Monday, August 30, 2010

Stars in His Eyes

           (Shhhh ... Quiet on the Set!)

If you send your child to a free (remember how we love that word) two-day workshop at the Apple Store, and he learns to use iMovie, you may unleash a monster.

He may spend hours on the computer writing a script entitled "Attack of the Nerf Marauders," prominently featuring various Nerf weapons.

You may remember that by jingo, your very own next door neighbor is not only a tenured professor of screenwriting at UT, but also a person who has had several scripts snapped up by the hungry Hollywood beast. (Same neighbor also went to Harvard with, and wrote for the school newspaper with, Peter Sagal from WaitWait Don't Tell Me! How cool is that?!)

That neighbor may agree to look over your son's script to give him some pointers. He may also send your son the screenplays of various movies such as Shrek Three and Ratatouille, so your son can see how the big boys do things.

You may start to wonder whether it would be appropriate to bake your neighbor a Gratitude cake.

Your child may begin rounding up his buddies and neighbors, even pestering the more reluctant ones out of their ever-lovin' minds until they agree to join the cast.

You may get into a long, thought-provoking discussion with your son's friend about violence in movies.

You may start to plot how to eliminate some of the less comely parts of your home from the cinematography of your child's film. You may fail.

Your child may make big plans to post his video on YouTube and tell everyone from his great grandparents to the grocery store cashier how to find it.

Then he may announce that he "used to want to be a scientist, but it's turning out that I'm more of a filmmaker."

You may respond by filling his head with dreams of IMAX movie-making. You could even let him listen to James Cameron's TED talk about how his early fascination with science fed his later film-making genius -- even though you don't let your child watch Mr. Cameron's films.

You may conclude that as you strew opportunities along your children's path, you can never quite predict where the spark of passion will light.

And that knowledge may comfort you as you find the eighty-fourth nerf dart of the day lying on your path.


Friday, August 27, 2010

A Mother's Day Off

This week my very thoughtful in-laws offered to keep the children for a night and a day to give me some personal time.

"Personal time?" you say. "What is this thing you call Personal Time?"

I know. I know.

My father-in-law even traded cars with us, deigning to drive my minivan full of kids and leaving us with his two-seater for the night. We went out for dinner (thanks Groupon!) and a joyride along some of Austin's more serpentine roads. Whee!

The next day, I spent some time working on my to-do list, including such thrills as getting the van's way-overdue inspection done and dropping off stuff at Goodwill while my little hoarder(s) couldn't say, "Wait! But we NEED that!" Also, some attempts at planning for the semester.

Then I picked up my friend Margo from her office for a late lunch and we had an hour of uninterrupted adult conversation in the middle of the day. I know. I know.

Then -- are you ready for this? -- I actually went to Barton Springs, by myself, and read A Tale of Two Cities on my blanket in between refreshing dips. I think I actually dozed off for a few minutes, too. It's hard to communicate just how decadent this all felt. But I think you understand.

Meanwhile, my mother-in-law was holding the fort at her house, including a tea party once the cousins got home from school. And when we went to collect the kids that evening, she had nothing but good things to say about the time. Not a single comment that might compromise the joy of my mini-retreat. Bless her.

I'm not sharing this to make anyone jealous, because believe me, I know how alluring a solid block of Personal Time sounds. But upon reflection, a few things occurred to me.

1. Every mother needs some silent time. Time to reflect, to pray, to accomplish things if she chooses, to quiet her thoughts, to slow down, to have some fun outside the beaten path of her routine, to remember that she is a person apart from her kids.

2. This is not easy to come by. Sometimes we have to ask for it. Is there someone in your life you could ask, assuming hours of professional babysitting isn't in your budget? Could you arrange with your husband for a weekend off? Could you trade a day off with a friend? We all tend to moan about the lack of margin in our lives. Doing something about it often requires some creative thinking.

3. When I grow up, I want to do this for younger moms. For my kids and their spouses, if they live nearby. For moms of young children who love them to pieces but crave some respite now and then. Feel free to remind me of this resolution in twenty or thirty years, okay?

4. Meanwhile, we can look for little ways to lighten the load for each other. What can you do to grace another parent's life this week?

