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Waterproof

a toddler Ithilien steps outside on a rainy day

One of the first things I noticed when attending college and living outside Oregon for the first time ever in my life was that I had a very different approach to rain than everyone around me had.

In case you don’t know, Oregonians are not bothered by rain.  In other places I understand rain forecasts affect voter turnout and box office sales and stuff, but if people in western Oregon cancelled their plans and stayed in every time there was possible rain in the forecast, we would still be trying to schedule a vote on whether to join the Union.  People go to the zoo in torrential downpours and wait in line outside downtown theaters in moderate rain wearing evening dress.  An umbrella is just another thing to accidentally leave on the MAX, and how are you supposed to use one on a bike?  Sure, you might cover your head if you’ve got a long walk ahead of you, but that’s why you’re wearing a hoodie, obviously.

My East Coast college campus, on the other hand, positively sprouted umbrellas when the sky was overcast, like they were some kind of bizarre poly-nylon mushroom.  I saw grown adults wearing rain boots– the chemical-smelling pull-on rubber things my mother used to buy for my siblings and me at the feed store when we were too young to dress ourselves– at the slightest hint of rain, presumably by choice.  People took dry, folded umbrellas to class and to club meetings, in case it rained on their 5-minute walk back later.  Some particularly deranged individuals even used umbrellas and slickers in the face of fog, snow, and other distinctly not-rain-like forms of dampness.

I told Robert, “It’s like they don’t know that people are waterproof.”

We joked many times over the years we were living in our little Finger Lakes college town– “Well, we’re Oregonian, so we’re waterproof.”

So naturally, when we had tiny, New-York-born toddlers who balked at the rain, we assured them “It’s just rain, and you are waterproof!”

Númenor latched onto the idea of waterproof-ness when he was two, and suddenly he went from asking “What’s that?” to asking “What’s that?  Is it waterproof?”

Yes, we said, you are waterproof.  Ithilien is waterproof.  We are waterproof.  The dog is waterproof.  The trees are waterproof.  The playground is waterproof.  The car is mostly waterproof, and some cars are totally waterproof.  Your cup is waterproof.  Yikes– no, the book is not waterproof!

But we didn’t realize how seminal being waterproof was to our children’s sense of security until the day Ithilien finally got over his fear of the bath, and his lisped, wide-grinning, 21-month-old comment on the event was “Odderpoof!”

And so, we had developed the first of our major teachings as parents.

Here’s the whole list as it stands now:

Big Lessons for Small Children (and the adults they will become)

It’s just rain, and you are waterproof.

You’re stronger than you think, and you can withstand the quotidian misfortunes of life.  It may seem frightening out there, but if you keep your wits about you and make sure you have a way to get safe (or warm and dry, as the case may be) later, you’ll likely benefit from the adventure.  It might even be fun.

Almost everything can be fixed, but virtually nothing can be made new again.

Between a needle and thread, a crochet hook, wood glue, and some simple know-how, we can fix just about everything.  Furniture can be fixed.  Your blanket can be washed.  We can add a patch to cover that torn knee.  We can rub a walnut into those gouges.  It can be fixed.  This is true of relationships, too– no matter the misstep, there’s almost always a way to make a repair and keep going if you’re willing to put in the effort to fix it.  But don’t expect that it’ll be like it was before it was broken.  Thermodynamics doesn’t allow for that, and neither do people.  You might like the mended version better– sometimes it’s stronger, or prettier– but chances are that you’ll always be able to see where something has been broken.

Use your words, and if your words don’t work, retreat and get help.

Language is a big part of what makes us humans and not just frostbitten apes.  Learn to set boundaries and express your needs and expectations now, and it will save you years of therapy as an adult.  Say it with an I-message if you can, and if you can’t, at least try to remember that arguments aren’t about being declared right, but about working out how to live in a world where you don’t always agree with everyone.  If somebody isn’t respecting your boundaries or you can’t find a way to understand each other, the best thing you can do is get help from an appropriate source, whether that means asking your mother to arbitrate turns with a toy truck, filing a restraining order against someone scary who won’t back off, or going to couples’ therapy.

Even a hug is mean if it’s not wanted.

Negotiate consent in your everyday life.  Ask before you hug, always know whether you’re playing flag or touch or tackle, offer a high-5 but don’t get strange with the exchange if the other guy leaves you hanging!  Some people won’t want to be touched, and that’s their right to decide.  Some people will be okay with the game until they’re on the receiving end of the tackle, and it’s their right to withdraw or renegotiate the rules, even then.  Understand that people cannot be obligated to do things they don’t want to do with their bodies, not even if they promised, and not even if you already went first and it feels unfair, and not even if it would benefit somebody else.  If it’s not safe, sane, and consensual, it’s not okay.

You don’t have to help, but you may not hinder.

Respect other people’s work and leave it alone if you can’t find a satisfactory way to collaborate with them.  Don’t yuck somebody else’s yum, even if you don’t share their tastes.  Food you don’t want to eat is not disgusting, you just don’t want it.  A game you don’t want to play is not stupid, you just don’t want to play it.  Everybody gets to decide for themselves, which means it’s fine if you don’t like something that somebody else likes, but don’t be a jerk about it, just decline.

Families work together.

When a group is working on something for everyone’s benefit, everyone is expected to contribute however they can.  You can negotiate your role, and feel free to be creative about finding one you like, but if you don’t find a way to contribute, don’t expect to benefit.

That bug is not going to hurt you, so leave it alone.

