Sunday, May 21, 2017

Farewell, Mr. V

Mr. V early during his student teaching experience.
February 15, 2017

I always wanted to host a student teacher in my classroom, but in my twenty-seven years at Blue Ridge High it just never happened. During my nine years in the Mesa Unified School District (1980-1989), I saw plenty of student teachers come and go, and then in spring 1990 I became one of them as I finished up my degree and earned my teaching certificate. But Mesa is urban, part of the larger Phoenix metropolitan area, a short drive from Arizona State University, so there are literally hundreds of education majors looking for a placement as they conclude their studies each semester and prepare to launch into the world of teaching.

Our area, however, is rural. The nearest college is two and a half hours away, Northern Arizona University in Flagstaff, so we simply don't get a flood of student teacher applicants every semester.

February 27, 2017

That's why I was so thrilled when the father of two of my English students asked whether I was willing to host him as my student teacher. My response was, "When do we start?" The timing seemed perfect, the final semester of my teaching career. I hoped it would energize me and prevent me from catching the older students' disease called "senioritis" as I neared the end. And it has been a fun experience.

Following several knee surgeries, Mr. V had to reinvent himself after a long, successful career in construction management and education. Inspired by his own children's educational experiences and his wife's career as a teacher in our district, he chose to go into education. Having completed all his coursework at Grand Canyon University, all he needed was to complete seventy-five school days as a student teacher in a classroom matched to his certification area, secondary English.

Sophomore English students wrote and produced their own children's books.

Once all the paperwork was submitted, we were ready to begin. Mr. V started on January 9th and worked with me right up until two days ago, May 19th. It's been so much fun to see my curriculum through the eyes of someone new to the craft, full of idealistic plans and fresh ideas.

He began by observing for a week or two, taking some time to build relationships with the students, but he was anxious to plunge in and soon had taken over the teaching in all seven of my classes. I offered to give him an hour off since I do not have a prep hour (a class-free period for preparation, grading, and so on), but he declined. He felt he could handle the nonstop instructional day. And he has.

After another couple of weeks, he took over the lesson planning and all of the grading. It. Was. Awesome.

High school English students read their own books to elementary children.
January 30, 2017

When he joined the class, my sophomores were about halfway through the novella The Little Prince, and we had taken a break to have the students write their own little children's books. They could work individually or in pairs, and each book was required to contain both illustrations and text, with no more than two sentences per page, on a minimum of six pages. Then they would read their finished books to the class.

High school English students read their own books to elementary children.

When Mr. V took charge, though, he took it a step further. He arranged for the kids to read their books to children in several classes at different grade levels in the elementary school. Thus, one day we all walked over to the elementary school and watched our nervous teens read aloud to their very eager young audiences. Their books were well received. The youngsters asked intelligent questions and made observant comments. It was quite the success. And this was just one example of that little extra push Mr. V brought to the game, which made this semester so much more interesting.

High school English students read their own books to elementary children.

Please be aware that, while Mr. V did all of my usual daily work, it didn't mean I spent my days eating bonbons and snoozing in the teachers' lounge. In fact, I was in my classroom most of the time, observing his instruction, monitoring his progress, looking over his plans, providing feedback, and participating in his evaluations. I also volunteered to take on extra IEPs, which meant I spent a lot of time at my computer.

An IEP, or Individual Education Plan, is, at minimum, a 14-page document that must be updated annually for every student receiving special services. It is the bane of the special educator's existence, but it is mandated by federal law and therefore a necessity. This document requires assessing the student in all areas of disability; interviewing him to determine aptitudes, interests, and career goals; making a transition plan to guide him in attaining the career goal; seeking feedback from other teachers who work with him; researching and analyzing old testing data and health issues relating to educational access; determining what classroom and testing accommodations are appropriate for the child; and setting goals for that student to strive to attain throughout the coming year. That's just a small taste of the information we must gather and document in the IEP. And then we who write the IEP are also tasked with conducting the meeting of the IEP team, which includes an administrator, a counselor, a general education teacher, the parents, and the student himself, as well as anyone the parents may invite and any other involved parties, such as a speech pathologist or psychologist.

