Summer Jar in FamilyFun

July 26, 2011

Hey all, check out my article about the Summer Jar in the August 2011 issue of FamilyFun magazine (it’s the part about “daycations”). I can’t find it online; I think it’s only in the print edition.

Update: I did find it online. Here it is.



Summer Jar: Cardboard Stool

October 6, 2009
It helps if you have a large unfinished room to lay your cardboard out in, and to give you space when cutting out the pieces.

It helps if you have a large unfinished room to lay out your cardboard, and to give you space when cutting out the pieces.

The biggest failure from the Summer Jar was making a cardboard stool from Or, I guess it depends on how you look at it. The final result was a failure, but the process had some good points.

This ended up being a project that didn’t have much to do with the kids. The idea was that I would whip out this stool, and they could decorate it, but it turns out that assembling a cardboard stool is actually fairly complicated. It pushed me way out of my comfort zone, trying to look at these paper templates and figure out how it all was going to have anything to do with a stool (I wasted a bit of time being very confused before I realized I was supposed to print out the template twice).

There was a lot of thought, a lot of cutting, and a lot more thought. I taped the templates to the wrong side of the cardboard, and had to do some finessing to fold it away from the template, rather than toward it, so that the words on the cardboard would be on the inside. This, plus a general lack of precision, led to the final stool being very wobbly and not particularly usable.

I think this would be a fantastic project to unleash on a teenager. There’s a lot of step-by-step thought and it requires some spatial reasoning and thinking outside the box (har). They could work super hard building and decorating their own bedside table out of recycled materials.

Here are the misshapen little pieces, which will somehow be stuck together into a stool-like shape.

Here are the misshapen little pieces, which will somehow be stuck together into a stool-like shape.

It was really hard for me not to coerce Dave into doing the whole thing, but once I was into it, I really felt like I needed to see the thing through. I’m glad I did. Maybe it didn’t work, but I think if I ever did one again, it would look 100% better. Not that I’m going to do this again, unless I had some additional labor. I could have really used another adult to work the box cutter with me when I was cutting out all the shapes.

But in the end, we put ours right back into the recycling.

Eh, not so much.

Eh, not so much.


CATEGORIES: activities, crafts

Summer Jar: Bus to Portland

September 29, 2009

One day the Summer Jar told us to take the bus to Portland, and it was really very typical of many Summer Jar activities, in that it gave us something to do, but that something was kind of random, and somehow we managed to find serendipitous things along the way.

Waiting for the bus. The boys felt very Responsible holding on to their bus money (or, well, holding on to my bus money in Eli’s case, since his ride is free).

When we got into Portland, we discovered a belly dancing show in Monument Square, so we got some hot dogs and sat down to watch. Henry finished his hot dog and said he wanted another, so…

I made him go back across the square and order and pay for the hot dog himself. Good Summer Jar activity: order and pay for something yourself from a street vendor, while Mom watches from 50 paces.

I love Portland.

And here the boys play on a crumbling wall next to a decrepit building. Big city! I felt the need to have some reason to go to Portland, so we schlepped all the way down to the bike store to pick up Dave’s bicycle tire that had been repaired. Which meant, of course, that then I had to schlep all the way back to the bus stop with an enormous bicycle tire.



Summer Jar: Popsicles

July 28, 2009

Another recent Summer Jar task was making popsicles. I got a popsicle mold years ago, before I had kids even, I think (maybe in an attempt to make a healthier dessert?). We don’t bring it out nearly often enough. First we made a simple syrup (heat equal parts sugar and water in a saucepan, boil, dissolve sugar…put a half-cup of it into the popsicles, save the rest for cocktails). We had two overripe nectarines, so we threw those into the blender with the simple syrup. Then we added the dregs of a bag of frozen tropical fruit (two pineapple chunks, a bit of kiwi, and maybe some mango). And finally some frozen blueberries, since we add frozen blueberries to pretty much everything. A whirl or two in the blender, and it looked…well, odd. But I didn’t say a word. I wasn’t going to be the one to cast a pall on the popsicling.

Here they are about to go into the freezer, and looking, frankly, like some kind of medical byproduct. But again, I was mum on the aesthetics.

And good thing! Because they were actually pretty amazing. They were more nectariney than anything else.

When I took the above photo, I was all concerned with making sure it looked like the children were enjoying the popsicles. It wasn’t until much later that I realized that they were dressed like crazy people.

By the time we got outside, they were all on their third popsicles, and Henry’s pirate bandanna had started to take on a life of its own.



Summer Jar: Try a New Food

July 22, 2009

Last week the Summer Jar told us to try a new food (the Jar told us this the day after we’d gone to the farmers’ market and eaten sour cherries and Italian broccoli greens for the first time, but apparently the Jar thinks we still weren’t being adventurous enough). So we went to the store and finally decided on a pepino melon, because we’re generally melon fans, and the sign next to the pepinos said they taste like a combination of pears and bananas. When we got home we checked into pepinos a bit, learned that they are grown in Peru, and that they can also taste like a combination of honeydew and cantaloupe. Sounded good!

