My Baby Can Read!

Photo from Google Images

About 2 weeks ago, while cleaning out Thalia's overflowing dollhouse bookcase, I found the BOB Books I had bought Thalia in 2006 when she was just learning to read. She was nearly 5 yrs old when her pre-K school teacher recommended them to us. Thalia loved them, despite their spare, odd 1970s illustrations, and read through 3 of the 5 series that were available. Then she 'outgrew' them and moved on to more exciting early reader books.

I pulled them out to make room for Thalia's 'big girl' chapter books that she's been reading since last year, and called Carys over. She was just the right age for these books. "Some new books just for you!" I told her.

I didn't realize that she started going through the tiny little books (there are 12 per series) immediately. Because I was away in the evenings for Girl Scout leader meetings, pre-school parent board meetings, etc., I didn't have a chance to read with Carys for almost a week. I did know that Thalia had very proudly read a few to her ("so easy!") and Dylan had as well. Last week, she asked me to read her some BOB books. I told her that they were really for her to read to me, as Thalia had done 2 years ago, verrrry slowly sounding out each and every 2- and 3-letter word until she made her way through the books. It must be said that Thalia did not exactly take to reading quickly or easily. She has earned her reading achievements these past few years, and we are enormously proud of her. So I was quite prepared to go through the same painstakingly slow process with her little sister. Carys insisted that she would read the BOB books to me. And she did. She read me 3 books in a row. She knew every single word. I freaked out.

"Dylan, did you read this book to her the other day? I think she's memorized it," I called to my hubby in the next room.

"I did read it to her. And then she read it back to me. That's how she learns--she memorizes everything she sees."

Click. I realized that Carys learning how to read is the complete and total opposite of her sister. Thalia never memorized anything she saw in print. She had to sound everything out, even words that she had just read in a previous sentence. Carys could "read" words correctly that she had seen several days ago. I got so excited and teary-eyed and full of pride.

Carys had been leading up to this moment for several weeks. She's been asking everyone what letter a particular word starts with (ie. What does 'rainbow' start with? Is it 'R'? ). And she's always been curious about what each and every word on the front of her library book is-- so now she knows the words 'author' and 'illustrator' too!

I gave my baby girl, who was so sweet in her bed smelling of baby shampoo and so tiny that she still wore her size 3 ballerina nightgown, a squeeze and a kiss. She looked at me curiously. Like this reading thing is no big deal, Mommy.

She chose another book, one she hadn't read before with Thalia or Dylan. She only missed two words. She even read 'The End.' But really, this is just the beginning, the unlocking of a whole new world that only happens when a child first learns to read.
Carys (in a home-made Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle mask) is ready to read the world!


Up the Wall

July was a really long month. Or maybe it just seemed that way. Thalia, Carys and I got home from our Pacific Northwest trip just in time for 4th of July celebrations. Dylan, Thalia and Carys took part in our neighborhood's July 4th parade for the first time ever; Thalia rode her bike, and Dylan and Carys walked (and alternately was carried by Dylan).

Our little firecracker!

All-American Fun: Water Balloon Toss

Yes, we're all wearing our 4th of July t-shirts.

Post-Pacific Northwest vacation, Carys went right back to her year-round school, which was in summer camp mode with daily swimming lessons. Thalia, however, had a few weeks to go before her own summer camp started, owing to the wonky lateness of public schools letting out practically in mid-June. Ay-yi-yi, were those some loooong two weeks! I had come up with this idea in June that Thalia should do math and writing worksheets, sent home by her 1st grade teacher for the summer, to earn TV and computer time. She would do 1 worksheet per minute of TV or computer play, with a minimum of 30 minutes banked before watching or playing. After about 5 days of diligently earning her way to some TV shows, the novelty of this wore off quickly.

