In the Last Days

We’ve hit the end of another school year, and once again I’m swirled about with conflicting emotions. Sadness over the passing of another fleeting milestone, complete and utter panic at the prospect of the approaching summer.

(The image on the left is the last day of the 2015-16 school year, on the right is the first day. Look how much Jeff grew!)

Truth be told, I’m not nearly as panicky as I used to be before I had kids old enough to babysit. (BABYSIT! Let the praises of such be sung from the rooftops.)

And Jeff has grown out of his past summer habits, such as spraying bottles of sunscreen on inappropriate surfaces, such as the sunroom windows or the entire interior of the minivan. (He was eight years old at the time. When I moaned, “why why why??” he merely replied, “It was an accident.”)

But I digress. Here’s what’s important to know:

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Katie has finished preschool. This is the last preschool pickup I will ever have to do for my own children knock on wood knock on wood. I’ve been shuttling kids to preschool for ten years.

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Katie is a bit happy-sad about it, and I am too. This week the song “Don’t Speak” by No Doubt came on the radio, and while she didn’t understand the sad-about-the-breakup lyrics, the bittersweet melody made her grow very still. “This song makes me think about my preschool class,” she said quietly. Aww, my sweet little one.

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However, things are looking up in Katie-land because I signed her up for a five-week pre-ballet class. This is a VERY big deal to her, especially since she gets to wear the sparkly leotard Eleanor and I gave her as a preschool graduation present.

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Her hair is juuuuuust long enough to put into a bun. Thank heavens for snoods to cover up all those wispy loose ends.

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Meanwhile, Eleanor is quite glum about the end of her dance classes for the year. The director of her dance school died of breast cancer a year ago, and has now shut down. She’ll be attending classes in a new studio next year, but she couldn’t help but be sad that the little Ballet Academy of Performing Arts is no more (and will likely be torn down by a developer, darn it all.)

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Therefore we took extra care to have fun with stage makeup for her final performance with BAPA. I googled a bunch of tutorials about how to do ballet stage makeup, and whooooa is it over the top. I think I got her eyes looking great, but I’m really not the best when it comes to putting lipstick on kids.

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The piano year also finished up with Eleanor & William performing very well at the Edmonds Musicianship Festival. That same day they also performed along with Jeff at the season-end performance of the Seattle Children’s Chorus. Both Jeff and William got choir promotions, so next year William will sing in the upper-elementary choir with Eleanor, and Jeff will get to sing with the middle/high school treble choir. (Although Brian is betting that Jeff will only last a few months before his voice changes and he gets kicked into the men’s training choir.)

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I, on the other hand, am relishing a summer with a significant decrease in carpooling . . .except for the summer piano lessons and skating and day camps and . . . and. . . and . . .

Did I mention the older kid babysitting thing?

The Last Tea Party

One of my favorite things about Katie’s preschool is that they host special tea parties every spring.

Last year was the “Special Person Tea,” where Katie was encouraged to invite any special adults in her life to attend. We were lucky enough that Grandpa Randy and Grandma Kathryn happened to be in town for that one.

This year was the “Mother’s Day Tea.” Katie was excited about this event for weeks ahead of time, whispering excitedly about the “secret surprises” that her class was working on to get ready for it.

 

The wait was worth it — I was privileged to eat a “dirt cake” Katie made herself (out of chocolate pudding, cookie crumbles, and a gummi worm) and wear a handmade paper hat that she had splashed with fingerpaint. The hats had been molded to the children’s heads, so none of them quite fit on the adults in attendance. We all had to sit a bit more properly erect to keep them from toppling.

Since this was our last year at the preschool, I did my best not to get teary-eyed, but I did take the luxury of filming the songs she sang with her class in their entirety. In years before, I would only record a minute or two, but not this time! A full eight minutes and twenty-four seconds of adorable Katie singing is now mine forevermore.

Easter Week

I have a friend who decided to take Holy Week more seriously, and I like that idea, so I decided to do the same. Last year I clipped a little advent-style Easter calendar from the  Friend magazine that I saved and put up on the wall again, and this year I went further and made an Easter creche:

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Katie is holding “Lexi the Lion” the mascot of her preschool class. Lexi takes turns spending the weekend with the children. Katie was overjoyed that it was her turn.

