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Scenes of Summer 2010: Playdates

August has given us a break from swim lessons – and a chance to schedule some end-of-summer playdates. We had one a week or so ago at a park near the new home of a friend from last year's preschool program – a park which boasts both a playground (that is in the shade!) and a splash pad water play area. Lots of fun running around in water on a hot day, then playing on the play equipment – and, in Nora's case, helping a little boy “vroom” his toy race cars down one of the big curvy slides after her friend Z went home for naptime. (They took turns who was catching and who was vrooming.)

The next day, after a string of very hot times – temperatures in the 90s, with high humidity – the morning brought temperatures in the low 70s. With a strong, cool breeze, with a hint of fall. Guess which day was scheduled the family beach party for my women's group? It did not have a particularly high turnout: Nora and I, and the organizer and her family – including her sleepy husband, who had been up all night trying to keep the tent at his barbecue competition from blowing away (his team came in fifth for their chicken), her four-year-old, and her potty training three-year-old. Luckily, this beach/park has a nearby nice restroom facility. It also has a playground, which the kids used after some beach time in the water and the sand.

We also attended the last outdoor storytime of the summer at one of our local coffee shops last week. This year's theme author was Leo Leoni, and the story was Fish is Fish, about a frog and his fish friend. The storytime people (from a local daycare center), besides reading the story, also did some songs for the kids – with actions, including one where they taught the sign language signs for “frog,” “tiger,” “owl” and “good night.” All kids who came in their pajamas got free kids' size smoothies – Nora and her friend J had changed into jammies at the restroom of the restaurant where our families met for a quick meal before storytime – and, at the end of storytime, they all also got a copy of the book.

When Nora and I went to this storytime event in July, the gathering was on the coffee shop's patio; this time, they did it in the yard behind the shop – which is in an old historic house, so it's a big yard and a nice location. The drawback: mosquitoes, despite the citronella candles they had going (and I had thought it would be on the patio again, so didn't get out the bug spray). The plus side: after the short storytime was over, it was pretty fun to watch Nora and J play together in the yard while J's mom and I chatted. Nora evidently remembers the nature scavenger hunt walk she and I took several months ago, because she was holding her newly acquired book out in front of her and pretending to “read” from it: “OK, now we hafta find a leaf. Then we hafta find an acorn.” She told me it was a “map.” J's mom T and I acquired quite a handful of sticks and leaves. (No acorns. No oak trees in the vicinity. :) ) Plus, they found some tiny white wildflowers – aka weeds – at the edge of the parking lot when we were at the cars, so we got some of those, too. (Nora looked for them in the flower field guide. I think they're hoary alyssum.)

Scenes of Summer 2010: Playtime at the Park

We have been to several parks this summer (and had several picnics). It's interesting to watch the playground dynamics of my little extroverted risk-taker – which is so not my personality as a child. She feels she needs to find someone to play with at a park playground, so she runs up to all the kids, asking, “You wanna play with me?”

Sometimes they say no, but she persists until she finds someone. Sometimes they are kids her age; just as often, they are kids who are either a few years older than her age four, or a bit younger. At one point this summer, after she had recruited a couple of eight-year-old girls to play with her, they ended up getting all of the kids on the playground involved in a massive game of some variation of hide-and-seek. (I didn't quite understand it, from my spot on a parent bench, but it somehow had rules that required whoever was it to have their eyes closed whenever they were on the play equipment; “it” could only open his/her eyes when on the ground. This meant that all the other players tried to stay on the play equipment – and be really quiet.)

“Hide-and-seek” is one of her favorite games to suggest at the playground although, at four, she's not that great at hiding – she tends to tell people where she's going to hide, or tell them where they should hide. And, when it's her turn to seek, she kind of rushes through counting – and keeps telling older kids, “I can't count to 30 [which is untrue, by the way], but I can count to 10 three times.” I'm guessing some older kid suggested this at one point.

She has also managed, at least three times this summer, to convince some older and/or larger child to lift her up so that she can reach the monkey bar rungs. Then she can't do anything once she's up there, and just hangs there, not particularly scared, but calling out, “Mom! Mom! Mom!” until I have to go rescue her by hoisting her down.

