Monday, August 20, 2012

Minor Explosions

OK, not really so much an explosion, although that's what the kids called it.  More just effervescence.  I told you I had a few activities up my sleeve today, so here's the second kid activity post of the day. You may notice that, when it comes to crafts and activities with the kids, I only post those that produced colorful, fun-to-photograph results.  What can I say, there's a little something for all of us in such projects.

This one was great because it's a little art, a little science, and only required items I already had on hand.  I first learned of this clever trick here.  Of course, we already knew about the splendid things that can happen with baking soda and vinegar, but it never would have occurred to me to add a little food coloring.  That's all this is--a pan of baking soda, vinegar with food coloring, and a few eye droppers (in our case, leftover pediatric medicine dispensers).

We all enjoyed it so much that we washed the first results down the sink and did it again.  If I weren't planning on baking banana bread before returning to the grocery store, we would have used the last of the baking soda for a third try.  Next time, we'll use the neon food coloring.

Two planned home activities before noon on a Monday.  Not bad for Day One of Camp Mommy.

Bubble Art

Both kids are home all this week. No camp, no school, no travel. Just lots of togetherness. The kids were tired today from the last two weeks of camp and a father-son water park trip on Friday, and I was a bit worn out from having some friends over for a family swim/dinner combo last night, so we laid low today. The reason this succeeded was that, thanks to Pinterest, I had a few projects up my sleeve.

I had been wanting to try this project ever since I saw it. I picked up two $5 canvases at Job Lot yesterday, and a project was born. The only other requirements were bubbles and bubble wands (for which we were well-stocked) and food coloring. The concept is simple:  put a few drops of food coloring in the bubble liquid, then blow bubbles at the canvas.

Here is one canvas, about four bubbles into the project.

After more bubbles.

And our second artist's canvas.

That's all it took to produce these final masterpieces.

It was a bit messy, so I'm glad we put out some rags and wore our messy clothes

A certain family member might not have been that neat with his own skin, but I think it looks rather festive.

We were so pleased with the results that we decided to hang the artwork in our newly remodeled studio (aka homework room/craft room).

It was an all-around success. We had fun doing it, it passed the time on an unscheduled day, and the kids each ended up with a beautiful piece of their own artwork to hang above their desks.

If you're interested in more kid crafts and projects, you can check out my Kid Stuff board on Pinterest.  We haven't yet tried all of it, so if you do something, let me know how it goes.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Tickled Pink

When we moved into this house, my daughter was an infant.  She therefore had no say in how her room was decorated.  I chose a beautiful light green color (Sherwin Williams Honeydew), and her room remains one of my favorites in the house.

She is now five and has been voicing opinions about her room and everything else for quite some time. With respect to her room, those opinions mostly have involved pink.  I steadfastly refuse to paint the entire room pink, but have been happy to indulge her need to girl it up otherwise.  She has a pink bedspread, pink bins in her IKEA Expedit, and pink striped curtains that my mom helped me make (not to mention liberal use of Dollar Store wall decals).

The last time I tried to pacify her need for pink, I bought a few cans of Ballet Pink spray paint.  I painted a small bookcase I had removed from her brother's closet and was about to haul to the curb, as well as her $15 unfinished IKEA nightstand, then let her decorate them with flower wall decals.

This time, I decided to paint some walls--just not the ones she was hoping I would paint.  This is her closet.  Nice enough, but nothing special.

When we bought the house, the bedroom closets had a single shelf and hanging bar.  We had custom shelving put in because otherwise they were a complete waste of space.  A couple years ago, I repainted my son's closet to eliminate a hideous '70s avocado color and white areas where the old shelf used to hang.  To make things simple, I painted it one shade lighter than the blue walls in the bedroom.

Off and on since I did that project, I've considered painting my daughter's closet.  Unlike her brother's, there really wasn't anything wrong with hers, so it took a while to motivate to change it.  I finally got there this week.

There are good and bad aspects of this project.  The good news is that it's a pretty forgiving project.  Even if I made a huge error, odds are that no one would ever see it.  The bad news is that (i) the space is really cramped to work in, (ii) I needed to paint around the built-in shelves, (iii) there is wall-to-wall carpet in the space, and (iv) the wall is that 1970s swirly textured stuff, which soaks up paint like a sponge.  They say "no pain, no gain," so I gave it a whirl.

