Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

2009 New Year's Resolutions and To Do List

-Get finances in order (joint checking act? write budget. deferred comp plan?)
-Write will (life insurance? who gets kids????)
-Finish works in progress (8 year old orange scarf; 10 year old rayon skirt--send to sister)
-Write daily (Wild Mind; What If?; Writing the Natural Way)
-Finish/Submit more work
-Practice Mindfulness
-Go to yoga/pilates classes at lunchtime
-Organize house (kids' room--bunk beds, book shelves; basement; arts & crafts)
-Do more spontaneous creativity with kids
-Read Dickens
-Continue w/ Zine--3 issues
-Carve out creative time daily
-Be patient
-Return to Nature Journal (daily? weekly?)
-Finish "Drawing on Right Side of Brain" workbook (started in 2005!)
-Practice Gratitude (Xmas Thank-You Notes first)
-Volunteer
-Deal with anxiety/stress (yoga? pills? Rescue Remedy?)
-Suspend disbelief more often
-Join YMCA (Xmas gift certificate)
-Learn to shop at thrift stores
-Swim weekly (need goggle strap--old one melted--and poss new suit?)

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P. S. Check out my essay in my alma mater's alumni newsletter.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Handmade Holiday, Part II: The Sweatshop

There is great relief in knowing I am DONE...other than a couple of pies and some Stollen...one big project I just had to let go of, and decide I would finish it after Christmas; several others I never even started (maybe some other time). I had wanted to make something for all seven (seven!) of M's teachers (and the bus driver) but that will have to wait until the end of the year (better get started in March). Overall I am quite pleased to have pulled off a largely handmade holiday. I did buy some things...socks, underwear, a stereoscope microscope for M, a lyre for E and Z (part of my quest to be a Waldorf wanna-be), a pair of axes for C (hope they get here in time!), some used books for everyone, some art supplies...not a totally buy-nothing Christmas (to which my bank account will attest), but not too bad overall.

A Million Mittens
(that's E's foot in the corner)










A flock of birds.










Three kinds of candy.










I packaged mittens, candy and a bird, along with a jar of handmade beeswax handcream from the farm down the road for most of our adult relatives. After I made the candy, I learned my dad has been diagnosed with diabetes and then I remembered my sister and her husband are on Weight Watchers. Oops.

Freezer Paper Stencils Shirts










I found two brand-new white turtlenecks in our hand-me-down box. Score.



Crazy Pants and Stenciled Shirts.

Now I know why everyone's addicted to freezer paper stenciling. Even with very limited artistic skill, you can produce great results!


C's bucket hat.


It's supposed to look like this, but I don't know...it's my first attempt at crochet (see that little tail of yarn? I have to have someone at work show me how to finish it!
A superhero cape for M, who's the only one to not get one at birthday time.



And finally, gnome ornaments.




Thursday, December 18, 2008

More Gnomes and Villages

Lone Star Ma asked for more on the gnomes, but first I want to talk more about the village. C's grandmother gave me these little wooden houses years ago, and while I normally am annoyed by all gifts from my in-laws on principle, I love these houses because they are exactly like one from a set my mom has. The weird thing is, my mom bought hers in Denver and C's grandmother has always lived in New England, and I've never seen any other houses like them elsewhere. I always loved setting up all the little pieces on some snowy white batting fabric at the base of our tree. My mom's collection is more extensive, with little people and animals, a train and a nativity scene. Every year I hint that she should give it to me, but so far she hasn't fallen for it.



Now, onto the gnomes. The pattern comes from this book but I think you can manage to make them without the book. I used little wooden people bodies from here. They come in several sizes and shapes, including dwarfs with already pointy heads. I believe I used the "small wooden folk" size. I used wool-blend felt from a nearby quilting store, which is nicer to the touch and more durable than the acrylic craft store kind, but much less expensive than the 100% wool kind. But if you want to use the all-natural kind, try here.

Cut a rectangle of felt the height of the doll body and the length of its circumference. Wrap around and glue on. Cut a circle of felt about 1/4 or so bigger than the doll base; cut a small circle inside of that and cut out a wedge (like a doughnut with a bite out of it). Sew around the inner circle with a running stitch, wrap around the doll's neck, pull tight and tie off. The hat is basically a lopsided triangle, wider than it is tall and the two side pieces slightly curved (you'd never know I got an A+ in geometry would you? I can't even remember the parts of a triangle). Fold in half and sew the curved sides together. Glue onto the head. Wish I had pictures of the process, but fiddle with it and you should be able to come up with a passable gnome hat. You could probably do the whole thing with glue and no sewing, if you have the patience for the glue to dry.
Gnomes surveying the damage to their ransacked village. The one on the right E made by gluing scraps of felt around the body...even easier than measuring and cutting.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Gleam

The Fly Lady says that when you feel overwhelmed by the mess in your house, clean the sink. Monday night, after spinning my wheels on the computer all morning, then taking two hours to get out the door to go to town for bagels and the library and while there spontaneously taking the twins to a salon for emergency haircuts to try and repair the hack jobs they gave themselves/each other (when I got home C said, "that's a professional haircut?" which I guess I should take as a compliment of my own haircutting skills, but I don't know...), then doing damage control after M got off the bus and found the mess his brothers made of his stuff while I was on the computer, and then finally having a slightly more productive afternoon while they went rock-hounding outside and watched TV (my personal savior this Christmas is the library's vast Peep & Quack DVD collection)....after all that, and a dinner of bagel melts and leftover Thai food, I surveyed my ransacked house and felt despair. So I washed the sink.


I followed the Fly Lady's technique, only substituting vinegar for the bleach, Bon Ami for the Comet, and vinegar and water for the Windex...you know, just to avoid deadly chlorine gas when the ammonia and bleach react with each other. And my sink GLEAMED. So what if the floor looks like a family of giant hampsters lives here (what's up with three year olds and cutting up paper?)? So what if the bathroom smells like pee? So what if we haven't folded laundry in a fortnight? So what if I have to avert my eyes from the bathroom sink? My kitchen sink is SHINY!

I would have taken a picture, but it was night and the light was poor, and C filled it with dishes almost immediately (but he did vacuum the hampster cage, er, living room while I went to the co-op).


I can't really bring myself to follow the rest of the Fly Lady's program. The task for the second day is to keep your sink shiny and get dressed. I can't imagine being in such despair (or having the leisure) to not get dressed (barring occassional wearing jammies while I clean the house all morning days). I skipped ahead a few days and found the task of tackling a "hot spot" for five minutes, but everywhere I look there are hotspots (bedroom chair, kitchen table, kitchen counters, bathroom counters, washing machine top, kid's art table, sewing table, hutch, mudroom dresser, entire basement) and I get overwhelmed, which only leads to washing the sink again.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Handmade Holiday, Part I: The False Sense of Security Hats

I started these hats for E and Z back in September, with yarn I bought in July. I used this pattern, which was super easy (and the first time I used circular needles, which I LOVED), and Noro Kureyon self-striping yarn (C was very impressed with my color choices until I told him the yarn did it by itself...but I did pick out the yarn!) and knitted away merrily on car trips and during evening movies throughout September and October, finishing the second one on Thanksgiving weekend. Ha! I thought. Way ahead of the game, I boasted. Ha, ha, ha, indeed! Joke's on me. But they are done and other projects are chugging along, with hopes of seeing the light of day Xmas morning.

I was going for this look, from The Land of Elves by Daniela Dresher. I'm afraid my stems look a little more like nipples. I'm also afraid they won't fit E and Z...they seem a little loosish and the pattern was rather vague about where you should stop knitting and how much to decrease. In any case, it's two presents down...god knows how many to go...the Mitten Maniac will be at the machine tonight, alternating swigs of red wine and black tea.

