Art Milestone

Why am I posting a picture of what you know most be one of zillions of Benji’s art projects? Well, first, you’d be right if you guessed that we get rather snowed under with art. However, this one stands out for a few reasons:

  1. Benji instigated it entirely himself. Normally, I have to set aside time and cajole him into scribbling randomly for like 5 minutes, after which he wants to go back to playing trains. This time, he pulled out most of the supplies himself and started on his own, only bringing me in when adult help was required.
  2. The ideas were almost entirely his own. The design is entirely his-a solar system, not surprisingly-and I merely made suggestions for what materials to use (I supplied all the different tapes and the glitter glue). Previously, I’ve always told him what our project will be. This time the creativity came from himself.
  3. He wanted to use art to represent something, and figured out a way to do it using the materials at hand. And stuck with it with good focus the entire time, no getting distracted.

I’m not sure if this is because of his new preschool, which has an art center area that’s kind of a new concept to him; or if playing with Legos has anything to do with the increasing creativity; or if watching big-boy Colin build Legos creatively (and Benji’s preschool peers, for that matter, but he really admires and respects Colin); or if we’re just passing some kind of milestone. But whatever the case, this art project represents a moment I want to remember.

Silly Cat Riddle Song, and Other Stuff

Listening to our Pandora station for kids, we heard this song:

Thank you, Pandora, for possibly the silliest song we’ve heard in a long time. Love it!

Benji got his first cold, right on time, three days after his first full day of school; it was massively rainy so I converted my big, outside ride into a short trainer ride; and clearly we were meant to spend all of yesterday playing Legos, building Legos, and sorting Legos. Benji is getting pretty good at building with the small-size Legos.

And then I spent about four hours (!!) in the evening making two apple pies for church. I hope they taste OK.
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The End of a Marathon Summer

We started summer in the middle of May. This week, five months later, we finished it. It truly has been a marathon summer, and we’ve had so much fun and Benji grew up in so many ways — but it also validated my firm belief that I will never, ever home school my child. We would drive each other nuts in the first year (or less). So, we started at ORCS this year, and will probably go there for a couple years.

In any case, I’m also happy for Benji to start school because he needs that time with other kids. He can read surprisingly well and can count past 100, but although he likes playing with people and is friendly, he doesn’t know what to do with other kids as much. Also, I like that his large- and small-motor skills get stretched at school, as he tries to copy what his peers do.

And I get some time off during the day. Not as much time as I might like; his school this year is only 9:00 to 11:30, whereas last year it went until 12:45. It does feel a bit like I drop him off and then immediately turn around to pick him up. Thank goodness we picked a school only 8 minutes away by bicycle!

Oh, and it’s about 1/4 mile from the new house Benji’s extra-special friend Will just moved into! I’m hoping we can parlay this into lots of after-school lunches with our friends this year.

So, here Benji is giving me a “smile” on his first day.
Benji's First Day at ORCS

That very first day, they only did class for an hour, and parents stayed in the classroom with the kids. Benji and I both liked this; it let him explore the room and familiarize himself with it and the teachers, but with the safety of a parent around. I liked getting to see the room and the kinds of things he might do there.

Circle Time on Parent Day

Circle Time on Parent Day 2

Circle Time on Parent Day 3

Benji’s class this year has only 13 kids, compared to something like 27 kids at Bucky Beaver last year. I think this will be nicer, letting Benji do the coveted activities like weather and calendar more than a couple times a year.

Benji Cooking a Recipe

Benji and Mrs. M play letters

On Wednesday and Thursday, the first couple days on his own, Benji seemed really anxious about going. He expressed great concern in wanting to know where I was in the house all the time, and tended to react with tears and whining to everything. He tossed his yogurt on the carpet on Wednesday because the yogurt was “too wet.” I attribute it to the transition; adapting to change hits hard sometimes.

Even so, he got substantial time in the Cry Zone while I cleaned up the yogurt. GRR. Now I’m thinking I foresee cleaning in our near future.

ANYWAY, I, meanwhile, had a perfectly easy transition! Except that I have to adjust to bike commuting with him Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday; but this was a perfectly gorgeous week, weather-wise, and made it easy for me to want to go out again (even with tired legs). I got a good bit of work done while Benji was at school, and then when I picked him up, he super enthusiastically described what they’d gotten to do in class.

