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.”

Surprise, We’re Going to Disneyland!

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Mwa ha ha. Brian and I are so sneaky. Back in fall, we made arrangements to take our kids to California over Midwinter Break to visit our cousins in Los Angeles and also to take a spin through Disneyland. But we decided not to tell our kids about it up until the moment we got in the car to leave — to surprise them. I threw a so many red herrings at them (“you want to go to the cat cafe? Sure, maybe during midwinter break”) that I was slightly worried that they’d be upset at the news.

Seriously, they came home from school, asked why their bags were in the back of the car, and then this happened:

(Jeff was majorly concerned when he saw those packed bags — he thought I was divorcing Brian and taking all the kids away! My poor lil’ anxious guy.)

Katie looks happy in this video, but to tell the truth, the news was all a little overwhelming for her, and five minutes after I turned off the camera she was bawling. “I won’t get to hug all my stuffiieeeeees,” she wailed. “And I’ll miss the sunset in Seattle every day!” 

Fortunately, she cheered up by the time we got to the airport (although . . . she pretty much cried all the way there) and was perky and happy all the way through security, even when I got picked by the TSA to have a pat-down (blergh).

I’m not going to bother posting about every single moment of our trip — that’s better suited for a photobook — and besides, I took well over a thousand pictures over the week. Here’s the highlight reel:

Visiting Grauman’s Chinese Theater with the cousins! Sarah and the boys were very excited to match palms with the cast of Harry Potter.

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Eleanor, on the other hand, was over the moon at finding the cast members from West Side Story.

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Meanwhile, I was baffled to explain who some of the other celebrities were. “Whoopi Goldberg? Um . . . she’s the voice of one of the hyenas in The Lion King?

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Cousin-pile-up! You can see the “Hollywood” sign on the mountains in the background.

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OH OH OH — Brian and I were ENORMOUSLY excited to find one of the four U.S. Grom locations. This was our favorite gelato place during our trip to Italy. The sun came out just for our gelato jaunt. Perfect.

We had a bit of a jolly time visiting the merry-go-round in Griffith Park (it is so old-school that the horses’ tails are made from horses’ tails and it goes super-fast. Feels like a real gallop, I loved it!)

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Walt Disney used to bring his kids to this carousel, and it was one of the chief inspirations for building Disneyland. His name is on the bench I’m sitting on.

Also, we spent time playing in the abandoned Old Zoo that is in the park. No fewer than two amateur fashion/album art photo shoots going on there during our visit. Oh, L.A.

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Pictures do not do justice to how cool a place this is for playing in.

Yes, we made another trip to Diddy Riese ice cream . . .

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. . . and of COURSE I made sure to hit up Lemonade. Ugh, I’m already craving the coconut-apple-kefir-lime drink! (Kathryn, if you are reading this, Lemonade is SO your kind of restaurant. Gourmet veggie salads galore, it’s glorious.)

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We took a quick trip to Cabrillo Point in San Diego . . .

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. . . collapsed in front of the temple . . .

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Jeff insisted I take his photo from inside the temple parking lot information booth. What a silly guy.

. . . and toured the Mormon Battalion exhibit with the fam. (Did I not mention that Grandma Suzie & Grandpa Jeff came along with us? It rocked, but somehow I have hardly any pictures with them.)

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Also, LEGOLAND WITH COUSINS! How great is that?

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My favorite part was the Mindstorms workshop. The kids had to program a tiny robot Indiana Jones to retrieve treasure from a tomb.

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William thought this horse ride was boring, but Katie kept shouting, “OUT OF THE WAY, PEASANTS!”
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Jeff was too old for most of the Legoland rides. I made it up to him with multiple servings of apple fries.

And then we said goodbye to the cousins and headed off to Disney the next day.

Good grief, I had forgotten how much I love Disneyland. Our kids are seven years older than on our previous trip, and we could really hustle our way across the park.

