40th Birthday Dance-A-Thon

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My 40th birthday came and went this week. I wanted to do something on the big side (or at least bigger side) to celebrate.

Four decades! It seems more impressive than it feels.

So, I decided to throw my friends and their kids a dance party. This was a bit of a big swing for me. I’ve held many, many gatherings over they years, and I don’t think I’ve felt quite as much anxiety as I have over this one. What if nobody danced? What if everyone just stood around and stared at each other? Or worse, stood around and stared at me while I danced awkwardly by myself?

But fortunately, none of that happened, although I danced pretty much every single song in a row in order to try and keep things happening. It went pretty well, if I do say so myself.

Plus, I also had a keg of gourmet root beer on hand so people could have all the floats they wanted. (It held 20 liters. When the party was over, we drained the leftovers into empty bottles and found that the crowd drank 15, wow.)

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I made my own playlist using YouTube videos, which we streamed onto our television via the Chromecast. The disco light from Eleanor’s birthday party was back on the ceiling, and, well . . .

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It looks pretty awesome, right? I was lucky enough to have a passel of extroverts show up, so all the old warhorse dance moves got pulled out. A conga line, the Macarena, Electric Slide, and even the horse-riding bits for Gangnam Style.

(By the way, there is nothing in this world like standing next to your stake president and his wife in the middle of your dance party and seeing their faces as they dance to the Gangnam Style music video for the very first time.)

Tips for next time: when I made my playlist, I kind of randomly threw together a bunch of songs that were all danceable, some well known, others not. If I were to do this again, I’d choose only the familiar songs. My guests felt more comfortable dancing to the songs they already knew.

No matter how much I love “Let’s Dance to Joy Division” by the Wombats, it caused pretty much everybody to come to a standstill and scratch their heads. “What’s this song?”

Also, sometimes the music video for a song was so outlandish that it proved a big distraction. On the other hand, if a video included the lyrics to a song, it often inspired everyone to sing along.

All the old dusty classics made everyone very happy. The groans and cheers of pleasure when “Livin’ on a Prayer” came up on the playlist was worth every penny. Soon people took turns trying to guess which decade the next song would be from.

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Conga line for “Love Train.” You can only see about half the line in this picture.

If I were to do it again, I’d add things like the Bunny Hop or the Chicken Dance. They are corny, but are a great way for people who don’t feel confident about dancing to join in and feel like they are part of the group.

(Oh! We should have done the Virginia Reel!)

At the end of the set, everyone was, ah, shall we say . . .glowing . . . and likely slept very well that night. We had to open every single window and door on the first floor. At its peak, there were 35 people dancing at my house.

Anyway, it was a wonderful way to kick off what has become the best days of my life. Seriously — I no longer suffer the social awkwardness and anxiety of my twenties, or the lingering depression (and lack of autonomy caused by rearing toddlers) of my thirties. I have so many friends it astounds me! And an incredible family who is pretty darn fine if I do say so myself. I have the freedom to spend my time on the work and projects that I choose, and to go where I wish. A big house full of too many “books, socks, and the little wheels off things” (as Shirley Jackson would say). The luxury of time to exercise and have a healthy body. I get to live in an interesting city in one of the most beautiful parts of the country. How on earth did I get here?

Here’s to hoping the next few years are just as fine as this one.

MY BIRTHDAY PLAYLIST, FOR THE HISTORICAL RECORD:

September – Earth Wind & Fire

Rock the Casbah – The Clash

Rock With You – Michael Jackson

YMCA – The Village People

Twist & Shout – The Beatles

Signed, Sealed, Delivered – Stevie Wonder

L-O-V-E – Nat King Cole

Sweet Caroline – Neil Diamond

Love Shack – The B-52s

Let’s Dance to Joy Division – The Wombats

Stayin’ Alive – The Bee Gees

Flypaper – k-os

Concrete and Clay – Unit 4+2

Fly Me to the Moon – Frank Sinatra

Shout – The Isley Brothers

Canned Heat – Jamiroquai

Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough – Michael Jackson

Can’t Stop the Feeling – Justin Timberlake

Livin’ on a Prayer – Bon Jovi

Elenore – The Turtles

Love Train – The O’Jays

Istanbul – They Might Be Giants

Dancing in the Streets – Martha and the Vandellas

Around the World/Harder Better Faster Stronger – Daft Punk

Ganymede – Peter Shirts (This is Peter’s parody of “Dynamite” by Taio Cruz)

Come on Eileen – Dexy’s Midnight Runners

You Spin Me Round (Like a Record) – Dead or Alive

I Want You Back – The Jackson 5

The Twist – Chubby Checker

You Shook Me All Night Long – AC/DC

Gangnam Style – Psy

Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party – Courtney Barnett* (at this point, I had learned my lesson about obscure songs and skipped this one. All other songs with * were ones we skipped, mainly for time because it was past 9:00 p.m. at this point, and little kids needed to get to bed)

December, 1963 – The Four Seasons

Get Down Tonight – (KC & The Sunshine Band)

Desire – U2*

Low Rider – War*

A Mi Manera – Gypsy Kings*

Buddy Holly – Weezer

Sweet Home Alabama – Lynyrd Skynyrd

Celebration – Kool & the Gang*

What Does the Fox Say? – Ylvis (this was not part of the original playlist, but Jeff begged me to put it in)

Golden Years – David Bowie (The last song we played that night. It’s my favorite pop song, and I wanted to end with it)

Remainder of Playlist (but which we did not play that night)

Mony Mony – Billy Idol

Brick House – The Commodores

Shining Star – Earth Wind & Fire

One More Time – Daft Punk

Modern Love – David Bowie

Fell in Love With a Girl – The White Stripes

Respect – Aretha Franklin

What I Like About You – The Romantics

(Don’t worry about these songs at the end, we didn’t ever really think we’d play them, it was a just-in-case measure.)

 

 

Sixth Grade Curtain Call

My sweet Ellabelle had her 6th grade graduation this week.

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Which means she attended the last day of school in nice Sunday clothes.

Which means she looked like this while doing safety patrol:

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Mwa ha haaaaaa!

It’s hard to believe that she’s all done with elementary school — no, scratch that. It’s actually quite easy to believe since we’ve been thinking about it for months now, what with middle school tours and choosing electives for next year. (The photos below are from the 6th grade band concert a few weeks ago.)

(Eleanor the Bored Percussionist Strikes Again!)

What really blew my mind is realizing that William will be in 5th grade next year. 5th! But he’s still in 1st grade, I could have sworn that was so!

The graduation ceremony was the same format as Jeff’s, only the pop song choice was far more appropriate for kids to sing (“Count on Me” by Bruno Mars).

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Elle getting her “diploma” from her principal, Mr. Lohman

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Brian couldn’t make it to this one, so I brought her flowers from Trader Joe’s to compensate. She was tickled as pink as the roses.

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Elle with her friend Domina
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With her teacher, Ms. Stenfjord

Eleanor is looking more and more grown-up. I wasn’t able to attend her modern dance performance (that was the weekend I was in California) but the pictures from dress rehearsal were posted a few days ago, and they look so elegant and cool.

The graduation ceremony ended an hour before school ended, so Eleanor and I hoofed it over to Costco to pick up movie theater tickets and a pizza for lunch (annnnnd some books. Because Eleanor made me do it).

When the other kids came home, we snarfed down pizza, then headed over to Menchie’s for frozen yogurt (our standard last-day activity), then headed to the movies to watch Captain Underpants.

