Smarchness

This past Thursday we woke up to snow on the ground once again.

Noooooooooooooo

Fortunately, school was neither cancelled or delayed. Everyone was happy about that decision except for Katie, who woke up early, crawled into bed with me, and urged me to run downstairs to check for school district text messages.

Alas, poor Katie. School for you.

Other than that, life has finally gotten back to our normal pre-snowstorm life.

In other words, kind of ho-hum, nothing to see here. The kids had piano recital and did MAP adjudications (Eleanor didn’t place in the honors recital this year, although she was a runner-up).

We just finished a week of early-release days for William and Katie because of parent-teacher conferences (so . . . even less productivity on my part). Spoiler alert: the littles are doing great at school.

I made Polish “paczki” donuts for Fat Tuesday.

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Yes, I know that’s not a religious observance I usually make, but I have a Facebook friend who lives in Detroit, and she posts dozens of paczki memes every year. So I decided to spend an early-release afternoon making them with the littles.

Second spoiler alert: I think we might make these every year. Yowza, delish.

On Friday afternoon, I performed Debussy’s “Sunken Cathedral” prelude at the community college winter recital — and I crushed it! It’s the first time that I’ve felt good about a public performance; and I think the kids in the audience noticed, too (several of them complimented me afterwards!). My teacher, Jensina, was so pleased she made “fist pumps” at me across the performance space.

I suppose the biggest event we’ve had lately is William’s participation in the Math Olympiad yesterday. It’s the first time one of our kids has participated in this event, despite past encouragement from me & Brian.

William loves puzzles and logic games, so it’s no surprise that he likes and excels at math.

Brian and I both signed on to be chaperones, which involved a lot of walking back-and-forth to keep our assigned teams company during test breaks. It was fun to hang out and talk, and to get to know the other parents and teachers.

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The team that I chaperoned scored in the 3rd place ranking for all the 6th grade teams! And William scored in the 12th ranking for the individual tests. (His teammate scored in the 3rd place individual ranking).

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The only downer was when we had to sit in the community college gym for a solid two and a half hours while waiting for the tests to be graded and awards handed out. This was a real drag, even though the kids were incredibly well behaved.

The organizers did their best, booking a variety of entertainment to watch during the grading period. Hip hop dancers, a martial arts demo, and best of all, a One Man Band. (Just like Bert from Mary Poppins!)

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Even though William did pretty well for his first olympiad, Brian and I were exhausted by the time we got out of there. But to tell the truth, it was still a lot of fun and I’m looking forward to next year. William’s already talking about it!

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Buuuuut the day didn’t end there! Yesterday evening, our ward hosted a “Spring Chicken Dinner” for members aged 50+. The youth were asked to come be food servers, and I was asked to come and play background music for the dinner.

Squee! I had just purchased a five-volume set of Piano Stylings of the Great Standards, so I was beyond thrilled to have an excuse to play a bunch of piano jazz.

I was quite literally jazzed.

All week long I practiced songs like “Moonglow,” “Embraceable You,” “Blue Moon,” “The Shadow of Your Smile,” “Bewitched,” and “Star Dust.” I had, it turns out, more than enough jazz to last through a three course dinner.

It was so fun to play all this music for people who appreciated it. I’ve always had a fantasy about performing in a jazz club. And best of all, many of the “spring chickens” came up afterwards and said how happy they were to hear songs that they remembered from their childhoods or young adulthoods. Yay! That was the idea!

And I’m sure that my family will be more than happy to get the Great American Soundbook out of their heads.

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Eleanor was in charge of Katie while we were at the Olympiad (Jeff had play rehearsal). They walked to Baskin Robbins together. Cute!

Geek Week 2019

Last year for Midwinter Break, we had a staycation where I picked out different geeky themes for each day.

It was so fun that we decided to do it again for 2019.

Let it be firmly stated that I did this even though I was nearly done with being the Entertainment Butler from the previous two weeks of Snopocalypse school closures. Ahem.

Anyway, we kicked off Geek Week with a screening of Willow, or as I call it, “Lord of the Rings: The Trial Run.”

I’m happy to report that this movie has held up very well since its 1988 premiere (although the Sorcha/Madmartigan love plot is still pure cheese).

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On Tuesday we decided to go out to the movies for the Lego Movie 2. It was . . . okay.

Okay, I admit it. I fell asleep. Please keep in mind that I will sleep through anything if it happens around 2:30 p.m.

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Day Three of Geek Week was a Simpsons marathon. We watched “Homer the Heretic” while eating Homer’s Patented Out of This World Moon Waffles!

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(Well . . . they were really just regular waffles with buttermilk syrup. The actual waffle recipe from the show would destroy my waffle iron.)

Then, after our morning chores, we went to the Donut Factory (which we hadn’t ever visted before) to pick out treats for the afternoon portion of the marathon.

Turns out they had a pink frosted donut with sprinkles called “The Homer”! Perfect!

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It was so fun watching some of my favorite episodes with the kids, especially now that Eleanor and Jeff are old enough to get most of the jokes. We watched “Marge vs. the Monorail,” “Last Exit to Springfield,” “Lisa the Vegetarian” and “Lisa the Iconoclast,” and they were all big hits. (And yes, I typed all those episode titles from memory. Geek Week, remember?)

We also watched “A Fish Called Selma,” because I remember Caitlin saying it was her favorite episode (because it has the Planet of the Apes: The Musical sequence) but it didn’t go over as well with the kids.

Day Four of Geek Week was spent at the Living Computers Museum. Brian got us a family membership during my parents’ visit, so I figured we should use it!

It was a lot of fun. There were a whole bunch of new AR games to play; Katie especially liked an educational one where she got to run a virtual pizza parlor.

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I liked the exhibit where you can use vintage 90s MS Paint to go along with a Bob Ross episode.

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The Bob Ross painting
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My MS Paint version. I don’t think it’s too shabby, considering.

I tried to teach Eleanor how to program in BASIC but she wasn’t impressed.

