Saturday, March 30, 2013

Does Windows

I had a parenting epiphany today. There was a fit, some rude words, a lot of stomping and door slamming, most of it not by me. I sent a little girl to her room, where she refused to stay, storming out to yell more. Desperate for more effective punishment and unwilling to retract today's playdate (which would only punish her friend and, let's be honest, me) I took away Baby. She sleeps with Baby, and doesn't really sleep without Baby. Amateur move, but don't worry, I turned it around.

It still took another threat to actually get her to stay in there and calm down. Then I had to figure out how I could give Baby back without capitulating. The mother-daughter wars are tactical, even at this phase. Then I stumbled upon a win-win for me: give her the option to earn back Baby with extra chores. She has the power to determine her fate, I get to return Baby without having given in to a six-year-old, and I get my windows washed.

girl washing windows

I told her she needed to wash all the kitchen windows she could reach. Because there were only fingerprint and face marks on the ones she could reach anyway, this was not an incomplete task. She did them all. Happily. And then proceeded to ask if she could clean the rest of the windows she could reach. I agreed.

It was the best possible outcome:  I won, but she doesn't know that.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Celebrating Life

In the summer of 2011, I learned of the unrelated deaths of two college classmates within a single week. One lost a long and public battle with cancer, the other succumbed to an undisclosed sudden illness. Both deaths were surprising and sad.

In a couple weeks, I will be returning to my alma mater for my 20th reunion. I am leaving my husband and kids at home, staying with my college roommates, and planning to see many very dear friends. I also plan to get up early to exercise on Saturday.

I haven't lost it. I am still the sleep-loving fool I've always been. I am getting up early to participate in a Cycle for Survival event organized by classmates in honor of our classmates who have passed away. Cycle for Survival is an indoor spinning event that raises money for rare cancer research. It was founded by my classmate, Jennifer Goodman Linn, and her husband when Jen was being treated for the cancer that ultimately took her life. The organizers would like to use the event not only to raise money for a good cause and to honor the charity's founder, but to take a moment to remember all those friends and classmates who have died.

The In Memoriam list is longer than I would have guessed. I don't know all the people on the list, and none were my best friends. A few were people I hung out with and shared common friends with, and I will have those people in mind while cycling.

I've never been to a spin class. I don't even ride my bike much unless I'm puttering around with my kids. And I love sleep. It's one of my favorite things and only became more so after several years with not enough of it. I will probably stay out too late the night before the event, and odds are I will have a few drinks. I am not going to be happy when my alarm goes off on Saturday morning.

While all this is true, the last thing I plan to do is complain about it. We are gathering to honor people who have died and to raise money so that fewer people will suffer cancer. A little sleep deprivation doesn't seem like much of a sacrifice in that context.

Not everyone will be able to participate. Some have kids who don't sleep at night. Some will be getting over an illness. Some took a red-eye across the country for work. Some will come from the West Coast, and exercise at body-clock-5:45 a.m. is brutal. I get it. Sometimes life gets in the way of celebrating Life.

I hope that those people will drop by the event to cheer on the participants at a more decent hour or will consider donating to the teams that are cycling. At a minimum, I hope that in the midst of the hugging and dancing and catching up, we each take a moment to remember those we have lost and to reflect upon how fortunate we are to be able to be there.

If you'd like to make a donation to Cycle for Survival, you can do so at my donation page.  

Monday, March 25, 2013


My daughter's best friend was on a trip at the end of last week. She missed two or three days of school and didn't return until Sunday. My daughter lamented her absence multiple times a day.

At school drop-off this morning, her friend got out of the car in front of us and waited with the teacher to get my daughter out of the car. The minute the girls saw each other, the most beautiful thing happened to their faces; it was as if they were illuminated. Both girls broke into huge smiles, their eyes brightened, they seemed to lighten and glow.

little girls in rainboots holding hands

I drove home feeling warmed by their glow and reflected how fortunate they are to have a friend. While these two little girls will likely drift apart and other friends will move into that special place in their hearts, they will not outgrow the curative warmth of friendship. They will forever be excited to see the dear friends they have missed, those who reside in the inner circle of their hearts.

