2016 Favorite Books for Young Readers

It’s that time of year again — when I slap out a list of books I’ve enjoyed over the past year.

2016 was very much the Year of Picture Books. Not only was there a stunningly high number of quality picture books this year, but I also took time to try and read more of them than usual. (In the meantime, I read hardly any YA fiction this year. Sorry, YA fiction fans.) I’m sure part of the decision to do this is because my youngest child is 5, and so my picture book read-aloud years are numbered. Gotta relish it while I can.

And the usual disclaimer: this is a list of personal faves, not a full compendium of every good book that you or your kids should read or that a library should purchase. (If you want one of those, click here.) There were quite a few books that aren’t here because I didn’t have time to read them or simply couldn’t get my hands on (like King Baby or John Lewis’ March Vol. 3, THANKS A LOT, POTUS45) and there were others that many of my colleagues raved over, but which I rated a personal meh.* 

There’s no accounting for taste. Likewise: not every book on this list is for you. If you’d like a personal recommendation based on your previous reads, I’m happy to do it!

PICTURE BOOKS

before-morning

I’ll Forever Think of This Book When It Snows: Before Morning by Joyce Sidman, illus. Beth Krommes

you-belong-here

Best Book to Give New Parents: You Belong Here by M.H. Clark, illus. Isabelle Arsenault

schools-first-day-of-school

Now Considered Best Available Book About Starting School: School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex, illus. Christian Robinson

we-found-a-hat

Best Ending to a Picture Book “Trilogy” We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen

du-iz-tak

You Know That Phase in Fourth Grade When You Tried to Make Up Your Own Language? Carson Ellis Took It to the Next Level: Du Iz Tak? By Carson Ellis

they-all-saw-a-cat

Best Book For Inspiring Art Students: They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel

frank-and-lucky

2nd Best Book About Education Published This Year: Frank and Lucky Get Schooled by Lynne Rae Perkins

leave-me-alone

This is My Personal Absolute Favorite. Grumpy Old Woman Knits! And there are ALIENS! Leave Me Alone! By Vera Brosgol

thunder-boy-jr

In Which Sherman Alexie is Brilliant Once Again: Thunder Boy, Jr. by Sherman Alexie, illus. Yuyi Morales

a-hat-for-mrs-goldman

Most “Awww”-Inducing Story About A Child Helping a Sweet Elderly Neighbor: A Hat for Mrs. Goldman: A Story About Knitting and Love by Michelle Edwards, illus. G. Brian Karas

lion-lessons

Best Encapsulation of How My Kids Do Pretend Play: Lion Lessons by Jon Agee

emma-and-julia

A Must-Read for Dance Fans: Emma and Julia Love Ballet by Barbara McClintock

the-night-gardener

Drool-Worthy Illustrations: The Night Gardener by Terry & Eric Fan

nobody-likes-a-goblin

What happens when the bad guys from a D&D-style game are the heroes: Nobody Likes a Goblin by Ben Hatke

when-spring-comes

Perfect Preschool Springtime Book: When Spring Comes by Kevin Henkes, illus. Laura Dronzek

apples-and-robins

Best use of die-cut shapes and puzzle pictures: Apples and Robins by Lucie Felix

best-days-are-dog-days

This was Katie’s favorite. We read it SOOOOO many times: The Best Days are Dog Days by Aaron Meshon

bloom

Best for Fans of “The Paper Bag Princess”: Bloom by Doreen Cronin, illus. David Small

hungry-lion

Channelling Edward Gorey (Or, Sometimes It’s Hilarious When Characters Die): A Hungry Lion, or, A Dwindling Assortment of Animals by Lucy Ruth Cumnins

happiest-book-ever

Favorite Group Read-Aloud: The Happiest Book Ever! By Bob Shea

pug-mans-3-wishes

My favorite, funniest author-illustrator does it again: Pug Man’s 3 Wishes by Sebastian Menchenmoser

dont-call-me-grandma

Best Non-Knitting Grumpy Grandmother: Don’t Call Me Grandma by Vaunda Michaux Nelson; illus. Elizabeth Zunon

margarash

Channelling Tomi Ungerer (I adored this weird, weird, book): Margarash by Mark Riddle, illus. Tim Miller

sound-of-silence

Best Moment of Zen: The Sound of Silence by Katrina Goldsaito, illus. Julia Kuo

if-i-was-a-banana

Best Pencil Illustration (This Inspired My Daughter To Draw for Hours): If I Was a Banana by Alexandra Tylee, illus. Kieran Rynhart

real-cowboys

Sometimes Illustrators Switch Mediums and It Takes Your Breath Away: Real Cowboys by Kate Hoefler, illus. Jonathan Bean

poor-little-guy

Best Use of Gorgeous Calligraphy (and the story’s a hoot): Poor Little Guy by Elanna Allen

the-branch

Most Satisfying Story Involving Woodworking: The Branch by Mireille Messier, illus. Pierre Pratt

toshis-little-treasures

Perfect for the Where’s Waldo and I Spy fans: Toshi’s Little Treasures by Nadine Robert, illus. Aki

super-happy-magic-forest

Fairy Tales for the Adventure Time Generation: Super Happy Magic Forest by Matty Long

white-cat-and-the-monk

Aww, the Middle Ages Sure Loved Their Pets: The White Cat and the MonkA Retelling of the Poem Pangur Ban: by Jo Ellen Bogart, illus. Sydney Smith

 

NONFICTION PICTURE BOOKS

freedom-over-me

Probably the Most Powerful Book on This List: Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan

miracle-man

Most Gorgeous Book About Christianity in a Long, Long Time: Miracle Man: The Story of Jesus by John Hendrix

best-in-snow

Most Awwwww-Dorable Nature Photography: Best in Snow by April Pulley Sayre

freedom-in-congo-square

Most Important History You Probably Didn’t Know About: Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford, illus. R. Gregory Christie

radiant-child

Incredible Artist, Brilliant Illustration: Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe

voyage-in-the-clouds

Most Hilarious History Book: A Voyage in the Clouds: The (Mostly) True Story of the First International Flight by Balloon in 1785 by Matthew Olshan, illus. Sophie Blackall

anything-but-ordinary-addie

Most Interesting Biography of Someone You’ve Never Heard Of: Anything but Ordinary Addie: The True Story of Adelaide Herrmann, Queen of Magic by Mara Rockliff, illus. Iacopo Bruno

preaching-to-the-chickens

Most Sincere Depiction of a Child’s Spiritual Life: Preaching to the Chickens by Jabari Asim, illus. E.B. Lewis

their-great-gift

Absolutely Necessary Reading For All American Children: Their Great Gift: Courage, Sacrifice, and Hope in a New Land by John Coy, photos by Wing Young Huie

adas-violin

Most Inspiring Story: Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay by Susan Hood, illus. Sally Comport Wern

the-tree-in-the-courtyard

Perfect Pairing of Illustrator and Subject: The Tree in the Courtyard: Looking Through Anne Frank’s Window by Jeff Gottesfeld, illus. Peter McCarty

can-i-eat-that

I Will Admit That I Read The Title of This Book With the Voice of Steve Urkel. Also: The Tongue Twister on the Last Page is Epic: Can I Eat That? by Joshua David Stein. illus. Julia Rothman

