Halloween and more

we finally got settled and back on schedule . . . just in time for Halloween. Paula and i went to the grade school to watch the giant Halloween parade through the school. as JD walked past me he yelled, “Dad, I lost a tooth.” so Ellie lost her first tooth on X-Mas eve and JD lost his on Halloween. as for their costumes . . . Ellie was some princess from Pirates of the Caribbean and JD was a bounty hunter from Star Wars. Star Wars was very popular amongst his classmates. here are two photos as we prepared to head out trick-or-treating (JD had a mask as well, but i wanted his face visible for the photo):

may the force be with you
may the force be with you

and Ellie:

princess
princess

Milan

day 14 (9/15)
our hotel had a terrific included breakfast. they also have a coffee bar included and my cappuccino was one of the best — the barista will custom make any kind of coffee drink you want as part of the breakfast — like having our own Starbucks.  we headed into the city centre of Milan and shopped a bit and then visited the giant Duomo (Massive Cathedral). the detail and ornamental structure of this building is incredible. after lunch, i took the kids shopping while Paula and her parents went to the top of the Duomo (it’s her parents’ last day as they fly out tomorrow AM). the kids and i visited a Mercedes apparel store and then back to the Ferrari store. JD couldn’t resist. and he bought another Lego thing with his money. I even bought myself a shoulder sling pack with a Ferrari logo on it for urban hiking (e.g., to hold my camera and a light jacket, etc.).

Elsewhere, Ellie bought some back to school outfits even though the kids first day of school won’t be just just over a month. but, even i thought the outfits were quite cute and how can a little gal visit Milan and not get caught up in fashion? towards the end of the day, i also bought some Ray Ban aviator glasses as my prescription glasses i had brought cracked. JD refused to go shopping for clothes for himself . . . i think that once he bought his Ferrari Lego thing, it was all his mind could think about. heh. oh yeah, when you buy 2 things at the Ferrari store you can sit in one of the Ferrari Indy cars. both Ellie and JD got to sit in one and i took their pictures. i’ll post photos soon, i hope.

day 15 (9/16)

Paula’s parents take off early today. i drive Paula to the American school of Milan. we all go in but JD, Ellie and i leave to head into the middle of Milan. i have a woman i met online years ago who has invited us to stay with her family. i end up driving into parts of Milan where only locals with permits are allowed. ah well. we finally figure out how to find my friend’s apartment in the city and she directs me to park my car in their garage space. Ana introduces us to her two little boys and takes us up to their apartment — very nice. this apartment has 4 bedrooms and JD and Ellie get one and Paula and i also get one.

Ana gives us a key to her apartment and the kids and i take a subway into the city centre. we explore around a bit and then meet Paula who has take a subway from the American school into the city centre. i should point out that a bunch of Africans are waiting on the steps up from the subway and they grab JD’s arm and put on a string bracelet before he knows what is happening. they’re yelling “free” “free” so i let them put one on me, too. that’s when they then ask for donations. i say, “i thought you said ‘free'” but they’re too busy asking for money . . . and they are much bigger than me. so i give them 2 Euros. this upsets JD and he rips his off.

after another fun day in centre and around the big piazza we take the subway back to Ana’s house for dinner. we had planned to take her family out but Ana decides to make dinner at her house (she uses a Bimby — Paula wants one, badly). we feed the kids and get them to bed and then stay up eating and talking late into the night. Ana’s husband, Gianni, is in advertising and had a big meeting with a new client earlier today. the new client was an expensive Brut maker and gave 2 bottles to Gianni. he opens one after our dinner and we all taste a very nice Brut — not my favorite kind of drink, but it’s still good. Ana’s English is pretty good and Gianni’s is even better. we spend time talking about the differences in our countries and life and our personal histories. this is a very fun evening. even though we’ve all just met today, i felt like we were hanging out with longtime friends. of course, Ana and i have known each other for a decade in online forums, so there’s that.