I will be seeing such friends in a couple weeks when I attend my college reunion. While I do not speak frequently to most of them, these friends are among my most dear. I miss them. I lament their absence in my daily life. When I reunite with them--just like the little girls I watched today--my face will break into a smile, my eyes will brighten, my heart will feel lighter, and I might even start to glow a little.

It is a beautiful thing to have a friend and a blessing to have many, especially if they will dance like fools with you.  Mine will.

*     *     *

I have linked this post at Just Write.

Friday, March 22, 2013

If You Give a Mom a Project

illustration from If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
Illustration by Felicia Bond from If You Give a Mouse a Cookie
I have a theory that Laura Numeroff is a DIYer. If you have children of a certain age, you likely know Numeroff's If You Give A Mouse a Cookie (and all its spin-offs). "If you give a mouse a cookie," he'll need a glass of milk go to with it, and then a straw to drink it, and then a napkin to clean up, and then hilarious hijinx ensue, major messes are made, and in the end the mouse is going to want another cookie.

The mouse-cookie process is my DIY process. I like to do home improvement projects because I enjoy the work and the feeling of satisfaction I get when I complete a project. I also hate to spend money. If I'm honest, I'm also driven by my belief that if I want something done right I'd better just do it myself. This is how I get into trouble. I begin one small project, notice something else amiss, fix that thing, which leads to another and another and so on.

Take the bookshelf, for example. I recently noticed that the small table and chairs in my daughter's bedroom were used not for writing or drawing, but accumulating junk. Her bookshelves were full, so books were piling up on the furniture and on the floor.

This was a simple fix: remove the table and chairs, replace with a bookcase.

I did those things, and as I set the bookcase in place I noticed something that had escaped my denying eyes for six years. The painters who repainted my daughter's room before we moved in had painted over a piece of Scotch tape.

You will argue that I could have left that piece of tape there. You would be wrong. Once I'd seen it, I couldn't unsee it, and it was going to bother me forevermore. So I removed the tape.

This small act led to the following:

* spackle and sand the tape spot;

* notice the drywall nails working their way out of another wall and the giant crack in that wall;

* hammer, spackle, and sand nails and cracks;

* vacuum, dust, and wipe down walls and baseboards;

* realize I have no leftover paint for this room;

* go to paint store to purchase paint:

* repaint two small walls and patch other areas;

* notice that, now that the wall looks nice, it emphasizes how ugly the baseboards are;

* empty bookshelves;

* move furniture away from the walls;

* duct tape the carpet;

* caulk;

* repaint the baseboards;

* remove duct tape;

* move furniture back into place;

* set bookcase in place (again) and reshelve books. At midnight.

It seems that a fictitious mouse and I have a lot in common, and I didn't even get any cookies. At least my daughter no longer has a "cracked and broken" (her words) room.

Am I alone in my neurosis, or do other DIYers have this problem?

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Fewer Voices

two children looking at the ocean

It is easier to hear when there are fewer voices.

I maintain another blog, viewed only by my husband and our families, to record for posterity cute things the kids say, their artwork, and their milestones. I've been pretty lousy about keeping up with it for the past several months. Today, I've already posted three stories there, and I'm now realizing there were 2-3 more things I meant to post but have already forgotten.

My kids were not particularly precocious today (although my son's letter to LEGO was pretty fantastic), nor did they achieve any milestones. No one even drew a picture for me today. The reason I had something to tell the grandparents was because I heard what my children had to say. The reason I was able to hear them was because I spent time with each of them alone.

When my kids are together--which is most of the time they are with me--they are playing together, talking simultaneously, screaming and fighting, competing for my attention, or generally driving me nuts. When I am with only one of my children, it is quieter. Calmer. Less competitive. Less contentious.  They speak to me, and they often say interesting things. I can hear them because there is only one voice.

