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This morning the kiddos and I began our Halloween celebration with a breakfast of dark hot chocolate and pumpkin bread and a viewing of the 1954 classic “Creature from the Black Lagoon.” Katie liked the film and wanted me to play the role of the creature, grabbing at her ankles.

A little while later we went outside, took a wagon ride around the yard, pumpkin bowled, and danced to some of our Halloween playlist: “Monster Mash,” “Bad Moon Rising,” the Ghostbusters theme, “Zombie” and others.

Then we called Nana to wish her a Happy Halloween and to thank her for Katie’s birthday gifts. Katie loves her children’s sewing machine from Nana, which she has been using with her sewing basket and supplies from us.

Close to naptime, we went upstairs and all snuggled and read in Katie’s bed. Eric got sleepy, and after I put him down, Katie and I ate lunch, finished “Ramona the Pest,” and started on our Lego set of the Hogwarts Castle (from Amie and Boppa).


This is Katie’s first big girl Lego set. We worked on the first package of pieces today. She is growing comfortable with interpreting he schematics, and she loves to build. We take it slowly, and we plan to leave it up on the table for awhile, a work in progress…

Later in the afternoon, we carved our Halloween pumpkin:


Katie said she wanted it to be scary this year, so I did my best! We usually have happy pumpkins around here, so it was fun to try something different!

For dinner, I made our traditional jack-o-lantern quesadillas:


The cheese always gets a little crispy where it peeks through the carved tortilla. We had carrot sticks and peas and chicken with these. Both kiddos ate well, so they were ready for candy!

Costume time!


Eric walked up to the door for his candy, though he wanted his stroller about halfway through our trick or treating. There were a handful of really incredible houses this year, and I feel inspired to “go scary” next year. When she returned to the house, Katie explained to my mom (Mom and Bill stayed at our house to pass out candy) that one of the houses had green lots and scary noises coming from it. My mom asked her if she went up to it and Katie replied, “No, it looked too forbidding.” Thank you, Harry Potter series, for our augmented vocabulary! We did go up to a few scary ones, though, and I was most impressed. I remember those years when my parents went all-out. So fun.

Afterwards, we sorted, checked, and delighted in sampling our candy. On Halloween, for us, there is no limit to the sampling except by the clock and bedtime. Eric tried his first Halloween candy, a Milky Way:


Then it was time for mulled apple cider, warm on the stove, pajamas, cuddles, a couple Halloween storybooks, and bed!

A festive day all around! Happy Halloween to everyone!

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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We spent most of the post-party day relaxing in our jammies, playing with Katie’s new birthday toys, snuggled together reading in Katie’s bed, and gnoshing on party leftovers. Ah.

In the afternoon, though, we took one more full family trip to the pumpkin patch to find our Halloween pumpkin. We went very late in the afternoon, almost toward evening, as I was hoping to see the strings of lights go on at the farm. The pumpkin patch is so enchanting in the late afternoon, the golden light twinkling on the bales of straw. There also happened to be a bluegrass band playing and—in between sets—making tools. We had a free coupon (found online) for the petting corral, and we also walked the corn maze so Daddy could experience it. Katie saw a man dressed up as a zombie, and it made her night. We took several pictures of Bill with the kiddos, and they really loved this time with their dad. He gave them (and our pumpkin) a wheelbarrow ride all the way to our car as the sun was setting. Magic.

Here is a sampling of pictures:

READY, SET…

GOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Playtime with my people. Everything looked like gold.

Four years ago today I held my baby girl for the first time and sang her our special song. Just an eye-blink ago. Four years. I feel like we’ve been part of each other forever.

We are so thankful for the friends who came over to celebrate with us today. We cherish our music class friendships, and we cherish our friendship also with the sweet Bergon girls. This was Katie’s first “kiddo” party, and you all helped make it such a beautiful day and memory. We had so much fun with all of you! Katie kept saying what a fun day it was, in her words, “the best day ever!”

It started with a balloon from Daddy. Daddy is in charge of birthday balloons around here, and boy, do the kiddos light up with joy on their birthdays! It is our tradition… Katie was thrilled to have her balloon and remarked excitedly how it was just like Brother’s, only the number 4 instead of the number 1.


My mom made “pumpkin pie punch” to fit our October theme.

Katie and I made her cake this morning. She asked for a chocolate cake with a strawberry cream filling and white buttercream icing. With sprinkles on top!