It's also an interesting cultural experience – for me, anyway – at our parks, which, in our town, are filled with kids and parents of all different backgrounds. It's quite the contrast to my growing-up years in a very homogenous small town in Iowa: my mom would never have been able to suggest to me, “Why don't you ask that little girl in the red hijab if she wants to play with you? She has a princess shirt on; maybe she wants to play princess.”

Of course, for my little girl, this all probably seems completely normal. When we tried out a new-to-us park, which is located within walking distance of some apartments where a lot of Somali immigrants to our community live, one evening, we were the only non-Somali family there. Nora found some little girls to run around and go down the slide with. It was just DH and I who felt a bit awkward – or at least I did, wearing summer shorts and a T-shirt, while surrounded by women wearing long skirts and head coverings, chatting to each other in their own language.

Of course, some mom language is universal. The experience from another park excursion this summer is that Somali moms and kids like Dora Band-Aids® for their kids' skinned knees just as much as mine does (which is why I have them with me at the park).

This past weekend was our big summertime gathering with my side of the family, in honor of my parents' 45th anniversary. My sister and I and all of our offspring descended upon their home in small town Iowa – unfortunately, both of our husbands are in jobs where they have to work on weekends in late August. Still, it was kind of fun to have a bunch of girl time, since all of the grandkids are girls, and my dad worked on Saturday as well.

Nora and I arrived first, and visited the town library, checking out a book about a horse that Grandma had mentioned to her, and the weekly farmer's market – which is now run by a woman with whom I went to school up until third or fourth grade, when her church built their own private school, and her husband. I had a nice, if brief, chat with D. We bought some peaches (imported from Michigan), green beans and cantalope at the farmer's market, and then got back to my parents' house in time to greet my sister and her contingent.

We took the kids to the park after supper for roller skating on the rink. My sister's nine- and six-year-old brought their own roller skates, and my mom was able to borrow some from the town's parks and rec commission for Nora to use. (They usually have them available on Friday nights during the summer – except that, since their town started school last week, they don't consider it “summer” anymore. This is one reason I'm glad I now live in Minnesota.) My sister's three-year-old did not skate.

Nora, who has been asking for roller skates for birthdays and Christmas for over a year now – I still haven't figured out why – actually did pretty well at skating for her first time. And she skated some more over the course of the weekend on the sidewalk in front of Grandma's house – until she would get frustrated at falling, and announce, “I hate rollerskating.” (I planned ahead: we brought her bike helmet plus elbow and knee pads.)

The kids played together pretty well most of the weekend: they played “cock-a-doodle-doo hide-and-seek,” in which various combinations of kids kept going through the kitchen where my mom, sister and I were hanging out, either hiding or seeking, and there was a lot of “cock-a-doodle-doo”-ing; and the six-, four- and three-year-olds put on a “show.” This was the six-year-old's idea, and the nine-year-old was not allowed to be involved. It was mostly a dancing show, which started out strong, although their choreography deteriorated shortly. The six-year-old and four-year-old decided that under the kitchen table was their “secret hideout” – which they announced to everyone – where they retreated when done eating a meal in order to munch on grapes.

We took them to the pool for a couple of hours on Saturday afternoon. This was one of those "your adult perspective is different from your childhood one" things (much like the town's Methodist church now seems much smaller to me, even though my mom claims they've actually built an addition onto it): I remember when that pool was built and opened, new. Now, I kept picking up pieces of it off the shallow end before some kid stepped on them and scraped a foot: it's time for a replacement.

Still, the kids had fun. There was a turtle float anchored into the pool that they tried to climb onto -- particuarly the oldest one -- and a slide into the water that provided much fun for the nine-year-old and my little derring-do four-year-old. The first time, I went down with Nora; that was a bit too fast for both of our tastes. Afterward, I just stood in the water and caught her -- including the time that her sturdy little body came barreling down and some part, I suspect a foot, connected solidly with my tummy. Ow. Thankfully, my sister took a brief round of catching duty after that so I could recover.

