Thursday, January 28, 2010

Mean Girls

A couple years ago, the children and I read a wonderful, bittersweet book called The Hundred Dresses. I feel like this short novel should be required reading for every child and parent. It's a touching portrait of schoolgirl dynamics, told through the eyes of a girl who feels caught in the middle, who joins in the taunting of an immigrant classmate against her better judgment and lives to regret it. In the end, all the girls realize the mistake they've made in belittling their former classmate, Wanda. Fortunately, their lesson comes at a less-than-mortal price for Wanda or themselves.

Sadly, for kids like Phoebe Prince of South Hadley, Massachusetts, any regrets on the part of her tormentors come too late. This fifteen-year-old Irish immigrant hanged herself after relentless cyber- and in-person-bullying by the Mean Girl clique at her high school drained her of the hope and self-esteem that's already so fragile in teenage girls.

The morning news played clips from an angry parents' meeting in South Hadley, where over 300 parents convened to express their frustration and grief at the situation. One father spoke with no apologies: "I am angry at the parents who are raising these monsters. Parents: DO YOUR JOB."

Y'all know that I strive NOT to be the parenting police. There are no perfect people living on this farm. But. In this case? Hear, hear!

It boggles my mind that human beings of such a tender age could be so devoid of empathy, the foundation of the conscience -- even to the point of mocking her on Facebook AFTER her suicide (If your kid is doing that? I'm sorry, but YOU HAVE REALLY SCREWED UP somewhere along the line.). Does anyone else think it's crazy that state after state has to pass anti-cyber-bullying laws to protect teenagers from the worst sides of each other? Talk about the government stepping in to shoulder the responsibility of absent parents!

If, as a parent, I can manage to raise my children to hear their own voice in the midst of the crowd, to refuse the temptation to gain favor through meanness, perhaps even to stand up in the face of bullying, to let empathy, decency, kindness triumph over the desire for acceptance, I have done my job.

And if, as a parent, I can be someone my children come to when they're hurt, scared or desperate; if my children know where to find hope and help when they need them and that the words of bullies do not represent the truth about who they are, I have done my job. If I can teach them to use social media (when the time is right) while protecting or disconnecting themselves from others who abuse it, I have done my job. This means I cannot throw up my hands and say, "Oh, kids these days and their computer stuff! Who can keep up with it all?" Answer: YOU, Mom.

My aunt, a woman I admire immensely for energy and spirit of perpetual learning, teaches middle school history. She also teaches those middle schoolers all about social media and its responsible use -- how to use privacy settings with vigilance, how to ward off cyberbullying, how to report signs of abuse. To do this, she stays one step ahead of them on Facebook, on Twitter, in the blogosphere. I have greater respect than ever for the task she has undertaken.

For some kids, it may be matter of life or death.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Concept Still Fuzzy

This morning, during our discussion of animals and their habitats:

Me: "Caroline, what is a good habitat for a penguin?"

Caroline: "Antarctica!"

Me: "Yeah! And what's a good habitat for a lion?"

Caroline: "The CIRCUS!"

Monday, January 25, 2010

Only funny if you've seen UP (but who hasn't?)

Good afternoon. My name is Ian. I am a Webelos-ranked Cub Scout and an aspiring Boy Scout with Troop 410. I spent my weekend, with my dad, running through the woods on covert operations, scaling trees in a harness, learning to light fires with no matches, and sleeping under the stars (no tent). Are you in need of any assistance?

Sure, buddy. I need your assistance. I want to participate in the challenge to compile the Top 100 Chapter Books of All Time, and I have to send in the list of my Top 10, RANKED (egads!), by January 31. How am I ever going to narrow my pile of gems down to ten? There's The Westing Game. And Bridge to Terabithia. The Penderwicks. Charlotte's Web. Trumpet of the Swan. The Hundred Dresses. The Mysterious Benedict Society. And let's not forget The Saturdays, all the Betsy-Tacy books, Caddie Woodlawn, Anne of Green Gables. What about Walk Two Moons? What about The Tale of Despereaux? And the more obscure Treasures of the Snow?

And how do I possibly rank them????? GAH! Why do I torture myself like this? And I just KNOW that at least one person is going to leave a comment offering up suggestions of a perfectly splendid book I've neglected to consider. (Right, guys?)

[Pauses to take three deep, cleansing breaths.]

