Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Best Idea Ever, Vol. 4: Dance yourselves happy.

Once upon a time, it was a dreary, gray February day. Everyone here was in a dreadful mood. Two of my three children awoke in this state. The third child skipped her morning nap and then joined the other two in their funk. I tried to fight it - I got everyone outside to the track so SuperSam could ride his bike (which he then refused to do). I made their current favorite (peanut butter on toasted English muffins with fruit) for lunch, and SuperSam threw it on the floor. Despite my best efforts, I absorbed the darkness from them, and instead of taking action to change the climate in the house, I sank into the funk...at least until after nap time, when I decided it was time to do something about it.

Nothing like some 1950's doo-wop to cure a case of the mid-February grumpies, right?

SuperSam and I had created a Spotify playlist a while back with our (okay, mostly his) favorites from the 50s. (Some of the songs I suggested were "too slow.") After some fun conversation about Phil Spector and the wall of sound and how Elvis Presley looks exactly like this certain dinosaur from PBS Kids' series Dinosaur Train, I persuaded SuperSam to get up and dance. He did it for only a minute and then left to play with his Celestial Buddies...but Nora was hooked. She wiggled and bopped and shook her head and waved her arms, and she let me know in no uncertain terms that Lollipop by the Chordettes is her new favorite song. ("Pop. Ah-dinnn.")

Nora and Saturn..."1-2-3-kick, 1-2-3-jump!"

How can you argue with that?

So this afternoon, we put on the music and had a dance party. Here is our playlist, if you'd like to listen along. If you don't have Spotify on your computer, you'll need to install it (but it's free and easy to do). Enjoy.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Water Beads, II: Ancient Roman Aqueducts and project-based learning

Sometimes I try a little too hard to control things. I have a lot of faith in my own ways. Mostly, that's because they work well. I'm a good manager, and I have lots of good ideas. It's hard not to share them enthusiastically. (Maybe overenthusiastically?)

Sometimes, though, I manage to let someone else be in charge...and sometimes, cool things happen as a result.

I've been inspired lately by Lori Pickert's book Project-Based Homeschooling: Mentoring Self-Directed Learnersand her blog, Camp Creek. As we consider how best to support SuperSam's strong interests and voracious appetite for information, I have been reading Lori's work and the strong contributions of the other parents who contribute to the project-based learning community at the Camp Creek blog space. A big part of the concept of project-based learning is for parents to act as resources...to get out of the way and let children develop skills to problem-solve and think for themselves.

The comments on Lori's blog are amazing- there are thoughtful, interesting discussions happening there all the time. I recently read a post where a commenter had asked whether project-based learning creates self-centered children who think the world should revolve around them. This was (part of) Lori's response:

I believe children embrace learning and become enthusiastic, passion-driven learners only when they see how it connects to themselves .. how it helps them connect with their interests and their purpose. What is education for, if not this? And the rote learning, six hours at a desk a day .. what is that kind of education for? Not, I think, connecting you with your deepest passions and your purpose.
It is a shared relationship, a negotiated curriculum.
That message — that learning is for the child — comes with work, responsibility, trial and error, experimentation, work. The message doesn’t erase the work — it just puts the work into its proper context. Why should a child put his all into something that he cares nothing about, that is designed to please someone else in some inexplicable way? Project learning says this is about you .. then expects the child to give his all for something he cares deeply about.
Many adults are unwilling — or afraid — to share the power. They are unwilling to do the  work of helping children learn to be responsible for their power in the learning relationship.
Freedom and accountability come hand in hand. The critics think that children in this type of learning environment will be catered to — missing the fact that they have shouldered real responsibility for their own learning in exchange for real freedom. The critics see only what the child is given — and fail to see what the child gives in return.
--Lori Pickert, from the post Sharing the power at Camp Creek blog
Good point.

Want to know what happens if I manage to share the power and let SuperSam be in charge of his own project?

(I bet you do.)

Inspired by SuperSam's recent desire to swim in water beads, a friend presented us with some brightly colored Orbeez. We couldn't wait to use them!

We put them in a big bowl, added water, and waited. And waited. And waited.
(It takes 3 hours for them to get up to size.)

While we were waiting, SuperSam announced that he wanted to know what aqueducts looked like. (Where do these questions originate?) I gave my typical answer ("Let's Google it!"), and we turned to the internet. Our travels through web site after web site led us to a site about Rome for kids, and then SuperSam declared that he wanted to build his own aqueducts and run the water beads through them.

