The other day, Ned asked if I could stop telling him what day it was, because it was starting to make him feel like the summer was disappearing too fast!
I know what he means. Almost five weeks of summer vacation have already passed; this weekend we reach the summit, and the rest of the summer is just the downhill slide toward the first day of school on August 24th.
Although we decided against a big family vacation this year, it has still been a busy, fun summer for the whole family. Here’s a slideshow of one of our more interesting projects, undertaken on the very first day of vacation. It got us off to a good start.
Here are a few of the things that have kept us entertained in 2005.
AUDREY At the kids’ school, the top ten readers (according to their “Accelerated Reader” scores) are recognized each month by having their names read over the loudspeaker. A friendly rivalry among a group of neighborhood pals has grown up around this. After hearing Ned’s name several times last year, Audrey decided it was time to get in the game. So she plowed through the huge Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire — followed by the rest of the series in quick succession.
JOHN Rarely does a book actually crack John up so much that he is compelled to read aloud from it. But he was so moved by James Lileks’ Gallery of Regrettable Food that he had to pass it on to me and now to you. All the photos and recipes were featured in real advertisements and home magazine features of yesteryear — including the hotdog jello!
LAURA Edward Jones’ novel The Known World, about free blacks who owned slaves in the antebellum south introduced me to a historic fact that was for me a total shock. Of all the books I read this year, this is the only one I would read twice.
NED Ned’s a little bit of an addict in this category, so he had a lot to choose from for his favorite. He narrowed it down to two: Squire and Page, both installments in the Protector of the Small series by Tamora Pierce, about a girl who is trained to be a knight. The best part is, he doesn’t even know how liberated he is.
AUDREY Ever since seeing her first Broadway musical last year, Audrey’s been on a bit of a Great White Way kick. She even composed the lyrics and wrote the music for her own show tune, and distributed copies to all the girls on the school bus. The best movie Audrey saw this year was The Muppets Take Manhattan, especially the dream sequence (“I’m gonna be a movie star / And I’m gonna learn to drive a car…”)
JOHN The Wedding Crashers
LAURA No specific title: this year, as long as it was a musical with great costumes and great dancing, it was a good movie. Audrey’s new favorite weekend leisure activity is “Spa Night,” when we give each other facials and hot oil treatments, and watch an old movie together. Having a big girl is extra fun.
NED Ned says his favorite movie this year has been the brand-new Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. He only had to flee the theater twice during scary bits.
AUDREY Audrey was in a vintage kind of mood this year. Her favorite movie came out 13 years before her birth, but her favorite album was produced in 1968! Walt Disney’s Merriest Songs must have been included in a bunch of records my sister Marion salvaged from our own childhood collection and then passed on to my kids. Its chipper selections like “Chim Chim Cheree” and “Give a Little Whistle” really resonated with our own little birdie.
JOHN Owsley, The Hard Way. This is slick, glimmery pop/rock, in many ways similar to Fountains of Wayne. A consistently enjoyable second album.
LAURA Alison Krauss & Union Station, Lonely Runs Both Ways. We went to see these guys live at Playhouse Square in April, with several good pals from church. Excellent soundtrack for doing housework, though I do tend to get sidetracked singing along and pretending to be a bluegrass star. The lovely “Living Prayer” makes for an andante antidote to endless repetitions of “Crazy Frog,” too.
NED Yes, Ned’s favorite album this year was based on European ring tones for cell phones. Crazy Frog Presents Crazy Hits isn’t quite as excruciating for adults as you might think. For one thing, we did have a couple good family conversations where the grown ups got to explain the origin of the themes to The Pink Panther and Dallas. Still, I did actually have to acquire earplugs.
AUDREY Returning to her Potterian theme, Audrey enthusiastically recommends the “Hogwarts Challenge” game on Time magazine’s “Time for Kids” site. Her parents also recommend the site for a daily dose of current events suitable for the civic-minded third-grader.
