2017 Favorite Books for Young Readers

It’s that time of year agaiiin! 

When I mentally glance at all the books I read in 2017 and think, which ones of these do I still remember? And still get excited about, and want to share with everybody? Yep, those are the ones that make this list.

THE USUAL DISCLAIMERS: This list does not include mega-bestsellers that you’ve probably already heard of. I do think The Hate U Give** and Turtles All the Way Down** and La Belle Sauvage** and Refugee** are definitely amazing and worth reading, but I figure they don’t need any further attention from me.

This is far from anything like an extensive survey of the 2017 publishing year. I simply can’t read ’em all. If you’d like a comprehensive Alls The Books You Needs to Read List, click here.

Please remember: not every book is for you. Like many librarians, I have very wide-ranging reading tastes and enjoy books from pretty much every genre. Most readers are not this way, so please forgive me if you pick up a book from this list that doesn’t mesh with your tastes. I’m always, always happy to do individualized book recommendations (I get a request like that about once a week, no kidding.)

Books with double asterisks (**) contain content that is better suited for the 12+ crowd, or even the 15+ crowd. Parents might want read up on the book’s content before handing it to a young person.

Just How Was The 2017, Publishing Year, Brooke?

2017 was kind of an odd year for the children’s book world. Picture books had a lot of strong contenders — and the quantity and variety of picture book biographies continues to grow. 2017 was the year that gave us a picture book biography of the guy who invented graphs. Graphs. They were invented by a singular someone! I kid you not.

Like 2016, there were an unusual number of picture books about foxes (some of which are on my list) and several books about narwhals. (Who knew that American kids would suddenly decide that narwhals were The Thing?) There’s also a stunning number of international picture books that made my list. Many thanks to publishers for bringing translated versions to the U.S.

Meanwhile, middle grade fiction was incredibly meh this year. I haven’t the foggiest clue what book will win the Newbery Medal. Novels for the 8-14 set were just kinda not-so-stellar. It’s the kind of year when you can write a 500+ page fantasy novel about the frickin’ Brontë siblings and have it be a standout from the pack. Yeeesh.

(Truly, I have nothing against The Glass Town Game. It’s well written. I just say . . . good luck getting someone in elementary school to read that thing.)

As for YA, I don’t focus on books for that age group (12-18) too much, so what you see listed here is the thinnest of surveys of what’s available for teenagers. Again, click here for a longer list of the Good Stuff.

In other words: 2017 was the wacky publishing year that gave us THREE different novels about orphans abandoned on islands (oh, why?), and my favorite book turned out to be a YA biography of Vincent and Theo Van Gogh. The End.

PICTURE BOOKS (Buckle up, this list is long)

Absolute Favorite Picture Book of the Year: Crown: Ode to the Fresh Cut by Derrick Barnes, illus. Gordon C. James

crown ode to the fresh cut

Best Read-Aloud Escargot by Dashka Slater. Illustrated by Sydney Hanson

escargot

Best Over-the-Top-Can’t-Stop-Staring-At-the-Wackiness-Illustration Accident! by Andrea Tsurumi

accident

Accident! also wins because of the owl librarian:

AccidentOwl
I mean COME ON

Trippiest Illustration AND Best Tribute to Works of Lewis Carrol: Mrs. White Rabbit by Gilles Bachelet

mrs white rabbit

Best Wordless Book: Little Fox in the Forest by Stephanie Graegin

little fox in the forest

Eh, Probably Most Likely To Win Caldecott Medal: Wolf in the Snow by Matthew Cordell

wolf in the snow

In Which Being Eaten Alive Is the Best of All Possible Outcomes: The Wolf, The Duck, & the Mouse by Mac Barnett, illus. Jon Klassen

wolf duck mouse

Best Book About Being the Quirky “Different” Person in a Community: Not Quite Narwhal by Jessie Sima

not quite narwhal

Best Heartwarming Immigration Story: A Different Pond by Bao Phi, illus. Thi Bui

a different pond

Basically “How Green Was My Valley: Picture Book Edition” Town is By the Sea by Joanne Schwartz, illus. Sydney Smith

town is by the sea

BEST BIRTHDAY BOOK EVER: When’s My Birthday? by Julie Fogliano, illus. Christian Robinson

when's my birthday

It’s So, So, Hard to Come Up With An Original Premise for an Alphabet Book, so Double Kudos to You, Patrick McDonnell: The Little Red Cat Who Ran Away and Learned His ABCs (the Hard Way) by Patrick McDonnell

little red cat who ran away

Sometimes Cats Die, and You Need a Good Book to Cope: Big Cat, Little Cat by Elisha Cooper

big cat little cat

Sometimes Dogs Die, and OKAY, OKAY, WE’RE ALL CRYING NOW: Stay: A Girl, A Dog, and a Bucket List by Kate Klise, illus. M. Sarah Klise

stay

See? I Told You There Were a Lot of Beautiful Foxes in Picture Books This Year: All Ears, All Eyes by Richard Jackson, illus. Katherine Tillotson

all ears all eyes

Cubans In Cars Getting Coffee: All the Way to Havana by Margarita Engle, illus. Mike Curato

all the way to havana

Best Spiritual/Inspirational Book: In Your Hands by Carole Boston Weatherford, illus. Brian Pinkney (Also basically #BlackLivesMatter: The Picture Book)

in your hands

Gorgeous, Trippy Illustrations, Part Deux: The Antlered Ship by Dashka Slater, illus. Eric and Terry Fan

antlered ship

Original Folktale + Out of This World Folk-Art Style Pictures: Deep in the Woods by Christopher Corr

deep in the woods

Best Book for Father’s Day: Little Wolf’s First Howling by Laura McGee Kvasnosky

little wolf's first howling

Sometimes Dropping Your Phone in the Pond is the Greatest Thing That Can Happen to You: On a Magical, Do-Nothing Day by Beatrice Alemagna

on a magical do nothing day

Picture Book Equivalent of Soothing Herbal Tea at Bedtime: This House, Once by Deborah Freedman

this house once

A Picture Book from BRAZIL!!! (And it’s SO PRETTY) Along the River by Vaniva Starkoff and Jane Springer

along the river

This Book Has the Best Subtitle Ever: Baabwa and Wooliam: A Tale of Literacy, Dental Hygiene and Friendship by David Elliot, illus. Melissa Sweet

baabwaa & wooliam

Most Hilarious, Laugh-Out-Loud Premise: Claymates by Dev Petty, illus. Lauren Eldridge

claymates

Teachers Are The Most Beautiful People and I’m Not Crying, YOU’RE Crying! A Letter to My Teacher by Deborah Hopkinson, illus. Nancy Carpenter

a letter to my teacher

You Needed a Book About a Luchadora Superhero. You Just Didn’t Know It: Lucia the Luchadora by Cynthia Leonor Garza, illus. Alyssa Bermudez

lucia the luchadora

This Book’s Title Is Pretty Much What I’m Mentally Shouting At People All The Time: Read the Book, Lemmings! By Ame Dyckman, illus. Zachariah OHora

read the book lemmings

Yes, I Did Only Include This Book Because I Have a Cute Son Named William: William’s Winter Nap by Linda Ashman, illus. Chuck Groenick

williams winter nap

Yes, You CAN Write a Story With Just One Word: Mine! by Jeff Mack

mine!

Absolutely Most Eye-Popping Beautiful Illustration, Hands-Down: The Blue Hour by Isabelle Simler (I’d say it deserved the Caldecott Medal, but it’s from FRANCE, sigh)

the blue hour

Katie’s Personal Favorite. The Adorableness Is Strong With This One: Chirri & Chirra In the Tall Grass by Kaya Doi (be sure to check out the other titles in this series!)

chirri chirra

For the Where’s Waldo? Crowd: Find Me: A Hide and Seek Book by Anders Arhoj (Seriously, guys. The interiors of this book are my everything.)

find me

find me interior

Most Silly Premise: Danny McGee Drinks the Sea by Andy Stanton, illus. Neal Layton (Also: Big Sisters Rule the World)

danny mcgee drinks the sea

The Origin Story For Our Time: The Legend of Rock Scissors Paper by Drew Daywalt, illus. Adam Rex

legend of rock paper scissors

Most Inspiring True Story: Manjhi Moves a Mountain by Nancy Churnin, illus. Danny Popovici

manjhi moves a mountain

Best “Awwww” Book About Parenting: Me Tall, You Small by Lilli L’Arronge

me tall you small

FINALLY! A Fairy Tale About Facts vs. Emotion and Fake News! Prince Ribbit by Jonathan Emmet, illus. Poly Bernatene

prince ribbit

When You Can’t Get Your Shirt Off, and Decide to Just Say “Well, I Guess This Is My Life Now” Still Stuck by Shinsuke Yoshitake

still stuck

Anthropomorphic Shapes Play Pranks On Each Other. Need I Say More? Triangle by Mac Barnett

triangle

Best Bedtime Book: The Way Home in the Night by Akiko Miyakoshi

way home in the night

Reminds Me of Contemplative, Classic Picture Books Like “Owl Moon,” When the Moon Comes by Paul Harbridge, illus. Matt James

when the moon comes

Supremely Silly Story: Firefighter Duckies! By Frank W. Dormer

firefighter duckies

Best Halloween Story: How to Make Friends With a Ghost by Rebecca Green (Okay, okay — I also admit that The Pomegranate Witch is also a great Halloween story from 2017, but How to Make Friends With a Ghost has an adorable ghost! I’m so easily swayed by adorableness.)

