Monday, September 26, 2016

Three Family Reunions in Three Weeks

This summer, for the first time in years, the children and I flew out to visit our extended family. As part of our experience, we were able to attend three different family reunions in about three weeks. I thought the comparison of the three might be of interest to those planning a reunion themselves.

The Camping/Water Park Reunion
We drove to Downata Hot Springs in southeast Idaho (after flying into SLC). Idaho is a somewhat central location for my mom's side of the family. The family had reserved a group campsite for two nights. A few people drove up with a camper or RV. The rest of us slept in tents, except for my parents, who fit a queen-size mattress in the back of their pick-up. They're awesome like that.

The only planned activity for this reunion was the small waterpark at the resort (an extra fee). The waterpark consisted of a large pool with a couple slides and toddler pool, two big waterslides, and a splash pad for young children. Having such a small waterpark was perfect for a family reunion, because it was almost impossible to lose anyone. In fact, the line for the two big slides went along a chainlink fence that bordered the field for our group campsite. The family members who weren't interested in water time were able to socialize under the covered pavilion and wave to those going up to the slide.
The best thing (for me) about this reunion was watching my children play with my cousins' children. It seemed like the cousins became instant friends with anyone their age. They didn't even need an introduction.

The Destination Reunion
The second reunion was for my dad's side of the family. Instead of being centrally located, everyone flew or drove out to the Seattle area, where my parents live. A few people stayed in my parents' house. The rest stayed in local hotels. Everyone met at the house for dinner and socializing.
The biggest event was a scenic drive. I should note here that my children were the only children at this reunion. We stopped at beautiful Deception Pass, where some people bravely walked across the high bridge, then hiked down to a small beach. We enjoyed a picnic lunch at Fort Casey, which is a decomissioned fort right on the water (Puget Sound). Then we drove onto a ferry, which took us across the water.

We made it back to the house in time for barbecue pork, which had been simmering in the slow cooker. After dinner, we all watched the memorial video for my nephew who passed away earlier this year.
The beauty of this reunion was the novelty of the area to all of my dad's family, which lives inland, around Idaho, Utah, and Wyoming. The temperature of Seattle summers was a pleasant change for them, and the novelty of seeing the ocean, evergreen forests, and driving onto a ferry made it feel like a vacation for them. At least, I think it did.

The Backyard Reunion
The grand finale was a reunion held in a single afternoon and evening in the large backyard of my husband's parents' house.

With five sisters who all live within driving distance, it was expected that this would be an event, even if one of Cory's sisters wasn't an event planner by profession.
Everyone was told to bring a side dish, but hamburgers and a gourmet s'more bar were provided.

In addition to the pre-existing play set (recently repaired)  was:
  • A bubble station
  • Lawn Yahtzee 
  • Lawn Kerplunk
  • Crayons on the paper-covered tables
  • A frozen t-shirt contest
  • A fire, for marshmallow toasting
  • PiƱata for the children
  • Family history photo books 
  • A professional photographer
One photograph was taken of all the cousins together, lined up in age order (except for Little Q, who was held by a teenage cousin). One of the cousins had passed away ten years before, so my daughter held a purple helium balloon to represent her.

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

General Women's Session Coloring Journal for September 2016: Free Printable

With updated conference quotes, the new Primary Presidency, and a fall-themed cover, the General Women's Session Coloring Journal for September 2016 is now printable!
I finished my daughter's Coloring Journal much earlier this time around, which is good, since the Women's Session is so early this month (September 24th).
Please feel free to print and share this for anyone who will get more out of the session if they're allowed a few coloring supplies.

Click here to print the Coloring Journal. (Sorry, Google Docs wouldn't let me embed the file right in the blog post this time. Arrgh. Every time you get used to a new technology, they change it.)

A fun coloring hint: when the new Primary Presidency got together for their press photos, they each wore a primary color. Color their tops red, yellow, and blue.
Illustration Note: As the various presidencies were unavailable to sit for portraits, I have based (and, ahem, somewhat traced) their images off of press photos as found in the Mormon newsroom. Not as professional as, say, my cover image which came from drawing my daughter up an oak tree, but the best I could do under the circumstances.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Philadelphia Open House

Cory and I have been wanting to take the children to a temple open house for ages, but there aren’t that many opportunities to do so on the East coast. When we heard about the open house in Philly, we were eager to try.
We drove up to Pennsylvania (well, New Jersey) on a Friday afternoon. The drive was surprisingly pleasant. We stayed at a hotel in New Jersey. Saturday morning we checked-out and drove the half hour to the temple in Philadelphia.
We parked in the garage under the temple, came up through the visitor’s center, and walked across the street to the beautiful red brick chapel. The chapel has its own courtyard, from which one can see the temple spires.