 

BIOGRAPHIES

presenting-buffalo-bill

The Author’s Enthusiasm For Her Subject is Infectious: Presenting Buffalo Bill: The Man Who Invented the Wild West by Candace Fleming

some-writer

Most Gorgeous Illustrated Biography: Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet

samurai-rising

Book With the Highest Body Count (and it’s AWESOME): Samurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune by Pamela Tuner, illus. Gareth Hinds

 

 

POETRY

when-green-becomes-tomatoes

Yes, just the one. This is the most beautiful book of children’s poetry to come out in years, and everything else just kinda faded into the background: When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons by Julie Fogliano, illus. Julie Morstad

 

FOLKLORE

singing-bones

Illustrations Just As Freaky As the Grimm Tales: The Singing Bones, by Shaun Tan

storyteller

Absolutely Gorgeous Middle Eastern Story-Within-A-Story-Within-A-Story: The Storyteller, by Evan Turk

cat-from-hunger-mountain

Best Moral For Our Times: The Cat From Hunger Mountain by Ed Young

little-red

Now THAT’S Graphic Design: Little Red by Bethan Woollvin

 

GRAPHIC NOVELS 

snow-white

Brothers Grimm-Meets-Jazz Era: Snow White: A Graphic Novel by Matt Phelan

delilah-dirk

Indiana Jones-Meets-Pride and Prejudice: Delilah Dirk and the King’s Shilling by Tony Cliff (be sure to check out the other ones in this series!)

ghosts

The One Your Kids Have Probably Already Read: Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier

nameless-city

You Know that Show “Avatar: the Last Airbender”? This is Basically a Book Set in Ba Sing Se: The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks and Jordie Bellaire

mighty-jack

Best Fractured Fairytale (featuring a character with autism!): Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke

 

MIDDLE GRADE FICTION

girl-who-drank-the-moon

Most Original Fantasy: The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

inquisitors-tale

Brooke’s Personal Favorite This Year! Featuring Farting Dragons, Monks that Fight Bandits with Donkey Legs, Theological Debates, and Loving Your Crooked Neighbor With Your Crooked Heart: The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz

ms-bixbys-last-day

In which John David Anderson is a jerk whose book made me cry during an entire airplane ride:  Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson

ghost

Best Sports Story — no, Best School Story — no, best story in which I love the protagonist so much I just want to put my arm around his shoulders and let him know that everything’s gonna be okay:  Ghost by Jason Reynolds

when-the-sea-turned-to-silver

Bless Grace Lin Forever For Introducing More Kids to Chinese Folklore: When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin

full-of-beans

Best Straight-Up, Charming Small-Town Historical Fiction: Full of Beans by Jennifer L. Holm

charmed-children-of-rookskill-castle

Best Spooky WWII-Era Mystery With a Dash of Steampunk: The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox

cloud-and-wallfish

Most Essential Reading for Life in Trump’s America (Or, Best Historical Fiction In Real-World Dystopia): Cloud & Wallfish by Anne Nesbet

five-children-on-the-western-front

 

Best Sequel to Classic Children’s Novel (Kate Saunders is another jerk who made me cry): Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders

 

YA FICTION

(Yeeeeeah, I didn’t read much of this genre this year. Go read Still Life With Tornado, or We Are the Ants, or The Sun Is Also a Star, they are supposed to be great.)

the-lie-tree

Best Introverted Protagonist Who Becomes Fearless in Her Pursuit of Revenge (also best mystery; very reminiscent of Edgar Allen Poe or classic stories like “The Monkey’s Paw”): The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

burn-baby-burn

Best Book With Strong Independent Disco Divas: Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina

 

Happy reading!

 

*Kate DiCamillo’s Raymie Nightingale, Sarah Pennypacker’s Paxand Lauren Wolk’s Wolf Hollow. Seek ’em out if you’re so inclined, you might enjoy them!

Glorious Christmas

It’s come to my attention lately that I only have about five or so years left with all my little ones living under my roof.

Therefore I’m more inclined to make a big deal out of holidays, vacations, etc. while I’m still in this happy place.

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These are the presents for my family as well as the extended aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc.

This year was no exception. How I love to spoil my little ones. How I love to cuddle them and eat good food and look at their new books and admire their fuzzy new pajamas.

Here are the stockings all filled up on Christmas Morning. I like to take a picture of what Santa has done before the kids have a chance to discover everything.

And then I also take a picture of this:

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They’re watching you.

Yeah, those are tiny little snowmen. Jake was given a pair of “Holiday Specs” by his mom, and when you put them on they turn all bright pinpoints of light into little snowmen. You can even rock the glasses from side to side to make the snowmen dance!

The adults all thought this was absolutely wild. We squealed and passed them around, and even went outside to look at the radio tower light across the street. (Big red snowman!)

Jake got his camera out to capture the kids’ reactions to putting on the specs. But to everyone’s surprise, they didn’t think it was all that cool or surprising. They said something along the lines of “hey, neat” and that was it! Humph.

Here are Das Kinder on the stairs on Christmas morning:

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Yes, this IS the best photo of them. Shush, you.

And here they are discovering their stockings. Katie put her hands over her mouth and gasped-squealed when she saw that Santa had, indeed, brought the Orange Fairy. (Only one more fairy in the collection to go!)

After stockings and a quick breakfast of Danish kringle, we swept ourselves off to church. Jake and Erica came along with us, which was great because both Brian and I were involved in the music program. I was in charge of prelude music, which were a set of organ/piano duets that I played with Charlotte, my RS president. (No pictures of this, sorry.)

Then after church the rest of Brian’s siblings gathered at our house for their family’s traditional Christmas Day breakfast/brunch of huevos rancheros. (Um . . . no pictures of this, either.)

Finally . . . before the children exploded . . . we opened our presents. Kathryn and Randy gave Brian and I a set of cute little containers for homemade ice cream, along with a beautiful ceramic artwork by a potter Brian used to go to school with (it’s now hanging on my dining room wall). I gave Brian a new watch, which turned out to be the exact same model/brand as his old watch . . . and the exact same model/brand as Randy’s watch. Brian gave his old watch to Jeff and the three of them all held up their wrists in proud display of three-generation Timex digital watch fans.

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Giftwrapping Carnage!

Eleanor enjoyed knitting mittens so much that she whipped together another pair for William, and then wrapped them up using the old box-in-a-box-in-a-box trick.

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My cuddly boy!

Here is William in his pajamas, which he changed back into as soon as we returned home from church. The hat he’s wearing was a Christmas Eve present, and he loved it so much that he wore it nonstop for pretty much an entire week. Even in church — I was in the choir seats, and looked down into the congregation to see my son wearing his sherpa trapper hat in the chapel. I pantomimed for him to take it off, but he merely shook his head, quietly placing his hands on the ear flaps as if to prevent me from using my psychic powers to remove it.

