Saturday, March 27, 2010

Competition: Debrief

Well, now I know a bit how Eddie the Eagle feels. Or maybe the Jamaican Bobsled Team.

You do something. You have fun doing it. And then someone says "Hey! There's this event happening, and you can join in if you want! It'll be FUN!" But unlike those Olympians, nobody told me that this event was one where Kelly would be competing against World Class Dancers, some of whom had BEEN ON TV.

And all those rules and regulations about shoes, and hose, and hairdo, and dress color and style? Apparently, for the young kids, those rules are rather fluid.

We were like The Little Amish Couple showing up to a taping of the Semi-Finals of American Idol, bypassing hair and make-up and wardrobe, and going on stage by accident.

But we had fun.

We got there early enough to check in, and then watch the Pro-Am Senior Division for a while before we had to be lining up in the staging-area for the kids' events. And we had a table right on the dance floor. Kelly got a chance to watch some really lovely ballroom dancing up close.

And then these two couples came out to dance. I don't know what heat they were in. And what's up with the tuxedos and fancy ball gowns? What happened to "plain un-embellished gowns of a single color"? They were Kelly's age.

They were spectacular dancers. I'm not sure, but I think they each got an award.

And then they went running off the dance floor, and Kelly's group was called up to get lined up.

See the couple behind Kelly and Vladimir? Why, yes, that would be the couple that just won some major award. They did NOT look like pre-novices. And that dress is NOT a 'dark solid colour that is not shiny, within 2 inches of the knee' by ANY stretch of the imagination.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Watch your daughter, and try not to cry.

Oh look. Who's that charging past Kelly and Vlad, looking like they're on some Dancing with the Stars episode? Why the other couple of the 'professional exhibition' dance of less-than-an-hour earlier.

Breathe in.... breathe out.... Watch your daughter.

Ooh. it's the tango! I love this.

Serious face. Because the Tango is a serious dance. "I love you, I hate you. Come here. Go away!"

Awww. You did it! It's over! And you survived. Curtsey to your partner, while all the other couples do this flamboyant twirly 'present ourselves grandiosly to the audience' move. I like that you kept it simple, kids.

And look! What's this? They got called up for the awards presentation! They almost didn't get their award, as they had been taken out of the ballroom by their teacher, and had to come running in to get their award.

I was so proud!

Congratulations, kids! We are so proud of you!

The second session of dancing, Kelly and Vladimir were in a heat with 13 couples. And the other twelve were these little stage-darlings. SRSLY! How can you compete against this?

Oh, and Toni said that she saw this little girl on Dancing with the Stars:

But you know what? They had fun, once the initial nervousness subsided.

And even though they didn't get any trophies for this session, they got a lovely green ribbon, and they had the joy of the experience.

But maybe next time, we won't compete against a group of the international elite.

Friday, March 26, 2010


I finished the gown this morning.

And then Kelly and I went out and got the shoes that she'd need to compete in. Ouch. Wasn't really expecting that expense, but they should last her for a good long while. And then we got her pantyhose, and hair-colored bobby pins, and we never got a navy blue camisole, so she'll just be going commando on top.

It's not a fancy-pants gown, but it does have a full circle skirt for the top layer. It was a pain to hem. There's a more A-line skirt as an under layer, so when you spin, you get a nice look. There were so many regulations for the dress. It had to be a solid color. It had to be a dark color. It could not be shiny. It had to be completely un-embellished. It couldn't have frills or lace. It had to be within two inches of the knee. It could not show any decolletage. It had to have a minimum width of shoulder strap (I hope they're not too picky, because we might be a little bit shy of regulation here). They had to have un-remarkable shoes, with suede soles, and less than a one inch heel. They must wear hose. The hose must be nude. They may not wear make-up. They may not wear jewelry of any kind. They may not wear nail polish. The hair must be in a bun. It must be secured with pins that are the same color as the hair. There may not be any embellishments in the hair. The list goes on and on.

Why yes, that would be BOTH of the gowns I made. I will admit that the second one (Kelly's) was just every so slightly easier to make.

