Saturday, July 30, 2011

All turned upside down

Elizabeth did a dance, sorry, "creative movement," camp last week. On the last day the kids did a performance for the parents. This wasn't part of the performance, but a little bonus show that Caroline and I got afterwards.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

That lego piece is already lost

For me, this glass is already broken. I enjoy it; I drink out of it. But when I put this glass on a shelf and my elbow brushes it and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, 'Of course.' When I understand that this glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious. -- Achaan Chaa, meditation master

I first came across this quote -- the key to maintaining one's sanity while dealing with toys that have multiple parts -- in this excellent piece that Dahlia Lithwick did for Parenting magazine. Until I read that article, I never quite understood why I would have a nervous visceral reaction when my kids would open certain new toys; say, the Strawberry Shortcake Raspberry Torte Baking Playset:
But not others, like say a Pillow Pet:

My kids have fun with both. I have no beef with Strawberry Shortcake. So why do I automatically tense up when I see one of her playsets? It's because I know that the minute that playset freed from its tidy packaging, it will cease to be a whole playset. The miniature berrylicious petit fors will get separated from the torte-eriffic baking pan, and the perfectly pink oven will wind up in the bottom of a pile of Barbie dolls, and it will no longer function as a cohesive "baking set." If Strawberry's hair is removeable, which it probably is, it's a goner too, and then I'm left with creepy bald baking Strawberry Shortcake with none of her associated parts. And this really bothers nobody but me. Months later, assuming that the tiny cherry that used to top the tiny berry parfait hasn't already gotten vacuumed up, the girls will discover it and know exactly what it is supposed to go with (even if they can't find any of those other tiny parts) but they don't seem remotely troubled by the fact that it may never be reunited with the parfait again. I've spent many hours trying to keep these sets together. I've implemented various storage systems (seriously, who needs a clear plastic Sterilite bin labeled "Squinkies?" But I have one.) and tried to institute nightly toy pickup sessions where we reunite toy families, so to speak, but really, it's hopeless. I was feeling kind of defeated by this until I read Lithwick's article, and then it all became clear. "The glass is already broken." "The Strawberry Shortcake Splash-N-Petal Pool is already slideless." And once I accepted that, a zen-like calm washed over me, and I accepted our partial-toy set reality.

I'm grateful that I achieved this kind of peace before we got heavy into legos in our house. Because wow, legos will challenge the most resigned-to-toy-chaos among us. The pieces are tiny:

And there are a lot of them. And they all come together to make large, elaborate structures/vehicles that nobody really knows what to do with once they're built. Is Plo Koon's Jedi Starfighter supposed to battle the General Grievous Starfighter? Are we supposed to take them apart and build them again? Are we supposed to display them in an acrylic display case? It's unclear. I decided to operate under the assumption that in my house, we'd come up with a hybrid solution that would involve pieces falling off the completed structure and getting vacuumed up. In any case, I felt like it was my motherly responsibility to at least give the Legos a fighting chance.

I thought about finding a Lego table, until I noticed the inexplicable inflated price tags on such things. Plus, after nine years and three kids we have managed to accumulate an alarming number of kid-sized tables, so I decided to turn one of them into a Lego table. I went with a 2007 Target selection:

Its main asset was that it was already in sorry shape:

So I couldn't really hurt it.

I then glued six of these lego base plates on to the top:

And brought it downstairs to anchor Legoland.

As far as storage of the actual Legos go, I turned our very first toy storage piece (bought when Jacob was still a baby) into a Lego storage center. And to think there was a day when ALL of our toys fit into this thing!

