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Katie adores her Uncle Chet, one of Bill’s brothers. Chet is the second oldest of four boys (Bill is the first), and he is married to Irma. With Bill on Spring Break and our niece Carly visiting her parents this week, too, we were eager to see all three of them. We had thought about dinner sometime soon, but after remembering that Safari Park has set up its seasonal Butterfly Jungle for the next two weeks, we decided to spend a day enjoying all the animals together.

Chet is an experienced birder (birdsman?) and also extremely knowledgable with respect to butterflies as well. In fact, part of his job is to study native habitats of local birds and animals and to assess the influence of changes to their environments. It is fun to hear him identify the life that was all around us today. What a gift, to be able to discern the small details so quickly as those details flutter by. I think it takes an artistic and attentive kind of eye to see such beautiful nuance in the world around us.

Katie wanted to visit the gorillas first thing. Eric, too, kept pointing at them and saying “More! More!”


Eric at the gorilla viewing area


Aunt Irma disguised as a fruit bat

The bats seemed to be a new attraction; at least, I had not seen them there before this trip. We were lucky to see one of the bats spread its wings fully. At Irma’s and Carly’s suggestion in the bookstore later, I bought the children’s book “Stellaluna” for the kiddos. Eric and Katie loved reading this story (about a fruit bat making unlikely friends) tonight before bed.


Walking around the park


The kiddos found a playground after lunch; again, we had not really wandered by this too many times before today. Eric loved the jeep, and both kiddos LOVED the twisty tunnel slide. “More! More!”


Eric and his daddy watch elephants. Eric really connected with the elephants, and we had tremendous views of them—including a new baby—this afternoon. Right away, Eric understood: “Baby,” he said and pointed to the little guy. Then, pointing to the large elephant nearby, he explained, “Mama.” I loved it! He knows that special baby and mama relationship when he sees it. So sweet.


There is a big elephant in the background…


Irma, Chet, Katie, and I (from the back, holding Eric) look for butterflies in the Butterfly Jungle.


Eric finds butterflies.


A butterfly landed on Uncle Chet!


And one landed on Aunt Irma’s hat, too!


Looking for more butterflies


Katie and Aunt Irma and Carly exit the Butterfly Jungle


Cousin Carly!


Sharing one of Uncle Chet’s cookies


Safari tram ride with Uncle Chet


Eric sat next to Carly on the tram ride


Watching the meerkats, always a favorite for the kiddos.

Eric had the time of his life today in the petting kraal, with all of the goats. Oh my. As many people know, I love, love, love goats—one of my very favorite animals. It is my dream to have my own goat someday. I love them. Apparently, this is a genetic disposition I’ve passed on to my son. He visited and pet nearly every goat in the kraal and gave real pucker-up kisses to several of them (on their sides). Then he found some brushes, took it in his own mind to use them, and groomed his new friends. He waved to one that was sleeping and said, “Night!” But the real indication that he has goat love? One of the goats decided to lick and gnaw at one of the logs comprising its fence—so Eric went up to one of the fence logs and did the same thing. When he pulled away, we could see his wet little tongue mark… (Maybe some of that nice goat kraal bacteria will turn him into a goat)?

What a beautiful day! After the bookstore, Katie and I rode the carousel just before we left. We’ve always wanted to do that…. Katie chose to ride the hummingbird.

We loved this day with our family, and it was lovely because there was such a natural harmony in wandering about together. Great memories, and that’s what life is about, yes?

Love you guys, Chet, Irma, and Carly!

– Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

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Time it was, and what a time it was, it was

A time of innocence, a time of confidences

Long ago, it must be, I have a photograph,

Preserve your memories, they’re all that’s left you

-From “Old Friends/Bookends” by Simon and Garfunkel

We were both eighteen and entering our last spring months of high school in 1998, the last time Ashley Klein and I saw each other in person. For many years, I remembered having the best conversation with her in one of our classes one morning. It felt like we must have talked the entire period—should we have been working? does it matter?—and I remember it was the kind of conversation that eighteen-year-old girls have, full of hopes and plans and eagerness and the world. It was one of those fortunate and beautiful moments of connection, one that would help us to reconnect on Facebook many years later once the dust of graduation and our early twenties—whoosh!!—settled.

