March Musical Madness

I have a friend who is a choir teacher in the school district just north of where I live, and she agrees with me that, for some reason, March is the busiest time ever for families with kids who do music.

It’s been this way the last few years, but the crunch seemed extra hard this time around.

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Pianooooooo recital. I dislike going to these — not because I don’t enjoy hearing my kids perform, but because I loathe having to make small talk with the other parents afterwards. “Hello stranger! You and I will never see each other again, but why not spend time asking awkward questions about why our kids are taking music lessons?”

Here’s the rundown:

  • Piano adjudications, which meant extra mini-lessons to check on the kids’ pieces and be sure they were memorized and ready to perform
  • Seattle Children’s Chorus spring performance immediately after adjudications, with crazy-early call times for Jeff
  • Eleanor was asked to perform as part of a children’s choir with the Sno-King Community Chorale’s performance of Cantata Memoria–For the Children, which meant lots of evening rehearsals up at Edmonds Community College
  • The kids’ piano teacher hosted a recital to include all the kids who didn’t do adjudications (like Katie)
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The idea here is to have long-term goals that push me out of my comfort zone. Well, mission accomplished. Ugh.
  • Eleanor was also picked to be in the 6th grade Honor Band, with extra rehearsals for that, then a Wednesday night performance and an all-day Thursday tour of schools on the west side of town
  • Meanwhile, I was also preparing Bach’s Sinfonia No. 15 for piano juries (it had to be memorized! And I forgot how Bach shows off all your flaws! Well . . . the performance was an acceptable level of okayness)
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Oh yeah, and this has nothing to do with music, but Brian and I went to 8th Grader Parent Night at the high school to talk about HOW OUR CHILD IS GOING TO HIGH SCHOOL 
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Eleanor was very excited to play the timpani for one of the honor band songs. On the other hand, she got stuck playing cowbell for “Eye of the Tiger” and was hilariously bored and disengaged during the performance

The performance of Cantata Memoria was last night. It’s the most beautiful piece of music about the saddest thing ever. We’ve been listening to her practice CD in the car, so I’ve basically been driving around town for the last three weeks with tears coursing down my cheeks.

This piece was commissioned and premiered last year for the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the Aberfan disaster — an event that is still strong in the cultural memory of the UK, but relatively unknown here — when a hillside of slurry from a coal mine collapsed and buried the local elementary school, killing 116 children and 26 adults. The coal mine operators had been warned about the collapse beforehand, but since environmental law and industry regulation didn’t exist in 1966 the way it does now, the mine ignored the warnings, and tragedy struck. (The parents insisted that their children’s death certificates listed the cause of death as “Buried alive by National Coal Board.”)

Anyone clapping their hands in glee over the would-be demise of the EPA needs to take a long, hard look at what life was like before.

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The mayors of Darrington and Arlington were at the performance and said a few words at the start. Both of those towns were heavily affected by the Oso landslide, the anniversary of which is four days from today.

“Cantata Memoria” is performed in English, Welsh, and Latin, and incorporates a musical reenactment of the landslide, a chorus of children’s voices, and repeated images of birds and light in memory of all children everywhere whose lives are taken through the greed and cruelty of adults.

Brian and I were especially impressed with how composer Karl Jenkins chose to musically depict the landslide — the chorus sings the Welsh pitran patran in increasing intensity to show the storms that created the hillside collapse, counterpointed with the children’s voices singing “All Things Bright and Beautiful,” with its lyrics about running rivers and waters rushing by. When the “landslide” struck, the children’s choir turned its back to the audience, and the baritone soloist sang “Nothing . . . nothing . . .” while the children sang a Welsh bedtime lullaby. It was all very affecting. There was a video presentation that accompanied the performance, and it included archival news footage of the children’s funerals. Let’s just say that we’re lucky Brian didn’t have to escort a bawling Brooke out of the performance hall.

But just like that — I had another great reminder of why I put up with all the insane carpools, early morning lessons, dinners eaten in cars, and harp harp harping on practicing.

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“But if to be alive is to belong

Then we must

Keep

Still

This song.

Sing it until the end of the night,

Sing it, sing it, for our children loved light,

my child loved light.”

Surprise, We’re Going to Disneyland!

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Mwa ha ha. Brian and I are so sneaky. Back in fall, we made arrangements to take our kids to California over Midwinter Break to visit our cousins in Los Angeles and also to take a spin through Disneyland. But we decided not to tell our kids about it up until the moment we got in the car to leave — to surprise them. I threw a so many red herrings at them (“you want to go to the cat cafe? Sure, maybe during midwinter break”) that I was slightly worried that they’d be upset at the news.

Seriously, they came home from school, asked why their bags were in the back of the car, and then this happened:

(Jeff was majorly concerned when he saw those packed bags — he thought I was divorcing Brian and taking all the kids away! My poor lil’ anxious guy.)

Katie looks happy in this video, but to tell the truth, the news was all a little overwhelming for her, and five minutes after I turned off the camera she was bawling. “I won’t get to hug all my stuffiieeeeees,” she wailed. “And I’ll miss the sunset in Seattle every day!” 

Fortunately, she cheered up by the time we got to the airport (although . . . she pretty much cried all the way there) and was perky and happy all the way through security, even when I got picked by the TSA to have a pat-down (blergh).

I’m not going to bother posting about every single moment of our trip — that’s better suited for a photobook — and besides, I took well over a thousand pictures over the week. Here’s the highlight reel:

Visiting Grauman’s Chinese Theater with the cousins! Sarah and the boys were very excited to match palms with the cast of Harry Potter.

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Eleanor, on the other hand, was over the moon at finding the cast members from West Side Story.

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Meanwhile, I was baffled to explain who some of the other celebrities were. “Whoopi Goldberg? Um . . . she’s the voice of one of the hyenas in The Lion King?

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Cousin-pile-up! You can see the “Hollywood” sign on the mountains in the background.

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OH OH OH — Brian and I were ENORMOUSLY excited to find one of the four U.S. Grom locations. This was our favorite gelato place during our trip to Italy. The sun came out just for our gelato jaunt. Perfect.

We had a bit of a jolly time visiting the merry-go-round in Griffith Park (it is so old-school that the horses’ tails are made from horses’ tails and it goes super-fast. Feels like a real gallop, I loved it!)

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Walt Disney used to bring his kids to this carousel, and it was one of the chief inspirations for building Disneyland. His name is on the bench I’m sitting on.

Also, we spent time playing in the abandoned Old Zoo that is in the park. No fewer than two amateur fashion/album art photo shoots going on there during our visit. Oh, L.A.

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Pictures do not do justice to how cool a place this is for playing in.

Yes, we made another trip to Diddy Riese ice cream . . .

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. . . and of COURSE I made sure to hit up Lemonade. Ugh, I’m already craving the coconut-apple-kefir-lime drink! (Kathryn, if you are reading this, Lemonade is SO your kind of restaurant. Gourmet veggie salads galore, it’s glorious.)

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We took a quick trip to Cabrillo Point in San Diego . . .

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. . . collapsed in front of the temple . . .

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Jeff insisted I take his photo from inside the temple parking lot information booth. What a silly guy.

