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A year and a half ago when I started this new blog, I thought for many showers (where I do my best thinking) about a name for it that would capture my essential life philosophy.

Initially I wanted “Bird In My Hand”; alas, it was taken. “Bird in Your Hand” felt a bit too prescriptive at first, but it was close and it stuck with me. If I considered myself an metacognitive observer of myself (a perspective I often try to inhabit to look at my motivations and desires objectively), then the prescription was also to myself: Look at the birds in your hand, Sarah, and treat them with honor, worth, and gratitude.

I wrote this, also, as part of the introduction to the blog:

“A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,” so goes the adage that has been instructive to me since childhood. If we are to create our own joy and our own lives with our own hands, then it has done me well to remember to be grateful for what I already have. A bird in the hand represents, to me, the idea of appreciating what we’ve got. Of looking around and finding contentment in the people, ideas, and moments we hold dear without trying to apprehend more than our share or risking the beauty we already have for selfish or needless pursuit.
It is the lesson Dorothy learned in The Wizard of Oz. To gather our joy, we need to begin in the home, inside of us, in that place deep within where the authentic self dwells. We recognize the birdsong—the freely winging sounds of joy—that are part of all of us if only we take the time to listen to ourselves.
The image of a “bird in your hand” conjures for me, also, an ancient writing tool: the quill. I imagine taking a bird feather, dipping it into ink, dripping that ink a bit onto my writer’s bump, and writing my own story—usually in the thick cover of night, a silent time, a time to hear one’s inner singing voice.

I believe just as passionately in this philosophy today as I did one and a half years ago, if not more so. The people and simple moments we have right in front of us can be everything. What we have is, often, so much. There is no purpose in comparing or contrasting our lives with that of anyone else.

I was not surprised to learn recently on our trip, then, that the Amish in Lancaster County, PA have a small village called Bird-in-Hand. Long identifying with my Amish ancestry in many ways, this is an astounding coincidence. When I think about the Amish work ethic, the value they place on family, their overall quest for a gentle and humble nature, I think about the idea of being grateful for the people and things we have—as well as the gift of health which allows us to work hard and productively.

On my mind tonight, and all during our two week trip, are the people for which I am grateful. My family members are the birds in my hand. All of them… yet especially as this point in our lives, my Nana.

My three main priorities after returning from our trip: 1) Go see my new cousin Chelsea; 2) Visit Nana; 3) See my Benefield cousins, who were abroad in Thailand for five months

(I also need to get a move on planning how to celebrate Eric’s 2nd birthday, as well as several other things, but these were the top three).

Thankfully, I was able to meet Chelsea yesterday (see post below). I also decided to drive my mom on her weekly trip to see Nana. My mom and Aunt Debbie usually visit on Saturdays now, since my mom has the house remodeling project happening during the week. Since the Benefields also planned to visit Nana, this was perfect!

We met at the house for a bit, visited, ate our packed lunches, and then went to visit Nana’s brother Uncle Ross at his retirement home. Aunt Debbie made cupcakes for Oliver and Eric’s upcoming birthdays, and we thought to share them outside with Uncle Ross under the gazebo; unfortunately, Uncle Ross was feeling more poorly today.

I cherish these visits with my Nana and her brother. I think it is important for the kiddos, too, to see the cycle of life and to see what family loyalty and duty and sibling responsibility look like.

My hope is to visit Nana at least once a week. We have been initiating visits to see her once every two-three weeks, skipping mainly because there are weeks when my mom and Aunt Debbie keep her company on errands. Yet the kiddos and I are willing to help with errands, too. It would be an honor to go with Nana to the supermarket, or do whatever needs to be done. We are all aware that time goes too fast, so let us savor the sweetness of the bird in our hand before it flies away.

 

Cousins playing the piano…many, many family memories around that piano. Always makes me think of my Uncle Eric.

 

Eric helps Nana out of the car… When we caravanned over to the retirement home where Uncle Ross lives, Eric kept saying how he wanted to see Nana.

 

 

Jed and his kiddos

 

 

Impromptu picnic at the retirement home! We wished Uncle Ross would have felt well enough to come outside today, but he was sleepy. Maybe another time. The kiddos are always a bit hesitant when we enter Uncle Ross’ room because of all the medical equipment, but I tell them that part of being a family is thinking about everything we can do to make our other family members feel loved and happy. They know their visits bring cheer to Uncle Ross, and that is truly all that matters: giving without an expectation of receiving. I hope they learn this from a young age.