They also played some in the kiddie pool, where the four-year-old and the six-year-old found a floatie tube someone had left there and took turns being towed around in it by its rope, with the three-year-old as the rope tower. My sister claims the three-year-old likes to do this -- some year, she'll probably catch on.

In the evening, we walked the kids uptown for some ice cream (somehow, my sister and I failed to mention to said children that we had actually already visited a different ice cream shop on our earlier trip to get groceries...). M&Ms were on hand for the kid who doesn't like ice cream. That would not be mine: she had "Superman" ice cream: it's swirls of bright blue, yellow and red, the colors of Superman's cape. I had what was ostensibly a small chocolate dip cone, but turned out to be a mammoth thing whose chocolate drippiness ran down my hand the whole time I was eating it. There's nothing like having your four-year-old come over from the kid's table and pause in talking to her grandma to stare at her mother and comment, "Wow. That's a really big mess."

After getting jammies on, the kids were then allowed to stay up late that night and watch "The Muppet Movie." There was a brief intermission to go out and look at and touch -- but fail to catch -- the tree frog that climbs up on Grandma's front window at night.

We put them to work the next day, having Nora teach the others how to snap beans for dinner. (The six-year-old actually stuck with it the longest; the others wandered off to play.) My dad grilled ham/cheeseburgers, and we also had mashed potatoes and gravy. (I am turning somewhat of a deaf ear to my child's complaints that she didn't like being served the mashed potatoes last, since the reason for that was that she cleaned out the bowl.)

Dinner was eaten; a present (a birthstone family tree) was presented; pictures were taken. A good time was had by all - and we all went home.

Nora has been using my "flower book" (a field guide to Minnesota wildflowers) this summer: she wants to know the names of various flowers, and it's something I'm interested in, too. I showed her the color codings on the edge of the page, and she knows to look in, for example, the yellow flowers to find a match in the picture -- and then I'll look and confirm (or deny) and read the identification.

Besides the bird's-foot trefoil, violets, butter and eggs, and so forth, identified in this manner -- which, in my book (literally ;) ) are wildflowers, not weeds -- we've also been doing some identifying of garden flowers. Which has led to some interesting conversations.

At a local park, looking at a neighboring yard: "Mommy, Mommy, look! Lots of black eyes!"

Black-eyed Susans, that is.

In another neighborhood: "Mommy, they have noodles, too!"

Can't figure that one out? 

Hostas. Think of what it rhymes with.

Scenes of Summer 2010: Pool and Beach

"Mommy, there's sand in the bathroom. " Yes, there is. And I suspect there's going to be some stray sand in our bathroom, at least until September. There's also likely going to be an extra laundry load per week, consisting of beach towels - and sometimes a picnic blanket/tablecloth -- until the same timeframe.

Yes, there have been frequent trips to the beach this summer -- as well as the pool, since we spent every. single. Monday. and Wednesday. in July taking Nora to her first round of swimming lessons.

She was an enthusiastic participant in these lessons. So enthusiastic, in fact, that I fear the shyer little girl in her class didn't get as much time with the teachers: Nora would yell "Take me! Take me!" whenever they were about to wade out into the water with a little one they were teaching a new skill.

There were five kids in this class, and two teachers (technically, a lead teacher and an assistant; high school students from our area who were teaching in the parks and rec classes for the summer). I was very impressed at how fun they made this class: they had the kids sit on the entry steps to the 3.5-foot depth pool for the teacher's brief discussions and demonstrations of skills, and then they would take each kid out one at a time, with one of the teachers holding onto them as they practiced these skills -- like the arm motions that will eventually become the crawl, as they had the kids make "scoops" with their hands to try to catch some rubber ducks that had been thrown across the pool.

They used equipment like kickboards, pool noodles and, one day, life vests -- the kids got to swim "on their own" for a few brief seconds that day, without the teachers holding onto them. There was also one day that they had a big rubber hippo-shaped mat that they had all five kids hold onto the edge of, and then the teachers towed the class around the pool, lifing the edge of the hippo up and down to make waves.

On the last day of class, the little kids got to go down the water slide in the pool -- the teachers picked them up and placed them a few feet above the end, then let go and let them slide down into the water -- into the waiting arms of another teacher.

