Monday, November 28, 2011

San Francisco Trip - November 17-24

My family visited San Francisco the week before Thanksgiving. It was an absolute blast! Check out the fun times we had:

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Monday, November 14, 2011

Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, and Imagination

I believe in make believe.

I believe in introducing a sense of wonder and play to my children. I believe in letting their imaginations flourish.

I believe in the power of stories. I believe in myth.

I believe in the Tooth Fairy. What the Tooth Fairy does with all those teeth she collects and what her source of funding is, I don't know. My mother sewed my brother and I special pillows for the tooth and money exchange. In another year or two, I look forward to sewing a special pillow for Cullen and then for Finnian.

I believe in things that are unseen. That are unexplainable. That are euphoric coincidences.

I believe in Santa Claus - or, in our house, the Winter King. There is a spirit of sharing and giving. It is part of humanity. A special part. I anthropomorphize it and call it a name, but I believe it is bigger than me or you or the Western world. It is a part of something, something special that we gift to those we love. It brings a smile to our face. I share that with my children.

I believe in personal myths. Introducing the ghost house in our neighborhood:

Walking by this empty lot with Cullen one day, I told him it was the ghost house. It has a driveway, but the house is invisible. His imagination has been captured by this. When we drive by it, he tells me what is going on in the ghost house. Who lives there. The games they play. He asks to go by the ghost house on our walks. I have not contributed to this process beyond that initial conversation when I pointed the lot out to him.

I love seeing their imaginations fly - going past things seen on tv or in books to a landscape of their own creation. I love hearing their own explanations of the world.

When I was a young girl, my uncle took me to a storm drain and warned me about the BIG GREEN ARM that would reach up and snatch me if I stood too close. Years later (after the delicious terror had subsided a little), I shared this with my father. Turns out my father and uncle were taken to the edge of a cliff by their uncle and told a BIG GREEN ARM would snatch them off if they stood too close. Yes, I will continue the tradition and scare the bejeezus out of my own kids (or better yet, my brother's kids should he ever have some) with the tale.

Why? Because to be human is to tell stories. To open our imaginations to things seen and unseen. Stories are what give us character and form. What did you learn about my uncle in the story above? That he had a puckish sense of humor and that he had a huge effect on my life.

There is power in facts. There is power in science. I do not deny this. I share the wonder of the world of facts and science with children on a daily basis. If they ask me a question, I try to answer it as accurately as possible. But, in my opinion, if I left things there I would only be opening them up to part of the world around them. There is a shared sense of story within our culture (some argue that shared stories ARE culture). The tooth fairy, Santa Claus, ghosts, goblins, are all a part of this.

I do not understand the sense of anger and betrayal some have expressed with learning Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy are not real. Some of my best childhood memories are tied to these ideas. The excitement of seeing those gifts under the tree - wrapped in different paper than the gifts from family - or waking up to see a quarter rather than a tooth (I understand there has been marked inflation over the past 25 years) added joy to the proceedings. Even as I figured out that it was a "lie", I had a sense of a rite of passage taking place. Suddenly, I was on the adult side, viewing this as a story to share with children. I was moving into the adult world, away from the magics of childhood. But I never felt angry or betrayed by it. Instead, I liked feeling like I had participated in something bigger than myself. I hope my children feel the same way.

Some people do not want to "lie" to their children. They say that by not telling their children about these cultural myths they are building a foundation of trust that will always be there. I agree that trust and honesty is integral between parenthood and child. But parenthood is about so many moments, not any specific one. I try very hard to be honest with my children. If I am asked a question, I try to answer it as completely as possible. One day, I will be asked whether the Tooth Fairy is real. I will most likely turn the question around and ask if the child thinks she is real. That will help me determine the response I need to give at that moment.

Until then, I will indulge in the magic of make believe. I will share stories and lore from my own family and from our culture and other cultures. I will listen with open ears and mind to the descriptions of the ghost family and cherish the expression of wonder and awe on my child's face when he wakes up on Yule. I do it for them and I do it for me.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Pioneer Woman

Survival skills fascinate me. Not just surving when the s#$@ goes down, but doing it well.

Honestly, if the economy collapses tomorrow and the revolution comes, I am screwed. I can't light a fire to save my life (literally). I know the concept behind it - wood, arrayed in a way that allows kindling and air, accelerant (if you are lucky), add flame - but somehow it never becomes fire.

I possess the same sense of unease that many surburan Americans share - that we have become disconnected enough from our food supply chain, self health care, and utilities that if the systems would break down, it would be mass chaos leading to mass casualties. We have enough food to last several weeks in our house, but lack a good water supply. If tomorrow is not like today, my family would be screwed.

Enough doom and gloom. There is good in the has led me to learn or adapt to new behaviors. This post is about celebrating what paranoia wrought in my life.

No paper towels - we have them on hand in our house, but rarely use them. We use bar towels and rags instead. I use them to clean everything. They are stronger than paper towels, reusable, and they go through the wash just fine. I don't know why anyone bothers with paper towels any more.

I used to draw the line at bodily fluids on the cloth towels, but cloth diapering my youngest has taught me that with enough wash cycles, everything is fine. And cloth diapers (and/or inserts) have future use as rags in the future. Bonus!

