September, October, November and December (12/31/2010)  
The beginning of this school year was marked by an important transition for Izabela. No longer a preschool toddler, she began attending Pre-Kindergarten at Bellevue Children's Academy. Her teachers, Mrs. Vagt and Mrs. Henry, were the perfect blend of sweetness and firmness which we have come to expect from BCA. Izabela found school to be a special haven for her. She began and ended each day with excitement and as soon as her initial shyness wore off, became quite the social butterfly. Kind to her friends and agreeable to her teachers, she was frequently cranky with her brother and less than compliant with me. This remarkable duality in her nature went somewhat beyond the norm for her, unfortunately. She enjoyed doing her homework packets, though occasionally found herself struggling and taking a great deal more time to complete them than she would have liked. And yet Sunday mornings I frequently found myself smiling as I wiped clean the white board upon which Dante wrote out "homework problems" for Izabela consisting of simple addition, subtraction, and patterns exactly at her level of understanding, followed by a "bonus" section that was just a bit beyond her comprehension.

As you may remember, BCA provides after school enrichment classes, and Dante participated in Chess the previous year. This year he continued Chess, while Izabela begged for an art class. Both children also kept dancing at Duvall Performing Arts. Izabela took Ballet, while Dante took Ballet, Hip Hop, and Tap. And Dante, of course, had gymnastics and a weekly piano lesson with Baba Yaga (though he did not have time to actually practice piano).

But two entirely new activities became an integral part of our lives this fall.

Izabela began taking Suzuki violin lessons with Ms. Suzanne in Bothell. She learned how to hold her violin under her elbow, stand properly, and declare she was ready to learn. She would then bow, place the instrument on her shoulder under her chin and hold it there for 60 alligators (seconds) without cramping up, raising her shoulder, or suddenly forgetting to hold it (No violin go boom!). Her little Gliga violin was a 1/16 size, just barely too big to be a Christmas tree ornament. Her lessons were shared with another little boy who was 6 months older. Bigger and bolder, he intimidated Izabela at first. Alas, he did not practice and his parents did not seem to feel the need to get their money's worth. I was not such a push over. Izabela practiced, and slowly, she progressed. By the end of the semester she had made it clear that she was "serious" and the little boy was now intimidated by HER. And so he quit, and Izabela began to have lessons on her own.

The second big change in our lives was the addition of Pacific Northwest Ballet to Dante's training schedule. Saturdays were now consumed by early morning drives across the bridge into downtown Seattle. While Izabela drew or did homework in the lunchroom with me, Dante discovered the precision, discipline, and monotony of "professional" ballet. He found himself the youngest in a group of 11 boys in a room inaccessible to parents, so I did not know what they were up to until the first "observation day". Upon "observing", I concluded that although the skills being taught were of a considerably lower level than that which he was already doing at Duvall Performing Arts, the attention to details, posture, arm positions, head position, and counting (!) were going to greatly benefit him in the long run. Mr. Lynch, the teacher, came to me after the class and mentioned that Dante really should be in the level 2 class, but alas, Dante had gymnastics on Thursdays so at this point any change in schedule was impossible.

In the meantime, on a whim, Dante decided to go ahead and audition for PNB's production of the Nutcracker. As it was a closed audition, I was very curious as to how the whole thing was run and what the results might be. Dante "recounted" the whole event to me:

In any event, the pointed toes must have made a difference. Of the 7 boys in his class, Dante was the only one cast as a Party Boy, and two other boys were cast as the "Little Boy" (for two different casts). The other Party Boys and Fritz were from Level 2 and 3.

Apparently, as part of its marketing for the production, PNB calls the newspapers of all the towns from which students are chosen. Dante got his first exposure in the press as a result, and a small article about him with a picture appeared in the Monroe Monitor. I was, of course, most tickled by this.

And thus began the crazy all-consuming life-altering epic 3 month long THING that all dancers in the Seattle area call "the NUTCRACKER". You can hear the all-caps in their voices when they say it. Rehearsals were scattered throughout the week, interfering with gymnastics (he was going to be competing in Level 5), chess (his teacher wanted him to compete as well, but it was simply impossible), piano (Dante was just starting to learn Beethoven's Fur Elise), and everyone else's lives. Izabela became my "3rd person" in the car just so that I could use the HOV lane to shave off up to half an hour in rush-hour bridge-traffic. I also found myself getting a monthly parking pass at the garage across the street from PNB as the street parking rates would have been rather exorbitant. Once at PNB, we dropped off Dante at the "only students allowed beyond this point" sign, and had to fend for ourselves for several hours. On Saturdays between his normal PNB class and rehearsal, Dante did homework at the Seattle Center, went to the Pacific Science Center, and explored the Children's Museum. Somehow, we even managed to go see the Harry Potter Exhibit.

