Category Archives: Family Fun

Chapter 4: The Boy Who Guessed the Secret Name

Once upon a time there was a group of old women who liked to get together and knit in the village square, and while they knitted, they bragged about their children.

“My daughter makes beautiful dresses,” said the tailor’s wife.

“My son can grind wheat faster than any man in the kingdom!” said the miller’s wife.

The baker’s wife, who often felt inferior in front of her friends and wanted to prove that her child was just as good as theirs said, “My son can bake loaves of dough into bricks of gold.”

Well, none of the other women could top that, and the baker’s wife felt satisfied, even if it was a complete lie. Little did she know that her statement was overheard by a servant from the castle.

“He can bake loaves of dough in to bricks of gold?!” exclaimed the Queen when the servant told her. “Bring him to the castle at once!”

The young man and his mother were brought before the queen. “Is it true you can bake dough into bricks of gold?”

“Uh . . . no,” said the boy, with a puzzled glance at his mother.

“He is just being modest,” said the baker’s wife. “Go on, tell the queen the truth, son.”

“I am telling the truth. I don’t know how to bake dough into gold.”

“Well,” said the queen. “We shall see about that.”

She put the boy in the royal kitchen with a huge pile of dough. “I want all of this dough made into bricks of gold by morning or we will chop off your head.” And then she bolted the door.

The young man sat on the bench, feeling very confused as to how he came to be in this dreadful predicament. After all, was it even possible to make dough into gold? Did they share any similar chemical components? He looked around to see if there was a way he could escape, but escaping seemed just as likely as turning things into gold.

“I can turn anything into anything,” said a small voice.

The young man, whose name was Alastair, looked around. “Who said that?”

“Me,” said the voice, and a black rat jumped up onto the table.

The boy frowned. “I don’t think it’s very sanitary for you to be in the kitchen.”

“Does it matter? You don’t want to turn the dough into food to eat, you want to turn it into gold. And I can help you do that.”

Alastair laughed. He laughed and laughed and laughed.

“Stop laughing,” squeaked the rat.

“First of all,” said the boy, regaining his composure, “why are you so excited to help me? What’s in it for you?”

“Because we both need something. You need to turn this dough into gold to save your life, and I need a baby that I can raise to be my apprentice and carry on my wicked legacy.”

The boy shrugged. “I can’t help you. I don’t have a baby brother or sister. I don’t own a baby, and I can’t give birth to a baby. Maybe you should go ask a girl.”

“Stop being difficult,” said the rat. “If you make this dough into bricks of gold, the queen plans on having you wed her daughter, the princess.”

Alastair narrowed his eyes. “Is she a baby?”

“No, you imbecile! She is a perfectly beautiful young woman, only a year younger than you.”

“Is that so?” said the boy as he pulled up a stool and leaned on the table. “Tell me more about her.”

“She’s everything you ever dreamed of, with hair like the sunrise and lips like the sunset.”

“Well, what are we waiting for? Let’s bake some gold!”

The rat held up her paws. “Not so fast. Before I help you, you must promise to give me your first-born child, if it’s a girl.”

“And if it’s a boy?” asked Alastair.

“You can keep it.”

“You got yourself a deal!” The arrangement sounded perfect to Alastair, who didn’t care much for babies, and if he did ever have a baby, he would much rather have a boy than a girl anyway. He shook hands with the rat, and together they began pulling off dough and placing it in the bread pans.

In the morning when the queen unbolted the door, she saw the young man sitting at the table with a confident smile on his face. Stacked next to him was a huge pyramid of golden bricks.

The queen clapped her hands. “Marvelous!” she exclaimed.

Alastair was then introduced to the princess, whom he thought was far more lovely than the rat had described, not to mention affectionate, witty, and smart. They married, and their first year of marriage was so blissful that Alastair forgot all about his promise to the black rat.

****

In time the princess became pregnant. Alastair was filled with excitement and anticipation. On the day of the birth he was the first to hold his new baby girl.

He and his wife were so happy to have this new little princess, and together they took care of her; holding her, bathing her, and making silly faces so she would smile. Alastair cherished his little daughter and couldn’t remember a time that he had ever been happier.

A few weeks later, as the sun peeped over the distant mountains, the princess shook Alastair awake. “Alastair! Get up! There is a rat in our room! Kill it!”

“Yes, yes, wake up and kill the rat, you silly boy!” sang the rat. “But you won’t be able to because we made a bargain.”

Alastair sat up in bed. “You,” he said.

“Yes! It is I! Ha! Ha! Ha! And I know that you’ve been blessed with a beautiful baby girl, which means you owe me something.”

Alastair dashed to the crib and stood in front of the baby. “Never,” he said.

“Alastair?” asked the princess, narrowing her eyes. “What is going on?”

