PawPaw Days: Skagit Valley Tulip Festival

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Backing up a bit . . .

I want to chronicle a few more of the adventures I had with my parents when they came to visit last month.  Especially this insane tulipalooza eye-candy freakout:

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Seriously, is the level of beauty here just insane?  A staggering number of the flowering bulbs grown in the U.S. come from Skagit Valley, which is about an hour’s drive north of where I live.  My parents and I noticed how similar the weather and climate are to those in the Netherlands (we took a road trip there when I was 8 or 9).

We mucked about in the fields for a while (and I do mean mucked, the mud was thick):

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Then we went to see the demonstration gardens.  Holy.  Cow.  It was like Flower Disneyland, everything was meticulously manicured and gorgeous.  After a while I began to get a little dizzy, even though I was loving every minute of it.

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(Pant. Pant. Pant.  Are you ready for more?  It’s like putting SweeTarts on your eyeballs.)

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By the way, all of the images in this post were taken by my mom, with her phone.  I only used about 1% of the photos she took; we were all a little giddy and swept away by the spectacle.  My mom loved it (home run on the hostessing front!) and I can’t wait to go again next year.

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Down and Derby

Jeffrey and Brian sanded this wedge-shaped car for about two weeks, whenever they have a spare moment or just feel like fidgeting.  Nothin’ like a pinewood derby car to bring out your inner fussbudget.


Jeff didn’t want to paint it, mainly because he has found the car that I “made” as part of a YW activity as a teenager.  I was a junior in high school, super busy, and didn’t remember to work on it until just a few hours before, so I drew with markers all over the plain wooden block and then nailed wheels to it.  Dubbed “The Brick,” it did okay in the races.

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Anyway, as a result, Jeff wanted an unpainted car that he could draw on with markers as well.  I readily admit that his car is 100x cooler than mine, though.  The “J+B” on the side stands for Jeff + Brooke, although I think it should stand for Jeff + Brian as well.

I’m a little sad that I had to miss the race itself, since it conflicted with a Girl Scout activity.  Just a few more years until Wimmy’s making them, though (unless I can manage to finagle a heat for the Activity Day girls).


Brian and William spent several hours this Saturday making this:



Brian’s decided the theme for his snow creations this year is “construction vehicles.”  William got to sit in the cab while Brian put on the finishing touches:

Best of all, Brian even put in headlights on the front: thin layers of snow that we lit with candles at night:

Eh, our camera doesn’t do the best nighttime photos.  But it’s still adorable, no?  The rain and warm weather melted the poor thing almost immediately, but that’s part of the appeal with snow creations, I think.

I’m a Sucker for Leaves

During the last session of the fall LDS General Conference, Brian and I like to take the long two-hour route to Grandma’s house in Provo.  We go up through Park City, then drive through Midway, and end it with the legendary tipsy-turvy road on Mt. Timpanogos known as the Alpine Loop.  Seeing fall color is sometimes hit-and-miss, depending on the vagaries of the weather.  Here’s what we saw this year:

I enjoy doing this because I would otherwise have difficulty watching or listening to Conference talks.  I can’t listen to lectures straight; if I want to absorb the information, I usually need to be doing something else — knitting, sorting photos into albums, or looking at pretty leaves.

In college, the only way I was able to pay attention during class was to write down everything I thought was interesting.  Anyway, it’s the reason why, when Brian asks what my Relief Society lesson was about, my answer is generally “I don’t remember . . . um, ‘Faith’?”

Anyway, the drive was glorious, and my kids loved stopping at an overlook to stretch their legs halfway through.  Well . . . at least Ella & Wimmy were happy.  Jeffrey read a posted ranger’s warning about bear attacks and then promptly wanted to get back in the car.

Towards the end of conference, Jeffrey tuned into a talk about the perils of addiction, and which mentioned video game addiction.  Since then he’s gotten it into his head that my 15-year-old brother, Alex, is seriously addicted to video games.  Alex really isn’t addicted, but he is down on the Xbox quite a lot, so I enjoy teasing him about this.  At the same time, it’s very sweet that Jeffrey cares so much for his uncle.