Monday, December 15, 2008

The Holiday Spirit

Here's a useful service Snapfish could provide—send them your mailing list and they address and mail all of your cards. I just spent as much time trying to figure out how to print out mailing labels as it would have taken to hand-address all of my cards. I even went as far as calling in to work for help, but Boris, our receptionist who usually does my mail merges was out for the day and the only other person who knows how to do it was in a meeting. The rest of us avoid such knowledge at all costs for fear we might actually have to use it. On top of that, I only ordered 60 cards, but there are 67 people on our mailing list, so I've been trying to weed out 7 card recipients based on a complex calculus of how closely related they are and how recently they've seen the kids...not exactly the spirit of giving.

And what I really want right now is to send the twins to daycare (remember that daycare that I don't want to send them to?) so I can GET SOMETHING DONE. Right now they're in the kitchen eating cold cereal right out of the box—usually a big no-no in our house, but hey it's keeping them quiet and not breaking things. I saw this video last week, and I liked it a lot (except the worshipy bit), except I have to say that MAKING more things (rather than buying them) and spending more TIME with people are mutually exclusive. As usual I've taken on way more than I can manage (and I've been eliminating things from the list—good-bye hand-sawn tree blocks), and it just makes me crazy, anxious and cranky...not at all jolly or ho-ho-ho. Then there's the fact that I'm finding it impossible to find an axe that's MADE in Maine sold in any stores in Maine. I've concluded I'll have to order it from Ohio. What's up with that?

Meanwhile, C, as if there's a certain amount of consumptive energy in the world that must be expended, has done more Christmas shopping than I've ever seen him do in his life, now that I'm trying to BUY as little as possible. When I first met him, he would fish around in the junk drawer for presents, and before M was born, he insisted the only toys he'd ever need were cardboard boxes and rocks, and he's always going around ranting about all the toys we have in our house. Yesterday he called me from the TOY STORE, asking if there was anything I needed him to pick up there. Huh?

We did manage to make two batches of Christmas cookies this weekend (sugar and chocolate gingerbread), which is a big improvement over last year when we made the cookies (or was it candy?) the day AFTER Christmas. Although now that I think about it, that was kind of fun. We also went out into the woods to collect our tree—one of my favorite traditions—and after the ice from Thursday and Friday's ice storm melted off we decorated it (and rebuilt the village with more little wooden houses and trees—it has since been ransacked by the household barbarians several times). But I'm all the time thinking (Sew! Knit! Crochet! Saw! Bake!)

Even if the Christmas Spirit is not seizing me, I do feel something. This time of year turns me from the emotionless Ice Queen I normally am into a weepy sentimental heap reminiscent of the first few weeks of new motherhood. One of my favorite ways to celebrate is to put John Denver and The Muppets A Christmas Together on the record player (it must be the record; the CD lacks crucial songs), turn off all the lights but the tree and sit in the semi-darkness weeping into my eggnog and rum because both John Denver and Jim Henson are dead and because the songs on that album are so damn melancholy.

M has been interested in WAR lately (always...damn Y chromosome) and was reading a pretty dry book on WWI. I was on the lookout for more human stories of war and ran across Christmas in the Trenches while at the library recently. M read it Sunday and then put on the accompanying CD, which tells the story and also has Stille Nacht and a song with the same title as the book. It's about a ceasefire on Christmas Eve 1914 when the Germans brought over a tree to the British and the two sides sang and exchanged gifts before returning to their own sides and the war. I sat under the tree, untangling my childhood ornaments and various Styrofoam and cardboard ornaments M has made since preschool, tears streaming down my face. Stupid Christmas.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Winter Village

Last Monday M was home sick from school and we decided to build this winter village. I briefly considered digging the Christmas decorations, which include some tiny houses and people, out of the basement, but thought better of it. Instead we used some wooden houses from our train set and a mini farm that we got as a hand-me-down and which I was hanging onto for a rainy (or snowy) day. M built the quartz mines and Z put in the rainbow fences.


We made some gnomes to populate the village...and one tiny gnome is guarding one of our tiny terrariums. These projects seem to work better spontaneously than if I try to plan them, but there is a saturation point, and once they hit it, things start flying. I need to get better at detecting when we're going to lose interest before it happens.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Anticipation

We are rapidly barreling toward that Day of Days (barely two weeks! Yikes!). Every time it snows, E asks, "Santa Claus coming tonight?" Dear god, I hope not! We're not quite getting the concepts of time and waiting...even with the "help" of advent calendars.

There are a lot of wonderful Advent calendar ideas out there in the internet craftland, but I just don't have the energy (or time)...also I don't love the idea of my kids opening 24 presents leading up to Christmas, when they'll get MORE presents and family friends gave each boy two Advent calendars--one paper with pictures and one with chocolates. I'm kind of lusting over one of these pricey little jobbies...do you think I could saw, sand and drill myself one in time for next December?


Instead of an advent calendar, for the last few years I've wrapped up some of our Christmas books and we've opened one a day. The first couple of times it was only M opening them, so it worked out well, but last year we had fights over who got to open them. This year I considered wrapped three books for each day (yeah, we have that many Christmas/winter books...but in my defense most of them are hand-me-downs), but that just seemed crazy, so I just labeled them with the day and each kid's name (happily 24 is divisible by 3)...still there is much drama over who gets to open the books and then issues around the person opening the book thinking he owns the book...tis the season for fistfights! And M is (sniff, sniff) getting a little too old for picture books, so he usually opens his and then heads off to read Captain Underpants or Encyclopedia Brown, although he did read The Polar Express to us the other night.

Some of our favorite Christmas and winter books:

Anything by Jan Brett, especially if it includes Trolls (last year I had to hid Trouble With Trolls under the bed because I got sick of reading it), but also The Mitten and the Gingerbread Baby.

A Jolly Christmas at the Patterprints by Vera Nyce. We inherited this book when C's grandparents moved out of their farmhouse and it is probably the most fun Christmas story I've read.


A Christmas Stocking Story, by Hillary Knight, which I got as part of a set of four teeny tiny books when I was little.

Emmet Otter's Jugband Christmas, by Russel Hoban. Such a sweet story (by the author and illustrator of the Francis books)...also my favorite Christmas movie.

How the Rabbits found Christmas, by Ann Scott. One of my childhood books.

My Wonderful Christmas Tree, by Maine Artist/Illustrator Dahlov Ipcar.

I'm sure I'll think of more, once we've opened them all (last night was Little Critter's Merry Christmas Mom and Dad and Five Little Foxes and the Snow...both short, sweet additions to the list); and I'm sure MY favorites are not necessarily my kids' favorites, but this way we do manage to get all those Christmas books read during the right season, and then put away so we're not reading Rudolph in July.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Caps

This weekend I held a little party to make baby hats for Soulemama's Mama to Mama Caps to Cap-Haitien project. I picked up a bunch of 2XL t-shirts in lollipop colors at Good Will.






I assembled my materials.



Our predicted snow showers turned out to be an all-day snow, with the temp hovering around freezing. Only one intrepid guest braved the icy roads (and nearly landed in a ditch). I tried not to take the weather personally; we had a very pleasant visit (sans children...we actually finished a sentence or two!) and managed to whip up 25 hats--which is about 25 more than I would have even attempted if I hadn't planned a party, so it all worked out. As collateral benefits, I got to eat 3/4 of a honey cake with lemon icing (I'd share a picture, but it came out blurry) by myself, and my house got cleaned about two-and-a-half weeks earlier than it would have otherwise.




I thought I would feel bad cutting up perfectly good T-shirts, but it was OK (which means I can make some T-shirt skirts next summer!) It was kind of weird to think about these shirts made in sweat shops in Guatemala and Honduras, sold in Wal-Marts and Fashion Bugs, then donated to Good Will, sold again and cut up into hats for babies in Haiti...it was a reminder (like we needed one) of how very messed up our system is. Baby hats aren't going to change this, but if they can make a difference to 25 little heads, then that's a good thing.
Thanks L for braving the weather to make hats with me!