. . . and toured the Mormon Battalion exhibit with the fam. (Did I not mention that Grandma Suzie & Grandpa Jeff came along with us? It rocked, but somehow I have hardly any pictures with them.)

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Also, LEGOLAND WITH COUSINS! How great is that?

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My favorite part was the Mindstorms workshop. The kids had to program a tiny robot Indiana Jones to retrieve treasure from a tomb.

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William thought this horse ride was boring, but Katie kept shouting, “OUT OF THE WAY, PEASANTS!”
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Jeff was too old for most of the Legoland rides. I made it up to him with multiple servings of apple fries.

And then we said goodbye to the cousins and headed off to Disney the next day.

Good grief, I had forgotten how much I love Disneyland. Our kids are seven years older than on our previous trip, and we could really hustle our way across the park.

One thing I did this time was save up all of the $5 Target gift cards that the store gives away for buying multiples of toilet paper and tissues — and then used them to buy Disney gift cards, which can be used in the theme parks. Over the last six months I hoarded enough gift cards to be able to give each of my children a $50 Disney card, which they could spend any way they wanted. This was my strategy to curb any begging on the part of my kids.

“Why can’t I get a soda with lunch?”

“Well, you can use your own gift card for that.”

[crickets chirping]

I was surprised that each of my kids decided to buy a pair of Mickey ears with their cards — the girls chose Minnie ones with big red or purple bows, and the boys found Star Wars themed ears (Jeff’s looks like BB8, Wim’s like R2D2). Then they each had enough left over to buy a toy. The boys chose to get a custom “build your own lightsaber,” Katie after much deliberation chose a stuffed Ewok (she has named it “Chirpa”) and Eleanor picked out one of the glow-in-the-dark Mickey bubble wands that so many kids were carrying around. She blew bubbles all over us while we waited in line for rides, it was great.

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Knocking on the White Rabbit’s door (this was the girls’ favorite dark ride)
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Taking the Jungle Cruise (Katie looks sad because she was still recovering from being scared to death by the Indiana Jones ride)
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In the boat for “It’s a Small World”

We rode Big Thunder Mountain Railroad six times. Star Tours seven times. We terrified Katie to tears on the Indiana Jones ride exactly one time and that was enough.

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The Lego store in Downtown Disney had the coolest Lego statues I’ve ever seen — and that includes all the ones in Legoland. Check out that Maleficent dragon!
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The Disneyland train was out of service, but the engineer was on hand to visit. Jeff sat down and asked him about fifty questions about the train and the history of Disneyland. The engineer was thrilled to answer them all.
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Jeff got to ride the Buzz Lightyear ride by himself and use BOTH BLASTERS at the SAME TIME
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Here we are with our glasses on for Toy Story Midway Mania! We made sure to hustle straight to this ride the moment DCA opened in the morning. (Brian was busy getting us Fast Passes for Radiator Springs Racers, but joined us in the nick of time)

So much fun. There was a lot I hadn’t been able to do during our previous Disney trip seven years ago, like taking time to visit with characters. Eleanor collected autographs from twenty different characters. She liked that it was a nice round number. (Katie collected a few extra while the big kids rode the California Screamin’ roller coaster, but it wasn’t a contest.)

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William was enthusiastic about collecting autographs until he realized it meant CHATTING UP PRINCESSES. Also: the actors who play Jasmine & Aladdin were the worst. They looked so bored to be there. Everyone else we met were adorably in character, but not these guys.
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Ariel suggested we should all be happy about having two feet.
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This lady’s Snow White voice was PERFECT. (But I think the prize for Best Princess Impersonation goes to the girl playing Belle. She was incredible.)
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Eleanor especially wanted to meet Goofy. I told her not to get her hopes up — but look who we found! This is one of my favorite photos from the whole trip.
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OH, DONALD.
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“Owing to Galactic regulations, Stormtroopers do not give autographs.” (Look how William pulled down the hood of his stormtrooper hoodie.)
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“You can find Boba Fett in the Cantina.” Of course.
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Anna & Elsa were in this cute little room decorated to look like Arendelle castle. The details were amazing.
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The Disney characters all wear 1920s clothes in the California Adventure park, which is super cute. Ohhh, look at Katie’s face as she snuggles Mickey.
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Here we are with Chip! We had already met Dale the day before.
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Arrrr! Cap’n Hook!
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Peter Pan asked us to shake his foot instead of his hand. I’m kicking myself for not asking him where his shadow went. (The actors always do cute improv when you play along that way.)
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The Queen chastised us for our lack of manners when addressing nobility. “Now face the camera, cross your arms, and don’t smile.” Katie didn’t follow that particular order.
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These were the characters Eleanor wanted to meet the absolute most, since she played the Hatter in the school play last year. It took some hunting to find them, but it was worth it!
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Tiana insisted on signing autographs in her favorite color ink: green. We asked how her restaurant is doing. “Oh, busy busy busy as always!” she replied.
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Disney villains are the BEST. The kids had no idea Dr. Facilier was making this spooky hand gesture over their heads.
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Cruella deVille criticized our fashion sense. She handed me the autograph books saying, “here darling, at least make yourself useful, would you?”

 

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Because we were in DCA, Daisy had a cute 20s cloche hat. Goofy was also spotted in a zoot suit, and Minnie had a fringey flapper dress. Adorable.

Or trying all the many, many Disney treats. (Word up: the pecan brittle is AMAZING. And my kids are all addicted to Dole Whip now.)

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I pretty much died when I saw this candy counter at Pooh Corner. The Olaf marshmallow pops! The Minnie Mouse candied apples!!
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Tigger tails! I’ve sometimes copied this idea for my children’s birthday parties.
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Hunny pot krispie treats!
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Caterpillar marshmallow pop!
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Dole whip! For some reason, it tasted 5x better than the whip Brian and I bought at the Dole plantation on Oahu. Even though it’s supposed to be the same thing.
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Macaroon cookies shaped like the Matterhorn! (Also, the Jolly Holiday bakery fully indulges my childhood fantasy of eating at the cafe where Mary and Bert dance with penguins)
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English toffee (eh, the kind I make at Christmas is tastier) and cake pops made to look like the spinning turtle from the Electrical Parade (which we saw later on that week)
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Hand-dipped ice cream bars with “everything on it” (sprinkles and Pop Rocks and mini chocolate chips and who knows what else)
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Cheddar Apple Pies at Flo’s V8 Cafe
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In case you’re wondering, yes I was working from a list in my guidebook. Ooooh, I forgot to mention how good Red’s Apple Freezes are! Like an apple cider slushie, so good!

The three younger kids were able to sign up for the Jedi Training Academy (Eleanor was juuuust young enough to still participate). William took his lightsaber duel with Darth Vader SO SERIOUSLY.

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I think this is also part of why Katie was so talkative during our “visit” with Darth later on. She clammed up during every other character visit, but with Vader she was all, “Nuh-uh, we’ll never join you, Darth Vader!”

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I personally found the Cars Land section of Disney California Adventure to be my favorite part of the visit — which I would never have predicted. But this place oozes so much charm. 

