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Photo 67/365


Photos 46-49/365 (series: ACDA Honor Choir weekend in Chicago)

Last fall Calvin auditioned into the American Choral Directors Association (ACDA) Honor Choir. This is a selective choir assembled annually of auditioners from all over either the region or the nation, in alternating years, to sing at the ACDA conference in February. This was a regional year, and Calvin, along with three other boys from his choir, were accepted into the Elementary Honor Choir. Music arrived in January and practice began in earnest—the performers were expected to arrive with their music learned and memorized because their time to rehearse together with the director is limited. Very limited. In fact, the elementary choir had just one and a half days, though long days they were. 

The weekend awakened something in Calvin. Beforehand he practiced with his usual ease—he learns music quickly, and tends to take its simplicity (to him) for granted—and he arrived well prepared and eager for the event. These were things I expected. What I had not expected was the way he took to the intensity of the weekend. He may have come out of each several-hour-long rehearsal glassy eyed and melting, but he basked in the weight and responsibility of it all.He loved feeling important, with both parents going to obvious lengths to make sure favorite meals were served up at his leisure, and whisking him to and from rehearsals and social gatherings (a pool break after dinner and a lunch date before the concert) with friends. His joy was especially visible in his drama—the back of a hand wiping an exhausted brow, or the sighing plea for a stress relief tea. That was when I realized that he enjoyed acting the part of the pressured singer as much as anything else. He ate it right up.

The trip was challenging, but also rewarding for Calvin on many levels. At nearly 100 kids strong this was a large group for him to work with, and the music was different from the usual Boychoir program. The director of the Elementary Honor Choir this year, Francisco Núñez, a MacArthur Fellow (recipient of the 2011 Genius Grant) and the founder of the Young People's Chorus of New York City, proved to be an energetic conductor who loves music and children. In the Friday afternoon rehearsal, he happened to pick Calvin out of a sea of hands to answer a simple question. Calvin answered so well that he was asked to answer all the rest of the afternoon's questions, no subsequent hand raising required.  

Jon and I also found much to enjoy over the weekend. Required to stay in the fancy conference hotel as chaperones but not required during rehearsals, we were free to fill that time as we pleased. We filled it with pastries, coffees, a walk out on Navy Pier, a dinner for two in the upscale hotel bar, and lots of rich together time. And our weekend didn't actually begin and end with choir, either. We love to travel as a family, from the car trip and stops along the way, to nights spent visiting after dark in a shared hotel room. Plus we actually started the weekend a day early with a delicious and entertaining Chinese New Year dinner at Duck Duck Goat with my brother and his wife, and then, following the Saturday concert, ended it with wine, sushi, and Olympics at their always relaxing West Loop loft. They know how to show visitors a good time. 

But the best thing about our weekend, aside from the coveted couple time alongside the chance to see our son blossom in a new environment, was the concert itself. It's amazing what a group of very talented kids can do with just a day and a half. 

A very foggy Chicago

A room with a view

Chinese New Year Pris fixe dinner at Duck Duck Goat

complete with Chinese New Year dragon visit

Bright bushy tailed for rehearsal

Relaxing during lunch break

While the kid was away, the parents at play...

Photo op with famous director at the end of afternoon rehearsal

pool party during dinner break

A little bleary eyed for the last rehearsal of the night...

Parent alone dinner time...

An autograph at the end of the full day of rehearsal

Rehearsal came early on Saturday morning

Lunch before the concert, kid version...

Lunch before the concert, adult version...

Beautiful snowflakes to end the weekend

One last stop on the way home...


Summer bucket list

It's the first day of summer. We closed the books on 5th grade last week (or actually, Calvin did, I have a lot of record keeping yet to do) and kicked off our summer schedule with a week of choir day camp. Summer isn't necessarily different for homeschoolers, but summer weather in the lovely state of Michigan is a great equalizer: it only lasts while it lasts. So with the kid away all day this week I've been updating records, late-spring cleaning the house, getting a variety of appointments out of the way, and making summer plans following a "what do you want to do this year" interview with my boys that resulted in a summer that looks like this:

Rooftop fireworks in Chicago

Mini golf

The splash park

Visit our zoo

Rolling Sculptures Auto Show

Kayak the river

Finish the local bookstore reading challenge (Calvin)

History of Zelda course with game play

Watch all the Disney movies in order

Can some summer goodness

Stratford, and Jen and Larry's

More fires and S'mores with our home firepit

Take more pictures


Celebrating 11, a photo essay


Only 40 years to wait

We are just back continental side from an amazing birthday week in the Hawaiian sun. Whose birthday? That would be mine. The 40th. And I can think of no better way to have spent it than with my family, and no better place than Hawaii.

A few years ago I took stock of my lifetime of travel and decided to set a goal of seeing all 50 states by the time I reach 50. At the beginning of this year I had been to 44 of them, so it's a reasonable goal, but the states I have yet to see are strangely strewn across our continent. Alabama and Georgia in the Southeast, Maine in the northeast, Idaho in the Northwest, and the outliers, Hawaii and Alaska. And now, thanks to this amazing trip, I can move Hawaii to the done list.

