Christmas Selfies

Last Saturday we had our ward’s Christmas Brunch. I love that it’s a morning activity and that it’s early in the holiday season — it’s a great way to get things rolling before life gets too hectic.

We made winter kits to hand out to homeless people, and William got a chance to visit with Santa:

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Eleanor, William and Katie participated in the Primary Nativity program. William was a cow, Katie a sheep, and Eleanor an angel. So sad to realize that Eleanor won’t be in this next year.

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Katie’s right in front, Eleanor is the angel in back to the right. I have no idea where William is.

I was asked to give a little “spiritual thought” after the nativity was finished. I kept it short and sweet — this is what I wrote:

My favorite Christmas Eve memory is from when I was eight years old, and I found a strange man sleeping on the couch in my family’s living room.

What’s even stranger is that when the man sat up, I began jumping around the room because I was so happy.

Because that’s when I realized that the stranger was really Brother Anderson, my family’s home teacher, and the reason he was sleeping on the couch is because my parents had gone to the hospital the night before for the birth of my new baby brother, Erich.

It was a novelty that we knew that he was going to be a boy — ultrasounds had just become part of standard prenatal care. I remember my dad coming home and taking us to the hospital that day to see Erich. I remember taking my Walkman and some cassettes — Sesame Street Disco — and my favorite Care Bear with me in the car because it was a 45 minute drive to the hospital.

My mom says she always regrets her decision to come home early from the hospital so she could be with us on Christmas Day. But we all were so happy to put a little yellow bassinet under the tree with our new baby inside. That evening I sat next to the tree and held Erich in my arms, gently rocking him while singing “Jolly Old St. Nicholas” over and over again until he fell asleep.

And I remember: this is the first time I knew, even at age eight, I knew I would remember that moment for the rest of my life. It was the first time my mind held up its mental camera and went, “click!” I could almost hear the shutter closing.

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This is the picture I took while giving my talk. Note how many people are taking pictures!

I have a friend who is a photographer, and she is always encouraging people to go ahead and take more pictures with their phones: friends, family, food, whatever. This is one of the oldest methods people have of showing their love and affection of something: we make an image of it. We take a selfie. We share them with friends, whether in a photo album, or with social media.

But even better than a physical or digital photo is the one we can take mentally — turn to our family, our friends, and think, “click!” This is something I’m going to consciously remember for a long time. This is my Christmas selfie.

Better than that, try to take a Christmas “selfie” of Christ’s gospel and mission this season. Is it in the love and service you give to others? That you receive from others? The warmth of the Spirit you feel while singing a Christmas carol? When you see Christ, do you see yourself — the best version of yourself?

Perhaps you are having a difficult time with Christmas this year, perhaps you’ve suffered some losses. Maybe your mental camera is clicked to the off button. Please remember that even if your mental camera can’t focus this year, Christ is still with you — has never forgotten you, has an eternal eye turned towards you as a resource for help and guidance. This is the kind of selfie that will never turn yellow or get lost in a digital dustbin — when we take upon ourselves the name of Christ and keep working to be more like Him.

Never forget that our Heavenly Parents are with us not just during the Christmas season but all year round. It will be the Christmas selfie that lasts.

I think it wasn’t so bad — I told Brian I was trying to “channel my inner Uchtdorf.”

The next day we took time to visit one of our favorite Christmas events — the Festival of the Nativity in Bellevue. This is put on by a group of stakes out by the temple, and the level of organization and attention to detail is astounding. We missed going to it last year (owing to a mix-up, I was coaxed into accompanying a violinist at a similar festival in Tacoma, which wasn’t nearly as nice, and the drive home was terrible) so it was especially great to be there again.

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Katie is holding the checklist for the children’s scavenger hunt. William was the best at it and helped everyone find the hardest items.
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Oh, Jeff.

Jeff was especially intrigued by the new Family Search center that was recently added to the stake center there. So many techy gadgets — but it was a little crowded, so I didn’t stay long.

My favorite creche this time was one from Nepal. The little beads! The details! So cute!

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Once again, we dressed up as the Holy Family, and once again the kids made me be Mary because those Three Kings outfits are so alluring.

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This year, I even managed to get the kids to sit still and listen to the live music for a few moments before we headed back home. How lovely and peaceful — I love that my brood is beginning to appreciate quiet, beautiful things.

Over the River, and Through the Woods, and Mountains, and Desert, and Another River . . .

