friend that you need to help your child distance herself from. The bully. Even the BFF - because you need to have more than 1 friend for Pete's sake! Again, this hasn't really presented itself as an issue, but I wonder if it might. When you have a large pool of students to place the classes get a breath of fresh air in the form of a new mix of students every year. Not so much in the smaller environment.

And there you have it. The essence of the year round concept. I really do prefer the year round approach, and we love, love, love the school that the girls attend. Whenever I am asked to compare and contrast life in California with life in North Carolina the year round calendar is one of the checks that goes in the North Carolina column.

Now, I could write a whole other post on the problems that we are facing in the Wake County school district. Namely, the practice of redistricting to achieve economic and racial diversity (which is a complicated and well intentioned concept that seems to be hurting more than helping), and the fact that different schools can be on different schedules (Rachel's middle school is on a traditional - NOT year round - calendar. Hypothetically, my kids might not be on the same schedule after next year!). With any luck we'll escape the redistricting dragnet. I think we are well situated in that regard. The different schedules, well, if you continue to read this blog then this won't be the last you'll hear of it. I'm sure.

Monday, June 23, 2008

Field Day

Friday the kids had an amazing event at the school -- Field Day. When I was growing up my schools didn't engage in this activity so I had no preconceived notions. I imagined there would be potato sack races, some assorted relays, and a good amount of goofing off. A request was made by the PE teacher for volunteers, so I threw my name into the proverbial hat. I was told to check in at 8:30 on the day of the event.

When I arrived at the school I was amazed. The entire perimeter of the school (and this is a school that houses 700 kids!) was set-up with booths. There were Field Day 2008 tattoo stations, Popsicle rest areas, bubbles, music, and an abundance of water games, relay races, and obstacle courses. There was also a huge sidewalk chalk mural waiting to be filled in by the kids. I especially liked the sidewalk mural. As each child passed through this station they decorated and personalized a square within a larger grid of squares. The finished product was great.

Each individual area was clearly outlined, stocked with supplies, and ready for a parent volunteer to jump in and take it over. I have to admit that I got a little tingle of excitement -- military-caliber organization with a side of fun and games makes me one happy mommy! I enjoy volunteering at the school and do quite a bit of it, but this looked as though it was going to be even better than normal. I walked happily to the check-in area and received my assignment: The Sneaker Hunt.

In order to understand the procession of the rest of the day let me start by explaining how Field Day works as well as the rules of the Sneaker Hunt. Field Day lasts from 9:00-12:30. Children participate with the kids from their individual classrooms. An air horn sounds at 10 minute intervals, and the groups move concentrically through the stations. So far so good. Clearly defined parameters, timed events, articulated objectives; I was getting getting happier by the minute.

The premise of the Sneaker Hunt is simple. You divide the class into two teams. Everyone removes their shoes and throws the shoes into a pile. The shoes are randomly divided into two buckets that are placed 15 yards away. The kids run one at a time to the buckets, find one of their shoes, put it on, and then run back and tag the next person. The process repeats itself so that each person has their original two shoes back on their feet, and whichever team finishes first wins.

As I begin tweaking my station for maximum efficiency (yes, I know I have a problem) I quickly become aware that I am smack dab in the middle of the field with no shade - anywhere. To add insult to injury it was supposed to push 90 degrees, and I didn't wear sunscreen. Undaunted, I watched as my first group of kids approached. The relay went well, and the kids thought it was great fun. As the day slowly progressed I started doing a little shtick about smelly feet and stinky shoes, and the kids seemed to think I was pretty funny. Apparently, these are some highly intelligent kids.

About an hour or so into the event (I also forgot my watch) I commented to the mommy working the station next to me that I was looking forward to being relieved by the next shift. She looked at me strangely, and told me that there was no next shift. It seems I didn't realize that the volunteers were committing to the entire four hour window. So I hunkered down to fulfill my obligation. I also added a bottle of cold water to the list of the many items I didn't bring with me.

A little more than half way through the day my shtick about the smelly feet became a reality. Hot day + hot kids + running around = smelly feet. One child shared proudly that his feet smelled "extra stinky" because he doesn't like to wear socks with this his shoes, and he wasn't kidding. His mother must be thrilled. At this point I started making the kids put their own shoes in the buckets. Nowhere in the rules did it say that the mommy volunteer has to touch the smelly shoes.