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Remedial Blogging

I thought I was being a conscientious blogger...responding to most (but not all) comments when they pop up in my email. And then I noticed the other day that the email address it goes to is "no reply." "Hmmm," I thought, "I wonder if that means I can't send a reply email." So I asked a friend who had commented if she'd gotten my email and guess what? She hadn't. I guess "no reply" actually does mean NO REPLY.

I know that when you leave a comment you give Blogger your email address, I just don't know where it goes. And I know I've gotten responses to comments I've left on other people's blogs, I just don't know how they do it (they probably have Typepad or Wordpress or some other fancy blogging platform...I think I'm developing blogger envy, but I don't have the energy or inclination to switch over).

Basically, I have no clue how to operate this bloggy thing, other than to post my posts. This may be a good thing...I read somewhere that the number of readers you have is inversely proportional to the the number of times that you check your stats. I don't know how to check my stats, so it may just be possible that I have, like, 8 or 9 readers, rather than the 3 or 4 of you I imagine out there.

Oh, and if you do leave a comment and don't hear back from me...I'm not ignoring you...I just don't know what I'm doing.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Frustration

I finally just wrapped up a draft of my next GEMINI issue this weekend...that would be the fall issue, which I have historically (OK, twice) put out in September, but this year was aiming for a more realistic October. Now it's December, still technically fall on the calendar, but Christmas season according to the marketers and the weather (we got our first inch of snow yesterday a.m.).

Much of the delay has to do with the fact that we have one computer, and C is on it pretty much constantly for work when he is home. Then that one computer, a laptop, lost its screen a few weeks ago, and C went through the lengthy ordeal of trying to get it to work with an external monitor, buying a new desktop computer (he's not subject to Buy Nothing Year), moving over all of the files and trying to get the new computer to work properly (what's up with Vista anyway?), and trying to catch up on all that work that he fell behind. Add that to that three-week plague and the all-night butterfly wing marathons, and it has gotten very, very difficult for me to write. Finally I broke down and wrote everything in a yellow legal pad (that's what Annie Dillard uses, right?), snuck onto the computer ahead of C one night and typed it all up,printed it out and let it marinate awhile. In the process, I realized I was going in two different directions and needed to divide my material over two separate issues, which puts me a step ahead for January's (ahem, February's) issue.

This weekend C took the kids to his mother's for a day-after Thanksgiving visit and I connected the old laptop to the new monitor and laid out this issue (apparently Vista doesn't like my old "borrowed" copy of Pagemaker either). I still need to proof it, scan in cartoons and take it to the printer...but then it will be done. But the process has been so frustrating. Of course I don't begrudge C his use of our one computer for paid work, because that's what we live on, but I just hate the sense that what I do--whether it's writing or sewing or knitting or cooking or taking care of my kids--is second-rate because it is of no monetary value. I hate that I've finally figured out what I want to be doing (actually, I've known it since I was in third grade when I used to pronounce that I was going to "be an author" when I grew up), but that I can only do it by stealing a few minutes in the dark of the early morning or on rare afternoons at home alone or scribbling in a notebook late at night (a practice which I have also neglected of late, with no technological excuse).

But then I tell myself, if I really want to write, then I would just write, right? What do you think the chances are of Santa dropping a i-Mac (with Pagemaker--or better yet Quark--and Photoshop loaded on) down my chimney this Christmas? Then I would have no excuses.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Thwarting the Creativity Thwarters

A couple of weeks ago, I was coloring with E and Z in the fire truck coloring books a friend had given them. As I filled a fire fighter's pants leg with red crayon, E asked me, "You color in lines?" "Um, yeah, I'm coloring in the lines," I said. "Where'd you hear about coloring in the lines?" At daycare, he said. I started swirling my crayon in spirals, rebelliously overlapping the lines. "Sposed you not scribble," Z said. "It's OK to scribble," I replied. "See? It's fun." I started using crazy colors, making faces purple and arms orange. When I started coloring with a black crayon, Z said, "Sposed you not use black. Can't see lines."

Oh, god. I knew that our daycare was not the most enlightened place on earth, based on the "girls play with the kitchen, boys play with the cars" incident last month. I also knew that their "crafts" were more geared toward making something pretty to hang on the wall than letting kids explore their own creativity. When M went there one day a week when he was three, while also attending Montessori school two mornings a week, I knew he did not choose his own crayons because everything came home in seasonally-appropriate colors, not just orange which was the only color he used at home at the time. Also pictures were cut out exactly along the outlines and the cotton balls were glued only exactly where Santa's beard should be. But I didn't realize it was this bad...I mean really, why should three year olds color in the lines? Why are there lines at all?

When M complained about going to Montessori school, I asked why he didn't like it and the only coherent answer I ever got was once he said, "Miss N makes me color pictures that are already drawn." And it was true that Miss N, the assistant teacher who was there in the mornings when the children arrived, handed out very (in my opinion) un-Montessori worksheets, probably in an attempt to keep all hell from breaking loose before the teacher arrived. "So turn it over and color on the back," I advised, hoping it would be a philosophy he carried well into public school. And it has--he comes home regularly with spelling lists and math papers that have wars scribbled all over the back.

I remember once in second grade, we had a substitute teacher and had to color a Halloween picture. The picture consisted of three witches around a big cauldron in front of a big full moon. When I finished coloring and went to hand in the picture, I was told to go back and color the moon. "But the moon's white," I protested. "Color it yellow," the sub told me. And I did, against everything I knew about moons. I wish I had been smart-assey enough to color the moon purple or blue or red or chartreuse. The fact that this incident still bothers me so much 28 years later tells you something about the way these seemingly benign events erode a child's creativity.

So yeah, it's a big deal to me that my three year olds are being told to "color in the lines." F*ck the lines! But do I broach this subject with the daycare provider? Is it only certain teachers (I can guess which one) that have this draconian approach to art? I haven't decided what to do on that front, but in the meantime, I'm redoubling my efforts to increase our at-home no-holds-barred creative time. When I decided to not go through the trouble and expense of sending E and Z to a preschool other than the one offered at our daycare (I may be reassessing this decision), I reasoned that I would use my at-home time with them as a sort of home-school preschool...but had not so far done much organized activity toward that end...mostly our home days consist of me trying to clean the house faster than they mess it up and a little more afternoon TV than I think is healthy.

So last week I got out the Creative Family book I mentioned a while back, and we made some homemade glue, painted it on paper and stuck bits of beans and macaroni and noodles to the glue. Then I mixed up some of the ridiculously expensive Stockmar water colors I bought when I was feeling in a Waldorfy mood a couple of years ago, and we folded our paintings in half to make Rorschach butterflies.

Then I found on my shelf a book called The Playgroup Handbook, which was published in 1974 (but appears to have been updated), and which I picked up at this restaurant in northern Connecticut called Food and Books (I think) where I stopped on my way to a meeting several years ago, and which serves a decent portobella mushroom sandwich and hands out a free used book with every meal. I never did anything with it (I think I was a little turned off by the number of Styrofoam-based craft projects), but as I flipped through it the other night, I was impressed by the way it was organized (by month), with activities in several categories, including arts and crafts, cooking, music, woodworking, exercise, etc. I also love how it has this 1970s sensibility of using things on hand--it includes two recipes for paste (because Elmer's glue is "expensive"), as well as recipes for play dough and finger paint.

I've decided to try at least one activity a week out of the book...not sure how long that will last, but we got off to a good start this weekend, making "smell" pictures (paint glue on paper and sprinkle on spices--we used ginger, cardamom, paprika and basil, yum) and tiny terrariums in baby food jars (I knew I saved those for a reason) using moss we gathered on our Sunday morning stomp. Next week (if I get energetic) we'll make jingle mittens--felt mittens with jingle bells sewn on and holiday images glued on.