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The day was topped off with the choosing of the Summer Cereals. William claimed Lucky Charms this year, and Eleanor was nearly distraught because that’s usually her choice. She eventually settled on Cocoa Puffs, a fine cereal in the mascot-with-no-pants tradition.

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In other news, Jeff was awarded the Most Outstanding Digital Technology Student award at the middle school’s evening awards ceremony. Which was great for Jeff (his teacher is wonderful for thinking of him) but also meant Brian and I had to sit through a 90 minute evening award ceremony. Thank heavens I brought my knitting.

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See how bored the audience looks? And this was at the BEGINNING of the ceremony.
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Mr. Macdowell taught Digital Communications, and was also his social studies teacher

William finished his school year with a food truck simulation, which he found very interesting and talked about every day for weeks. His food truck is called “Taco Cat,” and he even made a paper model of it. He and Eleanor took some red yarn and had a ribbon cutting ceremony to declare it officially “open,” which just about made me die from cuteness.

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On the last day of school, William also brought home the note that Brian and I wrote him back at the beginning of the school year. His teacher told me that he kept it on top of his desk all year long and read it every day. Sweet boy.

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Look at the curled edges and fingerprints. Ohhh, sweet William.

 

William also got to attend the Summer Library kickoff party, where the Emerald City Admirals came to teach quidditch to the kids, which he loved.

We also observed Father’s Day a few weeks ago. In addition to giving him the latest draft of my book, I also gave him many flavors of tiny pie slices, brought from my annual book club’s trip to the Back Door Bakery down in Olympia.

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In other words, the end of the school year has treated us well.

Oh wait — can’t end without an official first day/last day comparison photo!

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First Day

 

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Last Day

Although .  . . that doesn’t quite capture the true spirit of the last day of school, does it?

How about we take another shot?

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That’s more like it!

Return of the Sunshine Days

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The nicest treat happened this past month: my female friends from college organized a women’s getaway weekend in Southern California.

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Clockwise from the left: Laura, Marjorie, Julia, Liz, Kellie, AnnaJune

We picked out a date waaaaay back in August, then reserved a beach cottage in January. After the requisite bumps in the planning process (and a zillion e-mails) we all arrived in San Diego.

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Much silliness ensued

Our first evening there was sunny and festive.

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JUST LOOK AT THAT GORGEOUS BLUE SKY
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This sign seems appropriate

BUUUUUUUT the following day was filled with what I have been informed is called “the June Gloom.” Ergh. This was kind of disappointing, but I wasn’t planning to go in the water much anyway (I didn’t bring my contacts, so I had to keep my face above water).

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People had balanced all these cool rocks on the beach
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We made a few of our own balanced rock stacks

And THEN Julia fell and hurt her hand which was still healing from a previous break. (Nooooo!)

(AnnaJune spent time braiding Julia’s hair to look awesome, which I hoped helped her feel better.)

AND THEN the beach was taken over by a creepy pro-Trump “March Against Sharia” that  made my stomach turn. (Even after a counter-protest showed up.)

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But the idea was to hang out and talk and eat junk food, and we accomplished that with élan.

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The view from our cottage
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The end of the pier has a restaurant where we ate lunch. It felt like eating in the middle of the ocean.
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Spontaneous karaoke in the beach cottage

Every time I get together with the Plethora I am startled by what a different person I’ve become since I finished college. I love these people; they are like family. But to tell the truth they are also like family in the respect that, if I met some of them today for the first time, I’m not sure how close we’d be as friends, if at all. I’m wouldn’t be surprised if they felt the same way. Perhaps that’s why it’s important to reconnect with the people who knew you when you were young.

That’s a gift, isn’t it? To be friends with someone who you may never have taken the time to introduce yourself to if life hadn’t done it for you. I did have a lovely time and I hope we can do it again in the future (perhaps in Chicago? We ruminated over it in an attempt to lure East Coasties to join in).

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The restaurant where we ate Saturday night had mediocre service but a very fun photo op

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Yes, more of this, please

ANYWAY — the other big news with me is that I finished Draft #3 of my novel in time for Father’s Day. Reading my book is what Brian wanted for his present, and I had a fair amount of hoofing at the last minute to meet the deadline. But meet it I did, and now I have the pleasure of watching Brian read it every night at bedtime, and he even chuckles at the parts that are funny and sometimes he stays up after I’ve turned off the light because he finds it interesting enough to not want to stop and it is the sexiest thing imaginable.

The only downside is the cringing truth that this draft took far too long to finish. I’m working at about 1/2 the speed which I ought, and it grates on me. I want to keep working over the summer, but I don’t know how that’s going to shake out now that the kids are out of school. (Especially considering that I need to keep practicing piano every day!)

I did give myself a victory lap this week — the last week before school ended — and spent time not writing and going out to lunch with friends and visiting the Terracotta Warriors exhibit at the science museum. (All by myself! I got to spend as much time as I wanted reading each and every informative plaque. Most startling information gleaned: the weapons the statues carried indicated that the Qin empire had discovered mass production and interchangeable parts a good 1800 years before Europeans did.)

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Lunch at Marination Ma Kai with Amy & Margaret. 

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Summer is now upon us, and I’m looking forward to lots of fun adventures with the kids, and experimenting with ice cream. Here’s to hoping I can find a happy balance and enjoy the sunshine days!

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Knitting at the roller disco. I think this sums me up pretty well.

Kid Update

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This is a collage of pics from “Divas and Donuts” at the elementary school. It used to be called “Moms and Muffins,” but they decided to change the name to be more inclusive. Brian was in charge of running the event this year, and he did a great job!

Katie

  • She’s very aware that kindergarten is almost finished, especially since her teachers at school refer to her class as “almost first graders.” This past Friday she brought home a June calendar from school, and wanted me to circle “the day I will be a first grader” (aka the last day of school)
  • Since we have to arrive at school early for Safety Patrol, Katie and I have begun a habit of hanging out in the car and doing reading lessons while waiting for school to start. She’s moving very well through my Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading book, and I read picture books to her as well. A few weeks ago I found a complete boxed set of Cicely Barker’s “Flower Fairy” books, and Katie loves them. She’s convinced that all the fairies in the books are real.
  • Two weeks ago we watched The Dark Crystal for Old Movie Sunday, and she spent time turning our living room into a theater, complete with paper tickets (separate tickets for entering and exiting the theater), a rope across the entry, and a speech that she gave before the screening (“welcome to the movie theater. The exits are here and here . . .”)
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She used a garland of flowers as the roped-off entrance.
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The tickets she made. It says “Dark crystal ticket”
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Letting us know where the exits are
  • Last week we had a string of rain-free weather, which Katie is not used to dealing with. When she saw the weather forecast in the newspaper, she began to cry. “I am so tired of sunny!”
  • Seriously, when I took them to the Strawberry Festival during the 2nd week of May, she and William hid in my shadow to get out of the sun
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Scenes from the Strawberry Festival

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  • Katie is desperate for her siblings’ attention lately. This usually ends up with temper tantrums and lots of crying. She and William often get in fights, and I don’t know how to prevent them.
  • The Edmonds Musicianship Festival was the third week of May, and it was Katie’s first time participating. She did great — white and blue ribbons on her performances, and she got her face painted like a fox afterwards. Hooray!
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Katie playing “Rodeo” for the Musicianship Festival
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Foxface!
  • The year has wrapped up for Katie’s Daisy Girl Scout troop. It looks like we’re still going to have a troop next year, hooray! We finished the year with a visit from a group of Junior Girl Scouts (4th/5th graders) who came to teach our Daisies all about outdoor safety as part of their Bronze Award. I was majorly impressed by all the work the Juniors did, and our Daisies loved it!
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Daisies & Juniors at troop meeting