Fortunately, the modification to the plan worked. The stench of ripe feet only assaulted me occasionally now. I shuffled a few more groups through and began to notice that my shoulders were tender. Stupid sunscreen. Oh well, at least I was in the final stretch.

Then came the kindergartners. The kindergartners were hot and tired, but completely excited to be there. I spend at least two hours a week in each of the kindergarten classes (because that is where Abby and Emily are!) so the kids and I were even more excited because we knew each other well. The children laughed extra loud at my well honed smelly feet routine. We were all excited to be together, and and we began the relay with enthusiasm. It pretty much went straight downhill from there. Let me just bullet point some of the problems:

  • Mommies with good intentions tied their kids' shoes extra tight, with monster knots. And with good reason; you don't want little Johnnie tripping over his shoe laces and face planting in the middle of Field Day. Half the kiddos couldn't get their shoes off of their feet!
  • Kindergartners (even mine) have the smelliest feet of all.
  • Kindergartners can't tie their shoes quickly, and sometimes they can't tie their shoes at all.
  • Kindergartners are very particular. They do not like grass inside their shoes. They do not like their shoes tied with specific knots. They become immobile when they feel their standards have been compromised.
  • Kindergartners are not attentive to details. Some of the little angels had put shoes on that did not belong to them.

So the horn sounded, and the next group - also kindergartners - starts to file in. So here is the problem. I have my original group with their shoes half off because we didn't finish the relay. I am trying to sort out which shoes belong to which kids, make sure shoes are on the correct feet, tie shoes, pull the tongue up from the bottom of shoes so that kids can actually fit their feet back in, and just generally trying to get everyone moving to the next station. In the midst of this the next group of kindergartners comes in and takes their shoes off (without being asked) and tosses them into the mix. It's part of the game, right?! Oh, and apparently, lots of us mommies shop at the same store, too, because lots of kids have the same shoes! Now there is even more confusion as to which shoe belongs to which kid. Large numbers of adults were summoned, and the crisis was averted, but sheesh. I got completely worked over by a bunch of kindergartners.

By the end of the day I was hungry, thirsty, sunburned and tired. I would do it again in a heartbeat!! The kids had soooo much fun, and I had more fun than they did.

Do I look hot?!?

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Frogs, and Snakes and Ticks -- OH MY!

People ask me all the time how North Carolina differs from California. I intend to do a lengthy post about this soon. But the most relevant difference, at this exact moment, is critters! Right now I feel as though I am living in a tropical rain forest. Last night we had an impressive storm. There was maybe half an inch of rain, but the thunder and lightning was epic. I actually got out of bed at 1:00 am to watch the lightning. I am secure enough to admit that I was watching half out of curiosity and half out of fear (of course Pat was out of town!). Anything that makes that much noise (the windows were lightly rattling) seems as though it could be dangerous! I only mention the storm because the inevitable by-product of the storm is frogs. Soon after the rain ceases a veritable orchestra begins. One frog begins with a tenuous chirp and in a matter of minutes the woods around our house is filled with the cacauphonous croaking and chirping of what sounds like at least a thousand frogs. Apparently, the increase in water makes conditions suitable for breeding so the males croak to attract female frogs for mating. Female frogs think croaking is very sexy. I think the croaking is very LOUD.

When we first arrived I envisioned the kids frolicking in the shallow creek behind the house. I fantasized about the hours they would spend with nets scooping frogs, and toads and minnows. I now know that what we have really moved into is a giant, all-you-can-eat buffet for SNAKES! It seems that snakes just adore eating frogs. I wonder if the frogs would just mate a little bit more quietly if the snakes wouldn't know they were there...

So this morning I go down to check the pool. I know that I need to check the two skimmer baskets, but I am honestly scared to death. The frogs were out in force last night. I am assuming all of the snakes within a 10 mile radius heard the ruckus, and that can only mean that the buffet is stocked and open for business. Before I detail the events of this morning let me share the source of my trepidatation in checking the skimmer baskets.