Spring Break at Red Butte Gardens

Spring Break is OVER! 

(Hurrah!  I survived!)

While I understand the need for teachers to have a much-needed break, does it have to be at the time of year when the weather is the most unpredictable and the incidence for ear infections and flu is the highest? 

Spring Break came just after I had finished up a four-days-in-bed Eleanor flu, ear infections for both her and Wimmy, and then four-days-in-bed Jeffrey flu.  Having him home with the flu for four straight days was a trial; he is the most high-maintenance (whiny) of all my kids.  We finally figured out how to keep him entertained on Day Four: putting the “Making of Lord of the Rings documentary in my laptop and letting him watch it all he wanted without driving the rest of us crazy.  I don’t know why my six year old has such a high tolerance for the endless natterings of Peter Jackson, but he does.

 So, needless to say, after two weeks of feeling isolated and lonely due to sickness, it was difficult to take on three bored kids snowed in with cabin fever.  Arrrgh.

At least on Monday the weather was good.  We got to go to Red Butte Gardens and see the pretty flowers.  I made an attempt at taking portraits of the kids, like we used to do at the Phipps Conservatory every spring in Pittsburgh.  Here are the results:

Eleanor is learning how to “look cute” for the camera (i.e. mugging):


I actually got Jeffrey to look at the camera AND smile.  Kinda:


William found a seat just his size under a willow tree in the children’s garden:


This picture is just darn springy:


Monday was the only day of the week that we had sunshine.  By Wednesday, the ground was once again blanketed in snow and I threw myself onto a pile of mittens and boots and did some screaming and kicking for a while. 

But now school is back in session, and the sun has returned.  Happy days.

Forget That Sprinkler Post . . .

 . . . we have since had a week of full-on snowstorms. 

They come, they melt, they leave. 

They come they melt, they leave.

They come, they melt, they ARE DRIVING ME CRAZY.

It doesn’t help that Eleanor has been sick with flu for the past four days.  Today is the first of those days that she’s felt well enough to get out of bed and watch television. 

It also doesn’t help that, since Jeffrey has rediscovered his swimsuit, he can’t understand why it isn’t a good idea to continue frolicking around outdoors in it.  There have been countless occasions this week when I’ve had to tug a half-naked six-year-old back through the front door while snowflakes whirl around our heads, the boy screaming and kicking about sprinklers and wading pools the entire time. 

Is it a wonder that our neighbors know Jeffrey’s name very well (from hearing me cry “Jeffrey!  JEFFREY!” over and over) but not Eleanor’s or Wimmy’s??

Grumble, stupid snow.  Whatever happened to that whole “blowing out like a lamb” spiel, eh?  EH?

For Further Reading:

how-mama-brought-the-springHow Mama Brought the Spring by Fran Manushkin, illus. Holly Berry.  A tidy story-within-a-story about a mother reminiscing about her childhood in Belarus, and how her mother would make golden, sizzling blintzes as a way to welcome spring.  The story is a foodie’s dream (did I mention the flame-red cherry jam?) and the writing is peppered with language as charming and homey as artist Holly Berry’s accompanying folk-art-inspired illustrations.  There’s a recipie for cheese blintzes in the back; Jeffrey loves this book so much that we decided to make them for dinner one night, which we did.  He was so excited that he insisted I quote certain lines from the book as we went along — such as raising my fork at the dinner table and saying “Now!  Eat in good health!”  Which,  mmmmm, we certainly did.

March Showers

sprinklerThe children’s book author Jon Sciezska once wrote that boys and fire are like iron and magnets: no matter what you do, somehow they will always find each other.

I think this adage must be even more so with water and my children.  They are always getting into it — sneaking cups of it out of the kitchen for tea parties, plugging the bathroom sink and creating a soup of toys and soapsuds, industriously splashing each and every puddle in the street.  Bathtime takes forever in my house, and the kids have an entire flotilla of plastic boats and waterproof dolls that they send on numerous aquatic adventures.  (Probably my favorite of these was the period a few years ago during which Jeffrey insisted on “baptizing” the dolls during each bath.)

