Wednesday, April 30, 2008

The Garden Hoedown

"Everybody grab your hoe.
Go through your garden row by row."

I can't get these lyrics out of my head! My daughter's class put on a musical last night called "How Does Your Garden Grow." It was a sweet little story about flowers growing in a garden. The flowers sang and waltzed around the stage in happiness. But then the farmer, Herb, neglected them, and the weeds took over. The weeds presented themselves with a catchy little rap tune: "We're weeeeeds. We rule! We're weeeeeeds. We're cool!" The farmer was befuddled. What to do? Finally the wise scarecrow told him he needed to have a hoe down, and all the kids bounced around to a lively little country song and sang about grabbing a hoe and going through the garden row by row. Cute.

The children were dressed as flowers, plants, weeds, and farmers. My daughter was a farmer. Originally her music teacher wanted to give her a speaking part, but my daughter is the world's most reluctant performer, and she didn't want the spotlight at all, not even for five seconds. She had her place on the back riser and didn't budge from it once through the whole show. She didn't even crack a smile, and I daresay she had a scowl on her face the whole time. She most definitely is not destined for a career on the stage!

The song's advice is timely, as soon I will be making my kids grab a hoe. Every year we plant a very small garden in this tiny space in our back yard:

We grow several herbs (you can see the chives are quite prolific in the back), and we also plant a row of green beans, some tomato plants, a pepper plant, and sometimes we try our hand at carrots. This year we are getting really ambitious. We've rented a plot in a community garden. There is one right in our neighborhood, just an easy five-minute walk away. My friend has gardened there for the past couple years, and this year I am joining her. I actually expect my kids to complain about helping, but I will remain hopeful that they'll help a little! I haven't given any thought to the garden yet, but I know we need to make a plan soon because planting season is almost upon us. My daughter always wants to grow pumpkins, so maybe we'll try that. Whatever we grow, we should have a much more plentiful harvest than we can eke out of our tiny plot at home. Maybe I will need to learn how to can! My grandparents had a huge garden when I was little and my mom spent a lot of time canning tomatoes and making pickles and jam. I have never canned anything. The whole idea scares me a little bit, not just the sheer amount of work, but also the whole botulism thing. Yikes.

More signs of spring in our tiny little yard. The apple blossoms are ready to bloom any minute now. And my favorite, bleeding hearts.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

It's like a sickness

I have a dream. I have a dream that I am an organized parent with a full set of craft supplies and an endless list of imaginative activities that please and delight my children. I have a dream that we spend countless hours gathered together, rejoicing in each other and the products of our skilled hands.

The sad truth is I've been a failure. I haven't lived up to this ideal. We have plenty of craft supplies, but they are not well-organized. When I am in the mood to get crafty, the kids usually aren't. When they are in the mood to get crafty, it's inevitably a bad time for me.

I subscribed to Family Fun when my son was one, in 1998, and I've been getting it ever since. I have saved every issue. It's like a sickness. At first I filed them in a magazine box in the order received, but as the years went by and the collection grew, I rearranged them by month, so that all the Decembers were together (Christmas ideas!), all the Octobers were together (Halloween ideas!), and so on. To be fair with myself, we have done many of the crafts and activities with excellent results, and we have tried many of the recipes, several of which have become family traditions, but we haven't tried all of them, and I feel like it's my job as a mom not to let any of the unused ideas get away.

Last summer I decided it was time to purge, time to recycle the magazines and reclaim the space they were eating up. But before I could do that, I leafed through a couple of issues, just for old time's sake. Oops. I found I couldn't let it go. I couldn't get rid of all those cute ideas we hadn't yet had a chance to try. So I started a file instead, something I should have done from the start. I ripped out pages, stapled them together, filed them away. But the process has been painstakingly slow, and almost a year later I still have a sizeable stack of back issues to go through, not to mention the 8 or so new issues that have landed in my mailbox since I started this project.