I got her hair right on the first pass. Thank you Jesus for small miracles.

And then, just as we were getting ready to go to the final practice, my parents drove up in their motorhome.

So both grandmothers got to come with us to the practice. And when I got to practice, I was pleased to see that the teacher had managed to snag two tickets for tomorrow's competition. Kelly will need one to even get in the door, even if she is a competitor. And I'll use the second one, and take piles of photos.

Now she just needs to paste on a smile, and look like she's not expending any effort...

And this will all be over this time tomorrow.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Chaos on a cracker

I think I have mentioned that Kelly takes ballroom dancing lessons on Wednesdays. Her friend Carrie takes them too. There is a big ballroom dancing competition coming up at the end of this month. Carrie will be dancing with the teacher in a "Pro-Am" (professional/amateur) pairing, and there is a pair of middle school students dancing as a couple.

There was a modicum of chaos the last few weeks, when Carrie's mom kind-of, sort-of volunteered me to make Carrie's ball gown. Ouch.

*shakes it off*

Anyways, I finished Carrie's dress (except for the hem) before I went up to Canada last weekend, and I finished up the hem yesterday before bringing the dress to the dance class (so she could practice dancing in the dress).

At the end of the dance class, (I'd stepped out to grab groceries, so I had missed a part of the middle of the class), Kelly was looking like the bird that had swallowed the canary. The teacher came up to me, and said "There's been a bit of a glitch for the competition this weekend. Lori (the middle school student, girl-half of the couple competing) wrecked her knee, and can't compete. Vladimir was hoping to compete, so here is my suggestion: I think Kelly knows most of the steps, and could easily take Lori's place, if you would agree to her doing it."

We stayed after class for an hour, and I watched the teacher put Kelly through her paces as Vladimir's partner. Now, Lori and Vladimir have been dancing as a couple for the last TWO YEARS, and they've been preparing for this competition since before Christmas. I was, to say the least, rather apprehensive. I don't want Kelly to be set up to fail here. And I don't want her walking away from her first competition with a bad taste in her mouth. On the other hand, I know that she was a little disappointed to watch Carrie and Lori prepare for this competition and know that she wasn't going to participate.


In the last 24 hours, I have:

  • registered Kelly with the National Dance Competition Association

  • given Kelly's new NDCA membership information to her teacher so he could register her as an alternate for this competition

  • tried to find 'regulation' dancing shoes for her to wear in competition

  • found a hair net for her (regulations insist on a high bun, secured with a hair net)

  • picked up fabric for a ballgown

  • sewed a ballgown

Yes. You read that right. I have sewed Kelly's dress.

It is not quite complete. I need her to try it on tomorrow morning, and then I will cut it up to the 'regulation' length. I think (but i need to be sure) that it needs to be no more than an inch above the knee, and no more than three inches below the knee. Or it could be the other way around. Either way, I am going to try to hem it RIGHT at the knee. It's a full circle skirt. With a half-circle lining skirt. That's a LOT of hem. I will NOT be doing it by hand.

Kelly has one last rehearsal (this is the thing that is just giving me kittens!) before the competition. Her quick-step is a little scary right now. She stumbles over her feet something fierce. And that is just one of the SIX dances that she is signed up to dance with Vladimir.

Also, this thing has been sold out for a while. There is a possibility that I won't even get a ticket to get in to see her compete on Saturday afternoon. I will throw myself at the feet of the organizers, and beg for mercy, as I hold my camera up to them. She can't do this competition without me documenting every last turn and dip! I *must* photograph this event.

Oh, and to add an extra slice to the chaos pie, Ken's mother comes to stay with us tomorrow morning, and my parents should be arriving tomorrow afternoon. And it's spring break, so this afternoon, I brought the toads home from Nate's class, Kelly's 6th hamster home from her class, and a tank full of praying mantids home from Nate's class.

Did I mention how much I love watching the praying mantis catch prey?

It's calming and soothing. In fact, I think I will go watch them some more.

Ahhhh. I can feel my blood pressure decreasing already...

