Sometime this summer Katie decided that she wanted to be a chimney sweep for Halloween.
I admit to being taken a little off guard by this request. Was she absolutely sure she didn’t want to be a witch or a fairy or a pirate?
“No, I like being a chimneysweep because it something both boys and girls can be.”
Okay, fair enough. And with a wave of my Amazon wand, we procured a newsboy cap and a bristle brush-thing, and — hey! Why not get everyone in the family to be Mary Poppins characters?
Eleanor could be Mary, William still had his penguin costume from a few years ago, and Brian and I could be Mr. and Mrs. Banks!
Alas, we could not convince Jeff to join in and be Bert. Instead, he wanted to be Jeff Goldblum’s character from “Jurassic Park.” (It’s a meme. Just go with it.)
While I was slightly disappointed, you have to admit that Jeff pulled off the studly Ian rather well:
Meanwhile, the rest of us were all ready to go with our Jolly Holiday at the ward Halloween party . . . and then Eleanor was invited to hang out with her friend that night. So this was our group costume: Mary Poppins sans Mary.
A lot of people thought Brian was supposed to be Charlie Chaplin. (Kudos to Mr. Chaplin, I guess, for staying culturally relevant in 2019.) I was assumed to just be A Suffragette, which I’m totally fine with (I looked nothing like Glynis John’s character at all).
We did convince Eleanor to make an appearance as Mary for the Halloween piano recital.
On Halloween proper, William decided to wear his Totoro costume from last year, since the penguin suit was a little on the small side. So much for thematic coherence.
Eleanor went trick-or-treating with friends this year, and Brian took everyone else around the neighborhood. I stayed home and got some knitting done while watching “Hocus Pocus.” (It was freezing outside, okay?)
William came home with a collective 10.5 lbs. of candy. Which is patently nuts.
Katie decided to walk through a mini “spook alley” made by a family in the neighborhood, and came home rather spooked indeed.
Brian, on the other hand, kept himself entertained by sending me pictures of fake spider decorations he saw while walking around (a reference to a Jenny Nicholson YouTube video that’s all about funny online reviews of fake spider decorations). So I’d get a text with a black fuzzy blob in the middle of some fake spider webs, with the message “adequate enough for a spider.”
Sums up Halloween for me!
(Oh, yeah and we carved pumpkins. William made a fox, Jeff a stormtrooper, Katie a kitty, and Eleanor made a rather amazing Cinderella coach. Brian also went to the elementary school pumpkin carving night and gathered 4 gallons of pumpkin seeds for roasting, so we had a super-abundance of seeds this year. Hoooo boy.)
But we’ve had a few fun autumnal adventures the past several days.
First off was a trip to BrickCon, the LEGO conference that happens in Seattle every fall. It’s been about five years or so since we took our children. When I realized that none of the kids remembered anything about our previous visit, I decided it was time to go again.
I’m still on the fence a bit about whether or not it was worth it.
I mean, the builds were cool. Incredible creativity going on here — although I admit there were no giant showstoppers like the Hogwarts Castle and Rivendell builds we saw previously (each one was roughly the size of a minivan).
And it was also very, very crowded. My kids could hardly see any of the exhibits because there were so many people shuffling by the tables. Katie got overwhelmed, so I took her upstairs to the children’s area while Brian continued to look at builds with the big kids.
There were several tables where kids could simply build and play. This cheered Katie right up. (And I got to read a book while she worked! Win-win!)
The following week, we got a lovely visit from the Shirts grandparents. Randy and Kathryn recently returned home after serving as missionaries in North Carolina. It had been over a year since the kids had seen them. Predictably, we spent the entire week pointing out in minute detail all the ways the children changed and grew during that year.
Regrettably, because of my music theory class, I couldn’t tour them around the city. So we just went out to lunch every afternoon instead. It was nice to have an excuse to visit one of Kathryn’s favorite haunts, the Scandinavian Specialties cafe in Ballard.
Best of all, on Friday we went to visit Kristen at her new job as the . . . .okay, I’ve forgotten the official title, but she’s like the Cutting Room Manager or something at a small local apparel company called Crescent Down Works. They make beautiful bespoke down-filled snow parkas. (We even got to go into the down-stuffing room and put our hands in a box of down! Which was even more insanely soft than I expected!)
On Friday night, we had a special treat: a members-only preview of the new Burke Museum of Natural History. I’ve been excited to see this new exhibit space. The overall focus is on “transparency” — that is, they have lots of glass walls and doors so museum visitors can see what projects all the scientists and archaeologists are working on.
Jeff asked great questions and we had some interesting conversations about how to tell when ancient animal bones were eaten by humans instead of other animals. (The secret: humans are the only animals who twist bones to break them.)
The following day we had even more fun with a trip to a pumpkin patch for some autumnal delights. Kathryn and I spent probably far more time than was necessary researching pumpkin patches and farms and chose to go to the Jubilee Farm.
We had hot cider, and a hay bale ride out to the pumpkin field.
Everyone picked a pumpkin, which in retrospect may not have been the wisest idea (we are now the proud owners of 70+ pounds of pumpkins).
We also watched the farm launch a pumpkin trebuchet:
Ran around a hay bale maze in the barn:
Saw some sheep (not pictured, but William found them “so adorable” that he immediately began to quietly hum “Baa Baa Black Sheep” Dang, I hope that kid never grows up).
We also helped grind some apples for cider:
Eleanor found a dahlia garden (which is one of her favorite flowers, which I did not know):
Then, while the big kids went to watch Trebuchet Launch #2, I stood with Katie to wait for a pony ride. Awww.
The grandparents went home on the same day that Brian left for the annual ASHG conference. In other words, we switched overnight from Family Fun Time to Lonely Time, and that was kind of a bummer.
