Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Christmas Letter

I love writing my Christmas letter, and clearly do it for my, myself, and I, as well as my children’s future enjoyment.  But I like to force others to read it as well. 


*  *  *  *  *

December 14-19, 2013

Dear Loved Ones,

If you are looking forward to a cheerful Christmas letter chockfull of darling children and heart-warming family moments, well, my friend, start a fire with this and move on to the next on your pile.  It’s not anything particular about 2013; it’s more that it’s Year Seven of being a stay-at-home, which is probably two years longer than I should have signed up for.  However, with the help of a voodoo doctor, a few revelations, and a little Peace & Quiet, this year has shaped up just fine. 

My mother says that I’ll forget about all the trouble Wesley causes someday. I reply, “Blog.” And then we both laugh, because his antics made good copy but lousy daily life. Perhaps you remember my failed attempts to sell Wesley when he was two. He was off the market for most of his third year, but recently I’ve considered putting him back up.  In a physically affectionate family, he is the most snuggly and huggly; he can also throw the biggest, loudest, longest, and least provoked tantrums (and this is with Piper as his competition!).  As I scratch my head to find something nice to write about the kid who has given me lots of writing material, I can at least brag that he learned to ride a two-wheeled bike last spring, totally rocked a Mohawk this summer (like Daddy!), and he is excited to learn to read (I think he wants to learn bomb-making on the internet).  He turns four in a month and will spend next year in as many preschools as I can schedule. 

Piper added to her childhood legend by choosing to spend her first day of kindergarten sitting in the office instead of cooperating in class. (Day 2 was much better.)  She still doesn’t really care what anyone thinks of her, and if she wants something, she figures out pretty ingenious ways of accomplishing her objective.  Piper is not so much manipulative as she simply doesn’t recognize obstacles.  “Obstacle? What obstacle?  I don’t see any obstacles,” she says as she trods all over them. She is going to make an awesome and effective adult, I keep reminding myself as I try to help us both survive her childhood.  Her passion is animals and babies, and she loves being the keeper of our two new kittens.  She spent much of her 5th year watching babies—of all species—being born through the wonders of youtube.com.  I can’t even predict what she’ll pursue as a six-year-old.

Kyla, now seven, has been through the biggest changes this year.  She had some really challenging behaviors that, coming from Kyla and not her siblings, raised some red flags.  We ended up at a nutritionist (aka voodoo doctor) and found she had a sensitivity to wheat, corn, and nightshade vegetables—basically all the common GMO foods. (And just as I perfected my bread recipe!) Then she went from acing Kindergarten to really struggling by the end of the year.  Turns out she is dyslexic, something I didn’t know very much about even though I have a BA in Education/English, a MA in Special Education, and have mostly finished my Reading Specialist endorsement.  Kyla has been my best course work yet and I provide her private tutoring in addition to her regular schooling. 

Dyslexia does some odd things.  Primarily, it means that the super-highway Piper and I (and most likely you, dear reader) have between the parts in our brain that connect letters to sounds and sounds to words is, for Kyla, more like a bunch of back country roads she has to build herself.  This lack of a super-highway actually has some compensations. The right hemisphere of a dyslexic is about 10% bigger than a non-dyslexic and they are often unconventional thinkers.   For me, bibliophile that I am, it has meant embracing “ear-reading” as just as valid as “eye-reading”.  The books that Kyla can eye-read are pretty tedious, so she spends hours a day devouring audio books that I didn’t read until I was much, much older.  So now she’s this odd mix of being a really well-read 1st grader who can barely read; her vocabulary is off the charts and her spelling is atrocious. After weeks of daily practice, she still often misspells “of”, but she can rattle off the causes and effects of the Great Stock Market Crash (thank you, American Girl books!).   School is going to be quite the adventure for many, many years.

Dwayne is continually and inexplicably charmed by all of our children.  A much more generous person would see that as a positive sign of parental love; I prefer to think that he doesn’t spend enough time with them.  (Seven years, my friends!)   While he wants them to stay this age forever, he can see advantages of them all being big enough to help him build The Great Walls of N.  Every pharaoh needs a slave force, but I suspect that since every block he uses weighs more than any of our children, he may have a long wait.  I am still understandably charmed by my husband, and his conversation and cooking abilities are only part of his appeal. Oh, yes, Dwayne is still happily at Microsoft and is looking forward to Santa bringing him an XBOX One.  I’m hoping Santa brings him one as well, because the stores are sold out. 