After several years of having family come to us for Thanksgiving, we decided it was our turn to visit them for the holiday. Our kids have grown old enough that the long drive to Utah isn’t as arduous as it once was. For them, the drive means wearing pajamas, eating junk food, and playing video games all day. What’s not to love about that?

I had forgotten, however, that even-numbered calendar years are the ones where my siblings and I are expected to eat Thanksgiving at our in-laws’ houses. But because all of my siblings were going to be in town for the holiday, my parents decided to go all Hobbit-style and celebrate Second Thanksgiving the next day.

Brian was very happy to spend Thanksgiving proper with his family — we haven’t done that in a long time!

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I was thrilled because Caitlin was helming the food preparations, excepting the turkey which was delegated to Brian. This meant layers of succulent root vegetables layered with gruyere, perfectly sauteed green beans, and out-of-this-world desserts: beet pie, carrot pie, apple-juniper pie, chevre ice cream with pumpkin swirl, chocolate-gingerbread ice cream. (I think I’ve been inspired to create an ice cream based on elisenlebkuchen, aka German gingerbread. Must experiment with that.)

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We had lots of different Izze drink flavors on hand, and Michael designated himself the “soda sommelier”

Best of all: I hardly had to do anything!! The only spoon I had to lift was the one going from my plate to my mouth. This is great, considering that I am once again tackling the Julbord insanity for Christmas Eve. Thank you, in-law family!

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Michael and Natalie were visiting as well, and my kids were happy to see Cousin Anderson again. Natalie and I took Anderson for a toddler-paced walk around the neighborhood and had a nice long talk together. It was great to spend time with her.

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Brian, Jeff, Wim, and Michael tackled a game of Caverna, which Brian received as a birthday present and has 90+ wooden pieces. It looks insane, and took hours to play. More power to ’em. Eleanor and Caitlin enjoyed their traditional games of Nerts. The kids spent time decorating the granparents’ Christmas tree. It was splendiferous all around.

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Katie has memorized “O Christmas Tree” from her primer piano book, and played it several times through the day.

Then, on Friday: Fakesgiving! Woo-hoo!

It was scads of fun seeing all the cousins together. They spent hours in my parents’ basement, putting together elaborate play scenarios: an imaginary civilization at one point, later they were all pets. “I’m a wild guinea pig,” explained William, but a tearful Katie wasn’t so happy. “They say I’m an orphan puppy dog,” she cried. “I don’t want to go to the pound!”

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But other than slight mishaps like that, the kids got along very well with no real fighting. That’s pretty amazing.

We all got to heap lots of loves on baby Cousin Megan. She still has the Baby Smell, so I could not keep my nose off of her head. My parents recorded the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade so I could watch it the morning of Second Thanksgiving, and I just sat and watched the Broadway shows and ate cinnamon rolls and smelled baby head and it was glorious.

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The kids spent a long time working together to make the place cards. Katie saved all the ones with our family’s names and brought them home. She put them on the breakfast table Monday morning!

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(My mom said she made ~300 rolls for Second Thanksgiving. Yikes. I was put in charge of roasted vegetables, which was a great job for me.)

After eating, we all dressed up and headed to a nearby nature reserve to take some family photos. Luckily for us it was a warm sunny day and we didn’t have to bother with coaxing kids out of their coats!

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This is the one we’re using for our family Christmas card. The big group shot needs to be Photoshopped, so I didn’t bother posting it.

That evening we all played a big round of “Hands Up, Squidman,” which my kids are finally old enough to play without derailing the whole game.

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On Saturday we had another treat with Grandma Kathryn, Aunt Natalie and Cousin Anderson — Christmas Tea at the Grand America Hotel!

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We attended this tea several times when we lived in SLC, but my daughters have no strong memory of doing so (and in Katie’s case, no memory at all). I haven’t been able to find a replacement for this in Seattle, so it was a real treat to be able to do it again.

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My mom had given me a bunch of free makeup samples, and we picked out some neutral colors for Eleanor’s first-makeup kit. She’s wearing some of it in this picture; you can see it in her lips. 

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Eleanor and Katie were on their best fancy behavior, which was adorable. Anderson had fun smearing cream all over the table as toddlers are wont to do.

We all took pictures of the food. I had forgotten how much food they bring, and couldn’t finish it all. Bowls of whipped berries and cream, cups of sugared tea or hot chocolate, tiers of Italian-inspired sandwiches, traditional scones, and then — a second three-tier display of desserts and cookies. Yeesh.

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I liked the mini paninis the best. That macron is savory — pumpkin with a chevre filling.

