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.

RP1

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…

RP2

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!

RP3

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.

RP5

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.

5G1
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!

5G4

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…

5G2
You try wielding a big camera and high five-ing at the same time!
5G3
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…

EdieK1
What’s not to love about a school that has karaoke on the last day!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Back to school…

Olive and Edie were not the only ones in our house “returning” to the classroom this month. Last Wednesday I switched on my computer and logged into my new classroom. It’s called ANGEL – Penn State University’s online learning portal. I’m enrolled in the Graduate Certificate in Children’s Literature and last week was the first day of my first paper – The Art of the Picturebook.

Gotta love a paper which has this as the textbook!
Gotta love a paper which has this as the textbook!

After I graduated from university I went straight into the graduate teaching programme at Wellington College of Education – now part of the Education Department at Victoria University. Becoming a generalist primary school teacher required many areas of study – including the all important teaching of reading. In addition to the nuts and bolts of teaching reading we also had to take a course in literature for children. It’s in this class that I fell in love – again – with books for children.

Where_The_Wild_Things_Are_(book)_cover1 2 3 to the zooThe tunnel

Our teacher was excellent. Rod McGregor – a very tall, very dry and very intelligent former secondary school English teacher – reopened a world that I had left behind as I “grew up”, a world that welcomed me back with open arms. We’d talk about favourite books from our childhood, discuss all the different types of literature for children and also take turns reading aloud to each other. The only assignment I can remember was having to read as much children’s literature as we could and make brief reading responses in a journal. As you can probably guess I was something of a girly swot back then and for every reading response I carefully photocopied the cover of each book and then with watercolour pencils, painted in all the colours. I glued these into my journal next to the copious amounts I had written – is it any wonder I had no social life!!

One of the first books I wrote about in my journal.
One of the first books I wrote about in my journal.

Once let loose in my own classroom my favourite time of day soon became teacher reading and I grabbed any other opportunity to weave children’s literature into the curriculum. When we studied the water cycle in science, The Magic School Bus Visits the Waterworks was invaluable, as were the Horrible Histories series when we did a unit on Ancient Egypt.

magic-school-busegyptians

Shirley Hughes beautiful story The Lion and the Unicorn provided much of the inspiration for a fantastic social studies unit we did on evacuees during World War Two, as did Michelle Magorian’s heartbreaking Goodnight Mr Tom.

Lion and the UnicornMr Tom

I began buying a lot of books for children – especially picturebooks, (the children in my class always got excited when “Miss G” had been shopping!) and I developed something of a reputation at work as the teacher who knew a lot about kids books. I was even asked to take part in a video produced by the teacher’s college on reading aloud to children. (I got a lovely message out of the blue a few weeks ago from one of the parents in Olive’s preschool class at Otari Montessori before we left New Zealand. He’s training to become a primary school teacher and his Facebook message said “I think I just watched you on a video about reading out loud to children” !)

This is the book that I read aloud in the video.
This is the book that I read aloud in the video.

I enrolled in a Diploma of Children’s Literature through Christchurch Teacher’s College and began the hard slog of working full time and studying – ugh! I loved the paper – funnily enough it, too,was all about picturebooks – but I didn’t love working and studying at the same time. So after completing that first paper I took what was meant to be a short break from studying…ahem…fourteen years later, I am declaring the break over!

I’m only a few days into the course but thus far I’m loving. It’s daunting to get my head around assignments and grades and deadlines again – and just getting to grips with the online learning platform was enough to induce a serious case of nerves – but every day it will get easier and my fellow classmates are very supportive. I might add another link to the read section of the blog and share some of the titles I’m reconnecting with and the new ones I am discovering.

Apparently Belgium is a rich source of talent in the picturebook making world. I'm kicking myself that I didn't buy more books when we lived there.
Apparently Belgium is a rich source of talent in the picturebook making world. I’m kicking myself that I didn’t buy more books when we lived there.

Thanks for all your words of support as I embark on this new challenge. I hope you will enjoy sharing the journey with me 🙂

The earth goes round the sun…

One of the ways that children in a Montessori preschool learn about history and the passage of time is through the birthday ritual known as the birthday walk. The aim of the ritual is to help children recognise how they have grown and changed since birth and why it is they have turned one year older.

