Monday, June 30, 2014

Twelve Terrific Books for Toddlers

A day in the life of a toddler is a busy one. They wake up with the sun and spend their day discovering, experimenting, playing, climbing, i.e. wearing you out. When you have pulled him off the top of table for the zillionth time, and think your head is going to explode if you have to do it again, grab a book. You get to rest while simultaneously bonding, teaching, entertaining, keeping him out of mischief and safe—multitasking at its finest. Below is a list of books and author series my family loved the most. Don't get rid of those baby books just yet, as most kids will stay interested in them until around age four.

Note: Links to Powell's are directed to a new version of each book. Used and sale versions are listed on the right, in a box labeled: More copies of this ISBN. 
If you're a relative or friend of a toddler, books are a fantastic gift, there's no mess, no batteries (usually), they're not noisy (usually), and your thoughtful inscription will be a daily reminder of how much they are loved.

  1. Available at Powell's
    The Berenstain Bears Go to the Doctor  by Stan Berenstain
    This book gets top billing because it helped both my girls through their scared-of-the-doctor phase that set in around the eighteen month mark. It's brilliant simplicity, it walks your child through a check-up and even tackles the scary vaccination issue by quantifying the pain rather than dismissing it. “‘Will it hurt?’ asked Sister Bear. ‘Sure, but not nearly as much as biting your tongue or bumping your shin. There all done.’” I've read this book to them so many times that not only do I have it memorized, sometimes I can hardly stand to look at it. The doctor book—again!? Ug! 
    Pair this book with a toy doctor kit and act out the story as it unfolds. Then watch as they use their newfound understanding of check-ups to perform check-ups on you and their stuffed animals. 

  2. Available at Powell's
    Five Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed by Eileen Christelow
    My girls loved (and still love) this book. The repetition and rhythm makes it easy to memorize, and it is not long before they'll start saying it along with you or taking over “reading” the story. *Warning: This book reinforces jumping on the bed. Personally I'm a fan of jumping on the bed, but if you're not, you may want to shelve this one...* 

  3. Available at Powell's
    Little Boat by Thomas Docherty
    “The ocean is a big place and I am just a Little Boat.” Little Boat charts his own course and braves the many treacheries of the ocean, “in search of—my friends!” Then he sails over the edge of the world only to find himself righted on the other side. One could write a thesis exploring the oceans of wisdom in this lovely book of a few hundred words. Oh, and it's a favorite of the girls too...

  4. Available at Powell's
    We're Going on a Bear Hunt by Michael Rosen and Helen Oxenbury
    "We're gonna catch a big one. What a beautiful day. We're not scared. Uh Oh…"  Go along with the adorable family as they go out looking for a bear… and find one. This book has lots of repetition your toddler will quickly memorize and start repeating with you. The story is easily adapted into an engaging imagination game; pretend that areas of your house are the different obstacles in the book, then run away from your child's teddy bear, ending up snuggled in your bed, shouting, “We're not going on a bear hunt a-gain!!”

  5. Available at Powell's
    The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf
    O.K., you busted me, I put in a classic book we all remember… But the list felt incomplete without one of my girls' absolute favorites. Ferdinand the Bull, who likes to sit just quietly and smell the flowers has captivated my girls. They laugh when he sits on the poor honey bee and roar when he leaps up with his mouth open and his eyes bugging out.  They ask me why the bullfighters would want to stick spears in a bull, they laugh at the haughty matador when he gets mad, and they are relieved when Ferdinand simply sits on the arena floor and smells the flowers in the hair of all the beautiful ladies. They grin when he is returned to his beloved pasture, where as far as they know he still is to this day, “sitting just quietly smelling the flowers.” My littlest, Berzo, has this book memorized and can be found “reading” it to herself in a basket of teddy bears.

  6. Available at Powell's
    Red Sled by Lita Judge
    The artwork in this wordless book does a wonderful job of telling a story about a curious bear that borrows a little girl's sled for the night.  Each flight down the hill accumulates another passenger on the sled.  The final passenger is the little girl herself.  Berzo can't get enough of this book and the playful animals.  I can see her wishing for a red sled and friendly pile of woodland animals.

  7. Toddler Series
    There were too many books by these particular authors to choose one to the exclusion of the others.  Toddlers have a voracious appetite for fresh material and these authors are happy to oblige.

