September 18, 2011

Give and Take

Today, we gave something back to nature. It was Mia's idea actually. We made a nest to give to the birds.

Mia found the sticks and the feathers, and we wove it together. Then we placed it up high in a little oak tree we planted ourselves a few years ago. I feel like a circle has come around, in a poetic kind of way, because you see, we took something away.

Last week, we had three goldfish. Today, we have none. It's a sad, sad thing to know that a goldfish in the wild can live to be up to 50 years old, and in captivity, on average, about a year. But in our house, they last a week.

Mia really wanted a fish for her birthday, really really. So I researched, got online and found out the basics about goldfish-keeping. I read that goldfish need to be in groups, so I insisted we get two. Mia named them Lella and Nella. Both were good-sized, healthy-looking ladies, and we brought them home full of confidence they would be with us for a long, long time. We bought the food and the little blue rocks and the special drops to make the water fish-friendly and a plant and everything.

The next day, Nella went belly-up. The next DAY. So I stuck her in a baggie and marched right back to the pet store with Mia (who handled the whole thing extremely well, I might add). We promptly picked out a new one, which Mia named 'Nella II'. We came home and held a small burial service for 'Nella', who was a good fish.

The day after that, the other original fish, 'Lella', died. Then she came back to life, then died again... it was all pretty awful. At one point, I was sure she was gone, so I fished her out and Mia wanted to hold her, and to her horror and mine, she started to flop around, so we thought it was still alive, but when I threw her back in the water, she went belly-up again, for like the twentieth time. We kind of avoided the room for a couple hours till I was sure there was no more movement... But I mean, talk about horrible. 'Nella II' was there, witnessing this whole macabre scene. What do you think she was thinking?! What kind of horrific, death-filled home had she landed in? Then we exhumed 'Nella' and added 'Lella' so they could rest in eternal peace sid by side in our garden. Mia laid down some flowers for 'Nella' and 'Lella', who were both good fish.

Now 'Nella II' was a lively, but definitely skittish little fish. Any time someone moved or said anything, she'd dart away behind the plant and 'hide'. We were on eggshells around her, tip-toeing around the room and using our 'pinky voices', which isn't easy to do when you're 3 1/2 and 5 years old. It was turning into a pretty stressful situation, this goldfish thing.

Then, she died. I think my turning on the light might have scared her to death. 'Nella', 'Lella' and 'Nella II'. All good fish. All gone within a week.

There will be NO more replacement fish. I'm done. Three fish funerals in a week is just too much for me to bear. We've got a pot full of fish food (all three fish ate about .00000000002 grams of the stuff) that''s good until 2014. 2014?! What kind of goldfish lasts that long?! The kind that don't live in our house, obviously. Head my warning: all fish, hamsters and guinea pigs: beware! Don't live at our house, no matter how cozy it looks and no matter how well Mia and I promise to look after you! It will be your doom.

I return to Mia's unselfish act, her gift to nature, that nest. It humbles me and makes me feel slightly less awful about destroying the lives of three goldfish. (Not to mention countless caterpillars, butterflies and ladybugs that have come and gone over the years.) Life and death are the same thing, and seeing as our kids spend a lot of time outside and see a lot of life, and death, I see they respect both enormously.

August 30, 2011

Easy-Peazy Eco Project: Spider Legs

Today, in a bout of creativity-meets-insanty, I made Mia a pair of spider legs. They were so easy, I whipped out another one for Bram!
They love them. And they are so quick and easy to make - and 100% upcycled!
Here's what you'll need:
two pairs of old tights
baby blanket
sewing machine

 Find two pairs of funky tights that are about the same size - stripes work great.
 Cut off the legs of the tights, so you have four long 'socks'. Make sure they're all the same length.

Cut off the top of one of the pairs of tights, above the crotch. This will be the waistband for the spider legs.
 If you have kids, you probably have some old baby blankets lying around. The think fleece kind work best - they're thick and light-weight.

Cut the blanket in quarters and roll each quarter up into a long tube.

Stuff each 'sock' with a tube...
 Now, you have four 'spider legs' and a waistband!
Lay each 'spider leg' on the waistband, with the openings together.

Stitch the four 'spider legs' onto the waistband using a wide zig-zag stitch.


Add shoes...

...and let the twirling commence!

And if you want to look especially fashionable and all means, do not wear 'spider legs' on your head as I've done here.

July 28, 2011

Twirling, Sheet Digs and Barbie Hurling

So today I found myself with a bit of free time, a pile of fabrics and this big bunch of inspiration.
Ooooh yeah.

I made Mia a skirt and Bram a pair of pants today. Mia's skirt needs a little back story though...

Once upon a time, Mia fell in love with a dress once that was so expensive, I'd had to have taken out a second mortgage on the house to afford it. She screamed and hollered so expressively about not getting this dress, I was sure people thought I was abducting her. Or, if they knew she was mine, any doubts about having kids of their own were immediately confirmed, making me directly responsible for their eternal childlessness... Either way, it was a ginormous everyday diva melt-down and I cursed the day that dress would ever cross our path again.

Then, we saw the very same dress at my favorite consignment shop, Cherry T's! Only, it was about 5 sizes too small for her. Obviously, we had to get it (thank the Lord for store credit). Mia tried to wear it, even though it cut off the circulation to her arms. It hung in her closet for about two months until today...
I took the prettiest part off the dress, which was this tulle petticoat with 'actual' flower petals and leaves in it. I then attached it to the top of a pair of pink jogging pants that had a irremovable stain on them. Snip, snip, snip - off went the legs and stitch, stitch, stitch, on went the skirt with a nice soft pink lining.

