Thursday, May 31, 2012

Neighborhood Moonbounce

Our neighborhood has a group of families that all chip in about $20 and then we rotate a moonbounce around to the various houses. For the past couple of years, I stored and scheduled the moonbounce, but once it died, that job passed on to another neighbor.

The new neighborhood moonbounce has arrived, and Connor and Helen were the first to test it out.

They deemed it good! Thanks, neighbors! I feel like we've already gotten out money's worth!


Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Wordless Wednesday: All That, and a Can of Pop!

I have no idea if the title is an exclusively Midwestern phrase, but Helen embodies it perfectly.

This is clearly taking Helenstyle to a new level.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Carrots and Rabbit Traps

Ed and Connor have been attempting to capture rabbits for at least as long as we've lived in our current home - maybe longer. I still have no idea what they plan to do with this rabbit if they catch it, although Connor has some ideas about having a new pet. My dad would be proud.

In their most recent attempt to trap the rabbit, they set up this box with a couple of carrots beneath it. The idea was that someone would yank the string connected to the stick that held the box up as soon as the rabbit started eating the carrot.

As it turns out, it's pretty boring sitting behind your front door waiting for a rabbit, though huge props to the bunny that kept bouncing around and at least trying to make it interesting.

The rabbit did decide to eat a carrot at one point, and knocked the trap over in the process. Amazingly, that thing was able to escape! Oh, it is tricky!

Here, Helen and Connor test the trap. They thought they were super stealthy escaping, which must by how the rabbit felt.

Helen, naturally, was a bit more animated about the whole game.

More amazingly, during the whole game, Helen started eating carrots. I realize that every child in the world eats carrots, but not mine. Connor and Helen both hated them when they were babies, and have continued their longstanding stand against carrots until this year. Connor is still holding out, but Helen's pre-school teacher cooks carrots with plum wine vinegar, and somehow this makes them delicious. Helen started eating cooked carrots at school a few weeks into the year, but she still rejected the cold carrot. On trapping day, she casually asked Ed for a carrot, popped it in her mouth and ate it as if doing so was the most normal thing in the world. I assure you, it is not at all usual for her.


Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Bringing you...super smooshies!

Last weekend, we went on our annual spring camping trip with Therese and her crew. This season's trip was to Elk Neck State Park, where we had a spot right on the water. Only troubles were the small cliff separating us and the water and the path that led down to the water that was lined with some thorny plant. TWELVE bandages on one little girl who lost her footing is a lot!

Even Rob is struggling up this cliff!

A perennial camping issue we have is that Connor and Helen like to roast marshmallows, but they do not like to eat them. I feel the same way and Ed feels slightly inclined to eat them. Typically, they each roast several, Ed and I eat them while they tell us how gross they are, and then later, I wonder why I ate them. Vicious, vicious cycle.

This year, I intentionally left the marshmallows at home. And come Friday night, we sat around the first and the "SUPER SMOOSHIE" was born.

1 graham cracker broken into two squares
2 rectangles of Hershey's chocolate

Stack chocolate in between crackers.

Set in old camping pot and apply indirect heat from the fire.
Wait patiently as the chocolate melts.
Give it a ridiculous name - we chose the Super Smooshie.


Product is even messier than you might imagine!
Three Cheers for the Super Smooshie!

This post was inspired by a fictional Mompreneur in the novel Julia's Child, by Sarah Pinneo. Although the protagonist in the book is saving the world, one organic muffet at a time, our invention is far from organic, and definitely not healthy. Possibly the only things the two have in common are that both products are not all that original and come with a ridiculous name. I received a copy of the book as a member of the online book club, From Left to Write.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Happy Month 55, Helen!

Dear Helen,

You have now reached the stunning age of 55 months. Stunning, because I look at you now and you seem to have left all that toddler behind and you are full-on little girl. When people haven't seen you for a few weeks, they always remark how old you suddenly appear. I agree. It's blowing me away.

You are joy in the form of your life force. Your energy brings the room up more than down. You trounce around in the most fabulous get-ups, and your style is at once flamboyant, happy, and little girl. You have also ended your phase of "it's too hard". It was short-lived, thankfully, but still shocks me that it existed at all.

You want everyone to be happy, or at least you want Connor to be happy. If he gets in trouble for being mean to you, you come to his defenses quickly, You will sob, in fact, begging for him to not be in trouble. And really, the biggest punishment we dole out around here is the occasional "no treat at bedtime" and the even more occasional "no books before bed". The worst punishment we have in this house is "you must stay right beside me". My freedom-loving children would love to get a chance at a naughty chair or time out. But, nonetheless, even watching these punishments seem to be too much for you.

Your class. It amazes me. You have somehow lucked into having the best pre-school teacher on the planet, and then had the class filled with the most wonderful peers. Almost all of them will be moving to the next class with you next year, and that is such a blessing. You'll have Connor's Kindergarten teacher and I'm really looking forward to it. You play with everyone in your class and love each of them dearly. A few weeks ago, however, your dad found a bunch of rocks in your pocket. This is not particularly odd, but when he asked you why they were there, you told him "those aren't rocks, Dad, they're broccoli! Sometimes, we get mad at G. and throw them at him on the playground". I have yet to get to the bottom of this story, but I'm guessing you don't actually hit him.

