Summer is in full swing, and so far, ours has been pretty great. Without homeschooling and other school-year commitments, I’ve had lots of free time with the kids, and we’ve all been making the very most of these carefree summer days.
// READING LATELY //
Once again, my reading this month was thriller heavy. I loved this sequel on audio, and this book-centric psychological thriller was awesome. In non-thriller fiction, I devoured this book that was perfect for summer, and Charleston and I enjoyed listening to Luke read this classic aloud each night at bedtime.
As for nonfiction of the month, I adored this essay collection and this book left me with a lot to think (and rethink) about. I was disappointed by this much-publicized collection, and while I liked this memoir, I didn’t think it lived up to the hype. As always, full reviews of each of these books will be on the blog in the next couple of weeks.
// WATCHING LATELY //
Life in Pieces, Season 1-4: We didn’t watch this show while it was on the air and I hadn’t even heard about it until a few months ago, when someone mentioned it as a good alternative to Schitt’s Creek (which we tried but didn’t love). The show follows three generations within a family, with each episode divided into four interconnected vignettes about one of the couples or households. We had a lot of fun watching this! I loved the acting and the characters, who are almost all likable, and enjoyed seeing the portrayal of a family who actually gets along and loves each other (mostly). Some episodes were better than others, but the funniest ones had Luke and me rolling with laughter. Many of the scenarios are pretty realistic (especially those about raising babies/toddlers), while others are completely off the wall, and I liked this mixture of relatable and pure amusement. I wish the series had a more conclusive finale (my guess is it got canceled unexpectedly?), but if you’re looking for a light show to binge, you can’t go wrong with this one.
My Rating: 4 Stars.
Raya: For months, Charleston counted down the days until Raya would come to Disney+, and I was excited to watch it with him. I have to say that it wasn’t my favorite Disney film. The animation is well done, especially the stunning Southeast Asian landscapes, and I was fascinated by the cultural elements. While I liked the themes of unity and cooperation, I wasn’t impressed with the story, which felt like a ripoff of Moana. There was too much action for my taste, and I missed the music that makes most Disney animated films so great. I was glad that Charleston was impressed, and other than same strange spiritual aspects (which actually made for good discussion points), there wasn’t any objectionable content from my perspective. I’m not rushing to rewatch this one, but I did think that the accompanying short (Us Again) was really sweet.
My Rating: 3.5 Stars.
Luca: Whereas we were counting down to the release of Raya, we didn’t even know about Luca until it showed up on our Disney+. I have no idea how I’d missed the coming debut of a Pixar film, but we jumped at the chance to watch. Set in the Italian Riviera in the 1950s, Luca is the story of a a young sea monster who can transform into a human when on land. Against his family’s warnings to remain below the water’s surface, Luca makes his way to land and is befriended by another sea monster named Alberto. Together they embark on a summer filled with scooter riding, campouts, exploring, and adventures in an Italian fishing town nestled into the seaside cliffs.
I am a sucker for anything with an Italian setting, so this movie was a hit with me from the moment I heard those Italian names and spied a quaint Italian village. The film’s quintessential Italianness and mid-century atmosphere were the highlights for me, but I also appreciated the coming-of-age story that is a tribute to the carefree summer friendships of adolescence. The start of the movie has some strong Little Mermaid vibes, but it morphs into a film that is entirely original and completely heartwarming. It’s different from a lot of the other Pixar films, but worthy of its position in the acclaimed Pixar canon.
My Rating: 4.5 Stars.
// LISTENING LATELY //
NEEDTOBREATHE Live From the Woods, Volume 2: Though NEEDTOBREATHE has been on my radar for a while, I was never the biggest fan of their music. I also tend to dislike recordings of live albums. Needless to say, this is not an album I would have chosen for myself. But when Sophie mentioned it as one of her favorite albums EVER, I couldn’t resist giving it a listen. . . and then I couldn’t stop listening! The songs are beautiful and powerful (especially “Banks of the River” which I could—and have!—listen to on loop all day long), and I love the enthusiasm that comes through in this first live performance post-COVID. The album is a celebration of music, community, resilience, and faith, and it’s the best thing I’ve listened to all year.
Wee Sing Animals: A recap of our family life this past month would not be complete without the inclusion of this album, which is the twins’ latest and greatest fixation. We’ve enjoyed Wee Sing since Charleston’s earliest days, but this particular album featuring animal-themed songs has been a MASSIVE hit. The twins point to their speaker and exclaim “animals! animals!” the second I get them from their crib in the morning, and at any quiet moment in the day. They are now able to sing along to a number of their favorite songs and we enjoy doing motions and dances to the more familiar ones. This might not be my personal music of choice, but I love how much they are learning from and enjoying these songs.