how to make friends with a ghost

 

NONFICTION PICTURE BOOKS

Best Book Written About This Topic In a Long, Long Time: Tell Me About Sex, Grandma by Anastasia Higgenbotham** (Also wins the prize for Best Raised Eyebrow On a Children’s Book Cover)

tell me about sex grandma

“Tears Are Only Acceptable at Funerals and the Grand Canyon”: Grand Canyon by Jason Chin

grand canyon

Necessary, Touching Poetry About a True American Hero: Before She Was Harriet by Lesa Cline-Ransome, illus. James E. Ransome

before she was harriet

For When You Wish You Could Take Your Naturalist’s Sketchbook On Safari: How to Be an Elephant: Growing Up in the African Wild by Katherine Roy

how to be an elephant

Personal Favorite Picture Book Biography: Balderdash! John Newbery and the Boisterous Birth of Children’s Books by Michelle Markel, illus. Nancy Carpenter

balderdash

Aww, This Biography is My Other Favorite: Pocket Full of Colors: The Magical World of Mary Blair, Disney Artist Extraordinaire by Amy Guglielmo, illus. Jacqueline Torville

pocket full of colors

Continuing the Trend of Books About Women in STEM Fields: Margaret and the Moon by Dean Robbins, illus. Lucy Knisley

margaret and the moon

Yeah, You Read That Right: Pop Up Shakespeare by Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor, illus. Jennie Maizels (It’s written by the Reduced Shakespeare Company guys!)

pop up shakespeare

Best Picture Book Biography for the 12+ Crowd: Strange Fruit: Billie Holliday and the Power of a Protest Song by Gary Golio, illus. Charlotte Riley-Webb**

strange fruit

My Kids Can’t Stop Reading This One: This is How We Do It: One Day in the Lives of Seven Kids From Around the World by Matt Lamothe

this is how we do it

Most Hilarious Science Nonfiction: Give Bees a Chance by Bethany Barton (This author’s other book is called I’m Trying to Love Spiders. This tells you everything you need to know.)

give bees a chance

 

EASY READERS

Also Happens to Be Best Folklore Retelling of 2017: Noodleheads See the Future by Tedd Arnold, Martha Hamilton and Mitch Wiess, illus. Ted Arnold (Be sure to check out Noodlehead Nightmares, too!)

Noodleheads See the Future

See? MORE NARWHALS! Super Narwhal and Jelly Jolt by Ben Clanton

super narwhal and jelly jolt

I Swear I Played This Exact Same Game With My Brother: The Good for Nothing Button by Cherise Harper Mericle

good for nothing button

 

POETRY

21st Century’s Version of Shel Silverstein: I’m Just No Good at Rhyming: And Other Nonsense for Mischievous Kids and Immature Grown-Ups by Chris Harris, illus. Lane Smith

I'm Just No Good At Rhyming

This Book Ought to Win the Newbery Medal, but it probably won’t: One Last Word: Wisdom from the Harlem Renaissance by Nikki Grimes

one last word

Best Father’s Day Book, Part Two: My Daddy Rules the World: Poems About Dads by Hope Anita Smith

my daddy rules the world

I’m Including This Because William Loves Sloths and When He Saw This Cover He Squealed For Five Full Minutes: Animal Ark: Celebrating Our Wild World in Poetry and Pictures by Kwame Alexander

animal ark

 

GRAPHIC NOVELS

Best “Oh, Wow, That’s Just Like My Childhood” Story: Real Friends by Shannon Hale

real friends

At Least Your Embarrassing Parents Aren’t Ren Faire Folke: All’s Faire in Middle School by Victoria Jamieson

all's faire in middle school

I Had To Physically Pry This Book Out of My Children’s Hands In Order To Return It to the Library: Where’s Halmoni? By Julie Kim

where's halmoni?

Arthurian Legend Retelling HUZZAH! Yvain: Knight of the Lion by M.T. Anderson, illus. Andrea Offermann**

yvain

I Heard It Described As “Misty of Chincoteague Meets The Road Warrior,” and That Is Correct: One Trick Pony by Nathan Hale

one trick pony

A Part of WWII That More People Should Know: The Raid of No Return by Nathan Hale

raid of no return

 

NONFICTION

My Absolute Favorite Book of 2017 (seriously, just thinking about it makes my eyes well up): Vincent and Theo: The Van Gogh Brothers by Deborah Heiligman

vincent and theo

A Biography So Good It Made Me Care About Football: Undefeated: Jim Thorpe and the Carlisle Indian School Football Team

undefeated

Book With the Highest Body Count: Poison: Deadly Deeds, Perilous Professions, and Murderous Medicines by Sarah Albee

poison

Best Explanation For Why American Society Is The Way It Is: Fault Lines in the Constitution: The Framers, Their Fights, and the Flaws That Affect Us Today by Cynthia Levinson and Sanford Levinson

fault lines in the constitution

 

MIDDLE GRADE FICTION

Probably My Favorite Children’s Novel of the Year: Beyond the Bright Sea by Lauren Wolk

beyond the bright sea

People Grieve In Different Ways. This Kid Needs Blues Music: Clayton Byrd Goes Underground by Rita Williams-Garcia

clayton byrd goes underground

The “Man In Hole” Plot, In Which There is a Boy Literally Stuck In a Hole: Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly

hello universe

Best Sequel: The War I Finally Won by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

war i finally won

Aww, It Includes Zines! Zines Made By the Protagonist! The First Rule of Punk by Celia C. Perez

first rule of punk

A Retelling of “Cyrano de Bergerac” set in a Middle School (AND IT’S AWESOME): Well, That Was Awkward by Rachel Vail

well that was awkward

 

YOUNG ADULT FICTION

In Which an Elevator Full of Ghosts Convinces the Protagonist That Revenge Isn’t the Answer: Long Way Down by Jason Reynolds**

long way down

Best Retelling of a Greek Myth: Bull by David Elliott**

bull

Best Mystery Story (Also Best Book With Crossover Adult Appeal): The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein**

pearl thief

Never Be Possessed By Ghosts. Unless You Can Be Possessed By a Bear. Then, Always Be Possessed By a Bear: A Skinful of Shadows by Frances Hardinge

skinful of shadows

Most Original Fantasy Worldbuilding: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor** 

strange the dreamer

I Can’t Say Enough Good Things About The “Queen’s Thief” Series. READ IT NOW: Thick as Thieves by Megan Whalen Turner (Also, Best Adult Crossover and Best Bromance)

thick as thieves

If You’re Going to Write a High School Story, Make Sure It Has a Killer Wardrobe: The Fashion Committee by Susan Juby**

fashion committee

Best Original Folktales, and Best Interior Book Decoration: The Language of Thorns by Leigh Bardugo**

language of thorns

 

Now go fire up them library cards and happy reading!!

Solar Eclipse

In May of 2012 I trundled my family down to southern Utah to see an annular eclipse. It was a fun experience, but what really got me excited was knowing that is was just a prelude to a full solar eclipse that was predicted to occur in August 2017.

“There’s going to be a solar eclipse just after my fortieth birthday!” I remember telling my mother-in-law, Kathryn. “I want to find the perfect viewing location and have all my family there!” I said this more as wish — I knew that coordinating plans with extended family was always tricky.

“Oh, gee, who knows where I’ll be then?” was her response.

“You don’t know where you’re going to be five years from now?” I replied.

And Kathryn was struck silent for a moment, mostly from the shock of realizing that Brian and I were only five years away from 40.

“I’m flattered that you still mentally think I’m in my 20s,” I teased.

But the funny thing is that after five years of waiting and nervous anticipation, I got what I wished for — and it wasn’t even something I planned.

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Brian and I didn’t initially plan to spend any time in Utah this summer — it was supposed to be the trip to Glacier, and nothing else — but then we ended up going to Utah anyway. (Such is the pull of the grandparents.)

Brian and I had made reservations at a hotel in Oregon just outside the eclipse path, so our plan was to drive straight from Utah to Oregon, see the eclipse, then drive home. None of our parents really had eclipse plans at all.

But then my dad revealed that all employees of LDS Welfare Services were invited to camp on one of the stake farms in eastern Idaho that happened to lie in the path of totality. My parents decided to wake up early on the 21st and drive up. Wouldn’t we like to join them?

At first, Brian and I decided to keep Idaho as a backup plan, but then decided to cancel the Oregon reservations. Eastern Idaho was chosen by NASA to be one of the best eclipse viewing locations in the country. Why would we want to go anywhere else?

Then Randy and Kathryn decided to go to Idaho as well (they stayed with some distant cousins the evening before the eclipse). Why not invite them to join us on the farm, too?

So even though I had given up on my birthday wish, it happened anyway.

The farm was one dedicated to growing wheat, but there was a pasture that was used for YW summer camps. We woke up in the middle of the night and drove to beat the traffic (turns out that the traffic predictions were overblown). We stopped at a gas station in Pocatello, ID and found it filled with excited eclipse-chasers from all over the country (we met people from Minnesota and Texas).

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There weren’t many people at the farm. A group of BYU students had camped there overnight, and they invited us to eat breakfast with them. Brian, who had been driving all morning long (and would be driving to Seattle afterwards) crashed for a few hours on an inflatable mattress my parents had put in the back of their SUV.

