Nine

December 16, 2013

Deep deep sigh.

My son, my big boy, is nine years old.  His birthday was November 28th – Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and his birthday all in one this year.  I started doing these birthday posts when he was six – the age his younger brother is now, although it is only two more months before Spencer turns seven. I like to go back and reread these birthday posts more than any others here on my blog. I have a good memory but being able to capture little moments that slip through my mind’s cracks gives me a better sense of my family. The journey from eight years old to nine was a challenging one so truthfully, I’m not sad to leave eight behind. Even though Graham has become this huge person, not a little tiny boy anymore and that makes me sad, I’m just glad we are able to move on to the next year.

If you have been reading here long enough, you know that Graham has some challenges that do not have a name.  (You can read more posts about him here.)  He is not on the spectrum (Autism or Asperger’s), he is not dyslexic, he doesn’t have behavioral issues, and he is healthy as an ox. He probably has some kind of auditory processing disorder meaning that he doesn’t process language in the way that you and I do. He hears the words fine but doesn’t make sense of them in a timely manner, or sometimes at all. Language, as I have learned first hand, affects everything you do in your life. If you are not fluent in speaking and understanding, you are probably also not fluent in social language. He struggles to follow along in his classroom and he also struggles on the playground. Ever the cheerful and friendly child, he wants to join in games at recess but can’t follow the complex rules that sometimes go along with those games and frustration ensues.   Fortunately, in his case, frustration means walking away, not hauling off and hitting someone.  He also just doesn’t read people in quite the right way so kids sometimes find him annoying or inappropriate. It is heartbreaking to watch. All he wants is to connect, to be friends, and he just doesn’t go about it quite the right way. I watch Spencer, his junior by two years, navigate friendships effortlessly. But for Graham it is just so much harder. I will say that the older kids, especially the girls, adore him and he gets high fives whenever he sees them.

All along, Randy and I have held tight to the idea that public school is the best choice for Graham. Because he has been tested and has an IEP (Individualized Education Plan), he has legal rights to services within the school. If we opt out and go to private school, we lose our rights to services during the school day. The burden would fall to us to get him extra help. Over the years, the schools he has attended have offered him quite a bit in the way of services, but it has never been quite enough, especially as he has gotten older and school has gotten more sophisticated. This past year it seemed they are always just falling short of what he really needs. This has been a frustrating process, to say the least. Both Randy and I believe that their hearts are in the right place, that they care deeply about Graham and want him to succeed, but for many complicated reasons, including funding, they are not able to give him quite enough help. Last year, at the end of our rope, we hired a lawyer to help us navigate the meetings and to help us speak the correct language to get what we want for him.

Through the process of many meetings and innumerable emails, not to mention an honest threat to sue the Oakland school district, Graham is now being helped more than before. He attends a special reading clinic every morning where he and one other student get intensive reaching coaching by a specialist. He still gets help with reading and writing during the school day, and he has an aide shadowing him at recess, to help him navigate the complex rules of the playground. He also goes to speech therapy twice a week. This kid works so hard. I have to wake him up most mornings, then he gets breakfast, then I pile the two boys in the car and drive to downtown Oakland where the reading clinic is. He spends an hour and forty minutes with no break practicing reading and pronunciation. He scores a ten out of ten almost every single day for his effort.  Then he gets on a bus and goes back to his regular school where he has just missed recess, and has to jump in with two feet to whatever is on the schedule that day. His teacher is kind and accommodating, telling him to get his wiggles out on the playground if he needs to, and offering him time to eat a snack, but it is still a big transition. One that he does every single day and will do through the end of the school year. Graham has homework every night that can take him up to an hour, with a lot of assistance, and it is so difficult for him. All through these long days with challenging expectations, he is cheerful and compliant. “How was school today?” is met, unfailingly, with “Great!”

I am so proud of him. I also continue to be frustrated by him. And that is where this post will sound like all the other birthday posts that I have written about Graham. I have this beautiful amazingly sweet tempered child, who tries his best every single day (how many of us can say that?), and much of the time, in addition to loving him, I am impatient with him. Homework is the time of day where I am tested. I sit with him as he struggles to recognize his spelling words (must they be written in cursive??) and watch as his math skills, which are very good, flee his brain as he contemplates word problems. Third grade is a big transition, the work is less linear, more complex. This does not work well for our child. Again, I am grateful to his teacher who is compassionate and understanding. She suggests that he does 20 minutes of homework only, set a timer, and whatever he finishes is great.  So far, that has made things a bit easier for all of us.

