Theo’s 8th Birthday Party

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The theme for Theo’s 8th birthday party was pretty unique. Our local Utah Children’s Theater holds a Shakespeare Festival for kids every year, and this festival happened to occur right at the same time as Theo’s birthday. We had to take advantage!

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As part of the theater, they have a private room where you can hold parties. They offered a “Breakfast with Shakespeare” party where they served made-to-order waffles so we had an early morning birthday party!

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We baked our own birthday cakes this year — something I hadn’t done since his 1st birthday! We used a regular waffle iron and cooked many layers of cake batter “waffles.” Then we frosted them one on top of the other until they were cake-shaped. We ended up with three different cake flavors: chocolate, strawberry, and funfetti!

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After the breakfast/eating waffles portion of the party, the kids were treated to a special abridged Shakespeare performance. It was quite funny and the kids were all well-behaved in their theater seats.

For the party favors, I wanted to emphasize the literary theme of the Shakespeare party, so we gave each child a small notebook and personalized bookmark. It had a great Shakespeare quote, “I count myself in nothing else so happy as in a soul remembering my good friends.” Months later, I was volunteering in Theo’s classroom and saw that one of his classmates was reading a book using his bookmark from the party! I was so happy to see it.

May on TV

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Here are the topics that I mentioned on today’s segment:

           Wednesday, May 18, 7pm at

           Granger High School
           3580 South 3600 West
           West ValleyUT

(NOTE: This is a different location than the one I mentioned on the segment)

To watch the video, click here.

Theo’s “My Family Tree and Me”

This post is not about an activity that Theo and I have done, but about a particular book that has caught our attention this summer in an extraordinary way. A good friend of mine happened to pick it up at the library and once she started reading it, immediately took photos of the pages in the book to share with me. The book was just published in June 2015 and is called “My Family Tree and Me” by Dusan Petricic. One side of the book depicts the paternal family tree line of the main character, a young boy, and when you flip over the book, the other side depicts his maternal family tree line. Here’s one of the reasons why my friend started sending me pics:

I love books that depict multi-racial families and this in itself would have been great: a mixed-race little boy with a Caucasian (redhead even!) father and an Asian (Chinese even!) mother. What a great book for Theo! Then we started reading more of the book and the similarities became even more shocking:

(The illustrated wedding photo of the boy’s aunt and uncle on his dad’s side. And a photo of Theo’s real aunt and uncle. Also a wedding photo of ours.)
(The illustrated photo of the boy’s uncle and uncle on his mother’s side. And my actual brother and his husband.)
On other pages of the book, the aunt is shown in a medical outfit (the real-life aunt is a doctor) and the uncle is shown in a suit and tie and briefcase (the real-life uncle is an attorney). I started asking for more photos of the further generations and received a lot of help from my mother-in-law and my parents. They were able to find photos of every generation, including Theo’s great-great-grandparents on both sides. I loved seeing them! But when I started putting them into the book, it was eerie how similar they looked:
(Photos of Theo’s great-great-grandparents and great-grandparents with the book illustrations of the accompanying generations. It almost looks staged, but it’s not.)
I purchased a copy of the book and pasted each photo into the hard copy of the book, along with the full names of each person listed. It is a wonderful keepsake for Theo to have this kind of photographic family tree and even more special that it has such a whimsical story behind it. There are even more similarities that people close to our family would notice. I thought this was so remarkable that I wrote an email to the publishing company of the book and asked that it be forwarded to the author, Dusan Petricic. Here is what I wrote:
Dear Mr. Petricic,
I recently became aware of your latest book MY FAMILY TREE AND ME from a dear friend who borrowed it from the library for her young daughters. As she was reading it, she became amazed at the similarities between the people in the book and my own family and notified me. I bought my own copy of the book and was stunned. I have attached an annotated version of the beautiful book which includes photos of actual members of my family. The perspective of the main character (the little boy) is that of my son, Theo, who is nearly 7 years old.
[Here I went into the details of all the similarities throughout the book…]
All this to say, we are extremely fond of this book for obvious reasons, and feel as if it is a treasure for Theo to have. Not only for his personal family, but for others to see the depiction of a multi-racial family with couples of all kinds. I wanted to get in touch with you to share our delight and also to ask the question: Where did you get the inspiration for your characters and do you also find it interesting that it so closely matches our own family?
Thank you for your wonderful book and I would love to hear from you.
Warmest regards,
Christina Lau Billings
Of course, I hoped that the author would receive the email and write back, but I also just recently saw the movie “The Fault In Our Stars” and those familiar with the plot of that book/movie will understand my skepticism of actually hearing back. But, amazingly enough, about 3 weeks later, I received this email reply:
Dear Mrs. Billings,
Can you imagine how surprised I was to see so many coincidences between my story and your family.
Unbelievable!
Or, maybe, it is not so unrealistic. Both Canada and US are multiethnic societies, with so many ethnic and racial mixed families.
I have been living in Canada for the last 22 years. My origin is from Serbia, Europe.
And this book is exactly how I see Canada as the society. It was extremely provocative and interesting for me to build up the story, literary, and visually, mixing different cultures, ethnicities and races in one family.
Only details which are not mine are expressions for grandfather and grandmother in Chinese. The editor of the book Debbie Rogosin suggested them to me.
I, even, included some of my personal family facts. I grew up in a socialistic country – Yugoslavia, so I used some communist symbols, and, my father was a military pilot.
Anyway, I am so happy that you might consider the book as the story about your own family.
My sincere regards to Theo, you and your whole family.
Best,
Dušan Petričić
Wow! We were all so excited to hear back from the author and receive such a thoughtful, kind reply. I printed out copies of both letters and inserted them into the book as well.