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Answer to the Current Salmonella Outbreak in Eggs

Everyone needs a few of these. 

Number One, aren't they gorgeous?

Number Two, they start off as adorable chicks that fit in the palms of your (or your kids') hands.

Number Three, they make you breakfast, and what other kind of pet can make such a claim?

FYI, my blogger friend Stefani Austin from Blue Yonder wrote an article in the latest issue of Urban Farm magazine that quotes yours truly on the joys of raising chickens with your family. Wow wow wow. I'm so famous. Look for it at your local bookstore.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Summer in Review

Today marked the end of summer for most of our fair city, as all the schoolchildren headed back to the classroom, despite the fact that summer is definitely hanging on here. It's still weird for me, after all these years, that school reconvenes while it still feels like summer. Growing up in New England, I associate the advent of school with a September nip in the air and new, long-sleeved clothes. What do you buy for back-to-school clothes around here? New tank tops, just because?

Anyway, even though today was no different for us -- in fact, my kids all slept in until 8:30 a.m. -- it seems like a fitting occasion to review the highlights of the summer. Sandwiched between times of trauma and of travel, most of these moments never made it onto this blog, but they wove the fabric of a season in our family.

Summertime was ...

Picnic dinners at Zilker Hillside Theater, to see evening performances of A Midsummer Night's Dream and Annie:

Playing in the creek with friends:

Making mudpies in the yard:

A (mostly free) trip to Six Flags:

Swimming at Barton Springs, an Austin landmark:

A Saturday night at the ballpark:

Running the go-cart around the driveway: 

Succumbing to insanity by joining the crowds at the Lego store's Grand Opening:

Playing excessive amounts of Toontown with the neighbors (at least they collaborated!):

Sending the boy and his buddy off to sweat it out at McKinney Roughs Day Camp:

And visits from beloved friends from far away:

It wasn't my favorite summer ... not a ride I'd like to take again. Mostly, it didn't begin so well. But scrolling through the photos tells a better story.

"Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive, 
But to be young was very heaven!" 
                -- William Wordsworth

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Marble Painting

Here's an all-ages art project for the dog days of summer (don't even get me started about how much more of summer we have to endure here in the netherworld of Texas). It was field-tested in my house by five children who ranged in age from ten to four, and was a hit all around.

Look! I'm so nice, so generous and giving, that I'm even providing you with a pretty shoddy picture of the artists in action. Bonus: broken screen door in background.

Gather your supplies: paint*, marbles (buy a cheap bag at the craft store), a pad of oversized watercolor paper (use that 40% off coupon; those babies are expensive!), and some sort of tray. If you use, say, 11x14 paper, a cookie sheet with edges might do the trick. We used bigger paper so I directed the Professor to create some huge cardboard trays out of a big box we had lying around. "Your wish is my command, O Queen," he said cheerfully. Or something like that.

Dip your marbles in paint. Plop them on the paper one by one and start rolling and tilting your tray. Or, you can use several marbles all at once and really stir up some craziness!

Ta-Da! Wall Art of which Jackson Pollock would be proud.

By the way, in case you haven't already discovered it, The Crafty Crow is a fantastic place to grab last-minute craft ideas. I use it regularly for my own kids and my Sunday School class; in fact, the marble painting idea was doubtless nabbed there. Hooray for artsy people sharing their nifty ideas!

(* edited: TEMPERA paint)

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

And now, on the homeschooling front ...

First, the good news.

Nim's IslandThe girls and I are having a ball this week reading Nim's Island by Wendy Orr. I know it's a movie, and I haven't seen it yet, but y'all, the book is so much fun. Nim is a girl living on an island alone with her scientist dad, and she's adventurous, responsible and self-reliant enough that her dad goes off on an expedition and leaves her for three days. At least, the plan is three days. But then his trip goes awry and Nim begins corresponding via email with a reclusive famous author, all while missing her dad and having adventures with her anthropomorphic animal friends, and that's as far as we've gotten, but Eliza keeps asking me to keep reading, which is a good sign.

Warm As Wool (Aladdin Picture Books)We've also started dipping back into Five in a Row, which has been the source of some amazing picture book finds for us. It's a fountain of ideas for discussion and activity based on great books, some of which are already well-known and award-winning, and others of which deserve to be so. This is a curriculum I'm always recommending to moms of preschoolers and kindergarteners who want to do something a little bit structured with their kiddos without going off the deep end. This week we're having some fun with Warm As Wool.

