Autumn in your family might conjure up such seasonal touchstones as sweaters, crunchy leaves, pumpkins and the many pumpkin-flavored junk foods that are crammed into every vacant space in America.
But in an academic family, autumn also means Conference Season. This is when Brian is gone for many days at a time, traveling hither and thither to professional conferences. Most of them are in October and November, although some of them are in the spring (I sometimes call spring “mini conference season”).
This year isn’t so bad; Brian only has three conferences to attend and two of them are already over, including the biggie: the week-long American Society of Human Genetics mega-con (which is held every odd year in Canada, so it was in Vancouver this year).
This year marks the first time that, since all my kids are now in school full time, I could attend a professional conference as well!
I was invited by my fellow members of the Puget Sound Council for the Review of Children’s Media (or PSC for short) to go to HackWLMA, the con for the Washington Media Library Association, aka school librarians (or, as they prefer, “teacher librarians”). (I wasn’t singled out; everyone in PSC is encouraged to go.)
And the conference is called “HackWLMA” because there is a focus on hands-on participation instead of passive listening to presentations
Next year it won’t be called anything at all since WLMA is being incorporated into the larger Washington Library Association meeting.
Even though I’m not currently employed, it was great to be with “my people” and have lively discussions about G Suite for Education and school funding woes and the best books of the current publishing year and everybody was spouting clever ideas to get more books into the hands of kids and helping teachers incorporate more literature in their curricula.
The keynote speaker was John Schumacher, aka “Mr. Schu,” who is currently Scholastic’s School Librarian Ambassador and teaches at Rutger’s. He has a gift for booktalks and enthralled a whole lecture hall with enthusiastic glee over his favorite titles for kids from 2016. I got go onstage and helped him read the newest “Ballet Cat” book to the audience, which was very fun.
My favorite workshop was one about creating “makerspaces” in school libraries. The presenter was a teacher librarian from Spokane who has come up with ingenious ways to make STEM kits and maker kits available to kids in her school, both for in-house use by teachers and via kits kids can check out and take home.
There were scores of tables loaded with techie toys and I got to play with them all. My favorite was experimenting with the Little Bits kits (which are very pricey, so I’ve never been able to tinker with them before). Another conference attendee and I tested out the wireless transmission Bits and made a buzzer sound on opposite sides of the room. I’m sure everyone loved us.
Once again, I am tempted to go back to school to get a teaching endorsement so I can be a school librarian. But I know that right now is not a good time. My kids aren’t self-sufficient enough to get themselves to school without my supervision, and ditto with after school homework and activities. Employment as a school librarian would require me to be gone during those times, and Jeff is barely getting out of the woods, academically. But it’s fun to imagine doing that.
Speaking of Jeff — Katie and I got to see his final cross country meet this week!
His school was competing against the other middle school in our district. The kids, parents and teachers create a really supportive environment for XC that I really like — everyone was cheering for everyone. One kid had to stop mid-course because he couldn’t breathe, but then picked himself up and completed the course afterwards, minutes after everyone else had finished, which is admirable.
Jeff was 78th or something. We don’t really care, it’s more about getting fit and becoming a better athlete. This course was at Hamlin Park, which I am familiar with because it’s where Katie used to attend Froggy Holler Outdoor Preschool. It’s a tough course, those woods are full of very steep hills!
I want to encourage Jeff to stay on and participate in track in the spring, although right now he’s balking at the idea. But I think he’ll warm up to the idea in a few months.
When I was ten years old, my parents bought a Siberian Husky dog. We weren’t the best dog owners. Huskies are bred to run 20 miles a day, and are very intelligent and require intellectual stimulation as well as vigorous exercise. Without both, the dogs tend to go a little crazy and get into mischief. Which is what happened to our dog. Which is also a good description of Katie before she went to kindergarten.
Katie LOVES kindergarten. She has Ms. Smullin, who also taught William for kindergarten. However, Katie likes talking about her school day more than my other children. She frequently sings the songs she learns, “reads” me the little stapled-together books she brings home, and demonstrated every movement in the “Zoophonics” program (there’s an animal for every letter sound in the alphabet)
The age gap between Kate and her siblings seems unsurmountable at times; she can’t read, ride a bike, or play the same games. But she wants to do the same things they do, and sometimes gets desperate for their attention and drives them crazy (see husky dog story, above). Pushing, hitting, and tears often ensue. Too often in these conflicts, I am accused of taking her side, but if I don’t stick up for her, who will?
She is a bigger fan of doll play than any of my other children. Her teddy bear has been rechristened “Katie Jr.” and I am its grandmother. Katie Jr. shares Katie’s bed every night, along with a gang of a dozen-odd other stuffies. She insists on carefully placing them in a row-just-so before consenting to climb under the covers herself. There is often hardly any room for her on the pillow.
She is the tallest girl in her class, but not whip-thin like my other kids. However she isn’t overweight for her size. She has the heartiest appetite of my children and is always asking for snacks — which is probably caused by her rapid growth. I am always fearful of giving her more food, and I know this is centered around my own body-image insecurities. Sometimes she points out the differences between her physical build and Eleanor’s by using the terms “skinny” and “fat” and it makes me want to scream. Hence, I tend to overreact and get a tad hysterical when she asks me for more food, or when I catch her raiding the box of Honey-Nut Cheerios. This isn’t good.
I think I’m letting her watch too much television. She has started to refer to individual books in a series as “seasons.” As in, “I’m reading Season 2 of ‘Princess in Black!'”