I ask myself why I can't just recycle these, why I must read through them one more time and find things to save. I know much of the magazine's content is online, and it would be easy to find things with a click of a mouse. I can't explain this need of mine to hang on, other than to think that it's all part of that dream I have, and that I can't let it go because that's admitting defeat, or that it's admitting that my children are getting older faster than I want them to, and that maybe we don't have time to do all the things I want to do with them. If I hang on to the ideas, I'm making a promise with myself that we'll get to do it all.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Crafting for a boy

I like to make things, especially for my chidren, but it is a challenge to find things to make for my son. Most patterns or ideas are too girly, and most things he's interested in don't translate well to a quilt or cross-stitch pattern.

When I was pregnant 11 years ago, my husband and I chose to wait until birth to know if we were having a boy or girl. This forced me to decorate the baby's room in a gender-neutral way, which was my preference anyway. I was thrilled when I found a pattern for a fish applique quilt. If I'm remembering correctly, the pattern came from a book called Incredible Quilts for Kids of All Ages. Rather than make a full quilt, I made one square as a wall-hanging for the baby's room.
It still hangs in his bedroom, although I imagine its years are numbered now that my boy is just about finished with elementary school.

A few years ago I found this pattern for a night time cross stitch sampler. I made two, one for each child's bedside.

Then I tried my hand at punch needle embroidery. Most of the ready-made patterns I found were of hearts, crows, flowers, or houses, none of which excite a young boy. I had a brainstorm and made a pattern of my own:
My boy lived and breathed superheroes at the time, so this was very well-received. I didn't know much about punch-needle embroidery at the time and accidentally pulled a bunch of stitches while I framed it (oops!), but it still looks okay.

I checked Sublime Stitching, a book of embroidery by Jenny Hart, out of the library yesterday. This transfer is included in the book:

I showed it to my son, and he said "Oh, will you make one for me?" Absolutely! Now that my crocheted sweater is completed, I am happy to have my next project all lined up.

Monday, April 21, 2008


Even though my children are getting older, we still regularly read picture and story books together. Many picture books and story books have sophisticated art work, deeper meanings, and literary references that older children can appreciate better than younger children do.

One of our favorites is Melisande, by E. Nesbit, and illustrated by P.J. Lynch. This book was first published in 1901, but the language and style are timeless. Melisande is born to a happy royal couple, and the king and queen, knowing that bad things happen to royal babies during christening parties, decide to avoid trouble by not having a christening party at all. Of course, this decision offends all the fairies of the kingdom, and one particularly unhappy fairy curses the little princess with baldness.

With the help of a wish from the king's amusing fairy godmother (who never makes a personal appearance in the story, but conveys quite a personality in her cryptic letters to the king), Melisande is blessed with hair as a teenager, but the blessing turns into a curse when she doesn't think her wish through very carefully. See how unhappy her abundant hair is making her?

With nods to Sleeping Beauty, Rapunzel, Gulliver, and other fairy tales, the story unfolds with a mathematical puzzle, a clever prince, a princess who saves her kingdom, and, of course, a happy ending.
I found the complete text here, but do try to get your hands on a copy of the book, because the art work is gorgeous and dramatic, and adds nice detail to complete the experience of Melisande.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

The Richard Nixon Walkway

We bought our home in 1994. It's an older home, built in 1948, and had many owners through the years. Before us, the longest one family had owned it was 13 years, in the 1970s-80s. We surpassed that this year when we reached 14 years. That makes my kids very happy, to know we have lived here the longest!

The people who lived here just before us were the world's sloppiest painters. When we moved in, there were paint drips on the baseboards, paint smears on the window casings, even paint drips on the carpeting. The worst paint mishap of all was on the front walkway:

A seafoam green splotch that looked like Richard Nixon in profile. See his nose pointing off the left? We lived with Richard for 13 years. Four years ago we had to have our sewer replaced, which required half of our walkway to be destroyed. The Richard Nixon square unfortunately remained intact. Two years ago we had our front porch replaced, which required most of the other half of the walkway to be destroyed. But the Richard Nixon square again remained intact. Our walkway was looking pretty shabby, with new concrete to the left, not-quite-the-same color new concrete to the right, and good old Richard smack dab in the middle.