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But she and William did love making their own punch cards.

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Meanwhile, Jeff spent a long time playing “Age of Empires” while complaining that “it takes so long to load.” Welcome to my adolescence, kid.

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Finally, the last day of Geek Week was celebrated with an afternoon at the Another Castle video game arcade. Most of my kids hadn’t ever been to an arcade before.

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Everyone’s favorite was the four-player competitive Pac Man game.

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But my favorite moment was crushing Eleanor at Tetris. There are few pleasures in life as satisfying as that.

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And everyone tried out the dancing game, which kind of got derailed when handfuls of quarters bounced out of pockets. Whoops!

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All in all, a fun week . . . but boy was I ready for regular school to resume. Whew!

Snowpocalypse, Pt. 2

Soooo . . . regarding the post previous to this one . . .

Hoo boy, did I speak too soon.

The snowstorm last Sunday lasted forever & ever. Between the two storms, we ended up with some 15-20 inches of accumulation. That’s insane for Seattle. The city shut down.

The kids missed four more days of school.

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Let’s just let that sit for a minute and sink in. FOUR MORE DAYS. And Midwinter Break is the following week! Everyone’s brains are turning to mush. By Thursday, even the teenagers were sick of missing school and complaining about the snow days.

I ventured out for groceries on Monday morning and had the place pretty much to myself — including a very full shelf full of milk! Mine, all mine!

(And then proceeded to go a little overkill on milk, buying an extra gallon every time I ventured outdoors. At one point we had six gallons stuffed in the fridge.)

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I coped with the school closures by trying out the “World’s Best Bread” recipe in the Beat This! cookbook. It was okay.

Side and residential roads weren’t getting plowed at all. Getting the kids to piano lessons was a slip ‘n’ slide adventure, as was dropping off the boys at the church for YM activities.

We had a power outage late Tuesday evening — a branch fell on a line. The lights went out, and then we saw flares of blue light in the sky down by the transformer station. Crazy and eerie.

Best of all was this: Crista closed the portion of road that goes down the hill at the bottom of our street, which meant that we could sled on the street! I encouraged the kids to go sled as often as they could.

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Katie was upset that she had to take turns with the “fast” red sled. “I’m making an emoji with my hand to explain my feelings!” she said.

The only bad part was that Brian had to go on a business trip to Baltimore in the middle of the week, and missed Valentine’s Day. I still filled the children’s “heart stockings” with cards (Jeff got a big one with dancing, singing bacon) and we had our traditional “Fancy Meal” without him, but it wasn’t quite the same without Brian there.

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The littles make their valentines for school. School was cancelled for the 14th, but they still got to deliver them on the 15th (which still had a 2 hour delayed start, augh)
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The kids all climbed into bed with me the morning of the 14th
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The Fancy Meal, featuring the best frozen food Trader Joes has on offer. (Chicken fettucini alfredo and tiramisu)
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Love these goombas

But then — as a surprise, Brian suggested that he organize a night away without the children when he returned. He booked us a night in the Hotel Sorrento downtown, which is this beautifully restored 1920s building.

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This was a place so Gatsby that they change the rugs in the elevator depending on the day of the week. Swank.

Plus, it has this amazing Fireside Room, perfect for curling up on couches and sipping ginger ale while talking for a very long time. (Which we did.)

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The next day we had an awesome breakfast . . .

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. . . and then walked around Pike Place Market, which we haven’t done for a while. And . . . eh. The market is so touristy. We immediately remembered why we haven’t done that in a while. (I admit it was fascinating to walk outside the market and look down on the empty Viaduct — so quiet now that it’s closed to traffic!)

We finished our day with a stroll up the hill to Salt & Straw — a different branch of the same ice cream chain I went to with my parents. We picked out a tasting flight of four different ice creams, and they were all delightful.

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And now forward into Midwinter Break . . . another week with no school, bleh . . . so glad the snowpocalypse is over — and we survived!

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A local company gave these away for free as a promotion. Clever.

Snowpocalypse 2019

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The tree swing after Snowfall No. 1

I’ve always considered my time in Utah as my Snow Undergraduate Seminar, and then my time in Pittsburgh was my Master’s in Snow Studies.

Neither of these experiences prepared me for the crazy that is Seattle in a snowstorm.

It isn’t that I’m not prepared to drive and live in snow, or that I’m not prepared for icy, wet cement-snow, or dealing with slippery hills. It’s that apparently nobody else is equipped to deal with it, especially on a city-wide level.

There just aren’t enough snowplows and salt to keep the roads clear, and as a result, the kids are missing school. A lot of school.

The first big storm hit last Sunday (as I wrote in my previous post). School was cancelled on Monday — which would have been fun if we didn’t also have a power outage all day. I brewed lots of hot tea and popcorn, and we bundled up in blankets. The numbers on the thermostat shrank in tandem with my cell phone battery. Eventually we all went upstairs, where the air was a bit warmer. I reheated pizza in the cast iron pan on the stovetop. Brr.

School was also closed on Tuesday. Which was pretty much a redo of Monday, except with power — yay! I baked gingerbread and took the kids sledding. Eleanor spent pretty much all day in her bed, reading and playing solitaire. (Playing solitaire in bed has become one of Eleanor’s chief occupations lately.)

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Sledding at Shoreview Park. Jeff asked to go for a solo walk in the woods. He found the winter woods so beautiful and striking that when he came back, he flung open the van door (where I was staying warm) and yelled “MOM TURN OFF YOUR PODCAST I HAVE TO TELL YOU SOMETHING” and then spent time trying to describe it. He’s such a cute guy.

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The youth temple trip that was scheduled for Tuesday evening was also canceled, as well as the kids’ choir practice.

Wednesday had a 2 hour delayed start — and it was still an Early Release Day, which mean that Jeff came home from high school 2 hours after I dropped off Katie and William at the elementary school. I hauled everyone to their piano lessons, and then I got a phone call from my friend Laura, asking me to take over the Cub Scout Blue & Gold banquet because her son had to go to the ER for a bad infection. Needless to say, I was exhausted by the end.