By far the favorite of the children’s water sports is running around in the sprinkler, or barring that, simply messing about with the hose, whether in bathing suits or not.

It was warm enough this past Friday that the kids did just that — all on their own, Jeffrey and Eleanor fished out their swimsuits, then revved up the garden hose.  I came running when they doused a still-clothed William and set him to crying.  But once the lil’ guy was stripped down to his diaper and allowed to splash a bit, he was just fine.

I attatched the hose to the sprinkler, to minimize the water waste, but they soon learned to unscrew it.  I let them fill up the sandbox with water and then confiscated the hose altogether.  They had a ball creating a hearty soup of mud, sticks, toys, and the towel I had given them to dry off with.

Last month, Jeffrey had a friend over to play, and they decided to create an “experiment” in the same sandbox — sans garden hose and swimsuits, of course.  They gleefully swamped together a variety of backyard found objects, and I was tickled to see two boys happily engaging in outdoorsy Boy Things — until I found them in the kitchen, downing cup after cup of water.

Why were they so thirsty?

“We were doing an experiment,” explained Jeffrey.

“Yeah,” said his friend.  “To find out if soap tastes bad or not.”

Peeking into the backyard, I saw a bottle of hand soap sticking out of the sandbox debris.  The bottle that’s usually in the children’s big bathroom.

“We found out that it doesn’t taste that good,” said Jeffrey. 

I’m guessing that the learning curve was pretty small on that one.

For further reading:

king-bidgoods-in-the-bathtubKing Bidgood’s in the Bathtub by Don and Audrey Wood.  A gleefully silly story about a vivacious king who decides to do all his kingly duties from the tub — eating, fishing, schooling.  A variety of stuffy-looking courtiers get pulled in with him, to sloppy, slippy effect.  (“Today we fish in the tub!”)  Don Woods’ Caldecott Honor-winning illustrations of bewigged, lace-covered dukes and knights getting doused are hilariously perfect.  One of my favorite read-alouds.

Quite Contrary

bambooFor Family Home Evening this past Monday, we decided to sit down with the kids and plan out our garden for the upcoming year.  Brian and I are quite excited — the yard behind our house is huge, and Utah, with its lack of mold spores, fine earth, and sunny weather, is ideal for gardening (that is, if you can get the water).

I was ecstatic because I managed to convince Brian that our garden should be surrounded by a cute white picket fence, in order to keep The Mysterious Case of the Disappearing Green Tomatoes from happening again.  Hooray!  It will be SO ADORABLE.

The kids, on the other hand, were a mite bit puzzled.  If we were gardening, then why were we looking at pictures of plants, instead of heading out back to dig?  They did, however, love looking through some seed catalogs and making requests.  Eleanor, in particular, was excited about Shasta Daisies, and I look forward to planting some with her and then teaching her how to make daisy chains .  .  . while swinging in a hammock under a shady tree . . . with a mason jar of lemonade . . . sigh.  Why can’t summer come a bit faster?

Jeffrey, meanwhile, was most excited about a double-page spread of bamboo varieties.

“Mom!  We need to get bamboo and put it in our garden!”

“But Jeffrey,” I explained, “we don’t need bamboo.  It would take up too much space.”

“But Mom, it would keep the panda bears away from our garden,” he replied patiently.  He then went on to elaborate:

“See, we plant the bamboo in a circle around the garden, and that way when the panda bears come, they will want to eat the bamboo and get stuck in it and not want our vegetables!”

I nodded sagely at this advice, and Brian announced that it was time for treats.

Aftewards, I went back to clean up the catalogs, and Eleanor let out a squeal. 

“No Mom!” she cried as I began to close up the catalog displaying the bamboo.  “We need that plant!  It will keep the panda bears out!”

“Is that what Jeffrey said?”  I leaned in conspiratorially.  “Don’t worry, Eleanor.  I don’t think there are any panda bears in Utah.”

“That’s right,” called out Jeffrey, waltzing into the room.  “Panda bears are only in China!”

