Gracie and Bridget have been working on memorizing patriotic poems this month for school. They have to be a certain length by grade level, which was far easier to figure out for Gracie than Bridget, but in the end they both had the perfect poem: The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus for Gracie, and a little poem I found on Pinterest from the 1930s called Little American Citizens by Annette Wynne. It's been a fun thing to work on with them at home, as there is value in memorizing poetry—something people don't do much anymore.
Gracie was especially nervous last night after gym as she practiced in the Statue of Liberty costume she wanted to wear but was having second thoughts about at the last minute. Robes, torch, and crown in place, she needed a book to hold; she went straight to the bookshelves in our bedroom and grabbed one of Old Grandpa's books, from his collection of fancy Reader's Digest versions of classics with gold foil titles. I started to say "no, no, not one of those...." but then I stopped myself, imagining the eye-rolling I would have received from Old Grandpa had he heard me describe one of his books as too precious to take to school. Book in arm, she recited the poem one last time, just at the right pace, just at the right volume.
This morning she was even more nervous. Boys would laugh at her in the costume. She would forget the words. She didn't want people looking at her. We talked about what one of her dear life coaches, Wendy, would say about being teased about something she worked hard for and was proud of, and that helped a little. Suddenly it occurred to me that having Old Grandpa's book with her wasn't just a fun part of the costume, though. I told her how Old Grandpa would have loved that she was smart enough and brave enough to successfully prepare this poem to recite, because he was once a speech and debate competitor and loved public speaking and history. Holding that book in her arm? It might not help her remember all the lines at the right time, but it would be like he was right there with her, cheering her on proudly, like a secret invisible weapon against nerves. That helped a lot.
I don't know how she did yet, because she isn't home yet. But it doesn't matter, really, because today she did a hard thing with her great-grandfather's memory in her heart.
Taken during our recent trip to Red River Wildlife Refuge aka the feral hog farm; these two got out ahead of us and I had to be the hiking paparazzi, running as close as I could on tiptoe before they caught me. I had to decide to not be broken-hearted that I apparently can't run on tiptoe through the woods and take sharp pictures at the same time on this one.
Matt and I both love tennis. Neither of us has ever played formally, but we have played a lot—though not a lot in recent years—and so we went ahead and signed Gracie and Bridget up for the short six-week long tennis intro at their elementary school, sponsored by the Bossier Tennis Center. We can't really fit in other sports for real because of gymnastics, but we also hate for gymnastics to be the only sport they know; the length and timing of this worked out. Plus, we are of the belief that tennis is just a good thing to know how to do. Like driving a stick shift. You just never know when it'll come in handy.
The big feature event was the jamboree play day, held at the Bossier Tennis Center this weekend. There must be a LOT of tennis going on in this town because I have never seen such a facility anywhere. The other part of the class has been held in the gym after school, and it was way more fun to be on actual courts.
As you might guess, Bee is a very dramatic, gymnastic kind of tennis player.
She also LOVES SERENA WILLIAMS. She watched the U.S. Open with great intensity a few weeks ago, and put her observations to good use:
Gracie is very, very athletic no matter what the sport... ....and to no one's surprise, she managed to operate the big fun tennis ball picker-upper while all the other kids in her group had baskets. Because if there's one thing we know about Gracie: she's always first, and she always holds the treat. It's uncanny.
It was a fun event, and I wish we had more hours and money to sign them up for lessons. We might get them rackets for now and just find some free courts to play on once in a while. No sport has surpassed gymnastics yet for any of them, no matter how fun it might be.
At the conclusion of the jamboree, there was a face painter. We had to wait A Very Long Time for said face painter; Matt and Maddie drove separately, so they missed the wait. But in the end, it was probably worth it:
[Ed. note: Gracie did not get shorted on paint, she actually requested just a small portion because she knows herself well enough to know that a face full of paint on a blistering hot and humid day after playing tennis might cause her to rip her face off within 2.9 seconds. Smart girl.]
iPhone photo, edited with the reinvented VSCO Cam app (click to see larger)
I took Gracie, Bridget, Maddie, and Maddie's friend Claudia to the Rocky Mountain Raptor Program for a tour today, where Gracie is a benefactor. She asked her friends not to buy her birthday gifts at her party in December and instead donate a small amount to the RMRP. She faithfully keeps up to date on news from the program via The Owl's Perch, and spends at least 30% of any given day in active thought about owls. I have a lot more to say about this place (and quite frankly, 101 other things that have been going on around here) but for now, this:
Gracie sparkled today. With focus that startled me, with her knowledge of owls that might have startled the wonderful tour guide, with the great horned owl she was lucky to spend a little time with. She was in her element, and it was a glimpse into her future that I've never fully seen before. It's hard to know if the dreams she has now as an 8 year old will weather the test of time some 15 years down the line, but today it didn't matter: today she was an 8 year old with philanthropist credentials, being treated like the legitimate owl scientist she has worked so hard to become.
and a very happy 8 year old with her first-ever invite-friends-from-school-birthday-party.
