Beats recital

Dancing With Beats

Reta Jean is a ball of energy wrapped up in pink, glittery fluff! Mommy started calling her “Reta Bita”, which eventually shortened up to “Beats.” Now, she insists on just about everyone calling her Beats, including all her dance friends. (It’s easy to call her Beats, but it was a little harder to figure out how to write it out. Bits doesn’t “read” Beats. If I spelled it Beets, that’s just kind of weird. So, Beats it is.)

She’s been dancing since before her little legs could even hold her up. Whenever music would come on, she’d start shaking her little booty, sitting on the floor. When she turned 3 it seemed like it was time to sign her up for dance class. Stanza PAC offers a “Creative Movement” class, taught by Miss Molly, who is the studio co-owner. Beats LOVES Miss Molly, and she loves being in dance class with her friends. She also loves that we stop at the donut shop after class every week for donut holes and pink donuts.

At Beats’s first recital in December all the kids were kind of doing their own thing. For the June recital I noticed all the other kids were starting to follow choreography much better, but Beats was still doing it her own way. It was like the choreography was whole notes, and Beats was dancing in 8th notes. The other kids are working on their high kicks, and Beats is kicking like a can-can girl. A few weeks before the recital I mentioned to her that in dance class she’s actually supposed to try to move like Miss Molly and the other kids. Her response, “Oh.” Apparently, that was a totally new idea to her. She tried to follow along. For about 5 minutes. It was just more fun to do it her own way.

The day of the recital all the kids are in costumes and makeup back stage, and they all look adorable. A couple are nervous, but mostly they’re excited. The “big girls” will be along the sides of the stage doing the choreography so the little kids could follow along if necessary. pre recitalAnd, they’re on! Beats started out in the back row, but somehow was in the front when the dancing started. Just like in class, the other kids are doing a really good job following choreography, and Beats is over there on the end dancing her little heart out. She was doing most of the right steps, she just had to shake her booty 8 times while the others shook theirs 4. She was awesome and she knew it! The last few steps were point-point-passe, and that’s when Beats found us in the audience. She stops and waves, “Hi, Mom! Hi, Dad! Hi, Gabba! Hi, Papa!”

Later on, at the grocery store, I mentioned to the cashier that we had been at our granddaughter’s dance recital. She says, “Oh, how fun! I probably shouldn’t say it, but there’s always that ONE kid.” Yeah, we know and love that kid.

Next season: Tap!



In the Saddle

Reta Jean loves her dance class, and we’ve been trying to find an activity that Raymond will love, too. He wanted to read all his books at the library before he left, so that didn’t work out well. He really wanted to do dance class with Reta Jean, but there were too many people and too much activity. I mentioned to the other dance moms that I was looking into horseback riding (hippotherapy), and one of the moms knew somebody. Miss Amanda works at an equine therapy center out of town, but boards her horse, Mr. Q, at a local farm, and offers lessons there. Perfect!

Last week we went to meet Miss Amanda and Mr. Q. I wasn’t sure how Raymond would react to a big horse, but he absolutely loved him. He got to brush him and give him treats. He even introduced himself. “Hi, Mr. Q. You can call me Mr. R.” At one point Mr. Q twitched his tail and brushed Raymond’s face. I knew it was all over when Raymond instinctively hit the ground. I was wrong. He stood right up and said, “That did not feel good in my mouth. That was not good manners,” and went right back to brushing him.

Mr Q meets Mr R

This week Raymond got to ride! I asked Amanda to send me a brief rundown of what the schedule would be, so we could let Raymond know what to expect. On the way to his lesson Raymond asked if Hulk could show up. (He often speaks in terms of superheroes. When Raymond is channeling the Hulk, it can get ugly.) Carly was able to join us today, so she and I both told him Hulk was not allowed at the barn. Raymond made sure it would be OK for Captain America, Iron Man, Batman or Spiderman to show up. I told him all of them were welcome – even Thor, Ant Man or Black Widow –  as long as Spiderman didn’t shoot webs at Mr.Q. We also let Amanda know that Hulk was not allowed. She’s still learning his lingo, but she already speaks Raymond very well.

Raymond’s rules:

  1. Naptime voices in the barn
  2. No running in the barn
  3. No Hulk around the horses

After picking out his helmet and gathering saddling supplies, Raymond reported to his mission. He helped Amanda get Mr. Q ready, and they headed into the arena. Carly and I hung out in the observation room because we didn’t want to be a distraction to him.