Treat other lifeforms with respect.  Don’t waste food, don’t step on ants, and leave those chickens alone– everything that’s alive is striving to be so, and life is hard enough without capriciousness or cruelty.  Work to preserve nature in every way you can.  Yes, sometimes it’s necessary to kill something in order to thrive yourself, and that’s acceptable, as long as you’re respectful about it and don’t take lives thoughtlessly.  Remember that someday, you might be the freaky thing crawling across somebody’s bathroom floor, and choose the cup and the paper over the sole of the shoe.

There could be zombies on the other side of that door.

A closed door is a mystery and you don’t know what’s on the other side, so be prepared before you open it.  Don’t assume that since it was the UPS driver the last four hundred times, there’s no way it will be a zombie now, because that’s how people become the teaser fatality in somebody else’s show.  Expect the unexpected.  But, that said, do understand relative risks and prepare for potential dangers proportionally to their risk– it’s fine to open the door a crack and see who it is before you unlatch the chain, but it’s probably a bit paranoid to refuse to answer the door just because you can’t put your hands on a ready-made device designed for crushing the skulls of the undead.

Nobody else can draw the spaceship you want.

Do things for yourself, even if that means doing them imperfectly.  Take the chance.  You will make mistakes; that’s part of learning.  Keep trying, because so is practicing what you want to become.  Don’t be afraid to fail, because failure is a wonderful teacher.  Keep trying, because nothing will destroy you so utterly as an abandoned dream.  You can’t wait around for someone else to deliver on your vision.  Nobody else has your brain– you are the unique product of millions of years of evolution and thousands of years of human society, and your insights and ways of thinking are yours alone.  Follow your passion and share your vision with others, even if you don’t know yet quite how you’ll make it work.  Do something creative every day, even if nobody else ever sees it and you can’t leverage it into a living wage job.  Never be ashamed to do what brings you joy, even if you know for sure that someone else makes fewer mistakes at the same activity, because vicarious pleasure over someone else’s perfect product is no substitute for your own joy in the process.  They can be better at drawing than you are, but they can’t be better at your drawings.

Listen to your body.

Sleep when you’re tired, and eat when you’re hungry– that much is obvious.  But your body gives you more subtle signals, too.  Trust your instincts about people and situations, because your brain, like your family, would rather see you safe than perfectly rational.  Know what it feels like to be getting sick and take it as a signal to go easy so you can get better again faster.  Know that a fever and a runny nose are your body’s way of making you well again, and focus on supporting your immune system instead of suppressing it and feeling oppressed by it.  Your body is your most valuable tool– use all its functions, from sensor to computer to creator to athlete.  Push your physical limits, but respect your body’s expertise when it starts to push back.  Remember that growing is hard work.

5 Ways to do a BIG Christmas on a tiny budget

Kelly Fletcher’s gorgeous FREE embroidery pattern, available on Craftsy: http://www.craftsy.com/pattern/embroidery/hand-embroidery/christmas-tree/50165

Yes, simple and special is nice.  There’s some kind of spiritual purity reserved for the families who agree to exchange just a couple gifts each year and not go overboard.

Personally, I don’t have the restraint.

Thankfully, there are some ways to balance having an overwhelming, hedonistic, indulgent Christmas morning against the Recession, the wealth disparity, or having a single income.  Obviously, as with all economization advice you read on the internet, your mileage may vary, but these are the top five ways I’ve found to save money without having to cut back on the scope of gift-giving holidays.

Scheme

Yes, scheme.  Plot.  Machinate.  Plan.  Think as far in advance as you can and make a list of things your children might like next year, the year after, or even just “someday”.  When a friend raves about a gift she gave her 8-year-old, save the product page so you remember it when your kids get there.  I do this with an Amazon wishlist– not only are lots of things available on Amazon for the best price, but also Amazon has a universal add to wishlist button so I can keep all my ideas in one place.  Then, every year, as I’m sitting down to plan my family’s holiday gifts, I can review the wishlist and pick the things that are relevant to the smalls that year.

Hoard

Set aside some storage space for future gifts.  I have a couple of 18 gallon plastic containers set aside as my gift stash, so whenever I come across something that will be a great gift for the smalls in eight months, three years, or just “someday”, I have a place to put it.  When I see something great on a flash deals site in March, I buy it and stash it away for Christmas.  I buy a discounted bundle of 12 tubes of touchable bubble solution when I only need 2 and put the extras in the bin to fill stockings or goody bags or make a trip to the park better months or years from now.

Most of the things my family gets for free also go into the gift stash– things like ID card lanyards and conference nametags are excellent fodder for the dress-up box, penlights and flashlights and keychain pens and coin purses all make great stocking stuffers, and obviously the bigger stuff like travel mugs and notepads can be small gifts on their own.  It’s worth taking an extra pass through the stuff you’re about to trash or donate, too, just in case any of it could be put in the gift stash for your kids later on– Mardi Gras beads are excellent dress-up necklaces or decoration for fairy gardens, scarves can become playsilks, old plastic combs are good painting tools, kitchen gear like colanders and cooling racks can be used in art or pretend play or the play kitchen, and a dead flip phone (with the battery removed, of course) makes an awesome pretend phone for a toddler.

I also have a big box of upcycling– things that are too interesting to recycle or throw away, like sub-divided boxes that used to hold chocolates or sandwich picks or those little plastic tables that keep your pizza box from squishing your toppings.  One of the best gifts you can give a little kid is an assortment of “junk” like this and some basic art supplies.

Loot

You know the boxes your parents always nag you to take home from their attic?  The ones full of pogs and Polly Pocket playsets and Jurassic Park action figures?  Don’t donate that stuff!  Your kids might love it someday!

