Friday, June 22, 2012

. . . and the livin' is easy

Ben graduated from 6th grade.
I'm so happy the kids are done with school. I've been missing them terribly during the day. I see folks out grocery-shopping with their toddlers, and I say, "Oooh, you're so lucky!" and they look at me like I have an arrow sticking out of my head, which I totally understand. But I had to talk my friend Emily into having lunch with me the other day, and when she said, about her preschooler, "You know I'll have Lena with me," I acted all casual-like and said, "Oh sure, that's fine." And then spent the entire lunch hour flirting with her.
Can you see the Garfield tie that he bought on ebay? 
And now it's those lazy first few weeks of summer, which are my absolute favorite. You know, in spite of the fact that I have tons of work that I'm trying to do while the children moon around seductively, getting out board games and other things I love to do.


I've mentioned Agricola, right? Someone here first recommended it to us, and it is my all-time favorite game. If the summer loosens up for you at all, this might be the time to try to learn it. I may have mentioned that Ben sat with the rules for hours and hours, predigesting them for us, and it was still challenging. That said, it is the most edgy edge-of-your-seat strategy game ever and, seriously, two hours of your life will whiz by in a blur of delightful anxiety.


We've also become completely devoted to Bohnanza, which, again, someone here first recommended to us. (Thank you!) At first you'll think it's really stupid. It says something on the box like, "The fun bean-trading game!" and you'll wonder if I only like it because of my weird obsession with pinto beans. But the strategy kind of creeps up on you in a great way. Plus, it's super-easy to learn and not that expensive. I don't love the art (I'm kind of picky that way), but it is nonetheless our current go-to birthday present.

We borrowed the Cities and Knights expansion to Settlers of Catan, and have been LOVING it. Again, it is about as easy to learn as Organic Chemistry, and it makes Michael and me want to choke each other to death in competitive homicidal rage, but it is really worth it. Just to add a weird gamer's caveat: this is an expansion, and you need to have the original Settlers of Catan game as well or you won't be able to play it.


The folks at Blue Orange Games kindly sent me this Pocket Yamslam game, and it's our new keep-in-Mama's-bag at all times game, which means it's what we play when we're waiting for our chicken wings. It's like Yahtzee, but much quicker. And it takes about 1 second to learn. It is currently replacing
Pocket Farkel, which had been the game in my bag, and which is another simple, quick, awesome one. In truth, we just had our dice from Yahtzee and a Farkel scoresheet, but I think the actual game is adorable. It's less about strategy than gambling--and just be sure to play with the "piggy" rules to maximize your fun. (Google them if they're not included in your set.)

But we're not just gaming.


We're whittling (again).


We're eating strawberries. (I'm sure you need a gadget like another hole in your butt, but this really is a fun one for kids.)


We're crafting. Those are the matching cupcake shirts we made for our friend Noe and her doll Julia. We made the cutest pattern for it--does anyone know how to post a pdf of a pattern? I'd happily share it! (Julia's shirt is made from the cut-off top of a newborn onesie, and it's the perfect size for an American Girl type of doll.)


And crafting. That's the frog sock puppet Birdy made for her doll Nadia. Have I mentioned this book before?


It's so sweet and simple, and Birdy's been making stuff out of it for ages (here you can see Nadia's red wing blackbird sock puppet). I see that it's out of print, but Amazon still seems to have lots of inexpensive copies for sale, and your library might have it. (Birdy wastes no time: she's already written a letter to the president of the American Girl company, complaining about the lack of short-haired girls in their My American Girl collection. You go, my bad-ass daughter.)

It's not all fun and games, of course. We're also working a ton (Michael and me) and barfing (Ben) and "dying from heatstroke" (Ben again). The cat lies around like a whale who was clinically depressed even before the beaching.

Oh, but have you read The Art of Fielding? "You were wrong," I complained to Michael, 20 pages in. "You said that even though it was about baseball I'd love it. And it's really, really about baseball, and I'm dying of boredom." Only then I turned out to love it completely; it has the most perfect final paragraph of, perhaps, any book I've ever read. Also, you've probably already read this or had a million people recommend it to you, so let me be a million and one. Totally harrowing and lovely.

