My very own birthday CD

March 31, 2010

Every year (since Eli turned 1, at least), I make the boys a CD on their birthdays. It has all their favorite songs of the year, plus bits of them singing or telling jokes or just babbling. A few weeks ago I realized I had amassed a bunch of free downloads that I loved or found songs on Pandora that I loved, and that maybe it was time to make myself a birthday CD (without, however, me singing or telling jokes). Basically I just wanted to listen to all these good new songs in the kitchen while making dinner.

Here’s what I’ve got:

1. Belated Promise Ring – Iron & Wine. Oh, I love this song. This song is the whole reason I made the CD, really. I got this as a free download at some point, and just wanted to listen to it over and over. Only took me about 700 listens to realize it’s about a guy who is in love with his lesbian friend.

2. Longform – The Dodos. Another free download. Somehow I can never remember how this song goes, but when I’m listening to it, it seems like the catchiest thing ever.

3. I Don’t Know What It Is – Rufus Wainwright. Love this. I have absolutely no idea what it’s about. Mysterious bruises? Trains? Trying to get your life in order? Love it anyway.

4. All My Days – Alexi Murdoch. Dave and I watched “Away We Go” wondering how there could be so many Nick Drake songs we’d never heard before. Turns out it was Alexi Murdoch. I like the whole soundtrack, but this is my favorite song.

5. Stray Age – Daniel Martin Moore. A guy and a guitar. I’ll confess I’ve never actually listened to the lyrics. Could be about eating high fructose corn syrup for all I know.

6. Willow TreeChad VanGaalen. Guy with falsetto, singing about death. This song sounds like 70% of the songs I played on my radio show in college.

7. Hallelujah – Rufus Wainwright. I think I tried to download this song once, and you had to buy the whole Shrek soundtrack to get it, so I didn’t. But then it showed up as a free download on Amazon. I love this song, as well as the original, as well as pretty much every other version I’ve ever heard. Leonard Cohen is a god.

8. Hideaway – The Weepies. Who are The Weepies? If all their songs are this good, I need a whole album.

9. Friends – Lightning Love. A peppy little song about binge drinking and blackouts.

10. Hug the Harbour – Emma Pollock. Hypnotic and Beth Orton-y.

11. Turn Cold – Cut Off Your Hands. This song doesn’t quite go with the others, but it sounds like the Cure and New Order, and therefore I nostalgically love it.

12. Astair Matt Costa. Oh, this is a good one. I want to sing the refrain all day long, but it’s one of those songs that I’m not actually good at singing out loud very well. Ah, well.

13. 10,000 Stones – Adrianne. This song sounds a little like the music from a pharmaceutical ad, or maybe the theme song for an hour-long drama about women in their 40s. But maybe that’s the mindset I’m in right now. I like it.

14. Comin’ Up RosesZeile August. Zeile is a bona fide friend of mine. When she made her first album, Orion’s Belt, I was suddenly gripped by an unnatural fear that I would hate it. What do you do when a really good friend of yours makes an album you don’t like? But within four notes of the opening song, I knew all would be ok. “Comin’ Up Roses” is from her second album (Lucie’s Hobo Package) — I first heard the song when I went to hear her at what used to be Javanet. Afterwards I think I said something semi-coherent like, “I really liked that song about Papa not believing in magic” and she remembered that, and months later when the CD came out told me it opened with that song I liked (note that it’s the opening song because it’s a great song, not because I like it). I like all the songs, honestly, but “Comin’ Up Roses” and “Big Red Truck” from the first album are my perennial faves. I am especially loving the line in this one lately about “Give me a drink of water/or maybe something stronger.” Sounds good. New CD out in April! Can’t wait!

15. Buckets of Rain – Redbird. This was one from Pandora. I am usually massively against Bob Dylan covers, because, I mean, come on, are you really going to do better? But something about this one I really, really liked. After I downloaded it, I saw that Redbird is a band with Kris Delmhorst in it, who is not a bona fide friend of mine, but she is someone I’ve met in person before, and she’s super duper nice, plus I like her music. Anyway.

16. You and I – Ingrid Michaelson. How can you not love a song with the chorus, “Let’s get rich and give everybody nice sweaters and teach them how to dance”?