 

Yummy cupcakes made by Aunt Debbie!

When we got home, we played in the backyard, picked fresh basil from our garden for dinner, and checked on Katie’s pumpkin:

 

 

 

She planted this and is growing it herself. I do help in keeping it watered, and so did Boppa while we were gone. Very awesome and appropriate for my little October baby!

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I called my cousin Beth yesterday hoping to arrange a time in the next couple of days to meet my newest cousin Chelsea. We had to leave on our road trip the morning after she was born and for two weeks I thought about how much I wanted to see her and talk with Beth about her labor story. Whenever I felt twinges of homesickness, they usually also involved thinking about how almost all the family was gathering around this new precious life and I was far away. So calling Beth was one of the main priorities yesterday!

As it turned out, Marshall was coming up to Temecula yesterday afternoon to check the work on my parents’ house, which is undergoing a remodel through Beth and Marsh’s company Remodel Solutions. Beth came with him and brought our new cousin! She is just two weeks old:


Chelsea is so alert and so sweet and she smells so good. She has that new baby feel and pliability. All those tiny fingers and toes and ears and lips. What a gift she is to our family! How long we have wanted and waited for her!

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A cornfield. Rainy Pennsylvania fir tree forest. The tracks of the Santa Fe line with trains rushing by. Humungous crickets. A lightning storm. With each new destination, the view outside of our hotel, motel, or inn window held wonder.

Well, with the exception of the Rodeway Inn in Salina, UT. That was a last-ditch, drove-a-bit-too-long stop and completely disgusting with sheets that had been unchanged for goodness knows how long (found a pubic hair when I turned down the bed and some stains on the pillows and sheets). So that’s that.

But back to the sights and experiences that gave us wonder…

We began our peripatetic journey on Saturday, July 14th and came home yesterday afternoon. I cherish our adventures and memories, but oh it is lovely to be home! Though packing up the car each morning gave me a bit of a thrill as I thought excitedly about what new places we would see that day, I find comfort in being settled in my home and seeing my mom, dad, and all of my family again. For two weeks I have thought about meeting my newest cousin Chelsea and seeing my Nana and my Benefield cousins (who were recently abroad in Thailand for five months). On trips I find that I can adapt to new beds, new food, and new rhythms—adapt to anything, really, except for missing my extended family. I enjoyed discovering that at 32-years-old, I can still feel homesick for my family and friends-like-family.

Exercising (I went for a run before 6:00 AM this morning) and eating my non-road-trip food last night (a big bowl of quinoa with chilled rooibos tea and steamed carrots and cold peas) feels great, too.

Here is our rough itinerary:

DAY 1 : CA to AZ

DAY 2: AZ to TX

DAY 3: TX to OK to AR

DAY 4: AR to TN

DAY 5: TN to VA

DAY 6: VA to WV to MD to PA

DAY 7: PA for Shil and Nipa’s wedding

DAY 8: PA for Shil and Nipa’s wedding

DAY 9: PA to WV to Ohio

DAY 10: OH to IN to IL to MS

Day 11: MS to KS to CO

Day 12: CO to UT

Day 13: UT to CA

Some of our numbers:

18 = number of states we experienced

7 = number of Apple devices we brought on the trip

6,000 = approximate number of miles we traveled

111 = in degrees, the hottest temperature we experienced (though we enjoyed a surprising amount of rain, as well)

6 = high school friends meeting in PA for Shil’s wedding

3 = days of wedding festivities

12 = highest number of hours driving

42 = different state license plates we found

5 = trips to McDonald’s (kind of a lot, considering that in her life Katie has only been there once and Eric never has! By the last trip, Eric added a new word to his growing collection: “clown”).

1.1 = pounds that Bill LOST on the trip

1.5 = pounds that I gained (I discovered sweet tea in Tennessee, what can I say?)

9 = Music Together CDs (kiddos loved both the familiar music from their class, as well as many other albums)

13 = days on the road

8 = complementary breakfasts

20 = years of friendship with Shil

272 = words in the Gettysburg Address

570 = in feet, the depth of the Meteor Crater in Arizona

For my family and friends and for whomever else might find it interesting, I hope to post several entries over the next week that give the details of each part of our trip, along with how we turned our car into our traveling classroom for our kiddos (4.5 and almost 2). We had a great time with our Katie and our Eric and they did extremely well: no major meltdowns (unless you count Eric screaming for “Mama, more beans!” He calls M&Ms “beans” and discovered their joys on this trip…he did not often feel ready to accept the fact that the bag was empty, LOL). In fact, we had fewer between-sibling tiffs in the car than we had been having lately at home. It was all such a great chance to spend time together and rely on one another.

