Thursday, December 8, 2011

Less is more

Hard to hold on to this, but I'm beginning to think maybe it's true. That is, I think maybe it's true when I'm not worried that we're not doing/covering/learning enough at this little school of ours.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Reluctant Writer

That would be Hank. One of the biggest problems we face as we do this homeschool thing together is writing. Well, getting him to write. Anything.

So strange to me that a kid as verbal as my firstborn should hate to write. This is a child from whose mouth issue long accounts of imaginary epic battles, buried treasure, fantastic creatures--here's part of a story that I heard him tell Shorty (with the help of Lego props):

A single fighter steps into the fray.

But. He fails to notice a single helicopter that fires…three laser cannons…straight into the windshield.

Before they go out, the canyon is so long, that no one is able to get past. They send fighter jets, but they run out of fuel before they can even enter the cavern because….[I lost track here]…before they can even access the ancient temple. Shutting down their main upper wings into landing gear mode, they disappear inside.

The planes then switch, shoot down, and pull into this huge cavern here with crystals and gold and silver and gems and diamonds, and dragon eggs hang with their colors swirling. When the eggs explode, the [baby dragons] hit onto the ropes, climb the ropes to the top and onto these little hatches. Behind the hatches is a little raised spot. The dragon mother sits there... When the baby dragon shed [sic] its skin, the dragon mother picks it up, and--shoop!--throws it into the wastebasket. We take the skins to the market and sell them…as magic…they go into a treasure chest…filled the [something] with six thousand of them.

The tunnel goes right into a volcano. It's been hollowed out so there's no lava anywhere. And there's lava tubes with torches..they go into the lava tubes and discuss plans and things. The volcano becomes a place where they can plan…there's a huge chasm...

So it's not a lack of imagination. Or lack of anything to say, or trouble verbalizing his thoughts, or limited vocabulary. He claims that his brain shuts down once he's faced with a blank piece of paper. So, writer's block?

Most online resources recommend not making a reluctant writer write. So, okay. I take dictation for 95% of what goes on his blog.

What it comes down to is that he hates the act of writing. Typing isn't much better. It's a grapho-motor skills issue. But he has to write--physically write stuff--if he's going to learn to write on his own. It's one of those things that you have to do to do. But where to start?

There's an exercise that I read about that's supposed to be great for kids who have handwriting issues and left-brain/right-brain issue (Hank is left-handed but right-everything-elsed), but it is incredibly tedious--basically trace a large infinity symbol three times, and write each letter of the alphabet over different parts of the infinity symbol, alternating each letter with three more repetitions of the infinity symbol. Do this every day for six months, and the child will improve a hundred percent.

Right. Unless he kills himself or his mother first.

But thanks to this great website, a part of the Northern Nevada Writing Project (an offshoot, I assume, of the Bay Area Writing Project and the National Writing Project), and which I am totally going to steal from again in the future, I tried something that worked.


I told him what a haiku was (5-7-5 syllables--or words, I said I didn't care) and we looked at a couple of examples online. The initial plan was to use this as way to practice summarizing, but thankfully I realized that we needed to practice the form first. Fun. We're supposed to have fun.

Let's try making it like a riddle, like this one about the frog.

No, about Star Wars!

Of course. Sure, why not? Okay, I'll go first. Um...okay:

Small and green I am. (Yoda! It's Yoda!)
But size matters not, I say. (Yoda! Yoda!)
Jedi master, yes.

Yoda! Yoda! Mom, that was way too easy.

Okay, you try.

And we alternated turns until he had three haiku. Fifteen sentences. Short sentences, but fifteen of them. And not a single complaint.

Friday, November 18, 2011


Hank has three of his old school [old skool] buddies over today. Among other activities, they spent some time shrieking the dumbest questions they could think of at Hank's magic eight ball: Will we blow up in one second? Will the Magic 8-ball blow up? Are we in heaven?

I had a flashback to about a month ago when my iPhone 4G in the mail, and Tad and his friend Rowell experimented with Siri by asking it (her?) the silliest questions they could think of: How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood? Does your dog bite?

Coincidence? I think not.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Hank and Shorty

We are listening to a book on CD about a 12-year-old boy detective who attempts to collect information at a seedy bar down by the docks. He has donned, as a disguise, a French sailor costume (bell bottom pants, striped shirt, jacket, scarf, and sailor hat) and a fake mustache; he sits down at the bar and orders a milk. The bartender eyes him and says, "You're pretty short for a sailor." The boy replies, "That's why they call me Shorty."

"Shorty!" Dan scoffs, "That's not a sailor's nickname."

The bartender gives the boy another suspicious look, accuses him of being that kid detective folks have been talking about, and kicks him out almost immediately thereafter.

"Well, of course the bartender got suspicious," says my little know-it-all, "No sailor is named Shorty."

"Really? You think so?" I am not convinced a) that this was the big giveaway clue and b) that Dan's nickname theory makes sense.

