Monday, April 28, 2014

Gymnastics Show

Waiting their turn

Beginning the routine

G saw this from the video; "Look at my handstand; perfect!"  She's been trying to nail that and I like her happy self esteem....

She insisted on a close up.  Of course!

My girl!  Happy and proud (both of us).  Everyone got to stand there and got a medal; it was such a nice way to celebrate a joyful and fun kid who loves gymnastics so.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Macbeth Headshots

Yeah, yeah... the performance was last week, but we're still flying high from the experience; I love, love, love to see the kids truly playing the play, exhibiting exhuberant passion while learning about so many elements of history and literature by reveling in the sheer joy of phenomenal language and the poignant drama of human failings through temptation, power, regret, and despair.  To see their drive for excellence completely self-motivated, with the teacher's roles clearly taking a back seat to the kids' experience... it was everything that learning should be at its best.

(Thanks again to David for the great photos)

I took this shot... a favorite not-quite-full cast photo.Ross, Witch #1, Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, Malcolm, Macduff, Duncan, Witch #2

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Shakespeare: The Tempest

I had heard good things about this group of young performers and suggested to my Shakespeare-passionate child that she might be interested in working with older kids who are similarly fascinated.  She agreed to go see the performance, then objected to interrupting her day of play to actually go, then finally sat in rapt attention the whole time, even reminding me afterward that she wanted to go talk with the director to express interest.  Her passion never fails to surprise me, especially when it goes beyond playing the play with her friends in her own performances.  (Her sister, on the other hand, announced loudly after the first act that she was bored and wanted to go home.  To each her own!) 

The performance was impressive with all of the actors quite good and older than I expected (some even in college).  Music, costumes, and staging were all excellent.  It was fun to see some of our friends on stage.  My Shakespeare-loving child appreciated all of this and liked the experience, yet concluded agreeably, "... but I still don't like The Tempest."  Agreed.  Sappy love-at-first-sight story, little action, little passion.  Lame by William Shakespeare standards, which usually heat our blood with excitement for the language, the emotion, and the sheer drama.  I love her agreeably critical response, her ability to distinguish between the excellence of the production and the underlying story.

Friday, April 25, 2014

A Victorian Living History Experience

We're soon doing an involved Victorian living history experience, so this docent-led tour of a home from that era and the museum next door seemed like a great opportunity.  It was interesting to tour a house that was built at the exact same time as the house where we live, and while the one in this tour had more beautiful details, recognizing the door frame designs and similarities with some of the other architectural details gave us new appreciation for our own building, which must be one of the oldest homes in the state.  The original owner of the home on the tour, Diana Murphy Hill, was also a graduate of the university where I work (California's fifth oldest), so that detail also brought contemporary relevance to our experience.

We walked through the door and were greeted by many docents, all there to help with different parts of our experience.  We were appreciative of the time and effort these volunteers invested for our small group of seven kids.  They advised us immediately that most of them were former teachers.  The first one was lovely, explaining the history of the house and answering questions.  It was interesting to see the original glass, oh-so-very slowly still flowing down so that it gave a wavy appearance.  And the stained glass was both impressive and gorgeous.  But I overheard another docent telling her that she was getting off schedule, so we ended up rushing through the ends of her section with limited time for our questions, which was unfortunate.

The kids made "calling cards," in very Victorian visiting style, then switched to servant role to help bake cookies in the original-but-updated kitchen.  The kitchen docents made two foul mistakes that began to crumble our emerging experience: 1) in asking the kids to wash their hands before handling the food, they were quite rude.  I'll never understand why some adults think that kids can be spoken to so rudely and how treating people with such rudeness can be expected to beget anything other than more harsh behavior.  2) They assumed that the kids were complete blank slates who had never had any experience with what they were showing them.  I don't understand that, either.  The activities consisted of churning butter, which we have done on multiple occasions and in measuring ingredients for simple cookies, which of course we've done lots of times.  How hard is it to ask and then adapt a teaching approach?

Our next activity was to have tea, switching again to a guest role, presenting a "calling card," and then wearing some of the museum's bonnets and top hats to be in character.  That was fun until 1) they rushed us through the tea before the kids had actually eaten the cookies and they then advised us that they'd be spraying the hats off with disinfectant as soon as we were done.  Nothing like knowing your hosts assume you have cooties to distract from Victorian elegance!  Hee, hee.