My first time running Blue & Gold . . . and also the last! (There is no bottom to how much I do not care about this program anymore.)

Thursday also had a 2 hour delay. I thought about going to Costco for more milk, but the line of cars just to get into the parking lot stretched for three blocks, so I gave up. (We’ve been fine on milk.) By this time, the weather oracles predicted another storm for Friday afternoon and evening, and between my own piano practice and the trek to my lesson, my friends posted many pictures of long, long lines at grocery stores, and empty milk and bread shelves.

Soon everything else in our lives was canceled — my Girl Scout troop meeting, the boys’ Merit Badge fair, the children’s symphony concert I thought about attending, the Mary Poppins Sing-a-Long fundraiser for the Seattle Children’s Chorus . . .all cancelled.

The kids had a half-day schedule on Friday to buckle down and prepare for Snowpocalypse. I spent the morning grabbing the last loaves of bread from the QFC, and calling my ministering people to check on them.

Color me impressed — the snow arrived right on time, just as the weather oracles predicted. It began snowing around 1:00 p.m. on Friday, and kept going all evening, night, and into the morning. Brian estimates we got ten inches — on top of whatever was there before. (Look at that tree swing now!)

Saturday was spent shoveling, making snow forts, baking and board games. I made bread. Brian made bread. We watched the entirety of “The Scarlet Pimpernel” miniseries. I spent time being thankful that we had a stock of half a dozen freezer meals I’d prepped weeks ago (I was planning to save them for Midwinter Break).

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My snow sweetie
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We “borrowed” extra shovels from the neighbor’s driveway so we could get the driveway cleared. Pretty sure they don’t mind.
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Katie’s snow cave

Now it’s Sunday. Church was canceled. My local newspaper, the Shoreline Area News, printed a headline that said “Just Assume Everything Is Canceled.” Seattle Schools are going to be closed tomorrow, and I’m guessing that Shoreline will be, too.

(Which is bad. The school district has already used up its built-in snow days, and this means they will have to extend the school year . . . but we’ve already scheduled a family reunion/vacation at that time . . . ergh. And I wouldn’t care about the kids scoring absences at the tail-end of the year, except that William’s supposed to have his Sixth Grade Graduation. I hope we don’t miss it.)

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We had “church at home,” and now they are playing Edge of the Empire.

If anything, all this madness doesn’t remind me of snow in Salt Lake or in Pittsburgh. It reminds me of snow in Northern Virginia, where there was an infrastructure equally unprepared for snowstorms, accompanied by the same panicky shoppers and school closures.

When I was in 11th grade, we missed a cumulative three weeks of school, enough for the district to cancel midterm exams. (Yay!)

So, if anything, it was my time in Virginia that best prepared me for Snowpocalypse.

Never underestimate the value of a high school education.

The Kate is Eight

We’ve had a surfeit of childhood landmarks for our Katie-boo these last few weeks.

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Her birthday was on MLK day this year, so we spent the day doing something Katie enjoys — in this case, St. Edmund’s State Park

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First, she turned eight years old!

Katie requested a “spa party” for her birthday, and her friends were totally into it.

The girls enjoyed fruit smoothies, and then some yoga:

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Cobra pose!

 

The best part was doing a group pedicure session in the kitchen. Thanks to my overflowing supply of beauty products, there was plenty of foot scrub, body lotion, and nail polish for the girls to try.

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Mad props to Eleanor and William for doing so much nail-painting

This was stinkin’ hilarious. All the kids made a big deal of acting “grownup” and wanting to get toenails “just like mommy.” When I asked if they would like a magazine to read, they were thrilled.

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Cake commentary: I was planning to make the standard layered “doll” cake like I’ve done the last few years, but we had a Butter Incident.

I had set a pound of butter sticks on the counter to soften, and Brian decided to help speed up the process, so he set them on a plate and then put them in the still-warm-from-breakfast oven.

And promptly forgot all about them.

I returned home from running birthday-related errands to find — you guessed it — all of my butter melted onto the bottom of the oven. Pretty epic.

Ergo, I switched to our old family standby, a Brownie Cake with fudge frosting. And to tell the truth, while I was annoyed so much butter was wasted, I found the whole situation funny, and in truth was glad that I had an excuse not to bake the “doll cake,” because it’s kind of a pain to make.

All in all, a rather satisfactory birthday, if I do say so myself.

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My MIL sent this wonderful headband craft kit. Katie loves it!

The second big milestone for Katie came later. We had a grandparent visit to celebrate her baptism!

It was loads of fun having Grandma & Grandpa here. Especially for me — because my parents are experiencing some mobility problems, they said that instead of touring Seattle, they’d rather just hang around talking and going out to lunch every day.

Which is exactly my kind of vacation. (My pants are kind of snug now.)

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We all got to go to William’s band festival on the day of their arrival!
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Finally had a reason to visit Salt & Straw Ice Cream. Nummm.

On Thursday evening, we all took William to the temple for the first time to do baptisms for the dead (with names supplied by our other Grandma, who is a missionary in NC right now).

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Then on Friday evening, we had Katie’s baptism. It was a very sweet, happy ceremony. Grandma heroically spent three hours in an epic fight with MS Word to get the paper programs made, and then she still had energy to give a talk.

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Brian and Eleanor sang a tenor/alto duet of “I’m Trying to Be Like Jesus,” with me on the piano. It’s my favorite Primary song, so I lobbied hard in its favor. Eleanor has developed a clear, beautiful voice from all her choral training. Love it.

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After the baptism, I gave a talk about the Holy Ghost, which I was kind of nervous about. I’ve avoided giving talks at all my other children’s baptisms, but with this last, youngest child, I figured it was time to buck up and contribute. I spoke about the time when Jeff was two and hospitalized with periorbital cellulitis, and I was eight months pregnant with Eleanor, and how the text to “Our Savior’s Love” comforted me, especially the verse about the Holy Ghost.