On a mission


He learned to get on, give commands, and use the reins. Amanda said there was only a brief, “Am I supposed to be this high?!” moment, before he settled in. After awhile, Carly and I could tell he was done, and were very happy that Amanda picked up on it without us needing to bring it to her attention. She knows her stuff! Once more around the arena and they were done.

Horseback  Walk on

Apparently, getting off the horse is a little tricky. Hands and feet get twisted around. It took a little bit for Raymond to figure out what went where, before he could get off.

Lesson over

Before leaving, Raymond got to give Mr. Q a hug and some cookies. He had the best time, and can’t wait to see Mr. Q again next week.

Hi Ray

Disclaimer: I’ve never been a horse person. I’m sure I’ll use a lot of the wrong terminology while I’m learning. Don’t laugh at me.






Everybody Loves Raymond

I’m going to be a bragging Gabba and just say Raymond is brilliant!

Carly used to sing him ABCs as a lullaby, and he learned to write his letters by the time he was 2. At 3, he was reading fluently. Now, some people think we’re exaggerating and maybe he just knew sight words. No. We would hand the kid a menu, magazine, brochure, whatever, and he would read it. He needed help with some of the harder words, but the kid was good! We were worried about what he would do in kindergarten. How much of the day would he be expected to sit quietly and wait to be taught something he didn’t already know?

"D-O-D-G-E spells Auntie Tori's car" -Raymond

“D-O-D-G-E spells Auntie Tori’s car” -Raymond

His favorite show was “Letters.” The rest of us know it as Wheel of Fortune. He would clap and cheer when the wheel spun, then go around the room, shake everyone’s hand and say ‘gratulations at the end of every round. Carly discovered a show called “Signing Time,” and soon Raymond using the signs he knew while he spoke. Once he learned how to change the language setting on Carly’s phone or his tablet, he was following directions in Spanish, French, German, we’re not even sure of all the languages he uses. Of course, the directions are the same regardless of the language, but it was still crazy the he would change the language and know it was saying the same thing.

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He loves spelling so much, it’s all he would do on the soccer field. While the other kids were chasing the ball, he would be standing in the field, writing words in the air with his finger. Ball, sky, bird, grass…all the things he saw were words he could write. As far as soccer went, Raymond enjoyed the pre-game practice, and the team cheer – “1-2-3 PeeWee Pumpkins!” – but didn’t like being on the field to play. Carly and Joe spent the games trying to head off meltdowns, hoping he would take to it as he became familiar with the game. That didn’t happen.

As much as Raymond wasn’t crazy about soccer, he LOVES his family. Reta Jean is his best friend. Miss Riley isn’t much fun yet, but he likes to make her giggle and laugh. Joe recently signed him up for jiu jitsu, so the two of them get to roll around on the mats. His favorite family game to play, when he was younger, was going around the table and asking everybody, “What’s you favorite color (animal, food)?” If we answered incorrectly, he’d shake his head and give us the right answer. When the cousins come visit he enjoys playing with them and showing them around the farm. He likes his down time, though, so sometimes he likes to go to a quiet room and read or play with his tablet.


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Ray and the Girls

Feeding Critters

He likes cooking, art projects, playing outside, and feeding the pacas. He DOESN’T like the “hoosters.” We’ve tried to tell him most of the chickens are hens, and he really wants to be friends with them, but they scare him so badly, he can’t stand it.ray and pacas

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He also loves movies and superheroes. I’m Batman, Papa is Iron Man, Reta Jean is AntMan, and Raymond is Captain America, Wolverine, or Hulk, depending on his mood. Papa calls Raymond Santa Claus, and they discuss where the reindeer are parked when he comes over. If we aren’t superheroes, we’re Minions. I especially like to be King Kevin. More often than not, when Raymond is having a conversation, his end of it is movie quotes. The rest of us, with Carly’s help, figure out which movie he’s on so we can be part of what’s going on in his head.

Not only is Raymond AMAZING, we recently learned he has autism. As he’s gotten older, some of his behavior patterns started raising little red flags. Carly saw it way before the rest of us. It was so hard for her because how do you know if your child is struggling with something, or if you just need to be a better parent? Even Raymond’s pediatrician said he just had “some anxiety,” but it was not really anything to worry about. When a 3 year old has a meltdown when they’re told it’s time to stop doing something they’re having fun with, it’s seen as maybe being a little bratty. But, when I finally took 4-year-old Raymond to Reta Jean’s dance class, and he was SO excited to get to go, but had a total meltdown as soon as we walked into the studio, that was more concerning.

