Cold and happy

Snow becomes even more romantic when you’re never in it. Every winter holiday, images of the way things should be — purely, sparkly, crisply white — make me feel like we’re missing some kind of magic. This year I really longed to see Finn slide down a hill on an orange saucer and bring to life his own snowman… so although we usually travel to Michigan in the summertime, I bought tickets for February. Instead of our usual Valentine’s picnic on the grass in a pair of jeans and sandals, we hiked across a frozen river behind my parents’ house wearing long underwear and snow pants, boots, and jackets.

It was cold and beautiful, but Finn, seeing snow for the first time, just wanted to play in the stuff. So we did.

At a local park, we went down hills so fast that icy shavings flew up from the surface of the snow into our faces:

Then my father tied a rope to a bright orange saucer and he and Keith took turns pulling Finn in circles:

Unfortunately the snow wouldn’t pack at all, making a real snowball fight and authentic snowman pretty impossible. But we did our best to try. We tossed icy chunks at one another…

… and heaped the slippery snow into a mound that was at the most eight inches high. Our “snowman” was pretty pathetic, but he was ours, complete with red berry eyes, little sticks for arms, and a leaf for hair:

This snow will not pack! But we can't leave Michigan without crossing "snowman" off of Finn's to-do list,

We also relaxed a bit on an idyllic sleigh ride,…

Winter sleigh ride!

…lounged in a comfy chair by the fire with the dog, Willow — otherwise known as “Finn’s pillow,”…

… and at the end of each day, took turns thawing in a lovely claw-foot tub:

Warming up in a claw-foot tub after a cold day of sledding!

Finn’s first snow was, in Finn’s words, “pretty cool.” Then he had to explain with a smile that he meant that “in two ways.”

I agree in both respects, little man.

Camping in the back yard

One of the first things we did in 2014 was to sleep outside. Not outside in the wild, or in the woods, or even at a camp site. Just outside.

Finn had never been camping, and neither had our friends’ girls, so the group of us decided that our back yard would be a good place to start… a test to see how the kids would handle it — and, well, the adults, too. After all, the last time Keith and I had gone camping was in Maine about a decade ago, and the last time my close friend Lisa camped was with me on a road trip we took out west when we were twenty-five.

So we ordered a tent, borrowed another, bought a couple of sleeping bags, special little lanterns, a fire pit, and marshmallows… and then waited for the temperature to drop enough to be comfortable. Luckily, on the last weekend before break ended, it cooled down to 60 degrees — our first chilly night of the season.

We skewered veggie kabobs and set up the tents, first the small one for the kids,

IMG_6668…and then the larger, two-room get-away for the adults:


Getting ready to camp in the back yard!

After the tents were up and the kids had loaded theirs with sleeping bags, pillows, flashlights, stuffed animals, books, and a soccer ball, we tried to enjoy a nice dinner outside…. But the kids ate quickly and then ran off to play, riding a scooter, a motorized bike, and a ziggle around the patio until Finn, in all of his excitement, landed right into the unheated pool. It was a bit of a downer to say the least — something that only a few gooey S’MORES could improve:


And then it was time to play music around the campfire…



…although the truth is that it was really about 77 torturous rounds of JUST the chorus of “Jingle Bells” sung around the fire pit Keith had picked up that day from Home Depot.

As if we couldn’t get any more authentic, to finish off their first night of “camping,” the kids watched Wall-E on a laptop inside their tent…


…and then yelled out non-sensical rhyming couplets past midnight until I finally had to threaten that I would take Finn inside the house to sleep.

At some point things grew quiet and the kids dozed off, but as for me, my shoulders were all that kept falling asleep, and Keith was up in the middle of the night trying to repair a broken well pump that he heard going off on the other side of the garden.

When morning finally arrived, the adults were up early, eager to be off the ground, and I trekked through the yard and back into the house to press some strong coffee and make some oatmeal walnut scones. As I headed back out, I saw Finn darting back and forth between the two tents. Apparently the kids were sneaking things (like my water bottle) out of ours to hide in theirs:




It was a far cry from real camping, but — clearly — they had fun. A good start to 2014.

Being merry

Finn has REALLY been into the holiday thing this year. I’m talking about the twenty-five self-initiated pipe-cleaner candy-canes that he’s hung up all over the house, the red-and-white striped letters he uses to write out pretty much everything, all of the Christmas tunes that he sings on his own while working at the table or sitting in the bath, the strange things he’s done with holiday wrapping, scissors, tape, and curly ribbon while trying to put his own “packages” under the tree.