Mia topped it off with an awesome princess t-shirt and ruby-red Dorothy shoes and proceeded to demonstrate its awesome twirl-factor.

She was very satisfied; in fact, Mia is my number one customer. I admit, it's easy to make stuff for girls - gathers, glitter and ruffles are my forté! Bram deserved something too, but boys' stuff is a challenge and most times, this Eco mama is just too tired for a challenge...

Not today, though.

I scored a bunch of great 'pre-loved' material the other day, including a green-striped sheet. I thought Bram would look pretty cool in a pair of mega-baggy green-striped cotton trousers, but to be honest, I wasn't sure I even remembered how to make a pair of pants form scratch.

The last time I did was when I was in art school (I refuse to disclose exactly how long ago that was, but suffice it to say, it was when Kurt Cobain was still alive), so when I sat down to make them, I discovered I still knew how!

Fancy that.

Bram happened to be having a melt-down when I introduced the pants - lo and behold, they were just the thing to bring him out of it! And, he put them on all by himself! Elastic waistbands, I love ya.

Then we played Barbie Hurling.

Yes, you read right: Barbie Hurling.

If you're not familiar with the game, I would suggest you get yourself some washing line and a couple of Barbies and get on the bandwagon, 'cuz it's big fun.

Mia and Bram invented this game, I am proud to say. They discovered how incredible it is to let a bit of rope down from someplace high, then they experienced the overwhelming sensation of tying something to the rope and hoisting it back up. Barbies were just destined to come into the formula sooner or later, let's face it.

You need someplace high to stand in order to hurl properly, and a few branches to hurl the Barbie over is preferable, but not mandatory. It does provide a challenge... Don't forget how sturdy Barbie is, though, and just keep reminding yourself she really can't feel a thing, and you'll enjoy the game even more. Hurl and hoist, that's about all there is to it.

If you can get some really sweet person (like visiting Uncle Chris) to stand below and hurl the Barbies back up, consider yourself very blessed.

Barbie Hurling is educational too, you know. It teaches kids about stuff like aim and velocity and heck, even physics, probably!

Happy kids, today.
Happy Mama.

July 19, 2011

The Green Forest Princess Goes Camping

Would you believe what I did this weekend?! I can't wait to tell you: I went camping.

It may shock you to know, that I - as an Eco Mama - do not camp. I have camped before, in the days before I even knew about things like capuccino and microwaves and nail polish remover. In those days, sleeping in a tent was as awesome as, well, sleeping in a tent. It was one step up from sitting in a fort built out of sofa cushions. So, pretty awesome.

So the kids and I went camping for one night. And I lucked out, because it was the most incredible camping/mama experience I'd had in a long time  ever. It was more than a trip, it was a trip. It was an adventure. We took a ferry boat ride and drove for ages and ate pretzels and sang songs in the car and bought balloons on the way there and everything. When we got to the site, we were welcomed like family and there were kids all over the place. I found I could sit down literally for minutes at a a time without having to run over and stop one or either of them from doing something I'd regret.

It was rainy and muddy, which I was a bit bummed about because I so wanted to wear my new creation: the completely awesome pillowcase pants for women. I take pillow cases and attach them to jeans and they look friggin awesome. But because I am hopelessly obsessed with trying to be fashionable as well as wearing my upcycled mentality as a garment no matter where I am, I wore them anyway...
Of course, it didn't take long before they were covered in mud, but I still looked and felt fabulous in those pants. And, incidentally, anyone would because they are just fabulous pants. Pillow cases. Who knew? And you know, a layer of mud can actually work wonders when it comes to feeling in harmony with the earth, a pretty essential thing you need to do when camping, I discovered.

So it took exactly 33 milliseconds for Mia to feel right at home in this green foresty paradise, which I am convinced is where she would like to live forever, if she could have her way. Mia's favorite kind of princess is a Green Forest Princess named Mia. Pretty coincidental, huh? So now, she found a place where she could in fact become the Green Forest Princess Mia, and I gotta tell you, she pulled it off.
So Mia The Green Forest Princess, the Eco Mama and The Urinator (for those of you yet unfamiliar with Bram's nickname, please read The Urinator Awaaaaay) went camping and had such a great time, we wanted it to last forever. Mia was the one who actually vocalized that desire in a fit of tears when we got home, but we all felt it in our hearts. 

June 25, 2011

Intangible Inspiration

What the heck is it about inspiration?!

One day, the last thing I want to do is thread needles and sit behind a sewing machine, the next I am running my own private sweat shop, and I'm lovin' it. Inspiration has been flowing in on all sides, which I am so grateful for, I could just about do one of those jumps in the air where they kick their heels together like I'm in some live-action Disney movie.

I've been commissioned to make the coolest stuff lately. First of all, the 'Boogie Buddy'...but that one needs to be a secret for a little while longer...
Then, the totally-awesome-I-want-a-pair-of-those-in-my-size pants that are really little more than the happy union of a pair of jeans and a pillow case, which I am now making in womens' sizes.

And now, there's the Tie Skirt, which turned out so awesome, I have to wear it tomorrow to my live upcycling demo at Cherry T's in Eastsound. It was so much fun to make! I had a pillow case full of all these gorgeous silk ties, which I categorized into colors, then opened up and stitched back together. It took about 20 ties ot make a skirt for myself and it, in a word, rocks.