After a ten-minute video about temples, our group walked across the street. The shoe covers (which look like shower caps) were one-size-fits all, so we pocketed a set in case little Q wanted to be set down. Mothers with younger babies had them in baby carriers. Ah, those were the days.
In the entrance to the temple, behind the recommend desk, is a beautiful painting of Christ. The picture is “framed” with columns and a roof-like peak. In the ornamentation above the peak I saw two crossed quills. 
K commented to an usher on the "nice chandeliers" in the entry. The usher pointed to a painting, off to the side, of the Founding Fathers in (I think) Independence Hall. The chandelier in that painting was a near match to the ones in the temple entry.
The single painting and the carved quills, while subtle, were touching to me. They seemed a fitting tribute to the men who laid a foundation for religious freedom, displayed in a building that only exists thanks to religious freedom.
Most of the art in the temple was either of Christ or his creations (landscapes). In one stairwell is a large print of Christ with two native American girls.
As we walked through the temple, I noticed a lot of colonial inspiration: colonial-style dressers in one hall, sconces on walls that looked like old candle-holders, American cherry wood stair steps with a colonial-style (carpet) runner  running up them, and so forth.
There is a captivating mural in an instruction room. It was like playing I-spy with the children: do you see the bald eagle? The woodpeckers? The butterfly? I wished we could have stayed there longer.
The Celestial room is full of light, which is remarkable in such a big building with art glass--really the whole interior was full of light. Maybe all the lights were on, but there didn't seem to be a dark corner anywhere. Being with my husband and all my children in the Celestial room has been a dream of mine, although I'm not sure it counts during an open house. I hope they felt God's love for them. I looked down and realized S had a handful of Legos out on the area rug--he must have brought them in himself. I suspect that may be the only time that happens there. Little Q began testing the acoustics in the Celestial room, and Cory hurried him out.

My daughter had been waiting to see the bride’s room, where women can get ready for their special day with the help of her mother, sisters, or friends. I don’t think she was disappointed. The bride’s room was large and beautiful, with formal furnishings and a sparkling chandelier. The guide in that room said she would be married in five weeks in that temple, and she would get to come to this room on her special day to be “pampered.” 
The tour finished in a large sealing room, where couples get married and families sealed for all eternity. My children kept trying to see their reflection go on forever in the mirrors that face each other. It doesn't work that way. You can see your family go on forever, but you block your own view of yourself. There's probably a lesson there.
From the rooftop garden on the Visitor’s Center, there is a lovely view of the temple. I imagine this would be an ideal place to take family photos.

While we were in the city anyway, we headed over to see the Liberty Bell. Sadly, the all the tickets for Independence Hall were gone by the time we checked (shortly after noon on a Saturday), but we had a good time anyway, and the kids earned some history flashcards from a park ranger.
This fun picture (above) was actually taken in the Visitor's Center. It's way too crowded around the real bell to get a great shot without strangers in it. Well, maybe if you're there at opening you can. We weren't.

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Book Review of WHERE THE MOUNTAIN MEETS THE MOON, written and illustrated by Grace Lin, for ages 8-12

Where the Mountain Meets the Moon
Written by   Grace Lin
Paperback   304 pages
Genre   Fantasy (Asian inspired)
Lexile   810
Awarded   Newbery Honor
Recommended for   Boys and girls ages 8-12;
For ages 6 and up as a lengthy read aloud;
Classrooms and home schools studying ancient or medieval China

This is one of the most enchanting, elegant children's novels I've ever read. Adding to the charm of the text are the colorful illustrations done by the author sprinkled through the book. It's a rare author who can illustrate, and Grace Lin is one of them.

Our story begins near Fruitless Mountain where Minli lives with her practical Ma and storytelling Ba.  They spend all day tending the rice fields, and each day they have just enough to eat.
One day a goldfish man passes through the village. When he tells Minli that goldfish bring good fortune, she buys one, then regrets it when her Ma scolds her about having another mouth to feed.
One of the stories her father told her was about the Man in the Moon. Minli decides to find him, convinced he can change their families fortunes. There's just one problem: no one knows where to find him. That's where a talking goldfish comes in handy . . .
Along the way, Minli meets a dragon, some greedy monkeys, a boy with a buffalo, and an Emperor. It turns out that her father isn't the only one who has stories to tell. This book is full of little stories within the story, each as delightful as the last.
Along the way, Minli grows wiser. What she wants most by the end isn't what she thought it would be, and yet, because of the things that got set right along her journey, she discovers the secret to making Fruitless Mountain into Fruitful Mountain.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Book Review of Treasure at Lure Lake by Shari Schwarz; an adventure novel for boys 8-12

Treasure at Lure Lake
Written by  Shari L. Schwarz
Paperback  192 pages
Genre  Adventurous realistic fiction
Recommended for  Boys ages 8-12

Sometimes it can be hard to get boys to read real books. I don't know if the plethora of graphic novels targeted at boys represents the cause or effect, but they are a source of annoyance to me.
Like me, author Shari L. Schwarz is the mother of four boys. She said, "They don't just all love reading so I wanted to write an exciting adventure that they could relate to."