Rehearsals were so all-encompassing I started calling them "nutty rehearsals". The weather turned. We had flooding followed by snow and freezing temperatures. Schools were closed, but NUTCRACKER rehearsals are like the USPS: Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night… Dress rehearsals were in such freezing cold weather that in an unprecedented show of mercy, the powers-that-be agreed to let parents watch the onstage rehearsals. This was a special treat for me, but perhaps even more so for Daddy, who took Dante once when road conditions were too frightening for me (after a morning sledding in the snow down our hill). I was especially amused when in his infinite knowledge about ballet Daddy declared that Dante's cast "is sooo much better than the other cast".

We barely made it down the hill (in chains) to get to Grandparents for Thanksgiving. The next day was opening night, for which Dante's cast had been selected (so Daddy's assessment was not incorrect). Dante's request for pre-opening night festivities was clam chowder and a second visit to the Mindbenders exhibit at the Pacific Science Center!

In the end, Dante took part in 19 performances of the NUTCRACKER. I volunteered for almost all of them, helping out with makeup (we had to apply foundation, eye liner, lip stick, blush, etc. to over a hundred kids each night) and chaperoning boys who spent their free time playing with their Nintendo DS's. Each performance was "the same", yet as with all live shows, different. There were plenty of adventures, ranging from kids tripping, leaving props (swords) behind, wardrobe malfunctions, make-up disasters, etc. In one performance the Prince got hit in the eyebrow by Clara during a pas-de-deux and had to be taken to the ER for stitches (but not before finishing the show!) so the mishaps were not limited to the little ones.

The principal dancers were all very much revered by the children, who have an established tradition that they can send notes (placed in a special box in the green room) to individual company dancers with the hope of getting a response back, or even better, a pair of SIGNED TOE SHOES. As each principal gets new shoes for every performance, there was no shortage of shoes, but certain shoes were more desirable than others. Dante was partial to the peacock solo (female), as well as to the sword doll solo (male). Picking his favorite dancers, he wrote simple Nutcracker-themed limericks to each of them! Clearly they thought this was adorable, because he managed to score a whole bagful of shoes, including the coveted blue peacock shoes from Lindsi Dec, Laura Gilbreath, and Corps member and blogger Jessika Anspach. And a pair of cobalt blue sword doll shoes from Price Suddarth!

Here are some of the poems he wrote:

Now, you may be wondering why 19 performances. Technically, Dante was scheduled for 20, but due to an unfortunate change in scheduling, this year's Cold Turkey Invitational gymnastics meet was in conflict. Dante, who was very stressed by all of this, bravely explained the situation to the people in charge at PNB and although normally only illness is excused, they were gracious enough to call in his alternate from the other cast for that performance and Dante was freed to compete.

Dziadzi came to visit specifically to see the NUTCRACKER and Cold Turkey, which added to the excitement and chaos of the season. Dante was clearly overtired, overstressed, and somewhat unprepared at his first Level 5 meet, but he finished in 5th place all around and we were all glad he still had a smile on his pale face, despite the circles under his eyes.

The first order of business after the final Nutcracker performance: HAIRCUT! Dante went back to the spiked buzz we know and love.

So I told you all about the NUTCRACKER, but if you think that is the only thing that was going on at the same time, you don't know me very well. We somehow managed to get hooked on silly bands, go to a huge corn maze with Baba before Halloween to pick some pretty amazing pumpkins, make custom chocolates for a gymnastics bake sale, teach Izabela to roll her R's (Nov. 16th) and any number of other random things. We spent Wigilia with Baba Yaga followed by Christmas Day with Grandparents. As a special treat, we also went to the Tacoma dome with Baba, Ms. Rachel and Ms. Megan to the So You Think You Can Dance Live Tour. Thanks to Ms. Megan's connections, we were able to snag some backstage passes and Dante was able to meet some of his favorite dancers!

Finally, on top of all of this, the basement was also still under construction. By this time the risers were being built for the theater, a special carpenter was hired to build the custom columns, bookshelves and secret bookshelf door for the theater, as well as all the rest of the cabinetry in the shop and garage. We looked through several thousand lighting options for floor lighting, wall sconces, track lighting, and cabinet door handles. Flooring was being installed in various stages and our new front door was late in arriving so during the freeze we were doorless and had to make do with plastic sheeting.

As with all such projects, at least one contractor is bound to be a problem, and we found ourselves forced to fire our electrician. The new electrician was recommended by the general contractor, so we had great hopes. We began the next phase of the project, which included picking all the theater equipment A/V equipment.

And then, all of a sudden, it was 2011!