Me?  Once I got over the shock that my child—my child—has a reading disability, I became zealous about learning everything I could about, well, everything related to literacy. We’ll see if I open up my own charter school someday.  I’m realizing that my theme this year has been turning from frustration into fascination.  Kyla’s issues were very, very frustrating to me until we got a better grasp on them, and since, I’ve been fascinated with dyslexia and now desire to be an agent of change up to the state legislative level.  I’ve become awed by Piper’s capabilities and potential, and I have some hope that even Wesley may become less aggravating.  Eventually.

The kittens?  Well, this house already has enough “cute” in it that I certainly didn’t need any more.  But, as we’ve already established, Dwayne seems to be enchanted by Cute Things That Poop. So we have two kittens now that are going to be tossed out on their adorable, stinky bottoms as soon as they are big enough to outrun raccoons.

My happy place this year, besides anywhere Quiet, is the cabin, christened “Heartsease”. The kids are old enough to not drown when we play for hours at the beach, so I can read between uttering, “But we just had lunch” to each kid. I am taking a few more graduate courses, volunteering heaps, and will begin tutoring again in the new year. I’ve read more than fifty books this year, most surprisingly intellectual (someone recommend some good smut, STAT!). I actually clean the kitchen far more often than I read, but I don’t like to dwell on that.

We have a Bethlehem Star on our back porch, brightening the dark street below us. I don’t want to imply in any way that the Christ Child lives here, per se, but our prayer is that you, too, find what you seek.


Denise, for Dwayne, Kyla, Piper, and Wes

2013 Booklist—In Review

Fifty-two books in fifty-two week!  Thirty-three of the books are nonfiction.  I’ve definitely changed my reading habits over the last few years.  My goal was not to read a book a week, but when I realized I was at 51 books before Christmas, I knew I had to add at least one more book.  I have several partially finished books I will start my 2014 list with soon.

53.  Fanfiction.net is a fun place to poke around and I have seasons that I read a lot from here but never record it as part of my “real” reading.  But if I spend a month or so reading the arguments for and against nontelelogical evolution as well as a dozen books about dyslexia, I certainly get to spend some time searching for good stories about Draco and Hermione (yes, from Harry Potter).  Clearly, I wasn’t the only who was unconvinced by a successful Hermione & Ron union.  The obvious is Harry and Hermione but Draco is far more fun.  My favorite is an unfinished story by ThinksWithPen called A Prat for All Seasons.  Forgive her her comma splices but love her story telling. 

52. Mapping the Origins Debate: Six models of the beginning of everything, by Gerald Rau.  I had to finish the last chapter this week, so I could count it in my list.  It’s a technical, but interesting, survey of six models (mostly from a Christian world-view, as opposed to Hindu or other) with the contributions of each to our understanding of the origin of 1) the universe, 2) life, and 3) humans.  The six models include Naturalistic Evolution and cross the continuum from secular to religious gradually by way of Nontelelogical Evolution, Planned Evolution, Directed Evolution, Old Earth Creation, and then to the side furthest from Evolution, Young Earth Creation.  What was best about was that the author really tried to deal fairly with each of the models while acknowledging that it is impossible to write without revealing prejudices.  In footnotes, he tried to explain why he chose some phrasing over others to explicitly show the word choice bias.  It wasn’t exactly a treatise of theology, but it did make me realize what I’ve haven’t reached conclusions on yet. 

51. I Feel Bad About My Neck: And other thoughts on being a woman, by Nora Ephron. We read it for book group. Fine, but no ringing endorsement. I will say there is a bit of a chasm between West Coast and East Coast cultures, even among white upwardly mobile women. It’s blow-outs vs. ponytails, if you will.