And I am reading A Tale of Two Cities and liking it much more than I expected. Mr. Dickens, you're quite a wit. 

Now, the bad news.

Y'all, I am suffering from the worst case of planning paralysis I've ever experienced. Normally around this time of year, I'm so done with the "lazy days of summer" to which we are somewhat subject because of the public-schooled neighbors who like to come hang out. Visions of newly sharpened pencils and brand new books and schedules that will probably come unraveled dance in my head. I'm making a long list from the Rainbow Resource catalog and forcing myself to edit because there are so many great options.

But with seemingly everyone gearing up around me and even homeschooling websites publishing delightful ideas for the "first day of school," I just cannot seem to kick myself into gear. I feel like I'm stuck in this pessimistic funk, this crisis of motivation and decisiveness, despite the plethora of advice and ideas at my fingertips.

There's more I could say but it's hard to go into detail without violating my kids' privacy, one in particular. But if you feel inclined to pray for me, please do! Or send a Mental Battery Charger via FedEx with encoded instructions for exactly what we should do in the next few months that will rock our world.

Thanks for listening. Over and out.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Are We Insane?

Before I show you the following pictures, a brief disclaimer: The answer to the question, "Are We Insane?" is, beyond the shadow of a doubt, "It's entirely possible. Probable, even."

Behold the very messy birthday party of a certain ten-year-old boy! The theme was "All Out War."

1. Assembling and decorating water-zookas.

2. Using water-zookas to shoot down a fleet of paper airplanes.

3. Team water-balloon transporting -- no hands allowed! Successful teams get to throw cream pies in The Professor's face!

4. Water-balloon toss

5. Thirty seconds to eat as many M&M's out of a plate of whipped cream as you can with your hands behind your back

6. All-out war, using water-zookas, shaving cream, silly string, and water balloons. Let the record show that yours truly joined in the fun.

7. Dirt cake. Utensils optional.

How did we possibly make this ten-year-old dream come true without losing our ever-lovin' minds? Come closer and I will whisper to you our secrets.

1. This was a drop-off party. Our property does not have enough space for fourteen kids going bananas and fourteen sets of parents trying to make small talk and stay dry and cool. Only two parents stayed, and they helped out.

2. The Professor was in charge of planning and executing the activities. He did so in concert with two single guys from our home meeting, David and Jesse. Another friend, Steve, grilled all the hotdogs. We are currently writing David, Jesse and Steve into our will. Up to half our kingdom, guys.

3. I made really simple, eat-with-your hands kind of food.

And when the party was over, two of Ian's buddies spent the night and they hardly slept at all because they all felt the need to wake up at four a.m. to continue playing his new Wii Games but that is just something you do when you're a kid and so we didn't hassle them about it and we weren't even too late to our church meeting the next day even though the kids were like zombies and so all's well that ends well, The End.

Friday, August 13, 2010

The Smoothie Debacle

Once upon a time, not so very long ago, I made a fruit smoothie for the Professor and myself, since I nearly always have one for breakfast. Creatures of habit, we are.

I assembled my ingredients: Frozen berries. Banana. Fruit juice. Coconut oil. Yogurt -- one of the kid's leftovers, apparently, from a Tupperware-wannabe in the fridge.

Blend at high decibel level in geriatric Vita-Mix that probably blended when the Berlin Wall still stood. Serve to self and husband.

Take long, refreshing sip -- and wrinkle nose in disgust.

Guess what? That "yogurt" I was so thriftily using up? Not yogurt. Homemade garlic cream sauce. Never meant to be used in a fruit smoothie. Not even close.

It reminded me of a salient incident from my youth. Once upon a time, much longer ago, we five kids crowded around the breakfast table eating golden brown flapjacks the way only my mom can make them. I grabbed a dish of margarine (remember that stuff?) from the fridge -- at least what looked like margarine. I slathered it over my stack, drizzled on the syrup took a hearty bite -- and spewed it out onto my plate. The "margarine" I had grabbed? Not margarine. Garlic butter from the night before that someone had unwisely thought to store .... in a margarine container. Garlic butter and maple syrup? Some things were just never meant to be.