As fifteen minutes elapse, I have been sitting here staring at my screen thinking about what I want to say next. For some reason my words elude me a bit tonight and my thoughts are struggling their way into an epiphany of sorts. It’s just that when I think of the two of us sitting in that classroom talking, part of me wonders if the relationship between work and friendship was as balanced for me as it could have been in high school. I know it wasn’t. Just as I have long regretted missing out on the night when Marguerite and Steve went running through the high school sprinklers (uh, am I remembering this right guys?), I look back now at age thirty-two and see a whole world of people whose stories I could have lingered longer to hear.

The high school world is full of groups, and sailing from one into another is not so easy. It is getting easier: as a high school teacher I saw that boundaries between classic high school groups are now much more flexible and evolving. (Can that be because everyone is more connected outside of the school day through technology/Facebook)? I had my group, and we did almost all things together, and I loved and still love them. We also had larger groups we were part of…and groups that sometimes got together with other groups. Oh the teenage mind: how easily we want to lump people together. It keeps us feeling safe, I think, at age sixteen. To group ourselves is human nature, and we were young humans. High school can be a wilderness, and a time of uncertainty for anyone—regardless of how we might try to present ourselves. So we fall back on what we know.

Thank goodness that we have the potential to live for more than two decades. Thank goodness for our thirties, and for some perspective. It amazes me now that, for someone who loves to read and be inside of literature, I could have so easily missed the opportunity to collect and hear the stories of so many people in the TVHS class of ’98. What do I know now in my thirties that I missed in my late teens? I know for sure that we’re all on the same kind of journey. Yes, our journeys may have different details, but we all share a quest for happiness and a bond in grief. Maybe we just needed to live a little longer to see what we all have in common. Maybe the gift of sharing time and space with so many souls is wasted on the young, a time when we see mainly our own goals ahead of us. One of the parts of teaching I cherished the most was the chance to connect with so many beautiful lives—hundreds, maybe a thousand of them in my shorter career—and to observe them, and to learn from them.

There are so many people I think about from our Class of ’98. People I wish I could just sit down with now, now that we are in our thirties. It is glorious when we have the time to see, really see, one another for whom we really are.

I was lucky to experience just such a moment with Ashley today. How much I loved this time with her! She is vibrant and fearless, and hearing about her life gives me such an appreciation for her. She has a spark, a  true passion for being alive. I love that she has not been willing to settle. You know what else I love? She is so easy to be with. How could it have been that we did not hang out more in high school? Ashley is so much fun, so genuine, so present in every moment. A person like that in our lives is a gift. We talked for hours and could have talked for hours more. I feel so thankful that she spent so much time with us on her visit to Temecula this weekend. What a gift, truly, that was.

So, thank you, Ashley, for sharing your life and your day with us. We are all better because you were here. I hope it will not be another fourteen-ish years! Love to you as you start on your next adventure this coming week. I will be rooting for you and celebrating with you. Big hugs!

Our pioneer, Ma-Ingalls-inspired project went well; that is, it went well until for one harrowing moment it didn’t. But more on that to come. Suffice it to say, I am filing this project under “it seemed a good idea at the time” in my teaching files.

Today we made an old-fashioned button lamp, enchanted as we are with Laura Ingalls Wilder’s The Long Winter. (Will the train ever come)?? Last night we read about the Ingalls family running out of coal and kerosene and flour. Pa comes by some axle grease and a bushel of seed wheat, and the family makes do with their undying, undaunted will. They twist hay into sticks, and Ma contrives a way to have a bit of light at supper with her button lamp:

     …Ma told Carrie to bring her the rag bag. She took some of the axle grease from the box and spread it in an old saucer.Then she cut a small square of calico. ‘Now find me a button in the bag, Carrie’….She put the button in the center of the square of calico. She drew the cloth together over the button and wound a thread tightly around it and twisted the corners of the calico straight upward in a tapering bunch. Then she rubbed a little axle grease up the calico and set the button into the axle grease in the saucer…She lighted the taper tip of the button lamp. A tiny flame flickered and grew stronger. It burned steadily, melting the axle grease and drawing it up through the cloth into itself, keeping itself alight by burning. The little flame was like the flame of a candle in the dark.


These instructions sounded easy enough, so when Eric went down for his nap, Katie and I collected the necessary parts. I am certain that the button Carrie found was probably a metal button. Since I do not have one of those in my button bag, we used a coin instead. We also do not have axle grease, but we have plenty of Crisco. Finally, we chose a scrap from our rag bag and selected an old saucer (I just put out a bunch of old dishes into the garage a couple of months ago, as my mom gifted us with an entire Williams-Sonoma matching set). It turned out to be fortunate that we used an old saucer…

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Katie searches in our rag bag for a scrap of fabric

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Scooping out some grease

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Greasing the saucer

At this point, we put the coin in the center of our fabric, gathered the ends up as Laura describes, tied it with a thread….and greased the heck out of it.