Once I had a teacher who said, "We are all born infinitely creative...then society stomps it out of us" (or something along those lines). Can our home-based creative time actually counter-balance the spirit-stomping coloring in the lines taking place at daycare? I think they still have a lot of spirit--Sunday I went down to the basement to check on Z and found him jumping with the most delighted abandon on a big sheet of bubble wrap from C's new computer--the energy and joy that radiated from that little leaping body stopped me in my tracks as a nearly reprimanded him for destroying the bubble wrap; instead I turned around and went upstairs, leaving him to pop pop pop.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

50 Things I Love

As I approach my bloggiversary, I was thinking about writing a snarky post about how much I've accomplished over the last year, like growing my blog readership from about 4 to about, er, 4, but then I decided even I am getting tired of my own crankiness and in an effort to not alienate all four of my readers, I thought I'd write something positive, soooo, inspired by Pixiegenne, who wrote a list of 100 things she loves. The trouble is, I've been working on this all week and I'm only up to 5o, and most of those are variations on "bright colors" and "sugary desserts" (hey--it's harder than it looks!). Maybe the other 50 will come to me next week.

1. Cheese enchiladas
2. Hammocks
3. Lilacs
4. Strawberries
5. Yellow kitchens
6. Fiesta ware
7. Colored glass
8. Comfy shoes
9. Lemon desserts
10. Kids' drawings
11. Chartreuse (the color)
12. Wind chimes
13. Mountains
14. Blue sky
15. Fall leaves
16. Stripes
17. Swimming
18. Salty skin
19. Dandelions
20. Beer cheese soup
21. Wood floors
22. Beach rocks
23. Fresh air
24. Bird songs
25. Butterflies
26. Butterfingers
27. My old hooded sweatshirt
28. Fruit trees
29. Naps
30. Libraries
31. Blank notebooks
32. Warm winter coats
33. Kids that barf in the toilet
34. Mexican tile
35. Embroidered ribbon
26. Fleece
27. Hot baths
28. Road trips
29. Hikes
30. Mittens
31. Yarn
32. Crayons
33. Lazy days at the beach
34. Fancy desserts
35. Whipped cream
36. Angora socks
37. Honey
38. The desert
39. Getting mail
40. Summer
41. Toffee
42. Rainbow stripes
43. Sleeping in
44. Books
45. Lavender
46. Beeswax candles
47. Silk long johns
48. Warm vanilla pudding
49. Baby heads
50. Paper dolls

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Reduce, Reuse, Recylec, Repair

Since we're descending into the "worst economic crisis since the great depression," I thought we should start dressing the part. I had this giant pile of pants that needed repairs (mostly holes in the knees) building up over the last year, and what better way to spend a grey weekend while sick than patching up jeans?









I found that patching was not at all difficult or unpleasant, and actually kind of relaxing. In the end I patched on or both knees in 14 pairs of pants, replaced the elastic in three (notably three of which I had made--oops), turned two into shorts and relegated on beyond-repair pair to the rag bag. I was hoping to hang them all on the line for a photo, or at least get a couple of knees in their patches, but since our camera spends most of its time at work with C, and I never really had the energy to hang out laundry that actually did not need to be hung out, you get this, the finished pile:









On most of the pants, I did invisible patches (tutorial here), like in the dark blue pair (they look a lot more invisible when you actually use the same color as the pants for the patch). I thought the frog corduroy would make a cute patch on the light blue pants, but Z, whose pants these were hates it (E loves it though, and calls it a "pouch"). M was most impressed with the camouflaged patch on his favorite camo pants (and I was impressed that I found a tiny piece of camouflage fabric in a box of swatches I got from an outdoor store many many years ago).

Lessons learned:

Patch pants as soon as the hole appears, when it is small and before you have 13 other pairs that need repair.
Use a thimble (I never bothered to dig mine out, but would have been nice)

Buy pants with reinforced knees

Wear your patches with pride...pretty soon everyone else will have them too (this may be the first time I was on the cutting edge of fashion)
Now I just have to start darning those socks...
*****************

Speaking of Great Depressions, maybe it's just that it's November, or that it's been grey and drizzly for days (weeks?--although today is blue and sunny), or that I have had this cold/flu/conjunctivitis/sinus infection/cough/sore throat for two-and-a-half weeks (I swear to god I'll stop whining about being sick as soon as I'm not sick anymore), but I am feeling LOW. It may have started with reading The Crying Indian article in Orion, which you can't get online yet, but which is basically about the usual story of how the government and corporations conspired to destroy the environment and manipulate us people. Then today I read this letter from Michael Pollan to the president-elect about food policy, which I guess is intended to be hopeful--we can change this--but the unlikelihood (unless Obama appoints Pollan to Ag. Secretary--is that possible?) seems great and overwhelming. Once in a while I get this sense that we're part of a feudalistic system with corporations, governments and really rich guys at the top and the rest of us blissfully shopping away our ignorance at the bottom...and I know I should feel really hopeful after the election (along with the rest of the world) but I wonder if the only real difference between Republicans and Democrats is that Democrats just want to make life a little more comfortable for us serfs...with no real desire to change the system...

Have I depressed you yet? This is why my friend JM dropped off a copy of season one of Thirty Rock at my house a few weeks ago. "I think you need some laughs," she said. You are so right, sistah.

Maybe a joke (stolen from my friend Sara) will help:

Two butterflies and a millionaire walk into a chainsaw massacre...

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Realizations

Wow! I have to admit to getting a little teary-eyed this morning when I first heard on the radio that Barak Obama officially won (but that may have been the antibiotic eye drops I had just dripped into my red and infected eyes). I had watched the early returns on TV last night for a bit, with Obama coming in ahead, but went to bed too nervous to hope--even though that's what this campaign was about, right? Hope. But after the last two elections...

I'm almost too stunned to take in the enormity of this landslide victory (but that may be the quart of mucous clogging my head). This historic moment. It wasn't so long ago, slavery, Jim Crow, lynchings, segregation. It's quite amazing really that we have come to the moment of electing an African American president. The other day, M (who is a big Obama supporter, despite his distinct Alex P. Keaton leanings) asked what country Barak Obama was from. When I explained he was from the US, M said, "But he has brown skin." Oh, boy. C and I explained that many Americans--probably close to half--have brown skin. I started hatching plans to move out of a rural corner of the whitest state in the country to somewhere a little more cosmopolitan so our children will not grow up so sheltered. "S who is Mrs. M's son has brown skin and was born in another country..." M continued. "Haiti," I supplied for him, and we looked Haiti up in the Atlas, saw it was on the same island as the Dominican Republic (another recent interest of his for some reason), and he perused the Atlas for a while, deciding he wanted to visit the Canary Islands someday, a plan with which I'm totally on board.

On Friday, when he came home from school (after I called to tell them to let him off the bus without me standing at the end of the driveway) and found my lying miserably on the couch, a spot from which I had not moved all day, except to eat a bowl of the macaroni and cheese my friend L brought over to feed E and Z because I was too sick to even conjure up lunch (Thanks L!), he looked at the book I was reading, The Shipping News, and asked what it was about. "Um, it's about a guy whose wife dies and he moves with his kids and aunt to Newfoundland and he works at a newspaper. But it was OK because the wife wasn't very nice" I didn't mention the incest and adultery that are woven through the thread of the story. "Is it a true story?" he asked. "No," I said. "It's fiction." His face lit up. "Really? I thought grownups only read non-fiction!" I showed him the word "novel" on the front cover and explained that meant "chapter-book" in adult-speak.

It's pretty amazing to be the bearer of these realizations--adults like to read (and write!) made-up stories. This country of ours is made up of more people of more different colors and kinds than you can imagine. Hope can triumph over fear. Love trumps greed. A bright future outshines a troubled past. This morning I crept into M's room and opened the curtains. "Good morning, buddy. Guess what happened yesterday?" He rubbed his sleepy eyes, looked confused. "Guess who won the presidential election?" He grinned his wide, dimpled grin, and whispered "Barak Obama."