William

  • Wim just finished a six-week after school robotics course. It made carpooling miserable (I would drive E. to dance early, then drive back and get Wim, take him home, then go back and pick up E. then go home again . . . uuuuuugh, it was two hours of driving but it was only temporary) but it made him light up like nothing else. He chattered about it the whole way home. They finished the class with a “robot Olympics.”
  • He just read Hatchet, since he observed how much Eleanor loved it (right now it’s her favorite book ever). But he doesn’t seem as absorbed by the story as she was. I’ll tell him “time to read,” and he’ll set a timer for 30 minutes, read for exactly that amount of time, and stop. Now he’s moved on to A Wrinkle in Time.
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Playing “Simple Gifts” as a duet with Eleanor at the Musicianship Festival
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We visited OMSI in Portland on Memorial Day to see the “Art of the Brick” exhibit
  • He is still doing that Kissing Equilibrium thing, where he must kiss me the exact number of times that I kiss him. Drives me kind of crazy, but it’s also endearing.
  • We finally forced him to cut his hair. He really dislikes haircuts and if it were up to him, he’d let it grow down to his waist, I’m sure. When we asked him why he disliked it, he said it was because he liked how we could all run our fingers through his big floppy locks.
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Seriously crazy long hair
  • He got double blue ribbons for his solo performances at the Musicianship Festival. William is very self-motivated at his piano practice, so I’m not surprised at all that he did well. I don’t know if he has any great love of playing the instrument — like reading, he practices exactly what is required, and no more.
  • A while ago I read some parenting advice that said, “if you deposit time with your preteens, you can withdraw it from your teenagers,” and it’s very true. Unfortunately William is so quiet that he gets overlooked too often. Lately I’ve been making a point of taking him with me on my Tuesday night library visits. It’s nice having him to chat with on the way there and back.
  • Often he asks the most wonderful questions, like “if you chop up ice small enough, will it turn into water?” I replied that the friction from the blade would melt the ice first. “What if that didn’t matter, if the ice stayed at freezing temperatures?” I said that the you’d end up with very small ice crystals, not water. “What if you split the water molecules?” he went on. Love the way he thinks.
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From the Lego exhibit at OMSI

Eleanor

  • Eleanor spent the week before Memorial Day weekend at Camp Orkila with all the other 6th graders from her school. She loved this trip SO MUCH — for days beforehand, she talked nonstop about counting down the days to camp, how she got to meet her counselors ahead of time, how we needed to drop everything and pack her bags right now (this was a week before camp started). She loved camp to pieces. The thing she looked forward to the most was taking a ride on a giant tree swing, and she was able to finagle two rides on the swing. Nice!
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Sometimes she gets up early to exercise with me. Here we are drinking our protein smoothies afterwards
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Giant slurpee on “bring your own container day” at 7-11. 
  • Elle has really become a sweet wonderful person lately. She’s working hard at getting along with everyone in the family, and I love that she’s maturing this way. On Wednesdays I have to drive her up to Lynnwood for her dance class, and chatting with her in the car is one of the best parts of the week.
  • She’s excited about finishing up elementary school and moving on to middle school next year. This Wednesday is her final band concert. I hope she doesn’t get too weepy during the “moving up” ceremony at the end of the school year.
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At the “Art of the Brick” exhibit in Portland
  • YW is treating her nicely (“kids don’t sit on the floor to watch church movies like in Primary”) and she’s looking forward to Girl’s Camp this summer. There was even a High Adventure trip this past weekend for the YW, but she didn’t attend because she had the final concert with Seattle Children’s Chorus. She was not happy about that decision — she really wanted to go camp and hike the Dungeness Spit — but I think there’s a lesson to be learned about sticking to something you’ve already committed to and not dropping out just because something better comes along. Plus, she’s up for promotion to Arioso this year, and we don’t want to risk messing that up.
  • Back in the fall, Eleanor submitted a music composition to the PTA Reflections contest, and we just got it returned to her this past week. She was a finalist at the state level competition! Wow!! Her piano teacher, Frances (who helped her write the piece), is over the moon.
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Here’s her piece — it also got a blue ribbon at the Musicianship Festival

Jeff

  • We’ve had a bit of discouragement with Jeff lately — a few weeks ago, we were informed by the school that he needs to retake pre-algebra next year. This was a big blow to Brian and I, since we work so hard to help him with math. It’s such a different track from the race-to-the-top way we did high school.
  • He remains the most enthusiastic reader of the four kids. William and Eleanor enjoy reading, but Jeff is the first one to actively seek out his book if it’s one he enjoys. Right now he’s tearing through Megan Whalen Turner’s Queen’s Thief series, which is one of my most favorites ever, and it brings me so much joy.
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Visiting our friends in Portland over Memorial Day
  • Magic: the Gathering is still his favorite hobby. I worry that he’s going to miss the Magic club once school is out. I can’t convince him to invite any of his club mates over to our house to play during the summer. He mentioned once that he’s concerned about how the other kids swear a lot, and even though I said that wouldn’t be a concern, he’s still not interested. But he does want to start going to Magic Nights at the local game pub. One of these days I need to take him to the game pub in Bothell that specializes in Magic and is decorated to look like the Green Dragon from Lord of the Rings. (It’s adorable.)
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Trying out dim sum in Portland
  • Last night I left Jeff in charge of the kids while Brian and I were out. “Turn off the screens and do something else for an hour,” I ordered before I left. When I returned home, there was a cool cardboard fort on the dining room table. I thought it was something the kids worked on together, but no — Jeff ordered his siblings outside, then made the fort by himself. Although Katie was allowed to come in and scribble red marker on the floor as “blood puddles.”
  • He’s still singing with the Seattle Children’s Chorus, although we were asked by the directors to find him voice lessons. So for the last few months he’s been taking voice with a retired music professor who lives in our neighborhood. I think Jeff enjoys them — he’s always very engaged during his lessons, even if he initially fought with me over practicing voice at home. I’ve noticed improvements already. Brian is over the moon; he listens in on the lessons and makes mental notes so he can improve his own singing. Nowadays Jeff has settled in to the habit of coming home from school, practicing piano (on the organ, which he prefers) and then doing voice with me. He sits beside me on the piano while we do duet exercises, with one arm around my shoulders. It is the best.
  • Last week, Jeff came home sweating buckets, so I suggested he stop wearing his insulated jacket all the time. This made him a little upset and concerned.

    JEFF: Mom, is all this heat caused by global warming?
    ME: [looks outside at thermometer] It’s 77 degrees.
    JEFF: So that’s global warming, right?
    ME: Um . . . global warming is happening, but this specific temperature is caused by the fact that it is the first week of June.
    JEFF: So it’s going to STAY this hot??

    Later that night, I found William rummaging through his drawers in a panic, saying “It’s going to be EIGHTY TWO DEGREES tomorrow, Mom,” looking for shorts like he’s preparing for Armageddon.

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Checking out the chemistry labs at OMSI

Vancouver Express

The Sainted Grandparents decided to take my children to Vancouver Island for spring break, and so Brian and I decided to have a mini-adventure of our own. Brian couldn’t take the whole week off, and since our van went to the island with the kids, we decided to take a trip to Vancouver, B.C. by train. We’ve lived here for 4 1/2 years — it was high time we visited the last of the three Cascadia cities.

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The Edmonds train station had this cute display of old suitcases

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It’s always been one of my travel dreams to take a romantic getaway via train. Our Cascades Amtrak wasn’t the Orient Express, but it did well enough.

