Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Eliza's Birthday Books

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This year for Eliza's birthday party she wanted to invite a handful of friends to join her for two favorite activities. Painting. And sharing good books.

I loved the idea.

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So we scheduled a date at the painting store, as my children call it. And for what they provided (including the fact that I didn't have to plan, prepare, or clean up - sometimes that is priceless), I thought the cost was quite reasonable.

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Each girl chose a small animal to paint. They settled into chairs and swabbed color onto panda bears, turtles, elephants, kitty cats, geckos, and dolphins. 

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Eliza was in heaven. The girls chatted busily about Les Mis (no kidding), painting techniques, and what they were doing with their summer. This is Eliza with her favorite backyard friend, Delaney, who is moving to London for a year. Sigh... we're gonna miss this dear girl.

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After all the animal creations were finished and slated for the kiln, we brought out cupcakes and tuned our singing voices.

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I love these girls. Full of personality, grounded, kind to each other. I'm getting to know most of them in new ways since being called to teach their primary class at church. I love watching them read from the scriptures, ask difficult questions, make real connections. 

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I hope these friendships for Eliza always bless her life.

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She blew out nine candles.

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Then we came back to our home and opened presents on the front lawn. In lieu of regular gifts, we asked each friend to bring a book. One of their favorites to share with Eliza. 

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Eliza was elated at the stack of reading she unwrapped. Each girl told us a handful of her favorite titles. I wrote them all down and rounded out the list with some of our favorites from the last year. And now, I share it with you!

(I could go on and on about some of these. Like The Tale of Despereaux and its powerful message of forgiveness, all the Roald Dahl books - he's simply masterful. Or the way we cried when we finished Stone Fox and The Hundred Dresses.)

Moving Day – Meg Cabot
Regarding the Fountain – Kate Klise
Because of Mr. Terupt – Rob Buyea
Where the Mountain Meets the Moon – Grace Lin
Wonder – RJ Palacio
The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Doll’s House – Rumer Godden
Stone Fox – John Reynolds Gardiner
Sarah, Plain and Tall – Patricia MacLachlan
Big Susan – Elizabeth Orton Jones
Betsy-Tacy Books – Maud Hart Lovelace
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane – Kate DiCamillo
The Tale of Despereaux – Kate DiCamillo
Dragon Slippers – Jessica Day George
Tuesdays at the Castle – Jessica Day George
Wednesdays in the Tower – Jessica Day George
Pollyanna – Eleanor H. Porter
Ivy & Bean Books – Annie Barrows
The Hundred Dresses – Eleanor Estes
The Little House Series – Laura Ingalls Wilder
The Family Under the Bridge – Natalie Savage Carlson
Nancy Drew Mysteries – Carolyn Keene
Mr. Popper’s Penguins – Richard Atwater
A Wrinkle in Time series – Madeleine L’Engle
The BFG – Roald Dahl
Clementine Books – Sara Pennypacker
Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library – Chris Grabenstein

Explore the list and feel free to add your favorites in the comments!

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I will say, Eliza loved Wonder so much, it inspired the writing of her own book. The story of a flying book that takes you to different spaces or memories from your past. She called it Seen. 

This list is great for young readers ages 6 - 12. And I recommend any of them for reading aloud.

So far this summer, I've read aloud Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library, The Tale of Despereaux, The BFG, and we're currently working through The Long Winter (Little House Series).

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I recently received an email from a very engaged father who was curious as to how we read to not one or two children, but to five, and how we get our children excited about reading.

I told him good books are key. I rely heavily on trusted recommendations  And most evenings, reading is the reward at our house. I try to make it fun by reading in new and different locations. Like outside on the lawn chairs, on a blanket in the backyard, on the neighbor's trampoline, or in one of the kids' bedrooms.

The couch is also a standard spot, with children flanking us on both sides. I've said it before but I believe reading aloud is one of the best ways you can prepare your children to be good students. As well as strengthen family relationships.

And while it isn't the most popular thing to say, the truth is, we have very little screen time. My kids don't own any devices. We have a few games and learning apps on an iPad. But most days are totally screen-free. Unless it's Khan Academy, movie night, or a moment of desperation when I've GOT to take a shower without kids maiming each other and destroying the house.

I also encourage the kids to read on their own. This summer the girls have had a goal of reading at least 30 minutes every day from a chapter book and scripture.