I can’t believe that all four kids have passed this milestone. Katie was so happy that she keeps asking if she can get baptized “again and again.”

For the last day with grandparents in town, the guys all went to the Living Computers Museum (we have a membership now thanks to this, which I’m kinda jazzed about) while the girls all went to a matinee of Pacific Northwest Ballet’s production of “The Sleeping Beauty.”

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It was a gorgeous production with great dancing, but the audience! I’ve never seen so much bad behavior in a single performance. People were talking, coughing loudly, scrolling on their phones, and one lady even took out a DLSR camera and took photographs of the last act!

Meanwhile, I have a message for my fellow parents: if your child can’t even get through the first act of a production without hauling out a full-fledged bucket of toys to play with, they. Are. Too. Young. For. The. Ballet.

Also: please, please, please, stop them from kicking seats. This isn’t an airplane, you can take them outside for wiggle time.

I won’t even mention the people who stood up to race everyone to the parking garage when the last act still had 5 minutes to go.

Yes, I now realize I’ve spent 25% of this “Katie’s birthday” blog entry complaining about strangers. Such is my lot in life as a curmudgeon.

ANWAY. Katie cried herself to sleep last night because she was so sad that her grandparents were flying home the next day. Poor little one.

Fortunately, we had a lovely snowfall to distract her the next day (today).

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The flakes first appeared on the drive home from church.
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Close-up of flakes in Katie’s hair
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Brian stepped outside “just to take a walk” but suddenly found himself making a snow-penguin family with William
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Our poor beautiful doomed rose garden
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In other news, Katie was pretending this box was a television, and used her karaoke mic to do “weather broadcasts”

It’s been such a warm, dry January that I didn’t think we were going to get any snow this year — and now we’ve got enough for a two-hour delay at school tomorrow.

The kids are hoping school gets cancelled altogether. I’m crossing my fingers along with ’em.

Sweet dreams!

Favorite Books for Young Readers 2018

Tomorrow morning I’m waking up at the crack of dawn and carpooling myself down to a convention center stuffed with frizzy-haired, infinity-scarf-wearing, wheeled-tote-pulling, middle aged women in funky leggings (in other words, librarians, aka My People . . . and yes there are a few token guys scattered hither and yon and we all love them), and we’re going to listen to the announcement of the Youth Media Awards (YMAs) for the best and most distinguished books for young people  (and okay, fine, there are awards for audiobooks and “videos” but seriously nobody cares about those) and we’re all going to yell our heads off over the books that we love winning shiny stickers and undying fame.

My goal is to get my list of cherry-picked favorites out before the YMAs so I can feel all smug if/when any award winners also appear here.

So here we go. Ready to smug it up with me?

Standard Caveats: Remember, this is not a comprehensive list of all the best books. If you want that, click here. There were plenty of books from 2018 that were highly regarded and well written, but I couldn’t get around to reading them all (I tried), and then there were plenty that I liked well enough but didn’t love and ergo did not include on my list.

For the second year in a row, we had kinda . . . fine . . . middle grade fiction. Lots of great stuff, but no big obvious-winner, This Must Needs Be a Classic standouts. Still plenty of books that I love and adore and champion. It just means that the Newbery field is anyone’s game. And I don’t read much YA fiction at all, so that department is a bit skim as usual.

Meanwhile, we have an abundance of riches in the picture book category. True story: my initial list of picture books was about 30% longer than what you see here. 2018 was the year where we got not one, not two, but three different picture books about giraffes, and I’m still a wee bit misty-eyed that I could not include ’em all. (Unless you count those links as inclusion. Hee hee, I loopholed myself.)

Not every book is for every reader. I have very wide-ranging tastes! Not everything here is for you. If you’d like a personalized reading recommendation, send me a text/email/DM and I’ll happily do some matchmaking for you.

Parents, please do not hand these over to young ‘uns without first giving them a gander yourself. I’ve marked books that have troubling, dark, or mature content with a double asterisk (**). But I’ve found that even the most benign daisies-and-sunflowers books manage to offend somebody, so you’ve been warned.

Now that we’ve got all that out of the way, let’s fire up our library cards and get ready to rumble!

(Or just click here to see the Google Doc with the bare-bones bibliography.)

PICTURE BOOKS

 

I Had Major Doubts About This Picture Book “Sequel” to a Classic Children’s Novel, but BOY Is It Good: All-of-a-Kind Family Hanukkah by Emily Jenkins, illus. Paul O. Zelinsky

Best Use of Clever Die-Cut Illustrations that Your Children Will Inevitably Poke a Finger Through: Blue by Laura Vaccaro Seeger

In Which the Moral of the Story is “Wear Your Halloween Costume to the Store, and Penguins Will Make Off With You”: Harriet Gets Carried Away 

Sweetest Self-Esteem Builder: Alma and How She Got Her Name by Juana Martinez-Neal

The Picture Book That Made Me Cry: The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson, illus. Rafael López

Best Historical Fiction for Kids (and even grown-ups will be surprised at what they learn): Hello Lighthouse by Sophie Blackall

Best “Awwww!” School Story: Dear Substitute by Liz Garton Scanlon and Audrey Vernick, illus. Chris Raschka

Funniest Picture Book of the Year (and now my go-to birthday present): Are You Scared, Darth Vader? by Adam Rex

Gorgeous Illustrations, Heartwarming Story of Multi-generational Love: Drawn Together by Minh Lê, illus. Dan Santat

Warning: This Book Will Make You Want to Eat Honey Straight Out of the Jar: Honey by David Ezra Stein

Most Adorable Original “Pourquoi” Tale (also Best Bedtime Story): A Big Mooncake for Little Star by Grace Lin

Everyone Thinks It’s a Shoo-In for the Caldecott Medal: Dreamers by Yuyi Morales

Poetry that Lingers With You: A House That Once Was by Julie Fogliano, illus. Lane Smith

 

Best Friendship Story: Little Brown by Marla Frazee

You Know What I Love? Weird as heck picture books. About rocks. Sorry about that: Petra by Marianna Coppo

