A Little of This and That in July and August

Sep 21, 2018

Well, here we are, nearing the end of September, but this monthly update is actually for July and August. Those were busy months for us, but also so much fun, I wish I could do them all over again. I love the weather of spring and fall, but the laid-back structure of summer is my favorite. We spent our time . . .

Cracking . . . the pumping code. One of Clark's summer goals was to learn how to pump. We spent many park dates practicing. I would give him a starting push and then coach him, "In, out! Push, pull!" Sometimes he would keep the swing going for a couple of minutes before throwing off the rhythm and coming to a halt. But then, one day, it finally clicked. He got it. And for any of you who have ever been near a child who finally understands what pumping a swing is supposed to feel like, well, it's pretty magical. Now he's swinging any chance he gets, and I'm sitting on the sidelines and cheering.

Swimming . . . as much as possible. By the end of August, I was feeling a little bit sick of the pool but not enough to stop going. Somehow it seems like if we go enough, it will sustain us through the cold, dark months of winter. However, on our very last day, it was just Bradley, Clark, and me because everyone else was all swimmed out.

Attending . . . numerous family reunions. Okay, really just one in June and two in July, but with activities going over many days, it somehow felt like much more. But as someone who only had the opportunity to go to one family reunion during my entire childhood, I count it a great privilege that my summers are now filled to the brim with family I love so much. (But, I'm going to be totally honest: the location for Mike's family's reunion was close to our house, so we opted to go home to sleep in our own beds. I may have been a spoil sport, but at least I was a well-rested spoil sport!)

Celebrating . . . a new ten-year-old. Those ten years zipped by, and Aaron's birthday had me feeling a little sad. I guess I'm probably moving out of the young motherhood phase. I don't think you can have a ten-year-old and still be a "young" mother. But I can't actually feel that sad about it because you know what? Having a ten-year-old is awesome. He's helpful and interesting and actually funny (as opposed to obnoxious six- and eight-year-old humor, which is decidedly not). He can bounce around like a maniac on his pogo-stick, play complicated piano pieces, and solve harder math problems than I can. In short, ten-year-olds are cool, and I'm happy to have one living with me. (Also, he loves BYU but not cake, so Mike made him a Y key lime pie, and it was pretty one-of-a-kind.)

Vacationing . . . in the Midwest. I already wrote extensively about our summer vacation here, but hey, it's another chance to share one more picture. And it was definitely one of the highlights of our entire summer.

Kayaking . . . with my family. My parents live very close to a little pond. They spend many early summer mornings kayaking there, but we only managed to go one time this year. Aaron, Maxwell, and Bradley can all go out by themselves now, which is pretty great.

Stopping . . . at Arches National Park for a quick hike. On our way down to Monticello for one of the family reunions, we took a little detour to Arches. It was a really hot day, but the short hike to Sand Dune Arch is almost completely shaded, and, as the name gives away, there is a lot of dry, soft sand to play in (although the tourists would have really appreciated it if our large family hadn't hung around for quite so long and messed up all of their photos, ha!). This was one more example of why we loved having the 4th Grade National Parks pass this year. Because we didn't pay to get into Arches, we didn't feel like we had to stay all day but we could just do what we wanted and then leave. It was great.

Making . . . friends with bugs. Max seemed to have a bug or two in his possession all summer long. Sometimes he kept them in vented containers or carried them around in his hands. One notable time, a grasshopper stayed on his hat for a couple of hours, going to a parade and on a long walk and even into Maverick for a slurpee. Max always names his bugs and gives them lots of love and friendship before sending them on their way.

Drinking . . . Bubly. Mike went on a sparkling water kick (he's still on it, actually), and always has a stash in the fridge. His favorite brand is Bubly (mine, too), so that seems to be the one he purchases the most. Sparkling water is something of an acquired taste (my sister made the most awful face when she tried some, and my uncle has always referred to it as "battery acid"), but I like it. However, I'm not a huge carbonation fan, so I can never drink an entire can by myself. Luckily, each time Mike cracks one open (which is usually four to five times a day), he pores a little bit into my cup. Just one more reason why we make a good team.