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Eliza's newly shelved books.

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A week after the party, we went back to the painting store to get the girls' animals they painted. And picked up this cute plate the store painted for Eliza. 

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Ali and Sami (who are a little younger, age 7) have been enjoying the Ramona series this summer, along with Mr. Popper's Penguins, Pippi Longstocking, and Milly-Molly-Mandy. Some of which I know I've recommended before.

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One last way we love to digest books is via audio. In the car. This summer we've listened to A Wrinkle in Time, Ivy & Bean, two Nancy Drew mysteries, and Little Women.

Even my boys listen without complaint. I love to stop the audio sometimes and discuss what is happening, drive home an important point or observation. Like how Beth treats her sisters in Little Women, or how Meg's love for Charles Wallace conquers darkness and evil, as illustrated so beautifully in L'Engle's Wrinkle.

Good books teach truth. And sharing them with my children brings me so much joy.

As for our sweet Eliza? Some day I'll write about her creative mind and how I can barely keep up with her projects and ideas. How is it that she is nine?

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Learning from Silence

Normally today I'd write of parades with children in sun bonnets, foot races down canyons rutted by wagons, fireworks and celebrations. All in remembrance of the great shared story that is ours on Pioneer Day. A story of restoration, conversion, migration, and refuge.

But I'm not in Utah this year. We're in another mountain rage. And as I type, cool mountain air rises through the screen door and over my shoulder. We've taken our first family trip since all five children were born. Our first vacation outside of Utah, that is.
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I had such high hopes for this adventure. But as I was packing swim trunks, favorite blankets, and running shoes, I felt a sore throat coming on. I had already lost my voice, and by the time we arrived at our destination, I was battling strep throat.

It's been five days now and the sores in the back of my throat are just starting to disappear. I still have no voice. Nasal congestion barreled in at full throttle, holding all respiratory and sinus passages captive And the finale? A lovely chest cough. Truth is, I've been miserable...

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More @ Segullah today about what I discovered this week. Even slight and temporary loss teaches us.

Monday, July 21, 2014

On Top of the World

They're back! The Kesler clan! With their summer music video from Island Park. Singin' it this time, with Imagine Dragons! I love what Kelsi said about their song choice: "When we're together as a family at Island Park, we ARE on top of the world!"

You can feel that elation from them as you see them interact, laugh together, play together. Makes me miss our summers reunions at the Kesler cabin - skiing, canoeing, laughing through talent shows, and watching Grandpa Wray ski off the dock.

Brett's drone camera makes for some sweet footage. Love the mountaintop shots, the new generation of Keslers getting taller/older, and I think Scott's belly flop might be the best yet.

Oh! and don't miss the extras at the end... they always make me giggle.

Kesler cousins - y'all keep reminding us how wonderfully safe and happy family can be. Love you guys!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Keddington Camp 2014

Last night I sat outside in the cool darkness, contemplating the fact that summer is half over. Half over. And for Eliza, half her summers of living at home are almost over. Ah. I hope we're doing things right. 

After a hot day of swim lessons, car fights, five youngins elbowing for this and that, an unusual amount of bickering, and covert blasting with squirt guns, I wondered.

Then I got to thinking about my own childhood summers. The weeks we spent digging holes and setting up obstacle courses on the undeveloped property behind our backyard. We filled the holes with water, tied long ropes to trees, nailed old boards together for shelter. The land was a welcome wilderness, with a creek (and poison ivy - the only unfortunate summer tradition), a few old outbuildings, and lots of large trees. 

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Here we are (the four oldest) on a summer campout. Eating apples while wearing aprons my Mom made us. Aprons... not a bad idea.

One summer we built a real wickiup. Felled our own trees, and lashed them together. Our makeshift indian dwelling was big enough for everyone - friends and siblings - to have a pow-wow inside. (My Mom and I scoured old scrapbooks for a picture but couldn't find one.)

We rode our bikes to the Snow Shack and 7-11. We swam in the neighbor's pond, floated the canal with inner tubes, and explored every corner of our seemingly big, wide world. Most days we left home after our few jobs were done and didn't come back until dinner. Except to grab a popsicle and watch He-Man or Inspector Gadget.