I spent most of the day with my son, who has school vacation. After school, he and my husband left for a trip and I spent the evening with only my daughter. Several times I thought, "so this is what it would be like to have an only child." Less chaos, more talking, better listening.

I am going to make it a point to spend time with each of my children separately, so I am reminded of their individuality. Each is not only a brother or a sister, but an independent person with some fascinating things to share.

*     *     *

I have linked this post at Just Write.


I often find myself wondering what my kids have learned. I don't wonder so much about ideals and morals and ethics, because I feel I actively teach them those every day. I worry about reading, writing, and arithmetic. What practical life skills are they learning from me? What life skills are they learning at school?

Sometimes, they show me when I'm least expecting it. Today was one of those days.

My son, who is nine, used some of his computer time to watch LEGO Hero Factory videos, which are promotional mini-movies. He expressed his frustration with a particular thing he'd seen, explaining that it left him with more questions than answers. He said, "I think I'm going to write a letter to LEGO to ask them some questions about that."

And that is what he did, without a single iota of input from me. He sat down and did a rough draft. This afternoon, I walked into the kitchen to find him at the table with his rough draft, a dictionary, pencil, and paper. He finished his letter right before leaving town for a ski trip with his dad.

Because he didn't have time to research where to mail the letter, he has asked me to do so. We will then go to the post office to purchase appropriate postage to Denmark. I have assured him that some LEGO employee is bound to speak English, which was a matter of some concern. I told him that it's unlikely he'll get a response, but wouldn't it be great if he did? I plan to encourage his letter writing, and I hope those LEGO guys do too.

In case you're curious, my favorite parts of the whole endeavor are the rough draft and use of a dictionary (an actual book dictionary--which I received from my great-aunt Mildred as a high school graduation gift--that sits on the shelf next to my desk).

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Florida Filtered

boy with net

Our recent Florida trip was the first time I've taken nearly all our vacation photos using my iPhone. I am emotionally attached to my DSLR, but I was afraid to subject it to the sand and water at the beach. The iPhone 5 has a much better camera than my old 3GS, so this wasn't a great sacrifice.

I'm usually not a fan of preset filters and other camera app tricks. I find that many people think they can take an otherwise unremarkable photo, apply a camera app filter, and think it's a gem. Perhaps I've done the same here, but I do like the results.

boy and grandfather walking on the beach

My go-to camera app is Snapseed. It allows you to either take a photo with the app and then edit, or to import any previously taken photo from your library and post-process. I often use the Tune Image function to add brightness or additional color saturation, as well as to straighten or crop an image that I didn't get quite right. It was instrumental in correcting all the askew horizons taken while trying to keep up with two kids on the beach. While there are filters within Snapseed, I rarely use them.

boy in tide pool with storm clouds above

Blux Pro, which I tried for the first time on this trip, is all about filters. It will "read" the weather and suggest which filter to apply (although I'm pretty sharp and could distinguish among sunny, cloudy, and rainy without help of an app). After that, you can apply any of several different mood and color filters. I spent many hours last week standing around watching a little boy with a net try to catch critters, so I fooled around with these filters to amuse myself. I won't use them as my default, but they were fun to play with and produced some dramatic results.

boy near driftwood watching waves at the beach

The only down side to Blux Pro is that you can only use it real-time; there is no ability to post-process previous shots. Because I was killing time anyway, this helped to pass the time. It would, however, be a serious problem if you were afraid of missing The Moment.

boy with net on the beach on a rainy day

I took most of these photos with Blux Pro and did some additional edits with Snapseed on a few. Did I mention I had a lot of time on my hands?

boy catching blue crabs with net

kids watching the ocean for dolphins

What do you think? Average photos with simple filters or worthwhile results? Would you have guessed they were taken on a smartphone? 

beach and waves

Saturday, March 16, 2013

I'll Show You Mine

I have issues with the blogger-verse. The more I explore ways to increase traffic to this blog, the more I'm convinced that the only people who read blogs are other bloggers. I'm also fairly certain that not as much reading is going on as you might think. It's more like one giant game of "I'll show you mine if you show me yours," at least here on the (very) low end of the blogosphere.