At his last IEP meeting, an emotional one where the school therapist shared her findings, and her deep affection for Graham, in a stirring way, Randy raised the difficult question. The one that has been in the back of our minds since he started school. “At what point do we hold him back?” It was one of those things that had been with me so long that it was startling to hear it voiced aloud. And even more startling was how they unequivocally told us that studies show that “retaining” students does them no good. They progress for a while and then continue to get stuck about where they did the previous year. Much better to keep assessing his needs and making accommodations for him along the way. I felt so much better after that was cleared up.  And I also worry.  Of course I worry.  How will this look in the future?  How will he continue to be in the classroom with typically developing kids without his very strong self esteem being impacted?

And then I remember what his pediatrician said long ago.  Before we knew what this was (and we still don’t), before he had started in school, just about when we realized that he wasn’t talking and all the babies his age were.  She told me that as long as he was making progress, we shouldn’t worry.  His peers will make progress too, most of the time faster than he will, so it won’t be a race.  He won’t necessarily catch up.  But as long as he is moving forward, that is what we need to hold on to.  And he is moving forward.  When he was starting developmental preschool and he was still wearing diapers, I could not imagine a day when he would sit at a real desk and do real math problems and read real books.  And here he is doing all of those things and thriving in his own way.

There are lessons here.  Be easier on him.  Be easier on myself.  Celebrate what you have without wishing for what you don’t.  Why is it all so hard?  I imagine other people’s houses at homework time and how effortlessly it must flow.  I imagine other people’s weekends and how much less frustration they must experience just trying to get out the door in addition to everything else.  And then I remember a valuable lesson I learned when I went through my divorce from my first husband.  When we announced to friends and family that we were splitting up, people were absolutely shocked.  From the outside, we seemed like the perfect couple – how could we divorce?  I realized that no one knows what is going on in your house and the challenges you face.  So as I imagine these other people with their other children, I need to remember that everyone has something.  What I have is a gloriously happy (and handsome) child with an amazing attitude who thinks he is awesome and that his life is great.  And I have a temper I wish was less volatile when it comes to this child.  We’ve done the work for him and we will continue to do it.  I think I need to do some work on me.



My New Favorite Mushrooms

November 21, 2013

Two quick announcements.  One, I have a new class that I will be teaching in December.  Tarts and Galettes will be our topic and the food will be truly epic!  If you have ever been afraid of making pie or tart dough, this is the class for you.  I have a foolproof recipe and will demonstrate lots of ways to use it.  Information here.  Also, if you are looking for some ideas for the big Thanksgiving holiday next week, I have a Thanksgiving category found here.

My brother Alex is a very accomplished eater. Actually, both of my brothers are. They are those annoying people who have huge appetites, eat well, and are very slim and in great shape. I should mention that they both work hard at staying in great physical shape.  I should also mention that I did not get the eat everything you want and stay slim gene. Nor did I get the tall gene. But I did get the small nose gene! Ahem. Back to Alex. As a child, he was incredibly picky. The list of food he would eat was pretty much confined to apple juice, applesauce, yogurt, and rice. Maybe a fruit or two. I think about this often when I think about the pickier of my two eaters. At least Spencer eats tofu and soba noodles and broccoli and mango and whole wheat bread and chickpeas and lots of fruit in addition to the buttered noodles that he would prefer to eat. I trust that Spencer will someday be like Alex. Some switch will flip for him and what he scoffs at now, he will love later.

Interestingly, there are two foods that Alex still doesn’t like. Mushrooms and artichoke hearts. Two foods that I love. I can’t say I understand the artichoke hearts, it’s not a common dislike, but I do get the mushrooms. I hated them as a kid – we all did. My mom made them regularly but she didn’t make us eat them. Nor did she make us eat the acorn squash halves that she filled with bits of butter and maple syrup and I would gladly eat two of now. Mushrooms are a pretty common dislike, enough so that I always ask a new friend how they feel about them before I cook for them. It is not just a taste thing but also a texture thing. Like I said, I get that. I feel lucky that I like them and that I have a husband who likes them. We eat a lot of mushrooms in our house. Um, two out of four of us do.

