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Archive for the ‘Fighting The Stuff Explosion’ Category

Several weeks ago a friend said,

“My kids are probably excited about winter coming. It means I’ll start doing craft projects and reading to them again, instead of just yelling at them to go back to their movie so mama can work outside some more.”

The words could as easily have come out of my mouth. Although there are plenty of good wholesome times when the kids join me outside, helping with my projects or playing blessedly independent games alongside, there are as many times when I am out working in the yard alone, occasionally checking for their glazed faces through the dining room window.

Although we don’t get typically get snow until November, in many ways winter here in Cordova begins in September (if not August) with monsoon style rains and hurricane force wind. Not easy weather to work in the yard.

As you may remember from my last post, this was the first summer in a long time that I had tried to take on any significant projects, and I definitely bit off more than I could chew. When the weather called a halt to my projects, and the total sum of my summer’s accomplishments became evident, I was forced to accept that I hadn’t gotten even half of what I’d planned to do done.

After the disappointment wore off, I have to admit to a feeling of relief. True I hadn’t fulfilled my great expectations, but I had gotten something done, I had moved forward. And now, with winter setting in, I could finally let go those expectations. After a summer of feeling perpetually, almost frantically behind, I could finally relax.

For the last month I have been stretching with pleasure into the simple routine of playing with kids, cleaning the house, and cooking dinner. The luxurious feeling that nothing of import needs to happen, I can allow my days to be filled by the basic maintenance of family life.

I’ll get bored soon enough. But for now, my kids are reaping the benefits.

With the extra time of early winter, and in the anticipation of it’s long totality, I have been making some good stuff for indoor play. It started with turning the cubby hole under our stairs into The Bat Cave.

bat cave

We all have electronics sitting around unused in a box upstairs, right? We think we need to keep them for later, but really, they are already obsolete. The kids love clomping on this old chattery keyboard, the “monitor” behind it is a framed printout. And the old phone on the right was an instant hit after I spray painted it gold!

With the bat cave under my belt, I was motivated to finally make the indoor “playground” I’ve wanted for years. And it was so easy, I am kicking myself. All I did was nail a good 2×4 up across our wide hall (make sure you nail into studs though!) and hang some ropes down from it. There are two long ropes to hold a swing, and two shorter ropes to hold a hanging bar (which is pulled out of the way in this photo).

indoor playground
The climbing rope, on the right, had been there for awhile, and is no more than rope through an eye bolt. Although the rest of this playground needs an open hallway to make set-up easy, the climbing rope just needs a wall with a findable stud. Check out this youtube for how to make a simple harness.

I cut two sizes of 2×4 for the swing seats, so that there can be someone swinging and someone using the hanging bar, or move the ropes about a bit and fit in the two-kid swing for extra fun.

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After the thrill of an indoor playground leveled out, I made this play kitchen out of a big cardboard box. I was surprised at how excited the kids were, my 4YO boy couldn’t stop gushing and he played on it for hours that first day.

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And yes, my boy likes to wear pink and purple striped tights. A lot. Gotta problem with that? He also turns everything which can be held in his hands into a gun, including his penis, so I’m sure he’s quite healthy.

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Speaking of removing external suggestion to allow your child’s authentic self to blossom, let’s talk toys.

I’ve been thinking about toys ever since the first ones started arriving in the mail, 3 months before the due date of my first child. When I was despairing the already accumulating stores of kid stuff, my mother-in-law said something to the effect of, “Oh, someday your whole house will be strewn with Fisher Price. And you know what? You’ll love it.”

Actually, almost five years in, I don’t love it. I love having my kids home with me, I love watching them explore the world and I adore watching the development of their independent play. Certainly, I have come to appreciate the relief and redirection of a well-timed gaudy plastic noisemaker, but overall I consider toys an entirely overdone pain in my ass.

a basket of questionably necessary toys, waiting to get dumped on the floor

Do kids need toys? I honestly don’t believe they do. Well, let me re-phase that. I don’t believe they need purchased items which were designed solely to be toys. In the dynamic environment of the DIY household, kids will make toys out of anything and everything. Often, even when there are myriad designated toys littering the floor, my kids will be running around playing with a piece of cardboard and a tin can.

That said, we have tons of toys. My Man is a sucker for making the kids squeal with glee, and that’s the bang you get for your new toy buck. Even I sometimes fall prey to thrifted plastic junk just to see those first 10 minutes of toylove. Doting grandparents have contributed a mighty pile as well. In our culture you have to be a hard-edged grinch not to accumulate toys.

I think it’s safe to say that everyone takes in more toys than their kids’ need. The question is what you do with them after that 10 minute honeymoon has worn off?

I used to keep all the toys, and right down at kid level. I hated that passive-aggressive mom trick of giving stuff to the Goodwill when no one was looking, and I figured what’s the point of having it if I keep it hidden away in a closet?

I still hate the covert Goodwill trick, but I have absolutely had to stoop to it. You can only pick up so many toys off of the floor, over and over and over and over again. I started by filling up boxes and keeping them in the closet. They weren’t permanently exiled, just saved for a rainy day. When I would take one down, the kids would have a guaranteed 15-20 minutes of blissful toy reunion. When the thrill wore off again, I would put the box back up. I highly recommend this.

Lots of good creative toys like Leggos, Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys, etc drive me completely insane if left accessible to the kids, though that’s the way I did it for ages. It appears that my kids’ favorite game to play with anything in the ‘many small pieces all contained in a box’ category is dumping out the box. A top favorite with Leggos in particular (they make such a great big noise!) is to then swish your hands in the pile really fast so that the pieces fly out into a completely distributed 12 foot radius. I was beginning to really hate those cheerfully colored plastic blocks. Then I finally realized that if the pieces are scattered helter-skelter across the house, they can never play with it anyway and really what’s the point?