As our friends arrived, they decorated their own treat bags with crayons and stickers and then filled them up with some goodies. This turned out to be a good use of time while everyone finished arriving, before we started one of our games.

The first game was Needle in the Haystack! No needles of course… but we did hide little favors and candy all through the straw. We have loved having the bales of straw in our yard, and tonight when I went to turn off the outdoor lights, the straw smelled so sweetly good in the night air. Something about bales of straw makes me think of October!

Searching for prizes

Next we did a pumpkin hunt. We hid several mini pumpkins in part of the yard…ready, set, go!

Searching for their pumpkins…

After the pumpkin hunt, we played “freeze dance” to The Monster Mash. My mom has so many memories of dancing around to that song when she was little, at Nana’s house. Now Katie has some really great memories of it, too!

After “freeze dance” it was time for a little pumpkin bowling! We set up pins and replaced the ball with a small round pumpkin from our local patch.

Katie prepares to pumpkin bowl…

Go pumpkin, go!

Lunchtime!

After lunch and some time on the swing set, we came inside and played “pass the present.” Katie and I had wrapped one present with several layers of paper, with a small gift or instruction card (“Give your neighbor a high five” for example) in between each layer. We used all kinds of paper: Christmas, wedding, Mother’s Day, etc. Each friend unwrapped a layer and kept passing it around the circle until the last gift was uncovered.

A good feature of “pass the present” is that everyone gets to feel included in the present-opening stage of the party… After “pass the present” Katie opened her gifts from our friends.

Time for cake and ice cream!

Friends, thank you for making this day so happy with your presence! You are all such nice people and so fun to spend any afternoon with.

My mom and dad are probably two of the best helpers on the planet. My dad and Eric were buddies during the party and my mom helped to serve and clean up. Not to mention all of their help in setting up yesterday…

October love

The McGaugh Family on Katie’s 4th birthday. I love you Pumpkin June!

Later in the afternoon…

Shortly after we changed and were ready to go out to dinner, we heard the doorbell ring several times and a package landed! Katie ran out and discovered a tawny feather on top of a package addressed from….HOGWARTS! (Here, she is showing the feather to Amie).

We opened it up and inside was the Gryffindor scarf and beanie, as well as a piece of parchment with really ornate handwriting and burnt edges that said, “For Katie, Future Gryffindor—be brave, be faithful, be true.”

This picture is blurry, because she was running around making joyful noise and jumping around in excitement. That night I stayed up late making this: totally worth it. It made her whole night… In fact, she wanted to carry her Hogwarts letter to dinner. It is the simple things in life… The moment was absolute magic for all of us.

A couple of days ago, when I was brainstorming birthday dinner ideas with Katie, she suggested, “I want to go to Pamir!” We usually have a tradition of birthday dinners at home, but I really liked this idea, especially on the evening after our party. Katie explained, “It is my favorite restaurant!” I was sold. I love the Afghan cuisine of Pamir Kabob House, too, and we haven’t been for a few months.

Katie June LOVES Pamir. She devoured her lamb chalow. We also shared tandoori chicken, mantu, sambosas, and bulaunee. Amie and Boppa had garlic naan, dal, and tandoori shrimp. Eric, who has enough teeth now, ate his first Pamir meal and also loved it. Katie, Eric, and I also shared a cold cherry blossom tea. That cardamom flavor is so delicious.

At the end of our meal, the owner was really sweet and brought out a surprise pistachio ferni (pudding). It had a little candle on the side and we sang “Happy Birthday” to Katie. We were stuffed, but Katie ate half, Eric and Amie had a few bites, and I ate the rest. YUM!

I really loved this memory, too. As we left the restaurant, we looked up at the crescent moon, and I told Katie that I hoped she would always remember that there was a waxing crescent moon on her birthday, that she ate delicious Afghan food, that she was able to spend the day with friends and people who love her. She looked up at the moon and…and you know, I really do think she made a memory. I picture her as an older woman, remembering this day. I hope so. It was a beautiful day.

Home again, we opened the family presents—many fun new experiences await tomorrow and all this month!

Happy Birthday, my Baby Kate. I love you!