I kept my cool by making sure we had lots of freezer meals ready to go, by skipping Katie’s evening swim classes for the week (it was the end of class anyway) and in general trying to keep things perky. But I admit I was exhausted as usual by the end of the week.
In the meantime, all three big kids went to the homecoming assembly at the high school (William was there because he’s part of the student government at the middle school), Jeff went to his first Homecoming football game (they lost), Eleanor went on her first backpacking trip (skipping the homecoming dance to do so):
. . . and William went to his first opera. (Rossini’s “La Cenerentola,” aka Cinderella, which he found fast-paced, engaging, and really fun.)
But Brian’s back again, hooray! SO GLAD HE’S HOME.
Have we created a monster? The high school cheerleading squad hosted a “Junior Cheer Clinic” for elementary school kids as a fundraiser, and Katie really wanted to go, so ….. this happened:
Little did we know that she would then be invited to perform in the halftime show at the following Friday night football game. Which meant, for the first time in my life ever, I attended a high school football game.
Or at least part of one. Eleanor came with me, and it was fun to hang out and chat and eat popcorn and Red Vines while watching the spectacle of it all. (Brian and the boys were at a Scout camping trip at Ft. Flagler.)
Eleanor and I agree that the flag team is the best of all the cheer teams because it’s the only genre of cheerleading that trains you to battle Sith Lords.
One of Katie’s cheers went along the lines of “Let’s! Get! A little bit rowdy! R-O-W-D-Y” but I kept accidentally singing the last part as “N-E-W-E-Y”
Other variations we came up with: “Let’s Get Slightly Rowdy,” “Let’s Get Sufficiently Rowdy,” “Let’s Get Sarcastically Rowdy” and “Let’s Get Exponentially Rowdy.” (Eleanor’s response to that last one: “oh, my.”)
Katie LOVED doing the Shorewood fight song with the big girls. She came back to us all dewey-faced and seriously pumped up. It was a great time to go home and be exhausted. Katie’s already asking when the next Junior Cheer clinic will be (not until late January, fortunately).
In the meanwhile, Eleanor and I have decided that we should watch more partial football games because popcorn and Red Vines.
(Oh and there was a football game. We lost — terribly! 10-60. Poor local sportsing team!)
Meanwhile, Katie continues to regale me with tales of Complicated Friendship Dynamics, with enough layers of intrigue and conspiracy to rival Wolf Hall. Who among Katie’s circle is merely her BFF, instead of her BFFFFFF? Who has betrayed her on the playground today? Will she ever get to play kickball with her “crush,” Greyson? (Greyson is often the topic of discussion in Katie’s “very secret love journal,” which she insisted I read and give feedback.)
Katie is also reading Charlie and the Chocolate Factory for the first time, and just as with all my other kids, she’s been completely pulled in by the suspense of the will-Charlie-find-a-Golden-Ticket plot.
A few days ago, she rushed into my room at bedtime, holding the book in her hands and insisted on reading aloud the chapter where Charlie’s grandparents all pooled their pennies together to buy him a birthday candy bar. She was SO CERTAIN there would be a Golden Ticket in that candy bar — eight years of children’s media had led her to believe that it was inevitable — but alas, it was but one of the many fake-outs Mr. Dahl set up to keep his readers guessing.
But she wasn’t disappointed. “There are still three tickets out there, Mom, and Charlie has to get one because why else would it be called Charlie and the Chocolate Factory??” No fooling her.
Lately we’ve also pulled Eleanor’s Schleich fairy castle out of her closet and made it, as I put it, “public domain.” Katie and William now spend long hours in knight and fairy fantasy play, with epic backstories, complex battle scenarios, and very assertive Fairy Queens. (All the fairy queens in my household Lean In.)
Katie has also discovered that whenever she feels down or bored, she can text GIFS to my mom. Bless my mom, she is always patient and sends GIFS back. Thanks, mom. It’s gotten us through more than one rough friendship day (see above).
OH — and as if all of the above were not enough Katie action — she’s recently discovered Brian’s old high school trumpet, and he told her it was okay to play it whenever she wanted and even printed out a page of basic key positions and now she’s “practicing trumpet” and carrying the blamed thing around with her like a security blanket. In fact, that’s often where we find the trumpet: nestled among a pile of stuffies and wrapped in her special blankie.
Brian, my dearest spouse. Did you really think our youngest daughter needed yet another avenue for self-expression? Really? It’s a good thing I love you, even if my ears occasionally do not.
You know what Wimmy doesn’t do much of? Complain. Even when he’s experiencing quite a bit of leg pain — which he’s been doing off and on for the past six weeks.
His left hip has been aching, sometimes so badly that he needs crutches to get around. (We had to bring the crutches with us on our Oregon road trip in August.) After a hike or a run — or the aforementioned Scout trip — he’ll be limping around the house, but ask him if he’s hurting, and he’ll say that he’s just fine. When he’s really not fine.
I took him to our pediatrician, which led to a blood test, which led to an x-ray, which led to a meeting with an orthopedist at Seattle Children’s, which led to an MRI.
Possible but not fully confirmed diagnosis: osteoid osteoma, aka William might have a benign tumor in his hip bone. Benign! Let’s not forget the magic b-word.
He has a CT scan this coming Tuesday to confirm. If the diagnosis is correct, he’ll get a low-invasive oblation, using a thin needle to kill off the tumor. If the diagnosis is incorrect, then . . . mystery pain goes on indefinitely?
It’s not often you hope your child has a tumor. But that’s where we are.