An IEP for a student who is new to our school, whether an incoming freshman or a move-in, can take up to four hours to complete. You can plan on about two hours for a student whose IEP you wrote yourself the previous school year. So you can see how this ate up a lot of my time during the six- to seven-week period that I was doing two or three IEPs per week, thanks to volunteering to take on extras. No time for bonbons.

High school English students read their own books to elementary children.

It all made for an interesting final semester. Strangely, having someone else teach my classes really defined what I love most about my job. It isn't the planning of lessons, although I'm good at it and find organizing a solid, creative lesson plan to be very satisfying. It certainly isn't the mountains of grading or the testing. It most definitely is not the dealing with behavior issues in the classroom.

No, the one thing I found I missed most over the past four months is my interaction with the students themselves. It's energizing, almost like I come alive when I'm in front of the class and engaging the students in a great discussion. The more invested they become in the topic, the more the energy flows.

I didn't realize how much I missed it until one day when Mr. V had to leave early for a baseball game (he's an assistant coach) and I had to step in. At that moment it hit me how flat it felt working at my desk every day, and I found myself reveling in those moments I got to spend with my classes again.

High school English students read their own books to elementary children.

Now Mr. V's experience is over. He did so well that he's been offered a contract for next year, and the kids are glad to know that he'll be back. It was a learning experience for me, too, and I'm glad we got to share it as I conclude my years as a teacher. I look forward to finishing up with my own students as we enter the final seven days of school that remain over the next two weeks. I'm very ready to begin the next phase of my life, but it also feels almost surreal, as if this can't be real. But it is happening, and it's been a great ride!

Good luck to you, Mr. V! Thanks for sharing this semester with me and our kids!

Another activity involved the students designing their own little planets,
like the one the Little Prince came from.

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Mother's Day 2017

Two-thirds of the people who call me "Mom"!
May 14, 2017

As they do every year, my children made me feel special on Mother's Day. It started as a quiet Sunday morning, with the house all to myself, so I got a lot of little things done throughout the morning and early afternoon. I always enjoy that.

Sarah's tasty Mexican Chicken Casserole.

As the day wore on and everyone got finished with their church meetings or work shifts, the house started to fill with family. First Mark, then Sarah and Chris, and then Dylan and Jake. We started right off with dinner, provided by Sarah and Chris. Sarah had already put together her casserole, so all she had to do was pop it in my oven. While it baked, she set to work chopping vegetables for "Dad's Salad," so named because their dad (Mark) invented it when the kids were small and he was trying to throw together a meal from whatever he could find in the fridge. The kids loved it, so the recipe remains a family favorite.

"Dad's Salad" consists of diced cucumber, tomato, olives, and cheese
with seasonings and a little mayonnaise.

After dinner, Sarah, Mark, and I enjoyed the 2-hour season finale of Once Upon a Time while Dylan, Jake, and Chris competed on video games. And then it was time to open my gifts!

Waiting to be unwrapped.

Mary with her Mother's Day gifts.

Gifts of love.

My boys and their offbeat senses of humor!

Dylan decorated his envelope. I suspect the rose started as a heart...
"You da acorn"? "You da Christmas bulb"? Oh... "You da bomb!"

Sarah and Chris added this sweet figurine to my Willow Tree collection.

Jacob and Danielle, my Utah children, sent beautiful flowers in a dark pink vase.
They also sent a gift in the mail but it hasn't arrived yet. Can't wait to see it!

Dylan and Jake gave me these cool seat covers with a steering wheel cover,
an air freshener, and a CD holder that goes on the visor.
Mark gave me the blue glass rose on the left, which lights up (see below)...

It's gorgeous in the dark.

Blue is my favorite color!

Sarah's hand-dipped chocolate strawberries.

For dessert, we enjoyed the chocolate-covered strawberries Sarah prepared for us. It was her first experience hand-dipping fruit, and she was disappointed that they didn't turn out as smooth as she'd envisioned. However, they tasted wonderfully delicious and we were not complaining!