Katie took a pre-ballet class over the summer but didn’t take to it. “I’m taking a break from ballet” she cheerfully chirped, and was pleased when I signed her up for karate at the rec center. I found a ghi at D.I for $2, and it is the cutest thing ever.
I’ve also started a Daisy Girl Scout troop for Katie with other girls from her preschool days. This pleases me immensely.
William’s 4th grade teacher described his behavior in class as “it’s like he’s a quiet genius or something,” which is funny because “the quiet, brilliant one” is how Brian and I have often described him to ourselves.
He’s at the age where it’s difficult to get him to open up and talk about his internal self; so it’s difficult to say what kind of a person he is right now. Conversations about Pokemon Go and Star Wars or any kind of project he’s working on is easy, but conversations about his fears or hopes or dislikes causes him to curl in a ball, grin and say “stuff.” As in, he literally says the word “stuff” in response to those questions.
In terms of mood, he is still my summer boy: 90% sunshine, 10% thunderstorm. When he gets angry, he tends to pout, ducking his head down and refusing to say anything except a terse “No!” It’s really difficult not to burst out laughing when this happens.
He’s the snuggliest of my kids right now. Unlike Katie, he is very small and slight for his size and is easy to pick up and curl into a ball on my lap. It’s like having an elf crossed with a kitten for a son.
He spent the spring and summer reading a string of Roald Dahl books, and has now moved onto The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, but is taking forever to read it. He has an unfortunate habit of getting halfway through a book and then misplacing it.
William is the most list and calendar-oriented child I’ve ever seen. He loves routines and checklists, and follows through on completing a list of tasks without getting distracted. Therefore he is making faster progress on piano than Eleanor did at his age. Eventually, he may surpass her.
“Snuggy pants” are still his preferred pants to wear (that is, sweatpants), but it’s difficult to find ones in his size that don’t fall right off his hips. The only time he deigns to wear jeans is on Cub Scout nights, when he prefers jeans because the belt loops allow him to wear his Cub Scout belt. (He is particular about his uniform, and likes it as complete as possible, down to the neckerchief and hat.)
Eleanor is the most day-dream prone of my children; she likes to spend time moving slowly through her day, taking time to think. But unfortunately this has morphed into a procrastination habit that I find very frustrating. Her piano skills have suffered over the years; she’s talented but has no desire to work hard and I can’t think of a way to motivate her. Most recently she was busted by her 6th grade teacher for drawing in her notebook during math lessons. Fortunately, Eleanor responds well to other adults better than me, and she’s working to change her math-class behavior.
To tell the truth, the reason she wanted to draw in the first place is that she’s done it for several years without being caught. I unknowingly recycled her 5th grade math notebook, and she was devastated to lose all of her drawings! I’ve since given her a dedicated notebook just for art (she prefers the lined paper to plain) and is trying hard to resist doodling during math.
I’m thankful that I have so many good adults in Eleanor’s life. Her Primary teachers adore her; Eleanor really enjoys Primary and I know she will be sad to leave in six months.
That said, she always wants me to have a “chat” at bedtime. I admit that I am often exhausted at that point but I try to rally. Too often I lapse into a lecture. I need to work harder at speaking with her like a friend.
Her new dance studio has yet to open (it’s still under construction) but it excited to start the modern dance classes on Wednesday afternoons. Ballet was okay, but not her favorite. She and William are taking skating lessons together as well, which is adorable.
She has a group of female friends that she enjoys hanging out with, but most of them are in middle school this year, and deeply enmeshed in the world of phones and social media. I invited them over last Friday evening for waffles and a movie, and they spent a long time taking selfies and waffle pics for Instagram, then singing a pop song together. Our family policy is no cell phones until 10th grade, and Elle couldn’t care less about pop songs. I know that she feels a bit left out, though. She’s becoming a bit of a loner at school, although she enjoys participating in different clubs.
Such as student council! She went for it and won the class election. Her teacher is now holding it over her head to stop procrastinating in class, for which I am grateful.
Eleanor is a Cadette Girl Scout this year, and has designated herself the official mentor for Katie’s Daisy troop. This is one of the best things ever — she’s the perfect age to enjoy being a leader for younger girls, and I love it.
Jeff is in 8th grade this year, and all of a sudden I am surrounded by adults who are complimenting me on his behavior. His English teacher and case worker, Mr. Maschman, is especially happy that Jeff has joined the cross country team this year. I admit that I miss having Jeff home early in the afternoons (we always got some one-on-one time before the other kids arrived home) but it’s been good for Jeff to be on the team. The photo above was taken by another parent at the most recent meet. Whew — I need to sneak more protein powder in his food.
He’s starting to detach himself from the usual child behavior in our family. During the last visit from Uncle Sven & Aunt Kristen, the other kids jumped up and down and begged for piggyback rides, but Jeff stood back and observed instead. He sometimes prefers to sit and read in another room when we’re watching movies, and has chosen not to trick-or-treat this year. (It was a bit of a stretch last year, to tell the truth. But now that his voice has lowered it’s a done deal.)
Brian and I work hard to give him social opportunities. This summer his best friend, Solomon, moved away, and he’s distanced himself from most of his elementary school buddies (although he still sits with them at lunch). He won’t say why he’s edged away from his school friends, but I imagine that the LDS/non-LDS behavior standards might have something to do with it.