Friday, October 31, 2008

Superheros and Princesses

Yesterday morning when I dropped E and Z off at daycare, complete with now-finished butterfly wings, I went inside to find two boys dressed as Batman and one as a "Little Ninja." They were running around making air kicks and punches to go with their personas (one got in trouble for hitting, pushing and knocking other kids down in the five minutes I was there). At least three or four girls dressed as princesses. The four-year-olds were getting ready to go outside (they had had their party the previous day) and the girls among them were gathering around to admire E and Z's wings. When Z put on his fuzzy purple antennae, one girl said, "Those are for girls." "Why?" I asked. "Those are for girls," she repeated. "Well he's a boy and he's wearing them, so they must be for boys too," I responded. My little, futile bit of rebellion against rigid gender roles (probably about as effective as my Kashi Tasty Little Crackers are against the doughnuts the other parents brought). I was relieved to see another boy arrive in a green frog costume and another in something red and fuzzy, like a dragon or monster.

I went straight to a meeting, where around the table sat 18 men and three women. I rarely find myself in meetings this unbalanced (I also rarely work with industry, which I'm sure would be equally Y-chromosome-dominated). These were mostly energy people and lobbyists. I kept envisioning them as a bunch of Cromagnons squatting around a fire, wearing colorful, phallic neck ornaments, planning the next Woolly Mammoth hunt. When one man said he'd finished his comments at 1:30 that morning, I felt really happy that I'd been up until almost that late making butterfly wings for my kids, and NOT working on comments on the rule we were discussing.

So, questions:

A. Do those superhero and princess costumes on three year olds have anything to do with the six-to-one male to female ratio in my meeting?

B. Am I traitor to feminism to get more satisfaction out of making things for my children than anything I do for actual monetary compensation?

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Curmudgeon Season Tidings

So it begins, the excruciating five month festal torture that begins with Halloween and ends with Easter. Whoever thought the way to survive the long and brutal months of winter was with one never ending party must have been some kind of pagan. Oh right, they were pagans. And they believed you had to appease the gods with sacrifices so that the sun would return from its journey to warm the flat earth once more. But now that we know better, couldn't we just skip the agonizing over, buying and making of costumes, food and gifts? (What's that you say? I sound like a curmudgeon? Of course I do! Read the title.)

I would so much prefer whiling away the short, short days of winter with a large stack of books, cozied up to a fire. Preferably a non-greenhouse-gas-emitting, non-polluting, non-go-get-another-load-of-wood-from-the-snowy-cold-outdoors kind of fire. Like the sun. Right. I'd much rather spend the long, dark, cold days of winter on a nice warm sunny beach in like Puerto Rico or someplace (I don't even know where the good beaches are--the only beach I've been to that was remotely warm in winter was in Savannah, Georgia, and even though they had palm trees, I wouldn't exactly call it the tropics), as opposed to, say, staying up half the night making two pairs of (Lepidopterally correct) butterfly wings for the first in the string of pain-in-the-ass festivities.

Not that I'm not secretly delighted that I have two boys--who usually spend most of their time blasting me with their imaginary power rings--who want to dress up as butterflies for Halloween. And not that I don't also take secret delight in the Alex-P.-Keaton-esque money fabric bow-tie I made for Mr. Millionaire (who was threatened within an inch of his life when Tuesday night he casually mentioned he might change his mind and be an Army Guy). It's just that there are about a million things I'd rather be doing at 11:30 p.m. than sewing spots onto (Lepidopterally-correct) butterfly wings (if you've ever thought that an Eastern black swallowtail doesn't have a lot of detail, try making one out of felt. You'll reach whole new levels of appreciation for what happens inside of chrysalises). Numero uno: sleep.

The worst part is while I cut out my little blue and orange and yellow blobs (scales?) my mind races through the litanies of the next projects I'm compelled to take on: patching 15 pairs of pants so the twins have something to wear! A changeable daily calendar for daycare/preschool! Living room curtains! Fleece mittens for everyone I know! Patchwork scarves! Pants! Knit hats! Baby shoes! Ginger syrup (for our coughs)! Christmas cookies! Candy! Pie!

Because I. Just. Can't. Control. Myself.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

To Write is to Write

I went to a writing workshop this weekend. And by "workshop" I mean 150 participants lined up in chairs before their exalted leader. And by "150 participants" I mean 122 middle-aged lesbians in scarves, 18 tall, fit young women who sat in their chairs twisting their bodies into improbable yoga poses, 8 men looking as out-of-place as if they'd suddenly popped up at a Vagina Monologues performance, my friend Sara and myself. Our instructor was as delightful and unassuming as possible when sitting on a great big chair before a room full of supplicants. Her assistant was great, although I was both inspired and annoyed by his "how I became a writer" story in which he quit his glamorous corporate job in New York, moved to New Mexico and wrote six hours a day while waiting tables at night. Clearly something you can only do if single and childless. But he did redeem himself by having two kids and working as a high school teacher.

My friend and I were both a little out-of-sorts due to other stressors in our regular lives. My trouble originated with the fact that I thought the workshop was NEXT weekend and only realized it was last weekend two days before I had to leave. Then M woke up Friday a.m. with his eye swollen shut with conjunctivitis. In my rush to get out the door remotely on time, I forgot to grab extra shirts (after six hours in the car with the sun on your left, you kinda need a new shirt). Maybe this led to my cynicism about the shawls and yoga (I really do love yoga). That along with the line from Sandra Tsing Loh's A Year in Van Nuys that kept running through my mind--the part where she is helping out at her friend's writer's therapy group and she blurts out, "You aren't writers! You're addicted to writing workshops!" Am I that person?

I tried to relax, but I have to admit I didn't fully let go in Yoga Dance. And my monkey mind ran the show during sitting and walking meditations. The food was great...soooo great, but as much as the concept appealed to me, silent breakfast kind of freaked me out (although I am thinking of instituting it at home). In the end, what I most got out of the weekend was that if I want to write, I need to write, not sign up for expensive weekend writing workshops. I guess it was worth it.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Random moments in my week

My head feels full of clay...only external inputs that can drill their way through six inches of solid, wet, sticky clay can actually penetrate to my brain...needless to say not much gets in. And not much gets out either. Which is why this will not be a coherent post but a string of unrelated paragraphs. Enjoy.

Last spring I signed up for a weekend writing workshop at a retreat center in western Massachusetts. All this time, I have been thinking that this workshop would take place next weekend, October 24-26. Yesterday it occurred to me to double-check the dates and I learned it will actually be taking place THIS weekend, October 17-19. Oops.

This morning as we were getting in the car to go to daycare, I mumbled to myself, "I'm so tired I'm going to die." Z overheard this and said, "No! Not my want you die." Awww.

Yesterday I dropped the kids at daycare just as the kids from School B left to catch their bus. All of the kids must sit and watch TV until School B leaves. After they were gone, the preschool "teacher" turned off the TV and announced, "The girls can go play in the (toy) kitchen. The boys can play cars." I just sort of gaped as I sat with E and Z eating their Cheerio's and Rice Krispies. "What are you going to play with?" I asked them. "Nofin'" Z said. After finishing their breakfast they got two bulldozers off a shelf and drove them around in the kitchen area (not the boy-sanctioned car rug). Can I look at this as a sign of them comfortably crossing (and defying) arbitrary gender roles? WTF?

Finally, M brought home from school last week a flier inviting, "Hey Kids! Come join the Good News Club!" Whenever you hear "good news" you gotta assume it's bad news, in the form of religious brainwashing...in this case the Child Evangelism Fellowship. I wrote three letters to the teacher and principal. I tore them up. I considered calling the principal, but I didn't. I'm holding onto the flier to take with me to the next PTA meeting, or parent teacher conferences and discuss it with him there. Double WTF???

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Toot-toot-toot-toot

That's the sound of my own horn, because this week in the fiction section at Literary Mama my short story Measuring Rain appears. Check it out.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

W.W.B.O.D.?