On a much calmer note, I stumbled across a blog called Saints and Spinners, written by a storyteller and librarian who makes the most charming, to-die-for little felt dolls for storytelling or general imaginative play. If you have any children in your life, check them out!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Two Books; Two Quotes

I came across a neat meme at Bookful of Thoughts yesterday entitled Friday's Finest. The rules are:

~Post a quote that really stuck to you after reading it in a book.
~Make sure it isn't a spoiler!
~If you'd like, expand on what you think it means and why you chose it.

It's certainly not Friday anymore, and it being actually Saturday, I'm not sure anyone will read this, but here we go. I'm doing TWO.

"People would ask for many years: 'Where were you when you heard? What were you doing? Who brought you the word?'"

That quote is from the last chapter of Across Five Aprils, by Irene Hunt, and I finished reading it with the children on Thursday. The quote refers to the news of Abraham Lincoln's assassination, and for some reason, I could barely maintain my composure while reading this section. Things got even drippier when we started discussing how for that generation, the news of Lincoln's tragic death had that same national impact, the same indelible etching into people's memories, as did President Kennedy's assassination in my parents' generation, or September 11 in our own. (Turns out, my kids didn't really know much about September 11, so I got to reminisce about how I heard the news while walking with my neighbor and our toddlers (Ian was one) up to our neighborhood clubhouse for music class. Her husband delivered the news from work, and we simply didn't comprehend it at first.

What about you? Where were you when you heard? Who brought you the word?

(I also remember where I was when I heard the news of the deaths of Princess Diana and JFK Jr. ... but those do sort of pale in comparison to 9/11.)

OK, now my second quote. I've just started reading The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, which won a Newbery Honor Award last Monday, and y'all, I can hardly put it down. It's told in the first person by a twelve-year-old girl who is an absolute humdinger of a heroine. I'm in love with her (but not in that way). Also, it takes place less than 50 miles from my house, at the turn of the 20th century. Also, the writing is lovely.

But then I glanced at the dustjacket and beheld the following quote from the author bio:

"Jacqueline Kelly was born in New Zealand and raised in western Canada. She now makes her home with her husband and various cats and dogs in Austin and Fentress, Texas. She is a practicing physician and lawyer. This is her first novel." [Emphasis mine.]

So I've suspected in times past that some people have more than twenty four hours in their day. But now? It's totally confirmed.

(And she lives in Austin. Do they sell those extra hours bottled somewhere locally? I want some.)

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Still Keepin' It Real

I had the cheeriest of posts, a literary one, composed in the noggin yesterday and ready to be written.

Then life happened.

Specifically, at 5:43 p.m., my house was calm and quiet. Dinner was on the stove, the dishwasher stood emptied, vague domestic tranquility reigned. At 5:46 p.m., my children were called in to dinner. One of them made a disparaging comment about the chicken tikka masala on the stove (thank you, Melissa Wiley -- I enjoyed it, at least!). The other two were simultaneously whining, at full volume, in stereo, on two entirely different topics. And Daddy was working late. It was, like, totally awesome.

So awesome, in fact, that I retreated with my dinner outside to watch the sun set and call Vanessa. "My children are driving me completely insane," I reported. We both laughed, and then she briefed on the insanity taking place in her house, which can be summed up as follows: Her two children DO NOT SLEEP.

I'd love to say this moment of maternal bonding made everything all better, but sadly, it all went to hell in the proverbial handbasket shortly thereafter. The car ride to AWANA was like something out of a late-night infomercial entitled: "Why Mommy Needs Tranquilizers." It basically ended up as a shouting contest between my four year old and Noah Adams on All Things Considered. She wanted ice cold water. (ICE COLD, people! Not tepid!) He wanted to deliver the news.

I lay in bed last night still nursing my brittle feelings about the day and reflecting on how my sense of humor could have saved that car ride. Often, when a less savory moment (or series of moments) occurs, it's tempting to call the whole day a giant failure. In reality, of course, it was just that forty five minutes between five forty five and six thirty that we could have done quite nicely without, THANK YOU VERY MUCH. The rest of the day? Anywhere from bearable to lovely.

The Voice of Comforting Reason in my head decided to go treasure hunting. It determined to shine the flashlight on all the moments that had ALSO occurred in that very same day, the moments that belied my feeling of being a victim of a great, glorious train wreck.