// EXPLORING LATELY //
The Storygraph: How did I not know about Storygraph until this month?! It is a website very similar to Goodreads that allows you to record books that you have read or are interested in reading, peruse reviews from other readers, and find books based on mood, page count, pace, and a variety of other factors. After creating an account, I was able to export all of my Goodreads data, making it easy to reap the platform’s benefits immediately. While I don’t find the interface particularly accessible, I am head-over-heels for the site’s features, including numerous charts and statistics (categorizing books by star ratings, genres, and more), excellent book recommendations based on my reading preferences, and the option to give books quarter- and half-star ratings (why oh why has Goodreads not yet enabled this feature?). Storygraph is still missing a lot of what I appreciate about Goodreads, such as ease in finding and following fellow readers and an easy-to-navigate app, so for now I will continue to use both platforms for recording my books; but I am tickled silly to have discovered a new medium to help me track, find, and celebrate all things BOOKS.
Adventures in Odyssey Wiki: Last month I mentioned Charleston’s and my recent love affair with the Adventures in Odyssey Club. We are continuing to plow through shows (“we” sometimes meaning just “me”, as I have even been listening when the kids aren’t present!); even the twins are getting on board, asking for “Osseee! Ossee!” every time they see Charleston’s ipad. My appreciation and enjoyment of the show has been greatly enhanced by my discovery of the Adventures in Odyssey Wiki. The site includes character bios, episode synopses, actor info, discussion questions, and more trivia than I know what to do with. As a kid, we owned book of Odyssey trivia that I positively inhaled; what I would have done to have access to ALL this information then! I realize that my confession to this new obsession reveals me to be an utterly hopeless Odyssey Groupie, but if loving Odyssey isn’t cool. . . . well, uncool is exactly what I want to be.
Brain Quest Summer Workbooks: We are taking a break from official homeschool work this summer, but I wanted to get some fun and light bridge activities to carry Charleston through the break, and the Summer Activity books from Brain Quest have been the perfect fit. The books align with Common Core standards and cover all subjects (math, social studies, reading, and science) through activities that are unique and equal parts educational and entertaining. I’ve been impressed with the format and content, and Charleston has loved adding stickers to the accompanying learning map to mark off each completed page. If you are looking for some quality academic work that your kids will actually enjoy doing, I highly recommend these books—but you will probably want to level up, as the books are on the easy side (Charleston just finished Kindergarten, and he is getting through the 1st/2nd grade book without too much challenge).
// LOVING LATELY //
Board Games: Starting just this month, our library now has a wide assortment of games that can be checked out, and Charleston and I have had fun trying out a new game each week. I am impressed that each game is accompanied by a goody bag of candy and snacks to enjoy while you play—all for free! So far, our favorite find has been the game of Life: I had played the board game as a kid but forgotten what a great game it is, and how educational it can be. I am impressed with the newest addition that is easy enough for Charleston to understand but entertaining for me, too; we may need to add this game to our family game collection.
Birthstone Stacking Rings: I had been hoping for some kid-themed jewelry since we became a family of five, and Luke came through with this year’s Mother’s Day gift: a set of stacking rings featuring each of our kids’ birthstones! I love the thought Luke put into creating the ring, with square gems to represent our boys and a circle for our girl. He also included two plain bands to commemorate our two babies in Heaven (one pregnancy that we lost in 2014 and the potential triplet that passed early in my last pregnancy). The rings are beautiful and meaningful, and I am loving them so much that I wanted Luke to have something similar, so I ordered him a name bracelet from the same company for Father’s Day. (Full disclosure: Luke actually asked for this gift, and I was more than happy to oblige by clicking Purchase on the link he sent me, then wrapping the bracelet when it came in the mail. 😉
// TWIN CORNER //
What to say about my delightful duo this month? Well, in my totally unbiased Mama opinion, they are getting cuter and more fun by the day and I am eating up all of their hilarious toddler antics. After a rough couple of weeks of sickness leading up to our trip last month, and an adjustment period as we returned to normal routines after we got back, they have come through more happy, playful, and lovable than before.