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Going on Radiator Springs Racers — the kids noted that the speakers behind William’s head look like Mickey ears!
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Flo’s V8 Cafe is the cutest of all Disneyland restaurants.
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The backdrop for Radiator Springs Racers is darn impressive. I’m craving a trip to southern Utah now.

And yeah, the kids convinced me to get this Mickey sorcerer’s apprentice hat. It was partially for fun, and partially to make it easy to find me in the crowd. (Whenever I took it off, they insisted I put it back on immediately.)

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And yes, Brian got a Goofy hat. And taking a picture in front of this sign was pretty irresistible.

Okay . . . I could easily spend the next several hours waxing on and on about every anecdote about the trip, but I need to stop now. Almost every day this past week I’ve spent a few minutes looking at the pictures from our trip and sighing, sad that it’s all over. Yesterday morning Eleanor woke up sad because she had had a dream that we were going back to Disneyland but it ended before she got there.

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The kids LITERALLY HUGGED DISNEYLAND GOODBYE on our way out of the DCA gates. The girls and I held hands and sang “Zippity-Doo-Dah” as we walked to the place where Brian was meeting us with the car.

The only thing that kept us from crying as we packed up to go home was the revelation that LAX has a Lemonade. Which meant more kale-kumquat salad and white truffle mac & cheese so I was okay.

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Yes, they wore their Mickey ears in the airport. And the entire way home on the plane.

My sister will still be in L.A. for the next few years, so we’ll have to make a point of going again before she leaves. I’m already saving up my Target gift cards to get ready!

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Visit from St. Valentine

I like celebrating Valentine’s day as a family, instead of just as a couples-thing with Brian.

Once again, Eleanor and William had fun making crazy boxes for their classroom Valentines:

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Eleanor’s is a big cobra “that has swallowed a Valentine” (it has a heart-shaped lump in its belly) and William’s is Sauron from Lord of the Rings. The eye is suspended with thread, which makes for a nice effect. We tried really hard to convince him to make the pupil in the eye a long, slit-shaped heart, but no luck. (But it would have been so cute!)

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This year I hung up “heart stockings” for the kids and put the cards from their grandparents inside, along with a few other little treats. (Jeff doesn’t get candy from classmates this year, and I don’t want him to feel left out.) I think next year I’ll try to put in a card from me and Brian as well.

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A mug from Grandma Kathryn

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A Pokemon shirt for Wimmy! 
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Mini flashlight for Jeff
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Cool cards and candy from Gma Suzie

And, of course, we had our annual Valentine Fancy Meal at the end of the day. Red roses, baby’s breath, the Rat Pack — I love it. This year’s menu included lasagna, salad, a baguette, and of course the bubble champagne grape juice that the kids love. Only — this year we couldn’t get the cork out of one of the bottles. We tried a variety of tools, and I think the ultimate solution involved a screw and a hammer. Sheesh.

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Winter Art-Stravaganza

I didn’t purposely intend for this to happen, but owing to lucky circumstances, we had three weekends in a row of fun performing arts events to attend this winter!

(Plus, lots of miscellaneous odds and ends.)

First, we survived something that wasn’t artsy at all: Echo Lake Science Night!

I delegated the volunteerism to Brian this year. He helped coordinate volunteers, and it ended up being really easy, because one of the high school science teachers offered extra credit to any students who signed up. There were more volunteers than openings for them, which was awesome. This is the biggest science event in all of Shoreline — we get something like 40 booths, and it’s awesome.

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Eleanor and William are playing a “banana piano.” The computer makes different tones when someone touches one of the bananas!
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YAAAAAAS we got the UW planetarium to come back!
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Katie LOVES the spelunking obstacle course

Then, Eleanor did her percussion thing for the Westside Band Festival. This gets all the 6th grade band students from the west side of town and puts them together for a huge mega-band that plays Ghostbusters together. Eleanor was thrilled to play the bass drum.

But in truth, it’s a recruitment event for the middle and high school bands, who also perform in the festival. “Look, kids! Join band in middle school, and you might someday be in the DRUM CORPS!”

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Eleanor is torn. She doesn’t want to do band in middle school, but wants to do it in high school. Maaaaaybe she could pull that off as a percussionist. Maybe. I personally think she needs to broaden her horizons; she’s got lots of musical opportunities outside of school.

Katie would also like to let you know that Super Bee came to visit us that same week. Here he is helping Katie practice piano:

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and here he is enjoying a snack with Gaston the dog:

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William also had his Blue & Gold Banquet that week, and even though he reminded me every day that he needed to bring a cake to that banquet, I still forgot until 90 minutes before the event, BUT we managed to pull off a blueberry coffee cake anyway.

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William still wears one of his fuzzy watch caps every day, even when playing silly Cub Scout games.

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Because: William and I are made of awesome. (I would also like to point out that this is the only cake the adults wanted to eat. The stake president had two slices. So did I.)

Our first non-school-sponsored Winter Arts Event was a production of “Ananzi Tales” at the Northwest Puppet Center. Brian had never seen a production there, and he was mightily impressed by the creativity and skill put into this one-man puppet show.

The Ananzi puppet reminded us of Rizzo the Rat crossed with Grover. We had no problems buying the $5 make-your-own-Ananzi kit at the end of the show; anything to promote puppet artists is a good thing, I say.

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Our second Arts Weekend had Eleanor, William and I attending Pacific Northwest Ballet’s production of “Cendrillion/Cinderella,” a modern refashioning of the fairy tale. It was very different from other story ballets we’ve seen; very dreamlike and symbolic (this version has Cinderella’s father recognizing the Fairy Godmother as the ghost of his dead wife, and they do a pas de deux that mirrors the steps done by Cinderella and the Prince).

William enjoyed it in his William way.

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That evening Brian and I went to his department’s annual Groundhog Day party (I love that they recognize that Christmastime is too dang busy for a department party, but everyone loves a shindig in early February).

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This sign is wrong. I saw for myself that Punxutawney Phil predicted 6 more weeks of winter. But perhaps we’re trying to think positive in the Dept. of Lab Medicine.

BUT PHIL WAS RIGHT — because two days later:

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Here’s Jeff walking to school. I didn’t find out school was cancelled until 10 minutes later. Whoops! He walked home and was fine.
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Look at the branches that fell off the tree!

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ANOTHER NO-SCHOOL SNOW DAY. Annnnnnnd the following day was a late-start day, too.

Eleanor was invited by her friend Audrey to go sledding in the park and have lunch/playdate afterwards, and didn’t come home for six hours. I’m so happy with this new friend she’s made!

Speaking of Eleanor and her friends, we got to see them at the New Beginnings program with the YW at church. All of the 11 year olds who will turn 12 this year were invited to come and learn about the Mutual theme for the year (“Ask of God”). In true YW fashion, they had these little bracelets for all the girls, representing different features of the YW theme.

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Not as attractive as wearing Babybel cheese wax on your ears, but close . . .

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The Winter Arts Weekends came to a close this past Saturday with a performance of “As You Like It” by the UW theater dept.

It was cute — the stage design for the Forest of Arden was beautiful (lots of cherry blossom-laden branches suspended on wires above the theater-in-the-round stage) and there were beautiful musical interpretations of the shepherd’s poems (think mandolins, accordions, big wooden acoustic bass, very hipster-folk).