Compared to the extremely structured Bucky Beaver, I think this Pre-K program is a lot more laid-back and Montessori-style, with centers for the kids to explore different things. I like this idea in theory, but I hope the teachers encourage him to not just play trains for the entire 2.5 hours.

OK, that’s probably enough on school. I’m just kind of meandering, anyway. But here’s to a great school year with lots of learning, fun, and growth!

Lumpy the Dragon Saves the Day

Table of Contents

Part One: Lumpy the Dragon
Part Two: Lumpy and the Little Boy
Part Three: Lumpy Saves the Day
(Note: These links only work if you’re reading the full blog post.)

I told this story to Benji yesterday, and it came out coherent enough that I thought it worth writing down. It’s about 4200 words long, so get comfy if you’re going to sit through the whole thing. I’m glad I took the time, too, because in the end, I rather like Lumpy.

Part One: Lumpy the Dragon

Once upon a time, there was a dragon named Lump. He was a purple dragon with green and yellow spots, and he had big wings and long, clever claws. Lumpy lived in the forest with the other dragons, all of whom were named things like Vicious and Killer and Firey because they were all like that.

The other dragons all had sharp, pokey spikes along their backs and tails, and they were colors like black and red, except for some that were camouflage color to blend in with the woods, or ones that were blue like the sky on their bellies to be camouflaged while flying. They all breathed fire, of course, and had huge razor-sharp teeth and claws.

When Lumpy tried to breathe fire, all that came out was smoke that smelled like cinnamon. And Lumpy never grew spikes; instead, he just had little lumpy knobs on his back, which is how he came to be named Lumpy.

The other dragons liked to eat people and cows alive, and they all liked hoarding gold and treasure. They didn’t care about pretty flowers, butterflies, nice smells, or fish, nuts, and honey, all of which Lumpy preferred. While the other dragons were out pillaging villages, or stealing princesses, or toasting knights with their flames, Lumpy went for walks in the woods, admiring beautiful flowers, or listening to the burble of creeks, or finding especially delicious honeycomb. He even learned to understand honey-bee dance language, because he was so observant.

So, you see, Lumpy was quite different from the other dragons. Unfortunately, the other dragons made fun of him because he was so different. They mocked him when he came home wearing a tiara of wildflowers, or when he brought back some especially luscious honeycomb, or told them about tickling fish in a river. They especially mocked him for not collecting any gold or kidnapping any princesses or eating any knights. No girl dragons would even look at Lumpy, let alone make dragonets with him. Even Lumpy’s family was rather mean to him, and his parents told him what a disappointment he was as a dragon.

This all made Lumpy very sad and hurt his feelings. But because Lumpy had a generally sunny disposition, he didn’t let the other dragons’ mockery hurt his feelings. Instead, he just went for long walks in the woods by himself, finding and appreciating the beauty of the forest. He knew that he was who he was, no matter what the other dragons thought, and he wasn’t going to change what he liked just to make them happy.

One day, when he was a young dragonet, Lumpy was watching the honey-bees talking (by dancing; sadly, Lumpy couldn’t communicate very well with them, since he couldn’t waggle quite the way they did, but he was able to say polite things like, “Excuse me, may I have some honey?” and “Thank you for the delicious honey.” He found the bees to be quite polite) when he oversaw a surprising conversation.

A honey-bee from far away had come to visit Lumpy’s favorite hive, and this strange honey-bee said, “Where we live, we have a terrible time with giants. Giants love honey more than anything else — even more than little boys — but they get very sick from just a few bee-stings! And an entire hive of stings will kill that great big giant! Can you believe it?” The other bees commiserated with having to sting giants to keep them away from the hard-won honey, but all agreed it was worth it to protect their golden hoard.

Lumpy found that interesting, but as years went by, he forgot about it. Dragons live for hundreds of years, after all, and once two or three hundred years had passed, Lumpy had seen many other more interesting things. Besides, giants never came to his forest; all remained serene and beautiful.

At least, it was serene and beautiful for dragons, up there at the top of the food chain. It was a little harder on humans, who were one rung down and always getting raided by those huge, voracious dragons. Humans had learned, however, that dragons only liked to eat live prey, and would leave a limp, stationary body alone in preference for moving food (often the person’s horse, cow, pig, or sheep, none of which were smart enough to play dead. Dogs did better, having a natural predilection for laying around).