I even ordered a Mother's Day gift for myself! I haven't received it yet,
but I got this shopping bag free from Shutterfly (only had to pay for shipping).
It was a joy to design and I can't wait to use it!

Thank you to my amazing family for making Mother's Day--and every other day of the year--so memorable. It's always been my greatest joy and privilege to be my children's mother. I couldn't do it without them!

Friday, May 19, 2017

The Edge of Summer

Pine needles on the fire make a beautiful flame!

We're definitely at the point where we're ready for the consistent warmth of summer. Many of us are thinking fondly of planting gardens and wondering if we'll have another hard freeze before June (even me, the gal who kills every plant under her tenderly deadly care). I know my friends and family who live in the Valley already have all the warmth they want, and then some, since the temperatures in their area hit well over 100 degrees a month or more ago, but we're still experiencing occasional morning temps in the thirties, as well as jacket-wearing daytimes due to wild and chilly winds, and even an occasional light snowfall.

May 18, 2017: Justice, Jake, and Destiny around the fire pit.

Yesterday was one of those chilly, windy days, but when you live in the mountains you learn to make do. I was still at work when Dylan called to ask if I minded him inviting some friends to my house to use the fire pit that evening to make s'mores. I can't think of any reason that I'd ever deny such a request!

These flame photos (taken by me) aren't quite as magnificent as past pictures
taken by Dylan, with his amazing (and expensive) camera, but I like them!

The only issue for me was, well, the s'mores. I've finally (finally!) gotten back on track with eating healthy for the past ten days, but this week has been a minefield of temptations. After the kids came over to set up the fire pit, I was still in my office working at my computer when Jake came in and held out a lovely stack of graham cracker, marshmallow, and Hershey bar. I groaned, but found the strength to decline the generous offer. Later, though, I treated myself to a bowl of fresh strawberries and cream. It was the prefect replacement!

It isn't so easy when you're away from home, though. On Tuesday, the English department chair came in to observe Mr. V, my student teacher, during seventh period. I decided to make myself scarce, since I have a tendency to keep interjecting myself during class from my desk at the back of the room: "Stop talking!" "Pay attention!" "Why aren't you working?" I wanted this to be Mr. V's show, so I took some grading to the teachers' lounge.

One English class worth of study guides for grading.

The first thing I saw as I walked into the lounge was a huge pink bakery box on one of the tables. Please don't let it be donuts, please don't let it be donuts, I chanted wordlessly. I told myself to not even look, but I couldn't resist. I peeked into the box and was relieved to find it was just a cake, almost half of a full sheet cake, with part of the word "football" in purple-and-gold icing across the top. Apparently it was left over from the previous night's football banquet.

I usually find it easy to say no to store-bought cake, especially a day old. The cake is often dry by then and the frosting is usually so sweet that I scrape it off anyway. It got a little more difficult, however, when people kept coming in and exclaiming over how amazing the cake was with its raspberry and lemon fillings. Still, I stood strong.

All that was left of the cake after several groups came through.

Then, halfway through the period, a small group of students came into the lounge bearing freshly made-from-scratch donuts they'd prepared in their culinary arts class. So much for my no-donut plea. They receive extra points for sharing their creations with a teacher rather than eating it themselves, so they did their best to tempt me. It was harder than the cake, because those fresh donuts are always so delicious, but I was able to send them away with my thanks and no donut left behind.

On Wednesday another student tempted me with a donut, but I stuck to my guns. And then today a student in third period brought in popcorn for the class to enjoy during a film they were watching. Mr. V was in charge while I spent the entire period at the office in an IEP meeting, but when I walked back into my classroom my nose was met with a wall of that buttery popcorn smell that made me salivate. Plus there were three bowls of uneaten popcorn on my desk! When the dismissal bell rang, I placed each bowl in the hands of a kid walking out the door. "Take it, please!"

Mama bird is now sitting on her nest.

