Archives for August 2010

Letting Them Win

When you’re playing a game with your kids, do you let them win?

I have been mulling this over in my mind a fair bit recently. I often let my kids win when we play games. When we race, I always come puffing in about 3 seconds after they do. They love this. They especially love it when I deliberately play the fool, calling over my shoulder, “You’re so far behind me I can’t even see you!” And then I turn, see them, and say, “How on earth did you get there so fast?”

It seems only fair to handicap myself, at least a little, in play. Not to be too boastful, but I could beat both of my kids at most games with both hands tied behind my back. I am a fully-grown adult. Playing no-holds-barred “Go Fish” against a 5-year-old would really be kind of mean and totally no fun. My 5-year-old is still learning the names of all the cards, for Pete’s sake.

Playing in the rain
If I were in this race, I could totally win

But how far is reasonable to go in the name of leveling the playing field? As my kids get older, they will need to learn the rules of fair play. They will need to learn to gracefully accept defeat. And I hope they will find that winning is actually more fun when you feel that you’ve earned the victory. I don’t want to let my kids win so consistently and for so long that they come to see winning as the point of playing games with others.

Of course, there are many, many people who won’t let my kids win. Their peers, for one thing. Other adults, too. I wonder if it’s my job as their mother to teach them to lose gracefully, or if it’s my job as a mother to build them up at home, as the world outside tries to tear them down? Is it possible that losing isn’t my lesson to teach – or at least, not on my timetable? There may very well come a day when my kids tire of my transparent efforts to not beat them.

Doing a puzzle
Puzzles are good, because there are no winners or losers

I suspect, that like lots of things in parenting, there is no right answer. I also suspect that it probably doesn’t matter all that much in the end. I doubt that winning or losing at Candyland will be the thing that makes or breaks them in the long run. And so, if everyone enjoys it, then I can probably just go ahead and let them win.

Except, here’s the thing – I don’t really enjoy it. I like to win. I like to win maybe a little too much. While forcing myself to lose is probably good for me, I can’t honestly say that everyone is enjoying our current games. But I am the adult, here, so I can suck it up in the name of fun and not having to listen to the whining when I smoke everyone in the footrace. At least most of the time I can, anyway.

Clearly, I need help. I need input. Do you let your kids win? Did you let them win up until a certain age? Or do you avoid games that involve winners and losers altogether? I’d really love some input!

Not Quite What you Expected

Have you ever bought something, only to discover that it’s not quite what you expected? Maybe you didn’t read the fine print, maybe the item is ‘not exactly as pictured’, or maybe it has additional features that weren’t listed on the box? Regardless of how it happens, things just aren’t how you were hoping they would be. Or maybe they’re so much better than you could have imagined.

This happened to us recently, when our toddler Jacob (motto: “I’m just lucky I’m so cute”) ruined our computer mouse by dunking it in a cup of water. After unplugging it immediately and sticking it in a bag of rice overnight to dry out, the computer mouse no longer had clicking functionality. It could point like nobody’s business, but that’s all rather useless without the click.

Jon went to a local store to find the cheapest replacement mouse he could. Because, let’s face it, there’s no guarantee that the next mouse won’t meet the same fate. Luckily, a cheap mouse was not hard to find. The cheapest one was white, had two buttons, and almost no text on the outside of the package. There was absolutely no indication that the mouse was, in fact, disco mouse.

How awesome is that? Disco mouse cycles through its various glowing colours as long as it’s plugged in and the computer is on. It is fascinating to children and cats. And, honestly, adults, too. I especially love the way its light reflects off the duct tape holding our speaker together. It’s like a non-stop super-klassee dance party in our family room now that we have disco mouse. And all thanks to our kids and their destructive tendencies.

Have you ever bought a normal-looking mouse, only to find it was disco mouse? Does your alarm clock feature a duck call wake-up you didn’t quite anticipate? Or are their other purchases you’ve made that weren’t quite what you expected them to be? I’d love to hear your stories!

PS – As you may know, I have started including a link-up with my monthly reviews. The reviews are an informal listing of a few things I learned in the past month. My August review will go live at 6am Pacific on Wednesday, September 1. If you want to play along, write a post on or before September 1, come here, and link up!

Free as a Bird Tote

I’ve mentioned before that I like to make things. Crafting gives me real, live, tangible evidence of my accomplishments. It provides me with a creative outlet and sticks a thumb in the eye of the consumer culture. And it’s also sort of fun, especially when I make things for myself.