Now obviously you should keep anything heirloom-worthy, like those handmade wooden toys from your carpenter grandfather, but most of the toys left over from your childhood are probably still worth playing with, even the cheap ones.  Discard anything broken and anything that doesn’t reflect your values as a parent (bye bye Barbie!), but tuck the rest into your gift stash for later.  Lots of things, like plastic animal figures 6-year-old you painstakingly collected from the zoo gift shop, are identical to their modern versions.  Some toys, like Tangrams or card decks or prisms or marbles or jacks or rubber band boards, are nearly immortal in their appeal.

Now, I don’t necessarily believe that Gigapets will make a comeback, but tweens are into gimmicky toys like that.  If your parents already spent good money on cheap plastic crap in the 70s, 80s, or 90s, why would you toss that cheap plastic crap only to have to spend YOUR money acquiring more of it for your kids?

Appropriate

Take credit where none is due: use necessities to bulk out holiday gift piles by adding office/art supplies, clothes, educational books, hobby supplies, and other stuff your kids will need over the next year, even if you might not normally think of such things as “gifts”.

Obviously kids love novelty art supplies like patterned duct tape and rainbow crayons and cute Japanese erasers, but standard supplies are giftable, too.  Younger kids can always use a new notebook or pad of watercolor paper, a couple packs of those color-coding stickers from the office supply store, mailing address labels, hole-reinforcer stickers, index cards, popsicle sticks, or their very own roll of masking tape or painter’s tape.  Older kids love to have their own pair of decent-quality scissors, puff paints, hole punchers, clear tape, white-out tape, glue dots, pens and mechanical pencils, kneaded rubber erasers, and report folders or 3-ring binders.  Gum erasers are cheap and can be used for their stated purpose or to carve stamps.

Little kids love to wear clothes patterned with their favorite things, and tweens and teens will love the goth-esque accessories that go on clearance after Hallowe’en or the heart-themed ones that are on sale after Valentine’s Day.  A book related to a project your child really enjoyed in the first half of the school year or one that you think will help them connect to something coming up in the curriculum can broaden their horizons and might lead to a lifelong passion or career interest.

The winter holidays are also a great time to make sure your aspiring NBA player has court-worthy shoes that will fit for the last half of the season, or to add to your little equestrian’s tack, or to upgrade the backpack or sleeping bag your child takes to summer camp.  Make sure everyone in your family has warm socks, slippers, mittens/gloves, scarves/cowls, hats, and other winter gear.  Maybe this year your child is ready for an embroidery kit, a tool box, or their very own wooden mixing spoon.

Manufacture

By far the most effective way to cut costs without sacrificing goods is to make those goods yourself.

You can make big things, like bean bag chairs and clothing and furniture.  But you can also make little things, like playdough or hair accessories or notebooks.  And you don’t need any special skill or a lot of free time to do some homemade presents: A bag of chocolate chips and a promise to make cookies with your 7-year-old before the end of winter break is a great gift that practically anyone can make essentially for free.  A simple jar of infused almond oil or homemade balm and a promise of a massage is a similarly fantastic homemade present for your partner.

There’s still time to make homemade presents for this year!  Even at the last minute, you can make great things.

DON’T PANIC

…Christmas is coming.

In about five weeks.

Which means it’s not Advent yet, and if I were a decent human being who cared about the public welfare, I wouldn’t be posting any Christmas content.

But the fact is that I start my Christmas planning in July.  Every year.

JULY.

Because if I’m going to have time to make and do everything myself it takes six freaking months, that’s why.

Admittedly I brought this on myself.  I *could* have established the expectation that we do Little House-style Christmases, where everyone gets some candy and a few things they need (like new wool stockings), and sometimes the youngest child gets a single toy.

But I love to make toys.  I LOVE to give gifts.  I love a big Christmas, like the ones I was lucky enough to grow up with.

So I start in July.  I make a list and brainstorm ideas and inventory supplies.  I usually start the first Christmas project in August.  I like to be done with a week to spare, so I can enjoy the holiday with my family instead of frantically shutting myself in the studio.

It’s the third week of November now, and I am down to one big and one small project for each child, some stocking stuffers, a couple things for Robert, and a gift for one of my brothers.

But I know there are lots of folks out there who are just getting started, and let me assure you that it’s NOT too late to start making gifts for Christmas.  There’s still time for one special, elaborate project for your kids or partner.  There’s plenty of time for little stuff.

I’m going to post a handful of times over the next two weeks with ideas for kids’ stocking stuffers, tips for having BIG gift-giving celebrations without spending big money, some thoughts on establishing gift traditions, and maybe a couple tutorials.

Even though it’s not Advent yet.  I’m sorry.

It could have been worse– I could have posted this stuff over the summer.