50. Divergent, by Veronica Roth. This year’s (or last years?) Hunger Game-esque young adult dystopia. I wasn’t really getting into it, because it started off fairly typically: Oh, I’m a young girl and I am so different from everyone else around me. But I saw the trailer of the upcoming movie (1st in a trilogy, of course) when we went to see Catching Fire, and the trailer inspired me to give it a second try. I will at least read the next two books.

48-49. The Rose and Thorn, by Michael J. Sullivan

The Crown Tower, by Michael J. Sullivan.

I stumbled on this “prequel series” by accident when I liked the cover in the Paperback Picks section at the library. The original trilogy, which I am not-so-patiently waiting for, is about two men who fight against injustice, etc. The prequels are about how these two became partners. Here’s the teaser:

A warrior with nothing to fight for is paired with a thieving assassin with nothing to lose. Together they must steal a treasure that no one can reach. The Crown Tower is the impregnable remains of the grandest fortress ever built and home to the realm’s most valuable possessions. But it isn’t gold or jewels the old wizard is after, and this prize can only be obtained by the combined talents of two remarkable men. Now if Arcadias can just keep Hadrian and Royce from killing each other, they just might succeed.

Very fun and a bit out of the ordinary. I finally found some fiction in 2013 that I couldn’t put down!

47. The Truth About Forever, by Sarah Dessen. This book is the reason I was so sensitive to the “Oh, I am the only one so different from all other teens” drabble of Divergent (#2). Dessen is a really popular young adult author, but there are really good and interesting books out there, so I will probably pass on more Dessen.

46. The River Why, by David James Duncan. All really good fishing books are really about life, and usually really good books about life are about God. The River Why is a really good fishing book. Someday I will come across a dusty copy in a thrift store and I will snatch it up, reread it and immerse myself in underlining all the exceptionally well-turned phrases and big & beautiful ideas that are naturally interwoven into a good narrative. This is a book to read every decade of my life to see how we are both changing over the years.

45. Overcoming Dyslexia: A new and complete science-based program for reading problems at any level, 1st edition, by Sally Shaywitz. The bible of dyslexia. I read it years ago for the fun of it, and now I read it for function (and it was the textbook for my early course on dyslexia).

44. Breaking the Code: the new science of beginning reading and writing, by R.J. Gentry. Rarely do I get so many new ways of thinking about reading (and spelling!) in on short book. Really applicable in my goal for becoming an expert in everything involving literacy and dyslexia. It’s given me new ways of working with both Piper and Kyla (and Wesley).

43. Why can’t my daughter learn to read?, by E. Hurst. The gender difference isn’t really worth a whole book, but if this is the first book you come across when your child is struggling to learn to read, then you have done well.

42. The Dyslexia Empowerment Plan: A blueprint for renewing your child’s confidence and love of learning, by Ben Foss, 2013.  Shaywitz may have written the bible for dyslexia, but Ben Foss has written the owner’s manual. As a highly successful dyslexic, he gave me a new, positive outlook on dyslexia and introduced the notion of eye-reading and ear-reading, validating the latter in a way I had never thought about before. Probably one of the most important books I’ve read this year, at least as far as dyslexia is concerned (and I read A LOT!).

41. Essentials of Dyslexia Assessment and Intervention, by Mather, N. and B. Wendling. An alternate to Shaywitz (#47) about dyslexia. It is much better organized, but doesn’t have the “ground-breaking” status that Overcoming Dyslexia has. It appears to be very technical, but I think it is far more user friendly for those who want answers now.

40. David and Goliath: Underdogs, misfits, and the art of battling giants, by Malcolm Gladwell. Always, always, always read Malcolm Gladwell. This one will not disappoint. And, he too, has a fantastic chapter on dyslexia, a bit of a bonus for me this year. I think new thoughts reading his books and I come away with a new facet in my world paradigm.

38-39. Disconnected Kids:  The ground-breaking Brain Balance Program ™ for Children with Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia and other Neurological Disorders.  Achieve results at Home and Without Drugs!, by Dr. Robert Melillo. For the low, low price of…. Snake oil, but he swears by the results. Not worth your time.

Reconnected Kids: Help your child achieve physical, mental, and emotional balance.  Discover the Brain Balance Family Empowerment Program, by Dr. Robert Melillo. Ditto.