None of us immediately thought of autism as we watched Raymond having a harder and harder time. He is very verbal and loves interacting with people. I think, as most of us understand autism, those two things alone would eliminate a diagnosis of autism. Here’s where the diagnosis came from: In hindsight, the accelerated reading skills could have been a sign, but who ever thinks, “My kid is too smart, there must be a problem.” We also learned about “scripting.” Children with autism often work from scripts. Playing “Letters,” asking questions he knows the answers to, and speaking in movie quotes are all forms of scripting. When you really start paying attention, Raymond will answer questions, let you know if he wants or needs anything, but really doesn’t have a spontaneous conversation. I mean, it’s cute when your grandson comes to your house and says, “Hi, Gabba! I’m so glad you’re here. Thank you for stopping by.” (Think about that one for a minute.) He can tell you anything about any of the superheroes, as is very typical in autism. He has his facts down and loves to share them with everyone. And then there’s the meltdowns and becoming totally overwhelmed when there is too much going on.

With Carly’s guidance we’ve all learned how to best help Raymond. It’s a whole thought-shift, understanding his behavior is caused by his autism, and is not him acting out deliberately. If he’s going to be doing something new, we make sure we tell him everything we possibly can about what’s going to happen. We’ll even practice a script with him, so he knows how he’s supposed to interact. We make sure we don’t switch activities without giving him a warning. Usually, we can tell him we’re going to do something different in 5 minutes and he does pretty well. When Raymond says, “I don’t feel well. It’s time to go home. I need to go home now,” we have learned he’s warning us a meltdown is highly likely. He’s had enough. By giving him a book or his tablet and letting him take a rest, away from everybody, a meltdown can often be avoided. Joe is great when it comes to meltdown duty. He can take Raymond into his room, sit down with him, and get him breathing and calm.

One show that has been a HUGE help is “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood.” It’s a cartoon, based on Mr. Rogers, and deals with all sorts of social situations. For a kid who depends on scripts, a script with the wisdom of Mr. Rogers is a really good thing. We’ve all learned phrases like, “That was fun, but now it’s done,” or “choose one more thing.” My personal favorite is, “When you’re angry and want to roar, take a deep breath and count to 4.”

I got permission from Carly before writing this because a diagnosis of autism isn’t one a lot of people are comfortable sharing. Because Raymond’s autism comes across as very different from what many people would recognize, we hope to help and educate others. Carly and Joe took Ray to school for evaluation before being able to get him in to see a behavioral specialist. We know he will need a very specialized program in school, and the teachers have told us they’re up to the task. The diagnosis will allow Raymond to learn how to do school, without getting in trouble for the occasional meltdown. It will also allow the school to learn how Raymond communicates, without assuming he’s being a stinker when he answers all questions with a quote. For reading, he will need to be in a 1st or even 2nd grade class. His math scores put him right at grade level.

Every professional who has met with Raymond has the highest praise for Carly, and so do we. Without any professional input, she taught Raymond how to self-regulate and control his anxiety. She made sure the rest of us understood what we could do to help Raymond navigate his world. She has been willing to learn, try new things, adapt, and pave the way for Raymond to be successful. We’ve all done our best to step up, but she has been the driving force.

We’re so excited to see what Raymond will accomplish. He’s such a sweet, smart, cool little kid. Autism is something all of us will need to learn more about, in order to assist and advocate for Raymond. As he gets older he’ll understand we’re all with him on his journey, and I have all the confidence in the world that Carly will keep us on the right path.

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Christmas Curtains

Since we have cats, dogs and kids running around, I decided it would be safest to set up Christmas in the sunroom. We can put anything in there we want, and not worry about it getting knocked over or torn up. And since the sunroom has windows on all sides we can see it from everywhere. Of course, these windows also pose a bit of a problem. It’s December in northwest Washington. Cold.

There is a heat vent in the sunroom, but with all the glass it gets really chilly.  I decided some simple curtains over the main windows might help keep some of the chill out. Christmas fabric costs more than I wanted to spend for this little project. Tori spent years on the stage crew for her high school theater department, and I learned from her that muslin can be used for darn near anything. I could get 12 yards of muslin for the same cost as 2 yards of holiday-print fabric. I have 5 windows that are 32″ x 36″ so this is much more cost effective. A little creativity and I can make this work!