Stay cool, my chicks, and have fun. And please, please share books, games, fun summery things with us!

xo

48 comments:

  1. I was lucky enough to get an advanced copy of "The Age of Miracles" by Karen Thompson Walker: it is so lovely and sad and thoughtful...I read it in one sitting, totally ignoring family for one day.

    As for games, my 8 and 5 year old are enjoying Cart Before the Horse.

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  2. Rebecca Jensen2:45 PM

    Catherine,

    How did the kids learn to whittle? And what kind of knife do they use? My son Nick wants to learn, but the carving tools at the craft store just don't do it for him.

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    1. Rebecca, they use Swiss Army knives. And all they make are chopsticks! They just drag the blades at an angle, along the stick and away from their bodies. Is that helpful?

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  3. Everything sounds wonderful, except for the barfing and heatstroke. We have a family summer book club poster where each person writes down the name of books s/he reads. Ours looks neat already, mostly because my youngest writes everything in her own invented fonts.

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  4. I bought Bohnanza as a family gift probably 4yrs ago. After puzzling through the poorly written rules, we thought we got how to play, but it was so STUPID and POINTLESS that after we finished that first game, we never brought it out again. Tell me what I'm missing, please?

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  5. Chris4:52 PM

    Almost done with What is the What by Dave Eggers. Not summery or uplifting, but I absolutely looove his writing. Also recently read The Other Boelyn Girl, which I thought I would hate, but ended up devouring.

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  6. Stephanie in Memphis6:14 PM

    We love Scrabble Apple as a family, except for the crying by husband when I beat him! Also, Blokus is fun, but the husband beats me everytime with that one!

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  7. Lovely photo of your family. (almost as good as the roller coaster pix)
    I just finished "Wild" by Cheryl Strayed and loved it.

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    Replies
    1. hee hee! I think Catherine needs to postal mail out her winter greeting family card with THAT rollercoast pic on it! hee hee!

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  8. I just finished reading The BFG by Roald Dahl to my kids - pretty gruesome but was really fun to read out loud. So I'll be checking back here for some Frobscottle and Snozzcumber recipes.
    My Amazon order is sitting in front of my house and I can't wait to get home to crack open "Improv Sewing" and waste the weekend away trying to decide what to start with. Bummed though b/c now I have a bunch of new games to add to my wish list.
    Maybe start a section on your site listing yours/readers fave books and a section for yours/readers fave games. Love Birdie's hair!

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  9. You can import a pdf into photoshop / photoshop elements and export it as a jpg. I wonder if you can do that with iPhoto, too?

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  10. JoAnn7:49 PM

    Oh, when I clicked on your book link I totally expected Fifty Shades of Grey, but that one looks cool too.

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  11. JoAnn7:50 PM

    Kidding!

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  12. Use Scribd to post a pdf of the pattern.

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  13. For you, and maybe Ben... the night circus by Erin Morgenstern... perhaps my most favorite book of all time. I burst into tears after the first page, for the loveliness of the prose... simply amazing.

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  14. Anonymous3:00 PM

    Cut-off top from a newborn onesie, brillant!!! I have been wanting to do a AG tye-dye party for so long now but haven't been able to find plain white tops for the dolls. This is perfect. My daughter and I will be on it soon. Thanks for sharing:)

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  15. Angela3:04 PM

    I don't have any suggestions, but "Bohnanza" made me think of the lunch my daughter had in Kindergarten (here in Germany) a few weeks ago! She told me she had had "carrot and bones" soup, which really had me confused (I mean, pardon?!?). Until I asked her to describe a bone, which turned out to be "long and green, you know, Mummy, those things YOU like". Light bulb! Bohns... Bohnen... beans...