Katie loooooved the creche, and spent long hours making the figures talk to each other and sing Easter songs she’d learned at preschool.

Also, I finally took time to listen to the entire St. Matthew’s Passion. (It’s almost three hours long. And involves impressive countertenors. Dude sings like a lady.)

Once again I managed to deliver Hot Cross Buns to my neighbors and thereby save my household from shipwrecks for another year.

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We ate our share of buns at an after-school tea party.

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On Saturday we headed to our local park for the egg hunt that is organized by the Presbyterian church on the corner (it’s the same church where my kids have choir rehearsal). Katie was thrilled with the hunt because she found seven eggs! William and Katie were disappointed with the hunt because they found seven eggs. Perspective is everything.

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You may notice that Lexi the Lion came along to the egg hunt as well.

Eleanor fell into a grand sulk and even the creepy Easter bunny at the grocery store couldn’t cheer her up. (Why are Easter bunny suits always creepy?)

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For some reason William was insisting on carrying all of my grocery items in his arms.

The sulks were cheered a little bit by dyeing eggs. I figured out how to hard-boil them in my Instant Pot this year. Truly, it is the best method — the peels slip right off. William spent time creating eggs that look like the different emotions from “Inside Out.”

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You may notice an absence of Jeff in these pictures. He decided to go to Young Men’s Basketball at the stake center instead of doing an egg hunt. Sigh, he’s growing up.

Finally — Easter morning. Here are the girls in their new spring dresses.

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Note the white leggings. Both girls refuse to wear tights anymore. This was the best compromise.

Their Aunt Caitlin took one look at this picture and wrote back, “so instead of sending Easter cards again, you’re sending Easter cardigans.”

(I think I’ll end this post now before the groans become too audible. )

 

 

 

 

Spring Adventures

Otherwise known as “Declaring Blog Bankruptcy.”

The biggest deterrent to writing on this blog is when I have too many past events to write about. Sometimes the best direction is to forego writing about them and press on.

Onwards! Into the . . . present!

We’ve been enjoying a lovely Seattle spring this year. I finally managed to visit the cherry trees at the University of Washington after three previous attempts.

The first attempt was rained out. The second was sunny, but so crowded that we couldn’t even drive on campus. We visited the Seattle Japanese Garden instead:

 

The third attempt was thwarted by whiny children who said they’d rather stay home.

The fourth time was obviously the charm. Brian got to join me as well, which had mixed results. He is usually so mentally absorbed in his research that it can be difficult to engage him in conversation in the middle of the workday. (I find it endearing.)

 

The cherry blossom viewing was followed that evening by a fun evening at a tri-ward Pinewood Derby. Eleanor’s car was the fastest of all the girls’ cars, and 3rd place overall. Way to go, Ellie! (William won the prize for “sleekest.”)

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Eleanor colored her car with a similar design to last year’s. William colored his car silver and gold.

Then on Saturday Brian and I got to hear our three eldest perform in “Sacred Space,” the spring choral concert by the Seattle Children’s Chorus (SCC). The choir directors were very excited about the performance space : St. Mark’s Cathedral.

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Waiting for the concert to start. William is all the way on the right.

This is an Episcopal cathedral in the city; it was a very special if unusual building. The walls were made of a not-incredibly-attractive combination of brick and industrial concrete; the ceiling was made of coffered wood; there were traditional hanging-chain chandeliers. The main oriel window was covered with a glass-and-steel modern interpretation of a rose window.

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Interior of St. Mark’s. From the outside you can see a big dome on the roof, but it isn’t visible at all from inside. 

I am sad to say that this was the first SCC concert that our children moaned an groaned about. They enjoy going to choir rehearsals but don’t like concert days. I can’t blame them, they are long. Between rehearsal and performance time, our kids were at the cathedral for five hours. Yikes.

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Eleanor (fifth kid from the left) and other Intemezzo singers, waiting waiting waiting for the concert to begin.

But it was beautiful! Among other songs, William’s choir (Brio) performed John Rutter’s “All Things Bright and Beautiful,” and Jeff & Ella’s choir (Intermezzo) sang an arrangement of Franck’s “Panis Angelicus,” as well as other works by Rutter and Vivaldi. All of the music was from the sacred Christian tradition, which was unusual but not surprising for SCC. I was taking notes of which SSA choral pieces I want to perform at church with my friends.

