March update

Okay, March Madness is in full effect. I am still trying to get the kids excited about KU basketball. They sort of follow the Jayhawks, but not enough to watch. Hmmm. In due time, I suppose.

Ellie and JD are busy playing tennis. Ellie just finished being in the school play (Sleeping Beauty) and she was a narrator. JD is getting ready to start lacrosse.

Our house is in disarray as our kitchen is being remodeled . . . I mean really, really remodeled. Our old kitchen and dining room have been combined into a very large kitchen. The old formal living room is now 1/2 formal living room and 1/2 formal dining room. It was a large room so it looks natural with the new look. And, the kitchen cabinets and flooring and new walls and openings are all in place. We’re just waiting on tile, backsplash, some lighting, countertops . . . and appliances, which come tomorrow.

I am leaving for 3 weeks to South Africa near Cape Town to work with some GVSU students who will be teacher assisting in township schools. We’ll also spend about 10 days touring the country along the Indian Ocean to see elephants and much more. Should be loads of fun. Be sure to check back for photos of the trip and of our kitchen.

I have been taking a photo each day and there are bunches of the kitchen in various stages. You can access our photos using the link at the top.

quick update

both kids have been elected to the student council by their classmates. actually, JD tied so he and another child will each represent their class 1/2 of the year. academically the kids are getting off to a great start. in fact, JD had his teacher stop by our house the other day to tell him that he had aced a spelling pre-test. he didn’t have to take the regular spelling test like all of the other kids. this was the first time this has happened this year. JD’s teacher said he is breezing through the math tests they’ve had thus far and that he’s already at a much higher level of math.

Ellie has a wonderful teacher who is really pushing the kids to be much more cognizant of their roles in the learning process. Ellie’s writing is improving by leaps and bounds and i thought it was already great. she was also the first student in her class to take an Accelerated Reader (AR) test over an AR book, which means she read the book and was ready for the test before the other students. she just took the NCLB tests these past 2 weeks (called the MEAP in Michigan), so we’ll see how she compares to last year — when she took the test the day after we returned from Europe. Ellie was also selected to be a crossing guard when the 5th graders had a camp a few weeks ago. Ellie even patrolled the corner by our house so she got to help JD across the street. finally, Ellie also made the choir, so she practices for that early before school a few days a week.

the kids have their Halloween costumes. Paula was in San Fransisco so i took charge and helped the kids order costumes online. i’ll get the photos posted shortly after Halloween so stay tuned.

The Great North

we took off for Michigan’s Upper Peninsula on Friday, July 31st early in the morning. 5 hours later and we were pulling into Paradise, Michigan where we’d stay. we had lunch and then ventured off to see the Tahquamenon Falls. the upper falls are huge and the water looks like root beer because of the underlying soil. we hiked a bit and even rented a rowboat to explore an island between the two lower falls.

we had a great dinner of fresh fish from Lake Superior and then headed to our cabin. our cabin was rented when we arrived so we got upgraded to a big house right on Lake Superior. IT. WAS. GORGEOUS! we had a fire pit so we made S’mores and enjoyed the sound of waves crashing into the shore. very pleasant.

the next morning we woke up early and headed off to Canada, specifically Wawa, Ontario. this was our home base for the next many days. however, on the way we had to drive through the Lake Superior Provincial Park (we were there just two years ago, fwiw). we hiked down to see the ancient wall paintings. the hike was fairly difficult for the kids, particularly after having been in the car for the past 5 hours. but they did swell.

it was about a 20 minute drive to our next hiking trail this day. on the way, the rain starting coming down and boy did it ever pour. we had to pull over because i couldn’t see the road and many other vehicles were doing the same thing. however, the rain lasted for only 15 minutes and then it stopped. when we started down the next hiking trail, it was completely soaked and we had the trail completely to ourselves. did i note how wet it was? but it didn’t rain on us during this 2 hour hike so that was nice.

we had a nice dinner back in Wawa and got all checked into our room for the night. early to rise the next morning for a day filled with fun. we rented a canoe and canoed in the largest lake in the interior of the Provincial Park — Lake .

it looked like rain much of the cold morning (started at 49 degrees before getting into the high 50s). but we stayed dry and canoed and explored around bays and islands . . . we even found a private little island for our lunch spot, which the kids thought was really neat (as bears couldn’t get us out on the island).

we decided to do our big hike that afternoon around Orphan Lake. this is a 4 – 5 hour hike and it’s not easy. the trial takes you way up high over Lake Superior and Orphan Lake:

and then it drops down all the way to Lake Superior with some neat waterfall area along the way:

everyone was a trooper and we managed to complete the hike in about 4 hours even though we took an extended break to relax and play on a waterfall (or the huge boulders that made the waterfall).

the next day we set out to enjoy Wawa in the morning. the kids mined for precious stones and gems (and found some):

we then ate lunch and then rented a canoe from a place right on Lake Superior and headed up river to our own private waterfall.

after that, we decided to head back for another decent hike. and that’s when we saw this guy, who was fortunately more scared of us:

the hike we were on was the toughest yet as it was going up a HUGE incline to cliffs towering above Lake Superior. but the views made it worth it and the clouds were coming in low to make the view even better.

the next post will be about part 2 of our trip.

