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— SJ

Ranger is 13!

Ranger’s birthday tends to fall among other events.

He turned 7 on our cross-country trip — the only kid of ours to have a birthday in three different states. He turned 10 on Bookgirl’s graduation day, and then 12 around Gamerboy’s graduation. This year, amid a cold creeping through the household, Krav Maga classes two nights a week, standardized testing, and a weekend conference coming up, I spent a lot of time trying to fit in our traditional Eat Out for Birthday AND Custom Birthday Supper AND Special Movie Night. A few things just have to be shunted to next week. It’s a familiar story for Ranger and his birthday.

But he takes it all in stride. Ranger is a pretty mellow kind of guy. It’s not that he just goes along with everything; he has very decided ideas about what he wants, and offering him suggestions is like trying to get an arrow through a knothole. But he doesn’t go in for outbursts and drama, and once he sees how things are going, he puts his head down and finishes the course. His very earnest and gentle demeanor is charming, especially when you find out that he’s very enthusiastic about learning Krav Maga, which is basically formalized street fighting. If Ranger ever has to execute a krav move against you, just know that he would rather not have to.

Ranger is, and always has been, a gamer. He’s always playing a solo game, roping somebody into playing with him, or making up a game. He’s also a storyteller, creating long-running and involved stories in his head (which he acts out on the front lawn). He hasn’t written any of these stories down, and maybe he never will; but I expect that we’ll see this creativity surface at some point, in some form. He lives very much in his own head, yet at the same time enjoys being in and among his family.*

Or rather, towering over his family. Somehow my youngest baby, a mere 7 pounds and 19 inches, has become a looming giant of a young man. Today he crosses the threshold into “teenager,” and the era of “little kid” has officially ended in the Jones Home. Couldn’t have happened with a better kid.

And I leave you with this patented Ranger Thought, which he posted to the family message board the other day: “If you got teleported into a room with no doors, would you still be ‘outdoors’?”

Happy birthday, Ranger! We love you!

*Or, you know, AMONG US…**

**This is for the kids’ benefit. They’ll get it. And I hope that years from now, they’ll think it’s cringe considering how dang often I have heard this game referenced.

A Glance Back: A Grand(s) Holiday Season

We had a good holiday season last year.

Just before Christmas, DJ’s parents came down to visit. In normal times, this is a grand (haha) occasion because it’s just not an easy trip from Canada to Virginia. However, this was 2021, which is New Normal times, so it was even more of an occasion. It was the first time in a year that Grandpa — a Canadian citizen — had been allowed to cross the border. Obviously, that means we went all out with the celebrations and activities and festivities, if by that you mean we put puzzles together and sat in the living room and visited. We did have one Fun Event on the schedule, specially requested by Nana: a family trip to a nearby park that s decked out with thousands of lights for Christmas. But because our valley is prone to high winds in the winter, it was shut down that night. We went and got frozen yogurt instead. Good thing I’m still not annoyed by that five months later.

Grandpa and Nana left a few days before Christmas, leaving us to celebrate on our own. To be honest, this is the Christmas that we’re accustomed to by now. We like a quiet morning of opening presents just as the six of us.

That whole “opening presents on Christmas morning” was actually one of the discussions that DJ and I had as newlyweds. My family always opened all presents on Christmas Day, and we rarely did stockings. His family always opened presents on Christmas Eve, and then opened their stocking gifts on Christmas Day. So DJ and I compromised, by which I mean that we do things the way I wanted to. But! We also let the kids choose one gift to open on Christmas Eve, and DJ usually has some stockings for them. It’s totally an equal compromise. I’m happy with it, anyway.

We finished out 2021 looking forward to flying down South. We rarely see both sides of the family in one holiday season, so this was, you know, a grand occasion. We did have to wrap up one more thing at home first, though — that being that we all came down with Omicron. All of us are vaccinated and had escaped Delta after being directly exposed more than once. We were confident. Nay, cocky. And then Omicron snuck up on us and clubbed us when we weren’t looking.

Fortunately it was a mild bout and went through quickly. Neither DJ nor I have lost anyone close due to the virus, which is due entirely to its unpredictable nature, as far as I can tell. We were still able to make our trip, although didn’t see all of the family because it was raging down there too. But the kids got to hang out with cousins — indeed, they had no choice because the boys slept at one sister’s house and the girls slept at another sister’s house — and DJ and I got every night to ourselves at the nearby hotel. In previous years, with younger kids who didn’t know the family as well, we never had the luxury of farming them out to various houses. This was an unexpected and very nice perk.

Another perk was the space-age minivan that we rented. It had automatic doors, a wide-screen display monitor, “smart” driving that kept the wheels on the road, keyless ignition, and possibly an AI that evaluated and course-corrected our life choices. It was great fun to drive. But to be honest, it was a relief to give it back and not have to worry about maintenance issues. Huh. Is this what it’s like to be a grandparent?