October always reminds me of my best friend Rosa and her husband Dan. I remember that I first met Dan in October, on a trip to Bates’ Nut Farm:

They also got engaged during October, on Halloween:

And we celebrated Rosa’s wedding season in October, with a harvest themed shower, a bachelorette in Vegas, and Rosa and Dan’s marriage a couple of weeks before Katie’s first birthday:

We stayed at the Bellagio and saw an Ent (behind us).

 

Bride and bridesmaids

Rosa and Dan’s first dance

So obviously, whenever we’re in October, I always feel their presence very strongly. October really is the month of Rosa and Dan.

They also had a wedding playlist/DJ that ROCKED. Rosa and Dan’s wedding music, FTW. Depeche Mode, New Order, Peter Murphey, Snow Patrol, pretty sure The Cure was in there. One of my favorite songs, though, was their first dance song: Sarah MacLachlan’s “Push.” I have been playing it again lately:

“Every time I look at you the world just melts away/All my troubles all my fears dissolve in your affections/You’ve seen me at my weakest but you take me as I am/And when I fall you offer me a softer place to land/You stay the course you hold the line you keep it all together/You’re the one true thing I know I can believe in/You’re all the things that I desire, you save me, you complete me/You’re the one true thing I know I can believe…”

This is a gorgeous song, and so much of it reminds me how I feel when I am with my family. My one true thing.

On Tuesday we visited Nana, our precious Nana. Our cousins came too, and I loved catching up with them. Nana made egg salad for lunch, and when he saw it, Eric clapped. We also had Katie open Violet and Oliver’s present as well as one of Nana’s present. Katie received the Birthday Barbie from Nana and was thrilled—she has been playing with my old Barbies, and this one is the first one that is her own. Long ago, Nana got me my first Barbie, as well. I still remember which one it is…

One Wednesday, we worked on our Charlotte’s Web project, a good idea I found online. Oh my. Katie did a good job, but this was not the project to take on a few days before her birthday party and before Halloween. I was not the epitome of patience and almost cried when trying to get the web to straighten out, watching the string bunch up. Much of the weaving was too difficult a juggling act for Katie to do on her own—although she kept her good attitude and really tried, bless her. Then I recovered. It all would have been better with a strong glue. Anyway, we did it… Our favorite part was AFTER the web was done, and we got to work on putting the word “Humble” into the center.

Attempting to weave the string around the pipe cleaners.

We used the pipe cleaners to make the letters for “humble.” We also practiced tracing and writing the word “humble” on our white board, and my favorite part of the lesson was talking about the value of being humble and having her rearrange the pipe cleaner letters to spell it out. Barbie got involved as well.

Our web, hanging in the corner of our nook. We took one of Katie’s pig figures and have it and the book displayed together with the web. You might ask what happened to Charlotte. Oh. Well, I had a grey sock ready to go… But after finagling her web, I just couldn’t muster the will to embark upon sewing and making her. Silly, huh? I figured the web embodied her presence. Enough was enough at that point, you know?

This late afternoon, we took in some pumpkin patch time  in the setting sun:

Eric watches the pig races…

Katie watches the pig races…

Pumpkin babies

A ride on Puddin’

Exploring an old Chevrolet

Brother and Sister

My Darling Boy,

Last night I had just set aside pen and journal, the journal in which I keep all of Katie’s birthday letters. I am writing her fourth one, and it makes me think about both of you and how quickly time is passing. I had finished my lemon and honey tea, turned off all of the lights, doubled checked the ovens, unplugged and orange and white twinkly lights. My footsteps upstairs plotted the path of the content, my heart a calm pulse after a day full and well lived. My body and mind were ready for bed at 10:00 PM, eager for a bit of reading to make my eyes heavy.

Right at this moment, you called. Not the sweet “Mama! Mama!” I hear in the morning when you wake up filled with baby rest, a call always accompanied by your smile. No, this call was the baby-cry call of discomfort and weariness. And it was loud.

You, over the last month, have been breaking all four of your molars at once. All four have sharp spear-points poking through now, and when I look, I see baby gums mixed with erupting teeth. Ow. I know they hurt you, yet you are of such a mellow nature that you barely complain. You massage and massage and eat ice chips by the pint, and though you’ve woken up at night a few times, you mostly sleep like a champ. With Sister, the molars blindsided us all. I remember nights spent driving around at midnight with Daddy and Sister trying to lull her back to sleep, massaging her gums, wanting to poke out my eyes for want of sleep. I also wasn’t as confident a mother back then, and I have learned that half the trick to mothering children is to wholeheartedly believe (or at least pretend to believe) that you know what you are doing.