I recently made myself a new tote bag. Now that Jacob is 2 years old, I can get away without the full-on diaper bag. Yes, I may still cart around a spare diaper and some wipes in the tote, but I don’t need the same volume of stuff that I did when he was a newborn. And so I am graduating to a fancy new bag, with lots of pockets and plenty of room for kid gear, without the diaper bag feel. Because I like to share the love, you can read on to learn how to make one of your own.

My version has two pockets – one zippered pocket and one patch pocket with two compartments. It also has a magnetic clasp. All of this is optional. If you want to make your life easy, omit this stuff.

Free as a bird tote
I call it my ‘Free as a Bird Tote’, but I was also tempted to go with ‘Twitter Tote’

How to Make a Free as a Bird Tote

*Note – For closer views, click on any image in the instructions.

Materials:

  • 1/2 yard – main fabric (I used a drapery canvas, but any fabric will do)
  • 1/2 yard – lining fabric (I used corduroy, but any heavier fabric will work)
  • 1 yard – heavy weight interfacing (I like nonwoven nonfusible, but that’s just me)
  • 1 – 7″ zipper to match the lining fabric (optional)
  • 1 – magnetic bag closure (optional)
  • co-ordinating thread

Pattern Pieces:

  • A – cut 2 each in main, lining and interfacing
  • B – cut 2 each in main and lining
  • C – cut 1 in lining (optional – patch pocket)
  • D – cut 1 in lining (optional – zippered pocket)

Cut 1 bird in lining fabric (or any other contrasting fabric you like) – mark the eye location but do not cut.

Instructions:

1. Baste both interfacing pieces to the wrong side of each main fabric piece A around all edges, or if you have fusible interfacing iron the interfacing pieces to the wrong side of each main fabric piece A.

2. B is the strap pieces. Put one of the main fabric strap pieces against one of the lining strap pieces, wrong sides facing out. Stitch down both long edges, so that you have a long tube with open ends. Repeat with the other two strap pieces.

3. Turn the straps inside out so that the right side is facing out, press and topstitch down the long edges.

4. If you plan on adding a patch pocket, fold and press one of the long edges down 1/4″ on piece C, and then fold and press 1/2″ down. Stitch along the folded edge to make the top hem of one of the pockets.

5. Fold piece C in half along the long edge and press. You are marking the centre point along of 10″ width. Press 1/2″ under on the remaining 3 raw edges. Position the pocket, right side up, on the right side of one lining piece A. It should be positioned 2 1/2″ inches from the top edge (as shown in the pattern pieces), with the folded centre line located 8″ from either side (you know, roughly in the middle).

6. Topstitch around the bottom and sides of the pocket, and down the centre fold, to make 2 pocket compartments.

7. If you are adding a zippered pocket, then mark the zipper slot on the wrong side of piece D as shown below:

In case you can’t see what’s happening, piece D is right-side down against the right side of lining piece A (the one you didn’t put a patch pocket on). Piece D is centered horizontally on piece A. I have marked a box that is 7″ wide x 1/2″ tall. The top edge of the box is 3/4″ from the top of piece D, and the sides of the box are 1/2″ from either side of piece D. Down the centre of the box there is a 6 1/2″ line, with diagonal lines extending up into the corner of the box.

8. Sew around the edges of the 7″ x 1/2″ box.

9. Cut down the centre of the box, along the 6 1/2″ line, and along the 2 diagonal lines, being careful not to cut the stitching.

10. Now the magic happens. Pull piece D through the slit you’ve just cut, and you will have a lovely opening for a zipper. Press this to make it all pretty.

11. Position the zipper in the lovely slit you’ve just created. The nice zipper part should be visible on the right side of piece A. Pin it in place, and top-stitch around all 4 zipper edges, about 1/8″ from the slit edges.

12. Check the back of piece A, and make sure the zipper is securely stitched in place. Then fold piece D in half, so that there is a fold along the bottom, and the other edges all line up. This is going to be your pocket. You will stitch along the sides and top, but only on piece D. Be careful to keep piece A out of the way as you stitch.

13. Applique the bird to the right side of one main piece A. I positioned mine approximately 4″ from the side edge and 5″ from the bottom. To applique, I used a tight zigzag stitch around the bird’s body, leaving the edges raw. I trimmed down any scraggly bits when I was done. To make the bird’s eye, I used contrasting thread and a tight zigzag stitch. I repeated this horizontally and vertically. You could also embroider something nice, if that’s more your speed.

14. Don’t despair, you’re getting close. Press the top edges of all your A pieces, main and contrast, down 1/2″.

15. Position one of the straps along the wrong side of one lining piece A. The lining side of the strap will face down, against the wrong side of the lining piece A. The raw ends will be positioned 1 1/2″ from the folded edge at the top, and the strap’s side will be about 2 1/2″ from the edge of piece A. Stitch the strap in place at one by sewing 2 horizontal lines – one about 1/4″ from the raw edge of the strap, and another line about 1/2″ above the first.

