Magical History Tour 2.0

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.

Day One

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.


There were little Brown Bear tiles in the bathroom!

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.

The museum had a GORGEOUS art studio
The alphabet letters are all made of twigs!
Brian and Katie made some art together. Note the Carle murals in the background.

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.

Boston’s Red Line is the SCREECHIEST subway I’ve ever ridden


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.

As you can see, Eleanor was not happy at first. But at the end, she was the one most reluctant to go. Aww.

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.

Day Two

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).


Day Three

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.

I think we can agree that the face cutout in this board is all kinds of wrong

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.)

Day Four

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.


Jeff spent a looooong time asking this gentleman about his firearm


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.

And yes the seafood was incredible oh my gosh

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.


Home Again

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.

Tulips & Eggs

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!


Brian and I both thought this yellow tulip in a field of red looked like a vintage Mormonad.


I was especially tickled by the number of display beds that were created to look like different shapes:

Seahawks logo
UW logo (go Huskies!)
Yellow daisy!
This one had giant pink and red hearts in a circle

And then there were the beds so bright you practically need sunglasses:


I mean, can you even . . . my eyes . . .
BONUS: tulips in a tree!


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.

Happy spring — happy Easter!

And Out Like a Lamb

Spring has sprung, and the Brooke is running . . .

. . . everywhere. This time of year always feels especially hectic for our family. It seems like there’s a different kid event every night. Meanwhile, the Dire Spectre of Summer is looming over the horizon, threatening to cancel all my personal productivity, so I’m scrambling to get as much writing done as possible before school gets out.

Every summer I tell myself I’m going to write every day, and every summer it never happens. It’s nearly impossible for me to focus with kids running around and squabbling — or worse, zoning out on YouTube. (Ugh, if I could throw Jeff’s school-issued Chromebook in a lake, I would.)

BUT that’s getting ahead of myself. In between all the scurrying, there’s been much to enjoy.

Eleanor did a great job in her school’s production of “The Internet is Distrac– Oh Look a Kitten!” She played a creepy Kermit-obsessed Wikipedia contributor. Her friend Esther played the lead, a kid who is desperately trying to finish the last paragraph of her essay about “The Great Gatsby.” (Eleanor’s character changes the Gatsby wiki entry to say that the green light represents Kermit. “That’s not weird! YOU’RE weird!”)

The next day, I made my annual pilgrimage to see the cherry blossoms at the UW. Laura is moving away to California this summer (I am very sad about this) and in all her years of living in Seattle, she’s never seen the cherry blooms, so I invited her to come along with me.


Brian was able to walk over from the hospital and say hello, too. It’s such a nice, fresh way to say hello to spring. It always feels like a big public party.


And of course I had a double-header: the afternoon after the cherry blossoms, I climbed in my car to head off to the annual Northwest Pilgrims retreat. We had a much smaller turnout than usual this year (about 55 people instead of 80+) and . . . I don’t know. I shouldn’t use attendance size as a measure of how successful the retreat is. But it’s hard not to. The tone of the retreat felt “off” to me, as well. For the first time, I began to question whether or not I should be there. Perhaps it’s just me feeling burned out on organizing the retreat every year. This was the sixth year in a row for me. Maybe I need to take a break. Eh.

It was still fun to network with other curious, questioning women from all over. I made a Captain Marvel hat for the silent auction. The first attempt turned out enormous:

So I unravelled it and tried again. Better, I think (modeled by Julia):

Here’s something hilarious: on the Sunday of the retreat weekend, Katie went to ward choir practice, and once again the director brought cookies for everyone to share. Katie grabbed an extra for me, but on the way home, she decided to take a little bite. Soon she was saving half a cookie for me . . . and then a quarter.

When I arrived home, Katie handed me this:


I remarked that it sounded like something from a “Frog & Toad” story. But Brian suggested that in a real F&T story the cookie would be completely gone, and I’d only get an empty bag full of good intentions. So I guess I should be grateful that I got this much. `

Spring is still springing, despite the absence of cookies. Our main seasonal attraction is this guy:


This is Mr. Robin, and he and his mate built their nest stupidly close to our dining room window. Ergo, Mr. Robin keeps seeing his reflection in the window, thinks it’s a rival bird, and tries to chase him off. All day long this bird is attacking our window, so we’ve got a fairly constant thump-thump-thump in the background as we go about our day.