This is my new favorite way to use mushrooms and elevate them to a truly special side dish.  First you bake some portabellos to caramelize them and bring out their deep woodsy flavor.  Then you sauté leeks until they are silky and limp.  Next up are a combination of cremini (which are actually baby portabellos) and button mushrooms – those get time in the skillet with herbs and eventually some red wine.  The mushrooms cook down until they are brown and tender and at the very end you throw in some arugula for a little green and a little peppery punch.  It’s a great side dish and would even be amazing tossed with pasta.  Too bad Alex will never taste them.

One Year Ago:  Pumpkin Roll Cake
Two Years Ago:  Squash Hummus and Homemade Flatbread, Butternut Squash Soup with Ginger, and one of my favorite posts of all time – Wednesday
Three Years Ago:  Orecchiette with Creamy Leeks and Winter Squash
Four Years Ago:  Peanut Curry with Sweet Potatoes and Greens, Cider Caramelized Apple Pound Cake
Five Years Ago:  Parmesan and Thyme Crackers, Broccoli Rabe, Carrot and Radicchio Salad

Sautéed Mushrooms with Red Wine
Food & Wine
Serves 6 mushroom lovers

Preheat the oven to 350°. On a baking sheet, brush the portobellos with about 1 tablespoon of  olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake for about 25 minutes, until tender; let cool slightly, then slice 1/2 inch thick.
Meanwhile, in a large, deep skillet, heat another tablespoon of the oil. Add the leeks, garlic and a big pinch of salt and pepper. Cook over moderate heat until the leeks are just starting to brown, 7 minutes; transfer to a bowl.
Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in the skillet. Add half of the button and cremini mushrooms and a thyme sprig, season with salt and pepper and cook over moderately high heat, stirring occasionally, until tender and browned, 8 minutes. Transfer to the bowl. Repeat with the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil, mushrooms and thyme sprig.
Return all of the cooked mushrooms to the skillet. Add the red wine and cook until evaporated. Add the broth, lemon zest and lemon juice and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until the mushrooms are coated in a light sauce, 4 minutes. Stir in the Marsala and cook for 1 minute. Off the heat, stir in the butter and arugula and season with salt and pepper.


Back with a Winner

November 13, 2013

Hello friends. How do I explain an over month-long absence? It would be easier if I had some good excuse as to why I’ve been gone. A long trip maybe or a super exciting professional assignment. I can’t boast either. I can’t hide behind illness or family troubles because, truthfully, everything is going swimmingly. It turns out that writing is like exercise for me. Either I’m in it, doing the work on an almost daily basis and it feels natural, or I’m out. I never meant to be out and I apologize that so much time has passed since my last post and this one. My own brother called me a slacker.

Here is a reason that I believe I will never have an over month-long absence for this space again. We moved around our guest bedroom and study. My writing space was once downstairs and is now on the main floor, just a few steps from the kitchen. I know it’s silly that a few stairs kept me from writing but, after living with things the old way for a year, it seemed time to make a change. Also, our new guest digs are bigger, brighter, and more private. A win win for everyone.

So I’m returning with a favorite. I have always loved making Indian food, never more than once I got my hands on two very special cookbooks from a favorite restaurant in London. (Amazon carries at least one of them.) I turn to them over and over again, their pages splattered and slightly coming away from the spine of the books. When an Indian food craving hits, I almost always make this dish alongside some rice (Peas Pilau Rice from one of the books is particularly good) and some other delicious offering, most often starring potatoes and/or chickpeas. Raita and some kind of chutney round out the meal. What makes this dish special is that it is mild, a bit tangy, but still with plenty of spices and the haunting and unique flavor of fresh curry leaves. It’s mildness and creaminess is most welcome on a table of spicy things. I love a dish that can taste so good with a slight richness and that is also so good for you.