When I started this blog, I wasn't sure who might read it. I wasn't sure I who I wanted to read it. After I wrote my first blog post, I created a Facebook list called Inner Circle, comprised only of people I knew loved me and wouldn't mock my efforts (unless soundly deserved). I posted the first few posts only to the Inner Circle. After a few posts, my cursor hovered over the little blue Post button in the Facebook status box for quite a while before I took a deep breath and put myself out there by sharing with all my Facebook friends.

Now that I've fully embraced the blog, I would like to increase the number of people who read it. I'm under no illusion that I will make money with this little endeavor and have made no effort to do so. However, if I'm going to take the time to write and put it out in the world, it would be nice if someone read my work. I confess to stat-checking and love to receive comments. I suppose it boosts my ego, but it also feels like I'm interacting with people while sitting at my desk instead of just talking to myself. If I only wanted to talk to myself, a journal would have been the way to go. Instead, I have a blog with its own web address and a Flotsam of the Mind Facebook page. I'm trying to reach beyond my loyal friends and family who already care (at least a little bit) about what I have to say.

To that end, I've listed my blog at some blogger websites. I have begun to lurk less and comment more on the blogs I read. I've begun to take note of how other bloggers behave.

The one behavior I dislike is the You-follow-me, I'll-follow-you etiquette. Bloggers do it all the time. If advertisers need to see numbers, this is one way to increase your numbers. On some of the blogger sites, people will come right out and say it--Like my Facebook page and I'll like yours back! (This sort of person relies heavily on the exclamation point, in my experience.) The less blatant but very common practice is to Like another blogger's FB page and to post that you are doing so from your personal page ("so it counts"--still haven't investigated that one) but are from such-and-such blog. This implies that it certainly would be swell if that person Liked your blog's FB page right back.

At a minimum, it suggests that the blogger check out your blog, and to that end I have less of a problem with this practice. Personally, I would love to learn about a new blog as long as there is no expectation that I will Like it or follow it as a matter of course. That is what I desire for Flotsam of the Mind--to get greater exposure, to introduce it to new people. I hope that those new people will like it (lower-case L like). If they like what they see and might want to see more in the future, I would enjoy nothing more than if they officially (capital L) Like my page, become a follower, comment on a post, or even just put Flotsam of the Mind in their RSS feed, read, and lurk for a while.

My own practice when exploring a new blog is to browse a couple posts, read the About page, and if I think I might like to read more, put it in my Google Reader (as of this evening, Feedly) feed. Less frequently, I may comment on a post or (infrequently) link to one of my own posts that I think is relevant. If I particularly enjoy the blog, I will Like its Facebook page so I learn immediately of new posts or see any additional content the blogger offers. Only after I like, do I Like. I'm stingy with my Likes, and I think others should be too.

That's my little rant for today. This one has been bugging me for quite a while. My sense is that, if this offends you, we weren't meant for each other in the first place. Look soon for all the things bloggers can do that make me click away as fast as I can instead of "liking them back!!!" I'm full of complaints.

Friday, March 8, 2013


picture books

I recently connected on Facebook with a long-lost and much-missed college friend. We exchanged several messages about our jobs, family, and where we are now. He gave a quick summary about his young children, then asked about my family. I devoted 2-3 sentences to each of my kids, describing their personalities, hobbies, and quirks.

I realize now that I could have described my son much more simply: He is a nine-year-old boy that librarians allow to take home books not yet in the system.

This happens at his school library not infrequently. So much so that I'd stop noticing it any longer. As soon as my son spies a new shipment of books sitting at the librarian's desk, he's at it like a kid on Christmas. Because he is in the library nearly every day and has always been responsible about caring for and returning books, the school librarian will often hand him a new selection before it's been sealed in cellophane, assigned a shelf, and entered into the system. The first time this happened, I was surprised, but I assumed such things happen at private school, especially when the student's classroom is right down the hall from the library.