Last night, you hurt. And you let all of us know, which isn’t too typical for you. All of the usual tricks weren’t working. The bottle was the wrong offering, though you started to calm when we looked out the window. Then I moved the rocker more to the window—woops. I sang. I gave you a wet washcloth. You were mad, I think, even to be awake. You are a man who likes his sleep. We went outside and looked at Venus. We came back inside and tried the cozy chair. Your baby cry filled the whole house. Twenty minutes later, I thought that perhaps you needed a car ride, but that didn’t sound fun. On sudden inspiration, or desperation, I took us to the couch and  turned on Peep and the Big wide World. We all love Peep—a cartoon featuring an egotistical duck, sassy robin, and an inquisitive chicken that teaches science concepts to the younger set and their parents. All four of us find Peep extremely amusing. It was the episode where Quack stinks. You recognized the song and instantly settled on my chest. You laughed at Quack. You became quiet.

I kissed your sweet baby head, you silky hair so soft and lovely. I saw my sleep and my reading time ticking away, but suddenly, I didn’t care. It was more than enough to be in that moment with you. I thought about how rare it is that we just cuddle when you are awake—usually, you are climbing on me or we’re playing raspberries, or tickle, or something. But here we were, in this precious moment, just resting and recovering together, comforting and holding, getting to be together on stolen time, time we might not otherwise have had. So I just held you and kissed you and kissed you, and watched you more than I watched the show, and thought about how much I love you. I savored those moments, not as something of mine that was lost to unexpected crying, but as something gained—more time with you. I am sorry your teeth hurt, yet I am glad we got to be together.

I love you,

Mama

Our first hours together… August 8, 2010, a few hours after delivery.

What a beautifully busy weekend!

We finished Charlotte’s Web, and I am hoping to fit in an art project/craft to accompany the novel sometime this week. I bawled my way through most of the last two chapters, thinking more deeply as an adult about White’s poignant accounting of how time and life continues to cycle even after we’ve lost someone we love. Charlotte’s Web is such a perfectly elegant little book, essentially a philosophical treatise masquerading as a child’s novel. I have such a new appreciation for White’s writing here.

Our next read is a lighter return to more jovial emotions: Ramona the Pest by Beverly Cleary. There are scenes from this novel I have remembered my whole life, so to revisit them is certainly a treat for me. Katie is really enjoying it, and I see now how well Cleary captures the nuances of Ramona’s age. We finished the scene tonight in which Howie and Ramona argue over who rightfully owns Miss Binney’s red ribbon. I asked Katie what she thought and why. I think she relates well to this book.

As for my own reading after-hours, I am in the middle of Walter Isaacson’s just-released bio on Steve Jobs. Bill had pre-ordered it, and it arrived to him digitally on Sunday night. I am able to use the Kindle app on my iPad 2 and sign in as my husband, so we can read it concurrently. I am finding the biography to be riveting. Reading about him is taking me to somewhat unexpected places philosophically. Frankly, it is hard to stomach his selfishness and what seems to be his rather cold manipulation of people around him, not to mention his obvious feeling of extreme self-importance. I am baffled at his seeming arrogance, because he is definitely not even in the same intellectual realm as Wozniak—the sweet and somewhat naive genius who would have given away his work. People he worked with talk about Jobs’ “reality distortion field”—his ability to bend people to his will, essentially. Several people commented that, even though the office knew it existed, even had t-shirts made up, and tried to fight the reality distortion field, Jobs was so naturally persuasive that people would bend to his desire. Yeah? I’d like to see him try it. I don’t think he and I could have really lasted in the same orbit for two seconds. It is hard for me to find any part of his personality appealing.

For someone who has at parts of my life been a big fan of Ayn Rand and her philosophy of business, which includes acting selfishly, I find this biography to be almost a litmus test with respect to where I stand now. I am just not sure I buy any longer that we have to remain the selfish biological animals we were born as. As long as we have access to metacognitive thinking, and as long as we care about how we know what we know (epistemology) and care about why we do what we do, I don’t see any reason why we cannot choose to be compassionate, empathetic, gracious beings. Ayn Rand might have had some parts right, but the fact is that a great many people use her work to justify being—uh, what is a G-rated word I can use here? Jerks?