In other news, Will loved the aforementioned Scout campout at Ft. Flagler. It’s a little unfortunate that we are leaving Scouts at the end of the year, because Will really seems to enjoy it. (I, on the other hand, am SO READY to say goodbye to this lumbering dinosaur of a nonprofit don’t even get me started.)
The campout was one night but it’s an annual tradition in our ward. Ft. Flagler is a decommissioned military base from the WWII era. It’s a multi-tiered concrete fortress that makes for the perfect “Capture the Flag” game, which usually runs until 3:00 a.m.
Brian went along as a chaperone. He didn’t sleep well the night before, worried about kids falling to their deaths off of Ft. Flagler. Buuuuuut it turns out that the adults in charge were really good at setting ground rules to keep everyone safe and the game fair. Whew! Only one sprained ankle in the bunch.
William enjoyed himself so much that, upon arriving home, he immediately came upstairs to where I was knitting and wanted to give me a minute-by-minute rundown of everything that happened.
I said I was happy to listen after he took a shower. Which he did, and then happily cuddled in my lap and gave me a minute-by-minute rundown of everything that happened. EVERYTHING.
I’m constantly torn between wanting to push Eleanor to succeed in everything and holding myself back and not wanting her to explode from pressure or whatever.
The good news is that Eleanor is finally showering of her own accord — and! and! — making her bed every day. Cleaning out her room has given her incentive to keep it clean, and she’s succeeded so far.
Eleanor is enjoying her high school classes so far, except that her Geometry class has taken her a bit off guard. She was in honors math classes in middle school, and is taking honors everything else, but since there is no “honors” version of Geometry (why would there be?) then there are 10th and 11th graders in her class, many of whom are not highly motivated students.
My 9th and 10th grade math classes were the same way; I think it’s healthy to be with a variety of different learners, as long as the class doesn’t feel out of control (and I haven’t seen that at Shorewood so far).
She applied to be an ASB justice (low level student government position), but didn’t get the job. This was a bit of a blow, considering that she already lost her ASB senate run last spring. They talked her into being a Student Council person (even lower level student government job) which is the most thankless of tasks I’ve ever seen. But I just tease her with references of I, Claudia and say at least there isn’t an Honor Board and this is just one step on her way to overthrowing the student government, etc. etc. until she covers her ears and tells me to stop.
In the meanwhile, she’s interested in the thespian society and the math team and is singing with Camerata (whoa . . . and yikes). We’ll see how that last one works out. Three straight hours of choir per week is a lot of choir.
She and I are reading all the Enola Holmes books (which are fabulous) and watching Season 3 of “The Good Place” and she is simply the most fun person to hang out with even if she does still have the occasional yelling-and-door-slam moment.
This boy is so close to earning his Eagle Scout award and Brian and I are so over it. His big project (the blood drive this summer) is all checked off. Now we just have to do all the little piddling merit badge requirements and then set up a series of meetings and forms and red tape and arrrrgh.
Brian’s being the Lead Parent on this, which is great because I don’t got time for that.
In the meanwhile, we have finally installed a firewall-level internet filter which allows me to deny YouTube or the internet entirely with a flick of an app. This made Jeff extremely angry when we first turned it on, but he’s learning to adjust.
His anger seems to flare up more often and aggressively these days. I don’t know if it’s because of summertime . . . he loses a lot of social skills when he’s away from peers for so long. Yelling, door slamming, kicking walls and the back of car seats. It’s so stressful.
He’s interested in driving, but since we had a scary encounter driving home from Leavenworth on Labor Day, I don’t want him to drive the van anymore. (I should have put my foot down on this one from the start . . . I wasn’t allowed to drive my parents’ van until I was in college. Brian didn’t grow up with vans, and I don’t think he understands how difficult they are for beginning drivers). Jeff is understandably frustrated that he isn’t allowed to do something he only did weeks ago. Cue the yelling, stomping, door slamming, etc.
Sigh. Jeff and Eleanor are doing this behavior. I don’t know if my heart can take it if/when William starts.
The good news is that he is incredibly pleased with his birthday present this year. We are giving him the entrance fees for a three different Magic: the Gathering tournaments that are happening in conjunction with a new card set pre-release (as is my understanding).
Brian’s going out of town that weekend, so part of the present will be me forcing myself to stay awake until 1:00 a.m. so I can drive and pick him up when the tournament is over.
At least I know I can always make him smile with a choice meme. That boy done loves his memes.
Brian has some great projects at work that are going well, but unfortunately they are complicated and I know that if I attempt to describe them, I will fail miserably.
Said description will be slovenly and inaccurate. Nobody wants that.
Fortunately he enjoys telling me all about them, even if I can’t quite keep all the details straight in my mind. One of them is a study involving both BYU and Ancestry.com. That’s exciting, right? Two things I’ve heard of! Good for me.
His main trial in life right now is the sisyphean task of teaching Early Morning Seminary, constantly wrestling with a lesson manual that often seems written by someone who has never met teenagers, has no respect for their intellect, and is overall designed to make adult leaders feel good about themselves instead of helping the kids develop spiritually.
(At least, that is my take. Some of those lessons are simply dreadful.)
Add to all this a strong dollop of if-you-take-your-cell-phone-out-in-class-again-I-will-throw-it-against-the-wall, and I get the impression that Brian is getting more than a little discouraged with his second year of teaching.
On the bright side, he assures me that he’s said enough outrageous things to various stake-level leaders that I never have to worry about him being called to any bishopric, ever. Well, one less thing to fret over, I suppose.
I’m so glad I have him for my best friend.
For a change of pace for Date Night, I nabbed two tickets to the Moon Viewing Party at the Seattle Japanese Garden last week. There were beautiful lanterns and luminarias along the garden paths, launching of little boats, traditional Japanese folk music, and a haiku contest. (Brian entered, I did not. Neither of us won.)