Alastair didn’t know what to tell his wife. He realized now that making a bargain with the rat had been a huge mistake. He was younger then, and he didn’t realize how deeply he would love his baby girl. The thought of this dirty rat taking away his precious child and breaking the heart of his wife made his body tremble with anger. Deal or no deal, there was no chance he would let this rat win.

“Leave this castle at once,” demanded Alastair.

“‘Leave this castle at once,’” mimicked the rat. “A deal is a deal,” she said. “And a magical deal is more binding than any other.”

The princess panicked. “What deal? Alastair, what did you do?”

“I made a deal with this rat that she could have my first-born child . . . if it was a girl.”

“YOU DID WHAAAATT???!!” The princess leaped out of bed and started throwing shoes at the rat. “Get out! Get away from my baby!” she screamed.

The rat dodged all of the shoes with ease until the princess had thrown every shoe in her closet and was panting in exhaustion.

“Tsk, tsk, tsk,” said the rat. “I realize this must be an unpleasant surprise. But a magical deal cannot be broken.” She held out her greedy black paws. “The baby, please. Don’t worry. I’ll take good care of her.”

The princess crumpled into a sobbing heap, but Alastair stood his ground. “There must be another way. Something else I can do for you. I am a prince now. I can give you anything you want. Gold, jewels, silk . . . anything!”

The rat laughed. “I made gold bricks for you out of bread dough. You think I can’t make those things if I want them? What I can’t make is a baby, and we made a deal.”

Alastair reached for a sword and swung it at the rat, but the sword bounced off of her, as if she were protected by an invisible shield.

“Remember, a magical bargain cannot be broken,” said the rat smugly.

“Then we shall make another bargain,” said Alastair.

The rat cocked her head. “Go on.”

“Give me a task and three days to accomplish it. If I can’t, the baby is yours. If I can, you must leave and never return.”

The rat laughed. “Silly boy! You are simply prolonging the inevitable,” she said. “But I do love to make a deal. . .” She caressed her whiskers thoughtfully. After a few moments a sly smile appeared on her face, showing her pointed, yellow teeth. “Very well. Here is your task: you have three days to guess my name. I will visit you on the morning of each new day. If you can guess my name by the third day, you may keep your baby.”

Alastair frowned. “You could ask me to slay a giant or kill a dragon, and you want me to guess your name?”

“If it sounds too easy than we can stick with our original arrangement.”

“You are a dirty rat,” he said, and agreed to the bargain.

Alastair wasted no time. He thought of sending out a proclamation to the kingdom, offering a reward for anyone who knew the name of a talking rat, but the princess pointed out that first, everyone would think he was crazy, and second, he’d probably get hundreds of imposters who would waste their precious time with normal, everyday rats. So they decided it was up to the two of them.

The next morning, a servant brought breakfast into the royal chamber and placed it on the table where the prince and princess were compiling a list of names. The servant bowed. “Anything else, Your Highness?” he asked.

Alastair lifted his teacup and took a sip. “No, thank you, Spinach,” he said.

A few moments later the rat appeared at the window. “Do you know my name?” she asked, blinking her bright black eyes.

“Katrina,” said Alastair.

“Sylvia,” said the princess.

“Marilyn,” said Alastair.

Alastair and the princess tried dozens of names, but the rat shook her head at every one.

“Time’s up!” announced the rat, and she crawled out the window.

The next morning the servant brought in breakfast to the prince and princess while they prepared a whole new list of names.

“Will there be anything else, Your Highness?” asked the servant.

“No, thank you, Spinach,” said Alastair. And the servant departed.

Just as before, the rat appeared at the window and asked, “Do you know my name?”

“Gertrude,” said the princess.

“Grogda,” said Alastair.

“Forcythia,” said the princess.

And just as before, they read through their entire list of names until the rat said, “Time’s up! One day left!” she crowed, and crawled out the window.

The princess was beside herself with grief. “Alastair, what will we do? We can’t let that horrible creature take our baby!”

Alastair wiped her tears and promised that he would find out what the rat’s name was. That night he snuck into the forest and asked the animal creatures if they knew of a black rat. But of course, Alastair did not speak animal, and the animals, being merely animals and not enchanted witches, did not speak human. So that was fruitless.

Depressed, hopeless, and out of ideas, Alastair returned to the castle. He tossed and turned all night, for he knew that on the morrow he must surrender his beloved baby.

In the morning the servant brought breakfast to the couple, who were tearfully making their last list of names.

“Will there be anything else, Your Highness?” asked the servant.

“No, thank you, Spinach,” said Alastair.

But instead of leaving, the servant hesitated. “If you don’t mind me asking, sire, you and the princess seem very distressed.”

“We are distressed. If you do not laugh, I will tell you why. In a few moments a rat is going to appear in that window and ask us to guess her name. If we cannot guess her name then she will take our sweet baby.”