Although I started thinking right away of ways we could accomplish this task, I decided to just let him go for it.

For the next hour and a half, "What do you need?" became my refrain.

I got out a basket of recycled materials and prepared to follow his lead. He asked for toilet paper rolls and started trying to connect them. He asked for tape...and he used way too much.

I normally would have said, "Oh! You don't need that much tape! Don't waste the tape!" or something like that. (I have a thing about not wasting supplies.) Since this was an experiment in SuperSam-as-the-in-charge-decision-maker, I kept my mouth shut. An amazing thing happened...he realized that too much tape would stick to itself and mess up his project, and he started using less. All by himself. I can almost guarantee (from experience) that if I had told him to use less tape, he would have gotten mad or decided to quit.

Each time a problem arose, he looked at me for help, and I said something like, "Well, what do you think you could try? What else do you need?" Each time, he tried something new, and eventually he figured it out on his own. Imagine that! I didn't have to do much of anything except run and fetch materials.

He tried other things that didn't work:
  • He put the tubes together with gaps in the middle, and the water beads fell out. (He changed his design so the tubes were connected end to end with no spaces.) 
  • He tried running bigger balls through the tubes, and they got stuck. (He asked me to cut the tubes open at the top. Then he pulled the sides further apart so they would be wider.) 
  • He used heavy balls that made the toilet paper tubes pull apart despite the tape, which wasn't strong enough to hold them with the added weight. (He used more tape. It didn't hold.) He got frustrated.
This frustration led to the most stunning moment of all, when he decided to build supports for the lower end of the aqueduct. This was the section that was collapsing when the heavier balls rolled down. My plan (which I kept to myself) was to use popsicle sticks to construct supports under the trough. SuperSam used pipecleaners instead, twisting two of them together and making a "C" shape at the top that supported his aqueduct like a sling. He pushed the ends of the pipecleaners into a styrofoam egg carton to use as a base.

I was sure this wouldn't work. The pipecleaners were bendy...how were they going to support the weight of the wooden balls? When he tried it, though, I was surprised to see that although the pipecleaners buckled under the weight as the balls rolled down the chute, they popped back up again. The bendy pipecleaners made his design flexible where mine would have been rigid. His idea worked better than mine would have.

I can't remember another time recently when I've been so glad to have someone else be right about something I thought I had figured out on my own. 

Here is the design SuperSam created:

And here's how the action went down:

His whoops of joy as he bounced around the kitchen were amazing. The pride he felt in his design and its success was all over his face. Our mutual satisfaction grew as we watched it work, over and over again, and I started to feel like I might be the right person to keep up with this boy's learning style, after all.

*This post contains an Amazon affiliate link...which just means that if you click the link to Lori's book, Project-Based Homeschooling from this post and then end up buying the book from Amazon, they will send me a few cents in commission.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Five-Minute Friday: Friend.

Somehow, it's Friday again already! I'm linking up with the other intrepid souls at Tales from a Gypsy Mama for Five-Minute Friday, a community gathering of writers who write for five minutes on a prompt without overediting, backtracking or worrying too much about getting it exactly right. New voices are always welcome...please think about joining us.


Perpetually five minutes late at least, I turn into an empty parking space and turn off the car, stashing my key in a pocket. She never makes me feel guilty, even though she's been waiting in the cold. We fall into step the way we always do, still able to see our breath on what will eventually be a warm spring day. It's not quite light enough yet for the trail to be crowded, and chatter flows freely as we start to warm up, tucking our bare fingers into our long sleeves. (You just shouldn't have to wear gloves in late April.)

I'm not sure how many miles we have covered together, our feet keeping time and our hearts beating strong. I'm not sure how many topics we've discussed, how many problems we've solved, how many laughs we have shared. What I do know is that I used to run alone, and now I don't anymore...and I am almost as grateful for the pair of legs running beside me as I am for my own underneath me. Running is constant evolution, a constant accepting and reaccepting of my strengths and my weaknesses. Having and keeping company on such a journey is a great privilege.

The sun has climbed up to a respectable height as we close in on the end of the last mile, dodging a pair of ducks ambling companionably across the path...and although I expect we may never run out of things to talk about, we are quiet, warmed by robust effort and the bond of having struggled and triumphed together.

For more Five-Minute Friday, please visit Lisa-Jo Baker's blog, Tales from a Gypsy Mama.
Five Minute Friday

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Beauty? Don't buy it.