In Celebration of My Birthday

Here’s a list of 27 little things that bring me joy:

  1. Ice-cold drinking water.  One of the most trying experiences of my life thus far was when I was in rural Kenya for five weeks doing research and had no access to refrigeration at all.  At ALL.  All of our drinking water was irradiated, so it was actually a little warmer than body temperature coming out of the tap, and then my water bottles would spend all day at the bottom of my pack in the sun, in the land rover, walking around the bush…ugh.  I like water straight from a fridge that’s set quite cold, or even better, cold from the tap but with half a dozen ice cubes in my trusty 1-liter Nalgene.
  2. The elephant bookends on my desk.  I love elephants, and I love books, and soapstone sculptures, so really it was a match made in heaven.
  3. Damages.  Seriously, why did nobody tell me about this series?  I’m only halfway through the first season, but I love it so much.  I love Glenn Close, and I love procedural legal dramas, and I love workplace dramas where the situation may not be what it seems.
  4. “Talking” to the chickens.  Whenever I end up outside during the day, I greet our little flock, just like I have since they were baby chicks in a brooder in my bathroom.  And they say, in their big-girl voices now, “bwwwwaccck-BWACK-a-buc-buc-buc!”, by which I’m sure they mean “You’re out here to bring us more melon, right?”
  5. That first stretch when I wake up in the morning.  Feels good, and does my body good.  I love how feline it can be, too.
  6. The sound of rain.  But who doesn’t like that, right?
  7. My antique sewing machine.  It was on the sidewalk with a “free” sign, and now it’s an essential part of my studio.  It was never a fancy machine, but it has gorgeous detailing, it sews a straight line, and I can maintain all the parts myself.
  8. The way a new batch of filled and processed canning jars looks on my counter.  It’s a mix of pride in my accomplishment and a genuine pleasure in the promise of future enjoyment, I think–  there’s just something about it.
  9. Birth art depicting hair.  Not just pubic hair, although I love seeing that recognition of the primacy and inherent mammalian power in birth, but that little swirl of baby scalp hair, too.
  10. Númenor’s insistence that any word he doesn’t understand is French.  Sometimes when I say no, that’s not a French word, he goes on to ask if it’s Spanish.
  11. Snuggling with Ithilien when he’s up late.  So he doesn’t go to sleep with the reliability I’d prefer.   When he’s up late, he’s all snuggles and owlish blinking and spiky hair sticking up out of the blanket, and that’s beautiful, too.
  12. My “Sick Day” Routine.  That’s its own post, though.
  13. Chocolate.  Sometimes I go slumming– in a pinch, chocolate is chocolate– but we also live 60 miles from Moonstruck world headquarters, and you know that doesn’t hurt.
  14. The smell of autumn.  I don’t really know if it’s caused by leafmold or frost or both, but there’s something about that crisp, cool-air scent that makes me feel like kicking up my feet.
  15. Thoughtful films about Asian ghosts.  I don’t go for ultra-gore and I can rarely stand American re-makes, but give me creepy story with an equal mix of jump scare and peripeteia and throw in some clever mechanics and that special effect where the ghost is always preceded by her hair?  Yes, please!
  16. Baking bread.  The smell of a fresh-baked loaf, the catharsis of kneading the dough, the unexpected beauty of the oven-sprung crust, and the certainty that my smalls will eat what I made for dinner– a true bargain for a few minutes of my time.
  17. My new upcycled skirt.  I made it by whip-stitching the waistband of an old pair of yoga pants onto what used to be a bed sheet, and the resulting flowy, soft, comfortable, dramatic full-length piece makes me smile every time I put it on.
  18. The way babies of a certain age do spastic little jackknife crunches to express excitement.  Some people like the smell of babies or how they make the little-old-man look *work* or the implicit trust they offer their proportionally monstrous parents, but I love the jackknives.
  19. My yarn stash.  Not only do I love to sit and look at the colors and touch the lovely wools and other fibers, but a good-sized stash represents a pleasing future of industry for my hands and warmth for my loved ones.
  20. Fictional kids who act like real kids.  On TV, in movies, in books– they bring a smile to my face even (or perhaps especially) when they’re causing trouble.
  21. Shopping for buttons.  Now, as a rule, I buy just one kind of button: the various sizes of unfinished wood buttons at Casey’s.  That’s not the kind of shopping I’m talking about.  I’m talking about the occasions where I feel my button jar is looking a bit sad and monochromatic and I buy up someone’s unsorted bag or box or tin or jar of vintage buttons inherited from some grandmother or aunt or family friend.  There’s nothing akin to the thrill of pouring out a new find of buttons and sorting through them, wondering over kinds and colors, exclaiming at what was once fashionable, finding the ubiquitous things-that-aren’t-buttons that got shoved in by accident, and finally pouring the haul into my jar.
  22. Extended family meals.  I call them “craptaculars”, but really, I have a soft spot for the times all four generations of us are together and laughing and strengthening our connections and hopefully making the memories that the youngest generation will nostalgically attempt to re-create when they’re grown.
  23. The singing of hymns.  I was raised by two members of the Methodist clergy, so it’s not surprising that both shared meals and lusty and correct hymn singing are things that bring me joy.  I am not personally Christian, and haven’t been since I outgrew my child faith, but I still go to church on Christmas Eve because that’s the one time each year that it’s almost guaranteed that I will like every song and everyone will know the words.
  24. Anything written by Terry Pratchett, but especially Discworld.  Every time he publishes a new Discworld novel I re-read them from the beginning, and every time I discover something new.  (On the negative side, I haven’t gotten to Raising Steam yet, so no spoilers!  I just got it for Mother’s Day and I am only as far as Going Postal in this re-read.)
  25. A good argument.  I don’t mean a this-is-your-fault fight, I mean I enjoy a good argument in the rhetorical sense.  Banter, verbal sparring, debate…adopt a position and argue it well and I will dog you with my rebuttals for hours, smiling all the time.
  26. Firefly, The Black Donnellys, Invader Zim, Lie to Me, and other imaginative and gritty shows that were cancelled too soon.  It’s a bittersweet thing, so I won’t dwell too much on it, but watching what few episodes of these jewels exist is one of my favorite ways to spend an evening.
  27. Eating produce that’s exceptionally fresh.  The snap of the green bean, the sunny sweet-and-acid taste of the tomato, the crunch of the radish, the subtle sweetness of the carrot, the refreshing bitter bite of cabbage and chard– I love them all.  This is a big part of why we get our produce through a CSA; we tried it one year and now I’m addicted to that straight-from-the-field taste.