This whole situation has been such a fun part of our summer and I am so charmed and delighted by it all. So many stunning details that show how wonderful diversity can be in one family and in one little boy. Theo is so lucky.

New Library and Movie Time

I am a huge fan of the Salt Lake City public library system and was excited to check out the latest branch (no pun intended). It is called the Glendale Branch and is located around 1300 South and 1200 West. Everything is new and clean and shiny, including all of the books! They also have a large play area (pictured above) that has blocks and other toys that fidgety kids can enjoy. (Also, hello, it’s going to be over 100 degrees soon, and A/C is a must.)

One fun activity coming up that you can attend and also see the new library is the Big Hero 6 interactive movie screening on July 11. Theo and I went to the same event at our local branch (which is only 6 blocks from our house) and had a fun time. They hand out bags full of props and goodies and tell you when to use them (cheering for the good guys, etc). Sidenote: It was the first time I had seen the movie and I found it interesting that the main character is a multi-racial Asian/Caucasian boy. Studying biracial characters in children’s media has been an interest of mine since graduate school.

Anyway, I am also very looking forward to the new Marmalade Branch of the library system opening soon! It is slightly closer to where we live and I can’t wait to check it (and its books, and its programming) out! (Pun totally intended.)

Summer Kids’ Book Club & Writing Workshop

As I’ve mentioned several times on this blog before, we are big fans of the local book shop, The King’s English. I was so pleased to see that they have summer programming available for children (from preschool through young adults) in the forms of Book Clubs and Writing Workshops.

For the Book Club, they have a different curriculum and set of books for every group, segmented by grade level. The group meets weekly and the discussion is facilitated by an educator. I find it interesting to see what books each group is reading so that kids can read those on their own even if they don’t join the book club.

The Writing Workshops are for kids in grades 3-6 and span different types of creative writing. These could be a great way for a budding author to begin exploring various genres of writing.

I’m so glad that the book shop is committed to educating the community as well as being a lovely book store to visit.

Jane Goodall is Coming to Utah!

When I heard Jane Goodall was coming to Salt Lake City to give a lecture, I knew I had to go and I knew I had to take Theo with me. I remember first learning about her as a child and thought she was the embodiment of intellect, adventure and kindness. Her story is just amazing and I feel it is such a great real-life story for kids to relate to (who doesn’t want to live among the animals?).

She is coming to speak on Friday, April 24, 2015 and information can be found here.

In order to get ready for this event, we will be re-reading the wonderful children’s book, ME…JANE by Patrick McDonnell. The illustrations are adorable and there is a short snippet at the end with a biography of the real Jane from the story. There are other biographies that you can also find that give a wider overview of her research and work, but I feel like this picture book is a nice introduction.