We of course had another jam-packed schedule of events that included… um, sitting around visiting, taking walks, going for long drives, and more visiting. I once talked to someone who grew up in Minnesota but married someone in Tennessee, where they lived for the first several years of marriage. She complained that she gained weight those years because nobody ever wanted to DO anything. They just wanted to “visit.” Well, I mean, in my hometown, there’s honestly not a lot else to do. Also, I don’t see my family more than once a year, if I’m lucky. Even this trip involved flying into an airport three hours away. I’m always glad for time to hear their voices, learn their interests, and remind one another of our history. Any extra weight is worth it.

On the three-hour drive back to the airport, we stopped at a milkshake shop for a brief visit with my friend and her two kids. The shop served absolutely over-the-top milkshakes, and you got to keep the glass jar afterward. It was memorable, but not quite as memorable as the pizza shop where we ate supper. We’d eaten at this pizza shop on the way down and all liked it a lot. But looking it up a week later, we couldn’t find it anywhere. It didn’t exist. We apparently had stumbled into a really good pizza place in an alternate dimension. We found another one in the same chain, and were glad to find out that it was just as good in our dimension. (We happened to spot the original one on the way to the airport the next morning. It apparently was located just over the line between two towns, so we were looking in the wrong city.)

And then we came home to a bunny who had been fed generously by a neighbor, but was quite grumpy and possibly a little puzzled by these strange humans who moved into his warren… oh wait, do I know you?… oh hey, you’re my family! But didn’t you leave a hundred years ago? How is this even possible?! Eventually we reconnected — after some visiting.

Anyway, in one holiday, we got to see Grandpa, Nana, AND Mam, plus aunts and uncles and cousins. Even five months late, it’s worth recording even in sketchy detail such a grand holiday.

A Glance Back: Our 21st Anniversary

It’s been a long while since I updated this blog. It’s not because I haven’t had anything to write about — I mean, you wouldn’t believe how much mundane life has happened! It’s because the farther behind I got, the harder it felt to catch up. Especially if it involved adding pictures. I have always hated dealing with photos online. A picture might be worth a thousand words, but I find it far easier just to write the words.

And then I had a little revelation, namely: this is my blog and I can do what I want. So I’m just going to post stuff as I think of it, with or without photos, and with or without some well-crafted structure. If you don’t like it, you dont have to read it! (But I do like it when you read it.)

So let’s see. How about a glance back at our anniversary?

Last fall, DJ and I celebrated 21 years of marriage. We got to go away for three whole days by ourselves. Hang on, let me expand upon the emotion in that previous sentence.

DJ and I have never found it easy to get away by ourselves because we have no family nearby to stay with the kids. Now that the kids are older, we can manage a night or two, but it’s never easy. A while ago I was talking with someone and discovered that we both celebrated our 20th anniversary in 2020 — a terrible year to have any grand plans. I said that DJ and I settled for a train trip and two nights in an AirBnB. The other person nodded sympathetically and said they’d wanted to go to Italy. “But we had to settle for ten days in New England.”

Ten days. Oh you poor little lambie. Please let me get you some tea fortified with brandy and a comfortable place to lie down.

However, by taking what we can get, DJ and I managed a very nice 21st anniversary. We splurged a bit for two nights in a historic property at Colonial Williamsburg. One window overlooked a yard and a little fenced pasture with three sheep in it. [I’d insert a photo here if I were bothering with that]. The other window looked out at the restored town itself. We could get up in the morning, make ourselves coffee, and then walk across the street and into the eighteenth century (or the air-conditioned, water-accessible, indoor-bathroom version thereof). With no kids to keep engaged or entertained, DJ and I could walk wherever we wanted to, browse whatever shop was open, and stop and talk to the interpreters as long as we liked. When we got tired, we didn’t have to catch a bus, return to the visitor’s center, find our car, and drive back to our hotel. We just walked “home.”

In addition to Williamsburg, DJ and I also visited Jamestown. They’ve made a concerted effort to present not only the story of the Europeans, but also to remember the native tribes who were already there, and the African peoples brought over as slaves. They also have reproductions of the ships who brought over the first European settlers, which are oppressively claustrophobic. I mean, C.S. Lewis made the “Dawn Treader” sound charming and cozy, but I’m afraid I’m on Eustace’s side when he complained about how small and unsafe it was, and how bad the rations were.

