Scrapbook: A Celebration of Water and Fire

When I was a kid, the Fourth of July was a big, exciting deal. It started early in the afternoon at my aunt and uncle’s house with swimming. Later, there would be dinner, and then my cousins and I would collectively lose our mind over fireworks. If we were very, very lucky, there’d be night swimming. As I got older a lot of the excitement over the holiday was replaced with fear over gunshots, illegal firework injuries, and house fires. This year, even after the holiday was over, I was awakened several times by loud, certainly illegal booms, at three o’clock in the morning. Some I didn’t just hear, I felt. As a holiday, it’s become somewhat terrifying.

Now much of my joy in the holiday comes from watching the kids enjoy it in the same way I used to. The holiday still sparkles with water and fire. This year drove deep into the remote countryside of Denair to celebrate. (Actually, Denair is a suburban hamlet in a rural area that isn’t remote at all, but as I lack all cell phone service I feel like I may as well be in the middle of a National Park.)

The day started off with water as the next generation of kids played in the pool and sprinklers.

As the sun began to set, we dried them off, fed them a snack, and got them back in their clothes. Then we moved to the front yard for our own private firework show.

My cousin plied the kids with a seemingly endless supply of sparklers, which intimidated Isobel at first, but by the end she wielded two sparklers at once like an expert fire dancer.

I always seem to have an abundance of glow sticks on my person (this year’s stock were leftovers from this project), and the past couple years it’s been my tradition to bring a plethora of them to add to the firework-watching experience.

Elias was old enough this year to sit outside and watch the show, which he was totally into as long as he was in my lap. And I mean, I was not allowed to get up for a second, or my totally calm baby turned into crazypants meltdown baby. But he felt safe in my lap, so there he stayed. He enjoyed the glow stick bounty, and held on to his stoically as he watched the show.

We had a perfect view of three other firework shows happening around us: two clearly professional, and one clearly illegal. We stopped our little show several times to watch the sky. My cousin passed out ice cream sandwhiches and we cuddled on blankets spread across the grass. When the kids weren’t dancing to the flashing fireworks and waving their glow sticks around, they were covering their ears in anticipation of unnecessarily loud fireworks.

The unsung hero of this and many July Fourth celebrations in the patriotic ladder, which somehow avoids being blown up year after year. Happy America, ladder!

Summer Fun List 2015

Back in 2013 I made a Summer Wishlist of all the things I wanted to do that year while the weather was warm. It was a lot of fun and although I didn’t accomplish everything on the list, we did more than I anticipated. I was very ill at the beginning of summer and writing one would have just made me feel sad thinking of all the things I probably wouldn’t be able to do. And I was right–in addition to being very ill for a very long time, we ran into obstacles that would have put a crimp in any plan I could have made. But we had a lot of fun this summer, more than I would have thought possible. The big thing I’ve learned from all the various challenges that have been thrown my way, be it ill health or job loss or whatever, is to focus on what you can do instead of what you can’t. That’s one of life’s big lessons, or at least, it has been mine.

(The only thing that really breaks my heart is that we didn’t get to visit my family’s special spot on the river. My ill health, our lack of vacation days and available funds, the drought, and Elias’ cast conspired to make the trip impossible. Forgive me if I don’t fave your river vacation photos this year. I’m scrolling past them as fast as I can to avoid wallowing in the sads.)

School starts Monday and Isobel is going into (gulp) first grade. Here’s a look back at all the fun we had this summer.

Swimming lessons – Isobel made enormous strides in swimming lessons this year. Previously she’s had a hard time and this year she just blossomed into an incredible swimmer. We only did two sessions instead of three, because I felt two was all I could handle. I was going to do Mommy & Me with Elias but they weren’t offering it for the first sessions, and frankly, I’m not even sure if I was well enough to do it then. Breaking his elbow was the nail in the coffin for his lessons, but before that happened we swam a lot in our cousin’s pool and he showed zero hesitation in the water and I was even starting to teach him to jump off the side of the pool and into my arms.

Backyard Skywatching – This summer, before our lawn died and became the barren wasteland you’ve seen in photos, it was green and sometimes after work we’d spread out a blanket and all four of us would lay down and look at the sky. We also pulled out our binoculars and telescope a few times. Elias kept putting the eyepiece in his mouth, so we all enjoyed using the telescope in our own way.

Tons of time for dress up – Isobel spent approximately half the summer in her Pikachu costume, and because it’s summer and I give zero fucks, I let her wear it out to places like the doctor’s office and to pick up take-out. When she was not being Pikachu, she was Bat Girl, Tinkerbell, a ballerina, Raven, Wonder Woman, Rainbow Dash, Wasp, or Cat Woman. Elias got in on the act, too, though his favorite thing to be this summer was naked.

Cousin Craftapalooza – We got ttogetherr with my cousin Liz and her kids, Sam and Victoria, almost once a week for cousin time. We planned a special craft and ate lunch or a snack and let them play together for a few hours. Our more elaborate crafts included painting canvases in two layers and making sandpaper transfer t-shirts. Isobel wore her shirt everyday for a solid week, she loved it so much. The kids had such a great time together and we looked forward to it all week. Elias couldn’t participate in the crafts beyond doing some coloring, but he had a lot of fun playing with his cousins.