First off, this thing finally got finished:
Yep, it’s the squishy grey “Greatlove Sweater” that I’ve been making for Kristen since May. This is by far the largest knitting project I’ve ever done, and it turned out very well. Kristen is incredibly pleased to have a sweater with sleeves that aren’t too long, and I’m happy to not have to drag around a massive cardigan with me everywhere I go.
We all took turns modeling. I spent a couple of hours wearing it before giving it up. (Yes, I know it was my idea to make it as a gift, but after having something as your constant companion for four months, there’s a little bit of mopey snurp-snurp when it’s all over.)
But the bigger news with me is that I’ve gone back to school. Well, part time. This is what I wrote on my Facebook feed:
“Twenty four years ago I was a college freshman and could not choose between majoring in English or Music. In order to decide, I enrolled in Intro to Literature (for English) and Beginning Music Theory.
The music theory class was a nightmare — all of the other kids had taken AP Music Theory in high school (which my high school didn’t even offer) and they all answered the instructor’s rapid-fire questions in unison (except me). A red headed girl who also studied piano asked condescending questions about who my piano teacher was, and what my score was in the all-state adjudications (as a military kid, I didn’t have very consistent lessons or access to competitions like that). I dropped the class that day and ran to the English department, where I could easily ace all the courses and read books forever.
While my music major friends called this the wisest decision I ever made (although they often affectionately referred to me as “the most music major person who isn’t a music major”) the experience rankled for a long time. When there’s something I’m passionate about, I like to excel. The whole affair reeked of Unfinished Business.
So it goes that I’ve decided to go back to school to earn an associate’s degree in Classical Piano! I’ve been taking private lessons through the community college for the past 3 years, and earning course credit along the way, so….why not? I’m only attending half-time, so it’s going to be a long, slow go of it, but since class started this past week I’ve found it very fulfilling. My kids even made me a schuletute to celebrate. I’m loving my mornings on campus and meeting lots of interesting people.
And if you think it’s odd to earn a Master’s degree and then follow it up with an Associate’s, just know that I am the third woman in the Shirts family to do this recently, so I’m just following a trend.”
Spoiler alert: that schuletute was full of random things my kids picked out from Fred Meyer and absolutely none of it was useful and I loved it.
I’m slowly adjusting to the student lifestyle again. In the morning, I hug Katie goodbye at the bus stop, then race to the school’s overflow free parking, catch the shuttle, and hoof it across campus. If I time everything just so, I can make it into one of the practice rooms by 9:00 a.m.
More updates on school life in posts to come. Hooray for fall!
It takes about a million tiny tasks to launch a group of children into the new school year.
Registration fees to pay at three different schools; supplies to purchase and organize; back-to-school and meet-the-teacher and back-to-business and PTA barbecues; scheduling appointments with the pediatrician for athletics physicals; registering Chromebooks with the technology office; setting content filters for said Chromebooks; getting in fights with disgruntled teens who suddenly can’t watch YouTube at all hours of the day; making sure the bicycles are in working order; making sure everyone knows the combinations for bike locks and gym locks and garage door keypad combinations and bus numbers/stop locations/pickup and dropoff times; putting money in school lunch accounts; paying for yearbooks and school pictures and spirit gear (ha) and club memberships and ASB cards; figuring out tuition and carpooling for piano lessons and swimming lessons and choir rehearsals and cross country meets; practicing getting up at 5:30 a.m. for seminary; organizing Friday breakfasts and carpools for seminary.
Forms and forms and forms and forms and forms. (My hand hurts.)
And that doesn’t even include what happens when we put on our long pants at the end of summer and find that they are all mysteriously too short, or there are holes in the knees.
All of this, of course, comes at the end of a stint of being the Activities Director for the family “Employment Enjoyment Summerslam Grill Jam Fun-Splosion,” capped off with a Grandparent Party Week, where we went on a low tide walk and the county fair and the Museum of Flight and Leavenworth and the Boehm’s Candies factory tour.
And a night-before-school campfire cookout . . .
. . . and massive school-supply free for all . . .
. . . and the opening of schuletuten . . .
. . . all of which left me just a wee bit exhausted on top of the early-morning seminary jet lag.
But hey. Die kinder done got launched. Grades 11, 9, 7, 3.
I intended to spent the following days having a knit-a-thon while watching the BBC miniseries adaptation of Middlemarch; but instead I ended up running a lot of errands instead (cause, y’know, we need food and stuff). In the afternoons when I had a spare moment to knit, I ended up collapsing into drowsiness, accomplishing little, and ending up tired and cranky when the children arrived home.
By Friday I decided to Hang It All and do my knit-a-thon — I watched almost the entirety of Middlemarch in one dang day — and by the end I felt awful for sitting still for so long (even if I did finish the second sleeve for Kristen’s sweater, hooray hooray).
Creeping anxiety began to take over; coupled with the familiar sensation that I’m somehow frittering away my life without accomplishing anything particularly tangible or meaningful.
Obviously, this means I need to get back on the writing/practicing wagon come Monday. But what does it say about me that I can’t even take three days for myself without feeling guilty?
Either way, I decided to fill our first school-year Saturday by trying out something new with the family: Mountain Fest at Camp Long.
This is a mountain-climbing festival for families sponsored by Seattle Parks & Recreation. Different climbing organizations come and let kids try out all the climbing apparatus for free!
Camp Long used to be a Boy Scout camp in the early 20th century, until it was decommissioned and turned into a city park. There’s a big lodge and little cabins, a fire amphitheatre, etc. all of which are available to anyone for renting out.