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Our greased button lamp, all ready to go!

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Then we set it aflame.

All was well for about twenty-five minutes. We marveled at our creation. We talked about the dangers of fire, and how little boys and girls should never make one of these on their own without a parent. We observed the colors of the fire and discussed which part was hottest. We pondered whether or not Crisco burns for the same duration and with the same intensity as axle grease. We consulted our globe and I showed Katie where the Ingalls family was during the hard winter. For the first time, it really made an impression on her that these were real people, that we were making something Ma had really once made. It was a great teaching experience. It was almost meditative.

Then, without warning, the sauce cracked completely in thirds! The burning button lamp fell onto our wooden table and continued burning. A small spot of our table started burning, so much so that there is now a permanent circular ridge where the button lamp sat burning. Fortunately, I had a jar of water nearby for just such an emergency, and it was quickly and efficiently extinguished. A little scary, though…

If I ever get the idea (and these are the kinds of wild ideas that are born in my head late, late at night when I am falling asleep thinking of lessons) to re-do this project for Eric, I definitely won’t be doing it in a saucer on our wooden table. I am not sure why Ma’s saucer held up so well, but I am going to err on the side of making our next button lamp in a metal pan of some kind…and on concrete outside, or something. I wouldn’t recommend making this button lamp without taking more care toward fire safety!

As Ma often says, though, “All’s well that ends well!”

After we cleared away the button lamp project, we settled down into a quieter activity:

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Katie has been practicing her sewing for quite some time, but today she was asking for her own hoop and real piece of cross stitch fabric to learn how to do actual cross stitching on her own. I actually still have the little blue hoop on which I learned to cross stitch, and I had a small piece of Aida cloth to put in the hoop. We worked at it mostly together, and she started getting the idea… But it does take practice! She is just working on making rows right now, and I put her little hoop right on top of my big frame project to store it on our shelf. It is cozy to have our projects sitting and waiting together!

“Come away, O human child!/To the waters and the wild/With a faery, hand in hand,/For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.” (William Butler Yeats, “The Stolen Child” 1889)

Hunkered down in our warm pajamas with the rain drizzling outside all day, this has to be the coziest St. Patrick’s Day I’ve ever celebrated. We spent the morning baking Irish soda bread and listening to our St. Patrick’s Day playlist, and the the kiddos and I read all bundled up on the couch while the soda bread baked in the oven. I found a recipe I really like out of the old Sunset Bread’s cookbook, with a moist and delicate crumb. It is somewhere in between a coffee cake and a bread, this particular recipe. We were going to save it all for dinner, but the kiddos and I couldn’t resist: for lunch we had a warm piece, served with apples, and white cheddar that is really from Ireland. With the rain falling all over our green grass and trees, we truly felt transported.

Katie, especially, had fun pretending to be a leprechaun princess today. When the kiddos came downstairs this morning, they discovered that a leprechaun had come last night, changed the color of the toilet water, and left gelt by our leprechaun house.

We played almost all day and cuddled. Katie, Eric, and I made a nest in Katie’s bed and a smell blanket tent, and we spent about an hour singing songs and cuddling together before Eric’s nap. Those “nest” times are some of my favorite times with the kiddos. We sing as many “Music Together” songs as we can think of, or play rhyme games, or today, listen to the rain outside. Nothing could possibly feel cozier for me than all being nestled together.

When Eric went to his crib for a nap, Katie and I read three more chapters from The Long Winter while watching the rain against her bedroom window. So magical and snuggly.

After reading, we went downstairs to make our broccoli soup. The vibrant green soup is our St. Patrick’s Day tradition. Both the children love it—Katie had two adult-sized bowlfuls at dinner—and it was especially nourishing on this cold day. I was never a huge fan of broccoli growing up, but both of my children are—go figure. They love it in soup, roasted with tomatoes, and when they were little, pureed. This soup is easy to make and has a bit of cheese in it, too. Otherwise, there is hardly any fat and no additional sugars other than what may be found in gold potatoes, onions, broccoli, and whole milk. It turns out to be an extremely vivid green, also, and that makes it fun.

As a surprise for dinner, I also made:

A fruit rainbow! Both of the kiddos were tickled about this. Our fruit rainbow had strawberries, mandarin oranges, pineapple, kiwi, blueberries, and purple grapes. And Eric liked his kiwi this time! Yay! I’ve been trying that one on him periodically.