This week, it happened at our local public library. Our library has a Teen Room, and after browsing the upstairs children's section, my son likes to check out the comics and graphic novels in the Teen Room. The Teen Room librarian now knows us by name. Last time we were there, my son inquired if she had any additional books of a particular comic series. She found one she'd just grabbed off the for-sale shelf and handed it to him. No cellophane. No call number. No record that it had ever been in the library. She trusted him to return it to her in good condition, and I'm fairly certain he will.

That's just who he is--a trustworthy boy who loves books. My bookworthy boy. (So proud.)

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

How Babies Come Out

newborn baby girl
The questioner, soon after her arrival.
In our house, we have not yet discussed how babies get into mommies' tummies. No one has asked. We have discussed how they come out. For some reason, these conversations always happen in the car, and we had another just a few days ago.

My kids and I were discussing their favorite topic--stories from when they were little--when we stumbled upon the stories of their birth. Both of my children were born by c-section. This facilitates the childbirth conversations. I typically explain that, while babies "usually come out between the mom's legs," I had surgery and the doctor took them right out of my tummy. This is an opportune time to show the scar to prove it. That vague "between the legs" business always seemed to provide sufficient detail.

Until tonight.

I tucked in my six-year-old, turned off the lights, and was about to leave her room when she said, "You know how sometimes moms have to have surgery to get the baby out of their tummy?" Yes, I do know. Quite familiar, in fact.

She followed up with the natural next question. "If the mom doesn't need surgery, how does the baby come out?"

I'm of the school that believes in using the appropriate anatomical names for body parts. I told her that the baby comes out the mother's vagina. Having a vagina herself and being well aware of the basic construct, she looked at me with a look of combined puzzlement and astonishment. I explained, "It stretches out to fit" when it's time for the baby to come.

She sat quietly for a moment, pondering that, and with wide eyes she vehemently exclaimed, "Ouch!"

I'm pretty sure she gets the idea.

*    *     *

I have linked this post to Just Write at The Extraordinary Ordinary.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Reader's Block

books, corks, empty wine glass

I'm suffering from reader's block. It's like writer's block, except with reading.

Here's my problem. I'm in the middle of a book. I don't hate it, but I don't love it. If I really hated it or was bored to tears, I would quit and move on. There was a time when I would have slogged through to the end as a matter of principle, but those days are past. I have too many things I want to read that I suspect are fabulous to slog through anything. This book is not a slog-fest.

It's no page-turner either, at least not to me. It hasn't grabbed me and made me stay up late to finish it. It's not for my book club, so I don't have even a vague obligation to finish.

Part of me wants to move onto the next thing, but I feel this book still has potential. It's not horrible. It's an award-winner, highly recommended by people who seem to read the same sort of books that I do. It's a book I think I'm "supposed to" like. It still could turn out to be amazing.

Instead of either giving up or carrying on, I'm not reading. I'm not reading anything. I carry this book around, but never open it. I don't start something new, because I'm still planning on giving this book a fair shot. Rather than read this book or read another book, I read nothing--reader's block. It seems the worst of all possible outcomes, but this is what I do.

It's completely illogical, but I can't bring myself to commit to a plan of action. By default, I choose inaction, which means I'm wasting days of reading time.

Am I the only crazy person who gets stuck in this position? Do I so lack the ability to make a decision that I cannot choose what book to read?

Maybe. If you share this problem and would like to form a support group, please let me know.

In case it's wonderful, I'm not telling you the name of the book that has plunged me into this latest bout of reader's block. I wouldn't want to poison you against a potentially fantastic read.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Not Invited

I made a major snafu this weekend. Not merely an awkward or embarrassing thing, but one that might hurt a child's feelings. Mentally, I keep trying to place blame on his parents, but that's not fair. It's not even accurate. Even if it were, it would not be the kid's fault, and it's his feelings that matter.

I forgot to invite only one boy in my son's class to his birthday party today.

I know, it's horrible.