That is why all parents in the woods taught their children to play dead whenever a dragon was nearby. Usually the dragon, which had a fairly short attention span, would be distracted by some poor other panicking creature running away and would leave the prone human alone.

Continue reading “Lumpy the Dragon Saves the Day”

Big Kids Have Big Fun

Yesterday we got together with my friend Ellen. One of the (many) things I like about Ellen is that she always pushes our boundaries with her suggestions for what to do. She’s the one who took me cross-country skiing before Benji was born, and left me practically unable to walk for like a week (the blog post title: “A Litany of Aches.” Ah, good times). She invites me and Benji to parks in the city of Seattle that we otherwise never would go to. She encourages me to eat odd things and try tea I wouldn’t normally have. It’s good to have this kind of friend.

Yesterday was no exception. She suggested that we take a light rail train from the new UW station, which I was keen to visit but hadn’t actually expected to actually use so soon. At first, hearing the suggestion, I thought in my head: That’s too big of a trip. Maybe we should just go to a park. But then I thought, No, every time we do an adventure with Ellen it’s really fun, even if it’s also a bit of a stretch. We’ll give it a shot.

We picked Ellen up at her house and drove to the Center for Urban Horticulture. There we paused to eat a snack and let Benji examine every single map board. He was excited to find the “You are here” marked with a little pine cone, which Ellen called her “little pine cone friend” and pretended to put it in her pocket. The rest of the walk to the light rail station, we looked for maps and found a surprising number — more than I would’ve expected, and more than Ellen had ever noticed before. Benji found a red dot “You are here” and pretended to put that in his pocket.

The walk took quite a while. It’s not far, just a little over a mile through the Union Bay Natural Area and skirting around the UW sports facilities. Not far, that is, if you have grown-up legs and interests. But in addition to scrutinizing every map, we admired a large, rapidly scuttling beetle; picked up a small, slow-moving green cricket and relocated it to some friendly leaf/grass habitat; peeked over a bridge at some incredibly horrid oily slough water; sat in the dirt and generally dragged our feet; tried to go into Lake Washington at the UW boathouse; and, of course, continually asked when we’d get to the light rail station.
Union Bay Natural Area

Eventually we made it, however, and Benji was excited to find even more maps at the light rail station.
Benji and Ellen look at a light rail map

Light Rail Map

The escalators were surprisingly scary. In the past, Benji has wanted to ride escalators endlessly. But this time, he balked and only went down while holding both our hands — maybe because they were really long and going down into the dark? I’m not sure. In any case, we made it down to the trains, where we totally forgot about all escalator fears.
Benji's first light rail!

Benji rides light rail

Our ride was really short — we got off at the next stop. Handily, this was near Cal Anderson Park, a park Benji’s never been to, and which has one of the more interesting fountains around. My picture doesn’t really do it justice, because when we got closer I spent a lot more time keeping Benji out of the water. No time to pull out a phone!
Benji at the Cal Anderson fountain

The fountain was pretty fun, but Benji was pleased they had a playground area, too. He climbed up the ladder steps pretty easily…
Benji climbing the steps

Ellen squeezed up with much more difficulty.
Ellen squeezes through the hole
The entrance wasn’t made for grown-ups!

Other things were fun to play with there, too.
Benji walks up high

On the springy teeter-totter with Ellen

By about 11:30, we were SO ready to eat! After what Benji would probably liken to the Walk of a Thousand Tears, we made it to Ellen’s favorite bakery. They had one of the fanciest little pastry thingies (they called it a croissant, but I have to disagree; it was layered like a croissant, but that’s where the resemblance ends) and not only did they look pretty, they tasted delicious.

Fancy Nouveau pastry
Look at Benji’s face: “oooooo!” He was saying, “I’m going to try some of YOURS, Mommy!” But in the end, he didn’t like the crunchy part, so I got to eat both my blueberry lemon pastry, and his ham and cheese croissant.

When I looked at the clock and it was 12:30, I realized we wouldn’t be getting back home for our usual nap time. That was OK; we finished up, walked (increasingly slowly, feeling rather tired) back to the light rail station, and took the train back. Benji was getting quite tired, so I carried him on my back for some of the walk back from the UW to the car.

On the way back to Ellen’s house, Benji and Ellen joked about putting their “little friends” down for nap. After we dropped her off at her house, Benji about fell asleep on the drive home. I kept him awake long enough to put him down for nap in his room, when he conked out solidly, and we had to wake him up.