We were herded to the next stop, which was the history museum, covering in brief everything from Ohlone/Costanoan history to the present.  They had some interesting artifacts, but the Director of the museum, who led the tour, had a voice that sounded so incredibly bored that it was hard to stay engaged.  She also made statements of dubious historic accuracy, such as telling us that the baskets in the display case - which were perfectly intact - were "thousands of years old."  Several kids rolled their eyes and a mom friend whispered in my ear, "I seriously doubt that!"  The museum activity consisted of sitting in the archive room - always an interesting place for me with my love of learning about history - and creating a "creation myth" around the assigned topic, "how the hummingbird got its red neck."  Unfortunately, they told us the actual Ohlone story first, so that hindered creativity, then, before we could even get started, she called time and had us pack up our papers.

We were then sent back to the historic house and, "because it is raining" (though it wasn't), instructed that it was too wet to do the planned scavenger hunt.  Instead, she gave us pieces of paper and read us the answers.  The kids then made cardboard "whirlygigs," which were pretty cool and something we might duplicate in wood for a future historic experience.  This final docent was nice, but oh-so-very concerned about strangers; when a visitor came up to the porch, she rudely asked, "who are you?" and then warned us, "he might be legitimate, but stay away from him."  Later, when K was checking our snails about 40 feet away from me, she warned her not to be too far from me "because there are a lot of strangers around."  I couldn't help to giggle to imagine her reaction had she seen us with the kids in the gritty heart of San Francisco's Mission district two days prior, surrounded by "strangers," some openly engaged in clearly questionable behavior and juxtapose that concern projected in this lovely and peaceful rose garden.

So, overall, a bit learned, though a bit too much of it in the educating for disrespect category. Ah well, being with friends makes the trip always worthwhile.

Thursday, April 24, 2014


"I have no words," to quote Macduff, and my voice isn't even caught in the pictures, but in the experience.  I gasped when Macduff killed my daughter, er... I mean Macbeth, though I'd seen it rehearsed hundreds of times. This totally captured the best of a learning experience, with the kids' passion leading the experience and spontaneous rehearsals between individual players enhancing their performance while illustrating how beautifully the joy of the play was the guiding experience.

All three of the witches totally rocked, taking on different personalities and yet working well together.  G also did frighteningly well as "Murderer #2," grinning from ear to ear while slaying Banquo and then young Macduff.

Our thanks to David for these awesome photos!

Science Class

A great theme for a final class of the spring; they emptied glow sticks carefully to figure out how they work, then made rubber glow balls with them. Glowing bubbles next!

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Mural Painting

For the past few weeks, the kids have been learning how to create a community mural; today they got to get started.  It was quite an experience, lots of people walking by, most admiring the kids at work, some shouting at us randomly, another pausing to light up his weed.   Seriously!  A very San Francisco experience, including stepping over someone sleeping nearby on the sidewalk to get to our corner.  The kids were nonplussed, hopefully learning to be city-smart. 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Easter: Treasure Hunt

Our Easter Egg hunt evolved to a treasure hunt a few years ago and we had fun with it today!  12 activities, each leading to the next, somewhat flawed with my lack of good penmanship and misplacement of one item, but still it worked in the end.

Looking for eggs; each had candy and a puzzle piece that they had to assemble for the next clue.

The back of the puzzle led to a magazine; the picture on the indicated page had another clue.

Finding the next clue, which said, "rhymes with rake," which they figured out led to the hideout of our garden snake

Pondering the next step.  They had to unscramble words, which led to the tomato plants, then remember a biblical fact, which led to a statue of an angel, then a solve an easy rhyme that led to the tub, then into the closet:

From there, they had to use a word from different indicated pages in a magazine, which led to a drawer; then a historical reference led to a clue under a candle, then a popcorn reference to the microwave and then the freezer.

The coded message in the microwave was solved with the code found in the freezer; success!

Easter: Bunny Cake

The Milar family tradition continues...

Easter Mass

Belmont has beat!  The choir sounded wonderful!

Abuela and Grandpa joined us for the celebration


Saturday, April 19, 2014

Good Friday

The girls sang at the Good Friday evening liturgy and the choir sounded fabulous.  Solemn and beautiful.  It was a poignant service and I found myself in tears, trying to keep from actually weeping.  I felt incredibly moved contemplating the the crucifixion and the agony His mother and friends must have felt.  Through the procession to touch the cross tears streamed down my cheeks.