 

Favorite Books for Young Readers 2015

It’s that time of year again — in which I list my favorite books for young readers (aged 0-18) from the previous publishing year. Note: this is a list of personal favorites, not Best Books or even Books Libraries Should Consider Purchasing. Just a few titles that tickled my fancy.

THE USUAL DISCLAIMERS:

My tastes (like a lot of librarians) are very wide-ranging. Not every book on this list is for you. (I once had a friend whose favorite book is Cormac McCarthy’s The Road glance over one of my previous lists and pick out a super-fluffy novelization of “Twelve Dancing Princesses” to read. She didn’t like it. Surprise, surprise.)

Not all of these books are age-appropriate for all kids. Books with themes and content for the 12+ crowd are labeled with a double asterisk (**). Grown-ups, please read them yourself first before handing them over to a young person.

PICTURE BOOKS

The Moon is Going to Addy's HouseMost Beautiful Picture Book of the Year: The Moon is Going to Addy’s House by Ida Perle

Hoot Owl Master of DisguiseThe Book So Nice I Listed It Twice: Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise by Sean Taylor, illus. Jean Jullien. Heh — I mistakenly thought this was a book published in 2014, and so put it on last year’s list. Still one of my favorite read-alouds

A Fine DessertBlackberry Pudding Never Looked so Tasty . . . or Controversial: A Fine Dessert: Four Centuries, Four Families, One Delicious Feast by Emily Jenkins, illus. Sophie Blackall

Lenny & LucyFor Everybody Who Ever Wanted to Hug a Giant Person Made of Pillows: Lenny & Lucy by Phillip C. Stead, illus. Erin E. Stead

One Word From SophiaBest Demonstration on the Art of Persuasive Speech: One Word from Sophia by Jim Averbeck, illus. Yasmeen Ismali

The Tea Party in the WoodsTHE CHARACTERS IN THIS BOOK EAT TEN KINDS OF PIE: The Tea Party in the Woods by Akiko Miyakoshi

Toad WeatherMost Under-appreciated, Gorgeous Illustration: Toad Weather by Sandra Markle, illus. Thomas Gonzalez (Those are paintings, y’all. Not photographs.)

Red a Crayon's StoryI Usually Don’t Like Books About A Character Who is “Different”  But Then Later Accepted, But This One Really Resonated With Me: Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall (Parenting a kid on the autism-spectrum will do these things to you)

The Little GardenerIn Which I Exhibit My Love for Stories With Little Wee Gnomes and Things: The Little Gardener by Emily Hughes

HomeThe Book that Pinterest Loves: Home by Carson Ellis

wolfie the bunnyBest New Sibling Story (in which Big Sister has legitimate reasons to fear that Baby Brother will eat her): Wolfie the Bunny by Amy Dickman, illus. Zachariah OHora

 

FICTION

The NestProbably the Best Children’s Fiction of the Year: The Nest by Kenneth Oppel (also probably the most terrifying children’s fiction of the year)

the war that saved my lifeThe Best Children’s Book That Made Me Bawl All Over My Kitchen: The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley  (There are lots of children’s books about overcoming trauma. This is one of the best-written in a long, long time.)

The Hired GirlBook With The Most Crossover Appeal for Adults: The Hired Girl by Laura Amy Schlitz (did you grow up loving books like Anne of Green Gables or Little Women? READ THIS ONE YOU MUST).

Fearsome CreaturesThe Book That My Kids Keep Requesting Me to Read Aloud: Fearsome Creatures of the Lumberwoods by Hal Johnson (This book reads like someone thew Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark in a blender with John Hodgman’s The Areas of My Expertise. Bizarrely hilarious and creepy in turns.)

Cottage in the WoodsBest Fairytale Novelization (My Favorite Sub-Sub-Genre): The Cottage in the Woods by Katherine Coville (a retelling of “The Three Bears” in the voice of a Victorian-era governess! Who is also an enchanted bear!!!)

gone crazy in alabamaBest Conclusion to a Series, Part One: Gone Crazy in Alabama by Rita Williams-Garcia (Featuring: eccentric grandma who gives lectures with a tambourine! Gosh, I love these characters.)