High society

day 13 (9/14)
we had our last cup of coffee in Cinque Terre and hit the road today. i am getting better at mountain driving and Ellie didn’t get car sick. the weather was gorgeous and we were treated to some great views driving up the Ligurian coast. off toward Milan, Italy. we stopped at a rest stop and ate at the little roadside joint. not bad panini. we found a 4-star hotel on the outer edges of Milan. it’s nice and the price is reasonable for the quality. we have to ride a bus for 20 minutes to get to the town center, but that’s worth it. i checked a 4-star hotel closer to the city center and it was more the double the price. MUCH more. so 20 minutes on the bus is fine. and Ellie and JD are getting to be pros on the busses and trains during this trip. the highlight of our evening was finding a Ferrari store. this place was amazing . . . and far larger than i could have imagined it to be. they have 2 Indy cars in the store and 5 different stories (or more). JD spent some of his money at this store on a Lego Ferrari kit and Ellie even bought a deck of cards, but she was much more amazed that you could buy the keys to a ferrari (non working) for $150. i am starting to get hungry for tiramisu, which i have yet to try here in Italy as gelato has always been my top choice. maybe tomorrow.

last night in Cinque Terre

day 12 (9/13)
today started off raining a bit. we all had rain jackets and walked over to the old town and shopped until lunch time. we had some good food for lunch and then i took the kids to play in two parks while Paula and her parents took the train to other towns for more shopping. i got the better end of that deal. the weather cleared up enough to stop raining by lunch time. but the Sea was really wild today. the first day we came, the sea was super mild — barely a wave. today we were seeing 7 and 8 foot waves crashing against the rocky cliffs and beaches. awesome to see. we decided to have a late dinner — more like the Italians. we headed out at 7 and ate slowly all night before heading home around 9. fun times in our last night in Cinque Terre. off to Milan tomorrow. we are going to miss Cinque Terre. i asked the kids how they are hanging without television and JD said that he’d completely forgot about tv. neat, eh?

More photos here.

day 7 (9/8)

today we jumped on a bus to the train station. i bought tickets and we rode a train for an hour to emerge in Pisa. jumped on a bus and 10 minutes later we were viewing the Leaning Tower of Pisa. wow! i took many photos, which are available here. we had lunch near the tower with a view of the tower and then it was time for us to go up. Paula’s dad, Paula, Ellie and i all climbed the tower — over 250 steps. JD and paula’s mom stayed down to take photos of us from the ground (JD wasn’t old enough). i shot much video of the kids around the tower and then of Ellie narrating things going up and on top. i’ll get that edited and posted soon as well. but let me tell you . . . being on top of the Leaning Tower of Pisa is breathtaking. it leans much more than you can believe when looking at it. and climbing stairs away from the lean turns really steep. it’s got the most beautiful views of Pisa and the Tuscan region beyond. wow!

we finished up and got back to the train station. just before our train was to leave, it was canceled. we finally got on one and made it back to Florence in time for dinner. it was a sidewalk cafe and i think most of us agreed that it was our second best meal of this trip. mmmmm. JD was the most hungry person in our group and his pizza took the longest to cook and came out very last. heh. the look on his face was priceless. after dinner, we hit up the vendors. Ellie and Paula bought scarves and a little purse for Ellie. i bought 2 ties (why, because i got 2 silk Italian ties for $8 total). i also grabbed a new hat. JD bought a famous Italian Futball player (soccer) jersey. i made JD talk the vendor down from $10 to $8 and it worked. we grabbed some gelato and called it a night. can’t wait to head to Cinque Terre for a week starting tomorrow. i think we all need some rest and relaxation on the beach.

finally online — EUROPE Edition

today is our first connection to the internet. ooh, how tough it’s been — NOT!!!

i should have photos available later tonight at this link: http://flickr.com/photos/jayhawk

day 1 (sept 1 & 2)
we arrived in Frankfurt, Germany at what would have been close to midnight our time . . . i had zero sleep and it was already nearly 7 AM — ouch. plus, the place was quite confusing. it took Paula and me about 45 minutes to figure out the pay phone to dial the person we called to get our car. finally we were off and right onto the Autobahn. zoooom! as we neared Austria, we stopped in a fairly small German village for lunch. it was quite cute. i found parking and some young 20-something guys tried to explain to me that parking wasn’t free; you needed a paper clock thingy on your dashboard. eventually, we figured things out and the guys gave me their paper clock for our car. when we finished, i set the clock back on their car along with a few Euro dollars. off to Austria . . . the Alps. we drove through tunnels and meandering mountain roads until we reached Innsbruck. what a beautiful town in the Alps. this community hosted the Olympics back in the 60s, i believe and is about 130,000 people. we had a nice hotel just across the river from the main old town area. 2 minutes from our hotel, we found an Italian eatery with an Italian owner and his son. the son spoke 5 languages and was our waiter. i think we all agreed that it was one of the better meals we’d ever had. what a way to start our trip.