16. Repeat step 15 with the other end of the strap, sewing it in place about 2 1/2″ from the other edge of piece A.

17. Repeat steps 15 and 16 with the other strap and the other contrast piece A.

18. If you plan to use the magnetic clasps, position them now. I centered mine horizontally along the top of lining piece A, about 1/2″ from the folded edge. There is one clasp on each lining piece.

19. You’re really almost done! Put your two main piece As together, right sides facing. Sew along the bottom and sides, but not along the cutouts.

20. To sew the first cutout, fold it so that the raw edges are together, and the bottom and side seams you just sewed line up in the centre. So, the inner corners of the cutouts are on the sides, as you open up the bottom and side seams and line up the cutout edges. Sew along the raw cutout edges. Repeat for the other cutout.

21. Repeat steps 17 and 18 with the lining pieces. Now you have two bags, one with straps and pockets, one without.

22. Turn the main body of the bag out, so that the right side is facing out. Position the lining inside it, so that the side seams line up. Pin the lining in place along the top, folded edge. Topstitch approximately 1/4″ from the edge.

Take a bow, you have a tote!

Free as a bird tote in sunlight

If you are a crafty sort, you might want to visit my Making Stuff page, which has other sewing projects, as well as needle-felting and cooking. You can get there any time by clicking my fabulous ‘Making REAL Stuff’ button in the sidebar.

I Didn’t go to Kindergarten

I know I promised to stop my incessant hand-wringing and navel gazing about the fact that Hannah’s starting kindergarten in September. Apparently, I lied. My apologies. Hopefully, this is the last post, but I’m not making any guarantees. I don’t want to become, “The mom who cried no more kindergarten talk.” For now, enjoy more hand-wringing and navel gazing about my first child’s foray into public education.

I didn’t go to kindergarten.

OK, that’s not entirely true. I attended a Waldorf preschool and kindergarten. However, as far as the local public school district was concerned, it was the same thing as not attending kindergarten. And as far as I can say, looking back, they weren’t wrong. I didn’t do the same things in the same setting as my peers who attended public school. While you could argue that the things I did were wonderful and maybe even more valuable, there were no worksheets or performance evaluations or any of the traditional trappings of school.

Missing kindergarten has not negatively impacted my life in any way. I am here to tell you that while there are no doubt many great things about kindergarten, it is not a prerequisite to future success. Which is good to know, because it takes the pressure off. It means that my daughter, who is about to begin attending kindergarten, will not be forever defined by what happens at school. Or doesn’t happen at school. Hooray for having perspective!

Unfortunately, my perspective is not the perspective my own 5-year-old Hannah is looking for. She wants answers, and I don’t have them. She wants to know what she will do all day in kindergarten. She wants to know what, exactly, she will learn. She wants to know how she will learn it. She wants to know what kindergarten looks like, and I can’t blame her.

I didn’t go to kindergarten. I don’t have the answers. And really, even if I had attended kindergarten, it would have been almost 30 years ago. Kindergarten has very likely changed a fair bit in that time. Either way, I am no help here.

But there is one thing I do know about public schools, and about kids. Public schools have playgrounds. Kids like playgrounds. And maybe, if Hannah had a whole new playground to look forward to it would stop the steady stream of questions. Can you say field trip inspiration?

Hannah on the playground

Headed down the slide

Monkey kid

Jacob considers his next move

Look at that!

My boy

I am happy to say that my plan worked. Hannah loved the playground. It gave her something concrete to look forward to, and it gave me at least one solid answer. When she goes to kindergarten, she will get to play on that playground. Score one for the no-kindergarten mom!

Did you go to kindergarten? Do you actually remember anything about it? Share your memories, and if you have school-aged kids, let me know how kindergarten has changed in the past few decades.

PS – As you may know, I have started including a link-up with my monthly reviews. The reviews are an informal listing of a few things I learned in the past month. My August review will go live at 6am Pacific on Wednesday, September 1. If you want to play along, write a post on or before September 1, come here, and link up!

The Creativity Habit

It’s Thursday and I’m Crafting my Life! August’s theme is creativity. Whether your dreams involve painting or writing or growing food or taking lots of naps, tapping into your creativity is an important part of changing your life. In the past few weeks I talked about practicing creativity, making art in your everyday life and the intersection of silliness and creativity. This week I’m talking about making a habit of creativity.