But what it’s famous for are the stone climbing/rappelling walls, among the first of their kind ever built as part of a WPA project in 1939. They’ve been preserved by the city, and the kids had a blast trying them out.
First they all tried bouldering (which was pretty easy for all of them):
Next the kids moved on to rope-assisted climbing (I’m sure there’s a more accurate technical term for this, but I don’t know what it is).
William couldn’t figure out the medium-difficulty wall, but didn’t give up. He took on the high-difficulty wall and made it to the top!
Katie had fun climbing but got nervous about rappelling down. (I admit rappelling is counterintuitive.)
There was also a rappelling course built into a hillside (I’d never seen anything like it before).
But best of all was the high-ropes course, which Brian did along with the three older kids. Sadly, you had to be twelve years or older to go, which Katie was not happy about. She had a bit of a personality breakdown on the way home as a result.
The city also had a bonfire with free hot dogs and s’mores for everyone to roast, along with informational booths from a variety of outdoors-adventure organizations. It was pretty much felt like Scout Camp in a Day.
I’ve read about Mountain Fest in the past, and I can’t believe we haven’t ever been before. Rest assured, we will try not to make that mistake again! Thank you, Seattle Parks & Rec!
On “safari” in the Lamar Valley! In addition to scads of bison, pronghorn, big horned sheep, elk and osprey, we were lucky enough to observe a juvenile black bear right next to the road. When he got too close, the rangers carefully shooed him away. Our goal was to have a picnic dinner at our favorite spot on the banks of Pebble Creek (where we had a surprise meet up with grandparents and cousins). Sad to drive home now but so thankful to spend time with these wonderful animals.
Yellowstone, Day 2: in which my description of the caldera frightens my 8 year old so badly that she cries through an entire geyser basin; whenever my kids see an elk they bark “elk! elk! elk! elk!” like deranged sea lions; we are driven indoors by torrential downpours and I convince myself that “the park looks so green and verdant now”; Eleanor and I purchase bookmarks that list “Advice From a Mud Pot” (such as, “always bubble with enthusiasm”); we finish the evening by challenging Grandpa to a dance-off (not pictured, for which I think he’s grateful).
We made the big drive up to Yellowstone today via Grand Teton NP. The kids did not like posing for photos in front of the mountains; Katie has incredible tolerance for the frigid waters of Jenny Lake; Brian and the boys ate something called the “Signal Mountain of Nachos,” and we waddled around some geyser basins afterwards. Time to collapse!
All four kids performed at Benaroya Hall in the Seattle Children’s Chorus’ 30th anniversary concert this afternoon. (UGH, the dropoff carpooling! Let us never speak of it again.) I was sneaky and took a few pictures of the combined choir onstage….. and then a few of the organist & trumpet soloist performing Bach to warm up the audience….. and then when Katie forgot her hoodie backstage I couldn’t resist taking a few more pics with the Seattle Symphony’s percussion kit…..lots of musical sneaky sneaks today. Oh, and beautiful music from the kids, too. Good job, guys.
Way, way back in 2013, my sainted in-laws took Jeff, Eleanor and myself on a trip to Washington D.C. and a other assorted U.S. history-related sites (like Monticello and Colonial Williamsburg). It was a lot of fun, but I spent much of my time there wishing that I could go on a similar trip with my whole family.
Perhaps when Katie turned eight, I imagined, we might do another similar East Coast trip, but perhaps to the Boston area, instead?
Little did I know that such imaginings might one day become reality! Last fall Brian and I unearthed a killer deal on airfare to Boston ($230 per person, round trip!) and we began planning a fast and furious Magical History Tour.
(It didn’t hurt that we had friends in the region that we wanted to visit, too.)
So here begins a lengthy travelogue, which are possibly the worst kind of blog post, so my apologies in advance.
My first priority was to amend a mistake I made back in 2007 when I had the chance to visit the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art and then didn’t. I’ve regretted that decision for the last decade.
Regrets no more! On our first day in Massachusetts, we immediately pointed our rental car towards Amherst and the museum.
It’s a tiny little place — only two galleries — but beautifully curated. My teenagers were especially pleased by their temporary exhibit, which is all about graphic novel author/illustrators.
I especially enjoyed the museum’s reading room, which features a library of picture books alphabetized by illustrator’s last name (usually it’s by author). Cheeky, that.
Admittedly, I was slightly disappointed by the small number of artworks on display. The museum has something like 4600+ original illustrations in its collection. Only a tiny fraction of those were available for viewing by the public. It seems a lot of what the museum does is create moveable exhibits that tour children’s museums around the country. Which is fine, I suppose.
The museum bookstore had the biggest collection of Very Hungry Caterpillar merchandise, ever. But their bookstore was AMAZING — one of the best children’s bookstores I’ve ever visited.
They had a bumper sticker that says “The Pigeon Is Not Authorized to Drive This Vehicle,” along with a drawing of the Mo Willems pigeon. Of course we had to get one. It was practically written in the stars. It’s on my van now.
Amherst is also home to the Emily Dickinson Museum, so of course we had to make a stop there as well. It was fascinating to see the research that historians have done to learn about what Emily Dickinson’s life and habits were like — she’s still very much an enigma in many ways. Her brother’s next-door house was also part of the home tour, and it’s been marvelously preserved — an incredible time-capsule of well-to-do Victorian-era life in New England.
(Spoiler alert: this was but the first of many, many historic homes we toured. I thought I was boring the kids to pieces, but on the way home, William listed the home tours as his favorite part of the trip. He really enjoyed seeing what day-to-day life was like for people long ago. And yes, I did a series of mental fist-pumps when he said this.)
That evening we rode the T into the city to see the Red Sox play the Detroit Tigers at Fenway Park.
