Sunday, January 30, 2011

Stream of Consciousness Sunday: Coming Back

Sunday!  Well, for just a few minutes longer.  I'm coming to this late this week.
I have been looking forward to writing my Stream of Consciousness Sunday post, an antidote to Friday's long doubled-up post, to yesterday's oh, so long involved, photo laden on-and-on show-off fest.  But it's been an all-kids-all-the-time Sunday.  Until now.

So, today: the promise of short and sweet.  And tomorrow?  I've already written it, shorter and sweeter: a really, really, really funny Ethan story.  So tune in tomorrow, again, for that.

But now, to set the timer and let it whirl.  I'm oh so tired... wonder what's going to pour out....

I am coming back into my body, slowly, beginning to inhabit it more fully now, three and a half weeks into my recovery from my operation. Nearly a month. Not back to 100% but I can see it on the horizon, somewhere there, visible.

I no longer cringe when my children come near me, boisterous. I open doors that require a bit more than a bit of a pull without being reminded of my abdominal muscles part in all things strenuous required of my body.

And as I start to feel more like myself, like the old me, it gets me to thinking what I want to keep and what to change as I come back ‘round.  Because the recent “old me” is not nearly the same as the old “old me,”  Yes that one, the one before time began, before I had kids (in other words) and my body was no longer my own.

I have let my connection to my body, to the physical side of me fall by the wayside so much in recent years, and as I contemplate the return of my abdominal muscles, the return of my physical self to my life, I want to do it better this time around.

I don’t know what this means yet, maybe yoga, maybe running, maybe just starting each day with a stretch, but something’s gotta give.  I see my mother at 88, so locked in by her lack of physical movement, her knees deeply arthritis-bound, her pain, her inability to walk 2 blocks so severely limiting her life.  I do not want that.  I want to be limber, energetic to be able to play with my grandkids someday.  And I know the time to start this change is now.

This week I took Jake to basketball for the first time since I had my first gall bladder attack there in early December. Next week I will be the one to take Jake bowling on Sunday (his new favorite pastime), finally able to pick up a ten pound bowling ball without pain.

Next week I will do something, anything, I don’t yet know what, but I will figure it out… something to bring me back to me, to inhabit my body and not just schlep it around like so much overweight baggage.

Next week.

And, that's all she wrote!  New to Stream of Consciousness Sundays?  Here's the skinny:

  • Set a timer and write for 5 minutes only.
  • Write an intro to the post if you want but don’t edit the post. No proofreading or spell-checking. This is writing in the raw.
You can do it, too!  Click on the link and let's hear your 5 minutes of brilliance...

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Saturday, January 29, 2011


Today is my boys' half-birthday. Remember celebrating half-birthdays?  It seems to work only when you're still in the single digits, like my guys.

Eight and a half, today.  How did that happen?  One more birthday on this side of the fence, and then after that they're into the double digits.  Big boys.  Blink, blink. 

They were summer babies, and to think of their birthday is to think of late July's deep heat.

Jacob & Ethan, 1 day old
Not a bad thought today, as the mercury hovers just around the freezing point and we may be expecting a bit more snow later this afternoon.

Our car, street parked in New York City?  Is not currently a vehicle, but rather a vaguely car-shaped snowbank.  Plow-piled snow encases our car up to the windows plus the 19 fresh inches sit atop the roof like so much white fluffy frosting.

Frosting... that gets me to thinking... of cakes in general, and then birthday cakes in particular.  Which draws us right back round again to the matter at hand: boys and half-birthdays, half-birthdays and boys.

So maybe I should take my cue from the above, combat a case of the mid-winter blues, cheer myself up, inspired by all this birthday and cake talk, and herewith take you on a photographic tour down birthday memory lane via my ONE claim to domestic awesomeness: my amazing mommy-made birthday cakes:

In the beginning were cupcakes for birthdays one and two. Easy to make, no big knives need be left laying around curious toddlers with swift, fat, grabby fingers.  And?  They didn't know any better, what was important was the eating of them.

But then they turned three, and had seen birthday cakes in books and on TV.   Beautiful, decorated cakes.  And Ethan pounced, begged, made specific demands requests.