day 2 (9/3)
we all  woke up around 4:30 in the morning and had trouble staying in our rooms until the hotel started breakfast at 7. off to Italy. it only took us less than 2 hours to get to Italy through the Alps. the mountains in Italy were large as well. we emerged near Verona and that’s where the GPS got confusing. it tells us street names, but the pronunciation is not very good, to say the least. off to Padova for a few days. our hotel in Padova was right across the street from the Basilica of Saint Anthony. big tourist attraction. it’s also in the old town. i had to drive on road after road that was barely wide enough for a car and i had guys on mopeds speeding on by me — and bikes as well. needless-to-say, i couldn’t find parking and then the GPS would have to steer me all around to find the hotel again. extremely confusing. i even ended up on a dead-end . . . and it took me a long time to turn around because of so little room. i was blocking bikers and pedestrians and it was highly stressful. come to find out, our hotel had parking. doh. we walked around the old town and into the Basilica tour. we also had our first gelato . . . we’re hooked. mmmmm.

day 3 (9/4)
Venice! we took a bus to the train station. 6 of us cost $14 to ride the train to Venice — about 1/2 hour ride. Venice is an experience. i cannot imagine a more touristy place in the world that isn’t Disney World. we took a boat ride from the station to the bridge Rialto. walked the rest of the day . . . i even managed to learn to navigate Venice quite well. fun to walk. we hit Saint Marks Square, but this place is shop after shop after shop after shop. and people, people, people from everywhere. i noticed so many cultures and different kinds of “cool” that nothing was really cool in Venice; you just were. we all decided that 1 day was enough and that we probably wouldn’t do Venice again in our lives. but to experience once was worth it.

day 4 (9/5)
woke up in Padova and had coffee. i thought i was ordering coffee . . . it came out as espresso — a small cup with super strong coffee. almost like liquid coffee beans, straight. YUCK. i can’t figure out how to get a coffee but i have now figured out that they know cappuccino, so that’s what i’ll have from here on out. jumped on the highway to head to Fanano. Fanano is in the central/west part of Italy and is located in another Alps area. beautiful. this is where Paula’s great grandparents came from. Paula’s mom is near tears as we arrive in the small mountain community (talk about meandering roads — sheesh!). folks here drive fast on these tiny roads. i had to pull over and let many folks pass me. i am having great difficulty with road signs as i don’t know what they mean. i am scared to drive faster many times because i have no clue what the speed limit is. so i let someone pass me then i keep up with them a safe distance behind. i am starting to speak Italian enough to say basic conversational things — Paula has a bit more and the kids are even using Italian these days. we walk from our hotel about 10 minutes to the town center. mucho activity. Paula’s mom meets people who speak enough English to converse and they know her family name and soon another guy is called in. he lives in Chicago and spoke with Donna on the phone last month. he also has a house here in Fanano and fills us in with all of the details, etc. The kids found Monkey park — a giant park of ropes and obstacles for climbing. very neat. they enjoyed it a bunch. they even met a boy who spoke perfect English. he had lived in the USA but his parents recently divorced and he was now in Italy.

day 5 (9/6)
still in Fanano. today we drove to the cemetery to look for distant ancestors. not much luck, but we found a lot of names that were known. the views from this area are just spectacular down into the valley. we also drove to a super small town where Paula’s great grandparents actually lived (about 3 km away). it was up even higher and had even better views of Fanano. we switched to a bed and breakfast in the town center today. great move and everything is happening right outside. in fact, today was the huge Festival for the Immigrants. we joined the town in the festival. we even sat at the head table with the mayor and his family. they all spoke English as did a number of other people, so we were able to have many conversations. i even spoke with an older Italian man for about 20 minutes — he spoke no English, but we managed to say much to each other. the kids went back to Monkey park and played again. we also had 2 big scoops of gelato to end the evening.

day 6 (9/7)we left Fanono and drove through the mountains for a few hours. skinny roads and high elevations. we had to pull over twice for Ellie as she just couldn’t handle the hairpin turns over and over and over and over. but we emerged and found a hotel in Florence. wow! this place is a 4-star hotel, which is incredible and it’s cheap. it’s on the outskirts of Florence, but right on the bus path. we hoped on a bus and were in Florence in time for lunch (20 minute ride). Florence was awesome. this is the city to visit if you’re coming to Italy. everything is great. it’s got some of the tourism stuff like Venice, but it’s actually got stuff to see and do and not just mostly shops. today was very, very slow with regard to tourists. we ate lunch and headed over to the museum to see the statue of David. Paula was scared it would be hours of standing in line . . . and most days it requires a reservation in advance. well, we showed up and walked right in. i mean, we walked right in. amazing. David was incredible. even Ellie noticed how detailed the the veins on David’s hands were. the statue is just huge. i’d guess it was 20′ tall and 30′ on the stand it was on. amazing!!! we looked around the museum more and then headed to the Cathedral. wow again! amazing art everywhere. statues, painting, and everything. we headed over to the river and the famous bridge before heading back to the Piazza (plaza) center for dinner. i love this city! we all enjoyed it.