Needless to say, Benji and I both slept extra-well last night. Another fun, successful adventure with Ellen!

Avocado Tree Trouble

As I may have mentioned before, I have an avocado tree that I sprouted when Benji was a newborn. It’s one of the few plants I’ve been able to keep alive – that is, it has survived despite my “care.”

Every summer, I put it on the front porch, which faces North and provides steady indirect light all day. The last few years it’s grown a couple feet during the summer months, prompting me to overcome my reticence and pinch off new growth. Even so, at the beginning of this season, I did some research and repotted it into one final, large pot with wheels. It’s movable, if not readily so.

Earlier in the summer, I noticed some holes in a few of the leaves. This happens every year; it’s one of the hazards of putting a plant outside. But when we got back from vacation in Friday Harbor, whatever-it-was had decimated my tree!

I took a leaf to Molbaks, seeing expert advice, but they had no idea. They recommended pulling the tree out of the pot (!) to look for culprits in the dirt, as well as checking every leaf.

Needless to say, that tree is never coming out of the pot. It would probably kill it, or me, or both of us, even to try. 

But I did decide to check every leaf, front and back, as before I’d only looked around the eaten areas. That search resulted in my finding this:

Which spurred me to check everything else very carefully. And that led me to find the other 10 of that caterpillar’s friends, some of whom were having a caterpillar party…

And a few of which had gotten very comfortable indeed…

Needless to say, I looked very carefully for any other avocado-leaf -munching killers. I didn’t find any more, buy Ian did a second look for me, and he found one more. Now I’ve added “find caterpillar pesticide” to my list for the next visit to Molbaks.

I will never look at The Very Hungry Caterpillar the same.

Friday Photos: Now We Are Four

Benji turned four on Monday. For his birthday, he asked not for more presents, but for money so he could buy the toy he’s been saving for with his allowance. So, at our small family party, we did a scavenger hunt in which Benji slowly found about $5 (in $1 bills, of course) from each family, giving him enough to buy the truck he’s wanted since he and Ian went to Seaside a month ago. A month is a long time to wait when you’re four!

On Tuesday, we acquired the much-desired truck set first thing in the morning, even before his 4-year checkup.
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Speaking of the 4-year checkup, the long and short is that, after taking another urine sample from Benji, his regular doctor took him off the antibiotics — possibly the best birthday gift ever for me and Ian! The second sample was completely normal and healthy, no infection to be seen, and we’d already done the drugs for five days. The doctor said normally he’d only prescribe a 3-day course for a UTI anyway, so we were done! Hallelujah!

The other small birthday presents for Benji turned out really fun, too. First, Grammy and Papa Gary gave Benji a fort. That is, it’s really a lightweight square tarp with a ton of Velcro elastic bands all over it and a door and window on the sides. It’s kind of like a rain fly without the tent. You can use it to hook to all sorts of different things, such as (in a non-hypothetical example) kitchen chairs. Instant fort!
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Mom and Dad gave him some small Lego sets, which has set off a Lego craze at our house. Fortunately, Ian and I are well-equipped to handle such a craze, having retained all our childhood Legos for just such an occasion. Right now Ian and I are mostly doing the building, as it requires a level of fine-motor dexterity and strength Benji doesn’t have yet.

Actually, that’s something I want to work on, but I’m not quite sure how. When he thinks he can’t do something, like put together Legos, he just gives up without trying, or with only a halfhearted attempt. I’m not sure how to encourage willingness to try and fail. Since Ian and I are both recovering perfectionists, we aren’t exactly the best guides here.

Anyway, last but not least, when Colleen and Jordan visited, Colleen wore a camo jacket that Benji really liked. They played a camo search game where she “hid” while wearing her camo jacket and Benji had to find her. It was quite a delightful surprise to receive a camo jacket of Benji’s own in time for Benji’s birthday.
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In keeping with the Camo Game, here’s Benji being camouflaged in the park. Because scorching hot summer temperatures never stopped us from enjoying a fleece jacket!
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Last but not least, and not related to Benji’s birthday, after obtaining our CSA share, we got to visit Papa Joe at his work yesterday. This involved a lot of shushing on the parts of us adults as we walked around the up-high mini-track that went around the main work floor, but overall Benji did a nice job. It was a bit of a vertiginous view out the windows from that vantage, too.
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