In this smaller depth pool, there were two classes going on at the same time -- Nora's (preschool two) and the preschool one class. While Nora has not had any swimming lessons before in her life, when we took her in for an evaluation at the community center pool earlier this year to figure out what level to sign her up for, she was slated at preschool two, largely, I believe, based on her almost-fearlessness and enthusiasm for the water. (During evaluation, she asked for extra times to do the jumping into the pool to a teacher who would catch her portion.) So, I guess it's not particularly surprising that, while she has some reluctance to put her face in the water (improving since, midway through swimming lessons, I bought her some goggles -- 75 cents on clearance, since, of course, July means summer is almost over in the retail world), she retains almost no fear of the water.

Sometimes, this is not good. Like, when she was goofing off on the steps during swim lessons, went under the water, and had to be fished out immediately by the lifeguard who was on duty on deck during all of this. Was she contrite or scared? Not one iota.

We've also put some swimming lesson stuff into play in our own family trips to the beach. For one thing, Nora used some of her birthday money from her great-grandma to buy herself a pink princess kickboard. Whenever I see her at the beach with this tucked under her arm or balanced on her head, I have flashbacks to watching reruns of "Gidget" when I was a kid.

She's getting the hang of using the kickboard, and we also sometimes play "chop, chop, timber!" In the swim lesson version of this, the kids line up on the side of the pool, put their hands together and make chopping motions, then, on timber, jump/are lifted into the pool by a teacher in the water, who swings them back and forth a few times. In the beach version (since there's no edge and I'm already in the water), she just jumps up on timber, I lift her, lower her, and swing her back and forth for a few splashes. (Quite the exercise program for Mommy, I must say.) We also have our own beach game of "barnacle," wherein she wraps her arms and legs around one of my legs and I try to move around and dislodge the barnacle.

Our last two trips to the beach have seen interesting parking situations, due to events at the parks where the beaches are located that I've been unaware of beforehand -- but that provided interesting entertainment. For instance, we got to watch the high school rowing clubs piloting their long boats on the lake during the regatta held at one lake -- and witnessed the long line of people out in the lake for a local mega-church's baptism event at another lake.

And, she's taken to taking her goggles to the beach -- leading to the time when she ran up to our area on the beach, obviously looking for something. "Are you looking for your goggles?" I asked her, and then informed her, "They're on top of your head!"

Last night's dinner at our place was taco salad: browned hamburger, kidney beans, chopped-up onions and salsa, all mixed up and cooked together, topped with some shredded cheese and some torn-up lettuce (torn up by a four-year-old who is getting experience in kitchen helping this summer), plus tortilla chips for scooping. Apparently, according to the four-year-old, this meal is “yummy” and, if we had only had chocolate chip cookies on hand for dessert, it would have been the perfect meal. As it was, she had to content herself with blueberry ice cream* topped with some actual blueberries.

My original thought had been to top the taco salad with some tomatoes from our garden – i.e., the containers on our deck that are growing: tomatoes, plum tomatoes, strawberries (theoretically), mint, chives, basil and sage, plus marigolds. The ripening schedule of the tomatoes, however, did not cooperate. The big ones aren't ready yet, and the almost-ready grape ones weren't actually ready until today. Neither tomato plant is producing a bumper crop, but we have eaten some of the grape tomatoes this summer: some went into a blueberry-tomato salad (blueberries, small bits of tomatoes and a vinaigrette dressing, also prepared with help from a four-year-old), and some were used as part of our Saturday night supper of BLTs, with toasted bread, lettuce, tomatoes and turkey bacon. I'm awaiting the ripening of the larger tomatoes to make a meal of cheeseburger pie with fresh tomato slices, but I don't think I'll get enough tomatoes this year to make and freeze tomato sauce, which was one of my thoughts when planting things on Memorial Day weekend.