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We were all a little jittery, waiting for the eclipse to start. I spent time knitting more squares for a blanket I planned to donate to refugees, and my mom read some of the stories from her Neil Gaiman Norse Myths anthology.

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William is holding the Pringles-can eclipse viewer he made at Cub Scout Day Camp

Finally, it began — a little tiny bite taken out of the sun. William, Eleanor, and Katie began jumping up and down and cheering. We immediately began trying out all the eclipse experiments we’d read about (or done before with the annular eclipse).

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Kathryn was concerned about Katie taking off her eclipse glasses, so she made this paper-plate mask thing for her
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My parents strike a pose
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The little holes in my hat show the bitten-sun shape
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Seeing the eclipse through a colander
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One of the BYU students brought a telescope with a sun filter, and allowed us to use it
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Eleanor made models of the eclipse with Oreos

As the time for totality drew near, everyone in the camp drove out into the wheat fields and up on top of a ridge where sat some farm equipment and water tanks. It provided a marvellously unhindered view of the entire 360-degree horizon. The light began to grow dim and metallic, just as with the annular eclipse, and soon our shadows began to warp.

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Warped shadows at the bottoms of my fingers

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You can see crescent shapes in the “holes” we made with our fingers

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See how the light is beginning to dim? The temperature dropped as well. It was already windy on that hilltop, so I couldn’t say if the eclipse increased the wind.
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Behind us were a line of windmills. The dim light tricked them into thinking it was night, and all of their nighttime safety lights began to blink
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Even dimmer . . . almost there . . . 

Suddenly the light went from dim to dusk, very suddenly . . . it reminded me of someone turning down a dimmer switch for an electric light. And then . . . totality! None of my pictures — or any of the published photos I saw of this event — truly captured what it looked like. The moon seemed enormous in the sky. William and I started jumping up and down and squealing “oh my gosh oh my gosh oh my gosh!” Brian came over and kissed me. Jeffrey did the same thing. We saw the shadow snakes on the poster board I brought.

The sky was the most beautiful shade of indigo, and the moon looked flat, like a smooth-sided coin or a button over the sun, with a thick band of light radiating from its edge – -starlight writ large. The entire horizon became sunset; with the rolling wheat field horizon it looked uncanny, like cover art from a 60s sci-fi paperback.

Katie came to me for some reason, and I knelt down next to her and asked her questions about what she saw. “Look, just look look look,” I urged her, hoping that it would be something she’d remember her whole life.

When the sun began to reemerge, I understood why people called that moment the “diamond ring” of an eclipse — in the split second before slipping my eclipse glasses back on, one edge of the moon held a burst of the most pure white light I’ve ever seen in my life. Both Brian and I remarked about it on the drive home.

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Speaking of which . . . as soon as totality was over (the dimmer switch brough the lights back on, and the temperature rose again) Brian hustled us straight back to the car for the drive home. We had to get all the way back to Seattle that day, and he was anxious to avoid traffic! But truthfully, Idaho invested so much resources into traffic management that we didn’t have any problems until we hit road construction in Montana. (And then more road construction in Snoqualmie Pass, ugh. We didn’t get home until midnight, but overall wasn’t as bad as we’d feared.)

Jeff stayed with my parents; he’d been invited to stay a week with friends in Ogden, then fly home as an unaccompanied minor.  So it was just the five of us for the drive home.

For the first hour of the drive, we kept gazing at the sun with our eclipse glasses on, watching the “bite” grow smaller and smaller until the sun was a whole circle again. Out of all my kids, William was the most enthralled by the experience, his whole little body vibrating with excitement. After a few minutes in the car, he begged for paper and pens, and then began to draw pictures of the eclipse, trying to process it all. I don’t blame him. I haven’t fully processed it myself, and I’m not sure I want to. Even though I know every single scientific explanation for what happens during totality, I want to preserve some element of mystery. Kings of old were struck dead from eclipses. Part of me should keep that same kind of awesome wonder.

Sometime during the breakfast at the camp, someone remarked to Randy that he was impressed that my kids had both sets of grandparents together for the eclipse. “Of course,” Randy replied. “We’re a celestial family.”

Utah Trip 2017

Midway through the year we discovered that Brian would need to be on service over the holidays, and so we wouldn’t be able to visit family between Christmas and New Year’s.

So, we decided to use the vacation time on a second surprise vacation to Utah! Here are the highlights:

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On the day of our long drive, we alllllways plan to have dinner at the Pizza Pie Cafe with the Newey grandparents. Sometimes it’s the only thing that gets us through the drive. Funny thing is that my sister does the exact same thing when she visits.
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We were lucky enough that cousins June & Emmy could come along, too!
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Playing in Grandma’s fairy garden with Pokemon
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My parents had bought a ton of glow sticks on clearance after July 4th, and we lit them all up. I experimented with the shutter speed on my phone camera to take some long-exposure shots. Very fun.
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I spelled “love” with my glow stick. I had to do it very fast and backwards for it to work.
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Eleanor and June connected a whole bunch of glowsticks into a big long streamer and then we played jump-rope.
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We went down to Provo the next day for Aunt Caitlin’s birthday. She had an amazing chocolate cake and several flavors of homemade ice cream, including sour cream & onion ice cream, which tastes far better than it sounds.
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After the brief stay in Provo, we headed down to Cedar City for the Shakespeare Festival. Of course we had to stop in Beaver for ice cream.

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For our first meal in Cedar City we headed straight back to our favorite cafe, the French Spot. I love this place so much that I think I had backup almond croissants or macarons in my bag the entire time I was there.
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Great Grandma Shirts was able to come along with us. She got to spend an evening with the family telling stories about her childhood, it was great!
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And of course we had tarts before and after the plays. We saw Midsummer Night’s Dream (fabulous 1920s production design), Treasure Island, Guys & Dolls, Romeo & Juliet, and Eleanor and I saw As You Like It.
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Watching the greenshow
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Eleanor and getting ready to watch As You Like It
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We had several meals at the local Sizzler. This was my kids’ first time at an all-you-can-eat buffet type restaurant, and William got very creative with the soft serve machine.
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More time with Great Grandma. Funny, my parents came down for this trip, too, but somehow I didn’t take any pictures of them?? Sorry, Mom & Dad.
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We spent another day in Provo after the festival. We got to play games with Caitlin and take Jeff & Ella to the temple.
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We also got to go out to eat with Michael, Natalie & Caitlin. It was so wonderful for Michael & Natalie to come down from Colorado to visit us!
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The kids were over the moon to finally meet their new baby cousin Ian.

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We spent the next day in Salt Lake. Eleanor went golfing with Brian, Grandpa Newey, and Uncle Erich. I took the other kids out to breakfast with Grandma and Uncle Patrick.
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After breakfast we went to the Utah Museum of Natural History and saw the cool Vikings traveling exhibit.
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Katie got to dig for dinosaurs, too.
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We met up with Eleanor, Grandpa and Brian at the Clark Planetarium downtown. I think this was an exhibit about crazy weather on other planets.

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Katie loved this tornado simulator. She stood in it for hours, pretending that she could command the weather. She had the most serious look on her face, waving her arms to make the wind and mist appear and reappear. She asked Grandpa to join her for a demonstration of her powers.
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After the planetarium, I spent a glorious hour shopping around at Day Murray Music before heading to a barbecue with the Plethora. We have so many kids now! 
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Grownups chillin’ and catching up. This was the first time we had a gang of teenagers slouching about the kitchen, not quite knowing what to do with themselves
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All the grownups!
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Our attempt at a picture with all the kids. I think the teenagers refused to be part of this.

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That evening we headed back up to West Point to get ready for the end of our Utah adventure — watching the total solar eclipse in Eastern Idaho! More on that in the next post.

Summer Album II: The Reckoning

During the first two weeks of August . . . 

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Eleanor went to YW camp for the first time and it was great! Her friend Esther got to go along and they had a blast.
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Jeff went to Scout camp the same week as YW camp, and William had Cub Scout Day Camp that week as well. Which meant that Katie and I went blueberry picking with just the two of us.
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Katie insisted that we reenact as much as “Blueberries for Sal” as possible.

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Later in August we spent a day touring the Bohem’s Candy Factory with some friends. It had been a couple years since our previous visit, and still had the same crazy combination of delicious and crazy-eccentric.

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Here we are with the friends who came along
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After the candy factory, we lunched in a park in South Seattle (where the Blue Angels were flying just above for their Seafair appearance) then tried out Sweet Bumpas Ice Cream. Check out the crazy flavors on the menu board! I had a “Hokey Pokey,” which was a honeycomb flavor
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After the ice cream we met Aunt Kristen at her studio and got a little tour. Eleanor was invited to stay with Kristen & Sven for the weekend, lucky girl!
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Giant embroidery robot. It’s putting sequins on the fabric.
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The kids found a wastebin full of zipper remnants and thought they were hilarious. They spent time pretending they were fake moustaches.
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The next morning we met Eleanor and Kristen at SAM to see the Yayoi Kusama “Infinity Mirrors” art exhibit
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I bought the tickets for this months in advance — they sold out very quickly. There were several little “infinity rooms” to experience, and we had to wait in line for each one, like Disneyland

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The exteriors of the rooms were mirrored, which made for silly times while waiting in line
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In this room, you just peek inside instead of entering
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This is what the inside looks like. The lightbulbs blink and change colors. The heat was kind of intense, which seems appropriate
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We were only allowed 30 seconds in most of the rooms, so pictures were kind of hastily snapped. In one room, the artist requested no photographs at all, and there was a museum guard to enforce that rule.
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This is the famous “Obliteration Room,” where visitors are given a sheet of stickers to put on any surface. No time limit for this room, and no lines, either. But — you weren’t allowed to take any of the stickers home. They HAD to be used before you could leave (well . . . they weren’t enforcing it much beyond the honor system, so  . . . there are probably Kusama stickers on eBay or something)

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This is probably my favorite of the infinity rooms. The lights blinked and flickered; it really created the illusion that you were floating in a sky of stars and lanterns. It’s referencing the Japanese custom of floating lanterns to honor ancestors. Beautiful.