Finishing . . . the perfect basic sweater. I wanted to knit myself a comfortable, neutral sweater I could wear all fall and winter, and it turned out exactly like I wanted it to. It's long enough, has just the right amount of positive ease, and is a great color. Now if the weather would only cool down enough to wear it!

Feeding . . . hummingbirds. We noticed a couple of hummingbirds zipping and darting around our house, so we decided to get a hummingbird feeder and hang it on the tree in our front yard. Those little hummingbirds took to it right away and visited it several times each hour. We loved sitting out on the front porch and watching them. Now the weather is cooling down, so we haven't seen them in a couple of weeks, which probably means they've flown south and we won't see them again until spring.

Hiking . . . with cousins. We went on several hikes this summer. The longest and hottest was to Cecret Lake, but luckily we had cousins with us, and that made it all worth it.

Holding . . . a family book club. At the beginning of the summer, I decided it would be fun to have a family book club. My kids have seen me go to book clubs for years, and I wanted them to get to experience what one is like. We all read Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick, and then we met on a Saturday afternoon to discuss it. I hosted it just like I would have if it had been my regular book club: there were treats, we spent some time eating and talking, and then we dived into some discussion questions. My kids were surprisingly talkative and brought up some good points. I'm sure we'll do it again next summer.

Watching . . . Newsies at Hale Center Theater. We introduced the boys to the classic Disney movie, Newsies, early in the summer. They loved it so much and then all chipped in to purchase the soundtrack, which they listened to over and over again. Our favorite local theater was putting it on in August, so we decided to take the three oldest boys as one of their summer goals prizes. It was fantastic.

Going . . . camping. Not just Mike and the boys, but the whole family. Yes, even me. I haven't been camping since before Aaron was born, but Mike convinced me we could do it, even with Ian. And we actually had a great time (and Ian slept like the dream baby he is and always has been). I still can't really figure out why people choose to sleep in a tent and use a pit toilet and cook all of their food over a campfire for fun, but my kids seem to get it.

Treating . . . Ian for low iron. When I took Ian to the doctor for his one-year check-up, we discovered that his iron level was low. So we began giving him an iron supplement every day. He hated it (the taste was pretty strong, even when hidden in other foods), and it was a struggle. When I took him in for his 15-month check-up, his iron was still low (even slightly lower than it had been before), so our pediatrician decided to just give him a shot of iron instead. It was kind of an ordeal (I didn't know it was going to be until I noticed how much prep work they were doing to get ready for it and saw that the doctor was actually going to do it himself instead of the nurse), but after we were a few hours past it, I decided it was well worth it. And it seems to have done the trick. 

Starting . . . school. I wasn't tired of summer yet, but the first day of school came anyway. My one consolation is that we have the dream team of teachers this year, and my kids are really happy and thriving. Aaron is in fifth grade (last year of elementary school!), Maxwell is in third, and Bradley is in first.

Sleeping . . . on the trampoline. One night, just a few days before school started, I said something about how some kids like to sleep outside on the trampoline. Of course, my kids immediately latched onto it and wanted to do it right then, that very night. And we didn't have any reason to say no, so we said yes. I didn't think they would make it the entire night, but they did, and I think we may have started a new tradition. Somehow, it felt like just the right thing to do before summer ended.

Socializing . . . with all the neighbors. Clark is by far the most social of any of my kids. He lives for time with friends. I don't see much of him between the hours of 3:00 pm and 6:00 pm, and I usually have to go looking at several homes before I finally track him down. His friendship knows no age boundaries. Sometimes he's running around in full superhero regalia with the 4-5-year-old crowd, and other times he's helping our fifty-year-old neighbor weed her flowerbed. He is interested in everyone. We've had to have many conversations about how to be polite because he knows exactly which neighbors are likely to offer him an otter pop or a Sunny D or a mint, and it takes all of his self control to wait to be offered one instead of asking for it himself. Parenting an extrovert is a whole new world, I tell you what.