Then it starts:

Mia: 'What are you making, Mama? Is it for me?'
Me: 'No, Mia, not everything I make is for you.'
Mia: 'Is that for me?'
Me: (trying to dorwn out her whining by pressing a little harder on the sewing machine pedal) 'No, this skirt if not for you, it's for someone else.'
Mia: 'Who?'
Me: 'I don't know who, someone who will pay money for it. And with that money, we can buy food and gas.'
Mia: (looking confused for a while) 'What are you making, Mama? Is it for me?'

This exact conversation can take place anywhere from five to twenty times before I manage to finish any item of clothing.

Making Mia understand that I am not around just to sew dresses for her is a toughie. I mean, from her point of view, why else is Mama even around, for Pete's sake? When she needs a dress, Mama should drop what she's doing and make one for her, right? I mean, honestly.

I am thrilled that I can make her dresses, since I am not the type to buy off the rack unless it's been pre-loved. Even then, I can't help myself, I have to alter it in some way anyway. She is a lucky girl, only she doesn't get that yet... She will, someday. Or else.

Meanwhile, I am so full of inspiration, I've got plenty to go around. The next garment I make will be hers, and our conversation will probably be a lot shorter then:

Mia: 'What are you making, Mama? Is it for me?'
Me: 'Yes.'
Mia: (stunned silence)

June 18, 2011

Multi-taskin' Mama

If there's one thing I learned being a Mom, it's that you can't survive without the ability to multi-task. That is what I do, although I am admittedly not very good at it.

You see, next to being a mamapreneur, trying to educate the world the benefits of upcycling clothing, I am trying to be a rock star too. But when I am doing one creative thing, it's tough to do another creative thing simultaneously without causing some kind of injury to myself. I have been working on another blog to illustrate the challenge of raising kids while trying to make it in the music industry here but have sadly been neglecting my everyday diva blog, which I mean to rectify at this moment!

Being back in the US, where my upcycled kidswear is understood and sought after has done me good. Instead of doing the market this year, I'm working together with the coolest consignment shop ever, Cherry T's. We decided to do live upcycling right outside the shop, where I will magically transform clothes from the shop into completely new and unique mialeentje garments, right before your very eyes!

I'm also offering the new and incredibly awesome 'funky alteration' service for everybody who has something in their closet they just don't wear anymore. Poor lonely clothing, hanging in the wardrobe for no one to see just breaks my heart, so this is their chance to be pulled out and revamped into something...well, for lack of a better word: awesome.

So rock 'n' roll is being put on hold till after tomorrow, when it's all about fabrics and imagination. I have now officially admitted, I suck at multi-tasking, so I will stop trying as of now.

March 27, 2011

The Party to End All Parties

I survived. I actually pulled off the party to end all parties - a goodbye/birthday celebration at the school gym involving eighteen highly energetic kids - and can live to tell the tale. It was two whole hours of fun, not a single kid got hurt (even though I was fully prepared with coloured band-aids), and they even ate the cake.

Mia's birthday is still half a year away, but we won't be around then, so we decided to efficiently combine it with the fact that we're going away, and while we were at it, we threw Bram's actual birthday in the mix as well. In short, we had a lot of reasons for a celebration.

The Cake
Mia and I baked the cake together. Before I go into the details, I should probably tell you: I have an obsession about cakes with toys stuck into them. I blame it on Safeway, the supermarket we went to when I was a kid. They had this cake with a Barbie doll stuck in the middle and I wanted it so badly, at one point, I felt my life depended on it. But my parents (both designers and both aesthetically-minded) didn't believe in that kind of thing, for which, in retrospect, I am eternally grateful! So I never actually got the tacky Barbie-cake, but it has remained a hidden yearning ever since. For the past few years, I've been trying to re-create that cake for my daughter, whether she liked it or not. This time, we tried to make the Barbie cake.

Seeing as I am about as proficient in baking as I am in flame-throwing, I bought the ready-to-go cake mix instead of pulling out the 'Joy of Cooking' and making one from scratch. We baked the cake, which turned out more lop-sided than the Tower of Pisa, but it wasn't raw on the inside and it actually looked the right color as well! So far, so good.

Then, I made the icing. For this, I actually did pull out the aforementioned 'Joy of Cooking' and found the quickest, easiest and recipe involving the least amount of mathematics to whip up a delicious white icing that would bring the whole thing together. But suddenly, I think I'm the Naked Chef and I start doing my own thing to ruin a perfectly good recipe. So, let's just say, the icing turned out sort of grey and was the most sticky substance ever created. I'm telling you, spiders would've wanted to use this stuff in their webs. (I should actually get a patent on it and sell it to NASA, if I could only remember what I put in it...)

At this point, we were ready to decorate the cake. But when I attempted to place Barbie in the middle, I discovered her mile-long legs made it impossible. She was too tall to fit! So I did what any Mom on a mission would do in that situation - when Mia was looking the other way, I quickly tore off her legs and smooshed her in the cake. Mission accomplished.

It was then Mia's job to add her own special touches to her own cake (Nerds, Smarties and about fifty mini lollipops) and it turned out to be the ugliest, yet most endearing cake I had ever seen. We managed to find room for five candles in between the chaos of decorations, which was a feat in itself. I only hoped that the cake would actually be edible and that the candles wouldn't ignite Barbie's hair.

The Party
We have a place with about 2,000 square meters of grass and forest around it, but seeing as Holland is the most unpredictable country in the world when it comes to weather, we opted to rent a hall for the party instead of having it outside. Naturally, the weather has been incredible lately - warm, sunny and perfect for stuff like treasure hunts in the woods and running around in the grass. And we were having the party indoors. Murphy's Law, how I dislike you.

