Wednesday, December 30, 2015



Dwayne took the week off between the holidays, and after I reread this post aloud, we decided to plan a family adventure that might actually be fun or relaxing (I’ve gleaned enough wisdom not to expect both!).

We headed first to Ellensburg to visit Papa Jim, and the excitement of seeing him was completely overshadowed by the fact he had 2 feet of snow in his yard.  We barely saw Piper and Wesley our entire visit. 

Then off to Leavenworth.  See how excited they are? 


Our room was shabby, but that is the only semi-negative thing I can say about a place with a living area, kitchen, king bedroom for the kids and a queen bedroom for us, situated half-block from the heart of town for less than the cost of a Superbowl ticket (for Leavenworth innkeepers, December really pays the bills and the bonuses).


The kids were most excited about getting the sleds out.  A local told us to skip the downtown parks and head up to Enchantment Park.  Great advice that we’ll pass along to you!  Powder (not ice) with long hills and less crowds.



After a while, Penguin Piper decided she didn’t even need a sled.


You can’t have Dwayne around and not expect a snowball fight to break out.





With commercial break over, we went back to sledding.




Wesley is truly our Abominable Snowman.  He could play out in the white stuff longer than the rest of us, and when we returned from sledding, he played in the snowbank rather than go inside to warm up and have lunch.


I think his most oft-uttered phrase in 2015 was “I’m okay!”



Two lucky kids got rides back to the car.  We had to get back to go on our 1pm sleigh ride outside of town.


Draft horses with jingle bells?  A family favorite.  Piper even brought her wombat with her, as Buttercup wanted to see horses for the first time. 


With snow on the ground, and our bellies full from dinner, gelato sounded like a good idea…to the kids.  But even the biggest doubter, often known as “Mama”, succumbed to two scoops.



One of my favorite things to do was drag the family on walks through the park, or better yet, leave them all behind and enjoy the cold beauty on my own.



One of the reasons to go to Leavenworth is the Christmas lights.  We also found out from a local that the lights go through February, and costs and crowds drop dramtically in January, so I think we’ll keep that in mind for next year. 


One our last morning, the kids wanted to go downtown to buy cheaply-made, way overpriced, useless playthings, or what they called “souvineers”.  So I took a few last pictures with the mountain goats.

The first two pictures are mostly portraits of a Piper not getting her way—Kyla is sitting on the goat Piper wanted.  She’s vaguely happier when they switch goats.  Sigh. 




Aufedersein, Leavenworth!  We have enjoyed you!

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Now a Hat Person

I don’t look particularly gorgeous or exceptionally hideous in hats. But I’ve been wearing them almost nonstop (including in bed, poor Dwayne), since Christmas Eve when I got my Worst Haircut in three decades.  So I’m posting a picture of me before I got a  mullet and let’s just remember me like this, shall we?



Dwayne’s always handsome.  And that man has lost about 15 pounds in the last two months!  I’m so proud of him. 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Christmas Letter, 2015

December 6-8, 2015

DSC_4750 - Copy (2)

Dear Friends,

I keep waiting for just the right moment—a quiet household, a burst of creativity, and flash of inspiration—to write our annual Christmas letter. And this is why I will never actually get around to writing anything publishable. But I should have thought of that before I decided to homeschool. Or have Wesley. Or get out of bed. However, I do have some ready material so let’s see what that and a glass of limoncello will do as a stand in for the muse.

It’s lucky I can write this at all. Last spring, the cats brought their first snake into the house. The fortunate part was that I ran to the neighbor who disposed of it for me instead of the neighbor (ahem, Kelsey), who would have advised me to burn down the house and start again. And I probably would have done it. So, thanks, Mark, you saved Christmas.

2015 was memorable, as we did one of our first family vacations together, which was not a disaster (at least, not after the first bit). We rented a motorhome and meandered around Oregon for two weeks. A few notes about RV rentals. Cons: the previous renters may be days late returning the vehicle, leading to a chaos and loss of beach reservations. Pros: the 16 things that stopped working on the RV while we had it are not our problem. But if motorhomes weren’t so expensive and inconvenient to store, I could totally go for a moving tent with indoor plumping, microwave and a lockable door between adults and children. We liked going down the road, reading books aloud and dumping out toys everywhere, just like at home.

Dwayne spent his first summer as a homeowner not building any stone walls. Instead, he managed to aggravate[1] me much more efficiently than his usual brick building spree. We had some alders taken down at the cabin, and rather than pay $700 to grind down the stumps, Dwayne was determined to dig them out himself. After weekends that turned into months, and an amount of money > $700, those stumps found themselves at the dump. A pyrrhic victory, and lesson learned. He’s on year 18 at Microsoft, and has made me happy for about 13.1 years of our 13.4 years of marriage. Yep, should have ground down those stumps, Babe.

