In Which I Turn 38

I didn’t quite have the energy to throw a big home-made ice cream polynesian-dance extravaganza like I did for my birthday last year.

So I just invited everyone I knew to come meet me at the Fremont Troll.

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My parents have a picture of me sticking my hand up the nose of the lions on Trafalgar Square, so I feel like things have come full-circle, here.

My kids had never seen this Seattle landmark before, and they were enchanted. They kicked off their shoes and climbed all over that thing, getting gloriously filthy in the process. Katie even lay down in the sand and made “dirt angels.” Yecch, but I really loved it. Kids should get dirty in the summer. They should get mud and scabs all over their legs. Kid legs! They are the best.

We also walked around the corner with our friends to get ice cream from the Bluebird Microcreamery, which I’ve heard has great ice cream. They even have a refurbished 1904 marble-topped soda fountain counter! Who can resist that?

Well . . .

There was only one guy manning the counter. So the line (yes, a line even at opening time) moved slowly. Eleanor and William began to wrestle, getting giddy and uncontrollable like they do when they are bored. (I should have been harsher and denied them ice cream. But that didn’t occur to me until we were driving home).

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I asked Eleanor to smile. She did this. Kids are jerks.

Then Katie goes to inspect the mirror-tiled mosaic on the boutique hotel next door . . . came away with a bleeding hand! Turns out the mirror-tile isn’t tile but just smashed up shards of mirror someone had glued to the wall!

THEN when we finally got to the head of the line, we were told that they were “out of cones.”

Seriously, Bluebird? OUT OF CONES? Ten minutes after opening?

They were also out of root beer, several flavors of ice cream, and the chocolate pudding flavor I wanted to try was “too hard to scoop,” according to The One Guy Working Alone.

The scoops were also skimpy considering the price. And they charge you an extra fifty cents to split a scoop into two flavors — jerk move by all accounts.

But it was still fun. The stools at the bar were fun to spin around on. Fremont is funky-fresh and it was fun to share it with my kids. Fun fun fun.

I took a nap when I got home.

(And Brian and I went out for salmon at Ivar’s Salmon House, and we got to eat at a table on a barge at the edge of Lake Union, and we watched lots of boats go by right at sunset. Which, to tell the truth, made up for the lack-of-cones afternoon by the tun.)

Last Day of School

It wasn’t just the Last Day for Jeffrey today.

Everyone else was happy to be finished up with school, as well.

They wouldn’t come inside until after this happened. “Mom, you have to take our picture on the last day of school!” Oh, do I?

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June 19, 2015

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September 3, 2014

Our last day tradition these last few years is to load up with sugar at Menchie’s frozen yogurt.

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William’s bowl was just perfect. The platonic ideal of a child’s ice cream sundae:

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Later we went to the grocery store to pick out “summer cereal.” This means they can choose any cereal they want. Eleanor chose Lucky Charms, Jeff got Reese’s Puffs. Katie got Cookie Crisp, and William, after a great deal of deliberating, picked out “Cap’n Crunch Donut Crunch,” wherein the regular Cap’n Crunch gumscrapers are molded into little O’s and garnished with sprinkles. His verdict is that it “doesn’t taste like donuts at all.” Welcome to the world of gimmicky cereals, kid.

Done and Done

Jeff is officially finished with elementary school. His reaction?


The whole attitude of his classmates is one of long-suffering slogging through Grade Six. The band class learned how to play “The Final Countdown,” and this kind of became their unofficial theme song.

The “graduation ceremony” was perfect simply because it was only 45 minutes long. A 12 year old gave a speech that lasted 30 seconds (I turned to Brian and said, “That kid’s going places.”). A girl in a white dress sang “Stay With Me,” and I made my best attempt to pretend the song was really about friendship and not sex, while the audience made a fuitile attempt to clap along with its extremely syncopated beat.

Then they played “The Final Countdown” again, and all the kids began to raspberry along. Sixty 6th graders, all raspberrying.

Then Jeff got his . . . diploma? Certificate? Thing?

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And he got to hug his teacher and eat cookies.

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Katie photobomb!

Jeff has come a long way this year. What I’m really proud of is this:

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This is a record of Jeff’s Lexile scores during the 2014-15 school year. Lexlie scores attempt to quantify a student’s reading ability; his score went up 215 points over the school year; essentially two grade levels. He is now reading at a 9th grade level. It was the largest reading-score increase made by any of the students in his school. His teacher was good enough to recognize him for this during the school’s awards assembly the previous week. (His reaction? “Meh.”)

I am so happy I could burst. The kid who had to spend his summers in remedial reading programs is now an advanced reader. A year ago, I still had to bribe him to read with LEGO minifigs, and sit next to him during silent reading time to ensure he didn’t wander off or start daydreaming. Now he regularly reads unattended for 1-2 hours a day. I always suspected that once Jeff became proficient enough, his reading would take off — he’s always been a kid who loves stories. I was right!