The children’s plates have changed since my previous visits. I love the cut-out sandwiches! The girls let me try a taste of the brown one — it was chocolate bread with a berry-Nutella filling. Wow.

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Katie could hardly contain herself when Santa & Mrs. Claus came in to sing carols. Eleanor was chosen to walk around the room with Santa while everyone sang “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer,” and they had her wear antlers and a light-up nose. She smiled the whole time; I love that she is getting mature enough to be a good sport about being silly.

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Later the kids were able to visit Santa personally. This year Katie wants “the orange fairy” for Christmas — aka the Autumn Fairy, one of the seasonal-themed Waldorf dolls we’ve been collecting. I’m surprised that she hasn’t lost interest over the years, but that’s our tenacious Katie.

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After stuffing ourselves silly (and listening to a Christmas story read by Santa), we participated in the scavenger hunt created by the hotel. The display windows were “Christmas Around the World” themed and absolutely gorgeous.

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We also took time to see the giant gingerbread house on display. Anderson found it hilarious to duck under the velvet ropes and walk along the miniature pretend sidewalk running around the display. Aww, two-year-olds.

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And yes, we spent time shopping in Jou-Jou, the high-end boutique toy store which is also housed in the hotel. I found a little plastic watch for Eleanor that reminded me of the Swatch I loved dearly when I was thirteen. (It was reasonably priced, and she is in desperate need of a watch, so why not?)

That evening we watched Moana with my parents, and then whisked ourselves to sleep in preparation for the long drive home the next day.

All four of them cried when they woke up to go that morning, sad that they wouldn’t see their cousins again for who-knows-how long. I felt a little guilty . . . we’re planning a visit to California for midwinter break, but I want it to be a big surprise and so didn’t tell them.

A heavy snowfall hit Snoqualmie Pass that day, so we decided to drive home through Portland. This made the drive 15 hours instead of 12, but stopping for dinner at a burger joint did wonders to make it bearable. And like I said, the kids are old enough to withstand the longer travel times now. Hooray for video games, pajamas, and junk food!

 

 

The Winter of Our Discontent

So, here I am making history:

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This is me putting my ballot, along with Brian’s, into a Washington state ballot box. All the voting here is done by mail. We both voted for Hillary Clinton.

Annnnnd, yeah. That didn’t happen. I didn’t sleep for 72 hours after Election Day, and only grabbed brief sleep for the week afterwards. It didn’t help that Brian was out of town all that week; my kids sensed my distress (I hated that I put that on them) and took pains to be kind. Eleanor gave me the “special plate” when she set the table; Jeff ran his hands through my sweater pockets to make sure I didn’t take my phone up to my room at night. William butts my arms with his head while chanting no Facebook, no Facebook, no Facebook, Mom. 

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My kids made this “bacon grease Trump” to try and make me feel better

Last Sunday’s regular blogging time was swallowed up with the task of calling, texting, messaging and e-mailing all the strong women in my life (and making friends with a few new ones!). I wasn’t able to write about it then. I suppose I can do so now.

Richard the Third is now the President of the United States.

“We’ve survived worse!” my parents tell me. “We survived Andrew Jackson!”

What does it say that we have to go all the way back to the 19th century to find someone comparable to the 45th President?

“You’ll be fine! We had to live through the Carter administration!”

Really?

Today has been the first day I’ve been calm enough to even think about the election results without a ball of anxiety in my chest. Facebook is a minefield; all my conservative friends are outraged and on the warpath, all my liberal friends are horrified and on the warpath. (I fortunately do not have any Facebook friends who voted for Trump. But I’m sure there are some in my ward.)

Reading the news has become an exercise in depraved masochism.

From my friend, Jessica Day George:

I voted by mail a few days ago. And I can be proud of how I voted.
I can look my children in the eyes and tell them:
I did not vote for a man who calls women “nasty” and “pigs.”
I did not vote for a man who boasts about cheating on his three wives.
I did not vote for a man who has posed for pornographic magazines, who has tweeted links to pornographic films.
I did not vote for a man who boasts about grabbing women’s privates and kissing them against their will because he’s famous and can get away with it.
I did not vote for a man who has been accused by 22 women of sexual assault.
I did not vote for a man who has been accused of raping a 13-year-old girl, and was photographed partying with underage girls alongside his good friend, who is now in prison for child rape.
I did not vote for a man who calls his daughter a “hot piece of ass” and says that he would sleep with her if they weren’t related.
I did not vote for a man who cannot remember if he is for or against abortion.
I did not vote for a man who calls Mexican immigrants rapists and murderers.
I did not vote for a man who advocates the torture of American citizens.
I did not vote for a man who wants to restrict the freedom of the press and the freedom of speech.
I did not vote for a man who wants to restrict America’s freedom of religion.
I did not vote for a man who calls for the wives and children of suspected terrorists to be executed.
I did not vote for a man who praises the leadership of dangerous dictators like Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un.
I did not vote for a man who joked that gun owners should assassinate his opponent.
I did not vote for that man.