Princess Academy ForgottenBest Conclusion to a Series, Part Two: Princess Academy: The Forgotten Sisters by Shannon Hale (Featuring: girls who wrestle alligators in a swamp! And then climb on the roof and yell “FRESH MEAT!” to all the neighbors!)

penderwicks in springThis Had BETTER NOT BE the Conclusion to This Series, DO YOU HEAR ME, JEANNE BIRDSALL? The Penderwicks in Spring by Jeanne Birdsall (THE NEXT BOOK SHOULD TAKE PLACE TEN YEARS LATER AND BATTY AND JEFFREY NEED TO GET TOGETHER. DROP ME A LINE IF YOU HAVE ANY QUESTIONS.)

Cuckoo SongBest Fantasy Fiction of the Year (Pay No Attention to the Creepy Cover!): Cuckoo Song by Frances Hardinge (Absolutely GLOOOOORIOUS mishmash of British fairy folklore with 1920s industrial setting)

tiger boyBest Story About a Part of the World I’m Betting You Know Nothing About: Tiger Boy by Mitali Perkins (The Sundarbans. Yeah, I had to look it up, too, it’s okay.)

dragon's guide to the care and feeding of humansDude, Want to Have a Dragon Friend Whilst Living in a Mansion in San Francisco! The Dragon’s Guide to the Care and Feeding of Humans by Laurence Yep and Joanne Ryder (they drink tea! In a secret room in the basement! Swoon.)

Perilous Princess PlotThis Book Has Appeal for Girls and Boys, but The Cover Design is Unfortunate: Buckle & Squash: The Perilous Princess Plot by Sarah Courtald (I’m actually kind of ticked, since this book is hilarious and lots of boys would like it if they give it a shot)

goodbye stranger**Required Reading for Middle School Kids (and their parents): Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead (One of the best depictions of middle school social dynamics, ever. Ever.)

orbiting jupiter**GARY SCHMIDT IS A GENIUS JERK WHOSE NOVEL MADE ME SOB ALL OVER THE LIVING ROOM: Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt (I’d tell you more but then my computer would short-circuit from the BUCKETS of tears OH GARY SCHMIDT, YOU JERK!)

Trouble is a Friend of Mine**Best Mystery for the “Veronica Mars” and “Sherlock” crowd: Trouble is a Friend of Mine by Stephanie Tromly (Is also hilarious. The sequence where all the characters crash through the ceiling of a creepy dentist’s office is the BEST)

Walk on Earth a Stranger**Best Historical Fantasy: Walk on Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson (A crackerjack tale of Gold-Rush era pioneers, with a great supernatural twist; I can’t wait to read the sequel!)

The Scorpion Rules**I Was Completely Sick and Tired of YA Dystopian Novels, but HOLY SMOKES this Book Was Worth Diving In Once Again: The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow (Featuring: the best amoral world-ruling AI ever!)

The Tight Rope Walkers**Best Bildungsroman: The Tight Rope Walkers by David Almond (Also a Best Book With Crossover Adult Appeal) (Also David Almond is a jerk who made me cry all over a hotel room)

A Song for Ella Grey**Best Retelling of a Greek Myth: A Song for Ella Grey ALSO by David Almond (it’s not often that one author gets two books on my list. But whoo — this modern retelling of “Orpheus & Eurydice” is incredible)

 

GRAPHIC NOVELS / ILLUSTRATED NOVELS

hamster princessBest Fractured Fairy-Tale: Hamster Princess: Harriet the Invincible! by Ursula Vernon

roller girlOMIGOSH A Graphic Novel About a Girl Who Does Roller Derby SQUEEEE! Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

human body theaterBest Graphic Novel With Dancing Skeletons. Because It’s a Category If I Say So: Human Body Theater by Maris Wicks

nimona**Best YA Fantasy: Nimona by Noelle Stevenson (Yep. And I’ll Arm Wrestle Those Who Say Diff’rent!)

drowned city**One of the Most Important Books You Can Read This Year: Drowned City: Hurricane Katrina and New Orleans by Don Brown

 

NONFICTION

most dangerousProbably the Best Kids’ Nonfiction of the Year: Most Dangerous: Daniel Ellsberg and the Secret History of the Vietnam War (Fun fact: the Pentagon Papers were 50,000 pages long. And Ellsberg Xeroxed it. And then MAILED IT TO PEOPLE.)