DSC_4843After spending the last few years trying to tutor Kyla after school, this year I decided to tutor Kyla instead of school. It’s working out much better than most of my schemes. We had a breakthrough a few weeks ago when Kyla asked to keep her light on so she could read more Harry Potter. (The chance I’d say no is similar to me refusing to buy overpriced kale at the farmer’s market when the kids beg for some.) At nine, she’s old enough to leave at home with some work while I volunteer in the other kids’ classrooms, and her worst crime is to play hooky and listen to another book. Well, her worst crime is more destructive than that. She’s probably not the sole responsible party for breaking furniture, ripping cushions, scratching floors, bending curtain rods, and hiding contraband where I’d like to store the dust bunnies, but she’s the first I ask. Kyla is the kid Dwayne and I will probably have fitted with a GPS microchip as our little explorer doesn’t even realize when she’s wandered a mile away from us at the beach, and loses track of the time when she’s playing out in the woods down by the stream—the same backyard where we have had our first bear and bobcat sightings this year. But she’s also the kid I can take to art lectures and science talks and she can wax pedantically all the way home…if she doesn’t get lost on the way back to the car.

IMG_0063Piper must be trying to impress Santa, because I’ve never witnessed her so cooperative, responsible, and helpful as these last few weeks. This last summer, I read aloud the nonfiction How to Scratch a Wombat. It became an instant guide to understanding Piper. If, instead of regarding her as human, you think of her as an Australian marsupial in mismatched children’s clothes, she’s much easier to figure out. She recently described to our babysitter that wombats are like angry tanks. In fact, when she’s rampaging we give out the Mad Wombat! alert, and it not only gives fair warning to innocent bystanders, it cheers her up considerably. Piper still loves Mama, animals, and art (not necessarily in that order) and she has begun the tradition of making me omelets on Saturday mornings. And they are good—with no amendment needed “for a seven-year old”. She’s also the one local Need who is a morning person, a concept Dwayne and I can recognize but not grasp. She uses this unusual power to cheerfully and quietly do her morning chores, so it’s possible early risers are not spawns of Satan.



I was never going to put Wesley in school full-day until 1st grade, just like his sisters. But you know by now what happens to the best laid plans of mice and moms. So this year, he’s in full-day kindergarten and is doing much better than I ever imagined. Statistically, he has even odds of being dyslexic, and it’s difficult to pull him away from playing Power Ranger-Robot-Castle-Storming-Lightsabor-Duelist-Puppy to figure out if he has all his pre-reading ducks in a row, but I think he’s going to be fine, and perhaps even a wonderfully average kid. He has lost two teeth from unnatural causes, refuses to sleep alone (which is why Kyla and Piper have an extra bed in their rooms), still sucks his fingers, and is my one child who loves to play board games with me. He also was the full instigator of the worst day our household had in the last 365 days, just before he turned 5, but I blogged that out of my system ages ago.

I hesitate to put it in writing, but if homeschooling continues to go well, Kyla will return to school for 4th grade, so I can finally have my well-deserved year of reading fantasy novels, eating bonbons, and finding new places to hide dust bunnies in between spa treatments. I have a few schemes up my sleeve, none of which involve housework. The overarching goal is to not let everything I've learned about literacy and struggling learners only be useful to Kyla. I'd like to start a charter school for dyslexic learners someday, but currently I'm struggling with the motivation to start dinner, so I’ll settle for helping other families navigate learning challenges.

Finally, for those who found the font on the photo card a bit small, I will do my first 2nd edition:

Pine needles scattered, presents all shred,

Feral children not nestled in bed.

All through the house, not one inch undamaged,

As we all sigh at last, “Mischief Managed!”

We wish you a very Happy Christmas and a tolerable election year.

Love, love, love,

Denise & Dwayne, Kyla, Piper, and Wesley

[1] This was edited for language in the final draft.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Merry Christmas! (Family Came!)

We had Christmas Eve on our own, but then hosted 15 others for Christmas afternoon.  Dwayne did all the cooking our house contributed, and created a perfect prime rib. 

Cousin Cecily, at 3, is the youngest, meaning all the kids had far more fun away from the adults, and if the reverse were true, I will let you decide yourself. 

For the record, that’s Parker (possible Peter Parker).


Wesley loved his new Superman Snuggly.  It’s odd it took so many years to make a kid version.


Julie created a “cocktail” Christmas gift for Dwayne a few weeks earlier, and Dwayne made good use of it (though several people may not remember, especially if they had one of his White Russians). 


Aw, family.


We had done presents a few weeks earlier, Santa dropped off all his gifts earlier, so there was a manageable about of presents throughout the day.


But it’s the people.  We had so much fun being together.  Merry Christmas, everyone!

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas (Christmas Cafe)


Sometimes, the kids really surprise us.  Christmas morning, they were excited to see presents (books) at the foot of their beds and in the living room, but began by donning aprons.

First, Wesley brought me this: a mug of water, an orange, an apple, one soggy Ritz cracker (see earlier mug of water), and one regular Ritz. 


Piper had boxed up everything she wanted to use to set a table for Dwayne and me the day before.  Using her favorite blankets and my good china, she created this.


Then she went through her cookbooks and created a menu of items that the cookbooks said she could make.  (She never checked if we had the ingredients, or made calculations of how much time any recipe would take.  I understood this and ordered accordingly.  Dwayne had to revise his order a few times until he ordered something he could realistically have.  It came down to toast, french toast, and scrambled eggs.)

But it was a very special way of giving to Mama and Daddy!  Thanks, kids!

Merry Christmas! (Santa Came)

What the house looked like at midnight, just after Santa came.  (The large pile in the middle is for me. Dwayne had gotten me new drawers for the refrigerator, which the kids delight in breaking every January.)


These two little Who’s were sound asleep in front of our bedroom fireplace.


This is what that same living room looked like 10 hours later.