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Camp AJ :: summers with the last boy

31 days of blogging catch-upIn 2012, as the final day of school arrived, I had an idea to make the summer a little different for the last boy. The Dyl was turning 10 years old that summer, and he was involved in his first year of martial arts, but other than that his summer would be basically the same as years past. I was still unemployed, with far too much time on my hands, so the wheels started churning and I decided to create Camp AJ: a weekly day camp for just Dyl and me (known to my family as “AJ” for Aunt Jules). D’s mom and I brainstormed some fun ideas that wouldn’t cost much money and could be repeated during the summer, and I created an invitation to announce the event. D was thrilled at the idea and ready to begin right away!

That summer included fun stuff like swimming and field trips and a sleepover on the final night of the season, as well as a reading program, art projects, a writing journal, and a special celebration of the London Olympics. Mostly, though, these days of Camp AJ were about hanging out together and letting D spend time outside his own house. As the summer wore on our planned schedules became more lax, naturally, but the joy of being together never waned. Dyl and I have a special relationship that is more like friends than aunt-to-nephew and mostly takes place on an intellectual level, so the actual activities are less important sometimes than just doing them together. Which made the first Camp AJ a big success!

I decided to reprise camp this summer because it marked D’s final summer before middle school. Though we’ll always do fun things together, a true “camp” is not likely again for just him and me. 2013 camp activities had to be carefully planned and full of freebies. I wouldn’t say our second camp was as great as the first, but there were still some moments worth remembering.

With two summers worth of memories and photos I’ve decided to make four separate posts from Thursday through Sunday. First up are photos of our repeating activities throughout last summer. The next 3 days will include photos from our field trips, our summer reading program, and the activities from 2013. Come back each day for more untold stories of Camp AJ!

Camp AJ 2012

On our first camp day, Dyl created a couple of summer journals. We used a simple composition book for his writing journal and covered it with white paper that he decorated with rubber stamped images. I also gave him an art journal and colored pencils for his birthday so he could use it all summer for drawings and other fun projects we had planned.
Camp AJ 2012

The final creative project of the summer was story writing. D wasn’t very keen on the idea, but he relented when I told him that the journal was his, and his alone, and no one would be reading what he wrote in it. I guided him just a bit on using art pencils to illustrate his story, then D sat for an hour and created his own little story about himself and a friend. That’s all he would tell me, and I was happy to oblige his privacy. It made this writer’s heart happy to see his storytelling take to paper!
Camp AJ 2012

Dyl is fond of schedules and keeping track of time, so I accommodated him by writing out our daily activities. If we strayed from the plan he would always make arrows to show how we switched up our schedule, and he liked to cross off each item as we completed it.
Camp AJ 2012

Swimming was always on the agenda, and I had to limit our time. If left up to Dyl, he’d spend every Camp AJ hour in the water! After a few weeks he allowed his brother and mom to join us at the pool, too. But they had to go home afterward so that he could continue Camp AJ alone.
Camp AJ 2012

Visits to the library were made a couple times in the summer so that he had plenty of new books to help reach his summer reading goal. Most always he chose biographies about professional hockey players. He and his brother are sports-minded guys!Camp AJ 2012

Sodapalooza at RaceTrac convenience stores is a mainstay for our summers, and the 69 cent price helped us keep the budget down while still enjoying a treat every week. For Dyl it’s always the same: layers upon layers of multi-colored slushes. For me, Coca-Cola or a frozen Coke with a single shot of frozen cherry is all I ever need.
Camp AJ 2012

One of the highlights of the summer, of course, was the London Olympics, and I made sure to include some fun projects for Dyl that related to the games. His dad was able to travel to London just a few months prior, so D was very interested in all things England. Dyl and I sought out some stickers featuring the city, and I helped him create the Olympic rings with paint and a glass jar. He added the other personal touches, like raindrops falling on the double-decker bus. Of all the little art projects he did, this one was surely his favorite.
Camp AJ 2012

My own favorite project was a gift I made for Dyl. I searched the interwebs for kid-level activities related to the Olympic Games and compiled an activity book for D to engage him even further into the festivities. His favorite pages were the ones listing every Olympiad and the year, along with the flags of the host countries. I didn’t know when I was creating it that D had been asking his family over and over about the years and locations of past Olympics. Funny how our minds are so alike at times!

You can view the entire book below (with Flash) or click here to visit


Come back tomorrow for more stories and photos from Camp AJ. If you’ve missed any of this month’s Blogging Catch-Up, you can see a list of the posts on this index page. You can also subscribe to phrenetical and receive new posts via email. Just complete the form below.

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31 Days is a challenge issued by The Nester to post on your blog each day in October. You can check out other participants by visiting the official 31 Days welcome page.


a photo book for Kiwi’s senior year

Before Kiwi even began her senior year of high school I knew what my gift to her would be: a photo book documenting the year. My sisters helped me capture the best photos, and as the year pressed on I also began collecting every Facebook post that Kiwi made. A huge undertaking, as you can imagine! By the time graduation rolled around I had thousands of photos and many hundreds of status posts, as well as a large collection of song lyrics (her favorite post category). Turning that “library of Kiwi” into a single 40-page book would prove to be a great challenge for me.

