Monday, February 27, 2012

Fantasy

As far as fantasies go, mine is pretty tame.  I've had the same one for about eight years.  I know this precisely because I've been a mother for eight years, and that's when my special fantasy first came into being.  In some of my darkest moments, I dream of my own private apartment.

Until fairly recently, this fantasy centered on sleep.  A dark, peaceful room with a humming fan was central to the whole idea.  Over time, the apartment fantasy began to arise from an overwhelming urge to not be touched or spoken to--to be able to use the bathroom without interruption, to be at the computer without someone on my lap or reading over my shoulder, to complete a thought or task uninterrupted.

What's nice about my fantasy is that it stays constant but fills ever-evolving needs.  Recently, I have added to the apartment fantasy the fact that when I put things away, they will stay there.  In Fantasy Apartmentland, there is a place for everything, and everything stays in its place unless I wish otherwise.

One of my kids had school vacation last week, so the full-time job of picking up stuff seemed more onerous than usual.  While thinking about my imaginary pristine apartment, I chastised myself for failing to appreciate the beauty of living alone when I did.  That's when I had an overwhelming realization--I have never--ever--lived alone.

I lived independently.  Other than summers in college, I haven't lived with my parents since high school, and I didn't get married until I was 29.  I had a real grown-up job, with a real grown-up salary, and some marginally grown-up apartments.  However, I lived in a dorm all through college, had a roommate in law school, and moved in with my now-husband before I'd even taken the bar exam.  I was independent, but never alone.

I suppose this isn't uncommon.  Financial reasons alone cause most people to have roommates in their younger years.  When I did become financially independent, it was love that got me a roommate.

Until we had children--heck, until last week--I never thought twice about this.  It wasn't like the apartments we shared for eight years pre-kids required a great deal of work on my behalf, and it wasn't like I needed alone time.  Most of the time, one or both of us was traveling or working around the clock, so the apartment was fairly neat and we had a great time when we were together.  It's more the principle of the thing that bothers me.  Like there was an opportunity I missed.

For now, I have my fantasy apartment.  It is tidy and orderly, quiet and peaceful.  There are no crafts, Legos, or hair accessories there.  There is a cozy bed, a comfortable reading chair, and many bookshelves.   If you're nice to me and promise to put everything back in its place before you leave, I may let you visit my apartment when you need some alone time.  That is, if I'm not already there, taking a nap.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Rising to the Occasion: Organizing Hair Accessories

Long before we had children and such things were more or less part of our job, a friend and I had a mantra: If you're not crafty, don't do crafts. I think it explains itself. However,  I am now a mom and I have two very artsy-craftsy kids.

In another unexpected turn of events, I inexplicably gave birth to a girly-girl. I'm in my forties and struggle to find anything one would call an accessory in my closet, but my five-year-old is overwhelmed by them. Finding a matching set of barrettes takes forever, and I was losing my patience with the whole thing.

Thanks to the Internet, we non-crafty folk are now able to fake it. As long as it isn't so complicated that I'll lose my patience, I can look at a photo, follow directions, and craft well enough to impress a five-year-old. If it's a project that will organize something, I may even be excited by it.

Today was just such a day. Overcoming my inability to craft, and perhaps inspired by the resulting organization and decorative effect (and--who am I kidding--an excuse to use the staple gun), we made this today:


Hair Accessories Organizer - Flotsam of the Mind

A hair bow and barrette organizer, hung on the wall of her room at just her height. Paint a canvas and staple ribbon to it for clipping hair accessories. I confess, I'm kind of proud of our work.

Hair Accessories Organizer - Flotsam of the Mind

Perhaps even more enjoyable than the project and the result is imagining the reaction of any friend who knew me prior to about two years ago. Sorry friends, but it seems that stay-at-home motherhood and the suburbs have finally gotten to me. I can craft [looking abashed].

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Voices in My Head

This afternoon, we drove home from a ski weekend in New Hampshire.  With the bulk of the 2.5- to 3-hour trip (assuming no traffic) ahead of us, I stopped for gas.  The minivan has a little lever inside that you have to pull to pop open the fuel tank. I pulled.  It didn't pop open.

I pulled, I pried, I Googled.  Couldn't get the damn thing open.  With quite a bit less than half a tank of gas, my only hope was to drive home and hope for the best.

According to the vehicle navigation, I had over 130 miles to travel.  According to the vehicle computer, I had 200 miles worth of gas left.  One would think that this would have left me fairly confident.  It did not.  Not at all.