I am starting to think about how to preserve some of the herbs for winter, though, now that it's August and sort of/kind of the beginning of harvest season. I chopped up a bunch of the basil a while ago and froze it in olive oil in an ice cube tray, with the idea being that I could then dump the olive oil-ice cubes out into a freezer bag and have them for flavoring soups, pastas, etc. during the winter. The challenge, however, is that I can't actually get the olive oil-ice cubes out of the ice cube tray: they froze hard.

We've eaten some of the basil this summer in spaghetti sauce (made with purchased canned tomato sauce and some of our herbs and spices), and....some other stuff I don't remember. Likely salads. The sage, I put into an egg bake dish at one point, and also cut up several leaves to go into the corn casserole I made for tonight's Night to Unite block party. (Scraped the remaining kernels off the ears of sweet corn we didn't eat for supper the other night, along with creamed corn, for a recipe from one of my old – 1997 – issues of Taste of Home magazine. I've been having some fun flipping through old summer issues for inspiration for seasonal recipes.) I've come to the conclusion that I don't really know what to do with sage; it's not necessarily an herb I'll be growing again.

The chives, on the other hand, have definitely proven their worth this summer. Easy to grow, easy to snip off, and adding a nicely sharp smell to things, they've been chopped up and added to potato salad, egg salad, chicken salad (made with shredded leftovers from a fried chicken dinner), ham salad (made with torn-up pieces of ham lunchmeat to use it up more quickly), tuna salad, pasta pea salad and plain-old pasta salad, among other things.

Yes, it's been a very salad-y summer around here. They're quick, they're easy, they're cold, they make great picnic food – and my little one likes them, particularly the hard-boiled egg-based salads. (My “recipe” pretty much consists of “hard boil six eggs, chop them up into pieces, add chives and pieces of whatever we're calling this salad, whether it's the chicken or the ham, add some mustard and some Miracle Whip to a proportion that looks good, stir.”) We had shrimp salad one night: shrimp served on top of lettuce with a dressing made from ketchup and lemon juice (my mom's recipe for “cocktail sauce” from when I was a kid and she occasionally served frozen breaded shrimp; I didn't have any horseradish on hand to add like she did, though).

We've also had “side dish salads” like the aforementioned blueberry-tomato, watermelon-cucumber (pieces of watermelon and cucumber with a cooked vinegar-sugar-and-pepper-flakes dressing) and creamy cucumbers (cucumber slices with a dressing of Miracle Whip, sour cream and sugar). Plus “fruit salad” (pineapple chunks, orange slices, sour cream and Cool Whip, plus marshmallows – as in, the ones that were leftover from our campfire roastings at church camp). Still on my agenda for the summer: I'd like to get in a steak salad. I've also been flipping through the salad sections of some cookbooks/old cooking magazines for inspiration – I've got some ideas for apple salads in the next month or so as we transition into fall, and I foresee a series of soups for my family this fall and winter.

At the moment, though, it's still summer, and I'm talkin' 'bout summer food. It doesn't seem like I've made as many batches of homemade popsicles as in past summers – we're on the second of the summer; I think the first were orange, and these (which are, admittedly, almost gone so that I need to make some more this week) are cherry-flavored. I did, however, find a mold set for a quarter at a garage sale – one of ours is cracking and will need to be replaced soon. (I guess 30-plus years is a good lifetime for these things; I'm currently using the sets that my mom had when I was a kid.)

We have also had ice cream sandwiches from a really good sale, and Nora has discovered smoothies: ice cream, milk and fruit blended up in the blender. She will pretty much eat any berry in sight, so that is where most of our grocery store-purchased straw-/rasp-/blue-berries have gone this summer, plus a couple of bananas. As mentioned before, I'm also having her help more in the kitchen this summer: she's supposed to set the table and clear her place, and she's been rinsing fruit off, slicing bananas, buttering her own graham crackers for snacks (and then, of course, dropping them butter-side-down on the floor...), tearing up lettuce, and putting bread in the toaster and pushing down the lever.