Although it is work, and although we often have to adapt whatever we are doing to be kid-friendly (I am fairly childlike myself, so this isn’t difficult for me), I love to travel with my children. I believe novelty is essential for their brain growth and development. I had a feeling that Eric would experience his language explosion on this trip, and he did. On July 24th, he seemed to have a new word every few minutes. We have known for awhile that he understands almost everything we tell him or ask of him, but until lately his spoken words remained in the dozens. This has been a very exciting pay-off with respect to this trip.

Katie, too, showed an increase in maturity. She could be relied upon to help her brother in the car, often sharing or giving him her things if he showed signs of discontentment. During Eric’s nap time, one of our family norms was to try to have quieter moments in the car—a time of rest—where we could read or sit quietly in our seats (I was turned around in my seat quite often, either teaching or playing or both). Katie would entertain herself with playing dolls or practicing her reading for a couple of hours.

It was surprising how well the kiddos traveled on this trip, if only because I know how accustomed they are to having freedom in our house and yard and how much they enjoy their routines. Katie adapted early on and kept saying how much she loved it—she is a born adventuress. Eric settled in, too, though at the end expressed that he wanted to go home and see Nani (his name for Amie) and Boppa and his bed. I decided to go into this believing fully that we could make 80 hours on the road work for us, just like I used to go into my classroom believing that I could teach and manage large groups of teenagers. There comes a point when you just have to believe you CAN (despite doubts and insecurities), and that belief itself (and the confidence that comes with it) can actually be powerful enough to make the teaching and classroom management work. Optimism and tenacity are powerful tools.

Although I have so much to say about each state that we visited, here are a few highlights for now:

The Meteor Crater in Arizona. Katie LOVED this, as she has a passion for anything space-related.

Looking down into the crater

We stayed at the ultra-campy and retro Wigwam Hotel in Holbrook, AZ along old Route 66. The train tracks were right behind us, and the kiddos loved watching the trains speed by. Katie thought it was SO COOL to be sleeping in a concrete wigwam.

“Standing on the corner of Winslow, Arizona…”  Music history buffs, we HAD to go do this.

“It’s a girl, my lord, in a flatbed Ford/Slowing down to take a look at me…” At this intersection, they have Eagles and 80s Don Henley playing continuously. Very awesome.

New Mexico

A park in Sayre, OK. Oklahoma was one of my favorite states…

Playing with paper dolls on the way from Amarillo, TX to Waldron, AR

We found the graves of Bill’s ancestors in a small cemetery in the little town of Waldron, AR, land of the McGaughs. Here, Katie and Eric are pictured with their Great-Grandfather Earl Reeves McGaugh’s gravesite. Family history for the kiddos!

Bill and Katie with the grave of Bill’s Uncle Dewey, who was the County Clerk. Bill remembers visiting his Uncle Dewey when he was about 14 years old.

Katie and her Daddy at lunch in Tennessee, where we discovered sweet tea, hush puppies, and fried catfish!

Working on schoolwork as we drive through beautiful TN. I love homeschooling, which gives us such freedom. Here, Katie is working on long vowel words. We loved reviewing many of our tall tales, as well, as we drove through the states from which those American heroes hailed. Katie also had fun making up her own “tall tale” sentences.

Playing soccer in Memphis, TN right by the Mississippi River.

A park in Salem, VA

We made masks with feathers and gem-stickers as we drove to VA. Katie also discovered the fun of Mad-Libs! She  learned the differences between nouns and adjectives on this trip (though we will need to keep reinforcing that learning this coming year)!

Swimming in the hotel pool in Virginia. A kiddo for each arm—I certainly had a workout this evening!

Perhaps our coziest night of the trip: we took early baths after swimming, went out to get cheap Mexican food in our jammies, and came back to eat it on the window seat while watching this amazing lightning and rain storm in Virginia. SOOOOOOOO cozy! Then we cuddled and read books and watched a Word World (Eric’s favorite episode on their iPad is called “Runaway O”—he would say, “More Run O! More Run O!”)