From Sully’s comical expressions (“Oh no! [Shrugging] Appy [what happened]?” any time he sees something break or fall or moved out of place, then “I got it!” as he fixes the mess) and “airplaning” food into his mouth . . . to Kali’s toting her purse around in the crook of her arm, or clinging tightly to her “bibi” (blanket), or maneuvering a small chair around the house to access anything out of reach . . . to their frequent dance parties and tickle feasts and requests to sing or read books. . . it is almost too much sweetness for my heart to handle. Kali and Sully are also proving themselves to be expert tantrumers and quite skilled at mimicking one another’s bad behavior, but these frustrations pale in comparison to all the joy they are bringing me these days.
// MONTHLY CHARLIE-ISMS //
I’ve seen a huge shift in Charleston this summer, in both his behavior and cognitive abilities. He’s grown more private but also more intuitive, reflective, more eager for connection, and more responsible. He has been testing boundaries at every opportunity, but is also starting to demonstrate a new politeness and maturity that I’m really enjoying. And he had a couple of pretty darn cute expressions this month.
+ “Some people are very talented. God gave them talentation!”
+ “Whatever I do when I grow up, it will have to be something where people vote for me to be in charge. It will be like I’m God. Well, sort of like a second version of God. Maybe third.”
+ Playing on a playground train, when I asked him to take me to Narnia. “No, I can’t do that. This is just a joy ride.”
+ When we found out that Arlo had thrown up on the carpet and I started cleaning it up: “I’ll go get Daddy to do this. Because the babies and I are your responsibility, but Arlo is Daddy’s responsibility. ” (For the record, I sucked it up and took care of “Daddy’s responsibility” on my own. Please, hold your applause.)
+ In a speech evaluation, when showed pictures of a pen, a pencil, and a strawberry and asked to name the items that belong together: “Me and the strawberry!”
+ “You know how some people call their kids things like ‘sweetheart’ and stuff? Well, I think when I have kids, I’m going to call them ‘ice cream.'” Luke: “Great idea, what’s better than ice cream?” Charleston: “Jesus. But it would be weird to call your kids Jesus.”
// HAPPENINGS AND HIGHLIGHTS //
We didn’t have any major events in June, but we have been killing it with our everyday activities. Now that the twins are older and COVID restrictions are lifted, we have had many more options for entertainment, and between play dates, swim lessons, playground time, and lots of reading and crafts, we sure have been making the most of our opportunities to get out of the house.
Library Summer Program: Our tiny local library is known for having a stellar summer reading program, and our participation in it this year has been the standout highlight of our summer. We have all been happy to be back inside the library now that it is no longer strictly curbside service. The kids and I have enjoyed attending weekly story time (including read-alouds from local firemen and police offers, complete with Q&A’s and vehicle demonstrations) as well as various other activities: take-home crafts, sing-alongs, shows, family activities, and (for the twins) running up and down the aisles between the stacks (when nobody else is present, of course). The Superhero-themed Reading Challenge has been a huge hit with Charleston, who is enjoying earning prizes and points for filling out reading logs. Go Team Hulk! It’s just the best that my happy place is becoming my kids’ happy place too.
Gym: After more than a year, the babysitting at our Rec Center has opened back up! Wooooohooooo! The twins are now old enough for me to leave them with the babysitters, which means that I get an hour TO MYSELF on the mornings we go to the gym (usually a couple of times per week). The kids have an awesome time with our wonderful sitters while I spend some elliptical time with my Kindle propped up in front of me. This has done wonders for my sanity, as well as my reading life. (Pic below is of Charleston pushing the stroller into the gym for me; why put forth the extra energy to do it myself when I’m about to go work out for a while, right?)
Dates: During the school year, Luke and I attend a weekly evening Bible study while Luke’s parents come over to babysit. The group is on pause for the summer, but we’ve taken my in-laws up on their offer to keep up with the weekly sitting throughout the summer. This weekly couple time with Luke has been a huge luxury, and the kids look forward to their Grandma and Grandpa time each week. (I’m pretty sure Grandma and Grandpa look forward to it, too.)
Another date tradition that has been going strong all year long is our weekly Charlie dates: every Thursday, Luke and I alternate taking Charleston out for dinner, ice cream, playground time, or whatever else he wants to do. I miss all of the dedicated time we got with him prior to the twins’ arrival, and though once every two weeks still doesn’t feel like enough, I cherish this special mother/son time with him so much.
Well, I sure did have a lot of words (shocker!) about what seemed to be a pretty simple month. Pretty simple, but also pretty great. How about you? What have you been up to so far this summer?