We had to do a bit of arm-twisting to commit ourselves to taking everybody to a ballgame. I am not a sportsing person. Brian is to an extent, but he’s not a big baseball fan. All of the kids groaned at the idea (especially Eleanor) but we heard so much positive feedback from friends and family members who have gone to games there, that we decided to give it a try.
I’m so glad we did! My brother told me that his experience there was “magical,” and I have to concur. There’s some seriously deep nostalgic Americana going on with that place. It’s so tiny and charming, and everybody feels like they are having a laid back party. We ate overpriced hot dogs and the most delicious kettle corn I’ve ever had. The audience did “the wave,” and someone got engaged on the JumboTron. What more could you ask for?
Oh, and there was a baseball game. (Katie actually giggled in my ear during The Wave and said, “we are not paying attention to baseball, mama!”)
The Sox won! Yay!
We actually left before the game was over (since we had a very long trek back to our hotel, and we didn’t want to do that at midnight) and the kids, who had been grumbling and frowning on our arrival, then begged and pleaded to stay one more inning.
My bestie Libby lives in the outskirts of Boston, and she was more than happy to pull her kids out of school for the day and meet us in the city for some hard-core touring. It was so fun to see her again! And much was the marveling at how big our kids have grown, etc. etc.
We started our day at the U.S.S. Constitution!
It wasn’t our first time visiting this ship; we made a visit with Libby and her family back in 2007. Jeff was five years old and obsessed with history, and he loved the USS Constitution so much that he vowed then and there that he would be a “powder monkey” when he grew up.
(He has since changed his mind.)
We had lots of fun climbing through the different levels of the ship listening to the servicemen on board who told us the (very extensive) battle history of the ship, and why it’s called Old Ironsides. (It’s because it’s constructed of live oak, which is stronger than the regular oak that the Brits used.)
Afterwards, Brian, Jeff & William broke off from our group to take a quick gander at the Bunker Hill Memorial (which they were interested in since reading about Bunker Hill in One Dead Spy.)
We met back up at Faneuil Hall for a very, very crowded and busy lunch. We ate on a bench and felt incredibly lucky to have that bench. Geez.
Afterwards, we wandered back through the North End (aka Little Italy) to try out cannolis at Mike’s Pastry. The kids each chose a different flavor (there are twenty or so different kinds).
Our destination was the Old North Church. We arrived just in time to hear a docent give a history of the church. I was pleased to see that there was once a time when churches had pews with doors that locked. Would that I could have had such a thing when my children were toddlers.
And for some reason, the Old North Church recently built a restored colonial-era chocolate shop — Captain Jackson’s Chocolate Confectionarie or somesuch. Whatever — the point was that we got to see a cool demonstration of period chocolate-making techniques, and then get free samples of hot chocolate. (The mixture was so delightful that I bought a bag to take home. I’ll save it for Christmastime.)
At this point, it was time for Libby and her kids to head home for some after-school appointments. We decided to keep touring on our own. The next site of interest on the Freedom Trail was the Paul Revere House.
I found this house not so interesting because of Paul Revere (who, really, wasn’t all that interesting a person) but because it’s one of the few Tudor-era buildings in the U.S. Dark exposed wood beams! Purple diamond-paned windows! Fireplaces big enough to roast an ox! Be still my heart.
Annnnnnd for some reason, there’s a bonus bell displayed outside that was made at the Revere forge. Liberty and all that.
We had hoped to have time to ride the swan boats in the public gardens that day, but they closed early that day. Oh, well.
But at least we got to see the Make Way for Ducklings statues! This was a surprisingly big deal for me. They were all decked out in bumblebee suits and tiny handknitted hats for springtime.
On the drive back home, we drove through the Harvard campus and stopped to take a photo at Peabody Terrace, where Brian’s family lived when he was born. Aww.
We finished up the evening at Lizzy’s Homemade Ice Cream, where I got to have a big scoop of the Sweet Cream flavor (which I’ve only seen at ice cream shops in New England).
ENOUGH of Ye Olde Colonial times — make way for the Industrial Revolution, baby! We headed north to Lowell to see the National Historic Park there.
The big thing to see there is the Boott Cotton Mills museum. They have a whole factory floor of period weaving machines there, and keep them running so that guests can see, feel, and HEAR (boy howdy hear) what it was like to be a textile factory worker in the 19th century.
Eleanor was especially interested because she recently learned about Lowell in her Social Studies class. I’ve been interested ever since I read Katherine Paterson’s Lyddie (one of those rare books I think EVERYONE should read).
The park rangers gave us all earplugs, which was wise. The racket was powerful — and only about a dozen of the hundred-odd machines were on! I told the kids to imagine 10x the noise, fourteen hours a day, six days a week. That’s the foundation the textile industry was founded upon. Think about that the next time you shop for clothes.
There was a museum upstairs with more information about the Lowell textile industry. Everyone was very interested in trying out this little tabletop loom.
After the museum, we then had a challenging time finding lunch. We initially wanted to go to a diner where Jack Kerouac was rumored to haunt, but it closed at noon (!). A second diner was supposed to be open until 2:00 p.m., but when we arrived, it was also closed (!!). So we settled on a place called the Purple Carrot that had tasty food, but was unfortunately understaffed and so our food took a little on the side of forever to get to us.
It was while we were waiting that we noticed that Katie had a huge hole in the toe of her shoe. So our next stop after lunch was a quick trip to Target for shoes (and my required dose of Coke Zero).
Which is all a way of saying that our tourism stride was interrupted and we didn’t see as much as I would have liked that day. But at least Katie has cool rainbow sparkle shoes now.