JOHN Ars Technica. An obsessively geeky computer site manned by a couple of doctoral candidates in ancient history.
LAURA We hesitated to write our own family Christmas letter, knowing how many people despise them. This kindhearted essay in The Christian Science Monitor was persuasive.
NED The kids have to earn their entertainment computer and TV time a minute at a time, so they are getting more selective about how they spend it, thank goodness. Ned’s big favorite this year was RuneScape, an interactive adventure game played simultaneously by thousands of people all over the world. They definitely didn’t have stuff like this when John was a 10 year old budding computer geek!
Favorite Live Entertainment:
AUDREY Because of a conflict with our Michigan cross-country skiing trip, we traded four orchestra tickets for two tickets to a stage production of “Junie B. Jones” at Playhouse Square. On the surface, this would seem like a bad deal, especially since productions in which adults play little kids so easily veer toward cloying. But this fast-paced, silly show was just right for Audrey, and its title tune “Top Secret Personal Beeswax” became a sort of anthem around our house for many weeks.
JOHN As always, it’s nice to make the quick trip over to Jacobs Field, especially when the team is winning. And thanks to some of our neighborhood friends we had some excellent Indians tix this year. Too bad that it rained pretty much every time we went.
LAURA That would have to be the spring orchestra concert at the kids’ school, Newton D. Baker School of the Arts. The sight of Audrey slouching with her legs crossed in the second row of violins didn’t exactly cause a mother’s heart to swell with pride, but their playing did! I wish all the anti-school levy folks who planted “Don’t Reward Failure” signs in their front yards could have attended.
NED Asked what was so good about the Cavs vs. Memphis Grizzlies game he chose as his favorite entertainment, Ned said, “I got some cotton candy, I had some pretty good seats, and the Cavs won.”
Audrey was on TV because her school won an award.
The kids’ school, Newton D. Baker School of the Arts, was named one of this year’s No Child Left Behind Blue Ribbon Schools of Excellence. It was one of only 16 schools in Ohio to receive this honor, and the only elementary school in the Cleveland area.
I feel like John and I somehow skipped an entire generation of technology. Here we were just warming up to the idea of the word-processed holiday form letter when—voila!—along came personal websites. Since the former type of greeting never really earned uniform acceptance, I hope you’ll feel differently about this new way of sharing the highlights of our family’s year.
In the short movies below, you’ll see Ned and Audrey showing off new skills they’ve acquired since last Christmas. Last year, Santa brought Ned a little 1/2-size guitar, and he’s been taking lessons ever since. It took him a while to accept the idea that he could get any pleasure from doing something that was not immediately easy for him, and even longer to settle into the routine of daily practice, but he has stuck with it. Quite an accomplishment for our Edmund. As you watch the clip, observe how his eyes track the sheet music that is not, in fact, actually in front of him. Weird, huh? He does this when he’s recounting something he read in a book, too, and it freaks me out!
I hope you’ll be able to tell from the clip of Audrey how much she’s enjoying what she’s learning in kindergarten. As was the case with Ned, we were very hesitant to send her this year, knowing that she’d be the youngest in her class and might not be ready. But aside from being tuckered out by the end of her full-day (once she fell asleep in the middle of the classroom floor while 25 kindergartners and two teachers continued to carry on around her), she is thriving there. Reading is a very new thing for her, and that’s why she chose this clip to share.
Sadly, John and I have no movies to share about our year’s activities, but we are keeping busy. You can get some sense of how we’ve been spending some of our time by visiting our other website at www.mamasays.org It’s not quite as pulled together yet as we would like; we’re still learning about how to put together a good site, and adding content is time-consuming. But creating an Internet presence for the newsletter I’ve been publishing for the last five years has been fun.
Now that we have a rudimentary understanding of how to add images to this site, we’ll try to keep it updated with new photos and movies. So check back occasionally and see our little people grow.
We all wish you a peaceful and happy holiday!