Ryan really, really wanted a birthday party this year, with all his friends from school. So I arranged for five of his closest friends to come down on the Sunday before his birthday, so we could all hang out at the park together.

This worked well except that, since we nearly always go to the park on weekdays (one of the benefits of homeschooling), I completely underestimated how many people would be there. Parties, too; six other parties were in progress by the time we arrived, so that tables were in short supply.

But that turned out not to matter much. The kids were happy to eat cake anywhere, and mainly what they wanted to do was play, long and hard.

(Since I failed to realize that someone had changed the settings on my camera, most of the pictures were washed out. Trust me, things were not as sedate as these two pictures imply.)

In fact Ryan’s only complaint after his birthday was over was that he hadn’t gotten a computer game. He’d convinced himself that it was routine for us to give computer games as gifts and had been banking on it, even going so far as to agonize over which one he wanted. The fact that he did receive money for his birthday and spent it on video games failed to appease him.

From our perspective, he gained valuable experience in dealing with disappointment.

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Back To School Campout

My boys are so ready for school. We’ve made an effort to get them together with some of their school friends over the summer, but living as far away as we do, that just hasn’t happened often enough for their tastes. Playdates are great, but it isn’t the same as reliably, regularly seeing someone.

The very first hint of the new school year is the Back-To-School Campout, which this year was at Battleground Lake. The kids and I spent two nights in a little village of VFS tents. During this time the boys essentially disappeared. When they wanted to go to the lake I had to keep an eye on them, naturally, but in camp I essentially just let them run free, occasionally tracking them down long enough to shove a hot dog into their hands.

As soon as Mica is old enough to similarly manage herself, these campouts will be very enjoyable indeed.

The campground itself was wonderful: shaded and cool most of the day, and just a short over-the-hill walk from a sweet little dab of a lake (compared to Coeur d’Alene, I mean) surrounded on all sides by hills and trees. The swimming area had been spread with sand and was a long, shallow slope.

But best of all was the fact that friends were everywhere. With sticks and water and sand and rocks and friends, we had a really good couple of days.


We have trained a grape vine along the south side of the house, just above the windows. This helps shade that side of the house in the summer, which is wonderful; it also means that whenever we raise our blinds right now, we have fat bunches of grapes hanging just outside.

Ice Dyeing

I found a tutorial on Dharma on a dyeing technique I’d never seen before: ice dyeing. I just did a trial of it, on about a yard and a half of white cotton, and it was an unqualified success.


We were out of the house before 6:00am, thinking that if we waited too late in the morning we’d find ourselves making a tortuously slow drive down into the path of totality. With all the dire traffic predictions I’d been hearing, I’d worried a little that Dave would lose interest in seeing the eclipse, but I shouldn’t have been concerned. After all, he was the one who’d told me to put it on my list as an activity, almost five years before.

Even that early there were a lot of cars on the road, but we still cruised along pretty well, and were in Salem getting ourselves breakfast before 7:00. None of the kids had gone back to sleep in the car, not even Mica, so we were all a bit strange and under-slept. For me that added to the sense of adventure. Dave looked up a nearby Salem park, and we got there early enough to get a parking space.

It was not a large or fancy park, seeming to exist mainly to provide two soccer fields and two baseball diamonds. On this particular morning it was dotted with the tents of people who’d dodged the traffic issue altogether. One man was cooking breakfast with the help of a camp stove and a well-stocked tailgating setup; the air smelled like sausages. We parked next to two guys fiddling with telescopes and cameras on tripods. Camp chairs were everywhere.

There was no play area, but there were sticks, some low, shrubby trees, and a pile of river rocks used for landscaping, so the kids occupied themselves pretty well. We whiled away the hours until the eclipse by talking, reading, taking children to the bathroom, and debating whether it was ok for the boys to try to break some of the rocks in order to make arrowheads. (Hint: Making arrowheads is harder than it may seem.)