Party Time, Excellent – We had a ridiculous amount of fun at parties. My friend invited us to a Pride Party to celebrate the SCOTUS decision on allowing same-sex couples to marry, my friends Dave and Stef threw a Solstice party to celebrate the longest day of the year, and my cousin and aunt threw my new cousin-in-law an ah-may-zing tea party bridal shower. Every year we look forward to Ellen and Ivan’s Christmas in July celebration, which only seems to get more decadent and fabulous every year, and several friends and family members celebrated birthdays. Oh, and we drove deep into the wilds of Denair to celebrate America by splashing in water, eating, and setting things on fire.

Summer Routine – Things were fairly laid back and relaxed this summer–I was ill for the majority of it, and I prefer a flexible schedule myself. But we did work on a daily list of things I wanted her to accomplish, such as getting ready, making her bed, and doing some reading and educational activities. We also kept track of the time with a printed calendar on the fridge that listed activities and a days of the week chart that I made after answering incessant questions about what day it was and what would tomorrow be? and the next? and the next? Isobel loved being read to, solving math problems, and doing her Learning Path on ABC Mouse. She did not appreciate reading practice, and it caused more than a few meltdowns. But I feel good about her progress going into first grade.

Summer Reading – On the last day of school I took Isobel to get her first library card and sign her up for the summer reading program. She’s had a long and storied (ha!) history of going to the library, but she’s always used either my or my mom’s library card. We waited until she was old enough to understand how awesome and what a big deal getting your own library card is. She reveled in checking out piles of books, including My Little Pony comic books. We visited the library just for books and to participate in story time. We honestly forgot to update and bring in her summer reading program card, but we did the reading, which was the main thing. There’s always next year! Elias is a natural at Wiggle Worms story time.

Our poppy garden – Although the drought really put a dent in our garden plans, our poppy garden came in beautifully. We really enjoyed it, and Isobel taught Elias how to pick the flowers, a skill he demonstrates with great proficiency as often as possible.

Family Matters – We saw family all the  time. In addition to Cousin Craftapalooza, we had a standing date with my parents to watch Isobel once a week at their house. I even left Elias over there a few times, and they still made regular excursions to our house. Anthony’s parents had summer off, and we went over there for dinner and Olivia picked Isobel up several times to go swimming with her cousins. We also hosted my Aunt and Uncle from Half Moon Bay and had a jam session and lunch together with them, my parents, and even my Grandma. We also took time to visit Grandma Juani, and my Aunt from the foothills came by. Friends who are like family, visited, too. Jacob brought the kids a Steven Universe DVD and my dear friend Jenn, who lives in SoCal though it may as well be the moon for as often as I see her, came to visit.

Playing Outside – We played with chalk, all sorts of bubbles, container gardening, bike riding, scooter riding, nature walks, Columbia Park Splash Pad, sprinklers, Grandma’s trampoline, our tiny pool, and Anthony’s aunt and uncle’s big pool.

Becky Time – Anthony met Becky back when he worked at Borders, and she remembers the moment Anthony told her we were expecting. Her first thought was, “You have a wife?!” Since then she’s become a great friend of ours and sent the kids presents in the mail while she lived in Japan. She had time off from work in the summer and wanted to come over once a week to help with chores. I wanted to see her but wouldn’t allow her to work. She ended up coming over and spending time with the kids, particularly Isobel, so that I could get work around the house done. A few times she graciously offered to help with dishes, and I relented. Isobel loved her playdates with Becky.

Play Dates – We had several play dates or other get-togethers with our perennial favorites: Kingston, Jewel, Serina, Sam, Victoria, Little Boy Noah, Luke, and Kai.

Daily Fun Thing – After swimming lessons were over and I was starting to recover, I started planning Daily Fun Things with the kids. We looked through a microscope, painted some custom hair clips, wrote in our field journal, had a craft party with presents from Tia Aura, made fairy food out of clay, built forts out of card tables and giant blocks, played music together, had dance parties, took pictures, cooked food for reals, played Lego, and worked on various crafts in the library.

The Fair – We were lucky enough to go twice this year, once as a family and once, as is our yearly tradition, with the Waltons, so that the kids have a partner to enjoy rides with. It was made extra fun by accidentally meeting up with our Modesto buds, Ellen, Laura, and Noah. It was also the first year Isobel and Kingston took photo booth photos together. Good times!

Food – In delicious news, I recovered enough to try new foods, and Anthony and I tried a new restaurant in town that had creme brulee, my fave, and we happened upon the tail end of our local Baconfest. We tried a new Mexican treat shop in town and I developed a severe addiction to Oak Barrel Creamery, the new homemade ice cream shop.

The Less Fun, But Notable Things That Happened – My two year old nephew Kai broke his leg. Elias broke his elbow and we were taken by ambulance to a specialty children’s hospital. I started painful injections for my Crohn’s disease. Those things sucked but for the most part, we are over it and plowing ahead and not letting that stop us.

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