37. The Working Brain: Train your brain to function stronger, smarter, faster, by Tracy and Ross Alloway. These two researchers created a computer program to help children and teens improve their working memory and then wrote a book about all the research they conducted. The sources aren’t exactly independent, but I’m interested in the definition and improvement of working memory. (One of the more negative refrains around our house is how I don’t want to be The Working Memory for the entire family.)

36. The Spark: A mother’s story of nurturing genius, by Kristine Barnett. A severely autistic son who measured an unbelievable IQ. Have you heard about the boy who’s IQ is higher than Einstein’s? This is the boy’s mother’s experience. A great book to “walk a mile in another mom’s moccasins.”

35. Smart But Scattered: The revolutionary “executive skills” approach to helping kids reach their potential, by Peg Dawson. Between “smart” and “scattered”, it is a toss-up which Kyla more is of. I bought the book hoping it would be a great resource, but I find nothing revolutionary about it.

34. Hungry: What eighty ravenous guys taught me about life, love, and the power of good food, by Darlene Barnes. After hearing Darlene’s interview on our local NPR station about being a cook at a UW frat house, I checked on her book. Nothing life changing, but overall an interesting read. Very Seattle—kale and locally-sourced beef!

31-33. The Penderwicks [A summer tale of four sisters, two rabbits, and a very interesting boy]

The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, by Jeanne Birdsall.

The Penderwicks at Point Mouette

[The best thing about the author, Jeanne Birdsall is that she has two more Penderwick stories planned!]

I love, love, love the Penderwicks, mostly on its own merit, but also because Kyla, Piper, and even Wesley, love, love, love listening to the Penderwick series. While it appeals to all ages, it’s written for preteens. The series is a celebration of childhood, sisterhood, family, friendship and wholesomeness without slipping into sappiness. Part of its magic is that it is timeless—phone calls are made, but are they on smart phones or landlines? Jane types up the final draft her stories on something, but the technology is vague and peripheral. This could take place last month or 60 years ago. The girls are all different and, while they don’t stab their classmates (Wesley….), they have no pretentions toward perfection.

Penderwicks have infiltrated our regular life. The OAP (Oldest Available Penderwick, responsible for any younger Penderwicks) has morphed into OAN in our household, both Kyla and Piper taking any bestowed OAN responsibilities quite seriously.

Kyla and I have been known to steal the CDs from each other because we couldn’t wait to read more.

30. Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts of life unarmed, by Glennon Doyle Melton. Glennon writes a blog, thermomastery.com, that I follow. This book is both a biography and the extensions of her best thoughts. I’ve written about her several times on the blog http://needopedia.blogspot.com/2013/09/momastry.html

http://needopedia.blogspot.com/2013/06/my-zen.html. This ranks easily in my top ten books for the year.

29. Where’d You Go, Bernadette? By Maria Semple. Hilarious novel of a Seattle woman/wife/mother/genius. It was on top ten lists all over the country, and especially here, and it was very enjoyable. Unfortunately, I picked up another of her novels and couldn’t finish it. I’ll keep trying her other novels, though.

28. She Matters: A life of Friendships, by Susanna Sonnenberg. A fairly unlikeable author’s account of how bad she is at having healthy friendships with other women. A book group read, but not a great one.

27. The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ, by Phillip Pullman. Remember Pullman? He’s written several novels for young adults, but he made headlines with his Dark Material trilogy, beginning with The Golden Compass. He sort of does for atheism what C.S. Lewis did for Christianity at the level of children’s literature. It’s a quick read of Pullman’s view on how a great man like Jesus became known as Christ.

26. Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking, by Susan Cain. A book about me. I really enjoyed the information and validation on introverts.

25. The Joy of X: A guided tour of math, from one to infinity, by Steven H. Strogatz. A long book about math? Yes! Strogatz is a wonderful writer and if you just like to have a new way of looking at old things (or things you’ve never quite grasped), this book is worth reading. To put it another way, Dwayne and I each tried to reach for the book before the other got it.