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  16. I am loving Birdy's haircut! She looks so sweet! And I keep remembering that I read your column when it was "Bringing Up Ben" and not being able to believe that all of these kids are growing so much. And my husband HATES, absolutely hates, Catan, having played it all of once. I really enjoyed it, but I think we'll have to settle for Othello, which has strategy, but far fewer rules.

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  17. Erin K.7:15 PM

    If you 'like' Settlers of Catan on facebook you get to see great photos of epic 5 hour Catan games utilizing several extensions at once...and of course wonderfully geeky things like hex clocks and Catan birthday cakes.

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    Replies
    1. Erin K.7:23 PM

      oh, and I keep a Kanoodle in my bag, and a scientific calculator....endless fun and they haven't even figured out who to write 'boobs' with numbers yet :)

      http://www.amazon.com/Educational-Insights-2978-Kanoodle/dp/B000FGECAI/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1340493700&sr=8-1&keywords=kanoodle

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  18. Ahh.. Wild. Do you read Dear Sugar?

    No games here - my kids are 4 and 1. We do play Busytown occasionally, but Settlers is a little beyond their ken. Can't wait to try Agricola with friends who own it though! Our summer is a little chaotic, what with having just moved ourselves and everything we own across state lines, but we're focused on the light at the end of this box-filled tunnel. Birdy... her hair.. she slays me. And Ben too. A Garfield tie? I can't wait to meet my kids' older selves, though their current ones are pretty endearing. It's fun to think about how their quirkiness will manifest itself specifically.

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  19. I just read The Dirty Life and loved it. It helps that I'm doing a work share at a CSA garden this summer, so it fit right in with my life! As far as games go, we like Loot and, if you're in one of those sugar high, hyper moods where everything is funny (and it also helps if it's about 2 in the morning), then we like the Mad Libs card game.

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  20. Anonymous10:14 AM

    We have similar taste in games! We are loving Dixit, Rat a Tat Cat, and Ticket to Ride. My kids are 9 and almost 6. We also enjoy Zombie Dice and Martian Dice when we want a quick game. My kids could play games all day!

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  21. Oh my. Sigh and love, and sigh and almost cry a little, and love me my Catherine Newman even more. Where can I begin? (Oh man, I might actually CRY now?!) Ben, 6th grade graduate. Say it ain't so. I started reading when my boy was Birdy's age baby, and now I have a girl a few years behind. I know you. I know yours. Yes, of course I'm a stranger, we Catherine-lovers all feel the need to clarify that we know that. But I know Ben was Garfield for Halloween, or something Garfield history. Birdy's clear gaze, confident, straight into the camera? I adore for her, for you, for all we women, all we humans, that you are raising her that way. I could cry. Here it comes. The 4 of you pic? Oh my. I always thought Ben was the miniature of Michael. But then to see him Brady Bunch diagonal across from your face? He looks so much like you also. And I know that special Ben elbow. And it is, of course, paired with pink pants, and rockin' awesome pink tipped hair. And then I drift back to all your Baby Center posts, in my mind, of toddlers and camping and marshmallow sticky, and my knowledge of your history makes me love you even more. Okay, love letter almost complete know. Silly me. Waxing on. The 4 of us sitting around on cold winter snowy days, playing Settlers of Catan? An homage to you, Catherine Newman. My husband even bought an extension package for Christmas. (I thought you'd enjoy hearing that my very competitive father in law said, at the conclusion of his first time ever playing it with us this Christmas: "Oh, sure, NOW you tell me that ORE is important to have!" hahahaha! And the fact that you without hesitation admit murderous competitiveness with your partner?! Hilarious! Sigh. I just sighed. Oh, and you making me feel so understood! Am I NOT the only mother to envy parents with toddlers at grocery store?! I have actually said OUTLOUD to strangers "Enjoy this time! It goes so fast!" Completely unbidden. Yes, they too look at me like arrow in head...but also kinda smile. I love how huge my babies are now.... but I still miss the babies. You continue to inspire me, the world's least crafty human, to try! Your Summer sign inspired me to make my own the other day! (and no cat chewed off part!) Love and hugs and summertime and appreciation for all you share with us, all goes out to you and your 3 today.

