Thursday, January 29, 2009

Paper T-Rex

So much for fancy paper dragons. Aleks took matters into his own hands and made a T-Rex out of paper.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Cleaning out the Silverware Drawer

What does one do with all those plastic forks that come with things when you weren't expecting them and didn't want them and now you can't recycle them and the world is full to overflowing with crap like that in kitchen drawers of offices? First, get some duct tape.Then measure your child's head with it and tape up your bits, broken in half.
Get the kids to join in.
Listen to them 'splain at you.
Add gold craft paint (it doesn't stick very well, but we'll fix that later on).
Get out the glue gun. Add jewely things and glitter.
Add more glitter. Allow to dry.
Admire your child's duct tape bracelet.
Affix ends, place on head.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


Twice now Grandma Cat has sent chocolate chip cookies which means that twice now my kids have gorged themselves for days.Grandpa Jim drew some nice stuff on the box this second time though. Wolf man.
And space aliens.

Monday, January 26, 2009

No Snowman for You!

Twice I dared to take the children outside, to run them ragged and escape these wretched indoors, with the plan of constructing massively impressive snowmen. We did it, we bundled up and walked outside into frigid temperatures and icicles threatening annihilation from the roof eaves. And there we discovered that the snow was frozen like infinite tiny particles of ice with no water, no hydration, no humidity to aid in packing. Thus, no snowmen to be built. So Aleks dared the eaves with staunch reproachful warnings from me to collect his beloved "ice crystals" and Bastian puttered about the yard with me, occasionally aiding with the ice crystal stashing.

All bundled up, it was difficult to even grasp these crystals and the long-melted-and-re-frozen dragon eggs speckling the path.

I used the snow shovel to make piles of icy snow to create a pit, and we placed Aleks' ice crystals in the castle walls. It looked as though the White Witch's Castle were shaped like Mordor.

In the end, the boys still fought sleep.

Homeschoolers Art Day - Japanese Themed

We actually did manage some origami for our Homeschooling Art Day. I helped Donna and Ivy learn how to fold a paper crane while Bastian helped me fold one. The kids did a few very simple things like cat faces and the like. Then they ran off to dress up like pirates, build Lego, and listen to more of Aleks' terrible pop song obsession. The mamas sat and drank tea. I never get to use my tea pot, so it was a welcome opportunity.

Donna made Japanese rice balls, which were lovely and filling. Aleks tried some plain seaweed, but did not like it. Bastian ate a rice ball (or maybe even part of several rice balls), seaweed included, though I think it was difficult for him to shred with his baby teeth.

All in all, it was a success. We'll be working on Valentine's on Tuesday this week.

Spontaneous Math

I knew long ago that Aleks understood some basic math. He always used his own language to explain it, however. He'd say "creates" instead of "equals." He also had never really written math in problem form. He'd written numbers aplenty and has recently begun to write these backwards for some reason, which we note, but do not criticize.

Then, abruptly, one night while I was cleaning up the kitchen after dinner, he started drawing on a box he pulled out of the recycling. When I looked, they were math problems. He would ask me if his answer was correct, but I didn't realize at first that he was actually writing it down. Still, his numbers are backwards, but all the math is right and he worked it all out by himself.

It says 100 + 100 = 200 and 4 + 3 = 7. He also discovered that different numbers can have the same answer: 5 + 2 = 7.
11 + 1 = 12, 7 + 4 = 11 (which he later scratched out for some reason, even after verifying the answer and discussing it), 11 + 12 (not sure what happened there), and 8 + 4 = 12.
On Sunday, the box went to the curb for recycling, so perhaps someone sorting it will get to see it. I wonder if there are many drawn upon boxes that people in recycling facilities see - boxes that were once castles or ships, that once housed half-clothed fairies with marker upon faces and scarves dangling from their backs. We'll definitely to do more with boxes this spring...ideas are coming to me.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Dragon Eggs

I suppose since the paper dragon is so slow going, we have to create space for other dragons in our lives. Last week on my friend's blog, I saw these Dragon Eggs. I was immediately reminded that I saw this project last spring and wanted to do it again come winter. Lo and behold, it is now winter and was -25° with the windchill, so perfect weather for sticking something outside to freeze. I also traced this project back and back until I found the original source.