boys who challenged hitlerWhat Did You Do After School When You Were 13? Did it Involve Sabotaging Nazi Equipment? No? Well, It Did For These Kids: The Boys Who Challenged Hitler: Knud Pedersen and the Churchill Club by Philip Hoose

drum dream girlGreat Story, ABSOLUTELY GORGEOUS Illustration: Drum Dream Girl: How One Girl’s Courage Changed Music by Margarita Engle, illus. Rafael Lopez

one plastic bagA Story That Makes Me Proud to Be Human: One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia by Miranda Paul, illus. Elizabeth Hunan

water is waterGreat Story, GORGEOUS ILLUSTRATION, Part Two: Water is Water: A Book About the Water Cycle by Miranda Paul (yep, that’s two in a row for Miranda Paul), illus. Jason Chin

mesmerizedIn Which Ben Franklin Uses the Scientific Method and all STEM Breaks Loose: Mesmerized: How Ben Franklin Solved a Mystery that Baffled All of France by Mara Rockliff, illus. Iacopo Bruno

most amazing creature in the seaPaintings of Sea Creatures So Exquisite They Belong on a Cathedral Ceiling Somewhere: The Most Amazing Creature in the Sea by Brenda Z. Guiberson, illus. Gennady Spirin

terrible typhoid maryThere Were TWO Highly Acclaimed Books About Typhoid Mary Published This Year. This is the One I Read: Terrible Typhoid Mary by Susan Campbell Bartoletti (see also the one I didn’t read: Fatal Fever by Gail Jarrow)

tricky vicBest Con Artist Story: Tricky Vic: The Impossibly True Story of the Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower by Greg Pizzoli (he actually sold it TWICE!)

underground abductorIn Which Harriet Tubman Packs Heat: The Underground Abductor by Nathan Hale

tiny creatures the world of microbesMost Beautiful Pictures of Microscopic Creatures: Tiny Creatures: the World of Microbes by Nicola Davies, illus. Emily Sutton

Pumpkin Trip

We had a teacher workday during the last week of September, and so decided to spend it visiting The Farm at Swan’s Trail, our usual pumpkin-picking place.

I admit it was a little early to pick pumpkins. The poor gourds didn’t have much of a chance of lasting all the way until Halloween, but who cares? FALL IS OFFICIALLY UPON US.

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Jeff loved manning the wheelbarrow.

We got to play on big slides, jumping pillows, and explore a corn maze. Some of our friends were there, too, which made it especially enjoyable. I wonder, though, if this was the last time Jeff will be game to play with the other kids.

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Eleanor with her buddy Esther

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Katie really, really didn’t want to walk through the corn maze, so I took her apple picking while the others went with their friends.

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We also took a ride on the hay wagon. This is the face Katie made when the tractor’s big engine started up.

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And did I mention the kittens? SO MANY LITTLE BLACK KITTENS!

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Awwwwwww!
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I love the look her face gets when she’s caring for something, be it kitties, dollies, or a smaller child.

The Big 13

There it is.

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I am now officially a mother of a teenager. That didn’t take very long, did it?

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We celebrated by inviting over a bunch of pals and watching the first Lord of the Rings movie. He’s been wanting to watch that show since he was five years old. I hope it was worth the wait!

Eleanor and William gave him a shield they had purchased together at the Viking Days festival back in August. Eleanor later painted it with a traditional Viking design. Happy Birthday, my sweet flipperling Jeff!

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Huzzah!

Grandma & Girl Scouts

We had a Grandma in Seattle for a bit this month.

It was a great chance to take William on a trip to the gaming pub.

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Jenga is William’s game of choice.

And I had an excuse to do touristy Seattle things.

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Shopping for crab cocktail in Pike Place Market
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We finally got around to seeing the Chihuly Museum!

But of course, the big reason for the trip was to go to the annual (and possibly last) Mom & Me camp with our local Girl Scout service unit.

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The Director’s Cabin, which we shared with 8 other people

It was so good to see Camp Robbinswold again. Eleanor and I are both very much in love with this place.