No where does this biography mention that Jobs had an affinity for Objectivism, so I don’t pin that on the guy. But look, if the only axiom in life is that you can act unabashedly in your own self-interest and call it righteous or even moral, then that opens the doors to do things like: abandon your newborn child and unwed mother and spread rumors that she was promiscuous, cheat your friend Wozniak to whom you owed money, cut a  founder and close friend out of stock options, and yell down someone who disagrees with you.

Given the choice, which I think we do have, I would rather err on the side of self-less than self-ish. Now, of course, I know that acting with a heart and mind of service is acting according to my values, which in turn is promoting my values, which could be self-interested. Yes, I understand where that argument goes…

But back to Jobs. Despite some of this, I give him my respect for one thing, maybe two things. First, he allowed this book to be written and did not act as a censor. He knows parts are extremely unflattering. He accepts who he is and doesn’t hide it, all his failings and his triumphs. Second, with age has come wisdom. I do not think the matured Steve Jobs was exactly the same as the youthful Steve Jobs, as evidenced by his retrospective commentary on events and people. He also was a visionary. No, not a software writer, nor a hardware guy—but a coach and promoter and doer in the extreme. I question his methods more than anything, not his technological legacy. And was he bright? Oh yeah, for sure. I just don’t think being intelligent gives anyone the right to be an—-well—you know. In fact, most of the really bright people I’ve ever encountered are mostly at peace with themselves, and others, and life.

Anyway, moving on…

Katie put her shoes on all by herself the other day!

Playing in our music room, sometimes known as the living room…but mainly we’ve got it filled with instruments.

Some perscussion

We love music

Playing with my guitar

Walking to Starbucks for breakfast

Playing at the park on the way back from breakfast

Working on a pin poke leaf craft

Crafting…

So, time for some chamomile tea and reading!

Good night!

“I don’t want to die…I want to stay alive, right here in the comfortable manure pile with all my friends. I want to breathe the beautiful air and lie in the beautiful sun.” (Charlotte’s Web)

When Wilbur receives “bad news” from the eldest sheep, he laments to Charlotte. When she tells him that she does have a plan to save him, he asks her for specifics. The gracious, sage, and eloquent spider tells him:

“Well…you must try to build yourself up. I want you to get plenty of sleep, and stop worrying. Never hurry and never worry! Chew your food thoroughly and eat every bit of it, except you must leave just enough for Templeton. Gain weight and stay well—that’s the way you can help. Keep fit, and don’t lose your nerve.”

And there it is. So elegant and simple. How do we lead a life of contentment? Follow Charlotte’s advice: slow down, savor the moment, help others, don’t worry about what you can’t control, be hearty, keep your body and mind and spirit well, have faith and don’t be scared, keep going, look life in the eye.

I have often spoken of the old Matics-Yoder farm values with which I was lucky to be born and bred. Perhaps that innate farm stock is one reason why this novel resonates with me. Katie and I are fairly far into it now, our next novel after the Harry Potter series. We love it. The last time I experienced this novel, I was a young girl in Yorba Linda, cuddled in my Strawberry Shortcake sheets and duvet with my mom. I cherished that reading experience with her, surely one of the many we shared that nurtured my love of reading and of all words.

So it is Charlotte’s Web for us as we round out October. It is such a beautiful book. Sigh. I appreciate how clever E.B. White is even more now that I am an adult.

What else do we like to do in the evenings?

Lantern dancing! I found two (cheap!) plastic Halloween lanterns at the drug store. Oh my, have these been the hit of the month! True, they have a tendency to break apart once in while with any sort of enthusiasm, but they snap back together easily enough. Anyway, right before bed, but before reading time and lullabies and more reading, the kiddos grab their lanterns, and we turn off almost all the downstairs lights and swing our lanterns and sing eerie lantern songs. Sometimes we make shadow puppets. Eric has even started singing along with a little ghostly noise of his own, “oooooooh-ooooh.” I love being their mom.

Yesterday we carved our first pumpkin of the season! We know he won’t last until Halloween, and we do plan to carve our Halloween pumpkins much closer to the holiday. We just thought it would be fun to enjoy a small jack-o-lantern now and also to go through the carving process with our pumpkin nomenclature cards. I purchased these nomenclature cards from The Montessori Print Shop. They are only a few dollars, and I actually found them on sale because I am doing these pumpkin lessons later in the season.