I haven’t used my Cricut much since I stopped teaching, but I thought I might be able to use it to cut out stencils. I didn’t know if the Cricut would cut plastic, but it was worth a try. And it worked! (Hint: I set it at the slowest speed, highest pressure, and deepest blade length)


I originally made single stencils, and used red dye. The dye ended up looking more like rust, and the single stencil was going to take a long time.  Fortunately, I had enough panels for 6 panels, and I only needed 5. The first panel ended up being my experiment piece. Plan B was a stencil with multiple characters cut into it, and red paint. I learned regular acrylic paint can be mixed with “textile medium” and it works like fabric paint, without the stiffness. You can also make larger amounts, instead of dealing with those little dinky bottles of fabric paint. I found the paint and textile medium at the local craft store.

paint prep

I like the way this looked much better than the dye.


Once I sewed a pocket for the tension rod, the panels were going to be just a bit too short. I decided to get a little fabric to sew across the top to create a rod pocket, and make it a little cuter. I then zipped around the edges with the serger to finish them off.


I’m pretty pleased with the way they came out. If I were making these for something more permanent, I would be more precise with the stencil placement, and take a little more care to make sure each panel is even. I’ve decided the imperfections add to the charm.


Raymond was more interested in getting the Christmas lights hung, but Reta Jean liked my curtains. When she saw them she said, “Did you make these, Gabba?” When I said yes, she patted my arm and said, “Good job!” Yes, I live for the approval of a 3-year-old.


  • Muslin
  • Tension rods
  • Stencil plastic
  • Acrylic paint
  • Textile medium
  • Paint dobber



Christmas Eve Goody Box

I love Christmas! I’m going to say it again: I LOVE Christmas!!!

It’s not about the gifts, unless I’m the one giving them. In my book, there’s nothing better than finding the perfect gift for someone. I’m not talking about things that are expensive or fancy. I’m talking about things that are perfect for the person in mind. It doesn’t always happen, but when it does, it’s a major dance-around victory!

Gift giving aside, I believe that Christmas is for children. Santa, Rudolph, decorated Christmas trees, holiday lights, fancy cookies and presents under the tree. My goal is to make Christmas as magical and full of memories for the kids as possible. This time of year, I can’t go to the store without picking up a candy cane, or little gift, before stopping off to see Raymond and Reta Jean. And every time they’re excited, and laughing and clapping, and their faces light up, I feel like I’m doing it right. (It’s really not about the things. I want the kids to be as excited about the magic and surprise of Christmas as I’ve always been.)

My dad insisted we get new pajamas every Christmas. He said there was nothing better than getting up early, opening gifts, spending the day with family, then taking a bath, putting on your new jammies, and climbing into your warm bed. And he was right. Our kids got pajamas every year when they were children. Now that they’re adults, if we find perfect pajamas, we still have to get them…Like pizza print footie pajamas for Tori.

Family traditions are an important part of making the holiday special. We got pajamas, macadamia nuts and oranges every year, no matter what. There were other gifts, too, but notice what I remember the most: the traditions.

Years ago, Charlie and I both saw a “Christmas Eve Box” on the internet. The idea was to pack it full of things to make Christmas Eve special, too. The picture we saw looked something like this:Pinterest Box

We decided this fit right in with our desire to help all the kids make Christmas memories. Our two branches of grandkids have three kids each, so our boxes have to be a little bigger. I also had to add some Gabba touches.  For instance, there has to be a fun activity, because I always want the kids to DO things.

The first year, I made a quilt and pillows for each box. I thought the kids needed something to snuggle up with. We also put together pajamas, a movie, a book, and hot cocoa. The activities are things like cookie decorating kits. As much as I like to make things from scratch, I don’t want the kids’ moms to hate me for giving them one more thing to do. I count on kits, in hopes of making things easier.

Amazon has become an important part of the process. When you’re trying to get a different book and movie every year, it helps to remember what you’ve already gotten. Yep, I count on my Amazon history to help me out. They also make it easy to find matching/coordinating/specific pajamas in all the different sizes.

Since it’s been a few years since we made our first box, Charlie thought it was time for new blankets. So, new blankets it is!