I think he wins the Most Cuddliest Award.

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Jake and Sven volunteered to cook Christmas Day dinner, which was more than fine with me. They chose to make sushi and other Asian-inspired food, in tribute to the trip to Japan that they had taken together the previous spring (and also because sushi is delicious).

Besides the sushi — which included breaded panko chicken as one of the fillings, wow — there was this stir-fried hoisin duck with bok choy dish that tasted fabulous.

There were also supposed to be gyoza, but we didn’t have the correct kind of gyoza wrappers, so instead we had a bowl of gyoza-tasting filling scramble. It still tasted great.

Working together, we made roll after roll of sushi in no time. There was a big row of sushi platters going down the entire table.

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Sushirama!

AND YET. It all disappeared in about 15 minutes. Yummmmmmmm.

More games, more treats, more family, more everything that evening. I made sure to keep the “cookie tree” (i.e. the three-tiered cake stand) well stocked through the day. Caitlin and Randy and the kids and I had all helped frost and decorate a big batch of my mom’s sugar cookies, and it was fun to set them out for everyone to enjoy, along with a stock of highly-coveted sold-out treats from Trader Joe’s that I had stashed away in early November. (Chocolate Mint Mini Shortbread Stars, and Chocolate-Dipped Candy Cane Jo-Joe’s. They sell out almost immediately after Thanksgiving.)

We also ate the figgy pudding I had cooked with my pressure cooker a few days earlier. It was . . . okay. I think there was a typo in the recipe, because it gave instructions to soak a bunch of dried fruit in warm water to plump it, but then only uses a few pieces for the top of the pudding. What about the rest of the fruit? Eh, so it was kind of dry. Next year I’ll see if I can fix that.

Here is Eleanor holding one of the puddings.

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Next year, pudding! NEXT YEAR I PROMISE I’LL MAKE A BETTER VERSION OF YOU!

Yeah, her holiday outfit is eclectic and adorable. Here’s the full view:

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How I adore this girl.

So wonderful! Her pretty floral socks say “STOP TALKING” around the cuff. Every thinking woman needs to own a pair of those.

Prelude to Christmas

We were lucky again this year — Brian’s parents and assorted (but not all) siblings came to stay with us for Christmas!

We kicked things off in grand style: Eleanor brought us milk and pastries first thing in the morning, dressed as St. Lucia.

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Note the cool Nordic slippers. We had found them at DI only days before.

Traditionally, St. Lucia Day is Dec. 13, but we decided to postpone it a week so the grandparents could be here. Mmm, chocolate babka!

(There would have been saffron rolls, but my big stand mixer broke the day before in the middle of making figgy pudding. which meant no cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning, but to tell the truth it was kind of liberating to have my baking obligations come to a premature end. Fortunately I had already stashed a pair of Danish kringles from Larsen’s Bakery in my freezer, and we ate those on Christmas morning instead.) It was a perfect start to a day spent perusing the aisles at the local Scandinavian grocery store with Randy & Kathryn. (Mmmmm, yellow split pea soup with lamb!)

That afternoon, we had our traditional last-day-of-school Santa Claus Tea Party. Whew, so many treats to enjoy! The kids always look forward to the mini scones with lemon curd and creme fraiche. (And so do I.) I also found this cute little snowman cake at Trader Joe’s, but it wasn’t very tasty.

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The following day, Uncle Jake and Aunt Erica came to see us, and we all went skating together.

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Well . . . Randy and I went along as observers. (I had a fat stack of December magazines to flip through.) But everyone else gave it a try, and I was impressed! Those skating lessons have paid off . . . all of my kids feel confident whirling around the ice, which is something I desperately wanted to do as a child. I never lived close enough to a rink in my childhood to make that happen, so it’s cool to give that skill to my kids. Since I’ve lived in colder climes as an adult, I’ve been surprised how often group skating activities occur, whether with church, school, or Scouts.

We concluded our skating with a trip to the Cheesemonger’s Table, where I was also able to purchase some excellent cheese for Christmas Eve. (More on that below.)

The day after that heralded Aunt Caitlin’s arrival, and that called for a bowling outing. With pizza and nachos! Oh, glee! (It had been a very long time since I had eaten pizza.)

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I’d brag about my double strike, but then I remembered that I was playing on Katie’s team and had the bumpers up. I suppose I shouldn’t be so proud of that.

In the evening after bowling, Jake & Erica returned to my house and helped construct the annual Gingerbread Creation. We decided to let the children pick the theme for the gingerbread this year, and they chose Smaug the Dragon from The Hobbit.

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Brian made the interesting design choice of creating flat panels of gingerbread that slotted together into a dragon-shaped framework, which was then covered with candy.
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Here is the great and glorious Smaug, about to devour a chocolate Santa Bilbo

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The final lead-up to Christmas was our big dinner on Christmas Eve. I decided to scale the meats back a bit from last year, which had made everyone groan as they were leaving the table. You never want your dinner guests to groan.

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The woman in purple is my friend, Deborah. And it looks like Frederick has a place at the table!

This year’s menu:

Appetizers: Hot chocolate and toasted nuts (I’ve figured out how to make low-glycemic hot chocolate, and this is a very happy thing)

~~Caroling~~

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Kathryn was nice enough to find a Christmas Eve candle to go in the center of the Advent wreath this year. I’ve never had the time to find one before.
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Eleanor and William played their “Deck the Halls” duet as part of the caroling service
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Katie is pictured playing “O Christmas Tree,” which she LOVES to play. My contribution was to find copies of “See Amid the Winter’s Snow,” which was my new favorite carol of the season.

First Course: Spinach soup with hard-boiled eggs and sourdough rye bread. My kids loved the rye bread. I mention this because I like to put a positive spin on things.

Second Course: Pickled herring, other veggie pickles, crackers, cheeses. (I also had smoked salmon, but forgot to put it out.) The cheeses were divine. My favorite was an English “truckle cheddar,” which came wrapped in blue tartan cloth.

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Third Course: Swedish meatballs, Jasson’s Temptation (contributed by Kristen and Sven), lingonberry jam, and salad (contributed by my friend Deborah)

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Everyone crammed into the library to play The Great Dalmouti.

Fourth Course: Rice Pudding with cream and sugar, glogg (this year everyone sang, “All You Need is Glogg”) cinnamon cookies, various candies

I think last year I also had baked ham and sausages. I think I was wise to leave them out this time.

We had a break between Third and Fourth Course to play games, such as The Great Dalmouti (as pictured above). I didn’t want to play at the time because I was exhausted, and having a difficult time summoning holiday cheer in general. I was still very, very upset with the upcoming Presidential administration and having a hard time not feeling cynical and angry at everything. So, I didn’t play games, but took a break and played carols on the piano instead. Which was probably the right thing to do at the time, although I now regret doing so.