Our St. Patrick’s Day dinner: fruit rainbow, broccoli soup, and Irish soda bread. For dessert, we had mint chip ice cream. The meal had a happiness and magic to it, and even the kiddos thought so: I think it was the fruit rainbow. It felt special.

Bathing fresh for the evening, we all put on green pajamas, too, so we felt extra festive for dinnertime and our evening cuddles/playtime.

After dinner, we had our Saturday movie night. Eric had actually never seen The Wizard of Oz, and I thought it would fit our theme somewhat. When Katie was about two-and-a-half years old, or perhaps a wee bit younger, she went through a period of really loving this film. I wasn’t sure what Eric, being 19 months, would think. Oh my goodness, he was hooked almost right away. As soon as Dorothy started singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” he sat down and started watching intently. When her house landed, he loved the whole munchkin scene. As they were singing, “Ding dong the witch is dead/Rub your eyes/Get out of bed…” he started patting his legs to the rhythm of the song. (Bill has a sweet video of this). Eric kept saying, “More, more!” He laughed at parts of the Scarecrow scene, and again with the Tin Man. Toward the end, he petered out a bit, but still I found that this film resonated highly with him. It used to be my very favorite, too, growing up.

We were watching the Tin Man scene when Bill took this picture. The kiddos are both savoring their mint chip ice cream.

During the movie, I had set up a huge piece of butcher paper taped onto our table and some crayons for all of us to draw. Katie drew a beautiful rainbow with just about every color in it. I love these little people.

I think this has to be my favorite St. Patrick’s Day I’ve ever spent. Other than wearing green, I never actually celebrated it before having my children. Now, I view the holiday as one more opportunity to make an ordinary day a little extra special and magical with them. Katie said right before bed that she wished this St. Patrick’s Day would not end.

Also, before I end this entry, I wanted to share this sweet picture of the kiddos coloring with Aunt Debbie when we all went to Nana’s a couple of days ago:

Aunt Debbie was helping Katie make a map of Nana’s house for the purpose of locating the faeries that Katie believes to be there. I am so thankful for the time and chance to make these memories, that my children will have even the smallest sense of how special it has always been to be around Nana’s table and to play in her house just as my cousin, and brother, and I did growing up. I wish every day that Uncle Eric and Grandpa Mitchell were still in that house, too: Katie and Eric would have loved them so. Next week two more of my aunts are planning to visit, and we’re hoping for a family gathering. Memories to cherish and store up in these two little souls…

I hope everyone had a beautiful St. Patrick’s Day, full of magic and coziness!

Little Eric had his first barber shop experience this morning at the classic Temecula Stew’s, which has been around forever…or at least since the early 1990s. I asked my mom’s stylist to help with Eric’s first haircut back in November, but now that he is getting to be a little boy I want to introduce him to the ways of the male world. I have never been in a barber shop before, and I really loved it, probably because I could see it through my son’s eyes. Bill occasionally goes to Stew’s (sometimes I do his hair), and it has the barber pole and walls full of old-fashioned memorabilia. There are model planes overhead, and a train that runs around the ceiling. I thought the shop felt cozy, like some place from another time.

We happened to go when only one other young man was there, yet midway through the cut, three much older gentlemen came in to have their hair done. There was my little boy, getting a classic little cut, along with these men who have seen so much of their lives already. Such a juxtaposition… I hugged Eric a little tighter, almost in awe of a time in the far, far future when I might no longer alive and he will be an older man in a barber shop. I wonder if he will remember the days when he went with his mommy…

He even had his neck dusted with a brush with powder on it. He smelled so good! Although he started crying when we initially sat down, he settled into the cut after a few minutes and even liked it a bit. He loved hearing me talk about all there was to see on the walls. Sister Katie was so well behaved. She looked at books and was independent and patient throughout our time in there.

When we returned home, the kiddos wanted to play in the car. They were both so excellent at the barber’s that I let them:

BEEP BEEP! They played for awhile on their own, but they both thought it was quite amusing when I climbed into Eric’s car seat in the back and pretended to be the baby.

This has been a week to get some of our little house projects done and to take care of loose ends. I met with our CPA yesterday to finalize our taxes, and they are now submitted. So glad to have that finished for the year!