Here is this year’s box for the California girls:



  • Holiday quilt – specially picked out Christmas Farm fabric to help them remember their summer trip to visit us
  • Pajamas
  • Gingerbread village kit – the girls like to do their own thing and this one gives them each their own house
  • Hot cocoa
  • The Little Drummer Boy movie – it was my mom’s favorite and continues to be one of mine
  • The Pajama Elves book – it’s a new one and I thought it was appropriate since pajamas are always a thing
  • Personalized ornaments – they’re not here yet, but on their way

Once it’s all packed up, everything fits in a 12 x 12 box. All ready to be shipped, and opened up Christmas Eve!

PackedCharlie and I have fun selecting the items for the Christmas Eve box every year, and hope the grandkids enjoy it as much as we do. And now, I have to get back to work on quilt #2 for the Washington grandkids.

Merry Christmas!





Welcome, Riley Ann!

Through all the fun we’ve had this summer, poor Carly has gotten more and more pregnant. I think Raymond and Reta Jean were starting to think Mommy was always going to be pregnant, and there really wasn’t a baby. I knew she’d be here this week because it’s the week Charlie is in California for his annual hunting trip.  She has finally arrived! Riley Ann was born 9/1/15, 10 pounds, and 21.75″. She’s a big, healthy girl!

Riley Ann

All three of Carly’s kids have been early, but Riley Ann only beat her due date by 3 days. It’s the longest Carly has been pregnant, and from the size of Riley Ann, it would have been nice for her to arrive a little earlier.

While Carly and Joe were at the hospital, the kids stayed here with me. Raymond always does his own thing, so he’s pretty calm about a new kid in the house. Reta Jean had a few concerns, though. She wanted Mommy to hurry and come home, and kept asking where Mommy and Daddy were. She knew, she just needed to hear they were coming back for her. She’s also been confirming for about a week that I’m HER Gabba. I told her, of course, but I’m going to be Riley Ann’s Gabba, too. Reta Jean says, no, that’s not OK. I’m her Gabba and Riley has to figure out something else.

Carly sent pictures as soon as Riley arrived, but we had to wait to go visit. After waiting all day, we finally got the call to come. I don’t think I’ve ever seen the kids get dressed and get their shoes on so fast. All the way to the hospital, the kids were practicing songs to sing for Riley. They decided Old McDonald was too long and had too many parts. Raymond thought ABCs were a good choice, so we practiced that. I started singing Inch Worm to Raymond from his very first visit to Gabba’s house. (I was pretty sure of the words, it was short, and I could just sing it over and over.) Raymond thought Inch Worm was an OK idea, as long as we sang the “interesting” parts – we had to include the addition parts.

When we finally got to the hospital, the kids couldn’t get in fast enough. The gift shop is wisely placed right in front of the maternity wing. This was good because the kids really needed to bring presents. After some exploring, Raymond decided on Cookie Monster and Reta Jean went with Abby Cadabby. The first thing Reta Jean did was give Riley her present, and climb up on the bed with Mommy and the baby. She was absolutely fascinated with this little person, but she was a little disappointed that Riley wasn’t big enough to play with, yet.

RJ meets RileyThe girls

And what did Raymond want to do? Play on the bed. So many buttons to figure out! He did finally settle down and say hi. For a minute.

Playing with the bed

Mom and kids They both got to hold Riley and loved her immediately. Reta Jean is going to take care of her and help Mommy with everything.  She’s counting the days until Riley can play with her – we told her she’d have to wait until at least Christmas. Raymond is going to make sure she learns all the “interesting things.” He was VERY clear on that – Riley needs to know all the interesting things.

Reta and Riley  Big Brother

It was finally my turn! I got to hold the baby! There’s nothing sweeter than a brand new baby.

Miss Riley

Everybody is home now, settling in. We’re all excited to get to know her, and have new adventures. Congratulations, Carly and Joe! Welcome to the family, Riley Ann!



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Pageant Days

Once upon a time there was a little girl…

Reta Jean just knew she was meant to be a princess. She loves all things pink and sparkly. Her mom and dad let me sign her up for a natural pageant, and she was ready to show her stuff.


The entry forms included questions about her favorite things and hobbies. Reta Jean’s favorite foods are marshmallows and ice cream, and her hobbies are dancing, jiu jitsu and working in the garden with papa. She also likes to cut her own hair. Which she did just  2 weeks before the pageant. A big chunk on the top of her head. Right against her scalp. In retrospect, none of these things sound very princess-y, but Reta Jean wanted to be a princess, so we did what we could to make it happen.