So, determined to be better safe than sorry, we rented the school gym for the party. I couldn't think of a better place to entertain so many kids, and the price was right to boot. The past weeks, I have been collecting a variety of party games and finally narrowed it down to about ten. My ultimate concern was boredom: if the kids thought Mia's party was boring, they might stop liking her! It was my duty to ensure her friends still thought she was cool after this whole shebang was over! Talk about pressure.

As soon as the first little guests arrived, it was clear that just running around was enough to keep them occupied the first half hour at least. When everyone was present, I initiated the first party game: making music. We brought a basket full of instruments the kids could choose from, and we proceeded to play slow, fast, quietly and loudly. We shook, jingled, drummed and beat while I sang my heart out and my husband strummed some barely audible chords on the guitar. With eighteen kids on percussion, the melody kind of turned into soup - a gym does not have the best acoustics in the world. But it was a hoot! When we were done, two kids came up to me and whined, 'Can we go play now?' And here I was thinking we were playing! Guess it was my own fault for attempting to do something slightly educational.

Of the ten party games I had prepared, we only actually did two. Mia and her guests didn't need anything but each other to have a great time. We opened presents and we ate the cake (I won't go into the challenge I faced just slicing the thing). We sang songs and suddenly, the party was over! I handed a goody bag to and thanked each and every happy guest before they went home and could honestly say it was a successful event.

The Birthday Girl
You'd have to come from another planet to not know the song, 'It's my party and I'll cry if I want to'. After seeing my daughter at her own party, I now fully understand the true meaning of those lyrics. I obviously wasn't the only one who was aware of her behavior, because a couple other Moms told me, from their own personal experience, that it was quite common for the birthday boy or girl to be the most ill-behaved guest at the party! Mia hung on me like a newborn monkey, complained, whined and was close to tears for the entire two hours. I could barely squeeze a 'thank you' out of her as she unwrapped the multitude of presents she received. I suppose, even if I knew beforehand that this might happen, there is very little I could've done to prevent it. Some things need to just be, I guess.

Today, we are recovering. I spread out all the new toys and read the cards, some hand-written even. I am overwhelmed with mixed feelings of joy and sadness - Mia has some extremely special little friends who know her so well, and will miss her so much while we're gone.  I can genuinely say, in the words of my 95-year-old grandmother, 'We'll go so we can come back'.

Stay tuned for the next post: the trip to Orcas...

March 20, 2011

The Birthday Mission

I am a sucker for two things when it comes to toys for my kids: they've got to be wooden and they've got to be durable. Now, don't get me wrong - I've got plastic toys just like the next mom, most of them hand-me-downs or second-hand deals I just couldn't pass up. But I have made a deal with myself to replace as much of the plastic as possible, when possible, with wooden. 

The mission: the replacement of one of Bram's favourite toys: a horrid half-broken 70's plastic parking garage, with a brandy new German-made, sturdy-as-hell, three-level wooden parking garage.

The occasion: Bram's third birthday.

What better way to toss out the old and ring in the new, right? A new year, another milestone - the 'terrible two's' finally gone, forever! To celebrate this momentous day, a big, wooden durable toy was in order. I strive to teach my children the value of aesthetics, beauty and durability; yes, even when they are way too young to grasp the concept.

The wooden garage has been sitting in its box for the last week and last night, when the kids were finally in bed, I planned to wrap it. That was when it dawned on me: it was not assembled! Giving a three-year-old kid an awesome toy that wasn't even put together is pure torture! I couldn't do that to him.

So, I opened the box, filled my glass of wine to the brim and got to work.

I was pretty sure I possessed the capacity to put this thing together, I mean, I've put IKEA furniture together before, for Pete's sake. How hard could it be? But as I pulled out vague piece after piece, and inspected the cryptic assembly instructions, I began to feel beads of sweat form on my brow. It was after 9pm and I still had decorations to hang up and a birthday cake to adorn. I rolled up my sleeves and got assembling.

Slowly but surely, the garage came together. Hours went by, and the room was filled with the scent of wood and perspiration as I worked arduously. I knew how my son had the gift of finding the weak spot of any given object which could lead to its certain demise. I had to ensure this particular toy was as 'Bram-proof' as possible.

Finally, it was finished. The garage, including the little elevator and two miniature gas pumps, was complete. I was proud, I was elated; for a moment, I was Super Mom. I realized I didn't have enough wrapping paper to cover this gargantuan thing, but as I picked it up to move into the living room, I made an even more horrifying discovery: it came apart! The wooden pegs weren't enough to keep the structure intact - to my dismay, I realized I had forgotten an essential ingredient of this project: glue.

Figuring Bram would be respectful enough to take this minor flaw into consideration as he played with it (ha!), and seeing that it was almost midnight and I still hadn't blown up any balloons yet, I left it as is, covered the thing with about fifty sheets of grey, recycled tissue paper and tied the biggest bow possible around it. It wasn't pretty. It looked like an enormous pile of paper maché with a red bow tied around it. But it was what was on the inside that counted, right? I hoped Bram would see it that way too...

Hanging the decorations in the dark was a challenge, but I managed to make the place look festive without waking the kids or breaking my neck. It was just after midnight when I finally fell asleep, which by my standards, was about the equivalent of an all-nighter.

This morning, Mia was up first, and was able to contain her own enthusiasm by not unwrapping the mysterious grey lump.

Obviously, she knew it was what was on the inside that counted.

When the birthday boy finally emerged from his bed, it took him all of thirty seconds to realize the place was decorated for his benefit. One of the perks of turning three, I think, is that you are finally aware you're turning three.