Most Whimsical, Stream-of-Consciousness Illustration: They Say Blue by Jillian Tamaki

Sweetest Mother-Daughter Story (warning: will leave you with craving to wear more bright yellow clothes): Mommy’s Khimar by Jamilah Thompkins-Bigelow, illus. Ebony Glenn

BEST. TITLE. EVER. Pie is for Sharing by Stephanie Parsley Ledyard, illus. Jason Chin

The Story For Our Times: The Wall In the Middle of the Book by Jon Agee

Helloooooo There, Crazy Dreamscape Flying-Whale Book: Ocean Meets Sky by Terry and Eric Fan

This is literally a story about potatoes trying to acquire pants and I make no apologies: Potato Pants! by Laurie Keller

GORGEOUS. PICTURES. Made on CARDBOARD. Beat that, illustrators of the world: The Patchwork Bike by Maxine Beneba Clarke

Mother Goose-meets-Mario Kart: The Princess and the Pit Stop by Tom Angleberger, illus. Dan Santat

I’m betting hard money that you’ve never seen the Cherokee alphabet used in a picture book before: We Are Grateful: Otsaliheliga by Traci Sorell, illus. Frané Lessac

Most Adorable Bible Story: Paul Writes (a Letter) by Chris Raschka

Best Book to Give New Parents (or any parents): The Stuff of Stars by Marion Dane Bauer, illus. Ekua Holmes

Probably My Favorite Read-Aloud of the Year: We Don’t Eat Our Classmates by Ryan T. Higgins

EASY READERS AND BEGINNING CHAPTER BOOKS

 

Best monkey-oriented mystery story of all time: Baby Monkey, Private Eye by Brian Selznick and David Serlin

I canNOT Get Enough of This Series. More Folklore, Please! Noodleheads Find Something Fishy by Tedd Arnold, Martha Hamilton, and Mitch Weiss

Prepare for a lot of “ewwwws” from whoever reads this (but you gotta admit it’s irresistible): Stinkiest! 20 Smelly Animals by Steve Jenkins

It’s Not Quite “Frog & Toad” but It’s Close: Fox & Chick: The Party and Other Stories by Sergio Ruzzier

LeUyen Pham Is a Genius and I’ll Pretty Much Read Whatever She Does: The Itchy Book by LeUyen Pham

My 7 year old read this one and found it so fascinating that she talked about snail facts for the following 48 hours: Snails are Just My Speed! By Kevin McCloskey

The Best New Series for Beginning Chapter Book Readers: The Unicorn Rescue Society by Adam Gidwitz, et al — guys guys guys, he’s collaborating with authors from  other cultures to talk about folklore from those cultures and giving them full co-authorship credit instead of just a “thanks” in the acknowledgements and it’s so great

MIDDLE GRADE FICTION

 

Best Fantasy Fiction of the Year (also best Illustrated Novel of the year, but that’s a bitty lil’ category): The Assassination of Brangwain Spurge by M.T. Anderson, illus. Eugene Yelchin

The One that Teachers Will Be Reading to All Your Kids: Harbor Me by Jacqueline Woodson

Best Ending to a Beloved Series: The Penderwicks at Last by Jeanne Birdsall

Best Historical Fiction . . . okay okay, there’s a supernatural element, but I’m still calling it historical fiction, dadgumit: The Book of Boy by Catherine Gilbert Murdock

**Most Compelling Literary Response to Huckleberry Finn: The Journey of Little Charlie by Christopher Paul Curtis

The Book I Hope Wins the Newbery Medal: The Season of Styx Malone by Kekla Magoon

Best Immigration Underdog Story (plus, it’s set in the glorious 1990s): Front Desk by Kelly Yang

I’m Not Crying, YOU’RE Crying! (also: the One You’ve Probably Already Read): Louisiana’s Way Home by Kate DiCamillo

Holy Smokes, That’s a Darn Good Horror Story: Small Spaces by Katherine Arden

**For the Kids Who Want to Read The Hate U Give, but Need Something With More PG-13ish Content: Ghost Boys by Jewell Parker Rhodes

WONDERFUL Reprise of “The Westing Game”: The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson

Like Putting Danny, The Champion of the WorldA Little PrincessFrog and Toad are Friends, and Charlotte’s Web in a blender and then adding Jewish golem folklore for good measure: Sweep: The Story of a Girl and Her Monster by Jonathan Auxier

 

GRAPHIC NOVELS

 

 

**And You Thought YOUR Summer Camp Memories Were Hard: Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol

Most Sumptuous Fashion Choices Ever: The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang (I waaaaaaannnnnt the marmalade dress for my ownnnnnnn)

Probably My Personal Most-Favorite of the Year: The Faithful Spy: Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Plot to Kill Hitler by John Hendrix

**So Glad This Is Getting Kids to Re-Discover This Classic YA Novel: Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson, illus. Emily Carroll

In Which I Show My Eternal Weakness for Folktales: The Dragon Slayer: Folktales from Latin America by Jaime Hernandez

Basically the Margaret Mead of Elementary School: Mr. Wolf’s Class by Aron Nels Steinke

SLOTHS! CUTE SLOTHS IN TREES! Peter & Ernesto: A Tale of Two Sloths by Graham Annable

Best Story for Armchair Travelers: My Beijing: Four Stories of Everyday Wonder by Nie Jun

**Best Superhero Origin Redeux: Supergirl: Being Super by Mariko Tamaki, illus. Joëlle Jones

Nobody Else in History Deserves an Exclamation Point As Much as : Lafayette! By Nathan Hale

NON FICTION

 

No, I Take It Back, THIS Is My Favorite Book of the Year: The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science by Joyce Sidman

Would Not Recommend to Claustrophobes: Otis and Will Discover the Deep: The Record-Setting Dive of the Bathysphere by Barb Rosenstock, illus. Katherine Roy

Great Life Story, Pitch-Perfect Moody Illustrations: Mary Who Wrote Frankenstien by Linda Bailey, illus. Júlia Sardà

The 1980s, Quite Literally Dumped All Over This Book: All That Trash: The Story of the 1987 Garbage Barge and Our Problem with Stuff by Meghan McCarthy

**The Patient Explanation of Vietnam You’ve Been Waiting For: Boots on the Ground: America’s War in Vietnam by Elizabeth Partridge

**Riveting True-Crime Thriller: Chasing King’s Killer: The Hunt for Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Assassin by James L. Swanson

Best Book for Family Scripture Study OR Best Gift Book for Grandmas: Meet Me at the Well: The Girls and Women of the Bible by Jane Yolen and Barbara Diamond Goldin; illus. Vali Mintzi (I would have dismissed it but! Jane! Yolen!)