So we peeled it and sliced it up. Henry grabbed the first piece, took a big bite, ate it, and enthusiastically exclaimed, “I don’t like it!” We all took bites, and really, none of us liked it. There really wasn’t anything there to like. It didn’t taste of anything. Or maybe it tasted like disappointment. Or, possibly, relief, since now I didn’t have to worry about us getting addicted to expensive small imported melons. But now we know! Back to cantaloupe!



Summer Jar: Real Mail

July 14, 2009

Last week the Summer Jar told us to make cards and mail them. I had some premade blank cards from the days when I fancied myself a cardmaker, so we drew on those. The most fun part was deciding who to send our cards to (excuse me: to whom we should send our cards). Henry chose Miranda, which was no surprise. He decided to write about how excited he is about Farm Camp (which is next week!). He also took the space to spout forth some untruths about Farm Camp, which is that they have live bats. Well, it could be true. I don’t know. The newsletter we got from them was signed by the farmers and also the animals, two of which were Stella and Luna, so Henry has decided they must be bats.

Henry also addressed the envelope himself. I remember working at one of the many, many semi-clerical office jobs I had after college, and giving a high school summer temp a bunch of envelopes to address, and she basically had no idea how to do it. Which means, I suppose, that she had neither sent nor received mail (or not much) up until that point. Shocking! Anyway, so I take it upon myself to explain the joys and wonders of real mail to the children. Coincidentally, we’ve been reading a lot of Frog and Toad stories lately, and there’s that great one where Toad is talking about how waiting for the mail is his “sad time of day” because no one ever sends him mail. And then Frog sends him a letter, and they’re both really happy about mail. So we talked about how our letter recipients would be just as excited to receive real mail.

Eli decided to send his card to a 13-year-old boy down the street, a fairly random choice since I think Eli has talked to him maybe twice ever. But he plays hockey and baseball in the street, and is friendly and nice, and those facts, I think, make him card-worthy in Eli’s mind. I sent my card to Robyn, with whom I used to have a fairly regular real mail correspondence going, but that’s fallen off in the past few years. So she definitely was due. Remember when real mail was the standard, and so we thought nothing of writing a two-sentence, e-mail-esque, goofball letter? Sarah and I used to send each other the ugliest postcards we could find. I also remember spending an afternoon writing and writing, practically extemporaneously, and stuffing pages and pages of scrawled spiral notebook pages into an envelope to send off. Robyn got none of those last week, mostly because I had mild performance anxiety once faced with the blank card and couldn’t think of what to draw, let alone write. I ended up drawing the view out my window from where I was sitting, and honestly I have no idea what I wrote about. It was rambling, I’m sure, which is maybe the best kind of letter in my mind.

And my preferred kind of blog post, apparently.


CATEGORIES: activities

Summer Jar: What Sinks? What Floats?

July 9, 2009

Last week the Summer Jar told us to do an experiment called What Sinks? What Floats? The Let’s Explore blog gave us the idea. The kids loved it because it involved a large bowl of water (I’m tempted to put “explore a large bowl of water” in the Summer Jar but I don’t want to deal with the cleanup afterwards). Basically you go around the house gathering stuff, and then you decide what you think will sink and what you think will float. Then you put stuff in water and see how right you were. The kids did a pretty good job overall. Our favorite was the sand timer: the side with the sand in it sunk and the empty side floated.

Later that day my friend Ed (a physicist) said, “I like how it teaches them the scientific process.” Oh, what? Oops, right. So I went back and said, “Hey, boys! Remember when we did that floating and sinking thing earlier? Well, when we laid them all out first on the paper to see what we thought would sink or float, that was the hypothesis…” I think they got it, but it would have been better to explain it at the same time. At dinner I said, “Do you boys want to tell Dave [an engineer] about the SCIENCE EXPERIMENT we did, where we learned what a HYPOTHESIS is, and about doing the EXPERIMENT to test your HYPOTHESIS?” I can be really annoying sometimes.

I have to remember that part of the point of the Jar isn’t just for it to tell us what to do, but for us to delve deeper into that activity. Meaning, that Julie should do her homework a little more and go back and reread exactly what we’re doing with the floating and sinking thing.






Math-challenged woman in Monument Square

July 2, 2009

Remember when the Summer Jar had us cavorting around Portland last week? I had a funny run-in with a woman in Monument Square, which is chronicled on Liz‘s other website, Overheard in Portland. Go read.


CATEGORIES: thirty second post

Summer Jar on Better Way Moms!

June 30, 2009

Hey everyone…I’ve got an article on Better Way Moms about the Summer Jar. Go read!



Is the Portland Museum of Art intentionally anti-family?