Here are some other odds and ends we picked up:

  • “Barrel” is not a generic name for a storage container; it was an actual unit of measurement. It’s as if we began referring to all coins as “dimes,” instead of just the one little silver one. Barrels weren’t considered in any way decorative or attractive. They were basically cardboard boxes for moving and storage.
  • Like a barrel, a “butt” was a container of a fixed measurement. A “butt-load” was a real term.
  • In 18th-century colonial life, a person’s status was indicated not by different clothes or accessories, but by the fabric and dye. To us, it all looks alike, but people then could tell at a glance who they were dealing with. I think that’s similar today, of course — the difference between tailored designer jeans, and Wal-Mart jeans.
  • The main thoroughfare in Williamsburg was paved with white sand. It showed up beautifully on moonlit nights. Unfortunately, it was blinding under sunlight. Many visitors to Williamsburg complained about the dazzling white street. A few people even wore spectacles with smoked lenses… sunglasses, in other words.
  • We toured the Capitol, which had completely burned down and had to be reconstructed from the foundation and sketches; and almost nobody in the tour group remembered this fact . “Was this original to the building?” “Well, the original building burned down, so…” [Tour group enters a new room.] “Are those the original windows?” “Well, the original building burned down, so…” It was like the knowledge reset every time the group went through another doorway.
  • The Governor’s Palace had been built when “the Governor” was appointed by England. The foyer was tastefully decorated with ornate arrangements of… swords and axes. Hundreds of weapons were arranged in symmetrical displays on the walls and over the doorways. [A photo would go well here.] It was like, “Wow, I like what you’ve done with the place. Please don’t kill me.”
  • In my notes, I scrawled down, “carpet in palace.” I didn’t remember what was so special about the carpet, but DJ did. When Williamsburg was restoring the Governor’s Palace in the 1980s or so, they tracked down the source of the original carpet. It was a company in England… which was still operating… and still had the original order from the 1700s on file. So the carpet is an exact reproduction of the original.
  • The governor at the time of the Revolution was one Lord Dunmore. He exited the situation via the back door of the palace.
  • At the apothecary’s shop, we saw a recipe for what was basically Tums.
  • In Jamestown, we of course stopped by the gift shop, because no field trip is complete without a souvenir. There we talked to an older couple who had just moved to Virginia from somewhere out West — although the man was actually from England. He scoffed quietly when I mentioned something about the “old buildings” at Williamsburg. The next day while walking down the street in Williamsburg, who should we encounter, but the same couple? Their names were Joy and Barry, and I was really glad they got to be part of our anniversary.

Since we didn’t have to bother with shuttle buses and driver, we were able to do a Haunted Tour [photo of ticket here]. It was held at night under a full moon, during which we followed a guide around the darkened streets, where she’d stand under lit torches and tell mildly creepy stories. It was lovely.

Our final activity was to visit the museum of art. In the foyer, a sign informed us that to the left was Folk Art, and to the right was Artisan Artifacts. We’ve been married for 21 years and can mutually agree not to try to enjoy what the other likes. I went left, DJ went right. We met up at the end having enjoyed a little time alone.

We returned home to kids who had eaten well of pizza and sub sandwiches and didn’t mind a bit of time sans parents. Later that evening, though, I found myself lying on the floor with four big kids clustered around me, just glad to be close. The bunny recognized my feet and pestered me for treats. It was a good time, and well worth the 1000-plus words I’ve written about it.

[A final photo of DJ and me would fit nicely here]

Kid Quips

When Ranger was 4 or 5, he often asked questions beginning, “Wouldn’t it be weird if…?” For instance, wouldn’t it be weird if ice was hot? Wouldn’t it be weird if we drove in bed and slept in the van? The answer to these questions was always “yes.”

Now that he’s 12, his “wouldn’t it be weird” questions are more open-ended, showing how wide this train of thought ranges. The questions invite lots of discussion… until suddenly you wonder why you’re putting so much thought into how many new people are born at the same time and how hard it would be to discern which one was truly the “youngest in the world.”

For instance:

If you could give human intelligence to anything, including an inanimate object, what would it be?

How many hours do you think you’ve spent looking at yourself in the mirror?

How many pizzas do you think have ever been made?

Did you ever think about how one day you might do the most of something in the whole world but not know it?

At one point, you were the youngest person in the world.

Wouldn’t it be weird if Ranger is the only person in the world to think of these words in this particular order?

*

Bookgirl and Sparkler made a special trip to the grocery store to get food for the bunny. When they returned, Bookgirl said, “We had to get a head instead of hearts.”

Of lettuce. Cosmic eats romaine lettuce. Honest.

*

Bookgirl was attempting an Australian accent and repeated the same word several times. Sparkler finally asked, “Why are you saying it like that?”

“I’m just saying it like they do. I’m being authentic.”

Unimpressed, Sparkler returned, “Maybe just au-nnoying.”

*

For a biology lab, Sparkler had to find her blood type. She told a friend afterward, “I had to take a blood test.”

The friend quipped, “Did you pass?”

“Yup,” Sparkler shot back. “I got an A+.”

*

And to close with one last Rangerism: he shares his name with his grandpa, DJ’s father. So he occasionally refers to DJ as “son and father of Ranger.”