Eleanor thought about this for a moment, and then her little face screwed up into a frown.

“But I thought we lived in China!” she wailed.

Ah, disillusionment.  Of course, you do realize that when Jeffrey imagines China, he thinks of a nation whose gardeners are constantly beset by marauding panda bears.  It just cracks me up.

For further reading (ah, yes!  back by popular demand!  And by “popular demand,” I mean that three whole people requested its return!):


Whose Garden Is It? by Mary Ann Hoberman, illustrated by Jane Dyer.  I usually aren’t too keen on picture books with rhymed text — they are often a little too sing-songy — but Hoberman’s (also known for A House is a House for Me) verses about the “ownership” of a garden are top-notch.  Who owns a garden?  The gardener?  The animals who live in it?  The “tiny seeds and whistling weeds” who make up the garden itself?  A clever book to get kids thinking about gardens, land, and ecosystems, perfectly accompanied by Dyer’s lush watercolors.  Check it out!

Fun in the . . . Brrr

One of the things I promised myself when we planned to move back to Salt Lake is that I would get the family to participate more in winter sports.  I love sledding, sure, and backyard snowplay is positively excellent behind our house, but I felt that we needed something more — specifically something that engages the grown-ups.  Brian and I  — especially I — tend to turn in to big, galumphing atrophied bears during the wintertime.  This behavior was a tad more excusable in Pittsburgh — Brian was a time-crunched med student, I was nursing newborns, and while we did get bits of snow in western Pennsylvania, it never stuck around for more than a couple of days.  The city didn’t have much by was of winter sports facilities, and the high humidity and ice storms made spending more than twenty minutes at a time outdoors akin to taking a mudbath in a refrigerator. 

But in Salt Lake — ahh, nice winter!  Nice winter!  It gets into the 50s in the daytime, there’s plentiful snow (seriously, I haven’t seen grass since November), pretty mountains for exploring, and all kinds of state-of-the-art rinks and luges and what-have-yous left over from the 2002 Winter Olympics.

BUT — we’re still living on the cheap nowadays.  So instead of pitching in for lift tickets, we do this:


Whee!  That’s Brian and Jeffrey about to sled down a dry creekbed on Little Mountain, my favorite scary/extreme sledding spot up Emigration Canyon.  (There are gentle slopes, too.)  We took this trip on New Year’s Day.  Jeffrey had NO FEAR — he marched straight up to the tallest hill and took off — while Eleanor was content to just go about a quarter of the way up with me and slowly drift down on her penguin tube.  She yelled “I’m having fuuuuuuun!” all the way down.


My family and Brian’s came along with us on the trip, which was very fun.  Afterwards we went back to Retro Acres for hot chili, corn bread, and outrageously thick Spanish-style hot chocolate with homemade churros.  (Mmmm!  Deep fried blissss!)

March of the Snowasaurs


When the snow is a few days old it becomes nice and wet — perfect for building things out of snow.  Brian has always enjoyed making whimsical snow creatures — I remember him building hearts and Easter Island heads for me when we were first dating — and this year, he’s making dinosaurs.  Hence the cool spiky Stegasaurus on our front lawn.  Alas, the icicles were removed by our children a few days later, so it now looks like some other kind of -saur.  I still love the snowy guy anyway.  Brian is especially proud of the fact that the dinosaur looks as if he is munching on our shrubs.


Brian just finished this T-Rex last night, created in honor of the first full sentences Jeffrey wrote by himself at school: “I am T rex. I am smiling at you.”  We are quite proud of Mr. Rex; you can’t quite tell in this picture, but the icicle claws are slightly curved — they were formed by water dripping down some leaves.  This sculpture is positioned in our yard in such a way that he looks as if he’s just about to chase the steg-less stegasaur, who, owing to some warm weather, looks rather dismayed about the loss of his spiky stegs.  But that’s natural selection for you.

Edit 1/11/09:

Brian made a THIRD snowasaur just this afternoon, mere minutes after I had finished writing the above blather.  It’s a triceratops (a request from Jeffrey), and looks mega-awesome.  It’s ready to kick some major T-Rex tail: