Monthly Archives: September 2012

Dear friends.

I wish I could clearly express how precious this part of our vacation was.

I have had a hard time writing this, because it’s so deep, so close to my heart.  Because of its significance to me, I didn’t want it to sound mundane:  “We had a great meet-up with some friends.  Here are some documenting pics that aren’t nearly as great as I wish they were.”

There simply aren’t adequate words for the knitting of hearts.

It makes me tear up, even now, thinking about it.

I’ve been Daja’s bloggy-friend for… I think five years.  I feel like she is a long-lost sister;  we have so much in common and feel and act so similarly on a huge range of topics*.  We have communicated much — at first, just commenting on each other’s blogs… Then, I enlisted her help with a writing project.  We have chatted on the phone a few times, mostly in our efforts to get our families together, one way or another, and it never worked.

This most recent trip to California, it finally did.

I knew I would squeal and rush to hug her when I saw Daja, and I did just that.

I knew our children would love each other and play merrily together, and they did.

I wasn’t 100% sure about our husbands getting along, but I thought they likely would, and I hoped.  And they did.  In fact, post-trip, there was a loose end we were tying, and at one point, my husband asked me multiple times, “Have you followed up with Daja yet?”  At the same time, Gana was asking Daja, “Have you called Karen yet?”  😀

During our week-long trip, our families spent time together twice:  Sunday afternoon, the 2nd of September, Daja traveled with her seven children to the cottage in which our family was staying.  Thankfully, it was on 1/2 of a wooded acre, and it really didn’t seem crowded or over-loud with twelve children romping.

The second occasion, we drove up to her home for an afternoon and dinner the following Friday.

During that trip, Daja and I needed to make a run to the grocery store, and we took my family’s vehicle.  I noticed that the truck was running VERY rough.  I theorized, upon my return, that it wasn’t firing on all cylinders.  Martin and Gana left, right before dinner-time, to try to get the truck fixed.  It did turn out to be a spark plug that needed to be replaced, but on a Friday evening, fixing that simple problem turned into a three-hour ordeal.  I think it worked out for the best, because Gana and Martin very much enjoyed their time and conversation together, and the dinner that occurred in their absence was THE VERY LOUDEST meal in which I’ve ever participated.  It was joyful — with twelve children hollering to be heard, showing their best funny faces, exchanging jokes, asking for seconds and thirds….  I grinned the whole time;  it was so fun.  But, I think my husband would have popped an eardrum and stressed out at the unceasing, ever-escalating noise level.

During all our time together, I can’t remember even one sad face or squabble.  Well, not any serious ones;  every minor squabble was quickly resolved…  Such love and joy and goodwill flowed from everyone to everyone.  It was absolutely ideal.

I cannot wait until we are blessed to spend time with this family again.

Martin and his buddy, baby River

It’s really hard to get a good picture of 15 people (and a dog), all at once, especially when one’s husband is clowning around, wearing one’s own sunglasses. FUN pictures are just as well as lovely pictures with everyone smiling, though!

I’m actually a little angry that my camera keeps not-quite-focusing at all the wrong moments. If this wasn’t a weensy bit fuzzy, I would frame it.

Both Daja and I love to cook, and I rather envisioned us, bumping hips in the kitchen, prepping food for our families for dinner, and that’s very much how it happened.

It was difficult to get a shot of JUST the parents, as children kept darting into the frame, wanting to be included. It was a happy problem.

I know this picture is fuzzy and isn’t well-composed.  We got too few pics of our children playing together, as, well, all kids were busy playing, and all parents were busy chatting.

Back at the cottage. Another not-great shot of children playing together.


The lovely Meg.

On the way back to our cottage, fairly late on Friday night, our 6-year-old Audrey burst into tears, crying, “I don’t think we will ever see them again!”  And my husband Martin replied firmly, “Yes, we will.  We will.”  I looked over at him with startled eyes, cautioning him with my glance to not raise in vain the hopes of our daughter.  He just nodded and repeated, “We will.”


*Even on unimportant things.  For instance, we were at the grocery store together, and decided to get a bottle of wine.  “Reisling is my favorite white,” I said.  “What?  Me, too!  A good, dry reisling is my favorite,” Daja replied.  We got a bottle.  And a red for the guys.

First family photo in… I don’t know how long. Plus, really rad friends.

So, our family vacation was supposed to be “just” a stay in a little cottage in walking distance to the beach.  One can’t quite call it a “beach cottage”, because it’s not right on the water, but we did find the six-block walk quite reasonable, especially on the downhill side, on the way to the ocean.

In our fifteen years of being a family — that is, taking trips with children included — that in itself was going to be our most expensive trip ever.  We usually camp.  Or stay with family.  Or rent an el-cheapo U.S. Forest Service cabin (often without electricity or even running water!).  At most, we stay a night on the outbound side and a night on the inbound side in some inexpensive accommodation.  We have never ever taken a trip where our entire stay was in an actual building with a roof, creature comforts inside, for which we had paid.