Mundania: Funniness

When Ranger was a toddler, he loved it when DJ got home from work and headed back to the bedroom to change out of his office clothes. Ranger would race back ahead of DJ, slam the door, and lean on it with his entire little body. DJ and I often looked over the heads of our kids and remarked, “Funniness is happening.” So Ranger, giggling hysterically, would yell, “FUNNINESS! DERE’S FUNNINESS!”

On a related note…

During my summer of home improvements, I impusively bought a dry-erase paint kit and used it on a small section of the kitchen wall. It’s a big hit with everyone. I use it to write General Information like, “Dad will be home late” or “Here’s the plan for this weekend” or “Supper is on your own tonight.” As pictured, it’s also used for various family interactions — including DJ and me practicing our Spanish skills (I currently hold a 1034-day streak, and DJ maintains a fantastic 1061-day streak). The little creatures at the bottom were added by each of the kids, sort of as personal avatars.

(I just realized my sentence should say “mis hijos,” not “mi hijos,” because while Spanish has some marked improvements over English, gender and pluralization of adjectives are NOT two of those features

But we don’t require fancy dry-erase walls for useless communication, oh no. I stuck this list to the fridge after organizing the spice rack, only to find it vandalized a day or so later.

And speaking useless, whoever developed the theme of this puzzle was having a good creative day.

As an aside (which I can do because this is my blog) I was introduced to this type of puzzle in my fifth-grade gifted program. I could not solve them. The clues were too twisty, I mixed up the X and O and O-with-a-dot, and for years considered them impossible. Even now I can’t handle these puzzles on any level above “normal.” But every time I solve one, it’s a victory for my twelve-year-old self.

My twelve-year-old self, by the way, would have stopped and read the names on this “Santa’s List” decoration, just like my forty-something self did. And I think Santa bought an old list. I highly doubt Bob, Susan, Debby, and Gary are eagerly anticipating the arrival of their YouTuber plushies and asking for games for the Nintendo Switch.

I went to Staples to print out some D&D files for Gamerboy. He’d borrowed a thumb drive of mine to put his files on. I messaged him from the store (I’m red, Gamerboy is purple):

Oh, yes. Funniness is still happening here.

Names 2022: An Overdue and Overlong Discussion of Names

Lately I read a book that I enjoyed… mostly. Not completely. It was set in modern-day (smartphones and internet), and the 30-something main character was named Roger. That really bothered me. While it wasn’t impossible that someone born in the early 90s would be named Roger, it’s much more likely he’d be an Eric or a Cody. I powered through until we got a new character introduced to us. She too was about 30 years old, and was named… not Emily. Not Megan. Not Kayla. Nope. Barbara. In a book that featured pixies, wizards, and a magic house, these out-of-time names most jarred me out of my supension of disbelief.

If you understand why, then you too must be a name-nerd. And if you are a name-nerd, welcome to my overlong name-discussion post!

Recently, I came across this article suggesting the Top Ten Name Trends for 2022. I’ve observed that as far as naming trends go, experts have close aim, but not dead-center. If you want to find someone who hits the name trend in the bullseye, find a young couple who think they’ve discovered a new and exciting name for their to-be-born child. A thousand other parents will have discovered exactly the same name at exactly the same time. This is how we end up with Jennifer and Jason in the 80s, Olivia and Tyler in the 90s, Madison and Braeden in the 2000s, and Charlotte and Aiden in the 2010s. (And, for good measure, Roger and Barbara — #22 and #3 in 1945, respectively.)

Anyway, let’s go through this entertaining article, shall we? It provides 10 categories of up-and-coming names, and I provide commentary on them all.

1. Playful Names. Some parents forget they aren’t naming a doll. Lucky, Bee, Ziggy, and Ozzy are cute on toddlers, or even as a bubbly high school nickname, but might be hard to take seriously on an adult. “Contact your local realtor, Lucky Jones, for all your real estate needs!” That said, I do kind of like Teddy, Gigi, and Trixie.

2. Escapist Nature Names. Although I love the concept of these names, I’d still balk at using a lot of them. Sometimes giving a child a name like Ocean or Woods is just an invitation for mean kids to, well, be mean. On the other hand, there’s a real dearth of good nature names for boys, and I think Ridge and Reef are good options. I do find it annoying that Sequoia is labeled as a girl’s name, when the original Sequoia was a man who developed his Cherokee language into a written form. Not that girls can’t be named for him; but boys should be too.