One thing I did this time was save up all of the $5 Target gift cards that the store gives away for buying multiples of toilet paper and tissues — and then used them to buy Disney gift cards, which can be used in the theme parks. Over the last six months I hoarded enough gift cards to be able to give each of my children a $50 Disney card, which they could spend any way they wanted. This was my strategy to curb any begging on the part of my kids.

“Why can’t I get a soda with lunch?”

“Well, you can use your own gift card for that.”

[crickets chirping]

I was surprised that each of my kids decided to buy a pair of Mickey ears with their cards — the girls chose Minnie ones with big red or purple bows, and the boys found Star Wars themed ears (Jeff’s looks like BB8, Wim’s like R2D2). Then they each had enough left over to buy a toy. The boys chose to get a custom “build your own lightsaber,” Katie after much deliberation chose a stuffed Ewok (she has named it “Chirpa”) and Eleanor picked out one of the glow-in-the-dark Mickey bubble wands that so many kids were carrying around. She blew bubbles all over us while we waited in line for rides, it was great.

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Knocking on the White Rabbit’s door (this was the girls’ favorite dark ride)
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Taking the Jungle Cruise (Katie looks sad because she was still recovering from being scared to death by the Indiana Jones ride)
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In the boat for “It’s a Small World”

We rode Big Thunder Mountain Railroad six times. Star Tours seven times. We terrified Katie to tears on the Indiana Jones ride exactly one time and that was enough.

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The Lego store in Downtown Disney had the coolest Lego statues I’ve ever seen — and that includes all the ones in Legoland. Check out that Maleficent dragon!
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The Disneyland train was out of service, but the engineer was on hand to visit. Jeff sat down and asked him about fifty questions about the train and the history of Disneyland. The engineer was thrilled to answer them all.
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Jeff got to ride the Buzz Lightyear ride by himself and use BOTH BLASTERS at the SAME TIME
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Here we are with our glasses on for Toy Story Midway Mania! We made sure to hustle straight to this ride the moment DCA opened in the morning. (Brian was busy getting us Fast Passes for Radiator Springs Racers, but joined us in the nick of time)

So much fun. There was a lot I hadn’t been able to do during our previous Disney trip seven years ago, like taking time to visit with characters. Eleanor collected autographs from twenty different characters. She liked that it was a nice round number. (Katie collected a few extra while the big kids rode the California Screamin’ roller coaster, but it wasn’t a contest.)

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William was enthusiastic about collecting autographs until he realized it meant CHATTING UP PRINCESSES. Also: the actors who play Jasmine & Aladdin were the worst. They looked so bored to be there. Everyone else we met were adorably in character, but not these guys.
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Ariel suggested we should all be happy about having two feet.
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This lady’s Snow White voice was PERFECT. (But I think the prize for Best Princess Impersonation goes to the girl playing Belle. She was incredible.)
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Eleanor especially wanted to meet Goofy. I told her not to get her hopes up — but look who we found! This is one of my favorite photos from the whole trip.
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OH, DONALD.
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“Owing to Galactic regulations, Stormtroopers do not give autographs.” (Look how William pulled down the hood of his stormtrooper hoodie.)
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“You can find Boba Fett in the Cantina.” Of course.
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Anna & Elsa were in this cute little room decorated to look like Arendelle castle. The details were amazing.
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The Disney characters all wear 1920s clothes in the California Adventure park, which is super cute. Ohhh, look at Katie’s face as she snuggles Mickey.
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Here we are with Chip! We had already met Dale the day before.
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Arrrr! Cap’n Hook!
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Peter Pan asked us to shake his foot instead of his hand. I’m kicking myself for not asking him where his shadow went. (The actors always do cute improv when you play along that way.)
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The Queen chastised us for our lack of manners when addressing nobility. “Now face the camera, cross your arms, and don’t smile.” Katie didn’t follow that particular order.
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These were the characters Eleanor wanted to meet the absolute most, since she played the Hatter in the school play last year. It took some hunting to find them, but it was worth it!
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Tiana insisted on signing autographs in her favorite color ink: green. We asked how her restaurant is doing. “Oh, busy busy busy as always!” she replied.
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Disney villains are the BEST. The kids had no idea Dr. Facilier was making this spooky hand gesture over their heads.
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Cruella deVille criticized our fashion sense. She handed me the autograph books saying, “here darling, at least make yourself useful, would you?”