Finally, last year, we decided to re-landscape and go with a new look altogether:
Bye bye, Richard!

I love this walkway. I love how it curves, and how it has a little step. I love that it does not have a seafoam green Richard Nixon paint splotch right in the middle. The landscaper who installed it suggested we sweep a 50 lb bag of sand into the cracks each spring to help with weed control, so I did that today. That's one more outdoor chore to add to the list of spring clean-up every year!

Here are some other signs of spring at our house:

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Poem in Your Pocket

In honor of National Poem in Your Pocket Day today, here is one of my kids' favorite poems:

Snowball, by Shel Silverstein

I made myself a snowball
As perfect as could be.
I thought I'd keep it as a pet
And let it sleep with me.
I made it some pajamas
And a pillow for its head.
Then last night it ran away,
But first -- it wet the bed.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Look what I made!

I am so excited about this little jacket! I learned to crochet a bit more than a year ago. So far I've made several purses, hats, scarves, and amigurumi figures, one baby sweater, and I have an afghan that is still a WIP. This is the first garment I've made for myself, ever, and I'm pretty pleased with myself. It's the Short 'n' Sweet bolero pattern from Stitch 'n' Bitch: The Happy Hooker. I added extra rows to make it jacket length because I'm not a bolero person.
From the front. I do wish it closed a little bit more in front.
And from the back. I like the length! (Pardon the cluttered background in the photos. This is the best I could do when my photographer wasn't very enthusiastic in the first place, and for some reason I cannot crop the photo.)
I used the same yarn specified in the pattern, only in white instead of red. When I began, the first couple of rows went fine, then suddenly things stopped making sense. Since I am not a very confident crocheter, I assumed it was my error, so I frogged and started over. Nope, same problem. Fortunately, before I became too frustrated, I thought to check online for errata, and lo and behold, the pattern had not been printed in the book correctly. Corrections here. Then the front shaping got a little confusing, so back to the computer to find clarification here. Whew! That got me through it. I found the ending instructions for the last three rows of the sleeves a little bit muddy, too, but decided to wing it. I have no idea if my sleeves are correct, but they look fine, and the tricky area is under the arm anyway, so hopefully well hidden. If any other Stitch 'n' Bitch fans see me out and about wearing my (long) Short 'n' Sweet bolero, they shouldn't have any reason to point and laugh.

Monday, April 14, 2008

The Most Dreaded Event

And he's off. Every year the 5th graders at my children's elementary school go to overnight camp in the spring. My son, a 5th grader this year, has been dreading this since Kindergarten. Every year on off-to-camp day as we arrived at school and saw the excited 5th graders milling around the sidewalks, their piles of luggage waiting to be loaded into parent vans, my son would take one look and say "I'm not going to go to camp." And every year I'd cheerfully reply "Oh, that's five years away...four years away...three years away...two years away...not until next year." Well, we've run out of years. Today is the day.

Yesterday as we packed, my son was in denial. As I labeled his clothes and shoes, checking things off the camp check-list, he literally curled up in a ball in the corner of his bedroom.

Me: "Which of these sweathshirts do you want to take?"
Son (muffled cry from fetal position): "I'm not going!"
Me: "Let's pretend you're going. IF you were going to camp, which sweatshirt would you want to have there?"
Son (still muffled): "The red one."

And so on.

My son is a homebody. He loves to be home with his cats and his Lego. He likes to sleep in his own bed. He is not eager to try new things. He takes the path of least resistance. He is very much like me! I completely understand his fears and his preference to stay "safe." When he doesn't want to participate in an activity, I do my best to consider all the facets of the situation: what he might gain by participating, what he might lose by not participating, and how all of that fits in with his needs and his personality. I would never have been brave enough to go to overnight camp when I was a kid. But my son is going to go.