That’s when I started keeping the Leggos, and all those ‘many small pieces’ toys, up on a high shelf. The shelf is in our girl’s room, and open to view but too high for little people to reach. We take the box down once every few weeks and, miraculously, our relationship with Leggos has been remade. Not being a part of their daily landscape, the kids see them in a new light. They appreciate them more for what they were actually made for—building stuff. And I happily learned that cleaning up Leggos as soon as their play session had dissolved (don’t wait too long, a stitch in time saves nine!) is easily done with a dustpan.

Puzzles are my pet peeve. For some reason puzzles are considered unanimously desirable. People were giving us puzzles before our first was even born. They’re made out of wood and educational, right? Surely us greenie NPR hippies would like them. Every kid play space that’s worth anything has a whole stack of puzzles. And what do kids under the age of 3 do with a stack of puzzles? Systematically dump each one out on the floor and then immediately lose interest so that you, the adult, has to put them all back together.

I’m 34 years old, I don’t want to spend my time putting together motherfucking farm animal puzzles.

There’s nothing inherently evil about puzzles, but they need adult supervision. If given one puzzle at a time, some 2yos will maintain the focus and desire it takes to put it together. By 3 they are starting to have a real interest, but I still don’t see the point of owning puzzles because once a kid has done the same puzzle 5 or 6 times, they are done. Understandably, they have mastered it and want to move on. Many good libraries have puzzles to lend, if your kid likes them.

My other pet peeve is single use toys. Things which have only one way to play with. In a great decluttering post recently Kyce mentioned having given ‘play food’ the boot, and I’m with her all the way. My girl was always very good at disregarding whatever the intended use was and just using any toy as a prop for her self-created play, but then why bother with those specific toys in the first place? Our kid kitchen has been through several reincarnations over time, but lately it’s come down to just a small stainless steel mixing bowl, a small skillet—both thrifted—a kid sized rolling pin, a collection of animal shaped cutters, and a big tub of homemade playdough.

So, I hate puzzles and play food, and can barely tolerate Leggos. What toys do I like?

I like the toys that I see the kids actually play with (not just dump on the floor) the most often, and the ones that require no parental assistance or supervision. Here’s a list of my favorites:

Figurines— both animals and people, they use these every day. Our boy will also use trains and trucks like figurines, carrying them around and treating them like animate objects.

Building sets—as much as they can get on my nerves, I do like the way they work kids’ brains. Like a puzzle that you design yourself. My Man got a wonderful set of magnetic building pieces, flat squares and triangles with magnetic edges, that have become one of my favorite purchased toys of all time. Babies love them because of the satisfying way that they click together and will just hold two of them clicking together and apart for quite some time. As they get older they can use them in ever-more complex ways, starting with flat, floor based patterns and building up to awesome 3D structures. They are also easy to clean up because they click right together.

Collecting and carrying devices—I’ve recently realized that not all kids are like this, but our girl adores anything she can put other things into. Bags, boxes, basket, buckets. As long as it has a handle. She puts together a seemingly random assortment of items and then carries it around. This was one of the first ways that I remember her playing, and she still does it all the time. I don’t really understand what she’s doing, but I understand that she likes it.

Playdough—we make our own so we never have to get our panties in a bunch about mixing the colors or leaving the lid off. When it’s all brown or dried out we just make up a new batch.

want to kick it up a notch? i have one word for you: glitter. glitter and playdough were made for each other, i just can't believe that it took me two years of playdough making to figure that out.

Art supplies—I keep the bulk of our art supplies in a closet. We break out the paints maybe once every couple of weeks. I buy big bottles of blue, red, yellow and white and then use a Styrofoam egg carton to mix up more colors. Crayons have never taken off at our house, colored pencils are tolerated, but pens and markers are the clear favorites. Since the 4yo learned how to control a pen, she has become quite prolific and so I leave the basic drawing stuff out for constant access. The house is scattered with little notebooks and random scraps of paper. It’s really awesome to see what she draws with her budding skills. I also have to put in a little plug for scissors. We got our girl a pair before she was even two. If you get the kid-safe kind, with the chunky rounded ends, there’s not too much damage they can do, and they just love cutting things up! I think it must give them a real sense of power to make a big piece of paper into lots of little pieces.

Kids’ Table—this is perhaps a given, but not to be underestimated. We have built up over time to one in each room!

Hidey Hole—some kind of tent, playhouse or kid sized space is almost always a win. We used to have a plain sheet stapled at the top to the wall and held out at the bottom by the edge of a bookshelf. They loved it. Then last Christmas I got them an Invent a Tent and although I’m not that happy about how well it’s held up, it has gotten lots of use and love. I guess a few broken pieces are to be expected.

the invent a tent configured as a bow picker (fishing boat)

Rocking Horse—our girl adored her big plush rocking horse when she was 2, it was one of those expensive items I would never have bought, but My Man splurged on it and time proved it’s worth. I got a cheaper one down here for the boy’s second birthday, but he hasn’t given it the time of day…

Now what about toys that aren’t toys? In some ways, there’s no point listing them, if you give your kids access to the (safe parts of) the household, they will pick out their own favorites. But I do find it’s good to remind myself just how much fun kids have with these most simple household items:

  • string, buy several rolls at once so you won’t have to be stingy
  • rope
  • tape, I have a friend who bought a case of cheap tape for her daughter’s birthday
  • kitchenware (our bottom cabinets get unloaded all the time)
  • laundry baskets
  • recycling (plastic bottles, etc)
  • cardboard boxes
  • coins

she played with this cooling rack on a string for at least 20 minutes

And what about the outside world? Oh my, that is another topic altogether! But I simply cannot leave the humble ‘stick’ out of this post. I heard it was finally given a place in the Toy Hall of Fame. Not to mention leaves for stomping and piling! Trees for climbing! Rocks, sand and water! All absolutely irresistible to kids of all ages, and not to be underestimated.

So, you’re convinced. Kids don’t need toys, certainly not near so many as we give them. But what to do about it? Can you actually get rid of them? Won’t someone call child protective services?