 


 

I’m taking the weekend off for my birthday and I will be back next week for WIP Wednesday.

Banned Books Week

This is the second-to-last day of Banned Books Week 2014— there is still time to make a trip to your local library or independent bookstore and flaunt the would-be censors of literature!

To celebrate, here’s a round-up of the banned books we picked out this year for our small children:

And Tango makes Three by Justin Richardson.  This is a sweet book about the real-life same-sex penguin couple in the Central Park Zoo and how they became a family with the addition of an adopted egg.  The illustrations of Tango’s daddies being in love and of baby Tango herself are adorable, and the narration tells from the beginning that families come in all kinds.

King & King (series) by Linda de Haan.  This was a slow read for us because there’s so much to see on every page!  In a send-up of the usual fairy-tale conventions, King Bertie and King Lee fall in love and get married and then go on an outlandish jungle honeymoon adventure, where they see all kinds of families and eventually start their own.  Ithilien enjoyed “reading” it to himself by listing all the things he could see in each spread and giggled quite a bit over the cat wearing a crown.

The Sissy Duckling by Harvey Fierstein.  A pretty long and wordy book which probably isn’t appropriate for the more wiggly audience, this one had a strong “It gets better!” message for kids who are teased and bullied for being “different”.  Númenor was close to tears at the climax, in which the protagonist’s closed-minded father is wounded by hunters and left for dead by the flock, but both smalls loved the illustrations showing Elmer the duckling being his fabulous self, and there is a happy ending.

In the Night Kitchen by Maurice Sendak.  This is a wonderfully absurd little work in which our hero is a naked toddler who is up after his bedtime– or maybe it’s all a dream– to help the cooks of the Night Kitchen prepare the morning cake.  Sendak considers this the prequel to Where the Wild Things Are, and, like its more-famous cousin, this book is a wonderful showcase of a child protagonist actually behaving like a child.  Númenor and Ithilien, who are 4 and three-quarters and nearly 4 years old respectively, found the story uproariously funny (especially the part where the child says “I’m not the milk and the milk’s not me!  I’m Mickey!”) and were red-faced with laughter by the time we reached the last page.

What books are part of Banned Books Week at your house?

Autumnal Equinox

Fall is my favorite season.  Warm during the afternoon, cold enough at night for thick blankets and snuggling, the sharp smell of frost and the organic hint of leafmold (even if it does make me sneeze), the turning and turning of the compost pile, covering up the garden beds to rest for a season…all those little signs that we’re moving from the languor and overabundance of late summer to the relief of cold, and rain, and eventually frost and snow.

I’m especially glad to see the weather starting to change this year, because as the rains move in, the wildfire season will finally come to a close.  We’ve been surrounded by fires all summer, and while I celebrate the role they play in rejuvenating the wilderness and keeping the forests healthy, being pinned down first by the Rowena fire and now by the one in the Mt. Hood National Forest has made me a little uneasy.  Thankfully we were never really in harm’s way, but with the crisis in funding and the drought, wildfires have been even less predictable and manageable than usual, and there’s nothing like seeing an edge of a big fire up close to give you that visceral sense of vulnerability.

On a more human scale, I’m enjoying moving back to inside work and warming activities.  It’s knitting season, and wooly garment season, and snuggly toy season!  We recently boiled down the salt from water we collected at Newport in July, and melted down our stash of broken crayons to make new ones, and poured a few new candles.  Soon it will be time to make soap and beeswax food wrappers, to bake with figs and mill applesauce and make quince paste, and to Eat All The Butternut Squash.

But this weekend we’re doing the semi-annual dance of the hand-me-downs, which thrills my little type-A heart to the core because there is organizing to do.  Unfortunately, I think I’m the only member of my family who looks forward to this ritual– Númenor gets weepy and bored after half-a-dozen wardrobe changes, and Ithilien is highly skilled in the art of running around at top speed to express the sheer joy of nudity.  But it is still time for the dance.  If you have small children, you may recognize the steps.

Dance of the Hand-Me-Downs

  1. Gather the child’s current clothing and make a huge pile in the middle of the floor.
  2. Strip the child down and have them try on a few things.
  3. Try not to freak out when the child loses all grasp of How to Put on a Shirt and tries to put their arms through the sleeves elbows-first or to take the shirt off by pulling the neck hole down under their arms.
  4. Attract the child’s attention back to the task at hand.
  5. Bribe the child to try on more clothes.
  6. Sigh in exasperation.
  7. Practice numeracy skills (“Okay, there are only three more shirts.  Can you count them as we try them on?”).
  8. Run after and catch naked, squealing children who want to PLAY and have them try on just one more pair of pants.
  9. Declare that your child’s favorite garment is too small, because you are the Cruelest Parent in all of Meanville, and not at all because putting it on involves a moment where the child in question can’t breathe.
  10. Unfeelingly give the child’s outgrown clothing to their younger sibling, who seems more taken with that glow-in-the-dark bunny shirt than seems tactful given the circumstances.
  11. Break for snacks.
  12. Break for trips to the toilet.
  13. Try not to break anything else.
  14. Get out the bin of clothes for the oldest child to grow into, and repeat steps 2 through 8.
  15. Remember after you’ve told your children that we’re done trying on clothes that you haven’t checked coats, shoes, socks, gloves, sweaters, and hats.
  16. Swear.
  17. Apologize to children and say that they have to try on just a few more things.
  18. Watch children spontaneously try on all of their outerwear with the greatest of delight and voluntarily bring you the outgrown pieces without complaint.
  19. Wrestle piles of clothing going into storage out of sight before they get too played with and disorganized.  Cry about at least one of those things being outgrown, because you remember how tiny your oldest child was when they first wore it, and the progression of time is so disrespectful of your feelings.
  20. Realize that you haven’t done laundry yet this week, and therefore the dirty laundry is full of outgrown but untested clothing.