She also likes to help pack the picnic basket for our picnic outings by putting in the juice boxes (we drink a lot more juice boxes in the summer than we do at other times of the year – because we take them on picnics in the park). Our picnic fare usually includes some kind of sandwich – we had our tuna salad in pita bread pockets this weekend – plus, at various times, we've added cheese slices, berries, chips, and, always, cookies. (It's time to open another box of Girl Scout cookies from my niece's spring sales, since we ate the last of the Thanks A Lots at this weekend's picnic.) We've had a couple of these picnics at our park that has free music concerts several times a week in the summer. Nora hasn't necessarily wanted to stay for the entirety of the orchestra or brass band concerts, but she got some cultural exposure in and learned what a conductor is – and the playground where we go when she is starting to get too rambunctious is close enough to the amphitheater that I can still hear “76 Trombones,“ etc.

At the end of a day, I like to relax with a cup of something; sometimes, in the summer, it's lemonade sipped on the deck out of a tin mug (Nora has also been learning to make lemonade this summer: we use the CountryTime mix and have a Pampered Chef pitcher that she can just plunge the top up and down to mix up – and I make her do this in the sink). Sometimes, all year 'round, it's tea. I've finished off the purchased ginger peach tea from our anniversary trip in May – that's a flavor that I find tastes better as iced tea, so I'm much more likely to drink it in summertime, plus the “summer breeze.” Most of my summertime tea now is coming from the mint plant on the deck: I snip off a few leaves to make my own mint tea, which is good either iced or hot.

* What happens when you go grocery shopping with a four-year-old.

(Have been lax on the blogging this summer, and want to record some of these memories. "Scenes of Summer 2010" is kind of my own personal catch-up series.)

We were one of five families attending camp that weekend. Among these families was an almost-four-year-old girl Nora has played with before, and a four-year-old boy (older brother to the almost-two-year-old) that girl has played with before. The three of them became quite the trio: playing on one of the camp's playgrounds (there are two; they liked to hang out at the one closest to the beach), chasing bubbles blown by an adult from the giant bubble solution, offering "helpful" advice from a peanut gallery to the dad trying to get his six-year-old's Frisbee out of a pine tree by throwing other things up to dislodge it, making up running games on the deck around the dining hall lodge, playing in the sand together, playing with Nora's ring toss game, visiting each other's cabins and climbing up to top bunks, etc.

Nora and the other girl (M) also apparently considered themselves experts enough at ring toss to instruct the college-aged camp staff in how to play after they had invited them to do so. Nora also brought out her card games (a Melissa and Doug set of Go Fish, Old Maid and Animal Rummy) to some picnic tables to play with her friends whilst Grandma and I were talking to some grownups -- but apparently figured out on her own that she's not yet capable of playing cards without some help. She, Grandma and I did play through all of these games a couple of times (luckily, it worked out that everyone got a chance to win at Animal Rummy) during Saturday afternoon quiet time in the cabin while other kids were still napping. At one point during the weekend, as Nora and M were walking up a hill toward the playground, M informed her, "Nora, you're really nice." The response was, "Yep. I'm really nice." (I think we need to work on how to accept compliments.)

There was a brief Bible study session on Saturday morning, focusing on the story of God's promise of a son to Abraham and Sarah, the birth of Isaac, and the meaning of Isaac's name, read from the children's Bible the church gives to three-year-olds. We talked about names as part of the discussion, and I have to shake my head at my mother, who claims she doesn't know why her parents named her what they did, unless they had run out of ideas, since she is the youngest of her siblings. I am shaking my head because, for pete's sake, mother, just ask *your* mother -- but you might want to get on that, since she'll turn 96 this fall.

Sunday morning worship was in an outside worship area overlooking the lake, with the altar and cross made from pine logs. It was beautiful and, if it wasn't an almost four-hour drive away, that's where I would worship all summer.

We also did camp crafts, went on a hike on a short trail -- saw a few wildflowers, including a field of daisies and a forget-me-not that Nora identified because we had been looking through one of my wildflower field guides some in June -- and, prior to Saturday evening's bonfire, went on a pontoon boat ride. It was Nora's first boat ride, and it was a great experience with nature around the lake: we saw eagle nests in some trees in a bay, and spotted the parent bald eagle as well. We watched the adult eagle swoop over the lake, catch a fish, and bring it back to the nest. We also heard and saw more than one loon, one a mother with a baby who was riding on her back, then got off to try swimming on its own.