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Getting silly with the sculptures between the different rooms

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Someday . . . SOMEDAY I will have a photo where all four of them are making nice, polite faces. 

Summer Album: July

In July, after we returned from Glacier . . . 

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Jeff & Eleanor spent a week in Shakespeare camp. The play they did this year was “Much Ado About Nothing.” Eleanor had been looking forward to this camp for months. In this picture the kids are learning stage combat.
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Eleanor didn’t get a very big part in “Much Ado” — the Sextant. Here she plays an additional role as a garden statue for Benedict & Bianca to hide behind while eavesdropping. Well, she got to be Ophelia last year, so . . . turnabout is fair play.
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During that same week, William did Sewing Camp. (Yes, the carpooling was insane.) He made this zippered bicycle bag, and a quilt.
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But the big sewing project was Donut Cat, which he designed the pattern for himself.
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Here is William on his 10th birthday! We had a bowling party with fudge cake a few days after, but on the day of I made him a rainbow chip funfetti cake as I always do. It’s mini sized, just right for six slices, one for each of us.
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We gave William a new bike for his birthday. He loves it!
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We gave him a collection of Happy Meal toys that are Super Mario themed. We all love the green mushroom, which makes the “1-Up” sound when you press it.
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The evening of Wim’s birthday we went to see a production of Jack Tales done by the Oregon Shadow Puppet Theatre Company. They are such an excellent troupe!

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Eleanor spent a week at Camp Robbinswold learning how to do sea kayaking with the Girl Scouts.
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She learned how to do “wet exits,” packed her own kayak, and paddled across the Hood Canal and spent a night doing primitive camping. What a cool adventure.
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I was jealous she got to spend time at Robbinswold, that place is beautiful!
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While Eleanor was at Robbinswold, Katie had Pirate Camp. (This is her on the last day.) So I had a few days of just me and the boys, which was fun.
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I took the boys to Uwajimaya for lunch and to buy back-to-school treats for schuletuten later that year. 
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We also had lunch at the Catfe — the cat cafe in Edmonds. Which was . . . okay. The boys loved the cats. I was just a little dismayed at eating in such a catty place.
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Jeff found a buddy that took a nap in his lap. Aww, a genuine Jeff smile!
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Here are the pictures of Willliam’s bowling party. These guys are so silly.

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The Great Glacier Adventure

We decided to do something different for summer vacation this year: instead of visiting family in Utah, we drove to a place we’d never been before: Glacier National Park, and it’s Canadian sister-park, Waterton Lakes National Park.

Mostly, the desire was to go to a place that was a shorter drive away — only 9 hours away! Instead of 12! Ha ha ha ha ha!

Also, it had been a very long time since we’d had a just-our-family trip, instead of an extended-family trip. Not that there’s anything wrong with extended-family trips, but it’s nice to mix things up a bit.

I also can’t remember a time that I devoted a whole week to exploring a national park. Even our trips to Yellowstone were rarely more than 4-5 days, not a whole week. What a luxury!

Because of that, I’ve decided to write about our adventures by region, instead of chronologically. We visited certain parts of the park multiple times, and it just makes sense to write about it that way.

The Going to the Sun Road

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This is the main road that runs through Glacier, and is deservedly famous. I can’t imagine how it was built, twisting and turning across high cliffs through the mountains! But I also couldn’t stop taking pictures, either. Everyone in the car rolled their eyes at how I kept taking pictures out the window.

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To complete the glorious experience, I brought along a CD of music I thought matched the landscape perfectly: Beethoven’s 5th Piano Concerto, also known as the “Emperor” concerto. And what a perfect match it is — many times it seemed as if the music was perfectly timed for when we’d zoom around a curve and a huge new peak would swoop into view. In fact, click here and you can listen to the concerto on YouTube while you continue to read this post. It’s magnificent.

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Katie and her “whitenpacks.” (Explained below)

At first, the kids whined about listening to classical music in the car — but soon it was also obvious to them that this was a landscape/musical match made in heaven. After the first time listening through, the kids loved it so much, that they insisted we listen to it every time we drove on Going to the Sun Road. “Beethoven, Beethoven, Beethoven!” they’d chant.

They even played “air orchestra” in the back seat.

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We ended up listening to the entire album (which also has the 4th concerto) about eight times. Everyone in the family kept humming the different themes while we hiked and picnicked around the park. You’d think everyone would get tired of it, but no — those melodies are infinitely refreshing. Can’t get enough.

Once we drove through just as the sun was coming up the sides of the valley. Check out the sunbeams. I took a dozen out-the-window photos that morning.

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Another time we drove back at sunset. Beethoven, perfect timing as always, was on one of the slow second movements. Eleanor took all the out-the-window pictures this time.

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Moments in between all the picture taking was spent knitting. I made wonderful progress with my shawl while we drove around. Brian didn’t initially understand how I could possibly tear my eyes away from the beautiful scenery for a second, but I replied that people vacation in different ways — and I have faint childhood memories of my mom working on cross-stitch while my dad drove us around Yellowstone.

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I made great progress on this shawl

Many Glaciers

This, along with Two Medicine, is one of the quieter sections of the park. We visited it early in the week when we didn’t have a clear idea of what the park would be like or what to expect. So, we kept things easygoing.

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A picnic, and then a nature hike around Josephine Lake.

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OH, KATIE.

We saw a deer in the woods . . .

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. . . and a moose cow with her calf on the side of the road.

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The calf is in the background, tucked between a few trees.

But the biggest shock was when we had three bear sightings over the space of two hours! (Granted, Brian was the only member of the family who saw the first bear, but we still count it.)

All of these bears were seen on the roadsides, so we weren’t too alarmed. The second bear was a black bear who stood up twice (I looked away both times and missed it, rats!).

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This is the mama bear, whose cubs are in the grass around her. I love her ears!

But the last bear sighting was very special . . . it was a mama grizzly, and there were two cubs in the tall grass with her. You can’t see them in this picture, unfortunately, but as I watched the cubs jumped around, and I saw their fuzzy bear heads pop out of the grass. I’ve never seen cubs in the wild, and I literally jumped for joy on the side of the road.

Seeing bears was a cause for celebration. The Swiftcurrent Motor Inn had wonderful ice cream: vanilla-blackberry soft serve swirl. You could have all you could fit in a cup for $2.50. Num!

We also spent time checking out the Many Glacier Hotel, which is one of the grand old “parkitecture” lodges of the parks system. I love this funky set of staircases:

It has a “Swiss chalet” theme (okaaay) so the bellhops all wore leiderhosen. My heart goes out to them. True heroes. I’m wondering if the women employees were required to wear dirndls once upon a time . . .

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Two Medicine

Another quiet corner of the park. Our picnic game was strong with this place. What a view!

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This is Katie with her favorite wildflower in the park. We didn’t know what it was called, so Katie named it “whitenpacks.” We’ve since learned that it is beargrass, but it will always be whitenpacks to me.

We decided to take the kids boating on Two Medicine Lake, which was extraordinary. We gave in to Eleanor’s requests to use a two-person kayak, and Eleanor and I headed off together. This was one of my favorite parts of the trip. She and I chatted and talked and referenced the rowing scene from Ben Hur. We went so far, so fast! Probably 2/3rds of the way across the lake.

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The rest of the fam was in a big canoe together. Brian says his ride was less than optimal. Ehhhhh, sorry my love! You are a hero!

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Afterwards we indulged in more vanilla-blackberry soft serve (it’s also carried by the Two Medicine general store, nummmmm).

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Then we took a quick hike up to see a waterfall. The waterfall itself was kind of dismal (it was more like a series of rapids far below us. I didn’t want anyone to get too close to the edge of the cliff to look) but the view was still spectacular.

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Eleanor was mesmerized by this grove of “whitenpacks.” It looked both magical and eerie.
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Sweet Katie was a great hiker!
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Kate & Jeff
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Eleanor made a tiny rock pile at the top
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Selfie on the way back down

We also stopped to see Running Eagle Falls, which are stunning. The story of the woman the falls are named after is also incredible — a real person, a female warrior, not a legend. Awesome.

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On the way back from Two Medicine, we stopped to watch a trio of mountain goats as — I kid you not — they crossed under a bridge to get to greener grass on the other side.

Waterton Falls National Park

Remember all those pictures I took of Going to the Sun Road at sunrise? Yeah, that was the day we decided to drive to Canada, to see the sister-park across the border. Waterton Lakes is managed in conjunction with Glacier, as an international peace park. Thanks to Canada celebrating 150 years of nation-hood, all national parks admission in the country is free this year! Thanks, Canada!