The first time I went on a major decluttering spree, I felt guilty. I worried. I kept all the toys I gleaned in a box in the closet in case anyone asked after them. Each time I’ve grown bolder, taking more and more toys away with each sweep. I keep watching to see if I’ll hit up against a wall where the kids don’t have enough left and get restless.

Nope.

The 4yo does occasionally ask for a toy that’s been boxed, and I happily drag it out for her. Once in a while she wants something that I’ve given away. But, for the most part, out of sight = out of mind.

Even with all of my decluttering binges, I still feel like we have way too many toys. I still think kids should (and would) be happy with just a stick, a bucket and piece of rope. But we aren’t living squirreled away in a log cabin in the Alaskan bush, we are quite firmly seated in the modern world. Toys are everywhere, and I only have so much say over the running of our household (25% of the vote if we are being fair) so I try to let it go.

Let it go, clean up the mess, and hide whatever I can get away with.

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I don’t want anyone to panic after that DIY vs BUY post. It’s still me– same old, same old. I still believe in and love the ethic of DIY. Especially when it’s something that you couldn’t buy even if you wanted to. I didn’t make my daughter’s Christmas dollhouse because I found one used, and I never got to that train table either. But I did manage to slap together this brilliant little water saving device.

Kids love water, there’s nothing to be done about it. My 2yo son’s favorite thing in the entire world is a hose. Turned on full. And he knows how to turn it up himself when I attempt to lessen the flow. This summer we were going through a truly shocking amount of water. Here at the mouth of America’s largest river, it’s not such a big deal to waste water, but what a lot of energy is wasted to pump it and purify it just so my 2yo can spray it back into the gutter.

We had a plain old kids’ waterplay table, as well as a small plastic swimming pool. Not to mention sinks and tubs. But nothing could compare to running water, and the 2yo would have a fit whenever I turned the hose off. And what’s more wholesome than playing in water? How could I want very hard to stop him? So, I thought, couldn’t I make some kind of perpetual system? Like a fountain, but not remotely fancy. Just a faucet of sorts that would run into a container and get pumped back up, closed loop.

Lots of kinds of containers could work, but we had the water table so I decided to go with that. I went to the store for a small pond pump, not knowing anything about ponds or pumps. It was rather intimidating and confusing, and I almost gave up when I saw the price range was $30-$260!!! But I ended up settling on the $40 size and so far it works just fine and is well worth the money.

Components:

waterplay table or any kind of bucket or tub that can hold at least 3 gallons

small pond pump– 80 gal/hour or greater (A pond pump is a small, submersible electric pump. There is an inlet and an outlet, make sure to get one with a sponge filter guarding the inlet.)

2 feet flexible vinyl tubing, whatever diameter fits snugly onto your pump outlet

1 hose clamp to fit tubing

2 feet rigid pipe, pvc or similar, whatever diameter the tubing can fit into comfortably

2 elbows

some piece of wood for mounting

plumber’s tape (the stuff that’s not like tape at all, but a thin strip of metal with holes)

1 small shelf bracket

associated screws

Directions:

Heat one end of the flexible tubing in hot water to relax. Remove cover and filter to get at pump outlet, then jam tubing onto outlet. Slide the hose clamp down over and tighten. My pump barely had room for the hose clamp under the filter cover. If yours just doesn’t fit, I think it would probably would work fine without a clamp, as long as the tubing is very snug on the outlet.

Cut your pvc into three lengths to form a “faucet” high enough above the water container that the kids can fill buckets and things under it. I cut mine approximately 11 in, 5 in and 2 in. Slide the long piece onto the flexible tubing, right up to flush with the pump. Now slide on an elbow (not as easy as it sounds) and seat it firmly onto the end of the pipe. Be careful as you do this that the other end of the pipe stays flush with the pump. Continue with the medium length pipe, another elbow, and lastly the little piece of pipe. When you are sure you’ve got it right, cut the end of the tubing flush with the end of the pipe.

Sorry I didn’t take more pictures of the process, but like many DIY projects, it’s much more straightforward when you’re actually doing it than it sounds in description. Fear not.

Now attach the wood to the tub however you can figure. It should be pretty well secured. Set the pump in with the “faucet” sticking up where and how you want it. Use a section of plumber’s tape to secure the pipe against the edge of the wood.

Then mount the corner bracket onto the wood so that the sticking up side is flush with the pipe. Use wire to secure. You want this whole apparatus to be as tight and strong as possible if your kids, like mine, are likely to yarf on the faucet.

Fill the tub with water and plug in the pump. Does it work? Hoorah! Allow kids to play to their heart’s content. They will still waste water, filling buckets and watering cans and dumping it everywhere, but you’re looking at one or two gallons per play session instead of 50 or 60. Do keep an eye on the water level, as the pump shouldn’t be let to run dry while it’s on.

I didn’t add any chlorine or anything, so I have to dump and refill every few days. But it’s worth it not to have to worry that the kids might drink the water (they do) or pour it on my garden plants (they do). I consider it just watering the grass anyway.

If anyone gives this a go, please come back and tell me how it went, what changes you made, problems, etc. Good luck!

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Hallelujah. We made it through. My Man finished his last test Thursday– beginning almost 30 days of semi-freedom and familial bliss!

I have so many (many) posts in my head, gathering to a complex hurricane of thoughts. But I’m really trying to relax just a bit, instead of charging into my free time with the panic of starvation. Instead of diving straight off the deep end, I thought I’d start with this simple, season-appropriate DIY project.

Up until recently my kiddos largely drank out of plastic. It always bothered me, bothered the shit out of me in fact. I hate to drink out of plastic, so why was I allowing my tiny budding babies to pollute their otherwise pure systems with leaching chemical compounds? I’d give them jam jars when I could, but so often I just couldn’t face up to the possibility of yet another wipe-up of spilled fluids, number 57 of the day. So I’d defer to plastic, oh beneficent god of the spill-proof sippy cup.