K, Boy age 13

I thought it was great.
Jack was my favorite character, because he was kind of the one that kept his cool, and he had the most perspective chapters. He'd rather stay where he can get cell phone reception.
I thought it was interesting that they encountered a black bear. That was the first sign of wildlife in the book.
I thought the part where Bryce came back . . . after being knocked-out after a fall from off a canyon wall was pretty cool. Apparently [someone was waiting there].

T, Boy age 11
Bryce is my favorite character, because he was more into camping.
I didn't know about the quartz and pocket-knife trick. I'll have to remember that when I'm camping. I'm going to try not to be a spoiler, so I'm just going to do thoughts on characters for now.
Like I said, Bryce is my favorite character, but Jack is interesting as well, and I agree with K: Jack would like to stay where he can get reception.
I'm not going to say what the treasure is, but the map was a little interesting, and why were those pictures hidden?
I like science-fiction and fantasy, this was realistic fiction, so it wasn't the kind I like, but it was still pretty interesting.

 What I (Mom) Thought of Treasure at Lure Lake
Now, in my opinion, what an adult thinks of a middle grade novel intended for leisure reading is superfluous (unless we're discussing appropriateness, as I'm all in favor of parental censorship).
What the target audience themselves think is what really matters, and not only am I not a 10 year old boy, but I never have been and never will be.
With that disclaimer out of the way, I did read the book, and I do have some thoughts on it.
Survival Skills: this is Schwarz's strongest point. She promises an adventure novel, and she delivers it with wild animals, fishing, rustic animal traps, fire, rock climbing without harnesses (don't worry, they get what's coming to them), a helicopter, and more. There's a little blood, vomiting and diarrhea, but here she is (graciously) sparse with words and doesn't get too graphic--just enough for you to get the idea. Electronics include a walkie-talkie, a video camera, and the older brother's cell phone which runs out of batteries.
Characters: My favorite character was Bryce, the younger brother. He's a bit of an outdoors nerd (is that a thing?). The older brother, Jack, was a bit tougher to like, with some teen angst going on, but maybe boys will relate to him. I did feel that the brothers did a good job acting their age, within their personalities. Unfortunately, I felt like the Grandpa wasn't a consistent personality. The mysterious hikers were a nice addition. Mom and Dad were referred to throughout the book, but don't show up until close to the end, but that works fine.
Point of View: the book is written from an alternating first-person point of view. Sometimes it's first-person Bryce, and sometimes it's first-person Jack. At first, I found this confusing, and would have to look back at the beginning of the chapter to identify which brother was narrating. For this reason, I would not recommend this book to boys who struggle with reading comprehension.
Also, I thought this book was a little overbearing with the emotions of the brothers, especially the older brother's. Narrating in third person might have toned that back.
Spoiler Alert: This book does include a near-death experience. The description of it, especially right at first, was really well done. This experience was not necessarily religious or anti-religious. The character gets far enough along to see his Grandmother, who tells him he needs to go back, and gives him a message for his family.
Toward the end, I wish things regarding the physical treasure were spelled-out or explained just a little bit more than they are.
Overall: I enjoyed reading this book and would recommend it to boys ages 8-12.

About the Author
Shari Schwarz lives in Ft. Collins, Colorado near the Rocky Mountains with her husband and their four boys. TREASURE AT LURE LAKE (April 12, 2016) is her debut middle grade novel which reflects her love for a good survival adventure story. When she’s not reading or writing, Shari can be found freelance editing, weight-lifting, gardening or watching her boys play football, basketball, speed stacking, or wrestling. She frequently daydreams of exploring Oregon Coast beaches or plotting out her next children’s book.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary advance copy of this book.
Also, my blog is now "monetized," so if you follow a link to Amazon and choose to purchase, I get a little percent back (this doesn't affect your purchase price, however).

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Book Review of CINNABAR: The One O'Clock Fox, by Marguerite Henry

Cinnabar: The One O'Clock Fox
Written by   Marguerite Henry
Illustrated by   Wesley Dennis
Paperback   144 pages (including illustrations)
Ages   8-12
Lexile   800L
Genre  Historical fiction with animal personification
Recommended for   Boys and girls; Children who like animal stories; homeschools and classrooms studying American History (Revolutionary War); Anyone longing to know what this fox says

I have a vague recollection of reading Misty of Chincoteague in the fourth grade. I recently discovered that the same author (Marguerite Henry) wrote a host of other animal-centric novels, including Cinnabar: The One O'Clock Fox.