I had forgotten that the holidays could be this much fun…




Autumn weekend in Connecticut

So a couple of weeks ago we left South Florida to experience a real Autumn:

– the kind with trees so intensely red and orange that they put you in a kind of trance…

Finn, Greyson, and Marlowe

…the kind with so many crunchy leaves that they can be piled up high enough to hide in,

Leaves, leaves, leaves! Nature's toys.


…the kind where you can wear a full-body orca costume for Halloween and not overheat,

My little orca takes a walk in the woods

…the kind with a chill in the air that warrants actual sweaters…


…and even coats,


…the kind where you sit around a real fire pit roasting marshmallows and singing Beatles songs until way past bedtime:


Now that we’re home again, we’re back to bed on time, back to our very green trees and short sleeves. But Finn knows now what Autumn means.

And I have a feeling we’ll be making s’mores again late one night sometime very soon, even if it’s just in the upper sixties.

Finn’s robot party

Finn, always our little scientist and fact explorer, has lately become increasingly fascinated with fiction. Instead of just grabbing one of his books about the solar system or the ocean’s midnight zone, these days he’s perhaps more likely to grab a book about WALL-E. Since I wasn’t interested in throwing a Disney character party (or so I thought), we decided to plan a robot party for his 5th birthday. Appropriately, we first collected lots and lots of trash (you’ll get that if you’ve seen the movie). We recycled toilet paper rolls, cereal boxes, tissue boxes, oatmeal containers, egg cartons, caps, and even cans, and put them together in fun ways to make cool retro-robots.

Finn, of course, made his own WALL-E:


And I made a few others of various sizes, including this handsome couple with arms made out of slinkies,…


…this can-head guy,…


… and a basic robot box to hold the “goody bags” filled with robot pencils, erasers, crayons, pads, and stickers:


But the robot that was the most fun during the actual party was the largest one: Keith constructed a photo-op out of spray-painted cardboard and dryer vent tubing. We put it in front of a polka-dotted back-drop and placed a stool behind it so that kids of different sizes could get their heads inside the robot helmet:






A birthday banner banner that hung inside was a group effort, started by some of my wonderful students who were so generous with their time after school, and finished by the rest of us at home the day before the event. It was adorable but fell down before the end of the party:


We also had robot napkin holders,


…various sandwich and cheese cubes supposedly compacted by WALL-E,


…and thanks to my sister Sunshine, the master-knife-wielder, a delicious fruit-bot (which I forgot to get a nice photograph of beforehand):


Outside we had a craft table for making robots out of sticky foam paper I had pre-cut into various shapes…IMG_5807


…and a WALL-E bounce house that kids jumped in and out of for hours in between swimming in the pool and swinging on the playground:



Then it was time for the REAL show: the unbelievable cake that my sister Ilianna and her architect husband designed and made for Finn. I didn’t think that ANYTHING could top the solar-cake-system they made last year, but I had to fight back tears when I saw them walk in and assemble this two-and-a-half foot robot, complete with plexiglass eyes, treads, (cake-)dirt, and even clay shoe with a teeny plant in it. Finn was truly overjoyed:




Although most of the guests left at what would be considered the “normal” time, those closest to us stayed until after nightfall, eating leftover “nuts and bolts” (pretzel and cereal mix) and eventually a dinner that we threw together in impromptu fashion. Then we goofed around some more, dancing the “robot” until the clock struck about 9:30. The party was so fun, it was better than fiction.

Finn is 5! (Birthday video)

Happy, Happy Birthday to you, Finn, my Finch, my beautiful five-year-old boy!

Looking back at last year’s birthday post, I can see that some things about you haven’t changed: you still treasure funny faces, play with cars and rockets, feast on books, and dream of planets and the ocean deep. You still prefer the color orange, pick crayons over markers, and love broccoli but hate tomatoes. You still are better at talking than listening.

But these days, when you open your mouth (which is always moving, it seems), you’re not just talking about all the things you’ve learned: you’re sharing the inventions of your imagination. Yes, you still love to read what others have written (and now often read, paragraphs and all, completely on your own) — but you are a storyteller now, too. You make up your own rhymes, write and illustrate your own narratives about going back in time with the dinosaurs or to the bottom of the ocean, and sometimes, unbeknownst to me, use my iphone to take goofy pictures and make videos of yourself running from “scary predators” or assuming the role of teacher, classifying your toys or explaining the features of your room. I sometimes discover your selfies and shaky clips late at night when I’m setting my alarm for the next day (also of course checking to make sure that YOU didn’t at some point set an alarm for me that might go off with robot, duck, or marimba sounds at 3 in the morning). It feels so good to laugh with surprise, to lean over toward Daddy with my phone to show him the unexpected treasure you’ve left behind… something you’ve made completely on your own. You’ve become an artist, an originator, creating something new from whatever voice or perspective you want to assume at that moment: paleontologist, chef, doctor, astronaut, scuba diver, teacher, artist, or just silly kid.