Children's summers these days (mine included) are so programmed and sanitized. Suburbia can't sustain the roamers we were as children. It isn't safe. I mean, what would people think if we let our kids wander the neighborhood unsupervised for an entire day? 

Ruminating on past summers made me grateful we had the reunion we did this year. 

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Welcome to Keddington Camp 2014. Location? The Bar J Cattle Ranch. Three hours south of home, near Salina, UT.

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Deb and Will were in charge this year. They did a fabulous job planning all the details.

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Here's our family totem pole. Each family decorated a canister. Representative of kinship, our homemade totem pole kept a vigilant eye on us for three days of camp.

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Here are all the cousins (minus Maya and Ethen). With cute Michael hiding on the right. He wanted nothing to do with my camera.

Sadly, Doug couldn't make the reunion this year. But I didn't want my kids to miss out on this place or this time with family. So I stayed up late prepping food, packed the car full of gear, sleeping bags, and kids. Stopped at the library for a couple audio books. And then we headed south.

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Here's where we set up camp.

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This old hunting cabin is still used by elk hunters who purchase permits during hunting season. We camped in tents, but the cabin's running water, toilet, and stove made for pretty luxurious camping amenities. 

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There was even a trampoline! Which provided hours (and I mean hours) of entertainment.

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Major thanks to my Dad who helped us pitch our tent. Wouldn't have survived without him. And kudos to Gordon, who had a grand time hammering in the stakes.

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Don't you love that old trailer next to my parents' tent? Bet it's seen some miles.

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And here's the cowboy and cowgirl that made it all possible. Dan and Angela. 

Angela is Will's sister. She and her husband, Dan, run the Bar J Cattle Ranch. Now let me tell you, that is one tough job. I am in awe of Angela and all she does each day. Most of us would define "hard-working" in words that might sound like a spa treatment to her. Truly. She takes care of kids, rescues stray cattle, irrigates, drives her suburban up gnarly trails. And I don't even know the half of it.

These two were as kind as the day was long. So good to us. And we were so grateful to them.

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Spencer, riding Zeus.

Angela brought up three ponies for the kids to ride. She kept them in a small arena and left the tack shed open, so we could saddle them up when we wanted.

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The kids were in horsie heaven.

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She even brought up a small pony cart that she hitched to Siri. Seeing her bounce down the road toward us was like watching a scene out of Little House on the Prairie.

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Neil was kind enough to take the reins and give the kiddos rides.

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A small river ran through camp, making for much entertainment.

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So entertaining, that before sundown the first day, my kids had burned through three outfits and all their socks. Water is the ultimate kid magnet. They just ouldn't stay away.

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But this elk antler made for a perfect clothesline.

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After dinner we made s'mores!

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And watched a magnificent sunset.

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And talked around the campfire.

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Then we looked through a big telescope Grandpa brought. So many stars. And planets. We saw Saturn's rings, Mars, and a handful of summer constellations.

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The next morning Deb had the kids decorate "adventure bags" she had made. They loooooved their satchels. Took them everywhere.

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Our newest cousin, Hana, impressed us all with her camping skills. She was so good-natured. One night while I was up with two of my children, I realized we hadn't heard a peep from baby Hana. She slept like a log. And all the bigger girls wanted their turn to hold her.

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Later in the morning, Angela drove us up to the high country. We jolted over dirt roads, through aspen groves, and up to the famous salamander pond. After getting out of vehicles, most of us trekked to the pond, but my Dad heard an elk call and wandered the opposite direction, hoping to sight a few elk. Not only did he see a few; he happened upon an entire herd walking through a meadow. That made his week.

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The kids arrived with nets and big dreams of catching salamanders. (Sami had her heart set on taking one home.)

But the first wildlife we saw was a garter snake. Both adults and kids were trying to net the thing when all of a sudden, Eliza reached down into the water and snatched the snake out with her bare hands!

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She was ecstatic, as you can see. 

I was rather naive. I knew the snake wasn't venomous, but I also thought it wouldn't bite. So I didn't worry about how she was holding the snake.

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All of a sudden, the snake raked its head back, hinged its jaw, and latched right onto the back of her hand. Her eyes grew big but she didn't say a word. She just pulled the top jaw out of her hand, then the back, and dropped the snake to the ground. That's when she finally spoke. "Bad snake," she said.

No scream. No tears. Just a hug from mom and a band-aid.