So it all began in 2005, when the boys were Thomas the Tank Engine obsessed 3 year-olds.  Ethan had asked for a James cake, as his then love of the color red extended to all things, including trains.  And I knew that for Jacob, who still yet did not always make his desires known, Thomas, the main character was the right choice.

Since I was making two cakes, and not everyone loves chocolate (although that makes no sense to Ethan who believes non-chocolate deserts have no reason to live), I made one cake, Ethan's, chocolate and the other, Jacob's, vanilla.

I pulled out the boys Thomas placements, and painstakingly copied the illustrations onto the cakes:
2005: My FIRST cake - Thomas for Jacob
As Ethan's chocolate frosting was so dark, problem solving how to write a legible "Happy Birthday" in the requested blue gel inspired the bug puffy steam cloud coming out of the smokestack, possibly my favorite part.
2005: James the red engine for Ethan
I wasn't sure I could pull it off, had never attempted anything quite like this before.  I dove in, in pure experimental mode, and... I succeeded, damn it!  The problem here being: once you do this well, once?  It becomes expected every year.  And I'm supposed to improve, too, to top myself, as it were.

OK, 2006: Once again, one chocolate, one not.  Lemon-vanilla, this time.  Also?  This was the first year Jacob was on his special Gluten Free/Casein Free diet.  So I had to find a really good vanilla GF/CF cake mix and make a practice cake before I inflicted it upon the masses.

I was, once again, taking design requests.  And this year I figured out that printing out simple line-drawing coloring pages found online was the best way to create a "pattern" for my decorating. 

So, four year-old Jacob was in love with Pingu the penguin:
2006: Pingu for Jake
While Ethan at four showed considerable loyalty to his father as his nascent superhero obsession erupted.  He chose Spider-man:
2006: Spidey for Ethan
Spider-main turned out a little lumpier than he was supposed to be, but within tolerable limits, I think.

And in 2007?  Cars, baby!  Jake was in love, I mean IN LOVE with Mac, the big Mac truck who is Lightning's best friend:
2007: Mac for Jake
Ethan wanted 5 cars  on his, which I nixed, but did acquiesce (after much begging) to a 2 car road scene tableau, from above, with a Route 66 logo.  I'm a sucker, what can I say:
2007 for Ethan: Route 66
I can admit, this was not my best effort.  It was late, I was getting tired.  In an ideal world, I would have filled in more green at the side of the road instead of just that lame lone squiggle.  Oh, well, it was devoured and enjoyed, just the same.

In 2008 I discovered the existence of Wilton shaped cake pans.  Who knew?  Learning about these was a revelation.  There was still a fuck-ton of work involved, but at least I didn't have to research the design.  Just E-bay the pans.  (You didn't think my kids wanted any of the current, easy to obtain designs, did you?  My kids?)

Once again the current superhero obsessions ruled: Batman for Jake and Power Ranger for Ethan. Jake's Batman cake was orange vanilla flavored and really delicious, no one would ever guess it was GF/CF unless they knew:
2008: Jake loved Batman
2008: Ethan was all about the Power Rangers
Ethan had directed me in the color choice for the Power Ranger's costume.  I bit my lip and restrained myself from sharing with him that making the Ranger sleeve's trim into a pink and green argyle made me refer to this one as "Buffy the Connecticut Wasp Power Ranger" in my mind. 

In 2009, I had some serious fun.  Ethan had switched allegiances from the Bakugan to the Pokemon Japanimation tribe just before his birthday, and decided to "make it easy for you, Mom" by requesting a simple Pokeball design, as opposed to an elaborate character re-creation.

May I present the Pokeball cake: simple, elegant, nearly modernistic:
2009: Ethan gets a Pokeball
Jake, on the other hand, got his most elaborate cake to date in 2009.   

That summer he was a bit obsessed with the very hungry caterpillar character from the self named Eric Carle storybook.  His class had performed a stirring reading of this story at their graduation & moving up ceremony in June.

One day in June I had ducked into a Williams Sonoma store when a torrential rain suddenly came down upon me while waiting for the crosstown bus.  What was in the sale bin, but a shaped caterpillar cakelet pan, and the inspiration struck:
2009: A Very Hungry Caterpillar for Jacob
2009: Close up of the head cakelet
I had so much fun making this.  My little addition: I doubled the body pieces to make him really long.  Also?  I am very fond of my embellishments: the green colored sugar crusted over green frosting to make the eyes sparkle and then the grape twizzler antennae. (The mold was for a generic caterpillar with a different face. I turned him into Eric Carle's specific caterpillar.)

Which brings us up to the present. This past year, 2010, was the boys' year of Pokemon. A shaped cake pan Pikachu (thank you Wilton) for Jacob, whose favorite color progressed to yellow this summer:
2010: Pikachu for Jake
And for Ethan?  I think I outdid myself this past year.  He initially wanted some particularly complex and difficult to draw Pokemon, but we finally settled on this guy, Lapras, who seemed actually do-able.  I think I did a pretty damn good job re-creating him, using, once again, a computer coloring page pattern:
2010: Lapras for Ethan
OK, here's the Lapras, image I used, you be the judge:

And now, in hindsight (because when have I ever NOT over-thought things), I realize that while I had thought I was doing this particular post to bring a little summer cheer into the winter gray, I also see, as this rolls along, that I had ulterior motives (when do I ever not, isn't there always a secondary agenda floating along under the overt... or is that just me?)*

I think I needed to remind myself, to prove to you all, that there's some things in life at which I do not, actually, completely suck.  Because lately?  I've been feeling pretty sucktastic, especially when it comes to the state of my messy home and all things domestic.  Sigh.

And maybe it's just the inevitable post-operative depression talking (I had been warned it might set in at about 3 weeks when the physical was mostly healed but I was not yet back to 100%).   But anyway, here it is: my house may be an absolute disaster, but there is something domestic at which I am fairly glorious.  So take that!

Also, before you go suggesting I do something like this for a living?  No, no and no.  These take me FOREVER.  I love doing this for my kids, they are a labor of love, and shall remain that way.  Once a year.  My kids only.  Probably my grand-kids (way) down the road.

And now I'm off to make a special half-birthday lunch for my dear boys.  Tomorrow they will be closer to nine, one day closer to being claimed fully by the world.  Today they are still eight and a half, still mine.

*another example of how I have legitimately earned my crown as "Queen of the Run-on Sentence  (with parenthetical clauses).

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Friday, January 28, 2011

Snow Day: Perfect for Two-Timing

There are actually two blog posts I really wanted to write for today.

One is supposed to be a short introduction to me and my blog for Household6Diva's Blizzard Bloghop:

And the other?  I wanted to share the lovely sweetness of yesterday's no-school Snow Day in photos and words.

As I was trying to decide which way to go, I thought: "why not have it both ways?" and thus this double purposed post was born.

{NOTE: If you are already familiar with me and my blog, don't need no stinkin' introduction, and just want the Snow Day news, simply skip down to the snow photo below for part two.}

First, The Squashed Bologna in a nutshell (perfect metaphor there, folks, think about it):

In February of 2010 my nearly 93 year-old father was actively dying, fast.  To avoid becoming completely squashed flat between caring for him, taking care of my soon-to-be-widowed mother, and taking care of my then 7 year-old twin boys with special needs (one of them is on the Autism Spectrum and the other has some ADD/anxiety) I began this blog.

Pouring out all my thoughts and feelings onto the page, finding my words instead of just howling helped me to sort things out, allowed me to plumb the depths without being torn apart by the pressure down there.

I found that I loved writing as much as I had when I was a girl, a young woman who had thought she might some day become a writer.

I write about the familiar: my family.  I write a lot about Death and Autism because these things press up against me every day.  I write about ADD because not only does my son have a brain that tends that way, but so do I, so you get to come along for the wild ride.

I write about love and thankfulness because that is what underlies all the other stuff, keeps it from descending into sadness and madness.

I write about friendship because without my friends I wouldn't be here, and I appreciate them with every fiber of my being.

I don't write much about my husband because he is a private man and the story of our marriage is half his, not really mine to tell.  (But he does come up from time to time.)

I also sometimes lighten things up, share delightful stories about my sons, Ethan and Jacob, now eight and a half.  Because I really am a funny, light-hearted person, most of the time (when no one is in the middle of dying that is).

Over the course of the past year I have gone from being an occasional writer to a steady, nearly every day one.  I am coming up on my "Blogaversary" and looking forward to seeing where this second year of blogging my life will take me, what 2011 has in store for us.

Now, 2010 was a fairly crap year: My father died, my Mother-in-law died, my gall bladder punked out on me.