When Theo was younger, it felt like we constantly had Raffi songs playing in the background. Two of the more charming songs had Jane Goodall as the subject matter. They are below: “Roots and Shoots” (referencing the name of her global environmental and humanitarian youth program) and “Jane, Jane.” I am so excited to have the opportunity to see her in person and have Theo experience the inspirational work she does first-hand.

Free Community Exploration Card

My love for the public library is well-known, and we are so lucky to have two great library systems in Salt Lake City. We live in the same neighborhood as the Sweet branch of the Salt Lake City public library system and enjoy the convenience (especially since I put everything on “hold” online so I can efficiently check out the books I want instead of searching for them in the stacks).

A few years ago, a friend of mine told me about this great perk that seems relatively unknown. At the beginning of every month, each branch of the library gives out a limited number of “Community Exploration Cards” that give you free admission for 4 people to the following places for the duration of the month that you get the pass:

You need to have a library card with the SLC public library to get one of these passes. Each household only gets one of these passes in a calendar year, so you have to plan ahead accordingly. Also, they run out quickly so it behooves you to go on the first day of the month that the library is open and go first thing in the morning. We are planning on using our free annual pass in the month of March this year since that is when Theo has spring break and we will be in town.

One Author for the Whole Family

We love to read. I could write a million posts about all of the books and authors we love, but I just wanted to highlight one in particular because it came up coincidentally and recently in our lives. I have been reading the book One More Thing by B. J. Novak, which is a collection of essays and short stories. Yes, B.J. is “Ryan” from “The Office” and is also a comedic genius and all-around amazing guy (also helped in part by his close friendship with Mindy Kaling, my #1 icon). Anyway, as I’m sure is the case with other busy moms and women, I find it hard to find long stretches of time to leisurely read, so this book is perfect because I can pick it up and read short sections and slowly get through it at my own pace. And it is an understatement to say it is funny. I need to find the world’s best thesaurus to come up with words to describe exactly how smart and humorous this book is. This is a grown-up book, with grown-up words, and grown-ups will enjoy it.

While I’ve been savoring this book, I found out that just a few weeks ago, B. J. published a children’s book. What? A children’s book? I admit even though I am a huge fan I thought it was kind of gimmicky. Then I showed Theo the book trailer on YouTube and am now convinced that B. J. Novak is a Super Genius. Have your kids watch this and I can almost guarantee you that they will request to watch it over again immediately:

(There are also other YouTube videos of B.J. reading the book in its entirety which you can search for.)

I am just so tickled that the same guy wrote books for both the grown-up and kid audiences that are so equally delightful. And the message and relationship-building aspects of the kids book are wonderful.  Happy Reading!

Free Monthly Activities

Did you know that you could fill all of your Saturdays every month with FREE activities for kids? There are lots of ways to keep busy and have fun all without paying one penny!

Here are some ideas:

1st Saturday of the Month — “Books 2 Movies,” Park City Library

On the first Saturday of every month, the Park City Library (1255 Park Avenue, near Main Street) shows free screenings of kids movies that have been adapted from books. We went to see “Fantastic Mr. Fox” (a Roald Dahl book) a couple months ago.

2nd Saturday of the Month — “Family Art Saturdays,” Utah Museum of Contemporary Art or UMOCA

The UMOCA downtown (previously known to me as the Salt Lake Art Center, where I used to volunteer in high school) has Family Art Saturdays on every 2nd Saturday of the month from 2-4pm. We went last month and did a stamping/sticker-making project and toured the exhibitions.

Theo placing a wish on Yoko Ono’s WISH TREE.
Placing stickers all over the museum, as part of Family Art Saturday.

3rd Saturday of the month — “Third Saturdays,” Utah Museum of Fine Art

I’ve written about the UMFA on here a couple times before but wanted to mention again that every 3rd Saturday of the month from 1-4pm they have free admission and kids crafts, that coincide with a current exhibition.

Ongoing Saturdays of the month

I’ve previously written on here about the kids cooking classes available at Williams-Sonoma, which run weekly on Saturday mornings.

Also check the Utah Film Center’s schedule for their year-round Tumbleweeds screenings around the state which are always free.