  8. Leslie Patricelli
    Leslie Patricelli has a wonderful series of hilarious books dealing with typical toddler behavior and milestones. The text is short and sweet and the images are simple and fun. Berzo's favorite was the Potty book that she would act out in every detail when she was potty training, and could be heard shouting “Tinkle, Tinkle, TOOT!” while doing just that.

  9. Mercer Mayer
    Mercer Mayer books have been around since the seventies and they're only getting better. These funny, thoughtful stories are told from Little Critter's perspective. The humor is in the illustrations that often run somewhat contrary to the Little Critter's point of view. It is a humorous take on parenting trials that appeal to the grown-up reader and are a fun story for the kids. I never tire of reading them.

  10. Mo Willems
    Mo Willems writes several series of books the best of which are Knuffle Bunny, Elephant and Piggie, and The Pigeon books. The genius in these stories lies in his ability to caricature normal kid behavior, common parent/child struggles (pigeon books) and relationship issues (Elephant and Piggie), with adorable, expressive animals. The girls and I crack up reading these stories and I don't mind reading them again and again.

  11. The Berenstains
    Berenstain Bears  books isolate life lessons and parent/child struggles in a sweet nurturing way. They speak as much to the parent as the child, we see Mama and Papa struggle with their cubs and seek and find solutions, while simultaneously helping kids cope with normal growing-up troubles. I got tips on managing my daughter's Messy Room, as well as how to deal with The Gimmies when they showed up. They are fun, full of wisdom and good nature.

  12. Jan Brett
    Jan Brett's genius lies in her incredibly detailed and beautiful artwork. Her writing is passable and stories are sometimes a little thin, but her nordic style artwork is a feast for the eyes. The illustrations not only describe the current position in the story, but is also bordered by art that tells what has already happened and forbodes what will happen next. 

  13. Curious George
    Curious George The original series by Margaret and H.A. Rey are not my kids' favorite as the text is too long and story too wandering to hold their attention. Once Boots was old enough to digest them, she was into other types of stories. The newer Curious George books, such as Curious George Goes to the Aquarium are favorites. They love seeing George's curiosity get him into trouble and equally so, they like it when he redeems himself with some act of kindness.  The stories are thoughtful, funny and good hearted. Note: my girls don’t care for the PBS Kids' Curious George stories. They are educational, but lack the fun and mischief of the slightly older series.
The article Raising a Reader has tips for making reading a fun and engaging experience for you and your children.

[1]Note about list selection:
That's it?!?  Where's The Lorax and  Go, Dog, Go! and Where the Wild Things Are?
You're right, these are fantastic books, but I figured you would already know that...  I've omitted the books that we all remember from our own childhood, in favor of more contemporary and specialized titles.

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Building Baby’s Library with a Dozen Excellent Books

This post is the result of a request from my friend Lea, who is becoming an Aunt. (Congrats Lea!!) As a fellow bibliophile, she wanted to ensure her new niece is well stocked for her arrival.

What an excellent idea, in a world inundated with plastic toys and stuffed animals, books are a welcome addition to a new baby's nursery. Babies won't outgrow them as fast as that super-cute onesie you saw, and are less likely to fall victim to a diaper blow-out. Heavy emphasis on likely, sometimes there are no safe quarters…

Note about links to Powell's Books: Links are directed a new version of each book to ensure link viability. Be sure to peruse the little box on the right labeled: More copies of this ISBN. 
Due to the awesomeness that is Powell's, the title is usually available used, or on sale.
Also included are three helpful books for new parents. While it's true that babies don't come with user manuals, (thank goodness, those sharp corners would be uncomfortable) these books make fair substitutions and can get you, or the new parent you're gifting, through some bewildering situations.

Twelve Books for Babies
I recommend the board book versions of these titles; they can withstand substantial abuse and the pages are easier for baby hands to turn without tearing. Best of all, the curdled milk of spit-up rolls right off the page.
  1. Available at Powell's
    Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See? by Bill Martin Jr. and Eric Carle
    This was given to me as a baby shower gift for my first daughter. I flipped through it—really?? Yes, really. The genius of this book is in the simple, vibrant illustrations that are easy for babies to focus on. The super short, rhythmic text holds your baby’s attention and leads into the identity of the next animal. Make the animal voices growl or chirp appropriately and your baby will make you read it again and again. Which you do, because parents are powerless against baby giggles and smiles.