 

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Because we were in DCA, Daisy had a cute 20s cloche hat. Goofy was also spotted in a zoot suit, and Minnie had a fringey flapper dress. Adorable.

Or trying all the many, many Disney treats. (Word up: the pecan brittle is AMAZING. And my kids are all addicted to Dole Whip now.)

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I pretty much died when I saw this candy counter at Pooh Corner. The Olaf marshmallow pops! The Minnie Mouse candied apples!!
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Tigger tails! I’ve sometimes copied this idea for my children’s birthday parties.
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Hunny pot krispie treats!
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Caterpillar marshmallow pop!
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Dole whip! For some reason, it tasted 5x better than the whip Brian and I bought at the Dole plantation on Oahu. Even though it’s supposed to be the same thing.
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Macaroon cookies shaped like the Matterhorn! (Also, the Jolly Holiday bakery fully indulges my childhood fantasy of eating at the cafe where Mary and Bert dance with penguins)
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English toffee (eh, the kind I make at Christmas is tastier) and cake pops made to look like the spinning turtle from the Electrical Parade (which we saw later on that week)
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Hand-dipped ice cream bars with “everything on it” (sprinkles and Pop Rocks and mini chocolate chips and who knows what else)
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Cheddar Apple Pies at Flo’s V8 Cafe
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In case you’re wondering, yes I was working from a list in my guidebook. Ooooh, I forgot to mention how good Red’s Apple Freezes are! Like an apple cider slushie, so good!

The three younger kids were able to sign up for the Jedi Training Academy (Eleanor was juuuust young enough to still participate). William took his lightsaber duel with Darth Vader SO SERIOUSLY.

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I think this is also part of why Katie was so talkative during our “visit” with Darth later on. She clammed up during every other character visit, but with Vader she was all, “Nuh-uh, we’ll never join you, Darth Vader!”

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I personally found the Cars Land section of Disney California Adventure to be my favorite part of the visit — which I would never have predicted. But this place oozes so much charm. 

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Going on Radiator Springs Racers — the kids noted that the speakers behind William’s head look like Mickey ears!
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Flo’s V8 Cafe is the cutest of all Disneyland restaurants.
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The backdrop for Radiator Springs Racers is darn impressive. I’m craving a trip to southern Utah now.

And yeah, the kids convinced me to get this Mickey sorcerer’s apprentice hat. It was partially for fun, and partially to make it easy to find me in the crowd. (Whenever I took it off, they insisted I put it back on immediately.)

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And yes, Brian got a Goofy hat. And taking a picture in front of this sign was pretty irresistible.

Okay . . . I could easily spend the next several hours waxing on and on about every anecdote about the trip, but I need to stop now. Almost every day this past week I’ve spent a few minutes looking at the pictures from our trip and sighing, sad that it’s all over. Yesterday morning Eleanor woke up sad because she had had a dream that we were going back to Disneyland but it ended before she got there.

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The kids LITERALLY HUGGED DISNEYLAND GOODBYE on our way out of the DCA gates. The girls and I held hands and sang “Zippity-Doo-Dah” as we walked to the place where Brian was meeting us with the car.

The only thing that kept us from crying as we packed up to go home was the revelation that LAX has a Lemonade. Which meant more kale-kumquat salad and white truffle mac & cheese so I was okay.

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Yes, they wore their Mickey ears in the airport. And the entire way home on the plane.

My sister will still be in L.A. for the next few years, so we’ll have to make a point of going again before she leaves. I’m already saving up my Target gift cards to get ready!