The lovely service also had a funny element, or so I realized afterward.  Earlier in the day, the girls had complained about going to choir yet again this week (multiple rehearsals, and long ones, too).  When I asked what they don't like about it, they surprised me and said that they don't like not sitting with me because they can't ask "how long until it is over."  (Oh and that's my favorite part of mass, of course.  Ha!)  So we came up with a code in which they would ask without asking by signaling me subtlety and I was to respond with my fingers indicating time.  Only, bad mom spy that I am, I was more focused on making sure that K sang while moving her mouth, as she seemed to be amusing herself by singing without doing so.  (Ugh. Yes, really.)  So when I got the signal, I smiled and moved my mouth widely back at them to indicate singing.  Crossed signals indeed.  They kept pounding their chests with the code, I kept opening my mouth at them like I was a fish.  As I write this I keep bursting into chortles of laughter.  Good thing we were (I think/hope) subtle.  When we cuddled in bed that night we talked about it and when I realized what the code actually was and admitted that I totally forgot it during the mass, they were gracious enough to see the humor in my fault and laugh and laugh with me.

Great kids.

Back to the more serious (though not necessarily more important):  Toward the beginning of Lent, I found myself reflecting on the challenge of finding God in the space between my need/expectations for an inspiring homily/Mass and the reality I was getting at our current parish.  Charles and I had talked about looking for another parish (we had a great experience with a friendly congregation in Santa Cruz a few weeks ago), but the girls vociferously objected.  That surprised us, as they didn't seem very excited about any element of their experience there either, but they said that they knew people there now and liked that.  Fair enough.  So one of my Lenten resolutions was to contemplate the space between what I longed for spiritually and what I find at this parish where spirituality seems reduced to obligatory actions performed without joy.

A Good Friday liturgy that moves me to tears is good progress, for despite the human failings of tones and language during the service, which make every celebration feel dismal, I also felt a great connection to Christ.  This time it felt almost physical as I contemplated His face on the cross and the seven last words, about which I have heard so many profoundly beautiful lay reflections over the years.  Another (related) Lenten resolution has been to orient myself toward that which is positive.  Where better to do this than in church, where human weaknesses will  only disguise God's great love if I consent to that focus.  By looking past that which I found most unpleasant and not allowing it to distract me, I was graced with beauty in the homily (despite the undeniably dreary tones with which it was delivered) and as a result ended up reflecting at length on the great love that Christ has felt since the day of the Crucifixion.  I wondered again, as I did when our friend Mary died, whether time as we know it is relevant to God.  If not, then perhaps our love and the love of so many who have attempted to model his teachings did sustain Him in some way upon the cross.

As a mom, I ache especially when contemplating Mary on Good Friday, knowing the unimaginable horror of watching her gentle and brilliant child tortured and killed for, as Douglas Adams says, simply suggesting that everyone be nice to each other for a change.  My hope is that she found some hope and grace to sustain her that day.

In the space that is Holy Saturday, still feeling the hunger, sadness, and joy of Good Friday, perhaps there is an opportunity to commit to ongoing resolutions.  My hope and prayer is that they become habits that sustain increased connection and ongoing joy for some time.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Repurposing Broken Eggs

We went to my parents' house to help decorate the Easter egg tree, using eggs both new and some at least 30 years old. K was proudly putting one that she made last year on when it slipped off of the pin that secures it, fell, and broke. She was so upset; mad at me too, 'cause I had handed it to her, thinking it was secure. So I tried to find a way to reuse it and came up with delicate flower arrangements. They looked so pretty that she smiled happily and I was apparently (hopefully!) forgiven.

There's got to be some lovely Good Friday symbolism in this, right?

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Science Dad: Heat and More Experiments Making Candy

I took this after I heard one of the students say, "what, Ike, do you want to learn, too?"  He's always right there with whatever is going on...

The topic today was more about heat and temperature and there was work with thermometers and heating pads and more.  Then one student said, "what would happen to the temperature if we stuck our feet in that bowl of ice water?" and they proceeded to find out, with huge smiles all around.

Measuring the power of body temperature.  Experiments with human subjects; wow!  :-)

We had to reschedule the art class that follows this one, so Science Dad got two full hours again.  The second hour was spent demonstrating the different effects of various temperatures in candy making.  I read a scientific study once that said that sugar does not in fact give kids that crazy high we associate with it, that it is the environment.  We saw that today, in an unintended consequence bit of learning - they were crazed with excitement long before the candy was even made.  Here three of them are pulling salt water taffy (made sans food coloring, hence the more natural color).

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Tech Museum of Innovation

Our regular classes were cancelled this day, perhaps in at least one case because it is Holy Week. So we went to the Tech Museum and had fun learning about Madagascar's lemurs, the physics of building a roller coaster, robot design, and more. Fun to relax together and with friends....
Designing a roller coaster together and then watching the simulation.
Designing a rather wild robot with a friend
She was determined to build that robot and didn't even mind the wait