“A talking rat, sire?”

“Yes. You probably think I am crazy.”

“Oh no, sire, I don’t, for I once knew a talking rat.”

“YOU DID?” asked the couple at once.

“Yes. She actually locked me in a tower in the desert when I was five years old and I had to stay there for 10 years. She wasn’t a rat then, of course, she was a witch. Luckily my father saved me and we escaped, but then she followed us to our home where she tried to turn my father into a rat but her spell reflected off a mirror and struck her instead.”

Alastair and the princess stared at Spinach, their mouths agape. “Well, what is her name?”

Spinach bit his lip and looked at the ceiling. “It was a long time ago, and it was a very strange name, and to remember it I had to rhyme it with something. Oh, I remember, it rhymed with . . . with . . . pretzel.”

Just then, they could hear the scratching of something outside the window. Alastair told Spinach to hide under the bed, but Spinach couldn’t fit under the bed, so Alastair told him to crouch down on the side of the bed furthest from the window, so as not to be seen by the rat.

The rat appeared, a smug smile on her face. “Do you know my name?” she said.

Alastair and the princess looked at each other and swallowed.

“Wetzel?” said Alastair.

“Snetzel?” said the princess.

“Fetzel?” said Alastair.

The rat placed her paws on her hips and narrowed her beady eyes. She didn’t like where this was going.

“Zetzel?” said the princess.

“I know!” said Alastair, his face brightening. “It’s Chetzel!”

“Enough of this foolishness! Don’t you think it is time you gave up? You have one more guess!”

The princess looked at Alastair, who glanced at Spinach, who had changed position and was lying on his back with his legs together and both arms stretched up at diagonal angles.

Alastair looked back at the rat. “Could it be . . . Yetzel?”

The rat screamed like she had been tossed in a firepit. She hopped up and down. She tore out handfuls of her fur. She whacked her head against the stone wall. “You cheated! You cheated!” She was in such a rage that she hurled herself out of the window, and was never seen again . . . in that kingdom, anyway.

Alastair, the princess, and their baby lived happily ever after.

And Spinach was knighted.

 

 

 

 

 

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Chapter 3: The Boy Who Brought A Basket to his Grandfather

Once upon a time there was a boy who lived with his father at the edge of a great wood. The boy had bright red hair and everyone called him Little Red. His father, who also had red hair, was called Big Red.

One day Big Red said to Little Red, “You are old enough to go into the forest alone, and I need you to do an important errand for me.” He took a basket, covered by a cloth, and said, “Carry this basket to your grandfather who lives in the middle of the wood. Take care you do not get distracted, for the wood is a wild place. Most of all, you must not lose the basket, nor tell anyone what’s inside.”

“What is in the basket, Father?” asked Little Red.

Big Red leaned over and whispered into Little Red’s ear. The boy’s face became serious and grave. He looked up at his father. “I promise, Father. You can count on me.”

The boy set out on the trail early the next morning, knowing that it would be quite a long walk to his grandfather’s house. As he went, he thought he could hear footsteps behind him, but when he looked no one was there. Then, as he rounded a corner, out from behind a tree stepped a very beautiful fox.

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Danny Dyreng

“Hello, little one,” said the vixen. “Where are you off to on this lovely day?”

“I’m going to my grandfather’s house to give him this basket.”

“That is a big basket for such a small boy. What’s inside?”

“I–I cannot say.”

The vixen cocked her head and pouted. “Why not?” she asked. “I won’t tell anyone. It can be our secret.”

The boy started walking again, but the fox followed close behind.

“Is it bread and wine?” she asked.

Little Red didn’t answer.

“Is it ham and cheese?”

Little Red didn’t answer.

“Is it blueberries and cream?”

Little Red didn’t answer, but he did say, “Having you trotting behind is making me uncomfortable.”

“I am only protecting you from the wild things of the woods,” she said. “You never know when you might meet a wolf or a bear or . . . a rat?”

The pair stopped walking, for a large, black rat sat in the center of the path, blinking her bright black eyes.

“Hello, little boy,” said the rat. “What do you have in that basket?”

“This is my little boy,” said the fox. “Go and find your own little boy. And besides, there is no use asking him. He won’t tell.”

“I’m not interested in little boys,” said the rat to the fox. Then she turned to Little Red and asked, “Could there, by chance, be a baby girl in that basket?”

The fox swiveled her ears toward the boy in interest. “Is there?” she inquired, batting her eyes. “I’m very good with babies.”

“Definitely not,” said Little Red.

With that, the rat scampered into the weeds.

“Nosy rat,” muttered the fox.

The boy gripped the basket a little tighter and walked a little faster. Everyone in the woods was after his basket! It was not light, however, and the farther the boy went, the heavier the basket seemed.