Katie and Eric spoon seeds from their pumpkin. Katie planted some of the seeds, and she kept referencing the life cycle of a pumpkin as she did so. We’ll see what happens.

Mr. Bones, Miss Cupcakes, Mommy, and Pumpkin Jack, all aglow and cozy.

Jammies, each other, candlelight, October…so lovely.

We spent most of today with my dad, who came over around lunch time. He accompanied us on our quest to procure bales of straw. We need the straw for one of the games for Katie’s birthday party, which is going to be her first with her friend group from music class and friends with whom we enjoy frequent play dates. Anyway, I am pretty sure we’ll need the straw…I keep changing my activity/game list every two minutes, it seems! I will definitely finalize it this weekend so that we can spend all of next week getting ready.

So, bales of straw… Turns out, straw differs from hay. I officially learned something today, and now it seems like one of those nuances in vocabulary I should have known all along.

My dad and kiddos and I also went out to Five Guys. Katie loves this place, though we were last there on St. Patrick’s Day this year. Eric discovered the joys of dipping french fries into ketchup, and Katie loved dancing to Aerosmith after she was done eating.

In our travels, my dad needed to pick up something at Ralph’s and encouraged me to be spontaneous and get my flu shot while I was there. I took him up on the opportunity since he could help watch my children. I am not, not a spontaneous person at my core (even though I am often flexible enough to appear so), and it was at the end of the day, and I had on a shirt that was not optimal for arm extraction—but I did it, and now I am relieved to have this yearly task checked off my list. I usually make an appointment, but the pharmacy takes walk-ins…and it turns out, there was no difference in wait time. Maybe spontaneity is a good thing? Hrm…

Last night Katie and I had a “Girls’ Night” as we call it, a night where we “sneak” back downstairs together after lullabies and putting Eric to bed. Basically, “Girls’ Night” is letting her stay up a little past bedtime, have a treat, and one-on-one cuddles with my full attention, no sharing with Brother. Bedtime, shmedtime—sometimes she really needs this. I never forget that, as my first born, she was used to having me all to herself, and I still try to give her a piece of that feeling from time to time because she thrives on it. She is so patient and loving toward her brother the preponderance of the time; every once in awhile she needs to know she is still my special first born Katie. We started watching the film version of the first part of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (we fit in just about an hour), ate a bit of chocolate, and wrapped up in blankies on the couch with our twinkle lights sparkling outside. Very cozy. She loved it.

Looking forward to that again tonight!

Last night, cuddled close together in her bed, Brother and Daddy already asleep shortly after their 8:00 PM bedtime, Katie and I finished the last book of the Harry Potter series. What a magical shared reading experience this has been. Over 4000 pages, 120+ hours, months of excitement at every chance to read. I am not ready for our Harry Potter world to end. Thank you, J.K. Rowling, for creating a body of work so compelling and so beautiful. Thank you for this epic adventure with my daughter. It is a testament to your craftsmanship that my daughter, who will turn four-years-old in two weeks, has been able to absorb herself in the characters, places, plots, and themes you have imagined.

And what did Katie take away from these seven books? Did she truly understand the author’s themes and big messages?

This morning, Katie and I discussed the books over breakfast. At every step of the way, I have been checking and rechecking her understanding. Today, I was most interested in some of her culminating thoughts about the books. All of the following quotes and thoughts are entirely her own, and I wrote them down verbatim as she answered my questions. Her answers are italicized and in bold.

I began by asking her, “What do you think we were supposed to learn from reading the Harry Potter books?”

After a few false starts in which Katie started by rattling off  plot details (something I remember needing to overcome with some of my 9th graders), I rephrased the question a couple of different ways. She then understood that I was probing for something more abstract, and she responded that Rowling’s lesson was that:

“You need to have good faith in others.”

I asked her, “What else do these books teach us?” On a roll now, Katie said:

“It teaches us how to care.”

What else? I queried.

“You have to be nice to others.”

“You have to love others.”

Then I asked her a more difficult question: “Why do you think Harry was willing to die in the last book?”

She explained, “He wanted other people to be saved.”

Then, without being prompted with a question, she threw out there: “We learn from Harry Potter that Snape was good after all.”