A favorite part of the trip: Lancaster County, home of the Amish. We visited Good N Plenty in Smoketown, PA, which I have been dreaming about ever since first visiting in college. I identify strongly with my Amish and Mennonite ancestors on the Yoder side, and visiting Amish country feels a bit like being home. We mailed a postcard from the next village over, coincidentally called Bird-In-Hand (the name of my blog). The Amish values largely speak to me.

Katie and Eric playing with a wooden horse and buggy. We saw several real horses and buggies, which Eric called “Neighs!”  I have many pictures from this experience, but I will need to write more about Lancaster later.

We also visited Gettysburg, PA. Although I have studied the Gettysburg Address many times, I cried for the first time while trying to read it to Katie at the National Cemetery. I get it now.

Hugging Shil on the first night of the wedding. What a blessing to have this beautiful friendship in my life. More on that later, too.

On the second day, we watched Shil receive his blessings and participate in the Hindu auspicious ceremonies.

He was painted in turmeric by his family ladies

Shil and Nipa

At the garba (dance) on the second night of the wedding

Katie and our friend Marguerite (Katie is smitten with her) dance at the garba. Marguerite has also been a friend for over 20 years, an amazing spirit.

At the reception in a loft of an art gallery on the last night of the wedding, Katie was one of the first on the dance floor. When the DJ asked us to make some noise, Katie put both her hands in the air, threw back her head, and screamed. Love this little firelight girl.

Driving through Ohio, eating “beans” and listening to the story of Johnny Appleseed.

Daddy and Eric in Terre Haute, IN

Sweet tea at the Cracker Barrel in IN. Cracker Barrel is a revelation. I had pinto beans, cornbread, and sautéed greens with vinegar. LOVE!

Cracker Jacks in vintage looking boxes

 

Katie’s first and Eric’s first ice cream cone—and eaten in Kansas!

 

After 21+ hours of labor, my cousin Beth and her husband Marshall welcomed their little girl Chelsea Rae. She was born at 3:56 AM this on July 13th, which is also her grandfather’s 60th birthday. What a tremendous gift!

Chelsea weighs 8 pounds and 9 ounces and is 21.5 inches long.

Our Aunt Donna served as the birthing coach, and the doctors and nurses were raving about how wonderful she was. I am not surprised. A labor and delivery nurse herself, Aunt Donna has a totally calm and reassuring demeanor and knows how to explain everything so well. She was a great source of comfort to me when Katie came early and needed extra care because she knows exactly how to present information to reduce anxiety.

Chelsea Rae is our miracle girl. Our whole family was constantly updating itself with Beth’s progress yesterday and last night. Imagine a whole network of aunts, uncles, cousins, great-aunts, great-uncles, and even second cousins who all want you here. Our family love is a powerful force. Many of us have felt in this together, since even before Chelsea was conceived. Those were long years. She is a true miracle.

All children are miraculous, though, from the absolute moment of conception.

Newborn Chelsea Rae. I was up at 5:00 AM this morning to fit in my morning run before the mugginess really started, and this was the glorious picture that greeted me.

Aunt Donna and Chelsea

Definitely one of the most adorable babies I have ever, EVER seen. I want to gobble and kiss those cheeks a million times…

Chelsea, we are so ecstatic you are here! I cannot wait to celebrate this life with you.

With our road trip to Shil’s wedding later this month, the avid lesson planner/entertainment director in me has been fully unleashed. For weeks now I have been compiling a list of activities to do with the children (and Bill—hi, honey!) for the approximately 80 hours that we will be in the car.

That’s 80 hours of opportunity. Eighty hours of learning. Eighty hours of family time. Eighty hours of epic adventure and bonding. And somewhere out there is our Wally World, I just know it.

Initially I wanted a list of 160 different activities—two an hour—but that was pretty ambitious. I’m not quite giving up, though, and I’d love to at least have 100 different activities from which to draw before we leave. Any suggestions? Please, please!!

ROAD TRIP ACTIVITIES

1. Find the Bananas (Look for all the yellow cars we can find in a set time limit)

2. Fortunately….Unfortunately (Played as a round, this game starts follows this pattern: “One day, Peggy went out for a walk. Unfortunately, she was hit by a tree. Fortunately, it was only a sapling. Unfortunately,….”)