June 27, 2009

Thursday the summer jar told us to go to the Portland Museum of Art. I’d put it in the jar because I haven’t been in a few years, and I wanted the kids to see all that art right there in our own town, I thought it might be inspiring, and I thought it might be interesting to compare it to the galleries we went to. Instead I spent the whole time feeling like they wanted us to leave.

First they told me that I couldn’t carry Zuzu in my back in the Ergo. I carry Zuzu on my back everywhere and for a moment I couldn’t even get my mind around how I would bring her around the museum if she wasn’t in the Ergo. When I asked why, the woman at the ticket stand (there must be a more official name for that, but anyway) said that it was because I might not be aware of what was on my back. I get what she meant, I think, that if it were really crowded maybe I’d back into a painting? They did at least provide (flimsy) umbrella strollers, so I strapped Zuzu into one of those to wheel her around. But I will say that it felt all wrong to have her all the way down there in the stroller when I’m so used to her being up on my back.

We went into the first exhibit, a collection of paintings from New England artists’ colonies. Eli was pushing Zuzu in the stroller. Within thirty seconds a docent came over and snidely said, “We ask that one adult hand be on the stroller.” Again, I get it. They don’t want a crazed 3-year-old driving the stroller into a sculpture or something. But I was annoyed because I didn’t want the stroller in the first place, and also because it was a crappy stroller that was like a grocery cart with a bad wheel, and also because the docent said it in a voice that said, “I pity you with your horrid, horrid offspring.”

We decided to go upstairs. I’ve never used the elevator in the museum before. There is absolutely no signage telling you where the elevator is (hidden in a hallway off to the side of the entrance). I wouldn’t have to use the stupid secret elevator if it weren’t for the stroller. Anyway, we finally find the elevator after walking all over the first floor, get in, and there’s a sign that says what’s on each floor, which also says, “Interactive Exhibit for Families!” and tells us where that is. We decide to do that, and make the trek through the museum to the adjacent McLellan Sweat House, which requires us to go through small rooms with a jumbled collection of fragile antiquities and an antique couch that Eli said, “Oh look!” about and was walking toward when a guard hissed, “DON’T TOUCH!” at him, so he turned around. Then we went down a small set of stairs and through a giant heavy door (stupid stroller stupid stroller) to get to an empty room that had a sign on the wall that said, “Interactive Exhibit for Families! In Progress!” Sigh.

Up to the third floor we went (in the secret elevator), where the world’s nicest museum worker let Henry wheel Zuzu in careful circles around a bench while he lovingly teased Eli about what he thought might be behind a door in a mural that was taken from the old Westbrook post office. Love that guy. Totally engaged the kids in the art and didn’t yell at Henry about the fact that he was pushing the stroller without an adult hand on it.

Then we got all excited in the next room, which had lots of fun modern art (Warhol! Claes Oldenburg! Roy Lichtenstein!). We peeked up at the Calder mobile, and in the middle of the room was a salvaged-wood sculpture called Gem by Robert Indiana. “Look!” I said to the boys, gesturing at it. “Where do you think those wheels came from?” and as we were debating wagon vs. wheelbarrow, a docent came over and said, “We have an 18-inch rule, and you’re getting a little close with your pointing there.” Translation: “Don’t be exuberant about the art.” Subtranslation: “Please get your rugrats and leave.” And so we did. The boys could tell that they weren’t wanted. They looked hurt. Maybe I did too.

Look, I get it. I know that the museum is filled with priceless works of art. I know that some children are awful and destructive. I get that you need rules to make sure that the art is protected. That’s fine. And I certainly don’t think that the world needs to cater to my children. I don’t think that they should have handed me a “Portland Museum of Art Scavenger Hunt” pamphlet when I walked in (although, hey, that might have been nice). The whole reason we were there was because it wasn’t the Children’s Museum, and I want my kids to understand that the world is not built for them, and that there are also maybe more interesting things in museums than a display where they can milk a pretend cow.

My issue was really with the extreme condescension. People, this is Portland, Maine. It’s a place where we’re nice to each other. It’s a place of genuine smiles. It’s a place where you work at the museum because you love art, and if you see a mom with some engaged kids on an otherwise dead afternoon, you maybe would mention something interesting about the art, rather than throw your mighty docent muscle around.

So we left. We walked down Congress Street and past Whitney Art Works, with its huge window and giant art, and the boys stood there staring and said, “What’s THAT?” and I said, “Let’s go inside” so we did, Zuzu on my back dammit, and the woman in there smiled a huge enthusiastic smile and said, “Hi!” and let us walk around and look at things and we didn’t even have to pay.

Then we sat in some funny outdoor plastic furniture outside Addo Novo, and no one came out and told us to get off the expensive modern couch. Thank you!

Then we got bread and cookies at Big Sky and the boys ate their cookies at Lady Liberty in Monument Square and watched some jugglers and we felt happy about Portland again.

Until we got back to the car and there was a ticket on the windshield.


1 2