But a few moths ago I was grazing Simple, Frugal, Green and I found these kids’ cups made out of jam jars (half pint mason jars) with a hole punched in the lid to put a straw through. Brilliant! How had I never thought of that?

My mind worked at it a bit more though, and I thought, why jars? Why not these cute apple shaped bottles I’d gotten at the store to use as small sized glass water bottles? And instead of just a plastic straw, like Abby used, why not invest in a set of stainless steel straws?

Thus, my (half mine anyway) brainchild was born.

Don’t you want one? Don’t you want half a dozen, since 5 are always lost under the couch anyway?

As you might imagine, this cute apple shaped bottle was sold with apple juice in it. For $1.75. How’s that for a cheap sippy cup? With free drink no less!

The stainless steel straws get you though. $10.99 for 4. I strongly recommend you get ones that come with a special straw cleaning brush. (You know I hate to link to Amaz*n, but here they are if you don’t want to mess around looking for them.)

So, how to punch that sweet little hole that brings it all together. Of course drilling a hole just the size of the straw would be the logical way to do it, these lids are pretty soft metal and would be easy to drill. But my drill bit chuck is stuck tight, I can’t get the phillip’s head out to put in a drill bit. (Any advice?) So short of that I used the phillips head bit and a screw to make a hole, which wasn’t big enough, so then I used a phillips head screwdriver by hand, just yarfing it back and forth, to open the hole up enough to get the straw through. Don’t overdo it though, the tighter the hole around the straw, the less leaking action you’ll see.

And no, these aren’t spill-proof. But then, no sippy is. Even the best ones we found (Playtex) would start leaking after the kids chewed the plastic mouthpiece enough. These apple bottles are a good shape for the sippy, partly because they’re squat– low center of gravity– but also because if they’re less than half full when they get tipped over, the level of the liquid doesn’t reach the hole, and they don’t leak at all! But even when mostly full, if you’ve been careful to make the hole perfectly fit the straw, the leaking isn’t too bad.

4 apple juice bottles $7

4 straws + cleaning brush — $11

no more worrying about poison laced orange juice — priceless

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Kyce from Old Recipe for a New World (she doesn’t write often, but always wonderful) wrote a great post a few weeks back called Letting Go: The Christmas Edition. Oh honey, don’t I know it!

I (love)(hate) Christmas. I really do. I’ve written about it every year since I began blogging [here, here and here], and lord knows I don’t want to repeat myself. Suffice it to say, I seem to be finally catching on that this infernal holiday of compromised values begins in November. It’s taken me a full 34 years to get my head around that. I am determined to be prepared this year, thinking ahead for quality gifts in order to avoid getting caught by the last minute Icky Gifting.

I want to share my few ideas, and get your ideas. If we pool mental resources here, maybe we can pull this off without too much heartbreak. Well, it gives us something to hope for. I’m putting it on my list anyway,

Dear Santa,

This Christmas, please just let me relax and enjoy the generosity of loved ones without too much ethical compromise, personal angst, or familial alienation.

Yours,

CJ

We are spending our Christmas at home this year, with my mom coming. That will help right off the bat. My in-laws, godbless’em, have too much money to restrain at the holidays. My mom would probably go as crazy as them if old-hippie poverty didn’t keep her in check.

For whatever reason, Christmases with my mom are always much smaller than with the in-laws. In fact, it’s one of the best times of year for our otherwise very strained relationship, at least we can bond about Christmas and how it ought to be.

Which is sparkly lights, the smell of evergreen and cinnamon, whispered secrets and The Animals’ Merry Christmas.

My list of secrets so far looks like this:

For the 4yo– a dollhouse. She wrote her first ever letter to Santa asking for one. I am making it myself of course, more on this soon as I realize how in over my head I am.

For the 2yo– a train table. He already has a nice wooden train set, just needs a table and a way to semi-permanently attach the track to it.

For My Man– Oops, tut-tut, he might be reading….

For my mom, sister, MIL and sister-in-law– freshly ground and personally mixed organic spice set. I’m pretty excited about this idea. If you’ve never smelled or used freshly ground spices, it’s an epiphanal moment. It makes you want to sweep your arm through your (inevitably stale) spice cabinet, straight into the trash. All these ladies like to cook, but don’t get to do that much complicated cooking, and I think will appreciate really kick-ass, unique spice blends. I’m going to do a Mexican mole, Moroccan ras al hanout (unbelievable! the smell makes me swoon!) and a not-your-average-Italian blend with juniper berries and fennel. All these are fantastic with meat, but can also rock a pot of beans. I even ordered a pound of fancy Hawaiian finishing salt. Part of reason I’m excited about this idea is because I’ll get a share too! I never order fresh spices for myself because replacing a whole collection is expensive, and I don’t use that much over the course of the year. Fresh spices make much more sense for a group of people than for just me in my lonesome kitchen. I spent almost $80 on organic, fair trade spices, which sounds like a lot (feels like a lot!!!) but then I have four of my important gifts covered, plus plenty leftover for my own pantry.**

The father and brother-in-law I think My Man will cover. Hopefully at the local artisan market, lots of awesome stuff there.

Grandparents get the standard (they love it) calendar of cute kid photos.

I made a batch of homemade soap (it’s gotta cure for 3 weeks, so do it now!) and some lip balm for those last minute little gift moments. It’s good to have tricks up your sleeve. The lip balm takes all of 3 minutes once you secure the beeswax.

That leaves a 4yo cousin and a 12yo half-sister. Any ideas?

I will be filling you in more about all the above gifts over the course of the month. I have lots of Riot-y ‘stuff’ subjects to cover, as well as lots of good Christmas ideas, like the adorable songbird tree ornaments me and the kids made this morning out of tag-board and poster paint! In fact I’ve been feeling inspired to do a series, “Christmas– It Doesn’t Have to Suck Ass.”