Half asleep and rather wobbly, he saw his present. He, also, was aware that something exciting was on the inside. He managed to unwrap it (with Mia's help, naturally) and squeals of delight filled the room.

One of the basic needs of a Mom was satisfied: my kid was happy.

As you can guess, the brandy-new, gorgeous, German-made, wooden, three-level parking garage was exactly as sturdy as I made it - so, not very. Without the levels actually attached to the base with glue, the thing came apart about twenty times in as many minutes. But the kids caught on quick, and before long, they were putting it back together by slotting the little pegs back into their holes themselves! It became a puzzle garage!
Bram loved it, and will love keep on loving it, whether I stick it together with glue or not.

Mission accomplished.

One valuable mommyhood lesson learned: there's something to say about not following the directions - isn't that what they call, 'thinking outside the box' (even if it is by accident)? Or perhaps I just learned, once again, about the amazing adaptability of children. We grown-ups should take notes.

In any case, that old plastic garage is officially become redundant, and has a date with a garbage bag, as soon as I type the last word of this post.

March 11, 2011

Eco Mama Tips

Entertaining kids is always a challenge, especially during the long vacations. There are times when I'd like to run to the toy store and stock up on all sorts of quick-fix plastic fun and be done with it, but my conscience (and my wallet!) just won't allow it. Especially when I know the kids will be more interested in the packaging than the toy itself! So how can one keep kids busy, in a fun, educational and ecologically-conscious way? Here are a few ideas (fun party game ideas too!)

Level of messiness:
* not so messy
** somewhat messy
*** mega messy

Here Come the Balloons *
What you'll need:
A package of the cheapest balloons you can find
A windy day
A bit of string

It's a non-disputable fact: kids love balloons! And, it's tons of fun to personify inanimate objects! 
Blow up a couple balloons and tie a bit of string onto them (makes them easier to catch). Go outside and find a place in the yard with wind-tunnel characteristics.

Have the kids stand there and let their balloon go, then watch them 'come to life' and fly away! The most fun is running after them and catching them.

Tip: If you want to make a theme out of it, rent the classic movie 'The Red Balloon' from the library and have a showing afterwards.  

Scientific Milk **
What you'll need:
A tall cup (preferably plastic)
A long straw
Paper towels

The simplicity of this activity is what makes it so great. Yes, it will cost you milk. But if you've got little ones, you've probably got tons of milk in the fridge anyway! And I don't see it as a waste when I consider the benefits: fun, giggles and even a bit of educational value!

Fill the cup with a few inches of milk - you really don't need a lot. Have the kids blow in to their milk through their straws until it starts overflowing with milk bubbles! It's as simple as that! Watch them marvel at the big bubbles as they slide over the side of the cup. Great fun for all!

Makin' Soup ***
What you'll need:
A big plastic mixing bowl
Different mixing tools: spoons, ladles, whisks, etc.
Dry kind: all the spices you never use
Anything else you can spare, like macaroni, beans, coffee grains, etc.
Wet kind: all kinds of veggie skins, spices you never use, water.

When I was a kid, I often made 'Witchy Cross-Britches Stew' while my Mom was cooking dinner. I got to use the skins and rinds of the veggies she was preparing for dinner, and spices, like I was really cooking! If you're like me, you've probably got all sorts of spices you bought for a recipe ages ago, which are now gathering dust in the cupboard.

Arrange a variety of spices you're never going to use on the counter and watch the kids use them sparingly, just like you would. If you've got measuring cups, that's even more fun. Watch as they pour, sift, stir and share!

Tip: Cleaning up can be just as fun as making the mess! Give them a dustpan/sponge/paper towels/etc. and invite them to help clean.

Good for what Ails You: 
Toilet Paper Tube Fun **
What you'll need:
Toilet paper tubes - the more the merrier
Any kind of paper, i.e. construction paper, toilet paper, paper towels, kleenex, tissue paper, etc.
Pens, pencils, crayons
Tape (or glue - but it can get messier)
Any crafty stuff you have lying around - sequins, ribbons, bits of fabric, etc.

I save toilet paper tubes like they're going out of style. You can make just about anything with them!

Let your imagination run wild with paper and tape (to keep it from being too messy).
 Or go ahead and download my free PDF, 'Something to do on a Rainy Day - Toilet Paper Tube Critters'! (shown above)

Count the Critters ***
What you'll need:
A yard with dirt (or a spot in your garden designated for the kids only)
A couple shovels
A couple small jars with lids
optional: Magnifying glass

What is more fun than going outside and discovering the world around you? And the world is chock full of critters... worms, ladybugs, spiders, snails, potato bugs - you name it!
Go outside and start looking - under rocks, in bushes...

Give each kid a shovel and let them dig a hole till they find a worm and watch them as they shriek with excitement upon finding one! Look through the shrubs for ladybugs or in the crevices of the house for spiders. How many critters are there in your yard? You could even make a little chart by drawing (or having the kids draw) the kinds of critters they think they'll find outside, and tallying them once they start searching.
Teach them to create the right environment for their critter in the jar by using the same leaves/grass/bark/etc. they found them in. Allow them to 'keep' the critter for a little while, but that it has to go back to its home when they're done playing.

Note: If you're concerned about any stinging/poisonous critters where you live, make clear the kids can spot but not touch!