“Ah, you are getting tired. Let me help,” said the fox, and she reached for the basket.

But Little Red held it to his chest. “I’m sorry, Ms. Fox, but it is my basket and only I can carry it. Besides, I’m not tired.” Even though he actually was.

They continued to walk through the forest.

“Oh, look at those flowers off in the distance. Come with me and gather them for your grandpa.”

“No,” said Little Red who kept on walking.

“You must be thirsty. Why don’t you come with me to my den for some tea? Then, once you are refreshed, you can continue on your journey.”

“No,” said Little Red who kept on walking.

“Ouch!” cried the fox, falling down and holding up a limp foot. “I think I’ve twisted my paw. Can you help me?”

But Little Red knew she was pretending and he kept on walking. The fox became angry and she bounded ahead of the boy and blocked the path.

“You shall go no further until you show me what is inside of that basket,” she demanded.

“I will not,” said Little Red.

The vixen stepped menacingly toward him, baring her teeth and backing him up against a tree.

Little Red was very frightened. Surely she would eat him up, whether he showed her what was in the basket or not. If he could only hold her off until he got to his grandfather’s house.

“What lovely, big eyes you have,” said the boy. “I’m certain you could see me from a mile away.”

“Indeed,” said the fox narrowing her eyes.

“And what large, soft pointed ears you have! You could probably hear me breathing from the other side of the forest.”

“That is for certain,” said the fox, twitching her ears.

“And what an amazingly strong jaw you have. It could easily crush my fragile, little bones.”

“Yes!” snarled the fox, showing her teeth.

“And how patient you must be.”

“Huh?”

“Yes, for you are a hunter, and hunters are the most patient of all the animals.”

The fox took a step back. “Most definitely I am,” she said, sitting down primly and wrapping her bushy tail around her legs.

“I am just a small little boy. I cannot run from you, nor can I hide. I also cannot show you what is in my basket. But if you are patient, when we get to my grandfather’s house, he will tell you.”

The vixen laughed. “I am a fox, and I know when someone is playing a trick on me.”

“This is no trick!” said the boy earnestly. “I’m telling the truth. You would be very interested, I think, in what he would tell you. Besides, what I have in my basket, my grandfather has many, many more!”

“Is your grandfather very old?”

“Very old. And feeble.”

The fox decided that she could be patient, especially if there was more of what was in the basket.

“Please, dear fox. Just walk with me a little further through the woods, and protect me from wild bears and wolves like you said, and when we get to my grandfather’s house your curiosity will be satisfied and he’ll give you a bellyful.”

Then it is food! she thought, licking her chops.

The fox was content to walk with the boy and before long they came to the grandfather’s house in the wood. Little Red knocked on the old man’s door.

“Who is it?”

“It is me, Little Red!”

“Who is that with you, Little Red?”

“Oh, just a friend I found in the forest.”

An old man with a bushy red beard opened the door and the fox looked up. Her eyes grew wide and her tail flicked nervously. She glanced around, noticing for the first time the animal hides stretched out on the door, the racks of guns over the mantle and the large fox-skin rug spread out before the hearth.

“Old Red!” she gasped.

“Well hello, little fox,” said the man. “What a lovely coat you have. Would you like to come inside my cottage?”

“Your grandfather is Old Red!” exclaimed the fox.

“Yes, he is,” smiled Little Red. “The greatest hunter in the forest!”

And with that, the fox bounded away and disappeared into the woods.

“It is too bad she couldn’t stay for tea,” said Old Red with a grin. “Oh, well. Let’s see what your father made for me.”

Little Red put the basket on the table and took off the cover revealing a dozen newly fashioned crossbow bolts.

“You are a good boy, Little Red. I was running low. Say,” he said, taking his crossbow down from its place on the wall. “Would like to join me on a fox hunt?”

Little Red smiled.

 

 

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Chapter 1: The Boy Who Was Locked in a Tower

Once upon a time there was a woman named Yetzel who didn’t care much for children or men and definitely did not want to live with either. Instead she dedicated herself to the study of sorcery and became a powerful witch. She lived alone in a small cottage, brewing potions in her kitchen and growing illegal plants in her garden. Though her career kept her stimulated, fulfilled, and busy, she would sometimes feel a surge of loneliness and wonder if maybe it wouldn’t be so bad having a child after all. It might be nice to have an obedient, quiet little girl to share her knowledge with and to pass on her wicked legacy. By the time she warmed up to the idea of having a child she was much too old to have a baby, and though a witch can do many magical things, she cannot make herself pregnant. Eventually she decided that if she couldn’t have her own, she would have to steal someone else’s.

. . . And the couple next door happened to be expecting.

She picked some spinach from her garden, made a salad, and set a spell on it to make it delicious but unsatisfying, so that the person who ate it would want more and more. She placed the salad into a basket, put on her best shawl, and walked to her neighbor’s home.