3. I Spy in a Bottle (Fill a bottle with rice and small toys, have the kiddos turn it around to try to find all of the objects)

4. Who am I? (Pick a character—Abe Lincoln, Wonder Woman, etc.—and give clues)

5. Team Storytelling

6. Watch for License Plates (Mark them off on a laminated map)

7. Counting car colors (See how many of each color we can find in a time limit)

8. I See Something

9. New planet (Invent a whole new planet and the entities that live there)

10. Stadt, Land, Fluss

11. Counting cows

12. Kohlberg’s moral dilemmas (Huge family values discussion)

13. Making masks (I have some masks, construction paper, and embellishments)

14. Cardboard animals

15. Alphabet memory game (A my name is Allie and I come from Australia)

16. Scavenger hunt

17. Books on tape (We have several of these, many of which are from NPR’s Rabbit Ears Treasury—so these are many activities)

18. Music (Lots and lots and lots of music—still making a playlist, too)!

19. Letters on signs (Find the alphabet in order on signs)

20. Play-Doh

21. Paint with water (We bought some paint-with-water papers that turn colors)

22. Glow sticks at night

23. White boards

24. Sketchbooks (Kiddos have a sketch book apiece…we can draw, doodle, write memories in there)

25. Car stretches (Exercise routine on the go)

26. What I Like About You (Each family member takes turns telling the other family members what he or she likes about them)

27. Car snack attack/Make own trail mix (I am excited about this one! I am going to give Katie some real money (Eric can play, too) and then she can use the coins to buy elements of her custom-designed trail mix—I will have preset prices on things like soy nuts and M and Ms…great chance to reinforce her money work from this year)

28. Magnet letters (We’re taking small new cookie sheets and letter and number magnets)

29. Reading (Taking lots of books!!!!)

30. Puzzles

31. iPad games

32. Movies (If it comes to this…)

33. Harmonicas

34. Mad libs

35. Paper airplanes

36. Sidewalk chalk and family crest (Early on, I want the four of us to design a family crest. Then, with the sidewalk chalk we’re bringing, my idea is for us to draw this crest somewhere in every state we pass through).

37. Parrot game/memory work (Maybe Katie can learn “To be or not to be…” 😉

38. Pipe cleaner play

39. Road trip boxes (We’ll make these early on…little decorated treasure boxes for mementos obtained during the trip

40. Car bingo (Using printed out and laminated sheets)

41. Postcards/writing notes (We are bringing stamps and will work together to compose postcards every morning)

42. Coloring

43. Map reading

44. Travel Doodles ($1 each from Target…like a Magna Doodle only smaller)

45. Make a drawing from a doodle (One person draws a doodle, the other player tries to make something out of it)

46. Crazy spelling (A fave of Katie’s….she puts any string of letters together and we try to pronounce it).

47. Magnetic numbers

48. Tall tales exaggerations (Reviewing our tall tales and writing our own exaggerated sentences)

49. Rhyme games (“On my feet I wear some twos…oh, I mean shoes”)

50. I Love my Love (“I love my love with A because she is adorable”)

51. You’re Never Fully Dressed without a Smile (one person is “it” and tries to get us all to smile—last one to smile wins)

52. Nursery Rhyme guessing game (say a line from a nursery rhyme, people have to guess title)

53. The Minister’s Cat (“The minister’s cat is an adorable cat…everyone does the letter)

54. Carnelli (This is a game played at Mensa meetings, and it has different rules, but we’ll do ours with lyrics)

55. Name that Tune

56. Person, Place, or Thing

57. Simon Says

58. Pat Head and Rub Tummy

59. M & M sorting

60. Fictionary Dictionary (Choose a word and try to guess the right definition)

61. Paper Fans

62. Paper dolls

63. Palm reading

64. Good luck hand (construction paper, trace hand, decorate)

65. Collages

66. Family tree (construction paper)

67. Amish quilt squares

68. Kermit and Cookie Monster puppets

69. Route 66 Placemats (Make woven placemats from construction paper—kiddos can use for lunch in the car)

70. The Packing Game (I went on a trip and I packed…Everyone tries to remember the list)

71. The Quiet Game

72. Mutations (Pick something out the window and describe it mutating…a tree growing upside down, for example)

73. Hot and Cold (Visualize our house, hide something in a room in your mind… we try to guess using hot and cold clues)

74. If We Were (If we were driving in an ant instead of a car, then…)

75. The Echo (Echo) Game (A memory work game of making lists: rhyming words, presidents, etc)

76. Rock, Paper, Scissors

77. Tic Tac Toe

78. Tom Thumb (Hide your hands behind your back and sing “Where is Thumbkin? Where is Thumbkin?” then bring one thumb around pretend the thumb says “Here I am!” (now the other thumb), “Here I am!”  (now the thumbs are talking to each other) “How are you today sir?” “Very well I thank you”.  Then sing “Run away” (Hide one thumb) “Run away” (hide the other thumb)  You can repeat this with all the fingers (Pointer, Tall Man, Ring Man, and Pinky)