In the meantime, there were summer birthdays to celebrate! Thalia and Carys enjoyed a pony-themed party for our friend Morgan's 7th birthday. The company that provided the ponies was coincidentally the same one who brought the petting zoo and ponies to Thalia's 3rd birthday! And then Thalia's friend Isabella decided to celebrate her birthday in grand style with a rock climbing-swimming-slumber party! Thalia really enjoyed climbing the indoor rock wall for the 1st time. She didn't make it as far up as the other girls, but she also weighed more and had the longest limbs of all the girls! While Thalia was enjoying "big girl" fun with her friends away from home, Carys had some special alone time with Dylan. She was just happy to cuddle up with Daddy and "direct" him while he played Wii games!Up She Goes

Daddy's Little Girl

Mostly, the summer was, as usual, too damn hot! The girls got alot of play time outside at camp, but for the most part, were happy to stay inside and out of the sun. I think that is one of the worst things about the unrelenting heat of Texas summers--our kids don't really get to enjoy the outdoors like kids who live in the more temperate climates of the country. Even the new trampoline burned their little toes, so the girls kept cool by jumping with the sprinkler on inside the trampoline! No one was more excited than I was to say goodbye to July!


June Bugs

We're finally getting caught up with sharing our summer highlights! Here are some from June:

Bathing Suit at the Bookstore
Ms. Anastasia, our favorite storyteller at the Red Balloon, hosted a very ambitious "water play day" at a BOOKSTORE!? We didn't know how books and water would mix, but it was a great event, with a "Jonah and the Whale" puppet show inside and then water activities outside the store on the deck. Carys had a great time painting the outside of the building with bubbles and soap!

Dancing Queen
Thalia all glammed up for her 1st of 2 dance numbers at her 4th annual dance recital with Studio Ten Dance at the Lila Cockrell Theatre in San Antonio. The girls were WONDERFUL and even got applause in the middle of their tap routine! Then she donned her "Asian" outfit and danced to the 'March of the Siamese Children' from the King and I.
Outdoor Art
We drove straight from the Seattle-Tacoma airport to the Olympic Sculpture Park for lunch and running around the "art" with our hosts, the Bradleys! Ethan and Devon are the exact same ages as Thalia and Carys, so they all play together very well! The sculpture park is an AMAZING place, we could have spent hours there.
Skies Over Seattle
Despite the rain we'd heard about for a few weeks, we were greeted with this magnificent blue sky upon our arrival in Seattle!
Typewriter Eraser, Scale X
The coolest sculpture at the Olympic Sculpture Park! A ginormous typewriter eraser on the side of a busy street and can be viewed from many angles at the park. Carys and I loved it!
Playing Grandma & Grandpa
My Aunt and Uncle were ecstatic about playing honorary "Grandma and Grandpa" to my kids during our visit to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada! They couldn't wait to take them to Playland, an amusement park. I was actually kicked off the train because each train section could only hold 4 people!
Little Red Caboose
All smiles because they kicked the other kid off the caboose and got to have it all to themselves for several trips around the track at Playland!
Roar if You Want a Drink of Water
Everything is so cool in Canada . . . even the drinking fountains!
Little Farmers
The line for the Aquarium to view the new baby beluga whale was waaaay too long, so Uncle Cosmas took us all to the neighboring Children's Farmyard at Stanley Park. A charming little petting zoo with the most adorable Chinese Silkie Chickens--they had the furriest feathers ever! Thalia and Carys liked the enormous tractors and got a boost from my cousin Andrea.
Me, You and a Dog Named Blue
My Aunt and Uncle have a very special, very pampered Yorkie dog named Elegance in Blue. It was the most amazing thing that she took to my kids! She even checked on them in the middle of the night. So cute.
Building Bridges
At Carkeek Park & Beach in Seattle, Thalia, Devon and Ethan got right to work building a "bridge" of found materials along the creek that runs alongside the beach. Despite this being my kids' first trip to a real, honest-to-goodness beach, they were much more entertained by creekside activities than the rocky beach on Puget Sound.
Spawning Salmon Slide?
Carys, just as she decided that sliding down a spawning upstream salmon wasn't going to be as much fun as she thought. A Spawning Salmon Slide . . . so very Seattle! I love Carkeek Park! When do I get to move back to Seattle?!
Moms Day Out
My friend Jennifer had this great idea to share a babysitter and go out BY OURSELVES! We enjoyed a kid-free brunch at Oriel Cafe and some window shopping in charming downtown Kirkland, Washington.


Thalia's Culinary Top 10 Countdown

Recently we had lunch at Nordstrom Cafe. Thalia had her usual--chicken fingers and fries with ranch dressing. Her meal came with some lovely fresh strawberries as well, which I watched her dip in the ranch dressing, along with the chicken and fries. She is in love with their ranch dressing. In fact, Thalia will only eat ranch dressing at Nordstrom's. Somehow, their ranch dressing tastes so much better than any other, anywhere. Thalia loves to eat. More than that, she loves to eat out.