“Hello! I’m Yetzel, your sweet, innocent neighbor,” said the witch to the young husband when he opened the door. “I heard your wife was expecting, so I brought her some of my prized spinach. I don’t have very much, but I made the sacrifice hoping it would bring her some good.”

The husband and wife were touched by the woman’s kindness, and when she left the wife devoured the salad as if she hadn’t eaten for days. As soon as she finished, she begged her husband for more.

“But it would be rude to ask for more. Remember what the woman said? It is her most prized plant and she doesn’t have very much.”

“But I must have more or I shall die!” wept the wife.

The poor man didn’t know what to do, but he couldn’t bear to see his wife in so much distress. So late that night he snuck into his neighbor’s garden and pulled some spinach. His wife was so grateful that the husband felt justified, so the next night, when she asked him to go again, he didn’t even hesitate.

This time, however, he was caught.

“Thief! How dare you steal from me after I was so generous!” said the witch.

The man trembled in fear and embarrassment. “Forgive me, Yetzel! But my wife says she must have it or she shall die.”

“Is that so? Then we shall have to make a deal,” said the witch, for this was all part of her plan. “If this spinach is so important that your wife will truly die without it, promise to give me your child when it is born, in exchange for your wife’s life.”

Now, the poor man, although he was devoted, was not the brightest husband. He truly was convinced that if he didn’t get the spinach his wife would die (which she wouldn’t have) and he didn’t know his neighbor was a witch (which he couldn’t have), so he decided to make the bargain without his wife’s consent (which he shouldn’t have).

The man promised.

After that, Yetzel gave him all the spinach his wife desired, and by and by the woman gave birth to a beautiful, healthy baby, whom of course they named Spinach.

A few days later the witch came to claim the child. The husband was forced to explain to his wife the shameful arrangement he had made with the witch, and his wife was so overcome with sadness and betrayal that she died right there of a broken heart.

“Ha! Ha! Ha!” laughed the witch. “This makes it so much easier!” She scooped up the baby in her arms and stole away into the night.

Yetzel took the baby far away and began the task of raising it. As with all first-time parents, she encountered some things she hadn’t expected.

First of all, Spinach was a boy. No matter, she thought. If she couldn’t make him into a great witch, she would make him into a great wizard. But as the months went by Spinach turned out to be much louder, much messier, and much more trouble than she expected. He knocked over her potions, he soiled her spell books, played with her frogs and snakes and let them escape, and he was constantly interrupting her when she was in deep, meditative thought.

When Spinach turned five years old Yetzel couldn’t stand it any longer. “If only there was a way to skip this child stage and train him when he is more grown-up and mature!”

This spawned a dreadful plan.

She locked the little boy in a tall tower in the middle of a desert and bricked up the entrance. She would bring him food and water for a decade or so, and once he had grown to a more manageable age, she would let him out and he would be her apprentice and carry on her wicked legacy.

At first the boy didn’t mind being locked in the tower. At least he was away from Mama Yetzel who was always yelling at him for one thing or another. But as the weeks passed, the boy languished. He had plenty of food and water from the witch, (for she would send it up to him via rope and pulley with a basket and then take the rope away with her), but he had no toys or books or friends to play with. To pass time he would count bricks or birds or clouds, but most of the day he just leaned on the window and wished he had someone to talk to.

Back in his cottage, Spinach’s father was also lonely, and tormented with grief and regret. He couldn’t forgive himself for being duped by his neighbor, whom by now he realized was a witch. He vowed to not cut his beard until he found his son. He journeyed near and far, telling his story to everyone who would listen, and asking them if they knew anything about the witch who had taken his precious little boy.

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Syrena Dyreng

One day, when the boy was looking out his window at the vast desert, he saw a bearded man crossing the dunes.

“Hello! Hello!” the boy shouted, and the man looked up.

“Hello, little boy! What are you doing way up in that tower?”

“My mother is hiding me here until I grow up.”

“That is a strange thing for a mother to do,” said the man. “What is your name?”

“Spinach.”

The man knew that there could only one child on the earth with a name like that. “Spinach! I am your father!” he shouted and started dancing around in the sand. Spinach didn’t know he had a father, and didn’t know if he even wanted one or not, but he liked this funny dancing desert man and he laughed so hard he almost fell out of the window.

“How can I get you down?” asked the funny man. “Is there a door?”

“There is no door,” said Spinach. “I can’t ever come down, nor can you come up.”

But this father didn’t travel all around the globe to be stopped by a mere tower. He started to climb. It took him all day, but finally, with bloody fingers and skinned knees he reached the top and dropped over the window sill.

“I’m glad you came, because I have been very lonely,” said the boy. “But now we are both stuck up here.”

“We’ll make do,” said his father. “We are together again, and that is all that matters.”