I also finally called earlier this week for a doctor’s appointment to have a tiny mole removed on my foot, and so now I have that scheduled. I meant to get it done before Hawaii, but I kept putting it off and putting it off. I’m not worried about the procedure, or about the mole itself (it looks fine according to the “ABCs of Moles” and is the only mole I have anywhere)—it is just one more thing to have to fit in to our schedule. It used to be a cute little freckle in high school—in fact, I loved it—but years of wearing flip flops and exposing it to the sun has caused it to raise. Eric points at it with distress like it’s a “boo boo” and frankly, I don’t want to take the risk that it could turn into something later.

We also made granola bars this week:

It was a bit of a process to wrap them all up individually, but they are yummy. We put peanuts and raisins in ours.

This afternoon we started some of our St. Patrick’s Day preparations. We have a couple of crafts we’re working on, and I have a special themed menu planned for the kiddos.

St. Patrick’s Day craft station!

Katie made a leprechaun hat (Eric did help with the glitter).

The kiddos painted some backyard rocks with gold acrylic. We are going to use these rocks in our leprechaun house. (Katie was clear that she wants to make them a house, but not a “trap” as is customary. She is very adamant that she does not want to force the leprechaun to reveal the location of his pot of  gold. I am planning on having a “leprechaun” come on Friday night and turn all of the toilet water green. There might be a couple of other pranks he pulls… We’ll see!

Finally, the kiddos had a treat tonight after their roasted chicken, steamed carrots, and mashed red potatoes. This was our first time making an Eton mess, a classic English boarding school dessert. We adapted our recipe from The Barefoot Contessa.While Eric was napping, Katie and I made two big baked meringues and a smashed raspberry and strawberry syrup on the stove. After dinner, we broke up the meringue, layered the berry sauce, and topped it with freshly whipped cream and more whole raspberries and strawberries. Meringue desserts are some of my favorites!

 

A couple of days ago, Eric received a small Caterpillar dump truck from his Amie and Boppa. It has three buttons that make different dump truck noises and turn on headlights, and of course the dumper really tips. He loves, loves, loves it. In fact, during the first night he had it, he cuddled it tightly all through bedtime stories and bedtime lullabies in his rocker.

In general, anything that has wheels he calls a “beep beep.” Trains are one exception—he knows those are “choos.” He loves his beep beeps.

Today I tried to make a small excavation site for his dump truck. We put some cornmeal on a cookie sheet and took it outside for some morning play:

We made patterns in the cornmeal with the wheels, and then we put some cornmeal in the dumper and practiced tipping it. Short-lived, but fun for the moment. Then we started looking for roli-polis—always a good pastime.

Eric also helped to vacuum this morning. He cries when I tell him it’s “Mommy’s turn.” The Dyson is actually light enough for him to push. Now, if only he’ll keep this hobby through his teenage years, I will gladly let him vacuum the whole house!

During Eric’s nap today, Katie and I worked on her lessons and started The Long Winter. Last year during our Laura Ingalls Wilder period, we only read through The Shores of Silver Lake (although we skipped Farmer Boy for now) before moving on to Harry Potter. We were both feeling in the mood for the cozy world of Laura, though, so to reacquaint ourselves, we re-read Little House in the Big Woods. Now we are onto The Long Winter, and it is beautiful to reconnect to these characters we love.

I took the last part of Eric’s nap to plan menus for the upcoming week, while Katie watched a couple of streamed episodes of Liberty’s Kids, a cartoon series I really love that takes place in the time right before and through the American Revolution. We meet characters like Benjamin Franklin (voiced by Walter Cronkite), Patrick Henry, Phyllis Wheatley, Revere and Dawes, John Adams, Abigail Adams, Ethan Allen, and so many more. What I appreciate most about the program is how balanced it is historically. I think it is a sophisticated point, and a necessary point, to make regarding the hypocrisy of some of the colonists calling for freedom from tyranny and yet still condoning slavery. The fact that this cartoon can present those issues really impresses me. The presentation of the British point of view also helps to balance the interpretation of events. I enjoy both watching it and talking with Katie about it.

For dinner we made turkey burgers, baked sweet potato “fries,” and a new recipe for pear, oat, cinnamon, and ginger shakes. A Martha Stewart recipe, these shakes blended up thick and yummy for only 273 calories. Freezing the red pears overnight really added a lush thickness to the shake, the oats a bit of toothiness, and the almond butter, milk, and buttermilk some protein. Maple syrup and fresh ginger added sweetness and spice. Oh, these were so good. The kiddos liked them, too. This recipe is going to go into our rotation. Who doesn’t love a shake with a burger? No one here missed the ice cream this time. I definitely recommend trying this one!

Hope everyone had a great weekend!

 

“Painting is self-discovery. Every good artist paints what he is.” 

~ Jackson Pollock

“All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up.” 