Beauty. I'm not sure what's got me thinking more about this issue right now. Maybe it's the recent Dove beauty sketches video. Maybe it's that my girls are getting into "big girl" clothes now (and that so many clothes for toddler girls look like they belong in the junior section of the department store). Maybe it was the way Lucy pointed at the Disney princess pictures on her fork today (a hand-me-down from a friend) and reverently said, "Pretty."

Whatever it is, it's gotten to me.

How ironic is it, anyway, that a company that makes beauty products is conducting the social experiment and sharing the resulting video clip that is making us all aware of how critical we are of ourselves and how we look? How did we get ourselves to a point where part of Dove's successful marketing strategy could be to point out to us how we have bought into a lie about our own beauty?

And how can we save our daughters from making that same mistake?

One day last summer, sitting in my car at a strip mall with my sleeping children while George ran inside to do an errand, I scanned the ads in the store windows:

New styles on sale...don't be left out.
Everything you need for summer.

And this one:

20,000 beauty products.
20,000 items that have been specifically designed to fix the things that aren't perfect about our skin, our hair, our lips.
20,000 ways that we aren't good enough the way we are.

How, exactly, should 20,000 beauty products make me feel?

I'm pretty sure they didn't intend for me to feel angry...but I did. I thought about my daughters, sleeping in the back seat. I thought about how many women would see that ad and go into the store looking for something to fix something about themselves. I thought about what it means that such a store even exists. And the longer I sat and thought about it, the angrier I got.

This store isn't just selling 20,000 beauty products. It's also selling a lie - the lie that we aren't good enough, that we aren't pretty enough, that we need shinier hair and whiter teeth and longer eyelashes. That our lips should be redder and our cheeks pinker. That our faces should always be smiling, but that we should cover the laugh lines that come with years of those smiles. That somehow, we are worth more if we buy the things they make to improve us, to make us more like our "ideal" selves, to neutralize our imperfections.

The products in this store don't change us a lot. They just enhance us. They alter us just enough to convince each of us that we need those things, that our natural differences are not just differences, that they are flaws, that we must fix them to be our best, most beautiful, happiest selves.

We ingest this message nearly from birth. It's everywhere we look. We hear it so often as we grow from girls to women that we don't even notice it. We pick it up from our mothers. And then one day, we become aware of our flaws for the first time. We suddenly think our thighs look fat in our shorts, or we look in the mirror and say, "I can't possibly go out with my hair all frizzy like this," or we wish our skin wasn't as blotchy as it is.

Just like that, we start on a lifelong journey of trying to fix ourselves.

It's improvement, we tell ourselves. It is just making the most of what I have. It's showing myself in my best light...and there's nothing wrong with that. It's a good thing.

So is it any wonder that we could one day say (helpfully?) to our daughters, "You know, blue isn't really your color," or, "You aren't planning to wear that, are you?"

That is a moment I'm dreading...the moment I look at one or both of my girls and see something that could be improved. When does that happen? How can their perfect faces ever be made more beautiful? When will I ever look at their lovely blue eyes and think they would look brighter with eyeliner? When will I ever think that the beautiful waves of their hair would be better if they straightened them?

I remember that look in my mom's eyes the first time I had a blemish on my face...she came to squeeze it with a tissue between her fingers. And that is how it starts, isn't it? Innocently enough...just a little fixing of a little something.

I don't want to want to fix my daughters.

I want every young girl in my life to know that this whole mess is a lie. The idea that you need fixing, that you aren't good enough, that you could be just a little bit better if you used some product to improve yourself is a lie.

Why is it so hard to tell our daughters that they are perfect creations of God just the way they are?

I think I know why.
We have to swallow hard to say that to them, because at some point in our past, we started believing the lie about ourselves.

(At least, I did.)

This is what makes the lie so insidious.

I squint at myself in the mirror, and I think my face has more wrinkles than it used to, and my midsection certainly isn't as tight as it was before three babies grew inside me. I think I do look better with mascara. My hair looks better if I smooth it out with a blow dryer and a flat iron, and it might be more attractive if I got highlights to cover the gray.

I have bought into the lie, at least a little bit.

Now, let me be clear. I am not against using makeup or haircolor. I don't think it's wrong to want to feel attractive or play up our best features.