  2. Available at Powell's
    Goodnight Moon by Margaret Wise Brown
    This book is full of comfort and ritual, which, as the title suggests, is great for bedtime. The high contrasting illustrations are interesting and easy for babies to see. Inspired by this book, Berzo had to say goodnight to all her favorite people and things before going to sleep and you do it, because—sleep. 

  3. Available at Powell's
    Where Is Baby's Belly Button? by Karen Katz
    My girls loved all of Karen Katz's lift-the-flap books and this one was a favorite for a long time. The drawings are cute, yet easy to decode and taught them body part names while having fun. The flaps will tear off sooner rather than later, but it's nothing a little tape and Elmer’s glue won't fix.  

  4. Available at Powell's
    Owl Babies by Martin Waddell
    I've read this story so many times I have it memorized, even though it's quite lengthy. It tells a sweet, reassuring story about baby owls that wake up in their tree to find their mommy gone. They wait, and wonder, and worry, until she makes her happy return. Having it memorized comes in handy, as my girls find it so comforting that they like hearing it if they're having trouble sleeping or anxious waiting for the doctor. I just start, “Once there were three baby owls, Sarah, and Percy, and Bill…” and the tension in them just drifts away.

  5. Available at Powell's
    The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
    My girls loved the illustrations, which are very simple, yet vibrant, and the funny rhythmic story about a tiny, insatiable caterpillar who drills holes through some very yummy foods and gets a tummy ache, before becoming the inevitable butterfly.  The story invites kids to play at counting.

  6. Available at Powell's
    Look at Baby's House by Peter Linenthal
    This series of books are intended for very young babies who can focus best on very high contrasting, simple images. However, Berzo discovered them at the library when she was about two years old and is still captivated by them.  She has the short descriptions memorized and enjoys "reading" the book by herself.

  7. Available at Powell's
    Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle
    This one made the list primarily because it has mad Dad appeal. It was my husband's favorite to read to our girls, and he could tolerate reading it over and over as babies love/insist/demand.  I too liked the good natured story about the value of friendship and the original, interesting, illustrations.  Berzo enjoyed pretending to feed me the different animals to watch me make yucky faces.

  8. Available at Barnes & Noble
    Mess Monsters Beth Shoshan,
    We had more fun with this book than any other. We'd play right along with the monsters; I'd grab their little baby feet and stomp the car and cushions illustrations like the monsters. It wasn't long before they'd put their chubby little feet up there all on their own. This book was so well loved, it actually fell apart, and I had to re assemble it with fiber tape. It's available only at Barnes & Noble.

  9. Available at Powell's
    ABC: A Child's First Alphabet Book by Alison Jay
    It is Alison Jay's frame worthy artwork that sets this book above all other alphabet books I've read. Although the text is usually the same old “Aa is for Apple” the artwork is beautiful and filled with many other “A” objects to be found. The pictures also includes clues to the next page and vestiges of the previous. There is enough going on that it doesn't become tiresome for adults. Berzo could identify all the letters of the alphabet by 18 months, entirely due to this book.

  10. Available at Powell's
    Good Night, Gorilla by Peggy Rathmann (Illustrator)
    This book has no text, only funny vibrant illustrations that tell of a mischievous gorilla that steals  Zoo Keeper Joe's keys, follows him throughout his evening rounds, releasing all the animals as he goes.  The animals follow Joe with the intention of snuggling down in Joe's room for the night.  Not having text frees you to narrate the story, ask your child questions about what they think Gorrilla is doing. For added fun, dig out a set of your baby's colorful keys to "unlock" the cage doors just like Gorilla does in the story.

  11. Available at Powell's
    On My Leaf by Sara Gillingham
    This series of finger puppet books by Sara Gillingham are all sweet and fun. The text is short and simple, which is best for babies and there's no end to the creative, funny things you can do while animating the finger puppet. 