I placed a hold for it at the library and received what I suspect is an original library edition. Within the back cover is an old-fashioned envelope, on which is stamped the words "OVERDUE CHARGES, 2 CENTS A DAY." Delightful. It's the little things in life.

How Historical Is This Fiction?
"It was April in Virginia. The brooks and runs on George Washington's estate were overflowing in their hurry to join the big Potomac," begins chapter one. This book is a historical fiction, based loosely on an old legend about a fox who so loved a good chase that he would show up promptly at one to lead the hunt on a chase through the lands of Mount Vernon.
The historical aspects are mostly a geographic awareness of George Washington's estate (and some of the buildings adjacent to it, including a mill and a church), and an understanding of what a fox hunt was like. There is no reference to the Revolutionary War. George Washington himself only gets about one line, as Cinnabar is a skilled fox who keeps far ahead of the hunters, most of the time.

Even though it is light on what most would consider essential historical details, I still would recommend this book for young readers learning about early American history.  Adults underestimate the importance to a young child of seeing a familiar name again, and most people with a good understanding of American history have a pretty fuzzy idea of what Mount Vernon is like. In fact, there is a map on the page spread following the table of contents that shows Mount Vernon, creeks, the Potomac, the mill, etc (the above is my own creation).
More than historical details, I believe Cinnabar captures the feeling of the time very well. He is a hard working, proud provider for his family, which includes Rascal and Pascal (the boys), Mischief and Merry (the girls), and his dear wife Vicky. So many male "heroes" of modern times are self-serving bachelors, and I think Cinnabar is a fine contrast.
The author says, "Cinnabar represented the spirit of the times, the spirit of a people who fought for freedom and lived for freedom's sake. He eluded all who would catch or trap him, and he finished out his days as a free wild thing."

For literary snobs like me, this book was positively delightful. I think it would excel as a read-aloud with occasional rhymes and lots of fox calls. Due to my extensive knowledge of fox hunts courtesy of  having seen Mary Poppins, I was able to "hear" the various hunting calls. Young readers who may be less familiar with classic films, classic books, and the proper spelling of supercalifragilisticexpialidocious may appreciate hearing read out loud. Sadly, I haven't been able to find an audiobook, so I can't recommend that as a back-up.

Disclaimer: After beginning to review books and establish links to an online bookseller (Amazon), thinking it might be convenient for the reader to have such a link, I discovered another book reviewer who claimed to be compensated by Amazon for book links in her (?) blog. I thought you had to have obnoxious pop-ups to be monetized.
I did my homework, and am now "monetized" with Amazon. I hope this is a win-win for my readers and myself. I post books because I love them, but I wouldn't mind a little extra cash for Christmas savings, or to tuck away for later.
The only "bad" thing about this deal is that Amazon will use unobtrusive cookies on my site, which perhaps not everyone will appreciate. For more, see my sidebar.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Our General Conference "Campout"

A few days ago, I had a stroke of inspiration that I ran past my 11 year old son:
For the Saturday sessions of General Conference, we can have a "campout." We can set up our smaller tent in the living room, facing the tv; and between sessions we can cook hot dogs outside over our propane fire pit, and roast leftover Easter Peeps, then use what's left in our "Spring Mix" bag of chocolates to turn them into s'mores.
He hopped up and down while clapping. There's nothing like Easter Peep flambe  to excite 11-year old boys.

Yep. Inspiration.
While this idea might not directly affect their attention spans during the sessions, I think having the children look forward to General Conference weekend as a special event, not a burden, may help us in the long term.
And even I was looking forward to roasting Peeps over our propane fire pit.

So, fast forward Saturday.
Rain. All morning.
We ran errands to the library to pick-up a hold, the farmer's market for our last CSA pick-up, and the grocery store for milk. There were some serious breaches of umbrella ettiquette.
Arriving home about fifteen minutes before the noon (a.k.a. "morning") session of conference, it was still raining.
The children spread blankets on the living room floor and I took notes on my new iPad (courtesy of my husband, but that's another story).
After the session finished, it was still raining. We decided to make the best of it.
First, my excited young Boy Scout set-up our two-man tent in the living room. Everyone started feeling more cheerful already.

What's the next-best thing to Peep Flambe?
Exploding Peeps in the microwave.
Well, not actually exploding, but they definitely inflated to at least double their size.

8-10 seconds in the microwave

We went through one package of bunny Peeps and agreed to save the second package so we can do the same thing tomorrow.

M gathered coloring books and supplies and set them in the tent. During the session, there were usually one or two people in the tent. It wasn't used by everyone constantly, but that was probably a good thing.
Sunday Update: the weather was clear and dry today, so we roasted hot dogs and Peeps for lunch before the first session. It was awesome.