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Monday, July 28, 2014

summertime, summertime, sum, sum, summertime.

Last week Ella got to spend the week at Windover Art Camp (the first and only summer day camp she has ever consented to attend) at had the most incredible time.  

Ella doesn't like meeting new people and certainly doesn't like being left in a group of kids she doesn't know even if it is to do something fun.  We've offered art camp and horseback riding camp in the past and she has firmly declined.  

Apparently this was the summer of brave because when I asked her if she wanted to go to Windover with Skyler she exclaimed, "YES!"  (It helps that her beloved babysitter went there for years as a kid and loved it and she, like Ella, is on the more discerning side.)

 Stepping on to the grounds at Windover feels like traveling back in time about 40 years.  The whole place has a hippie commune feel to it.  The staff is super chill and kids are given a ton of independence and countless creative avenues of expression.  

Ella and Skyler were old enough to make glass beads using fire torches and pottery on a wheel.  Ella kept saying, "And they don't help you.  They show you once and then you do it."  Her voice was a mixture between awe and complaint.  What I saw in her was that this kind of push toward creating on her own was exactly what she needed.  She took complete ownership over her art and she made some truly beautiful things that she was so proud of.  

"I made these glass beads ALL BY MYSELF."

Maya kind of dug the groove at Windover if you can imagine. (Yes, those are cowgirl boots with running shorts.)

And Sandi even made it out for the end of week art show and surprised Ella.

It was fun to hang out with just Maya while Ella was at camp.  It reminded me (and made me a little nostalgic) of how we used to do things, just she and I, before she went to school.  Maya is great company and is such a different child when it is just her, namely she is super well-behaved and just delightful.  She is also really fun and flexible.  We decided on a Bar Harbor adventure and found ourselves hiking up Acadia Mountain.  It was about a mile up, a nice mix of up and across and Maya did is all on her own.  She scrambled up rocks and boulders with an agility that I marveled at.  She is freakishly agile and athletic, once falling in what should have been a complete headfirst kind of thing and she landed like a cat on her feet.    

Maya found a squirrel to feed some of her Nutella sandwich to and we chilled on the summit happily for a long time.  One of my happiest places to be is on a mountaintop.  We had the best time.  

 A few other summer things...

Maya has developed quite a fond friendship with the 75-year-old man next door.  They bonded last summer over the fact that they both wear hearing aids.  Maya, so much more outgoing than her shy older sister, loves to wave to David and yell to him funny things across the lawn.

He recently let us borrow his lawnmower when ours broke and Maya thought it would be nice to pick some strawberries for him.  So he shared some of his wild strawberries with her.   Then we decided to make him a bouquet of flowers on the Fourth of July and she was so proud to deliver it to him.

 Then, while Ella was at camp, Maya's suggestion of what we could do when it was 85 degrees was, of course, bake cookies.  Doesn't everyone bake cookies with the air conditioner running?  We made a match of cut-out molasses cookies and when they were cooling she said, "I want to take some to David."  She decorated a brown paper lunch bag with flowers and wrote: "To: David, Love: Maya" and left it on his front porch in the shade since he wasn't home.

A few days later a basket was left on our porch for her.  It was full of ziplocs each containing different games and activities for first graders.  It looked like the exact sort of thing you would find in a classroom.  And with it was this note:

This relationship makes my whole heart happy.

 Also, our kids are growing like WEEDS.  We just made a second trip to the store for new sneakers.  They are going through clothes and shoes here like we go through a bag of nectarines. (Do you know how much money you can spend on nectarines when everyone in your house would be happy to eat 1-2 a day each?)

Ella told me, approximately 10 days after school got out that she is so excited to go school shopping. That chick loves clothes and shoes.
The girls have even started asking to go running in the mornings!   This is a wonderful turn of events, tempered only by the complaining that accompanies the amount of work running actually requires.   
Our neighbor Alli just got the same sneakers as Maya so this picture was required of the three girls. 
In her "spare" time, Sandi is seeing to long-delayed, not-so-fun, tasks that needed to be done.  She has fixed our wi-fi problem in the house, caught a mouse in the basement and is refinishing our kitchen table which, for whatever reason, had become so sticky we couldn't ever set paper on it without half of it remaining on the table.  In fact, it was so bad, that your skin would stick to the table if you rested your arm on it.  My mother actually said to me recently, "You have GOT to do something about this table."   Not only is it a project that takes time to complete, but to be without a kitchen table?  Not fun.