First I emptied the closet and removed all the shelves that could be removed.

I put adhesive plastic down to protect the carpet, then got to work edging around the shelves with a brush.  You might make the mistake of thinking that, since there already is so much brush work to be done, that you should forego the roller and paint the whole thing.  You'd be wrong.  I made that mistake when I painted the swirly walls around built-in shelving in the mildewy foyer closet (first closet project).  You also might think you should tape all those shelves (did that once too), but it's not necessary.  Because the shelves are laminate, paint wipes off very easily.  It was much faster to paint and wipe off the shelves as I went.  I did tape the edges of the swirly ceiling, because it is nearly impossible to wipe off unintended wet paint from that stuff.

The baseboard appeared to never have been painted before, so I taped the carpeting around it with duct tape.  I used a putty knife to shove the tape between the baseboard and the carpet, protecting the carpet, then painted the baseboards.

A couple afternoons and one minor head bump later, this is what the closet looks like.

Now if that's not girly, I don't know what is.  Oh, I know, stuffing it full of dresses.  Here it is all put back together.

When I was edging around those shelves, I questioned my decision to undertake the project.  An excited little girl jumping up and down and exclaiming "thank you, thank you" made it worth it.

Sailing..Takes Me Away

My son is attending a two-week beginner sailing camp.  Every time I drop him off or pick him up, I am blown away by the beauty of the harbor filled with sailboats.  I have never sailed, but my mom sailed for years, ending when I was about ten or eleven.  For the life of me, I cannot figure out if my visceral reaction to the boats is one of nostalgia for time spent at the sailing club as a kid or if it's merely a feeling of peacefulness created by the combination of sailboats and water.  How on earth did I ever live inland?

Friday, August 10, 2012

An Option on Two

Only the little one was in camp today, so I was hanging out with my son, dragging him to fun adventures like Whole Foods. As I may have mentioned, he's rather bookish, and at the moment he's deep into an apparently very good book. This meant he read in the car, tried to read during lunch with me, read while I get the idea. It was quiet.

Being alone with just my eldest is always a very different experience than being with both kids. Mostly pretty quiet. Perhaps introspective. Definitely curious. It got me thinking about what life would be like if we only had our eldest, which once was a distinct possibility.

Neither my husband nor I have any siblings and seem neither particularly warped by nor resentful about the fact. We each appreciate our own time and space and respect the other's. I grew up with a large cast of aunts and uncles (my mother is the second eldest of six), so there was chaos aplenty available, but we always could retire to our own quiet existence across town, which was fine by me.

I never wanted a lot of kids. Before and well into our married years, I always told my husband that I definitely wanted one child with an option on two. As best as I can recall, he signed off on these terms.   In time, we got our one, and he was the most splendid baby and toddler--easygoing, happy, friendly, and cuter than I could have imagined we could create. We absolutely thought the sun rose and set around this child.

When it reached should-we-have-another time, I struggled. He would have no aunts, uncles, or cousins and, while I hoped we and his grandparents would be around for a very long time, was it fair to leave him such little family? But, could I possibly love another child as much as this one?  It was hard to imagine.

I discussed these feelings with two good friends, each of whom had a first baby the same age as mine and each of whom came from a family of three or four children. I don't know if Christie knows it, and I'll credit her here in writing so that my daughter can thank her someday, but she really influenced my decision to have a second child. She had recently lost her father to illness and explained to me how each of the siblings in her family played their own critical role during his illness--one the responsible caretaker, one the comic, one the hugger and crier. For the first time, I realized that someday I'd have to be everything to my parents in that scenario, and that felt pretty lonely and responsibility-laden.

So, I called my option and biology cooperated, giving us a baby girl who is wildly different in personality than her brother, but equally wonderful. She adds a huge spark that this family would otherwise be missing. She's clever and chatty and up for anything. She is confident, independent, and has the best belly laugh you'll ever hear. She's high-impact, which means that some quiet time alone with her brother is an occasional special treat, but I can't imagine this family without her.