1. We woke up. We woke up!

2. We took dinner to Grace, and everyone got to hold Baby Isaac.

3. We read quite a bit of Betsy and Tacy Go Downtown. (Digression: y'all, you can't possibly have a terrible day if you've been reading Betsy and Tacy. I loved every single one of these books, including those recently republished ones with Betsy as a teenager (oh, that Joe with his blond pompadour and his insouciant smile!) when I was growing up. Now, as a parent, I love them again, although there's a slice of me that longingly regrets that my kids will never experience that same simplicity that Betsy and her friends do, pouring out of their houses after supper to play games we've never heard of in the street, meeting at the hitching post, taking picnics for the day as their mothers wave them gaily on their way.

4. We made gliders with different wing shapes in the morning and experimented with flight in the driveway.

5. I visited my secret stash of dark chocolate. Every mother needs one of these.

6. I called on the name of the Lord. No day is wasted when you do that.

7. We got to swing by and visit The Professor at work on our way home from Grace's. Five minutes is better than nothing.

8. He had the kitchen cleaned when we got home from AWANA.

9. We watched a Season 5 Episode of LOST before bed, only to confirm for the 83rd time that while neither of us understands time travel, it sure is fun to discuss it! And ... Season 6 begins February 2!!! (Not that I'm counting the days or anything.)

10. I still love my kids, and they still love me.

So. There's treasure everywhere, and new beginnings every morning.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Crococún Zoo

Remember that trip we took to Mexico, oh, a month ago? I guess some posts need to percolate a little while. Either that or they keep getting bumped by more urgent matters like whoopee cushions or braided T-shirt rugs.

Crococún Zoo is possibly the most underrated attraction in the greater Cancún area. (Remember, we were NOT in Cancún. From what I saw of it at and around the airport, I feel like it's important to mention that.) When we spoke with other families at our resort about it, none of them had even heard about it. Apparently, they weren't obsessively reading
TripAdvisor reviews before their vacation. Probably doing more important things, like making sure their kids had swimsuits and goggles that actually fit them.

Crococún is not really a zoo in the traditional sense of the word. Its population is limited to animals native to Mexico, which actually enhanced its appeal in our eyes. Do we really want to travel all the way to Mexico and see an elephant pacing an enclosure? Class? Do we?

(Answer: Not so much.)

When you arrive, either taking two public buses from your resort and asking for directions in your high school Spanish, or using an air-conditioned taxi like the saner tourists reportedly do, you're greeted by a guide who will be your friend and talk you out of a heart attack for the next hour and fifteen minutes. You'll see what I mean.

This picture was taken approximately five minutes after our arrival. Aw, look. They're feeding the parrot (macaw?). Isn't that so fun, so educational, so memorable?

You may have noticed the "Croco" part of the name "Crococún." Mmhm. My kids did too. And this, my friends, is what THEY were all about.

It's a good thing you can't really see my face in this photo, because at this point, I'm pretty much at Code Orange. Especially because seconds after this photo, I witnessed my oldest child handing one of these directly to my middle child without the assistance of our guide. Oh, believe me, Mommy was using her Outside Voice at that point.

Some families sing folk songs in five-part harmony for kicks. We hold baby crocodiles.

And now I'm definitely at Code Vermilion. My baby!

Um, Code Red. Which of the little darlings do you think he'll consume first?

While we'd completely taken leave of our sense, our guide led us through a large enclosed area containing about forty of these guys. Don't worry, the arm I lost was not the one I use for taking photos and typing.

Now THIS is more like it. The cute little spider monkey wants a bit of banana!

And, now that my palpitations have subsided, I can even enjoy feeding the white-tailed deer alongside my children.

Ever seen one of these? It's called a coatimundi. Here he's in an enclosure, but there was actually a [completely harmless] one running wild at our resort.

Come to think of it, there were a few other creatures running wild at our resort. But we don't need to talk about that.

We will now return to our regularly scheduled programming, entitled "All Creatures Tame and Sedate."

P.S. I forgot to mention in my earlier Mexico posts that should you ever find yourself in need of a travel agent who will work very hard and wave magic wands for you, regardless of your budget, do yourself a favor and contact Bonnie at All-N-Clusive Travel. I get absolutely no kickback for telling you that she's wonderful, just the satisfaction of endorsing a friend and getting YOU the R&R you doubtless deserve.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

And I thought we were discussing clarinets

"Speaking of wind instruments, can I get a whoopee cushion?"
-- Ian, age 9

Note to self: Begin formal music appreciation curriculum STAT.