Fore!!!

we recently had Ellie and JD take a golf class and today we went to the driving range:

[flickr]photo:2601906908[/flickr]

i also made a quick video showing them hitting the ball, which you can see here:

Early Spring Ramblings . . .

(Note: this is Paula’s post; not Sean’s)

This semester has been my busiest so far. I can’t believe months have gone by since my last post, but this is the case. I know this is an ancient reference, but Ellie did get the cowboy boots for school shoes and she has just about worn them out. Fashion is definitely an interest for her and something she uses to express herself. I’m already worried about the teenage years. I picture my little sweetheart with multiple piercings and at least two or three tattoos. Maybe it won’t be that bad! And, certainly there are worse things. She is planning for her 7th birthday. She plans to have a science and engineering party this year. We’re going to build kaleidoscopes and make structures with toothpicks and mini marshmallows. Should be interesting. Hmm, I’m starting to imagine an alternative-type engineer. Do they make tie-dyed pocket protectors? Gee, she’ll fit in well.

Ellie’s sixth year has been a great one. She has had a fantastic experience with first grade (thank you Ms. Heiler!!) and has grown in so many ways. She’s a reading and writing fool. And, she’s a great thinker. I have a book about teaching philosophy to kids, and she’s always asking me to ask her questions from that book. We’ve had great discussions about the meaning of love, the value of individuality, and what it really means to be a friend. The other night in the car we were talking about how love brings joy and that money can never really make you happy. I told her how much I agreed with one of her statements and she said, “well mom, when I get a little older, you can call me the wise one.” I just thoroughly enjoy her company.

Her and JD have been getting along great lately too. They have their moments but for the most part are good siblings. JD really knows how to get under her skin though and he does it in such a stealth way. She’ll be working on something and he’ll walk by whispering, “mess up, mess up, mess up.” It makes her so mad! Other times, he draws her pictures and brings her special treats, so I guess it all evens out.

JD has taken a big interest in math. He sits up in his loft at night and on many evenings when I check on him, he’s flipping through some flashcards Santa left in his stocking. On many of the addition facts, he’s faster than Ellie, another things that upsets her. He’s interested in reading too but not quite as much as math. He did complain recently that the preschool teachers haven’t taught him to read yet. He assumed that would be part of the curriculum! He’s also starting to really enjoy his two sports of choice, basketball and tennis. He’d play everyday if he could and has enrolled in three sessions of basketball class. I think it’s so cute, but can’t let him know that as he’s quite serious about his mad skills.

JD and Robert are still best of friends. Robert is a great kid and pretty hard to beat as friends go. JD hasn’t found many boys, if any at all who meet friendship standards as set by Robert. They are very much like brothers and a lot of fun to have around. They even let Ellie join in, which works for her, because their play is so enjoyable.

As great as the school year has been for the kids, I think we’re all looking forward to the summer. I know I am. We all tend to slow down to enjoy the best season of the year! I will try to write more often and share specific stories. In the meantime, enjoy the spring. There is something energizing in the return of the birds, the popping of the early spring flowers, and the opportunity to open windows for some fresh air.

March 2006 Update

i’ll start this update with JD. JD has been participating in a basketball class class lately at the rec center we joined late last summer. he is in a class with his best buddy Robert and some other 5 and 6 year olds. when the class first started, JD was fairly uncoordinated. i showed him some Pistol Pete video and explained how much PP liked to dribble around town and how he worked on dribbling all of the time. now in class the coach will have everyone gather around and they all sit down while JD stands back behind everyone and just dribbles, dribbles, dribbles. and, after about 6 – 7 weeks of classes, he is getting MUCH better. they had a drill this past week where the kids shot from 3 different spots and the coach would have them shoot and then make them run to the next spot and get the feed and shoot quickly again. JD made all 3 of his shots while most of the kids missed all 3 shots. he’s just getting it lately and he’s loving it. sometimes it’s hard to keep the proper perspective and remember that he hasn’t even started kindergarten yet. i have another little JD story, but it’s related to Ellie’s story so i’ll start that first.