Because we’re cheap.

We’d rather spend ten days camping for half the price of three days in a hotel.

Plus, I rather like camping.

However…  I knew this year was going to be different, because we planned a move for this summer.  Camping takes a LOT of work — both prep work, and work during the event — and a lot of equipment.  I knew that I wasn’t going to have the time or energy for a camping trip.

So, we decided to spring for the aforementioned cottage.  We decided that it would be quite dreamy to go for an entire week with nothing on the agenda but the pounding surf and some warm sunshine.

We had to move the timing of our summer vacation, as the bank picked a closing date smack-dab in the middle of our previously-scheduled trip.  We purchased a short sale, and there was no wiggle room for changing the closing date.  So, we had to change the timing of our vacation.

It worked out for the best, as most everyone else is done with their summer travel, the first week of September.  So, the beach was less crowded.

So was Disneyland, the Wednesday after Labor Day.

What??  Disneyland???  That wasn’t in the plans.  Too much money, by FAR.  None of our five children had ever been, for reasons similar to the reasons for camping:  You can get a lot more bang for your buck if you aren’t plunking down $80+ for each person just to step into some magical kingdom…

But, dear friends of ours — in the shocker of the decade — teamed up to purchase tickets for our entire family of seven, which they delivered to us the night before our departure.

They gave us clues, which NONE of us guessed;  it went entirely over my head that the little gifts they gave were part of a bigger package.

  1. A stick, with an attached tag that said, “In case you find a dog.”
  2. A bag of bread cubes, whose note read, “In case you want to feed a duck.”
  3. A package of motion sickness tabs with a tag, “In case you go on a wild ride.”
  4. A small first-aid pack, “In case you get blisters from lots of walking on your adventure.”
  5. A pair of mouse traps, “In case you find some mice.”

In retrospect, it seems rather obvious.  But at the time, I was torn between thinking, “How thoughtful of them to come up with such fun ideas!” and, “MOUSE TRAPS????  I know we’re cheap, but what kind of place do they think we’re staying in???”  And then I tried to edit my thoughts to rid that last sentence of its dangling participle.  Had I not been so wrapped up in that pointless exercise, I might have realized what was happening BEFORE the tickets came out…


We decided to go on Wednesday, because we thought there would be less of a crowd, mid-week, directly after a major holiday.  That meant shorter hours in the park and no firework show, but we decided the trade-off would be worth it.

We were right.  We rocked the joint, arriving as the gates opened at 10 a.m., and happily staying until closing time at 8 p.m.  And, everyone still had a smile on their face and a spring in their step.

We thought we’d have to split up, with my husband Martin taking the three older boys, and me taking the two girls on the “baby” rides, as we thought our youngest, Fiala, would surely be too small for most of the main attractions.  NOPE.  She is 41″, and most of the rides require riders to be 40″.  So, she went on Space Mountain, Big Thunder Mountain Railroad, Splash Mountain, Pirates of the Caribbean…  All of them, except Matterhorn, for which she was too small.  She also wouldn’t have been able to go on Indiana Jones Adventure, but that was closed for refurbishment, so it was moot.

We went on virtually every ride in the park, from the Carousel and It’s a Small World to Autopia and Star Tours.  The longest line was at the submarine ride;  it was a 20 minute wait.  Everything else was 5-10 minutes, some even less!

And the boys — even our 15-year-old, Ethan — were such good sports, going on all the small rides — like Dumbo and Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride — as well.  We didn’t have to split up at all.

Even the weather was perfect:  Mostly overcast, almost cool, with a smattering of sprinkles…

Our friends gave us cash to spend inside, too, and that covered:  parking, stroller rental, and lunch.  In the future, rather than dropping more than $100 on one stinkin’ meal (a good meal, but, still…), if we ever get to go again, I think we’ll take advantage of the picnic area just outside the gates.  I was rather morally outraged to spend nearly a week’s worth of groceries on one meal, and there’s no way we would have done it, had we not been gifted the money… and we knew the giver would actually want us to spend it, not hoard it.  🙂

Other than the cost of that meal, the occasion really was absolutely ideal.

All of us, plus Goofy (how apropos!). It has literally been more than a year since all seven of us were captured in one shot.

Audrey’s just a little bit happy.

So was Wesley.

My sense of propriety was a teensy bit challenged by my husband hopping ON TOP of the entire Sword in the Stone… Ha!

Rabbit ears in honor of the rabbit house.

Ethan on the top deck of the Mark Twain steamboat.

Audrey and Fiala even got to go on-stage and sing “Bear Necessities” during the Big Thunder Ranch Roundup with “Miss Chris”.  Fi doesn’t look too happy, but truly, they had such fun!

Grant with the Mad Hatter.

It’s a Small World was Fiala’s favorite ride because, “It’s so happy and pretty, and there is nothing scary!”

In Toontown.

On our way out, on Main Street, with the camera sitting on top of a trash bin. Everyone still happy at the end of the day, but sad to leave.  Most all with those evil red eyes, and I look slightly pregnant, but really, I’m not. 