So, this summer Brian took care to schedule Edge of the Empire game nights every few weeks. It was effective — the group of boys from church are much more comfortable around each other and with Jeff. His birthday party this year wasn’t nearly the awkward affair it was last year.
He still has a lot of his Asperger quirks; he spends a lot of time talking to himself and nibbling on plastic tidbits. Every time I think he’s maturing, I see him with his peers and realize how untypical he is. I love him for who he is, but I worry that nobody else will ever see him that way.
The latest good news is that his English teacher says that he is ready to transfer into a mainstream English class! This same teacher took time to compliment me on all the hard work I’ve done, tutoring Jeff on his handwriting at home. I accepted the compliment, but felt a little sheepish, considering that we haven’t done much writing lately.
He was ordained as a Teacher today. I took time to snap a photo afterwards. What a cutie.
I love this kid. Lately I’ve noticed that all the other adults who teach or work with Jeff are coming up to me and telling me how much they love him.
Our stake president stopped me after church to say what a great job Jeff did with helping clean our ward building.
One of the other parents from the Boy Scout troop told me how fun it was to hike with Jeff on the most recent backpacking trip
I e-mailed his social-studies teacher with a question, and her answer was prefaced with a paragraph about how kind and eager to learn Jeff is, and what a good example to the other kids
At Open House night at the middle school, Jeff’s cross country coach took me aside to say that he is so happy that Jeff has joined the XC team
I went visiting teaching and both my companion and teach-ee spent time telling me how sweet and kind Jeff is, how positive and optimistic
This is a 180-degree switch from what I used to endure as Jeff’s mom during his early childhood years. It’s almost as if the fading away of his hyperactivity has revealed to everyone else what I’ve always known: Jeff is one of the sweetest people you’ll ever meet. Yes, he still has a long way to go with growing up, but I’m so glad to know that he is surrounded with a community of adults who care for him.
There was no school on Jeff’s birthday this year, so we had a Day of Fun just for him. In the morning, the kids and I went to Denny’s for breakfast, and in the afternoon (once chores and homework were completed) we went to the gaming pub for root beer and ice cream.
That same evening, Brian and I took Jeff out to the restaurant of his choice (Sushi! We spent time challenging Jeff to get ready to attend the next stake youth dance, when not being distracted by the weird Japanese game show being broadcast on a television in the restaurant) but still had an informal party the following Friday.
For his party, Jeff requested that everyone make sushi together (the boys really enjoyed learning how to do this), and then all the kids played Betrayal at House on the Hill, a cooperative board game about a haunted house. The guests were all the boys who have been playing Edge of the Empire with Jeff all summer long. They are such a great group of kids!
Other notable events this week:
Eleanor, William and Katie all performed in an end-of-summer piano recital. It was Katie’s first performance — she played “Two Black Ants” and “Three Little Kittens.” Their teacher, Frances, likes to get the kids performing a lot so they don’t develop stage fright. Eleanor performed her original composition, “Flight of the Mosquito,” which she plans to enter into the PTA Reflections contest.
Speaking of piano, I had my first lesson with Jensina at Seattle Community College this week. Back to school for me, sort of! Already she’s been giving me great coaching on hand position, posture, technique, etc. Even with the few basic tips, I’ve noticed an improvement in my performance of Chopin’s “Minute Waltz” and other pieces I’ve been working on this summer.
However, the only photo I took on campus was of this guy:
In case you can’t tell, he’s walking around campus with a giant pretend boom box on his head. It even plays music. I ran into him in the hallway immediately after my lesson was done, and he trailed along behind me as I walked back to my car. Several people who passed us muttered, “Awww, man,” but as Boom Box Guy said to a friend, “I’m becoming a Seattle Icon.” You go, Boom Box Guy. You be you.
Katie finally got to bring Super Bee home from Kindergarten. Super Bee is a puppet who goes home with well-behaved children, and Katie has been waiting — well, all summer, really — to have a turn taking Super Bee home. When she didn’t get a turn within the first few days of school, there were tears upon arriving home. (“I held in my cries until I came home, Mom.”) So it was a big deal when the Bee got a turn with Katie.
Katie also had her first Daisy Girl Scout troop meeting, which I am co-leadering with another mom from Katie’s old preschool class. We have a darling group of little 5 and 6 year old girls, and Eleanor, who is a Cadette this year, has declared that she’d like to come along for some leadership experience. Nice!
Eleanor is also making a better effort at playing patiently with Katie. Here they are with our vintage Strawberry Shortcake game (which we all think is great, even the boys. It’s essentially like Candy Land, but with a couple extra twists to keep the game interesting). Instead of the usual game markers, the kids like to use my childhood collection of Strawberry Shortcake miniature figurines, which are just the right size to move around the board.
Also this week: I completed the second Seattle Stairway Walk, through the northeast part of Queen Anne. My friend Jenny came with me, along with her darling little boy in a backpack.
This neighborhood included a lot of gorgeous homes, beautiful views of Salmon Bay and Alki Point, and yes, many fun stairways tucked in odd places.
This pathway isn’t a staircase, but it’s a curiosity nonetheless. It looks like private property — the narrow space between two homes — but it’s still part of the public street, and the city put a sign on the fence to prove it!
We also passed a playground with this fun slide built into the hillside. I tried it out, but. . .
. . . it was incredibly slow. Something about my clothes or size prevented a quick slide to the bottom. Instead, it was a lazy slump to the end. How disappointing.