The birthday flag hanging for Edie outside preschool today.
The birthday flag hanging for Edie outside preschool today.

A candle is placed in the centre of the circle to represent the sun in our universe. The birthday child carefully holds the class globe and begins the birthday walk around the sun. One walk around the circle represents one rotation of the Earth around the sun or the passing of one year.

Circle time with the sun candle.
Circle time with the sun candle.
Before beginning the walk, Mrs Bayliss shared a photo of Edie at four months old and we talked about what she was like as a baby.
Before beginning the walk, Mrs Bayliss shared a photo of Edie at four months old and we talked about what she was like as a baby.
Edie's first circuit around the sun.
Edie’s first circuit around the sun.

As the birthday child walks around the sun her classmates sing the birthday song: “The Earth goes round the sun, the Earth goes round the sun, it takes a whole year for the Earth to go round the sun.” After the first walk around the sun, Edie stopped and her teacher shared a photo of her at one year old and this was repeated after three more circuits of the sun, sharing photos of Edie at 2, 3 and 4 years old.

The photo Edie chose of herself as a four year old was one that was taken at her beloved Miss Sarah's wedding. Edie was wearing her polka dotted Flamenco dress - here she is demonstrating Flameco moves to her friends!
The photo Edie chose of herself as a four year old was one that was taken at her beloved Miss Sarah’s wedding. Edie was wearing her polka dotted Flamenco dress – here she is demonstrating Flameco moves to her friends!

At the end of Edie’s fifth circuit around the sun everyone sang Happy Birthday and she blew out the sun candle. Then it was time for the important part – cupcakes!

Happy Birthday Edie!
Happy Birthday Edie!
Dad did a great job helping to pass out the treats.
Dad did a great job helping to pass out the treats.
"Pink icing please Mum!"
“Pink icing please Mum!”

Earlier that morning, after she’d bounded out of bed, we gave gifts to our big five year old.

Check out my loot!
Check out my loot!
The super high Chuck Taylors that you may have noticed in the photos above were the biggest hit. Fortunately they have a long zip down one side.
The super high Chuck Taylors that you may have noticed in the photos above were the biggest hit. Fortunately they have a long zip down one side.

When I asked Olive a couple of weeks ago what she wanted to give to Edie she insisted that she didn’t just want to go to a toy shop and pick something, she wanted to make a gift for her sister. After much discussion she settled on a cupcake decorating kit. We bought a white box which Olive painstakingly decorated and then filled it with some icing tubes, cupcake sprinkles and sweets for decoration. Olive helped me bake vanilla cupcakes and these went into the box too. I was really proud of her efforts and Edie absolutely loved it.

Thank you Olive xxx
Thank you Olive xxx
All her own work.
All her own work.
Once school was over for the day, the girls got busy.
Once school was over for the day, the girls got busy.
Made with love :)
Made with love 🙂

We ended the day with dinner at the Union Jack, our local English style restaurant and pub – Edie’s second choice for dinner after McDonald’s! Despite promising her dessert at the restaurant, our exhausted five year old asked to be taken home so she could blow out some candles on one of the cupcakes made for her by Olive.

Five year olds have so much more huff and puff!
Five year olds have so much more huff and puff!

It was a lovely day and for Richard and I as parents, it felt like a major milestone. We made sure to toast ourselves with a wee glass of bubbles over dinner. I’ll be back with another birthday instalment after the big party on Saturday afternoon – time to start planning the cake!

From that very special first birthday...
From that very special first birthday…
to a very special fifth...what a wonderful five years :)
to a very special fifth…what a wonderful five years 🙂

Dag Sinterklaas

One of the great things about living in a different country and being immersed in a new culture, is learning about and sometimes adopting new traditions. Belgium’s Sinterklaas celebration is something we have well and truly adopted and I suspect is a ritual we will enact for many years to come.

Our little Sinterklaas corner.
Our little Sinterklaas corner.

Last night was Sinterklaas eve and, just as we did in Belgium, the girls left a shoe by the fireplace with some treats for Sinterklaas, Piet and the horse known as Slecht-Weer-Vandag or Bad Weather Today!