24. A Framework for Understanding Poverty, by Ruby Payne. Social-economic status is as much as nation as political borders, and just as we need a travel guide to navigate a foreign country, this book offers navigation through what poverty looks like in the USA. My understanding of poverty here is only as it is a comparison of my middle-class attitudes. I thought Ruby Payne gave a less judgmental framework of the differences between cultures of wealth, middle-class, and povert, but I have come across several criticisms of her work since. The most eye-opening is this quiz about how you’d do in wealth, middle class, or poverty.

23. How Children Succeed: Grit, curiosity, and the hidden power of character, by Paul Tough. This author wrote Geoffrey Canada’s story of changing education in Harlem that I read last year (Whatever It Takes). This book is a fascinating marriage of current studies of children, success, and learning with case studies of visionaries and schools that bring the research to life. This is a topic close to my heart and I wrote more about this book here.

22. All Over the Map, by Laura Frasier. Excellently titled, this travel writer’s memoir is the story of a middle-aged single woman who loves her exotic, adventurous life while she longs for love and children. She envies her married, child-ful friends almost as much as she envies them. But her journeys go deeper than simply Samoa and blind dates—she is a living, breathing, interesting person who hits hers 47th birthday as she completes this book. Worth the read.

21. Lean In, by Sheryl Sandberg. I ran out of sticky arrows to mark important passages in this important manifesto. Very readable, but more importantly, more “thinkable”. I wish she had written this ten years ago; my history would probably be different. But I’m willing to be Mrs. Sandberg will be influencing my future. More importantly, I hope I will be influencing my future. For those who want the short version, click here. It’s a verbatim list of passages I marked.

20. Parenting a struggling reader by Susan Hall & Louisa Moats. Good information for those who might be the parent described in the title. A decent handbook to get you started.

19. Teaching on Poverty Rock / Joby McGowan. It’s not his first year teaching, but it’s his first year teaching on Mercer Island. A very short memoir.

18. To Sell is Human: the surprising truth about moving others / Daniel Pink. I read Drive, a book on what motivates us, last year. He’s a writer like Freakonomics and Malcolm Gladwell, great at taking diverse studies and bringing interesting information into a cohesive framework. He’s just a fun read! And we all so spend a lot of time “selling”—what to put in a subject line so you will read—and respond—to my email, advertising old stuff on craigslist, convincing someone else to do a job so you don’t have to…

17. Giving Our Children a Fighting Chance: Poverty, literacy, and the development of information capital / Susan B. Neuman, Donna C. Celano. This is the perfect book for me—the tale of two libraries, it deals with literacy, learning, poverty, the achievement gap, technology and education all within the parameters of an empirical research paper published as a book. (Those who listen to NPR will recognize the Susan B. Neuman name.) In case you find this as interesting as I do, you are in luck! KCLS didn’t have this book until I requested it and it looks like I will have to buy the book as it has some water damage. Hmm.

16. The Introvert Advantage: How to thrive in an extrovert world / Marti Olsen Laney. I am interesting in this topic, as I consider myself quite introverted (social, but introverted) and at least one of my kids has my same introvert characteristics. Recently, I went to a very engaging Susan Cain lecture about introverted children. Her book, Quiet, is on my hold list at the library and I think I will find it more interesting than this one.

15. Gilead / Marilynne Robinson. We read it for book club. It was excellently written, and it was hard to believe the nearly 80 year old pastor narrator was written by a middle age woman. It was pretty good.

14. Dawn Huebner has written 6 books, the first two I have read and recommend:

1. What to Do When Your Temper Flares: A Kid’s Guide to Overcoming Problems With Anger

2. What to Do When You Dread Your Bed: A Kid's Guide to Overcoming Problems with Sleep

3. What to Do When Bad Habits Take Hold: A Kid's Guide to Overcoming Nail Biting and More

4. Sometimes I Worry Too Much, But Now I Know How to Stop

5. What to Do When You Grumble Too Much: A Kid's Guide to Overcoming Negativity

6. What to Do When You Worry Too Much: A Kid's Guide to Overcoming Anxiety

13. Going Bovine / Libba Bray. Great title. Great cover. Lousy story.
12. The out of sync child: recognizing and coping with sensory processing disorder / Carol Stock Kranowitz. I read this to see if it fit anything we had been seeing in one our little darlings. It didn’t. Here was the companion book: Answers to questions teachers ask about sensory integration : forms, checklists, and practical tools for teachers and parents

11. Fluency instruction: research-based best practices / edited by Timothy Rasinski, Camille Blachowicz, Kristin Lems. (2006). Great articles about, well, fluency. Quickest summary: kids learning to read fluently should read the same thing 4 times.