~ Pablo Picasso

We spent the afternoon painting en plein air. The kiddos used their easel (Eric’s first time) and also painted on canvas squares.

Painting is good for the soul.

We also made granola today:

And two loaves of yeasty, eggy challah. I meant to freeze a loaf, but the kiddos devoured several slices of the first loaf as a snack after their painting session. It was warm from the oven. Katie likes hers plain, but Eric enjoys a little unsalted butter on his, irresistibly drippy and golden. Eric, who turned 19 months yesterday, helped me to make the dough (it cracks me up that one of his most enunciated words is, in fact, “dough”—this boy loves the kitchen). He loves to measure out and pour the ingredients. While Eric napped after lunch, it was Katie’s turn to help: she divides the dough in half and then cuts each half into thirds, fractions at work. She knows how to pull the dough into ropes, and she is getting better at braiding them. Together, we uses pastry brushes to paint on the French wash. I love that each of them have such a hand in it.

Katie and I also took our lessons outside today. I set the easel up while Eric napped, and one side has a white board (which I then put paper over so that he could paint, too). We worked on vowels, filling letters into words, and seeing how many words Katie could write completely on her own (words like “it” and “yes” and “the” and “to” and “love” etc.) She also wanted to sound out the word “panther” and did fairly well—I’ve just started talking about the “-er” sound, so I reminded her about the “e.”

Working on our lessons outdoors, dappled in sunlight and breeze, was lovely. We had the easel right outside the kitchen, too, at that point, by the olive tree and lemon tree (we moved it later in case paint dripped). I could teach all day outside…definitely a beautiful liberty that comes from schooling at home.

I also had a bit of time to cross stitch today. Oh, and we played more of our new favorite game:

GENERAL STORE!

A few mornings ago, we gathered together our play shopping cart, our Fisher Price cash register, all of our play food and kitchen items, a purse, a shopping list…and we made a quick sign that says “Lucy’s General Store.” Katie is Lucy, and she mans the registers. Eric and I have our little purse filled with coins, and we purchase food to take back to our cabin in the Big Woods.

As the kiddos grow older and start learning more about how to count money, we can make this game much more elaborate. Great potential here! But right now, it is mostly fun imagination play. We’ve already logged some hours of General-Store-Cabin-in-the-Woods-Watch-Out-for-the-Spring-Bear game that makes use of their little play cottage from Santa (still in the house because they love to play in it so much, now moved over more by the stairs). We all love playing “General Store.”

 

A prefabricated felt board can cost around $30 through Amazon.com. Sets of felt pieces appear to cost anywhere from $12.95 to $18.00 or more. I have my eyes on the Little Red Hen set of felt pieces, and I may indulge in that sometime later this year.

But why not make our own board (and several pieces) for less than the cost of a single set of pre-made pieces?

Michael’s craft store had everything we needed: a thin wooden board, felt long and wide enough to wrap around the board (we just secured with glue), and pieces of $0.29 felt in a variety of colors.

A few minutes later, we had a board covered in white felt and were able to begin making our “Spring is Beautiful” felt pieces. I started by making some grass.

Our Spring is Beautiful felt board! The kiddos can rearrange all of these pieces however they like. There are flowers with separate stems (for rearrangement purposes), tree trunks, leaves, a green bush that can double as a full tree, pink flowers that can be apple blossoms, a bird, a duck, a frog (I did have trouble with cutting this one, but it works), a blue pond with detachable lily pads, strawberries, a green hill, two sets of grass, clouds, butterflies, a sun, a roof, a house, and a turtle. I also cut several basic shapes (heart, diamond, square, oval, rectangle, triangle, circle) as a simpler set for Little Eric to use.

Katie plays with the Spring is Beautiful felt set.

Eric begins to explore.

The possibilities are ENDLESS with this felt board. The best part is that making it was so quick! I schooled Katie for half of Eric’s nap (about an hour or so), and then I had about an hour left to get this project done before he woke up. Now that we have the basic white felt board, we can make ANY set of pieces: Christmas pieces, numbers, leaf shapes, a farm scene, the pumpkin patch—I mean, anything we can imagine. I have more than enough felt left to start making the alphabet, which is my next desire. Eric, in particular, will really benefit from that. We might also keep adding to our Spring is Beautiful set. These pieces were just my first brainstorm. If I had more time, I could add a lamb, a ladybug, a horse…

Again, the beauty of this new craft resides in all of the possibilities. A homemade felt board that can change with the seasons, or by the unit. If I were more adroit with my scissors, I would start making book characters so that we could create a storyboard of our literature.