That is, until we got stuck on the tracks just outside the city, waiting for over an hour for a freight train to pass us. We didn’t get to the station until midnight, ugh. Thank heavens we had  a box of Samoas to munch on while waiting.

Also, our bed and breakfast had a magnificent breakfast to make up for it.

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The B&B was close to Stanley Park, so we spent the morning strolling through it, exploring little gardens and flower displays on our way to the Vancouver Aquarium.

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This is a “natural playground.” It made me miss the kids — they would love it!

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I’ve heard for years that the aquarium is one of the best in the world, and I agree. It is an incredibly well kept facility, with tons of remarkable animals to coo over. My favorites were a tank of translucent jellyfish, each the diameter of a nickel.

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Yes of COURSE there was a dolphin show

For lunch, our guidebook recommended a Japanese izakayas restaurant called Guu With Garlic. Izakayas are like Japanese pubs, with lots of interesting dishes.

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My hot pot came in this adorable mini-wok. It was a little tricky to eat.
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We were allowed to choose 4 different mini-dishes as appetizers
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Brian chose eel in a sizzling bowl

After that culinary adventure, we rented bikes and rode the circumference of the Stanley Park seawall. I love riding bicycles and hardly ever find time to do so, so this was a real treat for me.

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The mountains are so close to the city!
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There’s a totem display in the park

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Afterwards, we continued following the bike paths up towards the convention center, where we found a wonderful gelato place. We had the toasted pecan gelato — drizzled with maple syrup! — a flavor that had recently won the “best new flavor” award at the Florence Gelato Festival.

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Checking out the views downtown

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Houseboat love!!

That night we decided to have our “fancy meal” of the trip at a restaurant called Forage. Since it shares a name and cuisine type with our favorite (now defunct) restaurant in SLC, we were hopeful for some delicious interesting food.

Well . . . it was interesting. And good, but not knock-your-socks-off delicious. RIP, Salt Lake Forage. You are a difficult restaurant to replace.

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This is duck confit with juniper jellies, cracklins, and mini beignets. Tasted kinda like a turkey sandwich with cranberry sauce.
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This is a giant cream puff with ginger cream and vanilla ice cream inside, swimming in a pool of blueberry sauce
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This is Bizarro Dessert. Like, shaved pears and raspberry puffs and white chocolate creme fraiche and I can’t even remember what the log is. That’s a fancy cocoa rice krispy thing behind it.

Day Two was another unexpectedly sunny day, so we hopped onboard the free shuttle bus to the Capilano Suspension Bridge Park.

It totally fulfilled all my childhood fantasies of living in an Ewok Village, or the Swiss Family Robinson’s treehouse.

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Plus, I got to hug Mountie Bear! Awww, I could cuddle him all day.

The shuttle bus took us back into town, and we popped into another restaurant the guidebook recommended, a Korean place that offered a lunch deal where you could get 15-odd tiny dishes, including things like spicy squid salad and some kind of rice jelly salad. Our guidebook listed “Eating Asian Food” as the #3 thing to do in the “Vancouver’s Top Ten” list, and I heartily agree. So many food adventures to be had!

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That cube Brian is trying to pick up is some rice jelly thing

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That afternoon we took a tour through Roedde House, one of the rare historic homes that allows you to walk into all the rooms (no velvet ropes, no plastic walls blocking off doorways) and better yet, touch all the things. We got to look through a stereoscope, crank the breadmaking machine, and Brian even got me to play around on the 1890s Steinway upright in the sitting room. Since the museum hosts chamber music performances, the piano was marvellously in tune and very fun to play.

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That evening we took an aquabus — the world’s most adorable watercraft — over to Granville Island, which is kind of like the Vancouver equivalent of Pike Place Market.

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Look at the wee bitty boat! I want one!!

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Squeeeeee!
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An excellent display of macron-stacking
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There are a whole lot of artist’s workshops in Granville. This one’s from a silk weaving studio.
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Aren’t these scarves the COOLEST? I found a similar one in the store’s discount bin and love to wear it.
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Vancouver: Proud Home of the World’s Most Whimsical Concrete Plant
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I mean, who wouldn’t want whatever it is that comes out of that truck?
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We bought some fancy blood-orange olive oil here for Randy and Kathryn, stupidly forgetting that they wouldn’t be able to take it on the plane ride home. D’oh!

There was a restaurant there that specialized in Canadian dishes made with locally sourced food. SO MANY CARBS, I mean just look at them all:

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“Would you like some grilled sourdough bread with your clams and fries?” Um, yes? Yes yes yes?
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This is the map printed on the restaurant menu

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Gorgeous views while waiting for the aquabus

Day Three began with trying out a donut from Tim Hortons. It was okay. Filled with Nutella! Eh.

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We took a taxi over to the University of British Columbia to explore the UBC Botanical Gardens. So many things were blooming! It was a wonderful time of year to be there.

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This is one of the most magnificent tulip trees I’ve ever seen

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This is a rare Zen Magnolia, which can only be found on one particular mountain in China. It smelled heavenly.

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I loved taking close-up pictures of the blossoms

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Afterwards we hiked up the road to the Japanese Memorial Garden. It had begun to sprinkle a bit by this time, so we didn’t stay long.

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Just around the corner was the Museum of Anthropology, which has one of the best collections of First Nations art and artifacts in the world.

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The carved totems were beautiful, but my favorite thing was this:

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A bear arm-wrestling a moose! What’s not to love?

Our guidebook recommended exploring the Kitsilano neighborhood (which reminded us of Ballard/Fremont). We had lunch at a quirky retro diner with a lot of crazy stuff all over the walls and gigantic milkshakes.

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There’s a Steelers “Terrible Towel” hidden in the background.
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I tried the oyster burger. It was really disappointing.
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This is ONE milkshake that we asked to split in two.
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I loved this sign that hung in the restaurant

Afterwards we checked out a local record store (It was officially Record Store Day! I bought a copy of Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours).

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Nearby was Wanderlust famous travel bookstore/supply store. Brian thought it a tad silly to be in a travel store while visiting another country.

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We unfortunately decided to walk home from Kitsilano, which was a terrible idea because the rain came down hard and drenched us completely. We decided to lounge about in our hotel (we had left the B&B the day before) for a few hours before embarking on our dinner adventure.

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Although on the way we did see the restaurant with the best name ever. The Friends of Cheese!!

And what an adventure it was! For the heck of it, we decided to try our luck at Bao Bei, a “Chinese brasserie” described as delicious and trendy in our guidebook. And it doesn’t take reservations.

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We showed up at 8:30, hoping to be at the tail end of the dinner rush. We were told a table wouldn’t be ready for 90 minutes.

Well, we had just had a late afternoon nap, and didn’t have any kids with us, so . . . why not wait? Pudding!

We decided to explore Chinatown while waiting. This turned out to be less than wonderful.

 

Yes, we tracked down the Jimi Hendrix shrine (after several dead ends). I would have taken a picture, but the shrine was closed for the day.

We saw the Chinatown Gate and the Millennial Gate. . .

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. . . and the “World’s Narrowest Building,” which is a thing. . . .

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. . . and walked through many, many raucous groups of people who smelled like booze and marijuana (some of whom were fighting), and an odd, sketchy city block that had a gathering of fifty-odd homeless people. Is it a city policy for them to gather all on one street for the night?

We eventually found our way to a grocery and pharmacy that was open late, and spent time buying up Canada-only junk food for our kiddos. Yes, even the Kraft Dinner. Same inside — but the box looks so different from ours!