Please leave your favorite homemade gift ideas in the comments, especially for children. If you have posted anything on your own blog, leave a link. We can all use some extra inspiration this time of year!

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**If anyone else thinks this spice mix idea is brilliant and wants to tag along, I ordered from Mountain Rose Herbs. you would think organic spice would be more expensive, but the Mountain Rose prices averaged around $3.50/4oz, which is quite good. I ordered the spices whole in 4oz bags (the smallest size available), I’ll grind them in our coffee grinder and package them in 1/2 cup (the really tiny size) canning jars. This wouldn’t be worth it for less than 4 or 5 gift recipients, and I think could cover more like 6 or 7. I will give y’all the recipes when I get to that point, but if you want to follow along, here’s what you’ll need to order:

  • allspice berries 4oz
  • black peppercorns 8oz
  • whole chile peppers, or red pepper flakes 4oz
  • cinnamon sticks 8oz
  • whole cloves 4oz
  • cumin seed 8oz
  • ginger, ground 4oz
  • juniper berries 4oz
  • whole nutmeg 4oz
  • fennel seed 4oz
  • thyme 4oz
  • rosemary 4oz
  • sage 4oz

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Yesterday was my daughter’s birthday. A whole big FOUR. And she had a perfect 4yo’s birthday, everything she might have thought to want– balloons, streamers, bear cake with chocolate coconut ‘fur,’ all her best friends, and her favorite party dress.

Oh yeah, and lots and lots of presents. And lots. On and on, all day long. More and more presents.

Are holidays just cursed for me now? I used to love Christmas and birthdays before I had kids. They meant special rituals, glittery lights, people I loved, decadent food. Now they both mean stuff, loads if it. Mostly cheap plastic stuff from China.

I have old fashioned values about stuff. Like, maybe depression-era values. I think a kid should get one or two, maybe three presents. That sounds like plenty to me. Anything else turns their eyes into jelly doughnuts. Kids need fresh air, space to play, raw materials and household objects to imagine into games. Toys get played with surprisingly little, in the full scheme of things. In the meantime, the many pieces and parts get scattered helter-skelter and quickly become just something that needs picked up.

Not to mention the global oppression necessary to supply first-world toy stores with all that bargain priced junk.

I’ve written about this before, and although ranting is good, that’s not what I had in mind today. The thing is, when there is heaps of presents, at any holiday, I get extremely uncomfortable. I have to keep swallowing and swallowing. I mean really, it just about ruins the day for me.

Which seems like a big waste of my time, at best, and the beginnings of a complex in my kids, at worst.

I have lately been pecking away at the book Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves by Naomi Aldort. I find her arrogance almost insufferable, but there is some very good stuff in amongst the bullshit, so I’m trying to keep at it. One of the things that struck me recently was a passage about community. She was refuting the apparently commonly (?) held belief that a close community, like a tribe, is better for kids. She basically said things are just different now. No point romanticizing the past. Let’s embrace the present as it is. Instead of mourning what we lost, let’s appreciate what the present has to offer, the unique benefits of a nuclear family.

This hit on something I’ve been stewing over lately, so I was intrigued. I don’t know if she’s right particularly about the community issue, but what struck me was the overall concept of embracing and appreciating what is, rather than fighting for what isn’t.

I have a renegade nature, I like to fight against what is. The world needs renegades for certain. But I’m a lazy renegade, or at the very least, extremely distracted. I’m not really going to put the effort into serious revolution. Instead I just spend a lot of time obsessively railing against the Way Things Are.

I know it’s good and important to fight for what you believe to be true, but at what point had you better knock it off and just relax into what actually is?

Am I just going to keep hating computers, and using them, and hating them, and using them and hating myself for using them forever? I mean, looks like these suckers are gonna be around for awhile. And more importantly, what about my kids? Looks like computers will be the foundation for their world. Should I raise them for that world, or the one I really, really wish would exist?

Should I just keep hating presents, alienatating myself from the people I love and slowly poisoning my holidays? Or should I accept graciously the reality of the situation and share their joy and excitement at all the fun new toys?

I want to share their joy. I want to show them how to live up to your values. I want them to be unencumbered by guilt and shame. I want it all. But it seems to come down to an either/or. Fight vs. Embrace.

I guess this brings me right back to that old dog, submission, and the perennial Alcoholics Anonymous prayer:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.”

But even then, there’s only two admitted possibilities. Either you can or cannot change something. I think what plagues me most are the myriad gray tones. If my angsty holidays could change working conditions in China, I’m pretty sure I could live with the fight. Instead, for all my internal turmoil, all of my stern emails to grandparents and moralistically shaming My Man, I might save one or two toys. Keep them on the shelves for someone else to ply their child with…. Stupidly, more than actually effectively helping the world, I am just making the people I love feel bad.

I don’t have any answers. Just a big, fat, crucially important question. Which I suppose must be asked by each individual person, in each individual family and each individual situation.

How do you ask it?

 

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Well friends, I have some exciting news…

No, not that. Hopefully you won’t be hearing that exciting news from me, ever. We hope and intend to keep it to two. Two parents, two hands, two whirling dervishes. It’s simple math. How do you mamas of three survive?! I’d like to know.

No, our exciting news is of the big, boxy, constructed of wood variety. We’re moving! Not far away, and to another rental, but a single! We currently live in a ‘half of a double shotgun,’ New Orleans speak.  Which means a classy, 100 year old duplex. Worse even than a regular duplex, because both sides are completely linear. Seven rooms all in a row, no hallways even (the story is, if all the doors were open, you could shoot a gun straight through without hitting anything). Which means that every room is one wall away from your neighbor. Who is a 50-something confirmed bachelor, not particularly fond of kids, and worst of all works at home. The first year went okay. But… we grew tired of each other.

