shared stories

“What do you do for fun?” the dental hygienist asked me this week. That’s a question I rarely get anymore – and a topic I rarely think about. In this season of parenting, it’s still mostly about the kids.

“Well, I read with my boys,” I offered.

“They still let you? At their ages?”

“I insist,” I explained, and even though the older one sometimes complains, he’s usually glad we do read together. Often our discussion of a book continues days after we’re done reading it.

We’ve just recently finished reading The Yearling – all 509 pages of it – and I’m sad that it’s over I told my kids. “So that’s why you were crying,” my younger son joked. I pointed out that we’d been reading the book long enough to feel like we knew the characters and were invested in the story. We all were rooting for Jody. The Yearling (Aladdin Classics): 9780689846236: Rawlings,  Marjorie Kinnan, Giff, Patricia Reilly: Books

I appreciate being able to pick up a book at dull moments and find ourselves transported to another time and another place. The boys do too. Our 11-year-old is the one who most often asks, “Mom, can you read now?”

But the older surprised me about a year ago when I asked him, “What to your parents do that makes you feel loved?”

He said, “Read to us, I guess, because you could be doing other things — or you could just read to yourself…”

our summer bucket list

This morning we stopped by our community garden spot to pick snap peas before heading to the library. Just-from-the-garden fresh and crisp, those snap peas disappeared in no time. “As sweet as candy,” my older son declared.

At the library, the boys each got to choose a book to keep for completing ten of the reading program activities. Then they participated in a dinosaur scavenger hunt. We checked out a week’s worth of reading material and arrived back home just in time for lunch. There’s much to savor in the simple summer routine that we’ve settled into, and Friday library visits are one of our anchor activities. (During the past three school years, it was just me and the preschooler.)

Summers also afford the chance to do things we may not get around to during the school year. I recently read an article in Minnesota Parent advocating for a realistic summer bucket list. I quite agree that an attainable list of meaningful family experiences and activities is better than an over-the-top list that goes undone. So I’ve written down some of the things that have been and I’d like to see continue to be a part of our summers:

attend VBS

make popicles

complete the library summer reading program

take swimming lessons

memorize a psalm

grow our own tomatoes

go camping

check out a new swimming spot

read one of the Chronicles of Narnia

participate in a Lego Mini Build

send the boys to Camp Clair

bake zucchini bread (because there is nearly always someone who wants to pass along one of those “too-big-to eat” monsters and we can only eat so many zucchini fritters)

We’ve already completed – or have in progress – about half of these. My plan is to hang on to this list for inspiration as we move in to the second half of the summer.

What’s on your summer to-do list?


two types of vacations

In June we took a family vacation. I recall one mom who used the term “taking the show on the road” for such trips because although they do offer one kind of rest – a break from doing the same things in the same way – it is not necessarily a break from such tasks as planning meals, cooking, washing dishes, and all that. In fact, there’s a fairly intensive pre-trip planning that’s required unless you’re willing to shell out a bunch of extra cash for things you forgot. As we packed everything we’d need for several days of both camping in the woods and camping in a friend’s empty apartment, I couldn’t help but think that it would be much easier to just stay home. A little change of scenery is good for us, though. And we’re making memories.

As it turned out, this year there were plenty of memories to be made. It started with a car breakdown just as we were turning into our camp site at Devil’s Lake in Baraboo, Wisconsin. We couldn’t get a tow truck to come get our car until the next day. Then they needed a full day to repair the power steering line. So we ended up staying an extra day at our campsite. The good thing: it was a lovely place to be stranded. Our boys enjoyed sleeping in a tent, roasting marshmallows, observing slugs up close and taking in plenty of the simple delights of being outdoors all day long. But on our second night, just as it was time to retire for the evening, it started pouring. For two hours straight. We had a river running between our tent and the ground cover. You know how when you’re camping you reassure yourselves by saying that if it gets too bad you can always hop in your vehicle? Well, there was no car at our camp site just then; it was still in the repair shop. The boys’ sleeping bags absorbed a good deal of water. The next morning my son said, “It felt like I peed my pants, but I didn’t.” My husband threatened to never go camping again. Thankfully we got our car back so we could pack up our wet gear and move on to phase II of our adventure, which involved sleeping with a roof over our heads and the use of an electric range for cooking. Such luxuries. We got more sleep there, explored the Madison zoo, swam in a pool and splashed around at a splash deck. That was our June vacation.

