Thursday, May 31, 2012

My little girl is growing up right before my eyes. On Gotcha Day (12/27/2010), she weight approximately 55 pounds and the difference in size between Preston and her was visibly evident:

Then, we brought her home and began feeding her good old American dairy products. It has apparently done wonders for her, because now any size difference between the two of them is subtle. I had them each step on my scale over the weekend. He weighs 70 pounds. She weighs 72.5 pounds. Yes. Even though he has 15 months on her, she weighs more than him now!

To illustrate, I'll share a family picture from May 19th. We were getting ready to do a 5K. I say "do" because some of us ran (Brock), some of us ran/walked (Preston & Shaling), and some of us just plain old walked. Need I name that person? The 5K was part of the 10 week Girls on the Run program that Shaling had just completed. Family members are encouraged to register and participate as well and it was a fun, positive activity for us to do together.

If Shaling weren't leaning back against me, you'd see even better how similar their heights are.

Monday night, I talked Brock into watching our wedding video for the first time in several years. I had the kids watch with us. Shaling kept asking when Preston was going to be in the video. We explained that he didn't come for several more years. After the video, Brock showed her a few minutes of a video from when Preston was a toddler playing with his cousin Maggie, who was about 5.

On Tuesday night, both kids requested that Brock put on "the Preston show" (more videos of Preston). He popped in some footage from our February 2002 trip to visit Grandma & Grandpa Reynolds in Marco Island, Florida. Preston was about 19 months old. I thought it was sweet hearing them all giggle, especially nearly 12-year-old Preston laugh at nearly 2-year-old Preston. So I took a brief video to share. You can view it here:

Shaling is in the midst of a week of golf camp and has basketball camp next week. Her softball games are ongoing as well. Preston is in the midst of two weeks of piano lessons and starts with a weekly social skills group next week. We have a college student babysitting them for the summer, which is incredibly convenient, because she also acts as chauffeur, shuttling them to their activities for us.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Spring 2012 Fine Arts Festival

Last night, Preston was a part of 3 different Rochester Intermediate School performing groups. At 6:00, he performed with the 6th grade concert band; at 6:20, he performed with the 6th grade jazz band; at 7:45, he performed with the 6th grade drumline. I enjoyed watching him play the bells, the bass drum, the drum set, and snare drum.

Concert Band

The first song of the evening was Westminster Prelude (2:59). Preston played bells.

The next song was the theme song from Angry Birds (1:33). Preston played bells.

The last concert band song was Abandoned Treasure Hunt (2:25). Preston played bass drum (and Grandma helped with the videoing).

Jazz Band

The only song on which Preston played drum set was Blues Machine (3:57).


Preston is on the far right (but you really can't see anything, because they were doing a blacklight effect that didn't show up on camera at all). 2:05

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Goodbye, Braxtina

I say goodbye to a true and loyal feline friend today. She’s been there for me through thick and then. Like many young couples, we wanted a pet soon after we married in 1994. We love dogs, but we lived in a condo that didn’t allow them. We found out through the grapevine that we’d be able to get away with having a cat, however. My dad and stepmom, Darlene, offered to bring me one from her brother, whose cat had recently had a litter. She warned me that only males were left.

We had a name, Braxton, picked out before the kitten arrived. Brock was in the midst of a stage of his life where he was fascinated by the Civil War and was reading several books on the subject. Braxton Bragg was a C.S.A. general, not necessarily someone I admired, but I really liked the name. Lo and behold, when they came with the kitten, she was a she, not a he. As I mused out loud about choosing a new name, my dad suggested simply altering her name to “Braxtina”. I liked the idea and so we officially had our first pet.

Those early days were fun, as she didn’t seem to know a stranger (she later became choosier about with whom she'd associate). She was playful and friendly, as most kittens are. Since Brock worked retail and I was a substitute teacher (and worked one day a week for Baird and Warner Real Estate), I tended to be home with her more than he did. She and I bonded. I became her person. She was there as I eventually became a full time teacher.