What is WRONG is when we somehow allow ourselves to be convinced that we are not worth as much if we don't do these things. What is WRONG is allowing someone else's standard of beauty to convince us that we are less than beautiful. What is WRONG is going around thinking that we are not completely wonderful and incredible and amazing women just the way we are when we roll out of bed in the morning. What is WRONG is depending on some product to feel good about ourselves.

And what is really, really wrong is not telling our daughters the truth.

We're amazing. They are amazing. Our bodies and our faces and our souls are just amazing, and they're perfect, just the way they are. They don't need enhancing. We are beautiful. We are handmade by a Creator, and we are worth infinitely more than we know.

What's more, we are powerful. We don't have to buy the lie they are selling us. We don't have to buy the stuff that keeps the lie alive, and we can tell our daughters that they don't have to buy it, either.

We can tell our girls the truth, and we can live it out in front of them. We can love ourselves for who we are and stop buying the lie that we are somehow less, that we need to be made better to be considered beautiful.

I intend to do everything I can to make sure that my two perfectly wonderful, beautiful girls know that they don't need any of that stuff to be completely amazing. They already are. And no marketing campaign is going to convince them otherwise...not while I'm standing here to tell them the truth.

Theme Thursday: Sky

Linking up with Cari at Clan Donaldson for Theme Thursday again this week- I offer you my sky photos now to correct my previous post with the wrong prompt. 

I took all of these from the (moving) car on a trip to Skyline Drive last month when we had our last big snow of the season. No filters this time...the blue tint on the last shot is from the windshield, but I was kind of excited about it and left it alone.

For a bunch of great sky shots, visit Clan Donaldson.


Theme Thursday: Celebration

A little Nora-joy for you today.
Bare toes on the table. Tiny peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with the crusts cut off. Tea in little cups. Good light for photos. It's Georgemas, the feast of St. George! What's not to celebrate?

(Actually, the feast was Tuesday, and we celebrated with a special afternoon tea party.)

To my great chagrin, I have just looked at Cari's calendar with prompts and have therefore seen that "celebration" was the prompt for March 28. (Which I did not do, obviously.)

Today's prompt? "Sky."

You know what, though? I'm leaving mine up like this, because yeah. It's just been that kind of week.

For more Theme Thursday featuring other photographers who actually used the correct prompt, visit Clan Donaldson.

Best Idea Ever, Vol. 6: Box of soapy water

We were having one of those days where "independent play" is just not going to happen...not even long enough for the mama to get dressed. Unfortunately, the mama had also agreed to an upcoming obligation and had to make a phone call. 

What's a mama to do? 

Put a plastic storage box of warm, soapy water on top of some towels in the middle of the kitchen and let them have at it.

It started with just the Sisters, who put their toy dishes and some real dishes in right away and started washing. Then SuperSam, hearing the splashes and giggles, came running with dinosaurs in hand. Impromptu dinosaur bathtime resulted (and dinosaur washing is almost always a winner around here).

The fun lasted for fifteen minutes, until everyone was totally soaked and getting cold (and ready for snack). The only cleanup involved was wiping up some water from the floor. (That section of the floor looks cleaner now as a result. Bonus!)

Hooray for simple fun.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Wednesday = TwinsDay...Jesus and the Wailer.

I realized recently that I haven't shared here yet about Lucy's personal relationship with Jesus.

(I'm sorry. My mom made that joke once and I still think it's funny.)

My sister, Laura, sent our girls these adorable sock babies for Christmas. They love them. Nora immediately named hers "Pop" (which is what our children call my stepdad instead of "grandpa" or something).

Lucy took one look at her doll and proclaimed, "Jesus!"

It was that time of year, you know...we were talking about Baby Jesus a lot, I guess, and she saw illustrations...and she thought her doll looked like him.

The name stuck.

It is occasionally awkward (when she drops him in Target and yells, "Jeeee-zus!" at the top of her lungs, for example). It is often funny (when SuperSam says, "do you want Jesus to sit with you?" and she says, "uh-HUNH! Jee-zus!"). It is occasionally creepy (when I put her down to bed and say, "do you want to sleep with Jesus?" and then realize it sounds like I'm being euphemistic about death, which I never am on principle).

My favorite, though, is when she holds Jesus in both hands and shakes him in time to the "bomping music" (which is a Spotify playlist of hits from the 1950s that we made for SuperSam). His little head wobbles gently and it looks like he can dance.