Funny thing is, he has never complained about the (copious) screaming, he claims he doesn’t hear very well. But what he has always complained about is the running. We have old wood floors, and the sound does really carry. I guess he hears the low vibrating floor sounds better than the high pitched, air-borne banshee screams. But what are you gonna do, right? Kids don’t walk, life is too short. The 3YO has finally learned to “run on her toes” but the 1YO walks as all toddlers I think, bang, bang, bang on his heels.

In August of last year, I suddenly was just over it. I didn’t want to feel the stress of keeping my kids quiet in our own home. And as soon as I realized I wanted to move, I could hardly think about anything else. I was obsessed. I scoured craigslist 4 times a day. We didn’t want to leave the incredibly walk/bike friendly part of town we’re in now, and we didn’t just want to move to another double in hopes of a more understanding neighbor. We needed our own place.

But there wasn’t anything. I mean, not anything. Granted I was looking at a small area, about a mile square. And we have a pretty small budget for a single family home, $1,500 was our top limit. One place came up, soon after I started looking. We applied, but didn’t get it. And then, nothing. For four months!

I had given up. I was resigned by now. We only have another 16 months here. The neighbor’s not that bad. It’s perfectly livable.

But then a friend had a friend! With a house! A single! We’ll be able to run and jump and scream all we want! And it’s not even a shotgun! It has separate bedrooms, that you don’t have to walk through to get to another room! The baby can nap!

Yes, I am a bit excited. It’s just as nice as the place we’re in, though lacking the very old house charm. The location is not quite as ideal, but it’s still perfectly good. It’s about ten blocks away. The yard is a lot bigger. And it has central AC and heat (our current place has window units, loud and obnoxious). The rent is pretty much the same as what we pay now, $1,200, even though it’s a single family home. I think that’s because the neighborhood is slightly lower income. Read: Less pristine white yuppie-ness. Which is good, we’ve always been a bit too trashy for this well-manicured neighborhood. But sadly, as cities go, lower income can also mean less safe. We might have to cut out the night walks.

The only problem with our glorious new digs is that we have to wait till the end of the month to move. Darnitt! I want to move right now.

(Well, okay, the other problem is that it puts me half the distance to the chocolate croissant bakery, La Boulangerie.)

In other news, I’ve been excited to share my latest wood butchering project. A friend here got the Learning Tower for her 14 month old, and I was jealous. It’s basically a large, semi-enclosed stool, so that your little helpers can get up to the counter without fear of falling. When the 3YO was bitty I always just put her up on a chair. She fell a few times, but I didn’t worry too much. For some reason this time I was having a harder time letting go mentally. Maybe it’s because the 1YO is a daredevil. The 3YO was always very adventurous, but she was cautious too. Not this one. He’s a classic boy, I must admit.

Anyway, the Learning Tower looks like a great investment if you’re at the outset of your parenting years. But I just couldn’t pony up the $200 myself. Especially since I had a small stack of scavenged wood under the house (for no particular reason other than that I can’t help myself), and a reasonable amount of building experience under my belt.

This was pretty simple to put together, if you know your way around wood. It took me a couple of hours, and that was with “helpers.” The painting took another hour or more. But I felt it looked a bit too ghetto pre-paint, even for my crude taste.

I decided to make it attach to the counter. In order to be free-standing and stable enough for an adventurous toddler (who would likely grab one side and shake/rock as hard as his little arms could manage, to try to tip it over) it would have to be quite a bit bigger. Also, making wood projects free standing is always harder. You have to make your measurement and cuts perfect, and that’s just not my style. But if you simply attach your slightly wobbly whatever to a stable, stationary thing like a counter, voila!

I happily found some semi-locking hooks and eyes, which work perfectly. I have two sets, one for a station at the counter, and one at the sink, so he can help with the dishes.

I’m quite pleased. It works well, and really cuts down the stress in the kitchen. It’s small enough that it’s not too unreasonable in our little space, especially since we pretty much always had a chair in there before anyway. The 1YO loves it. Unfortunately the 3YO is also quite enamored, there have been a few sadnesses over it already, even though I was careful to stress as we built it that it was his stool.

When I built this, I started out taking a bunch of photos, thinking I would write a How to Do Basic Carpentry for True Beginners post, with this as the project. But as I progressed, trying to think from a true beginner’s standpoint, I realized this project would be a little too complicated if you were really at the point of learning to use a saw and screw gun.

But I really feel that a lot of women have missed out on these basic skills, and they are ever so useful around the home for little projects like this one. If you’re like me, you have trouble learning from a man. I was thinking of maybe doing a tutorial on it, with really in-depth descriptions and photos of how to use the basic tools for a smaller project, like a simple shelf. What do you think?

This would take me quite a bit more time than a regular post. I have seen some tutorials online that work like a class, and cost a small fee. Would anyone be interested in paying $20 or something for an online class like this?

Last order of business is the spiderwebs. Ah, yes.

I have a post-in-progress (post-out-of-progress is more accurate) about kids and messes. I’ve been thinking a lot about it lately. Remember the cute story about the 3YO asking if I was the “Cleaner” and proclaiming herself the “Messmaker?” She used to occasionally throw everything on the floor for fun. Not too bad. Well, since I started my Cleaning Obsession, she picked up the pace a bit. Then a few weeks ago I made the fatal mistake of yelling at her for it, laying on a big, dramatic guilt trip and generally making a scene. Aha. A whole new game.

This is the kind of Little Bit I’ve got, anyone else blessed with this kind?

Even as I yelled at her, I knew I would regret it. And regret it I have, man oh man. She started doing it every couple of days. And when I say she throws everything on the floor, I mean everything. She often does it right after I’ve finished cleaning the house. Making null and void my hour of picking up in a mere 6 minutes.

In an attempt to get at the root cause, I took our big bags of recycling out from under the house the other day and set them in the backyard. I gave her the green flag to throw them around, and she did, but there was no glee in it. The point is to be bad mama. What fun is sanctioned chaos?

