Summer of Shakespeare 2016!

We’ve had quite the week of Bardolotry around these parts.

First, our trip to the Utah Shakespeare Festival. We had both sets of grandparents, plus Uncle Michael, Aunt Natalie, and Cousin Anderson along for the trip.

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Mandatory stop in Beaver for ice cream. William is going through a phase where he makes silly faces in photos.

We saw four plays in three days: “The Three Musketeers” (eh. They gave D’Artagnan a spunky kid sister, which was super annyoing), “Mary Poppins” (solid production, cute child actors), “Henry V” (good enough; stole too much from Kenneth Branagh film, but it was preceded by the official opening ceremony for the Engelbert Theater, so that was nice), and “The Cocoanuts” (excellent musical based on Marx Bros. film; guy who played Harpo was amazing).

In between all the theatricals, we managed to eat quite a lot of good food at a little outdoor cafe called The French Spot. It’s run by a French chef and his children; his wife is a visiting professor who has a summer teaching position at SUU for five years. So while Mom teaches, Dad decided to set up the one restaurant in Cedar City with decent food. OHHHH my the croissants! The quiches! The crepes! The tarts! The omelettes! The creme brulee! The macarons! There was also le bifteck, but I never got around to trying it.

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Katie had just gotten her face painted with a butterfly which made her look kind of like a puppy.
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Look at that quiche crust!! So crumbly!

Eleanor was lucky enough to be chosen to participate in the Greenshow on English Night. She and another girl played Hot Potato, and Eleanor won! (The actors even got the audience to chant Eleanor’s name.)


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Eleanor used her allowance money to get this mask. She wants to use it for a Halloween costume this fall.

We also managed to squeeze in a side trip to Cedar Breaks National Monument. As a happy coincidence, the rangers were celebrating a Wildflower Festival that day, so there were extra games and activities for kids to do. A “Master Astronomer Volunteer” had sunscopes set up for viewing a solar flare, and Eleanor, William, and Katie all played Wildflower Bingo.

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Flowers everywhere!

Everyone trooped out onto the viewpoint trail together. The flowers were marvelous.

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I’ve never seen so much columbine in bloom!
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Michael, Brian, Jeff
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Aunt Natalie brought Anderson along for the ride. We love the old bristlecone pines.
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I complemented Jeff on one of his rare photo smiles, and the other kids were so surprised that they all turned to look at the same time.

Our vacation was rounded off with a slower-ish day in Provo. Brian and I had been planning to attend the new Provo City Center Temple together, but luckily we managed to squeeze that in the morning before we drove to Cedar City:

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Huh. I guess the lady who took this picture didn’t notice that it was out of focus.

That left us with an entire day of free time. I logged on as many hours as I could at the piano (more on that for another post), the kids played games with Aunt Caitlin (who they adore) and then we hied ourselves up to Midway for lunch at Tarahumara. Brian and I have come to grips with the fact that we will likely never find Tarahumara’s equal in Seattle.

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Lamb tacos with cilantro salsa!
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There are always 30 kinds of salsa to try plus bottomless bowls of chips
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Glorious! We grabbed boxes of fruit empanadas for breakfast on the way home

We played more games and took Caitlin out to dinner again that evening (and I logged on still more hours on the Steinway). But soon it was time to pack up and drive home.

(Ah, road trips in the West. Where else can you find yourself parked next to a pickup truck full of antlers?)

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Baker City, OR: Home of the Antler Truck

Fortunately, we had a fun week of MORE Bardolotry lined up! Upon our return, Eleanor and Jeff participated in a week-long “Acting and Combat” theatre camp for kids aged 11-15 with the Seattle Shakespeare Company. The kids learned some stage combat, and they rehearsed and performed a mini version of “Hamlet.” Jeff was cast as the ghost; Eleanor was absolutely thrilled to be cast as Ophelia (how often do you actually get the part you want? Hardly ever!)


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They wore all black for performance day. Eleanor is holding the twigs she used as props for the mad scene.

Katie and I were able to watch the performance together, which was followed by stage combat demonstrations by the kids. Eleanor beat up Jeff multiple times, which was fun to see.

Other Miscellaneous Events:

We celebrated Free Slurpee Day at 7-11, as did half of my friends on Facebook:

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Katie is doing this thing lately where she poses “like Officer Hops” from Zootopia. That’s why she looks so perky in this photo.

Katie finished her little 5-week Pre-Ballet class at the rec center:

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Katie is the one in blue.