He finally started to rally when I reminded him how disappointed his best friend would be if he ended up at camp alone, and I could see that he'd reached the acceptance stage. We discussed coping strategies for dealing with the parts of camp he is most dreading (what if it's too dark in the cabin? what if I can't sleep?), and this morning I gave him a big hug and kiss before we left, because you know you can't do that at school where everyone will see it.

He was a bit disgusted with me that we walked to school with all that luggage, but hey, we have a wagon, and I'm mean that way. He and my daughter fretted that we looked like dorks pulling a wagon down the street, but I assured them I would look even dorkier when I was walking home all by myself, pulling an empty wagon. They agreed with me. Yes, mom, you're a dork.

I'm sure my son is going to have fun at camp. I know there will be parts he will hate, but when he comes home on Wednesday, he is going to be glad his parents made him go, and he's going to feel proud of himself for having done it.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Trixie Belden

My children were on Spring Break this week. Yesterday we made a trip to a large used book store housed on four floors of an old factory. The climate control in the building is almost non-existent, with pockets of hot and cold, damp and dry, throughout the building. Each aisle has a fluorescent light with a pull-string hanging down. You have to turn on the light yourself, and turn it off when you leave the aisle. The experience of shopping in that building is as much fun as the thousands and thousands of books! I get a little overwhelmed when faced with so many books, and I'm never as focused as I'd like to be while browsing. I always leave feeling like something important escaped my notice.

My daughter had a mission to find some Trixie Belden books, and we did manage to find two that we don't already own (plus a few other non-Trixie titles!)
These are all the Trixie Belden books I saved from my childhood. My daughter has read the first five already.
We already had The Black Jacket Mystery in paperback, but when I saw this 1961 Whitman edition at the bookstore yesterday, I had to buy it. The Whitman editions are a nostalgic favorite, even though most of my copies are 1970s paperbacks.
I liked Trixie because she was everything I was not: a tomboy, spunky, fearless. Her brothers tease her a lot, but they also admire and respect her. There is some of that going on with my own kids. My 10-year-old son has a lot of disdain for his 8-year-old sister, but when I press him for names of any girls he thinks are "cool", he reluctantly admits that his sister is one of the coolest girls he knows!

Thursday, April 10, 2008

re-ment cuteness

My daughter loves little fairy-sized things, so when I learned of re-ment, I had to get her some. The dime in the photo is for perspective to show just how tiny the pieces are: When she unpacked the box, we oohed and ahhed over the detail and utter cuteness. The spice cabinet contents particularly amused us. We have salt and pepper...sugar, basil, paprika, and...
cheese? We cracked up over the cheese "spice". I guess it would be like Parmesan in a can?

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Birthday Season

April is birthday season around here. Between March 30 and May 2, we have nine family birthdays to celebrate, including my daughter and my husband. Three friends have April birthdays, too.
We have no excuses for forgetting a birthday this time of year!

Here is a piece of my daughter's birthday cake:

This is Holy Cow Cake from The Cake Mix Doctor. (Recipe online here) We'd never had Holy Cow Cake before, but when my daughter saw the list of ingredients, no other cake would do. Devils Food cake, soaked in a mixture of condensed milk and caramel sauce, sprinkled with crushed Heath Bars, spread with a frosting of cream cheese whipped with Cool Whip, and topped with even more crushed Heath Bars. Holy Cow indeed! Since my husband's birthday is only five days after my daughter's, he no longer gets a cake of his own. We refrigerated the Holy Cow leftovers and had them yesterday for his birthday. The cake got a little bit too soggy over five days, but that didn't stop me from eating it!

I bake from scratch almost exclusively, but for some reason birthday cakes I make from a mix. Using recipes from The Cake Mix Doctor makes me feel like I'm making a little bit more effort.

Happy Birthday to the spring birthdays. This post is for you. May all your wishes come true!