Curry leaves are an ingredient that can be hard to find but they do add an unmistakable and hard-to-put-your finger on flavor here. I was able to find them at Uwajimaya in Seattle and I have found them in Berkeley Bowl and Monterey Market here in the East Bay. If you have an Asian market or other ethnic store near you, chances are you can find them. They keep for a long time so buy extra because you’ll want to make this dish again. If you can’t find them, make the dish anyway. In addition to being tasty and tangy, it’s healthy with tons of spinach and the creaminess comes from plain yogurt. Sorry for being away for so long.

One Year Ago:  Salted Caramel Ice Cream and Malted Vanilla Milkshakes (and another apology)
Two Years Ago:  Bulghur Salad Stuffed Peppers, Stilton Tart with Cranberry Chutney (Thanksgiving appetizer anyone?)
Three Years Ago:  Romaine Leaves with Caesar Dressing and a Big Crouton, Roasted Mushrooms and Shallots
Four Years Ago:  Holly B’s Gingersnaps, Gianjuja Mousse
Five Years Ago:  Bulghur and Green Lentils with Chickpeas, Pumpkin Whoopie Pies

Cheera Thayir Curry

Adapted from The New Tastes of India
Serves 4

Vegetable, canola, or coconut oil
2 tsp. mustard seeds
3 cloves garlic, minced
3 dried red chilies
10 curry leaves
Pinch of fenugreek (optional)
1 large onion, finely chopped
2 large tomatoes, seeded, finely chopped
3 jalapeno peppers, seeds and membranes removed for less heat, chopped
2 tbsp. peeled fresh ginger, minced or grated
1 tsp. tumeric
5 ounces baby spinach
1 cup plain yogurt (whole milk or 2%, do not use non-fat)
Kosher or sea salt

Place a large saucepan over medium heat and have a lid ready.  Pour in just enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan and then add the mustard seeds.  After a couple of moments they will start to pop.  Immediately add the garlic, dried red chilies, curry leaves, and fenugreek.  If the popping gets out of hand, just cover the pot with the lid until it calms down.  Cook, stirring frequently, for 2 minutes, then add the onion, green chilies, ginger, and a large pinch of salt.

Cook until the onion is starting to turn brown, about 8 minutes.  Add the tomatoes, tumeric, and another pinch of salt.  Mix thoroughly, then add the spinach and cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Remove the pan from the heat.  Gradually add the yogurt, stirring slowly and continuously.  Return the pan to low heat and for another couple of minutes just to bring all the flavors together.  Serve warm.



Greek Mac and Cheese

September 23, 2013

Five years ago this month, I went to the first BlogHer Food in San Francisco.  It was an amazing experience.  I didn’t really learn anything about blogging, but I finally got to meet so many people whose blogs I read then (and still read now) and people I knew only from Twitter.  A group of us bonded quickly and many of those people are now friends who I treasure.  One of those people is Allison, who used to write the blog Local Lemons and now is the co-owner of Homeroom in Oakland.

Here is a little story.  Four years ago, while still living in Seattle, Randy and I stole away to San Francisco for a weekend away from our kids.  He had to work one of the days and Allison, one of my favorite blogging friends, met me at the Ferry Building for a day of exploring.  She lives in Oakland, a place that, at the time, I knew next to nothing about.  I wasn’t even quite sure where it was.  Maybe kind of “over there”.  Bay Bridge?  Golden Gate Bridge?  Not sure.  We shared an amazing day of wandering.  We had terrific pizza and shared a bottle of wine at Delfina and I bought my copy of Plenty, then only available in the British version and costing $65, at Omnivore Books.  Along the way, Allison mentioned to me that might be opening a restaurant.  She went on to tell me the incredible story of meeting a like minded person while waiting for a table in a coffee shop, and they were thinking of doing a restaurant serving mac and cheese.  I listened to and supported her.  And in my head I kept thinking, “There are restaurants in Oakland?”

I often think of that day with Allison for many reasons.  One is that she did open that restaurant and they have been incredibly successful from day one.  Another is that Allison is still a close friend of mine and now that we live close to one another, we love spending time with her, her awesome husband Alejandro and their beautiful baby Nico.  And another is how amazing it is to me that I had no perception of Oakland, other than it was “over there”, and now I live here.  And yes, there are lots of restaurants in Oakland!

