Monday, July 30, 2012

And she's off!

We bought her the bicycle over a year ago.  The initial excited enthusiasm lasted less than a week before her hyper-cautious nature kicked in and she refused to ride it.  She was afraid she'd fall.  She didn't trust the training wheels.  She wasn't confident that we wouldn't let go.  She just didn't want to.  Training wheels or not (tho especially against the "not"), she would not ride her bike. Hoping to spur her along, we brought her bike on our family trip to Rottnest, where there are no cars and cycles are the best way to get around.  She wasn't having it.  She wailed at the thought and wailed louder when I got on her bike and rode it for her, trying (and failing) to make her laugh and spark her interest.

In the months since, we've talked about it as much as she'll allow.  In the past weeks, I've pointed out all the kids riding without training wheels and how fun it looks.  Lately, I have let it drop here and there that I intend for her to be riding her bike without her training wheels by the end of the summer.  How I was supposed to get her on the seat was beyond me, but I figured we'd get to that somehow.  I dropped it again this weekend, saying Stephanie could learn at the same time.  Markus took the training wheels off both kid bikes that day.  It was on.  Sort of.

Then, tonight, Ellie spied her bike, sans training wheels.  In minutes, it had been wheeled into the backyard, where Markus and I both enthusiastically assured her that even if she fell, falling in the grass doesn't hurt so it was no big deal.  He ran with her, holding onto her seat, encouraging her to pedal or steer or both.  Back and forth they went as I ferried dinner items out to the table.  And then I looked up and saw Ellie cycling all on her own, at first just a few feet before thumping her feet down in triumph...and then around and around and around the house she went until she wore a track in the grass with the sheer thrill, the joy, the freedom of it!

first ride without training wheels

first ride without training wheels

first ride without training wheels

first ride without training wheels

Just like everything else she has ever done, Ellie started riding a bicycle in her own sweet time.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Sewickley Academy

After much debate (mostly on my part), Ellie has been enrolled in the Sewickley Academy for the 2012-2013 school year.

gorgeous girl

When we first arrived, I visited Edgeworth Elementary School, the local public elementary school, and I was smitten.  It was by far the nicest public school I had ever seen.  It even made me (almost) wish I were a teacher again so I could teach in a school like that.  It was that good.


Sewickley also has a top-notch private school where most people like us (international movers) tend to go.  Their system aligns fairly well with the International Baccalaureate, making an easy transition to schools in Europe.  They use technology to enhance education, not replace teaching as I woefully observed in other schools.  I was so impressed with their high school program (one of the classes is "Modern History of the Middle East").  Family participation is encouraged, and a broad range of skills are requisite (including mandatory dance class for all students--picture 5th grade boys in ballet poses).

The screening was fairly intense with over an hour of testing Ellie for skills (at age 6!), but she was accepted with open arms probably before the screening was over.  I kept telling the admissions man that she was ready for Grade 2, and he was insistent on Grade 1...until he tested her.  Then, he was all about Grade 2.  As much as it annoyed me that he was so dismissive of my assessment, I was equally pleased when he recognised her skill level.  The public school was also prepared to put her in Grade 2 just because I asked them to, but at least I know the Academy is putting her there out of recognition.  Her age would normally have her in Grade 1 here, but she has already passed the skills they teach for that group.  The admissions officer even acknowledged that she already has many of the skills they hope to cover by the second half of Grade 2.  She will be well-placed and hopefully well-taught.

The biggest reason we chose the Academy is class size.  There is a maximum of 16 students per class, though it may be 14 or 15.  Ellie is such a sensitive, tender-hearted girl, and she has yet to be in a non-Montessori classroom.  We think she will like the discipline and attention facilitated by a small class.  I personally like that the creed of the Academy is "Curiosity, Courage, Compassion". Yes, please.

My worry about sending her to the Academy versus the public school was making her too different from the other kids, especially since all of the remaining 22 girls on our street go to the public school.  I really didn't know what I wanted to do since both schools were equally good at this age level, and I debated a lot.  There seems to be a touchy-sensitivity in public school kids towards the Academy kids, and Ellie certainly has a finely tuned radar for slights.  However, while we were away on our holiday, the choice seemed crystal clear to me.  She will go to the Academy, and I'll put in extra effort outside of school to help forge friendships locally.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012


We have just returned from a 7-day spree in Portland, Oregon.  Though neither Markus nor I can remember who or when or why, it seems so many people over the years have insisted that Portland would be the ideal place for us to settle down, whenever we figure out how to settle down.  It is a city with an airport (critical) but it's not big, not fussy, fairly liberal and green and very outdoorsy.  We were told the lifestyle would suit us the summer.  Apparently, you have pretty much guaranteed nice weather from after the 4th of July until the end of August.  After that, you are pretty much guaranteed that your favourite pair of wellies and a good raincoat will be appreciated.  Hmmm.