We’ve tried putting bird cutouts and other deterrents on the glass, but it’s not working. I’m worried that Mr. Robin will injure himself. We’ll have to wait and see if the eggs hatch soon.

In the meanwhile, we’ve been having a bit of Arts Extravaganza lately. Since I’ve started a better household budgeting program, we’ve been able to set aside money for going to more performing arts events. Eleanor and I went to see “Marie, Dancing Still,” a new musical at the 5th Ave. Theater which many people predict will be headed to Broadway soon (it was written by the people who wrote Ragtime and directed by director of The Producers). It’s based on the statue “Little Dancer Aged Fourteen” by Degas, and imagines the friendship that developed between the artist and the young dancer who was his model.

I thought it was a pretty good show! What made it stunning was how they used digital projections to make the scenery look like Impressionist paintings. I was able to snap these images from intermission and the curtain call:

Meanwhile, Jeff finished another run on the tech crew of the school drama club. He was the spotlight operator for their production of “Newsies.”


Kristen and Sven got to come watch a matinee with Eleanor and I last weekend. The tech crew came on stage for the final curtain call and did a little line dance together, which was really fun. I’m so happy that Jeff has found his funky tribe with the theater people.


(Oh, and Kristen and Sven got to come over for a massive dish of paella afterwards. I put William in the picture for scale)


Finally, this weekend Eleanor turned fourteen! She asked if we could do an “escape room at home” party. I found a company that sells downloadable escape-room kits, and we chose the zombie-themed one.

The scenario was as follows: the girls were trapped in a hotel room surrounded by pizza-eating zombies, and the last surviving pizza was locked in the oven! To escape, they had to get the pizza, get a weapon, unlock the door, and then shoot their way to freedom.


The puzzles were . . . uneven. The best part was the end, when a “zombie invasion” required a shootout. Paper zombies were lined up for a shooting gallery, and the girls took turns firing at them with a Nerf gun.




Can’t have a birthday chronicle without Cake Commentary. This was the “She Loves Me” daisy cake from Rose’s Beautiful Cakes, split and filled with lemon curd and blueberries. Divine.


The festivities continued the next day, as Eleanor and William got to meet their “fur-st cousin,” Maggie Murderface, at Aunt Kristen’s house the next day. We then embarked on a yarn-shopping expedition (I’m planning to knit Kristen a sweater) followed by a lunch of savory waffles:


We then finished the afternoon watching Pacific Northwest Ballet’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which was very fun, even if it didn’t have the play-within-a-play. (I guess that would be difficult to do in ballet mime.)


Only one more week before Spring Break . . .here’s to hoping we survive the carpooling madness!

Puns Make Me Numb . . .

. . . but math puns make me number!

Get it? Eh? Eh?

Yeah, it’s gloriously stupid. And I love it.

We had a variety of math puns on hand for my favorite fake holiday, Pi Day.

As per usual, we had S’mores Pie from Shari’s Diner (someday, SOMEDAY I will pick a different flavor. I make the same promise every year. And then pick the s’mores one once again. Never fails).

We also had the big chicken pot pie from Costco, which we ate while watching Donald in Mathmagic Land. This year, however, we were able to add the Norton Juster/Chuck Jones collaboration The Dot and the Line. The kids were finally old enough to appreciate all the puns. It was lovely.


The next day was the Ides of March, and appropriately enough, I had Piano Juries. Ack!

Bit by bit, I’m beginning to get over my performance anxiety, but it’s still a big problem for me. The week before, I played the same piece (Debussy’s “La cathedrale engloutie”) at the winter quarter student recital, and I totally nailed it!


But at Piano Juries, I found out that I was the last one on the program, and that was enough to psych me out. (Ha — I initially picked up a copy of the program and thought, “hey, I don’t see my name. Maybe I don’t have to play after all!” Then I remembered that paper has two sides.)

My left hand somehow forgot what to do during the opening measures of the music (why????). I was able to rally and finish the piece (I didn’t stop) but I’m still annoyed that I blanked after so many perfect performances at home. Oh, well. Onwards to Beethoven’s Pathetique sonata!

The kids didn’t have such problems with their performances the next day with the Seattle Children’s Chorus. The kids were performing in two different concerts, so Brian and I decided we’d each attend a different one. (They raised the ticket prices, and we couldn’t bring ourselves to shell out $100 for this.)