Eleanor’s First Knitting Project

Eleanor’s Girl Scout troop decided to do a Secret Santa gift exchange this year. Eleanor decided that her gift would be handmade, and we had a great discussion of different crafting possibilities before finally deciding on a knitting project.

Fortunately, we had some extra-chunky fluffy orange wool sitting around, so Eleanor decided to knit some mittens.

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This is a project from the picture book Sunny’s Mittens, which was written back in the 80s with the express purpose of teaching kids how to knit mittens while they read the book. Mittens are the ideal first knitting project; circular knitting is easier than flat; mittens take far less time than a scarf and are more exciting to wear.

The first mitten was made during the last weeks of the Bad Apples rehearsals, and so went fairly slowly. But the second mitten flew by in a matter of days!

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The mittens just after being knitted up, before finishing/felting/blocking

After knitting up the mittens, Eleanor felted them. This involves soaping the mittens in hot water, rubbing them for 5 minutes on a washboard, then rinsing them in icy cold water, then repeating the process a second time.

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After felting, she brushed the mittens with a scrubbing brush until they were fluffy, then cycled them off in the clothes dryer.

At the end of this process, the mittens were incredibly thick and practically waterproof. I kept picking them up and making the mittens “talk” to each other like little orange Muppets.

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Eleanor is so proud of her accomplishment that she’s decided to make a second pair to give William for Christmas. I found another skein of the same wool at the local knitting store, but it’s an undyed brown instead of orange. However, Ellie’s decided to add an orange stripe. I love to see her so enthusiastic about this project!

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Snowflakes & Stages

We had a magic moment this week:

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SNOW! Real snow, not the piddly half-inch we’ve gotten in previous years. A good three-inch snowfall, enough to cancel school and shut down the town. My kids were thrilled. Eleanor mixed up pancakes for everyone to eat and then the whole crew headed out the door to play with all the other kids in the neighborhood.

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They stayed outside for hours. I had time to make myself an apple waffle for breakfast, then mix up a giant mug of sugar-free hot chocolate to drink while I practiced Christmas carols on the organ. I was decked out in my best Fair Isle sweater and watching flakes blow around outside while I pounded out “See Amid the Winter’s Snow,” which is my new favorite carol of the season.

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The kids around the block were in and out of each others’ houses all day. Eleanor and Katie were at their friend Layla’s for almost the entire afternoon!

It’s too bad I didn’t seize the opportunity to go to Costco. Snow days are the best days to go there, the place is usually deserted.

And yes, I’ll admit that I got snappy when I had to say “no, you can’t play video games” for the zillionth time in a row. William threw a full-bodied hissy fit over it. Augh.

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Eleanor decided to outline her snow angel with snowballs. I think they look like pom-poms!
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For some reason, Eleanor also decided to take half a dozen photos of herself holding a snowball with her bare hand. 
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Getting ready for snow play: “Look at me, Mom! I’m all dressed for an adventure in the mountains!”

The only downside to the snow is that it also cancelled the Friday evening performance of “Bad Apples,” the elementary school’s musical. To make up for this, the school decided to do two performances in a row on Saturday. We had already purchased tickets for the Saturday matinee, so it wasn’t much of a schedule change for Brian and I  (and Kristen, too, who came along to watch), but for Eleanor and William it was absolutely exhausting.

But fun. They didn’t regret one moment. The play was based on Snow White, and was written by the same team that created the adaptation of “Alice in Wonderland” that the school performed back in the spring.

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William is standing behind the kid in the red vest
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Eleanor is the one wearing the red skirt. Both she and William got small parts this time. That’s what you get when you audition for a musical comedy with the “Tomorrow and tomorrow” speech from Macbeth.

Jeff didn’t attend the matinee with us because he was busy performing with the Seattle Children’s Choir, who was having its Christmas concerts at the same time. Doesn’t he look all studly in his choir tux?

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We are all attending the Sunday evening choir concert today. I can’t wait to hear it! They are performing “A Scandinavian Christmas” this year and I’m looking forward to some beautiful carols.

Christmas Selfies

Last Saturday we had our ward’s Christmas Brunch. I love that it’s a morning activity and that it’s early in the holiday season — it’s a great way to get things rolling before life gets too hectic.

We made winter kits to hand out to homeless people, and William got a chance to visit with Santa:

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Eleanor, William and Katie participated in the Primary Nativity program. William was a cow, Katie a sheep, and Eleanor an angel. So sad to realize that Eleanor won’t be in this next year.

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Katie’s right in front, Eleanor is the angel in back to the right. I have no idea where William is.

I was asked to give a little “spiritual thought” after the nativity was finished. I kept it short and sweet — this is what I wrote:

My favorite Christmas Eve memory is from when I was eight years old, and I found a strange man sleeping on the couch in my family’s living room.

What’s even stranger is that when the man sat up, I began jumping around the room because I was so happy.

Because that’s when I realized that the stranger was really Brother Anderson, my family’s home teacher, and the reason he was sleeping on the couch is because my parents had gone to the hospital the night before for the birth of my new baby brother, Erich.

It was a novelty that we knew that he was going to be a boy — ultrasounds had just become part of standard prenatal care. I remember my dad coming home and taking us to the hospital that day to see Erich. I remember taking my Walkman and some cassettes — Sesame Street Disco — and my favorite Care Bear with me in the car because it was a 45 minute drive to the hospital.

My mom says she always regrets her decision to come home early from the hospital so she could be with us on Christmas Day. But we all were so happy to put a little yellow bassinet under the tree with our new baby inside. That evening I sat next to the tree and held Erich in my arms, gently rocking him while singing “Jolly Old St. Nicholas” over and over again until he fell asleep.

And I remember: this is the first time I knew, even at age eight, I knew I would remember that moment for the rest of my life. It was the first time my mind held up its mental camera and went, “click!” I could almost hear the shutter closing.

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This is the picture I took while giving my talk. Note how many people are taking pictures!

I have a friend who is a photographer, and she is always encouraging people to go ahead and take more pictures with their phones: friends, family, food, whatever. This is one of the oldest methods people have of showing their love and affection of something: we make an image of it. We take a selfie. We share them with friends, whether in a photo album, or with social media.

But even better than a physical or digital photo is the one we can take mentally — turn to our family, our friends, and think, “click!” This is something I’m going to consciously remember for a long time. This is my Christmas selfie.

Better than that, try to take a Christmas “selfie” of Christ’s gospel and mission this season. Is it in the love and service you give to others? That you receive from others? The warmth of the Spirit you feel while singing a Christmas carol? When you see Christ, do you see yourself — the best version of yourself?

Perhaps you are having a difficult time with Christmas this year, perhaps you’ve suffered some losses. Maybe your mental camera is clicked to the off button. Please remember that even if your mental camera can’t focus this year, Christ is still with you — has never forgotten you, has an eternal eye turned towards you as a resource for help and guidance. This is the kind of selfie that will never turn yellow or get lost in a digital dustbin — when we take upon ourselves the name of Christ and keep working to be more like Him.

Never forget that our Heavenly Parents are with us not just during the Christmas season but all year round. It will be the Christmas selfie that lasts.