Our table for the past month has been the one that Patti bought for the s'mores station at the wedding. I am grateful to have it but I cannot tell you how much I miss my big table.   Dinner is so cramped we can just fit our plates and not dinner itself.  I can't even fit all the piles of laundry when I fold it, making an already dreaded task that much less fun.

I have never been so happy to see a table in my entire life.  And not only is it smooth and stick-less, but seems so HUGE.

The girls and I (mostly I) have shamelessly compiled a list of people who have offered us visitation to their pool this summer.  When it is hot, being nearby some sort of water is really the only option for us.  Luckily people with pools usually want to share them!  (Thanks Lindsay for this one! And thank you Megan and Terry for the visits as well!)

 Our summer schedule is super busy and full but I try to have a few days a week with the mornings free for stuff at home and errands (which is more like playing catch up than ever feeling ahead of the game).  I am trying to relax more this summer and enjoy all I can- tea on the patio and time to write before the girls get up.  Then Maya comes out and does some reading on my lap as the sun is just getting warm.  It is so entirely wonderful.

 I have decided that summer in Maine is just always going to be a manic experience and I just need to enjoy the ride.   It is so indescribably beautiful, so vastly opposite from the seemingly endless frozen tundra of the winter that we really have no choice but to squeeze every last drop from the lemon of summer.  

So here's to a messy house for the duration, having a cooler perpetually in my entryway, fingers crossed that the checkbook stays balanced and another cup of iced coffee!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

summer buzz kill momma

Last year I wrote this post about making my kids work over the summer.  Well, I make no apologies once again as I burst bubbles around here making my kids do school work over summer.  

In everything the teachers sent home at the end of school implored parents to work with their kids over the summer so to avoid the "summer slide."  My friend Shannon, who is a first grade teacher, told me that part of the reason to have kids work over the summer is not just to retain information or learn new things but to keep their brain in the habit of learning.  Apparently, like an unused muscle that grows weak,  children (and I would imagine adults) who take long breaks without learning actually "forget" how to learn, making it harder to get back in the swing of things when school starts.   In my experience, the transition back to school is painful enough and we don't need any lazy brains making it harder. 

All the hubbub of the first 2 weeks of summer around here made it very difficult to get in the swing of summer.  I found that when the wedding and Camp Winni were over, the girls would just look at me when they would wake up, bleary-eyed and exhausted and mumble, "Can I watch TV?"  The first few days were a blur of trying to keep them happy, trying to decide how much TV I could, in good conscience allow them, and maintain my new-found zen.  They were unmotivated and cranky and I knew that we all needed a large dose of structure.  

I gotta tell you in case you think I am a total buzz kill:  my kids LOVE structure.

Last year I made them work, but maybe this year, it was time to give them a little more freedom of choice. 

I got up early the next morning (actually I get up early every morning) and made a plan. I started cutting and writing and taping and when the kids woke up they were intrigued to find this:

"What is that?  What do we do?  How does it work?"

Using my best impression of a teacher, I explained my system asking them to hold all questions and comments to the end.  

Here's how it works:  the week begins on Saturday (because that's what day it was when I got the idea).  All their cards, both work cards and TV/screen time cards are on the left side of the dotted line.  When they complete a card, they move it to the right side.   They have until Friday at bedtime to move their cards over to the right.  They are in charge of managing their time to accomplish this.  (I do give them a lot of information about what we are doing each week so they can plan ahead for days we might be gone all day or driving far and they might want to save their TV cards for the ride.)  

If they complete all their work cards by the deadline, we pay them $3.  If they don't, they pay us $3.  

The TV cards can pretty much be used at will and can be banked if they aren't all used during the week.  

Ella's work cards are more extensive than Maya's with longer work increments and additional math cards.  She needs to master multiplication before she begins 4th grade in the fall so she has "flashcard" cards as well.

The idea of this system is to have them work but also to learn to manage their time and to have a little more power and choice in how they spend their time.  It is less of me telling them what to do and more of them just looking at the wall and figuring it out.  

We also came up with some summer goals to work on.  I helped Maya write hers and it is something about not interrupting and making unnecessary noise in the car and at the table.  

Ella wrote this one for herself:

And I wrote this one:

Also, wanting to give the kids more say and ownership over their summer, I asked them what they wanted to make sure we did this summer.  Their list was more simple than I would have expected.  (And, interestingly, Ella reiterated that she wants to play with her sister more.)  I was pleased that "week long camping trip" did not make the list.  Neither did "fly to the moon."  I was disappointed, however, that purge the house, paint the play set and wash the mildew off the siding did not make the list.