For her part, Nora is quite grumpy. She has molars coming in, and so she is feeling less than happy these days. In fact, she cries at the drop of a hat. Also, her brother torments her mercilessly. (How is it that we have arrived at this point in our parenting journey already?) Yesterday, he was taking his apatosaurus away from her just to make her cry. He didn't even want to play with it. He just wanted her to cry.

And she did.

And again...

Wait for it...

Have you seen this site, by the way? It's a series of pictures of children crying with captions telling the reasons they are crying. It's sad and hilarious at the same time. I think I could do that with pictures of Nora this week...but I feel so guilty taking pictures of her when she's crying. (That's why the pictures above are all from one afternoon...I just couldn't keep doing that to her. It seems unfair.)

George says her facebook status would say, "I have strong feelings about things."

I think it might just say, "NOOOO! No! No! No!"

Check back next Wednesday for more TwinsDay...the Sisters' chance to be in the spotlight.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Feasting on Georgemas with afternoon (not high) tea

There are few things as satisfying as a properly-executed afternoon tea. We must call it "afternoon tea" and not "high tea," as is so common here in the States. High tea is (apparently) something completely different - and we don't want to look like commoners, do we? There are rules about these things, you know...don't put both milk and lemon in your teacup, eat your finger foods with three fingers, not five (but don't lift up your pinky, for heaven's sake!). If you don't believe me, just look at this amazingly-detailed tea etiquette post combining Downton Abbey and tea. (Don't blame me if you get completely sucked in, though - the whole blog is fantastic.)

Perhaps you share my affinity for tiny sandwiches with no crusts and multiple dessert options at the same "meal" - not really a standard meal at all but almost able to replace two of them. Given the chance, I'd have afternoon tea every day instead of eating dinner an hour or two later. It feels so relaxing to be sitting around the table together, holding beautiful, warm cups and enjoying each other's company instead of bustling around worrying about what we are having for dinner. If only I had my own Mrs. Patmore to work on dinner while I serenely sipped my tea...

She has things completely under control...so I'm going to stroll in the garden.

Ah, well. A mama can dream.

When we were visiting London, George and I had a cream tea at the cafe in the Crypt at St. Martin-in-the-Fields. It was my first proper English tea, and I was in love with the whole experience. It didn't hurt that it was my first time in London and that there was excellent Baroque music involved just beforehand in the church upstairs. We were married but not yet parents. Traveling together was (is still) the thing we most loved to do. As I sat there in my very favorite purple velvet blazer with my very favorite person with nothing to do but take it all in, I was holding the world in my teacup.

This woman has no idea what she will be doing in five years.

Since we are celebrating the Feast of St. George today, and since St. George is England's patron saint, we are having a proper afternoon tea.

Why an afternoon tea instead of our usual practice of a big feast at dinner? Here are ten reasons:

1. Tea takes place just after nap time, when everyone wants a snack anyway and is in a generally good mood.
2. It involves lovely cups and saucers and my favorite red teapot (from that trip to London).
3. It also involves lemon curd. I made some last year, and it was life-changing. It is the most wonderful stuff. I may or may not have eaten it straight from the container with a spoon.
4. Afternoon tea is an excellent excuse to eat lots of sweets.
5. I'd rather bake than cook any day.
6. Scones. Scones. Scones.
7. Even though it's a feast day, we can have a simple dinner, which means we can put our kids to bed on time (increasing the chances that no one will melt down during our little party).
8. After the children are in bed, we grownups can have leftover dessert from teatime guilt-free.
9. Clotted cream (for the scones). If you've never had it, you really must find some.
10. The Sisters clink their cups together when they play "tea party," and it is possibly the cutest thing I have ever seen.

Last year, we had a great Spanish dinner with a beautifully-decorated table and a garland of St. George's flags. This year, we are going slightly smaller-scale, although SuperSam did a great artistic interpretation of St. George slaying a Tyrannosaurus that really added to the festive atmosphere. (Nothing like some dinosaur carnage to really make it feel like a party.)

"St. George just pushes a button on his sword and it shoots into the Tyrannosaurus...whoosh! And he dies."

Our menu for today's tea:
  • Lemon bars (from the box. Keeping it simple.)
  • Scones with jam and Greek yogurt (no clotted cream anywhere within 40 miles, unfortunately...but I found this recipe to try for next time)
  • Fruitcake made by monks from the nearby monastery in Berryville (where George's spiritual director, Father James, lives and works)
  • Lemon curd
  • Tiny sandwiches (some cucumber, some peanut butter and jelly)
  • Excellent tea from a tea shop in Covent Garden

It was a lovely and festive celebration, and everyone was so full and happy that the children opted to just go to bed a little early and skip dinner. (No, really, they did...it was their idea.)