I just hope my daughter realizes that she is never ever permitted to be estranged from her brother because part of the reason she is here is to be there for him. And while big brother was here first, he is responsible for looking out for a little sister who will never ever want to be looked out for. As far as I'm concerned, I brought them into this world and I'm raising them, so I can demand they grow up to be the best of friends, even if they fight like the siblings they are.

*     *     *

I have linked this post at Underblog Collective at Project Underblog.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Welcome to Our Home

Since the kids' last day of school this summer, we have been traveling nearly 50% of the time.  When home, the kids have gone to camp quite a bit but have still been underfoot a fair number of days.  This has left little time for my DIY projects that bring me such satisfaction.  Both are in camp this week, so I've been trying to toss in a couple quick projects.  None of them are what anyone would call "necessary," but I enjoy doing it and get continuing satisfaction every time I look at it.

Yesterday, I decided to remedy this situation.

That was our front door mat, which was composed of lovely jewel tones when new this spring.  Now, it just looks faded and nasty.  Hardly the first impression I want to present to someone important enough to come to the front door.

Inspired by blogs and Pinterest, and increasingly convinced that one can spray paint just about anything, I bought a rubber door mat and some spray paint that I thought would match the front door.  Our front door is a wonderful shade of red and my favorite thing about the exterior of the house.

I nearly purchased a wrought iron-style rubber mat, but all those curlicues really aren't my thing.  I'm more of a geometric kind of girl, so I bought this.  It has a furry, textured top rather than the slickness of a regular rubber mat, which also appealed to me.  I worried that the paint might not work as well on the textured surface, but it appears to have worked just fine.

As I took my new geometric rubber mat to the backyard to spray paint, I looked down and confirmed that the style was consistent with my taste.  This is the mat on the back door--same basic pattern.  I am nothing if not completely predictable.

A few coats of spray paint later, this is what my new mat looked like.

And here it is, basking in the morning sun at the front door.

The mat color matches the front door color quite well.  Some might deem it too match-y, but since I already love this color on the front of the house, I like the additional pop of red.

This is a much more welcoming view for guests, don't you think?  Since it's rubber, I suspect that it will hold up very well.  All this for about $20 and a few very quick coats of spray paint.  This is just the kind of quick but rewarding project I was looking for, and I'm feeling much better now.  Now if I could just get the powder room cabinet under control....

Wednesday, August 8, 2012


Ten years ago, I was a Silicon Valley attorney living in an 840-square-foot apartment.  My only responsibilities were to my husband, my employers and clients, and my houseplants.  Once a week, I watered the few houseplants.

Five years ago, I was a stay-at-home mother of two in a Chicago condominium with a couple planter boxes of geraniums on our patio overlooking the alley.  My sleep and my houseplants suffered.  Frankly, the geraniums didn't fare that well either.

Today, I am a stay-at-home mother of two school-age children with a house and yard in the suburbs.   In addition to tending to the husband and children, I clean, maintain and seek to improve the greater-than-840-square-foot house and the lovely but larger-than-necessary yard.  

The yard is both a blessing and a curse to me.  Fortunately, a previous owner must have spent a fortune on perennials, because our yard is splendid when cared for (except for the grass--don't look closely at the "grass").  The down side is that it requires a lot of care.  I have surprised myself by learning a few things about gardening, and I now do everything except mulch.  I edge, weed, plant and prune.  Boy, do I prune....but I digress.

We have traveled quite a bit this summer, and my yard maintenance has been sub par.  I try to keep up, but some of the pruning that already should have been completed will be put off until fall.  There is only one thing that I have remained vigilant about this summer--the wisteria.  Summer 2012:  Me vs. The Wisteria.  I've won a few battles, but I fear I might lose the war on this one.

To explain:  we have a pergola in the backyard that is covered with wisteria.  When in bloom, it is positively gorgeous.

I had an initial love affair with the wisteria.  My non-gardening self didn't understand why everyone said it was a weed or, as one of my gardening books says, "vigorous and fast-growing."  It was pretty.  It grew.  What was there not to like?

The reason I didn't understand the wisteria's need to propagate was this:

Apparently, that guy who was so willing to spend money on landscaping spent his savings before hiring the contractor who built the pergola.  Slightly over a year after we moved in, a strong wind caught it and pulled down the pergola and the four wisteria trees that were attached to it.  We severely cut back the trees (and lost one entirely), insurance paid to rebuild the pergola, and I fussed for a few years about getting the wisteria to grow up and around the pergola.  The wisteria was so busy recovering from the trauma, it really wasn't dropping seeds everywhere and trying to propagate.