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We stayed in the Boathouse, which we shared with 10 other people
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Staying up late with our cabin mates playing games
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Some of our cabin mates in the rotunda
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It was so windy! I’ve never seen waves on the hood canal before.
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The sign shows the names of the different cabins
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The camp had a party where everyone dressed up as famous musicians, characters from musicals, or song lyrics (like Eleanor’s “brown paper package tied up with string”)
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Selfie. Eleanor is wearing the hair wrap Kathryn got for her in Pike Place. You can see our boathouse in the background.
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Taking a walk to the end of the boat pier. 
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A plaque above the rotunda fireplace
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The three of us. I hope we can come back again someday!

We spent the weekend crafting, hiking, playing games, singing songs, and eating waaaaaay too much food. And even though I managed to get yelled at during both of our ferry rides (it always happens) it was a wonderful time.

First Things

September has been crammed with a variety of first things.

The first day of school:

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Jeff (7th grade) isn’t smiling because he wants to look cool. Eleanor (5th grade) has taken pains to make sure her new necklace is showing in this picture. William (3rd grade) isn’t smiling because I insisted he wear a jacket instead of the dirty hoodie he loves. Katie (pre-K) is very excited about the little blue notebook she found in her schultute last night. Off we go!

We were then able to squeeze in our annual backyard circus during the last warm weekend of the summer (I suppose that’s a “last thing,” not a first):

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The whole troupe of performers

Katie then had her first day of preschool the following Tuesday. Three hours of kid-free time for me, every day!

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The dress she’s wearing was a gift from Grandma.

Here she is lining up to walk to her classroom:

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Then, William had his first day of Cub Scouts. He usually refuses to wear jeans, but he eagerly puts them on every week for Cubs, so he has loops for his scout belt to go through. I love that kid.

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Up & Down the Black Canyon

The big event for our Yellowstone trip was something Brian, Jeffrey, and I had been planning for months: a 10+ mile hike. It’s one of the requirements for the Boy Scout Hiking badge. Since my parents were accompanying us to the park, they offered to take the younger kids and shuttle our car from one trailhead to another.

This opened up a ton of hiking possibilities in the park. When Brian mentioned it to the park rangers in the Backcountry Hiking office, their eyes lit up with excitement. Of course, the hike we chose was dependent on factors out of our control; any untoward bear behavior could result in a trail being closed to hikers by the rangers. So after choosing a Top Three or so, we were able to pick a good 13.5 mile stretch through the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone.

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We were headed for the “Hellroaring Creek Trailhead,” via the ford.

This is a river canyon that winds along the northern border of the park. It took us good 2 hours just to drive there from West Yellowstone, so Brian, Jeff, and I left at 6:00 a.m. Dawn was just breaking when we started up the trail.

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I love how desolate everything looks.

We hadn’t gone long before we heard a series of howls off in the distance. Several animals howling at once — was it wolves, or coyotes? Initially, the howls were faint, but they grew louder and then suddenly burst into a series of barks and bays. Wow, I thought, some elk just met its maker.

There’s no way of proving it one way or the other, but we’d like to assume that it was wolves we heard howling that morning.

I admit that the first section of this hike was my favorite. This plateau was stunning; the grasses running up and over the hillsides look velvety and untouched. As the trail began to turn towards the black-colored mountains that form the canyon, Jeff spontaneously burst into song, belting out “America the Beautiful” for all the bison to hear.

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Elk Antlers on a Boulder!
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Hello, MORE Elk Antlers on a Boulder!

He also kept singing “Home on the Range.” We had also tied a bear bell to his belt, and later wondered why we had bothered. Jeff IS a bear bell.

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Descending from the Blacktail Plateau into the canyon

This suspension bridge marked the “official” entrance to the canyon.

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So far, we had only seen two other hikers on the trail: a pair of backpackers who had just woken up from spending the night on the riverside. We only saw about 20 people total through the day, which is considered pretty sparse by Yellowstone-in-the-summer standards.

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See the piles of black stones that make up the canyon walls?

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Soon we were hiking just a stone’s throw away from the Yellowstone River. There were numerous elk bones and antlers along the way. The farther we walked, the . . . ah, fresher the bones appeared.

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A skull!!!!!!!