Thursday, March 18, 2010


I pulled out my tripod the other day, and thought it might be good to start getting familiar with it. I know that it'll take better photos than I can take just holding the camera freehand.

Kelly thought it was a great new toy.

It was a glorious day yesterday. And the rosemary bush in the front garden was absolutely a-buzz with bees.

An excellent time to test out the close-up lens and tripod for stability.

Bees in flight! Wow.

Flying off to find the next flower...

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Animal Planet in the Classroom

Today, I was in Nate's class, putting together homework folders while the kids were getting ready to go out to their first dance class in the gym.

Oh, and get this! One of the things that our fundraising efforts pay for each year is dance classes for the second and fifth grade classes. For the last 5 years or so, it's been Central American dances. Lots of pan pipes, lots of boys wearing cowboy hats, and girls wearing floucey skirts and colorful shawls in the concert (oh yes, there is a concert for the parents in May). But this year? The woman who's giving her time, and coming in to teach the kids? She's new, and she's teaching them BOLLYWOOD!

It is a HOOT!

And the kids are loving every minute of it.

I thought "Hey, I've got my camera with me, I should go out and take some photos of them trying to be all Bollywood!", so I finished up with the homework packets, and headed for the classroom door.

My eye caught a bit of activity.

Hmm. What's that on the daffodil?

Let's take a closer look...

Uh oh...

Looks like Monty the Mantis has escaped. Now, it could be Monty #1, or it could be Monty #75. They like to dress alike... All I know is one of them managed to fly the coop, and was prowling on the flower, looking for lunch.

Hmm. Let me give you a treat, Monty.

Peek a boo, you creepy little red-eyed demon fly.

Monty spies him! And he starts this little bob-and-weave dance. "I am a leaf in the wind" he says to the fly.

The creepy fly ignores the messages, and keeps wandering around on the flower... until...


When the kids came back from their dance class, Monty was still chowing down, so I lined them up against the wall in alphabetical order (OCD much?) and then walked down the row, handing out magnifying glasses, and carrying the daffodil, so the kids could watch Monty eat his lunch.

They were almost as fascinated as I was.

Monty beheads the fly!

That'll teach you for being all demon-eyed and creepy!

Nom nom nom.

Now, excuse me while I go and serve dinner to my family. Heh.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Mantis Portraits

The praying mantis babies looked so much different yesterday when I was in Nate's class. They're all dark-ish, and kind of brownish-green and camouflaged in the plants. The teacher had thought they'd all eaten each other, but they're just really getting good at hiding. I gave the plants a bit of a misting with a spray bottle, and the little mantids went scurrying around, making the soil look like it was alive in places.

I figured with so many babies, if we lost one or two it wouldn't matter, so I had all the kids line up (they were starting to get a bit antsy, so I used my drill sergeant voice, and they actually LISTENED!), and then passed a mantis down the ranks, letting the kids hold out their cupped hands, and watching as the mantis crawled across one hand, then jumped to the next. I must have gotten a hungry one, and he was on the prowl for food. Sorry, Charlie. No insects on these kids... ooh! I wonder what a mantis would do if it ever jumped on a kid with head lice? Would that be a good natural cure? Or would the cure be worse than the disease? But I digress...

Then I made them all sit back down at their desks, and I called them up one at a time to hold the mantis while I took their photos.

I had no idea if the pictures would work or not.

I really want to see about renting a macro lens, and seeing what kind of shots I can get with that.

But here are a few.

That one is Nate. He thought it was funny that the mantis was 'waving' at him. In actuality (and I can only tell this after blowing up the photo), the mantis is cleaning his limbs by running them through his mandibles. But hey, it does look like he's waving, doesn't it?

I was surprised at how non-squeamish the kids were, handling the mantis. Some of the children had been WAY more leery of touching the butterfly, which I thought was completely innocuous and dainty. Maybe it's a matter of size. Something tiny isn't as creepy as something larger (yet prettier). Who knows?

Then he went back into the mantis tank, and I put a mantis into the toad tank. The toads seem to be ignoring him, and he's having plenty to eat with all the fruit flies that the toads also seem to be ignoring.