Me neither. I remember when Trump’s autobiography came out in the 1990s, and my mom turned off Entertainment Tonight because she didn’t want any of her children learning about that man, who epitomized everything sleazy, cheap, and greedy. That man now represents me, and all of my fellow citizens, on the world’s stage.

I’ve spent more time ugly-crying in front of my computer in the last week and half than in my entire life. I’ve spent time absolutely furious and spent entire mornings having imaginary arguments with hypothetical Trump voters. I’ve imagined getting in fistfights with them. I know that most of these voters are good folks who do not perceive themselves as racist. They just didn’t consider racism, xenophobia, and misogyny a deal-breaker, and I don’t know how to deal with that yet.

My kids put the “Cool/Crazy” sequence from West Side Story on the computer and suggested that I needed more tough-guy finger snapping to express my mood.

I care deeply about things, more deeply than I should, and I fear that the poor working-class Americans who put Trump in power are going to feel the crush of his policies harder than anyone else. Medicaid and Medicare are already on the chopping block.

You reap what you sow.

From my friend, Katherine Fisher:

Like many of you, I spent last night feeling increasing horror and nausea as the reality of a Trump presidency became more and more apparent. We had the opportunity to elect a super-smart, experienced, committed, knowledgeable woman to be the first female president of the United States. Instead, we chose a man who is cruel, racist, sexist, and ignorant of policy and governance. We chose a man who was endorsed or supported by Vladimir Putin, Kim Jong-un, and the KKK.

If Hillary Clinton had lost to, say, Jeb Bush or Marco Rubio (or Mitt Romney or John McCain, to look back at previous elections), I would still be disappointed and perhaps worried. But this outcome is orders of magnitude more disturbing for its symbolic effect. It reveals the depths of fear, racism, and misogyny that pervade our society and that are once again acceptable to speak aloud, and it demonstrates an astonishing willingness to choose show over substance and devalue knowledge, preparation, and critical thinking. Trump’s administration will not be “constrained by facts,” as NPR’s Scott Horsley put it this morning, and this has serious repercussions for our democratic process, the trustworthiness of government, and our relationship to the rest of the world.

There’s already been plenty of blame assigned, to Clinton herself, the DNC, third-party voters, the media, the Supreme Court for weakening the Voting Rights Act, and the GOP for allowing Trump to get the nomination, but ultimately the culpability lies with the people who cast their votes for Trump. Shame on you, Mormons, 61% of whom voted for Trump, for being too cowardly to make a moral stand when it mattered. Shame on you, white women, 53% of whom voted for Trump, for telling other women that your perceived self-interest matters more than their rights and bodily safety. Shame on us, America, for telling our children that bullies win power, our sons that they can treat women with contempt, and our daughters that if a man is rich and famous and white enough, he can commit (and brag about) sexual assault and still become president. Shame on us for rewarding ignorance and cruelty and voting selfishly instead of with all Americans in mind. Shame on us.

I know there are checks and balances in place that will limit what Trump can do, although he still has a great deal of executive power and with Republican majorities in both Houses of Congress, those checks can only do so much to promote rigorous, bipartisan debate. I can only hope that Ryan and McConnell will not let Trump and his campaign rhetoric dictate their legislative priorities and will make decisions that are well-reasoned (even if I disagree with their reasoning) and grounded in facts. We have our work cut out for us on the local and state levels to advocate for the issues that are likely to be neglected or undermined on the federal level: police reform, voting rights, expanded access to healthcare, education funding, sustainability and climate-change initiatives, reproductive rights, refugee support, and many more.

Today, I’m indulging my anger and sadness. Tomorrow, I start figuring out how to work like hell alongside black, brown, immigrant, indigenous, queer, disabled, and Muslim Americans to keep this country safe and welcoming for all of us.