(Have been lax on the blogging this summer, and want to record some of these memories. "Scenes of Summer 2010" is kind of my own personal catch-up series.)

The June weekend post-birthday of this summer, we were off to camp. Nora, my mom and I all went to "preschool family camp weekend" at the camp in northern Minnesota owned by my church. (DH has to work most weekends during the summer, and also, I really can't see him sleeping in a bunk bed in a cabin.)

We had a cabin for our family unit, and, since the cabins are used for youth campers during the week, there were enough beds and bedrooms that we each ended up with our own bedroom. The thing we forgot when packing (there's always something) was Nora's sleeping bag, so she ended up borrowing Grandma's sleeping bag to use on her bunk, while Grandma used blankets. I also was reminded that I need to get a travel nightlight. I had to go comfort a little person at 3:30 a.m. the first night when the solar lantern she'd received as a birthday present burned out in her bedroom; the next night, we left the curtains open and I showed her how she could follow the support leg of the bed with her hand down to where we'd put her flashlight if she needed it -- which was quite exciting.

She had, of course, when originally told we were going to camp, associated it with camping, i.e., "tent." When she was informed that we would be sleeping in a cabin rather than a tent, I got the question, heavily tinged with tones of suspicion, "Are we gonna put marshmallows on a stick?"

We did. Although the camp provided fixings for s'mores at the "formal campfire" on Saturday night, I also packed our own stash of graham crackers, chocolate and marshmallows, because promising marshmallow roasting and then delaying it once you've arrived at camp is just not fair nor easily understood by newly minted four-year-olds. Not, evidently, that she actually cares for s'mores. She will eat the components separately but, when it comes to roasting, she prefers her marshmallows solo -- and lightly toasted, to a somewhat gooey consistency but so that they maintain their mostly white coloring. (Her grandma likes them burnt to a crisp. I prefer a golden edge to mine -- which I like to eat in s'mores.)

The campfire ring was right outside our cabin, so we got plenty of marshmallow roasting done on both formal and informal campfire nights. (Formal campfire apparently meant the camp staff attended and held up sheets of paper that actually had the lyrics to the songs no one had known how to sing the previous night.) The pastor-on-duty for the camp weekend played guitar for songs around the campfire both nights, including "Pharaoh Pharaoah," a song sung to the tune of "Louie Louie" that apparently has an interesting history: From the descriptions of how many different versions of the songs there are on that website, I suspect my mom is correct in her assertion that the chorus we were taught: "Pharoah, Pharoah/Oh, baby, let my people go/Uffda!/Ya, sure, you betcha" (and which my kid is still singing around the house) "has got to be a Minnesota invention."

Also relatively close to our cabin was the camp beachfront. We were at camp from Friday evening until shortly after noon on Sunday. Nora was on the beach/in the water *at least* six times in that timeframe. Possibly more. She and I did some in-the-lake rock throwing (I used to be able to skip stones, but then again, I used to be able to find flat ones) late Sunday morning, while very-kind Grandma was packing/cleaning up the cabin and on the day it finally warmed up, but most of the weekend was too chilly for anyone over the age of, say, five, to actually want to be in the lake water. This did not deter Nora. Luckily, most of her lake-going was gathering water supplies in her bucket for sand creations. (However, there was a *lot* of this water gathering.)

She had received some new sand toys for her birthday and brought some of them along. One set consists of an "ice cream bucket" with two plastic "cones," shovels shaped like seahorses, and a shaker with removable lid. I suspect this was the inspiration for the many flavors of sand/water creations pretend ice cream she offered me, including "seahorse blueberry." (Evidently, my fake food poisoning reaction to that one was so entertaining, it has been requested at later times we've played together.) She also made, she informed me, "sand/water soup," which she stirred with a shovel, because Daddy stirs it when he makes soup. The shaker and its lid made a fine container for the rock and little tiny snail shells she brought home. The sieve that went with the other set of birthday sand toys proved confounding to the almost-two-year-old from another family who was also attending camp. She would try to put water in it, and would get very mad that it wouldn't stay in there.