Never Fails: Dress & Make Up *
What you'll need:
Dress-up: bathing suits, leggings, leotard, clothes, scarves, tea towels, etc.
Make-up: eyeliner (the liquid kind if you've got it), lipstick

Boys and girls alike love pretending and dressing up! Instead of expensive ready-made store-bought costumes, I prefer letting the kids come up with their own costumes based on their own wild imaginations. Start with a 'base', a pair of leggings and a bathing suit or leotard, for example. Start tying scarves or putting skirts over each other, try layers and most importantly: follow the kids' directions! Let them direct!

As far as make-up goes, sometimes less is more. You can do wonders with a black or brown (liquid) eyeliner - mega long eyelashes, whiskers, an eye-patch... 

Lipstick makes perfect round rosy red cheeks. If you've got some old eye-shadow lying around, let the kids apply it themselves with q-tips or cotton balls. Let boys and girls try out whatever they want - don't limit them to gender definition! Heck, if you were a boy and saw all that frou-frou business with princessy-type dresses, and all you got was a pair of pants, well, I bet you'd want to try it out too!

Another fun variation is: Be a Color! Get out all the kids' clothes and make piles according to color.
Have the kids choose a color and put everything on - starting with undies and ending with socks!

March 09, 2011

Spring Break Blues

It's only Wednesday.

Vacation started last Friday and I am running out of ideas to entertain these kids of mine. I thought I really prepared for this one, but my seemingly endless supply of toilet paper tubes (good for making just about anything from crazy critters to flower vases to working rocket ships) don't seem to impress the kids anymore. Today we've already played dress-up, did our make-up, created objects d' art with play-dough, we've colored, painted and sang songs, we watched a movie and jumped on the bed - and it's not even noon.

No play-dates on the horizon until Friday, no birthday parties until Sunday, no plans whatsoever. We've been lucky the past few days with tons of sunshine and gorgeous Spring-like weather, so we've spent most of the time outside. Time flies when the sun is out! But today is grey and promising rain any second. Bummer.

I'm not making things any easier by sharing my attention with the computer, a constant thorn in the eye of my children. I think they consider PowerBook to be a member of the family, something like a new baby, that demands more attention than they think is fair. They're probably right. Considering it's my only window to the world and an important tool for my own self-expression, they'll just have to accept it. Believe you me, PowerBook can get jealous too.

Right now, Bram is making it clear he is done with the current activity by hanging on my neck and chattering loudly in my ear. He is of the opinion that grown-ups are actually made for climbing on and attacking stealth-style. He's now decided that taking away something Mia is playing with would be far more fun than sharing, and indeed, he provokes an interesting and rather loud reaction from her. I have made a deal with myself to intervene as little as possible these days, in the hopes that they will learn to settle their differences together by cooperation. Sometimes, this works. Other times, we all need a band-aid and a kiss to make it better.

Sharing is tough. But inventing new and fun things to do all day is considerably more challenging. My kids don't get that yet. I certainly didn't get that as a kid - I only got it when I had kids of my own. (I think I can hear my Mom laughing to herself as she reads this...)

Now they're giggling. That sound is what makes it all worthwhile. They are experts at cracking themselves and each other up! Bram has discovered he has a talent for making Mia laugh simply by making sounds with his tongue or pretending to be a dog. Those are the moments I cherish, because it means I can finally have some alone time with PowerBook...

I am quickly learning, the less I interfere with my kids' day, the better it is. A cardboard box, a tub of play-dough and the underside of the table is all they really need to create an enormous mess have a great time. My instincts tell me it won't last long though. My biological Mom-timer is set for 3 minutes and forty-five seconds, and counting, before someone bonks his head or feels unfairness in some way.

Two minutes.

One minute and thirty-three seconds. (I better come up with something quick.)

Twenty-six seconds and... bingo.

Mia's foot got stepped on. One pink butterfly band-aid coming up.

Here I come with the toilet paper tubes again. It's all I've got, take it or leave it.

Lord, it's only Wednesday.

March 03, 2011

What Have I Gotten Myself Into Part II

So what on earth have I piled onto my plate this time? Let me tell you: it's one spicy meatball. Make that three. A birthday/goodbye party for both kids on the same day. Really? Heck, yeah. This is my chance to prove to all that I am indeed Super Mom. I am invincible and I can handle anything the world tosses at me. Or, anything I toss at myself, in this case.

Mia has been quite the social bumble bee lately, being invited to birthday parties like she's the Homecoming Queen. So the subject of, 'When is it going to be my birthday?!' has been coming up quite a bit. We are going to be out of town on Mia's actual birthday, which is in August. Bram's actual birthday is in three weeks. And, we're leaving town at the end of the month. So I figured: why not be efficient and combine all three of those ocassions into one big huge mega gargantuan kid-party extravaganza?!

So the plan is being put into action as we speak. First obstacle: location. The party cannot be held at our house for two reasons: 1) all the kids we want to invite don't live near here, and 2) there is no way we can squeeze twenty kids plus a few parents into our teeny tiny house. Yes, you read correctly. Twenty kids.

So what do I plan on doing with twenty kids, aged 0-5? I'll just do what I'm good at: being a Mom. For the two whole hours those kids are in my care, I'll be a Mom to every single one of them as if they were my very own. If they fall down and get an owie, I'll kiss it all better. If they start fighting over the last piece of cake, I'll intervene until they share. And when they get picked up by their own parents, I'll feel like the umbilicle has been cut once again - but only for a minute. Then I'll promptly fall onto something soft and take a nap until my name changes to Liz van Winkle.