The father told Spinach the origin of his birth and Spinach was overjoyed to learn that the mean witch was not his real mother. This man was loads more fun than she was, and he never got mad at Spinach for making a mess or being too loud. Instead, they made messes together and were loud together. And every few days the witch would come and bring food and water which they always shared.

“Too bad we don’t have that rope,” said the father one day after the witch left, taking her rope with her.

“We have your beard,” said Spinach who was cleverer than his father. “If you don’t cut it, then someday we can use it as our rope.”

The father thought this was an excellent idea and was proud to have such an intelligent boy.

Over the course of the next few weeks the boy asked the witch for greater portions of food, and the witch obliged, knowing that if he was hungrier, he must be growing, and the sooner he grew the sooner she could use him as a proper apprentice. Meanwhile, the father told his son stories about his travels and the people he’d met. He taught his son to read and write and they sang songs together and created stories on the walls of the tower. On windy days they made kites and flew them out the window. They roasted marshmallows at the fireplace and told ghost stories. They had arm wrestling matches and jumping contests, and all the while the father’s beard grew and grew and grew.

On Spinach’s 15th birthday, they decided to make their escape. The father cut his beard and braided it into a strong rope. That night they tied the rope to the pully, climbed down, and silently slipped away under the desert stars.

The next day, when Yetzel came to bring food, she noticed a long rope coming down from the pulley. She climbed the rope and found the tower much different than when she left Spinach there 10 years before. There was a checkboard carved into the table. There were stories written on the walls. Most telling of all, there were pictures scrawled on the floor of a boy holding hands with a long-bearded man.

Yetzel was furious. Not because someone ran off with her boy that she didn’t particularly want, but because she had been fooled by a fool.

Spinach and his father located a nice place to live next to a blue lake where there was a good school that Spinach could attend. He was very bright and got along with his classmates well. He was so happy that he barely remembered the witch at all, and looked back at his time in the tower with his dad as a happy memory.

Then, one dark night there was a knock at the door. When they opened it, there stood Yetzel, holding a large staff, her bright black eyes blazing with anger.

“You rat!” she said, pointing to Spinach’s father. “How dare you steal away the child that I stole away from you! We made a deal, and you shall pay for this!” She pointed her staff at the man and it began to spark with magic blue light. But just as she began her incantation, Spinach grabbed a mirror from the wall to shield his father. The witch’s spell hit the mirror and bounced back at her. Spinach and his dad watched in astonishment as the witch’s body shriveled and shrank until all that was left of her was a large, black rat.

“Ahhh!” squeaked the rat. “You are more trouble than you are worth! Next time I shall steal a girl baby!!”

Spinach and his father lived happily together for a long time after that, and eventually Spinach got a good job working in the castle and married a lovely young woman. They had many children which made Spinach’s father a very joyful and content old man.

And they always had rat traps set.

 

 

 

 

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Coming Soon: Fairy Tales for Boys

SMP_5137If your family is like my family, you raided the town library as soon as you heard they were about to shut their doors. And, if your family is like my family, you’ve already read all of the books you checked out.

And we still have weeks to go.

Months, perhaps.

Whatever shall we do?

Well, I have a suprise for you.

First, some background: As much as I love all the girl-power movies and books, sometimes I feel like the boys are getting left behind. So a few weeks ago I wrote some fairy tales for my kids. I took stories like Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty, and Goldilocks, and I changed the main character from a girl to a boy.

You’ll be surprised how this small change can alter the entire plot of the story (no matter what people tell you, boys are different than girls). Each fairy tale hero uses the best of his masculine virtues to outwit foxes, outcompete wicked stepbrothers, outcast evil witches, and ultimately achieve his own happy ending . . . with as little kissing as possible.

Girls will love the stories, too, since there are plenty of strong female characters for them to identify with. (Psst: these make great bedtime stories.)

I will be publishing each story, serial-style, on my blog every other day, starting tomorrow. I hope they can be something you and your kiddos can look forward to during these strange and extrodinary times.

The first one is about a boy who was locked in a tower . . .

 

 

 

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Filed under Fairy Tales for Boys, Family Fun, Parenting, writing

A Word You Never Forget

Today my son competed in the school spelling bee. Danny is an incredible speller, and the whole family was very excited for him. Even his older sisters ducked out of school, happy to receive tardy marks in exchange to watch their younger brother compete.

Dan and I worked for weeks on the spelling list, replacing sacred piano practice with spelling practice, and going over words like “gingerbread” and “menthol” over and over again. Danny, competative and confident by nature, was eager to study and excited to display his spelling prowess in front of his classmates and teachers.

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When I arrived at the school library, there were about twenty 4th graders, arranged in two rows on little wooden chairs, facing the proctor. The anxiety in the room was intense. Just before the bee started, six of them needed to use the bathroom and one said she had a migraine (but when questioned further, took a deep breath and said she felt confident she could carry on).