Here's the lowdown about this system:  overall it is hugely successful for us.  I am proud of what the girls are doing and especially how much Maya's reading is improving with such rigorous practice.  I am proud of how they are in charge of it.  

However,  I both applaud and kick myself for giving them 6 hours of TV time a week.  I don't know about your kids, but TV makes my kids (especially one of them) incredibly cranky so less is better.  But less is less and I will be honest and say that it is hard on me.  I am so pleased they are not sucked into a TV all summer long but sometimes, on long days on end of being the only adult with them, I just want to turn the TV on and have some well-deserved peace and quiet. 

So the system is hard work for all of us, making it very equitable all around. 

In the end there is something very good about being forced, and having your kids be forced, to problem solve down time without the aid of electronics.   It feels very old school.  

Friday, July 18, 2014

Camp Winni 2014

Just 1 day after we got back from our amazing wedding week, it was time to turn right around and head back to the coast for 3 days of fun at Camp Winniaguamauk.   This meant an abrupt bursting of the wedding bubble, a dumping of all the wedding and vacation detritus into the house to be shuffled, stored and/or repacked for several more overnights away, and saying goodbye to my wife as she went to work and we went to play.  

To be honest, I wasn't entirely sure I was up for it.   

We all adore Camp Winni.  It is like a safe haven in a crazy world.  Our girls childhood summers are shaped partly by their time there as were Sandi's.  We went last summer with my niece Michaela (when Ella and Michaela were true campers for the first time) and two summers before when the girls were quite a bit younger and went as volunteers with us.  We had to skip the year in between because it conflicted with Sandi's graduate school assigned summer vacation which we spent instead at Schoodic.  It is a marvel to watch how the girls have grown through the years using Camp Winni as the steady benchmark it is.  

The camp is run by Trish (Tia) and many of the camp staff are family members so it is such a safe and adored place for our kids.  They gets hugged and loved by adults everywhere they go (as do all the campers).  This is a small camp for kids Ella's age and there is actually more staff than campers.  It is a place kids are taught about kindness, inclusion, conflict resolution, love, and God.  There is also as much playing as can fit into 3 days. 

Needless to say, although my energy was in a completely different direction and I was dragging my feet a bit, the girls were super psyched to go.  And, as always, it didn't disappoint. 

Maya and Makenna are both too young to be campers so they are "mini campers."  They help out with their moms, participate in whatever camp activities they want, are doted on by all the older girls and generally have free reign to catch butterflies, change their shoes 100 times in an afternoon and come into the kitchen to have a cookie while the campers are still in theme class.  To be honest, it may be difficult for these two to go from mini camper to actual camper status since they kind of have the run of the place right now.  
While the cabins were busy making up their team names and their team flags on the first day, these two decided they needed a name and flag as well.  And thus "Team Butterfly" was born.  They even had a poem.

I was the kayak instructor and the cabin inspector again this year and I take my job of insuring cleanliness (more like teaching about cleanliness) very seriously.  Trish actually gives me a lot of power and I get to assign points and give out awards and such.  When inspected the girls cabin I found this sign made my own daughter.
The boys cabin was kind of a stinky disaster the first day.  But they totally stepped it up the next day after the girls got all the awards.  They cleaned, swept, organized, used air fresher and even decorated.  They also left me this hilarious note:

One of the highlights of camp for the kids is the water slide.

It is incredible to watch my big girl so competent and independent.  She knew where to be, what to do and came to me for very little.  (I told her that she could come to me whenever she needed but I would leave her be otherwise.  It was an odd feeling to be so close by my child and so far from her. I actually missed her a lot at camp.)  She found herself accidentally embroiled in an ongoing frenemy situation with two girls who both wanted to be her friend but not each others'.  I was proud of how she handled it and all she learned from it.

One gorgeous evening we took the kids to the beach.

I think this is the world's smallest green crab.
Check out this jellyfish!

Can you tell these two are related?

Peace sign watermelon.  This confirms what I have always suspected:  the way to peace is through the watermelon.

Can you tell these two are related?!
Camp ended at noon which meant bringing two exhausted girls home on a blistering summer day.  I had mountains of compounded unpacking to do but I knew that might make us all cry.  So instead we rounded up the twins where were leaving in 2 days to spend the rest of the summer with their father in Texas and we hit the pool.
Maya, always the jokester, loves to pretend to "wear" the decorative flip flops on her beach towel.
So much fun packed into 10 days and we were all toast when it was over!