  12. Available at Powell's
    On the Night You Were Born by Nancy Tillman
    This book came as a gift for Berzo's baby shower, which was wonderful because I would have passed this up at the bookstore. When Berzo was a baby, it didn't appeal to her, the text was too long and the pictures were too busy—but I loved it. And my older daughter adored hearing it as I read the poetic lines to them, my voice thick with love, while our eyes dined on whimsical artwork.

Three Essential Books for New Parents
These make great gifts for new parents, and may save some sleepless nights. Be sure to gift them before baby comes, you know, when they still have time for reading.
  1. Available at Powell's
    The Happiest Baby on the Block: The New Way to Calm Crying and Help Your Newborn Baby Sleep Longer by Harvey Karp
    This book helps new parents comfort crying newborns. The advice is particularly relevant for the “fourth trimester” or first three months of life. There is nothing more bewildering than holding a well fed, dry, burped baby that won't stop screaming. There is help, and it is in this book.

  2. Available at Powell's
    What to Expect the First Year by Heidi Eisenberg Murkoff
    This book goes month to month through the first year of baby's life, explaining what milestones baby should be reaching and what is up and coming. It is filled with almost every “is this normal?” question I had. It was a little creepy at times reading the same concern I expressed to my husband stated verbatim in this book. Paradoxically, our parenting journeys are all unique and yet exactly the same.

  3. Available at Powell's
    The No-Cry Sleep Solution: Gentle Ways to Help Your Baby Sleep Through the Night by Elizabeth Pantley
    Sleep. The one luxury new parents crave above all others. Pediatrician's standard advice (and in the What to Expect book) is tough it out until about four months, then, if they pass their physical, let “them cry it out”. If you, like me, are too tenderhearted for this, or it simply didn't work, there is another way. This book is loaded with practical advice and encourages you to pick and choose ideas  to build a custom solution that fits your family chemistry. It is hope for the attachment style parents.

Importance of Inscriptions:
Never miss an opportunity to tell a gift recipient how much you love them by writing a thoughtful inscription.  As a parent, don't miss reading these to your little one.  My girls insist I read the inscriptions on their books, even if I was the one who wrote them. I hope my words and voice will remain with them, even after I have gone.

**Note: For you, my dearest reader, I set aside my literary elitist tendencies, with no little difficulty, and included the books my family loved the most, despite their widespread popularity.  *gasp*

Raising a Reader provides tips and ideas for helping your child build a lifelong love for literature.

Boots reading Goodnight Moon with her Oma

Monday, June 9, 2014

Berzo Bear's Picnic

Little Party Girls are Ready!
Our little Berzo Bear turned three on Thursday. Saturday was Charley's half marathon, so that left Sunday for the party. Since Berzo is only turning three, I took advantage of what will probably be my last opportunity to choose her party theme, so I chose Teddy Bear Picnic. We have pretend picnics with the girls' Steiff bears, Oma and Opa Bear, almost daily, so she was happy with the idea as I explained it to her. Then Boots would ask Berzo what cake she wanted, (while I was shooting her the evil eye from across the room) and Berzo would usually say she wanted a kitty cat cake.

“Mom I think we should let Berzo have the type of cake she wants, not what you want—it is her birthday.”

It's good to know that Boots listens, but why does she use my teaching to thwart me??

It took a little coaxing but eventually Berzo consented to having a teddy bear cake. Whew. (How do you make a kitty cat cake??)

In keeping with the picnic theme, I decided to make each of the littlest guests a picnic blanket, and buy them a basket. After buying the material for the blankets, I decided that the guests could bring an Easter basket instead…

I was nervous about making so many blankets, (seven) and wondered if I was overcommitting myself. I hadn't sewn anything since I made my veil—for my wedding, ...calculating... 16 years ago.  But, I had a new machine and a month and a half in which to get them done. Thankfully, I also had my mother-in-law to give me advice on a pattern that would be simple yet sturdy. Once committed, I cranked them out one by one. They're not perfect—not even close—but they were handmade with love…

The day of the party came and the excited uncontained energy of the girls ricocheted off the walls, leaving a wake of disaster wherever they went. We sent them outside to play, then promptly brought them back in as their yelling and crying from tormenting each other was sure to wake up all the neighbors, who don't have toddlers that wake up at 5:45 a.m., on a Sunday.