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  22. Ok this is TOTALLY off subject but I've been wanting to ask this question for ages: Is Michael related to the guy that plays Spencer on iCarly? Because there is such a striking resemblance that as I was reading your blog just now, my 8-year-old just walked in and said, "Woah, is that Spencer's real-life family?" Just curious...

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  23. alison12:56 PM

    "like a whale who was clinically depressed even before the beaching."...You are SOOO funny! Today is the 1st official day of my kids summer vacation and i already feel like it sucks for them...now after ready about your kids FANTASTIC summer i know my kids vaca's will stink!

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  24. My husband also recommended The Art of Fielding to me, and I was also all, "Basebaaaaaaalllllll.... blah." But now I'm about 40 pages from the end and am doing that thing where I slow down my reading pace bc I don't want it to be over.

    If you are in the mood for a memoir Let's Pretend this Never Happened is hilarious. My husband kicked me out of bed bc I laughed too hard and started doing the crying-moaning laugh thing that, frankly, deserves to be kicked out of bed.

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    1. dale in denver1:25 PM

      It does have that effect, doesn't it? Funny book. Funny writer.

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  25. Summer's passed in our part of the world. I would like to say my kids played native and outdoor games that I enjoyed as a kid. However, in between lamenting about how bored they are, the kids just played Facebook games and Wii games. And my husband and I lament how different kids are nowadays.

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    1. Angela4:35 AM

      We fight against that, too. My kids would really like "an Intendo", but since that doesn't materialize, they pester about the computer. It was easier for us to be outdoors, when the electronic whatnots just weren't there (I really envied my friend her Donkey Kong, though).

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  26. Catherine,
    You don't know me but you do:) Not being creepy-bare/bear? with me. It's Beth Fuller from Brain,Child. I'm the lady who draws up the cartoons and whatever else Jennifer and Stephanie toss my way. And I just wanted to pop you a note about how much I LOVE LOVE LOVE the essay you have in our last issue. Years ago, I was privy to reading the material ahead of time and then because of distance and shifting roles and unless I was creating the art for the piece, I ended up just like everyone else waiting anxiously at their mailboxes. Well, used to anyway (sigh).
    You wrote something that I so needed to hear. I will re-read it over and over and thank god they send me more than one copy because surely I will wear this one out reassuringly reading it from time to time. My neighbor and friend has a 15 year son who can be trying at times (I know, really?) The other day in a fit of frustration he says, "Things are tough right now but just wait until they are still saying the same smart ass comments to you but only with a dirty little mustache." (It was really funny, out of context it sounds strange-just trust me). It made me flinch at the same time I was laughing. Are my cute little, crazy whirlwinds going to turn into....into mustached teenagers. And will I still love them?
    Of course, the answer is yes. Of course, things are and will change but I am so glad to hear that the other side, although it contains more body hair than I am ready for, is going to be okay.
    Thank you for all of your wonderful, heartfelt writing. It has been a pleasure.
    xo
    Beth

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  27. Kathy3:02 PM

    Love the Garfield tie. Bet it was hard to choose between that one and a pink one. :)

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  28. I recently read The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver and it is arguably one of the best books I've ever read! It's an old book and you've probably read it but if you missed it, read it now! The way she uses language so that one word means a hundred different things and then she talks about African words meaning a hundred different things. And there are 4 daughters and the book is written from the perspective of the mom and 4 daughters and as they grow up, the narration slightly changes so you feel you know these girls. *sigh* I may have to go read it again! And I'm sure you've read her Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (if not, do!)...I love her maybe as much as I love reading your stuff...but in a totally different way! Ok I've used 5 year's worth of exclamation points so I'll end my comment now. We don't do board games yet as I think it would just frustrate my almost 4 year old.

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    1. Oh, that's a GOOD book! The Lacuna was nice a long like that too.