While waiting for the pageant to start, Reta Jean didn’t want to hang out in the dressing room with the girls. She came out to the auditorium and immediately started practicing her jiu jitsu on the mats hanging on the wall. Dad got her to stop beating up the walls, and she decided to dance instead. Did I mention her favorite TV show is “So You Think You Can Dance”? Yep, and her favorite style, right now, is break dancing. Everybody else may think she’s rolling around on the floor, but she’s DANCING! Before heading back to the dressing room, she finally showed me her “pretty feet” pose. She’s been practicing, and is quite good at it, for as long as she can stand still.


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pretty feet2

For the opening number, all the girls criss-crossed on the stage to their spots, then all they had to do was stand still and smile. I tried to get a picture of Reta Jean standing still, but that just doesn’t happen. She was so happy that things were finally starting, she kept dancing and waving.

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Then, it was back to the dressing room to get ready for the beauty portion. Mom and I helped, but Reta Jean picked out everything she was going to wear. She loves her pretty pink dress and fancy white shoes.  Mom tried to cover her almost-bald spot with a head band, but it just didn’t work. It was better to just let her wear it down and let the short spot blend in. In reality, it just made her hair look a bit thinner. She’d be on the stage and the judges probably wouldn’t see the top of her head anyway. Hopefully.


We had our hands full keeping her off the stage before it was her turn. We let her walk around the hall to keep her occupied and barely dodged a meltdown. She REALLY wanted her turn on stage.

To the stage2

It’s always hard to get pictures of Reta Jean because she is in perpetual motion. It seems like even when she’s still, she’s “vibrating.” Whirling dervish, Tasmanian Devil, Hurricane Reta. Those all suit her just fine. Walking slowly for the judges? Not so much. She hopped onto the stage and introduced herself. “I’m Reta Jean. I’m 3. Oh, I’m 2.” And she was off!


She skipped to her first mark, then monster walked to her second. The slow turn at the front mark? That turned into a dance spin with Mom.


For her exit, we had practiced blowing a kiss and waving with two hands. Apparently, that wasn’t enough to capture how excited she was. She jumped up and down, blew multiple kisses, and had to be coaxed off the stage by Mom, while she continued to wave at everybody. We just knew she was going to win for Best Personality, if nothing else.

Blowing kisses2

Once Beauty was over, we watched the exiting queens, and had one more of many “10 minute” breaks, while we waited for crowning. She rested with some cookies while the exiting queens were presented, then couldn’t be still another minute. She was off and running around the back of the auditorium with the boys.


Once the stage was available, she was right back up there. There were stage lights to check out, dance moves to practice, and excitement to burn off. No sitting quietly with Mom and Dad for our Reta Jean.

Stage lights2



Finally, it was time for crowning. Fortunately, her group was first. This is when we learned they had a category for “Best Poise,” not “Best Personality.” No shot there. The kid has no fear and no inhibitions. And, apparently, no poise. And that’s perfectly OK.

She won a Princess tiara and participation trophy. And…ready for this? Best Hair! I agree! Even with a chunk missing, there’s no beating her fabulous curls. She was hot, sweaty and exhausted, and THRILLED with her awards.

trophy2awards2While Reta Jean had a wonderful time at her first pageant, I don’t think the pageant world is ready for her. Pageant girls are beautiful and well-behaved. And still. And poised. If they had categories for Best Laugh or Most Sparkly Personality or Bounciest, Reta Jean would be a shoo in. Like so many wonderful little girls, Reta Jean is a sparkly peg, and will never be contained in a round hole.

I have no doubt she’ll find her stage someday. And she’s going to fill it with love and magic and sparkles. Because she’s Reta Jean.

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Princess Practice

Our family has never been supporters of pageants. I understand, in theory, they can be viewed as a positive. They can promote self-confidence and there’s a chance of winning scholarships. I think the reality can be a lot more damaging. No matter how much pageant directors want us to believe it’s about poise and personality, it’s also very much about appearance. This is not something I wanted my girls to be a part of.

We tried to raise the girls to be strong, independent young women. Through the years, they played soccer and water polo, swam competitively, and were involved in photography, art and theater. They were encouraged to pursue their interests, and  being a girl was never a reason not to try something. When Tori was in high school, a new class in stage production was offered. She had already been working on the theater sets and was excited to enroll in this new class. Initially, the teacher tried to cast her aside, and even suggested she should listen to the boys to learn what to do. Needless to say, none of us were happy with this – Grandpa had made Tori her first workbench when she was only 4 or so.  Tori kept her cool, and worked hard, and soon the boys were coming to her for help.