3. Bridgerton-Inspired Names. These names are taken from the Neflix show/book series that I didn’t watch or read because romances annoy me. As far as I can tell, the stories are set in a fantasy version of “Jane Austen times” where women can reasonably expect to marry dukes and they all have beautiful names. These names, in fact, remind me a lot of the way Twilight picked out the trendiest names from the early 20th century — “trendy” as in “not at all trendy in their time.” The names on this list are frothy and smell of lilac: Hyacinth, Cressida, Portia, Rupert, Theo. I think Euphemia and Prudence are both horrid, but I doubt I’m going to be consulted. DJ and I seriously considered Genevieve and Phoebe for our girls; that’s how forward-thinking we are.

4. Nonbinary Names for Boys. As Sparkler pointed out, “nonbinary” and “boy” are mutually exclusive. What they meant was “gender-neutral.” I’m all for it. An annoying aspect of our naming culture is that as soon as a name is thought of as a “girl” name, it’s no longer an option for boys. One of the most crushing disappointments of my young parenthood was when I realized that Avery was no longer a “boy’s name” and I couldn’t use it for a son. Twenty years later, I have to ask, why is this even a thing? (I know why.) To heck with that. Boys need good options and there’s no good reason they can’t share the same name as a girl. Of this list, I like Holland, Indigo, Winter, Shiloh, Honor, and Wren.

P.S. Dear 2002 SJ, You were right; Avery is a great name.

5. Spirit and Soul Names. This is the 2021 incarnation of the old virtue names like Faith and Charity, and the neo-spiritual names like Destiny and Promise. I tend to find these names both lightweight and showy, like a sequin-covered jacket that doesn’t actually keep you warm. But others are welcome to lik them, even though I reserve the right to raise my eyebrows at a kid named Psalm or Righteous. I know of a child named Galilee and it’s cute on her, and I think that True would look good in a novel. I just don’t really love any of the names on this list.

6. Names Ending in S. This category intrigued me most. As a culture, we do tend to gravitate to certain endings in any given era. Think of all the names you know that end with -a or -en. I’m interested to see if there is a rise in names ending in -s. They certainly sound posh, I’ll give them that. Perhaps a bit too high-gloss for someone who named her own sons very solid, even stolid, names. But even I considered Hollis. I like Wells, Rhodes, and Hollis, and I could see a certain type of family carrying Ignatius and Osiris with aplomb. I’m not crazy about Banks or Collins for girls… but I guess according to my passionate rant in #4, I have to admit them as options. Darn intellectual honesty.

7. Retro Nostalgia Names. Maybe this is what that author was going for with his Roger and Barbara! (He wasn’t. He just didn’t take the time to google baby name lists according to birth year.) I confess, I don’t like any of these names very much. They aren’t retro and cool to me; they’re just stale because as a kid I grew up hearing these names on, you know, adults. Younger people don’t have that strong an association, though. I’ve heard kids with the names Frank, Hank, Gus, Etta, Ellie, Mae… oh, and also Ellie Mae. I don’t like them much but I figure I’m likely to have grandkids with these names so I’m getting used to them.

8. Next Wave Musical Names. These names range from fairly standard (Aria) to imaginative (Sonnet) to downright startling (Strummer?). As with Spirit and Soul names, these have a high gimmick factor to me and I don’t love them. However, I have to admire the inclusion of Solo, which is both musical and a Star Wars reference — double gimmick!

9. Punchy R Names. This was another category that interested me from a “sound” standpoint. I myself like short names beginning with R — my first heroine in my first real novel was named Ria. (Well, okay, that was her nickname. Her whole name was… was… look, I was 17, okay? Why bring this up?) I like several names on this list, including Reed, Ren, Rox, Rowe, Rome, Rumi, and Reeve. A pregnant friend is considering using Rue as a middle name. I don’t think all of these options make great names, but I like their sound. Rye and Roux, however, edge pretty close to the line between innovative and silly.

10. Euro Chic Names. Here’s the thing about taking a name from another culture or language: it might not be the chic choice you think it is. I once met someone whose family emigrated to the U.S. from a South Asian country when she was very young. Her grandmother said, “Look, if we put an extra letter on the end of her name, it’s a flower in English!” So she grew up as Tulip. She embodies the name well and I’ve stopped thinking of it as odd… but it is odd, because for some reason we just don’t use that flower as a name. So when I see a list of names whose context I don’t understand, I’m skeptical. That said, this list has some nice-sounding names like Tova, Stellan, and Viggo. I know of a child named Petra. I’d be tempted to use Cosmo simply because of my lifelong love for the movie Singin’ in the Rain, in which the sidekick Cosmo Brown was way more interesting than the heartthrob Don Lockwood.

And those are my thoughts on the whole thing! Ha ha. That was a joke — I could write another equally long post on this topic. I won’t, but feel free to chime in with your thoughts.

Names are both highly personal and highly public. It’s a parent’s choice, but a child’s identity. Your name can say a lot about your background, your subculture, your parents’ class aspirations… or maybe none of those things. We tend to look at new trends with suspicion, while utterly accepting past trends without question. (Ever taken a look at names from 100 – 120 years ago? I had a great-uncles named Jewell and Bobby Blair, and great-aunts named Zethel and Gundine.) All in all, it’s endlessly fascinating to me.