So if it's space we need, it's space we'll get. We're renting the gym in town for two hours! So now I've got two basic ingredients for the most awesome kids' party ever: a huge empty gym and a whole mess of kids. Do I really need anything else?? As much as I would love these kids to entertain themselves for two hours, chances are that won't happen. So activities are a must. I pull out my copy of 'Feed Me I'm Yours' and glance at the rules of thumb when it comes to throwing a kids' party:

1) Invite as many kids to the party as the number of years your child is turning.
Mia is turning five. Bram is turning three. No matter how many ways I calculate, those numbers don't exactly add up to twenty...

Okay, next!

2) Plan more activities than you'll actually need.
That makes sense... Okay, so if an activity takes about fifteen minutes on average, and we've got the gym for two hours, minus the time to have a snack, minus the time the kids will need to go potty, then we'll 243 activities? Oh, hang on, I just remembered I'm no good at math.
Activity 1: throwing a ball around (until somebody gets hurt) = ten minutes
Activity 2: making music (until I develop a splitting headache) = fifteen minutes
Activity 3: facepainting (until all the paint is gone) = ten minutes
Activity 4:
Oh, I'll just do another thing I'm good at: improv.

We're not allowed to have food or drinks in the gym, which could be an issue. I'm thinking along the lines of party guests passing out due to dehydration... The idea is for the afternoon to be fun and with as little risk of ending up in the hospital as possible. So drinks are a must. I'll just do yet another thing I'm exceptionally good at: hiding evidence.

But the biggest challenge will be having two groups of kids in two different developmental stages. How does one mesh both groups' interests into one harmonious event? The bigger kids will be in the majority so they will most likely be running the show, but I need to make sure the little ones don't get trampled on, or neglected, or that they go AWOL. I'll just do yet another thing I am unbelievably, incredibly good at: multi-tasking!

At least, I think I'm good at multi-tasking...

I think I know what I'm getting into, and it's all for love! My kids deserve an unforgettable birthday celebration and need the chance to say goodbye to their friends, who they won't see till school starts again next fall! And when it comes to my kids' needs, I am at their service. Unconditionally.

If you never hear from me again after March 26th, you will know why...

February 18, 2011

The Pre-School Rant

If you know me, then you probably know the three most important things about me:
I have no regrets, I treat others as I expect to be treated, and I don't hold a grudge.
Every so often, however, someone comes along who makes me rethink the three basic principles by which I live. I thought I could let it go, but apparently I need to write this off my chest.

September of last year, Bram started going to a pre-school near us. It had recently undergone major changes due to a new law passed by the government involving the merging of pre-school and daycare facilities. The idea was to offer a sort of 'one-stop-shopping' for parents - instead of the hassle of bringing their children to one place and having them transferred to another during the day, all childcare benefits would be held in one place. We gained a central location but were forced to say goodbye to our experienced and much-loved caregivers. What we were left with didn't really become clear to me until much later.

The first couple weeks was fine. Then, things started to go downhill fast. When Bram saw the front door of the pre-school and realized we were going to leave him there, he would begin to cry. Then he would begin to scream. And holler. And kick, hit, protest with his entire body. Several times, I would see the eyes of one particular 'caregiver' (in her case an extreme contradiction in terms) roll when she saw me approaching with the clearly audible protesting Bram in my arms. Then, he would repeat all the crying, screaming and hollering when I picked him up again in the afternoon. Something was very clearly up but I didn't get it yet.

As the months passed, Bram became increasingly more audible about not wanting to be anywhere near that pre-school, and especially that particular 'caregiver'. I blame myself for not recognizing the signs earlier, but continued to bring him to that place four times a week, despite his consitent protests. Bram didn't have words to communicate yet, so he used what he did have - his entire body and every sound he could produce in a wide range of frequencies.

There were a lot of kids in the pre-school group, and I knew Bram wasn't too fond of large groups anyway, so I attributed his behavior on that for a while. Whenever I brought him to pre-school or picked him up, he sought negative attention by biting, hitting and doing just about anything he could come up with that he knew wasn't okay. His behavior was extremely unlike our little Bram!

It was autumn, and colds were reigning the schools. Bram's drippy nose was a constant factor, but when I picked him up from the pre-school, his face was often bright red and infected with snot and filth. The 'caregiver' thought Bram's snot was too disgusting to wipe away. When I asked how things had gone, she would describe Bram in terms of 'naughty' and 'difficult'. I simply couldn't understand why he acted so differently in that pre-school than anywhere else. I hated bringing him there against his will and proceeded to ignore that gnawing gut feeling that told me not to.

Then, the hair that broke the camel's back came crashing down. One afternoon, when I picked Bram up from the pre-school, the 'caregiver' told me between big smiles and laughs that she was forced to tie Bram up to his chair that morning because he wouldn't sit down.
Excuse me...? She tied him up to a chair?

She tied my child up to a chair.

I cannot explain my behavior upon hearing that, but I can tell you, it was anything but rational. I didn't tell a soul about it for days and let it rot away my insides. I was actually led to believe my son had deserved to be treated like an animal. I felt ashamed and confused. Bram so clearly felt threatened, he felt unheard and he felt misunderstood, and instead of standing up for him, I let the 'caregiver' convince me my child was a bad egg.

So, I told someone. And then, I told someone else. The reactions I received from other moms, dads, family members and specialists were abundant and in the same exact tone: get him out of there now. I talked to the head of the facility and told her about the monstrous mistake her employee had made by tying my son up. Unfortunately, and to my utter dismay, she defended the 'caregiver' and implied that Bram had deserved it. On top of that, she insinuated that Bram was mentally challenged! I was shocked and apalled and removed Bram immediately from the facility alltogether.