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Visit from St. Valentine

I like celebrating Valentine’s day as a family, instead of just as a couples-thing with Brian.

Once again, Eleanor and William had fun making crazy boxes for their classroom Valentines:

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Eleanor’s is a big cobra “that has swallowed a Valentine” (it has a heart-shaped lump in its belly) and William’s is Sauron from Lord of the Rings. The eye is suspended with thread, which makes for a nice effect. We tried really hard to convince him to make the pupil in the eye a long, slit-shaped heart, but no luck. (But it would have been so cute!)

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This year I hung up “heart stockings” for the kids and put the cards from their grandparents inside, along with a few other little treats. (Jeff doesn’t get candy from classmates this year, and I don’t want him to feel left out.) I think next year I’ll try to put in a card from me and Brian as well.

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A mug from Grandma Kathryn

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A Pokemon shirt for Wimmy! 
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Mini flashlight for Jeff
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Cool cards and candy from Gma Suzie

And, of course, we had our annual Valentine Fancy Meal at the end of the day. Red roses, baby’s breath, the Rat Pack — I love it. This year’s menu included lasagna, salad, a baguette, and of course the bubble champagne grape juice that the kids love. Only — this year we couldn’t get the cork out of one of the bottles. We tried a variety of tools, and I think the ultimate solution involved a screw and a hammer. Sheesh.

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Winter Art-Stravaganza

I didn’t purposely intend for this to happen, but owing to lucky circumstances, we had three weekends in a row of fun performing arts events to attend this winter!

(Plus, lots of miscellaneous odds and ends.)

First, we survived something that wasn’t artsy at all: Echo Lake Science Night!

I delegated the volunteerism to Brian this year. He helped coordinate volunteers, and it ended up being really easy, because one of the high school science teachers offered extra credit to any students who signed up. There were more volunteers than openings for them, which was awesome. This is the biggest science event in all of Shoreline — we get something like 40 booths, and it’s awesome.

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Eleanor and William are playing a “banana piano.” The computer makes different tones when someone touches one of the bananas!
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YAAAAAAS we got the UW planetarium to come back!
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Katie LOVES the spelunking obstacle course

Then, Eleanor did her percussion thing for the Westside Band Festival. This gets all the 6th grade band students from the west side of town and puts them together for a huge mega-band that plays Ghostbusters together. Eleanor was thrilled to play the bass drum.

But in truth, it’s a recruitment event for the middle and high school bands, who also perform in the festival. “Look, kids! Join band in middle school, and you might someday be in the DRUM CORPS!”

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Eleanor is torn. She doesn’t want to do band in middle school, but wants to do it in high school. Maaaaaybe she could pull that off as a percussionist. Maybe. I personally think she needs to broaden her horizons; she’s got lots of musical opportunities outside of school.

Katie would also like to let you know that Super Bee came to visit us that same week. Here he is helping Katie practice piano:

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and here he is enjoying a snack with Gaston the dog:

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William also had his Blue & Gold Banquet that week, and even though he reminded me every day that he needed to bring a cake to that banquet, I still forgot until 90 minutes before the event, BUT we managed to pull off a blueberry coffee cake anyway.

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William still wears one of his fuzzy watch caps every day, even when playing silly Cub Scout games.

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Because: William and I are made of awesome. (I would also like to point out that this is the only cake the adults wanted to eat. The stake president had two slices. So did I.)

Our first non-school-sponsored Winter Arts Event was a production of “Ananzi Tales” at the Northwest Puppet Center. Brian had never seen a production there, and he was mightily impressed by the creativity and skill put into this one-man puppet show.

The Ananzi puppet reminded us of Rizzo the Rat crossed with Grover. We had no problems buying the $5 make-your-own-Ananzi kit at the end of the show; anything to promote puppet artists is a good thing, I say.