Yes, it is a glorious season.  It’s my favorite.

Turn, turn, turn…

There’s a crispness in the air, the children are finding pinecones and fallen bright-red leaves, the nights are cold, spiders are making their bids for indoor real estate, and the orchards have started to pick and ship pears and apples.  I think we all know what that means.

It’s knitting season!

I have a big one ahead of me– both the smalls have outgrown their sweaters, and they’ve asked for scarves.  I want to knit some blankets, too, because I love to do it.  And of course I owe myself some fancy socks, and then there’s knitting for birthdays and holidays…

I haven’t solidified my queue yet, because let’s be real, half the fun is matching yarns to patterns, but there are some projects I’m sure are in my future.

10 Knitting Patterns that are Calling My Name

Leafy Baby Blanket by Leyla Alieva.  The leaves cascading down this one make it so perfect for fall.  Sadly I don’t have any impending babies in my social circle, but that doesn’t mean I can’t knit this now and pack it into a welcome box later…or maybe just make it one repeat bigger in both dimensions and use it as a throw.

Ragnar Blanket by Scholarmonkey.  She says “ragnar”, but I say “Rohan.”  I love the texture of this piece– it seems like the perfect work to have in my lap on a long winter afternoon.

Milo by Georgie Hallam.  I’ve made several of these in baby sizes, and they are a lot of fun.  I’m thinking it’s time to make some for the smalls to go over long-sleeved shirts on particularly cold days.

Grandmother’s Favorite Dishcloth.  The not-paper towels I made in 2011 are starting to succumb to entropy.  I still like the birdseye/flannel option– I think they are great for wiping down counters and cleaning sinks– but they are less than ideal for washing dishes.  So I’m going to try knitted dish/washcloths this round.

Multnomah by Kate Ray.  I’m always looking for a simple, circular-needle knitting project to take in the car so that I have something to do on long trips to the coast or to the metro area.  What could be more perfect than a pattern inspired by driving around Oregon?

Skew by Lana Holden.  I’ve never knitted socks on circular needles before– I’m a very traditional sock knitter by disposition (ribbed cuff, flap heel, Kitchener toe, on three and four DPNs)– but I have the PERFECT yarn for this, and I simply can’t resist the challenge.

Oh-Oh Hoodie by Margot Erdmann.  I’m not usually a fan of the bright and bold primaries look on kids, but this pattern appeals to me anyway because the pocket is so cleverly done.  I will probably do the I-cord trims in a different shade of the main color, which will likely be gray or brown or black, and make the pocket lining accent bright or complex.  It would also be interesting to do the ribbed band at the bottom in white and black colorwork so that it looks like teeth and the pocket holes look like eyes.

Rock Hat by Fiona Hamilton-MacLauren.  I love the different textures in this one, and it looks like a great project for using up scraps.

Les Mains Vertes by Bev W.  I like the whimsy, and I am a total sucker for knitted leaves, and I have the perfect yarn set aside for this project.  Whether I’ll wear the finished objects or put them in the dress-up stuff for the smalls or give them away as a gift is a puzzle.

Henry’s Rabbit by Sarah Elizabeth Kellner.  I knitted a litter of Henry’s bunnies last year but never got around to making a mama to go with them.  The smalls would love to have the baby bunnies to my mama rabbit, and it would be a(nother) great opportunity to talk about mammals and mammalian reproduction.

The Kids are All Right

Seriously, folks, can we all stop panicking about our children?

Let me level with you: there are many things about your children and their experience in life that you will never be able to control or prevent.  You have the most ability to control their lives and experiences when they are tiny babies and even then?  Yeah, you’re not actually in charge.  But most of the time it turns out okay, anyway.