79. Clapping games (Down Down Baby, Eenie Meanie Sassaleeny, Lemonade Crunchy Ice, Miss Mary Mack)

80.Writing family norms (We should do this early on…communication paradigms and procedures for our family on the road—a great brainstorming session. By the way, friends—if he hasn’t before now, this is the place where my husband just rolled his eyeballs).

81. Would You Be This…or That? (Katie made up this game…we’ll ask silly questions like, “Would you rather be a tree or a sink?” and then other person has to choose one and then defend with a logical reason)

82. I’ve Been to Market (All players form a circle. The first player says to the player on his left, “I’ve been to market”. Player to his left answers, “What have you bought?”. The first player names any article that he likes, provided that he can touch that article – clothing, his shoe, the carpet – – anything within his reach without standing up. Play goes around the circle, all players must name something that has not already been said, or they forfeit the game).

83. ROYGBIV (Find colors of the rainbow in order)

84. Will We See Gophers? (Think of something we’ll do on the trip, ask clues)

Like I said, I’d love to generate at least sixteen more options. I am sure we’ll think of some on the road, too. We also will have times of napping and times of free conversation and time spent just looking out the window. We could also make up a family cheer. Plus, I’m taking construction paper and glue and tape…and aren’t there a million things to make from construction paper? We can also take some of our school/activity books. There are so many options, really, and if we just keep putting together two or three or four of these per hour, we’ll be good. Bill and I both teachers, right? Isn’t this what we do for a living? Bill was even a mentor teacher at one point, so he should have this on lockdown. Correct, honey? A car is just like a portable classroom…isn’t it? Famous last words, I’m sure!

My brother turns 26 on the 10th. We all celebrated this afternoon at David and Ashley’s place:

My mom and her 26-year-old baby…

Bill’s brother Chet and our cousin Kd also had birthdays today! So many beautiful family celebrations in June and July for our family! In the past four weeks, we’ve had five different family parties—I love it! Depending on who has a party, some years we have more… I love all of this family time, that’s for sure.

On David’s birthday card, I wrote the epigram from Wordsworth’s Ode: Intimations of Immortality, a personal favorite:

The Child is father of the Man; 

And I could wish my days to be

Bound each to each with natural piety.

This epigram is taken from one of his other poems, The Rainbow, and can be interpreted in so, so, so many ways. Intimations is an excellent poem to chew on as we get older… All about the magic of childhood and what that may mean to us as adults.

I hope everyone had a beautiful 4th of July with family and friends-like-family. We sure did! After a barbecue with the Matics-Lambert-Horne-Booth side of our family, we came home, did a few chores, and went to see the fireworks. Temecula has an amazing fireworks show at one of the city parks, and we have an awesome view from one of the smaller parks in our neighborhood. Our HOA brings in a DJ, cotton candy, and all kinds of activities; when the fireworks begin, the DJ tunes into the radio frequency the city uses. The kiddos danced and watched and cuddled last night, and we didn’t get to bed until two hours after their bedtime.

I’ve already been up exercising this morning, and I hope to finish this blog entry before they wake up!

Scenes from the 4th:

Happiness is being with the family. Yesterday was truly a  day to celebrate not only our liberty, but also our cousin Beth who is due ANY DAY with her baby Chelsea. We all had such a great talk about our family bonds and about lifting each other up. Aunt Donna said it best when she expressed that all of us in the room would take on a contraction for Beth if we could, even the men. I knew immediately that this was true: family would do anything for one another. With family, we are never alone. Little Chelsea is being born into a whole group of people who already love her and have her back.

We also established a family phone tree for when Beth goes into labor. It is beautiful how much a part of this so many of us feel.