Jeff and Brian hiked all 20 miles of the Burke-Gilman Trail in order to finish the requirements for the Hiking merit badge. It was Jeff’s idea to do an urban hike for the badge. It certainly made things more convenient – they didn’t have to pack a lunch, but stopped at Un Bon Pain for sandwiches.

This is the map of the trail:


This is a screen capture of when I was tracking the GPS signal on Brian’s phone to follow where they were. (Yes, they played “Pokemon Go” for a good chunk of the way.)

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All finished! Brian was moaning about his feet all evening long.

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They actually had to go 2 miles beyond the trail’s end, since Burke-Gilman is only 18 miles long.

Parades & Picnics

I’ve noticed that we’ve fallen into a pattern these last few years. During the odd-year summers, we visit Yellowstone; during the evens we attend the Utah Shakespeare Festival. As traditions go, it ain’t so bad.

This year was a Shakespeare year. But before we headed down to Cedar City, we spent some more time with the Neweys in West Point.

Specifically, the rockin’ 4th of July festivities of West Point. Oh, how I love that small-town parade.

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Wincing into the sunlight of liberty

Horses and antique tractors and a million little girls in sparkly leotards with their jazz dance teams! Since Katie refers to this holiday as “America Day,” my dad kept hollering “HAPPY AMERICA DAY!” at the people throwing candy. Hence, we scored about 8 lbs. of saltwater taffy, plus several frisbees and a t-shirt.

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My dad also hollered “HEY WATER! RIGHT HERE!” at the people on the floats holding squirt guns. Not quite as amusing (buuuuuut I will admit the cool water did feel nice in the hot sun).

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The rest of the day was spent watching “Finding Dory,” then gorging on burgers & baked beans, then collapsing in a nappinh heap while the children watched “Voltron: Legendary Defender,” and then groggily collecting ourselves together to watch fireworks.

Poor Katie! She had been looking forward to America Day for weeks, but then took sick when it finally arrived. We let her come to the fireworks display anyway, although she spent most of it curled on a blanket with Huggy Bear.

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Poor little one!

Pat was visiting with his daughters for the weekend, and glorious Cousin Times were had by all.

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Katie wasn’t sick for all of the Cousin Times. She and Emmy played for a long time together in the fairy garden:

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My mom’s collection of fairy garden stuff grows more incredible every year.

The only downside to the holiday (besides Katie’s illness) was the unfortunate fact that Utah has legalized arial fireworks. It was like the friggin’ Battle of Antietam all night long. When we left the West Point fireworks, we discovered that idiots had set off smoke bombs in the parking lot. One of them set a patch of nearby dry brush on fire, but fortunately Brian and another man were able to stomp them out before it grew into a wildfire.

July 5 was a Salt Lake kind of day. We began with a picnic lunch at Silver Lake, at the top of Big Cottonwood Canyon. Katie was still feeling a little under the weather, so she insisted on carrying a bucket around the trail with her, “in case I get sick again.” We got lucky and saw two moose!

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There’s a brown hump lump just to the left of center. That’s one of the moose.

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Cuddles with Grandma

This was followed up by a visit to Banbury Cross Bakery:

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Best glazes of any bakery I’ve tried

and then a turn through Gilgal Gardens. My mom (who had come along for the day) had never visited this wonderfully odd collection of “outsider art.” We had to rectify that immediately.

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In the Bible, “Gilgal” refers to a circle of sacred stones. This was a series of quirky statues created by a stonemason who was also an LDS bishop for 10 years. The statues are reflections of his personal spiritual life.
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The Joseph Smith Sphinx is probably the most well-known of the Gilgal installations.
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These PNW kids aren’t used to the desert heat.

By this time we were parched from the heat and still had 3 hours to go until we were to meet our friends for dinner. My mom voted that we head down to the City Creek Center to hang out at the Disney Store. Who am I to resist that? (No photo evidence of that part of the trip, but everyone walked away with Tsum Tsums. Which meant we had to carefully keep track of Tsum Tsums for the remainder of the trip.)

Our final stop in Salt Lake was at the Seven Canyons Fountain. It had been two years since we had visited this place, and I was a little dismayed to see that my older kids didn’t play on the water structures in quite the same way they had before.

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Ridiculously carb-heavy picnic. My mom put Eleanor’s hair up in a pencil bun, and it made her look 3 years older.
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Liberty Park now has this odd little train ride that rolls down the sidewalks.