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Our second Arts Weekend had Eleanor, William and I attending Pacific Northwest Ballet’s production of “Cendrillion/Cinderella,” a modern refashioning of the fairy tale. It was very different from other story ballets we’ve seen; very dreamlike and symbolic (this version has Cinderella’s father recognizing the Fairy Godmother as the ghost of his dead wife, and they do a pas de deux that mirrors the steps done by Cinderella and the Prince).

William enjoyed it in his William way.

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That evening Brian and I went to his department’s annual Groundhog Day party (I love that they recognize that Christmastime is too dang busy for a department party, but everyone loves a shindig in early February).

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This sign is wrong. I saw for myself that Punxutawney Phil predicted 6 more weeks of winter. But perhaps we’re trying to think positive in the Dept. of Lab Medicine.

BUT PHIL WAS RIGHT — because two days later:

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Here’s Jeff walking to school. I didn’t find out school was cancelled until 10 minutes later. Whoops! He walked home and was fine.
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Look at the branches that fell off the tree!

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ANOTHER NO-SCHOOL SNOW DAY. Annnnnnnd the following day was a late-start day, too.

Eleanor was invited by her friend Audrey to go sledding in the park and have lunch/playdate afterwards, and didn’t come home for six hours. I’m so happy with this new friend she’s made!

Speaking of Eleanor and her friends, we got to see them at the New Beginnings program with the YW at church. All of the 11 year olds who will turn 12 this year were invited to come and learn about the Mutual theme for the year (“Ask of God”). In true YW fashion, they had these little bracelets for all the girls, representing different features of the YW theme.

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Not as attractive as wearing Babybel cheese wax on your ears, but close . . .

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The Winter Arts Weekends came to a close this past Saturday with a performance of “As You Like It” by the UW theater dept.

It was cute — the stage design for the Forest of Arden was beautiful (lots of cherry blossom-laden branches suspended on wires above the theater-in-the-round stage) and there were beautiful musical interpretations of the shepherd’s poems (think mandolins, accordions, big wooden acoustic bass, very hipster-folk).

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In a cute twist, Jacques was played by a woman, and they reinterpreted the character’s lines to suggest that she was secretly in love with the Duke (Rosalind’s father) the whole time. So . . . a production of AYLI with five couples getting together at the end! Wow.

(It nearly made up for the fact that the actress playing Touchstone wasn’t funny and shouted all her lines in the exact same way. Nearly.)

I enjoyed these Arts Weekends so much that I think I’ll make a point of doing it again next winter — it’s  a great way to get out of the house during the gray-sky times. We’re too busy during the holidays for such things, and summertime is the time for outdoors affairs. Winter arts, hurrah!

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This has nothing to do with the arts, but this was the most epic fairies vs. knights war the kids have had in a while (it was 90% negotiations of how magic spells/weapons worked) and I wanted to capture it while it was still around.

2016 Favorite Books for Young Readers

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

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

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

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

PICTURE BOOKS

before-morning

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

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

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

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

du-iz-tak

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

they-all-saw-a-cat

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

frank-and-lucky

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

leave-me-alone

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

thunder-boy-jr

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

a-hat-for-mrs-goldman

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

lion-lessons

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

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

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

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

when-spring-comes

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

apples-and-robins

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

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

bloom

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

hungry-lion

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

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

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

dont-call-me-grandma

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

margarash

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

sound-of-silence

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

if-i-was-a-banana

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

real-cowboys

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

poor-little-guy

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

the-branch

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

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

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

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

 

NONFICTION PICTURE BOOKS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

BIOGRAPHIES

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

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

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

 

 

POETRY

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

 

FOLKLORE

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

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

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

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

 

GRAPHIC NOVELS 

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

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

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

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

mighty-jack

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

 

MIDDLE GRADE FICTION

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

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

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

ghost

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

when-the-sea-turned-to-silver

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

full-of-beans

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

charmed-children-of-rookskill-castle

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

cloud-and-wallfish

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

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

 

YA FICTION

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

the-lie-tree

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

burn-baby-burn

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

 

Happy reading!