Easter Eggs

March 30, 2010

We branched out a bit in our Easter egg designs this year. Rather than doing our usual rubber band designs, we got all inspired by this month’s Martha Stewart magazine and used electrical tape to make patterns (ok, Martha really mostly says to buy some kind of craft-store adhesive vinyl, but it was clear it was the same as electrical tape). Everyone had a good time making shapes, and, most especially, making their initials. I, as usual, just about had an anxiety attack due to ceramic cups, dye, and breakable eggs. I think I put way too much Significance on this type of once-a-year holiday ritual, and so I’m already worked up in a tizzy by the time we start.

After last year’s Easter debacle, I am going to plan ahead and be a little better prepared. I’m totally stealing the mixed-up egg idea from Make and Takes, and I think I might also do something which I read about somewhere else (where?) where you put a few puzzle pieces in each egg, so then the kids can put together a puzzle when they’ve found all the eggs. And I’ll throw a few jellybeans in there too, just so I’m not the world’s biggest anti-commercial-holiday ogre.

Can you sense my anxiety at this potentially disastrous mess? Though make sure you also notice Zuzu’s excellent Liberty of London from Target dress. She wants to wear it every day.

Henry and his jack-o-lanterny face egg.

Eli and his E.

As usual, the eggs were eaten almost as fast as they were made. Zuzu’s Z egg is in the lower left corner. Dave made my favorite egg: the one on the bottom row with the big green stripe.


CATEGORIES: activities, holidays

Children’s Book of the Week: Silent Letters Loud and Clear

March 29, 2010

Silent Letters Loud and Clear by Robin Pulver, illustrated by Lynn Rowe Reed

Let me start out by confessing that I don’t love this book. It just seems alright to me, and like maybe it’s trying too hard to be quirky, and like it’s illustrated by the poor man’s Laurie Keller. But boy oh boy did Henry love it. I think there might be a very select time in a child’s life when this book is incredibly relevant: when they’ve learned to read, but are still vexed by the crazy spelling rules of the English language, plus have at least learned what silent letters are, and what they’re for.

The basic plot is that the students in the book complain about what a pain it is too have to learn about silent letters, and what’s the point, if they’re silent anyway? The silent letters hear all this, and are sad and insulted. The students write a letter to the editor, and the silent letters fight back by sneaking out of the email just before it’s sent. And so, when the letter is published, it makes the students look like fools, because instead of saying, “Mr. Wright says good spellers are made, not born” it says “Mr. rit says good spellers ar mad, not born.” And instead of “P.S. Cate wrote this” the letter says, “P.S. Cat rot this.” (Of course, Henry thought all of this was hilarious.) The students realize the error of their ways, and write a new letter to the editor applauding silent letters.

Ok, now that I’ve written all this, I can definitely see the appeal to Henry. I mean, maybe it just seemed a bit juvenile to me, but it is a children’s book, so maybe I should just get over myself and not expect them all to be Whitefoot. (There are also other books in this series: Nouns and Verbs Have a Field Day and Punctuation Takes a Vacation. Like Silent Letters, I think they appeal to a student at a very specific time. We got Nouns and Verbs out of the library, and Henry did like it, but I had to explain what nouns and verbs were first, so it took him a little longer to get it. Though now he knows what nouns and verbs are, so that’s a bonus.)


Your Weekly Zuzu

March 26, 2010

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Real Simple Bathroom Cleaning Method

March 24, 2010

A month or two ago, Real Simple published a guide on how to clean your bathroom in five minutes. It’s a handy little check-off list (in my head I read that as a Chekhov list, which is something else entirely). Now, I have some major problems with some parts of the list (namely, the use of five billion disposable wipes), but I am apparently someone who needs a definitive list on how to clean, never mind the fact that at this point in my life I should have bathroom cleaning down to a perfunctory task.  I have to say that I’ve found this checklist to be incredibly helpful. I just ignore the disposable wipe part and substitute a dishcloth and homemade all-purpose cleaner instead. (I also skip their recommendation for putting Alka Seltzer tablets in the toilet and just clean it the way I always have.) What I like is that it tells me what order to do things in, and also reminds me that it’s a good idea to do more than just the toilet and sink (door molding! light switch! change the towels! FLOOR). I’ve got a list printed out for both bathrooms. (Granted, I’m still not cleaning the bathrooms as often as I should, but at least when I do, they get cleaned more thoroughly.)