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Here are all the treats in Brian’s suitcase

Finally, finally our table at Bao Bei was ready. We were supposed to order a lot of little dishes. They were yummy, but not wander-through-90-minutes-of-ganja-clouds yummy. We were definitely the oldest people in the restaurant. Haven’t had that experience in a while.

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They had very fun non-alcoholic drinks for us to try. Delicious!

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These are fried banana eclairs. They were interesting, but not as delicious as you’d think.
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They gave us these language cards featuring childhood pictures of the owner’s parents.

I had to be a bit assertive to get a taxi home. Thank heavens Canadians are polite even when a little drunk. (“Oh, I’m sorry, was that your taxi?” “Um. Yes.”)

Day Four: We decided to check out some of the interesting downtown stuff we’d glimpsed while taxiing around before.

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I loved seeing the Vancouver Public Library. I’d read about their Multilingual Collection in grad school (although, come to think of it, the Toronto one is supposedly even bigger).

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The library was designed by the same architecture firm that did SLC’s main library, so the layout was oddly familiar.

I was enchanted to see this complete set of brand-new recording studios, open to anyone with a library card. There was also a bank of computers reserved just for working on creative projects (like Photoshop, web design, etc.).

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After the library we headed down the street to the Vancouver Art Gallery, which has no permanent collection — it’s three floors of gallery space for temporary exhibits of contemporary art. Our favorite was the main gallery, featuring masterworks by First Nations artist Susan Point.

We then headed back to the gelato place we’d visited on Day One, and took a stroll down the convention center’s “Canadian Trail,”

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There are Canadian town names written on the sidewalk. Including: “Cape Enrage,” “Gimli,” and “Moose Factory.”

visited the skyscraper that was once “the tallest building in the British Empire” .  . .

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The building is decorated with explorers’ ships, zeppelins, and animals like snails, geese, and fish.

. . . and ended up in Yaletown for a big lunch/dinner.

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And yes . . . then we had gelato one more time before leaving town. (It turns out the gelato place had two branches! We couldn’t pass on that!)

Everything was set for meeting our 5:30 train back home. We lucked out and got a double-decker touring train this time. Even more romantic than before, and we didn’t get stuck waiting for a freighter this time!

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I was shocked at how little U.S. Customs seemed to care what we carried in our bags. Didn’t even have to send our bags through an X-Ray.

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Vancouver was beautiful — on the water like Seattle, but with the mountains up-close, like Salt Lake. There’s a citywide ban on billboards and other big advertisements, so the city felt clean and serene. I loved it! Thanks for the fun times, B.C.!

Easter Birthday Kerflooie

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Our Easter creche.

The problem with having a birthday in April, I suppose, is that every now and then Easter will sneak in on your birthday territory.

But considering that am the one responsible for celebrations in my family, the only person who is ever inconvenienced by the birthday/Easter confluence is me, I guess.

Brian’s parents arrived in the middle of all this as part of Grandparent Week, Pt. 2, and it was really great having them here to help out. Kathryn was a magic cleaning fairy. I was able to run errands and make Eleanor’s cake and dip marshmallow pops while she scurried around, helping put things away.

Jeff was also doing work as the stage manager for the middle school play this week. The carpooling went from usual ridiculous to full-on ridonkulous.

Here he is moving sets around during intermission. There were two contingents of family attending on two different evenings, and we applauded him every time and embarrassed him to pieces.

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The play was a modern retelling of the Robin Hood story, simply called “Hood.” Yeah, I’m wincing, too.

On Eleanor’s birthday proper (Thursday night) we went out to dinner with grandparents and Aunt Kristen & Uncle Sven. Eleanor chose Shari’s Diner, because she’s been craving a big burger for weeks. Eleanor and Kristen are almost the same height now!

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On Good Friday we had our traditional Easter Tea when the kids came home from school (it’s also the start of Spring Break for them, so some celebration was in order). I bought the Hot Cross Buns this year, since owing to my self-imposed dietary restrictions I wasn’t eating any. Sorry neighbors, no buns for you this year. I realize this puts my household at risk for shipwrecks, but whaddyagonnado?

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Saturday afternoon was spent taking Eleanor to do baptisms for the dead at the temple for the first time. (Many thanks to our bishop for helping us get her recommend in time.) Eleanor was so excited — all week she kept saying “I can’t wait for Saturday!” “Because of your birthday party?” I asked. “No, because I’m going to the temple!” she replied.

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Kathryn spent the morning showing Eleanor the origins of all the family members she was doing work for that day, which was very special.

At the temple, Brian did the baptisms and I wrapped her up in a towel afterwards. It’s been a long while since I’ve wrapped up a wet Eleanor in a towel. Oh, those early-childhood bath years are so long gone, aren’t they?

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The temple recorder heard that it was her first time attending and came down to say hello and formally invite her. Usually one of the members of the temple presidency likes to do that, but they were not in attendance at the temple that day. I didn’t mind, the recorder was very kind (and perhaps he doesn’t get to do the welcoming very often).

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I really shouldn’t stand next to Kathryn in photos. 🙂

That evening we threw Eleanor a Groovy 1970s Disco Party. The party ideas all came from Family Fun Parties, and was a huge hit with the girls. I admit I had concerns — with 12-13 year olds, you never know when there will be awkward eye-rolling instead of uninhibited fun. Fortunately for us, it was the latter.

Probably the best idea we had for the party was to purchase a little disco light off of Amazon for $12. It had a sensor built in to coordinate the lights with the music! No other party decorations were needed.

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The girls ate pizza for the first bit (already dancing around in their seats), and then they made Pet Rocks. I was floored by how much they loved this and how creative the girls were. A bunny rock! A narwhal! Batman! Another narwhal with a little saddle so a smaller rock could ride on top!

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The great thing about kids this age is how autonomous they are. I simply laid out the craft supplies, and they did everything themselves, including using the hot glue gun!

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Likewise, I later held out a game of Twister, and they took it, set it up, and figured out a fair system for taking turns all by themselves. Teenagers rule.

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After Twister it was time for cake and ice cream. I made Eleanor a four-layered chocolate “Have a Nice Day” cake, with Thin Mints for eyes. The girls called it an “emoji cake.” Ha.

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Then, as the finale, we had a Disco Dance Off. I’d like to take a moment to say how proud I am of the rising generation, because not only did they recognize and applaud to the opening riff of “Stayin’ Alive,” the also recognized and applauded the opening to “YMCA.” Watching the girls sing along and groove to “YMCA was one of the most entertaining thing I’d seen in weeks.

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Every now and then I came up to girl doing a particularly excellent dance move and allowed her to choose something from my goody bag (I filled it with all the unused samples from Target Beauty Boxes I’d had lying around).

When the party was over (whew) Katie and William presented Eleanor with this snowglobe that they made together. Inside is a birthday cupcake made from Sculpey clay. Aww.

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Katie also did this cute pose in her Ginny gown, which I thought was worth capturing.

(The present from Brian and me is a new bike, so she can ride to middle school in the fall.)

TA-DAH! Happy Birthday, Eleanor!

But wait . . . there’s more!

The following day we had our Easter egg hunt in the lawn before church. Randy was expert at color-coordinating the eggs with their hiding places. A violet egg in a clump of violets, a pink egg in a tulip blossom. Darling.

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Eleanor calls that pink rhododendron her “birthday bush” since it usually blooms around her birthday.
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Randy helped Katie reach the high-up-in-the-sky eggs

Church was a whirlwind of singing in the choir and pounding out glorious Bach on the organ. (I always bring my A game at Easter.)

After church the kids were pinging off the walls, so I popped Ben-Hur into the DVD player. It turns out this was one of Kathryn’s favorite childhood movies. She was eleven when it first premiered in theaters, and she loved it so much she saw it six times.