Waterton Lakes has such a different feel from the American park — there’s a town right in the middle of the park! Almost all of the buildings there have European architectural styles, like a tiny Cotswald village in the middle of the Canadian Rockies.

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I seriously can’t remember what this waterfall is called, but it’s basically on the outskirts of Waterton.

Again, our picnic game was strong with this trip. Cameron Lake is gorgeous. Lots of great rock-skipping potential. Too bad we didn’t have time to use the paddleboats! The lake straddles the U.S./Canada border, so yes — the mountain peak you see is in Glacier.

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(I would also like to point out that the Cameron Lake parking lot is where I saw an honest-to-goodness French-speaking biker gang. Thanks, Canada!)

The reason we didn’t have time for paddleboats is because of this:

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real boat ride down Upper Waterton Lake! Almost all the lakes in Waterton-Glacier have these lovely wooden boat tours, and while they all look great, the Canadian one looked the most interesting.

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Eleanor’s bundled up because the wind blew hard, and it was cooooold!
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Below deck with Katie
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Our boat, cruising around the water while we explored Goat Haunt

Our boat is the “oldest continuously operating wooden boat in Canada,” and we had a very windy excursion on the deck. The views were spectacular.

My favorite part was when our guide pointed out the famous “no touching zone,” the gap of felled trees showing where the border is.

The other side of the lake, Goat Haunt, is in Glacier. We could walk around the shoreline for a few minutes, but if we wanted to hike further into Glacier, we’d need to show our passports. Maybe if we come back someday, we’ll do that. It’s called “the back door to Glacier,” and a great way to hike away from the crowds.

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After our boat ride we loaded up on ice cream and Kinder Surprise eggs in Waterton (the kids were THRILLED about the eggs. They found ones with Zootopia characters) and of course Wunderbars for me. We discovered Kit Kat flavored ice cream for Jeff which was something of a revelation — Canadian chocolate is delish.

Well stocked with treats, we headed up to the Prince of Wales hotel. That place really knows how to exploit a good view.

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The girls and I wistfully gazed at the high tea service, but we were full of sweets already (and tea time was almost over). Next time, girls, I promise!

And yes, the employees here wear tartan plaid kilts instead of leiderhosen. Which seems marginally better, I suppose.

Our boat guide recommended taking a drive up to Red Rock Canyon, so we decided to check it out with the remainder of our afternoon.

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Holy cow! A slot canyon! This was not what we expected! Brian wanted to take the big kids upstream to explore the canyon, so I agreed to stay with Katie while she played in the water.

Which she did for about three minutes. Then she insisted we go catch up to everyone else.

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Katie is often the Family Whiner on hikes right now, but since this hike was her idea, she was marvellously full of pluck and determination. “Come on, Mom, we can do it!” she cried. “God is making this easier for us!” Even though I was terrified that Katie would fall and drown — or, more likely, that I would drop my phone and/or roll my ankles — we caught up to everyone else unscathed, save our feet turning purple from the cold water.

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I will never, ever hike the Zion Narrows, if this is what it’s like. My toes were freezing! But I will admit the hike was incredibly fun. Clambering over rocks is like solving a puzzle, which I enjoy.

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Wet and exhausted, we planned to cook hot dogs for dinner in the trailhead picnic area, only to have a French-speaking gentleman ask if we had matches to spare so he could light his camping stove.

Turns out we only had one match left in the box. We gave it to the guy and bought hamburgers in Waterton. Good luck to that gentleman — I hope he caught the flame on the first try!

On our way out of the park, we stopped and took a gander at the bison wandering around a paddock.

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And yeah, we saw another bear on the side of the road. That’s Bear #6 for the trip.

Hilarious moment: on our way back to the U.S. we drove through the clear-cut forest border, and the kids yelled “no touching! no touching! no touching! no touching!”

St. Mary

St. Mary is on the eastern edge of the park, the closest side to the Blackfeet Indian Reservation just beyond the park border. The park has made an effort to ensure that all presentations or exhibits about native peoples are created by and for native peoples. As such, there was a performance of dance by local members of the Blackfeet at the St. Mary visitor’s center on Wednesday evening. We drove there first thing in the morning to get our tickets.

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There were tipis set up outside the visitor center

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Then we had the afternoon to fill up any way we wanted while waiting for evening to come. We had a picnic lunch at an old ranger’s cabin from 1912. It was locked up, but had a fun porch for hanging out.

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Afterwards we took a short hike around St. Mary Lake to Baring Falls.

The wildflowers were gorgeous! But since this hike was at a low elevation, it was kind of hot and dusty. Katie wasn’t a fan.

But the waterfall was lovely. It was fun place to climb around and explore. I was paranoid that all the kids would get soaked, but we were just fine.

After the hike, we had a picnic lunch at the Rising Sun picnic area, and let the kids pretend-play in the woods for a while. They chose “Ewok Village” as their play scenario.

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After hitting up the Rising Sun general store for ice cream, we headed back to the visitor’s center for the dance performance.

It was so cool — not only because the dancers were incredibly talented, but also because they were local people. The host for the evening was kind of a chatterbox talker, but everything he had to say was so candid (“I’m going to dance first because this dance getup is hot” . . . later he totally embarrassed his granddaughter by telling everyone what a great athlete she is) that it painted a great picture of who these people are and how they are working to preserve their heritage. Many of the performers are teachers at the Blackfeet immersion-language school on the rez.

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Afterwards the performers and their families sold handmade doodads to tourists in the parking lot (“hey, it’s tourist season,” said the host. “Gotta do what we can to survive, right?”). I usually don’t bother with souvenirs at national parks (photographs are all I need) but this was different, since I was purchasing something directly from the local person who made it. Eleanor got a tiny replica painted tipi with a night-light inside (it’s in her shadow box now) and Katie got a beaded keychain thing.

Funny story about St. Mary: in the afternoon, while we had our picnic lunch, Brian put his and Jeff’s spare shoes on top of the van to dry off in the sun, since they were still damp from the slot-canyon hike the day before. After the hike to Baring Falls, I took care to ensure the shoes came down and were safely packed away before we drove off.

So imagine my surprise when, on the drive back home from the dance performance, we see a shoe in the middle of the road that looked a lot like Brian’s.

Yeah, turns out that Brian put the shoes back on top of the car during dinner, but didn’t tell me about it, and then totally forgot about it himself.

We turned the car around, searched, and were able to find both of Brian’s shoes, but Jeff’s? No idea. We drove back and forth along the road between the picnic area and the visitor center, and no sign of his shoes. Fortunately, they were spares a little too small for Jeff, but did we leave shoes behind in a national park? Hopefully someone else found them and picked them up.

Logan Pass

This is by far the most crowded part of the park. According to the rangers, park attendance went up 30% in 2016, and 2017 is likely to break that record. The park’s infrastructure simply can’t handle that many people. Even though there is a shuttle system to help reduce parking, it was nearly useless as the filled-up shuttle buses skip over hikers stranded at trailheads. We attempted to use the shuttle to get to Logan Pass, but discovered that the shuttle wait would be two and a half hours to board.

(That was the morning we decided to drive to Two Medicine instead.)

 

Hence the parking lot at the Logan Pass visitor center is usually packed all day. In most seasons, said the rangers, you’re fine for parking if you arrive before noon, but this year you needed to show up by 9:00 a.m. or you’re stuck. Some rangers spoke of fistfights breaking out in the Logan Pass parking lot.

Yeeesh.

So we avoided the place altogether during the day, because we know one simple secret about national parks: everyone goes home at 5:00 p.m.

Yeah. The place is empty by six.

So for our big day of hiking in Logan Pass, we woke up early and raced all the tourists for a parking spot by the Avalanche Lake trailhead (one of the most popular hikes in the park). Even with getting up at dawn, we had to park in the down-the-road overflow area, but still. A spot. Hooray.

And it was totally worth it because the hike was gorgeous. Beautiful forest, rivers cascading over boulders, the works.

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The kids loved pretending that this bike rack was a horse

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A pristine mountain lake at the end! Perfect for making mud pies, according to Katie.

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And then . . .ANOTHER BEAR.

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This is probably the best bear sighting I’ve ever had. A small grizzly emerged on the far side of the lake, then slowly walked along the shoreline, allowing everyone there a nice long look. It was really fun to watch the bear climb up and over all the logs. About twenty full minutes of bear watching. Holy cow. (that was Bear #7, if you’re counting.)

We kept our car in its spot during lunch, choosing to walk our food to the picnic area across the road from the trailhead.

The Avalanche Picnic Area has a just-right river for wading and skipping rocks.

In fact, we liked it so much that we returned there later that evening for dinner, too.

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Finally, it was late enough to go up to the Logan Pass parking lot. The reason why this place is so popular? It’s the trailhead for the most iconic hike in the entire park: The Hidden Lake Overlook trail.

I admit that I was skeptical of all the hoops we needed to jump through to make this hike happen, but whoa, was it worth it.

I mean:

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This place is gorgeous. And since we didn’t begin until evening, there weren’t very many people.

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The challenging part of the hike was walking across a series of snowfields. It wasn’t very cold, but it was slippery. Fortunately we were all lucky and nobody had any serious falls. More than anything, it made us feel like we had really “done” Glacier.