Illustrations so Beautifully Textured You Want to Stroke the Pages: Hawk Rising by Maria Gianferrari, illus. Brian Floca

In Which Die-Cut Illustration Finally Teaches You What an “Isthmus” Is: Water Land: Land and Water Forms Around the World by Christy Hale

The Book That Made William Go “Squeeeee” for 30 Straight Minutes: Cute as an Axolotl: Discovering the World’s Most Adorable Animals by Jess Keating, illus. David DeGrand

All the Illustrations Were Made From Pressed Flowers and Leaves and It’s a Frigging Miracle: Drawn from Nature by Helen Ahpornsiri

Great, Necessary Take On a Tough Topic: Not My Idea: A Book About Whiteness by Anastasia Higgenbotham

Best. Flip-Book. Ever (also probably another go-to for birthday presents): Myth Match: A Fantastical Flipbook of Extraordinary Beasts by Good Wives and Warriors

 

YOUNG ADULT FICTION

 

**It’s Post Civil-War America and Black Girls are Fighting the Zombie Uprising. Yes, You Read That: Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

**Fairy Tales are Creeeeepy, Part One: The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert 

**Best Written Family Drama:  Picture Us In the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert

**Wonderful Follow Up to Brilliantly Thought-Provoking Series Thunderhead by Neal Shusterman (if you haven’t read the first one, Scythe, DO SO NOW)

**Lyrical, Moody Re-Mix of Moby Dick (which I’m including because I also read Moby Dick this summer and I deserve a freaking Reader Medal): And the Ocean Was Our Sky by Patrick Ness

**Fairy Tales are Creeepy, Part Two (also wins for Bloodiest Sword Fights, and That’s Really Saying Something): The Cruel Prince by Holly Black

**Hilarious, Pop-Culture-Filled Remix of Jane Eyre: My Plain Jane by Cynthia Hand, Brodie Ashton and Jodi Meadows

**Best Mystery AND IT ENDS ON A CLIFFHANGER AND I NEED THE SEQUEL NOW NOW NOW: Truly Devious by Maureen Johnson

**Pretty much Lord of the Rings meets Black Panther: Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Getting Hygge With It

I mentioned before that, owing to the Evil Lice Outbreak, we canceled our road trip to Utah and instead stayed home — and it turned out to be the loveliest, most relaxing holiday ever. Whenever I reflect back on it, my brain presents a delectable swirl of jigsaw puzzles, gingerbread and pancakes and I want to swoooon into a fluffy cloud of carbohydrates until springtime.

The problem is that the overwhelming coziness has become something of a habit that’s difficult to break. Every day I wake up and simply want to knit all day. So I get up and do the minimum amount of productivity required — exercise, basic chores, e-mail, piano practice, like maybe 20 minutes of writing after goading myself into it — and then turn to my knitting basket.

Despite all this, I’m usually still only finding knitting time for 30 minutes before bedtime. And yes, it’s a rather relaxing 30 minutes, but it still leaves me craving more.

I’ve been trying to figure out why my interest in this hobby has suddenly become reinvigorated over the last few months. I think it’s owing to two factors:

  1. I managed to complete my first (successful) sweater for myself, a beautiful green wool cardigan made with an all-over lace pattern. Wearing it feels SO GOOD. This gave me the motivation to start and finish several other projects through the rest of the year: a baby sweater for my nephew, William’s Hufflepuff scarf, an Advent mystery knit-along scarf, and two quick hats made from super-bulky merino yarn that’s the softest wool ever spun. There’s nothing like finishing to make you feel like starting all over again.
  2. On a whim, I decided to follow a lot of knitting hashtags on Instagram. Now my Insta-feed is filled with gorgeous photos of knitting projects from around the world. Socks from Russia, shawls from Japan, fair-isle sweaters from Iceland, fingerless mitts from Brazil. All of them bathed in natural light and beautifully photographed.

The idea with following the knitting hashtags was to use social media to inspire me to do more of what I love. And it’s working like gangbusters.

Therefore I’m giving in to the desire — my goal for 2019 is to start and complete nine different knitting projects. I’m not entirely certain what they will be. Right now I’m working on a “Featherlight Cardigan,” which is an ultralight layering cardi made with laceweight wool. (Mine is a beautiful dark purple/navy alpaca-merino blend I picked up at a yarn store’s going-out-of-business sale.)

The next project will be a “Chrysalis Pullover” for my sister-in-law, Kristen.

Beyond that . . . I’m not sure. Possible ideas:

  • A few hats that involve a technique I’ve never tried (like stranded color knitting, or brioche stitch)
  • Perhaps a gansey sweater for Brian, or a cabled cardigan for my mom?
  • A “stashbuster” project that uses up a lot of the bits and bobs of wool in my big box of yarn
  • A “zickzack” scarf that uses contrasting skeins of gradient-dyed yarn (click here to see what that looks like)
  • There’s a pattern called the “Weekender Sweater” that looks like the coziest thing ever, and similar to my favorite grey shirt that I recently had to toss when a hole tore in the arm
  • Socks. I’ve . . . never made socks before. You can tell how enthusiastic I am about this.

Only time will tell if I’m able to finish my #MakeNine2019 . . . hopefully I’ll be able to revisit this in 2020 with happy news . . . and a whole lot of happy coziness!