So we sprang for food coloring at the corner store (and candy bars to be able to pay with my card! So much for not spending money!).I didn't have to buy balloons, however, because I remembered that our neighbor left a whole package here from when he made his Grapes of Wrath costume on Halloween. It's important to put the food coloring in first, as opening the tip of a balloon filled with water will simply result in water all over.
We originally cut them a little early. At first I thought the 25 below would work, but I think our freezer might have done better, or at least faster.
We made them a couple of different times in order to completely line our walk. We didn't use water balloons, and that might have made quite the difference regarding the outcome. The original examples of these were much brighter than ours turned out, though I used more than the one drop of food coloring recommended in the original tutorial and our food coloring brands appeared to be the same. At one point, Bastian threw them all in snow drifts. I dug them out, being all particular about how they were arranged so the guests coming to our Art Day could see them.
The neighbor's pug loved to bat them around and sniff them. I wondered what they smelled like. Petro-chemicals from the dye? My skin from touching them? Chlorine from the tap water? Who knows!

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Mighty Water Bear

On the way to Lego Club today, Aleks and I listened to a fascinating account of tardigrades, also known as water bears, on Science Friday (with Ira Flatow). It's the video of the week on Science Friday. They're kinda cute, really.

To the Keep!

I came home late after an Unschooling Mom's Night Out to discover this castle, composed of Curious George stacking blocks (a beloved hand-me-down from our friend Luke) and the Playmobil viking set Bastian got for Christmas. Papa left it intact and took photos for me.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Blog Posting, Ferris Wheel

I make this promise to myself to write and then don't at all for a week. I become caught up in the day to day, in staying up far later than I should to gain the only quiet I can. For I am venturing out alone far less than I am used to. It does not bother me to stay home or always to travel with the children, which is unexpected for me. It becomes necessity that I take time alone at night, which has left me exhausted some days, as not enough sleep comes in the hours between laying my head down and the children waking me, whether by cold feet or demands for breakfast.

I feel like I have been doing better about doing things with them, oddly, though it seems to be far less in the way of crafting and experiment to look at the photos from last year. We've been getting out though - to the library, to Lego Club with its warm fire, warm friends and warm tea all to help cold hands, and in the yard now and then - mostly to shovel the walk.

It has been snowing for well on a week now. Longer, come to think of it. Giant icicles hang from all the houses, though not many from ours, which greatly disappoints Aleks. Papa knocked down the few that dripped from the overhang at the back door and Aleks grabbed many of them to store in the freezer. I'm not certain as to how long that can continue.

We've been having lots of visitors as well. A friend came over Saturday to play while I chatted endlessly with his mother and made fresh cinnamon rolls. I saved half the dough, intending to make more for our homeschooling Art Day/Playgroup on Tuesday. It took forever to thaw and rise again, so it became an apple cinnamon braid bread-thing which we ate for dessert, then again for breakfast.

In all this time, in all this doing, there was no writing and hardly any photographs - mainly due to Aleks hogging the camera for videos of a pop video he recently fell in love with from an R.L. Stine DVD. So tons of videos of videos crowd the memory stick and the January '09 folder on the desktop, most including Aleks' tiny voice in the background singing breathlessly as he leaps about the living room doing his Kung Fu dancing, or as Aunt Natty likes to call it, his capoeira.

There were a few in there though, hidden between the Emily Osmonds. Specifically, Aleks got out the K'Nex he got for Christmas to build the ferris wheel on the front. He did all this by himself.
As he began work on the wheel itself, he discovered he was missing certain pieces. We're to make a list of those we need and borrow them from friends to try to complete it.
Aleks also said he'd like me to take him on a ferris wheel at a theme park (he really used the term "Theme Park"). He's also never been sledding, I discovered in the last few weeks, which shocks me that I've been such a lousy parent that my child has been deprived of such essential childhood activities for so long. After all, he is 6, which is practically all growed up. We'll have to make good on my promises soon.
I, in the meantime, have abandoned the quest for my Queen Crunchy Mama crown (nearly an oxymoron, that) favoring an intellectual quest for a definitive philosophy. I've been spending hours rambling on the phone, in person, and on message boards, attempting to delve into the spaces between ideology and pragmatism and discover what Living an Ethic and an Authentic Life might actually look like.

I'm guessing that it would probably resemble my life with its ups and downs and ever-changing array of challenges and questions and the rare glimpse, like a photograph, of the whole where contentment lies in but a sense the story of our life: its vibrancy and joy, nestled recklessly amongst strife and struggle, embodied in the shining faces of my children, my scrubbing and washing, Jon's reading and cooking, and all the snuggles, laughter, and shouting intermixed. I see it frozen in time: looking down at our hands as they type, wash, play, paint, write, scratch, and stroke. There is poetry in it, but only at certain quiet moments, after I've turned the brain off to work, does it appear with the soft glow of memory.