Visiting on the 4th. Time with family is so precious. As we thought about our liberty, we thought about the liberty we have to choose each other and how much it means that we do. This time with my cousins, and especially my aunts and uncles, is a treasure. I know now how quickly people can leave us—and how much I would give to be able to spend time with my aunt, uncle, and grandparents who have already passed on. We must make the most of the time we have together. The memories and traditions are legacy.

Brandon and Kd

Sister and Brother—I love how her arm is so protective here. That is what I hope for them, always.

Playing at the 4th

Marsh and Beth…we all made predictions! I think by Monday at the latest… She has already dropped and engaged, and Mama is feeling full… As mothers-to-be, we always have a sense of when it is time.

Lovin’ on Rosie, such a peaceful, kid-friendly Golden Retriever

Eric plays with a water gun

Eric plays water gun with Daddy

Katie plays with Uncle George and Boppa. When Bill and the kiddos and I pulled up, Uncle George and Aunt Cheryl drove in right behind us. When Uncle George got out of the car, Katie ran FULL SPEED to give him a great big hug. She adores Uncle George (my dad’s brother) completely. I love that she has connections to the people I love so much. I love how unbridled her joy is at seeing them and how the years have forged that bond. I am thankful everyday for my parents and my aunts and uncles who have created this amazing family net.

What a great time we had yesterday! I grew up with both sides of my family getting together constantly, for birthdays or any kind of celebration big or small. Some of my best memories are laughing all together around Nana’s dining table or having huge all-family slumber parties at the Valley Center grove. I am grateful my children get to experience part of this, as well.

Scenes from my dad’s birthday:

My dad’s birthday was on July 1st. Normally we celebrate at my parents’ house, but they are in the midst of a huge remodel…so we had dinner at my house.

Happy Birthday to Dad!

Uncle David and Aunt Ashley came to celebrate.

Eric shows Boppa the card he made (Katie also made one). We cut letters out of magazines and the kiddos both spelled out “Happy Birthday Boppa” and then drew pictures.

We gave my dad some barbecue accessories for his new barbecue and some sparkly outdoor lights. (My parents’ remodel includes a new master bathroom and an outdoor kitchen/barbecue space).

Comparing tools.

A summer evening in Temecula

We all ended the evening building Legos all together, even the adults! Fun!

It was my Grandpa Mitchell’s birthday the next day, July 2nd, and Nana and I had a good talk on the phone when we called her to wish Grandpa a Happy Birthday. I always think of my dad’s birthday and Grandpa Mitchell’s birthday as being together. Grandpa would have been 96 this year. I miss him so much, and I cannot believe it has been fourteen years since he passed on. He was as cheerful and as good and decent a man as I ever knew, humorous even til the very end. He was a patient, loving grandfather who played with us, taught us cards, danced to the Chimpunks in the living room, swam with us, and came to our school functions and recitals. I never once saw him be anything but totally loving toward all of us. I wish Katie and Eric could have known him.

Scenes from daily life:

Hiking the hill near our house

Eric wanted to wear his Peter Pan hat from Disneyland the other day. Eric Pan, we called him.

The kiddos visit with Nana. This time with her is so important, and I am thankful we are having it.

Visiting with Aunt Jenny

Eric loves to sit with Nana when we visit. They truly have this special bond between them.

Katie and Eric walk hand-in-hand to the last day of music class a couple of weeks ago.

Percussionist Eric. One of his favorite new sentences is, “I sing. I sing.” Many mornings when he wakes up, I can hear him singing in his crib.

Class with some of our friends

Today will be a more relaxed day, getting some chores done around the house! I hear Eric waking up!

Katie and I finished her 24th chapter book—Black Beauty by Anna Sewell—this afternoon. While we might put another couple into her repertoire before the summer ends, these twenty-four books represent hundreds of hours and thousands of pages of critical thinking and practice with language, the structure of a novel, and literary interpretation.

These hundreds of hours do not count, of course, all of the other reading we have done in her young life: children’s books galore (I have an obsession with collecting), newspaper articles, magazines, poetry, and other pieces of non-fiction print. I have no way to estimate the total time we have spent reading in her young life… She has been out of my womb for what? Maybe 1640 days. (What is that, maybe something like 39, 360 hours of life or more…we’re estimating here, although this may be an irrelevant number to the rest of my calculations). If we spent about two hours a day reading, that would be about 3280 hours. (Honey, check my math please)! But this would only be an average—obviously some days we spent less and some days we spent far more than two hours (especially during the Harry Potter series). Anyway, let’s say a few thousand hours. Not a whole lot, but I’ve been hearing that 10,000 hours is a popular number these days when we’re talking about practice-towards-mastery with respect to critical thinking/interpretation. If that’s true (big big IF there), then she is about 1/3 of the way there.