It wasn't only that I had no faith in the accuracy of the computer (assuming what rate of speed?  what if there's construction?  what if there's traffic?  what if it's just wrong?).  It was because I could hear my dad in my head telling me to "never let it get below a quarter of a tank."  When faced with a computer telling me it's ok and the Dad voice in my head telling me to worry, I'll go with worry every time.

My dad knows I have several of these practical bits of his burned into my brain.  I gifted him a list of them one year for Father's Day.  It includes such wise advice as:

"Never stand on the top rung of a ladder."

"Always pay your credit card off at the end of the month."

"Measure twice, cut once."

"Red on right when returning."

And, of course, "never let it get below a quarter of a tank."

I always feel a bit bad that I can't attribute similar priceless wisdom to my mom.  It's probably because, with the exception of algebra, she taught me everything else, so individual phrases don't stand out. When it comes to things my mom said, I more often hear them coming out of my mouth toward my children than in my head.  It's only after the fact that I realize what I have said and where I picked up that turn of phrase.


Now that I'm thinking about it, there is one truism I can still hear in my mother's voice inside my head:  "If it's meant to be, it will be."  That one used to make me roll my eyes and groan.  Completely useless.  Nothing I can do there.  She tossed that one around a fair amount around the time I was broken up with the guy I thought was "the one."  Wouldn't you know that she was right about that corny useless advice?  Apparently it was meant to be, and it did get around to being, since Mom was tossing that one around in 1995 and the guy is upstairs asleep right now, as are our two kids. 

I'm 41 years old and blessed with two very wise and helpful parents who continue to field questions by phone and email, but I think most of the basics are already bouncing around in my head.

Oh, and on this one, the computer was right after all.  I got home with less than a quarter tank of gas, a high degree of anxiety, and (allegedly) 70 miles to spare.  And the fuel door opened on the first try in the driveway.  But I'm still going to take it in for service, because I can hear a voice in my head telling me it's "better to be safe than sorry."






Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Water Cooler

The parenting question that plagues me today:  just how important is water cooler talk?

Not a real water cooler.  They don't have those in second grade.  I'm not sure they have them in most workplaces, but even without a water cooler we still have water cooler talk, or pop culture literacy.  For adults, it's sports, TV, movies, other celebrity news.  I'm not sure what it is for second grade boys.  Pokemon cards?  Legos?  Harry Potter?  Star Wars?

I have a second grade boy, so you'd think I'd know.  But I don't.  He's never been a flavor-of-the-month kind of kid.  Years of encyclopedic dinosaur study followed by years of snapping together Lego pieces, in both cases with exceptional research and a vast amount of other reading.  He can talk fairly intelligently about Greek mythology but doesn't know the basic rules of football.  His spatial ability is extraordinary, but his knowledge of the Disney Channel is nil.

I'm ok with that.  I'd much rather discuss Greek mythology and how it appears in the Percy Jackson series than discuss Pokeman cards, but I don't know that I'm my child's most important audience.  As a teacher helpfully pointed out to a similarly situated friend a few years ago, "All the other kids are trading Pokemon cards, while yours is discussing the Iraq war."  I'd much rather be around a dinner table with the Iraq kid, but I don't want him ostracized from the other kids.  While I want my child to be mature, intellectual, and able to relate to adults, it's critical that he relate to his peers.

Some of it is innate.  The kid just doesn't care about sports--watching them or playing them, although we've pushed him to do the latter.  But we aren't really helping either.  While my kids admittedly watch a lot of kid and family movies, they watch nearly no commercial television.  While my son likes to play his friends' Wii, we don't own a game console.  He's asked, but not often or with any passion, so I haven't yet felt the need.  Without sports, video games, or TV, are we just making it harder for him?  Is it worth the trade-off?

Friday, February 3, 2012

Crafts & Experiments

As some of you know, I decided to do something a little different for the party favor for my son's 8th birthday party this weekend.  I despise the standard little bag of trinkets and candy, which we inevitably argue about for a few minutes before it is forgotten and I slip it all into the trash.  What a waste.

Our "entertainment" is going to be an after school activities teacher from my son's school who will do a building project with the kids. (I may wrap the entire house in tarps to protect us from 8-year-olds with glue guns).  In keeping with that theme, I printed several projects from the Internet and inserted them into a binder with a cover design by the birthday boy.



A few of you have asked if I could share the projects, so I'll include the links here. Disclaimer:  We have not yet tried any of these projects, except for the recipe for traditional play dough, which I've made many times.