We have been fascinated with Snape’s character—and what a rich character he is—since Book Six. Rowling has given us a flawed character who has done wrong things in the past, but who makes noble and good choices as he matures. He gives himself over to the power of love, at a crucial moment. I wondered all along how Katie would grapple with such an apparent massive character shift. Would she even understand, after reading Book Six, how the author ultimately reverses our expectations and redeems Snape in Book Seven?

But what a powerful lesson Snape is. No one is all good, or all bad—not even Dumbledore. Katie saw me cry when we read the part in which Snape dies. She saw me cry a few times throughout the series. When we see readers reacting to a text, we understand the power of words to transform and to feel real. Part of reading these books to Katie has been to show her how a seasoned reader reacts and responds to a text. If she can start to see that process now, I believe it will make her a stronger reader as she goes forward.

Continuing on, I asked her about Voldemort.

Why is Voldemort evil?

She reasoned, “Voldemort is bad because he has a bad group.”

Amen to that. We’ve been discussing the Death Eaters all along. She is too young to grasp the full historical import of how evil dictators exploit the insecurities and hatred of weak followers and goad them on through group-think to commit extraordinarily atrocious crimes against humanity, but she has begun to think about the influence of groups. We’ve talked about how Voldemort gains power over his group. The Malfoys, especially, are characters who reveal the nuances of this process. Someday, we will take this theme much, much further…

What else did Voldemort do that was bad?

Katie said, “Voldemort wanted to have no more good people. Because he was evil. He didn’t want any more good people to be here. He wanted everyone to be evil. He just wanted a Slytherin House.”

Yes, Katie. Yes. We spent time talking about Voldemort’s emphasis on pure blood. I know she understands that part at the plot level, at least. Someday she will connect that to the historical references upon which the latter books, especially, are based.

She had more to say about Voldemort:

“He tried to take over the whole city. He wanted no more Muggles.”  City, country, world—ah well, we’re working on that. That’s why we have our globe. 😉

I then probed her, “What do you think about the people who died for Harry? Why did they die for him?”

Imagine the glow in my ever-lovin’-English-teacher’s heart when she explained, “They didn’t want their hero to be gone.” Boo-ya! Boo-ya, baby girl! I mean, she used the word “hero.” Seriously? I had to restrain myself from a fist-pump.

I followed up, “What did they need their hero to do?”

“Protect the world.”

I shifted gears, “Let’s think about Harry’s friends. What do good friends do for one another?”

Her answers: “They care for one another. They help one another. They help one another be alive.”

Finally, I asked, “Pretend that you were a teacher and were thinking about teaching these books. Why would you want to teach these books to your students?”

Katie said, “I would teach it to them because they need to learn about good things.”

Approaching Book One, I wasn’t sure how long we would be able to hang with the series or even that Katie would become so engrossed as she has become. We had handled the Little House series well enough, but Harry Potter is a different reading level and on a different order in terms of character complexity. After we passed the issue of the Time Turner in Book Three, and the complicated things its presence does to the plot, I knew for sure that she was up to this challenge.

My next concern was the more violent content of many of the books. While the first three books contained, in my opinion, no more violence than any Disney film or fairy tale, I had bigger concerns about Book Four and the death of Cedric Diggory. I was also concerned about the graveyard scene in that book, as well as the way in which Charity Burbage dies in Book Seven. Still, the fact that most of the violence had an “unreal” fairy tale quality about it—wands and spells, instead of guns—seemed to make it an acceptable vehicle to me. Am I weird? I weighed the presence of the violence with the possibility of a bigger pay-off for Katie (messages of love, courage, survival, compassion, friendship, etc) by the end. If the violence had been sexual violence, or if the violence had been sadistically perverse, I would not have exposed her to it.

The bigger question in my mind is, “What next?” I mean, what can possibly be next after Harry Potter? Oh, I have some candidates: The Secret Garden, Island of the Blue Dolphins, Anne of Green Gables, Bridge to Teribithia, The Indian in the Cupboard… There are plenty of choices, books that I have truly loved. Charlotte’s Web might be a strong contender. I still remember my mom reading that to me, the first time I ever sobbed at a book. I remember my bedroom in Yorba Linda, cuddled reading it together. It is a mother-daughter tradition in our family.

Still, Harry… I don’t think Katie and I can let go of you right yet. We miss you already.