At the moment, the pieces are organized by color:

The theory being that if the kids want to rebuild something, they can at least narrow which bin they need to rummage through for the piece they need. Will it work? Highly unlikely. But I feel like I've done what I can do on the Lego front, and now I'm going to fade away and let the Legos do what they are going to do. Because to me, that Lego piece is already lost.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Kids' Art Wall

I've been wanting to turn one of the walls in our upstairs landing into a wall for the kids' artwork for several months now. The kids' bedrooms and the playroom are all upstairs, so I really want it to feel bright, cheery, fresh and youthful up there. But ever since we moved into the house almost four years ago, on the main wall in the upstairs landing lived this painting:

which has a decidedly "Grandmother's Attic" feel to it. We bought it when we were selling our old house and needed something big and generic (i.e., mildly pleasing to the greatest number of potential buyers, but passionately adored by no one) to fill a large wall in our bedroom. I never liked walking upstairs and seeing it, as it is not remotely "bright, fresh, cheery or youthful. {Incidentally, while it is still none of those things, I moved it into our living room/library, and actually like it much better there.}

Anyway, I got the idea to do a gallery wall up there months ago when I saw this post on one of my favorite blogs. I love gallery walls in general (we have a wall of black & white photos in our den) and LOVED the white frames they used in their hallway. I thought that filling that wall with white frames would improve the landing's current dreariness. We are loaded with not-currently-being-used frames around here, so I painted some of them white, and added a few cheapo ($5!) frames from Michael's to round it out.

In terms of what to put in the frames, the kids' artwork was the obvious choice to me, because (1) they have a whole lot of it, and (2) we never really had a good spot to display it. Plus, what is cheerier and more youthful than kids' art?

I scoured the web looking for ideas for kids' art walls, and pinned them with abandon over at my new obsession, Pinterest. I loved the way that this one just stuck some of the art right to the wall in between the frames. I loved the chalkboard wall underneath this one and for a millisecond considered trying that. I totally drooled over this one, but was certain that I lacked the talent needed to come even close to pulling this off.

I started off by using newspapers as rough templates to figure out where I wanted the frames to go:

But in the end I pretty much ended up winging it. And I have the extra holes in my wall to prove it. In the end, I ended up with this:

I hung the frames a little bit wider apart than I often do with frame walls, because I wanted room for smaller pieces and "fillers" (think pipe cleaner caterpillars or popsicle stick snowflakes). I picked up a few 6x6 canvases ($2 each on sale at Hobby Lobby!) and commissioned a few handprint paintings to fill in a few of the gaps for now:

I took the glass out of several of the frames and backed them with white foam board to serve as "mats." This makes it REALLY easy to swap out the art. For the frames without glass, I just used painter's tape on the back of the pictures to stick them onto the foam board.

I also stuck a few of the masterpieces (Cat in the Hat, Yellow Bird and Balloon) directly onto the wall using painter's tape, a la my first inspiration wall.

I love this wall, and the creativity, imagination and fun that inspired it. It makes me happy every time I walk upstairs. I can't wait to see how their art changes along the way.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Who we're missing right now . . .

My sweetest little nephew Alex (and his awesome parents) just left us after a great visit, and we miss him so much already! He is seriously just the cutest singing, sweeping, plant-watering, doggy-cuddling, hide-and-seeking twenty-something pound package of joy.

My front porch has never looked so clean:

And my plants have never been so well-watered:

Here is Alex with the two little mommies . . .

Swinging with Jacob:


Reviewing hide-and-seek strategy with Grandpa:


We also introduced him to the lightsaber. Sorry Diane & Sal!

That face!!

I seriously need to will myself not to overdo it with the cheek squeezing/smooching, lest I become that crazy aunt he runs away from at family gatherings.

Speaking of family gatherings, Alex is going to be a big brother, so we had a little celebration for Diane, Sal and Alex while they were here:

The cousins:

We loved every minute with our sweet Alex and are already counting the days until our next visit!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Goo plus open shade

The kids are enjoying camp this week at the local children's science center. Jacob is in the third and fourth grade group, and his subject is "Build It, Make It, Take It," where, you guessed it, he builds, makes, and takes things. Elizabeth is in the kindergarten/first grade group, and her topic is "Slippey, Slimey and Weird Science," a.k.a. Goo Camp.

Every day she comes home with at least two new kinds of goo. She's made a lava lamp, a cup full o' some foam-like substance, homemade play-doh, and some brownish substance that she molded and shaped for 45 minutes before announcing that "this is edible, you know!" You can see some of her green goo from day 1 in the picture above. I took this one when I was experimenting shooting in "open shade" after reading some articles on it. I'd say I pretty much had an epic open shade fail, and this one is probably the best of the lot (in terms of catchlights and skin tone, if not composition, expression of subject and avoiding green goo in photos).