The bee began with the first boy who was asked to spell “chicken” and spelled it wrong. Most of the students did well, though, and they moved on to the second round. By the 5th round half of the students were out.

Danny breezed through the first 7 rounds.

But then, in the 8th round, he stumbled on the word “messenger.” He never missed that word in our practicing. As soon as he finished he knew exactly what he’d done wrong. I could see his face grow hot and red, and watched as the tears threatened.

It was a sad and uncomfortable moment for him, and instead of sitting with the other “defeated” students he came and sat by me, eager to vent his frustration in hushed whispers. (He’s always been a very verbal child.) I told him he did great, handed him a vitamin C lozenge, and told him to be quiet so that we didn’t disrupt the final spellers.

The champion word, the final word that the last boy spelled, was, anticlimactically,  “amino.” Danny looked at me with big, tragic eyes. It was word he knew.

When it was all over, Danny dispared about the paper certificate he received (who wants a certificate?! he says). Yet, he smiled like a champ for the group photo, and he went up to the winner and gave him a high five.

Someone told me once that you should pray for your children to have disappointments. Who came up with such a cruel idea? But over the years I see the wisdom in that advice, and I am grateful for these small disappointments, so that when they experience the inevitable, big disappointments, they’ve already had practice. How else do we learn grace, humilty, composure and resilience

I went up to the mother of the winner, congratulated her on what a fine job her son did, and asked her (with Danny listening at my side) how she prepared her son for the bee. She gave me some great tips, and as she turned away Danny muttered, “I’m going to beat him next year.”

I smiled. Maybe he will, and maybe he won’t. After all, that boy has won three years in a row now, setting a school record. I am confident, however, that Danny will never spell “messenger” wrong again. Just like my husband who will never misspell “walnut” (he spelled it wallnut) and my daughter who will never misspell “undertow” (she spelled it undertoe). You never forget the word that you missed in a school spelling bee.

At the dinner table we will laugh about it and commiserate, everyone will (once again) share their past spelling bee fumbles, and Danny will know he is in good company.

And tonight I will thank Heavenly Father for all the things Danny learned because he did not win.

 

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Filed under Family Fun, Parenting

The Best Motel in Jackson Hole

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If you travel to Jackson Hole, and you need a comfortable place to stay the night, look for a mountain that resembles a Native American chief, laying on his back with his arms folded across his chest. Now turn 180 degrees. You will be facing my family’s motel, located 1 mile north of Jackson Hole.

When I was 11 years old the Flat Creek Motel was built just down the hill from my house. I remember walking through one of the framed units with my dad. We leased the motel for a couple decades, but about 6 years ago the motel returned to our hands, and is now owned by my mom, my siblings and me.

The motel is rustic but comfortable, and every room has a view. (Besides having a spectacular perspective of Sleeping Indian and Snow King, it is also faces the largest elk refuge in the world).  My nieces and nephews change the sheets, clean the rooms, make promotional videos and run the desk. My brother works the web cams. My sister-in-law decorated the lobby. My other brother is one of our certified fuel tank operators, my sister does the bookkeeping and marketing. Another sister (and more nieces and nephews) writes blog posts. My brother-in-law manages the finances. My stepfather fixes electrical problems. Another sister does the flowers . . . This is all just a smidgen of the things my siblings do to make this motel a comfortable place to kick off your boots rest your head.

I don’t get to help out very much with the motel because I am the black sheep who moved to the East Coast, but I did create the logo and I print the business cards. (You can see the logo on Instagram @flatcreekinn.)

This summer we brought our kids out West to experience the motel for themselves.

I entered the lobby and was greeted warmly by a handsome young man . . .

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. . . who happens to be my nephew. In the lobby there are photos of my dad, back when the property was a firework stand and gas station. There is also a jack-a-lope mounted on the wall. (Very rare.)

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And check out the sweet, retro keys he gave me for my room. No flimsy credit card keys at this motel.

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Our room was clean and warm. Our towels were folded into trumpeter swans. Our kitchenette was stocked with utensils and dishware, as well as a toaster, knives and whatever else we would need. (I’ve stayed in Airbnbs that were not as well equipped.) At 10 pm we realized we’d forgotten to get picnic supplies for our excursions the next day, but it was no problem because we found everything we needed at the motel’s convenience store. How cool is that?

I had the best night sleep I’ve had in a long time. Maybe it was because of the ultra-comfortable mattress I slept on. Or perhaps it was because I spent the whole day paddling a canoe in a glacier-fed, emerald-green lake at the foot of the Tetons.

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Don’t hate me.

The next night I had an even better night sleep. Was it that fabulous mattress again? Was it listening to the sandhill crane out in the elk refuge? Or was it because we’d spent the day in Yellowstone checking out the bison and geysers?