There are lots of ways to do Hawaii, and I'd categorize our trip as thoroughly relaxing. Our goal was to spend as much time together as possible while soaking up sun and beautiful views, and we accomplished this by renting a house just outside Kailua-Kona, on the west side of the Big Island, through VRBO. I'll say first that the house we rented was amazing. While we've never had a bad VRBO experience, this one outdid all the others by actually surpassing our expectations. The home was updated, the kitchen well appointed, and the views breathtaking. For us the best part of renting a house is having the family living space. We spent nearly every afternoon playing in the private pool, nearly every evening enjoying the sunset on the Lanai before grilling a delicious dinner to enjoy together, and many a night introducing Calvin to the Hawaiian wonder of Magnum P.I.

While some people take on Hawaii with a "collect them all" attitude, coptering from island to island, since our goal was just to relax and be together, we picked one island and stuck with it. We opted for the Big Island in large part because it is less developed, less touristy, and for Volcanos National Park. We wanted to see lava, and boy did we. Our National Park excursion was a full day experience. Driving on the island is a tortuous experience, and nobody is moving very fast, but the scenery all the way there was brilliant, and the park well worth the effort. We arrived at midday and stopped for lunch in the Lodge overlooking the active caldera. Lava isn't visible from that vantage point, but having just arrived we were perfectly entertained by the trail of smoke that was. After eating we spent some time at the Visitors Center so Calvin could earn his Junior Ranger badge before heading to Jaggar Museum where we were treated to a great view of the active lava spouting and roiling. This was amazing. Our next stop was to hike the Lava Tubes, which I found disappointing, but we followed up with a hike across the cooling, inactive crater at Kilaeua Iki, and for those who can swing the incline and uneven terrain, this is a must do. Walking across the now hardened waves of lava and feeling the hot steam rising from still cooling vents was an amazing experience (made even more so by having watched the video in the Visitors Center earlier about the crater's earlier eruption). Our final stop, and one I wouldn't have missed for the world, was back up to Jaggar Museum to view the lava after dark. This, too, is a must do. 

A note about lava in Volcanos National Park. The viewing varies greatly, even from minute to minute. We arrived during daylight hours to see two large tongues of lava lapping at the sides of the caldera, bright orange cracks forming across the black, molten surface, but just a half hour later one of those tongues was no longer visible and the other greatly diminished. Of course the same is true at night, and we were lucky enough to be treated another great spectacle on our after-dark return, but be forewarned: it gets chilly on top of the volcano after the sun sets, and the crowds are something to contend with (think small town fireworks display), but it is totally worth it to see both day and nighttime lava.

Another note, there aren't many restaurants near the park, and the choices become even fewer that late, so it's good to go with a meal plan.

Another goal of our trip was to take in the varied terrain of the Big Island. Dry and almost desert-like on the west side, the east side of the island is a rainforest, and the two are separated by entirely undeveloped lava fields. We took a day, or really a long morning, to drive across the relatively new highway that runs through the middle of the island to see the waterfalls and vegetation that clutter the island's east side. The drive across was alone worth the trip. We saw lava flows of many different ages in various stages of reanimation. we also got a good look at the main peaks of the island, Mauna Loa and Mauna Kea, and the observatory on top. Although you know that you are climbing in elevation much of the way, it is still a surprise to begin the descent into Hilo to find yourself above the clouds. On the day that we drove over, we descended into completely cloud cover that hid the road below us. The effect was at first disorienting, and then completely stunning. Our time in Hilo was spent on light hiking to visit three falls sites: Pe'epe'e Falls, Rainbow Falls, and 'Akaka Falls. The first two were very short walks on paved paths, with optional easy hikes on the side. Rainbow Falls was a longer walk with greater elevation changes, but still a paved path. All three were beautiful, and the vegetation and wildlife (lizards and birds) were an added pleasure.

A final goal for our trip was to attend a Luau. Now, we understood going in that luaus these days are but a dim reminder of what was once a culturally significant part of island life, but arguments about authenticity vs. kitsch aside, we knew we wanted this unique experience while we were there. My dad did his research and made reservations at the Mauna Kea Resort Luau to ensure our place at a highly rated luau on my actual birthday. It did not disappoint. The views alone were spectacular, and the food was great fun, but the dancing...oh the dancing. Authentic or no, it was amazing to watch, and it came with a bit of a history lesson, which I loved. 

Other things we did on our trip included a tour of the Kanaloa Octopus farm, and a tour of Kuaiwi Coffee Farm. I highly recommend the octopus farm if you have any interest in wild creatures at all: the tour was very informative, and the octopi highly entertaining. The visit needs to be booked ahead of time, although we booked ours only a week in advance. In other good news, your visit helps to fund this important program aimed at saving wild octopus populations. The coffee tour was also a complete joy. The plantation we visited was on old one, and today is a very small, family run affair, so our tour was private and unique. The air was cooler and cloudy up in the hills, and when we were there the coffee crop had already been brought in, but the land is planted with a wide variety of fruit and other trees and plants and we were treated to a taste test at nearly all of them. The owner/guide is immensely knowledgeable and very warm. We ended that tour with a sampling of coffee and chocolates on the family deck, that's how private and homey an operation it is. Highly recommended.

Then, like I said, the rest of our trip was an exercise in relaxation. Vibrant, welcoming mornings, long pool afternoons, delicious dinners, stunning sunsets, and restful evenings. It was everything I wanted, and I only had to wait 40 years for it.

The following photos were taken by several photographers, mainly myself and my wonderful sister-in-law, who was too gentle to rib me about my age even though she's nearly ten years younger and I gave her permission to do it all week.