Things in Your Children’s Lives that You Cannot Control

  • When they wake up and fall asleep.  I know that the parenting books promised you otherwise when you were reading up on the importance of “routine” and “structure” in anticipation of your baby’s birth, but they lied to you.  Parenting books lie all the damn time; get used to it.  You can’t control when your kids wake up and fall asleep by any method short of pharmacological– you can make suggestions, you can provide conducive or non-conducive environments, but you are not in control.
  • When, what, and how much they eat.  I know, parenting books again.  You can model eating habits, you can shape diet by what foods are available, and you can make suggestions about mealtimes, but the fact is, kids won’t eat if they don’t want to eat.
  • How they feel.  Nope.  You just can’t.  You can’t control how anyone feels, not even you.  Feelings aren’t subject to logic and they certainly don’t respond to what other people wish they were.  Yes, that even means that you can’t control whether your child is sorry for his misdeeds or whether hit likes your weird relatives.
  • Who their friends are.  See above.  You can’t control how they feel about other people, not even their peers.  And unlike some of the other items in this list, you can’t even really make suggestions.  Because as soon as you say “I don’t want you to spend so much time with Ashley”, guess who is suddenly your child’s BFF?  You can say things like “I wouldn’t want to spend much time with somebody who said things like that to me” but only if you’re very cautious.
  • Who they fall in love (or like) with.  See above.  You can’t control it.  You can’t.  Stop trying.  The harder you try to shape your child’s relationships with others, the more dedicated your child will be to proving you wrong.
  • When they start dating, wearing makeup, etc.  Your child will lie to you, sneak around, steal, and cheat to do things they feel they must do.  If you forbid it, they MUST try it.  If you say they aren’t old/mature/experienced enough, they do it to feel grown-up.  If you say it’s not safe, they do it to prove that they are strong!
  • Whether they encounter “bad people”.  Pedophiles, rapists, violent abusers, and serial killers exist in the world.  And obviously, until they are caught, they are at large.  They could be anyone!  Nothing short of raising your child in total isolation from all other human beings will protect them from bad people, and if you did that, the child in question would likely end up pretty bad hitself.
  • Whether bad things happen to them.  If nothing ever happens to them, nothing ever happens to them.  Not much fun for little Chico.  If good things happen to them, bad things will, too!  You can’t keep your children safe from everything.  You can’t.  You can help prepare them for things that might go wrong by warning them that they might need to stand up to a friend because something isn’t safe, or talking about bullying behavior and how to recognize it and defend against it, or by making sure they know how to swim, etc.
  • Whether they tell you things.  I would think this one was pretty obvious, but I hear parents say things like “If my teen got pregnant, she would tell me!” or “If my child was gay, I would know!”  Bad assumption.  You can’t force people to be open and honest with you, not even your children.
  • Whether they are happy.  Go back and re-read the one about not being able to control their feelings.  Happiness is a feeling.  You can’t control it.  You can create conditions that make happiness in others more or less likely, but that’s about it.
  • Whether they experiment with sex, drugs, rock and roll, and other things.  You can’t control this.  Remember that the parenting books lie.  If you literally locked your teenagers up in chastity belts and they wanted to experiment with sex, they would become infamous in their peer group for oral skills or date cute locksmiths.
  • Whether they make stupid choices.  Life is riddled with stupid choices, and a big part of childhood and especially adolescence is making mistakes.  Offer your advice, unsolicited when they’re too young to ask and then only if solicited once they’re older, but resign yourself to the fact that these are not your choices to make, and act accordingly.
  • Whether they are interested in math, or are gay, or want to go to college, or vote Republican.  Children are their own people.  Sometimes you’ll agree with them, sometimes you’ll see yourself in them, sometimes they’ll exceed your expectations.  But sometimes you’ll be surprised or maybe even disappointed when you don’t recognize some aspect of who they are.  Take deep breaths and accept your children as you find them, because you can’t control who or what they are– that’s an emergent property of their entire lives from the moment of their conception to today’s lunch.

 


 

“The more you tighten your grip, Tarkin, the more star systems will slip through your fingers.” — Princess Leia, unwittingly giving awesome advice to parents of teenagers

“Masterpiece”?

Jorge Luis Borges once said that English is an ideal language for description, but of course, even English sometimes falls down on the job.

For example, I have never encountered an English word for the feeling of being alone in the woods, but German has one.  English has no word for the optical illusion of the path of light that the moon’s reflection makes on the sea sometimes.  English has no word that specifically means to look worse after a haircut.

English also doesn’t have a word that describes the best piece of work someone has ever done.

I know what you’re thinking– it’s right there, it’s the title of this post– but “masterpiece” doesn’t mean “best work”.  In fact, a masterpiece is the capstone project that graduates of the apprenticeship system must complete in order to demonstrate their technique and become artisans, or masters, in their own right.  It’s more akin to “doctoral dissertation” or even “application portfolio” than to “best work”.

It’s not “magnum opus”, either, for two snide reasons and one good one.  First, it’s Latin, not English; second, it’s a phrase, not a word; but finally and most importantly, a magnum opus is a work on a large scale, and the scope or size of a project is orthogonal to its merit relative to the artist’s corpus.  Pièce de résistance is closer in meaning to “best piece of work in a corpus”, but still a phrase, and French.

Sometimes the magnum opus is the best work– many people would agree that the immense Guernica is Picasso’s best, and also largest, and also grandest-scale work.  Of course, J.R.R. Tolkein’s magnum opus, The Lord of the Rings, is also arguably the best and grandest-scale of his fiction writings.

Other times, as in nature, the larger fruit is swollen with plain water and therefore is bland by comparison with its smaller, sweeter-tasting cousin.


 

