Friday, October 31, 2014


 What? It's still 2014, and I'm still tied to this refine thing?

I've been setting year-long resolutions for six years now, and I would say that this year has been my least successful, least measurable, least life-changing resolution.

I struggled with the word choice itself from the very beginning, and I don't think it's ever really fit. It's all round and smooth and calm and . . . perfect . . .  and I'm the gangly, awkward, angular dodecagon trying to fit into its round hole.
I removed my necklace last night for a costume party, and the strangest thing happened. I didn't miss it, and I haven't found the pressing need to don it again. It's been around my neck every day for months, and its presence isn't even missed. Maybe I picked the wrong word this year. Maybe I just don't have what it takes to refine myself. Maybe I'm too overwhelmed or busy or prideful . . . or something equally abstract that I can't pinpoint.

If I were to be completely honest, I don't know exactly where I fit right now. Or where I'm headed. Sometimes, it's hard even hard to remember where I've been and who I used to be.

I don't like it. I hate feeling discomfited and out of place in my skin, but I can't seem to find what I'm searching for.

Like this iron bird on my windowsill, I often tuck my head and hide from what's really bothering me or from what I know I need to do. That's not like me.

Or is this the new me?

Already I'm looking forward to the new year, but I have little promise that I will find what I'm looking for in 2015.

It sounds a little heavier than it really is. I know there are real problems in the world and that mine pale. But they're still mine.

How's that for honest?

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Do You Know What a Caravel Was?

I didn't know what a caravel was, either, until this last week.

According to my fifth grader, a caravel was a small ship designed by the Portuguese that was used during Columbus's time for exploring.

The students in his class constructed caravels of their own and conducted experiments to see whose ship was the fastest.
 Brad and Micah spent a few days constructing a caravel. The first was too wide to compete, so they had to start from scratch. The second ship was much better anyway. In case you're wondering, this caravel was constructed out of a plastic pencil tray, two triangles of wood, three bamboo skewers, and spray painted duct tape.
The contestants assembled for a pre-race photo. Which ship do you think won?
Micah is in this stage where he pulls faces worthy of a Calvin and Hobbes comic strip. Can you see Calvin in these expressions?
Once it was race time, however, he put on his game face. You can't tell from this picture, but one of the boys in his class accidentally placed a backpack on Micah's ship before school started, and the back mast was broken off at the base. Micah did his best to keep it upright, but I don't think the broken sail had anything to do with the final outcome.
Micah and Brad looked up the reasoning behind the different sail shapes, and they used one triangle and two rectangles, hoping for optimal speed.
Each caravel was placed in the trough . . .
. . . and the designers were their own "wind."
Micah's ship was just too big for this gutter. Too big and too light for its size--it kept tipping or getting stuck along the side.
No matter how hard he blew, the caravel just wouldn't stay upright or sail.

These two boys have been best friends for their entire lives. One thing I love about these two is how they are always in each other's corner, no matter what the outcome. When the race was over, his buddy came up and said, "Micah, it doesn't matter anyway. Your ship was the coolest and most realistic."
Ya gotta love a buddy like that.

And he was right. It did look really cool. Broken mast and all.
And the ship that won? Look at the top photo again and see if you can guess.

Nope. Nope. Nope. It was this one.
The ship on the far left.

Much of the contest was decided by the conditions--the shallow water, the narrowness of the gutter. The winning ship was perfectly sized and weighted and proportioned for the race.  Kind of like real life--the ocean isn't a fair master either. If the kids could redo the project in the same conditions, I think there might be different results because they all learned a lot.

No one seemed to care much who won. I love projects like that, where it's not about whose is best, but what they learn. And I love teachers like that, too. Thanks, Mrs. H!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Real Deal--Evie's Birthday, Part 2

Eve doesn't do change, new experiences, surprises, or transitions well. I've learned that I need to prepare her in advance, hoping that a few minutes of discussion will avoid a meltdown or hiding in fear.

That being said, I didn't think that her birthday party would be a time where I'd need to convince her that it would be fun, but I was mistaken. A few weeks ago, Lily suggested that Eve should be Alice in Wonderland for Halloween. Eve, of course, had no idea who that was, but when I explained that she had blond hair and wore a blue dress, she agreed. I read her the book so that she was familiar with the story line and could see how fun the tea party was. What a great theme for her birthday--a Wonderland tea party! The girls could wear their costumes, lots of "eat me" and "drink me" stuff for food. It would be perfect. I explained it to Eve, and she thought a tea party sounded great, but she didn't want to invite anyone. I've never had a kid like this, and I don't really know how to parent it. She really wanted to have a party, but inviting people over no . . . it's so foreign to me. I told her she didn't need to invite very many people, but it wouldn't be a party if she didn't invite her friends. I convinced her to invite five friends (and she even went to all of their houses to hand out invitations, which was painful at some doors), and I started planning.

Friday I spent most of the day setting up.
I found these teeny bottles online and filled them with lemonade.

I cut up caramel apples and carrot sticks, and I bought "Eat Me" tags and cupcakes (and I couldn't resist $9 for these gorgeous pink roses).