Edie left a carrot, speculaas cookie and a juice box.
Edie left a carrot, speculaas cookie and a juice box.
Olive chose an apple, some speculaas and a bottle of beer for Sinterklaas.
Olive chose an apple, some speculaas and a bottle of beer for Sinterklaas.

Once the girls were safely tucked up in bed, Sinterklaas made his visit, polishing off the yummy nibbles and leaving a couple of treats for the girls.

Belgian tradition meets American tradition as Elf on the Shelf joins in.
Belgian tradition meets American tradition as Elf on the Shelf joins in.
Happy with their gifts from Sinterklaas.
Happy with their gifts from Sinterklaas.

Yesterday I whipped up a batch of speculaas cookies and the girls each took a tin to school today to share with their friends and even promised to sing the Sinterklaas song.

Speculaas cookies - a very important part of the Sinterklaas tradition.
Speculaas cookies – a very important part of the Sinterklaas tradition.
Off to teach her class all about Sinterklaas.
Off to teach her class all about Sinterklaas.
Edie spent much of last night practising her Sinterklaas song!
Edie spent much of last night practising her Sinterklaas song!

Adults who are reading, if you are interested in finding out more about Sinterklaas, and having a laugh whilst doing so, click here to listen to the wonderful American humorist and columnist David Sedaris giving his take on the Sinterklaas celebrations he observed in the Netherlands. It’s about fifteen minutes long but well worth a listen.

Take care everyone. Stay tuned for more festive fun!

Parade

On Monday night we wrapped up warm and headed into town to watch the Winchester Christmas Parade. One of the great advantages of living in a much smaller city is you can turn up to something like a big parade ten minutes before kick off, and still find a great place from which to view the action.

Stylish but warm outfits – check. Fashion model pose – check. Strange boy looking at us – check.

We weren’t quite sure what to expect – after watching the spectacle that is the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade I had to lower the girl’s expectations somewhat.

The start of the parade. Definite lack of enormous floating balloons a la Macy’s.

One of the key parts of the parade were the marching bands from the city and county Middle and High schools. The marching band is not something that’s done in New Zealand schools so it was a great new experience for us. I for one loved seeing rows and rows of children and young adults streaming past, all in command of their instruments. There was a real sense of pride and spirit.

The band uniforms were quite something too.

Although we have only been here just short of two months, Olive and Edie have already developed a fierce pride for their future schools – Daniel Morgan Middle School and John Handley High School. Whenever we drive past the schools, especially the high school, there is always pointing and commenting. They were very excited recently to go and watch a show at the high school and when they meet someone new they always want to know where they go to school. If its DMMS or JHHS then they are ok 🙂 It seems that if Olive and Edie have their way, we will be living here for the next fourteen years!!

The band from “our” high school.
“Our” middle school band – perfect Christmas colours.
Many of the bands were preceded by some very impressive flag twirling.

Along with the marching bands there were scout groups, volunteer fire brigades, the Winchester City pipe band, 4H clubs, church groups, beauty queens…even a BMX club.

Needless to say Olive and Edie were impressed with the tiaras.
BMX Bandits!

Of course no Christmas Parade would be complete without that jolly big guy in the red suit…

unfortunately he just wouldn’t look at us 😦

The parade was a real reflection of the community and what is important to it, and we loved every minute of it. And it was just the start of a whole host of activities, concerts, house tours, Nativity plays etc. etc. that one can partake of in Winchester as we get close to Christmas. I forsee a great deal of photography and typing in my near future!

PS Richard has just come home from his run and reports that the light displays are growing exponentially around the neighbourhood. He has promised to go out one night and get some photos – I will endeavour to hold him to that 🙂

Welcome

Just over three weeks ago we touched down at Dulles airport in Washington DC. It was dark and late and we were all pretty shattered. After a very long wait at immigration our shiny new visas got the once over and as Non Resident Aliens – gotta love that label- we  took our first steps towards our new life. Richard’s steps were actually more of a sprint as he had to get to the rental car company before it closed it’s doors. Let’s just say it was one of those made it by the skin of his teeth situations. We all piled into the behemoth vehicle that was to be our car for the next wee while – I was already having nightmares at the thought of having to drive something so enormous, let alone on the wrong side of the road. We hit the road to Winchester and by midnight were browsing the frozen food aisles at Martin’s (our new supermarket) in search of pizza. And so our first meal in our new home was eaten out of a cardboard box whilst we were surrounded by cardboard boxes waiting to be unpacked.