CATEGORIES: housekeeping

Children’s Book of the Week: A Year at a Construction Site, on a Pirate Ship, in the World of Dinosaurs

March 22, 2010

A Year at a Construction Site, A Year on a Pirate Ship, A Year in the World of Dinosaurs by Nicholas Harris, Elizabeth Havercroft

I’d never heard of this series (the “Time Goes By” series) until a few weeks ago, when we picked up A Year at a Construction Site from the library. Now we are obsessively inter-library loaning every title (we’ve gotten the three above so far). These books are great. Each one shows the action over the course of a year, and in each scene there are all kinds of little things to look for. The book itself shows you specific items to find, like a pirate’s cutlass, or a wheelbarrow. Then each page has all kinds of Where’s-Waldo sort of action, so you can try to find the same lazy pirate or eating construction worker or what have you. I really like the combination of non fiction subject, detailed scenes, things to look for, and the progress over the course of a year (or the course of a day, with some titles, like A Day at a Zoo, or A Day in a City). We will definitely be checking out more of these titles.


On putting myself closer to the top of the list

March 19, 2010

So, yesterday you may have noticed Eli’s nice little cozy bed. It’s in what is currently our newly-redone attic. Dave spent months finishing our attic (best part: super-insulating the roof-line, which made such an enormous difference I can’t even tell you). This room is a masterpiece. It’s gorgeous (for some reason I can’t find a “before” picture, but you can get a small idea by looking at the top photo in my cardboard stool post). It’s such a lovely retreat. And I lobbied — hard — for putting the kids up there.

My reasoning was that I really want them all to sleep in the same room, and that putting everyone in the attic would free up two rooms on the second floor, and how magical would it be to have two rooms that have no specific purpose? We could have a craft room! Or…or… a meditation room! (Um, not that we ever meditate.) Or a reading nook!

Dave lobbied for the attic to be our room, on the basis of needing our own sanctuary. Everyone else pretty much argued in favor of this as well. Sometimes (a lot of the time) if everyone is arguing for the thing I’m arguing against, I just dig in my heels and argue harder. To my credit, I do think putting the kids in the attic has merit. Dave agreed, at some point, and when the room was done (beginning of February), we moved them in.

Half the room is for their beds, the other half is a toy/play area. It works great. Until midnight. Then Zuzu wakes up and yells, “Ma! Ma!” and I run upstairs and sleep with her. At 3:00 I go back downstairs. At 3:20 she yells for me again. At 5:00 Eli wakes up to pee, goes down to the second floor bathroom, and slams the door. Then he goes upstairs and yells for someone to cuddle with him. When we refuse, he stomps around. And then we’re all up. Every night we tell him he has to sleep in after he gets up to pee, and every morning he stomps around angrily (which is crazy loud from the second floor).

Two weeks ago Dave and I talked about switching the rooms (so that we would go in the attic), so at least Eli’s stomping wouldn’t be so loud. I still wasn’t totally on board, and the work involved in switching the rooms kept us at the status quo. Then, last Saturday, as I lay there in Zuzu’s bed angrily whispering to Eli that he needed to get the hell back in bed, the whole Thing of the situation finally sunk in.

I wanted the kids to have the awesome room. They weren’t sleeping, and they had already started their customary practice of trashing the room itself (a particularly gruesome block-throwing incident stands out). Why couldn’t I have the awesome room? We’re the grownups — we should have the best room, right? I mean, yeah, there are logistical reasons why having the children all in the big attic room might make sense, but they failed the trial period. Suddenly, I wanted the room. A lot. I wanted the sanctuary. The adult space.

Of course now there are about 17 steps that need to happen before we can move them downstairs (getting them all in one room so we can paint and finish the trim-that-never-happened in our current bedroom), but we’re moving ahead with it. I ordered them some super cute quilts which will hopefully make the transition less traumatic to them. The plan is to put Henry, Eli, and Zuzu in Dave and our current bedroom, and to make the boys’ old bedroom into a playroom. I hope we can get it all done before the baby is born (9.5 more weeks!). But having an adult sanctuary space will be a whole, new thing for me, and hopefully signals a New Era of not waiting on the royalty hand and foot and getting them to polish my crown every once in a while (suddenly I have a massive fear that “polish my crown” is some kind of dirty euphemism).

Am I articulating this properly? For six-and-a-half years I’ve been trying to figure this all out, and have been falling heavily on the path of doing whatever my kids want. The result is happy kids and total household chaos. We’re about to add a fourth kid to this, and it has. to. stop. Dave and I need to be the alpha dogs. I have really been working on child self sufficiency (“You can get a glass of milk yourself”). The next big (BIG) step is child self entertainment. Sometimes it works, but with Eli and Zuzu it’s a lot harder (Henry thrives on it, most of the time). But situations where I am telling Eli I need to do the taxes, and he is shouting, ” No! No! No!” right in my ear have to stop.