Friday, January 15, 2010

I Dare You

This weekend, I dare you to:

1. Find some way to make a difference in Haiti. If you need proof that this country, the poorest in the Western hemisphere, needed the world's fleeting attention long before an earthquake hit, see my review of Mountains Beyond Mountains. Chances are, you're already flooded with opportunities to help. We're donating shoes at a local dropoff center, and chose to donate financially here (where our donations will be matched and will be funneled through World Vision, a reputable Christian organization.)

2. Try something new. We're going to learn geocaching with friends and experts Donna and her husband John.

3. Teach a child to fingerknit. Boy or girl, it doesn't matter. If I can do it, with the help of this excellent video, YOU CAN TOO. (This works especially well if you happen to have the kind of child who is quite sure that you can and should knit her a muff, from scratch, between the hours of 9:00 and 10:00 p.m.)

4. Read Pink and Say to your elementary-aged children ... without weeping. I tried, and failed miserably. Perhaps you will enjoy greater success, but if
your heart isn't moved, you might consider donating it to the local gem and mineral society for display.

P.S. You don't have to do it ALL this weekend. After all, a person needs time for lazing around and consuming stacks of pumpkin pancakes. But there's no harm in trying!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Baby News

Important announcement: The following is not an announcement! Not an announcement of a Personal Nature, that is. So my sisters and sisters-in-law, women of a highly suspicious nature, just need to CALM DOWN and start contemplating their own reproductive futures.

Whew. Got that out of the way. (Who knew that just by standing up at dinner during our recent vacation to announce the publication of the 2010 family calendar, I'd have everyone eyeing my midsection?)

So the thing is, there are babies everywhere these days. Mostly, babies in an embryonic state. Dear friends Jessica and Anne are both incubating their FIFTH masterpieces. One of my oldest friends recently confided the early stages of a long-hoped-for pregnancy -- no names here, since it's still in the hush-hush phase. An even older friend, the one who always swore her future would be childless, recently welcomed a beautiful baby girl into the frigid world of coastal Maine. The other night, I dreamed my friend Nicole was telling me she was pregnant, even though her third is only seven months old. (Stranger things have happened.)

And yesterday, it was my distinct and teary honor to support my good friend Grace as she delivered her firstborn, Isaac Nathaniel. We deep-breathed together throughout her amazingly short labor as her husband rubbed her feet and her mom texted her many well-wishers.

Ten years ago, while I prepared for the birth of my own firstborn son, this was my philosophy:

These days, my thoughts run more along these lines:
Natural childbirth was the way to go for ME. I believe it's healthy and empowering, and that many women don't realize what they're capable of, but let us be clear, I wouldn't do it for weekend recreation, and during the pushing stage with Caroline, the words, "I AM NEVER DOING THIS AGAIN!" blared like a siren through the upstairs bathroom. And when I'm asked to be with a friend at a moment like this, it's not to live vicariously through their moment or to have them validate my own choices by doing things my way. It's to support them in having the experience THEY want.

Let's be honest; mothering is not a competition. Or at least, it shouldn't be. Motherhood works best as a sisterhood, in which each member is automatically assumed to be as wise, and loving, and capable of seeking help when she needs it, as her child needs her to be. Since I haven't run across any reliable checklist out there for good mothering (Sample Harvard application question: Did your parents use cloth diapers or disposables?), can we agree to cut each other some slack on the nonessentials?

That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Tap tap! Is this thing on?

So I read somewhere else in the blogosphere that this is National Delurking Week.

Ahem. Do you know what that means?

Lurking means reading someone's blog but leaving no trace. Never commenting. Never letting your presence be known.

Not that there's anything wrong with that; it's a free country; BUT ... It is National De-lurking Week, so guess what? I want to hear from the lurkers! (And the non-lurkers, too!)

I think some people don't comment because they don't know HOW too. Okay. Guess what? It's so easy. Just try it. I think other people don't because they don't feel they have anything meaningful to add to the discussion. Hey, guys? Does that ever stop me? Is everything I write on here just jam-packed with meaning? I doubt it.

So, here's what I'm thinking. It would fascinate me to know who's reading and where from. From where. Hmm. Yes, from where, I think. So, if you feel so moved, whether or not you've ever commented, leave your name, your city, and -- totally optional here! -- your favorite children's book (since I just wrote about mine) in the comments.

And just to inspire you, or to prove that profundity is not a criteria, I give you these:

My feet on December 14:
My feet on January 2:

Monday, January 11, 2010

Instant Challenge

We read a whole lot of books in our homeschool, as you MIGHT have deduced if you've read this blog for any length of time. And by "we," I fully include myself. Mom reads HER OWN BOOKS. Not just what her kids are reading. Because -- shall we repeat the mantra? -- Mommy is a person, too! She must rage against atrophy of the intellect!