Happy crafting!

I’ve used the word mélange for over two decades, and it is only tonight that I have taken the time to look up its origins. Most of us know the word mélange to denote a sort of mixture, and there is a connotation that suggests the mixture is comprised of quite disparate, almost incongruous elements. I am confident in this usage, and the only reason I looked up the word tonight was so that I could cut and paste it into my post in order that the acute diacritical mark above the “e” would appear—it would probably be more efficient to learn how to type those accents on the QWERTY keyboard, but there you have it. 

Anyway. 

I wanted to use the word mélange because I intended for this post to have no real order to it, just some quotes and pictures and passing thoughts that have been part of me the past few days. Somewhat like a mini tumblr I suppose. 

Mélange takes its origins from the language of geology. Here is its true definition, as taken from thefreedictionary.com:

A metamorphic rock formation created from materials scraped off the top of a downward moving tectonic plate in a subduction zone. Mélanges occur where plates of oceanic crust subduct beneath plates of continental crust, as along the western coast of South America. They consist of intensely deformed marine sediments and ocean-floor basalts and are characterized by the lack of regular strata, the inclusion of fragments and blocks of various rock types, and the presence of minerals that form only under high pressure and low temperature conditions. 

Cool, huh? And here I thought it was one of the more square and blasé words I use. Oh no, mélange is ready to have a rhetoric party with that awesome backstory. In its origin of construction, it cries out for deconstruction. 

I had the laugh at the idea of my mind as a sort of deformed, irregular place—definitely to some, that might seem to be the case. Yet what I really connected to was the presence of minerals that necessitate high pressure in order to form in the first place. I’ve been putting quite a bit of pressure on myself lately (so what else is new, right?) to live as though there are thirty hours in a twenty-four hour day. Most of the time I love that intensity of living, but every once in awhile I need to slow it all down for a few days. And that’s where I am at right at this moment tonight. I am the foraging seagull who has finally alighted on the craggy rocks to look out at the sea dazzling in the setting sun. In this slower pace, I look back over the past week and scrape off the very best parts to build my mélange.

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Yesterday the kiddos and I drove down to Rancho Santa Fe to meet up with my friend Lauren Bier. A fellow Stanford alum, she spent awhile as an elementary school teacher in North Carolina and is now a 2L at the University of Pittsburgh’s law school. Rancho Santa Fe is her hometown, though, and she comes home often for breaks. After picking her up, we went on to Balboa Park and explored the Reuben H. Fleet Science Center. We loved our playdate with her and took these photo booth pictures. Fun!

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Tea time in the afternoon

 

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We found It’s-It at the Ralph’s nearby. Classic San Francisco. The kiddos devoured theirs. We imagined ourselves to be of a different time and place. 

Mary Oliver’s poem In Blackwater Woods has been speaking to my soul again lately. You can find it here in its entirety. But these are the lines that move me every time I think of the people in our family who have passed: 

To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

 

Isn’t that the truth? 

 

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One of Eric’s favorite books lately is The Little Engine that Could. Vintage optimism. He asks for it almost nightly.

Do you want to read a neat story about bugs? Then read here about the Dryococelus australis. I love insects. Life is so humbling, the more you know. 

This is my short mélange for now. 

Night night.

This morning the kiddos and I packed up our gear, picked up freshly baked cinnamon buns from Great Harvest (where we saw some friends from TVHS), and hit the road to Fleetwood Mac as we headed up and over to the BFF’s house near L.A. She lives in Hawthorne, and I always think of the Beach Boys. I thought about putting on Pet Sounds, one of my favorite albums of all time, but it was more of a Rumors sort of day. Katie wanted to skip ahead to The Chain—who doesn’t love that one?

The drive was no biggie. Except that it was. Although I used to drive myself around quite a bit in my late teenage years and early twenties, ever since having children I have found myself dealing with anxiety when facing long drives in unfamiliar places. I think that worry is a combination of factors: 1) the awareness of the great responsibility for the safety of my children; 2) feeling that I love my life the way it is and knowing I could lose it all if there were to be an accident; 3) fear of getting lost (I do not have a natural sense of direction—anything I may know about routes and directions comes sheerly from studying maps, not from intuition like it does for my husband; 4) fear of becoming stranded on the roadside. Some of the fears are grounded in the rational (operating a big piece of machinery is a great responsibility, and we’re surrounded by drivers—hi, tailgaters—who who show no signs of understanding physics). I also know that I am far from a perfect driver myself (yes, I know my wheels sometimes veer over lines, and I am skittish and brake at the slightest provocation), and this compounds my lack of confidence, especially on freeways. But most of my anxiety about driving to far away and new places is a result of taking rational concerns and blowing them up to bigger proportions. If I complain about some drivers not understanding physics, then I could also lament my own lack of intuition with respect to actual probabilities and statistics. I am always afraid of being “the one” even when the chance is so remote. However, it is this very fear that often makes me sleepless when I contemplate long drives and freeway interchanges.