Aaaaand, let the pictures commence:

My mom and I took the kiddos to our local pumpkin farm again this afternoon. Katie has been eager to try the new gem panning feature the farm added this year. Oh boy, did she have fun! She kept exclaiming afterward, “And I get to KEEP these!”

After collecting the gems, we were able to use a big poster nearby to identify all of the types. Very awesome teaching opportunity. Brother’s strategy was to eat the wooden rails…

The chickens and rooster had been let loose to roam the patch. Eric was in heaven. He loves all manner of animals, and he kept following them and pointing.

My littlest pumpkin

 

Katie took a pony ride. My little girl is getting bigger and more fearless. Two years ago, she was apprehensive about going on the pony ride; last year, we convinced her and she had a good time. This year, she asked to ride the horses.

 

She really enjoyed this.

 

I love her look of sheer delight here.

We took a train ride around part of the farm. Katie and Amie are so cute together!

With Eric

My mom and her grandchildren

Someday we will all coordinate ourselves in looking (yes, with our eyes open, no less) at the camera… Until that day comes, here is the best we could do. 😉

Pumpkin June on the largest pumpkin at the farm.

Pumpkin June, my October girl, and her little brother.

Then I joined in! I bought the pumpkin tucked under my arm. We are going to carve it early, both to examine its innards alongside our pumpkin nomenclature cards and to enjoy an additional few nights with a candlelit pumpkin. Why not? It won’t last until Halloween, but let’s enjoy it now, and we can get a couple more pumpkins right before the 31st.

Home again, Katie and Amie sorted the new gems.

And then: Workshop time!! I have a couple of boxes full of “loose” objects. I have seen Montessori blogs discuss the concept of “loose” object play, and we have done something similar for years. We collect different materials, artifacts, textures, tools, anything… and we keep them in various boxes, to be pulled down here and there for creative play and invention. Threads, plastic boxes, small balls, pipe cleaners, nuts and bolts, small pieces of wood, basically anything can become part of this collection. I like the name Katie created for it better than the term “loose play”—she calls it “having a workshop.” She loves Workshop time.

Obviously the new gems were crying out for Workshop time. We pulled out one of her Workshop boxes, as well as my box of beads and jewelry making tools, and she and Amie began to create. Katie hummed and sang to herself as she worked, and my mom felt inspired to take one of the quartz pieces Katie panned, wire wrap it, and make a necklace for Katie using silver and pearls, and various other black and white and silver beads from the stash. While they let their minds play and invent, Eric visited Boppa outside, and I made our millionth loaf of pumpkin bread this season. The kiddos seriously love it. We had it tonight for dessert, and it also makes a fairly healthy breakfast when paired with other items.


The necklace my mom made. Go, Mom! What a fun keepsake item, too, by which Katie can remember this fun day…

In other news…

Yesterday we finished an art project for our “life cycle of a pumpkin” studies. One way I checked her understanding, other than this project, was to have her be the teacher. I played a student who “didn’t quite get it” and purposely kept rearranging her life cycle laminated cards all wrong. She would then correct me and re-explain it. I have found that this form of assessment works so well with her. I actually picked up this strategy while watching one of her gymnastics coaches over a few weeks: he would often say or do the “wrong answer” on purpose, and all the 3-5 year olds would absolutely jump in to correct him and prove their knowledge. I’ve tried it here in our own classroom, and that strategy works magic. Three to five year olds love to know things adults don’t, and they love to point out corrections. Sometimes when I try to assess her in other ways, I know she knows an answer but every so often just doesn’t want to put on the performance. Especially if we are doing something that is “review”—often then, she doesn’t want to rehash it and looks at me like I am out of my mind for asking her something so easy. I know from my high school GATE population that this is pretty standard fare for some types of GATE students. I was the non-rebellious, let-me-do-anything-to-please-my-teachers type of GATE student, but I know others, ahem, in my family, perhaps one even under my own roof, who much preferred to chart their own intellectual pathways, studied what they wanted to, excelled at it, and to this day don’t always have a love for redundancy. Katie does like to be pleasing, and she is, but she is much closer to being in this second category—a great reason to home school her, because we can soar with the true interests of her mind.

In the meantime, she loves it when I play dumb, and I am able to use that to my advantage to assess what she really knows.

And Eric? Well, he loves to feed himself. Check out that left-handed action. Bill is a lefty, and that shows up in the amazingly creative wiring of his mind. Has Eric inherited this trait of his daddy’s?