Charley took them to the park to let them burn off some steam and to let me have a shot at cleaning up the house. About 9ish a.m. the doorbell rang. It was my friend, Lori, who was delivering super cute pudding cups made of entirely edible materials. Later, I felt like Willy Wonka chomping into my cup after the pudding was gone. She saw my wide eyes and offered a hand. I made some half excuse to give her a chance to run, incase she was only being polite… She didn't, so I put her to work. Lori made dozens of teddy bear shaped PB&J sandwiches, packaged munchies, and prepared pretty much all kids' picnic food.  Meanwhile I shifted into high gear to get the cleaning done. (I wasn't going for sparkly here, just not grody.) She left to get her son Sam ready, and around 10 a.m. the guests arrived.

Soon our house and backyard were hopping with some of our favorite people. Everyone pitched in at different times, hauling things out, taking pictures, setting up toys, helping the little ones, hauling things back inside...

The party was fun, big kids paired up with little ones for a scavenger hunt. It was neat to see the older kids so involved in helping the littler ones, who felt shy, yet excited at the attention. Next we herded the little ones in to fill their baskets with their picnic goodies, choose a blanket, and bring it all back outdoors. Berzo chose two juice boxes and a bag of bunny crackers for her lunch. The little ones sat in the shade and ate, and fed their stuffed animal friends. The adults and older kids had watermelon and Subway and enjoyed each other's company.

Happy birthday!
Then came the teddy bear cake, aflame with Berzo's three candles. Berzo made one wet, sputtering attempt to blow out the candles, which made me grateful she's healthy at the moment, then she took a mighty breath and blew all three candles out. We cheered and passed around cake and cupcakes. Berzo had three cupcakes and a piece of the teddy bear cake, all of which were licked clean of frosting—cake untouched.

Cake: noun, frosting holding apparatus.

Next Berzo opened her presents, and being shy she wasn't overtly enthusiastic. But I know she loves them, because she's hardly looked up from her gifts since the party guests departed.

It was a lovely day of visiting, sharing food, and gifts. When I had a moment to look around, although I was missing some people, I sat in wonder thinking about just how much I like every person here.  Before we had kids, Charley and I rarely entertained. Birthday parties are a lot of work and expensive, but they've pushed to get better at entertaining and given us a good, time-sensitive excuse to do it.

There's nothing like seeing your kid having fun at a party, and watching them watch you having fun at a party that was meant as a gift for them.   There is one thing I would like to improve on, being more organized in the days before and morning of the party to allow more time to enjoy our guests and to enjoy the little one, enjoying the day.  Luckily I have at least fifteen more years to get good at this.

From my favorite parenting guru, Elizabeth Pantley.  Mabye I can get Boots on board with a "party package" for her birthday...
7 Easy Tips for a Stress-Free Birthday Party

Madi Bear

Going on a Bear Hunt.  Gonna catch a big one...

Life is Good

Monday, June 2, 2014

Beavertail Canyon Campout... Adventure?

On a soggy winter day, Charley, sensing my cabin fever, suggested we go camping this summer at Beavertail Canyon on the Deschutes. My eyes lit up, “Really?”


Fast forward to May and the day has arrived to find me in a knot.  This is our family's first campout, if we have a great time, odds are Charley will be a willing participant in doing this again. Maybe even more than once a year... If it is a disaster, which with personality dynamics of our family makes that a likely outcome, it may ruin my family for camping.

So I searched for advice online, from my friends, and thought everything through. For a few weeks before we left, we talked about the trip with the girls, telling them the fun things we'll do, and what to expect, and what not to, what the hazards were, e.g. rattlesnakes, fast water. I also got them their own sleeping bags, (huge hit!) and mess kits, (Boots was pretty thrilled about it but to Berzo it just looked like regular dishes) and borrowed some kid sized spin casting poles for them to try out.

We packed the pickup to bursting on a bright Friday morning and were off. The drive was pleasant, Berzo was content to watch Frozen over and over, and Boots was interested in watching the scenery morph from moss and waterfall draped Western Oregon, to the Ponderosa Pines and golden hills of Central Oregon.
The other side of Mt. Hood

As we descended into Maupin, Charley and I relived our younger, freer days, when we were making the same trip to raft the Deschutes with the Brooklyn Crew. Smiles crept onto our faces.

