The North Cascades

We got a bit of a “bonus” holiday what with Independence Day falling on a Saturday this year.

Brian and I decided we would finally go out of our way to visit the last of the National Parks in Washington state: North Cascades NP.

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Katie’s hiking outfit

Of course, technically we did not go into the park. There are no roads that go into the park, only trails. And you have to hike a good ten miles before you reach the park boundaries.

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Moss-covered hillside
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Suspension bridge, part of the Ladder Creek trail

But we did look into the park.  I’ve never seen lakes as blue as these.

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I’m the only one who can smile for the camera.

One more without the people. It looks like a child’s drawing of an ideal landscape.

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The hills are aliiiiiiiiive . . .

We also took time to talk to the rangers at the visitor’s center so we could get our Junior Ranger patches. NCNP has four different patches, each one for a different age group. The way our children are spaced, each one got to earn a different patch! I really like the Junior Ranger activities; they usually get our kids to engage with the parks (for example, spending time in the forest alone, quietly listening and logging nature sounds), instead of passively wandering through.

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The visitor’s center had this big stuffed banana slug for kids to climb on.
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Being sworn in as Junior Rangers. The hats were strictly on loan.

The only real snafu to the day was when we picnicked next to Diablo Lake.

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The beach was muddy (it’s been such a dry year that the waterline had receded back, revealing layers of goo),  and Katie promptly fell down into it, soaking her pants and shoes. So much for taking a hike! In fact, the only reason we were able to go anywhere else that day is because Eleanor had left a second pair of shoes in the car, and we were able to cram them onto Katie’s feet. (Take a closer look at that Junior Ranger photo. You’ll notice how Katie has giant feet.)

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Eleanor and the waterfall at the top of Ladder Creek

The ride home demanded that we stop for ice cream . . . at the exact same place we had stopped for ice cream two days before, on kangaroo & berry-picking day. We must be a remarkable family, because the proprietors recognized us right away . . . and even remembered the flavors we chose before!

Berries & Roos

A friend of mine from church came up with the perfect itinerary for Wednesday, so I couldn’t help but follow along when she invited everybody she knew to join her.

First, a visit to the Outback Kangaroo Farm in Arlington. It’s a tiny little “farm” with a variety of exotic animals.

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William got to kiss a llama. (The keeper told everyone they could get a “kiss” if they held the llama food with their lips. He was the first kid to try it out.)

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Pucker up!

But what everyone liked best were the kangas.

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At the very end of the tour was a baby joey. Everyone got to have a turn holding him, but William’s photo was the only one that turned out nice. The joey is snuggled in a little fleece snuggly to imitate the feeling of being in mama kanga’s pouch.

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After the intense cuteness, we ate a picnic lunch, then drove down the road to Biringer Berry Farm. Raspberries were at their peak, and we picked 10 pounds in thirty minutes. Since then, we’ve made berry ice cream, smoothies, pie, and jam. Berry mania!

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So much toil! Good thing there was an ice cream place across the road. Of course, the real thing to note here is Jeff’s fake hipster glasses. He found a broken pair of sunglasses, popped the lenses out, and wore the frames for most of the afternoon. Heh.

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If I Had a Hammer

One of my goals for this summer is to visit all the unusual playgrounds in the Seattle area.

On Memorial Day, we went to the Beacon Hill playground, which has slides built into the side of a hill, and two long, fabulous zip lines:

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Plus, a great place for Katie to show off her outfit:

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I was also a fan of this loopy red statue:

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In early June I had the chance to take the kids to the new “Artists at Play” playground at Seattle Center. It’s certainly the tallest playground I’ve ever seen. A giant web of ropes lead to the tops of twenty foot slides.

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Katie needed some convincing before she could climb to the top.

Plus, there was this basket swing:

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See the giant slide in the background? Egads.

And a painted labyrinth on the ground. William insisted on doggedly walking the whole thing without skipping over any of the lines. When I asked him to move closer to me so I could take a photo, I had to wait for him to sloooooowly work his way around.

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William of Orange strikes again.

THEN we made another visit to the “castle” playground at St. Edwards’ State Park. I mean the castle itself is pretty great:

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But what the kids were really interested this time around was the giant weeping willow tree. Eleanor and William climbed on it for a good hour.

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This week, however, we decided to travel a little further afield. I’ve been meaning to get to the “adventure playground” on Mercer Island for years. It’s only open on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1-4.

If you don’t know what an adventure playground, let me explain it for you. It’s based on the idea that kids need “junkyard” play, a place to build forts and roam around and be a little wild.

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It’s hammer time.

Our adventure playground is a fenced-off section of forest with a giant pile of lumber at the entrance. Kids can check out boxes of real tools, then go build whatever they want in the forest.

I let my kids work on their own for a while. The only thing they managed to build was a good argument. So I stepped in.

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After a lot of hammering and dragging giant pieces of wood through the . . . woods, we managed to build this thing:

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Yeah, it doesn’t look like much, but it isn’t going to fall down. The kids like the fact that they can climb the “lookout ladder” at the back. I tried to convince them to use the big pile of sticks in the background to cover the front of the fort, but they weren’t interested.

William, however, was very interested in using the sticks to cover the “rat trap” he had dug.

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He later covered it with a big leaf as camouflage.

Katie was very fond of the safety glasses. “I look like a grandma with glasses on!”

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Although the drive home was brutal (we left at rush-hour, so it took forever), we totally want to go back again. One of the playground rules is that you aren’t allowed to tear any of the structures down. I’m curious to see if our fort is still there next time . . . or if someone has added on to it!

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.