Bram has been in a new pre-school since January and the improvement is incredible. It will be a while before he really feels safe again in any kind of facility, after such a gross breach of his rights as a person, but his new caregivers are aware of this and they give him all the space he needs to gain their trust. In the past couple months, I went from the blind mother to the hawk-like mother, just about ready to peck the eyes out of anyone who told me my child was anything less than amazing.

I hear now and then stories about the 'caregiver' blaming Bram for the behavior of kids in his old pre-school group, even though Bram has been out of there for almost two months. Apparently, this 'caregiver' considers blowing a raspberry (a pretty natural step in a child's speech development) not only as as something negative and wrong, but as Bram's fault. If she wants to raise her own children in that frame of mind, and bear the adverse consequences it will most likely have, then she has every right to do just that. I just can't understand why someone who so clearly dislikes certain children is even pursuing a career in caring for them.

I am still in doubt about whether or not I should press charges against this 'caregiver'. To be honest, I worry about the children who still go to that pre-school, and truly hope that they will not be subjected to the same torture as my child was. It doesn't take much to fall into this 'caregiver's' bad egg category, apparently. Needing to go on the potty outside the scheduled potty-time is a sure way to get on her black list, for example. I do not want to expose Bram to any more negativity by going through some sort of legal process, and I am not the vindictive type... but am I wrong to keep this to myself?

Like I said earlier, in this situation, I need to rethink the three basic principles by which I live:

I have no regrets...
but if I had listened to my gut instincts, I could've gotten him out of there sooner and prevent the damage that was inflicted. 

I treat others as I expect to be treated...
but I would willingly drag that caregiver's name through the mud and ensure she is never allowed to be near children again if she slanders my son in my presence.

I don't hold a grudge...
but my increasing contempt for her keeps me up at night.

At the end of the day, I learned perhaps the most valuable lesson of parenthood, which is to never doubt my ability to raise my children with unconditional love and understanding. It wasn't my fault that Bram was unhappy, but it was my fault that I didn't listen to him when he tried to tell me in his own way. Communication comes in countless forms. Just like love.

February 05, 2011

Rainy Days

 Like any other parent trying to make it through the long winter months, I've been desperate for projects! Finally, I decided to go ahead and make one myself - the result: Toilet Paper Critters! If you haven't got any toilet paper tubes, start saving them now! Then, download this 10-page pdf, color in and cut out the figures and scenes and get wrapping! Tons of fun for all!

Rainy Day Book - Toilet Paper Critters                                                            

January 19, 2011

When Good Gets Even Better

A friend put it best the other day when she wrote on her Facebook page, 'My kids are playing together, which shouldn't be miraculous, but it is'. I'm thrilled to announc: my kids are doing that too! And it is a miracle!

Like any other stage of development, this one crept up on me stealth-style as well. One day, they're barely giving each other the time of day and the next, one is pretending to feed the other one, who is pretending to be a dog. Experts said this would happen. My mom said this would happen. Friends assured me someday this would happen. It's happening right now.

And they're not just playing together, they're doing all the things that I hoped someday they would. They're doing big-kid stuff like communicating, sharing, taking turns, listening. My God, I've waited so long for this time to come so that the most wonderful of wonders has happened. I actually find I have something on my hands other than peanut-butter and snot stains: time.

I'm not talking about oodles of time, goodness no. I mean, I can't finally write that novel or take up knitting or anything. We're talking about a few extra minutes a day in which I can sit back and actually enjoy them interacting with each other without having to intervene before some sort of head injury would get inflicted. Sure, now and then I need to play the diplomat and give back whatever it was the other one wasn't ready to share yet, but those times are fewer these days. They're still only two and only four, I know we have a long way to go yet, but the start is there. And it's a damn good start.

There was a time when I was the one who had to pretend to be the dog, but those days are over. Someone more than qualified for the job (and with significantly more energy) has taken my place, and I am thrilled to hand over the responsibility. My son has discovered the joy of being 'wanted' and my daughter has discovered the joy of having another slave around besides me...

Good times just got better.

January 01, 2011

New Year's Revelations

Today is the first day of 2011, my 5th year of being a Mom. Instead of New Year's resolutions, I've been making some New Year's revelations today. Another year has passed and as I surrender myself to Mommyhood entirely, I realize a few things about how my life is now, as opposed to how it was. We're talking about slight differences, but fundamental ones, which establish my role in life once and for all.

The tell-tale signs that I need to get out more:

All my clothes have drool/snot/peanut butter stains on them, and I don't even care.

My Facebook updates are usually about what the kids are doing, or what they just did.

I don't know what's going on in the world, but I sure as heck know all the words to all the 'Dora the Explorer' songs.

I'm seriously considering getting my first name legally changed to 'Mama'.

I'm more worried about whether there's enough tape in the craft drawer than about the state of the present government.

I get genuinely excited when some of my son's pee actually makes it into the potty.

My bedtime is exactly five minutes after my kids' bedtime.

I find myself coloring when the kids aren't even around.

A good night's sleep is something I actually fantasize about.

Playing dress-up with the kids was in fact the last time I actually dressed up.

My idea of 'me-time' is going to the bathroom on my own.

I actually considered writing Santa a letter this year too.

I find myself enjoying food much more if it has a face on it.

My friends have literally said to me, 'You need to get out more'.

But the biggest revelation I made today is this: I am a Mom. And I love being a Mom. I wouldn't trade being a Mom for anything - not fame, not a zillion dollars, not even a good night's sleep. If I can't sing on stage, I might as well sing along with Dora. And if I don't know what's going on in the world, at least I know what's going on in my kids' world, which is the most important world to me after all.