We stopped at the revered Oasis Cafe for a potty break, and continued on to Beavertail Canyon. Each camp we passed was speckled with tents, and Charley fought to keep his anxiety at bay; Beavertail Canyon campsites are available on a first come first serve basis.

Sherars Falls
We passed Elevator Rapids and wished we had a couple life jackets handy to give it another go. Then came Sandy Beach, which would be more aptly named, Rocky Beach, and remembered our rafting take-out. We gawked at Sherars Falls and the tribal fishing platforms there. We watched as the outflow cuts through solid basalt channels and rages like a mustang herd fleeing through a corral chute.

We arrived and were relieved to see a campsite available right away—out in the blistering sun, right next to the outhouse, but hey, at least it was something. We cruised the campground and found another spot—thank goodness—tucked into a small cliff near the river with a shady picnic area. It looked lovely and inviting. Yes, please.

Tired little Berzo Bear.
We pulled in to claim our spot and released the monkeys to stretch their legs. They both jumped out hugging their sleeping bags.  After some cajoling we got them to return their sleeping bags to the pickup. Right away, truck numb Berzo, started whining, and Boots began to explore. We trekked over to the pay station and dropped in our fee, Berzo whining all the way about how faaaaaarrr away it was, and how she was too tiiiirred to walk, and how she wants to go hooooommmeee, while Boots spoke at a pace so rapid that I could barely make sense of one question before the next trampled all over it. The beauty of the place waited patiently while it absorbed the brain clutter we cast off.

Now that the spot was officially ours, I took the girls down to the water to show them how swift and cold the water ran. They both dipped in their toes and hands, Charley sprouted a few new gray hairs, and then they ran back to the campsite to play.

All set up and not blown away...
The day hastened towards evening and Charley began to set up our tent. As if on cue, the wind picked up, whipping my hair and pulling at my clothes. Charley laid out the tarp and unrolled the tent. The wind folded it back up. Undeterred, he tried again and so did the wind. A few calm moments allowed him time to stake the tent into the sandy ground and get a pole ready. He called me over to help and just as we erected the first pole the wind laughed as it blew so hard as to pull up a few of the stakes, knock the tent over and roll up the tarp again. Charley failed to see the humor in the situation, and ripped the tarp out and flung it aside. He told Boots to stand on it so it wouldn't blow away. She stood on a tiny corner of it and it whipped and flapped. I ran over and muscled our fully loaded cooler and dropped it in the middle. Then I ran over to the pickup and grabbed our bags and threw them in the tent corners to anchor the thing down. The girls both took it as their cue to bring in their sleeping bags. I wanted to snap at them to, “Just wait!” but thankfully my mouth works slightly slower than my brain and I instead I said, “Ok, toss 'em in.”

The wind continued to rip at the tent and pull up the stakes as Charley and I finished the setup, but we persevered; windows down to provide the wind a path through the tent. We both watched with trepidation from the picnic table as the wind flattened and flapped our tent ominously.

“Do you think it could blow us into the river?”

“I’m sure there are winds are strong enough to do that, but these aren't them,” I said with false confidence.

Thanks for the bouncy house, Papa!
Soon the wind died down and the pleasant breeze returned. I could swear I heard laughter; perhaps it was just the river babbling… Or maybe it was Berzo, who was pleased to use our air mattresses and tent as her very own bouncy house.

However, we were not pleased about how difficult it is to get her to take off her shoes when she was inside, and put them back on when she came out. We stayed insistent on shoes outside, due to the thorns and bits of broken glass sprinkled over the campsite. It was a major source of aggravation, I mean how difficult is it to wear shoes?!? When you have nature monkeys like mine, it's very difficult, apparently. Then I remembered how rarely I wore shoes in the summer as a kid...

I sense our trip is not going well and I start to fret… There's the worry of the river, poison oak plants mere yards from our campsite, rattlesnakes, thorns, glass, the river again… Charley's striving to keep his mood light but the trials of the day are really starting to get to him.

Sensing my discomfort from the Droopy Dog face I was wearing, he suggests I take a walk. I invite Boots and we explored the campground, and scoped out spots along the river that weren't quite so apt to swallow up a toddler. We found a sandy bank to play in and two birds came squawking and thrashing into the clearing. Flashes of bright yellow and streaked gray wings tumbled for a moment and then as one got a good hold of the other's tail feathers they thrashed back through the tree canopy. Boots was looking at me wide-eyed, with a what-the-heck look on her face.