Summer camp

it’s that time of year . . . time for kids to rush off to camp. and that’s just exactly what Ellie and JD did this whole past week. Camp Manitou-Lin, which is about 1/2 hour south of us was the all day home to our kids. Each morning the kids would jump on a bus at our local middle school at 7:40 AM and then we’d pick them up back at the middle school at 5:20 PM. long days.

Ellie spent her week at a horse camp. She learned all about horse safety and how to ride. She spent much of her day riding horses as well. Her horse was named Trusty.

JD attended the regular day camp. His best friend Robert and classmate Cooper were also attending this day camp. Apparently, Paula had written on JD’s information page that JD was a serious kid. Thursday night was parent night. When we met JD’s counselors the first thing the gal said to me is, “serious kid? was that some sort of joke? seriously? he was the silliest kid we had this week. i mean, just look at him!” we turned to look at JD and this is what we saw:

JD had learned how to split one of those helicopter things from trees and stick it to his nose . . . and boy did it stick.

On Thursday night the kids were all allowed to spend the night at the camp. Ellie decided she didn’t want to sleep in the barn (horse campers had to sleep in a barn). But JD made the decision to stay at the camp and sleep on the floor of a lodge cabin in his sleeping bag. they had a campfire and s’mores and sang songs and had a grand ol time.

they can’t wait to go back next year.

School is out

the end of the year came and went and now we’re enjoying summer vacation. on the last day of school, Ellie’s teacher gave everyone an award for this and that. Ellie earned a best behaved award. after everyone got the award, the teacher then gave a final award . . . he talked it up as the person who is a great students and who is always ready to learn and encourage others to do the same. he said it was a teacher’s pet award as well and he said a few other complimentary things. while he was describing this student the other students in the class started pointing at Ellie. sure enough, the award went to Ellie. i was there and i couldn’t have been more happy for Ellie. a great finish to 3rd grade.

as we were packing everything up, we ran by Ellie’s class to grab the last little bit. JD’s teacher was talking to Ellie’s teacher (Mr. Keller) and i made a joke to Ellie’s teacher and said that JD just wants to skip 2nd grade and jump right into Mr. Keller’s 3rd grade. without missing a beat, JD’s teacher said, “and he could probably do that just fine.” a fine end to the year — a year where the kids missed the first month and 1/2 of school while traveling through Europe.

Paula is reading some book all about the foods we eat. she’s decided that we eat too much processed foods and she’s making changes. sweets are gone and all purchases are now healthy. we have a garden outside that is our biggest yet and we’re growing all sorts of veggies and herbs, etc. Paula is getting Vegetarian Times and i have to admit that some of the recipes are pretty darn good. that being said, Paula made veggie sloppy joes not too long ago and JD was so excited when he heard “sloppy joe’s” . . . when he got the dinner table and saw that it was actually veggie sloppy joe’s he started crying. it was too cute. he couldn’t be more meat and potatoes, but that doesn’t stop Paula as she just keeps making the good food and JD sighs and eventually his hunger wins out and he’ll try stuff and realize it’s at least edible and sometimes even decent. hopefully his taste buds mature a bit or this new healthy diet is going to really be difficult for the boy.

Cruising along

well, the kids are nearing the end of the school year and they’re doing quite well. since Odyssey of the Mind has ended the kids finally have a bit more free time. they are both taking piano lessons and also tennis lessons. we’ve been playing lacrosse in the front yard quite a bit and we have had some great games of horse on the driveway. it’s great to get outside to enjoy the weather this spring. they are both reading like crazy and i am pretty sure J.D. knows everything about Star Wars that was every written or even imagined.

we are starting to plan some of our vacation stuff this for this summer and i think we’ll be heading back up to Mackinac Island and then on up into Canada to explore the north shores of Lake Superior. i am pretty sure we’ll find moose this summer. fingers crossed.

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.

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:

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.


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


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

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.

From point A to point B

Josh is crawling now. He started late last week and is already about as fast as a kid can be on all fours. I think he waited until he knew he could do it well before trying. Josh was crawling around and we were getting dinner prepared on only his second day of crawling. Paula went to check on Josh and Ellie in the living room and Josh was standing up (wow!). He had pulled open a drawer on the entertainment center and grabbed hold of the drawer and pulled himself up. This was the first time he had stood up on his own. Bunches of firsts for the little guy.

Just prior to crawling, Josh was quick to get frustrated and let you know about it. Now that he crawls, the fussing is much closer to nil again. Whew! He is a happy boy.

JD in April

Copycat JD

Well, Joshua is getting more and more vocal. He says, mama and dada and lots of other sounds — often just to hear himself talk. He and I will often get into shouting contests and that causes him to laugh and laugh.

He is not quite crawling yet, but he scoots around and rolls over and over to get where he wants to go. It is interesting to note that Joshua can stand and walk around if you let him hold 1 finger in each of his hands. He can also sit up alone and stand if you place him so that his hands are on a table.

He is a demanding child and knows what he wants and lets you know. He wants to do everything Ellie is doing and loves to watch her. He can often sit and watch her do something and laugh when she looks at him. I wish we could bottle this love up and pull it out when these two are older. 😉