It took a full year + one day to complete the book and put it into the hands of the now-college girl, but her response was worth every stumble I made in the creation process. She’d known about the book for two years by then but did not know what might be included. Rather than re-creating a yearbook for her – her school had done that – I used Kiwi’s own words and added photos to enhance her thoughts. I took her to lunch and simply handed her the book wrapped in clear plastic so there would be no further delay.

She opened the book immediately and began gingerly turning the pages, one by one, slowly and methodically until she reached the end. She lingered here and there, made a comment or two, but didn’t say a lot about it other than the fact that she liked the look of it and the photos I’d chosen. But I had no doubt that she loved the book when she pulled it out a couple hours later and showed her grandmother, then sat on a couch and paged through the book again.

I might have expected a more vocal response, since Kiwi is a very dramatic girl, but as she looked through the book a second time I understood that she was soaking it all in. Her first (challenging) year of college was behind her and high school was already a distant memory. She’s not yet nostalgic, but she is aware how much she’s changed in just 12 months. And that was really my purpose in creating the book: for her to look back at her 17-year-old self and be able to celebrate the past as well as everything that came after that year. What is now a nice little photo book will bring cherished recollection in 20 years. And that’s the main reason I craft gifts by hand any time I can.

With Kiwi’s permission, here is a sampling of her senior book, written in her own words:

front and back covers
Kiwi's memory book

Kiwi's memory book

Kiwi's memory book

Kiwi's memory book

Kiwi's memory book

Kiwi's memory book

Kiwi's memory book

Kiwi's memory book

Kiwi's memory book

Join me again tomorrow on phrenetical for another untold story. Want to receive posts via email? Just sign up below.

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31 Days is a challenge issued by The Nester to post on your blog each day in October. Click here for a list of my “31 days” posts. You can check out other participants by visiting the official 31 Days welcome page.


a graduation celebration for the first boy

Welcome to Day One of the 31 Days Challenge! To kick things off I have a few untold stories to share from recent months. If you’d like to keep up with all the posts throughout this month you can go to my Blogging Catch-Up index page for a list of each new story as it’s posted.

First up, two notable events occurred this past summer: (1) moving out of my apartment without a new home secured(!) and (2) the graduation of the first boy. Since the apartment saga was scary and a true test of faith, I’d rather begin this 31 days of ketchup catch-up with the joyous family celebration.


On June 6, K2 graduated from high school with a class of 350+. Like last year when Kiwi graduated, my extended-immediate family gathered together for congratulations and celebration. Though not everyone could attend the Friday morning commencement ceremony, we all joined K2 on Sunday for lunch and simple festivities in honor of him. This is one of the things the kids will remember as they grow older – that a large part of their family was always around for celebrations of accomplishments and happy occasions. They’ll remember the trips to relatives who live far away, but I think they’ll also cherish the regular ol’ visits by their Texas grandparents, cousins, aunts, and uncles. Spontaneous reunions with my parents’ families are still some of my favorite memories, and I believe K2 and Kiwi will look back on these graduation celebrations with a grateful heart for being loved so well.

K2’s ceremony took place at a local church which hosted back-to-back commencements for surrounding high schools throughout the weekend. The auditorium was lit with his school colors of navy blue and orange, and the seats were filled with rambunctious well-wishers. Despite the number of graduates, the ceremony went quickly and smoothly. Even K2’s brother, the Dyl, didn’t get restless until the very end. I think the only “hiccup” in the whole morning was the nightmare traffic while trying to leave the parking lot! Beyond that, it was a good ceremony with no hijinks. Which is nice but also a little sad; my own high school graduation featured a handoff of hundreds of black marbles to the person shaking our hands. Harmless, but memorable. 🙂

As the procession of graduates filled the auditorium, Dyl and his dad did their best to capture video of K2’s entrance.
Though we all arrived early, our seats were still midway back into the audience. Thankfully, the large screens displayed the important parts of the ceremony, including K2’s walk.
When the ceremony ended it was time for the requisite “photos with the graduate”, and K2 was in such great spirits he never even groaned about the lengthy process. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to capture everyone with my own camera, but these are definitely a few of my favorites.

First up, the graduate and two of his grandparents (my parents).
This one of K2 and his mom (my sister) perfectly captures their relationship.
And this one of the graduate with his brother also gives a glimpse of their fun relationship. Dyl was celebrating his own graduation of sorts – from elementary to middle school – so he loved wearing some of the graduate gear.

Before all was said and done I was able to capture K2 in a moment of contemplation (pictured at top), and that was my favorite moment of the entire day. Even when everyone gathered together at Olive Garden that afternoon and then the remaining family members joined us for another celebration two days later, my favorite moments were those when K2 was caught reflecting on being a graduate. I think it was a special time for him, as it was for all of us who love him.

Come back to phrenetical tomorrow for another untold story from this year. You can also subscribe to posts via email by completing the form below. It’s gonna be a fun month of blogging catch-up!

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

31 Days is a challenge issued by The Nester to post on your blog each day in October. Take a minute to check out other participants by visiting the official 31 Days welcome page. There’s a lot of really great writing going on this month!