Thalia has always been a good eating-out child. As a baby and toddler, we could pretty much take her to any restaurant and she would enjoy the experience. Very rarely has she ever given us trouble at a restaurant (her sister, however, is a whole different story). She loves the sights, sounds, smells and eventually, when she was old enough for "real food", the tastes of eating out.

Thalia has a running List of her favorite eateries and also ranks them. The list is fluid for the most part, but her 2 top favorites usually alternate between Cici's Pizza and Nordstrom Cafe. And if you've ever eaten at either of those places, you will realize how, shall we say, varied her eating-out tastes are.

I try not to laugh out loud when she tells me how much she loves whatever restaurant has caught her fancy at the moment. After all, didn't I as a child profess my love for the Golden Arches and swore that I would work there some day? (Thank God for unanswered prayers.) It's not that we don't take her to decent restaurants. Or feed her wholesome meals at home. But with the exception of the very lovely Nordstrom Cafe (on my own list of favorites), she really likes food like macaroni & cheese pizza at CiCi's buffet. Dylan insists that all kids love fast-food places. Yes, that's probably true, but sometimes her devotion to such places is just too funny.

Several months ago, I took the girls to eat at Burger King. I can't remember exactly what brought us there, but it was probably one of the few times we've ever actually eaten there. We'd gone through the drive-through a handful of times, mostly several years ago when they had Star Wars-themed kids meals, and Thalia actually thought it was a Star Wars restaurant due to the enormous blow-up Darth Vader on top of the building. But our more recent eat-in experience was truly an adventure for Thalia and Carys. Carys loved the crown-shaped chicken nuggets (I have to admit, I thought they were pretty cute too) and Thalia raved about her cheeseburger. We ate in the play area, which included one of those tunnels you climbed and crawled through. I never let my kids play on those, by the way. I get completely germophobic about those structures, so instead they just watched a family with 5 kids have at it. Plus, we were in a hurry (thank God). I got them 2 Burger King crowns to wear home and they were charmed. It was funny and sweet that they were so impressed by this fast-food place that was also an occasional favorite of mine as a child. Before we left, Thalia declared that Burger King was #3 on her List. High praise indeed!

Jim's is another funny one on the List. For months and months, whenever we would drive past a Jim's (and there are lots of them in San Antonio), she would ask all sorts of questions about the restaurant, none of them I could answer because I myself had never been there before. I always imagined it was a Denny's-like establishment and that was enough to satisfy my curiousity about that place. But not Thalia. When she found out that Dylan had been there many times, since he was a child growing up in San Antonio, she was even more curious about Jim's and even slightly envious that he'd actually been inside one!

"Daddy's so lucky," she said one day as we drove past the one closest to our house.
"Why?" I asked.
"Because he's been to Jim's!"

Dylan decided we all needed to eat at Jim's. Can't have our kid so deprived, after all. I was the least enthusiastic about it. The oddest thing is that we couldn't ever get in the door! Every time we tried to eat there, there would be a mile-long line to get in and equally long wait. Breakfast on the weekends seems to be their busiest meal, by the way. Don't go. Finally, after several more weeks of Thalia longing to see the inside of a Jim's, I received a birthday gift certificate in the mail for $10-- a free meal at Jim's! So we went, just us girls because Dylan was busy that day. It was a weekend at brunch time. We had to wait of course. The whole place reeked of smoke. There was an ancient cigarette machine at the front of the restaurant, completely reminiscent of my 70s childhood. It had a true plastic-y diner decor and waitresses wearing very chunky, unattractive loafer-y shoes and frowns on their faces. The kids' menus were cute though--they became animal masks that you could insert your straw through after you colored them. I had a totally unremarkable meal. Carys refused to eat hers and proceeded to play under the table. But Thalia was in heaven--whatever she ordered, and I can't remember now what it was, she loved. She ate every bit of it. Jim's was just as wonderful on the inside as she had imagined it. And she had imagined quite a bit. I personally couldn't wait to leave. The wait staff was harried and just barely polite. I couldn't figure out what it was about the place that had people coming from miles around all the time. But I guess Thalia had discovered something magical about that place, and perhaps I just lacked the proper perspective--that of a child who adores all manner of eating out.