To close, I'd like to share this poem with you from the very excellent Mr. G.K. Chesterton. Who better to honor St. George?

The Englishman
by G.K. Chesterton

St. George he was for England,
And before he killed the dragon
He drank a pint of English ale
Out of an English flagon.
For though he fast right readily
In hair-shirt or in mail,
It isn't safe to give him cakes
Unless you give him ale.

St. George he was for England,
And right gallantly set free
The lady left for dragon's meat
And tied up to a tree;
But since he stood for England
And knew what England means,
Unless you give him bacon
You mustn't give him beans.

St. George he is for England,
And shall wear the shield he wore
When we go out in armour
With battle-cross before.
But though he is jolly company
And very pleased to dine,
It isn't safe to give him nuts
Unless you give him wine.

And there you have it...bacon and ale. What could be better, or more English?

Cheers. And Happy Georgemas to you all.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Best idea ever, Vol. 2: Toy kitchen in the kitchen.

I am not sure why I never thought of this before, which is why it is our newest "Best Idea Ever" post. 

We got a small toy stove/sink for SuperSam the Christmas he was 2 years old. He has enjoyed playing with it some, but it never got as much use as we thought it might (given how much he loves to bake). 

As we have been rearranging our house a bit (moving out baby things, like bouncy seats and swings, that we no longer need), I decided to put the toy kitchen in our actual kitchen. I added some extra spoons, measuring cups, and bowls. Because reading is life and books belong in all kinds of play scenarios, I also put some books in this new play area- a kids' cookbook, a cute story about baking a cake called It's My Birthday by Helen Oxenbury, and Eating the Alphabet by Lois Ehlert (which has great illustrations of fruits and vegetables from A-Z...it makes me hungry every time we read it). (Those are Amazon affiliate links, FYI.)

Within 20 minutes, SuperSam and Nora had discovered the new setup and were playing with it...together...and (minor miracle!) neither of them was screaming or hitting. SuperSam put food in a pan, and Nora stirred it with a spoon. He put plastic eggs in a bowl, and she beat them with a whisk. He said, "Nora, you can be my sous chef," and she grinned and clapped her hands like someone had offered her some ice cream. Amazed, I made lunch. No one hollered while I did it. No one asked me to intervene. No one smacked his sister. No one beat her head on the floor in frustration because she couldn't have the toy she wanted. They were engaged, happy, and productive...together.

After a few minutes, Lucy joined the party, choosing to play with the empty spice containers. SuperSam showed her that she could open them and smell them. Lucy proceeded to take every spice container out, open the top (or ask SuperSam to open it for her) and smell it with her nose wrinkled up, pressed against the lid. It was adorable.
They were all quiet and content, busy with their work for the 15 minutes it took to get lunch prepared. I had to pull them away from their play to eat, and as soon as lunch was over, they were back at it again. Lucy discovered the books (her favorite pastime) and started flipping through the cookbook, and SuperSam guided Nora through the steps of making a smoothie pictured in one of the recipes. 

Of course the play kitchen should be in the real kitchen at our house. Why didn't we think of that before? Have you ever had an unused toy or play area become suddenly popular with your kids just because you moved it? (And do you have any suggestions for more food or cooking-related books for our new kitchen play area?)

Friday, April 19, 2013

Five-Minute Friday: Jump

Double Dutch II
CC image courtesy of edenpictures on flickr

I never learned how to double dutch.

I watched them on the playground, my schoolmates whose legs moved effortlessly between the spinning ropes, chanted along with them as the ropes spun over their heads and slapped the blacktop with a satisfying smack-swish-smack-swish-smack-swish. A few times I even volunteered to turn the rope, just to get closer to the action. I ached to try it, but I was timid around those girls, and I never felt brave enough to step between them and try to jump.

Yolanda rode my bus, and she could dance through those ropes as well as anybody. We chatted every day on our way to her stop at Dutch Village in the afternoons, before the bus dropped me off at my house in Glendale. We braided the tails on the My Little Ponies she always carried in her purple backpack. We sang about how we never wanted to go to Mexico no more more more and about how Miss Mary Mack had silver buttons down her back back back.