I often worry that I will shortchange Eric—it is much harder with two to put in the reading hours and at the right challenge levels—but I do aim for at least two reading sessions with him (and Katie with us) a day.

Sometimes I am asked about Katie’s vocabulary. It comes from all this reading and from never talking to her as a child. I learned this from my parents, who always spoke with my brother and me as though we were adults capable of grappling with logic and complexity. I completely value letting children immerse themselves in complex, rich, high-challenge language. Sooner or later, given enough immersion, it may take hold.

I have also been asked about whether or not Katie can truly understand some of the literature I have given her at her age (starting at about 3.5 years). These were her thoughts about the Harry Potter series, which is evidence enough for me. I do not think I can expect her to develop complex thought if I never ask her to deal with complication in a consistent, practiced way. I believe that being a critical thinker starts young. As we read these novels, we discuss all the way through. We often take time for new vocabulary and talk about characters, plot, and setting. I am grateful for my training as a high school English teacher.

So why these twenty-four books?

I thought these might be enjoyable for her, plus I already owned many of them. I don’t think this is a definitive list, and if I had more time, there are several others I’d want to read to her before next autumn. Still, even though we’ll have a more set curriculum (and right now they are all children’s books for the lit—many of which we have already read, several times), I fully intend to keep reading chapter books to her to keep her growing as a thinker.

Here are our books:

1. Black Beauty (Anna Sewell)

2. The Sign of the Beaver (Elizabeth George Speare)

3. Island of the Blue Dolphins (Scott O’Dell)

4. James and the Giant Peach (Roald Dahl)

5. Ramona the Pest (Beverly Cleary)

6. Odd and the Frost Giants (Neil Gaiman)

7. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Roald Dahl)

8. Coraline (Neil Gaiman)

9. Helen Keller (Katharine E. Wilkie)

10. Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White)

11. Little House in the Big Woods (Laura Ingalls)

12. Little House on the Prairie (Ingalls)

13. On the Banks of Plum Creek (Ingalls)

14. By the Shores of Silver Lake (Ingalls)

15. The Long Winter (Ingalls)

16. Little Town on the Prairie (Ingalls)

17. These Happy Golden Years (Ingalls)

18. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone (J.K. Rowling)

19. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Rowling)

20. Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (Rowling)

21. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Rowling)

22. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Rowling)

23. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (Rowling)

24. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Rowling)

We also read fourteen small chapter books in the Rainbow Magic Fairy series (Rainbow Fairies and Weather Fairies) as well as several original Nancy Drew books and a couple of Scooby-Doo books. I do not count these among the twenty-four because, yes, they are all chapter books but they are also formulaic and more in the category of “light reads.” I think it is important to enjoy light reads, and I think it is likewise important to teach our children how to balance lighter reads with heavier reads; in fact, I think our brains might need this balance. Everyone enjoys a light read now and then, and I believe a light read is important for practicing literacy skills as well as giving the brain some play time. These kinds of reads are a chance for our brain to integrate what we know about reading, to enjoy a different style, and to let the imagination have free reign.

And yes, I have taken a formal stand on Harry Potter, obviously. As an English teacher and a Stanford English major, I very much believe these do belong in the official/unofficial literary canon. 🙂

We also started both Stuart Little and The Phantom Tollbooth, but stopped part way through on each. Both times she decided she was in the mood for something else, and I honor that. We do that as adults, too. I am sure we’ll come back to both of those.

She chose our new book this afternoon—always a great feeling, to spread out a selection of books and read the beginnings to pick out what you’d like next, yes? She chose The Bridge to Terabithia, and I am terribly glad! I was really in the mood for that one, too, out of all we had to choose from, although I tried to remain neutral as we explored our options.

Although there have been times when dropping everything to read during the day has felt at first like work, what I will remember most is how much fun it has been with her, and how much I have loved the cuddles and the chance to witness her world open up and her mind engaged. It has been magical to build this connection between us—the connection of literature in common—and we draw upon it all the time.

Now to finish making dinner…and tonight, more Terabithia! I love being as excited as she is about what we’re reading.