10. Tears of the Giraffe / Alexander McCall Smith. The second in the #1 Ladies Detective Agency series. I really like listening to this series. Luckily, there are lots more.

9. Becoming a Thinking Christian: If We Want Church Renewal, We Will Have to Renew Thinking in the Church / John B. Cobb, Jr. From the publisher, “This book challenges Christians to think. Committed lay Christians, says Cobb, are already theologians; he wants them to realize this and then to become good theologians. Laypersons are just as capable as professional theologians of intellectual hard work, but they no longer expect the church to ask this of them. Cobb discusses why it is important for Christians to think about their own beliefs and assumptions.”

[Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn. This is supposed to be an excellent book. I picked it up and started reading it at the library while Wesley slept in my arms. I had a few concerns about the subject matter, so I read the ending, decided I would hate the novel, no matter how well-written, and put it in the return box on the way out.]

8. Speaking Among the Bones (A Flavia de Luce novel) / Alan Bradley. This is the 5th in a series that I am on the library hold lists long before the book is published.  A day’s read if one ignores one’s duties enough.  I adore Flavia, who is now almost twelve.  The last sentence in the book is the best/worst I’ve read in a mystery.   Unfortunately for my sanity, the sixth book isn’t scheduled to publish until “early 2014”.  You’re killing me, Alan Bradley.

7. Radical: Fighting to put students first / Michelle Rhee.  I read a book about Ms. Rhee last autumn and got a lot out of it, including a radical crush on Michelle and her philosophies.  I bought Radical when I went to see her last week at a Town Hall lecture (thank you, Seattle Public Library!). There were pickets and protests and hisses and everything.   Since leaving the Washington, D.C. district, she has started StudentsFirst, a union of sorts for students.  She’s considered controversial, but I support her positions.  I definitely want to teach again when the kids are all in school, but she inspires me to move to the inner city and work harder than I ever have in my life to be the best teacher any kid has ever had.  I’ve already said it: she’s inspiring.

6.  All There Is: Love stories from StoryCorp / Dave Isay (editor).  I put this on my Hold list when I got on my This I Believe essay kick last year, one of NPR’s great features.  Forty minute interviews between lovers, friends, and family are written up in short essays.  It’s an excellent peek into the love lives of representative slice of America. 

5.  American Dervish / Ayad Akhtar. We picked this novel for book club and I loved it.  I learned more about Islam, Jewish-Muslim-Christian tensions, and the Koran through this piece of fiction than I’ve ever gotten out of a deliberate study.  Ah, the power of story.  It brings up some great discussion topics, not only for book club, but even for Dwayne and me.   Unfortunately, this is the author’s first book so as much as I would like to grab from the shelves all his other brilliance, I will have to wait. 

4. Blueprints for building better girls / Elissa Schappell.  Meh. A collection of short stories that I didn’t realize were about the same women until nearly the end.  If you decide to read this book about anorexic girls with more issues than food, know that Elizabeth, Bender, and B are the same person.  Maybe now you will get more out of this than I did.

3. The Higher Power of Lucky, by Susan Patron.  Another audio read, I found this is the section of previous Newberry winners.  Lucky, a ten year old orphan, is trying to find her Higher Power, a concept she has heard about while eavesdropping on the different “Anonymous” meetings her in small, small town.  Hey, it won a prestigious award—always worth reading.

2. Predictably Irrational: the hidden forces that shape our decisions, by Dan Ariely.  This was an audio read for me and both the reader and subject were fascinating.  It’s in the same genre as Freakomics or anything by Malcolm Gladwell.