“I think that was a couple Western Meadowlarks!” I say.

“Hey, that's our state bird! We just started a section on Oregon last week and we just learned about them. I'm gonna tell Miss Buckles!”

So cool. I was born here and had yet to see our state bird in anything other than a photo, and I got to experience that with Boots. Feeling lighter we headed back to camp to start dinner.

Slop me up, Papa!
We cooked up some hot dogs and baked beans for dinner on our camp stove and the girls loved the experience of eating outside with mess kits. When the beans were ready, I instructed the girls to hand their plates to Papa and say, “Slop me up, Papa!” Which they both did with much enthusiasm.  Afterwards it was s'mores time.

The evening began to set it and Berzo asked for her jammies and cocoa. Our littlest camper is a stickler for her bedtime routine. Although it was only a little after seven, we decided to hit the hay together, since we were all pretty wrung out. We read the girls some books and then went to bed.

Berzo, had a hard time becoming restful for sleep, after all she was in a bouncy house. We kiboshed the bouncing and tried to settle in. Then Berzo became offended by Boots' presence on “her” air mattress. Boots then became offended and started getting upset too. We tried to explain to Berzo that the double sized air mattress, was in fact, intended for both of them. It fell on deaf ears. Or at least I thought we'd go deaf from the screaming. Apparently two-year-olds are not so keen on sharing their portable bouncy houses… Huh. Go figure.

"I'm not sleeping!!" 
Fast forward another hour and a half. Boots has thrown herself on the floor of our tent, angry and put-out, Berzo is still squirmy and very fussy, I'm fuming (I've just wasted a sunset, an evening walk, stars, to listen to my kids—not sleeping), Charley is snapping at Berzo and Boots is echoing him…. Aaaand kaboom! my head exploded. All the angst about everyone enjoying the trip, all the annoyances, frustrations, anxieties. I yelled, ripped open the zippers, and stomped out to the picnic table.

I stayed out there for about an hour, at first having a pity party, then I reigned that in and tried to make sense of what was happening. Nothing was going my way, even the stars seemed to refuse to come out. Then I gave up. I had tried so hard to prepare and think of everything that would give us the best odds of having a good time… I can't control anything. I have no control.

Then suddenly there was the big dipper. Then with every pass of my eyes dozens of other stars appeared, faintly at first then more confidently. I felt much more peaceful. I felt I could brave returning to the tent.

I came in and slipped into my sleeping bag and Charley welcomed me back. (I know, I'm lucky.) He said that we should just think of this trip as a learning experience; there's nothing like it when your husband uses your own tricks on you. “We'll figure out what works and what doesn't for next time.” (Whew! He's willing to try again.) Then he listed off the things we've learned from this trip… “We'll need to use our utility trailer, so we can pack easier…”

Of course. It was so obvious. What is an adventure but the overcoming of challenges and hardships? I love adventure, I love the outdoors, and unfortunately for me, that's where I expect my challenges arise, not from discord in my family… But it's all the same. I'd never try to change the course of the river to suit my purposes, I accept it and navigate accordingly. So why do I try to control the flow of personalities in my family? If I simply accepted and navigated it as it was, not how I wished it to be, maybe I wouldn't get swept away—right out of the tent…

The next morning dawned bright.

The canyon walls were luminous as the river babbled its good mornings. A train rumbled and screeched through the canyon on the other side of the river and captured our awe.

We were all relaxed and happy. What a difference from last night.

Coffee Deliciousness
I went fishing. Although I didn't catch anything, I was euphoric with gratitude to be on the Deschutes River with my fly in the water. When I got back, Charley made me a cup of instant coffee, and it was the most delicious cup of coffee I have ever tasted. The same crystals at home have an aftertaste of burnt flakes from the bottom of the coffee pot and cigarette ashes… Funny how that is.

We spent the day fishing with the girls, watching the wildlife, laughing, playing in the sand, and all the wonderful things you do while camping, then we packed up and headed home, talking all the way about how much we like Central Oregon, and all the unturned stones there are out there...

Until next time...