Every other time we had considered visiting to check it out, the time of year wasn't ideal.  Now that we're in the States and subject to school schedules with Ellie starting 2nd grade in the fall, we figured this was our time!  We went just after the 4th of July, and do you know what?  The weather was every bit as wonderful as we had been promised!  Escaping from over 2 weeks of temperatures near 100F and humidity to less than 90F, low humidity and cool nights (below 60F) made it a double holiday.

ready to fly!

We rented a vacation home in Lake Oswego, a fancy suburb outside of Portland.  We found it via airbnb, and we'd say it was a cross between a bed and breakfast and a vacation rental in that we had the house to ourselves but the owner (Shela) was still there in the basement.  It was quite an unusual arrangement and not one we would seek again, but thankfully she was wonderfully nice and so friendly with the girls that it all worked out ok.  It was a lovely house, a historic home she had saved from demolition and renovated beautifully.  She had saved some of her daughters' toys and had them out on the sun porch for our family to use, which the girls loved!  Fashion Plates (which I also loved as a child) were the huge hit.  Thank goodness I packed lots of blank paper and our colouring pencils!

our vacation rental

We try to take it easy on holiday, meaning the girls aren't overtaxed but Markus and I are often under-taxed.  We want to do and see, and we try to moderate.  This time, we did a side trip on Sunday and Monday to Mount Hood and stayed the night in the historic Timberline Lodge (dedicated by Roosevelt as an icon of the Works Progress Administration).  The craftsmanship in the lodge is stunning, and I felt privileged to see it and thankful we could appreciate and enjoy it.  Our room had a king-size bed, a single and a roll-away, so there were plenty of beds to jump on sleep in.  The pool has a view up the mountain and snow comes right to the fence.  The biggest thrill, of course, was the snow!  The girls were over the moon to play in snow for the first time in memory, and we were all very happy that we could play and wander to our hearts' content because the air was quite warm (80+ degrees F).

I have posted a ton of pictures in our flickr account, but here are a few of my favourites:

family portrait

"the running thing"

Timberline Lodge craftsmanship

Timberline Lodge

On the way home, we drove a different way so we could pass through Columbia Gorge and see the magnificent Multnomah Falls.  There are many falls and a famous dam along that drive, but the girls couldn't have cared less.  They have no love for long car rides, so that when we stopped for Multnomah Falls and got out for a closer look, they insisted they could see it just fine and could we please go home now.  The perils of childhood in our family...sigh.

Multnomah Falls

One of my oldest friends, Quinn, and his wife live in Portland.  I hadn't seen Quinn in over 10 years (wow), but we were able to catch up on this trip.  They made a lot of time for us, showing us all around Portland on Saturday.  We met at the university farmer's market, ate lunch at a food cart (essential Portland fare), stopped in at Powell's Books (overwhelming!), played in Washington Park and relaxed with a beer and pizza at the Lucky Labrador pub.  Quinn met up with us again on Tuesday and introduced us to another neighbourhood for good food and the most amazing ice cream at Salt & Straw.  Then, we drove out to Sauvie Island so the girls could play at the river beach.

good times

Portland was a great place for food and small neighbourhoods.  I am a huge fan.  The Waffle Window was a must-stop for us, and we went twice.  I admit it.  If you have the chance to go, do yourself a favour and order the blueberry cheesecake waffle.  It's a Belgian waffle topped with homemade cheesecake pudding (amazing stuff!) and homemade blueberry compote.  Holy moly.  Is it over the top rich and decadent?  Yes, indeedy!  Order it and enjoy it because where else can you have that?  Yum.

 Waffle Window!

Wednesday was our last full day, so we visited the Oregon Zoo in the morning.  Our girls are bit rotten on zoos (Rotterdam, Sydney, Perth, Singapore, Bali, Thailand elephant rides...), so they are a bit tough to impress.  Markus and I, on the other hand, were very impressed.  The Pacific-Northwest section of the zoo is built right into the forest setting, and it felt very much a part of it.  The zoo was well-designed and accommodating to kids (you'd be amazed at how many zoos are not), building in steps up to high displays and even putting step stools at the toilets and sinks in the bathroom.  Afterwards, we went back to the Waffle Window for a snack and then to visit a bike shop we'd found online.  Being atypical tourists but tourists nonetheless, we bought atypical souvenirs: new bikes!  I found a bike I'd always wanted, and they are going to ship it to me here in Sewickley.  Markus found a very unusual adaptation piece that will convert his old mountain bike into a bike that can fit two kids on the back.  It will take two weeks before we see them, but I'm excited.

On Thursday, Markus flew home with the girls and I carried on to San Francisco, taking my mom there for a long weekend as a birthday present.  It's a big year this year, and we wanted to celebrate in a special way.  Now, we're all home again and trying to settle into some sort of routine.  The weather is still hot and humid.  The air conditioning in the bedrooms is still totally inadequate.  But we are so thankful we had such a fantastic holiday...and we can't help considering a move there perhaps someday in the future. As Markus said, at least you can count on the summers being fantastic, and that is his favourite time to be out anyway.