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In a cute twist, Jacques was played by a woman, and they reinterpreted the character’s lines to suggest that she was secretly in love with the Duke (Rosalind’s father) the whole time. So . . . a production of AYLI with five couples getting together at the end! Wow.

(It nearly made up for the fact that the actress playing Touchstone wasn’t funny and shouted all her lines in the exact same way. Nearly.)

I enjoyed these Arts Weekends so much that I think I’ll make a point of doing it again next winter — it’s  a great way to get out of the house during the gray-sky times. We’re too busy during the holidays for such things, and summertime is the time for outdoors affairs. Winter arts, hurrah!

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This has nothing to do with the arts, but this was the most epic fairies vs. knights war the kids have had in a while (it was 90% negotiations of how magic spells/weapons worked) and I wanted to capture it while it was still around.

2016 Favorite Books for Young Readers

It’s that time of year again — when I slap out a list of books I’ve enjoyed over the past year.

2016 was very much the Year of Picture Books. Not only was there a stunningly high number of quality picture books this year, but I also took time to try and read more of them than usual. (In the meantime, I read hardly any YA fiction this year. Sorry, YA fiction fans.) I’m sure part of the decision to do this is because my youngest child is 5, and so my picture book read-aloud years are numbered. Gotta relish it while I can.

And the usual disclaimer: this is a list of personal faves, not a full compendium of every good book that you or your kids should read or that a library should purchase. (If you want one of those, click here.) There were quite a few books that aren’t here because I didn’t have time to read them or simply couldn’t get my hands on (like King Baby or John Lewis’ March Vol. 3, THANKS A LOT, POTUS45) and there were others that many of my colleagues raved over, but which I rated a personal meh.* 

There’s no accounting for taste. Likewise: not every book on this list is for you. If you’d like a personal recommendation based on your previous reads, I’m happy to do it!

PICTURE BOOKS

before-morning

I’ll Forever Think of This Book When It Snows: Before Morning by Joyce Sidman, illus. Beth Krommes

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Best Book to Give New Parents: You Belong Here by M.H. Clark, illus. Isabelle Arsenault

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Now Considered Best Available Book About Starting School: School’s First Day of School by Adam Rex, illus. Christian Robinson

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Best Ending to a Picture Book “Trilogy” We Found a Hat by Jon Klassen

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You Know That Phase in Fourth Grade When You Tried to Make Up Your Own Language? Carson Ellis Took It to the Next Level: Du Iz Tak? By Carson Ellis

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Best Book For Inspiring Art Students: They All Saw a Cat by Brendan Wenzel

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2nd Best Book About Education Published This Year: Frank and Lucky Get Schooled by Lynne Rae Perkins

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This is My Personal Absolute Favorite. Grumpy Old Woman Knits! And there are ALIENS! Leave Me Alone! By Vera Brosgol

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In Which Sherman Alexie is Brilliant Once Again: Thunder Boy, Jr. by Sherman Alexie, illus. Yuyi Morales

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Most “Awww”-Inducing Story About A Child Helping a Sweet Elderly Neighbor: A Hat for Mrs. Goldman: A Story About Knitting and Love by Michelle Edwards, illus. G. Brian Karas

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Best Encapsulation of How My Kids Do Pretend Play: Lion Lessons by Jon Agee

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A Must-Read for Dance Fans: Emma and Julia Love Ballet by Barbara McClintock

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Drool-Worthy Illustrations: The Night Gardener by Terry & Eric Fan

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What happens when the bad guys from a D&D-style game are the heroes: Nobody Likes a Goblin by Ben Hatke

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Perfect Preschool Springtime Book: When Spring Comes by Kevin Henkes, illus. Laura Dronzek

apples-and-robins

Best use of die-cut shapes and puzzle pictures: Apples and Robins by Lucie Felix

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This was Katie’s favorite. We read it SOOOOO many times: The Best Days are Dog Days by Aaron Meshon

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Best for Fans of “The Paper Bag Princess”: Bloom by Doreen Cronin, illus. David Small

hungry-lion

Channelling Edward Gorey (Or, Sometimes It’s Hilarious When Characters Die): A Hungry Lion, or, A Dwindling Assortment of Animals by Lucy Ruth Cumnins

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Favorite Group Read-Aloud: The Happiest Book Ever! By Bob Shea

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My favorite, funniest author-illustrator does it again: Pug Man’s 3 Wishes by Sebastian Menchenmoser

dont-call-me-grandma

Best Non-Knitting Grumpy Grandmother: Don’t Call Me Grandma by Vaunda Michaux Nelson; illus. Elizabeth Zunon

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Channelling Tomi Ungerer (I adored this weird, weird, book): Margarash by Mark Riddle, illus. Tim Miller

sound-of-silence

Best Moment of Zen: The Sound of Silence by Katrina Goldsaito, illus. Julia Kuo

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Best Pencil Illustration (This Inspired My Daughter To Draw for Hours): If I Was a Banana by Alexandra Tylee, illus. Kieran Rynhart

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Sometimes Illustrators Switch Mediums and It Takes Your Breath Away: Real Cowboys by Kate Hoefler, illus. Jonathan Bean

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Best Use of Gorgeous Calligraphy (and the story’s a hoot): Poor Little Guy by Elanna Allen

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Most Satisfying Story Involving Woodworking: The Branch by Mireille Messier, illus. Pierre Pratt

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Perfect for the Where’s Waldo and I Spy fans: Toshi’s Little Treasures by Nadine Robert, illus. Aki

super-happy-magic-forest

Fairy Tales for the Adventure Time Generation: Super Happy Magic Forest by Matty Long

white-cat-and-the-monk

Aww, the Middle Ages Sure Loved Their Pets: The White Cat and the MonkA Retelling of the Poem Pangur Ban: by Jo Ellen Bogart, illus. Sydney Smith

 

NONFICTION PICTURE BOOKS

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Probably the Most Powerful Book on This List: Freedom Over Me: Eleven Slaves, Their Lives and Dreams Brought to Life by Ashley Bryan

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Most Gorgeous Book About Christianity in a Long, Long Time: Miracle Man: The Story of Jesus by John Hendrix

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Most Awwwww-Dorable Nature Photography: Best in Snow by April Pulley Sayre

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Most Important History You Probably Didn’t Know About: Freedom in Congo Square by Carole Boston Weatherford, illus. R. Gregory Christie

radiant-child

Incredible Artist, Brilliant Illustration: Radiant Child: The Story of Young Artist Jean-Michel Basquiat by Javaka Steptoe

voyage-in-the-clouds

Most Hilarious History Book: A Voyage in the Clouds: The (Mostly) True Story of the First International Flight by Balloon in 1785 by Matthew Olshan, illus. Sophie Blackall

anything-but-ordinary-addie

Most Interesting Biography of Someone You’ve Never Heard Of: Anything but Ordinary Addie: The True Story of Adelaide Herrmann, Queen of Magic by Mara Rockliff, illus. Iacopo Bruno