Yet for all my decided opinions, I have to remember a foundational truth: all names are, ultimately, made-up sounds that we’ve deemed acceptable to apply to people. And that gives a lot of latitude for which names people can choose to bestow on their children.

Sparkler is 15!

She’s funny, she’s smart, she’s witty, she’s interested in everything from silly animal videos to scientific discoveries. She practices her guitar without being reminded, talks out her thoughts a lot, and loves drawing original characters.

She likes knowing things. Years ago when a co-op teacher asked “What’s something we get sometimes in the winter?”, four-year-old Sparkler piped up with, “Hypothermia!” Yesterday when her biology teacher showed the class some magnified cells and asked if anyone knew what it was, fifteen-year-old Sparkler said, “I think that’s yeast.” Both teachers were impressed, but that’s Sparkler.

Sparkler has wrestled with many deep questions and struggled with loneliness. But at the same time, she’s a very optimistic and sociable person. She likes hanging out and talking to me. She loves discussing history and religion and big ideas with DJ. She and Bookgirl go on long drives to listen to music together. She and Gamerboy laugh at the same memes and hold loud conversations in the kitchen while doing chores. She and Ranger go on walks or create worlds in sand while also creating worlds in their heads. She remains the… well, the sparkle in the household.

Last year when Sparkler and I were gone for a weekend, we returned to a warm welcome. Did I say “we”? I mean “she.” Her brothers said passing hellos to me, but they followed Sparkler around the house, catching up on a weekend’s worth of conversation.

Her actual birthday was yesterday so this post is a day late. I think this happened last year, too. Her birthday falls at the end of summer and the beginning of the school year, and runs the risk of falling through the cracks entirely. Except that this is Sparkler we’re talking about. She doesn’t let herself get crowded out — and to be honest, most people are happy to skooch over and make room for her.

Happy birthday to our new 15-year-old. Whatever your new year holds, we know you’ll bring us all along on the adventure. We love you!

Mundania: Mostly House Stuff

Well, how about if I fling some random pictures onto the blog and tie them all together with clever captions? Cleverness optional. (Many years ago, a friend and I bemoaned the fact that “cleverness” is such a clunky word. We thought that “cleverity” was a much better form, and that’s what we used. Why, yes, that’s exactly what conversations with my younger self was like.)

Over the course of the summer, I caught a few cool clouds on display. Behold:

This giant bunny has emerged from the tree and wants to be your friend. Honest.

This dragon is shushing a loud worm. You know how worms can be.

It’s a whale in the sky! Or maybe just a big fish. The Bible never actually calls it a whale, you know.

Oh, and Sparkler and I spotted this in town. I just… I mean, it seems like the Methodist church might want to revisit its branding policies.

This has been a summer of A Thousand Mundane Chores. Our thirty-year-old house is feeling her age, so I found myself spending my days doing terribly unfun tasks like Scrubbing the Porch and Repainting the Shutters and Cleaning the Kitchen Cabinet Doors.

Years ago, I repainted our black shutters a more stylish red and gray. This summer I refreshed them — finishing them to the day 11 years later. I was not thrilled with my younger self’s decision to do two colors, and the quality of work definitely has a “if you look too closely it’s your own fault” vibe. But they do look better at a glance.

We had our old, ailing storm door removed. I repainted the front door and the frame to make it look like we meant it to be that way. (Sparkler observed that a lot of my decor philosophy consists of things happening and me trying to make them look deliberate.) I’m actually very pleased with the new front door look.

We were supposed to get brand-new floors in the dining room and kitchen. Because of a combination of Home Depot’s crappy floor-installation process and just the fact that this is a bad time to need anything, we ended up putting new rugs down over the shabby old flooring. At least my living room isn’t overwhelmingly brown anymore.

While doing Mundane Homeowner Task #648 (cleaning the doorbell button), I opened the front door and told Gamerboy and Sparkler, “I’m going to be cleaning the doorbell button so if you hear frantic ringing, that’s why.”

It turned out that despite the ten thousand doorbell rings over the years, the grime came off very easily. After a few minutes, I poked my head inside again.

“All done. No ringing after all.”

“Darn,” said Gamerboy. “I wanted to yell WHO IS IT every time you rang it.”

“And I,” Sparkler said, “was going to fling open the door and say, ‘Okay, lady, we hear you!'”

“Sorry to ruin your plans,” I said. “But it’s all clean now.”

“But does it still work?” Gamerboy asked. “You should try it.”

I pressed the button and rang the doorbell.

“WHO IS IT!” Gamerboy yelled.

“OKAY LADY WE HEAR YOU!” Sparkler yelled.