After all that, we drove down to Concord to see the Orchard House, aka the home of Louisa May Alcott and her family. Despite my best efforts, nobody else in my family has read any of LMA’s books, so I was concerned that everyone would be bored by (yet another) historical house tour.
But on the contrary — the Alcott family is interesting enough that their home is full of curiosities, and everyone found it really interesting, especially all of the drawings and paintings that “Amy” made all over the walls, as well as all the handmade custom modifications the family made to the house and furnishings.
(By an astonishing coincidence, we saw another family from our stake back in Shoreline leaving Orchard House right as we were arriving. Crazy.)
Admittedly, my favorite part of the tour was overhearing the Orchard House docents chatting in the gift shop, gushing with excitement over the new film adaptation of Little Women that’s coming out this Christmas. It brings me such joy to see fans find their fandom.
It began to get seriously drizzly rainy by the time we pulled up to the Minute Man National Historic Park, so we were more than happy to spend time watching the cool interactive media presentation at the visitor’s center. It was nice to see the full geographic connection between the Old North Church and the Battle of Concord.
Afterwards, we trekked through the rain to see the (reconstructed) North Bridge, where the battle took place. Brian called out “everyone who’s wearing red should go stand on the far side and prepare for everyone else to shoot at them,” and it took a few moments for Eleanor to realize that she was the only one wearing a red coat and shout, “hey!”
It was a lovely, peaceful stroll around the pond. . . or would have been if I didn’t learn the hard way that my shoes also had holes in the soles. A squishy walk for me. My shoes got so waterlogged that I had to borrow Brian’s spare pair (brown dress shoes!!) for that evening and the next day.
That evening, we headed back into the suburbs — Eleanor had been invited to Beth’s birthday party (Libby’s daughter) and we had dinner with Eric & Abby, who were our good friends in Pittsburgh. In the eleven years since we’d seen them, they’d had two children, and it was fun to compare notes about how much everyone had changed.
(Alas, their gregarious seven year son, Nathan, developed a bit of a crush on Katie and kept trying to hold her hand, which she wasn’t wild about. “He keeps trying to be my boyfriend,” she explained. I understood her distress, but privately found it adorable and hilarious.)
Our goal on this last day was to head as far down Cape Cod as was physically possible and still make it back in time to have dinner with Libby and Scott.
So! Onwards at the break of day to Plimoth Plantation! First, a quick stop to see the “real” Plymouth Rock. Which I understand is about as “real” as Washington’s cherry tree, but what kind of red-blooded American tourist would I be if I didn’t stop and see Plymouth Rock??
Would you believe it’s in a sand pit in the middle of this Grecian temple??
There’s a ranger whose job it is to make sure nobody jumps down and tries to chip away a souvenir. I’m giving myself infinite kudos for not snorting with laughter during our visit.
Thus my personal Liberty Bell/Mount Rushmore/Plymouth Rock triumvirate is complete! USA! USA! USA!
Eric and Abby met us with their children at the Plimoth Plantation, since they had never been to visit. (Nathan was wearing a sweater vest, which he apparently chose as a way of trying to impress Katie. It didn’t work.)
FYI — tickets at Plimoth Plantation are expensive enough for a family of six that it’s cheaper to buy a membership. So, now we can visit whenever we want for free? Lucky us?
As far as living history museums go, Plimoth Plantation isn’t the largest, but whoa the dedication of its staff!
The museum recently added a Wampanoag village to its grounds, and the interpreters there were really interesting. They were all people of Native American/First Nation heritage, and were really open and frank about their interpretation of U.S. history (“we don’t see borders the way you do,” one man said) as well as what brought them to the museum (“my girlfriend is Wampanoag, so we came here together,” “my mom wrote a grant about preserving the Wampanoag language”). They were very much 21st century people talking about the past.
On the other hand, the residents of the Pilgrim village were hard-core dedicated to being their characters — real people, on a particular day and year in the past. We walked from house to house, asking them questions about their situation, habits of living, what brought them to the New World, etc. and it was mighty impressive how much each interpreter knew about their particular character’s situation.
The crowd favorite, of course, is Miles Standish. He had a pencil-point moustache, a cape, a rapier, and spent a long time describing a horrible siege of a Dutch village by the Spanish. He scoffed at the idea of the Pilgrims immigrating for religious freedom (indeed, very few of the villagers listed religion as their reason for coming to North America).
I also admit that the children and I began singing “Trogdor” as soon as we saw all the thatched-roof cottages.
After wrapping up our time in Plimoth, we headed down the darling Old King’s Highway for a driving tour of Cape Cod’s coastal villages. My friend Libby said afterwards, “think of every cliche you’ve seen about Cape Cod from movies and TV — and then multiply it by ten. That’s the actual Cape Cod.”)
SO MANY SHINGLE WALLED COTTAGES!! I told the kids they could shout “awww!” every time they saw something charming or adorable. Everyone then kept “awww!”-ing for a solid five minutes, until we all agreed that our throats would wear out if we kept expounding on the cuteness. Cape Cod is cute. The End.
For lunch, we stopped at a place called Seafood Sam’s. The guy who took our order was a stocky gentleman with grey hair and a double-heart tattoo on his forearm. He looked like he just stepped off a boat, and spent a good amount of time telling us that the fried clam bellies from Cape Cod were the world’s best. Ditto the lobster rolls. He was incredibly charming in his own gruff way, and I think half the price of the food was just for the privilege of talking to him.
The next stop on our driving tour was to see the Edward Gorey House. I was a little apprehensive about this stop, because, like the other literary houses we’d visited, the kids weren’t too familiar with Gorey’s work.