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Most Sincere Depiction of a Child’s Spiritual Life: Preaching to the Chickens by Jabari Asim, illus. E.B. Lewis

their-great-gift

Absolutely Necessary Reading For All American Children: Their Great Gift: Courage, Sacrifice, and Hope in a New Land by John Coy, photos by Wing Young Huie

adas-violin

Most Inspiring Story: Ada’s Violin: The Story of the Recycled Orchestra of Paraguay by Susan Hood, illus. Sally Comport Wern

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Perfect Pairing of Illustrator and Subject: The Tree in the Courtyard: Looking Through Anne Frank’s Window by Jeff Gottesfeld, illus. Peter McCarty

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I Will Admit That I Read The Title of This Book With the Voice of Steve Urkel. Also: The Tongue Twister on the Last Page is Epic: Can I Eat That? by Joshua David Stein. illus. Julia Rothman

 

BIOGRAPHIES

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The Author’s Enthusiasm For Her Subject is Infectious: Presenting Buffalo Bill: The Man Who Invented the Wild West by Candace Fleming

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Most Gorgeous Illustrated Biography: Some Writer! The Story of E.B. White by Melissa Sweet

samurai-rising

Book With the Highest Body Count (and it’s AWESOME): Samurai Rising: The Epic Life of Minamoto Yoshitsune by Pamela Tuner, illus. Gareth Hinds

 

 

POETRY

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Yes, just the one. This is the most beautiful book of children’s poetry to come out in years, and everything else just kinda faded into the background: When Green Becomes Tomatoes: Poems for All Seasons by Julie Fogliano, illus. Julie Morstad

 

FOLKLORE

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Illustrations Just As Freaky As the Grimm Tales: The Singing Bones, by Shaun Tan

storyteller

Absolutely Gorgeous Middle Eastern Story-Within-A-Story-Within-A-Story: The Storyteller, by Evan Turk

cat-from-hunger-mountain

Best Moral For Our Times: The Cat From Hunger Mountain by Ed Young

little-red

Now THAT’S Graphic Design: Little Red by Bethan Woollvin

 

GRAPHIC NOVELS 

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Brothers Grimm-Meets-Jazz Era: Snow White: A Graphic Novel by Matt Phelan

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Indiana Jones-Meets-Pride and Prejudice: Delilah Dirk and the King’s Shilling by Tony Cliff (be sure to check out the other ones in this series!)

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The One Your Kids Have Probably Already Read: Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier

nameless-city

You Know that Show “Avatar: the Last Airbender”? This is Basically a Book Set in Ba Sing Se: The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks and Jordie Bellaire

mighty-jack

Best Fractured Fairytale (featuring a character with autism!): Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke

 

MIDDLE GRADE FICTION

girl-who-drank-the-moon

Most Original Fantasy: The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

inquisitors-tale

Brooke’s Personal Favorite This Year! Featuring Farting Dragons, Monks that Fight Bandits with Donkey Legs, Theological Debates, and Loving Your Crooked Neighbor With Your Crooked Heart: The Inquisitor’s Tale by Adam Gidwitz

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In which John David Anderson is a jerk whose book made me cry during an entire airplane ride:  Ms. Bixby’s Last Day by John David Anderson

ghost

Best Sports Story — no, Best School Story — no, best story in which I love the protagonist so much I just want to put my arm around his shoulders and let him know that everything’s gonna be okay:  Ghost by Jason Reynolds

when-the-sea-turned-to-silver

Bless Grace Lin Forever For Introducing More Kids to Chinese Folklore: When the Sea Turned to Silver by Grace Lin

full-of-beans

Best Straight-Up, Charming Small-Town Historical Fiction: Full of Beans by Jennifer L. Holm

charmed-children-of-rookskill-castle

Best Spooky WWII-Era Mystery With a Dash of Steampunk: The Charmed Children of Rookskill Castle by Janet Fox

cloud-and-wallfish

Most Essential Reading for Life in Trump’s America (Or, Best Historical Fiction In Real-World Dystopia): Cloud & Wallfish by Anne Nesbet

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Best Sequel to Classic Children’s Novel (Kate Saunders is another jerk who made me cry): Five Children on the Western Front by Kate Saunders

 

YA FICTION

(Yeeeeeah, I didn’t read much of this genre this year. Go read Still Life With Tornado, or We Are the Ants, or The Sun Is Also a Star, they are supposed to be great.)

the-lie-tree

Best Introverted Protagonist Who Becomes Fearless in Her Pursuit of Revenge (also best mystery; very reminiscent of Edgar Allen Poe or classic stories like “The Monkey’s Paw”): The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge

burn-baby-burn

Best Book With Strong Independent Disco Divas: Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina

 

Happy reading!

 

*Kate DiCamillo’s Raymie Nightingale, Sarah Pennypacker’s Paxand Lauren Wolk’s Wolf Hollow. Seek ’em out if you’re so inclined, you might enjoy them!

They Literally Had a Ball

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Katie jumped in my bed first thing on her birthday and snuggled as I recited “Now We Are Six.”

She replied, “Dad and Grandma already told me that one, Mom.”

Well, pardon me for wanting to inject a little culture into the day, m’lady.

We were lucky to have Katie’s birthday fall on a Saturday this year, so her party was an “official” observance of the event. As another stroke of luck, Uncle Michael also happened to be in town for a conference that weekend, and celebrated with us.

When Eleanor turned six, we had a “Cinderella” party for her, and so I decided to do the same for Katie: when the girls arrived, I played the part of Wicked Stepmother and made them all get to work “cleaning” my house.

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They all thought this was hilarious, and as a matter of fact, they did a remarkably good job of finding a series of lost items that had rolled into corners of the room. I now have seven more pencils than I did before.

After all that toil, it was quite the surprise to receive an invitation to the ball from the Duke (aka William). But I (W. Stepmother) said they couldn’t go, and they all “cried” until the Fairy Godmother arrived (aka Eleanor).

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Amazingly, Eleanor still had the original “invitation” from her own 6th birthday, dug it out of her nightstand drawer, and that’s what we used here.

Fairy Godmother took them all up to Katie’s room, where we had displayed all of the various princess dresses we’ve collected over the years. We have a dozen or so of them! Geez. (One party guest brought her own dress from home, ha.)

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One the girls were all gussied up, they went to the kitchen to decorate paper crowns . . .

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. . . and then the ball began! At first, Eleanor and I spent time teaching them “proper” dance moves, but then we turned on “Can’t Stop the Feeling” and dumped a laundry basket of balloons on their heads and let them really boogie down. (I was surprised at how most of the girls knew the words and sang along!)

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Big change from Eleanor’s 6th birthday: this time, Jeff only participated under extreme duress

 

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But all good things must come to an end, and the clock struck midnight. The girls rushed back upstairs to change out of their princess clothes.

And . . . okay, the idea here was to have everyone leave a shoe behind, BUT all of these kids have been well trained to take off their shoes when entering a home, so there were no shoes to leave behind. Awkward.

Anyway, we gathered up one shoe from each pair that was piled next to the front door, filled them with treats, and hid them in the closet. The boys then created a trail of paper hearts that lead from Katie’s room, around the house in a loop, and ended at the closet.