When “Toddlers and Tiaras” was created, the girls and I would watch it regularly. We rolled our eyes, got indignant about bratty behavior, and thought most of the mothers were awful. But every now and then a girl or her mother would catch our attention. The girls who loved to dress up, but didn’t care if they won. Or the moms who lovingly encouraged their girls to participate to help them get over their shyness or awkwardness, or to give them the opportunity to participate despite a disability. Our favorites were the girls who were out there having a great time spending time with their families.

So, maybe in the right circumstances pageants aren’t all bad. If it’s something the girls really wants to do, and her family is willing to support her to accomplish HER goals, it could be OK. We even thought the more natural pageants were pretty cool. Then, along came Reta Jean!

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This little girl is just overflowing with confidence and personality. She’s fearless and friendly and funny. She loves being the center of attention and loves to dress up like a princess. She’s also loving and not afraid to speak her mind. She’s only 2, but we have joked about her being a pageant girl for a long time. I mean, if you ask her if she wants to be a princess, she’ll very firmly remind you that she IS a princess.

Enter the Miss Gold Dust Royalty Pageant. This is a local, natural, small-town pageant, celebrating Gold Dust Days in the town of Gold Bar. The most important part, though, is this is a community service pageant. The pageant itself is used to collect food for local food banks. The contestant who wins the title of “Ambassador” is the contestant who brings the most food donations. “Queen of Queens” is a winner from the previous year, who participated in the most community events during their reign. There is a full schedule of events throughout the year, like Relay for Life, that winners are encouraged to participate in.

I heard about the pageant when I saw an announcement for an informational meeting. I asked Carly if she and Joe would be OK with Reta Jean participating, and they were willing to learn more about it and give it a try.

Carly and I told Reta Jean we were going to Princess School, because that sounds way more fun than Informational Meeting. We figured if she liked it, great, if not, no biggie. Well, she loved it! She sat very patiently during the boring meeting part, then was the first kid up on the stage to practice. She was so busy running around the stage, she ended up being one of the last to practice, but that just gave her time to see what she was supposed to do.

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She was almost a natural. The co-director, Katelynn, ran her through the walking pattern and Reta Jean took right to it. (The pictures are a little blurry because, well because it’s Reta Jean. Next time I’ll take my camera and have it set on action mode.) She loved waving and blowing kisses and being on the stage. She also had a ball throwing in extra spins and running in circles instead of regally turning. She tried to convince Carly that was how it was SUPPOSED to be done.

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Seeing how much fun she was having, and knowing she would be participating in community service events, convinced us this was for her. The big day is in just 4 weeks. There will be one more “training” party before the pageant, and we’ll make sure Reta Jean makes it to that. Meanwhile, she’s enjoying Princess Practice, as long as it doesn’t interfere with playtime.

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She won her t-shirt in a raffle, and insisted on sleeping in it. I’m sure it will be getting a lot of wear.  We think she’ll do great in the pageant. If not, we’ll all have a great time getting ready for it.



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Pool Time!

The weather forecasters and locals are going crazy! We’re in heavy drought conditions and it’s HOT! Now, I can get on board with the fact that there’s a drought. Last year, we had a total of just under 70 inches of rain. This year, so far, we’re at a total of about 6 inches, with a whopping 1/4 inch for the month of June. So, yeah, it’s dry!

The whole “hot” thing, I’m having a little more trouble with. It’s getting into the mid- to high-80s, and flirting with the low 90s for a few days over the upcoming weeks. Not having air conditioning does make the afternoon high a little uncomfortable, but the evenings still get down into the 50s and 60s. I can open up the house and let the cool air in, and I love it! OK, ok, it’s hot. But it’s not lose-your-mind-HOT! (Remember, I grew up in Palm Springs. This week, they’re getting up to 115, and their overnight lows are the same as our daily highs.)

The trick is to balance the drought and the heat issues. I was running the sprinkler in the animal yard for a while everyday, but it’s getting too hot for that, and the sprinkler would need to be on too long. We got a wading pool for the kids a couple weeks ago, so I figured it was time to get a few for the animals.