After we'd played with the mantis, I set up a 'science experiment' for the class. Each table group got a tupperware container with a piece of fruit in it. Five different pieces of fruit. Then I put a few flightless fruit flies, and a few pupa cases into each tub, and they'll get to observe what happens over the course of the next few weeks. I hope we can establish a nice colony of creepy fruit flies, so that the mantis babies will have plenty to eat. Ideally, we'd be able to raise the mantis colony until the end of the school year, and then send each kid home with their own mantis, to keep or release as they saw fit.

That's my plan, anyways.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Commotion in the classroom

I arrived at school a little bit later than I wanted to, this morning, in time (barely) to work in the library with Nate's class. Fortunately, there are 2 other volunteers in our class, who are most capable, and they had everything taken care of as I waltzed in the door.

And oh! The minute I came in the door...

"Kemma!" shouted the teacher, not using her 'library voice' at all.

"Kemma! They hatched! They hatched! I've been texting you, and I left you a message on your cell. I didn't know what we should do with them. Or if we should feed them, or release some of them! oh! DID YOU BRING YOUR CAMERA?????"


I didn't quite know what to say, as I really hadn't figured out what Ms. Henderson was talking about, until she went on...

"It was right at recess, when two of the girls noticed the egg case, and came shrieking to me to tell me that it looked all broken..."


We have Praying Mantis Babies.

Yesterday, I moved the egg case out of the dorky (and expensive!) 'Praying Mantis Pagoda" that had come with the egg case from, and affixed it into the fancy terrarium that I had set up for the walking stick insects. Alas, the walking sticks didn't survive their sojourn in the classroom. I'm a bit worried that I may have a toxic plant (or toxic potting soil?... Oh man! I hope it's not potting soil with built-in insecticide. That'd be tragic!). Anyways, I moved the egg case into the terrarium yesterday, and that must have been all it needed.

My first look in the terrarium:

All those dangly bits out the bottom of the egg case look sort of like shed praying mantis skins. I think they do their first moult as soon as they come out of the egg case, so that makes sense. (and to get a sense of scale, the egg case is held up on a paper clip)

But look at all the plants! They are covered in these little guys.

I will admit that after taking a photo or two, I felt myself getting itchy all over, imagining that the little mantids were escaping, and crawling over me. There are probably 50-70 of the little creatures in the tank.

When I saw them at 11 this morning (about an hour after they hatched), they were pale yellowish, and nearly translucent.

Only their eyes seemed to have any pigment.

(curses! Why didn't I wipe down the inside of the terrarium glass after I misted the plants yesterday? That would have given me such a better view!)

Each one of these little guys was perfectly formed. Like a miniature adult (which is what they are). And they were all busy, busy, busy.

It seemed to be no effort at all for these guys to climb the glass walls, and navigate their way across the mesh lid of the tank.

I grabbed one of the more adventurous ones, and made Nate's teacher hold it for me, so I could take its portrait.

But I realized that I would need to get these guys food, or they were going to start cannibalizing each other. And that was a little part of nature that I don't think second graders are quite ready to deal with, even if they are all sanguine about the toads eating crickets and worms.

So I went off to Petco, for a vial of flightless fruit flies. They look so innocuous in their little vial, hopping around on the sponge lid. You have no idea that when you take their photo later, they're going to be Rosemary's Baby with their demonic glowing red eyes.

There are two flies in the lower right quadrant of this photo. The mantis is stalking them. I don't know if he caught them or not. And can you see how much the mantis has changed in just the three hours since the previous photos? Now they have darkened up considerably, and just look more hardened and substantial.

Eek! Here's another creepy red-eyed fly. *shudder*

I can hardly wait to go back to school tomorrow, and see how much they have changed overnight. I'm hoping to take photos of all the kids with a praying mantis on their index finger. Yeah, we'll see how that goes. Some of the kids were scared of a butterfly... oh well, I can dream.

I sure hope the praying mantids don't escape. That would just give me the willies for sure.