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  29. Ginger11:40 PM

    Artful Vision is seeking new artists - made in US. www.artfulvision.com

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  30. Anonymous2:19 PM

    What kind of knives are Ben & Birdy using to whittle? Where do you get them? Or are they as they seem: somewhat sharpened butter knives?

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  31. The Making Things For Your Doll book is waiting for us at the library right now. Sure that it will inspire my nine year old's doll creations this summer. Love the nb onesie turned t-shirt idea, too. We did it with an old IHeartNY onesie that was 6-12 months and it worked, in an off the shoulder blousy baggy kind of way. Next, to find NB onesies.

    We just got the game QUELF, which I am told is very fun. I'll let you know.

    Bookwise, I am reading The Healing by Jonathan Odell and I like it. Up next is the Art of Hearing Heartbeats. We shall see.....

    Love the family pic and Birdie's haircut and the term mooning about seductively and how you flirted with a preschooler, I love doing that, I can see you doing that.

    Enjoy this summer.

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    1. FINALLY FINALLY my daughters and I whittled it up big time this weekend on a camping trip. It was awesome. I have you to thank.

      https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=4472524939911&set=a.4472511299570.187713.1493523652&type=1&theater

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    2. And, I have you to apologize to as I randomly try to direct you to a photo of my whittled chopsticks I posted on Facebook. I feel so foolish. Just imagine them. And when you do, they lie on a backdrop of a lovely tablecloth, similar to your Amy Butler laminated fabric one. :O) I'm such a wannabe. Anyhooo......

      Delete
  32. 1) Your piece in the final Brain, Child is so awesome. Thank you. Again.

    2) Just finished Julie Schmacher's The Unbearable Book Club for Unsinkable Girls (inspired to read it by her essay in Brain, Child right after your's) and so loved it! I also just read Sacre Bleu by Christopher Moore. I haven't read his other books but it was a fun read.

    3) Watched Mates of State's "I am a Scientist" video and screamed "That's Birdy" and poked at the computer screen to the alarm of my children. hehehe. She's a natural in front of the camera :)

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  33. Have I got a book for your Birdy! That is, if you don't know of it already. Mud Pies and Other Recipes by Marjorie Winslow. It's an old book; I had a copy when I was little and loved, loved, loved it!! I could never remember the name, though, just bits and pieces of what was in it. And then, one day, I stumbled across a website that lets you search for "lost" books. Greatest. Website. Ever! And I found it!!!!And I automatically bought a copy for my daughter's 8th birthday!!! And even my 10 year old, who I thought might be too mature for it, loves it!! They've constructed outdoor kitchens under the pear trees complete with a wash basin and work counter and spend many hours making such delicacies as Crabgrass Gumbo, Right-Handed Mudloaf, Mock Mud Puddle Soup and Boiled Buttons. So, so, so simple, but so, almost, magical!

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    1. Anonymous11:33 AM

      Oh please share the website!

      Delete
  34. I met someone at Cub Scout camp who brought along a copy of Dixit Odyssey. He likes

    http://www.timewellspentgames.com/content/home.php

    as a source of interesting games. He said they also have a blog about games.

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  35. Hi Catherine,

    Great post! I've been wondering about YamSlam... we like some of the other BlueOrange games but hadn't tried that one yet. We've become big fans of a game called Once Upon a Time (http://www.atlas-games.com/onceuponatime/) ever since a friend had us over for a game night. It helps develop your story-telling skills and with the right group it is tons of fun (we haven't found a group that it wasn't fun with, but you never know...). I hope you all have a wonderful playful Summer!

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  36. Anonymous6:35 PM

    I bought some books (a year ago) for my now two-year old daughter. Got them out the other day to read to her and was horrified. Curious George (caged/caught monkey). Madeline (sickly child in a nunnery in France). Stopped reading and just jumped to Dr. Seuss (Green Eggs & Ham or whatever the title is). Supose I don´t have to explain to anyone here why the first two books were not happy books! Although I remember buying them online, via Amazon, all sentimental with tears in my eyes really looking forward to reading them with my daughter .... actually had fond memories of these books ... can´t imagine why! yikes!

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