The question is: how exactly to do this “work like hell”? I can’t drop all of my obligations, cancel my ambitions to do . . . what? Protest in the street? There’s been a protest or demonstration in Seattle every single day since Election Day. I’ve donated money to causes I feel will suffer under the regime of the 45th President. I called my senators to express my fear of Stephen Bannon, one of the vilest fedora-wearing neckbeards on the Internet, being in the White House. I live in a blue county in a blue state; my congressional representatives are already on the same page with me. I’m in the process of putting together “welcome kits” for refugees arriving in Seattle. Beyond that . . . what?

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This past Friday I was in charge of Katie’s Daisy Girl Scout meeting, and we made “courage crowns” while learning about the “Courageous and Strong” part of the Girl Scout Law. I taught this group of precious five-year-olds about how they can be brave and help others, how they can be strong and try new things that seem scary at first. It was great, but my heart wasn’t in it. That tiny, twisted voice emerged from within myself: what’s the point of all this? What’s the point in teaching girls they can make the world a better place? 

My logical mind knows that this is simply not true, but the twisted voice followed me to the bookstore that Brian and I visited that evening for a date. I couldn’t summon the energy to look at a single title in the children’s section: What’s the point of teaching children about science? Other cultures? History? They will always be outnumbered by the ignorant and cruel.

From my friend, DaNae Leu:

We are the country that blazed into existence on the idea that

ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL

As the men who penned, and fought, and bled, and ultimately governed on that undeniable truth –

Held ownership papers on living, breathing men, women, and children.

We are the country that ultimately battled each other, until all its citizens lived in freedom.

We are the country that passed the 15th and 19th amendment, bestowing voting rights for the entirety of our citizens.

But needed the Voting Right Act of 1965 to ensure those rights.

We are the country that gave birth to the automobile and the personal computer.

We also gave birth to Jim Crow and eugenics.

We are the country that crossed the sea to liberate Buchenwald, Dachau, and Mauthausen, et al.

We are the country that interred its First People to Reservations and opened Heart Mountain, Manzanar, Minidoka, Topaz, et al.

We are the country that gave voice to Abraham Lincoln, John F. Kennedy, and Martin Luther King Jr.

We also endorsed the voices of Andrew Jackson, Joe McCarthy, and George Wallace.

This week when we said yes to the voice that once again gave voice to the voices of hate, and fear, and divisiveness, once again we turned our back on the truth that

ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL.

I know many see riots – not protest, many see temper tantrums and sore losers.

See it for what It is – grieving, full out, ugly crying, hair-yanking, breath-supping grieving. For a very real loss –

a loss of our identity.

If we have just said yes to white nationalism, xenophobia, misogyny, how can we be the country that believes

ALL MEN ARE CREATED EQUAL?

The transfer of leadership is sacred in this country, something one of the candidates did not concede before his election. It absolutely must happen for us to once again surge forward from this huge step back.

It must happen for us to remain the country

we hope we

in reality are.

 

I fear losing that essential American optimism, something that pervades our culture so completely we don’t even see it. Visitors from other countries have often pointed it out to me and asked how we do it, how we manage to look to the future with forward motion, picturing good things ahead. I couldn’t think of an answer (“what’s water?” asked the fish) but Brian pointed out that our country has never been under the thumb of a dictator or demagogue. We said that with a smile, almost cheeky that we are part of this, one of the bright miracles of human civilization, the American Experiment.

I don’t know how I’d answer today.

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At the Seattle LDS Temple, Nov. 11, 2016

Two days after Election Day, I tumbled out of my sleep-deprived bed and felt a nudge to attend the temple. I went, and struggled to stay awake during the session, still feeling edgy and anxious inside. Sometime during the ritual, all of the scriptures that begin with the phrase “Fear not” came pouring into my head.

Fear thou not; for I am with thee: be not dismayed; for I am thy God: I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.

Fear not, for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.

Fear not, for unto you a child is born . . .

I need to remember that putting off fear is a commandment, not a request. This is a challenge for me. The election was as ugly and traumatizing an event as 9/11, except the threat didn’t come from foreign extremists, but our friends, neighbors, and countrymen.

What I wrote on Facebook on Election Day:

I have a few Facebook friends that are unfriending anyone they know who voted for Trump. I don’t blame them. But I’d rather say the following to any Trump supporters reading this:

Everything I’ve read about Trump voters says they are heavily motivated by fear, fear of change, fear of any kind of opposition. Fear of anyone who speaks to a different way of thinking from themselves.

So I want to say: Put aside that fear. You are safe with me.