But her favorite special occasion restaurant, which is too "special" to be on the list? The Magic Time Machine, a one-of-a-kind theme restaurant with great food. It's also owned by Jim's Restaurants. I love the irony.


Hello Kitty, Hello Katie

I love kids birthday parties! Heck, any money I make comes from the proliferation of kids' parties and the fact that there are parents out there who are too busy to bake party cakes and make their own invitations by hand! When my friend Tyra told me that her daughter Katie had chosen a Hello Kitty theme for her 3rd birthday party, I immediately started planning her party for her.

Full disclosure: I LOVE HELLO KITTY. Growing up, I was a closet HK fan. In the late 70s and early 80s, HK was merely a quirky, cutesy character known only to Asian girls. The only other girls I knew who liked HK were other Asian girls. And there weren't exactly a whole lot of us in suburban Dallas at the time (although that has changed). I never spoke of my HK obsession with anyone at school, that would just be too weird. Oddly enough however, there was a Sanrio store (a.k.a. the Hello Kitty store) at Prestonwood Mall, facing the ice skating rink. It was next to the arcade and the bulk-candy-by-the-pound-shop that sold gummi bears. The Sanrio Store was a Hello Kitty lover's paradise! My Mom always gave me $1 to spend there, rarely more, and for $1 I could buy a HK pencil and 2 pieces of too, too cute HK candy or gum. They always packaged my meager little purchases in the darlingest bag sealed with a sticker and a Sanrio charm. I collected those little freebies! But it was just a thrill to wander around the store and see all the adorable HK "stuff" you could buy. And you could *only* get them there. (This was before HK went high-brow and became thousand dollar diamond studded charms at Neiman-Marcus. This was also before HK introduced herself to the masses at Target and Walmart.) Oops, I digress.

So although my party thoughts and ideas were completely unsolicited, my very gracious friend Tyra allowed me to help plan her daughter's party. I love "homemade" parties--little affairs at home that don't involve $25 per guest fees at some outrageously huge and loud party place with a jillion moon bounces. So we thought of some charming Kitty-ish games, activities and treats for the kiddos. I found the cutest HK invitations. And of course there would be Hello Kitty CAKE! Katie also specified Hello Kitty PIZZA. Not a problem. Whatever the Birthday Girl wants! And there was no shortage of HK ideas and stuff out there to choose from

Katie's Daddy, Steve, created the most adorable oversized Hello Kitty head for the 'Pin the Bow on Hello Kitty' game, using a kid's placemat as a template. It was perfect! You couldn't have bought one that nice at Party City. Steve was also my assistant cake decorator for the day. I honestly don't know if we could have produced all the HK cupcakes, the HK cake and the HK pizza without his help! He picked up the art of the "bakery swirl," one of my best cupcake secrets, in minutes. Katie's entire family decorated kitty paw print cut-outs for the 'Blues Clues'-type game I made up (which we didn't end up playing, but the paw prints were adorable!) Other party game and activity ideas were HK coloring pages, decorating HK bookmarks (to go along with the kitty book party favors), face painting by Katie's artistic aunt Mel, and 'Bounce Hello Kitty' on the parachute. Almost embarrassingly simple, but that's the beauty of it all!

Relatives and friends, including Thalia and Carys, came and enthusiastically played and decorated and colored; they even endured my attempts at leading the parachute game, which another, more clever Mom saved me from! As the Birthday Girl was turning 3, she and her close-in-age guests were just happy to run around in circles! And there was yummy pizza and fruit! Katie decided when she saw the pizza delivered in boxes that she would rather eat that than her custom HK pizza, but I wasn't offended! And then it was time to blow 3 candles on the HK cake, and I was just so happy to stand back to see Katie with her family, enjoying her Kitty party and nibbling on a Hello Kitty cake ear.

Thalia and Carys enjoyed making HK bookmarks, lots of them, that we are using every day. They also love to watch, almost hypnotically, the birthday child open gifts. Katie received lots of cool, girly, pink stuff, some of it from us! It was so cute to see the excitement on Katie's face as she unwrapped each gift, so expertly chosen for her by those who know her so well. I am a sucker for happy birthday party endings.

See how much fun we had:

Sample Hello Kitty invitation . . .

Hello Kitty Cake . . .

Hello Kitty Pizza . . .

Pin the Bow on Hello Kitty . . .

And two squirming, giggling friends moving way too fast for the camera! (Carys left, Katie the Birthday Girl right)