Five Best Works that are Notably Small

  1. “In the Patio No IV” (1948) by Georgia O’Keeffe.  O’Keeffe is famous for macroscopic flowers, yonic abstracts, bright colors, and still life arrangements of animal bone, but in her later years, she turned to minimalistic landscapes and architectural works.  This one is my favorite– the subtle gradation of light and shadow in this piece, the bold framing, and the fluidity of the boundaries of adobe and sand make this painting seem so much bigger than its relatively small canvas and extremely limited color palette.  Georgia didn’t have to peer into showy flowers or dress found objects or mix up a striking poppy red in order to make this, her best work– it’s just a corner of a plain little courtyard with a bit of sunlight in it.
  2. The Pearl by John Steinbeck.  This is an amazing little allegory, beautifully written, with all the warmth and humanity Steinbeck attempted to infuse into The Grapes of Wrath.  His other little gem of a novella, Of Mice and Men, is also far better than his monstrous, lurching novels, but, like them, is prone to a slight condescension in tone.  Steinbeck writes tragedies, yes, but when he has more than a few concise chapters to work with, he gets a bit heavy-handed with the foreshadowing.  The Pearl has a very moving climax and peripeteia, and there’s just enough storyline preceding it to make the inevitability of the tragic end apparent.  Any more than that gives dear old John too much time to feel superior to his characters (the poor damned fools!) or his readers (if only you knew how inevitable is their demise!).
  3. “The Minister’s Black Veil”, by Nathaniel Hawthorne.  How does someone achieve fame and fortune writing standard novels when his obvious calling is the short story?  Not many people have read this little piece, but it is haunting.  Like Steinbeck, when Hawthorne is forced to be succinct he stops writing so much about his own feelings.  Gone are the long, guilt-ridden asides about how horrible Nathaniel’s Puritan forebears were to their heterodox neighbors!  Unencumbered by the affectations of the romantic novel and its laughable ideas about gender and youth, this little story reads like a distillate of Hawthorne’s longer works.
  4. Pagliacci by Ruggero Leoncavallo.  Although Leoncavallo wrote at least 10 grand operas, only the shortest one has survived to be performed by modern companies.  His longer works, although many were very successful when newly-written, largely center on the same themes: nomadic troupes, theater, love, jealousy, and resulting murder.  Pagliacci is perhaps remarkable simply for being an Italian opera in which the characters are concise (rather than repeating themselves over and over again for greater musical interest, as in The Marriage of Figaro), although Leoncavallo usually resists the temptation for repetition.  Zingari is about the same length as Pagliacci, and centers on the same theme (an unfaithful wife is murdered by her husband) but lacks the dramatic intricacies of the clown play-within-a-play.
  5. Dark Star by John Carpenter.  The shortest of his feature-length films at a petite 68-71 minutes, this trapped-in-space black comedy is also Carpenter’s best.  Horrifying and absurdly comedic, Dark Star also explores the nature of theology/philosophy, anomic isolation, stoicism, and dependence on technology.  Unlike Carpenter’s longer, more conventional black comedies (They Live, Big Trouble in Little China), it is a cleverly wrought story that relies on some interesting complexities of human philosophy.  Unlike Carpenter’s longer horror films (Halloween, The Fog), it is a complete Aristotlean tragedy.  In the original film festival version, the special effects are minimal, and there is no superhuman or supernatural force to bootstrap the plot, which is therefore pruned by realism to produce superior fruit.

 

But what would be a good English word for the best piece in an artist’s corpus?

Words like “classic”, “model”, and “standard” would not apply to an artist’s best work unless it was typical of the rest of their corpus in theme or, in addition to a work being that artist’s best, it was also a particularly fine piece in its genre as a whole.

Words like “cream”, “gem”, “jewel”, “flower”, and “prize” aren’t exclusive enough– a good artist could produce many gems, or all of their works could be said to be “jewels of modern sculpture”, so that doesn’t help us denote their best work.

Words like “perfection” and “showpiece” denote something that is particularly worthy in a global sense, and wouldn’t apply to an example that was the best work of a particular artist but still not very good compared to the rest of the entries in the field, and “showpiece” in particular isn’t appropriate to a lesser-known, posthumously published, or closet work.

We could try making a compound word out of “master work”– a work obviously characteristic of a master– but again, that wouldn’t apply to the best example of an artist who simply wasn’t very good.  The similar “masterstroke” additionally doesn’t seem to stand on its own, being mostly used for achievements or actions instead of physical objects or products.  Something can be “a masterstroke of international negotiation” but you can’t be enraptured over a painting and say “It’s a real masterstroke.”

“Paramount” might be appropriate, especially with its connotations of singularity, but it’s the wrong part of speech, and “paramount work” is hardly superior to “best work”.

Is “best work” the best English can do for this concept?

Five Things I Want my Children to Outgrow NOW

Screaming and telling me they are “whistling.”

I know this is a common one, but I’m tired of it now.  I overheard Robert demonstrating that, actually, blowing through pursed lips SILENTLY is closer to whistling than screaming is, but they aren’t buying it.

Making gagging sounds in an attempt to burp.

On a related note, my smalls have recently discovered burping, which they understand to be an essential part of digestion and therefore try to force themselves to do every time we have a meal.  There are some moments when I regret teaching them anything, which I think is inhumane treatment of a parent.

Waiting until there is literal leakage before admitting that they need the toilet.

For real, child?  I know that you know better than this because I can see you doing the dance.  When you’re wiggling and jiggling and grabbing at yourself and I say “Run and use the toilet!”, freaking DO IT.  “There’s no urine coming out!”, the child insists, which is when I say, in my best not-yelling-yet voice, “YES THAT’S THE POINT. TO GO BEFORE ANYTHING ACTUALLY COMES OUT.  GO NOW.”  My genius is unappreciated in my own time.

Inconveniencing me for snacks they have no interest in eating.

I am happy to stock my kitchen with snacks the smalls can help themselves to, and I am even happy to help small children if they are frustrated by, e.g., attempting to peel open string cheese or trying to find the carrots in our overloaded crisper drawer.  But I am NOT amused, especially when I interrupt what I’m doing to help in the acquisition phase, that I keep finding carrot stubs and half-sticks of string cheese around the house.

Actually getting SLOWER when I point out that we need to hurry.

A long-haul battle, I know, but I just cannot logic with the frequent choice to distract themselves playing loud, running-based, yelling games that involve the entire house as a response to my statement that if they want to go [fun thing x], they need to put their shoes on right now.  I just don’t get it.  I know they want to do the fun thing.  But somehow between the information leaving their language processing centers and signals getting to their feet that is transformed into a desire to waste time so that they miss out on the fun thing.  What the actual heck, small children?