It’s the same thing I say to my LGBTQIA friends, and my Muslim neighbors, and the refugees who have come to Seattle: You are safe with me. And I refuse to withhold that from any of my fellow citizens, red or blue. Feeling afraid? Come sit by me, and I’ll protect you.

A late-night Facebook post seems like an empty gesture, but if this makes the slightest amount of difference towards bringing the two halves of our country back together, so be it.

I am nothing to fear. Out of many voices, peoples, states, we still need to be One, and so I say to you again: you are safe with me.

E Pluribus Unum. God bless America.

So goes the command: Fear not.

Time to work like hell.

 

My Halloween Involved Orcas On Ice

I didn’t bother with homemade Halloween costumes this year. (Gasp!) There are too many other projects towards which I wanted to invest my time.

Instead, we scoured the clearance sections of online costume retailers, and this is what we ended up with:

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Katie is Pikachu, William is an orca, Eleanor is a “Spanish swordfighter” (we were trying to find a costume that matched up with the Venetian mask she bought at the Shakespeare festival this summer) and Jeff abstained from trick-or-treating for the first time this year. He figured he’s grown out of it, what with the growth spurt and lowered voice and all.

Halloween weekend kicked off with our ward Trunk-or-Treat, which is always combined with a carnival. For the first time Brian and I decided to sponsor a carnival booth, and planned to put on a shadow puppet show.

This was very exciting because it’s been probably six or seven years since we’ve put one on. It was an annual tradition to perform one for Christmas parties when we lived in Pittsburgh (and I would develop other shows for library programs) but then our family grew, and holidays became more chaotic, and it fell by the wayside. Doing one for Halloween seemed perfect!

We fished out our folder of past-years’ puppets and backdrops, and Brian scratched his head for a good long time but finally remembered how to put together our PVC-frame stage. I storyboarded a new show and cut out a new backdrop for a haunted house story.

Then we set up our overhead projector and flipped it on — only to have the bulb burn out.

Yep.

Turns out that it requires a specialty bulb that you can’t pick up at hardware stores. Oh, and right at the moment our bulb burned out, we found out that our credit card number had been stolen (so the cards were invalid) and our downstairs toilet flooded all over the kitchen. Fun day.

At this point, the carnival was only a few hours away, so Brian and I came up with the easiest booth we could think of:

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Professor Guesser!

Prof. Guesser tries to guess your age and weight. If he guesses correctly, you get one piece of candy, and the Prof keeps the other. If he guesses wrong, you get TWO pieces of candy.

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We had an old-fashioned scale with a spinwheel for kids to stand on to see if the guess was correct. Add some spooky magical music, and voila: carnival fun-times. Parents liked how offbeat it was; a few adults even gave the scale a try! Brian wasn’t so great at guessing adult weight, but he was very accurate with the kids. (Those pediatric medicine rotations paid off!)

By random coincidence, Halloween was on a teacher workday, so my kids had no school. We initially planned to visit a pumpkin patch, but torrential rainfall put the kibosh on that idea. Instead, we went skating.

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The orca blubber — er, costume — provided plenty of insulation

I thought there would be more skaters on the rink, but we pretty much had the place to ourselves. All of my kids can skate well on their own, which is great because I don’t know how to skate at all and can’t help them out. Eleanor and William spent time showing off their “crossovers,” which they learned how to do in their Basic 4 class.

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I stayed rinkside with a thermos of cocoa

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Later, we stopped by at Francis’ house for a Shirts-family-only mini recital. The kids were supposed to go to an official recital the night before, but I mixed up the performance time. Frances was nice enough to invite us over to play. (That’s where the picture of all four kids in front of the piano came from.)

That evening, Eleanor went off to a party/trick-or-treat session with friends from school (her second party of the weekend! Nice) and Brian took the little kids around the neighborhood.

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Most people thought Katie was a bunny, and William was a penguin.
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Off to see the wizard!

Our pumpkins were carved with Studio Ghibli themes this year. Totoro, Catbus, and Jiji the cat. (Jeff saw a picture of a huge pumpkin with a tiny face on the Internet, and wanted to copy that.)

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Eleanor carved the Totoro herself. The pumpkin nearly collapsed, and she dissolved into tears. Thank heavens Brian thought of propping up the carving with toothpicks
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It was William’s idea to make Catbus, which lead to the Ghibli theme

I had invited a lot of Jeff’s friends over to hang out and play games, but only one of them was able to come, so instead of games we watched Monty Python and the Holy Grail, which was awesome. It was the first time watching it for both boys, and I loved hearing them quote the movie to each other afterwards.