At this point my father intervened with one of this signature phrases: "Enough of this nonsense!" which meant that I was being a prima donna who didn't appreciate my blessings and consider the starving children in Africa. Just to show me how frivolous I was being, he slathered the stuff on his *own* pancakes and took his *own* hearty bite.

Realization dawned quickly.

"Oh. That IS disgusting."

I got a new stack of pancakes.

When I related the smoothie story to my father-in-law over lunch at The Good Luck Grill, he challenged me to find a deep inner meaning before writing about it. So here we go.

Plenty of things in life look tasty and tempting to me. If I just had _____, I may think. Then what? Well, then I suppose I'd be refreshed. Satisfied. Happy. Secure. Sometimes these things are as tangible as a fruit smoothie. Sometimes they're more abstract, like financial independence or impeccable taste/talent or soaring popularity or tons of blog comments that made it really fun to keep writing or children who always cooperated.

But I do wonder how many of those things, if I had them to drink from, might taste a bit different -- a bit less sweet -- than expected.

So far, I've run across only one taste that never fails to satisfy.

(Above photo by D. Sharon Pruitt)

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Cousins

There's just something about cousins. The relationship is different from that of siblings -- still close, but less, uh, complex. You don't get to choose them, and you may have little in common except a pair of ancestors, but sometimes, by virtue of age and proximity (or lack thereof), you end up as friends anyway. Friends for life. (Hi Katey!)

That's the way it is with my kids and their cousins. They live forty minutes apart. They're being raised in different nuclear families, one urban, one rural, with very different lifestyles. There's only one boy in the mix. But get them all together in one place, and it's like synergy on steroids. Three plus two equals one hundred and eight. There are no such things as indoor voices. Everything they do together is the Most! Exciting! Thing! Ever!

Take our recent trip to Colorado, for example.

Riding a miniature motorized train in loops around a plaza while wearing funny hats and blowing horns?

The Most! Exciting! Thing! Ever!

Hiking through the woods and pretending we're conducting covert ops miles from civilization?

The Most! Exciting! Thing! Ever! 

Riding a gondola halfway up a mountain over a nature preserve and spotting a beaver dam?

The Most! Exciting! Thing! Ever!

Entering the double digits together, only one day apart?

The Most! Exciting! Thing! Ever!

Creating an extremely loud performance combining every commercial jingle they're ever committed to memory?
 (I'll spare you the video)
The Most! Exciting! Thing! Ever!

Now, there are times when our eardrums are ringing and our lives flashing before our eyes as the mania unfolds before us. But at moments like these, we adults try to remind ourselves that these kids are hurtling, faster than we'd like, toward the years when stirring up a ruckus together on a tractor-drawn train might not be so cool. When they (minus the boy) might not spend hours dressing up their dolls and enacting convoluted dramas. For the precious present, they're still a gang, in the nicest sense of the word. And we treasure that.

Even though there are moments when we imagine them sitting a quiet circle, reading books and sipping lemonade as we carry on adult conversation in the same room and actually process complete thoughts in our brains, and think that surely that would be ...

The Most! Exciting! Thing! Ever! 

Monday, August 9, 2010

What Would Possess My Husband ...

... to risk life, limb, dignity and spinal alignment in a mechanical bull riding contest?

Um ... maybe to impress his boss? We were, after all, at the boss's ranch for a party of assembled mechanical engineers (I know; hang on to your hat!). 

I'll tell you a secret: I would like to own a ranch some day. Or at least, some beautiful property out in the country where my kids (who will remain frozen in time until I can afford said property) can climb trees and ramble through creeks and roam over hill and dale, completely disconnected from the electronic world. 

To be intimately familiar with settings like this: 

In the meantime, I am hard-pressed to think of a situation in which I would enter a mechanical bull-riding contest. Maybe ...

1. If another human being's life were on the line and I could only save it by participating in said contest
2. If I were wearing my jeans and Frye boots -- and the ground suddenly opened up and swallowed all the spectators. 

What about you? Do you ever long for the wide open spaces to call home? And what, if anything, would induce you to ride that bull? 

P.S. Check out our souvenirs!