Sunday, July 10, 2011


Jacob turned nine this weekend, and wanted to celebrate his big day with a Star Wars party(ies). I know, that's what I said last year! Jacob hasn't actually been obsessed with Star Wars the entire stretch between his eighth and ninth birthdays; he took a short break in there to be obsessed with other things -- I was deeply afraid for a couple of months in there that I was going to have to disappoint him by not having a Wipeout birthday party for him this year.

We started on Saturday night by hosting a few of his buddies for a sleepover party. I guess I haven't hosted a sleepover party for nine year old boys in a while forever, because I couldn't quite understand why people kept saying things like "Wow! You're brave!" and "I'm praying for you." Frankly, a sleepover for four fairly self-sufficient kids sounded WAY easier to me than filling up two hours entertaining twelve 4 year old girls with crafts.

The boys got their party favors at the start of the party:

Finally, Jacob's ultimate party dream came true, and he got to celebrate his birthday by dueling his nearest and dearest friends in an epic lightsaber battle. We actually discussed some variation of this idea last year, but negotiations broke down when Jacob did not want to limit the number of guests. And I did not want to have to go to City Hall to procure whatever permits and releases I would surely need to allow fifteen 8 year olds to beat each other with sticks on my property.

But four was a more manageable number (especially since Grammy and Granddaddy kindly took the sisters for a sleepover the same night, so David and I were able to concentrate fully on the boys).

We took the kids to Five Guys for dinner:

And then walked across the street for dessert #1:

We figured we had a lot of time to kill, so multiple dessert sessions would be acceptable.

When we got home, the boys did some more lightsaber fighting and then headed to the basement to watch the Star Wars prequel trilogy. There was some disagreement about whether to watch Episode 1 or Episode 3. (My personal choice, "none of the above," was not considered.) The movie watching went okay, as far as we could tell, although we could hear Jacob getting frustrated a couple of times because his guests were not watching the movies with the kind of silent reverence that he felt they deserved. You know, because you wouldn't want to miss any of that dialogue. As we listened to all this from upstairs, David and I started looking up movie times for Transformers II -- because hard as it might be to believe, taking 4 kids to a 10:00 p.m. showing of Transformers II was actually preferable to . . . something . . . and that something was listening to four kids bicker about the Star Wars prequel in my basement. Thankfully, their disagreements were short-lived and we didn't have to see Transformers II -- disaster averted!

After the first movie, the boys came upstairs for dessert #2 -- cupcakes:

Then went outside with some ultrasabers, which are glow-in-the-dark lightsabers (Jacob has one, and Ben brought over his three) and had a late-night saber battle. I'm sure the neighbors loved that! The boys then went back to the basement for another Star Wars movie, and eventually fell asleep watching the movie (welcome to my world, boys!). David stayed up to supervise, and I went to bed because I knew I'd be getting up early to make breakfast. But I had no idea how early -- the first friend was up at about 5:30 (and they all quickly followed). I'd say the kid who got the least amount of sleep slept from about 1 - 5:30. Needless to say, we kept the grand sleepless sleepover tradition alive!

Later on Sunday, we had another party for Jacob with the family that was in town this weekend.

We pretty much just recycled everything from last year. So certain party items, such as the stand-up Darth and Yoda, went from "utterly ridiculous" to just "ridiculous" because we got to use them two years in a row!

When we were visiting our friends in St. Louis, B loaned me an awesome vintage R2D2 cake pan, and I used it to make Jacob's cake:

Blowing out the candles:

Kisses abounded for Jacob on his big day. Here he is, not so sure about the birthday smooches he received from his sisters:

But is much happier about the one he got from his great-grandmother:

Caroline, in full party mode, playing with balloons:

Jacob had a great time opening his presents, of course!

My cute birthday boy:

I think Jacob had a great birthday. He was really happy at the end of the day, and therefore I was really happy at the end of the day. Happy birthday, Jacob!