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Stinkin’ gorgeous.

Another perk of going in the evening: mountain goats! We saw so many of them next to the trail that we stopped being flabbergasted at them. Just regular gasted.

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The trail down to Hidden Lake was closed (too many bears) but that’s okay. The overlook was worth it. This is one of the most beautiful views I’ve seen, period. The lavender-and-evergreen mountains, with the silver lake at the bottom? Lines of indigo ridges disappearing into the sunset? Take me there, any time any day.

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Eleanor and I chatted all the way down, experimenting with my camera’s panorama setting. The sunset was spectacular.

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It was so spectacular that Eleanor insisted on photographing it on the drive down the mountainside. The CD player automatically flicked on as we pulled out of the parking lot, and who was playing? Beethoven’s 5th concerto. The slow 2nd movement. Perfectly timed with the sunset. I kid you not.

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Apgar and Lake McDonald

This the part of the park closest to where we were staying, so we often by while coming and going.

The big attraction for the visitor center was the ranger-led stargazing parties in the evening. They had big telescopes set up so we could have close-up views of Jupiter and Saturn, as well as various nebulas and galaxies. Brian and the kids were so excited they began singing Uncle Peter’s song “Ganymede,” while waiting in line for the next scope.

I spent a lot of time experimenting with the slow shutter speed on my phone camera, taking pictures of the night sky. It was really challenging! The pictures below are the ones that turned out. One of them is from the night we spent stargazing at Logan Pass — there was no astronomy program there, we just spontaneously  stopped on the way home to look at stars.

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You can see the Milky Way in this one.

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Apgar Village is also home to the Nature Center, which hosts a lot of ranger programs the kids attended to earn their Junior Ranger badges.

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This ranger gave an amazing presentation about mountain climbing in Glacier. He’s hiked the peaks in the park dozens of times. He likes to say, “Summiting is optional, but descent is necessary,” meaning, sometimes you need to know when to turn around and go down.

Pluuuuuuuus there is pretty good ice cream at the general store.

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We spent our last day in the park in Apgar, and asked the kids what activity they enjoyed so much they wanted a repeat. The vote went to kayaking, so onto Lake McDonald we went!

Well . . . everyone but Jeff, who had no interest in going on the water again. We have him a little cash for an ice cream cone, and he had a ball hanging out on the beach by himself. (A much happier teenage boy when we rowed back.)

This time around, Eleanor and William were rowing buddies, while Brian and I took Katie in a canoe. Confession: being in the canoe made me extremely nervous about tipping into the water and losing my phone, and hence all my Glacier photos. Brian, on the other hand, told me later that he loved rowing with a competent adult instead of children. Either way, after an hour of rowing I asked to be taken back to shore with Katie. Since Wim and E. hadn’t returned, Brian went back out in a kayak to help them navigate their way back to shore.

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There goes Brian on his “rescue mission”

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After lunch on the lakeshore, we took a detour to the western section of the park that very few people visit: the Camas Road. (Funny story: this road was built in order to prevent a dam project from flooding/destroying Glacier NP in the 1940s. Once the dam was cancelled, road construction halted. That’s why there’s a really nice road there.)

There was nobody in this part of the park, which was a shame because there were some lovely overlooks that would be perfect for watching wildlife at dusk.

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But we were headed out to the Camas Creek Entrance of the park to hike along the “Forests and Fire Nature Trail.”

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We all felt a little skittish about this trail, since there was nobody else there, and the trailhead sign was atypically empty (a sign with nothing on it). So everyone was a little nervous when we began. Would this trail loop around as we’d been promised by our park map? Or was it a different trail altogether? Were we about to get lost? Pudding!

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It was also very hot and dusty, similar to the St. Mary lake hike but without the scenic benefits of a lake. A sign told us that park visitors are allowed to harvest huckleberries (a pint per visitor, per day!) but we didn’t find any.

But it all turned out okay, and we headed out of the park in early enough to enjoy some swimming back at our base camp.

Base Camp” in Columbia Falls

It was nice to return to “civilization” for our last evening on vacation. We rented a condo that was part of a vacation resort, and the swimming pool was right next door! We gave the kids a nice long swim on the first day we arrived (well . . . Jeff abstained. He came shopping with me instead, and we spent way too long flipping through magazines).

 

I took the littles swimming on our last evening as well, while Brian and Jeff played Magic and then fetched us dinner from the local Dairy Queen. After spending the day kayaking, hiking, and swimming, those burgers tasted a-ma-zing.

At bedtime we finished up the read-aloud book I’d brought for the trip, The 13 Clocks, by James Thurber. So nice to have everything all checked off and tidy for our return trip. I felt we did everything we wanted, but just little enough that I’m totally craving more. Maybe we’ll have to return to Glacier sometime in the future — who knows?

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One more picture of Eleanor and William kayaking
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One more stargazing picture at Apgar — that’s Saturn at the top of that tree.

 

Berry Firecracker Playground Lake

Last week we were a bunch of homebodies, so this week I decided to make up for it with a series of adventures.

The tricky thing is getting my kids up early enough so we can all get our practicing done before heading on the road. Since my two oldest have morphed into teenagers, it’s a challenge. I miss having breakfast with everyone at the same time, but nowadays the kitchen is a revolving door of mealtimes. I keep finding plates of half-eaten bagels in random places all over the house.

But we did manage to go strawberry picking. It was a perfect sunny day for it (as opposed to last year, when we paid for rainwater along with our berries). You could smell the ripening berries in the air! I loved it.

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I managed to limit our picking to only 11 lbs. this time around. (And yes, this once again coincided with the arrival of the 25 lb. cherry box Bro. Soumpholphakdy brought us.)

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The kids were all cheerful pickers this year. Katie spent her time searching for “The Queen of the Strawberries,” defined as “the biggest berry of all.” When she determined that she’d found the Queen, she then went on a search for the Princess, Prince and even Baby of the Strawberries. Which was darn adorable.

Eleven pounds was just right for making strawberry pie, jam, and enough frozen berries for all the smoothies I want.

BUT — I admit that if I hadn’t gotten my dates mixed up, I’m not sure if I would have gone berry picking that day. For some reason, I had it in mind that July 4th was a Wednesday, not a Tuesday this year. So I thought I had an extra day to cook and process the berries before the holiday. Whoops!

So I was busy cooking barbecue sauce and pressure-cooking ribs alongside the strawberry pie.

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This was one of the most delicious cookouts I’ve ever made. Babyback BBQ ribs, pan-fried corn, amazing salads (family and friends brought those). Strawberry pie for dessert, along with this cool dessert-drink I found in a cookbook: cherry sorbet floats made with lemon-thyme lemonade.

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Aunt Kristen was one of our July 4th guests, and we discovered that Eleanor has surpassed her in height!

We considered going to the UW hospital to watch the Seattle fireworks out the big windows, but that didn’t seem very July 4th-ish to me. So we went to the same park in Edmonds that we went to last year. It’s juuuuust the right distance away from the show to still hear the popping sounds and a bit of music, but not so loudly that it scares Katie.

The next day we were rewarded for doing chores by going to St. Edwards State Park, where the giant “super playground” is.

But we have a problem with Jeff. He’s in that in-between phase where he towers over other kids, but still young enough that he likes to play. He planned on participating with the other kids, but when he saw that there were a bunch of day-camp groups on the playground, he decided to sit and read a book instead.

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This climbing tree is the best part of the playground, anyway

Fortunately, I also brought along my book, Issac the Alchemist by Mary Losure. Jeff asked about it (fascinating biography of Issac Newton) and soon I was reading chapter after chapter of it out loud to him. But I still felt sad that he wasn’t playing with the other kids anymore.

In fact, on the following day, I decided to take everyone to the outdoor pool in Edmonds, and Jeff said he’d rather stay home and get his math home-study done. Jeff is incredible about getting his math home-study done without complaining, and often without me prompting him to do it.

But it was still a bummer to leave him behind. In the meanwhile, can I say how impressed I was that Eleanor passed off the swim test with the lifeguard on the first try? William didn’t, so Eleanor was sweet enough to stay in the shallow end so he wouldn’t be lonely with Katie.

(I stayed on a lanai chair and read a book. Heaven.)

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Katie sits poolside, watching Eleanor, the girl in goggles to the right

FINALLY, on Friday I decided to coordinate our adventure with friends, and we met up with buddies at Lake Sammamish State Park. My friend Melinda, who lives in Bellevue, had talked up the beautiful new playground as an excellent destination for summer play.

I agree with her wholeheartedly (even though she, funnily enough, couldn’t make it what with being on vacation and all). The playground is adorable and beautiful. There’s one of the biggest zip lines I’ve seen on a playground, and the play-houses have little details like tiny fireplaces molded into the wall.

Again, Jeff didn’t quite know what to do with himself, but he enjoyed helping littler kids take rides on the zipline, pushing the merry-go-round as fast as he could manage, and then dozing on the big round accessible swing.

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After a picnic lunch, we hit the beach!

What a great spot! The water is so much warmer than Puget Sound, and this swimming beach is nice and shallow. My friends and I waded a bit, then stretched out on the sand to doze and chat while the kids splashed together. As a bonus, the bathhouse is new, with nice clean restrooms for changing clothes. (I brought my swimsuit, but didn’t bother changing once I saw how shallow the water was.)