But the spiderwebs. I’m not sure why I told the above story, they are related in my brain. But is it because making spiderwebs provides a healthy release for chaos, or because it drives me almost as insane as the throw-everything-on-the-floor game?

Spiderweb making is something she started ages ago, after a Curious George episode. It’s probably hugely educational, challenging one’s physical and mental dexterity. And that’s why I’ve let her continue it as a semi-regular habit. That and the fact that she adores it.

The web construction goes like so, I give her a ball of string and she winds, hooks and twists it around over under and through everything in the room/house/yard/whole fucking world.

Don’t forget now that our house has no hallways, and you have to walk through every room to get to any other room. Talk about claustrophobic. Yeesh.

I’m not sure I can exactly recommend this to you other mamas out there. But I feel like I can’t not recommend it either, it’s such an infuriatingly healthy little excersize. Maybe if you start out with a rule about spiderwebs in the yard only, you’ll do better than I, who has learned by experience what it’s like to be a fly.

Then again, what the hell am I doing??? Stop making messes you damned curious, inquisitive, passionate little monsters. Can’t you go watch TV?

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I’ve had one thing on my mind lately.

Strollers.

It all started back before I had even picked out a man I might want to make babies with. I had loads of opinions about kids, and fantasies about how I would do it aaaaall different. One of the many precepts I never even realized I functioned under was No Stroller.

I’m from a carryin’ family, and I’d make a carryin’ family. It’s not that I thought anything was particularly wrong with strollers, just that they were surely hopelessly annoying, whereas a backpack is easy, and makes you stronger.

Everything was going fine, I had my one year old still packing around in a good quality frame pack, up and down the steep hills of our (previous) Alaskan hometown. I loved carrying her, and she loved looking out at the world from that tiptop height.

Then I got pregnant again.

I kept up with the backpack until I was about five months along. What with thirty pounds on my back, and twenty up front, my back was killing me. I could hardly breath. I finally risked all reputation by salvaging a friend’s old jogging stroller.

It wasn’t all that great, since the Toddler had just learned to walk good, and wanted plenty of practice. I mostly ended up pushing an empty stroller, and trying to hold a wily little hand at the same time.

Then we moved to New Orleans, I eventually popped the Babe, and finally in November the ridiculously brutal heat subsided. I started walking. A lot. I’ve always loved walking. Our Cordova home has lots of National Geographic quality hiking available, which I also love, but almost no flat walk anywhere to be found. Here in New Orleans, it’s heaven for the classic Stroll. Gorgeous old neighborhoods, quiet side streets, nary a hill in sight, and since November anyway, plenty of perfect weather days for a lovely walk.

The Toddler has come around to riding in a stroller, and in fact, once we’ve broken the hellish surface tension of our house, walking together, with her in the stroller, is one of the easiest, most relaxingly pleasant things we do. We walk for two or three miles at least once a week, and probably a mile most other days. And at first of course, I adored carrying (“wearing”) the Babe.

But he’s growd up. To a full 17.5 pounds. He’s one solid chunk o’ baby butter. And while his folds and pudges are great for kissing and munching, carrying them for several hours of every day finally started to get old.

When my MIL** was here months ago, she pestered me about didn’t I want a good double stroller? I can be very stubborn, and if I feel even slightly coerced, or imagine I might be coerced, I go into instant heel digging mode. No, I said. Not at all. I carried the Toddler happily till she was a year and a half old, and even then only stopped because I was pregnant. By the time the Babe was a year and a half, Toddler’ed be three and a half and be perfectly capable of walking on her own two legs. Thank you very much.

(**I ought to note here that I actually get along great with my MIL. We are so much alike in so many ways, and mostly that makes us get along well, because we understand each other. But sometimes, our stubbornnesses butt heads. Particularly on the issues of “stuff” and TV.)

But lately, like the last month or so, I’ve really started to feel his weight. For one thing, I stupidly left our good frame backpack in Cordova, thinking I wouldn’t need it till next year. For another, I had neglected to realize the difference this little factoid makes– I’m still pushing a stroller. I mean, it’s not like I get to be stroller-free when I carry him. Pushing a stroller is kind of annoying (though not as much here in this dead-flat land), but pushing a stroller and hefting 17.5 pounds around on your front (he’s still too little really for the back carry in the Ergo) is very tiring. I also came the realization that the Toddler rides in the stroller not because she’s not capable of walking. She walks perfectly well, and is capable of plenty of speed, if she so desires. But she doesn’t often desire. The world is full of far too many interesting things to keep up any kind of speed. And I doubt that will change in the next year and a half, I hope it doesn’t! That’s what makes kids so special and wonderful to be with. (Though that doesn’t mean I with my long, grown up legs don’t need to get some real excersize! We try to balance both needs.)

So. Boy am I a wordy one! This all comes back to me making the hard won realization that in fact I do want a double stroller. And the way I function is like so: dig my heels in like crazy, and then suddenly run like hell to the other side. When I decided I did indeed want a double stroller I wanted one right now, goddamn it. Two weeks of fruitlessly watching Craigslist had me in a frenzy. I finally made the trek to Toys R Us. But strangely, for a city with the most fucked sidewalks you can imagine, they didn’t have a big wheeled double jogging stroller. Their only doubles were wimpy, and not at all what I wanted.

Back home I went straight to the computer, found the stroller I wanted on joggingstrollers.com, then found one (new) on Ebay for $200 and bought it. Three days later (wow, it really works like that when you live in the contiguous United States!) my new favorite thing arrived on our front porch. And I am in love all over again.

It’s an InSTEP Run Double Jogging Stroller, and I don’t want to make an advertisement for it, but I do have to say that considering that most of the other double joggers cost a full twice as much (or more!), I am impressed with the quality of construction. Maybe it’ll all go kaplooey in a month, but it sure looks durable to me. I wonder what makes the others worth twice as much? Is it just brand names? This one did have a lot fewer bells and whistles (which I prefer myself) but are a few extra pockets and straps really worth $200 extra?