Jenny and I enjoyed the exercise so much that we’ve already agreed to meet again this coming week for another stairway walk. I can’t wait!
I have a friend who said once that having a child “sets the Fun Clock back about five years.” It’s true — there’s some kind of threshold that kids reach at age five that allows families to return to adventurous things: staying up a little later, traveling a little further, hiking a little longer without having as many mishaps or meltdowns. No more strollers and diaper bags. No more revolving everyone’s schedule around naptime.
And then there’s kindergarten.
I’ve kept a running tally of things I promised to do for myself once Katie began kindergarten. I thought I would have to push myself to accomplish them once I saw her off on her first day of school, but nope: I’ve gleefully dived right into all of them.
I’m studying piano seriously for the first time in decades. (This is fulfilling a promise I made to myself when I was eighteen, to tell the truth.) My first lesson is this coming Wednesday, and I’m so excited!
I’m also writing again. My goal is at least 500 words of New Project (although most days I exceed that), then an hour of revising Old Project. Right now the revisions consist mainly of transferring files into Scrivener, a word processing program designed specifically for writers that I’ve wanted to get for years and can now happily afford. No, I will not tell you what either project entails. That usually lets the magic seep out of the balloon, as it were.
I went to the temple all by myself last week. It was great, but exhausting with the drive time, so I didn’t get any writing done that day. The new procedure is to write first, then outings after.
And then I began the Seattle Stairway Walks. This is a book of urban hikes that are designed to travel along all of the stairway sidewalks that wind up and down the hills of the city. I completed my first one this week, in the Fremont neighborhood. (Yes, I wrote my 500 words before I left.)
Part of the spontaneity was from the weather — a warm, sunny day! Gotta take advantage of those while they are still around.
Fremont is a neighborhood that prides itself on a quirky, artsy atmosphere. I didn’t see much of that trademark quirkiness, though, as the hike kept mostly to residential neighborhoods.
The stairways were magical — often not immediately visible to sidewalk strollers, unless you knew what to look for. Railings and steps were tucked in between two houses at a street’s dead end, or tucked behind bushes or car guard railings.
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It was a good workout, too. I went down 108 steps and up 306 steps, plus a lot of hill-climbing. The hike was a 3.2 mile circuit, completed in a little less than 2 hours. If that seems slow to you, keep in mind that I frequently stopped to take pictures, and also that I was often delayed by such things as traffic lights.
My only regret is that I forgot to bring a water bottle with me. I was parched by the time I reached the famous Lenin statue. Fortunately, there was a cafe nearby where I could buy a bottle of water. I thought I’d sip it slowly for the rest of the walk, but I ended up chugging it down in thirty seconds.
I felt so wonderful on the drive home — energized and relaxed. Hiking is truly my favorite form of exercise, and now I can do it whenever I want, thanks to the Fun Clock being reset again. Hooray!
School has been in session for a week and a half now, and it’s been an interesting transition. All four kids are in school full-time now, which is great — 8th, 6th, 4th, and kindergarten! Katie has been incredibly bored hanging around the house with me, and I will also admit that after four children my entertain-the-kid well has run a little dry.
I’ve put all my personal projects on hold for years; I’m more than ready to get back to my writing. Also, several months ago I began seriously practicing piano again — I spent most of the spring learning to play the Waldstein sonata (badly) and Chopin’s Fantasie-Impromptu (badly) among other assorted pieces, and after enough of this madness Brian printed up a list of piano teachers who specialize in advanced students. In a way, I’ll be going back to school, too — this Thursday I’m beginning private lessons with Jensina, a piano performance teacher at the community college.
We were able to have our schultuten this year — I’ve discovered that the Japanese bookstore in the International District is the best place to find cool school supplies for the schultute. I found a tiny pair of scissors that fold into a pen for Jeff, a metal holder that can clamp around a pencil stub for Katie, woodland creature sticky notes for Wim, and squishy pencil grips for Katie.
Each cone also held a new t-shirt, which the children wore on the first day of school. Naturally, you can’t see them in this picture:
On the first day of school, the 8th graders had a delayed start time, and so did all the kindergartners whose last names began with N-Z. On the same day, Brian had a flight to a conference in D.C. and so didn’t go into work. We all decided to go out to breakfast at Panera together. This was the general mood:
Katie was super wiggly and kept crawling under the table so she could do a puppet show with her hands. Jeff endured her antics. (Oh, she so needs all-day school.)
Here is a picture of Katie with her teacher, Ms. S. William had Ms. S for kindergarten as well, and she told us she was really hoping Katie would be matched into her class because she enjoys our family so much! Well, that’s flattering . . .
The weekend after the first week of school we were still able to squeeze in our annual Backyard Circus. Hooray!
Jeff was the ringmaster this year — and possibly the last year he’ll participate? Well, there was another 16 year old boy who allowed his younger brother to smash a pie in his face, so maybe Jeff will keep playing along.
By a strange coincidence, Eleanor and William also chose a pie-throwing act for their performance. It was actually a recreation of the “Four Hats Four Pies” routine that Aunt Kristen & Uncle Sven performed for one of Aunt Caitlin’s “no-talent shows” years ago.
Before she was covered in cream pie, Eleanor was also the “trainer” in a lion-taming routine with Katie. Katie LOVED being the lion, and drew lots of pictures of herself and Eleanor in their costumes.