Our life is a lulling, pulsing thing. We react based on stimuli the way in which our neural pathways, trodden down by experience, dictate. We struggle to choose better and different in a million subtle ways everyday. At times we succeed, at times we fail, but slowly, slowly, with great effort, we are wearing new ridges in brains full of the ideal: the question instead of the demand, the breathing in and out instead of the shout, the hug instead of the gritting of teeth. And sometimes it is both. Or neither.

I don't know what the results of the experiment will be. So far, it is difficult to do anything in a way that I know is right. There is so much talk of consistency and routine out there and that is not my life. My life is new every morning and every few minutes I seem to have the opportunity to screw up parenting or make someone feel okay. I don't know if I could find consistency, with so many individual moments in which to make a choice, good or bad. I'm not certain that it's possible to have the same answer again and again as everything is always changing. We are here. We are us. We do not emulate anyone else. Our days are loose, but our lives are rich. I don't think that there are answers for the minutiae. The key is to harm not. The rest must surely come, just as we make all meals and unmake each mess afterward. The steady, rolling pattern of it all is likely enough.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Free Stuffs

In attempts to save money for the possible move next summer, we are no longer purchasing the very important items we usually luxuriate in: beer, restaurants, and videos from Vidstar. Additionally, it is now winter in Cleveland, meaning that trips out are few and far between. We're bound to drive one another insane if cooped up too long in the house, however, so it takes some creativity to find the things that are not in our living room, wasting away on the computer or with dreadfully stale activities. Here are some things we've been doing recently:

Long trips to the library, where Bastian plays with the Duplo blocks in the Children's section. Aleks, at 6, cannot have his photo taken without elaborate posing, usually in the mode of Kung Fu.

We worked a bit at the giant paper dragon we've been planning for some months now.
We did not get very far, unfortunately. Just some scales and spikes cut out...
Moonlit walks in the bitter cold help to wear out over-energized children and calm Mama and Papa's frustration...

Standing on fire hydrants scares passing cars, we have found.
Frightening Papa with giant robotic dinosaurs in the a.m. is also a fun distraction.
Building robots out of brothers.
Making foot art.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

In Which the Children Take All the Credit

All day long it was the path to righteous housewifery - the plan was a new playgroup/artgroup/open house gig for the homeschool group, but it was organized just yesterday and thus did not pan out. In the meantime, I'd taken up cleaning everything in sight yesterday and had it continue into today to be finished up in the event of strangers desiring to make origami with us. I interspersed the cleaning frenzy with sitting on my bum at the computer, naturally, just as the boys interspersed their watching movies and playing video games with wrestling on the couch and building things in the bedroom. We all self-regulate to some degree.

After dusting and sweeping and washing and laundering, I added baking bread and homemaking noodles to the pile. They rested for an hour whilst I moved the couch and swept beneath it, then facebooked a bit more. Then it was kneading and rolling and getting out the stock I made and the chicken I froze for the noddle soup I should really make a large pot of for storage for when we eventually get sick. Instead, it will be crusty whole wheat bread from the ludicrously titled What You Knead and the delicious and nutritious locally grazed chicken soup.

And just as I was ready to crown myself the goddess of domesticity, my children ran in, after so many hours of merely and unabashedly consuming media whilst I ignored them, to stir the soup, as though they'd made it all along.

All of this brings up lots of questions - why the quest for supermomdom? Why the unchecked availability to media? What happened to the origami? Does this indicate a falsity about previous photographs of children doing activities? Oh, such touchy subjects...

Why the quest for supermomdom? I don't know! What is it that drives me to do more than is humanly possible? How does it work really? I haven't real answers to these questions, only speculation. I can only say that there is pressure from the world in all its varying nooks and crannies - magazines, books, spouses, neighbors, family members, and good lord, worst of all, the internet with all its kagillion alcoves of philosophical aspirations divorced from their real-life joyless drudgey struggle. Somehow all these little morsels of judgment about what is good, bad, or evolutionarily appropriate get planted in my head by way of scientific studies released and random things women write on message boards and they drill their way in like so many insects and intersect with vulnerable bits of life experience and make me think that chicken stock is good, that olive oil is preferable to canola due to the heightened levels of monounsaturated fats, and to worry endlessly about the estrongenic qualities of processed soy, though I'm not entirely certain what any of that actually means, cause me thus to believe that the homemade stock with the veggie-fed local Amish chickens and the organic carrots bought bare, not in a bag, and the homemade noodles made of organic, unbleached white flour bought in bulk at the co-op where I volunteer and carried home in the unbleached cotton bulk bag will somehow make me superior in greenness and responsibility perhaps not to the world, but to some former version of myself and thus help in its small little way to save the world for all the future carriers of my bits of DNA. Not only that, but that the nutrition gained from such toil will help my children to pass on those bits of DNA.