Perhaps next year Jeff and I can tackle Young Frankenstien.

Iphegenia Herself in Brooklyn Found

For the majority of the time, Katie is a happy bouncing five year old with a voice that’s jump-rope bright. But  lately she’s developed a habit of getting upset over random things that I can neither fathom or predict.

The other evening, we had this conversation at bedtime:

She asked, “How long does hair grow? Could it grow down to my feet?”

“Yes,” I replied, “although it would be difficult to take care of hair that long.”

“So hair never stops growing?”

“That’s right,” I answered, “it grows very slowly, but it doesn’t ever stop.”

With that answer, Katie burst into tears.

“IT NEVER STOPS?? WHY DID GOD MAKE US THIS WAY?” She wailed, “I don’t WANT hair growing down to my feet! Noooooo!

She then curled into a sobbing ball in my lap and wouldn’t be consoled, even when we explained the concept of haircuts. I suppose the idea of something on her body growing without her permission was a little too much for her five-year-old brain to handle.

Lest you think this is strictly a bedtime phenomenon, Katie was also incredibly upset one morning at breakfast when she heard that we would be getting a new range for our kitchen. (Our current range has been in slow decline, first ruining a bunch of baked goods with a faulty igniter, which we replaced, but now fails to ignite at all, blowing gas all over our kitchen. (Yeah, it was a little scary.)

“What will they do with the old oven? Give it to another family?”

“Um, no, Katie. This one might start a fire, which is why we can’t keep it.”

“SO IT WILL GO TO THE JUNKYARD? NOOOOOOO!

Ah, poor girl.

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This photo has nothing to do with the surrounding paragraphs. My friend Libby had a hard week and asked her friends to post “cute animal pictures” on Facebook. I was away from my laptop at the time and so had to create a cute photo while sitting in the Target parking lot. This is what I came up with.

Eleanor, on the other hand, has had a great week. Since she decided to stop drawing during math class, and she got a perfect score on her most recent test.

She also wrote a short story for English that was so well done that her teacher has decided to put her in a special group for advanced writers (there are only two other kids in the class who will be part of it) and they will work on entries for writing contests together.

Eleanor has always believed that she has no aptitude for writing (despite my insistence that the opposite is true). It’s wonderful for her to get proof of her ability from another source besides me.

William is continuing to embark on “PokeWalks” with Brian as their main bonding activity — that is, they walk around the neighborhood and play PokemonGo together. For the Halloween season, the game has started spawning a lot of ghost-type Pokemon for players to catch, which is really fun.

Both Will & Elle passed off their Basic 4 skating class this week, hooray! We’ll be taking a break from skating for the next session because they have decided to be in the school musical. Whew, so many things to do!

I’ve made it a goal lately to try to take our kids to more arts performances, so this week Brian and I took Jeff to a production of Iphegenia and Other Daughters, performed by UW graduate students.

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This is Jeff with the card advertising the show

This play is a mash-up of three classical Greek plays: Iphegenia at Tauris, Electra, and Iphegenia at Aulis. I love seeing Greek theatre, and it’s rarely performed, so I jumped on the opportunity to see this. It wasn’t until I was in the car and reading a full review of the play that I realized that it was very much a modern feminist reinterpretation of the stories, and would require a lot of familiarity with the original Greek stories to understand what was going on.

I’m lucky that Jeff is already familiar with the Iliad so that I could explain the finer points of the Agamemnon/Fall of the House of Atreus story. (So much revenge!!!) Also, I found it challenging to explain the concept of the Chorus.

Also, Brian and I kept singing Iphegenia in Brooklyn by P.D.Q. Bach. Which didn’t help matters, but gosh darn it I LOVE Iphegenia in Brooklyn.

Okay, so the production itself . . . was fine, in my opinion. The adaptation of the three plays is hauntingly beautiful, I loved the language and emotion, the basic human questions about loyalty, family, justice, fate, etc. that are always a big part of Greek tragedy. And the costumes were pretty!

But the production itself was kind of slow. The performances weren’t that strong (and this is a production that requires very strong performances to be effective). I looked at my watch twice. At one point I glanced at Brian, and saw that he was nodding off. Not wanting to “catch” the sleepies, I glanced the other direction, only to find that the gentleman seated there was also nodding off. I was concerned that Jeff might be bored out of his mind.