Jeff and Eleanor were far more inhibited and at a loss for what to do at first. I had to keep making suggestions for how they should play (“try making a dam in one of the water streams”). But eventually all our Plethora friends arrived and they got along as well as they always have.

We had a fabulous picnic with various Pleth people until it began to get too dark and nearly all the other park patrons went home. It was a devil of a time getting the kids out of the water. But the lure of the next grandma’s house did the trick.

Summer Delights

Our first “summer camp” coincided with the last week of school this year. William and Eleanor auditioned for the annual theatre production produced by the Missoula Children’s Theater, and got in — but all the rehearsals were during the last week of school. The play is sponsored by the Shoreline Arts Council (the performance of the play is done as part of the Shoreline Arts Festival), hence the lack of coordination with the school district.

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Eleanor is the farthest flamingo on the right. William is the brown half-hidden turtle in the middle of the second row.

The play this year was “The Frog Prince,” with extra moral lessons about Friendship and Being Yourself and a million extra small parts added including an anthropomorphic aspen tree that only speaks in rhyme.

Eleanor was Flamingo #8 — part of a troupe of flamingos that also know how to flamenco — and William was a Turtle. He was so excited about his part.

WILLIAM: Mom! I got into the play! And I get to have a SOLO!”

ME: What, you get to sing a song onstage?

WILLIAM: No, I get to say a line! All by myself!

Yes, just the one line, but for a boy who as always been part of the faceless chorus, this was a big deal. His “solo” was to walk slowly forward, and then say “What’s the rush?”

But unfortunately, his costume didn’t fit him properly and he could not stop squirming the entire time he was onstage. Ah, theatre.

Jeff missed the performance because he was off doing his First Real Backpacking Trip with the Boy Scouts. They hiked 9 miles and camped on the shores of Ross Lake. Even though we taught Jeff how to use his little backpacking stove, he was nervous about it and therefore ate nothing but beef jerky and dry ramen (dry! ramen!).

Because of all this busy activity, we didn’t get to do our traditional last-day-of-school activities until the following Monday. Namely, eating way too much sugar at Menchie’s:

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Followed by a trip to the grocery store to pick out Summer Cereal. When Brian came home that evening, he took a look at the four sugary cereals on the counter and guessed which child picked which cereal. He was correct on all counts. Can you do the same?

Froot Loops, Reese’s Puffs, Lucky Charms, French Toast Crunch


(answers: Froot Loops = Katie, Reese’s Puffs = Jeff, Lucky Charms = Eleanor, French Toast Crunch = William)

I would also like to add here that French Toast Crunch is the cutest little miniature toast cereal ever. Makes me almost not-sad that my favorite website, The Toast, closed down this week. (With a sign-off from Hillary Clinton! Never have I been pandered to so effectively.)

The kids didn’t have much time to munch on their cereal because we took off for Utah the following Friday (which is where I am now).

The only remarkable thing about the drive here is that we needed to make an emergency bathroom stop, and the only place we could find at the time was the Chamber of Commerce building for the tiny town of Glen’s Ferry, Idaho. The volunteer working the desk said we were lucky they were even open that day.

And then she gave us all free lollipops, pins shaped like potatoes, and happily marked down in her ledger that the CoC had six visitors that day. Also, half of the postcards for sale there were of places in Utah. And when I wanted to buy one of the interesting mural in Glen’s Ferry, she said, “But did you see the one with the train? That train one is so lovely, it shows how we have the desert and the farmland here,” and she was so bursting with hometown pride that I am now the owner of a very boring postcard of a train going through a field.

Also, the mirror in the bathroom was made of a horse yoke thing:

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What is it, exactly? Besides hilarious?

And there were benches made of wagon wheels outside. My mom’s response to this story was “That is so Idaho,” but come on, Mom. You know the Syracuse Historical Museum is basically the same thing.

We’ve had a happy couple of days here in West Point so far. My mom made a tipi for the kids to play with, and the fairy garden is bursting with little figurines and play houses.

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My sunshine girl!

Best of all, we were able to “kidnap” Sol and Joseph, who moved away from our neighborhood and moved to Utah a few weeks ago. Jeff and William have been missing their best buddies, and relished playing Edge of the Empire all day.

I even got to visit Danielle in the evening and take a spin on her new baby grand Baldwin. It sounds so great! My performance of the 3rd movement of “Waldstein” was terrible, but hey! I know how to play it now! (More on that later.)

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They are remodeling their house, so the piano is alone in an empty room. In other words, LOUD.


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.


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.


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



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!)


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)



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



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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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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