But some mighty good things happened, too:

I started this blog and found a whole new amazing online community of bloggers, especially the Special Needs parenting bloggers.  And the Hopeful Parents site asked me to become one of their regular monthly writers.

We found a wonderful new school for Jacob that just "gets it," and where he is thriving.

Ethan started to fall in love with reading and books.

But, most importantly, we didn't let our losses drive us apart, but rather bind us tighter together as a family; sad but solid.

And that's us.  These nuts in this nutshell.

If, you've got a short attention span (no judgement here) and, curiosity satisfied, you're ready to move on, you can stop reading here, continue hopping with the hop.  If, however, you want to hear how the Squashed family rolls on a snow day and see some incredibly cute pictures of my sons and our snowman?  Read on for a bit.  It's short and sweet today.

(Well, what passes for short and sweet around here.  I didn't develop my frequently used blog tag: "Ruminating Rambles" and earn my title: "Queen of the Run-On Sentence {with parenthetical clauses}" for nothing you know)

Wednesday afternoon: snow coming down on Riverside Drive
And now the magnificence of our Snow Day:

Well, we, of course, had an official Snow Day yesterday, here in New York City, with an unexpected 19 fresh inches of the fluffy white stuff coming our way Wednesday into Thursday morning.

(Only the 9th time they have closed NYC public schools for a Snow Day since 1978.  I told you, we are NOT wimps about snow here in New York)

Our apartment building is right next to one of the best sledding hills in Riverside Park, so our apartment becomes "sledding central" on Snow Days.

Which means that yesterday we had a gaggle of 8 year-old boys (and a younger sibling) over both before and after the big outdoor sledding / snowman building / snowball fighting event.

Here is what it looked like out in the glorious snow:

This year's snowman: kind of wistful face, no?
Our sledding hill: "Suicide Hill" Riverside Park at 90th Street
Jakey talks to the snowman
Ethan contemplates his next snowball fight target
Ethan and friend Sage defend their home turf
I loved the moody sky
An hour and a half in the snow and we were done. We retreated back to our apartment, peeled off sodden outer layers, hung them to drip into the tub, dry on the radiators.  Fresh dry socks from our excessed sock bin were distributed all around.

Lego towers were created and destroyed.  Apple slices and goldfish crackers were munched and crunched.  Vats of hot cocoa were guzzled (mocha coffee for the moms).  Mmmmm.  Snow Day.

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Thursday, January 27, 2011

P is for Poopyhead

P is for Poopyhead

Bet you saw this one coming.

Did you even doubt it for an instant?  I have, after all, written of Jacob's sometime favorite word before.

As always there are so many other P's in our lives from which I could have chosen... Pokemon, Public Schools, (Club) Penguin, Popcorn (Jake's favorite food), Prydain (Ethan's newly discovered realm), just to name a few.

But first and foremost, I suppose, would be Processing whose challenges for Jacob rule his and our lives. 

Yes, that's right... now that I've made you giggle with a potty word, hooked you and reeled you in, I'm going to turn it all around.  I'm going to get all serious and talk about my son Jacob and his autism.  Again.  Sorry, I do that all the time, the old bait and switch.  But it works, doesn't it?   OK, stay with me then.

The Sensory and Language Processing Differences (much gentler, kinder word than "disorder," don't you think) are primary ways in which Jake's autism manifests at this point.
It took a long time for me to actually process this information when he was young and I was new to the wacky world of special needs: how Jacob might be experiencing life in a way that would differ so far from my own.

I think it is just so hard for people to understand that we don't experience reality and the world with our senses, but with our brain, through its interpretation of our senses.   And if someone's brain is wired a different way, speaking a completely different language then yours, how can you expect them to draw the same conclusions? 

I remember an early OT of my son's trying to get me to understand how his sensory issues affect all of his learning and his ability to function in the world.  She said: "imagine you are walking on a high wire suspended 200 feet in the air between tiny platforms, and with no net.  Are you going to be able to carry on a causal conversation while you cross it, or do you have to put every fiber of your being into your footsteps?  Well, for your son?  Walking across the room on the floor takes as much concentration out of him as the tightrope walk would for you."

That was just what I needed to hear.  I got it.  Snap.

