Monday, October 24, 2011

My adventure with Captain Underpants...

He pulled the book off the shelf, and a grin spread across his face.

"This one!!  This kid at my school has it.  It is SOOOOO funny!"

Seriously?  Captain Underpants?  In this whole "City of Books", that's the one he finds? 

As an English teacher, I cringed.  I had read The Adventures of Captain Underpants when it first came out, searching for low-level, high-interest books for the boys in my remedial middle school class. And while that book's particular brand of potty humor, negative adults, slightly disrespectful heroes, and minor violence wasn't my thing, it certainly worked for some of my students who had never read a book on their own before. But I thought it would be long-forgotten by the time I had my own children who were ready to read on their own.

I was wrong.  There are now twelve of them.  And my six year old wanted one desperately. So I pulled the old, "You can spend your own money on it, or we can check it out from the library." The little miser went for the library. 

That afternoon we headed to our local branch where he decided to check out not just one, but three Captain Underpants books. The moment we got home, he curled into the couch and began reading.  Now, to this point, he's read a lot of picture books and magazines on his own, and parts of chapter books with us, but never a whole chapter book on his own.  For the next hour, he didn't move.  He'd shout out, "Finished chapter 6!" or laugh gleefully at a silly joke or illustration.  Only going for a family hike tore him away from the book, and he picked it back up the moment we walked in the door.

He read until bedtime, and finished the first book. While in bed, he began the second, and finished it before school began this morning.  The third was wrapped up right before dinner time tonight. Did he correctly read and understand every word?  Nope.  But he understood enough to delight in retelling the stories to us over dinner.  And they had him hooked in a serious way.

I had struggled with whether these books were appropriate for our family.  We're not fans of potty talk, and the way that many of the adults are the enemy sets up an us vs. them mentality that I would prefer to avoid.  They certainly aren't fine literature. But I decided to let it go.  We talked at dinner about role models, and discussed whether the main characters qualified.  We listened as he shared his favorite parts, and asked lots of questions. And most importantly, he was reading.  On his own.  A lot.

And then, tonight, my reluctant writer sat down at the kitchen counter and began to draw his own comic strip, like the characters in the book.  There's no potty talk, no evil grown-ups, no violence. It's about a castle and a super hero. And he's loving it.

So, here's a begrudging thank you, Captain Underpants.  You're welcome back any time.

Sunday, October 16, 2011


*inspired by amanda at the habit of being...

A pretty close-to-perfect weekend.
A sun-shining, fresh-air breathing break at the beach. 
Time with my parents, alone time with each boy. 
Crab-boat rental that brought us dinner, time to talk, and a picture of my dad against the bright blue sky that will forever be in my head.
Watching the boys play hide and seek with their Papa in the beach grass.
Wandering with my mom in our favorite clothing shop. 
A new mug that reminds me of the beach and my sister.
Chowder and familiar blue tables at a restaurant where I never need to see the menu. 
Dinner with great friends.
Four little boys performing a stirring rendition of "Ghostbusters".
At peace.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The pumpkin patch...

We were out for our weekend bike ride yesterday morning when it dawned on me.  The sky was blue.  There was no rain. It was even slightly - dare I say it - warm.  Perfect pumpkin patch weather. We had to go.

A few weeks ago we decided that we would try a new pumpkin patch this year.  We've been going to the same one since before we had children, and it has gotten progressively busier each year.  Hoping to find one that was a little less busy, I did a quick online search and came up with one about 40 minutes away.  We ate lunch and hopped into the car.

When we got there, it was perfect - a quaint, well-oiled machine. A small gauge train took us out to the petting zoo area, where the boys enjoyed petting and feeding the miniature donkey, rabbits and goats, and following the chickens around the barnyard.  Then it was back on the train to go to the pumpkin field and hay bale pyramid.  Instantly both boys ran for the pyramid and the maze inside. I was close behind - and thank goodness, because I'm not sure I've ever seen our little one back-pedal so fast when he saw just how dark it was inside.  Together we felt our way through to the other side, giggling with joy and nerves. And immediately, the bigger child headed right back in.

We played on the pyramid and in the maze for an hour, enjoying the sunshine and fresh farm air.  It was perfect - plenty of kids for the boys to run around with, but no crowds or lines. Dan and I got to sit back and watch them enjoy themselves without having to hover or worry about losing them in the crowd. 

Eventually, we all chose pumpkins and rode the train back to the station. In the main building, there were bundles of dried lavender and fresh fruit and vegetables to purchase and the delightful smell of kettle corn in the air. Pumpkins were purchased and we loaded into the car. Fifteen miles down the road, three of the four of us were asleep. 