I think it wasn’t so bad — I told Brian I was trying to “channel my inner Uchtdorf.”

The next day we took time to visit one of our favorite Christmas events — the Festival of the Nativity in Bellevue. This is put on by a group of stakes out by the temple, and the level of organization and attention to detail is astounding. We missed going to it last year (owing to a mix-up, I was coaxed into accompanying a violinist at a similar festival in Tacoma, which wasn’t nearly as nice, and the drive home was terrible) so it was especially great to be there again.

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Katie is holding the checklist for the children’s scavenger hunt. William was the best at it and helped everyone find the hardest items.
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Oh, Jeff.

Jeff was especially intrigued by the new Family Search center that was recently added to the stake center there. So many techy gadgets — but it was a little crowded, so I didn’t stay long.

My favorite creche this time was one from Nepal. The little beads! The details! So cute!

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Once again, we dressed up as the Holy Family, and once again the kids made me be Mary because those Three Kings outfits are so alluring.

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This year, I even managed to get the kids to sit still and listen to the live music for a few moments before we headed back home. How lovely and peaceful — I love that my brood is beginning to appreciate quiet, beautiful things.

Over the River, and Through the Woods, and Mountains, and Desert, and Another River . . .

After several years of having family come to us for Thanksgiving, we decided it was our turn to visit them for the holiday. Our kids have grown old enough that the long drive to Utah isn’t as arduous as it once was. For them, the drive means wearing pajamas, eating junk food, and playing video games all day. What’s not to love about that?

I had forgotten, however, that even-numbered calendar years are the ones where my siblings and I are expected to eat Thanksgiving at our in-laws’ houses. But because all of my siblings were going to be in town for the holiday, my parents decided to go all Hobbit-style and celebrate Second Thanksgiving the next day.

Brian was very happy to spend Thanksgiving proper with his family — we haven’t done that in a long time!

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I was thrilled because Caitlin was helming the food preparations, excepting the turkey which was delegated to Brian. This meant layers of succulent root vegetables layered with gruyere, perfectly sauteed green beans, and out-of-this-world desserts: beet pie, carrot pie, apple-juniper pie, chevre ice cream with pumpkin swirl, chocolate-gingerbread ice cream. (I think I’ve been inspired to create an ice cream based on elisenlebkuchen, aka German gingerbread. Must experiment with that.)

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We had lots of different Izze drink flavors on hand, and Michael designated himself the “soda sommelier”

Best of all: I hardly had to do anything!! The only spoon I had to lift was the one going from my plate to my mouth. This is great, considering that I am once again tackling the Julbord insanity for Christmas Eve. Thank you, in-law family!

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Michael and Natalie were visiting as well, and my kids were happy to see Cousin Anderson again. Natalie and I took Anderson for a toddler-paced walk around the neighborhood and had a nice long talk together. It was great to spend time with her.

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Brian, Jeff, Wim, and Michael tackled a game of Caverna, which Brian received as a birthday present and has 90+ wooden pieces. It looks insane, and took hours to play. More power to ’em. Eleanor and Caitlin enjoyed their traditional games of Nerts. The kids spent time decorating the granparents’ Christmas tree. It was splendiferous all around.

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Katie has memorized “O Christmas Tree” from her primer piano book, and played it several times through the day.

Then, on Friday: Fakesgiving! Woo-hoo!

It was scads of fun seeing all the cousins together. They spent hours in my parents’ basement, putting together elaborate play scenarios: an imaginary civilization at one point, later they were all pets. “I’m a wild guinea pig,” explained William, but a tearful Katie wasn’t so happy. “They say I’m an orphan puppy dog,” she cried. “I don’t want to go to the pound!”

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But other than slight mishaps like that, the kids got along very well with no real fighting. That’s pretty amazing.

We all got to heap lots of loves on baby Cousin Megan. She still has the Baby Smell, so I could not keep my nose off of her head. My parents recorded the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade so I could watch it the morning of Second Thanksgiving, and I just sat and watched the Broadway shows and ate cinnamon rolls and smelled baby head and it was glorious.

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The kids spent a long time working together to make the place cards. Katie saved all the ones with our family’s names and brought them home. She put them on the breakfast table Monday morning!

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(My mom said she made ~300 rolls for Second Thanksgiving. Yikes. I was put in charge of roasted vegetables, which was a great job for me.)

After eating, we all dressed up and headed to a nearby nature reserve to take some family photos. Luckily for us it was a warm sunny day and we didn’t have to bother with coaxing kids out of their coats!

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This is the one we’re using for our family Christmas card. The big group shot needs to be Photoshopped, so I didn’t bother posting it.

That evening we all played a big round of “Hands Up, Squidman,” which my kids are finally old enough to play without derailing the whole game.

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On Saturday we had another treat with Grandma Kathryn, Aunt Natalie and Cousin Anderson — Christmas Tea at the Grand America Hotel!

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We attended this tea several times when we lived in SLC, but my daughters have no strong memory of doing so (and in Katie’s case, no memory at all). I haven’t been able to find a replacement for this in Seattle, so it was a real treat to be able to do it again.

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My mom had given me a bunch of free makeup samples, and we picked out some neutral colors for Eleanor’s first-makeup kit. She’s wearing some of it in this picture; you can see it in her lips. 

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Eleanor and Katie were on their best fancy behavior, which was adorable. Anderson had fun smearing cream all over the table as toddlers are wont to do.

We all took pictures of the food. I had forgotten how much food they bring, and couldn’t finish it all. Bowls of whipped berries and cream, cups of sugared tea or hot chocolate, tiers of Italian-inspired sandwiches, traditional scones, and then — a second three-tier display of desserts and cookies. Yeesh.

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I liked the mini paninis the best. That macron is savory — pumpkin with a chevre filling.

The children’s plates have changed since my previous visits. I love the cut-out sandwiches! The girls let me try a taste of the brown one — it was chocolate bread with a berry-Nutella filling. Wow.

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Katie could hardly contain herself when Santa & Mrs. Claus came in to sing carols. Eleanor was chosen to walk around the room with Santa while everyone sang “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and they had her wear antlers and a light-up nose. She smiled the whole time; I love that she is getting mature enough to be a good sport about being silly.

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Later the kids were able to visit Santa personally. This year Katie wants “the orange fairy” for Christmas — aka the Autumn Fairy, one of the seasonal-themed Waldorf dolls we’ve been collecting. I’m surprised that she hasn’t lost interest over the years, but that’s our tenacious Katie.

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After stuffing ourselves silly (and listening to a Christmas story read by Santa), we participated in the scavenger hunt created by the hotel. The display windows were “Christmas Around the World” themed and absolutely gorgeous.

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We also took time to see the giant gingerbread house on display. Anderson found it hilarious to duck under the velvet ropes and walk along the miniature pretend sidewalk running around the display. Aww, two-year-olds.