Just for example, this morning I read some of the New Testament first thing, then a bit of Kids Are Worth It!: Giving Your Child The Gift Of Inner Discipline while attempting to dry my, uh, delicates with the blowdryer in the bathroom before breakfast, Book of John as a family at breakfast, then a chapter of Across Five Aprils with Ian and Eliza (a stretch for them, but there's nothing wrong with that) midmorning, then a Cobble Street Cousins book called In Aunt Lucy's Kitchen with the girls, followed by a bit of Henry and Mudge.

(A note on the CSC books: Caroline, age 4, grabbed one of these off the shelf off the library, and now we're hooked. I feel like this little series, written by award-winning author Cynthia Rylant and delightfully illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin, fills a niche for beginning-to-intermediate chapter readers that I find to be, sadly impoverished. Either that or heavily populated by book series which lean stylistically on The Sentence Fragment. Refraining ... from ... mentioning ... names (such as The Magic Treehouse (which I'm not mentioning)).)

But my original POINT was that, while I could probably read silently and aloud all day as the crumbs piled up around me, some of these young whippersnappers need ACTION. They need HANDS-ON. They need THINKING OUTSIDE THE BOX. Enter the Instant Challenge from Delightful Learning!

We did our third challenge today -- a Mouse House. Ian and Eliza worked as a team (she plays Watson to his Holmes), making a living/tea room for the imaginary mice, and Caroline, of course, did her own. Each Monday there's a new challenge, so if you have short people in the house, homeschoolers or not, to check them out.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Speaking of Ma Ingalls ...

The Professor has decided that he is comfortable enough with his manliness to allow me to share his latest accomplishment.

But first, look at this:

See? Very manly. Are we all agreed?

So, moving right along, he has, or HAD, this gigundous stack of T-shirts. So abundant that often, I could barely close the drawers when putting away clean laundry. It's been an issue in our marriage from the very beginning. But we don't need to get into that. That's what therapy is for.

Yesterday, no doubt inspired by a surge of love for me, he decided to purge the stack. Helen of Troy's face launched a thousand ships; mine launches about ten T-shirts.

But sharing my abhorrence for waste, he didn't want to do something so dastardly as throwing them all away. And we have more than enough cleaning rags, thankyouverymuch. So, are you ready for this?

HE CUT THEM ALL INTO STRIPS AND BRAIDED THEM INTO A RUG. And, at her request, a jumprope for Caroline.

And tomorrow, he'll begin a three-day walk, just like Ox-cart Man, to the nearest city to sell our wares.

Or not.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

KidLit Comment Challenge

All Aboard!

I'm going to join in on the Kidlitosphere 3-week Comment Challenge hosted by Mother Reader. Won't you come along? From her blog, you can click on the "Kidlitosphere Central" Button, which will take you a site that lists many, many blogs devoted to children's literature.
Hmm, smells like a candy store to me!

In honor of this challenge, I thought I'd share my all-time favorite children's book here.
Ox-Cart Man, written by Donald Hall and illustrated by Barbara Cooney (author and illustrator of another favorite, Miss Rumphius) conveys in the simplest of language, including one giant run-on sentence, the stark beauty and simple pleasures of a year on a New England farm about a hundred years ago. The family, unnamed, lives so completely in tune with the changing seasons and so dependent on the things they make and grow, each member an essential part of that weaving, woven life. It was Caroline's favorite for a long time, which being interpreted means that I read it night after night and still managed not to tire of it, which is saying a LOT. Trust me.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Singin' the Blues

Everything's gray and chilly these days.

My soul feels a little that way too.

There are bright spots, of course. My times in the Word. Finishing up Project 365 for 2009 and looking back over all the ordinary moments, and a few standouts, from the year. Last night's Rose Bowl -- not the outcome, of course, but the drama of watching an untested freshman fumble to fill big shoes and eventually redeem himself, the words Colt McCoy spoke after the game, the friends we watched it with (in person and on Facebook!), and the delicious tomato soup we consumed. Meeting Raji, one of my faithful blog readers, for the first time in person this morning. A fresh year with new possibilities. The prospect of a date with the Professor this weekend.

Also. In the last couple weeks, we've interacted with a few people whose life struggles have made the temptation to pity myself seems a bit preposterous. I'm thankful for full use of my limbs, for a emotionally healthy and physically present husband, for wonderful friends.