Cloth menstrual pads - Why wear a disposable pad covered in chemicals up against sensitive skin several days a month? A couple of cloth pads came with a cloth diaper order several years ago. I loved them so much I sewed some more myself. I used old baby blankets and cloth diapers to make them. They are super easy to make. Again, toss them into the wash and you are good to go. I have a lined cloth bag (that I made) in my purse to hold dirties if I am out and about. Considering the average woman uses 4-5 pads a day, 5 days a month, I am NOT throwing away at least 20-25 pads each month. And saving money. Yay!

Homemade deodorant - Ok, this one is brand spanking new. I tried several natural deodorants but found them irritating. Friends pointed me in the direction of making my own deodorant. I do not see why this won't be successful. I am excited about doing this myself!

Gardening - All my life, I was convinced I had a black thumb. Besides, the idea of clearing a plot of land, managing the soil, weeding, etc, overwhelmed me. I know I am prone to biting off more than I can chew and *knew* I would do too much and then give up when it got too hard to manage. This spring, I decided to test the black thumb theory by planting a container garden. I figured I could manage one pot at a time. If one pot of plants dies, it would be ok because I could either start over or turn my attention to another pot. I tried not to make a big investment in it. I used old wood baskets and leftover conference tote bags for the planters. I tried to keep things as organic as possible and didn't use insecticides or similar.

It was even more of a success than I imagined! I not only kept the plants alive, but harvested beans, squash, green onions, and potatoes throughout the summer. I didn't do too well at tomatoes (the squirrels made off with them) or strawberries (the squirrels made off with them), but looking back at this sentence, I realize it is more a matter of squirrel management than my gardening ability. The garden did go kaput during the blazing heat of August, but I can plan to be more diligent about watering next year.

Reusing and recycling - I have discovered thrift stores are the cheapest and best kept secret for cheap fabrics. What is more pioneer-y than taking something old and making it new again? I love refashioning clothes! I have made patchwork sweater coats for several friends (and am taking commissions!), have learned the joys of felting old wool sweaters to make things like hats and slippers, and think using sheets for dress muslins is the best kept secret ever. I am having so much fun playing with old clothes!

Thrift stores are fabulous anyway. I get about 75% of my boys and my own clothing from thrift stores. I especially love shopping there for kids clothes. I heartily believe kids are meant to get dirty and I find it is easier to let this ideal stand if my child is wearing an outfit that cost $3 rather than $30. Besides, kids grow out of clothing so fast they barely get a chance to wear the item. And I love going to a place and finding the one item in the store that is a perfect find. It is like a treasure hunt.

Anyway, this is a short list, but it shows the shift in my thinking. Not only have I enjoyed learning new skills, but I have saved money and created less ecological impact by doing these things. I know there is a lot more I can do... and I will get to it, eventually. Maybe. Many people are doing much, much more. But it is fun to do just these few small things and feel like you are making a difference.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Halloween 2011

Halloween! Before I became a parent, I swore I would always make my children's costumes rather than buying them from the store. But that was before I had a boy who wanted to be a Clone Trooper. Wal-Mart could make that dream possible for $20. It would cost me more than $20 in materials, much less time, to do anything better. So for a couple of years I suffered the indignity of sending them out in store-bought costumes.

This year, each boy wanted to be a character that couldn't be found at the local Wal-Mart. Hooray! I experienced a great deal of satisfaction in costuming with them. I might just guide them toward unique costumes again in the future.

Cullen wished to be a wizard. But not just any wizard. He wanted to be Daffy Duck the Wizard from a recent Merrie Melodies short:

Something about this really captured Cullen's imagination. He spent weeks playing "wizard." In fact, he was the one who thought of using the tiki torch as a wizard staff. While playing outside with some friends, he grabbed one of our tikis and began swinging it around to direct his magic. Cullen was very exacting on how his costume must look; he shows promise of becoming a cosplayer.

I used old sheets for the cape and the robe. A $1 knit cap with a rhinestone became the headpiece. Cullen loved his hyped up wizard staff. The ball kept popping free, so by the end of Halloween night we put a glowstick into the end for a laser wizard staff. Cullen reveled in it and layered as many glowing objects as he could onto his person. He claimed they were the sources of his powers.

Finnian's costume was a home-made creation, too. He adores the tv show "Shaun the Sheep", especially Timmy, the baby sheep. I suggested he dress up as Timmy and he leapt on the idea. (Over time and big-brother's suggestions it became a Timmy-vampire-robot costume, but luckily simplicity carried the day.)

Finnian's Timmy the Sheep costume was super easy. I attached a couple of ears I made from an old black sweater to the $1 knit cap. The sheep fabric was $6 (and I bought way too much). I also got him some $1 black mittens and a black long sleeved shirt for the rest of the outfit, which he will be able to reuse this winter.

Let me tell you, Finnian was the cutest thing I have ever seen. The fluffy tail wiggled back and forth and you could hear the chorus of "awwwww...." as he walked by.

The boys had so much fun trick or treating in their costumes! My satisfaction with the night was much greater having contributed to it by making the costumes. Re-using materials (sheets, sweaters, tikis) appealed to my thriftiness and environmental consciousness. I am also pleased because I didn't use a store pattern for any of these costumes. They aren't complicated shapes - demi-circle cape, t-tunic, and tunic with elastic casing - but I was impressed with my ability to wing it. Here's to more winging it adventures!