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And yes, we spent time shopping in Jou-Jou, the high-end boutique toy store which is also housed in the hotel. I found a little plastic watch for Eleanor that reminded me of the Swatch I loved dearly when I was thirteen. (It was reasonably priced, and she is in desperate need of a watch, so why not?)

That evening we watched Moana with my parents, and then whisked ourselves to sleep in preparation for the long drive home the next day.

All four of them cried when they woke up to go that morning, sad that they wouldn’t see their cousins again for who-knows-how long. I felt a little guilty . . . we’re planning a visit to California for midwinter break, but I want it to be a big surprise and so didn’t tell them.

A heavy snowfall hit Snoqualmie Pass that day, so we decided to drive home through Portland. This made the drive 15 hours instead of 12, but stopping for dinner at a burger joint did wonders to make it bearable. And like I said, the kids are old enough to withstand the longer travel times now. Hooray for video games, pajamas, and junk food!

 

 

The Winter of Our Discontent

So, here I am making history:

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This is me putting my ballot, along with Brian’s, into a Washington state ballot box. All the voting here is done by mail. We both voted for Hillary Clinton.

Annnnnd, yeah. That didn’t happen. I didn’t sleep for 72 hours after Election Day, and only grabbed brief sleep for the week afterwards. It didn’t help that Brian was out of town all that week; my kids sensed my distress (I hated that I put that on them) and took pains to be kind. Eleanor gave me the “special plate” when she set the table; Jeff ran his hands through my sweater pockets to make sure I didn’t take my phone up to my room at night. William butts my arms with his head while chanting no Facebook, no Facebook, no Facebook, Mom. 

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My kids made this “bacon grease Trump” to try and make me feel better

Last Sunday’s regular blogging time was swallowed up with the task of calling, texting, messaging and e-mailing all the strong women in my life (and making friends with a few new ones!). I wasn’t able to write about it then. I suppose I can do so now.

Richard the Third is now the President of the United States.

“We’ve survived worse!” my parents tell me. “We survived Andrew Jackson!”

What does it say that we have to go all the way back to the 19th century to find someone comparable to the 45th President?

“You’ll be fine! We had to live through the Carter administration!”

Really?

Today has been the first day I’ve been calm enough to even think about the election results without a ball of anxiety in my chest. Facebook is a minefield; all my conservative friends are outraged and on the warpath, all my liberal friends are horrified and on the warpath. (I fortunately do not have any Facebook friends who voted for Trump. But I’m sure there are some in my ward.)

Reading the news has become an exercise in depraved masochism.

From my friend, Jessica Day George:

I voted by mail a few days ago. And I can be proud of how I voted.
I can look my children in the eyes and tell them:
I did not vote for a man who calls women “nasty” and “pigs.”
I did not vote for a man who boasts about cheating on his three wives.
I did not vote for a man who has posed for pornographic magazines, who has tweeted links to pornographic films.
I did not vote for a man who boasts about grabbing women’s privates and kissing them against their will because he’s famous and can get away with it.
I did not vote for a man who has been accused by 22 women of sexual assault.
I did not vote for a man who has been accused of raping a 13-year-old girl, and was photographed partying with underage girls alongside his good friend, who is now in prison for child rape.
I did not vote for a man who calls his daughter a “hot piece of ass” and says that he would sleep with her if they weren’t related.
I did not vote for a man who cannot remember if he is for or against abortion.
I did not vote for a man who calls Mexican immigrants rapists and murderers.
I did not vote for a man who advocates the torture of American citizens.
I did not vote for a man who wants to restrict the freedom of the press and the freedom of speech.
I did not vote for a man who wants to restrict America’s freedom of religion.
I did not vote for a man who calls for the wives and children of suspected terrorists to be executed.
I did not vote for a man who praises the leadership of dangerous dictators like Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un.
I did not vote for a man who joked that gun owners should assassinate his opponent.
I did not vote for that man.

Me neither. I remember when Trump’s autobiography came out in the 1990s, and my mom turned off Entertainment Tonight because she didn’t want any of her children learning about that man, who epitomized everything sleazy, cheap, and greedy. That man now represents me, and all of my fellow citizens, on the world’s stage.

I’ve spent more time ugly-crying in front of my computer in the last week and half than in my entire life. I’ve spent time absolutely furious and spent entire mornings having imaginary arguments with hypothetical Trump voters. I’ve imagined getting in fistfights with them. I know that most of these voters are good folks who do not perceive themselves as racist. They just didn’t consider racism, xenophobia, and misogyny a deal-breaker, and I don’t know how to deal with that yet.

My kids put the “Cool/Crazy” sequence from West Side Story on the computer and suggested that I needed more tough-guy finger snapping to express my mood.

I care deeply about things, more deeply than I should, and I fear that the poor working-class Americans who put Trump in power are going to feel the crush of his policies harder than anyone else. Medicaid and Medicare are already on the chopping block.

You reap what you sow.

From my friend, Katherine Fisher:

Like many of you, I spent last night feeling increasing horror and nausea as the reality of a Trump presidency became more and more apparent. We had the opportunity to elect a super-smart, experienced, committed, knowledgeable woman to be the first female president of the United States. Instead, we chose a man who is cruel, racist, sexist, and ignorant of policy and governance. We chose a man who was endorsed or supported by Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un, and the KKK.

If Hillary Clinton had lost to, say, Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio (or Mitt Romney or John McCain, to look back at previous elections), I would still be disappointed and perhaps worried. But this outcome is orders of magnitude more disturbing for its symbolic effect. It reveals the depths of fear, racism, and misogyny that pervade our society and that are once again acceptable to speak aloud, and it demonstrates an astonishing willingness to choose show over substance and devalue knowledge, preparation, and critical thinking. Trump’s administration will not be “constrained by facts,” as NPR’s Scott Horsley put it this morning, and this has serious repercussions for our democratic process, the trustworthiness of government, and our relationship to the rest of the world.

There’s already been plenty of blame assigned, to Clinton herself, the DNC, third-party voters, the media, the Supreme Court for weakening the Voting Rights Act, and the GOP for allowing Trump to get the nomination, but ultimately the culpability lies with the people who cast their votes for Trump. Shame on you, Mormons, 61% of whom voted for Trump, for being too cowardly to make a moral stand when it mattered. Shame on you, white women, 53% of whom voted for Trump, for telling other women that your perceived self-interest matters more than their rights and bodily safety. Shame on us, America, for telling our children that bullies win power, our sons that they can treat women with contempt, and our daughters that if a man is rich and famous and white enough, he can commit (and brag about) sexual assault and still become president. Shame on us for rewarding ignorance and cruelty and voting selfishly instead of with all Americans in mind. Shame on us.

I know there are checks and balances in place that will limit what Trump can do, although he still has a great deal of executive power and with Republican majorities in both Houses of Congress, those checks can only do so much to promote rigorous, bipartisan debate. I can only hope that Ryan and McConnell will not let Trump and his campaign rhetoric dictate their legislative priorities and will make decisions that are well-reasoned (even if I disagree with their reasoning) and grounded in facts. We have our work cut out for us on the local and state levels to advocate for the issues that are likely to be neglected or undermined on the federal level: police reform, voting rights, expanded access to healthcare, education funding, sustainability and climate-change initiatives, reproductive rights, refugee support, and many more.