As we approach warmer weather, another change has been the completion of our little porch-bird's very ugly nest. I haven't had time to drag a chair outside to look into the nest, but she sits in it faithfully all day and all night, so I'm guessing she has laid her eggs. She only leaves the nest when someone is actually on the porch. Even the sound of my hand on the doorknob as I prepare to go outside sends her flying away in a rush, but she soon returns, when the threat of our presence is gone. It was really hard to sneak these pictures of her. She was watching me with a suspicious eye!

A few days ago, Mark and I were returning from a brief shopping trip. I had bags in both hands and was fumbling with my key to open the front door, and Mark was coming up the porch steps behind me with the rest of the bags. Suddenly, Mark said, "Whoa! You almost got hit in the head!" Apparently we'd surprised our little mama bird, and as she fled the nest she missed the back of my head by inches.

I'll look for a chance to check out the nest this weekend...

She keeps a sharp eye on me.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Signs of Spring

This little bird on my porch rail is on a mission.
May 6, 2017

Here in the White Mountains, the months of April and May can seem a little schizophrenic, and sometimes we wonder whether spring is really here, or if it was just a cruel joke and winter plans to hang around until June. All the signs are there: last month the area's fruit trees were blossoming like crazy, including my little apple tree; for the last few weeks, our neighborhood's paired geese have been flying around overhead every morning, honking with wild abandon; most days the high temperature is in the 70s or even the 80s; and all the formerly barren trees are now fluffy with new green leaves.

Then, just as you start to believe that winter is over, there will be several nights of below-freezing temperatures and you hope your apple blossoms haven't been compromised. More early-morning windshield scraping ensues, maybe even a little snow or hail, perhaps a rainstorm or two, and enough wind to rattle the roof. The best example was my daughter Sarah's high school graduation on the last Thursday of May 2008. After weeks of beautiful weather, we woke up to freezing temperatures and then it snowed all day, several inches, forcing us to move the graduation ceremony from the football field to the gym. The only time in my twenty-seven years at Blue Ridge High. So far.

The last few days have been quite warm, in the mid- to upper-80s, sunny and beautiful. But today we've had wild winds and even a brief rain shower. My heater kicked on a couple of times this morning. Like I said, a little bit schizophrenic.

A pile of dried mud on the front porch.

So yesterday I was able to leave work around 1:30, after enjoying a Teacher Appreciation Week luncheon and dance provided by student council. That meant I was able to pick up Mark as soon as he got off work, and thus we got home from work together, at the same time.

As we walked up onto the porch, I noticed a huge circular pile of dried mud that definitely wasn't there when I'd left for work that morning. Of course my first thought was to blame Mark. It had to be one of us, right? And I knew it wasn't me! But then I realized he'd started his workday an hour and a half before mine, so he wasn't here to make the mess. Maybe a dog from the neighborhood took a dip in the nearby pond then came to roll around on my porch? No, the gate had been closed when we drove up. Even if a dog could open the gate (like our Diego can), it certainly wouldn't close it again on its way out! Hmmm. We had ourselves a little mystery.

A couple of hours later, my friend Emily came by to drop off a doTerra (essential oils) prize I'd earned. After we'd visited for a while, I walked with her out onto the porch. I pointed out the mud pile and said I couldn't figure out where it came from. She looked around and then she looked up. Then she smiled and said, "Maybe that's what caused it."

A bird's nest under construction on my porch light.

Sure enough, there was a large pile of muddy debris being formed into a bird's nest, right on top of the porch light fixture. This is our twenty-fourth spring in this house, and that's a first! I don't know why I didn't think to just look up (I'm sure there's a message in there somewhere), but now the mystery is solved. In fact, once I realized what was going on, I also realized that explained why I'd been seeing a little bird actually flying inside the porch for the last few days. I thought it was odd--often they'll perch on nearby branches and even on the rail or wind chimes, but never actually in the people-inhabited area--yet I'd just shrugged it off.