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Whew! After all that partying down, it was nice to settle down to cake and ice cream.

 

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Except . . .ugh. This is hands-down one of the worst cakes I’ve ever made.

I admit that, owing to the no-sugar diet I’ve been on, my heart wasn’t in it. It also didn’t help that Mrs. White, my trusty stand mixer, has been broken since Christmas and I couldn’t make my standard super-fluffy vanilla frosting.

It was technically a princess cake . . . but I stupidly forgot to refrigerate it, so when I went to frost it the crumbs came off the outer layer and ruined the frosting.

The frosting also wasn’t thick enough, so the whole dress kinda . . . melted . . . off the princess’ body.

It also didn’t help that my mind frequently floated elsewhere during the day: the global Women’s March was going on all day, and even though I couldn’t participate (because Katie) (and my knitted pussyhat still isn’t finished) I thought about the march all morning and afternoon. Yes, this led to weird tonal-dissonance moments like when I listened to Gloria Steinem’s speech while simultaneously frosting the princess cake. (Eleanor listened with me, and lit up when she recognized the reference to the “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” speech from Macbeth.) Or getting teary-eyed when I saw photos of sister-marches in Ghana and Iraq, while a group of spunky little girls danced around me, belting out Anna Kendrick’s “Get Back Up Again.”

But it was a good day, a powerful day. One I’m so blessed to give to my daughter — to both my daughters.

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These pajamas and mini dollhouse were presents from Gma. Suzie

Many happy returns of the day!

California Gorging

Virgin Airlines had an amazing airfare sale on Black Friday. To wit: did I want to score a round-trip flight to Los Angeles for $95 (including tax)? Why, yes!

And so it was written, so it was done. I took a solo trip to Los Angeles over MLK weekend. It was so nice to have a trip with just me, myself, and I.

Of course, the situation changed a wee bit once I arrived.

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Nephlings! So many cute nephlings! Especially my delicous youngest niece, baby Megan. She is scrumptious with her dinner-roll legs and fluffy pudding cheeks and whatnot.

The the non-baby-eating deliciousness was also quite epic. My sister and I took the time to indulge in as many sugar-laden, flavorful things we could get our hands on.

Such as stuffed churros. Churros stuffed with cream and guava and dulce de leche! Insane.

Also Diddy Reise ice cream sandwiches . . .

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. . . and these epic donuts . . . (one of the rare cases where cake donuts > raised donuts)

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. . . and tacos from one of the taco trucks that are on every corner (not pictured), and at the end of all things, a fine lunch at Lemonade, which is like Panera crossed with Sweet Tomatoes, only 10x better than you think.

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Truffle mac & cheese, crunchy corn with sweet potatoes, thai chicken & green bean salad. Also: coconut lime apple lemonade!

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In between all that, we actually did stuff, like walk around the Venice canals and watch the kids play . . .

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The people who own the lantern house had a sign asking people to please stop taking professional photos on their pier. What a trial.

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A lot of the bridges still had Christmas decorations on them. Cute.

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And go to a playground and watch the kids play . . .

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And go to the beach and watch the kids play . . .

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(There’s a pattern here, if only I could put my finger on it)

I also got to read stories and baby sit and hold my niece all through Primary so Liz could be the substitute Primary chorister for the day. I also achieved my greatest ambition for the weekend: getting Liz and Ryan to go on a date while I stayed home with the kids. (AND THEY SAID IT COULDN’T BE DONE.)

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It was a little sad to head back to rainy Seattle, but not too sad, since we are coming back in February. It’s nice to already have my list of Things to Eat planned out in advance. Can’t wait to have some more great convos with my sis!

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Twelve Days and The Queen of the Night

One thing I didn’t mention in my previous Christmas posts is that on Christmas Eve we watched Ingmar Bergman’s film adaptation of The Magic Flute. It’s something I’ve been meaning to share with my kids for a while (it’s not the absolute best staging of my favorite opera, but it is certainly the most kid-accessible) and since it’s traditionally shown on Swedish television at Christmastime — why not?

And Randy missed the first showing, so he put it on again on Dec. 26.

And Caitlin made sure we all listened to Florence Foster Jenkins’ epic terrible performance of the Queen of the Night’s “I’ll have revenge” aria.

Which led to the entire family humming various snippets of the opera for the next several days. (William created a “whale version” of the Queen of the Night, which was hysterical.)

So  . . . when you see the following photographs showing our adventures between Christmas and Epiphany, keep in mind that there is likely at least one person in each shot humming Mozart under their breath.

Dec. 26 is Uncle Jake’s birthday, so Erica always makes an effort to have some fun activity for everyone to do. Usually this has been a movie, but this year there weren’t any films that the whole group wanted to watch. So I suggested something that I’ve often passed by while driving around town, and always wanted to try:

WHIRLYBALL!

 

If you’re unfamiliar, let me explain: Whirlyball is like lacrosse . . . played with a whiffleball . . . and you shoot the ball into a basketball hoop . . . all the while driving bumper cars.

Bumper cars! The sport of kings!!

We were able to finagle a reservation, and it was JUST AS FUN as I imagined it would always be.

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Practicing hitting the targets

Wheeeeeeee!

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Learning the rules

And since I’m taller than most of my in-laws, this was the first time I’ve felt any kind of particular advantage while playing a sport — my longer arms were way more adept at scooping the ball off of the floor — although the award for Most Dedicated Player certainly goes to Randy.

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This was so fun.

Eleanor made a few key shots, as well. It was great. My only regret is that nobody realized that it wouldn’t be a good game for Erica to play, what with the Frostbite being in utero. But at least Jake had a great time. (He was elated when, upon the first game’s conclusion, he was informed that we had the court rented out for another full hour. “Whaaaat, we can play again???“)

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We also had birthday crepes, as per tradition

The evening was more restless — we were driving to Utah the next day, and the in-laws were flying home — so the afternoon was a whirlwind of laundry, packing, cleaning. I turned on a few Christmas movies to settle down the kids while I sorted out snow gear, and chose How the Grinch Stole Christmas and A Charlie Brown Christmas. It had been ages since I had watched those shows, and the charming thing is that my in-laws must have felt the same way, because one by one they each walked through the living room, saw what was playing, and were immediately drawn in to watch. Everyone was amused that we could still remember the songs from Grinch, even after all these years.

Then . . . the drive to Utah was the next day. Hoooooooooooo boy.

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There was a blizzard in Snoqualmie Pass, so we decided to take a detour and drive through Portland.

But when we reached Portland, my dad called to tell us that I-84 was closed down in the Blue Mountains. So, we had to take a detour off the detour — following a two-lane highway through central Oregon and then meeting up with the freeway again in Ontario, Idaho. Our drive had exploded from the usual 12 hours into 18 hours.

We also took a moment to purchase snow cables for our tires in Portland. This was wise, because we had to drive up and over Mt. Hood, which looked like this:

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Yeah, it was beautiful. Beautiful and terrifying.

The thing we didn’t realize is that there would be no commercial services for the bulk of the drive. Just before Mt. Hood, we stopped at a convenience store/hunting supply shop (seriously, there were mounted elk heads all over the inside, and the cashiers were wearing camo) to use the bathroom, but after the mountain . . . nothing.