She developed a love/hate (ok, perhaps hate/hate) relationship with my brother, Scott, as he lived with us one summer while completing an internship. She was there in 1996 when I for the first time in my life had to bury a grandparent, my Grandpa Coonrod. In 1997, she was there as I earned my M.Ed. and later that year moved with us from Orland Park to Carlinville. She was there for me in 1998 when I buried my Grandpa Barkley (“Preston”, for whom I named my son). She was still there in 1999 when we suddenly lost my Great Aunt Annie.

She was there in July 2000, when I gave birth to my miracle baby, Preston. She was there through our wildly emotional roller coaster ride of infertility. She was a comfort to me when I buried my Grandma Barkley. She was there as I walked away from the field of education and entered the world of Information Technology. She was there when I buried perhaps my closest grandparent, my Grandma Bloomfield,who was a monumental part of my childhood. She moved with us yet again in 2005,when we arrived in Springfield. In fact, she rode from Carlinville in the U-Haul with her “beloved” Uncle Scott.

She was there as Preston sampled various sports, began his life as a percussionist, and wove his way through elementary and intermediate school. She was there when we decided to adopt a beautiful little 8-year-old girl from China. She was waiting for us at home in January 2011 when we arrived home with that then 9-year-old girl, Shaling.

Through all that and many other life milestones, she outlived 3 other cats and a dog that at one time or another joined our family. A fourth cat, Hula, is still with us. I snuggled with Braxtina through various tornado warnings. She protected me from numerous spiders over the years (by eating them – ewww – gross). She followed me from room-to-room, whether keeping me company as I got dressed, being nosy about what I was cooking, or sitting in my lap while I watched television or surfed the web. She was always there to greet me when I came home. She slept as close to me as she could. She had been on thyroid medicine for sometime, but only truly seemed geriatric the last month or two of her life

We got her when she was approximately six weeks old and we had been married approximately six weeks. Therefore, we have always counted our anniversary, June 18th, as her birthday. She would have been 18-years-old next month. She has virtually mirrored our married life. We’ve buried a cat before. It wasn’t easy, but this is different. So much of our lifetimes have included Braxtina. It is difficult for both of us (I know Brock spent a lot of time talking to her this morning). With all of the sentimentality involved, I don’t want to say it is any more difficult for either of us, but knowing that I was her chosen person makes it unique for me.

Goodbye, “Mommy’s Girl”. You were a great cat. I’ll certainly miss you.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Mother's Day - a mostly pictorial blog entry

My Mother's Day 2012 was rather low-key. I got some heart-warming cards, including 3 carefully chosen by my kids. We then went to a portrait studio and had 4-generation photos taken with my mom & dad, brother & his wife, and my grandma.

Last night, Preston had his last 6th grade track meet. He ran the 400 in 1:31, his fastest time. His previous best was 1:38. His first track meet, he ran it in 1:59. I was so very pleased to see him end the season on a high note. I know track doesn't exactly fit Preston's comfort zone, but it was fun to watch him improve and feel pleased with himself. He had to display perserverance and I would love to see him transfer that to other areas of his life.

Ok, the pictures. First, I want to show off the cards I got from my kids, as I found them especially meaningful.



from both of them

some of the portrait studio results

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Softball, Siblings, & Education

This past Tuesday was Shaling’s first softball game of the season. She was so excited about it that according to Brock, she bounded down the stairs that morning wearing her softball shirt, shorts, her knee-high softball socks, and a visor. She was r-e-a-d-y to play. He did talk her into taking the visor off and changing her socks for school, however.

I was unable to watch her first game, because Preston had a track meet in Riverton. Therefore, I unfortunately do not have any pictures to share. Hopefully I can get some tomorrow (Friday), as she has a 7:15 make-up game.

Last night, Shaling told me about a conversation she had with a girl at school. Apparently, this girl mocked Preston and then told Shaling to tell Preston that he is crazy. Shaling reports that she told the girl no, that she wasn’t going to be mean to her brother. That is SUCH a victory to me. I’ve always considered the true sign of a solid sibling relationship to be when one has the attitude that “I can pick on you all I want, but if anyone else does, it’s us against the world, Brother/Sister.” I was unsure if or when that attitude might be woven into the fabric of Shaling’s relationship with Preston. I’m thrilled to know it’s there.