Before I became a mother, I never much thought about my DNA. Double helixes in general, in science class and the like, sure, but not my DNA, what it might say or do. And certainly I never before motherhood considered my DNA with such affection and concern. Never before did I imagine my DNA as actual people, crushed by supervolcanoes or under the bootstomp of fascist oppression, created from the turmoil of infrastructure collapsed by the melting glaciers that flooded the Atlantic Ocean with fresh water and turned the current, making Europe a desert and drowning the Statue of Liberty like some Roland Emmerich film.

Does me having a spotlessly clean home and homemade chicken noodle soup (and bread!) actually hold back that tide? Of course not. Do I even actually imagine all that as I go through my day, making out To-do lists in my daily planner (bought from an anarchist collective in Berkeley, no less)? Of course not. Nonetheless, if I dig deeply enough - which does not seem too difficult to do as I write here now - I find that the reasons for all of it - for my continued heartbeat, my breaths in and out, the monstrous goals I set for myself as a person to somehow fulfill lifelong dreams and secrets - is but to insure that my children lead the most fascinating, world-changing, fulfilled lives possible.

And so I strive endlessly and with great difficulty to be the best mom I can - that warped version of all the tiny ideas and bits of speculation that have wormed their way inside me and tied themselves with each of my neurons to form this bizarre, many-headed creature with forked tongue best for licking wounds and several thousand arms for stroking, cradling, picking, pressing, ordering... And on days like this, I get a better glimpse of her than usual. It would be best for us all, though, to realize that my ability to accomplish all the things I wish to accomplish - those things just for me, those for the home and husband and hearth and those for the children with their physical, emotional, psychic, and educational needs - that though in general, and certainly by the looks of this blog, I seem able to attempt at least small bits of all of it (perhaps not well, but at least all of it), the truth is more that I fulfill needs in the same way that a toddler eats.

Most parents have been there with the child who won't eat or seems to not eat enough or at least not the things we desire them to eat and some pediatrician or wise mother of an older child or some random mama being catty on a message board lets us know that our children will gain enough of what they need over more time than the course of a day. If only we look at the entire week, we will see that their need to eat six oranges one day is perfectly complemented with their devouring of two chicken breasts on another. It's like when Frances Moore Lappé let the vegetarians know that we no longer had to always eat beans with rice, but that we could rest assured that we'd get all our partial proteins completed over the course of a day or so, meeting our nutritional needs appropriately.

This is how I am with accomplishing all that I wish to and addressing the needs of all four of us plus the house. Some days I take the children out and about to socialize and run and play and some days we stay in and the floors get scrubbed (except that's a lie as the floors never get scrubbed because I can never get all the toys and all the dirt off of them in order to break out a bucket and still have time for supper). Still others, I spend most of my time alone without children, feeding myself and my nutritionally-challenged psyche.

This also partially explains the rationalization for unchecked media consumption: we just don't do it every day. Though honestly, we do it many days. It is something I struggle with. We do not own a television, but in the age of the internet and DVD-drives, this does not ultimately matter at all. I have found myself confronting my own habits with the computer and those of my husband when questioning the virtue of the habits of my children. In that confrontation, I have found that I am a perfectly reasonably motivated adult even with my extensive time spent online. I cannot formulate a reason why my children should be denied something I allow myself. Equally, it is ultimately my responsibility to provide something worth distracting them from the computer with if it is really bothering me and I, in my infinite laziness (ha!), choose not to.

The other, more provocative truth is that my ideal would be far different than this. My ideal would be that the boys run amongst gaggles of boys through field and through forest, learning the world of boys as they are evolved to. Unfortunately, I live in modern America with its cities and its mindless consumption and the commodification of all things and that ideal is simply not something I am able to purchase. I live away from my family. I live in a city neighborhood where cars drive much faster than the posted twenty-five miles per hour, where our backyard is asphalt, and we must drive to find a grouping of trees more than a few feet wide. I allow the endless consumption of media because my choices are very, very limited.