But, in fact, Jeff was enthralled. “This was the best show ever,” he said quietly when the house lights came up. “There was so much meaning, and it was such a complicated story.” For Jeff, this was very much his first foray into theatre that didn’t involve Shakespeare or musical numbers — it was Mature Grown Up Thee-a-tah. It brought back a lot of memories of my own first experiences with art didn’t have that sanitized, family-friendly coating, and how special and smart it made me feel.

I look forward to taking him on more art adventures!

Conference Season

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.

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These are the kids’ pumpkins. Katie took about 20 pictures of them with my phone. Yay.

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, could attend a professional conference as well!

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If I had known in advance that I would blog about this, I probably would have taken pictures of something besides Power Point slides like this one

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

AND 

Next year it won’t be called anything at all since WLMA is being incorporated into the larger Washington Library Association meeting.

Whew!

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.

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Mr. Schu is a huge fan of Kate DiCamillo, which essentially means that he and I have fundamentally different tastes in children’s books. Great presentation, though.

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!

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Aww, who is proud of her big brother?

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.

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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!

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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.

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Kid Updates

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Yes, I realize I’ve posted this photo before. But it’s a great Katie photo.

Katie Update

  • 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.

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William Update

  • 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.)
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Eleanor with Katie’s Daisy troop. There are 5 more girls who couldn’t make it that day

Eleanor Update

  • 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.

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Jeffrey Update

  • 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.)
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Last weekend we had a mother-son date and went to the local arcade to play the original Super Mario Bros.
  • 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.

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Birthdays & Stairways

My boy is 14!

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Mini cake courtesy of Trader Joe’s

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.

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We played Jenga and Sushi Go! Quite the sushi-themed birthay.

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.

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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:

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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:

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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.

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SUPER BEE

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.

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Drawing time with the troop

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!

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Our playroom always looks like this. Sigh.

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.

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Jenny and Zav

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.

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The guidebook said that this stairway was constructed using old streetcar pavings. I’d say that this may be one of the nerdiest factoids I’ve ever read, except the book also included a detailed passage on how Seattle has been creating special street signs for stairways, and some are green and some are brown to indicate which city agency is caring for them and OH GEEZ STOP.
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Beautiful views all over Queen Anne

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!

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I totally felt like I was tresspassing.

We also passed a playground with this fun slide built into the hillside. I tried it out, but. . .

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I look so excited. Little Did I Know.
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There’s a reason I DON’T look blurry in this photo.

. . . 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!

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Urban hikers extraordinaire!

Keeping Promises to Myself

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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.

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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.)

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The hike started on the section of Burke-Gilman Trail that runs along the Fremont Ship Canal
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I love this mural.

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.

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These dinosaur topiaries are a well known neighborhood landmark
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These boats are a whirligig, spinning in the wind. Cute.
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I saw a few Little Free Libraries on my walk. This one is dedicated to Prince.

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.

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.

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Down we go!
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Annnnnnnd up we go. This monster was the longest stairway on the hike. I had to stop halfway for a little breather. (And I had to climb a hill to get to its base, too!)
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I was charmed to reach the top of the “monster” to discover these rocking chairs. The words “Enjoy the sunset” are painted across their tops.
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The view from the rocking chairs. I was really really kicking myself for not bringing a water bottle at this point

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.

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This and the following images are from Fremont Peak Park, a tiny city park designed around an art installation called “Phases of the Moon.”
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More of the art installation
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The view from the park was amazing that day — you can see my hiking guide in my hands here.

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!

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This statue of Lenin used to be on display in Czechoslovakia during the Cold War. And then it ended up in Fremont.
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The plaza around Lenin is peppered with odd found objects. Very fun.

Beginnings New

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.

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The papers and some of the goodies for the school cones.
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So excited! I couldn’t get them to stay still for the photo, they were ALL blurry
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Ripping into the goodness

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:

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Katie looks like she’s saying “PRAISE BE” but she’s really shouting “Hooray for Kindergarten!”

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:

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“When will my breakfast bagel get here?”

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 . . .

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Ms. S. attended this same school when she was a child. Her mother also taught at this school! When Ms. S. did her student teaching, she and her mother taught in classrooms next door to each other.

The weekend after the first week of school we were still able to squeeze in our annual Backyard Circus. Hooray!

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The whole gang

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.

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William put on a different hat for each of the pies he smashed in her face. He mugged for the audience pretty well. Eleanor’s job was to look stoic. I’d say she accomplished that task.

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.

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The lion mask is falling of K’s face in this picture. They were all over the place, so it’s unfortunately the best shot I got

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!