Like, nothing for miles. We were driving behind pickup trucks hauling hay bales. The kids complained about being thirsty, and we’d say there was an upcoming town on the map, and then we’d pass an intersection with a feed store, and nothing else. “I guess that was the town,” we’d say, and the kids whined for water.

This was fortunately the only time the kids whined. For them, our extra-long drive just meant more time to lounge in pajamas, watching movies, playing video games, and eating junk food.

It felt like we had been driving through central Oregon all day; it felt like we’d be driving through centeral Oregon forever. Towards the end of the detour, we began to pass through towns with charming little main streets. We admired all of them while doing our impersonation of Jimmy Stewart at the end of “It’s a Wonderful Life,” happily greeting everything he sees: “MERRY CHRISTMAS, PAIUTE MUSEUM!” “MERRY CHRISTMAS, COUNTY CELLULAR!” “MERRY CHRISTMAS, TACO STAND WITH FAMILY KARAOKE AT FRIDAYS AT 9!”

We didn’t get to West Point until 12:30 a.m.

Fortunately, our adventures in Utah were blessedly snowstorm-free. I got to spend a leisurely morning thrifting at the DI with my mom (remembering the whining, I found water bottles for everyone in my family for the trip home) and we went to watch Rogue One at the movies (I had given Star Wars shirts to all of my children for Christmas, just for this).

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Alex gave me a Christmas present, which was a plaid scarf, on the same day I happened to be wearing a plaid shirt and carrying a plaid bag

We also went sledding with cousins June and Emmy, and got to hang out with my brother for a while at his house. Sugarhouse Park is such an ideal place for sledding!

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The other girls were so fearless on the big hill! Katie, on the other hand, buried her face in my leg and sobbed, terrified. “But if I don’t go down, everyone will laugh at me!” she said, all teary-voiced and sad. Fortunately, Brian still had a bag of candy leftover from the movies and was able to lure her away for a nature hike.

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That evening we took the whole gang to see the lights on Temple Square and the “candy windows” at Macy’s.

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Brian’s brother Peter and his wife Katherine were able to meet us for dinner at the City Creek Center, which is great, since we hadn’t any other chances to meet with them during the holidays. I was greatly pleased to discover that The Red Iguana had opened a new branch at the food court. (Mango mole enchiladas. Nummmmm.)

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On the way back to my parents’ house, we stopped to drive through the light display in Layton city park. My favorite part is always the crazy tunnel, which is coordinated with Christmas music.

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The next day we headed up to Ogden to pick up Jeff’s friend Sol (who moved to Utah the previous summer). This was because Jeff’s big Christmas present was a chance to try out indoor skydiving with a friend.

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Flying Jeff
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Flying Sol

All the other kids (and June and Emmy and Grandma, too) came along to watch the amazing flying gangliness. It was far more entertaining than I expected it to be. Eleanor now says that she’d like to try indoor skydiving with a friend for her birthday.

Afterwards we took ’em all to Chick Fil A for lunch, and Jeff got to hang out with his friend and talk. And I got to do the same with my mom. Can’t beat that.

 

Later that day we headed down to Salt Lake for a Plethora party, and then onwards to Provo. We go to hang out with cousin Anderson . . .

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. . . and were happy to hear the announcement that there will soon be an Andersibling!

Katie was able to wear aunt Erica’s “Ginny gown,” something similar to what Eleanor used to wear when she studied dance at Virginia Tanner Dance. (It’s a Tanner dance tradition.)

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We also worked on our traditional jigsaw puzzle and ate lots of chocolate. I’m sorry I didn’t take more pictures of our time in Provo — which included New Year’s Eve (!) — but I was feeling pretty darn mellow at that point, and we were in a cat-like loungeabout mood. Nothing all that exciting to photograph.

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Disney/Pixar puzzle this year. Completed in West Point. The cousins all worked together to sort the different pieces.

Then the drive home, which was refreshingly uneventful, and one more day off school before winter break ended. I spent the day putting together this LEGO set with William. He is so delightful to work with. When we completed the project, he was so excited that he jumped up and down and scurried around the room, making little laser-blast sounds. He also insisted I take multiple photos from various angles:

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The following weekend, my friend Julia came up from Portland for the weekend, and we had a movie-fest that included viewings of Queen of Katwe and La La Land. And we took down the Christmas tree (which made the kids cry) and took down the Christmas cards (which made me cry).

Many happy returns of this season.

Glorious Christmas

It’s come to my attention lately that I only have about five or so years left with all my little ones living under my roof.

Therefore I’m more inclined to make a big deal out of holidays, vacations, etc. while I’m still in this happy place.

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These are the presents for my family as well as the extended aunts, uncles, grandparents, etc.

This year was no exception. How I love to spoil my little ones. How I love to cuddle them and eat good food and look at their new books and admire their fuzzy new pajamas.

Here are the stockings all filled up on Christmas Morning. I like to take a picture of what Santa has done before the kids have a chance to discover everything.

And then I also take a picture of this:

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They’re watching you.

Yeah, those are tiny little snowmen. Jake was given a pair of “Holiday Specs” by his mom, and when you put them on they turn all bright pinpoints of light into little snowmen. You can even rock the glasses from side to side to make the snowmen dance!

The adults all thought this was absolutely wild. We squealed and passed them around, and even went outside to look at the radio tower light across the street. (Big red snowman!)

Jake got his camera out to capture the kids’ reactions to putting on the specs. But to everyone’s surprise, they didn’t think it was all that cool or surprising. They said something along the lines of “hey, neat” and that was it! Humph.

Here are Das Kinder on the stairs on Christmas morning:

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Yes, this IS the best photo of them. Shush, you.

And here they are discovering their stockings. Katie put her hands over her mouth and gasped-squealed when she saw that Santa had, indeed, brought the Orange Fairy. (Only one more fairy in the collection to go!)

After stockings and a quick breakfast of Danish kringle, we swept ourselves off to church. Jake and Erica came along with us, which was great because both Brian and I were involved in the music program. I was in charge of prelude music, which were a set of organ/piano duets that I played with Charlotte, my RS president. (No pictures of this, sorry.)

Then after church the rest of Brian’s siblings gathered at our house for their family’s traditional Christmas Day breakfast/brunch of huevos rancheros. (Um . . . no pictures of this, either.)

Finally . . . before the children exploded . . . we opened our presents. Kathryn and Randy gave Brian and I a set of cute little containers for homemade ice cream, along with a beautiful ceramic artwork by a potter Brian used to go to school with (it’s now hanging on my dining room wall). I gave Brian a new watch, which turned out to be the exact same model/brand as his old watch . . . and the exact same model/brand as Randy’s watch. Brian gave his old watch to Jeff and the three of them all held up their wrists in proud display of three-generation Timex digital watch fans.

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Giftwrapping Carnage!

Eleanor enjoyed knitting mittens so much that she whipped together another pair for William, and then wrapped them up using the old box-in-a-box-in-a-box trick.

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My cuddly boy!