Luckily, we don't use that lamp much. Jacob put Christmas lights around my porch almost four years ago, and I prefer that soft white light to the glare of a single bare bulb overhead. Gradually those Christmas lights have been burning out, but there are still enough lit to get us through one more summer. Otherwise, our little visitor might get electrocuted and her little eggs fried. We can't have that!

I don't know what kind of bird this is, but he or she is definitely preparing a nest.

I spent some time this morning watching this little soon-to-be-mommy (or daddy) hard at work. Every five or ten minutes she'd return with a mouthful of nasty-looking muddy-hairy-grassy goop and add it to the pile before sailing off again to find more. It will be interesting to watch the progress of this little project over time.

While trying to capture some pictures of the bird, I pulled a kitchen chair into the partially-open doorway and sat there quietly with my camera for maybe twenty minutes. As long as I kept my noise and movements minimal, she ignored me and worked on. While I enjoyed watching and filming her, I found myself getting antsy, thinking of all the things I needed to get done while I had the weekend to do them. It really detracted from the beauty of the moment.

That's when I realized how different life can be after retirement. When an opportunity like this comes along, I hope I'll be able to relax and give myself to the moment, knowing that those pressing matters can wait one more day. How I look forward to having more time to bask in the beauty around me!

I got this little video of the parent-to-be hard at work on the nest.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

A Highland Rogue

I like this picture from the "A Roguish Highlander" website.
In my imagination, this "braw lad" can look like anyone I want him to!

There was one incident at the Renaissance Festival in February that caused a great deal of merriment among my family, and a lot of teasing for me afterward. I still smile when I remember it.

While there are a lot of things to love about the Renaissance Festival, my personal favorite thing is wandering from shop to shop, admiring all the creative wares on display. On this last trip we came upon the shop for a business called A Roguish Highlander, "a Scottish gentlemen's clothing store," as it states on their website ( It had racks and shelves filled with tartan plaids and other essential items for the well-dressed highlander.

Having a particular interest in all things Scotland, of course I had to go inside and explore. I checked out the kilts and boots and various plaids (I particularly love the blues-and-greens, like the one above, or the blues-and-violets).

Of course, when we were there this booth was packed full of Scottish clothing.

At the very back of the shop, I found a rack hung with the medieval men's shirts I love most. These are the snowy white ones with the laced neck and the full sleeves and the wide collar (again, like the one in the top photo). Maybe I've seen too many historical romances, but to me these are the most attractive shirts a man could ever wear.

And so I sighed and said out loud, "Now these are the shirts that make men look hot. They are so romantic."

Standing about two feet from me was a salesman (perhaps even the store's owner). He was tall and attractive, probably in his late-forties or early-fifties, clad in a kilt and full highland regalia. He gave me a grin and started talking to me, but I can't for the life of me remember a thing he said because I was so distracted by what he was doing.

He began by slipping one side of his vest seductively down over his shoulder, then sliding it back up, and then slipping off the shoulder on the other side. He was really working it, showing off the fact that beneath the vest he was wearing one of those sexy white highlander shirts. Although we all burst out laughing, I found his impromptu little fully-dressed "striptease" to be rather attractive and entrancing. All the while he was talking to me, probably about the shirts I'd been admiring, and I'm sure I made some kind of appropriate responses, but I really can't remember.

By the time he was finished, he had the whole vest off and dropped down to the middle of his back, with his head tilted back alluringly. We all laughed until we cried. I do remember that after his "show" I did ask him to show me the tartans he had for women, which he did (but none in the colors I liked), before we bid him farewell.

This is the type of Scottish outfit I'd like to own someday.
I would wear it to the Renaissance Festival every year!

When we finally walked out of his establishment, I was breathlessly fanning my flushed face. The kids were laughing and teasing me about how I was blushing and all the flirty attention I'd gotten inside that shop. I admit, I definitely enjoyed the attention and the lightness of the moment. And my children didn't let me forget about it for the rest of the day. As I said before, the memory still makes me smile.