Finally, we met with Shaling’s E.L.L. teacher yesterday. Mrs. Bivens is amazingly sweet and compassionate. She seems to truly enjoy working with Shaling. We met with her because I was curious as to how and when the transition to grades instead of Pass/Fail was going to be implemented. In a nutshell, what I discovered is that it’s going to work anyway we want it to work (more about that later).

What I found fascinating was seeing Shaling's language progression put into numbers. It’s obvious to anyone that she has made amazing strides, but as is typical of many of us Americans, there is something concrete about seeing scores.
Her language was assessed with a standardized sort of test in January 2011 (in order to place her in E.L.L. services) and again in January 2012 (to determine that services were still needed). She’ll continue to be assessed in January each year. The test is broken down in to Listening, Speaking, Reading, and Writing. Each individual score and her composite score are out of 6.0.

                      January 2011                         January 2012
Listening                1.0                                           3.2

Speaking                1.0                                           1.9
Reading                  1.0                                           2.4
Writing                   0.4                                           3.0
Composite              0.6                                           2.7

So, she has gone from a .6 to a 2.7 out of 6.0. That seems terrific. And that was done in one calendar year. She’s had another 4 months to improve even more, so I’m certain her score would be even higher, especially when I see how she’s writing now. She will need to score a 4.8 before it would be determined that E.L.L. services would no longer be needed. So proud of her for being more than halfway there.

She believes that Shaling is currently reading at about a 2nd grade level. Brock and I would agree with that assessment, which is fantastic, because she wasn’t even reading at a 1st grade level at the beginning of the school year.

As far as grades go, we’ve asked that she start getting letter grades in Spelling. She’s doing extremely well on her spelling tests and we believe that she needs to start being held accountable before she loses her motivation. She will remain Pass/Fail in other areas, but we may explore the idea of her getting letter grades on specific assignments, especially in math (but only when story problems are not involved) or anything that is pure memorization.

Friday, May 4, 2012

More Language Growth

Shaling's reading and writing have both improved by leaps and bounds recently. It's funny how we don't realize our children are growing while it's occurring, but one day we're suddenly saying, "when did this happen?"

As you might expect, her reading comprehension is far below grade level. In fact for book projects most of this school year, she's used 1st grade level books and that has been challenging enough for her. For 4th quarter, she and Dad read a book closer to her grade level together (with Dad doing most of the reading, but Shaling following along).

For homework, we have to read the questions aloud to her and usually also have to reword them or explain what certain words mean. She had some Geography homework this week that had 8 or 10 questions on it. She was able to correctly read, comprehend, and answer 4 of them before requiring help from us. Furthermore, the help she required on the other questions was minimal. For example, she read to me, "if you are traveling from Oregon to Wyoming, which direction are you going?" I was across the room, fixing supper, so I broke it down into 3 parts as follows:
  • Put a finger on Oregon
  • Find Wyoming
  • As your finger moves from Oregon to Wyoming, is it going North, South, East, or West?
I was amazed at how quickly she accomplished each step. She only hesitated on the third one, beginning to ask me which direction was North, but quickly recovered and did a "North, South, East, West" thing in her head and came up with the correct answer.

She's been making high marks on her spelling tests for a long time now, due in large part to the amount of time Dad spends drilling her on the words. This week was a rough one. Twenty words, all of which were lengthy and with multiple syllables. She struggled while studying at home and in fact, got the worst score (14) she's had in a long time on the practice test (which we administer at home). However, she scored a 20 out of 20 on the real thing! Way to go, girl!

Finally, she came home with a graded assignment (pictured below) that she insists she completed "all by herself" at school. From looking at it, I am assuming there was some guidance from the teacher. At a minimum, I'm certain there was a model assignment displayed for the kids. Despite that though, I am amazed at her writing and the minimal amount of grammar correction from the teacher. She amazes me.

Click on the picture to enlarge it.