 

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

They Literally Had a Ball

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Katie jumped in my bed first thing on her birthday and snuggled as I recited “Now We Are Six.”

She replied, “Dad and Grandma already told me that one, Mom.”

Well, pardon me for wanting to inject a little culture into the day, m’lady.

We were lucky to have Katie’s birthday fall on a Saturday this year, so her party was an “official” observance of the event. As another stroke of luck, Uncle Michael also happened to be in town for a conference that weekend, and celebrated with us.

When Eleanor turned six, we had a “Cinderella” party for her, and so I decided to do the same for Katie: when the girls arrived, I played the part of Wicked Stepmother and made them all get to work “cleaning” my house.

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They all thought this was hilarious, and as a matter of fact, they did a remarkably good job of finding a series of lost items that had rolled into corners of the room. I now have seven more pencils than I did before.

After all that toil, it was quite the surprise to receive an invitation to the ball from the Duke (aka William). But I (W. Stepmother) said they couldn’t go, and they all “cried” until the Fairy Godmother arrived (aka Eleanor).

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Amazingly, Eleanor still had the original “invitation” from her own 6th birthday, dug it out of her nightstand drawer, and that’s what we used here.

Fairy Godmother took them all up to Katie’s room, where we had displayed all of the various princess dresses we’ve collected over the years. We have a dozen or so of them! Geez. (One party guest brought her own dress from home, ha.)

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One the girls were all gussied up, they went to the kitchen to decorate paper crowns . . .

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. . . and then the ball began! At first, Eleanor and I spent time teaching them “proper” dance moves, but then we turned on “Can’t Stop the Feeling” and dumped a laundry basket of balloons on their heads and let them really boogie down. (I was surprised at how most of the girls knew the words and sang along!)

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Big change from Eleanor’s 6th birthday: this time, Jeff only participated under extreme duress

 

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But all good things must come to an end, and the clock struck midnight. The girls rushed back upstairs to change out of their princess clothes.

And . . . okay, the idea here was to have everyone leave a shoe behind, BUT all of these kids have been well trained to take off their shoes when entering a home, so there were no shoes to leave behind. Awkward.

Anyway, we gathered up one shoe from each pair that was piled next to the front door, filled them with treats, and hid them in the closet. The boys then created a trail of paper hearts that lead from Katie’s room, around the house in a loop, and ended at the closet.

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Whew! After all that partying down, it was nice to settle down to cake and ice cream.

 

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Except . . .ugh. This is hands-down one of the worst cakes I’ve ever made.

I admit that, owing to the no-sugar diet I’ve been on, my heart wasn’t in it. It also didn’t help that Mrs. White, my trusty stand mixer, has been broken since Christmas and I couldn’t make my standard super-fluffy vanilla frosting.

It was technically a princess cake . . . but I stupidly forgot to refrigerate it, so when I went to frost it the crumbs came off the outer layer and ruined the frosting.

The frosting also wasn’t thick enough, so the whole dress kinda . . . melted . . . off the princess’ body.

It also didn’t help that my mind frequently floated elsewhere during the day: the global Women’s March was going on all day, and even though I couldn’t participate (because Katie) (and my knitted pussyhat still isn’t finished) I thought about the march all morning and afternoon. Yes, this led to weird tonal-dissonance moments like when I listened to Gloria Steinem’s speech while simultaneously frosting the princess cake. (Eleanor listened with me, and lit up when she recognized the reference to the “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” speech from Macbeth.) Or getting teary-eyed when I saw photos of sister-marches in Ghana and Iraq, while a group of spunky little girls danced around me, belting out Anna Kendrick’s “Get Back Up Again.”

But it was a good day, a powerful day. One I’m so blessed to give to my daughter — to both my daughters.

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These pajamas and mini dollhouse were presents from Gma. Suzie

Many happy returns of the day!