Here is William in his pajamas, which he changed back into as soon as we returned home from church. The hat he’s wearing was a Christmas Eve present, and he loved it so much that he wore it nonstop for pretty much an entire week. Even in church — I was in the choir seats, and looked down into the congregation to see my son wearing his sherpa trapper hat in the chapel. I pantomimed for him to take it off, but he merely shook his head, quietly placing his hands on the ear flaps as if to prevent me from using my psychic powers to remove it.

I think he wins the Most Cuddliest Award.

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Jake and Sven volunteered to cook Christmas Day dinner, which was more than fine with me. They chose to make sushi and other Asian-inspired food, in tribute to the trip to Japan that they had taken together the previous spring (and also because sushi is delicious).

Besides the sushi — which included breaded panko chicken as one of the fillings, wow — there was this stir-fried hoisin duck with bok choy dish that tasted fabulous.

There were also supposed to be gyoza, but we didn’t have the correct kind of gyoza wrappers, so instead we had a bowl of gyoza-tasting filling scramble. It still tasted great.

Working together, we made roll after roll of sushi in no time. There was a big row of sushi platters going down the entire table.

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Sushirama!

AND YET. It all disappeared in about 15 minutes. Yummmmmmmm.

More games, more treats, more family, more everything that evening. I made sure to keep the “cookie tree” (i.e. the three-tiered cake stand) well stocked through the day. Caitlin and Randy and the kids and I had all helped frost and decorate a big batch of my mom’s sugar cookies, and it was fun to set them out for everyone to enjoy, along with a stock of highly-coveted sold-out treats from Trader Joe’s that I had stashed away in early November. (Chocolate Mint Mini Shortbread Stars, and Chocolate-Dipped Candy Cane Jo-Joe’s. They sell out almost immediately after Thanksgiving.)

We also ate the figgy pudding I had cooked with my pressure cooker a few days earlier. It was . . . okay. I think there was a typo in the recipe, because it gave instructions to soak a bunch of dried fruit in warm water to plump it, but then only uses a few pieces for the top of the pudding. What about the rest of the fruit? Eh, so it was kind of dry. Next year I’ll see if I can fix that.

Here is Eleanor holding one of the puddings.

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Next year, pudding! NEXT YEAR I PROMISE I’LL MAKE A BETTER VERSION OF YOU!

Yeah, her holiday outfit is eclectic and adorable. Here’s the full view:

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How I adore this girl.

So wonderful! Her pretty floral socks say “STOP TALKING” around the cuff. Every thinking woman needs to own a pair of those.

Prelude to Christmas

We were lucky again this year — Brian’s parents and assorted (but not all) siblings came to stay with us for Christmas!

We kicked things off in grand style: Eleanor brought us milk and pastries first thing in the morning, dressed as St. Lucia.

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Note the cool Nordic slippers. We had found them at DI only days before.

Traditionally, St. Lucia Day is Dec. 13, but we decided to postpone it a week so the grandparents could be here. Mmm, chocolate babka!

(There would have been saffron rolls, but my big stand mixer broke the day before in the middle of making figgy pudding. which meant no cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning, but to tell the truth it was kind of liberating to have my baking obligations come to a premature end. Fortunately I had already stashed a pair of Danish kringles from Larsen’s Bakery in my freezer, and we ate those on Christmas morning instead.) It was a perfect start to a day spent perusing the aisles at the local Scandinavian grocery store with Randy & Kathryn. (Mmmmm, yellow split pea soup with lamb!)

That afternoon, we had our traditional last-day-of-school Santa Claus Tea Party. Whew, so many treats to enjoy! The kids always look forward to the mini scones with lemon curd and creme fraiche. (And so do I.) I also found this cute little snowman cake at Trader Joe’s, but it wasn’t very tasty.

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The following day, Uncle Jake and Aunt Erica came to see us, and we all went skating together.

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Well . . . Randy and I went along as observers. (I had a fat stack of December magazines to flip through.) But everyone else gave it a try, and I was impressed! Those skating lessons have paid off . . . all of my kids feel confident whirling around the ice, which is something I desperately wanted to do as a child. I never lived close enough to a rink in my childhood to make that happen, so it’s cool to give that skill to my kids. Since I’ve lived in colder climes as an adult, I’ve been surprised how often group skating activities occur, whether with church, school, or Scouts.

We concluded our skating with a trip to the Cheesemonger’s Table, where I was also able to purchase some excellent cheese for Christmas Eve. (More on that below.)

The day after that heralded Aunt Caitlin’s arrival, and that called for a bowling outing. With pizza and nachos! Oh, glee! (It had been a very long time since I had eaten pizza.)

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I’d brag about my double strike, but then I remembered that I was playing on Katie’s team and had the bumpers up. I suppose I shouldn’t be so proud of that.

In the evening after bowling, Jake & Erica returned to my house and helped construct the annual Gingerbread Creation. We decided to let the children pick the theme for the gingerbread this year, and they chose Smaug the Dragon from The Hobbit.

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Brian made the interesting design choice of creating flat panels of gingerbread that slotted together into a dragon-shaped framework, which was then covered with candy.
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Here is the great and glorious Smaug, about to devour a chocolate Santa Bilbo

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The final lead-up to Christmas was our big dinner on Christmas Eve. I decided to scale the meats back a bit from last year, which had made everyone groan as they were leaving the table. You never want your dinner guests to groan.

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The woman in purple is my friend, Deborah. And it looks like Frederick has a place at the table!

This year’s menu:

Appetizers: Hot chocolate and toasted nuts (I’ve figured out how to make low-glycemic hot chocolate, and this is a very happy thing)

~~Caroling~~

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Kathryn was nice enough to find a Christmas Eve candle to go in the center of the Advent wreath this year. I’ve never had the time to find one before.
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Eleanor and William played their “Deck the Halls” duet as part of the caroling service
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Katie is pictured playing “O Christmas Tree,” which she LOVES to play. My contribution was to find copies of “See Amid the Winter’s Snow,” which was my new favorite carol of the season.

First Course: Spinach soup with hard-boiled eggs and sourdough rye bread. My kids loved the rye bread. I mention this because I like to put a positive spin on things.

Second Course: Pickled herring, other veggie pickles, crackers, cheeses. (I also had smoked salmon, but forgot to put it out.) The cheeses were divine. My favorite was an English “truckle cheddar,” which came wrapped in blue tartan cloth.

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Third Course: Swedish meatballs, Jasson’s Temptation (contributed by Kristen and Sven), lingonberry jam, and salad (contributed by my friend Deborah)

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Everyone crammed into the library to play The Great Dalmouti.

Fourth Course: Rice Pudding with cream and sugar, glogg (this year everyone sang, “All You Need is Glogg”) cinnamon cookies, various candies

I think last year I also had baked ham and sausages. I think I was wise to leave them out this time.

We had a break between Third and Fourth Course to play games, such as The Great Dalmouti (as pictured above). I didn’t want to play at the time because I was exhausted, and having a difficult time summoning holiday cheer in general. I was still very, very upset with the upcoming Presidential administration and having a hard time not feeling cynical and angry at everything. So, I didn’t play games, but took a break and played carols on the piano instead. Which was probably the right thing to do at the time, although I now regret doing so.