Anyway, I am quite happy with this particular stroller. The wheels take our bomb scene streets beautifully and it rides like a dream. It’s not full of a zillion pockets, but it’s got one huge shelf underneath, plenty big for a giant load of groceries. As far as having a double, I’m elated. I do have to keep reminding myself though to straighten out my mama-hunch posture. It feels so weird to walk upright. Like, I have to use all these different muscles and I can’t breath properly. I’m sure I’ll work it out.

And now, the sun has come back out through last night’s rain clouds, the temperature is rising to perfecto, and it’s time to take a walk!

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I’ve been a borderline Bah-Humbug for some years now. I can feel it rising in my throat from November on like a cat with a hairball.

I love everything about Christmas. Good food, sparkly lights, family around, lots of cookies. Except one thing.

AAAAaaaaaaa…CK!

*Presents*

Don’t get me wrong. I love giving a gift (even buying a gift!) for someone I love, when I know it’s something they really want and they’re going to be really excited. But how many of the presents you bought this year fit that bill? If it was up to me, we’d only spend maybe $100 for Christmas. But of course, it’s not. Hubby’s family celebrates the Capitalist season in a relatively subdued and modest manner, but not modest enough for me. His parents have really risen on the pay scale since he grew up and, though I know it makes his mom slightly embarrassed, they’re now what I consider rich (might just be upper-middle by other standards…)

And, being very generous people who adore their kids, they want to share the wealth with us. Which means loads of presents. For us, and especially for their grandkids. Who can resist the combination of kids, toys and Christmas?

I got my Toddler one thing. A tool box of her very own. (A girl’s never too young for her first set of tools) And I don’t mean a plastic toy tool kit, I mean real working tools. A crescent wrench, tape measure, blunt-ended racheting screw driver, wooden mallet and little flashlight. Plus two sizes of nuts and bolts, and a cool tool box with lots of compartments. No, I don’t expect her to start doing household repairs, but she’s always pilfering our tools, loves ‘em. And really they’re great educational toys.

That was my contribution to the tree. But of course only one of about 25 presents.

But, let me tell you, my little girl stole my heart this Christmas. There will be plenty of years in our future for her to grow up into a good little capitalist present-counter, and I will love her right through it. But this year, her third Christmas in the world and really her first old enough to understand what packages meant, she was a pure and sweet embodiment of true Christmas.

She opened her first present, loved it, played with it engrossed. Someone handed her another. She reluctantly stopped playing with the first to open the next. Repeat. After the third one, she said, “No. You open it.” (She’s pretty sassy for a two year old.)

Lo and behold, she just wanted to appreciate what she already had.

Here’s hoping that you managed to do even a little of that in this beautiful, perverted season.

Merry Christmas everyone.

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the hangin' bar

Just saw one of Riana’s old posts with a little video about kids and consumerism. Holy Crapola! I forget how extreme that all is, we lead such a sheltered life. I feel wicked enough setting the toddler down in front of a video once a day (ever since she stopped napping at 1 1/2!) I forget how much of America exposes their little kiddos to several hours a day of commercial laden TV. The toddler doesn’t know yet how bad off she is, with only a few baskets of toys, mostly second hand. She’ll figure it out though, TV or no TV. I grew up with hippie parents and all thrift stored clothes and toys, and it didn’t take very many years of school (even though it was an alternative school) to become mortally embarrassed by our lack. Sad but true. I did at least grow out of it, eventually.

We have a few baskets of little fidgety toys which mostly just get dumped on the floor and kicked around. And she has some larger toys that she seems to get more use out of– a plastic kitchen she plays with a lot, a little table and chairs (a real favorite, definitely worth the money and space), a rocking bear she never uses that I need to just get rid of, and a couple of riding plastic thingies. Oh, and some art supplies and leggos which she gets into now and then. But her favorite thing to play, hands down, is jump on the Big Bed with mama or, especially papa. She and papa can spend an hour on the bed, jumping, hiding under pillows, making a tent out of the sheet, or just pretending stuff. This seems to be her most fertile grounds for imaginary play, which she has just recently gotten way into. She has no qualms about size or relativity yet. Any item can be any other item. A pillow might be a boat, or a spoon. Once I put my fingers a certain way and said, look, it’s a giraffe (which it really in no way resembled), and ever since she asks one of us to “make a jaf” at least once a day.

Then there’s the things that weren’t meant to be toys. Tools are one of the toddlers faves. Especially the tape measure (although it would be the saw if I’d let her). I generally let her explore anything that’s not going to hurt her. In the kitchen I leave the bottom shelves for things that can’t get broken– tupperwares, mixing bowls, canned food. She really likes the cans, which she can stack like blocks. My yoga ball (never once used for yoga) had it’s day, when I was pregnant, and she needed to get out her rough-house energy. I’d sit on the couch, pinch it between my knees, and hold her hands while she jumped up and down on it, squealing.

I heard somewhere that the humble stick recently made it into the international museum of toys in New York. Ha! I hope they got sand, dirt, water and string in there too. Oh, maybe string is considered too dangerous for a toy nowadays.

Anyway, shortly after watching the kids and consumerism video, the toddler started trying to hang off the edge of the desk and then with a bright look in her eye said “I want to hang on my hangin bar!” The ‘hanging bar’ was an idea I had several months ago when she started trying to hang off of everything in sight, most of which was not made for hanging on. It’s just a sturdy dowel, hung with some rope from two screws on either side of the doorway to the kitchen (we just hang it up when she asks for it, ‘cuz, yes, it does block the doorway) This turned out to be one of my most brilliant mama manouvers ever, turning a problem behavior into a fun, healthy game, which also helps work out some extra energy.

This set me to thinking, let’s us mamas pool our brilliance. What toys do you find yer kiddos actually play with? What regular household items have been reborn as toys? What’s yer best yet mama manouver?

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