Now, I never thought this man was coming on to me. He was a good-humored salesman who was going for the sale, and I'm sure his lovely wife was in the back room keeping track of inventory, but it was a fun moment nonetheless. I think the greatest attractiveness of any man, no matter what shirt he's wearing, is his sense of humor and fun. This guy had those qualities in spades!

McLane High School's Pipers and Dancers

One might wonder why a girl who grew up in central California would be so fascinated with the highlands, the people, the dress, the language, and the traditions of Scotland. Like most kids, I wasn't too interested in or aware of anything outside the little world of my childhood, but that started to change when I was twelve. That's when I fell madly in love with a little Englishman by the name of Davy Jones, who happened to be in a new rock band called The Monkees. I loved his romantic British accent so much that my then-bestie Trudi and I adopted our own faux accents. I think we got pretty good at it!

Around that same time, my mother began reading a bunch of historical novels, many of which featured England and English characters. As she passed those books along to me, I became aware that there was this whole other world across the ocean, so similar to mine and yet so different.

Pipers and Dancers

The country of Scotland began to move front and center when I reached high school. I attended C.L. McLane High School in Fresno, California. It was named for Dr. Charles Lourie McLane (1862-1949), Fresno's superintendent of schools from 1899 to 1913. Dr. McLane also founded California's first community college, Fresno City College, in 1910.

Although Charles McLane was actually born in Missouri, I trust that his heritage is Scottish, because as soon as C.L. McLane High School was named for him and opened its doors in 1959, we became the Highlanders. I attended from 1969 to 1972, since the Fresno school district had three-year high schools. Freshman year was still part of junior high.

Pipers and Dancers on parade in Fresno, California.

I didn't know any of this history at the time, of course. I didn't even know who our school was named for until after I graduated. What I did know was that we were the Highlanders, our colors were red and white, an adorable little Scotty-dog was our mascot, and--most importantly--we had the pipers and dancers.

I'm sure we also had regular cheerleaders, but I don't really remember them. I'll never forget the pipers and dancers, though. Again, I think it was the romance of it all. The dancers came out single file, in their little plaid skirts, black vests, snowy-white ruffled shirts, and black slippers. Often they were bearing a pair of swords, which they cast on the ground in a crossed formation, and then they danced around the swords, light on their feet, toes daintily pointed, and their fingers held high above their heads.

We were the McLane Highlanders. Our mascot was a little black Scottish terrier.

That was also when I learned to love the humming sound of bagpipes. McLane had its own corps of pipers, who wore full Scottish regalia, including kilts, when they performed. These young people had to learn the art of the bagpipes quickly, during their short three years of high school, yet I can't remember a single performance in which they weren't amazing, while the dancers pranced lightly to the sound of their bagpipes.

The pipers' most memorable performance came at the end of our very long graduation ceremony on June 13, 1972 (our graduating class had about 1,000 seniors). From somewhere beyond the stage at the end of the football field came the skirling of bagpipes, floating across the field on the night air. It was haunting, and I felt the hair on my arms ripple. I've been in love with that sound ever since.

Even our yearbook had a Scottish name, Greacan (pronounced GRYE-kuhn).
I used to know what it meant, but almost 45 years after graduation, I can't remember!

To top it all off, in 1978 I discovered two novels that became my lifelong favorites: Bride of the MacHugh (first published the year I was born, 1954) and My Lord Monleigh (first published in 1956), both written by Jan Cox Speas. Both are historical romances that take place--you guessed it--in the highlands of Scotland during Britain's politically turbulent 17th century. Sadly, I learned that their author passed away in late October 1971, just days before her 46th birthday, and six years before I discovered her wonderful books. What a great loss to those of us who love her work.

And so, may I just say that I send my thanks to that highland rogue who helped make a fun day even more memorable by bringing my Scottish fantasies to life. I'd never had a kilted stranger flirt with me before. And I am smiling about it right now.

My favorite novels, by Jan Cox Speas.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Two Birthdays

The two birthday boys of spring: Jake in April and Chris in March.
April 30, 2017

We've had our first batch of birthdays for 2017, both of them, coincidentally, for my sons-in-law. Chris's birthday is on March 28th and Jake's birthday is about a month later on April 30th.