I mentioned that it’s important to take creativity breaks, to step away from a task, and to allow your brain to develop new perspectives. I believe this completely. I have experienced this truth in my life in many ways. Often, by leaving a task we let the more creative, less conscious side of our brain take over and epiphanies happen. This is amazingly awesome and fabulous.

But, unfortunately, stepping away from a task isn’t enough. Not by itself. The rubber really hits the road when you step back into it. When you take all of your realizations, and new perspectives, and make art out of them. This is when progress happens and great leaps are made. Which isn’t really all that shocking – as important as breaks are, they only help your productivity if you return to whatever it was you were taking a break from.

This sounds terribly logical. Your art is not going to get made if you don’t make it. Often, though, it’s much easier to say than it is to do. Because when you’re working at something, and you step away to take a breather and do something that might seem like a lot more fun, it’s awfully hard to convince yourself to return to the task at hand. “Hmm, do this work that I’m frankly tired of, or cast on a new knitting project? Knitting project, of course!”

I can have as much difficulty motivating myself to do the stuff that I don’t want to do as the next person. Even something that I generally enjoy can become tedious after a while, and morph into That Thing I’m Avoiding. I avoid knitting, sewing, baking, reading a book or going for a walk almost as frequently as I avoid balancing my chequebook, organizing my closet or cleaning. I will have brilliant flashes about how to make my skirt fit better, then put off the sewing so long that I totally forget what the brilliant flash was. I am human, therefore I procrastinate.

Unfortunately, task avoidance doesn’t get me very far. There is a truth that I have learned the hard way. Multiple times. And here it is: The more you do that thing that is so hard, the easier it will become, and the more creative you will be in your approach. Sometimes, the best way to cultivate creativity is to slog through That Thing You’re Avoiding. And then slog through it again. And again. And again. Set aside time for breaks, yes, but then come back to it and do the work and reap the rewards.

The more that I make a habit out of something that I want to get better at, the more creative I feel. I’ve found that to be very true of writing. Inspiration is a fickle mistress. Yes, those flashes of brilliance that come without any work on your part are wonderful, but they’re unpredictable. The best way to be consistently brilliant is not to wait for them, but to be willing to spend a lot of time not being brilliant at all. Playing with your craft, and honing your craft, is what really brings brilliance.

As much as creativity requires downtime, and silliness, and play, and passion, it also requires hard work. And paradoxically, as you get better at working through your creative blank, the more creative you will become. You will find it easier to see inspiration in little things that you overlooked before. Truly brilliant artists (and remember, your art can be whatever you want it to be) see inspiration everywhere. Not because they’re brilliant, but because they make it a habit. They sit down every day and paint, or write, or create computer programs. And after they practice and practice, the brilliance arrives.

This is the best news. You don’t have to be born with a gift. You can cultivate one. You can make a habit of creativity, and hone it, and watch it grow. We all can. There’s no magic in it – and yet there’s all the magic in the world.

How do you make a habit of creativity in your own life? I’d love to hear! I’d also love it if you would play along in my link-up. Include a link to a post you’ve written anytime in the past about creativity. Maybe we can lend each other some inspiration, instead of waiting for it to strike.

Life in a Fig

All my life, I have thought of figs as the thing that one finds in the centre of a fig newton. That is – figs are dried, sort of like dates. They’re shriveled brown things people use in baking. Perhaps I can be forgiven for thinking this, because I have lived my whole life in Canada. It’s not a place that’s terribly hospitable to fig trees. And my forebears come from countries like Sweden, Norway and Poland – also not places that are terribly hospitable to fig trees.

But then my good friend brought me some fresh figs last year. She had a fig tree, you see, because her husband’s Italian family views a fig tree as a necessity. As soon as they had a garden to plant it in, they were gifted with a tree. And so she brought her bounty to share. I was amazed, when she showed them to me, to see that fresh ripe figs are a vibrant green colour.

Whole fresh fig

Exterior of the fig

Still, they don’t look like much, do they? Figs are almost mythical. It is the fig leaf that Adam and Eve use to cover their nudity in the Book of Genesis. The fruit is commonly viewed as a symbol of abundance and fertility. Apparently the legendary she-wolf who suckled Romulus and Remus, the founders of Rome, did so under a fig tree. Despite its inauspicious exterior, figs loom large in our collective history.

But there is much more to the fig than you can see from the outside. The interior is enough to justify the legend. Cut into one to see it.

Fresh ripe fig, sliced open

More artsy fig

Inside, the fig is packed with pink flesh and small, edible seeds. It is sweet and juicy. And it is quite possibly the most beautiful fruit I’ve ever seen. Plus, it’s really good. I don’t really like dried figs, but fresh figs are a different animal altogether. No surprise, really – you could say the same thing of raisins and grapes, or prunes and plums.