Today, I’m indulging my anger and sadness. Tomorrow, I start figuring out how to work like hell alongside black, brown, immigrant, indigenous, queer, disabled, and Muslim Americans to keep this country safe and welcoming for all of us.

The question is: how exactly to do this “work like hell”? I can’t drop all of my obligations, cancel my ambitions to do . . . what? Protest in the street? There’s been a protest or demonstration in Seattle every single day since Election Day. I’ve donated money to causes I feel will suffer under the regime of the 45th President. I called my senators to express my fear of Stephen Bannon, one of the vilest fedora-wearing neckbeards on the Internet, being in the White House. I live in a blue county in a blue state; my congressional representatives are already on the same page with me. I’m in the process of putting together “welcome kits” for refugees arriving in Seattle. Beyond that . . . what?

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This past Friday I was in charge of Katie’s Daisy Girl Scout meeting, and we made “courage crowns” while learning about the “Courageous and Strong” part of the Girl Scout Law. I taught this group of precious five-year-olds about how they can be brave and help others, how they can be strong and try new things that seem scary at first. It was great, but my heart wasn’t in it. That tiny, twisted voice emerged from within myself: what’s the point of all this? What’s the point in teaching girls they can make the world a better place? 

My logical mind knows that this is simply not true, but the twisted voice followed me to the bookstore that Brian and I visited that evening for a date. I couldn’t summon the energy to look at a single title in the children’s section: What’s the point of teaching children about science? Other cultures? History? They will always be outnumbered by the ignorant and cruel.

From my friend, DaNae Leu:

We are the country that blazed into existence on the idea that

ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL

As the men who penned, and fought, and bled, and ultimately governed on that undeniable truth –

Held ownership papers on living, breathing men, women, and children.

We are the country that ultimately battled each other, until all its citizens lived in freedom.

We are the country that passed the 15th and 19th amendment, bestowing voting rights for the entirety of our citizens.

But needed the Voting Right Act of 1965 to ensure those rights.

We are the country that gave birth to the automobile and the personal computer.

We also gave birth to Jim Crow and eugenics.

We are the country that crossed the sea to liberate Buchenwald, Dachau, and Mauthausen, et al.

We are the country that interred its First People to Reservations and opened Heart Mountain, Manzanar, Minidoka, Topaz, et al.

We are the country that gave voice to Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr.

We also endorsed the voices of Andrew Jackson, Joe McCarthy, and George Wallace.

This week when we said yes to the voice that once again gave voice to the voices of hate, and fear, and divisiveness, once again we turned our back on the truth that

ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL.

I know many see riots – not protest, many see temper tantrums and sore losers.

See it for what It is – grieving, full out, ugly crying, hair-yanking, breath-supping grieving. For a very real loss –

a loss of our identity.

If we have just said yes to white nationalism, xenophobia, misogyny, how can we be the country that believes

ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL?

The transfer of leadership is sacred in this country, something one of the candidates did not concede before his election. It absolutely must happen for us to once again surge forward from this huge step back.

It must happen for us to remain the country

we hope we

in reality are.

 

I fear losing that essential American optimism, something that pervades our culture so completely we don’t even see it. Visitors from other countries have often pointed it out to me and asked how we do it, how we manage to look to the future with forward motion, picturing good things ahead. I couldn’t think of an answer (“what’s water?” asked the fish) but Brian pointed out that our country has never been under the thumb of a dictator or demagogue. We said that with a smile, almost cheeky that we are part of this, one of the bright miracles of human civilization, the American Experiment.

I don’t know how I’d answer today.

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At the Seattle LDS Temple, Nov. 11, 2016

Two days after Election Day, I tumbled out of my sleep-deprived bed and felt a nudge to attend the temple. I went, and struggled to stay awake during the session, still feeling edgy and anxious inside. Sometime during the ritual, all of the scriptures that begin with the phrase “Fear not” came pouring into my head.

Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.

Fear not, for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.

Fear not, for unto you a child is born . . .

I need to remember that putting off fear is a commandment, not a request. This is a challenge for me. The election was as ugly and traumatizing an event as 9/11, except the threat didn’t come from foreign extremists, but our friends, neighbors, and countrymen.

What I wrote on Facebook on Election Day:

I have a few Facebook friends that are unfriending anyone they know who voted for Trump. I don’t blame them. But I’d rather say the following to any Trump supporters reading this:

Everything I’ve read about Trump voters says they are heavily motivated by fear, fear of change, fear of any kind of opposition. Fear of anyone who speaks to a different way of thinking from themselves.

So I want to say: Put aside that fear. You are safe with me.

It’s the same thing I say to my LGBTQIA friends, and my Muslim neighbors, and the refugees who have come to Seattle: You are safe with me. And I refuse to withhold that from any of my fellow citizens, red or blue. Feeling afraid? Come sit by me, and I’ll protect you.

A late-night Facebook post seems like an empty gesture, but if this makes the slightest amount of difference towards bringing the two halves of our country back together, so be it.

I am nothing to fear. Out of many voices, peoples, states, we still need to be One, and so I say to you again: you are safe with me.

E Pluribus Unum. God bless America.

So goes the command: Fear not.

Time to work like hell.

 

My Halloween Involved Orcas On Ice

I didn’t bother with homemade Halloween costumes this year. (Gasp!) There are too many other projects towards which I wanted to invest my time.

Instead, we scoured the clearance sections of online costume retailers, and this is what we ended up with:

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Katie is Pikachu, William is an orca, Eleanor is a “Spanish swordfighter” (we were trying to find a costume that matched up with the Venetian mask she bought at the Shakespeare festival this summer) and Jeff abstained from trick-or-treating for the first time this year. He figured he’s grown out of it, what with the growth spurt and lowered voice and all.

Halloween weekend kicked off with our ward Trunk-or-Treat, which is always combined with a carnival. For the first time Brian and I decided to sponsor a carnival booth, and planned to put on a shadow puppet show.

This was very exciting because it’s been probably six or seven years since we’ve put one on. It was an annual tradition to perform one for Christmas parties when we lived in Pittsburgh (and I would develop other shows for library programs) but then our family grew, and holidays became more chaotic, and it fell by the wayside. Doing one for Halloween seemed perfect!

We fished out our folder of past-years’ puppets and backdrops, and Brian scratched his head for a good long time but finally remembered how to put together our PVC-frame stage. I storyboarded a new show and cut out a new backdrop for a haunted house story.

Then we set up our overhead projector and flipped it on — only to have the bulb burn out.

Yep.

Turns out that it requires a specialty bulb that you can’t pick up at hardware stores. Oh, and right at the moment our bulb burned out, we found out that our credit card number had been stolen (so the cards were invalid) and our downstairs toilet flooded all over the kitchen. Fun day.