Recently, Allison and her partner Erin came out with a cookbook and I was lucky enough to get a review copy.  We have enjoyed eating at the restaurant many times and have been to parties where their stellar mac and cheese was on the menu.  I wondered how the restaurant recipes would translate to the home cook.  I am here to tell you this is a winner of a book.  It totally captures the sweet spirit of the restaurant and all the favorite dishes, mac and cheese and sides alike, are in there.  You get a feeling for what it is like to eat at Homeroom and you also get to read about their unlikely partnership.  I never really thought that I had passionate feelings about whether mac and cheese should be served creamy from the pot, or topped with crunchy breadcrumbs from the oven, but in fact I do have extremely strong feelings about this important distinction.  (The latter.  And the book allows you to make most of the macs both ways.)  I made two of the mac and cheese recipes and they were, dare I say it?, better than the restaurant.  Mac and cheese is special, of course.  It is comfort food at its highest level.  Some people would say that there is no reason to get fancy.  That plain ol’ regular mac and cheese is perfect.  I challenge those people to make the Macximus.

This is deliciousness comes from the “International Relations” chapter of the book where you will find other stunners like Croque Madame Mac and Shepherd’s Mac.  In this one, we have spinach, artichoke hearts, and three cheeses (feta! Pecorino! Jack!) that go so well together that the end result might stun you a bit.  I love mac and cheese as much as the next person but sometimes I find it can get a bit monotonous.  All that creaminess in one dish and my palate gets kind of tired.  This dish gave my taste buds something else to think about with the added vegetables and the tangyness of the cheese.  This is not to say that the Basic Baked Mac and Cheese, which I made for, ahem, the kids, was not amazing.  I may have dipped my fork into that dish a time or two.  Or three.

(The anything-but-basic version.)

Two Years Ago:  Yogurt and Oregano Pesto Soup, Chocolate Dipped Ice Cream Sandwiches, Corn with Tons of Herbs, Heirloom Tomato Tart
Three Years Ago:  Savory Scones, Stuffed Summer Squash with Goat Cheese and Mint, Tomato, Semolina, and Cilantro Soup, Double Layer Chocolate Cake
Four Years Ago:  Mint Filled Brownie Cupcakes, Corn and Zucchini Timbale, Nectarine and Mascarpone Tart, Chickpeas and Chard with Cilantro and Cumin, Nutella Pound Cake,
Five Years Ago:  Summer Rolls (I make these all the time), Chocolate Peanut Toffee (ditto), Pomodori Al Forno (double ditto), Pissaladière

Macximus
Adapted from The Mac and Cheese Cookbook
Serves 6-8

I made a couple of small changes.  I added twice the amount of spinach in the original recipe, more shallots, and more artichoke hearts.  I also quartered those hearts.  The recipe says this serves 4 but we got almost 8 servings out of it.  It is rich!

½ pound dried elbow pasta
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
½ cup grated Jack cheese
½ cup grated Pecorino cheese
2 small shallots, minced
1 cup thawed frozen chopped spinach, thoroughly drained
¾ cup canned artichoke hearts, drained and quartered
2 cups Mac Sauce (recipe follows)
½ cup panko (Japanese bread crumbs)

1.  Cook the pasta in salted boiling water until a little less than al dente.  Drain, rinse with cold water, and drain the pasta again.

2.  Preheat the oven to 400ºF.  Add the feta, Jack, Pecorino, shallots, spinach, artichokes, and sauce to a large, heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat.  Stir until the cheeses begin to melt, about 4 minutes (the feta will not melt, so you are just looking for the Pecorino and Jack to melt and the mixture to get hot).

3.  Slowly add the cooked pasta and stir until hot.  Pour into a 12-inch baking dish and top with the panko.  Bake until bubbly, 10 to 15 minutes.

4.  Spoon into bowls and serve hot.

Mac Sauce
Makes 3 cups

Note that this recipe makes 3 cups of sauce but you only need 2 for the Macximus recipe.  Allison and Erin suggest using the leftover cup to make biscuits and gravy or chicken à la king.