And then I thought about me driving the car.  I love to have conversations and listen to music while I'm driving, as long as I'm going somewhere I know how to get to, and the road and weather conditions are fairly normal and reasonable.  But put me on a winding, unknown road at night, in a rainstorm?  Shut up and turn that damn radio off, I need to concentrate if we're all going to survive. 

And if conditions change mid-drive and there is already a noise filled car?  It may take a while for me to notice that I am getting tenser and tenser, and in desperate need of silence.  And once that silence has been achieved?  Try to talk to me or flip on the radio and I will get nasty and snappish.

These are really helpful metaphors I remind myself of whenever I start to get impatient with Jacob's being distracted by or flipping out over what are ordinary sensory experiences to me.  Or his need for tremendous amounts of input to make sense of a situation your brain or mine would intuit in an instant.

This photo in no way actually illustrates this post. There is no reason to throw it in here, other than to say: look at my beautiful son, Jacob, enjoying his Snow Day today. And since this is MY blog, I can do that. So there.
And then there's the Language Processing piece, that whole other ball of wax, but I've written about this before (last week, in fact).

And besides, you have a bunch of other blogs to go read, the ones that will actually keep you laughing throughout.  Go, have fun.

This post has been inspired by and linked up to Jenny Matlock's Alphabe-Thursday writing meme. And no, I am not the only blogger whose letter "P" post led them straight to the potty this week.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Syndicated on BlogHer Today!!!!

Hey, it turns out that my "upcoming" post to be syndicated on BlogHer? 

Went up today!!!

I had no idea, just found out...

So pleasepleasepleasepleaseplease, PLEASE... come over there and sparkle me and leave me a comment.

Let the BlogHer folks know I have friends, fans, folks I can strong-arm into following me over there.

Click here on the button:

And if you're coming over to visit me for the first time from BlogHer?  Welcome!  I love meeting new people.  Have a noodle around.

You can click on my "Best Squash" tab above to see a few posts I'm particularly fond of.

And thank you: friends, fans, new readers, and most especially all the folks over at BlogHer for believing in me.

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REALLY Wordless Wednesday: The Week in Pictures

I can tell a story in pictures, I can tell a story in pictures, I CAN tell a story in pictures.

OK, who am I kidding?  You know I'm going to throw at least a few words in there (me being me and all).  But today?  I'm trying, at least I'm TRYING, to keep them to a minimum.

So, maybe it's not REALLY wordless... how about NEARLY wordless?  Here goes:

We had: SNOW!
Snow + Ethan = snowballs!.
Ethan got a HAIRCUT!
Before: shaggy as he wants to be
After: Ethan shorn, but full of 'tude
Ethan was actually not as angry as he looks in this photo.  He liked his cut but was really ready to get the hell out of there, not in the mood to have his picture taken any more by his mom.

So I got "the face."  He's been practicing it, lately.  I was trying very hard not to laugh, because it's no fun being laughed at when you're trying to look mean and intimidating. 

I was hanging out with Jakey, my SUPERHERO:
Holy GF/CF breakfast waffle, Batman!
Talk to the Red Ranger Mask

Jake went BOWLING with FRIENDS:
Jacob learned to use the 3 finger grip. Way to go, Jake!

Ethan's school's "BROADWAY NIGHT" fundraiser was a blast, with:
The Flying Karamazov Brothers (for real)
Um, yeah, when a Manhattan public school school has "Broadway Night" on a Monday, theater's dark night?  We get real Broadway stars.

Does that make up for an ancient building, tiny cafeteria, too small yard & gym, and overcrowding in general?   Hell, yes!  (Especially when you add in a wonderful, energetic principal; the world's best parent co-ordinator; terrific, smart & dedicated teachers and an incredibly generous, involved & motivated parent body.  And, oh yeah, the kids are pretty awesome, too)

And?  That's a WRAP! 

See?  Nearly wordless (for wordy me, that is).

I’m linking up to Wordless Wednesday at Angry Julie Monday.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Return to Prydain, Triumphant

Ethan, in his reading, is a creature of habit.  He likes series; long, long series, so there will be no unsettling surprises.  I read a lot of Magic Treehouse books to him when he was younger.  This fall he's just chomped his way through the entire My Weird School and My Weird School Daze series of humor novels.