I slammed the door on them, but could still hear them laughing.

*

Over the years, I’ve wished for a better front porch. I grew up in a two-story log house with a wide porch on either side. DJ proposed to me on that front porch, in fact. Alas, my house here has a concrete slab that isn’t wide or romantic. But this summer, I had a pretty revolutionary thought: what if, since we can’t redo our front porch, I just make do with what we have. Huh. Oddly, the thought kind of came packaged in my mom’s voice.

So I scrubbed, trimmed, painted, and rearranged. The result is… well, still a concrete slab. But it’s a pleasant place to sit in the evenings, which is really all that’s required of a porch.

This summer we said goodbye to our faithful old minivan. It wasn’t that we were tired of her; it was just that after years of tireless service, she was pretty tired and glad to move on to retirement. There, I got four “tires” in a sentence talking about a minivan. Such cleverity.

We replaced the minivan with a RAV4. It’s newer, cuter, and smaller. DJ and I reasoned that our kids would be moving on before we needed a new vehicle.* So currently we can’t fit the whole family into one vehicle. I’m actually still not used to the idea that I can’t fit as many people and groceries and possibly an extra car into my vehicle. It’s hard transitioning from being minivan family.

*Since we still have three kids who have to learn how to drive, this might be an overoptimistic conclusion.

What with DJ’s surgery, all the work I’ve had to put into the house, the various frustrations with the flooring, and the disarray of the world in general, the summer has been full if not always a grand lark. School “soft opens” tomorrow, and will be in full swing by next week.

But the evenings are still nice, if you have a front porch to enjoy them.

Gamerboy Graduates!

He did it! Gamerboy finished high school, donned the gown, developed a deep grudge against the mortarboard cap, and graduated.

As with Bookgirl’s, the ceremony was hosted by a state homeschool organization, who did it up very nicely with a processional, a speaker, and parents presenting the diplomas. This being many people’s first big event in a post-covid world, everybody was a tad slap happy. It was a boisterous crowd, and the kids on stage did everything from secret handshakes to a football-inspired pantomime (both parents did the touchdown sign) to a quick hip-hop shuffle on the way down the steps. Someone in the audience had an air horn.*

DJ and I really didn’t know how much Gamerboy was going to enjoy the event. He doesn’t like loud crowds and he’s never quite sure of what to do with himself in unfamiliar situations. But it was important to him to walk and receive his diploma. So he put on the gown and the hat, and…

That hat.

See, here’s a thing about Gamerboy: he’s got a literal big head. That head is the reason why he was born via C-section after 12 hours of labor. It’s also why we haven’t found him glasses that fit him, and are just going to have to go to contacts. So we got this mortarboard cap that was labeled “one size fits all” and I thought, “Yeah, right.” The cap didn’t fit him at all; it slid off every time he moved. He had just as much success wearing it upside down:

He also t-posed, because that’s what the kids these days do. And yes, the hat is wonky and part of the tassel is caught on his eyelashes. Because it’s funny, that’s why.

But when the time came, he balanced the hat on his head and processed down the aisle to “Pomp and Circumstance.” Of course, he plugged his ears because the crowd was so loud, and somebody had an air horn.

Sparkler got a video of us onstage (at Gamerboy’s repeated request). We didn’t do any cute handshakes or pantomimes. Gamerboy just enveloped DJ and me in his huge hug, we dropped his diploma, and we all laughed. His school career wasn’t always a smooth ride, but we made it.

I think that deserved an air horn.

Congratulations, Gamberboy! We love you.

**

* While watching the pre-ceremony slideshow of all the graduates, I was pretty sure I recognized one of the names. I went in search of her family — easy to do because everyone sat in alphabetical order — and was delighted to find out that I was right. I’ve known her father literally since I was born. Back in our little Mississippi town, our families grew up together. When my dad died, they were there. When their mother died, we were there. As adults, we don’t cross paths very often — we aren’t the type to go on vacation together or anything. But we always keep up with each other and know each other on sight. It was extremely special to me that my son graduated with their daughter.

They were the ones with the air horn.

Jones Vacation 2021

With life returning to normal and 4/6 of us fully vaccinated, the Joneses happily embarked on summer vacation. It was the kind of trip we all like best: we stayed in a vacation house in a quiet spot not terribly far away, planned a couple of fun things, and otherwise — in the words of my teenagers — “just vibed.”

We went to Williamsburg, a perennial favorite area. In previous years, this is where we brought our little ones to that place of near heavenly transcendence, Great Wolf Lodge. Now that they’re older, we had to look around for other attractions.