3 cups whole milk
½ cup unsalted butter
½ cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. table salt

1.  Heat the milk in a pot over medium heat until it just starts to bubble, but is not boiling, 3 to 4 minutes.  Remove from the heat.

2.  Heat the butter over medium heat in a separate, heavy-bottomed pot.  When the butter has just melted, add the flour and whisk constantly until the mixture turns light brown, about 3 minutes.  Remove from the heat.

3.  Slowly pour the warm milk, about 1 cup at a time, into the butter-flour mixture, whisking constantly.  It will get very thick when you first add the milk, and thinner as you slowly pour in the entire three cups.  This is normal.

4.  Once all the milk has been added, set the pot back over medium-high heat, and continue to whisk constantly.  In the next 2 to 3 minutes the sauce should come together and become silky and thick.  Dip a metal spoon int the sauce – if the sauce coats the spoon and doesn’t slide off like milk, you’ll know the sauce is ready.  You should be able to run your finger along the spoon and have the impression remain.  Add the salt.

5.  The Mac Sauce is ready to use immediately and does not need to cool.  Store in the fridge for a day or two if you want to make it ahead of time – it will get a lot thicker when you put it in the fridge, so it may need a little milk to thin it out a bit when it comes time to melt in the cheese.  Try melting the cheese into the sauce first, and if it is too thick then add milk as needed.



Eight and Six and Family Vacation

September 17, 2013

(I know I’ve been gone a while.  Apologies.  I’ve got a long post below for you to read.  I quickly want to announce that I have new classes listed on my the site – go to the “classes” tab or just click here.  Some really good things coming your way!)

Three years ago, I wrote a post called Five and Three in an effort to try and capture the sweetness of my children.  Also to tell the story of why I have two of them.  The year after that, I wrote a post called First Grade and Pre-K.  Last year, I intended to write something called Seven and Five or Second Grade and Kindergarten, but I just never did.  I now feel this call to write about them.  I know I always do around their birthdays and I know I’ve written quite a bit about Graham, and I know they appear frequently on my Slice of Life posts.  I guess I feel this sweet sweet age that they are now, Eight and Six – or really Eight-and-Three-Quarters and Six-and-a-Half – is fleeting.  I watch them grow and mature practically before my eyes.  These kids (kids!) are really mine?  Where did the babies go?

(First Slurpees!)

We’ve been living in Oakland for a year now (!) and my boys have just started their second year at our sweet school – third and first grades.  They have adjusted to our new life amazingly well.  They love the sunshine and have made some nice friends.  Our community is so friendly and we love being able to just drive home from somewhere and pull over to buy lemonade from a schoolmate’s stand.  They spent the summer in camps and swimming at the community pool.  They have gone from being sort of confident in the water to really being able to swim in the space of the summer.  We traveled a bit, to Delaware with Randy’s family and to Seattle to visit mine (more on that in a minute).  On both of those trips they were terrific travelers.  We had long delays and long car rides and they took it all in stride.  I can put them in a strange bed and they will just pass out without anxiety or nightmares.

(First day of school.)

How to describe who these boys are right now?  I think six and eight is a bit magical.  People often smile at me when I walk down the street with them.  I know they are cute boys but I also think this age exudes sweetness and yet they are far from babies.  They are old enough to be a bit independent but young enough to still need their mommy.  And they still call me mommy.  They remember (most of the time) to pull their lunch boxes (Spider Man and Batman) out of their backpacks (ditto), but I still need to pack those lunch boxes.  They listen to me when I tell them they don’t get a treat if they don’t finish their fruit.  They don’t question my rules.  They are quick to say, “Sorry Mommy” if they cross a line.  They play well together, usually with the millions of Legos we seem to have acquired.  Sometimes the games involve multiple sheets of paper taped together with masking tape and require pens to be scattered across the living room floor.  Their imaginations inspire and amaze me.  I love hearing them using pretend voices.  I giggle when they play “restaurant”.

I love to kiss their necks in the morning just after they have woken up, their skin so warm and smelling so sweet.  They are still very innocent in the ways of the world and very trusting.  Also so curious.  Spencer asks me about 60 questions a day ranging from the interesting to the hilarious.  (A recent favorite – If you were having a snowball fight and one of the snowballs got hit by lightening, what would happen?)  If I answer that I don’t know, he will suggest we ask Daddy or Boppa – my dad.