So, thank you to all the authors who made the stories that my son loves. Thank you, Mr. Riordan, thank you Ms. Rowling, thank you Mr. Kirby, Mr. Grahame, Ms. Sutcliff. Thank you for being my partners during this rocky reading journey. We did it!

Favorite Books for Young Readers 2014

Yeah, finally.

(It takes a long time to read all the books, okay?)

As usual, I would like to point out my disclaimers:

1. I read a lot of books from a lot of genres. Not every book on this list is for you. If you’d like a tailored recommendation, ask and I’ll draw up a list. Gleefully.

2. Not every book on this list is for all ages. Some of them are marked with asterisks

(**). Please read the (**) books yourself before passing them on to a young person in your life.


ShhWeHaveAPlanFavorite Preschool Read-Aloud: Shh! We Have a Plan by Chris Haughton



GastonBest Use of French Poodles: Gaston by Kelly DiPucchio




Aviary Wonders Inc.Gorgeous, Fascinating Pictures. Kinda Depressing Premise: Aviary Wonders Inc. Spring Catalog and Instruction Manual by Kate Samworth



Brother Hugo and the BearBest Historical Fiction Featuring a Book-Eating Bear: Brother Hugo and the Bear by Katy Beebe




Hoot Owl Master of DisguiseOwls! Adorable, Adorable, Deadly Owls! Hoot Owl, Master of Disguise by Sean Taylor



Rules of SummerMost Likely to Have a Film Adaptation: Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan



Sparky!Sloths Might Not Make the Best Pets, but They Still Rule: Sparky! by Jenny Offill



Princess Sparkle-HeartThis is Why You Should Teach Your Kids to Sew (Also Best Twist Ending): Princess Sparkle-Heart Gets a Makeover by Josh Schneider




Princess Who Had No KingdomBest Original Fairytale (Also, I Want Her Dress): The Princess Who Had No Kingdom by Ursula Jones




Tap Tap Boom BoomThunderstorms Aren’t Always Scary: Tap Tap Boom Boom by Elizabeth Bluemle




Edgar's Second WordBest Sibling Story: Edgar’s Second Word by Audrey Vernick





Go To Sleep Little FarmChannelling Margaret Wise Brown: Go to Sleep, Little Farm by Mary Lyn Ray




Hula Hoopin QueenFavorite Read Aloud for School-Age Kids: The Hula Hoopin’ Queen by Thelma Lynn Godin



BlizzardBest Autobiographical Story: 
Blizzard by John Rocco

Kid SheriffYee-Haw, I Love Western Trickster Tales: Kid Sheriff and the Terrible Toads by Bob Shea



most magnificent thingBest Metaphor For the Writing Process (Or Any Creative Process, Really): The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires




Brilliant Way of Introducing Science to Little Kids: Water Can Be by Laura Purdie Salas



Once Upon an AlphabetThis Book Finally Gives Me A Reason to Use the Phrase “Tour de Force” Once Upon an Alphabet: Short Stories for All the Letters by Oliver Jeffers



Operation BunnyChannelling Diana Wynne-Jones: Operation Bunny (Wings & Co.) by Sally Gardner




MoldylocksSo Odd I Think It Might Have Been Written Under the Influence of Hallucinogens (And Yet I Still Love It): Moldylocks and the Three Beards by Noah Jones



Bunjitsu BunnyHOW CAN YOU RESIST THIS TITLE? Tales of Bunjitsu Bunny by John Himmelman



Princess in BlackMost Adorable Illustrations: The Princess in Black by Shannon and Dean Hale




Night GardenerBest Ghost Story (Seriously. Very Reminiscent of Something Wicked This Way Comes): The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier



BoundlessSteampunk. Steampunk on a TRIPLE DECKER TRAIN. That is Attacked by SASQUATCHES: The Boundless by Kenneth Oppel



West of the MoonFavorite Historical Fiction/Folklore Mashup: West of the Moon by Margi Preus



Great Greene HeistI’ve Waited for YEARS for Someone to Write the Middle-School Equivalent of Ocean’s Eleven and NOW HERE IT IS!! The Great Greene Heist by Varian Johnson



CuriosityBest Historical Fiction With Chess-Playing Robots: Curiosity by Gary L. Blackwood




The Children of the KingHistorical Fiction With Best Adult-Crossover Appeal: Children of the King by Sonya Hartnett




Between Two Worlds**Historical Fiction With the Most Jaw-Dropping Research: Between Two Worlds by Katherine Kirkpatrick




Breakfast Served Anytime**Most Young Adult Fiction was Terrible This Year. Here’s the One Novel I Actually Liked: Breakfast Served Anytime by Sarah Combs




El DeafoProbably the Actual Best Children’s Book of 2014: El Deafo by Cece Bell




This One Summer**Adolescence in All Its Crazy Glory: This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki




Treaties Trenches Mud and BloodI Finally Feel Like I Understand What Happened in WW I: Treaties, Trenches, Mud and Blood by Nathan Hale



SistersBest Sibling Story, Part II: Sisters by Raina Telgemeier




Family Romanov**Geez, Could Have Run Russia Better Than These People: The Family Romanov by Candace Fleming



Port Chicago 50The Only Book on This List That Should Be Required Reading: The Port Chicago 50 by Steve Sheinkin



At Home in Her TombMost Fascinating Archaeology You’ve Never Heard Of: At Home in Her Tomb: Lady Dai and the Ancient Chinese Treasures of Mawangdui by Christine Liu-Perkins



The Right WordSometimes Nonfiction Gets the Best Illustrators: The Right Word: Roget and His Thesaurus by Jennifer Bryant



Firefly JulySometimes the Illustrations are So Good They Outshine the Content: Firefly July: A Year of Very Short Poems edited by Paul B. Janeczko



Neighborhood SharkSometimes Nonfiction Illustration is Absolutely Terrifying: Neighborhood Sharks: Hunting With the Great Whites of California’s Farallon Islands by Katherine Roy



Griffin and the DinosaurSee? I TOLD You Dragons Were REAL! The Griffin and the Dinosaur: How Adrienne Mayor Discovered a Fascinating Link Between Myth and Science by Marc Aronson



Handle With CareAww! The Widdle Butterfwies are So Cuuute! Handle With Care: An Unusual Butterfly Journey by Loree Griffin Burns

Jeff’s Testimony

Processed with VSCOcam with b5 presetApparently Jeff’s Deacon’s Quorum adviser had challenged all the boys to bear their testimonies in church today. I had no idea. Jeff went up to sit on the stand first, and then suddenly there was a whole flock of boys waiting their turn.

But I was absolutely floored by Jeff’s very original testimony. Brian and I sat down tonight to try and transcribe it, and this is the best we could do. He mumbled a lot, and would frequently stop mid-sentence to say “never mind” or “anyway,” so it was difficult to remember exactly what he said. But this is it — he stood so confidently at the pulpit, doing his best to mimic the adults he’d seen speaking in church.

I should also preface this by saying that Jeff has been reading a lot about WWI and the Manhattan Project.

“I want to talk about the war in Heaven and how it relates to WWI.  In WWI it was like there was fighting for no reason.  And in heaven it was like God let there be a war with Satan, even though he had all the nukes.  God and Satan were fighting, and there were all these people, and we chose God’s way.

Now here is how it’s like World War I. Life today is like you are in the trenches, and it’s time to go over the top, and go through No Man’s Land.  And God wants us to go through No Man’s Land. There’s barbed wire and mud and bullets and gas.  You look and you’re trying to get to the enemy trenches ahead.  And you look to the left and there are guys falling down and getting shot.  And you look to the right and it’s just the same, except there is a tank.  And the tank is Jesus.”

Around this point Jeff realized that he had spoken long enough and closed his testimony in the traditional way.

In case you’re wondering, yes I did give Jeff about a million hugs afterwards. Love that guy.

The Rest of Venice

There are lots of odds and ends about Venice that didn’t fit in with the broader travelogue narrative I’ve created.

Like, how on earth do I fit in a mention of the ‘Most Beautiful Bookstore in the World”? Especially because . . . well, it isn’t. It’s certainly the most touristy bookstore I’ve ever been to.

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They only sold used moldy Italian-language books, but the shelves were almost all constructed out of old boats and gondolas.

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And in the back was a stairway back up to the street made of stacks of encyclopedias. FOLLOW THE BOOK STEPS CLIMB!

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And . . . I’m not even sure what a person would do with a basked of plaster mini-masks. They aren’t even concave, so you can’t use them to do a Finger Puppet Phantom of the Opera.

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I also couldn’t think of a seamless way to bring up this:

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This is a bowl of pasta with a sauce made from squid ink. It turned Brian’s teeth black.

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It was one of our favorite meals from the trip, eaten outdoors on a plaza. Lots of seafood, nummm.

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This is the plaza. There were lots of people selling roses on the plaza that day because it was St. Mark’s Day, which is a special thing in Venice since he is the patron saint of the city.

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It is customary to buy your sweetheart a rose on St. Mark’s Day. Apparently another custom of St. Mark’s Day is getting drunk and wearing a giant Venetian flag as a superhero cape, which I personally observed a number of times.

Also, we went on long walks through the city and kept wondering if they had water-ambulances for the canals. Turn a corner, and behold!

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There’s more . . . like the restaurant proudly declaring itself as the place to buy “Pizza Hot Dog Toast” (I assume they meant toasted sandwiches, like panini) or how we discovered a toy store with a whole slew of minifigs from the LEGO Movie and we snapped them up as presents for the boys. (They are hard to find in the U.S.A.)

Altogether a delightful if exhausting beginning to our trip. Little did we know that the next destination would be even more fun . . . onwards to Florence!

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