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Who knows? All I know is that I was sad to leave, and that I will definitely be back.

Thanks, Flat Creek Inn. #flatcreekinn #thatswy

To book your dream vacation to the Tetons click here.

 

 

 

 

 

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Without Fear There Are No Stories

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Four months ago we were driving up I-15 on our way to the Salt Lake City International Airport. We sold our house, gave away our cat, loaned out our dog, said goodbye to some of the dearest friends I have ever had, and now were heading to England with our five kids and 17 pieces of luggage.

And I felt like I was going to throw up.

To be honest, it wasn’t that we were moving to England that was causing me to be sick. It was the airplane ride across the Atlantic.

I hate flying, and the only way I can get myself on a plane is to remind myself that there are worse ways to die. I remember once flying across the country by myself and forcing myself to read a book so that I wouldn’t think about the plane engine catching fire and spinning out of control and crashing into Kansas. The book was called In the Garden of Beasts by Eric Larson. It is about Berlin, Germany in the years leading up to WWII. Halfway through the book I realized that dying on a plane crash would actually be a relatively pleasant way to go, and to this day I remind myself of that every time I board a plane.

When we arrived in Oxford there were a myriad of new things to worry about. Talking to people I didn’t know, figuring out how to get from point A to point B without getting lost or mugged or run over by double decker buses, and making sure my kids didn’t cross the road without looking both ways.

One thing was for certain: I would not ride a bike. It was far too dangerous. There is so much traffic, and the roads are cramped. So I spent the first couple weeks walking from the grocery store, to church, to the schools, and my feet were killing me. As I walked dozens of bikers would leisurely sail by and I gazed at them the way a man in a rowboat gazes at passing yachts. There would be a father on a tandem bike, his child peddling along behind him, or mothers who had sometimes up to four children chatting away happily in little rickshaw-like contraptions. Grannies passed me, with their big baskets and bells chiming and scarves flying. College students casually peddled down the road with ear buds in their ears and their hands in their pockets. The more I watched these people, the more archaic walking seemed. One day I walked by the train station and saw hundreds upon hundreds of bikes in a bike rack the size of four tennis courts. Surely, I thought, these people are no more intelligent or coordinated than I am. Finally I started to think that if all of those people can do it, so can I.

But what really drove me to get on a bike was laundry day.

The nearest laundromat is 2 miles away, and I had four loads of laundry. There was no way I could do this job on foot. So I loaded up a huge duffle bag and strapped it to my back, said a prayer, and that is how I started biking in Oxford.

And guess what? Biking is my favorite thing to do. I can’t even tell you how much I love riding my bike around Oxford. Many times I can get places faster than my friends who have cars. I create no pollution. I buy no gas. I know the quick routes and the scenic routes. I love biking along the canals where the swans and ducks swim along side the long canal boats. I love braving the roundabouts where I am the only bike and their are four cars. I don’t even mind carrying my bike up steps and bridges, since it makes me feel like an athlete. I have biked to all corners of Oxford, from the LDS church in the south, to JRR Tolkien’s grave in the north, to CS Lewis’ home in the east and of course, the laundromat and craft store in the west. I feel like I am ten years old again with the wind in my face, soaring like a bird.

We mustn’t be afraid. Seriously. We will all die some point anyway, and to not do something that we want to do simply because we are afraid ensures that we don’t even live. If I find that I am not doing something that I want to do simply because I am afraid than I make myself do it. (This is different than doing something I DON’T want to do. For instance, I am afraid to go sky diving, but I also do not want to do it, therefor I see no reason why I should. However, I do want to go to Australia someday, even though I am afraid to (plane ride), so I should just do it.)

This whole England experience has been a series of  stepping from one fear to another. Should I let my kids walk to the store by themselves? Should I let Dan ride his bike to school? Should Scott rent a car and drive on the left side of the road?

And should we ride with him?

If I had listened to that fear we would have missed out on the White Cliffs of Dover, Stonehenge, the Battle of Hastings, hiking in the Cotswolds and Tintern Abby in Wales. Those were some of our best memories. Scott turned out to be an absolutely brilliant driver, just like he is when he drives on the right side of the road. 😉

I remember walking my daughter to school one day and she confided to me how nervous she was to go on the school trip to Wales for a week. I told her I knew how she felt. But if we only did safe things we’d never have stories to tell.

Letting kids conquer their own fears and allowing them to be brave and successful is one of the most satisfying things about parenthood, and has been the best part of this trip to England. I could make a huge list of things my children have accomplished these past four months that they didn’t think they could do, but I won’t embarrass them. But I will say I am so proud of all of them, for they have done hard so beautifully, and now they have so many stories to tell!

 

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Filed under Family Fun, Oxford, Parenting