The Graduate…

In the United States, fifth grade officially marks the end of elementary school or primary school, as we would know it in New Zealand. If we had been staying in Portland, Olive would have moved onto Middle School after the summer break. Middle schools are a bit like New Zealand intermediate schools although students attend them for three years as opposed to two.

Reaching the end of fifth grade brought with it a flurry of activities, trips and special studies for Olive. First up was marching with the Bridlemile band in the Junior Rose Parade. You might remember from my last post that one of Portland’s nicknames is the City of Roses and every year the city hosts a festival of roses, with parades, dragon boats, floral displays and the crowning of the rose queen.  The junior rose parade is the country’s oldest and largest children’s parade, and marching bands from various local schools are the major attraction.

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My Dad is a very talented trumpet player. He used to play in the dance halls in his native Edinburgh and when he had a young family, he’d do a full days work then head out at night to play in Wellington clubs like the Majestic Cabaret, to bring in extra money. Jonny Gilbertson even appears in the liner notes of an early recording by none other than Kiwi opera legend Kiri Te Kanawa. Whilst his children have dabbled with various musical instruments over the years, none picked up the trumpet, and none of his grandchildren have either…until now…

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We suspect that Olive’s decision to ditch orchestra and join band was the lure of marching in the parade but she surprised us by not only choosing the trumpet for her instrument but also, by actually being quite good at it!

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I have to admit to feeling very emotional as we watched her marching through the streets of the Hollywood district and did wish my Dad could have been there. We don’t have the school marching band tradition in New Zealand but Olive has assured us she wants to keep up playing the horn.

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Since then there has been a jet boat trip on the Willamette, a pool party, a quick Shakespeare study – Olive was chosen to read Juliet’s part…swoon – and a little bit of FLASH education. Despite the interesting acronym, flash is nothing to do with men in long raincoats – it’s the good old puberty education unit and Olive told me exactly nothing about it! “So what did you talk about?” “Mum! Nothing! I’m not telling you!” “Anything you want to ask me or share?” “I’ve already told you Mum…nothing!” “Who’s giggling and being inappropriate? Tell me about the questions from the anonymous box!” “For God’s sake Mum!!”  She didn’t actually say that last bit but I suspect she really wanted to!

Today was the last day of school and it began with the Fifth Grade promotion ceremony. Each fifth grade teacher made a little speech about their class and then each child marched across the stage to receive a certificate.

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It’s super hard to get Olive to dress up for anything…she could do with some tips from one of her classmates…bow tie!

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The day ends with the fifth grade clap out. As the bell rings, the graduating class emerge from a certain door and walk along a path lined with parents clapping and high five-ing…

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You try wielding a big camera and high five-ing at the same time!
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Yes that is my outstretched hand being ignored…I suspect the FLASH anecdote has something to do with it…

It’s been a hugely emotional week…lots of grieving for what we are leaving behind…but also excitement at what lies ahead. For now I just want to thank the wonderful Bridlemile Elementary community. Our girls have been so happy here and whilst they are both very sad to leave, their tears just reinforce what a great place it is…

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What’s not to love about a school that has karaoke on the last day!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ice Ice Baby

We made it back safely to icy cold Virginia. As always, New Zealand, our family and friends, were hard to leave, and for the first time in all our comings and goings, Olive was very upset to be leaving 😦 Expat life has so many wonderful opportunities but also lots of challenges, of which the goodbyes would be the biggest!

So trying not to wallow in the post-holiday blues, we braved the cold on Sunday and made the short drive south east to Manassas. We’d heard about a skating rink housed in an outdoor pavilion – sounded like just the thing to lift our spirits.

We were the first to arrive and for a while had the rink all to ourselves.
We were the first to arrive and for a while had the rink all to ourselves.
Frosty the snowman was waiting for us.
Frosty the snowman was waiting for us.

This was our third attempt at ice skating and for Edie her first time going solo. It was heaps of fun and we enjoyed watching all the ‘professional’ skaters who turned up with their own skates. Very impressive.

Skater girls.
Skater girls.
Look at me go!
Look at me go!
Ice princess.
Ice princess.

So now it is back to reality and routine. The girls made it back to school for one day and then it was cancelled due to the extreme cold! Hopefully things will be back to normal tomorrow.

Thanks to all our family and friends for their hospitality and love. The fact that leaving is so difficult is a testament to all the wonderful relationships we have in New Zealand so in a funny way it’s positive too – well, that’s how I’m going to look at it!

Happy new year everyone! Wishing you a great year ahead!

Parade!