I love you more and more each day, my silly, smart, creative boy. It makes me so happy to watch you become the author of your own life.


Summer 2013


Fall may not officially begin for over another month, but for all practical purposes, summer was over for us as of this week when I woke to my alarm before six on Monday morning. But I’ll miss so much more than sleeping in.

I’ll miss putting on a swimsuit instead of regular clothes. I’ll miss watching Finn jump and swirl and dive and twist in the water, so strong and confident and agile.09400023



He spent much of the summer dashing around in the pool, asking to play “shark,” which entailed a lot of shrieking, or to play dolphin, swimming to the bottom to pick up rings with his teeth — something I’ll definitely miss. And when his older cousins came over, Finn played a big boy game in which he actually towered over everyone:


My little man also grew tall enough to ride the big water slide at an Orlando resort this summer, although the staff still required him to wear a life jacket. When I saw Finn’s face afterward, I asked him if it was a little too scary, and he exclaimed, “No! It was cool! It was the coolest!”

Finn is finally tall enough to do the water slide! (but still has to wear a life jacket)

But the coolest thing really was the snorkeling. This was serious stuff; no splashing around or yelling here — just serious exploration of the mysterious, alien world that’s fascinated him for so long:

A little snorkeling along the beach

When we headed with family out to Sombrero Reef off Marathon Key, Finn was ready. The fish were beautiful but the surface was choppy, so in the end, neither he nor Mommy lasted long in the water. Although I won’t miss the motion sickness, I will miss the excitement I felt watching my boy climb bravely down the boat’s ladder into the massive, moving ocean.


But it wasn’t all so intense. I’ll miss the calm times, too. While on Marathon Key, we found lots of time to float around lazily in the pool,…


… dip little feet in the Gulf of Mexico,…



… and sift through the sand on Sombrero Beach:


We explored even more at the Key West Aquarium, where Finn touched some pokey sea urchins,…


…watched sleek sharks swim behind protective glass,…


…and fed some others up close:


And at Fort Lauderdale’s Museum of Discovery and Science, he got almost as close to a cute little otter, who (I’d like to imagine) was darting in for a kiss:

Finn almost came face to face with an otter today!

Finn got even closer to some friendly goaty-goats at a fruit stand and market called Robert Is Here,…

Feeding some goaty-goats

…especially close to Aba’s dog, whom Finn nicknamed “Willow My Pillow,”…

My parents brought their dog Willow with them this visit, and Finn is beside himself with excitement. This is the closest he's been to having a pet.

… and much closer than expected to several butterflies, some visiting our own butterfly garden…

Finn makes friends with a zebra butterfly

…and others at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, such as this one that rested lightly on his hand and tickled him with its antennae:

Made friends in the butterfly garden...

Finn held onto something a bit heavier at a local Planetarium (but didn’t seem burdened a bit)…

Holding up the moon

… and held his new cousin Oliver — just a bit lighter and most precious of all – up close and snuggly on his lap:

Finn and baby cousin Oliver got a little snuggly yesterday. @jenncastilloux @alexrluna

On the Fourth of July, he held some sparklers a little too closely — nervous moments I actually won’t miss at all:

Happy 4th of July!

Most of all, though, I’ll miss all the time spent just hanging around, the lazy ordinary hours watching birds or playing monopoly in pajamas,…

Finn's plays his first game of Monopoly (Monopoly Junior Party edition). The "properties" are bounce houses, dance parties, and magic shows, but it's still about competition and luck. (Sigh).

…trying out different pancake recipes or experimenting with coconut macaroons,…

Homemade coconut macaroons!

… doing art projects, reading, — or just plain horsing around:

@sunshinephelps @mrajhill  Our little monsters...

Three little monkeys jumping on Grandmere's bed; luckily no heads were broken.

I’ll miss just being together, that feeling of proximity, that comfort of having family close by, right there.

That I’ll just have to try to remember as we rush out the front door each morning, each to our own places.