You eat the fig whole, green exterior, pink interior and all. Even though it looks like the different parts don’t go together somehow, they really do. Again, the fig holds a surprise – just wash it and eat it.

There are no fresh figs at my local grocery store. But now that I know what I’m looking for, I’ve also discovered where to find them. A vendor at my local farmer’s market. A friend who carefully tends a tree, or knows someone who does. Eating them, I feel like I’m in on a secret. Figs are an example of the mundane-yet-beautiful reality of life. They show that you never know what hides inside. They are an example of the amazing variety of food that extends beyond apples, oranges and bananas in bins at the supermarket. A variety that is upheld by mythology and culture and people who feel that a house requires a fig tree.

It is amazing what you can see, when you look at the world with fresh eyes.

PS – You are probably totally tired of all my hand-wringing over Hannah starting kindergarten in September, but I would love your tips and moral support all the same. You can give them on my post Starting Kindergarten published over at the Yummy Mummy Club.

Honestly Speaking

I am going to admit something. I lie to my children. And I know that my children lie to me. (Well, maybe not 2-year-old Jacob, since he’s only 2. But 5-year-old Hannah? No doubt.) And I’m not really all that concerned about it.

I think that it’s important to be honest with children about information that they need. Telling your kids that babies are found under cabbage leaves in the garden is a bad idea. There are certainly many times when honesty is called for. But there are probably just as many times when honesty isn’t called for. Or when, at minimum, being totally truthful is not going to help anyone.

Here are a few examples of lies that I tell my kids:

  • I ‘do’ Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny.
  • When my daughter catches me with a mouthful of chocolate, and I don’t want her to have any, and she asks me what I’m eating, I mumble, “Nuts,” and try to keep my chocolate breath away from her.
  • When we had a TV and I was tired of the TV battles, I would tell my daughter that there were no kids shows on the TiVo that she could watch right now.
  • I will deliberately pretend not to have heard a news story on the radio when I don’t feel prepared to explain what ‘sexual assault’ means on the way to swimming lessons.
  • I have withheld the full truth about certain family situations from my daughter, because I don’t want to run the risk that she will spill the beans inappropriately.

It’s possible that I’m teaching my children to lie, by lying to them myself. But I highly doubt that they could somehow make it to adulthood without learning this lesson. I am also pretty sure that I wouldn’t want them to. There are times when keeping your mouth shut, or bending the truth to spare someone’s feelings, are appropriate. My children need to learn that we don’t give true-but-hurtful answers without thinking it through.

Social niceties are well and good, but what of the situations where my children lie to me? Again, I highly doubt that they could make it to adulthood without lying to their mother. Or at least trying to lie to their mother. Is there a teenager alive who is completely honest and forthright with their parents on all occasions? And, moreover, would it be a good thing if they were? We are all entitled to our private thoughts and our private actions, and I’m not so sure that denying an adolescent their measure of privacy is a good thing.

Something that has become apparent to me, though, is that children are much worse liars than they think they are. So much worse. The attempts at obfuscation from my daughter are often embarrassingly bad. Like this classic gem: “Don’t look at me right now Mom, I don’t want you to see what I’m doing!” While her poker face has gotten a little better with time, I would give myself pretty good odds in the ‘Is She Lying?’ game show. And I wonder whether there will truly come a point where she’s as sly as she thinks she is. Looking at the evidence, I have my doubts. I also have my doubts that I was as sly as I thought I was.

If I don’t emphasize the virtue of honesty, what do I do? I suppose that my aim is to try to teach my children to use their judgment and make appropriate decisions, relative to their age and abilities. And even with that stated goal, I understand that there will still be mistakes and misfires. But what is most important to me is that in general I can trust my kids to make their own choices and follow through. Whether they tell me the full truth about those choices is less important to me, if I have confidence in my children in general. And I’ll probably know more than I let on, if my opinions about not-so-slyness prove true.

Of course, these words are coming from a woman with a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old. Will I feel differently when I have a 15-year-old and a 12-year-old? Maybe. But for now, I will have enjoyed my chocolate in peace thanks to a few white lies. I have my priorities, people. Chocolate is paramount.

What about you? Do you strive to always be completely honest with your children? When do you think lying is OK, and when do you think it’s not OK? And what do you teach your children about honesty? I’d love to hear! No lie.

PS – July’s Crafting my Life series is about role models. On the last Thursday of the month, which just happens to be the day after tomorrow, I will include a link up. To participate, write a post or track down a post you’ve written on the subject sometime in the past, and add yourself to the list. Check out the link-ups from January, February and March to get a feel for how it works.

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