We’ve just got home from the Winchester Christmas Parade. The girls had an absolute blast and loved riding the float and singing Christmas songs. As they were on one of the ‘better’ floats they came right at the end, just before the big red man – all very exciting.

It felt good to be seeing the parade for the second time – time to stop and think how far we’ve come since our first parade, when we’d only been here a few weeks and everything was still so new and so strange. To be honest I could probably just repost all the photos I took at last year’s parade – not much had changed! Except, of course, the addition of a couple of Kiwis!

Old Town Winchester all dressed up for her big night.
Old Town Winchester all dressed up for her big night.
Costumes on! The theme of the float was Charlie Brown and both girls were dressed as Woodstock!
Costumes on! The theme of the float was Charlie Brown and both girls were dressed as Woodstock!
The float.
Last minute touches for the float.
What the...? A camel? In Winchester?
What the…? A camel? In Winchester?
Not to be outdone by the snowman? polar bear? running on a treadmill!
Not to be outdone by the polar bear on a treadmill!
Wouldn't be a parade without some stars and stripes.
Wouldn’t be a parade without some stars and stripes.
These little girls were toe-tappingly terrific.
These little girls were toe-tappingly terrific.
Here they come! Shenandoah Conservatory Arts Academy float.
Here they come! Shenandoah Conservatory Arts Academy float.
Snoopy's Christmas.
Snoopy’s Christmas.
Singing Woodstocks.
Singing Woodstocks.
Looking for the Red Baron.
Looking for the Red Baron.
Marry Christmas!
Merry Christmas!
Quite at home in front of a big crowd.
Quite at home in front of a big crowd.

And so that’s all done for another year. As soon as Olive and Edie got in the car they were already debating possible themes for next year’s float!

Until next time everyone…take care 🙂

Spooky Sunday

Richard spent much of Sunday playing with his new mountain biking mates, so the girls and I indulged in a little playing of our own. We spent the morning driving around Winchester capturing some of the Halloween props, decorations and displays that have been popping up all over the city.

Here’s a wee taste for you…if you click on the photo you will see a bigger version…

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Olive and Edie are very excited about Halloween this Thursday – but are even more excited about what we are going to be doing on Friday. Exactly three years ago this Friday we left New Zealand on the start of our big overseas adventure. We broke the journey to Belgium with a stop in Hong Kong where we visited Disneyland. So on Friday history is going to repeat itself somewhat – we are heading to Orlando, Florida…home of…Disneyworld! Say tuned for much Micky Mouse madness!!

Under the Mountain

Virginia is one of only of six states in the US with over 2,000 known underground caves, and there are eight places that you can visit for a guided tour of what lies beneath. For whatever reason, six of these eight venues are not too far from Winchester, and on Thursday the girls and I paid a visit to the closest – the Skyline Caverns.

Getting ready to descend - scavenger hunts in hand. They needed to find, among other things, a place where people get married and a place that will drive you crazy!
Getting ready to descend – scavenger hunts in hand. They needed to find, among other things, a place where people get married and a place that will drive you crazy!

In the late 1930’s a retired geologist from Winchester named Walter Amos, was contracted by private and government agencies to search for caves and caverns. Skyline Drive  was due to open and more ways of attracting people to the area were being explored. In December of 1937, on the site of the cavern’s parking lot, Amos discovered a sinkhole. There was no water in the sinkhole which meant there had to be a drain nearby – most likely a cavern.

Going down, down, down...
Going down, down, down…

Amos found an opening and began digging out the first room in the caverns. He discovered a large system of connected rooms, most of which were navigable and clear of obstructions. Ninety percent of the caverns were easily accessible and, in addition to the entrance, only ten percent needed to be dug out. It wasn’t all plain sailing though. The cavern floor was lined with fourteen inches of mud and clay which had to be removed before the caverns opened to the public. It took over a year but on April 13, 1939, the caverns welcomed their first visitors.

Aaaaah! The Wilberforces!
Aaaaah! The Wilberforces!

There were seven of us on the tour. We were instantly of interest because A: we come from New Zealand, B: we were the only tour members to have been in an underground cavern before and C: the underground cavern we had visited previously was in Dinant, Belgium. Once the lovely young tour guide stopped saying “wow” we made our descent.

Dotted throughout the caverns were coloured lights which made everything look even more impressive.
Dotted throughout the caverns were coloured lights which made everything look even more impressive.
A broken stalactite which was okay to touch. Apparently the oils in our hands spell certain doom to growing stalactites and stalagmites.
A broken stalactite which was okay to touch. Apparently the oils in our hands spell certain doom to growing stalactites and stalagmites.