But once again, my fears were unfounded. The Edward Gorey House is CRAZY. The museum curators have done a bang-up job making fascinating displays of not just Gorey’s art and history, but of all the kooky stuff he delivered. Everything is displayed to highlight his quirky, kind of dark sense of humor.
The kids “got” the joke right away, especially when presented with a Gashlycrumb Tinies scavenger hunt. There were little references to all twenty-six dead Gashlycrumbs hidden throughout the house, as well as giant cut-outs of many of his characters.
I basically had to drag the kids away when it was time to go. The museum is small (only the first floor of the house) but we could have easily spent another hour there.
Onwards, onwards, onwards — finally, we made it to the Cape Cod National Seashore. We only had an hour to spend there, but the kids said that they wanted to “touch the Atlantic Ocean,” and by gum, we were gonna do it!
At the visitor’s center, there was a quote from Thoreau, saying that when you’re on the beach at Cape Cod, “a man may stand and put all of America behind him.”
Brian and I think that’s a quintessentially East Coast thing to say. I can’t imagine anyone in Washington (or California, or Hawaii) standing on the beach and getting such an impression.
I’m also pleased we were able to squeeze in a token lighthouse sighting. True, we have picturesque lighthouses on the West Coast, too, but this one! With the little cottage behind it! Who are you to resist it, eh?
It’s a good thing we had dinner with friends waiting for us back in Boston, or I don’t think we would have turned back for a long time.
We had to wake up at four in the morning to make it back to the airport in time for our very early 6:45a.m. flight. Urgh. At least the lines for security weren’t very long.
And we had time to get a box of Dunkin Donuts before boarding. Very important New England experience.
Also fortunate: it was a direct flight, hooray.
We were all a little dazed when we tumbled out of the SEA-TAC airport and realized it was only 11:00 a.m. On the way home, we did the mental math and realized that if we headed down to Richmond Beach right away, we could say that we’d touched the Atlantic and Pacific oceans in the same 24 hour period.
Yes, I know we’re fudging a bit with Puget Sound. But it has saltwater and whales, so I says it counts.
It’s lovely to be back home, but I think our visit was all too brief. It’s making me feel optimistic about choosing more adventurous travel with our kids in coming years, however. Time to start planning.
I’m often fairly low-key when it comes to Easter. I think it’s because it’s kind of the last of the holiday crush: Halloween->Thanksgiving->Christmas->New Year’s->Valentine’s->Pi Day/St. Patrick’s->Easter.
Thus, I’m often disinclined to put together any kind of big shebang to celebrate. In some ways, this is a good thing, since it allows me to fully focus on the religious aspect of the holiday.
However, I had a difficult time focusing on even that this year, because of (say it with me): TOOOOOOTH DISCOMFOOOORRRRT.
I had a filling replaced at the end of March, and the tooth began to tingle/ache like crazy. It amplified right over Easter weekend, and since we were leaving town for Spring Break the Tuesday after Easter, it was very difficult to not think about. Especially when playing the organ for church services.
But we still managed to check off most of the holiday boxes. I managed to make Hot Cross Buns (delivered with haste before heading off to the Kirtland Art Center for a pottery class with Katie’s scout troop):
Then, on Saturday, the three big kids had a temple trip, so Brian and I decided to take Katie to the tulip festival at Mt. Vernon. I don’t think Brian and I had ever been to the festival together, and it was really neat to have some Katie-only time.
A few days ago, Katie came up to me sighing, saying she wished she could be a middle child, “because I would like just one person to be older than.” Sometimes I forget that, like Beverly Cleary says, “grown ups forget that when you are the littlest person, you sometimes have to be a little bit louder and a little bit more stubborn in order to be noticed at all.”
The color was spectacular at Roozengaarde, it’s been a few years since I’ve been able to go during peak bloom. Because of the temple trip’s early start time, we were able to arrive in Mt. Vernon right at opening time, which meant it was busy, but not too crowded.
SO many fields were “on.” I loved it!
I was especially tickled by the number of display beds that were created to look like different shapes:
And then there were the beds so bright you practically need sunglasses:
Afterwards, we headed to Edison for lunch at Mariposa. Brian hadn’t ever been there before. It’s pretty much the only good Mexican food I’ve been able to find in the Seattle area, and he was moaning at the deliciousness. Maybe it’s a good thing that it’s over an hour’s drive away.
Also the obligatory stop at Breadfarm. Ohhh, buttery cinnamon-y graham cracker goodness. I bought three packages: one for me, one for the family, and also one more for me. [rolls eyes innocently up towards heaven]
Afterwards, we hastily dyed some eggs while Jeff and William hosted a Magic: the Gathering tourney at our house.
Easter Sunday was peaceful (when I wasn’t worrying about my tooth). The program included hymn changes I hadn’t been informed of ahead of time, which is always exciting. I managed to execute my special “last verse” arrangement of Christ the Lord is Risen Today, which always sounds wonderful. My piano teacher, Jensina, was really impressed and moved by it (she gave me three hugs afterwards).
Brian went all out with fiendishly difficult hiding spots for the children’s Easter baskets this year: in the pantry behind boxes of cereal; buried under newspaper in the recycle bin; inside the piano; and hidden under bags of frozen veggies in the freezer. (I can’t remember the fourth hiding place! Too fiendish for the likes of me.)
Since I wanted to keep things simple this year, we only invited Kristen & Patrick over for dinner — and then they came down with a stomach bug!
We ate our grilled leg of lamb anyway, and then made up plates for them and drove them down to their house. I tried a new potato recipe from my favorite Beat This! cookbook. They were tasty, but I don’t think I realized how long they take to took (after boiling and squishing the potatoes flat, you then have to bake them for 40+ minutes).
And of course we had carrot cake. Which is so exciting it apparently requires jazz hands.