Here's how it happened. I used Evite to send the invitation, and the school directory for email addresses of parents I didn't already know. The boy (whom we will call Jim) was listed in the directory, as were both his parents. No email address was listed. I printed out the Evite invitation, wrote my contact information for the RSVP, and my son handed it to Jim at school. His mother called to say he would be able to make it.

Then we had a blizzard the day before the party and everything shut down, including the party venue. Without phone or electricity, I sat in my car and called everyone from my cell phone to tell them the party was cancelled and would be rescheduled. Several days later, it was. I resent the Evite to the original invitation list.

I failed to remember that Jim was not on that list.

The day before the rescheduled party, I realized what I had done. I immediately called Jim's mother, hoping an apology and last-minute invitation might solve things. In addition to no email address, Jim's family also had no home phone number listed. I called the listed cell phone. No answer, only a recording that the subscriber had not set up her voice mail box. No message, no invitation.

That's the story. That's how I excluded only one boy in a very small third grade class. A boy whom, from the little I have witnessed, could have used that invitation.

I pulled out the directory tonight and wrote an old-fashioned handwritten apology note. I will mail it to Jim's mother tomorrow. I explain what happened and I apologize to her and to Jim. I don't know what more I can do. My son's class only has thirteen children in it, and all the boys but Jim (and one with a last-minute conflict) attended. I fear it's likely to come up at school tomorrow. I fear Jim will hear and know he wasn't invited.

My son feels awful and has a whole explanation prepared in case this happens, but if I were Jim it wouldn't make much difference to me. Yes, it would be worse to be purposely excluded than accidentally excluded, but he was excluded either way. I screwed up, and I feel lousy about it.

Assuming you were in my shoes and the party had already happened, what would you have done?

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Water Bottle Party Favors

Water Bottle Party Favors - Flotsam of the Mind

As I've mentioned before (see here and here), I have major issues with the standard birthday party favor. While I'm rarely thrilled about gifts of candy after vast amounts of pizza and cake, it's the trinkets that really get me. The trinkets used to accumulate for months at a time; now I surreptitiously dispose of them at the first opportunity. And pencils--useful, yes. But at this point, we have enough pencils to make a log cabin village.

My son's 9th birthday party was supposed to have been a few weeks ago but was cancelled for the Blizzard of 2013. In the party favor department, that was a good thing as I had nothing then. I really wanted to make something ourselves, as we did for my daughter's birthday party, or provide the kids the means to do a project of their own, which we did for my son's 8th birthday.

Last year, my son's party was about building things, so we made each guest a binder of projects they could build at home. This year, the party is themeless. They will be roller skating and playing laser tag. I think this is a suitable trade-off for nine-year-old boys, but it made the party favor process more challenging.

I dragged both kids to Michaels on Friday, and my son immediately seized on these colorful water bottles as the gift idea. At $1.00 a piece, I couldn't argue with that. I bought a couple paint pens and personalized each bottle.

Water Bottle Party Favors - Flotsam of the Mind

I decided the bottles would be much more interesting if they had something in them, so I made a simple bookmark for each guest from card stock and ribbon we had on hand.

bookmarks of card stock and ribbon

Maybe other families do not spend hours of their lives searching for bookmarks, but it seems we're always doing that here, and I love anything that encourages a kid to read. In fact, we made a different sort of bookmark using paper clips and ribbon for my daughter's party.

Paper Clip Ribbon Bookmarks as party favors - Flotsam of the Mind

My plan was to fill the rest of the bottle with a few gratuitous Hershey's kisses (pandering) and a bag of snack crackers.

water bottle, bookmark, candy and snacks

Unfortunately, the snack package wouldn't fit into the bottle. Well, I could have gotten it in there, but it seemed odd to give our guests bags of cracker dust. If we'd been hosting the party at home, I would have omitted the snacks and used the colorful water bottles as a display.

Water Bottle Party Favors - Flotsam of the Mind

Because we have to haul everything to the skating rink anyway, I chose to bag all our pretty items in brown paper bags.

brown paper gift bags

Less pretty, but kids like to have something to open. At least that's what I'm telling myself.