All the kids like playing in the water, but Reta Jean LOVES it! She says, “Gabba, I love the huge, huge bathtub!” The boys eventually want to go play at the troll bridge, or run up and down the hill, but not Reta Jean. She’s a mermaid princess!

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The animals weren’t quite as sure about the pools. Even the ducks studied them for awhile. Tajo loves the water as much as Reta Jean, so he was the first to head over and check it out. The hose was his first clue that something cool was happening.

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Spike came over next, but I’m pretty sure he was just looking for food. He likes the water, but he likes food MUCH more.

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The ducks crack me up all the time. They always quack-quack-quack around together. I’ll very rarely seen one away from the others, unless one is laying an egg. They held true to form in checking out the pool. Their quacking is usually very soft and soothing. The more the pool filled up, the more excited their quacking got.

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Even though the ducks were getting loud, they still weren’t getting in the water. I decided I would need to step back and let them do their thing. Once I wasn’t hanging over the fence, more of the gang came around. Tajo didn’t want to get in, but he enjoyed drinking the water.

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I think Spike was mad at me because it wasn’t food.

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The ducks eventually got in, and then they were really happy. There was so much splashing around, Spike decided he needed to keep his distance. He was like the mom hanging by the pool with the kids, but not wanting to get wet.

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I had to hang out and watch the fun. There was another pool in the yard, but everybody liked this one. Probably because it was in the shade.

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We have chairs set out by the animal yard, in the shade of pines and a flowery plant (I still don’t know what that plant is called). It was already one of my favorite spots in the yard, and now it’s even more so. When the days get to their hottest around 3 or 4 in the afternoon, this spot is shady and cool. I sit and watch the critters playing in the water, and wait for the heat to pass.

Life really is that simple.


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Summer Visits – P.J.

Since moving to Washington, we’ve learned that visitors come during the summer. (In Palm Springs, visitors come in the winter.) And why not? The trees are green, the flowers are in bloom, and the weather is beautiful! That, and we love having people up to the farm. It’s still new to us, and we’re still figuring out what we’re doing, so it’s fun to share what we’re learning with our “city” friends.

A couple weeks ago, our youngest son PJ moved from Southern California to Portland. That puts him just 3 1/2 hours away! He had some unexpected time off and he came to visit this past week. He’s only been up twice since we moved, and both times were quick trips. Having him Sunday-Thursday was a treat for all of us.

The first morning, he got up bright and early to help me with my chores.  We had to make fun of him for putting his jacket on since it was in the high 60s. At first the alpacas made him nervous, but he got over that really fast. Turns out his main concern was getting spit on. At one point he heard a strange noise and asked why the alpacas were doing that. They were just standing there. They weren’t doing anything. The noise PJ heard was the ducks quacking. We really need to work on countrifying this boy.

Carly brought Raymond and Reta Jean up to visit. The kids taught PJ how to look for eggs, shoo away the chickens when they’re being pests, and play nice with the pacas. It’s rewarding to see that farm life has become second nature to the kids. Raymond still doesn’t like roosters, but he doesn’t get scared off anymore. Little Reta Jean thinks she’s the farm boss, and the animals seem to believe it, too.



After chores and farm lessons, it was time to play. PJ hadn’t seen the Troll Bridge area since it was just a big tree. Raymond and Reta Jean had a ball showing off their play area. I had taken PJ to town the day before to pick up supplies to make the chalkboard, so this was the first time the kids got to use it, and it was a hit. After drawing awhile, it was time for a sword fight and jumping off the troll bridge. PJ’s just a big kid himself,  and they all played and played.

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It didn’t take any time at all for Reta Jean to charm PJ out of his ice cream cone. I think PJ needed a nap as badly as the kids did when they were done playing. They’re going to love having him around more. He’s the only one who even comes close to keeping up with them.

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PJ has 4 roommates – all young men in their 20’s. That meant I couldn’t send him home without food. The garden won’t be producing well until his next visit, but I was still able to send him home with lots of eggs. He also got homemade lasagna and chocolate chip cookies, as well as angel food cake and strawberries. At least I know he had food for a day or two.

If you consider summer to be from Memorial Day to Labor Day, then our family is going to be all about summer this year. We started it with PJ’s move, and we’ll be ending it with baby Riley’s arrival. In between, we’ll have 6 birthdays, friends and family visiting, the County Fair, and all kinds of fun on the farm. And to think, I used to hate summer.