When Eve got home from school, I got out her costume, white tights, and black shoes and headband, all excited to transform her into Alice for her tea party. Suddenly, the shy, reluctant, afraid-of-new-things Evie reared her head. I was surprised to see it this time. The sleeves were itchy, and the dress looked weird, and "It's a birthday, not Halloween!" I reminded her that the invitation had asked all of the girls to wear costumes. Finally, I dropped my voice to a whisper, placed my forehead against hers, and proceeded to talk her off the ledge. I told her how beautiful and fun costumes were, how she looked just like Alice in the book, how the tea party was going to be the best ever, and then I asked her if she wanted to help me finish setting some treats on the table. Bottom lip protruding and tears still welled in her eyes, she reluctantly took my hand and followed me outside.
It was 96 degrees that day, so I couldn't keep flowers or food out for long, but she didn't seem to notice. She wandered from place to place, looked at the fancy dishes and asked what was in the burlap bags on each plate.
I told her the bags were filled with surprises that I know she loves--crayons, a small notepad, printed tape, and a few treats. The tears disappeared, and her lip crept back into place.

She placed one cookie on each plate and I could see the wonder begin to build in her imagination.

She pulled the book off the step and sat down to read for a few moments--just like fairytale Alice.

She had finally caught the spirit. I was relieved when I heard the doorbell ring. This was going to be okay after all.

We answered the door, and the second Eve saw her friend, her demeanor changed back to dark and teary. After closing the door, Eve began crying and running away--"See, I told you no one else would wear costumes!!" By that point, I had nothing left to do but pray that the next friend would be in costume. I've never been happier to see a blond, blue-eyed Barbie on my step when the doorbell rang next.

After that, it was all sunshine and cupcakes for Evie Alice.

We made crowns as party hats.

She opened presents (and another Alice helped her).

I asked the girls if they knew the story of Alice in Wonderland, but none of them did. (Now, if I'd thrown a Frozen party, all of the girls could have sung every song and quoted every line, but this Alice thing--blast from a past with which none of them were familiar.) I explained how Alice got bigger and smaller each time she ate something in Wonderland before I let them outside.

Like I said yesterday, five is a magical age. Those little girls were giggling and laughing and proper as dowagers as they found seats at the table. They joked about "fancy manners" and not using pinkies to hold teacups and mimicked British accents.

Even Evie.

I'd planned other activities, but the girls just sat around that table, eating me and drinking me and eating me some more. They sat there for 15 minutes, and I was content to sit and watch and listen. Their ladylike manners began to disappear after the first burp from lemonade the tea, and after the first guest dripped chocolate ice cream on her costume. Then they giggled and teased and laughed and sat around 15 more minutes, just enjoying the moment.

I went inside for a moment, and when I returned, they were all on the trampoline, still giggling and teasing and laughing, but by this time, they'd discovered the jar of pixie sticks.

"More sugah, more sugah!" they would shout as they ran between the trampoline and the jar of filled paper straws.

It was the best birthday party ever. I didn't try to make it more than Evie wanted, and four friends was the perfect size. They all played together and helped each other and enjoyed the party without any tears or hurt feelings or  . . . anything.
It was a perfect Wonderland, and chocolate ice cream washes out of white aprons.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Evie's Birthday, Part 1

Evie began counting down the days to her birthday before Ben left on his mission. Without fail she would wake every morning with the new number on her tongue--"17 more days till my birthday." I think five may be the most magical of all birthdays, where you're old enough to appreciate the building excitement, old enough to enjoy the attention, but still young enough not to be disappointed with presents and stuff like that.

The night before her birthday, Evie made the tiniest of pinches with her fingers and said, "My birthday is this far away!" By morning, a miracle had happened: It was her birthday! Bed head and birthday presents--there is nothing better.

Her brothers were almost as excited about presents as she was. I love the lingering sleepy look on their faces, that look that gradually wears away as morning progresses and they head out the door to school.

Before Ben left, he picked out this little doll for her birthday.
He has a similar one in his bag to entertain any little girls he may find in Peru. Kind of a fun link between him and his baby sister at home.

She didn't stop smiling the entire day.
I brought doughnuts to school for treats, and she didn't even care that the bakery didn't have chocolate long johns. She just smiled through it (which is not her natural tendency when something doesn't go the way she expects), just excited to finally be five.

One of her friends couldn't make it to the birthday party the next day, so we invited her over for a private little tea party. They were so cute. Five-year-old girls are perfect for tea parties with my grandma's tea cups--old enough to be careful, still young enough to think the novelty is incredible.

Lemonade and Nilla wafers. I went all out. And guess what? They didn't even notice. I love five.

It was a long day, and she had to wait until after 8 pm for her birthday cake.

Lily decorated it before running out the door to a football game. Eve loved it. She even got a special crown to wear.
When I tucked her into bed that night, after fifteen blissful celebratory hours of turning five, Miss Evie smiled a final birthday day smile and said, "And tomorrow is still my birthday, because it gets to be my party day!"

A two-day celebration. What five year old could ask for more than that?