It’s a great start to the new year, but I admit that I’m a little frustrated at the guilt I am feeling for spending so much of my time alone, working on personal projects, instead of volunteering at the school or church. It might be my imagination, but I feel like more people are nudging extra projects my way, under the assumption that I must be sitting bored at home with nothing to do. It’s annoying to turn them down, especially since I’m not very open to telling people what I do — I don’t feel that I should have to justify what I choose to do with my free time. I imagine many women feel the same way. But I feel confident that I’ll eventually find my rhythm and settle into this new life with fewer misgivings. Hooray for new beginnings!
Our school year doesn’t begin until after Labor Day, so we decided to cross our fingers for good weather and arranged to rent a cottage in the Hoh River Valley for the weekend.
We’d stayed in the same little house before, two years ago. But that trip was in October, and it rained almost the entire time. This trip was a lovely, sunny time without a drop of rain.
Our main task was to view different parts of Olympic National Park. This is always a tricky task. The park is centered around the Olympic Mountains, which is beautiful but impassable by car. So, you have to drive quite a bit around the outside of the range to reach all the different features of the park.
The first stop after our ferry crossing was Lake Crescent, at the northern end of the park. This is one of the most beautiful places in the entire state. The highway passes right along its edge, and in our previous trips I’d always pressed my nose against the car window as we sped past, wishing we could stop. But this time, we could!
We headed straight for the Lake Crescent Lodge and rented some canoes so we could paddle around for an hour. The weather was warm, sunny, and perfect.
Brian had the girls, and I had the boys. The idea was that Jeff had more canoeing experience and could help me out, but it actually led to bouts of uncoordinated paddling. There were a few times when I ordered the boys to put their paddles up while I did all the navigation myself.
We warmed up afterwards in the Lake Crescent hotel. I love national park lodges, they are so charming. (The kids didn’t understand the concept of mounted elk heads on the wall.)
After our canoe time, we drove to a picnic area on the lakeshore. There weren’t any other tourists around, and it was incredibly peaceful.
Having filled up, we headed back to the Storm King ranger station to do the little hike to Marymoor Falls. The kids grumbled at first, but they loved the payoff at the end.
It was late afternoon by the time we got back to our car, so we zipped off down the highway for the drive to Forks. (Yes, that Forks. There’s still plenty of vampire junk around town — although not nearly as much as there was in 2013 when we took our first visit to Forks — but enough to catch the kids’ attention. This lead to a lengthy car conversation about vampire lore, cheesy YA literature, and whether or not a vampire and a werewolf can have a baby).
After settling in and grabbing dinner at a diner in Forks, we decided to drive down to Kalaloch Beach for the evening ranger program. It was all about seeing stars in the park — both in the sky, and in tidepools (seastars). Katie was chosen to pretend to be the Pacific Ocean in an audience participation activity. She scurried up and down the aisles of the amphitheater, crying out “Make way for the water!”
The sunset at Kalaloch (which we viewed before the program) was incredible. The kids were itching to get their feet wet in the waves — and William went ahead and doused his pants.
The next morning it was very warm and sunny outside, so we all donned our swimsuits and headed to Rialto Beach. Our last beach day of the summer — and it was hot enough to require air conditioning in the car!
Well . . . remember that trip to Graylands Beach, and the crazy only-on-the-shore haze?
Rialto Beach was the setting of the little-known Gidget movie, Return of the Haze: Don’t You Feel Underdressed?
It was a little disheartening to arrive in swimsuits and be greeted by a beach full of people wearing long pants and hoodies. We splashed in the waves anyway. It wasn’t that bad, to tell the truth — the water was warmer than Puget Sound — but the waves kept tossing up little pebbles that hit our shins and made them sting a bit. Eleanor was happy I joined her in the water, so it was worth it.
There were surfers catching the waves, so it wasn’t that ludicrous. Yeah. . . the surfers were wearing wetsuits, but still.
We returned to our cabin for warm clothes, warm lunch, and a few rounds of Magic: the Gathering before we drove into the mountains to see the Hoh Rainforest. The last time we visited this area of the park, the trail we wanted to take was blocked by a massive Roosevelt Elk, which was incredible. No such luck this time. But the Hall of Mosses was just as majestic without the elk, to tell the truth.
Our plan was to try to see another beach sunset, so we drove to Forks and bought a picnic supper of fried chicken, then drove down to Ruby Beach to eat.
Again, the chilly wind foiled our plans a bit. Brian and I were dismayed at the prospect of eating chicken with chattering teeth, until the children discovered a neat fort that someone had built out of driftwood. We all fit snugly inside, and there was a circle of logs to sit on, and a smooth stump in the middle that worked as a table. It was the best pirate hideout/picnic spot ever.
After our supper, the kids were eager to use the information they had learned at the ranger program the evening before and ran out to explore tidepools.
They learned that touching sea anemones is okay to do, but they will make your fingers sticky. We also got to hear barnacles click while bubbling under the waves.
Ruby Beach is one of the most iconic locations on the Washington coast. I love being there.
Our rental cottage sits on a few acres of rainforest, and the property owners have created their own network of private trails. Katie and I took a stroll during our final morning at the cottage. (We also got to try out the outdoor shower — the cottage relies on well water, which was a bit dry at the time of our visit. The owners installed an outdoor shower that uses purified rainwater. It was really fun to use — nice and hot!)
Anyway, the private trails — several of the larger stumps, trees, and logs have been given names like “Grandfather and Grandmother Stump” or “Gentle Giant.” This rainforest is deservedly famous — it’s so lush and lovely.