1.  World without End, by Ken Follett.  Our book group read Follett’s Pillars of the Earth a few years ago and decided to tackle the sequel, giving ourselves December and January.  It’s 1,050 pages about life in a English town and priory in the 14th century.  I love his historical fiction—I can read a history book about Martin Luther’s protests of certain Church practices, but fiction makes the fact more real.  The author uses a few prototype characters no matter what century he’s writing in, but overall, I’d say my enjoyment of the novel was just about worth the 4-5 other books I gave up reading to get through this one. 

[Red denotes a work of nonfiction.]

Last Few 2013 Photos

My real camera is currently in hiding, so I take out one of those devices that supposedly does everything, but nothing that well. 

My son and I at The Nutcracker.



The first annual Wild Lights at the zoo last year was fantastic.  This year was better.

An indoor snowball fight at Wild Lights.



Making and wrestling snowmen, also in the “Snow-mazeum”


Wesley and Tyler are doing everything but making snowmen out of the snowman pieces.



Kyla took front row for the carolers.



Piper and I take selfies.


And we enjoy a carousel ride with friends.




And then I finished the year by taking the kids ice skating for the first time.  I think I’ve demonstrated that none of my kids are perfect, but they can keep their balance and pick up new things like skating pretty quickly.  I had to drag Piper off the ice an hour later!




And then to brag about marrying Dwayne.  Our New Year’s Eve tradition is that he cooks us whatever we want for dinner. (I know!  And it was his idea years ago!)  Kyla wanted shrimp and apple slices.  Wesley ordered tacos.  Piper wanted steak and tacos.  I asked for his famous bruschetta and chicken marsala.  It was marvelous.  Love you, Babe!

Sunday, December 29, 2013

“Pet” Antics

I’d rather not have animals at the cabin, wanting this space to be friendly towards those with allergies.  However, we know more people with pets than with allergies, and our own kittens can’t be completely left alone at home so they come along with us. 

I don’t know how Timmy got up here, but since he couldn’t figure out how to get down, I had time to grab my camera before I rescued him.



Wesley wonders how he could do such a trick. 



Piper already knows…


Saturday, December 28, 2013

Winter Gardens

We went to the cabin today between the holidays, supposedly for some unplugged relaxation.  HA!  Remember the weekend I went to the cabin by myself for 48 hours for my birthday?  Yeah, that spoiled me and it has never been as good since.  I keep thinking…remember the weekend when pillows/blankets/half-eaten apples/Duplo's/ crayons/children weren’t scattered all over the floor…all the time?  But I digress.

We got to Langley in the afternoon, dropped off Dwayne, the kittens, and the cooler and went up to the Meerkerk Gardens of fairy fame.  Not surprisingly, we had all those acres to ourselves.  Right away, Piper spotted a rhody that was actually blooming. I have one in my own yard that blooms early February, but I don’t have anything flowering in December.



I take lots of pictures of Wesley whenever he isn’t cranky, and I’m afraid I may have given the impression he is always the cheerfully adorable chap you see here.  He isn’t.


We found one more rhododendron covered in blooms.  Christmassy, isn’t it?


A monkey tree is the perfect backdrop for a picture of my three.



On our explorations, we found fairy houses partially intact from last summer, and a few with their original denizens!





We found a little Dopey Dwarf snuggled in a hiding spot in the Secret Garden.




And when we got back, Daddy took over for a few minutes before making dinner. Phew!


Thursday, December 26, 2013

Sunny Day—Let’s Head to the Park..and Go Swimming?




My kids were determined that they were going swimming on the 26th of December (grouses their mother who has done the Polar Bear Plunge for 3 years now).  I kept them busy playing until 4pm and said they could go before we left.  And it was a lot colder at 4pm than it was at 2:30, so only Wesley still wanted to go.  He took off his pants and went far enough in to submerge his toes.  Then we both ran back to the warmth of the car!

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Morning, 2013

Just some shots for posterity, really of no interest to anyone else.




Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Christmas Eve—Too Much Fun! (Or Alcohol, or Cookies, or Ice Cream with Chocolate Heartache)


I love Christmas Eve services with family, and it doesn’t hurt to serve us cocoa and cookies.  The kids didn’t mind, and I didn’t even want to count how many treats Piper began the evening with. 