M's interest in politics has risen during this build-up to the election (his interest had waned since the days when he was about three and blamed everything bad on the president--if he saw litter on the ground he would say, "Must have been George Bush"). We've been talking about the candidates and the difference between Republicans and Democrats. Without apology I feed him my biases: "Republicans want to take money from poor people and give it to rich people, destroy the environment and start wars. Democrats want everyone to have equal access to health care and education, to take care of the environment and make friends around the world." (Actually that's more of a description of the Greens, but I'm throwing my chips in with the Dems this year--and they better not disappoint!)

Last night as I was getting everyone ready for bed, Z and M had an altercation. M made as if to hit Z.

"Hey, hey, hey," I said. "No hitting."

"I want to hit him really hard in the face," M said.

"That's what George Bush would do, isn't it?" I asked. He looked chastened.

"What would Barak Obama do?" I asked.

"Probably tell him to stop it," he replied.

Shameless, I know, but if it works I'll take it!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Life

I just went to a memorial service for a co-worker who died suddenly last week. It was a half-hour of silence in the wildlife garden outside of the building, under the autumn-blue sky, the sun shining down warmly. Crows cawed in the distance and this year's new seagulls flapped and soared over the nearby parking lot. A young spruce tree gave off a warm and piney smell. Threads of spiderwebs glistened in strands between shriveled flower stems. Tiny bugs wove through the air, lit by the sun, bravely spinning out their waning days. Dried maple leaves crackled under the feet of people as they came and went. It struck me, standing there, soaking up the sun and the aromas and the saddness...Life is beautiful and messy. Wonderful and tragic. And too short to waste time being angry, impatient, bored, resentful. And it's way too short to waste time doing things we don't want to do.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Blogger's Block

I haven’t been able to post in the last couple of weeks because I’ve had so many things swirling around in my head, but none of them has held still long enough for me to pin it down.

One of my issues, of course, as usual, has been time…not having enough of it, or wanting more. I seem to have these periods throughout the year when too many things happen at once. September started out well, with us getting back on a schedule, me getting to work on time--and even doing yoga in the mornings--thanks to the 7:30 a.m. school bus arrival. Then homework started coming in, and soccer practice and games, and class projects, open house night, PTA meetings (yes I joined the PTA…White House here I come!) Our weekends have been packed--both with self-inflicted activities like fairs and spending time with friends and with kid-centered stuff like soccer games, birthday parties and Bug Maine-ia (which caused M to have nightmares about giant ants).

The Solar Home Tour and Green Building Open House is coming up next weekend, which is a wonderful event for showcasing homes that use different forms of alternative energy and “environmentally friendly” building materials and techniques. It’s also great for C’s business. However it fills me with anxiety and resentment every year because of the amount of preparation involved (when you are showing off your house, it kind of can’t be in its usual state of sh*t-holeyness) and because after seven years I’m kind of tired of people poking around in my personal space.

I spent the weekend with my stomach in knots…due I think to a vague sense that I had a lot to do and was somehow unable to do anything (think ladybug stranded on its back). I hoped to get a jump on cleaning Friday morning before friends arrived for the afternoon, but after several interruptions, I had only managed to clean one bathroom while in the meantime E and Z took out pretty much every toy they own in the living room. I tried catching up on two weeks’ worth of laundry, but Hurricane Kyle showed up at noon, after I had already hung out three loads and had one more in the washer.

Even as I write this I cringe at the whineyness and insignificance of it all. C and I watched City of God last weekend, about the drug gangs of Rio de Janiero. It was incredibly well-done, but after I ended I said to C, “that was a terrible movie.” I've felt heartsick ever since with sadness and guilt and powerlessness. Even though it was a fictionalized account, it was based on real-life events and it broke my heart to watch babies not much older than my own being shot and killed, shooting and killing.

A hurricane destroys lives in the tropics; it interrupts my laundry schedule. Children die of malnutrition, contaminated water and violence every day; I worry about whether our Thomas trains have lead paint. I wrote recently about how much I was loving reading “The Maternal is Political.” After I read more of the book, however, I started thinking, “middle-class hand wringing…” (Someone help me out here…was Rebecca Walker’s essay a satire?) Of course education, health care, consumption, the environment, reproductive choice and war are absolutely vital political issues. But I felt something was missing. Where were the voices of women and mothers who were actually suffering as a result of our political system (other than Cindy Sheehan’s wonderful essay resigning as the face of the American peace movement, and rightfully calling the Dem’s to task)? Then I ask myself, do we invalidate these women’s experiences because they drive minivans? Belong to the PTA? Have the ability to choose public school over private (as opposed to having no choice)? Do I invalidate my own experience because I’m not forced to live in fear of my husband, boyfriend, pimp, landlord? Because I’m not a sex-worker or a squatter or a migrant farm-worker? Certainly not…we all have stories, and our experiences are what they are. I’m just disappointed that a book about the crux between motherhood and politics didn’t have any stories by moms who struggle to raise children on a convenience store salary, from the millions of women whose kindergarten children have no childcare after school, from those who have lost their homes in the recent foreclosure crisis. Maybe they’re too busy and tired and overwhelmed to put two sentences together.

And finally…Sarah Palin. I’m glad the conversation has finally moved on from her children to her frightening record and lack of knowledge and experience. But I stumbled upon a blog that had a picture of her face imposed on Rosie the Riveter, with the “We Can Do It” slogan and the blogger wrote how empowered she was feeling, like she can do anything (with Christ behind her), and I realized that there is a whole contingent of people who do feel inspired by her--women who have been oppressed by their fathers, husbands and churches for so long and now they see a woman just like them on her way to the White House. She’s kind of their answer to feminism. They will vote against their own economic self-interest and their children’s education and health because of their religious beliefs, but now they can vote for a woman who’s against their self-interest.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Recent conversations:

M: Can you believe I'm the only one in my class that doesn't hate math?

Well, yes, actually I can believe that because I always hated math (except geometry...I loved geometry!). Of course I don't say this.

M: Math is fun...it's like a detective story.

Exactly, only without the dead bodies, the suspense, the ambiguous threats to the protagonist's life and the resolution with a happy ending.

I don't know where I got this kid (actually I do...from his dad, who used to be called C. Computer and loved math until he hit calculus, and almost became an engineer....horrors!) but I'm sending him to MIT!

Later:

M (who at seven and a third is on the verge of losing his second tooth): Papa, I have a suspicion that my mom is the tooth fairy. Because last time she said the tooth fairy might bring me a gold dollar and the tooth fairy did.

I'm just glad he didn't get suspicious because I ran in and hugged him first thing in the morning, sliding both hands under the pillow to switch tooth for gold dollar.

They have concocted a plan to find out whether or not I am the tooth fairy by not telling me the next time he loses a tooth and seeing if any money appears. If it doesn't does that mean I'm off the hook for the next 18 teeth?

Speaking of teeth, have you heard of this trend for $5, $10 or even $20 for a tooth??? Sorry kid, but your pearly whites aren't worth $400.

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New post up at Capital Walks.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Books and Bread

A couple of weeks ago I hit the downslope to 40 and to celebrate, I ordered myself four books I’ve been wanting to read, but couldn’t get through interlibrary load. Unbelievably, I was able to find them all used, so I didn’t have to break any Buy Nothing rules (I did feel a twinge of guilt at the authors not getting my contribution to their royalties).

Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. I’ve been experimenting with Mark Bitman’s no-knead bread, with mixed success. This book takes a similar principle, but simplifies the process even further.



In the first weekend I had the book, I made three boules, two baguettes, a ciabatta and two pizzas--all delicious and easy (although the baguettes did come out slightly flat). Next I am going to try the whole wheat sandwich bread, because there’s only so much white bread a person can eat in one weekend (groan).

The Maternal is Political. I am only partway through this book, but I have loved every essay I’ve read so far--I feel so jazzed, so fired up, so “Right on Sistah!” when I read it. Not only is it really good writing by a variety of women--both writers and politicians--but it’s so varied in what constitutes politics and the political, in how these moms got involved or how they express it. Go read it now. And then go vote.