Our pool has been complete for about a month. Since then I have pulled the following out of the pool:

-More frogs than I can count
-The biggest spider that I have EVER seen in my life
-1 blue tailed lizard or salamander-type thing
-TWO snakes

I am fine with everything except for the snakes. The first snake I removed was from the skimmer basket. The kids were enjoying a Saturday swim, and, looking for something to keep myself busy, I thought I would clean the skimmer baskets. I opened the cover of the first skimmer to find a cute little frog literally swimming for his life. I really do love those frogs so I quickly stuck my hand in there to get the tiny guy out. As I dipped my hand into the basket to retrieve my friend in need I saw the silvery flash of what could only be the underbelly of a snake. In an effort not to scare the snot out of my children and frighten them away from our brand new pool for all of eternity ('cuz a slightly psychotic, screaming mommy can actually do this 'ya know!) I actually didn't scream, and in fact acted like a rational, mildly intelligent human being (who can remove her hand at LIGHTNING SPEED from a skimmer basket). While the girls went off to care for their new pet, I managed to remove the basket from the pool with a swim noodle. This is much trickier than it sounds. Anyway, the snake had actually drowned. This was good news for both of us. I fished him out and looked him up online, and figured out he is a harmless little ringneck snake.

Here is the little frog that I saved. Aren't they tiny!?

The second snake was found while Pat was showing me how to vaccuum the bottom of the pool. Pat was down on his knees with both of his arms in the pool, and I wasn't paying too much attention. As I turned to check on his progress I see a snake slithering across the surface of the water heading straight for Pat. I immediately jumped into action. I yelled, "SNAKE!" at the top of my lungs while simultaneously grabbing Pat by the collar of his shirt, and yanking him backwards with all of my might. I like to think that I saved Pat's life. Pat would tell you that I nearly strangled him yanking on his shirt like that, and that all of my hollering nearly gave him a heart attack. I should also mention that the snake was not venomous and was all of maybe 6 inches long. I will always remeber it as the day I saved my husband's life. It sounds better that way!

That brings us back to today. The buffet is open. I headed down to the pool with what I can only describe as trepidation. Here is the situation. In order to get the lid off of the skimmer basket you have to stick your finger into a hole on the lid so that you can pull it off. Of course you can't see through the lid to see if any unwanted visitors are in there with your finger. So essentially you are sticking your top two knuckles into a black hole with God-only-knows-what waiting to have a go your defenseless finger. As long as the pool pump is on it creates a bit of a whirlpool in the skimmer basket. It would probably be difficult for the snake to overcome that current and reach up to get me, but still! Stranger things have happened!

So this morning I tried everything before actually removing the lid. I tried sticking my eye right up to the hole to see if I could spot anything. Of course when you push your face up to the hole like that light can't get in, thus making it impossible to see. So I tried to pry the lid off with a stick, but the stick broke. I tried the handle of a rake, but it was too straight and the lid kept crashing down before I could see anything. At this point I have wasted a good 20 minutes dancing around the skimmer basket and accomplishing nothing. I am feeling more than a little silly at this point so I decide to just stick my finger in there and hope for the best. Well the second I got my finger into that hole there was an ear splitting screech from some sort of construction going on across the street. I don't normally consider myself to be all that jumpy, but the timing was really horrible! I flung the solid brass lid to the skimmer about 20 feet in the air above my head, and then had to duck and cover to avoid getting whacked by it as it returned to Earth. At this point I am on my back in the wet grass, fairly soggy, a brass skimmer cover laying roughly two feet from my head and feeling like a huge idiot.... until I peered into the skimmer to find snake #3! This is not the actual snake. The actual snake was dead... again. But still.....

Father's Day

Since the move I often find myself longing for our old life.

BM (Before the Move -- could also mean Bowel Movement or crap, depending on what my actual view of the move is at any given point!). Anyway, BM everything was easy in the sense that we knew where to go if we wanted to get take-out, or where to go for a quick day at the beach, or who to go to for an impromptu cookout. We spent a lot of time puttering in the yard and bouncing on the trampoline. Life didn't require a lot of thought or a lot of effort. It just happened, and it was good.