1.  toy parachute -  http://zakkalife.blogspot.com/2011/06/how-to-make-toy-parachute.html

2.  simple sailboat - http://www.looledo.com/index.php/simple-sailboat.html

3.  mini-biplane - http://www.looledo.com/index.php/mini-biplane.html

4.  tornado in a bottle - http://www.weatherwizkids.com/experiments-tornado-bottle.htm

5.  catapult - http://www.science-sparks.com/2012/01/09/making-a-catapult-looking-at-elasticity/

6.  marshmallow catapult - http://familyfun.go.com/crafts/marshmallow-catapult-874571/

7.  hovercraft - http://scribbit.blogspot.com/2010/08/summer-kid-crafts-make-hovercraft.html

8.  dinosaur soap - http://blog.kiwicrate.com/1874/dinosaur-soap/

9.  cardboard boomerangs - http://manmadediy.com/davideriknelson/posts/1568-how-to-make-diy-boomerangs-from-recycled-boxes



Here are the recipes we included:
Traditional Play Dough
1 cup flour
1 cup warm water
2 teaspoons cream of tartar
1 teaspoon oil
1/4 cup salt
food coloring
Mix all ingredients, adding food coloring last.  Stir over medium heat until smooth.  Remove from pan and knead until blended smooth.  Place in plastic bag or airtight container when cooled.

Edible Chocolate Play Dough - from www.instructables.com 
3 cups powdered sugar
6 Tbs cocoa powder
3/4 cup powdered milk
1/2 cup stick butter OR margarine at room temperature (butter does work better for this)
1/2 cup light corn syrup
1 tsp vanilla (or other flavoring)

You will also want up to an extra cup of powdered sugar, powdered milk, or flour for kneading.

Mix the powdered sugar, cocoa powder, and powdered milk in a medium bowl and set aside. Then combine the corn syrup, butter, and vanilla in a large mixing bowl. Beat on low speed until creamy and well combined. 

Once your wet mix is ready, you can add the powdered mix in about one third at a time. It doesn't have to be perfectly mixed because you will have to finish it off kneading it by hand on a well-powdered surface. It should appear something like thick chocolate frosting before you start to work it. A little powder mix not quite blended in yet is also fine.

Edible Peanut Butter Play Dough - from www.instructables.com 
1/3 cup honey 
1/2 cup peanut butter
1/2 cup powdered milk (plus more if needed)
Mix all ingredients in a medium-sized mixing bowl. Start to mix it with a fork. Once it is fairly incorporated, you can knead it with your hands. If you want, add more powdered milk until you are happy with the consistency.  Keeps best in the refrigerator.

Clay - from www.instructables.com 
3 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour
1/2 cup of salt
1 tablespoon of cream of tarter
2 1/2 tablespoons of oil
2 cups of water
food coloring (optional)
Boil water, adding food coloring if desire.  While boiling, mix all dry ingredients in a separate mixing bowl.  Once water is boiling, remove from heat and mix in oil.  Pour water mixture into dry ingredients.  Let cool some, then knead until consistency of store-bought clay. 
You can store in an airtight container to reuse or let your creations air-dry.
Fake Blood - from www.instructables.com
1 Cup of corn syrup
One teaspoon of red food coloring
2 drops of blue food coloring
A teaspoon or so of cocoa powder
Flour and water
Mix corn syrup and food coloring together.  Slowly add cocoa powder and continue stirring the mixture.  Let sit at room temperature for 10 minutes, then stir again.  If the mixture is too thin, add flour until correct consistency.  If too thick, add water until correct consistency. 
I hope that the party guests and their parents will enjoy this after the party.  It's quite possible that I'll catch some flak for the fake blood recipe, but I have to admit I'm pandering to the 8-year-old audience with that one.
If you're looking for other interesting kid projects, check out my ever-growing Kid Stuff board on Pinterest.  Click on this link - http://pinterest.com/stilsken/kid-stuff/ - or use the red Pinterest button on the upper right-hand of this page.
Now I'm off to make the birthday boy's favorite ice cream cake, this year with chocolate chip cookie dough ice cream substituted for vanilla, and the dough for the chocolate chip cookies he'll be taking to school on Monday.
I'm sorry for the wonky font problems in the second half of this post.  No matter what I do, I cannot get it the same size as the rest of the post.  Sorry, but I've already wasted too much time trying to fix it.  Please deal with it.