On the way home we stopped in one more part of the national park, a little trail called “Ancient Grove.” It’s a little loop that circles on a plateau above the Sol Duc river, and is so old it’s nearly haunted.
It was too short of a visit (although we were good and exhausted by the time we got home); the mountains/ocean/rainforest is such a stunning combination of landscapes! Hopefully the days will pass swiftly by until we get to travel there again.
I did a very brave thing this week: I went tent camping with all four children, sans spouse, in Moran State Park on Orcas Island. This was my first trip to the San Juans, and I was just a little bit intimidated by the idea.
Granted, it was in a group that, counting my brood, included 8 women and 20+ children, so we weren’t exactly lacking for company. But it was still on me to do the packing, prep, transport, set-up, etc. by myself.
Okay, the kids helped some. In fact, the three big kids are capable of packing their bags by themselves, and Jeff and William even set up their little tent all by themselves. Bringing the second tent was Brian’s last-minute idea, and it was a brilliant one. It was much easier for everyone to have the extra room.
Having a big bunch of kids to play with was rather brilliant, as well. The group campsite at Moran is wonderfully secluded: a circle of campsites surrounded by forest. The kids all skipped off to play and make forts in the trees while the adults talked or got food made. (My contribution was pulled pork sandwiches for dinner on Monday.) My kids are all old enough to wander freely on their own without me worrying about them too much, and it was great to give them that kind of freedom.
Jeff insisted on bringing a bunch of different card games (like Munchkin), which I was skeptical about, but the three big kids got swept up in long games while the littles built their fort.
The rest of our time was spent hiking up to Twin Lakes . . .
. . . and having a picnic on the shore. We turned back early (for a 4.5 mile hike) while the rest of the group continued up the hill to Mt. Constitution (for a 7.5 mile hike). My kids didn’t want to hike that long, and I was exhausted from not sleeping well the first night. Nap time and card games seemed a lot more fun than hiking up a mountain.
Feeling refreshed, we headed off to the beach on the shores of Cascade Lake later that afternoon.
The water was so cold! I couldn’t wade in more than the top of my legs, but the kids dove right in. Lest you fear that I was bored, I should remind you that I had a book and there was an ice cream stand nearby.
I slept much better the second night, which was great, because packing up camp is not nearly as much fun as setting it up.
We paid a visit to Mount Constitution ourselves before going back home. This was easy for us because you can just drive up there.
Aren’t the views spectacular? I love the breezy, emerald-and-azure world of the San Juans. I’m already looking forward to a return trip.
However pleasant my feelings about the location, it was right about then that my children’s tolerance for exhaustion snapped. Katie threw a full-blown temper tantrum in the gift shop because I wouldn’t buy her a stuffed animal; the other three began to alternate between bickering over trivial things and acting hyper. I was more than happy to cram everyone in the van and race down the mountain to catch the return ferry home.
Think that was enough adventure for one week? OH HO HO HO.
On Thursday we were invited to a pool party hosted by one of Katie’s preschool friends. My kids got to spend a solid two hours in a swimming pool, with the big kids taking turns springing off the diving board. (They are much braver than I was as a kid. I hated diving boards. Eleanor, on the other hand, spent time trying to dive deep enough to touch her feet at the bottom of the 12′ pool. She succeeded; it made her ears hurt.)
(Yeah, sorry, no pictures of this event. I was too busy finishing my read of Eva Ibbotson’s The Morning Gift, which is a perfect summer poolside read.)
That evening I looked at the weather report and realized that this week was our last chance the temperature would be warm enough to visit the Denny Creek Waterslide. As much as I would have liked to spend a day catching up on the now-insane piles of laundry, I packed up our beach towels once again.
The Denny Creek Waterslide is a place where a mountain stream in Snoqualmie Pass pours over a large outcropping of slickrock, creating a natural slip-n-slide. Although the storebought slip-n-slide probably doesn’t cause as many torn swimsuits and scraped ankles.
Eleanor and William loved cruising down the rocks. Katie slipped and fell on her first attempt and then refused to try it again, but spent time hovering near the action, collecting rocks (something she’s always loved to do).
Jeff gave the waterslide one try and then declared the water too cold. (It was incredibly cold, so I don’t blame him, but I’m sad that he was bored while the other kids were playing.)
It takes an hour to drive to the Denny Creek trailhead, and another hour to hike the mile to the waterslide. Add two hours of splash-time to that, and with the return journey, this becomes an all-day affair. It’s easily the most exhausting and time-consuming of our various summer outings, but I still look forward to doing it again next year.
Well, maybe. When William found out that our Saturday would be spent at Golden Gardens Beach for a friend’s birthday party, he declared it to be the last straw. “I don’t want to do anything with water — I am sick of being in the water! No lakes, no pools, no rivers, no ocean. I do not even want to be in SIGHT of water!” It’s okay, kid, it was way too breezy to even think about getting wet.
This was a science-themed birthday for our friend, D. His mom (my friend M.) did an incredible job of coming up with science experiments for the kids to do. Just when I thought we’d finished, she pulled another activity out of the box. I was totally impressed.
And then I collapsed. Never have I needed a nap so badly. The only thing that got me up again was knowing that the Puget Sound Dahlia Association was having their annual show in my neighborhood, and I wanted to go and take a gander with Brian.
I am going to nap so hard when school begins this fall.