The Skyline caverns are notable because of the fact that they required so little human intervention to be accessible to visitors, but also because of the discovery in the caverns of anthodites. Anthodites are perfect six-sided crystalline strictures made of pure calcite. They are protected by law and you could be looking at a jail term of up to four years if you try to break any of them off!

Step away from the anthodites!
Step away from the anthodites!
The fines are bad too. Several thousand dollars for every inch of anthodite you break.
The fines are bad too. Several thousand dollars for every inch of anthodite you break.

As we wandered from room to room the girls dutifully ticked off the places that were on their scavenger hunt list. But one place was eluding them – wherever it was that made you go crazy. Our guide explained this part of the hunt by turning off all the lights and letting us experience just how dark it really is down there. We all held our hands up right in front of our faces but could see nothing. If a human stays in that degree of darkness for just two weeks, they will have lost their eyesight and their mind. Getting back into natural light will restore eyesight over time but your sanity…well that just might be gone forever. Standing in that utter pitch black I could easily imagine going round the twist.

Apparently there are bats down deep in the caverns. On days when there are lots of visitors they often emerged - a bit freaked out by all the noise.
Apparently there are bats down deep in the caverns. On days when there are lots of visitors they often emerge – a bit freaked out by all the noise.
Buddha type rock formation and lots of dark!
Buddha type rock formation and lots of dark!

It was a great trip. We all learned a great deal and it was nice to be exploring the area a bit closer to home. We finished our day with lunch at Element Cafe in Front Royal which I can highly recommend.

One more week of holidays to go! On Thursday afternoon we will head up to John Kerr Elementary to say hello to Olive and Edie’s teachers. They are both so excited about the start of the new school year. Until next time, take care everyone xxx

Obstacles

Running is a pretty popular pastime in the US and there are always a whole range of races and events that one can sign up for. One of the things we have noticed is that many of these events are starting to incorporate obstacles – as if a good run wasn’t challenging enough! You can do the Spartan Race or the Tough Mudder, which is designed by British special forces. I was even invited to be part of team that’s going to do the Lozilu Women’s Mud Run in DC in July. I’m sure it would have been a laugh but fortunately we’ll be away at the beach – phew!

And it’s not just adults that can take part in these grueling feats of endurance – kids can too! On Saturday Olive and Edie lined up at the start of the World Explorer obstacle course which was part of an International Festival held in one of our local parks.

First official race number - something of a milestone in our house!
First official race number – something of a milestone in our house!
Listening carefully to the instructions.
Listening carefully to the instructions.

As it was part of an International Festival, all ten obstacles on the course related to a specific country. Each child went through the course alone, they all were timed and medals were given to the top three boys and girls in each age group.

Eyeing up the competition.
Eyeing up the competition.
Bursting out of the starting gate!
Bursting out of the starting gate!
A little bit of hockey at the Canada stop.
A little bit of hockey at the Canada stop.
Delivering apples to the hungry elephant in India.
Delivering apples to the hungry elephant in India.
Tossing a lei in Hawaii.
Tossing a lei in Hawaii.
A spot of show jumping in England.
A spot of show jumping in England.
The course culminated in the Brazilian mud pit. Here's big sis getting ready to cheer little sis on.
The course culminated in the Brazilian mud pit. Here’s big sis getting ready to cheer little sis on.
Doing her best to stay out of the mud!
Doing her best to stay out of the mud!
Off to the finish...
Off to the finish…
and then the best part of the whole course!
and then the best part of the whole course!

Later that afternoon it was Olive’s turn…

It was a very hot day with very little shade yet Olive would not be talked out of her covered up running outfit!
It was a very hot day with very little shade yet Olive would not be talked out of her covered up running outfit!
Heading under the chunnel from France to England.
Heading under the chunnel from France to England.
Tally-ho!
Tally-ho!
Pausing before descending into the pit!
Pausing before descending into the pit!
Future marine in training!
Future marine in training!
A well-deserved cool down.
A well-deserved cool down.

Both girls loved it and I’m sure will be asking to take part again next year 🙂

Richard has been away in San Francisco all this week and arrives back on Saturday morning. Then on Sunday he’s off to a trade show in New York. We are going to tag along with him as it’s only four hours drive and we can make another trip to Broadway. This time we are going to see Annie. Our first choice was Matilda which is supposed to be amazing but it’s all sold out. Still, Annie is not such a bad second choice – we’ll get to see  Jane Lynch aka evil Coach Sue Sylvester from Glee as Miss Hannigan! I will admit to being the most excited member of the household 🙂

Take care everyone – I’ll be back sometime next week with a New York report for y’all.