In July we had a vacation of an entirely different kind, the kind in which parents who are used to having their children around all time time are suddenly at a loss for what to do without them. One very thoughtful sister of mine offered to take care of the kiddos for two nights of camping at their Grandpa’s farm. My husband and I couldn’t believe how quiet the house seemed. We went downtown, slept in until 7 a.m. (the latest I’d slept in months), and visited a different church on Sunday, just because. I realized that after a few hours of stillness, I’m ready to hear our boys’ laughter and commotion. I’m ready to have one boy or the other come to find me with a question when I’m cooking or writing. I’m ready to have someone ask me to read a book. I’m not ready for a week with no children around.

Now I know.

popcorn and poetry

“I don’t like poetry; I like non-fiction,” our first-grader said as I scanned titles in the poetry section of the library. “I like animals.” I took it as a challenge. It’s national poetry month after all. The first book I grabbed was a book of animal poetry that looked like it held promise: animal poetry Some of the poems in this book qualify as nonfiction, though not all of them. But the pictures alone earned the book high marks with my two young book critics. Then I found a book of nature poems by an author we know and like, Jane Yolen: count rhyme The poems are fun, and it too has outstanding pictures. It was a quick read with some memorable poems, as was a similar title by the same author:   color rhymeWe’re likely to check both of them out again. Another winner was an anthology edited by Mary Ann Hoberman: forget me notsThis book has a lot of classics in it as well as contemporary poems, organized by topic. Some made us laugh out loud. I also appreciate the tips on memorizing poems, a skill too few people value these days. The book would make a great gift for the child in your life.

So last week when I suggested we read poetry, we had options. “Popcorn and poetry!” Our younger boy welcomed the idea but insisted that popcorn was a part of the package. We had my sister to thank for this, but I don’t mind a bit. There aren’t many things I enjoy more than sharing a book with my boys before bedtime.

We persuaded their daddy to join us. “Which do you like better – popcorn or poetry?” he asked.

“Both!” my four-year-old said.

kid-friendly pickle making

My boys are getting to the age where they are starting to be helpful in the kitchen. Well, almost. But the optimist in me is thinking that starting early means we get to reap the rewards sooner. And my goal is that by the time they are eight years old they’ll be cooking dinner once a week. (I’m not joking. Kids rise to the occasion. I wouldn’t want to set the expectations too low.)  So for our first son, I’ve just got a little over two years to work up to it. This is the reason pickle-making became a recent group project. One reason – the other reason had to do with the large stack of cucumbers on the counter.

The beauty of this recipe is that it’s quick and there’s no sweating over a hot water bath in a steamy kitchen. You just slice and slice and slice then heat up a brine to pour over all those sliced cucumbers. Where does the teaching come in? We reviewed the sizes of measuring cups and spoons as we prepared the brine. And I reminded them about level full spoons and cups as they helped measure.

Here’s what we did.

Put these three ingredients in a five-quart container (such as an ice cream bucket) in the order listed:
1 onion, sliced
4 heads of dill
Enough pickle slices or spears to fill the container

Measure the following brine ingredients in a saucepan and heat to boiling:

1 quart water

1 ¾ cups vinegar

1/3 cup canning salt

1/3 cup sugar

½ teaspoon red pepper flakes

1 bulb garlic, each clove halved

1 teaspoon mustard seed

½ teaspoon alum

Pour the brine over the prepared cucumbers. Cool slightly, cover and store in the refrigerator.

We tried them after a couple of days, and both boys liked them. But these pickles tend to get better with age. There’ll be plenty of opportunity for that. With the amount we made, we’re expecting to have homemade pickles till Thanksgiving.

eight more days to celebrate poetry month

April is poetry month. This year I’ve been a little too preoccupied with work-related deadlines – and a tax-related deadline – to give it much thought. Until this week.

So, how does one celebrate poetry month, you ask? The main goal is to show your kids how fun it can be to play with words. Yesterday we sang several verses of Down by the Bay, making up our own rhymes for the verses. Today my five-year-old and I wrote a limerick together. It was silly and not very good, but it made him giggle. I’ll just tell you the words at the end of each line and you’ll probably get the main idea:

Rick, kick, time out, pout, stick

Tomorrow we’ll read Louder than a Clap of Thunder. Perhaps we’ll make it popcorn and poetry evening.

For more ideas, see last year’s post on ways to celebrate poetry month with your children.

What’s one of your favorite children’s poems?