Brian was relegated with the task of accompanying the Boy Scouts on their weeklong camp this week, Jeff included amongst them. Spending a week at home alone with the other three kids seemed a dreary prospect, so I decided that we would have our own trip:
There are several yurts that are kept as part of the state parks system, and I was able to snag one just off the beach at Graylands State Park, which is right on the Pacific Ocean. As I prepared for the trip, I alternated between blissful sighs over sun-kissed sands, and panicked anxiety over kids drowning in the waves.
Turns out, I needn’t have troubled my mind about either option.
Nobody told me that the Washington coastline is often beset by cold, foggy haze. Think San Fransisco. Think 62 degrees. Think “thank goodness I grabbed our rain jackets just before heading out the door.”
This is sad news to someone who just left a hot, sunny Seattle summer. I had the air conditioning blasting in the car up until the last 30 minutes of the drive, when the road suddenly lead us directly under a cloudbank. I frowned with a little squeak as I watched the blue sky shrink and disappear in the rear view mirror. Within a few minutes, goosebumps broke out on my arms and I turned off the air conditioner.
This . . . this wasn’t how it was supposed to be! IT WAS SUNNY IN SEATTLE! IT SHOULD BE SUNNY HERE!
We still had fun. Our yurt was blessedly snug in the evenings, what with its electric heater, electric lights, and — yay! — place to plug in my phone.
The kids loved getting soaked by the waves and playing in the sand. They even put on their swimsuits and dashed hip-deep in the water while I happily buried my nose in my books.
Speaking of the sand, there was lots of it. The beach was a good 1/4 of a mile from the forest edge to the water, flat with low rolling dunes.
It makes for a great kite flying destination, but I will admit that it got tiresome to haul our stuff back and forth.
We even made a half-decent attempt at kite flying. Delta kites are hard to fly. That’s all I’ll say about that.
Beyond that, we had excellent fun playing card games, roasting food over a campfire, and sleeping in our snuggly yurt. I’ll have to look for other yurt options in the future.
Our return home was met with a grand collapse of Mom Energy. Beyond helping my friend Jessica move out of her home (gone to Colorado, sniff), there wasn’t much that I accomplished over the next two days.
But! Saturday morning marked the return of my favorite Seattle street festival: Viking Days at the Nordic Heritage Museum. So many medievally things to do!
Eleanor was entranced by the spindle spinning, so much that the woman demonstrating the craft gave Eleanor a spindle to keep. At the same time, William was so interested in the drum carder that that volunteer gave us a big batting of wool roving to take home. So now Eleanor has all she needs to make a nice big ball of yarn.
When Ye Olde Crafting was finished, we walked to the Nordic Food booths and munched on ableskivers. Mmm, those Danes know their way around a frying pan.
When we returned to our car, we were delighted to discover that the house across the street had a life-sized statue of one of the robots from Castle in the Sky in its front yard. Upon closer inspection, we saw that there were even little red blinking lights in its head, just like the movie. Aww, Seattle. You know I love this stuff.
We’ve had a whirlwind of family visitors this week
Houseguests Round 3 were my parents, who delighted us by staying over a few days on their way to a vacation in Victoria, B.C. I did my darndest to cram in as much grandparent-time as possible.
On the evening of their arrival, Brian and I took them on an adults-only outing to the Cinnebarre to watch Star Trek: Beyond and eat delicious hamburgers. Totally fun movie — it was great to have some adult time with my parents.
After church the next day, the grandparents took Katie on a trip to the beach and came home with pockets full of pebbles and shells. Having this one-on-one time with grandparents was a big deal to her; it’s been two weeks since then, and Katie still talks about it at bedtime.
The following morning, Grandpa and Eleanor were ushered out the door for golf. She’s taking a genuine interest in this sport, and my dad is a great teacher. She made par on one of the holes!
Meanwhile, Grandma taught everyone how to make “burrito” pillowcases (I spent a morning cleaning the decrepit disaster that is our craft room for just this occasion you are welcome, Mom):
When our crafting was over, the grandparents and I took William out to West Seattle for incredible Hawaiian-Korean fusion food at Marination Ma Kai. Nummm, kimchee quesadillas and shave ice!
The evening was rounded out with a visit to the Ballard Locks, which my dad had never seen before. A boat towing logs came through while we were there, an arrangement which I had never seen before. The logs were lashed together and just floating in the water. I half expected to see lumberjacks astride them, juggling axes and stroking their fluffy beards.
And if that weren’t enough fun for one day, we stopped at Molly Moon’s for ice cream on the way home. Whew!
My parents took off on Tuesday morning. This left us with just 24 hours to prepare ourselves for Houseguests, Round 4: Uncle Michael and Aunt Natalie and best of all, Cousin Anderson!
My kids were very excited to see their first Shirts cousin. Jeff even requested to come along when I drove out to pick them up from the airport. I initially thought he just wanted some time out of the house, or time alone with me, but when we pulled up to the airport, Jeff jumped up and whispered, “I can’t wait to see that cute baby’s face!” and rushed to give Anderson a hug.
Our first excursion the next day was Jetty Island. The older kids hadn’t had a chance to visit Jetty yet, so it was a nice treat for them. The only snag is somehow there was a reservation mix-up and we showed up on the wrong day. But we were early enough to grab the standby tickets (whew).
Jeff and William asked to go off and explore the island on their own. They walked over to the “lagoon” marked on the island map and walked around it. It always pleases me to see Jeff wanting to be a little more independent.