Having . . . the TALK (yes, that talk) with Aaron. This was a big step for Mike and me as parents. First, the two of us read Growing Up by Brad Wilcox so we would have some sort of outline to guide us (and I highly recommend it, especially if you're approaching this subject from a religious background; I far preferred it to How to Talk to Your Child About Sex by Richard and Linda Eyre, which we also read portions of). Mike holds monthly interviews with the boys, so he just slowly started to incorporate some of this information in his chats with Aaron. He laid a strong foundation before getting to what most people would consider the actual "talk." But we are both adamant that these chats continue for clarification and questions and more information as he continues to grow and mature.

Walking . . . on his own two feet. Ian finally started taking a few tentative steps in mid-August and then mastered it quite rapidly from there. He was nearly sixteen months old. He was so proud of himself, but his older brothers were even more proud. I'd take a late walker any day.

Trying . . . out for swim team. Over the summer, Aaron swam with Sea Monkeys (a non-competitive swim team). He really liked it, so he decided to try out for the regular swim team this fall. It was a tough, week-long process of going to the practices and being evaluated every day, but he made it! And now he's swimming a LOT, and I'm kind of wondering what we got ourselves into...

Spending . . . a morning at the zoo with my family. We went after school had started, which meant we had the place almost to ourselves. Just the way I like it.

Becoming . . . a crossing guard. Now that he's in fifth grade, Aaron had the opportunity to become a crossing guard. He helps man the school entrances and holds traffic so students can cross safely. He has been taking this responsibility very seriously, and I think it's pretty cute to see him in his safety vest and holding his flag (don't tell him I said that!).

And that's a wrap for the summer. Tell me about your favorite summer memories in the comments!

What I Read in August

Sep 7, 2018

Well, hey there. My posts seem to be getting fewer and farther between. That's what happens when you start adding in other activities and hobbies and responsibilities. Something has to give. But I still love keeping a record of the books I'm reading, and so I'll continue to hold my place here on my corner of the internet by popping in a few times each month.

In August, I only managed to read three books, which surprised me. But I think that's because I had several others that I thought I was going to finish before the end of the month but didn't (although one of them I literally finished on September 1st). Here's a little recap:

1. A Rambler Steals Home by Carter Higgins
This felt like just the right book for the last days of summer.

Derby Clark and her family are drifters. They travel around in their camper, stopping for short stretches of time and working odd jobs. But they always come back to Ridge Creek, Virginia every summer for the baseball season. They open up shop right outside the stadium and serve up hamburgers and fries all season long. They have friends there (June and Marcus and even Betsy) and warm familiarity. But this summer, something just doesn't feel right, and Derby has to dig deep to find out what it is and then figure out how to fix it.

I thought this was a sweet book, and I thoroughly enjoyed it except for one thing: for the life of me, I couldn't keep track of information--who the various characters were, why they were doing such and such, or what had happened in the past. I felt like I was constantly flipping back through the book to recall bits of details, only to find myself questioning what was going on yet again. I don't think this had anything to do with the writing. I'm taking full responsibility for my confusion. For whatever reason, I just must not have been completely engaged when I was reading, and it showed.

I loved this thought from Derby's dad, Garland, towards the end of the book. Derby had just confessed to a bit of dishonesty, and Garland said, "Well, Derby, sometimes big hearts make bad decisions." What a great dad, right? He highlighted the good ("you did this because you have a big heart that loves other people) while still admitting the mistake ("it wasn't a great decision"). And I think that's kind of the theme of the book: how to strike a balance between helping someone without hurting someone else. And Derby gets there in the end.

2. The Penderwicks: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and One Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall
After having several failed attempts at introducing some of my favorite books too early to my boys (most notably, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane), I've been holding off on The Penderwicks. But finally, this summer, I decided to give it a try.