You have yet to walk in a straight line, or walk for very long, frankly. When we walk the halls of Connor's school, we must NOT step on the red, or the cracks, and we must skip, or sashay, or gallop! Really, Mom, it's not hard and it's fun!

You have taken to calling everyone "buddy", which I finally figured out last Saturday is what Connor's t-ball coach calls everyone. It's pretty funny hearing it from you. "Hey Buddy, it's OK Buddy". You also call your dad "papa".

You have yet to tire of Pippi Longstocking. This is killing me. Thankfully, you're still willing to read about Tiptoes Lightly, which is a lot more enjoyable for me! You preform the occasional puppet show, love to run a baby hospital, and also like to sell pets to me. Always fun, my love.


Saturday, May 12, 2012

And Now...Onto the Next 11 Years

Ed and I moved in together in the Fall of 1998. We'd been dating about a year, my lease was up, the timing seemed good. We signed a one year lease, and paid rent proportionate to our salaries. This was good for me as I was a first year federal employee and Ed had been working for a few years. The next year when the lease was up, I let Ed know I was ready for a longer-term contract.

Over Christmas of 1999, Ed and I got engaged, and we married a year and half later - May 12, 2001. We moved into our first home the next week.

I know everybody has their ways of keeping things glued together, but here's how we've had a mostly successful navigation of the past 11 years of marriage.

1. We buy homes when life is stressful. Doing this allowed us to always blame the house instead of the relationship. I'm only half-kidding here. The first year of our marriage and home ownership was a big lifestyle adjustment. Always, we blamed the house. This kept a lot of pressure off the marriage. Later, we would move when we were coming off a year with Helen's reflux and a stressful babysitting situation. Again, when in doubt where the stress is coming from, blame the house. It's big. It has no feelings. It can take it.

2. Marry someone who is brilliant. Regularly, Ed and I cross paths professionally. Always, when people realize we are married, they will tell me "Ed is brilliant". And I will say "I know". Just the other day, I received an email that said exactly this from a friend. I am certain that in 40 years, I will still have things to talk with Ed about. I'm only hoping when we start losing our minds, we do it together so neither of us notices.

3. Be willing to be apart. Some couples seem to jive on all-the-time togetherness. In fact, they seem to think it's a weakness when they're out separately, always ready with an excuse or an apology. Guess what? As much as I love pottery and yoga and knitting, I don't actually want Ed there with me. And he doesn't want to be there. Our apart time allows us to define ourselves as individuals, and it's good for us together. I can rock a crow pose and he can pretend to be impressed.

4. Be honest. That probably doesn't need much explanation, but I will insert a story about Ed being honest. After my first 10-week session of pottery, I brought home what I was certain was a masterpiece. Ed looked at my and my pot and said the absolute nicest thing he could think of - "it's almost symmetrical". That actually hurt a little, but he was right, and it made me trust his judgment about other things more.

5. Know your partner's lines and don't cross them. It's never funny. And on the flip side, stick up for yourself when your lines get crossed. If your partner loves you, they'll won't to know you're hurting.

6. Give up. As a former debater, this one is particularly hard for me. But over time I have learned, everyone is wrong sometimes, and nobody is wrong all the time. I'm not saying I won't argue tooth and nail over something, but I have learned to give up. Peace is important.

7. Find the compromise. We do it all the time. We don't hold a grudge about it. As an example, I like sit around vacations. Ed likes go-do-something vacations. One year, I enrolled us both in SCUBA diving lessons so that we could go to the beach and both enjoy it. This was before we had kids when we took more adventurous, but not always more relaxing, vacations.

8. Don't be involved in all decisions. Sometimes, it's just more efficient to let the other person make decisions and trust them. I can't think of many times when this hasn't worked out, even though letting go can be extraordinarily hard.

9. His family, his problem. My family, my problem. We're actually super fortunate here, but we established this one early on and I'm glad about it.

10. Share the load - and when you need help, tell your partner exactly what you need.

I have few ideas about what the next 11 years will be like, but I am looking forward to finding out!


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Happy Month 81, Connor!

Dear Connor,

Counting your age in months is truly ridiculous. I get that. But my mind is a sieve these days, and I feel the memories of you and your sister slipping almost as soon as I think to myself "I hope I remember this"! Your sister and you compound the feeling by requesting stories "about me" all the time.

In the past two months, you have fire balled into a Monopoly mania that calls you like heroin calls it's addicts. If the mania doesn't stop soon, there's going to be an intervention. You now have three versions of the game, and one of these versions has three games within it. You have mastered the art of "buy-buy-buy", and only occasionally find yourself too strapped for cash to survive. When nobody will sate your desires to play the game, you've been known to just play by yourself. You have not been known to have the imaginary person you play against make good decisions. You're a lucky man that your babysitter seems to have missed out on Monopoly when she was growing up. She's making up time with you.

You are a two-wheeled rider and adore your new 20" bike. You are totally rocking it.