Ellie will be taking a big test tomorrow. the test is a test for the gifted program in East Grand Rapids. let me first explain that this is the 3rd grader’s test. all second graders take this test to see who qualifies for the gifted program. the top 10% of second graders are then eligible for the gifted program. that being said, Ellie has been selected to take the test as well. for her to qualify for the gifted program as a first grader, she’d have to beat 90% of the second graders taking the test. no first graders that took the test last year qualified, so we aren’t holding out any hope. but, Paula and I worked with Ellie on a practice-type test so that she’d get a feel for the kinds of questions that might be on the test (it’s just reading and math). we bought the practice test on Amazon and had Ellie try the reading portion. Ellie got every single question correct in our first session (about 1/2 of the practice test in reading). her verbal skills are pretty awesome. the next night, i had her try her hand on the math problem solving. it was more difficult for her. the thing is, she has to read the directions and figure out how to do the problems herself. many of the questions are posed in ways that she doesn’t understand; however, she can do the concepts if they were worded differently. for example, she knows how to do multiplication (hasn’t memorized the times tables, but she knows how to solve multiplication). the test presents mostly word problems instead of the number problems they do in first grade, so that was an adjustment. but the test would say something like this, “Mary has 2 times as many apples and she has oranges. If she has 3 oranges, how many apples must she have?” she didn’t know what times meant until i explained it to her. once she realized it was the same as multiplication, she was golden. keep in mind, they haven’t even heard the word, “multiply” yet in first grade — this is just from home tutoring. anyway, if she really knows what the questions are asking then she can get most of the problems correct, so we’ll see how she does on her own starting tomorrow. i think the test takes place over many days and the test forms are mailed elsewhere to be scored, so who knows when we learn more, but it should be a good test taking experience.

i said i’d tie JD back into this discussion. as i was working on math problem solving with Ellie, I was posing a bunch of questions out verbally. JD was sitting about 10 feet away looking through a book. a couple of times, he actually beat Ellie to the answer and he was correct. for example, one question said, “what do you get when you add 600 + 50 + 3” and JD knew it within a second. Ellie blurted out, “HEY!” and JD just chuckled. i think he’s ahead of many first graders with regard to math and i know he’s even ahead of a few with regard to reading, unfortunately. also, Ellie asked me today to explain adjectives. i doubt she’s learning this in school, but she’d heard the word and was curious. she knew it was a part of speech. i explained it to her and when JD heard the word ‘noun’ he immediately said, “a noun is a person, place or a thing.” not bad for my little preschooler. he’s sharp.

Notes and photos

well, it’s been too long. Ellie has her first loose tooth . . . actually, she has 4 loose teeth right now with 2 getting pretty close (bottom front). JD has been growing up fast as well. we just had a parent-teacher conference with JD’s teachers and she told me that JD is excellent in every category except for 2. he isn’t a great artist and he doesn’t know how to resolve conflict very well; however, she said that every kid in the class needs work on this and that they won’t master it at this age anyway. his report card had about 50 categories JD was doing terrific in all of them. in fact, JD is the only kid in the class who can count to 100 . . . and he has counted past 700 before giving up. the teacher had to stop him. heh heh. he is also reading small words, though i think i mentioned that previously. he should be ready for kindergarten next year.

i took the kids to ohio about 2 weeks ago. we went down to aunt Amber’s (Am and Dave and AJ) and my mom and Bill drove up as well. even uncle Barry flew in for the weekend. we had a lot of fun and took time to visit the children’s museum where we had a ball. here’s the kids with their grandmother (doing some experiment with sound):
Grandma Kids

here is the kids with their grandma and grandpa:
Grandparents Cook Kids

and here are the 3 grandkids (AJ is their cousin):
Grandkids Ohio
on halloween, we collected a lot of candy, but Ellie’s feet started to hurt. she went as Dorothy from the wizard of oz (she was born in kansas, which made it an even better costume). unfortunately, the ruby red slippers weren’t very comfy:
Ellie Dorothy Oz

JD went as batman as shown here:
Jd Batman

and finally, here are the kid just hanging out at the children’s museum in Columbus, Ohio:
Kids Ohio
you should be able to click on any photo to see a larger version.

we are leaving for kansas early next week to hand out for Thanksgiving. should be fun.

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