Thus, I did not accomplish the origami. It was merely an activity in holding for the potential homeschoolers dropping by. They did not come, so we will do origami another day. I can imagine that my children will have little interest in the origami anyway. They will watch, perhaps, as I make the eighteen folds necessary for a crane, the only thing I know how to do after having folded several hundred for a play I stage-managed eleven years ago. Then they will fold a few bits of paper a few times, crumple them at their feet and run off to do something they know how to do: play video games, build Lego, imagine blocks and dinosaurs fighting with one another to escape the zombie hoards... But you, dear reader, will imagine something far more interesting with the way I will present it. There will be photos of Aleks at the children's table, his lips pursed in concentration over his metallic paper as he makes a crease, and of Bastian holding up a paper crane with a great smile, the afternoon light twinkling in his eye. The image will present time frozen, as if this activity lasted hours, just as all the photos in this blog have. The reality is likely much sadder, unless otherwise noted. The particularly educational activities seem to last the least amount of time - a discussion of prehistoric fish melds quickly into talk of some cartoon or a tantrum about visiting a friend.

And this too is why I do not try very hard - they learn. I cannot stop them from learning. They do it all the time. They learn things I never dreamed of teaching them and ask questions that stump me. And so it is not up to me. Given space and materials and new places to visit, the boys gain knowledge I only dreamed of. So I give them the space to simply be at all hours of the day, and am therefor able to carve out quite a bit of space for me, for sitting and doing nothing, for accomplishing all the supermom tasks I dream up, for drinking tea and knitting, and for wasting endless hours online, updating my facebook status with ridiculous quotations and proclamations of my own virtuosity.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Darth Vader at the Otolaryngologist

Aleks had to go to the otolaryngologist (ENT) and audiologist today. He was scheduled to have surgery on Halloween to insert a fourth set of ear tubes, but when our pediatrician noticed that his ears looked pretty good, we canceled. A follow-up visit to the ENT showed no fluid or signs of infection, but immobile ear drums. So another follow-up plus another hearing test were scheduled for today.

Aleks dressed in full costume. Everyone in the building (this is a HUGE building) seemed to notice him. He ate it right up, telling all the receptionists and aids and residents all about his Lego and his pet, D-Rex the robotic tyrannosaurus.
They poked his ears a bit, but were generally gentle and he was generally very brave. He even drew a picture of D-Rex and Darth Vader for his doctor. The ears looked good. Just a little fluid on the left ear, but the drums were still not moving. Then off to the audiologist.The audiologist confirmed what Jon thinks he could have told me - Aleks can hear just fine. His ear drums are not moving very well at all though. So... we're not really sure what that means. What it means for the time being is that we have to have another follow-up in another two months for the ENT to look and see if things still look okay. I don't really have any answers, basically. He can hear, but maybe his Eustachian tubes still aren't fully functioning? I don't know. I like that we're still putting off doing anything about anything though. That always feels smart, if not entirely productive.

As we do on almost every visit to the clinic, we stopped at the in-house Au Bon Pain for lunch. Having your ears prodded is not very fun, so something special like this is a nice way to soften it.

On the way out, we got to pet the greeter dog for a bit. The last few times we were there, they had a Newfoundland (I love newfies) and a Dalmatian, but today it was a very nice Golden Retriever named Nike after the goddess. Everyone was quite impressed with Lord Vader upon our exit too. Lots of smiles on the faces of presumably not-entirely-healthy people.

After the ENT, we headed to our unschooling Lego Club, which is basically unschooling families hanging out. We had kept meaning to go, but I always forgot. Finally we made it and enjoyed the company immensely. Bastian stayed at home with his dad. They constructed a massive block tower with a monkey king (actually a chimpanzee) and lots of officers and an army guarding it. It was like the rubber animal version of Isengard.

The Lego Club filled so many needs simultaneously. Partially, my doubts about what I'm doing with myself as a homeschooling mother were quelled by the voicing of similar doubts and varying solid and practical explanations for the behavior that inspires them. Aleks got out of the house and had the opportunity to interact with children both older and younger, doing something he loves. I sat by a fire with friends both similar and different from me, knitting and talking uncertainty and hope, the snow heavy outside, the puppy warm and drooling underfoot. I discovered there that my discontent is not lonely, my answers are not absolute, and I have more time yet to make not a perfect life, but a good one.

And here it is, quiet this evening if not quaint...the boys play a video game, piled on their Papa's lap, I type at the laptop, the basketball game calls out from the radio its whistles and bells. Outside, up to twelve inches are coming. We have hot chocolate and enough flour for baking. Tomorrow: sledding...