The Creative Family. I admit it, I’m something of a Soulemama addict. I go to her sight like some women turn to fashion magazines--to fuel my sense of inadequacy…so of course I was dying to read this book. I’m only partway through and while I agree with most of what she says about parenting and creativity, the way she says it rubs me the wrong way. The writing style is kind of condescending (it reminds me of when we write for the public at work-- “if you use the word ’we’ instead of ’you’ people won’t feel like you’re preaching.”) Still, it has a lot of neat project ideas in it (some of which I have already borrowed from her website), and I’m looking forward to trying the homemade glue (we’re almost out of Elmer’s and I’m slightly disturbed by that cow on the label--is that what the glue is made out of??). Also, even though reading Soulemama’s blog has promoted my inferiority complex, it’s pushed me to try harder to be creative and try more projects both with and for my kids and for myself.

Road Map to Holland. I first encountered Jennifer Graf Groneberg’s writing on Mamazine, and later found my way to her blog and Parent Dish Column. I was drawn to her writing by her beautiful prose and her unassuming honesty. I was especially interested in reading this book because her life parellel mine in some ways--three boys, one set of twins, four years between the older boy and his brothers--but diverges in that her twins were born prematurely and one of them has Down syndrome. But I also wanted to read it because of Jennifer’s lovely writing style, because I always enjoy a good motherhood memoir, because her casual references to the light in the cottonwoods or the change in the aspen leaves near her Montana home always give me a twinge of homesickness for my own native Colorado (a twinge I relish like a tongue probing a toothache), and because I was curious…curious to know if life with a baby with Down syndrome was that different from my own life, and if so how and why?

I devoured Roadmap to Holland in the first three days after it arrived, staying up too late at night. Jennifer’s writing has the power to bring her reader directly into the moment with her. I was in agony when, at the end of Chapter 3 the twins were still in the NICU (they are home by Chapter 5), and even though I did not have the complications of premature birth or an earth-shifting diagnosis, the book took me right back into those early months of bone-aching exhaustion, the confusion, the sense of being overwhelmed, that filling out a form or making a phone call was almost a Herculean feat.
I appreciate her stark honesty about her own emotions--shock, confusion, anger, guilt, sadness and how these emotions evolved over time, doubling back on each other (at one point the physical therapist says that development doesn’t take place in a straight line, but in circles with overlap; it’s almost as if emotions progress in the same fashion)--and how the story ends on a note of forgiveness. I also appreciate knowing more about Down syndrome and the challenges--and joys--the families of children with Down syndrome experience.

****

P.S. New post up at Capital Walks.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The School Volcano Goes off Again

Sandras Tsing Loh has a new book out, which I haven’t read yet, but am very much looking forward to, based on this interview. I’ve become something of a public school fanatic, to the point where I “erupt” at town meetings when people suggest that eliminating a teacher, or returning to half-day kindergarten would be acceptable options for our school.

When M started preschool at a small Montessori school, a co-worker asked if I was going to send him there for elementary school and I said, “No. I believe in public school.” Which is true—I believe that one of the most populist things we can do is provide all of our children (and by that I mean everyone’s children, even the poor ones and the immigrant ones and by “we” I mean all of us, even if we don’t have children or our own kids have already finished school) with a sound education and that any school is only going to be as good as the kids and families involved in it. Which is why I get really irritated when the people who have the most to offer in terms of time, energy and creativity end up homeschooling or sending their kids to private school…when instead of just benefiting their one or two kids, they can put forth half the effort and benefit 20 or 30 or 180 kids.

Only here’s why I’m the biggest hypocrite—I secretly hoped we would really love that Montessori school and that we’d fall into a big fat pot of money so we could send M there right up through 8th grade. As it turned out, neither M nor I loved it as much as I wanted us to and the pot of money never materialized (actually it shrank immensely when his two brothers were born), so he started kindergarten at the local public school. And guess what? He loved it! And so did I. Not in the way I imagined loving the perfect combination Woldorf/Montessori/Nature Camp school in my head, with its wooly-wooden materials, hands-on math and frog-catching, but I love it because M has had really caring, committed teachers, because when we miss the bus and I walk him into the school, the big, tall 7th and 8th-graders say, “Hi M!” as we pass them in the hall, with genuine enthusiasm. I love the PE and music teachers and the art teacher I want to take home and eat for dessert, she’s so sweet (and the things she teaches these kids are forking amazing!)

I don’t love that the cafeteria serves deep-fried processed chicken three days out of five, alternating with some ground beef nightmare or frozen, pre-made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. I don’t love that it took us most of last year to get him into a math program that met his needs. I don’t love that M told me one day last week that B pummeled him all recess because he wanted to “wrestle” when they were playing cops & robbers and that both he and C looked at me horror-stricken when I suggested he play with the girls instead. Sure I wish he was learning a foreign language and went on more field trips. I wish music and art and PE were every day, not twice a week. I wish they spent more time outside at recess and studying nature.

But these are all things we can work around—I can do a better job communicating with M’s teachers to make sure he stays challenged, I can figure out a sack lunch he’ll eat and let him choose which hot lunches he wants to partake of, he can work on problem-solving and interpersonal skills. We can do our own field trips and make the most of our at-home time to go outside. I can volunteer in his classroom and join the PTA.

We have the advantage that ours is a small school and probably a lot more flexible and easy to work with than a big city school. And while M’s smart, he’s not a super-genius so I only have to push to get him into third grade math, not pre-calculus. And as big as I talk, there’s nothing to say that if the Magical Waldossori Nature School opened up down the street I wouldn’t jump the ship of my ideals and swim to their wooly, wooden, froggy shore.

***************
I raised some hackles with my recent post about kindergarten. My point was not to say that parents who hold their kids back a year are bad, but that school (and state and federal) policies that dial up the academic and social rigor of kindergarten while at the same time dialing back the start age are doing a disservice to society...especially to kids whose parents don't have a choice. Apparently I didn't make that point very well. I probably didn't make my point in today's post very well...whatever it is...you'll have to read Sandra's book to find out.

****************
P.S. New post today at Capital Walks.

*************
Edited: I can't get the book link to work for some reason...go to Amazon and search "Mother on Fire."

Friday, August 29, 2008

Organization

Natalie Goldberg says to write about our obsessions, and lately I’m obsessed with organization. It all comes of being born two days shy of Virgo, I think. That is not to say I’m an organized person; on the contrary. However, I always have this nagging sense that if only I could get my life organized enough, it would stay that way. Ha!

Seven years ago we built a fairly small house (by American standards--I’m sure it is practically a palace compared to much of the world) for several reasons, including limitations on time and money and a desire to minimize our use of resources (and cleaning time). As our family has grown, we’ve resisted adding on for the same reasons. However, that does not mean that we don’t sometimes get frustrated by the lack of space. I have lately been feeling like there is nowhere for me to do anything in the house, thus the impetus for the organizing frenzy (OK, it’s not exactly a frenzy, more of a languid hum, but whatever).

First, I took on the desk (which is doing a fair job of holding its own against marauding piles, although there is a small stack of papers there I need to deal with) and now I have a place to sit and write. Next came the sewing area. For a time I had sewing stuff spread over all three floors of the house--most of the material and supplies stored in the basement, my sewing machine sharing space with my desk, later moved upstairs to a small table in my room, my cutting mat and ruler behind the filing cabinet and various tools scattered at all points in between. The table in my room was too small and the corner cramped, so last weekend I hauled a somewhat larger table out of the basement and placed it on the opposite wall, improving the situation 100%.









The two drawers hold all of the supplies I need on a regular basis--thread, scissors, pins, etc.--so I don’t have to run downstairs constantly, I can use my dresser for cutting and ironing, as long as it doesn’t get piled with clothes, and the material and notions are still in the basement--in increasingly more organized bins. I created a reading nook on the opposite wall, for when hammock season is over (like last week), as long as it doesn’t get piled with clothes.