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I still maintain that there’s no way that Romans tramped around in the desert in full plate body armor. Or sailed on warships that way — full armor, all the time! No wonder they were grumpy and whipping the galley slaves night and day.

The kids loved that chariot race, though. Katie screamed and had to hide under my shoulder. Jeff jumped up and down the whole time. It really is an amazing feat of cinema.

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Grown-Ups’ Table
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Kids Table. This is the first time they’ve really embraced the idea of the “Rude Table” and so were happy eating separately from the adults. The manners rule-breaking went fine until the kids decided to stack soda cans into towers and then knock them over. Le Sigh.

Somehow over the course of Easter weekend our small casual family dinner morphed into a formal holiday sit-down for fourteen. But Brian since was in charge of the meat (grilled lamb leg) and the dessert was made by Sister Costco, the stress levels were down. I didn’t even bother cleaning the house. It was great.

Hooray for springtime, hooray Bach, hooray rebirth, hooray Easter!

Grandparent Week, Pt. 1

My parents decided to spend their Spring Break with me this year. It was a delightful surprise, since their original plans were to take a cruise to Alaska this summer.

You hear that, Alaska? I totally beat you.

This, of course, meant that extra effort was needed to show off Seattle in all its springtime glory. This was pretty easy considering that the cherry blossoms at UW hit their peak this week.

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Bask! Bask in the petal snow!

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They may look cute, but there were some serious arguments over Jeff’s bright green gloves.

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D’awww. My mom says I should print this one out as a Father’s Day present.

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There was even a fashion shoot going on! Cool blossom-inspired dress, btw.

If you’re wondering why the kids are with us, it’s because the school district had a non-student day on Monday. My parents were happy to have a grandchild day right off the bat.

We also took time visiting the Burke Museum of Natural History (this actually happened before the blossoms). It was odd — I’d never realized that my parents hadn’t ever visited the UW campus before. Well, we can check that off the list now.

The best thing we did at the Burke was take turns “flying” in front of this bird mural.

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We also bought the kids giant apple fritters at the Burke cafe. Have I mentioned how much I love the Burke cafe with its genteel wood paneled walls and paintings and stone fireplace? I’m going to miss it when the new museum is built.

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We were starving by the time the cherry blossom time was over (sooooo many multi-generational Japanese-American families! It was adorable!) so I decided to share another Seattle cultural institution and take them to Dick’s Drive-In for lunch.

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I warned my parents that the burgers were mediocre, and the fries a travesty. They were happy that I gave them such a warning, because they absolutely agreed with me. I describe Dick’s food as “the best thing to eat for someone who’s been out drinking all night,” and I stand by that. And yet — and yet — there was still multiple long lines of people at the windows! Seattle, I just don’t get you on this one.

After lunch we headed to the Seattle Japanese Garden. I was hoping to see more cherry blossoms, but no luck there. It was still a lovely place to explore. My kids always enjoy going around and around on all the little pathways. Jeff took time to read the self-guided-tour brochure as he scooted around, which I found charming.

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My mom and I asked Eleanor to leap across several times in order to capture this photo.

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This little turtle kept one of its legs up like this the whole time, waiting for high-five.
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Eleanor took this picture. The framing with the leaves was intentional.

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Yeah, once we returned home we all collapsed on couches. Oh, and Katie lost a tooth! Her very first. She took time to write a note to the Tooth Fairy, asking her to please leave money but please also leave her tooth behind. I understand — when one of your body parts spontaneously falls off, it’s understandable to not want it carted off in the night by a stranger with supernatural powers. Even if they offer you a cash bribe.

Tuesday morning was spent here at the orthopedics clinic at Children’s Hospital.

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I am totally impressed by this place. Beautiful facility, great security, streamlined check-in process. We were only in the waiting room for 30 seconds before Katie was called back to the “casting room,” meaning where you “get casted,” or have a cast put on your broken bones. Orthopedists use the verb “to cast” in their own special way, I’ve learned.

The great thing is that Katie now has an efficient Velcro-strap mini sling which will stay in its darn place without needing me to readjust it every 30 darn seconds.

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Uwajimaya had an adorable display of all their strawberry-flavored products.

Once Katie was checked back into school, I took Mom and Dad to the place they always want to go when they come to Seattle: to get bibimbap from the Korean restaurant in the Uwajimaya food court in the International District.

I mentioned this to the guy running the counter at the restaurant, and he was so pleased that he gave us free kimchi. So, thanks Mom and Dad for your consistently dependable tastes in food!

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This sign was on the Uwajimaya bathroom hand dryer. I’m still laughing just thinking about it.

That evening was Astronomy Night at one of the local high schools, and my mom and I took the three younger kids to check it out. I love going to this activity because it’s intended for young children, but hardly any little kids actually go. This year it was organized by one of the youth volunteers from the Library Board, so I was happy to support her. She did a great job!The high school students manning the activity booths are therefore usually very pleased to see my family.

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We made planets out of styrofoam balls and old CDs, snagged some free solar eclipse glasses, watched a presentation in the inflatable planetarium, and played an astronomy trivia game against a bunch of teenagers.

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I get why the Dalek and Cpt. Picard are at Astronomy Night, but Xena Warrior Princess?

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William and I were on the same team (“Team FloppyFish”) for the trivia game, and we TOTALLY SCHOOLED everyone. Yes, I do know how many moons Jupiter has, thank you very much.

I needed some office time/errand-running time the next day, so after sending out a bushel of e-mails and phone calls, my parents headed up to Lynnwood with me for an Old Navy/Target run. I bought new clothes for myself for the first time in ever. I’ve lost 40 pounds since Labor Day so the experience was happily un-fraught with the usual anxieties. Yay!

That evening Jeff was awarded his promotion to Star Scout at the Green & Gold Banquet. Brian was also given a surprise award for his volunteer work as YM president, which was very kind.

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My dad picked out our Thursday activity, and he picked a good one: touring the Boeing airplane plant up in Everett. I’ve always wanted to do this! It was so cool! It was like watching the assembly of a fifty-million-piece LEGO set.

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On our way out, we were lucky to see the Dreamlifter taxiing around the airfield. The Dreamlifter is the enormous airplane designed to carry airplane parts.

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Boeing doesn’t allow any pictures to be taken on the tour (not for fear of corporate espionage, but because tourists have a history of dropping phones and cameras down on the factory floor) but I found this one on the internet:

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We spent a long time that evening watching “Put Together Quick” time-lapse videos of airplane construction. It was so fascinating — just the sheer amount of engineering, planning and coordination between thousands of people to make these machines come together boggles my mind.

On my parents’ last day in town, we headed up to the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival to see if there were any blooms in the fields. Well . . . there were some. We were a little on the early side for tulips, but there were some. And the daffodils: whoa.

 

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My mom and I thought this little corner was one of the best flower beds. It’s so delicate looking.
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My mom borrowed my green wellies and looks adorable in them!

After the gardens, we drove up to Edison. I recently read that there was a really good Mexican taqueria there, and a legendary bakery. It was totally worth the extra bit of a drive. This is the best Mexican food I’ve had since moving to WA state.

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And the bakery! OMGosh, I’d read about Breadfarm in magazines and in my friends’ Instagram accounts, and it still managed to exceed my expectations. A little on the pricey side (seriously, $1 for a tiny cookie?) but such high quality.

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I bought a package of their homemade graham crackers (since I’d read that this is what they were famous for). They looked like little unassuming brown squares but tasted like crispy wafers of spiced butter.