Epiphany

“Remember the Christmas we all got lice?”

. . . .is not a phrase I ever desired to say. But lucky me, now I can! It’s also the Christmas we found and trapped a rat in our garage. Thanks, vermin, for keeping life interesting.

On the other hand, the lice episode (with Katie as patient zero, who spread it to everyone in the family except Brian — and I still cannot fathom how he managed to avoid it) tipped the scales for us on driving to Utah during winter break. For the first time ever, my mom was totally fine with us cancelling a trip to visit her.

[a moment of silence here for Brian’s brother Peter and his wife Katherine, who were staying with us the week of Christmas, and who made the hastiest disappearance into the guest room ever upon the discovery of the systemic nit-storm in Katie’s hair]

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Here we are at Deception Pass State Park, enjoying the rugged beautiful PNW!
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Loving the giant seaweed thing we found!
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Having a pirate duel on the beach!
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Marvelling at the 850 year old Douglas Pine AND SHORTLY AFTER THIS IS THE MOMENT WE DISCOVERED THE LIIIIIIIIIIICE
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Whee! Here am I two days later, trying not to think about lice at the Funko Pop store!
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Here we are hiking at Snoqualmie Falls, trying not to mentally comb through Katie’s hair!
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Oh, look! Katherine isn’t wearing the hat I knitted her for Christmas BECAUSE IT’S BEEN QUARANTINED

BUT! It turned out to be the best cancellation ever. Brian still had the week off work, so we spent our time being lazy, going to the movies, visiting the Living Computer museum, eating out for dim sum and swedish pancakes and staying up late playing games and sleeping in every morning. We hit the Pinball Museum for New Year’s Eve (followed by be bim bop at Uwajimaya for dinner) and then saw the Lion King on New Year’s Day.

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This is the first year I realized we can watch the Space Needle NYE fireworks live on YouTube. With the good ol’ sparkling cider for the exhausted midnight toast.
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Here we are in the third-from-the-back row. Still a great production!

And yes — we spent a morning at Lice Spies, the local lice removal clinic. (“Your Partners in Lice Crime!”) Let us pray that we are all still nit-free when we have our re-check this coming Thursday. I’m still wincing at how much we had to pay to get all the critters out of our hair. But those ladies really did a thorough job (they spent two hours on Katie’s hair alone) so no grudges.

However, since we cancelled our Utah trip, we had Brian all to ourselves — with no itinerary to follow, no people to visit, no social tug-of-war — and it was such a luxury. It’s been incredibly relaxing, and I’m not looking forward to the return to “real life” tomorrow. So thanks, vermin.

Even if this means that looking at our Christmas morning photos makes me squirm, realizing that in those pictures of happy family members opening stockings and lighting advent candles and eating huevos rancheros we all had lice in our hair at the time including me me me aaaaaaaaaaa.

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Look at me, enjoying the Best Gingerbread Cookie Recipe ever in blissful ignorance!
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Frosting a full complement of sugar cookies in sweet, sweet darkness!
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Brian made this beautiful pesto torta for Christmas Eve dinner. And I was still blindly wondering why my scalp felt like it was on fire.
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Those are alternating layers of pesto and dried tomatoes. It tasted wonderful.

[a moment of silence here for the many times this week I’ve woken in the night from lice-adjacent nightmares, scratching myself all over and sweating]

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Traditional Christmas morning stair picture. I’m trying not to think about Katie’s hair.
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Katie’s just a leeeeeetle bit excited about what Santa brought.
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Huevos rancheros and cinnamon rolls for breakfast
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Close-up of the huevos. They turned out beautifully.
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Lighting the Advent candles, with the special Christmas Day one in the middle
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I recently learned that in the UK, it’s customary to take a family walk on Christmas Day. I liked that, so here is our stroll on Richmond Beach.
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I can’t believe I spent 30 minutes brushing Katie’s hair for the Nutcracker and DIDN’T NOTICE oh my gosh what is wrong with me ELEANOR WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE NOOOOOOO
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This picture was taken only 24 hours before The Discovery. Also the last time in for two weeks I’d be able to let my hair have its natural curls. Sigh.

Today is Epiphany, aka Three King’s Day, and we spent the afternoon after Stake Conference packing up all our Christmas decorations. It’s the first time in a long while that I haven’t felt melancholy while putting Christmas away. I think having such a long, restful hibernation with both parents around allowed me to feel the holiday as a holiday instead of a lot of work. (Work that I enjoy, but still work.) I was able to give myself permission to do whatever I wanted all day, even if whatever I wanted usually entailed browsing on Ravelry for beautiful knitting patterns that I will never make. (So many lovely cardigans! You’d be knocked senseless at how many incredible shawls I like! My aspirations have excellent taste.) I haven’t written a single word or played any of my assigned piano music. (The holiday piano music got extensive use, don’t worry.)

This year, Christmas didn’t feel snuffed out like a candle (as it often does) but more like a sunset, gradually slipping under the horizon, tucked away until it rises again next year.

Bye, Christmas!

A Very Ghibli Halloween

My kids are the luckiest ever — they have a cool aunt.

A cool, childless aunt.

A cool childless aunt who works in the apparel-design industry . . .

. . . and who decided that she wanted to design and sew costumes for all my kids this Halloween!

[jumps back and forth doing happy dance]

Seriously, this was the most adorable thing ever. The kids decided they wanted to be torotos from “My Neighbor Totoro,” except for Eleanor, who had already decided to be Kiki from “Kiki’s Delivery Service.”

Kristen borrowed hoodies from the kids to get a baseline set of measurements, then came up on different Sundays for fittings. She even made “bellies” for the kids to wear underneath to give them extra plumpness.

One of the perks of Kristen’s job is salvaging all the scraps and leftovers of the various high-end fabrics and notions. There’s some interesting details to the costumes, such as micro-velcro on the hoods (for folding back the “teeth”) to the extra-puffy Japanese filler inside of the belly-stuffing.