Three weeks later there are still unopened boxes but we are slowly starting to make our new house feel like home. And we have been very warmly welcomed wherever we’ve gone. Towards the end of our first day we met our neighbors who as luck would have it, have a seven year old daughter who had heard all about the two girls coming to live next door and was very excited to meet them. Olive started school at John Kerr Elementary on our second day. She was so excited that she was prepared to get on the school bus by herself but I of course was having none of that. We took her to the bus stop – metres from our house – so she could meet the driver and see what happened, then we drove her up to school. There she received a rapturous welcome from the principal and all the office staff, “Oh Miss Olive, we’ve been waiting and waiting for you to come. How y’all doing?” You need to imagine the southern accent that accompanied this – it’s very warm and inviting. I accompanied Olive to her class and met her teacher, she was swamped by all the children – only 15 of them – and she barely batted an eyelid when I said I was leaving. She rode the yellow bus home that day, absolutely thrilled by everything that had happened. Edie started Apple Valley Montessori the following week. (Cultural note – apples are very important to Winchester and lots of things have apple in the title.) We were also very warmly welcomed there. So much so that they rang a few days before Edie started and asked if she could please come down and be included in the class photo that was being taken – “she’s part of our class and we must have her in the photo”.

I’ve also been very warmly welcomed to the neighborhood. Our neighbor, whose daughter is now BFF’s with Olive and Edie, had me over for coffee and yesterday took me out for coffee with two other women from our street. Two other women from the street around the corner knocked at the front door one afternoon with wine from Australia and chocolates from Belgium. The real estate agent who helped us find our home hosted a party to welcome several new families to the neighborhood and we got to meet new and longtime residents of Winchester. And we have been Boo’d – read on – the boo story gives a good insight into the spirit of our new neighborhood.

Around eight o’clock one night the doorbell rang. Surprised to hear it ring in the evening, I opened the door to find nobody there. Looking down I saw…

Mmmmmm – this looks very interesting.

I got the girls out of bed and together we investigated the contents of the mysterious pumpkin bag.

First we found this letter explaining everything we needed to know about being boo’d. Basically under the cover of darkness you need to leave a treat for one of your neighbors on their doorstep – the goal being to get everyone in the neighborhood boo’d by Halloween.

The most important part of the task was putting the phantom in our window so subsequent booers would know that we’d already had a visit.

Ok everybody. We’ve been boo’d!

The it was time to explore the contents of the pumpkin bag.

Check out our loot. Halloween decorations, Martha Stewart Halloween crafts, stickers and of course candy!

The next day after school the girls and I roamed the aisles at Target collecting goodies to pass on to one of our neighbors. Fortunately their BFF next door hadn’t been hit by the phantom so it was an easy choice as to which house to pick.

I could write pages about the preparations for Halloween that we are observing. the displays and decorations in some of the front yards are amazing. I’m hoping to get out with my camera to capture them before Halloween is over – the definite down side of being in a car as opposed to being on my bike – less photo opportunities!

I’m going to stop there as I’ve been very aware that it’s taken me so long to start writing about our experiences here and I wanted to get something up tonight. So much has happened in three weeks that I could go on writing all night. Just know that we are all doing okay – the girls in fact are thriving. Richard is super busy – he’s in Belgium this week – but very much enjoying his work. As for me I find myself often humming or singing the lines from that wonderful song by Mr Gordon Sumner or as we all know and love him, Sting. “I’m an alien. I’m a legal alien. I’m an Englishman in New York”. Okay so I’m not an Englishman and I’m not, unfortunately (!) in New York but I do relate to the sentiment. I do feel very alien and it’s tempting to try and make myself try and be like everyone else. Then I remember the other lines in the song “be yourself no matter what they say”. And that is where I will leave you…doing my very best to be myself!

Love hugs and kisses to you all. Especially to my new nephew Alfie. We miss you all terribly xxx

Croadworks ahead!

If you’ve stumbled across this page – welcome. I’m in the process of creating a new blog about our family’s move to Winchester, VA in August 2012. Check back then to start sharing our adventures.