During the last hour we began to check on the sun occasionally through our eclipse glasses, watching the crescent of darkness slide slowly over its face. We’d stapled a pair of glasses into a cloth mask for Mica, so we could tie it around her head, which helped me worry less about her accidentally staring at the sun. The world grew dimmer and cooler, as though heavy smoke were obscuring the sun, although it was a clear day. The shadows of the trees became composed of crescents, as though painted by an impressionist.

And then, in the last minute, the world visibly dimmed around us, until the sun was a black hole in the sky, ringed by fire. I had seen pictures of eclipses, so in a way it wasn’t a surprise. But it was beautiful and unearthly, the world suddenly twilit, with Venus presiding over the sky overhead.

Within two minutes the sun was back. Tree shadows were again made of crescents, oriented in the opposite direction from before. The boys went back to banging on rocks.

I know that the world didn’t pause during those two minutes of totality. I remember talking to Mica, who seemed unimpressed by events, and looking around at the sunset encircling the horizon, and noticing the lights of a drone over the field. But already in my memory, when I think of that black circle in the sky, it seems as though the world was holding its breath.

Swimming, Updated

Ever since getting back from the lake, Ryan has been pestering me to take them to the pool. There is simply not enough swimming in his life now, after the luxury of being next to a lake every day.

Yesterday we finally made it back into the water. Ryan was ecstatic, Mica bobbed and jumped all over the place, and even Nathan, who’d been somewhat reluctant initially, was having a great time. And then, while hanging out in the deep end so Ryan could practice treading water, Nathan swam solo for the first time.

I’m not even quite sure how it happened. He let go of the styrofoam noodle he’d been holding and just tried, and just like Ryan a couple weeks ago, found that he could dog paddle without assistance. “I can swim! I can swim!” he kept saying, and did short paddles again and again, trying out his newfound skill.

After that there was an explosion of swimming experimentation. They tried out some cautious jumps from the side of the pool (except that Mica, who was wearing a life jacket, wasn’t cautious at all; she would just plunge straight in). The boys began ducking their faces underwater to various depths, and trying some back floats. Just as we were leaving Ryan set a noodle in the water and swam underneath it.

On the way home Nathan talked about how excited his swim teacher was gong to be. Bear in mind that Nathan was the one who, during a full two terms of swim lessons (i.e., half a year), dragged his feet to every single lesson and refused to try at least half of what was suggested to him. I hadn’t even yet addressed the question of further swim lessons this year; I assumed there’d be a battle with Nathan. Apparently not.

Now Nathan has joined Ryan in pestering me to go back to the pool. We have scheduled it for our very next free day.

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Other Than Swimming

Swimming is not the only thing that happens at the lake, although some of us (Ryan and me) think it’s the best part.

This year there was a lot of rock-hunting, with piles of neat rocks pulled from the bottom of the lake and brought up to the cabin. (Sadly, there was also a winnowing-down of the rock collection before we left, which was a bit traumatic for at least one of the rock-hunters.) In that vein, we bought a book on rocks and paid a visit to a rock and crystal shop in Coeur d’Alene, looked at all kinds of near stones, and came away with a few as souvenirs. My dad also bought a bag of small crystals that we planted on the floor of the lake as treasure for the boys to hunt. They were pretty excited to start finding quartz and amythest crystals, and eventually I was forced to admit that they weren’t naturally occurring.

There was some relaxing, especially on the adult side. (In fact I noticed that adults without small children did an awful lot of reading and napping. Dave and I are looking forward to trying that sometime.) Uncle Peter’s attempts to relax were sometimes interrupted by the smallest member of the party, who clearly found him the most fascinating person there. Sometimes we would see Mica trailing after him as he moved about the cabin. Sometimes she would even appropriate his lap. It’s hard to say no to a little red-headed three-year-old.

Perhaps best of all, there were puppies. This is the second time we’ve gotten to hang out with a batch of labradoodle puppies at the lake, and it was just as awesome as it sounds. Having four warm, soft, wiggly little bodies hanging around, tearing up leaves, checking out the lake, and licking at little hands (especially after meals) escalated this vacation from wonderful to absolute paradise.

And inevitably after all that activity, there was a lot of good sleep.