I intended to just have a couple and share the rest, but instead I merely shared 10 of them and ate the remaining 15 by myself because CARPE DIEM, PEOPLE.

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We saw this mural on the side of a building in Edison. Nice.

Lastly, on Friday evening my parents were real troopers and came along to watch the Pinewood Derby. Eleanor, William, and Katie all had cars to enter into the competition. We once again had the professional derby-runners getting the show going for us (it goes so much faster it’s wonderful). The decorations were so cute this year!

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One of those blurry streaks on the track is a car made by one of my children. Trust me.
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They all won design awards (everyone does) but William was the only one whose car “placed” well enough to win a candy-bar medal.

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And amazingly enough, I didn’t get any pictures of my parents at the Derby, which is a shame because they went back home early the next day. But it was a wonderful trip, and I hope they can make it back up to see us sometime soon in the future!

Busted

So this happened this week:

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Yes, it’s General Conference weekend.

On Thursday afternoon Katie fell off a 2′ balance beam on the playground at school and landed on her shoulder. The school nurse saw no swelling or discoloring, and since Katie’s mobility seemed fine, she gave her an ice pack and didn’t think any more of it.

I was volunteering at the school that day, and when Katie ran up and told me about her injury, I had the same reaction as the nurse. But I was suspicious . . . when Katie was still unable to lift her left arm above her shoulder, and cried when she changed her clothes, I knew something was up. Because I had seen this before.

The next day was a whirlwind of doctor visits and x-rays, and yup: “non-displaced fracture of proximal humeral.” This means that the bone is partially broken, which means a sling instead of a cast.

For those of you keeping score, this is the exact same kind of injury in the exact same place on the body as the one Eleanor had at the same age (only Eleanor’s happened two days before Katie’s birth, which made life interesting).

I guess my kids all fall down the same way?

As you can see in the picture above, Katie has her arm in a sling, but also an ACE bandage to keep her arm immobile. We’re scheduled for a visit with an orthopedist at Children’s Hospital, and hopefully they will have the correct kind of sling for her with a built-in-strap. Katie’s always wiggling her sling loose and I’m constantly scooting it around on her body to get it back in place. Katie thinks it’s a fun novelty now, but I think she’s going to be mightily tired of that sling by the end.

In the meantime, the doctor’s orders are to “keep both feet on the ground,” meaning no climbing trees, riding bikes, or going on playground equipment. She has a note excusing her from PE for the next bit, and I’ve gotten a refund on her next session of karate class. I hope she doesn’t go stir-crazy from lack of exercise by the time it’s all over.

In the meanwhile, please enjoy some pictures of Eleanor’s modern dance class! It was parent watch week this past Wednesday.

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There are only 2 kids in the class, which made it easy to get a snap of her dancing alone.

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It’s looking likely that Eleanor will be coming to the end of her dancing career at the end of the school year. I’m not super-thrilled with this class, and Eleanor doesn’t seem super-committed. But we’ll see.

Updates

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This was our entryway display for St. Patrick’s Day this year. I’m never happy with the decorations you find in stores (they can be tacky) but then I realized we have a zillion little fairy/elf dolls, and voila!

Katie

  • It was raining as we walked out of church today, and Katie was thrilled. “Thank you, God! Thanks for the rain!” she cheerfully chirped as she skipped through the parking lot alongside me
  • This kid really loves kindergarten. We’ve been doing reading exercises every day in The Ordinary Parent’s Guide to Teaching Reading, or as we call it, “the big blue book” and as such she’s excelling at reading at school. She’s not a super-precocious reader (I was one of those, and I am skeptical that it benefits children to be reading novels in the K-2 years) but she’s a crackerjack decoder; it’s fun seeing her piece together the phonemic patterns.
  • We usually do reading time in the school parking lot in the morning. Eleanor needs to arrive at school early for safety patrol, so we have 15-20 minutes to wait in the car. We do a lesson in the big blue book, and if there’s time I read a picture book to her and William. For a while I went through a phase of reading exclusively Hans Christian Andersen stories. “The Brownie and the Grocer” remains my favorite HCA tale.
  • Katie is the only one of my kids who talks about school. The other kids prefer to give a brief anecdote or one-sentence summary of the day, but Katie will happily chatter on about every song, story, game, and friendship power play that happened that day.
  • (Which is how I know that she’s growing pumpkin plants in her classroom right now)
  • As I write this, Katie is watching Barbie in the 12 Dancing Princesses movie and dancing along with the characters. It’s the only Barbie movie that isn’t completely terrible.
  • The number of stuffies that Katie sleeps with every night is reaching critical mass. She carries a good dozen of them around the house with her, and when she wants to take them up to bed, she asks me to help her bundle them up in her blankie so she can haul them around without dropping any. Ergo, she often sleeps with a giant blankie-covered lump of stuffed animals in her bed. Sometimes the Treasured Stuffie of the Moment gets to rest on top of the blankie blob, like some kind of perverse Princess and the Pea-meets-King of the Mountain

William

  • It’s often difficult to get William to open up and talk about his interior life. I think I’ve written about that here before. He will gladly explain every detail of a process — a puzzle he completed, a science experiment at school, the rules of a game he likes to play — but dreams, hopes, feelings? Not so much. (Unless he believes he’s being treated unfairly, in which case he gets in a snit.)
  • In fact, during William’s parent-teacher conference, his teacher’s biggest complaint about him is that he doesn’t speak up much in class (that, and his terrible handwriting)
  • He still wears one of the two hats he got as Christmas presents almost every day, although not quite as frequently as in January. It’s nice to see his hair from time to time (by the way, he needs a haircut, which he hates).
  • He is the most self-sufficient of our children; Frances (our family’s piano teacher) was amazed when I mentioned that I do not help him at all with his daily instrument practice. He loves checklists and goal charts and calendars and faithfully brings me his piano practice log to have me sign off when he’s finished making music
  • William loves hugs and snuggles but firmly believes in kiss reciprocity: when I cuddle and kiss him, he keeps count of the number of kisses I give him and returns the exact same number of kisses. If I try to sneak in one or two more he immediately gives the same number back. Leaving things uneven drives him crazy.
  • He is still Katie’s #1 playmate, although his patience is tried every time he plays with her. Katie likes to dictate the play scenario, which he can only stand for so long.

Eleanor

  • Our girl is turning 12 next month, and she is both excited and sad about leaving Primary. She has two incredibly good buddies in her Primary class (Esther and Audrey) and they get together for playdates as often as I can make it happen. Last night I took them to watch Beauty and the Beast after the Women’s Session of General Conference. They giggled and said silly things all the way to the theater.
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Yes, we’re wearing dresses. Did I mention that it was right after conference?
  • It’s good that E. has buddies at church because she’s having a lonely time at school right now. Most of her school friends graduated into middle school last year, and her other sort-of buddies hang out with cliques that she can’t break into (they contain girls who have literally said “Hey Eleanor, can you step away for a moment because we want to talk about stuff without you around?” BLECH). Recess is lame for her right now, and she can’t figure out what to do with herself. There used to be a preference for kids to play Four-Square (which she loved), but then kickball games started up again (they were banned for a while) and everyone quit playing Four-Square. Kickball for Eleanor usually means getting yelled at by hyper-competitive kids who can’t deal with flaws in other people. (Kids who get yelly during casual pickup games totally deserve all the terrible dysfunctional relationships they are doomed to have as adults. Said Brooke.)
  • FORTUNATELY middle school is on the horizon — which would initially seem like a bad thingbut our school goes to great lengths to help kids avoid these kind of lonely experiences: every lunch period has multiple structured activities to participate in, and she’ll be in the same grade as her church buddies, and hopefully will run with her grade-older friends again.
  • Eleanor picked out her preferences for middle school classes – -she’s going to take Compression Math (where she’ll learn all of 7th/8th grade math in one year), Honors English, Honors Science, Honors Social Studies, and Spanish. We don’t know what her other elective will be, but she’s hoping for Art, Digital Communications, or Chef School. I love my smart, hard-working girl!
  • Today I gave her an early birthday present: a “real” quadruple-combo set of scriptures with her name inscribed on the front. The reason for the earliness is because E. lost her previous set of scriptures (including the bag!) and needs new ones to finish the requirements for her Faith in God Award. We have no idea where the old scriptures went, it’s super annoying.
  • This week Eleanor and I watched the BBC miniseries version of Pride & Prejudice, the one with Colin Firth. I had to spend a lot of time “translating” the dialogue for Eleanor, but she was totally into the story and really liked it. I don’t think she was as interested in the romance as much as she found all the socially awkward situations hilarious. Which is what Austen intended.