There is always, of course, Colonial Williamsburg. DJ would probably live there if they’d let him, I find it interesting, and Sparkler enjoys it; but overall it has always failed to enchant the kids the way Great Wolf Lodge always did. Still, it was a good place to start. We arrived on a 90-degree afternoon, which was a great way to appreciate what life was like in bygone days! It was easier to appreciate it in the buildings that had air conditioning, of course. The kids were good sports — and honestly interested in the printing press and the courthouse constructed of bricks that were older than the U.S. itself — but even DJ and I couldn’t last too long in that heat. We’ve agreed that one day we’ll come down to Williamsburg, stay in the grand Colonial Williamsburg resort, and canvass the town by ourselves.

And we did get a selfie, so it counts as a real experience.

You might notice that Bookgirl isn’t in this photo. Huh, wow, you really are paying attention! She had to work, so couldn’t drive down with us. Instead, she drove down halfway on Monday evening, and DJ met her and brought her the rest of the way. On Thursday, I took her halfway and she drove the rest of the way home. It wasn’t a difficult drive for her, but it was the longest she’s had to navigate by herself. She did great and I wasn’t even worried at all ever so that’s all good.

Our vacation home was tucked away behind an RV camp on a “lake.” It was really just a very wide creek, but Mattaponi Lake sounds way better than Jackson Creek so for the purposes of vacation marketing, it was a lake. (Note: I changed the names slightly because AirBnB protects its hosts’ addresses unless someone actually books a stay.)

The first thing we noticed upon arrival was a goose. No, wait, three or four geese! Oh good heavens, look at all these geese. Dozens of them roamed the property, which they obviously owned. We kept out of their way, so they let us stay.

Besides geese, we also saw a heron. As with the “lake,” this bird might not be exactly a heron but it sounded good so that’s what we called it.

We surprised a pretty sizable turtle, who was probably on the prowl for frogs. He did not appreciate us at all and hauled shell for the water. At the same time, we startled a wild rabbit out from under the porch, who dashed off in the other direction. “It’s the tortoise and the hare!” Gamberboy yelled.

Sparkler and I had noticed two birds — I think they were barn swallows, and that sounds good, right? — who were very busy near the dock. DJ discovered why: they had a nest of very hungry babies. Sparkler would sit out on the deck and watch the parent birds swoop back and forth, bringing food to the babies. “They don’t seem to get much of a break,” she said. “I thought maybe that was how it was for you when we were little.” Yes. It was indeed.

It rained one day. Simply a deluge. What a lovely day for a walk.

But on other days, the sun made diamonds out of the ripples:

Sparkler got a chance to go out in the kayak. Of all our kids, she’s the one who most enjoys “messing about in boats.”

And there was, of course, gaming to do. This was the game Ranger got for his birthday, The Voyages of Marco Polo. What with travel and graduation and colds picked up due to travel and graduation, this was the first chance we’d had to try it out. It was sufficiently complicated with lots of little fiddly pieces, and DJ and I liked it. The boys prefer games with a deck-building mechanic. Fine, then, DJ and I will play it when we go to Williamsburg by ourselves.

The showpiece activity of the week was a day at Busch Gardens. No, Busch Gardens is not a historic mansion that you can tour, although all the kids thought it was when we said we’d take them there. (Why would they think we’d take them to tour a historic area on vacation, anyway?) It’s an amusement park. An amusement park, furthermore, built as a marketing tool for that one corporation you immediately think of when you think of “fun for the whole family”: the Anheuser-Busch Brewing Company.

Busch Gardens is ostensibly a theme park, the theme being “Europe.” Yes, you can experience all the wonders of Europe in one small park! There’s England:

And Ireland:

And Germany and Oktoberfest, which are two different sections. Oktoberfest features this dreamboat to welcome you to the pleasures within:

Also, not pictured, are France (where we ate French fries), Scotland, and “Festa Italia” which features Roman numerals and a teacup ride of rather lovely patterned cups and a tall teapot called “Turkish Delight” whose relation to Italy is fuzzy. This version of Europe doesn’t feature Spain or Portugal or Sweden or Austria, but it does have Sesame Street for the summer.

Busch Gardens is corny, but overall it’s rather charming. The kids liked the rides, while DJ and I liked the shaded walks, the variety of music, and the rescue animals. Anheuser-Busch no longer owns the amusement park, but you can still see Clydesdale horses and buy beer.

Plus, we couldn’t possibly have had better weather. I told DJ that the sky looked almost fake blue — like he’d chosen it online from several “park weather” options.

The kids ended the day pretty worn out. They learned an important truth about amusement parks: 67% of it is standing in line.

But they all bought plushies so they ended the day happy.

DJ and I discovered that doing an amusement park with four kids who can go off on their own all day is absolutely the way to do it. We earned this day together — us and those barn swallows.

Even with spotty wifi at the vacation house, all of us enjoyed ourselves. We played games, saw wildlife, did an amusement park, and vibed. Now it’s back to real life (and much better wifi) — but it was a great vacation at the “lake.”