Julie and Keith hosted with pizza and…alcohol.  (J&K are certainly still Christians but not Lutherans.)  Let me just say this about Julie:  she’s sneaky.  Sneaky, like “Here’s some (4 different bottles) stuff to put in your innocent hot cider that makes it taste really good.  Here’s some sangria I made [everyone knows how sneaky sangrias are for getting one to imbibe without really noticing].  Here’s a great bottle of red wine to go with the pizza.”  See what I mean?  Some would call her an excellent hostess.  I say she just excels at getting me tipsy on Christmas Eve.

The kids had a few gifts to open before I stopped taking pictures and started focusing on hot cider.  Cecily was thrilled about her new backpack.  Well, maybe not thrilled.  She finally just caught up to what Parker had that she coveted.  That’s a score for little sister.



Piper loves her gifts.



Grandma and Grandpa fully fed his superhero complex—Spiderman pj’s, underwear, action figure…


..is that a little Clark Kent trying to get out?



And my beautiful Kyla…



And I don’t want to even think about all the desserts Julie served.  Piper and I were trying to out-gorge the other when we realized it was 10pm and we hadn’t heard the boys for a while.  Unfortunately, Wes and Parker weren’t sleeping but dumping out every board game they could find downstairs.  We left.

Santa was on his way!  (Stay tuned to see how much coal Wesley got this year.  It should be enough to heat our house the rest of winter.)

Monday, December 23, 2013

Christmas Eve Eve: Me, the Grinch

My wonderful, wonderful friend, Rochelle, took all three kids for the day today.  (I take her daughter occasionally for overnights, but I’m just adding one more kid who entertains my kids.  When she takes mine, she quadruples her child population, so I am particularly grateful to her.)

With an afternoon to myself, I put on an audio book and started shoveling.  Actually the kids’ rooms didn’t look so bad, but I was determined to go through everything and get rid of all clothes too small, stained, ripped, or simply unworn.  I got rid of stuffed animals never played with, puzzles missing pieces, toys that liked to scatter but were never actually played with, and collected “treasures” that weren’t (scribbles on paper scraps, rocks, etc.).  I went through everything but the books, but I will do that with each child.   As I sorted, everything that didn’t immediately go into the garbage or recycling got tossed into the hallway. 


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This is what the hallway looked like just before I hid everything in my room and went to pick up the kids. 

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Most of it is bagged in the car ready to be donated or recycled or returned to original owner.  Some I’ve kept but have hidden in boxes.  They are nice toys, but I don’t think their absence will be noticed, especially with Christmas tomorrow.  I’ve attacked my own closets without mercy as well, so I’m not just taking things away from the kids. 

It’s not very catchy, but I’m going with “Less stuff in 2014!”

Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Nutcracker

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It was Wesley’s first ballet, so he put on a pink tutu over his button down and vest (with snow boots, of course!).  He really enjoyed 90% of the show, and then he fell asleep in my arms for the last few numbers. 

* * * * *


If you are going to see a community (not Pacific NW Ballet Co.) Nutcracker production, I have to recommend the Cornerstone Studio, mostly because of the breakdancing. 

I took my mom, aunt, the three kids and friends for both Kyla and Piper to the matinee performance today. (My dad and husband politely declined their tickets.)  The first half was fine, certainly different levels of abilities with lots of great costuming.  But the second act, with all Russian, Chinese, Arabian, etc., dances, was phenomenal.  The director used loose interpretations of the selections, and the Russian dance became an amazing break/street dance of a puppeteer and his “puppet” (a younger, fellow dancer).  The Chinese dance was both ballet and acrobatics, which was so entertaining.  I’ve never seen the Arabian dance done so perfectly.  The Nutcracker Prince had been dancing since he was two, and was easily one of the most graceful and fluid dancers on stage that day.  He also sported a Mohawk (mostly pinned down to uphold his deal with the director), so I am a fan.  I’d see this again.  

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This is the best one can get with a lousy camera and 5 children!


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For the second act, I found 4 seats in the very front for the girls, so they would be able to see better.  They got to show me how they could act like young ladies, and they were perfect!

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And then the girls got pictures with my two favorite dancers, the Prince and the Arabian.

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