With a new school year just beginning, we have high hopes for the boys.  Spencer had a magical kindergarten year – a kind teacher, nice kids, involved parents and real! big boy! school!  He was so ready.  He thrived in his classroom, got invited to all the birthday parties, and had lots of play dates.  I called him the mayor of his classroom.  He got lucky again with another nice teacher and many of the same sweet children.  I have already gotten five emails saying he has had Outstanding Behavior from his teacher so it looks like we are off to a good start.

Second grade was a tough year for Graham.  Being the new kid and being a bit different turned out to be a bad combination at that age.  Throw in a few really mean boys and a teacher who yelled a lot and it is astonishing to me that he wanted to go to school at all.  But want he did and he got three good report cards with the surprise that he is advanced in math and the non-surprise that he excels in listening, being a team player, and being kind to his classmates.  Thankfully, the mean boys were split up this year and Graham has a much nicer teacher who seems to be really on the ball and to already “get” him.  With the help of an attorney, we have been pushing the school district to provide more help for him in the areas where he needs it and hopefully it will all be in place soon.  We just never stop fighting for this boy.

A little more about our trip to Seattle.  It was actually supposed to be trip to Sun Valley to celebrate my dad’s 70th birthday.  My whole family was set to meet up and stay in my parents’ time share condo but the terrible fires in Idaho kept us from doing so.  We were literally on the road, car packed up, friends in place to house- sit in Oakland, when my dad called and said the condo building was being evacuated.  I turned to Randy and asked, “Should we just go to Seattle?” and he said, “Sure!”  The boys were so ready for a road trip and so ready to see their cousins and to turn around just seemed sad.  So we tacked on an additional 400 miles to our trip and headed north and west.

Probably the most special part of the trip is that we got a chance to go to Lopez Island.  I was actually feeling a little stressed that this was going to be the first summer in 32 summers! that I wouldn’t spend a night on that island.  But with some frantic phone calls to find space to accommodate all of us, we squeezed in two nights there.  We got to visit Holly B’s and all of our favorite spots on the island, including the sweet church where we got married.  We had been planning to have a photographer take family shots in Sun Valley and Randy made some calls and somehow found us a wonderful photographer on Lopez to do the same.  We are all thrilled with the pictures he took and as soon as I can figure out how to share them, I will.  We got a picture at the more or less exact spot where we got engaged.

The sweet church.

The most beautiful beach in the world.

Madrona trees are my favorite.  They only grow in Northwest.

My dad, overwhelmed by choices at Holly B’s.

My parents.

My youngest brother Michael and Graham.  They look alike, don’t you think?

I made a decision that on road trips, long or short, we do them with no screens.  I am not *that* mom.  I let my kids watch tv and they play with our iPads after dinner.  But here is the thing.  When I was a kid, we drove to Sun Valley every winter and summer and I remember being bored but I also remember listening to my Walkman, looking out the window, napping, snacking, and just generally spacing out.  I don’t think kids get a lot of time to space out these days and I wanted to give them that chance.

As it turns out, they were busy on this trip.  The good kind of busy.  This was one of the keys.  I got lots of dot-to-dot books, coloring books, sticker books, comic books -  most of which we picked out together – and plenty of pens.  This contraption sat between them throughout the ride and they could dip into it whenever they wanted.  They also got plenty of snacks in their very own bin and they did not have to ask me whenever they wanted one.  The biggest time passer was listening to Harry Potter on CD.  Randy had read them the first one and we listened to the second one and all of us loved it.  The above photo of Graham is how he looked when we listened to it.  Just Zen.  It was a great trip.

Finally, randomly, this is a shot of us going out to celebrate our 11th anniversary.  That dress is my wedding dress.  Randy and I both been married before and had both had big weddings.  We decided to do something much smaller and more simple and I decided to wear a dress I liked, not a wedding dress.  It turned out that I fell in love with a white dress and I have worn it every anniversary since (except the pregnant and nursing years).  It doesn’t fit quite the same but it still fits!  Randy is wearing his wedding finery too.



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