It is these kinds of fall afternoons that keep us warm in the dark of winter. I wish we could bottle them up to preserve on the shelf next to the canned tomatoes and raspberry jam. For now, we'll have to be content with the perfect pumpkins sitting next to the door.

Sunday, October 2, 2011


Inspired by Amanda at the habit of being....

The weekend.  Time for play and relaxation and reconnection.  Time for what really matters...

A quiet weekend here, 
the whole crew is fighting off a cold with
tissues and time on the couch.
The rain has moved in, but flowers and tomatoes are still filling the garden,
and the farmer's market is full of pumpkins and dixieland jazz.
Book club with a new group
lots of laughs, great talk, ok book
The boys making apple cider and apple pie
Luke refusing to go to his religious ed. 
Sweater is blocking,
lawn is mown.
School work needs to be finished before bed...
I'd better get to it.

School starts...

Finally, one month in, I feel capable of writing our "back to school" post. With all four of us deeply tied to the academic calendar, we usually just try and hold our breath through the month of September, finally coming up for air when the page turns to October.

This year we are at 3 different schools.  This means 3 open houses, 3 sets of PTAs, 3 rounds of education nights.  At one child's school, we have 20 volunteer hours for the year, and 40 at the other. Not to mention all the conferences, performances, and social activities. It's busy - but honestly, we really love almost all of it.

The beginning of school was smoothest for the little one - he's returned to our amazing Montessori preschool, in the same class he began in last year. The same fabulous teachers, great friends, materials he knows, and lots that he's excited to learn.  Already we are seeing huge gains - he's moved into the "letter boxes" which are a beginning reading step, and is really working hard at using his words when he get's frustrated. He loves school, and every day has such enthusiasm for the things he is doing there.

My year has been going rather smoothly, also.  I have a fabulous class of kiddos - and only 10 of them are new to me.  We have jumped into learning with both feet, and are finding our way in our new classroom space.  While there are many transitions in my school as a whole, many of them don't affect me as a part-timer.  It's going to be a great year, and we're just glad to have it underway.

The biggest transition has been for our big kiddo.  He's a first grader this year, so he's at a new school.  Last spring we applied for a spot in a nearby Montessori charter school, and were told that he was first on the waiting list.  They were confident that some movement would happen and he would have a place there.  But when the end of August rolled  around and there still wasn't a spot, we had to change plans.  We registered for our neighborhood school, bought school supplies, and figured out the bus route. And then, one week after the charter began, but three days before the neighborhood school started, we got the call.  There was an opening at the charter school. He began the next day.

It hasn't been without challenge.  Because he started late, we missed all the new family orientations and "getting to know you" stuff, and that has increased anxiety for all of us. Overall, he's happy.  He gets to play soccer every day at lunch, loves the bigger kids (Montessori is mixed age, so his class is first, second, and third graders), and has been finding a lot of academic success. But there are still days when he asks to go back to his old school, or gets frustrated with all of the change. We're still convinced it is the right place for him, and have faith that things will smooth out as we feel more like a part of the community.

So, October, here we come!  The routines are starting to feel more normal, our days are finding their new rhythm, and we're all finding our place. It's going to be a good year.

Saturday, October 1, 2011


Over the last couple of years, I have read, researched, and discussed nutrition more than I care to admit.  Especially for someone who is sitting here drinking a cup of sugar-filled hot chocolate...The more I read, the more confused I get - grains or no grains, meat or no meat, local or organic (when the local organic isn't available).  It's enough to make me give up all together.  But what I keep coming back to is whole fruits and vegetables as fresh as possible, and everything else in moderation.

This search for healthy fruits and vegetables has brought us some of the greatest joys of this summer and early fall. Gathering our own food, while it's in season.  We've spent many happy days with our buckets and containers visiting local farms and farm stands.  First it was blueberries in July, then blackberries, raspberries, corn, beans, and flowers in August. September brought us tomatoes, strawberries, apples, and pears. And October has lots of yummy corn and squashes in store.  We've made jellies and jams, frozen lots of berries, canned tomatoes, dined on meals fresh from our own garden.

It's been so much fun.  I love that my boys know where their food comes from, and that we've spent hours laughing and laying in between rows of blueberry bushes.  My oldest is a voracious harvester - stopping only when his bucket is full.  Then he asks for another. And more after that. He can outlast me most days.  The little one? Eh. Apples were his favorite - quick, easy, doesn't take long to accumulate quite an impressive pile.  The rest all takes longer than he wants. But I will never forget just how much he enjoyed sitting in the wagon eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and cheering us on. Or running through the field with the bucket on his head. Or eating more blueberries than he picked.

And I can't wait until January when we pull the blackberries out of the freezer for a pie that tastes like summer.