Celebrating Chris's birthday. He turned 39 on March 28th.
Photo taken at his party on April 2, 2017.

We weren't able to have Chris's party on his actual birthday, since it fell on a Tuesday, but he and Sarah celebrated with his mom and his sister Lori's family. Our side of the family had to wait until we could all get together for our usual Sunday night dinner, five days later.

Chris's gifts and card from Mark and me.

We started with a big taco salad, the birthday meal Chris had requested. Then we all gathered to watch him open his gifts from Mark and me. Having just put a large down payment on their new car, Dylan and Jake had to give him an IOU so they could wait until the next payday, and Sarah had already given him his main gift at the earlier party, of course: a Bluetooth speaker for his phone. At our little party, she gave him an iTunes gift card, as well.

Chris with some of his gifts: a Mustang convertible model from Mark
and a Frozen Don't Break the Ice game from me.

After the gift-opening, the kids went into the piano room and played a few rousing games of Don't Break the Ice, and then it was time for some cake. For his birthday cake, Chris asked for my homemade, sugar-free, chocolate chip cheesecake, and I was happy to do it. I love that stuff! Sarah chose a chocolate-and-peanut-butter flavor of ice cream to go with it.

Dylan gets started on cutting up the cheesecake
and dishing up the ice cream.

Then there was the usual raucous singing of the Happy Birthday song before we settled into the serious business of eating cheesecake and ice cream. Birthdays are always a good time!

Eight days later, Dylan and Jake had their gifts for Chris wrapped,
all ready to head over and personally deliver them to him.

Dylan and Jake were as good as their IOU and personally delivered their gifts for Chris to him at his home eight days later. They gave him a DVD collection of all three Rush Hour films and a Spider-man game for his 3DS gaming system, which he'd been wanting for a while.

Jake and Dylan chow down on our spaghetti dinner.

Now roll forward a month. Yesterday was Jake's actual 26th birthday, and it actually fell on Sunday, so we were actually able to celebrate on Jake's actual birthday!

As always, we began with dinner. Jake requested spaghetti and garlic bread, so that's what we had and it was yummy. Then the guys took over the TV so they could initiate Chris into the joys of the latest Xbox One gaming system. They've convinced him he needs to save his money and buy one. Apparently both Dylan and Jake have their own Xbox One so they can play each other online--even though they're sitting together in the same living room!

Jake's gifts from Mary, Mark, Sarah and Chris. (I kind of messed up
Jake's new age on my BB8 drawing and had to get somewhat creative...)

Next, of course, it was time to open gifts. Again, Dylan had to give out an IOU so he could wait for this week's payday, but he has a special gift all picked out. So we moved on to the other gifts. Chris and Sarah gave Jake a Walmart gift card. Mark and I had a bit of a Star Wars/Star Trek theme going.

I gave Jake this little book called The Wit and Wisdom of Star Trek.
It features pictures and quotes from the original series.

This was the card I gave him. I think he and Dylan liked it better than our gifts!
It transforms into a stand-up card, lights up, and plays the Star Wars theme.

Mark gave Jake this model of the original Starship Enterprise.

We ended the evening with the traditional cake and ice cream. Dylan suggested a chocolate cake with Jake's name on it, so that's what we did. And Jake said rocky road ice cream sounded good. I was happy to oblige, since that happens to be my favorite flavor, but my own children never request it!

Last night's rendition of the Happy Birthday song was the absolute worst yet. Each member of the family seems to have perfected their most obnoxious off-key singing voice, and all Jake could do was cringe. It was delightful!

Happy birthday, Jake!

Now we have a brief lull until the summer birthdays arrive: Mark on June 21, Jacob on June 26, and Dylan on July 1. 

Then we wait for the autumn birthdays: mine on September 1, Sarah's on October 27, and Danielle's on October 28. (And my dad's on September 4, my mom's on September 29, and my step-mom's on October 9.)

There's always plenty of reasons to celebrate!