Jeff

  • The YM in our ward had a silent auction a few weeks ago to raise money for Scout Camp. Jeff auctioned off a sushi dinner, which he cooked and delivered last Sunday. The family who bid on his cooking were totally impressed. He made multiple platters of maki rolls (I love the caterpillar the best!), vegetarian nigiri (made with shiitake mushrooms!), inarizushi, and even included a container of miso soup and a bunch of wafer cookies he picked out at the Asian grocery store. Way to go, Chef Jeff! (Although I admit that Brian had a good hand in helping the operation.)
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Mmmm, I am drooling
  • Jeff sent in his registration materials for high school this week. He’s also going to be taking first-year Spanish, which is fun because he and Eleanor can study together. He also wants to do digital communications or computer programming as his high school “pathway.” We’ll see where he ends up when his schedule arrives.
  • We’re a little concerned about Jeff’s participation in Coro Vivo with the Seattle Children’s Chorus. When his voice changed, Jeff lost a lot of his vocal control and has a very difficult time singing on pitch any more. His choir director wants him to get a vocal coach. I’m happy to do this, but I have no idea where we’ll find the time to make this happen. The idea of adding one more extracurricular to our schedule is enough to make my head explode.
  • Jeff is a wonderful reader and it makes me happier than anything. He just finished Neal Schustermans’ Scythe and is now reading the latest Steve Sheinkin nonfiction (Undefeated). BUT it seems like Jeff is getting more reserved and I’m not connecting with him as much as I used to.
  • A big reason for this is because Jeff is the “assistant stage manager” for the middle school play right now, and he doesn’t come home from school until almost 5:00 p.m., a time that I’m usually spending carpooling other kids around or cooking dinner. I miss having our quiet one-on-one time when he would arrive home 45 minutes before the other kids.
  • Being asst. stage manager is a position Jeff created for himself, with permission from the play director. I’m not really sure what it is he does during rehearsals (I ask him but his answers are vague and garbled), but I think it’s great for him to get involved in something with his school community.

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Me:

  • Nothing special here, I just wanted to mention that I finally got around to making a recipe from the Lemonade cookbook and it was SOOO good. I took the “Roasted Cauliflower, Almond, Golden Raisin, Curry Vinaigrette” to the salad potluck at Women’s Conference and boy, it was tasty. I had a few recipe requests. It was nice to recommend the cookbook to more people!
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I added chopped chicken breast to the recipe to make it more main dish-y.

March Musical Madness

I have a friend who is a choir teacher in the school district just north of where I live, and she agrees with me that, for some reason, March is the busiest time ever for families with kids who do music.

It’s been this way the last few years, but the crunch seemed extra hard this time around.

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Pianooooooo recital. I dislike going to these — not because I don’t enjoy hearing my kids perform, but because I loathe having to make small talk with the other parents afterwards. “Hello stranger! You and I will never see each other again, but why not spend time asking awkward questions about why our kids are taking music lessons?”

Here’s the rundown:

  • Piano adjudications, which meant extra mini-lessons to check on the kids’ pieces and be sure they were memorized and ready to perform
  • Seattle Children’s Chorus spring performance immediately after adjudications, with crazy-early call times for Jeff
  • Eleanor was asked to perform as part of a children’s choir with the Sno-King Community Chorale’s performance of Cantata Memoria–For the Children, which meant lots of evening rehearsals up at Edmonds Community College
  • The kids’ piano teacher hosted a recital to include all the kids who didn’t do adjudications (like Katie)
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The idea here is to have long-term goals that push me out of my comfort zone. Well, mission accomplished. Ugh.
  • Eleanor was also picked to be in the 6th grade Honor Band, with extra rehearsals for that, then a Wednesday night performance and an all-day Thursday tour of schools on the west side of town
  • Meanwhile, I was also preparing Bach’s Sinfonia No. 15 for piano juries (it had to be memorized! And I forgot how Bach shows off all your flaws! Well . . . the performance was an acceptable level of okayness)
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Oh yeah, and this has nothing to do with music, but Brian and I went to 8th Grader Parent Night at the high school to talk about HOW OUR CHILD IS GOING TO HIGH SCHOOL 
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Eleanor was very excited to play the timpani for one of the honor band songs. On the other hand, she got stuck playing cowbell for “Eye of the Tiger” and was hilariously bored and disengaged during the performance

The performance of Cantata Memoria was last night. It’s the most beautiful piece of music about the saddest thing ever. We’ve been listening to her practice CD in the car, so I’ve basically been driving around town for the last three weeks with tears coursing down my cheeks.

This piece was commissioned and premiered last year for the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Aberfan disaster — an event that is still strong in the cultural memory of the UK, but relatively unknown here — when a hillside of slurry from a coal mine collapsed and buried the local elementary school, killing 116 children and 26 adults. The coal mine operators had been warned about the collapse beforehand, but since environmental law and industry regulation didn’t exist in 1966 the way it does now, the mine ignored the warnings, and tragedy struck. (The parents insisted that their children’s death certificates listed the cause of death as “Buried alive by National Coal Board.”)

Anyone clapping their hands in glee over the would-be demise of the EPA needs to take a long, hard look at what life was like before.

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The mayors of Darrington and Arlington were at the performance and said a few words at the start. Both of those towns were heavily affected by the Oso landslide, the anniversary of which is four days from today.

“Cantata Memoria” is performed in English, Welsh, and Latin, and incorporates a musical reenactment of the landslide, a chorus of children’s voices, and repeated images of birds and light in memory of all children everywhere whose lives are taken through the greed and cruelty of adults.

Brian and I were especially impressed with how composer Karl Jenkins chose to musically depict the landslide — the chorus sings the Welsh pitran patran in increasing intensity to show the storms that created the hillside collapse, counterpointed with the children’s voices singing “All Things Bright and Beautiful,” with its lyrics about running rivers and waters rushing by. When the “landslide” struck, the children’s choir turned its back to the audience, and the baritone soloist sang “Nothing . . . nothing . . .” while the children sang a Welsh bedtime lullaby. It was all very affecting. There was a video presentation that accompanied the performance, and it included archival news footage of the children’s funerals. Let’s just say that we’re lucky Brian didn’t have to escort a bawling Brooke out of the performance hall.

But just like that — I had another great reminder of why I put up with all the insane carpools, early morning lessons, dinners eaten in cars, and harp harp harping on practicing.

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“But if to be alive is to belong

Then we must

Keep

Still

This song.

Sing it until the end of the night,

Sing it, sing it, for our children loved light,

my child loved light.”