Two tips for throwing a successful gingerbread house birthday party:
1. Host at a location that isn't your house. Like the Arts & Crafts Center on base or similar. Even better if there are three adults from the Arts & Crafts Center staffed to help with the party.
2. Prepackage all the supplies. This step may do you in at the time, but it is worth it.
2. We had lots of Christmas programs to attend. Gracie was the star of the second grade portion of the show (as Frosty the Snowman) while Bridget generally sang as if she were on Broadway and not in the school gym, Maddie sang and played in the bell choir at her school, and the annual Christmas carol piano party at their piano teacher's house was great fun. Both girls played duets with their teacher, with each other, and the three of us played a "Tree-O." Ha ha. There was a terrible, horrible, no-good, no explanation gate-closure that nearly caused both Matt and I to miss Maddie's program—we slipped in separately after it started and it's a Christmas miracle that I didn't get a speeding ticket once the gate finally opened after 43 minutes of waiting (I was supposed to pick Matt up after dropping Gracie off after her 8 year checkup, but that didn't happen). Anyway:
3. There were parties to attend. Gracie was sick on the last day before break and missed her very fun party (the horror!), but Maddie's class had a little celebration, Bridget's class got to wear jammies and bring a stuffed animal (she brought her pygmy puff) and drink hot chocolate and watch The Polar Express. We skipped the Wing Christmas Party so I could go to The Nutcracker with the girls and their friends and their friends' mamas (one of my favorite things to do during December). Matt's squadron party was at The Plains and we spent an evening with our CFD family celebrating, well, life in general.
4. We hung out with school friends over break. Bridget and her preschool friend Cora got together twice, Gracie had a friend over from her class, and Maddie and her musketeers had a sleepover and an ice-skating date. We had lunch with Ms. Deb. We had a great post-holiday brunch with Abby and Wes, in which wonderful gifts were exchanged, including this one:
5. We made stuff. 8 billion chocolate covered cherries, multiple batches of pine bark, birthday treats and banana bread. A whole bunch of Christmas cards. Banners, mixtapes, framed gifts and needlepoint ornaments. Drawings and paintings, beaded jewelry and the beginnings of braided bracelets. Reindeer food and lots and lots of meals at home.
6. Someone got the biggest gift of her life and played with it nonstop. It might be plastic and ginormous, but there was never a child who wanted the Disney Dream Castle more than Bridget. She's been wishing for it for over two years now, and has organized art shows and rock shops to try and save up money to buy it herself. She told everyone for the last six months that Santa was going to bring it to her because she wanted it so much, and in the end, that's exactly what happened.
I will be very surprised if Bee doesn't grow up and work at Disney.
7. It snowed! It snowed! It snowed! The snow totally messed up the ONE DAY Melissa and I were able to meet in Denver for our annual Christmas shopping trip, but I still love snow. We're planning a New Year trip to IKEA in January as consolation. : )
We had the best Christmas Eve walk in the snow, too... oh, how I'm going to miss snow when we move.
8. We watched a lot of movies. The girls watched all four (FOUR! I know, ridiculous) Home Alone movies. The first one is practically a classic, the second one is OK... and I cautioned that the third and fourth were probably totally stupid... they were all in until the fourth one, when they agreed with me: totally stupid. We also watched Red Dog, E.T., Singin' in the Rain, and Hotel Transylvania together. Matt and I watched Lawless and Knuckleball and planned the next few months of nerdy documentary watching on Apple TV. I could easily be convinced to watch a movie every day.
9. I worked some with my camera. I took 100+ Santa photos for Operation Provide Joy and did a last minute photoshoot just before Christmas. It was terrific because a.) I have known a branch of the family since the first few months we moved back to Cheyenne, b.) I have photographed a branch of this family before and c.) they were really just happy to be together, and chose to have it in the grandparents' backyard. Everyone happily cooperated even though it was freezing, including four dogs. A sample:
10. We hosted a New Years session of Camp Dillow-Karahalis. But time is up and that deserves a post of its own anyway, coming soon. : )