The other evening, wailing that he had "nothing to read" in spite of overflowing bookshelves, I gingerly pulled out a book with trepidation... was he ready?  Wasn't he?  Because this was a special book, much beloved from my childhood.  And not just the story, but the actual book, a paperback survived these 42 years.

The Book of Three (The Chronicles of Prydain Book 1)
The book?  "The Book of Three" by Lloyd Alexander.

The first book in his wonderful, award winning five part fantasy tale, inspired by Welsh mythology (oh, those names with the double "Ff"s and "Gwy"s); a time of enchantments and ancient kings, swords and barrows.  Ethan has been loving the Deltora Quest fantasy TV show and books.  We have lived in the magical world of the Last Airbender for a while now (the books and the wonderful TV show, not the goofy movie).  So maybe, maybe...
My 1969 copy of the book
The cover and the pages have yellowed, but not crumbled.  Ethan was astonished by the cover price: 75 cents (how times have changed, my computer keyboard doesn't even have the little strike-out "c" symbol to render that properly).

But Ethan was suspicious; the book was an unknown entity.  Ignoring him, I picked it up and forged ahead, using my sneak attack maneuver: starting to read out loud while he was seemingly distracted by something else (in this case drawing).  It worked.  Two pages in, he came over and snuggled up against me, rapt.

When I got to the end of the first chapter and went to put it down, he begged me not to stop. "This is too good, Mom, we can't stop here."  And that's when the trap is sprung, "I have to do a few things before bedtime, honey, but you can read the next chapter by yourself if you want."  And he did.

So now, every night for the past three nights we have read two or three chapters.  I read one or two out loud, he reads one or two to himself.  He talks and conjectures about the characters, questions their futures. He pesters me to tell him the secrets, to answer the deep mysteries that are revealed only at the very end.

He howls at my reply: "You'll have to keep reading to find that one out," is placated by the one or two bones I toss him to keep him from dying of curiosity.

And tonight Ethan uttered the words that made my book-loving mother's heart melt anew: "Mom, I love this book."

I am kvelling.  I am over the moon.  The fact that I was exactly Ethan's age when I first read this book?  As thrilling to him as to me. 

For you see, I am a reader, I have been all my life.  Books have been my dearest friends since I was a young child.  And the Prydain series?  My very best friend for many years.

How many times I read these books over and over as a child I could not count.  There is something that deeply captivated me about them, the stories full of large and small perfect moments, the characters richly nuanced.  Watching Taran mature and grow from a feckless youth to a young man, wise and capable of leadership, still stirs my soul.

I always imagined sharing these books with a child of mine someday.  And that day is finally today, and my heart is fluttering.  This is a moment made ever more sweet and precious because for a long time I wasn't sure we would ever get here.

Because Ethan, while like me in many ways, is also clearly not me, made little.  He did not come to reading with joy in his heart.  He is a child of the age of electronics, a computer game kid.  And when he was learning to read at 5?  He declared reading and books "boring."  Way to stab an ice pick into your book-loving mom's heart, kidddo!

It was hard to find the right book to hook him with, a gateway book, as it were, but I worked at it, patiently (don't laugh, I can be patient when I need to).  A lot of trial and error, me holding my peace when books I thought would be a bit hit were declared "stupid" "boring" "girly" "babyish" "scary" and otherwise rejected.

We finally found a few that he liked, such as Louis Sachar's wonderful Sideways Stories from Wayside School books and proceeded from there.
Ethan reading a Wayside School book, summer 2009
Remember, I had a deeply hidden agenda in my back pocket: there were those books from my childhood that had meant so much to me, that I had hoped to someday share at least some of with my children.

Having only boys, and in particular a boy who (my best feminist intentions to the contrary) despised all things deemed "girly," I realized it was unlikely we were going to be visiting my well loved Little House on the Prairie or All-of-a-Kind Family series together.  Island of the Blue Dolphins?  Not likely either.

But a visit to Prydain, Ursula LeGuin's Earthsea?  Maybe... probably... oh YES!

And?  The next "hold my breath" beloved yet boy-friendly childhood book? A Wrinkle in Time Mrs Whatsit, Mrs Who, Mrs Which, chill your jets a little bit longer.  All signs are pointing in the right direction, we're coming soon.

Disclosure: I am an Amazon Associate.  If you click on any of the hotlinks to buy a book, I will receive a (very) small percentage from this purchase.

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