Anderson loved dipping his feet in Puget Sound and observing his cousins build a giant pile of seaweed. When it was time to go, he was so cold his lips turned a little bit blue, but he kept asking to go back in the water.
Day Two of Anderson Week was spent riding the ferry to Kingston for crepes and ice cream, one of my favorite summer activities. (I intentionally had a skimpy breakfast because I knew exactly what good stuff was up ahead.)
Anderson loved the ferry ride, as did my kids:
Between crepes and ice cream, we romped on in the park and played around with a Frisbee. My kids were being “a bunch of goofy-goofs,” as I like to say:
The boys quite literally collapsed in a pile on the way home:
Saturday was the next day, so Brian was able to join us for a trip to the waterfront to ride the Seattle Great Wheel, which he hadn’t been able to ride before.
Jeff wasn’t very happy about the heights. He curled against me during the entire ride, and I could feel how tense his shoulders were through his shirt.
After the wheel, we walked down the street to the Olympic Sculpture Park. The walk was a bit longer than anticipated, and it was hot and dusty downtown. Nobody was in that much of a good mood when we arrived, but spirits lifted as we began to explore the statues.
Discovering an indoor play space wasn’t that bad, either. (Shade! Hurrah!)
Sunday was Anderson’s last day in town. We trooped to church, and then headed over to St. Edward’s State Park for more excellent cousin play on the wooden castle playground. Eleanor was wonderful at watching over Anderson, which gave the adults ample time to talk (adult convo is always at a premium around here).
Speaking of which, we were lucky enough to have some evening adults-only time during Cousin Week. On Friday, Anderson was put to bed early so the grown-ups could meet up with Kristen & Patrick at a restaurant in Ballard, and then on Saturday evening the big kids were left at home while the adults took Anderson to the Cheesemonger’s Table, followed by a nice stroll around downtown Edmonds.
The only bad thing about houseguests is that eventually they have to go home. Thanks to all of them this summer for making this season an excellent one!
It’s one of my goals every summer to try and get my children outdoors as much as possible.
Even if I don’t always get the chance to do the same myself. But I think I may have gone a little overboard with my goal this week.
Sure there was some indoors time, such as the construction of this Space Pod kit which Brian and I gave to Wimmy for his birthday. The boys initially wanted the grown-ups to help, but we pointed out that the instructions said it was either for one adult and one child aged 6+, OR two children aged 9+. William was thrilled that he could finally count himself in the 9+ category, and set to work.
Nice, right? It’s the preferred place to read books right now. This afternoon, the boys grabbed all the pieces of the Snap Circuits sets and “installed electronic space equipment” in the Pod.
BUT — despite that inside stuff — it was all about the Outdoors this week.
The biggest contributor to this was the 2nd half of Summer in the Woods. Every morning I’d drop Wim, Ella & Jeff off in Yost Park forest, and they would spend six hours learning about nature, whittling spears, making cordage, hiking and playing games. They were under the care of camp counselors that have names like Hawkeye and Little Bear and were barefoot every single day of camp.
I didn’t take any pictures of them at pick-up (I regret that now), but they were often covered with glorious scratches, mud streaks on arms and legs, and slumping with exhaustion. We’d often swing by Dairy Queen for ice cream cones (I tried to resist doing this every day, but I’m a pushover and the kids know it), then spend the afternoon quietly collapsing with books.
My time in the Great Indoors during Summer in the Woods was spent dealing with Fruitstorm II: the Reckoning:
Yeah, plums and blueberries. I’m started to get really tired of making jam.
Eleanor had to miss the last three days of Summer in the Woods because of this:
GIRL SCOUT CAMP!
Her troop spent two nights at Camp St. Alban’s, from Wednesday to Friday. I was recruited to carpool five of the girls down to the camp.
Which . . . went less smoothly than I anticipated. My cell phone died about 3/4ths of the way there, so I lost my GPS directions. The printed map from the camp was unclear, so I missed a cruicial turn and ended up driving the Key Peninsula Highway for an extra 45 minutes.
Did you know that the Key Peninsula Highway dead-ends at a cul-de-sac? I do! Guess how I found out?
I will say that the girls in Eleanor’s troop are an absolute delight to spend time with. They spend their time singing camp songs and chattering about other music (“Have you heard of this song called ‘American Pie’? It’s like the best song ever” and then they all sang the chorus together and it was adorable!) and geek culture (Monty Python quotes, lengthy debate about how spells in Harry Potter effect one’s physiology) and what they want to be when they grow up (one girl wants to be a large-mammal vet and spent time identifying all the horse breeds we passed on the road; another wants to be a cultural anthropologist and “solve the mysteries of the ancients”).
The drive home was not nearly as fun. Podcasts are entertaining but just aren’t as fun as twelve-year-old girls. (5 hours driving in total. Ugh. And oh yes, I still had to carpool William to skating class right after I arrived home.)
AND THEN . . . after multiple days spent in the outdoors, I had the NERVE to take the family hiking this past Saturday.
Such a thing could not be borne by . . . certain unnamed persons in the family.
Said persons voiced their opinions mutiple times and then sulked on a pile of tree roots.
But Wallace Falls was otherwise a delightful hike. About 4.75 miles roundtrip, with a stunning trio of waterfalls at the end. The trail continued another 4 miles or so, but we declined to do that.
I love this sign the park put up as you begin the main part of the trail. I love the North Cascades, I love these forests!