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I know I’ve mentioned before how much I love Jetty Island, but I think I like the beach at Lake Sammamish even more. This summer I can’t muster the energy to plan a Jetty trip. The hassle of dealing with the ferry reservation system, how competitive it is to get tickets, how there’s always the chance you’ll be stranded on-island until evening, and how if the tide is out the water is so far away, drives me crazy. Plus, there’s only one bathroom on Jetty, and it’s on the opposite side of the island from the beach, so bleh.

I think the lake will be our go-to spot from now on.

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To cap off Adventure Week, the whole family went on a day trip to Tacoma on Saturday.

I’m always telling my friends that Tacoma is a surprisingly fun place to go. In the past, we’ve visited the Museum of Glass and its amazing furnace/workshop, but this time we headed to Point Defiance Park.

First, we had a picnic at Owen Beach . . .

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Spontaneous game of leapfrog!

. . . and then we went to the Fort Nisqually Living History Museum. On the drive south, the kids didn’t quite understand where we were going, and so whined a bit, but when we pulled into the parking lot, Jeff eagerly sat up straight.

THIS is where we’re going? A HISTORY MUSEUM??”

It made me laugh, because I couldn’t figure out why Mr. History Face wasn’t excited about it before. But he bounded out of the car with glee once he realized where we were.

Fort Nisqually is a recreation of the British trading post that was around in the early 19th century (I think the 1830s were its heyday). It specialized in the fur trade, and shut down when Washington was later signed off as part of the U.S.

All the usual great history stuff was there: the general store (with a surprising amount of real fur pelts to touch), the carpenter’s yard, the blacksmith shop, an archaeological dig, the kitchen garden, and some women weaving/stitching on the porch of the head officer’s house.

Jeff was a little disappointed that there wasn’t more of a military aspect to the museum. (“Where’s the armory?” he kept asking) but it was a trading post, not an army post, so there wasn’t much in way of guns or cannons. Sorry, Jeff!

After the museum (Katie wore out quickly, and I had to drag everyone else away from their checkers games) we discovered an old-fashioned soda fountain a little ways down the road from the park.

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It has swivel stools and everything! You can order a phosphate and an egg cream! They make sodas by spraying soda water into glasses of syrup!!

I was too chicken to try the egg cream or phosphate, but we all wanted to try different ice cream floats.

Katie: chocolate ice cream cone with sprinkles

William: strawberry soda with strawberry ice cream

Eleanor: Chocolate soda with chocolate ice cream

Jeff: Chocolate soda with vanilla ice cream (for the record, chocolate soda is blecchhhh)

Me: Cherry Coke with chocolate ice cream

Brian: Sassparilla soda with vanilla ice cream

So refreshing! We had a little extra time before our final destination, so we decided to swing by the Brown & Haley factory store, i.e. the Almond Roca store.

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Bags of Macadamia Roca for 99 cents = Brian heaven

This was all about Brian, folks. Almond Roca is his favorite candy (just like his dad) and there was a certain light in his eye when he realized he could pick up bags of factory seconds for $.99 cents. (Also, Elvis was once in that building. There’s a plaque on the wall and everything. Just so you know.)

For the end of our day, I wanted to try something very new: a place called Tinkertopia, which is an art supply shop/studio for kids . . . but all of the supplies are recycled materials. It’s run by two artists, one of whom is a former preschool teacher, so it’s incredibly well-organized.

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For $7 a kid, they were allowed to spend 90 minutes using anything in the store to build anything they wanted. There were drills, saws, glue guns, wood bits, reams of tape and stickers, baskets of pipe cleaners and staplers, fabric scraps, piles of paper, every kind of plastic doo dad imaginable, and a whole wall of Ellison paper-cutting dies. (My first library job had an Ellison die-cutting machine, and I still miss it.)

Jeff was skeptical until he realized he could use a hacksaw, and promptly got to work making a broadsword out of a mailing tube. It has a handle that slips out of the hilt and becomes a poisoned dagger!

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Eleanor was a bit at a loss for ideas at first but eventually decided to make a little elephant statue. The head is on a bolt, so it can turn from side to side. So cute!

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William didn’t have anything in mind, but simply started building and adding things at random. He made what he calls a “puppet thing.” There’s a handle on one end that makes the pipe cleaners on the other end retract in and out of the tube.

He then spent his remaining time making a cat “that shoots cuteness lazers,” which Brian and I think is also an apt description of William himself.

Finally, Katie! She’s the one who dove into building right from the get-go, making a bird sitting in a nest. But then she wanted to build something else, and roped me into helping her.

We decide to make a “stuffie fairy doll” — meaning a soft stuffed fabric toy — which was challenging, because while there were a lot of tools available in the studio, a sewing machine wasn’t one of them. I glued together a folded square of fabric, stuffed it, and glued it shut. Katie then found a string of sequin ribbon to cinch around the square to give it some head-torso definition. Katie drew on a face, and I glued on felt arms and legs. Katie found glittery ribbon, which I glued on as wings. And so on. Katie would find some spangly, sparkly thing to be part of the fairy ensemble, and I’d figure out a way to glue it on.

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The gold star on the fairy’s tummy is a “wishing star” (Katie made an earnest wish that “she and the fairy would be best friends forever” before we glued it on.)

I honestly had a lot of fun adding more and more little details to the doll, like the silver crown, or the yellow sash, even if the ideas had to be negotiated with a six-year-old.

When the dolly was finished, we even had time to make accessories. Katie asked for a pet, so we fished some fake fur out of the fabric scraps bin and glued it to a cork for a doggie pet. A plastic Easter Egg half became a doggy bed, and a scrap of felt a blanket. Katie even found a bin of Christmas lightbulbs and chose one to be the “shot” that the dog will get when he goes to the vet.

While Katie picked out medicine, I hastily slapped together a matching silver crown for Katie to wear home.

And yes, I did fall asleep on the way home, why do you ask?

40th Birthday Dance-A-Thon

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My 40th birthday came and went this week. I wanted to do something on the big side (or at least bigger side) to celebrate.

Four decades! It seems more impressive than it feels.

So, I decided to throw my friends and their kids a dance party. This was a bit of a big swing for me. I’ve held many, many gatherings over they years, and I don’t think I’ve felt quite as much anxiety as I have over this one. What if nobody danced? What if everyone just stood around and stared at each other? Or worse, stood around and stared at me while I danced awkwardly by myself?

But fortunately, none of that happened, although I danced pretty much every single song in a row in order to try and keep things happening. It went pretty well, if I do say so myself.

Plus, I also had a keg of gourmet root beer on hand so people could have all the floats they wanted. (It held 20 liters. When the party was over, we drained the leftovers into empty bottles and found that the crowd drank 15, wow.)

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I made my own playlist using YouTube videos, which we streamed onto our television via the Chromecast. The disco light from Eleanor’s birthday party was back on the ceiling, and, well . . .

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It looks pretty awesome, right? I was lucky enough to have a passel of extroverts show up, so all the old warhorse dance moves got pulled out. A conga line, the Macarena, Electric Slide, and even the horse-riding bits for Gangnam Style.

(By the way, there is nothing in this world like standing next to your stake president and his wife in the middle of your dance party and seeing their faces as they dance to the Gangnam Style music video for the very first time.)

Tips for next time: when I made my playlist, I kind of randomly threw together a bunch of songs that were all danceable, some well known, others not. If I were to do this again, I’d choose only the familiar songs. My guests felt more comfortable dancing to the songs they already knew.

No matter how much I love “Let’s Dance to Joy Division” by the Wombats, it caused pretty much everybody to come to a standstill and scratch their heads. “What’s this song?”

Also, sometimes the music video for a song was so outlandish that it proved a big distraction. On the other hand, if a video included the lyrics to a song, it often inspired everyone to sing along.

All the old dusty classics made everyone very happy. The groans and cheers of pleasure when “Livin’ on a Prayer” came up on the playlist was worth every penny. Soon people took turns trying to guess which decade the next song would be from.

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Conga line for “Love Train.” You can only see about half the line in this picture.

If I were to do it again, I’d add things like the Bunny Hop or the Chicken Dance. They are corny, but are a great way for people who don’t feel confident about dancing to join in and feel like they are part of the group.

(Oh! We should have done the Virginia Reel!)

At the end of the set, everyone was, ah, shall we say . . .glowing . . . and likely slept very well that night. We had to open every single window and door on the first floor. At its peak, there were 35 people dancing at my house.

Anyway, it was a wonderful way to kick off what has become the best days of my life. Seriously — I no longer suffer the social awkwardness and anxiety of my twenties, or the lingering depression (and lack of autonomy caused by rearing toddlers) of my thirties. I have so many friends it astounds me! And an incredible family who is pretty darn fine if I do say so myself. I have the freedom to spend my time on the work and projects that I choose, and to go where I wish. A big house full of too many “books, socks, and the little wheels off things” (as Shirley Jackson would say). The luxury of time to exercise and have a healthy body. I get to live in an interesting city in one of the most beautiful parts of the country. How on earth did I get here?

Here’s to hoping the next few years are just as fine as this one.