Finally, to organize my life, I ran across this simple notebook system on one blog I enjoy reading. I set one up last weekend, following basically the same format (minus the pretty colored markers and little drawings), with “ideas” where she has “blog” and a box at the bottom of the “food” column for “exercise.” It’s amazing how motivating a big empty space there is. It’s also impossible to hide “one bag of maple cotton candy” when you write down everything you eat all day (I have heard this is an effective weight-loss tool; we’ll see if it makes a dent in the twin-belly). Having a list of “to do’s” has been super helpful: the first day I wrote “yoga” in that box, and found I couldn’t go to bed until I had done 10 or 15 minutes of stretches (for the first time in months, ow), and have done it every day since. I don’t get everything done on the list, but I get a lot more done more efficiently than when I tried to keep it all in my head, and I find I enjoy sitting down throughout the day (at my desk), checking off things, adding more. The “gratitude” box should be interesting for me, ungrateful wretch that I am…maybe it will keep me from sinking into a pit of despair as we slide into the season that starts with “w” and ends in “inter.”

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Buy Nothing Back-to-School and Lunch Bag Tutorial

This post revised 9/10/09 after I made two more bags and found some areas that could use clarification. New additions in italics, new photos are in cowboy or jungle fabric.

Before M started kindergarten, I dutifully did what my mom did every August--I trooped to Target and bought all of the school supplies from the list the teacher mailed to our house, loaded up on jeans and t-shirts and searched out the perfect lunchbox. To my surprise, I found that they no longer make lunchboxes; instead they supply an endless array of thick, bulky insulated coolers (honestly, when did peanut butter and jelly sandwiches suddenly require insulation?).

I had visions of M walking to school (which is ridiculous since we live five miles away) with his metal Superman or Scooby Doo lunchbox dangling from his hand, banging against his knee, the way I did when I was a kid. I had a metal Holly Hobby lunch box, with the matching thermos and my banana sticker collection in the lid. In second grade I forgot it on the playground and it got stomped (by an eighth-grader, I was sure) and from then on I carried my lunch to school in brown paper sacks (except on those most humiliating days when we ran out of my bags and I had to take my lunch in a clear Safeway produce bag).

We already had a couple of insulated coolers which I had bought when he was a baby, so for the last two years he has taken is lunch in those. Last year I resisted the back-to-school shopping urge altogether--M never wore any of the jeans I bought in kindergarten (he has a very particular sense of style, which is based not on fashion, fit or cleanliness, as far as I can tell) and though I remember acutely the agony of sitting outside his kindergarten classroom while he went through screening that first day, and watching all of the kids go by wearing there shiny new shoes and clothes, knowing M was inside in a ratty t-shirt and shorts (because it was still too warm to wear those new jeans even if he would wear them) and old sneakers, I know that the time to buy kids new shoes in Maine is in spring, when you can actually wear them for several months, not in the fall when they will soon be supplanted by snow boots. I didn’t need to buy any first grade supplies--he re-used his pencil box and scissors from kindergarten and I have a whole stash of unopened boxes of crayons, markers and colored pencils because for some reason we often get school supplies as gifts, and because pencils are the new candy (at Halloween, Christmas and Valentine’s) we will never have to buy pencils again.

This strategy worked again this year--my back to school shopping consisted of a pack of shoelaces (for the shoes I bought him last spring--an exemption in the Buy Nothing Year rules) because one broke (damn organic cotton) and a box of tissues for the classroom. However, I did want to replace the old insulated lunchboxes which were starting to fall apart, were getting kind of snargy and are probably made out of lead-filled PVC (although why this suddenly matters after having used them for 7 years I have no idea). I wanted something machine-washable, non-bulky when empty and big enough to hold a couple of plastic sandwich containers with room to spare. Because this is Buy Nothing Year, and because I’ve never seen anything that was exactly what I wanted (although I did briefly lust over this and this), I decided to make it myself, using all materials I had on hand.

I know this isn’t a craft blog, but I’m going to show you how I made it in case you get inspired to make your own (skip to the bottom to see the final picture if you're not inspired):

Materials:
Outside fabric 1/3-1/2 yard
Lining fabric 1/3-1/2 yard
Strap fabric (can be cut from lining fabric if desired) scrap at least 4" wide by 20" long
Cord (I used cotton clothesline) about 40"
Heavy Duty Zipper at least as long as top width (it's OK if it is longer; just tuck the end in the lining)
Thread

Seam allowance: 1/2 inch unless otherwise noted

Construction tip: Even though the instructions aren't written this way, I do all of the cutting first, then all of the ironing, then all of the sewing.

Get started: Determine your desired finished size. Mine is roughly 11 inches wide at the top, 7 inches wide and 4 inches deep at the bottom and 7 inches tall. Cut one rectangle from each outside and lining fabric (A=outside; B=lining) measuring: 2 x top width + 1 -by- height + 1/2 depth + 2 (my rectangles measured 24" wide x 13" high)










Outer Bag
Handles: Cut two strips of fabric 2 inches wide by about 20 inches long (you can vary this depending on your desired handle length). Fold in half lengthwise; iron. Open up and fold edges in about ¼ inch; iron. Cut two pieces of cord about 18 inches long (or 2" shorter than your fabric strips) each. Lay along inside fold of fabric strips; fold over fabric along length; fold ends under about 1/4 inch twice; sew along length. Sew to sides of bag (I placed mine about 3 inches in from the edges and 4 inches down from the top; and sewed from 1 ½ inches down to the bottom edge of the handle), reinforcing several times along the length (once at the bottom of the handle, once at the beginning of the seam and once in the middle of the two).


Zipper: (Note: I used a heavy-duty zipper that was a couple of inches longer than I needed; a properly-sized zipper would probably be neater. Also I just made this up as I went along; if you know how to actually do zippers, you should just skip this part and do it your way).
Sew a small square of fabric at the top (open) end of zipper.
Find center of outside fabric (A) top; align with center of zipper (right sides together) and pin.
Align one edge of zipper with top edge of bag on one side. Pin.
Repeat with other edge.
Pin around bottom and side of bag (Fabric A; right sides together). Sew around bag from bottom corner.
When you reach the top corner, fold fabric into a box shape to align with zipper.
Sew along sipper fabric and around both ends. (Yes it looks like hell, but will be hidden by the lining!) There is probably a better way to do this.

Now take the bottom corners and pull the fabric apart to form a triangle. Sew across the bottom of the triangle where it is your desired bag depth (4 inches across--that is, the longest side, or hypotenuse, of your triangle). Repeat on the other corner.










This gives you a square bottom. Turn fabric A right side out.
Lining
Pockets: I put two pockets inside my bag, a wide one for a napkin or lunch money and a tall one for a fork or spoon. Cut fabric A desired pocket size (mine are about 4" x 7"; one tall, one wide); iron down ½ inch along top and ¼ inch along sides and bottom. Fold top edge under 1/4 inch, then 1/2 inch, sew down. Place on fabric B at desired location (centered on half of bag, about 5 or 6" up from bottom edge) and sew around sides and bottom.










With right sides together, sew along bottom and side of lining; repeat square bottom, as in outer bag. Iron down ½ inch along top edge of fabric B and place inside fabric A (wrong sides together).
Align seams and pin to zipper fabric all around the edge. At the bottom end of the zipper, I had extra fabric, which I folded into a pleat.
Sew all the way around.










It turned out exactly how I wanted, in terms of size and functionality. A better zipper technique might make it look a little cleaner at the top, and reinforcing all of the seams (which I didn’t do) would probably make it more durable. Now I just have to figure out what to put in it that M will actually eat!!

E and Z required a place mat to eat their lunch over, so I sewed a rectangle of outer fabric to a rectangle of solid fabric, right sides together, leaving a 2-3" gap, flipped it right side out and top-stitched around the edge.
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