Do any of you have a situation where you tell your kids to do (or not do) something, and for the most part they listen? How do you balance kid freedom with parental freedom?

I have been giving my life away to the children, and that’s not helping any of us. I’m ready to take it back.


CATEGORIES: Julie, Parenting

70s Craft Revival: God’s Eye Weaving

March 18, 2010

A few Sundays ago, Henry suddenly looked up from his close examination of my childhood copy of Steven Caney’s Playbook and announced, “I want to try God’s Eye weaving.” Well, he was just lucky enough to catch me in a good mood, and to want to do a craft we had all the supplies for (sticks from outside + yarn). This was definitely the type of craft that required frequent parental intervention (mainly when adding a new yarn color) but both boys could do the weaving part all by themselves (though it took poor lefty Eli a lot longer, because we kept showing him how to do it right-handed…once he started doing it left-handed he did a much better job).

I’m sure you all did this during the long summer of 1978 or thereabouts. The how-to part will come right back to you (basically: get two sticks, make an x with them, secure the x with yarn, wrap the yarn around and over each stick). The boys were super proud of their creations, and Eli hung his over his bed to keep away evil spirits (though Dave and I were slightly concerned that the God’s Eye was going to fall on Eli in the middle of the night) (but apparently the good spirits have thus far prevented that from happening).

Notice Eli’s bed? And the nice setup? (And make sure you notice the awesome painting by our fabulous neighbor Brian.) More tomorrow on how this particular little haven is soon to go away.


CATEGORIES: activities, crafts

Random Product Endorsement: Frigoverre Glass Containers

March 17, 2010

Ok, so a few months ago Real Simple did an organizing thing on some woman whose fridge was a disaster. (I think I only know two people whose refrigerators aren’t disasters.) (I’m not one of them.) The article recommended getting Frigoverre round glass containers to hold produce that you wash and cut up when you get home from the store, so it’s ready to go. I somehow wasn’t particularly interested in that, but I was interested in the containers themselves, since our plastic food storage containers are falling apart, or had BPA in them, or were so old that I wasn’t sure if they had BPA in them or not.

Part of me wants to throw out all our usable plastic containers and start over with glass, but that seems wasteful. I did order a set of three square Frigoverre containers (square, of course, because everyone knows round containers waste space that you could have in the corners) (poorly constructed parenthetical bit, but you know what I mean). I love them! At first Dave complained that they were too heavy, but I think that was more a function of just being used to the lightweight plastic ones. The three sizes are perfect, and I love that you can reheat in the glass part — and put it in the dishwasher — without worries.

I also recently picked up some glass Anchor containers from Target (link is to a set from King Arthur Flour, but at the Target store you can buy individual pieces), and I like those too (especially because I got some very small ones which are good for leftover onion or tomato halves), but I like the Frigoverre lids better, plus that the glass is a little thicker.

One day I will have only glass containers. And I have an undue want for the Frigoverre glass jug, which would be perfect if I were squeezing my own orange juice or something, which I’m not. Although if by “squeeze my own” you mean “mix freezer can of orange juice concentrate with water” well, then, sometimes I do that, but not often enough to justify a new jug.

CATEGORIES: housekeeping

Children’s Book of the Week: 1 Zany Zoo

March 15, 2010

1 Zany Zoo by Lori Degman, illustrated by Colin Jack

We got this book in our box of Cheerios. Lori Degman won some first-time-author, get-your-book-in-a-box-of-Cheerios contest, and here is the result. I feel kind of fancy and in-the-know reviewing a book that hasn’t been released yet (this has also apparently made me addicted to hyphens), but, hey, anyone can go get the Cheerios and get the book.

Anyway! We love this book! It’s totally one that seems to follow some kind of formula for children’s books: rhyming + counting up + zoo + zoo animal stealing zookeepers keys. But it’s somehow different here, and great. And, ok, to be honest, I like this book ok, but the kids really like it. They think it’s outrageously hilarious. There’s one part where the zookeeper shouts, “Get back in your cages!” and I actually have to stop reading at this point because the kids are laughing so hard. Plus I also like the kind of wacky illustrations. Go get it with your breakfast!


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