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Aren’t they incredible! Katie wore her white suit as pajamas for three straight days in a row before Halloween.

Eleanor took time to make herself a cute “witch broom” out of felt, with a pocket for Jiji the cat. I was so proud of her ingenuity!

The suits had their first outing at Trunk-or-Treat at church. Brian and I signed up to do a “black light room,” with various glow-in-the-dark fun . . . except our black light wasn’t as powerful as we hoped, so the room was kind of lame. At least we tried.

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I dressed up as a Pale and Tragic Mysterious Widow, which allowed me to wear a fascinator and say things like “I can’t talk about it, the pain is too near,” or “Richard always loved the water,” or “How dare you — you are mistaken! I was NEVER in Monte Carlo!”

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But the best costume by far was this one:

My friend Michelle painted her husband to look like Vincent Van Gogh! Even his shirt and face have streaky marks to look like Impressionist art!

The following day, the costumes had Outing #2 at the autumn piano recital at Frances’ house. Katie, William & Jeff all played little Halloween songs. For some reason, Eleanor didn’t perform . . . but then again, she’s doing more advanced repertoire (Gollywog’s Cakewalk! Hooray!) which takes longer to master.

I should also mention that this year I was a little envious of my kids’ Halloween music . . . so I decided to pick out and learn a Halloween piece myself! I chose the piano solo arrangement of “Kiki’s Delivery Service” from my book of Ghibli music. This was a challenging piece, but I loved learning it — it reminds me of my own amazing 13 year old Eleanor.

On Monday for FHE we carved pumpkins and ate apple pie caramel apples. I’d never made them before, and they were SO GOOD. Definitely taking time to make them again next year. Jeff had 0% interest in pumpkins until we suggested he carve his with power tools. Boom — teenager engagement accomplished. (Look for the pumpkin below filled with holes. And yes, we had a totoro pumpkin.)

 

Totoro Outing #4 was at school on Halloween day . . . and then Outing #5 for the Big Event Itself.

You’ll notice that I don’t have a group picture of the kids in their costumes. This is because everyone split up for Halloween this year.

Eleanor went to trick-or-treat with a friend from school (hoooooray, thank you friend for inviting her!)

William and Katie went with Brian to trick-or-treat near their elementary school.

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Meanwhile Jeff stayed home, and we had a Teen Halloween Movie Night for anyone aged 12+ who wanted to come.

The kids voted to watch “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” and I had fun making Halloween goodies like whoopie pies and candy corn Krispie treats. Unfortunately, I also whipped up two batches of kettle corn before I realized that most of the kids wear braces. (including Jeff! Whoops!).

Most of the kids hadn’t seen Holy Grail before, and were kind of baffled by it. I admit it is kind of bewildering the first time you watch it. But they enjoyed it, and had a game of Apples to Apples afterwards. It was so much fun — I think we definitely need to host more teenager kickback nights in the future.

Finally, the morning after: I came downstairs to find William and Katie piling a giant tower of candy bags on top of our kitchen scale. Miraculously, it stayed upright just long enough for a picture and a reading: 16.8 pounds of candy. (“My fingers still hurt from carrying my candy bucket,” Katie complained. Oh, what a trial.)

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Which sounds like a lot until you realize that in previous years we’ve gotten twenty-two pounds of candy. That’s what happens when your candy-gathering force is down by 25%, I suppose.

October Tidbits

We had a run of spectacularly lovely autumn weather for most of the month of October, and I decided to take full advantage. It felt like retribution — nature paying us back after the last two weeks of summer were ruined by forest fire smoke.

So here are some mini descriptions of the various Items of Interest that happened during the month of October:

Jeff was promoted to the rank of Life Scout with his Boy Scout troop. Onwards to Eagle!

 

Jeff also achieved the distinction of being the first of my children to read all seven Harry Potter books. They are only allowed to read one a year in our household, so this is a bit of a rite of passage for them. It’s become a birthday tradition — new birthday, new Harry Potter. Jeff could barely put it down.

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Katie and William had some early-release days owing to parent-teacher conference week, and we spent a Friday afternoon exploring the Kruckeberg Botanic Garden, which we hadn’t visited in years.

The Wood Wave was still in fine form for climbing.

And the Fairy House Garden was a riot! In addition to boxes of natural materials for fairy-house building, someone had scattered bunches of glass beads around as “treasures.” William and Katie gathered them all up and built a “fairy gemstone mine.” I love it when W & K play so well together.

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Eleanor also completed another year of Cross Country at the middle school. She was proud of herself for not walking at the meets. We’re both happy that the crazy training days are over!

I also managed to go on a great 4 1/2 mile hike with my friend Emily and her daughter. It’s something that I wish I could do more but often find trouble making time for. Thank you to Emily for getting me out of the house.

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While Brian was out of town for the dreaded ASHG conference, I took the kids to the Camp Korey Fall Festival.

Well . . .I took everyone except Jeff, who refused to come. Refused! It wasn’t worth the fight. Eleanor also didn’t really want to come at first, but is glad she did.

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Honestly, the outing could have easily turned south because I didn’t know that Camp Korey (a summer camp for kids with life-altering medical conditions) had CHANGED LOCATIONS and was now much farther away . . . and instead of a pumpkin patch, there were just store-bought pumpkins in a field.

Also, they only took cash donations, and I only had $3 in my wallet. So we picked the smallest pumpkin possible and put all three in the donation box.

But what saved the day is seeing the new-and-improved Diagon Alley that’s being built at the camp. Remember the guy in Ballard who built Diagon Alley in his driveway? Well, he took that down, and decided to build a new one for the kids at this camp.

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So cool! It’s much bigger than the first version. When it’s finished, the interior rooms will be fully furnished, wizard props and everything. Eleanor demanded that we return in 2022 to see the completed project.

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In the meanwhile, we also enjoyed hay rides, cider, caramel apple cookies, gourd bowling, firehose cone tipping . . . yada yada, you know the drill.

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