She's surprising me lately with her bold, adventurous spirit. I've never seen our girl so brave.

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Will tried his hand at catching a salamander but was unsuccessful.

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That's when he sweet-talked Angela into trying. "She's the salamander whisperer," he said.

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And sure enough. Within a couple minutes, she'd caught one. Here she is holding it for the girls to see. 

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They're kinda cute. With their little hands and big smiley mouths.

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Sami was the first one to hold it.

Angela caught a second and the kids immediately named them: Sally and Manders. We put them in an empty ice cream tupperware and brought them down to camp with us. They became the camp pets.

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That afternoon Angela took us to a large field to collect rocks. Somewhere in geological time, this place must have had a glacier move through it, carrying a large amount of unusual, polished stones.

They were everywhere. Blacks, reds, grays, purples, and oranges.

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Hunters and gatherers.

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Back at camp, the kids washed their rocks and Deb helped them make necklaces out of their favorite stones.

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Before dinner there was archery practice.

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And pony love.

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And a bit of bare-back riding.

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Then it was chow-time! 

I'd been waiting all day to ring this dinner bell. I was so excited. Really, it was the highlight of my day.

Cooooome and..... get it!

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I was on for dinner that night. We had yellow chicken curry with rice, all kinds of toppings, cut cucumbers, watermelon, and for dessert...

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My Dad made a pineapple upside-down cake. Dutch oven style. Delish!

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Around the campfire, it was Eliza's turn to hold Hana.

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Then everyone gathered close to hear my Dad tell the story of Joshua. You remember Joshua? God's prophet who felt (like most of them) incapable and inadequate. A man who had a hard time believing he could do what God asked him to do. Which was take the city of Jericho.

But the Lord consoled him, 

"Be strong, and of a good courage; be not afraid: for the Lord they God is with thee whithersoever thou goest" (Joshua 1:9).

I love these words. The Lord tells him again and again, "I will be with thee. I will not fail thee."

And he doesn't.

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Now, no one tells a story like my Dad. And no one sings bass like my Dad. We got the best of both worlds that night. After the story, he sang, "Joshua fit the battle of Jericho." And we joined him for the chorus.

He sang all the verses. And as you can see, he's quite the entertainer.

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Here he is belting out the very last note. "And the walls... came a tumbling'... down."

I love Joshua's humility. I also love his unwavering commitment. 

"Choose you this day whom ye will serve, but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord" (Joshua 24:15). 

So grateful for parents who also chose this path.

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Giggly boy.

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Tent Arvy. 

I had to give you an idea for our sleeping quarters. This is the morning of the third day. Right before Gordon pitched a royal fit over the insane number of mosquito bites that plagued his limbs and were driving him CRAZY! The boy refused to put on pants the first two days. I think we counted close to fifty bites on his extremities.

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Once I got the boys dressed, they headed out. First stop, even before breakfast: check on Sally and Manders.

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Kissing salamanders.

My kids begged to take the salamanders home. When no other families objected, we did just that. Now Sally and Manders are living in a ten gallon tank in our backyard, eating wax worms and brine shrimp. Happy as can be.

They make great pets. They don't bite, don't claw, and they always look like they're smiling. So far, they've handled all the love with surprising resilience. 

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Last day of camp, the big kids spent most the morning riding. Determined to get those ponies to trot, they stayed in the small arena and worked them until they were sweaty. After the kids felt confident, Angela let them out into the large field to ride.

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Here's Eliza trotting. Braids flying.

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Talk about freedom. I think Eliza and Lizzie could have stayed in the saddle all day.

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Lizzie in her riding boots. Love this girl.

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And Angela again. I adore her. Really, everyone at camp will tell you the same thing: she was amazing.

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Lance converted the pony cart to a rickshaw.
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And just as everyone was pulling out of camp to head home, I turned the ignition over only to discover our car battery was dead. My luck of late. Thank goodness Dad came to the rescue again and jumped our van.

I love this family I grew up in. My siblings, my parents, and all the grandchildren we've brought into the world. I love the family we've become. (Sad we didn't have Dave and his family with us.)

And I really love that we were able to give our children a taste of roaming and wild living. Of exploring and getting dirty, with lots of space for unstructured play. Maybe next summer we'll build a wickiup. Dave - can you manage that?
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