Still. January is difficult, every year. With most of our regularly scheduled commitments on hiatus, days can go by of just the kids and me. As much as I love these vocal creatures, I start to feel hemmed in. I think I've been with them pretty much nonstop for the past month. What is it about being with young children that can be so genuinely, miraculously delightful and yet -- if we be completely honest -- also so fraying to one's nerves, so inducing of psychological torpor, so that you wonder whether your real self, the self with a ready smile or laugh or hey, even a feeling of effectiveness, might be hibernating in a deep winter cave?

A few years ago, I bumped into a sweet friend while I was struggling with the three of them in the Central Market parking lot. Knowing that she came from a family of five, I asked her whether her mom ever seemed to experience stress.

"Oh, sure!" she replied airily, "One time she locked herself in her room for two days straight and read Gone with the Wind. We'd be pounding on the door complaining of being hungry, and she'd remind us where the fixings for peanut butter and jelly were." Seeing my surprised face, she grinned and added without a trace of sarcasm. "What can I say? I had a happy childhood!"

Have I told that story before? Thinking of it always makes me feel better. And after lunch today, I decided that it would not harm my children's psyches for me to announce that I was going to take a vacation in my room for a while. Now, two hours later, I hear them giggling like crazy while making videos of each other. So, the wounds apparently run deep.

Reading through the Little House on the Prairie series with the kids over the years has often given me an urge to interview Ma Ingalls. I so want to hear her side of the story, to know what it really was like for her to be out on the prairie or deep in the woods with small children, no money or neighbors, and no respite from the daily drudgery. What about those long, long winter days that confined her to the snowbound cabin? In her daughter's portrayal, Ma is always complacent, always optimistic, always full of aphorisms like "All's well that ends well," or breathless excitement over -- heaven! -- panes of real glass for her windows. The woman was made of sturdy stuff, to be sure. But I can't help but think she had her moments.

Don't worry, folks. I'm fully aware that this too shall pass. But I'm just keepin' it real. And if you ever feel a hint of the January blues, know you've got a friend in me.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Calamity Jack

Big Book News!

Calamity Jack just hit the stands! I've mentioned before what big fans Ian and his mom are of Rapunzel's Revenge. These, IMHO, are graphic novels at their very finest, the perfect medley of riproaring storytelling and topnotch illustrations. Can't wait to get our paws on a copy!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Staycation Wonderland

There are about a hundred and one things I've been wanting to blog about during my somewhat enforced Internet semi-fast. Sadly, there are about a hundred and one OTHER things on my to-do list now that we're home. Everything from rehabilitating my sacrum to starting to plan my Japan class for Friday Co-op to meeting a couple article deadlines. None of which are as fun as spewing random thoughts onto the blog.

Here's a little rundown of the last trip. Borrowing the colloquialism, let's call it The Bekker Family Staycation. See, here's the deal. The fourteen of us in my immediate family (including kids and spouses) wanted to gather in Massachusetts with my parents. We had the following factors to contend with: 1. The advancement of my dad's ALS doesn't permit much mobility. 2. All five kids and/or spouses have currently said YES to higher education and therefore YES to temporary poverty. Clearly, a ski vacation was out. But we're not champion loungers, either. At least, not fulltime for four days. (In fact, some of us are so compulsive that on one trip, we polished exactly half of my mom's many brass cabinet and drawer pulls after she went to bed one night. The result was to make the unpolished ones look particularly drab. She was so grateful.) We needed a PLAN. The result? An action-packed Staycation chez les parents, with room around the edges for lounging and indolence.

I'll share, in case any of these ideas could be helpful to YOU in planning times with the extended fam. NOT to give you the false impression that we are some perfect family cherry-picked from a Norman Rockwell painting, rather than the loving and complicated bunch that in fact we are, probably much like your own.

Each couple had to plan one activity and one theme dinner.
Here's a sampling:

Making dumplings:

Yankee Swap (This. Was. HILARIOUS.):

Fiesta Night:

(Poor girl. Methinks her very nosehairs are frozen.)

Tea Party at my SIL's house with extra guests:

Spain Night:


Fondue Night:

Oh, and "Adult Movie Night." Stop snickerin', y'all. The "adult movie" was North by Northwest.

There were a few unscheduled stops, of course. Activities like Uncle Headcrushing ...

... Bundling Up (this takes HOURS, and tell your bladder to Hold All Calls once the layers are donned)

... and Drinking Straight Out of the Blender Like Your Mama Done Tole You Not To.