We were friends in the way that little girls who ride the same bus can be friends, before the world starts telling us in subtle ways that we aren't supposed to be. Our parents didn't know each other, and our worlds never crossed outside of those bus rides and on the playground, where I watched her brown legs flash back and forth and wished I knew how to make my pale ones do that.

For my birthday, I asked for a jump rope. I got two...a short green one I could jump by myself, and a long pink one with purple handles meant for friends to turn for each other. The kind of rope you use for double dutch, if you have a second rope (and some friends on your street who can turn and jump). I had neither, so it sat in the package for a long time. Eventually, my younger sister and I used it as a tow rope to tie our bicycles together and to haul clothes baskets of our stuffed animals around the house.

The school changed our bus route, and I didn't see much of Yolanda any more. I don't know what happened to her. I never even knew her last name. It's funny how those things don't matter much when you are first friends, when it's enough that you both like ponies with pink hair, before you start counting the things that make you different instead of the ones that make you alike.

I wish I'd asked her to teach me to jump like she could.

Five Minute Friday

Five-Minute Friday is a chance to write for five minutes in response to a prompt, without over-editing or backtracking, just to see what comes out...the way we used to color before we worried about staying inside the lines. For more Five-Minute Friday, visit Lisa Jo Baker's blog, Tales from a Gypsy Mama.

7 Quick Takes: Spring has sprung edition

It feels like spring. It smells like spring. Yellow pollen dust is piling up on the carport and on top of the giant green trash can outside. The redbuds are blooming, and our neighbors have new baby lambs. Jupiter is drinking a juice box on our kitchen table in his sunglasses. What are the other signs of spring around here?

I'm so glad you asked...

--- 1 ---

It's warm. Warm enough for shorts. This makes SuperSam the happiest person on our street. Granted, he would be happier if none of his shorts had buttons, snaps, or closures of any kind...but he's still pretty happy, especially when he gets to play outside every day.

In this snapshot, he is wearing his favorite green froggy boots, holding a plastic model of Jupiter and dumping rocks on his own head. Happy, happy kid. (Not easily explained, but obviously happy.)

--- 2 ---

Speaking of happy...our favorite local ice cream spot, Flotzie's, is open. We headed out last week to get our first treat of the season. Never underestimate the joy (or the mess) of eating ice cream cones with two toddlers and a preschooler. It was awesome. (I was holding Nora, so she missed out on the photo op.)

--- 3 ---
There are things growing in my garden again...on purpose. The seeds I started inside had mixed results, and none of them are quite ready to go outside in the garden yet (although the kale is really close). I'm hoping it doesn't get too warm, too fast for these cool-weather crops. Here are the broccoli transplants we got...everything is looking good.

If the cool weather crops flop, I plan to try again in the fall. I know I can do peppers and tomatoes during the summer since I've done them for several years already. Some things about getting started this year feel familiar instead of foreign. Hey, maybe I'm getting the hang of this?

--- 4 ---
There are also things growing accidentally. I was surprised by this thorny red vine with bright green leaves, which had totally overtaken one of our butterfly bushes and was all over the place. I cut it back quite a bit and turned to facebook to find out what it was. The popular opinion seems to be berries...maybe blackberries? The trailing kind, it seems? Anyway, it has been pruned back a lot and might not give us fruit this year, but I'm relieved to find it isn't something awful...like a toddler-eating vine that will grab my children and drag them down into the earth or something. #feedmeseymour #bettergardeningthroughsocialmedia

--- 5 ---
One of the best and most unexpected things about this blog has been the relationships I've formed with other bloggers. Although I have never met these people, we know a good bit about each other. Sometimes they are as well-informed about my life as my family members. I was so excited to get a package this week from Molly with some glow-in-the-dark stars for SuperSam. He was elated! We put a bunch of them up in his room. He was especially proud of making the constellation Leo on his wall all by himself, without even looking at any of his books for reference. Part of his bedtime routine now is "stargazing" through a toilet paper tube and naming all the constellations he sees. Thanks, Molly - it's perfect.

                                  --- 6 ---

In the spirit of springtime and of new beginnings, we painted the interior door in our kitchen a bright robin's egg blue. I love it more than any other door in any house I have ever lived in. Bonus: it makes the preschool and toddler art really pop, don't you think?

                         --- 7 ---
And, speaking of new beginnings...George has a job! He'll be starting as an adult case manager with our local community services board beginning May 1. We're excited. Thanks for all of your prayers.