My friend Jean wrote an amazing post about her son with autism. In it, she carries forward an analogy from Paul Collins' book "Not Even Wrong". In the book, he states "Autists are the ultimate square pegs, and the problem with pounding a square peg into a round hole is not that the hammering is hard work. It's that you're destroying the peg." Jean carries this forward by noting that all people are different. And here is where I started thinking about you.

In a Waldorf school, the early childhood program uses a wet-on-wet technique to paint. It's one of the more serene artistic experiences I've ever been witness to. The rationale behind the method is well documented, the chief reason for its use being that at this age, children should experience the emotion and feel of the color, not be concerned with the shape. In our public school, the children are asked to paint with Tempera paints. The most common exercise with paint seems to be filling in previously drawn lines. You can probably imagine how Connor felt when faced with this task. If you can't, I'll lay it out for you. He was in tears. In art class. Does that strike you as extremely sad? Because that's how it strikes me. Isn't art supposed to be one of those classes where a kid gets to express him or herself creatively, without being super constrained? I tend to think so.

Here's an example of some of Connor's work from last year.

I have to give the art teacher a hat tip, though. I like her a lot. She used to belong to the same studio I belonged to. She's clearly a great artist. The day after Connor cried in class, sobbing "yes, I understand you're not mad at me", she found me in the hall and told me the story. I almost started crying right there. Maybe we both wear our hearts on our sleeves, Connor? As soon as she started telling me about the class and about the tears, I started explaining Connor's background. I talked to her about the merits of the technique he was used to, how it evolved each year of schooling, how Connor is actually quite skilled at it.

At first, the art teacher was mostly "well, he's at public school now, and this is what we do", but then she softened and said she could see why wet-on-wet would be a good technique. She offered to give Connor an extra painting lesson so he could have a better chance of doing what was expected of him in art class. I took her up on that offer - even though it is the ultimate in capitulation. Connor and I attended a painting class with her a couple of days ago. During that class, she started talking about the technique they were performing in class. So I asked the question I wish I heard more often: "WHY?". Her answer was generally "Because it's part of the curriculum, and I see your point that it's not really painting, per se, it's more like illustration, but in the end, kids here can produce a painting that looks like something they want very early". BINGO. Parents, apparently, want to see finished work that has real forms in it, so our children are being taught the most uncreative method I can think of in order to accomplish this. Draw lines. Fill them in. Rinse. Repeat. Don't let the paint influence the art, make the paint fit into the art.

And the whole thing made me feel like some square part of you, Connor had just been damaged. And that just hurts. And it doesn't just hurt you and me, it hurts everyone who won't benefit from this particular creative strength you bring to the process.

I can say, this is by far the biggest disappointment I've had with your school, and I must also remember that just a few days, I was on cloud 9 because two non-teacher staff members had gone out of their way to tell me "I know I'm not supposed to say this, but I just love Connor". When that happened, all I could think was "I'm counting on you to love him". I was glad.

Much love, Connor. Just know that I celebrate your square edges. I'm sorry one of them got pounded.


Thursday, May 3, 2012

Contracts - I'll Pay You $100 if You'll Just Write, Connor

Connor really doesn't like to write. And when he does write, it doesn't bother him at all that his writing is sloppy. That just kills me. As a former pre-school teacher, I spent a fair amount of time learning to make all my letters just so. I also remember in elementary school really enjoying when we got to practice writing.

A couple of weeks ago, Connor approached me wanting me to give him $100 for doing chores around the house. I told him he'd have to submit a contract for the committee to discuss.

Initially, he proposed to make his bed daily, clean up the play rooms, and sweep the floors. During our negotiations, I changed out making his bed (a task his babysitter already does daily) to taking out the trash. The latter is much more useful to me than the former - except last week was a bad first week because I had tossed a bunch of Helen and Connor's toys in the trashcan, and Connor was a little surprised to discover them there. Oops!

At first, he wanted to be paid annually, but after thinking about how a screw-up could mean no pay for the year, he decided weekly would work better.

He thought I was being super generous by allowing him two weeks of paid vacation. Please don't tell him that my current job gives me seven weeks of paid vacation. He immediately asked if he didn't take his vacation if he could save it. (Maybe he's planning on having a baby and needs the leave?)

At the last minute, I added in a "no subcontracting" clause, as it seemed like Connor was already preparing to go Tom Sawyer on me and convince Helen to do his new chores.

After much back and forth, we agreed upon the following contract.

I want to be paid $100 a year for taking out the trash and recycling with Dad, cleaning the play rooms, and sweeping he floor. I will get two weeks of paid vacation, otherwise - no pay for no work. Half pay for half work. Vacations can accumulate over multiple years. No subcontracting allowed. Connor 4-23

After getting his signed contract, Connor announced the good news to Ed. Not to be left out, Helen came in demanding her own contract. (Unions, sheesh!).

Helen was a bit more ambitious in her desired chores, and she actually doesn't care if she gets paid or not. She was thinking though, because she remembered that the home we recently completed a home exchange with had a cat. Score!

If we get a puppy, I will take care of it forever and ever. And if we get a cat, I will take care of the cat and give it food and water every day.  - and then the next set of letters is Helen's signature.
- Elaine