I got to go to Eleanor’s performance (Jeff missed the concert to do tech rehearsals for the high school musical). It sounded beautiful as always — I was sad that I didn’t get to hear Jeff sing “Rainbow ‘Round My Shoulder,” as it has really cool polyphony.

My only complaint is the Denny Lutheran Church where they performed — it’s beautiful (and a little smaller than other performance spaces, so it felt more intimate) but the women’s bathrooms had only one functional stall. You can imagine what intermission was like.

Once again, Eleanor’s choir dress aged her about 5 years. A great way to welcome spring!

Brian and I went out for date night that evening, and when we returned, we found that Katie and William made adorable leprechaun traps for St. Patrick’s Day. (I thought they had forgotten about this, but I was wrong. Luckily I had a few random gold-foil-wrapped candies lying around.)

William’s trap was basically an impossible-to-enter-box that he dared the leprechaun to enter. (Reverse psychology, see.)


Katie’s was your more traditional pit trap. Nice use of decorative ponies, there.


And apart from those goings-on, life has been fairly quiet. My biggest recent achievement: successfully cancelling the Pinewood Derby without hurting anyone’s feelings (yay!).

And we’re switching Cub Scouts to meeting only twice a month, to match the Activity Days program. This got a unanimous “yea” vote from all the den leaders. And the Primary presidents are so happy that I was willing to be Cubmaster that they basically approve of everything I want to do.

Hopefully, this will give me a little breathing room. It’s been a tough couple of years, juggling two Scout troops, along with PSC, Northwest Pilgrims, and . . .y’know, the whole parenting-four-kids thing.

Eleanor recently submitted her high school registration packet. Ack! It’s going to be so different from Jeff’s high school experience; I hope we’re all ready. On her science teacher’s recommendation, she decided to take Honors Biology, and we’re all a little nervous about it. (Apparently the counselor felt obligated to give her a little “do you really know what you’re signing up for?” speech, which upset her. Blech.)

And William turned in his papers for middle school, which we’re old hands at now, so no big deal. (Wish I could go back and say so to the Freaking Out About Middle School Brooke of 2015.) William’s teacher occasionally will have a “coupon store” where the kids use their good-behavior points to buy items, and he used almost all his points to buy a hoodie with the middle school logo. He’s been wearing it constantly ever since. Aww.

Eleanor and I have both had a renewed interest in knitting lately. She’s spending time making little stuffed bunny toys that she wants to give to cousins at the family reunion this summer. I’m making a hat inspired by Captain Marvel. The first version turned out too big:

I calculated the gauge wrong. Ironically enough, this mistake happened at the Math Olympiad. Knowing that the hat would just end up in a closet, I quickly unravelled the whole thing and started over again. But we still took a picture for posterity.

Lastly, Brian and I went to the temple yesterday and stopped at Lil’ John’s Diner afterwards to finally try their sweet buns (they’ve been sold out every other time we’ve visited). They were in takeout boxes when we bought them, so we didn’t realize how huuuuge they were until we ate them this morning. Let’s just say: wowzers.


Jeff ate a WHOLE ONE. Or at least tried to. He ended up spreading it out over a couple of meals. Hollow legs, indeed!



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


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.


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.


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).


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!)


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!


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.

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).


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.


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!


(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!


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.


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

The Bob Ross painting
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.


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


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


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.


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


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


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


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.


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.)

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.


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.

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)
The kids all climbed into bed with me the morning of the 14th
The Fancy Meal, featuring the best frozen food Trader Joes has on offer. (Chicken fettucini alfredo and tiramisu)
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.


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.)


The next day we had an awesome breakfast . . .


. . . 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.


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

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

Snowpocalypse 2019

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.)

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.


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).

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

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.

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


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:

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.

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.


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.

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.)

We all got to go to William’s band festival on the day of their arrival!
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).


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.


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.


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.”


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).

The flakes first appeared on the drive home from church.
Close-up of flakes in Katie’s hair
20190203_171037 (1)
Brian stepped outside “just to take a walk” but suddenly found himself making a snow-penguin family with William
Our poor beautiful doomed rose garden
20190203_171156 (1)
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.)



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



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



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





**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



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




**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