A rainstorm prompted our lunch break under a big pine tree. We thought it was the perfect place to stop and munch while waiting out the storm. We didn’t find out until afterwards that a very fresh (yet picked-clean) elk carcass was just nearby. Since bear like to stick around carcasses, we got ourselves out of there fast. (On the other hand, we had a Human Bear Bell with us, so we probably had little cause for concern).

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The view from under the tree
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Packing up the picnic, getting ready for the second half of the hike

The second half of the hike was where my body began to protest. I managed to stub both of my big toes quite badly on boulders, and then the hip flexer muscle on my left leg began to get sore. But onwards we climbed!

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We saw people on this lookout as we approached it from beneath. “Oh surely we won’t have to climb THAT thing” we foolishly thought.

Jeff found this cool tree that had grown up and around an elk antler. The antler stuck out on either side of the trunk.

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And my hip flexer began to protest quite a bit more. Still we climbed!

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This hillside looks pretty until you realize that you have to climb the darn thing

We came to this meadow that was occupied by a bison, so we climbed up and over a hill to avoid him. My hip flexer whined a bit sharply.

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He seemed much larger/closer in real life, trust me.

We walked through a stunning plain of chest-high golden grasses. As we pushed through, a herd of bison noticed our approach and began to run up a hillside to get away. Don’t worry, they were well beyond the  25 yards required for safe bison viewing. But still, I kinda felt like I should have had a bonnet and handcart for a moment.

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Our trail looked like this most of the time. What you can’t see are the many, many piles of fresh bison scat we had to tiptoe around.

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I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Bison look ridiculous when they run.
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The crushed grass is from that same bison herd resting here earlier in the day. So cool.

Around Mile 10, we came to a creek that we needed to ford. I pulled off my shoes, and found out that my stubbed toes were in far worse shape than I thought. Three toes were blue, and the toenails on both big toes were cracked clear across. A blood blister was forming at the base of the left toenail. Ow!

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Feels so good to sit!

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Brian was the first to go across, then me.
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After I crossed, I gave the water shoes to Brian so he could help Jeff cross.

Needless to say, it felt soooooo goooood to dip my feet in a cold stream for a while. The water shoes we packed were totally worth the investment.

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Brian is now carrying the wet water shoes in his hands.

Many pats on the back for completing the crossing without anybody falling in. And now:

THE LAST THREE MILES

This is where my hip flexer gave up the ghost. At this point it was extremely painful to put any weight on my left leg. I was doing a zombie step-drag the entire rest of the way.

Soon we came to the suspension bridge signifying the exit from the canyon. It had a lovely view of the river churning below, but I admit the bouncy-bounciness caused me to freak out about the height a bit. Brian teased me that it was the only part of the hike I was in a hurry to finish.

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See? I was in a happy selfie mood! Not a terrified-of-falling-in-the-whirlpool mood! Really!
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AAAAAAAAAAA!

We began to see more families with young children or groups of senior citizens, doing in-and-out mini hikes, so we knew we were approaching the end. Brian and I felt like they were the seabirds sailors see when coming near land. (Unlike the backpackers, these daytrippers were appropriately impressed when we told them we had started at the Blacktail trailhead. It felt good.)

Alas, the last 1.5 miles was all switchbacks. Steep, straight-up punishing switchbacks. It was pretty miserable, which is too bad since it was still consistently gorgeous.

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The last trail sign. Some of the trail signs had been kinda confusing, but we managed to make the correct turns at all the junctions.
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See? Just like the previous sign, but with all the numbers reversed!

Brian, who was feeling fine, marched on ahead to see if the car had been shuttled over to the trailhead. Then he came back and took Jeff’s backpack. Jeff, who had been only slightly faster than I, perked up over the removal of his pack and sprinted up the remaining switchbacks!

Sprinted! Oh, to be twelve again.

I’ve never been so happy to see a car. When we met up with my family in Canyon Village, the three of us insisted we stop and eat right then and there. I don’t think we packed enough calories for the hike. (Only ~800 calories per person, for a hike that burned ~3500. Not smart.)

I also was not able to walk properly on my left leg for about a week. Even when we returned home to Seattle, I had to climb stairs with only my right leg. But still. Totally worth it. I love this park.

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Jeff and I are pointing to our starting and ending points on the map. Limping towards glory!