MY BIRTHDAY PLAYLIST, FOR THE HISTORICAL RECORD:

September – Earth Wind & Fire

Rock the Casbah – The Clash

Rock With You – Michael Jackson

YMCA – The Village People

Twist & Shout – The Beatles

Signed, Sealed, Delivered – Stevie Wonder

L-O-V-E – Nat King Cole

Sweet Caroline – Neil Diamond

Love Shack – The B-52s

Let’s Dance to Joy Division – The Wombats

Stayin’ Alive – The Bee Gees

Flypaper – k-os

Concrete and Clay – Unit 4+2

Fly Me to the Moon – Frank Sinatra

Shout – The Isley Brothers

Canned Heat – Jamiroquai

Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough – Michael Jackson

Can’t Stop the Feeling – Justin Timberlake

Livin’ on a Prayer – Bon Jovi

Elenore – The Turtles

Love Train – The O’Jays

Istanbul – They Might Be Giants

Dancing in the Streets – Martha and the Vandellas

Around the World/Harder Better Faster Stronger – Daft Punk

Ganymede – Peter Shirts (This is Peter’s parody of “Dynamite” by Taio Cruz)

Come on Eileen – Dexy’s Midnight Runners

You Spin Me Round (Like a Record) – Dead or Alive

I Want You Back – The Jackson 5

The Twist – Chubby Checker

You Shook Me All Night Long – AC/DC

Gangnam Style – Psy

Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party – Courtney Barnett* (at this point, I had learned my lesson about obscure songs and skipped this one. All other songs with * were ones we skipped, mainly for time because it was past 9:00 p.m. at this point, and little kids needed to get to bed)

December, 1963 – The Four Seasons

Get Down Tonight – (KC & The Sunshine Band)

Desire – U2*

Low Rider – War*

A Mi Manera – Gypsy Kings*

Buddy Holly – Weezer

Sweet Home Alabama – Lynyrd Skynyrd

Celebration – Kool & the Gang*

What Does the Fox Say? – Ylvis (this was not part of the original playlist, but Jeff begged me to put it in)

Golden Years – David Bowie (The last song we played that night. It’s my favorite pop song, and I wanted to end with it)

Remainder of Playlist (but which we did not play that night)

Mony Mony – Billy Idol

Brick House – The Commodores

Shining Star – Earth Wind & Fire

One More Time – Daft Punk

Modern Love – David Bowie

Fell in Love With a Girl – The White Stripes

Respect – Aretha Franklin

What I Like About You – The Romantics

(Don’t worry about these songs at the end, we didn’t ever really think we’d play them, it was a just-in-case measure.)

 

 

Sixth Grade Curtain Call

My sweet Ellabelle had her 6th grade graduation this week.

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Which means she attended the last day of school in nice Sunday clothes.

Which means she looked like this while doing safety patrol:

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Mwa ha haaaaaa!

It’s hard to believe that she’s all done with elementary school — no, scratch that. It’s actually quite easy to believe since we’ve been thinking about it for months now, what with middle school tours and choosing electives for next year. (The photos below are from the 6th grade band concert a few weeks ago.)

(Eleanor the Bored Percussionist Strikes Again!)

What really blew my mind is realizing that William will be in 5th grade next year. 5th! But he’s still in 1st grade, I could have sworn that was so!

The graduation ceremony was the same format as Jeff’s, only the pop song choice was far more appropriate for kids to sing (“Count on Me” by Bruno Mars).

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Elle getting her “diploma” from her principal, Mr. Lohman

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Brian couldn’t make it to this one, so I brought her flowers from Trader Joe’s to compensate. She was tickled as pink as the roses.

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Elle with her friend Domina
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With her teacher, Ms. Stenfjord

Eleanor is looking more and more grown-up. I wasn’t able to attend her modern dance performance (that was the weekend I was in California) but the pictures from dress rehearsal were posted a few days ago, and they look so elegant and cool.

The graduation ceremony ended an hour before school ended, so Eleanor and I hoofed it over to Costco to pick up movie theater tickets and a pizza for lunch (annnnnd some books. Because Eleanor made me do it).

When the other kids came home, we snarfed down pizza, then headed over to Menchie’s for frozen yogurt (our standard last-day activity), then headed to the movies to watch Captain Underpants.

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The day was topped off with the choosing of the Summer Cereals. William claimed Lucky Charms this year, and Eleanor was nearly distraught because that’s usually her choice. She eventually settled on Cocoa Puffs, a fine cereal in the mascot-with-no-pants tradition.

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In other news, Jeff was awarded the Most Outstanding Digital Technology Student award at the middle school’s evening awards ceremony. Which was great for Jeff (his teacher is wonderful for thinking of him) but also meant Brian and I had to sit through a 90 minute evening award ceremony. Thank heavens I brought my knitting.

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See how bored the audience looks? And this was at the BEGINNING of the ceremony.
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Mr. Macdowell taught Digital Communications, and was also his social studies teacher

William finished his school year with a food truck simulation, which he found very interesting and talked about every day for weeks. His food truck is called “Taco Cat,” and he even made a paper model of it. He and Eleanor took some red yarn and had a ribbon cutting ceremony to declare it officially “open,” which just about made me die from cuteness.

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On the last day of school, William also brought home the note that Brian and I wrote him back at the beginning of the school year. His teacher told me that he kept it on top of his desk all year long and read it every day. Sweet boy.

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Look at the curled edges and fingerprints. Ohhh, sweet William.

 

William also got to attend the Summer Library kickoff party, where the Emerald City Admirals came to teach quidditch to the kids, which he loved.

We also observed Father’s Day a few weeks ago. In addition to giving him the latest draft of my book, I also gave him many flavors of tiny pie slices, brought from my annual book club’s trip to the Back Door Bakery down in Olympia.

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In other words, the end of the school year has treated us well.

Oh wait — can’t end without an official first day/last day comparison photo!

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First Day

 

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Last Day

Although .  . . that doesn’t quite capture the true spirit of the last day of school, does it?

How about we take another shot?

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That’s more like it!

Return of the Sunshine Days

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The nicest treat happened this past month: my female friends from college organized a women’s getaway weekend in Southern California.

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Clockwise from the left: Laura, Marjorie, Julia, Liz, Kellie, AnnaJune

We picked out a date waaaaay back in August, then reserved a beach cottage in January. After the requisite bumps in the planning process (and a zillion e-mails) we all arrived in San Diego.

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Much silliness ensued

Our first evening there was sunny and festive.

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JUST LOOK AT THAT GORGEOUS BLUE SKY
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This sign seems appropriate

BUUUUUUUT the following day was filled with what I have been informed is called “the June Gloom.” Ergh. This was kind of disappointing, but I wasn’t planning to go in the water much anyway (I didn’t bring my contacts, so I had to keep my face above water).

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People had balanced all these cool rocks on the beach
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We made a few of our own balanced rock stacks

And THEN Julia fell and hurt her hand which was still healing from a previous break. (Nooooo!)

(AnnaJune spent time braiding Julia’s hair to look awesome, which I hoped helped her feel better.)

AND THEN the beach was taken over by a creepy pro-Trump “March Against Sharia” that  made my stomach turn. (Even after a counter-protest showed up.)

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But the idea was to hang out and talk and eat junk food, and we accomplished that with élan.

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The view from our cottage
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The end of the pier has a restaurant where we ate lunch. It felt like eating in the middle of the ocean.
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Spontaneous karaoke in the beach cottage

Every time I get together with the Plethora I am startled by what a different person I’ve become since I finished college. I love these people; they are like family. But to tell the truth they are also like family in the respect that, if I met some of them today for the first time, I’m not sure how close we’d be as friends, if at all. I’m wouldn’t be surprised if they felt the same way. Perhaps that’s why it’s important to reconnect with the people who knew you when you were young.

That’s a gift, isn’t it? To be friends with someone who you may never have taken the time to introduce yourself to if life hadn’t done it for you. I did have a lovely time and I hope we can do it again in the future (perhaps in Chicago? We ruminated over it in an attempt to lure East Coasties to join in).

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The restaurant where we ate Saturday night had mediocre service but a very fun photo op

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Yes, more of this, please

ANYWAY — the other big news with me is that I finished Draft #3 of my novel in time for Father’s Day. Reading my book is what Brian wanted for his present, and I had a fair amount of hoofing at the last minute to meet the deadline. But meet it I did, and now I have the pleasure of watching Brian read it every night at bedtime, and he even chuckles at the parts that are funny and sometimes he stays up after I’ve turned off the light because he finds it interesting enough to not want to stop and it is the sexiest thing imaginable.

The only downside is the cringing truth that this draft took far too long to finish. I’m working at about 1/2 the speed which I ought, and it grates on me. I want to keep working over the summer, but I don’t know how that’s going to shake out now that the kids are out of school. (Especially considering that I need to keep practicing piano every day!)

I did give myself a victory lap this week — the last week before school ended — and spent time not writing and going out to lunch with friends and visiting the Terracotta Warriors exhibit at the science museum. (All by myself! I got to spend as much time as I wanted reading each and every informative plaque. Most startling information gleaned: the weapons the statues carried indicated that the Qin empire had discovered mass production and interchangeable parts a good 1800 years before Europeans did.)

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Lunch at Marination Ma Kai with Amy & Margaret. 

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Summer is now upon us, and I’m looking forward to lots of fun adventures with the kids, and experimenting with ice cream. Here’s to hoping I can find a happy balance and enjoy the sunshine days!

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Knitting at the roller disco. I think this sums me up pretty well.