Not only did my kids love it more than I thought possible, but I was reminded why the Penderwicks and summer are a match made in heaven. This story takes all of the joy and magic and feeling of summer and compresses it all into one perfect book.

Now, to be completely honest, this actually is not my favorite Penderwick story. That award goes to the third one (although number four is a worthy contender, and I haven't read the last one yet). My love for the Penderwicks definitely deepens with the series (they really are a little bit bratty in this one, and, much as I hate to say it, I think I might have reacted similarly to Mrs. Tifton if I had four girls and a dog constantly trouncing through my gardens after I'd asked them not to). However, it was delightful to go back to the beginning of the series and see things from a new angle.

But back to why it's a perfect book even if it's not my favorite: because you can't completely nail summer and not have it be perfect. I'm sorry, that's just the way it is.

And my kids adored it. It was funny and adventurous and a little suspenseful, and it had a truly despicable villain.

We finished it on the first day of school, and I don't think I could have planned a better ending to our summer.

3. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf
Every year, I make one or two reading goals that are specifically designed to push me outside my comfort zone, become acquainted with famous authors, or help me become more well-read.

This year, one of those goals was to read a book by Virginia Woolf, an author who has long been on my to-read list. My reason for choosing To the Lighthouse was perhaps a silly one. I think Mrs. Dalloway or A Room of One's Own are probably Virginia Woolf's most well known novels, but I was listening to a podcast one day that mentioned that knitting played a part in To the Lighthouse, and it immediately piqued my interest because of my current knitting obsession.

But other than that little knitting reference, I had no idea what I was getting into, and, oh wow, it was hard. For those of you who love Ms. Woolf, I applaud you. But honestly, I struggled with this one. In fact, after listening to the first few chapters twice, I gave in and pulled up a chapter-by-chapter summary just so that I could make sure I wasn't missing subtle nuances which might prove to be crucial to the storyline later on. It was extremely helpful, especially at one juncture where a rather life-altering occurrence is mentioned in one nonchalant sentence, and I had to confirm that what I thought happened actually had happened (it had).

I don't even really know how to sum up the story. There really isn't much of one. Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay have eight children; every summer they stay in their home on the coast where they are bombarded with visitors. Mr. Ramsay needs constant sympathy and praise, which Mrs. Ramsay is sometimes inclined to give him and sometimes not. His children hate him. The lighthouse becomes a metaphor of sorts when their youngest son, James, wants to visit it, and Mrs. Ramsay offers hope that maybe they can go tomorrow, and Mr. Ramsay dashes it, saying that the weather will be bad. (And, if you're wondering, Mrs. Ramsay does indeed knit on a pair of socks, which she intends to gift to the little boy who lives at the lighthouse.)

There was just a lot of this character thinking about that character, first in a positive way and then in a negative way and switching without warning to the past or the imagined past or the future or the imagined future and then introducing a completely different character but maybe just for a sentence or two (but maybe several pages) before rushing back to where it was before and where it was before that. Is it any wonder I was so confused?

The only thing I really knew about Virginia Woolf's writing before reading this book was that she was unabashedly feminist, and that came through quite strongly, both in things that Mrs. Ramsay thought about others and that others thought about her. I'll just give you one little taste because it amused me:

[Mr. Ramsay sees his wife reading a book]: "He wondered what she was reading and exaggerated her ignorance, her simplicity, for he liked to think that she was not clever, not book learned at all. He wondered if she understood what she was reading. Probably not, he thought. She was astonishingly beautiful."

In spite of not enjoying this book, I can totally see why Virginia Woolf is the focus of many college classes. There was a lot to unpack with this novel, and I could have easily found a dozen themes to write about in an assigned paper. And I think if I really had the opportunity to study and cross-analyze, I would like it a lot more. But am I going to create that opportunity for myself? No, I think I'll just bid this one a happy farewell.

What have you been reading lately? Do you assign yourself books or do you let your whims guide you?
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