Now contrast this with life after the move. I expected that the move itself and the process of settling in to the house would be a whirlwind. I also realized that moving in to a house that was still under construction was likely to add to the chaos. And I was right! What I didn't expect was to fast-forward 9 months and still have so much work. I still have not found good take-out that is nearby, we have yet to even begin to discover all of the fun that is to be had in NC, and I am always on a quest for great produce. Unpacking boxes, apparently, is the tip of the iceberg! About 6 months ago I told Pat that I really looked forward to the day when we can sit out by the pool, drink coffee and casually read the Sunday paper.

A subtle change has come upon us over the last several weeks, and it culminated Father's Day weekend. On Saturday we had kids over to our pool (which is FINALLY finished). Pat spent the afternoon tossing little people around like ragdolls, and doing cannonballs. On Father's Day we had a huge, yummy breakfast. We had coffee. We read the paper. It felt good. We puttered around arranging furniture by the pool, and fertilizing flowers. Then we went to the community pool and had ice cream sundaes. Not a lot of thought and not a lot of effort. But it was good.

Pat with the girls on Father's Day. These pictures aren't quite in the right order, but I can't figure out how to re-organize them once they are pasted in!

Pat was trying to do a slide version of a cannonball, and make the water splash out of the pool on impact. Mission accomplished!

The girls LOVED the make your own ice cream sudaes by the pool. It is amazing how many goodies a person can cram into a fairly small cup!

And there's me! Too cool to take my sunglasses off for the trip down the slide!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Swim Team Begins!

Yesterday was an exciting day for us. The girls had their first swim team practice, and it went really well. One of the challenges of moving to North Carolina has been helping the girls find their niche. I really feel it is important that they have some sport or hobby in which they regularly participate. Something to keep them grounded and focused as they get older. Something that will keep them from becoming boy crazy when they are teenagers!!

We have tried all sorts of activities over the years. Rachel has her horseback riding, and Hannah and Emily and Abby enjoy gymnastics. We will encourage the girls to have fun with these, but they also really don't seem to be their "thing." Well, except Rachel's horseback riding. That is definitely her thing, and we'll pursue that to the degree that finances allow!! Anyway, finding a person's "thing" is not an easy task! Any slight indication that you might be heading in the correct direction is encouraging.

Swim team was an activity that I sort of had to sell. Rachel had done synchronized swimming, and a Fall swim program when she was younger. I really had to talk Rachel into this. She had the been-there-done-that-and-it-wasn't-really-fun mentality. Back when Rachel finished her first swim program I can remember her asking me, "Mommy, what new strokes will they teach us next year?" I replied that, other than the butterfly, there really weren't any other strokes. I explained that the purpose was to get better at the strokes so she could swim faster and race with other swimmers. Rachel looked at me and said very seriously, "So, what's the point?" Clearly, at that young age racing was not her thing. Hannah was mildly interested. She is also super competitive. I was cautiously optimistic that she might be motivated by the opportunity to compete individually. Abby and Emily were comparatively easy. They heard swimming pool and new bathing suit, and they were all over it!

We arrived at the first practice with an open mind, and it was great! The kids had so much fun. When they got up this morning Emily asked if today was Wednesday. I confirmed that it was and she said, "Good! If today is Wednesday, then tomorrow is Thursday, and Thursday is swim team!"

So one practice down and many more to go. It'll be fun to see if anyone finds their "thing!"

This was Hannah's first attempt off the diving platform. It turned out just like it looks -- BELLYFLOP! By the end of practice, though, she had it nailed.

Abby (left) and Emily had soooo much fun! They made a lot of progress in one lesson, too. They both learned to dive into the pool without holding their nose. It seems that it is hard to swim fast when one whole arm/hand is holding onto your nose instead of helping you swim!

Rachel is rockin' her new team swim suit, and swim cap

Hannah LOVED swim team, but was disappointed that they didn't order her the correct suit size!

Let the Blogging Begin

In order to chronicle the (mis)adventures of the sixbelinskis I have decided to start a blog! I feel very 21st century and hip as I type this. I hope you all enjoy reading this as much as I am enjoying putting it together. Now, even though we don't see you every day, you'll have a better view of what we are up to in North Carolina!