For awhile now, I’ve been relying on my husband, who is an exceptional driver, to take me hither and yon. I have no anxiety when he is driving, because he drives extremely well and defensively. Surely my friends have wondered over the years why he is always popping up—no, it is not because we’re attached at the hip. We have extremely independent interests and lives (thank goodness). Many times he offers to drive because he sees how the stress burdens me.

Silly, huh? I thought so, too. So for the past year, I’ve been making it my goal to reclaim my freedom to wander and to experience what I want to experience—no matter how long the drive. I will always be extremely conservative when it comes to personal risk (just the way I am wired), but I can honor that part of myself and still make the choice to let the rational win out over the irrational. I did not want my life to pass by without doing things like: driving to my best friend’s house in L.A. without having to coordinate it with Bill’s schedule first. I definitely felt the stress this morning, buckling my kiddos in the car. What if I failed them? Got in an accident? Took the wrong freeway and offramp and landed in Compton? Blew out a tire and stranded us along some unknown road? I had to remember to breathe.

But one thing about me is this: When I make up my mind to do something, I always do it. I am extremely stubborn when I need to be and have been ever since I can remember. A dog with a bone won’t give it up, and I can be just as tenacious—especially when I know I have to do something unpleasant for my own good. I cannot be 32-years-old and hesitant to drive outside of my own backyard. That just doesn’t cut it in life. I don’t want my best friend to keep wondering why I don’t always come over as much as I’d like to. I don’t want to have to wait for a spring break or a Christmas break to take the kiddos to museums or aquariums or on adventures.

So today, it was the kiddos, me, Fleetwood Mac, my new Christmas present GPS, extra water and food in case we got stranded or lost (over-thinker, over-thinker alert), and a piece of paper full of extensive directions and a “cheat sheet” of which freeways are connected to which (although I have been trying to memorize them). It was all overkill. The GPS was wonderful, but just as in high school, I had clearly over-studied. I had the route visualized and memorized, and the whole drive turned out to be incredibly straightforward. So often when we do what scares us to do, it turns out to seem ridiculous that we were ever afraid of it.

So it was no biggie. Or maybe it was… because the very moment I pulled into Rosa’s driveway, there was just this amazing moment of freedom and thankfulness, especially that I am able to cultivate our friendship now in new ways.

And then, we made macarons. Or is it macaroons? I always think of macaroons as those coconut puffs baked in an oven and sometimes dipped in chocolate. Yummy, those. Well, that is not what we made. We made these:

(photo copyright Rosa Behrens Camp/Catty Critic)

In Paris, these are called macarons. Well, supposedly. Martha Stewart’s baking book calls them “macaroons.” Our recipe we used, however, calls them macarons, and the general Internet supports this term. Whatever they are, the cookies are ground almond flour, sugar, and meringue, and they are filled with a cream filling—like a fancy whoopee pie in a way. Ours are a matcha (green tea powder) macaron filled with a lemon mascarpone cream.

We made these (and also a spice cookie) with our friend Tanya. Tanya and I were two of Rosa’s three bridesmaids for her wedding. I loved having this time with Tanya, time to get to know her better. I find myself really liking all of the friends that Rosa has made, and she is amazing at bringing us together. I know I am obviously extremely biased to say the least, but it seems like Rosa chooses really intriguing, kind, playful, curious people to be her friends. Like I said, I might be biased. 😉 But as she brings us all together from all phases of her life, I find myself really enjoying the people she keeps close to her.

When I got home, I filled my macarons:

I think Rosa’s picture makes them look more appetizing.

 

Tanya, Rosa, and Nolan in the kitchen

Baking

(photo copyright Rosa Behrens Camp/Catty Critic)

We also made the dough for these spicy ginger-pepper cookies while we were visiting. The dough needed to chill for awhile, though, and the kiddos and I had to get going before we could help to cut the cookies out with this fun skeleton cutter! Love it.

Katie loved visiting with Nolan

I hope our children grow up really knowing one another and feeling part of the friendship we have felt.