That has changed.  This summer, I can walk outside and new seedlings will have sprouted in the three hours since I lasted walked by.  Since the wisteria is "vigorous," I consider it imperative to pull up every stray seedling the minute I see it, before it can really take hold.  Like Saint-ExupĂ©ry's Little Prince and his baobabs, I must remain vigilant against the wisteria every single day.

Back in college, my friends and I played far too much Tetris, and I used to see Tetris pieces falling every time I closed my eyes.  Now I see wisteria leaves.   Sometimes, I wonder if all this upward (and outward to the 'burbs) progress was a step in the right direction.  Those few houseplants in my tiny apartment in California were healthy and unobtrusive--like I wish for in my pets, they were wonderfully underwhelming. After another afternoon spent sweating in the backyard, pulling wisteria from every nook and cranny, I'm starting to miss that little apartment and its houseplants.


"It is a question of discipline," the little prince said to me later on. "When you've finished your own toilet in the morning, then it is time to attend to the toilet of your planet, just so, with the greatest care. You must see to it that you pull up regularly all the baobabs, at the very first moment when they can be distinguished from the rosebushes which they resemble so closely in their earliest youth. It is very tedious work," the little prince added, "but very easy."... Sometimes," he added, "there is no harm in putting off a piece of work until another day. But when it is a matter of baobabs, that always means a catastrophe."  -- Antoine Saint-ExupĂ©ry, The Little Prince

Or, to paraphrase Dan Patrick, you can't stop it, you can only hope to contain it.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Sankaty Head Lighthouse

I have a thing for lighthouses.  Years ago, when we took a trip along the Oregon coast, I dragged my grumbling husband to every one within reasonable driving distance.  My kids were only a little less willing to participate during our recent Nantucket trip, but loved the lighthouse even though we could not go inside (it's still a working Coast Guard station).  Said my daughter, who threw a fit about leaving the house, "I regret that I argued with you about coming here."

Sankaty Head Lighthouse, Nantucket

Sunday, August 5, 2012


When I posted about my family out in those Very Big Waves, this was what I was talking about.

Thursday, August 2, 2012


The four of us are on vacation at the beach this week.  This is always a special time of year for our family because my husband gets to participate too.  Of course, depending on how things are going at work, he may have to be on the phone and miss some of the fun, but we are away, we are together, and it is great family time.

I grew up in the Midwest, so oceans are rather foreign to me.  I love being at the ocean but have zero interest in being in the ocean--too many unknown scary things (sharks, jellyfish), too salty, too wavy.  I can sit on a beach and watch and listen to the ocean all week long, and I am happy as a clam.  I am more of a beach facilitator--I pack and unpack, serve food, act as sherpa, apply and reapply sunscreen, take photos, and lifeguard.

In contrast, my husband grew up spending summers at the Jersey Shore, so the ocean is his thing.  He has imparted all his body surfing, boogie boarding, and other ocean fun wisdom to our eight-year-old, who causes me much anxiety by seeming nearly fearless in the water.  Must he hover underwater an additional three seconds after each wave has passed, just to make my heart race?

Anyway...we were at yet another beach today, and my boys played in many more gigantic waves.  The little one was a bit miffed, because it was far too rough for her to even be in the water.  After she'd been reasonably patient most of the afternoon--digging holes, making sand pies, and putting her toes in--I told my husband that perhaps we could stop at one of the calmer bay side beaches on the way home because she wanted to swim too.

He asked her if she wanted to go in.  She said "yes."  He picked her up and carried her out into the waves.  Big waves.  Very big waves.  Sitting in my lifeguard perch up on the beach, I watched my whole family out in those tremendous waves.  My daughter had her arms clutched around her dad's neck as tightly as she could.  He had his arms wrapped around her, doing the same.  My son swam up and joined them, all of them alternately riding or ducking under the waves together.

As I watched the three of them holding on to one another, all I could think of was "mine." I marvelled at my family, at how my husband and I have made this together, and I was happy.  Mine.  Mine.  Mine.