I kept thinking that the whole thing was blessed by God;  in a way, the whole visit was “charmed.”  No wait, excellent weather, happy and kind attitudes from everyone, all day long, no one got hurt — not even a blister!  We just couldn’t have asked for anything better.

The only bad thing is that we have opened Pandora’s Box.  Well, not really.  But, prior to this, Fiala had never even heard of Disneyland.  Audrey had heard of it, from friends going, but didn’t know what it was.  When our dear friends came with the gifts, Fiala had a stranglehold on the bag of bread cubes, thinking that was the big gift, having no concept of this “Disneyland” of which everyone was chattering excitedly…  I had to sit her (and Audrey) down at the computer and show her pictures and little video clips and say, “THAT is where we’re going.”

That gave me a little window into how the Father must view us, in regards to Heaven:  We’re hanging on for dear life for the little gifts He’s given us, thinking that must be the pinnacle, with absolutely no grid, no revelation, of what the real gift — the real destination — might be….  I must say, I’ve never really longed for Heaven.  I tend not to dwell on things that are impossible for me to wrap my mind around.  But, just as this trip to Disneyland opened up the eyes of two little girls into the possibilities of wonder, fun, and amazement, it has put a little glimmer of hope, a little glimpse into what might await us as His beloved children.

And may you be blessed with friends who give thoughtfully, extravagantly, with rich kindness and blessing.

You win some, you lose some (spelling edition)

I have a friend who is super-smart.  I very recently learned that she has a daughter who can’t spell worth beans.  That knowledge was strangely soothing.  Good spellers can beget bad ones.

I’ve often said that I’m glad I have multiple children, because knowing each unique child — bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh — has made me learn that I can’t pat myself on the back too hard for their good qualities, nor can I kick myself too hard for their failures.  Every child has their own strengths and weaknesses.  Parenting certainly matters, but you can be a fabulous parent and still have a child who fails miserably in one area.  Or several.

Monday was our first official school day of the year.  (On the East Coast, there were just nods of assent.  On the West Coast, there were just gasps of shock.  Out in this neck of the woods, school usually starts the first or second week of August.  By that measure, I’m a good month behind.  Not that I’m truly behind, but I do prefer to keep my children’s school schedules roughly the same as their friends’.)

On our first day of school every year, I do a spelling assessment.  I use the book Spelling Power, which uses a 50-word survey test of increasing difficulty to determine the grade-level-equivalent of each child’s spelling ability.  For everyone in junior high and lower, I say that if they test two years above their grade level, we don’t need to do spelling as a separate subject;  I just correct spelling as they go, during various writing assignments.  For my oldest son, who is now a sophomore in high school, I told him that if he tested at 11th grade, he wouldn’t have to do spelling.

Here’s how they fared:

  • Audrey (who is in 1st grade):  2nd grade, 7th month — 10 correct words spelled
  • Wesley (who is in 6th grade):  4th grade, 7th month — 20 correct words spelled
  • Grant (who is in 8th grade):  11th grade, 0 months — 48 correct words spelled
  • Ethan (who is in 10th grade):  11th grade, 0 months  — 48 correct words spelled

In other words, everyone is well above their official grade level, except for Wes.  I blogged a while ago on the subject, but as his entire first year of life was beset by health issues (stemming from undiagnosed celiac disease), including chronically infected ears that burst FIVE TIMES before he turned one, the language processing center in his brain didn’t develop correctly — he heard everything as if underwater, and how he hears (and speaks) is a little muddy.  At nearly eleven years old, he still has a hard time discerning soft vowel sounds, as well as consonant blends.  If you can’t hear/process a word correctly, it’s difficult to spell it correctly.  (Oddly enough, though, his actual hearing is perfectly fine.)  His spelling is nearly entirely from memory;  he virtually cannot sound out any words.

Audrey kind of blew me out of the water, because I have never really worked with her on spelling before.  My kindergarten curriculum is extremely relaxed;  as long as they finish the year knowing how to read, knowing math basics, forming letters passably well, and having a good grasp on some other basic skills, I’m content.  In kindergarten, my children just kind of learn by osmosis from being in a learning-motivated environment.  It worked, apparently, on Audrey.

Ethan squeaked by, just avoiding spelling as a separate subject.

I wasn’t surprised by Grant;  he’s my best speller…  But, Audrey just may catch up with him.  🙂

An observation about the beach

Sunset at Laguna Beach

At the beach, there are young men and women, mostly teens and those in their early 20s.

There is also a fairly broad representative of folks in their 50s and 60s.

There are hardly any in their 30s and 40s.  Virtually none.

I think when you’re young, you’re happy to gallivant with few clothes and a nice tan.

In your child-raising years, you start feeling self-conscious about your body’s imperfections:  Lumpier, whiter skin among the offenders.

But, by your 50s, you think, “Chuck it.  Who cares?” and you can go out in public in a swimming suit again.



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