At this point, the carnival was only a few hours away, so Brian and I came up with the easiest booth we could think of:

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Professor Guesser!

Prof. Guesser tries to guess your age and weight. If he guesses correctly, you get one piece of candy, and the Prof keeps the other. If he guesses wrong, you get TWO pieces of candy.

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We had an old-fashioned scale with a spinwheel for kids to stand on to see if the guess was correct. Add some spooky magical music, and voila: carnival fun-times. Parents liked how offbeat it was; a few adults even gave the scale a try! Brian wasn’t so great at guessing adult weight, but he was very accurate with the kids. (Those pediatric medicine rotations paid off!)

By random coincidence, Halloween was on a teacher workday, so my kids had no school. We initially planned to visit a pumpkin patch, but torrential rainfall put the kibosh on that idea. Instead, we went skating.

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The orca blubber — er, costume — provided plenty of insulation

I thought there would be more skaters on the rink, but we pretty much had the place to ourselves. All of my kids can skate well on their own, which is great because I don’t know how to skate at all and can’t help them out. Eleanor and William spent time showing off their “crossovers,” which they learned how to do in their Basic 4 class.

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I stayed rinkside with a thermos of cocoa

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Later, we stopped by at Francis’ house for a Shirts-family-only mini recital. The kids were supposed to go to an official recital the night before, but I mixed up the performance time. Frances was nice enough to invite us over to play. (That’s where the picture of all four kids in front of the piano came from.)

That evening, Eleanor went off to a party/trick-or-treat session with friends from school (her second party of the weekend! Nice) and Brian took the little kids around the neighborhood.

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Most people thought Katie was a bunny, and William was a penguin.
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Off to see the wizard!

Our pumpkins were carved with Studio Ghibli themes this year. Totoro, Catbus, and Jiji the cat. (Jeff saw a picture of a huge pumpkin with a tiny face on the Internet, and wanted to copy that.)

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Eleanor carved the Totoro herself. The pumpkin nearly collapsed, and she dissolved into tears. Thank heavens Brian thought of propping up the carving with toothpicks
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It was William’s idea to make Catbus, which lead to the Ghibli theme

I had invited a lot of Jeff’s friends over to hang out and play games, but only one of them was able to come, so instead of games we watched Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which was awesome. It was the first time watching it for both boys, and I loved hearing them quote the movie to each other afterwards.

Perhaps next year Jeff and I can tackle Young Frankenstien.

Iphegenia Herself in Brooklyn Found

For the majority of the time, Katie is a happy bouncing five year old with a voice that’s jump-rope bright. But  lately she’s developed a habit of getting upset over random things that I can neither fathom or predict.

The other evening, we had this conversation at bedtime:

She asked, “How long does hair grow? Could it grow down to my feet?”

“Yes,” I replied, “although it would be difficult to take care of hair that long.”

“So hair never stops growing?”

“That’s right,” I answered, “it grows very slowly, but it doesn’t ever stop.”

With that answer, Katie burst into tears.

“IT NEVER STOPS?? WHY DID GOD MAKE US THIS WAY?” She wailed, “I don’t WANT hair growing down to my feet! Noooooo!

She then curled into a sobbing ball in my lap and wouldn’t be consoled, even when we explained the concept of haircuts. I suppose the idea of something on her body growing without her permission was a little too much for her five-year-old brain to handle.

Lest you think this is strictly a bedtime phenomenon, Katie was also incredibly upset one morning at breakfast when she heard that we would be getting a new range for our kitchen. (Our current range has been in slow decline, first ruining a bunch of baked goods with a faulty igniter, which we replaced, but now fails to ignite at all, blowing gas all over our kitchen. (Yeah, it was a little scary.)

“What will they do with the old oven? Give it to another family?”

“Um, no, Katie. This one might start a fire, which is why we can’t keep it.”

“SO IT WILL GO TO THE JUNKYARD? NOOOOOOO!

Ah, poor girl.

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This photo has nothing to do with the surrounding paragraphs. My friend Libby had a hard week and asked her friends to post “cute animal pictures” on Facebook. I was away from my laptop at the time and so had to create a cute photo while sitting in the Target parking lot. This is what I came up with.

Eleanor, on the other hand, has had a great week. Since she decided to stop drawing during math class, and she got a perfect score on her most recent test.

She also wrote a short story for English that was so well done that her teacher has decided to put her in a special group for advanced writers (there are only two other kids in the class who will be part of it) and they will work on entries for writing contests together.

Eleanor has always believed that she has no aptitude for writing (despite my insistence that the opposite is true). It’s wonderful for her to get proof of her ability from another source besides me.

William is continuing to embark on “PokeWalks” with Brian as their main bonding activity — that is, they walk around the neighborhood and play PokemonGo together. For the Halloween season, the game has started spawning a lot of ghost-type Pokemon for players to catch, which is really fun.

Both Will & Elle passed off their Basic 4 skating class this week, hooray! We’ll be taking a break from skating for the next session because they have decided to be in the school musical. Whew, so many things to do!

I’ve made it a goal lately to try to take our kids to more arts performances, so this week Brian and I took Jeff to a production of Iphegenia and Other Daughters, performed by UW graduate students.

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This is Jeff with the card advertising the show

This play is a mash-up of three classical Greek plays: Iphegenia at Tauris, Electra, and Iphegenia at Aulis. I love seeing Greek theatre, and it’s rarely performed, so I jumped on the opportunity to see this. It wasn’t until I was in the car and reading a full review of the play that I realized that it was very much a modern feminist reinterpretation of the stories, and would require a lot of familiarity with the original Greek stories to understand what was going on.

I’m lucky that Jeff is already familiar with the Iliad so that I could explain the finer points of the Agamemnon/Fall of the House of Atreus story. (So much revenge!!!) Also, I found it challenging to explain the concept of the Chorus.

Also, Brian and I kept singing Iphegenia in Brooklyn by P.D.Q. Bach. Which didn’t help matters, but gosh darn it I LOVE Iphegenia in Brooklyn.

Okay, so the production itself . . . was fine, in my opinion. The adaptation of the three plays is hauntingly beautiful, I loved the language and emotion, the basic human questions about loyalty, family, justice, fate, etc. that are always a big part of Greek tragedy. And the costumes were pretty!

But the production itself was kind of slow. The performances weren’t that strong (and this is a production that requires very strong performances to be effective). I looked at my watch twice. At one point I glanced at Brian, and saw that he was nodding off. Not wanting to “catch” the sleepies, I glanced the other direction, only to find that the gentleman seated there was also nodding off. I was concerned that Jeff might be bored out of his mind.

But, in fact, Jeff was enthralled. “This was the best show ever,” he said quietly when the house lights came up. “There was so much meaning, and it was such a complicated story.” For Jeff, this was very much his first foray into theatre that didn’t involve Shakespeare or musical numbers — it was Mature Grown Up Thee-a-tah. It brought back a lot of memories of my own first experiences with art didn’t have that sanitized, family-friendly coating, and how special and smart it made me feel.

I look forward to taking him on more art adventures!