"Of course! Shorty is a cowboy nickname. "

"Oh. Well, I guess maybe you're right about that."

"Yeah. And Hank. That's a cowboy name, too."

I can't argue with that, not that it has anything to do with the detective.

If we ever get a pair of cats (or fish or guinea pigs), I am going to name them Hank and Shorty.

Hank Williams

Monday, August 29, 2011

Dan says

Pretending to be...I don't know. Some kind of military freelancer with a vaguely New Zealandish accent (the clone troopers have a NZ accent) and no sense of irony:

This isn't a world where people are always happy, you know. Some of them will try to kill you--destroy you. But I have just the thing for that: deadly weapons.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Chicago photos

Chicago in July. The middle of a heat wave. Ugh. But it was still fun. The photos are completely out of order, no thanks to blogger. Oh, well.

playing in the backyard

Johnny and Baachan
A quiet moment indoors

The 80-ft. long slip-n-slide, made from materials they had on hand. Who has 480 square feet of plastic tarp-y material? Someone who cut up a 480-sq. ft. plastic tarp that he used to make an ice rink in his backyard last winter: lay the plastic on level ground, turn the hose on, and freeze overnight. Then in the summertime, cut into strips, lay it on a hill and turn on teh hose. Add dishwashing liquid to make it even more slippery. Classic JC (my friend from high school).
watching a regatta on Lake Michigan from the C's beach

The beach. Perfect place to spend a 95 degree day.

Johnny and Jiji
At Homer's for ice cream.

Eating more ice cream at Navy Pier.

School at home

School at home is going well, all things considered. We're only doing about 90 minutes of actual academic work, and most of that is arithmetic drills and cursive patterns. I alternate reading books about Hawaii to get ready for our trip next week, and taking dictation for Dan's blog. I figure all the time he spends reading on his own counts, as well, so if we add that in, it's about three hours or more every day.

Here is an account of his first day up to the moment he sat down (lifted from an email because I'm too lazy to write another one):

Dan was a little discombobulated on Wednesday morning—at least, that’s the only thing I can think of to explain how unbelievably crabby he was. I took the boys to the Pancake House for breakfast to sort of celebrate not having to rush off to school, and Dan complained almost the entire time about the most ridiculous things: Johnny has new shoes and I don’t; you never let me ride in the front seat; I didn’t get a straw for my hot chocolate; the butter is melting on the pancakes; there aren’t enough chocolate chips; the sausage is the wrong texture;Johnny ’s superball is better than mine; (after throwing his superball under the seat in the car) I can’t find my superball.

Once we got home, he said, “Homeschool?” and I replied with some trepidation, “Okay, are you ready?” He cheered and gave me a hug. What a relief. We’re taking it very slowly—just a couple of hours each day of math, writing, and reading so far, and it’s going well. We’ll see what it’s like when the novelty wears off…

He was so cute that first day—he set everything up on the table (see photo): pencil, pen, markers, paper, ruler, scissors, pencil sharpener, highlighter pen, stapler, Scotch tape, and a little silver bell: “We can ring it when it’s time for recess and lunch.”

Dan's first day of school. Note the array of supplies on his left.

Today we went to a Welcome Back to School after-school park day for the boys who would have been in Dan's grade. Two of his best friends were going to be there, but I didn't know how comfortable he would be, sort of barging in on a big group of kids he doesn't see regularly anymore. In fact, he did spend the first few minutes just playing with me instead of joining his friends. He looked like the poster child for The Society of Socially Awkward Homeschooled Children, and I worried what all the other mothers would think--maybe I'm overly self-conscious, but I had a feeling that they were keeping an eye on him to see how well he'd mix back in with the old school crowd.

Exercising superhuman self-control, I asked him gently only twice, "Do you want to go play with your friend? He came right over to say hi to you, so I'm sure he wants to play with you." And I didn't say another word as my insides tied themselves in little knots of anxiety.

Thankfully, he eventually wandered over (or maybe one of them wandered back, I can't remember) and became once more a part of his favorite group of friends. Huge sigh of relief. Two of them even went with him at his invitation to a distant part of the park to climb a more challenging piece of equipment.

What's also fun is Johnny. He was sitting on my lap last week wondering what to have for his after dinner treat. He asked, "How many chocolate squares do I have left?"
"You have three, sweetie."
"Wait a sec," he murmured, and his brow knitted itself into a frown of concentration. You could just hear his little brain whirring away.
After a few seconds, he looked up. "I want two," he announced, "Then will I have one left?"
My little baby just did algebra! I thought.  3 - x = 1. I was so proud.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Midst of the Sea

And also to make myself feel better, one of my favorite pieces of poetry:

Long have you timidly waded holding a plank by the shore.
Now I will you to be a bold swimmer,
To jump off in the midst of the sea, rise again, shout, nod to me, and laughingly dash with your hair.

from Walt Whitman's Song of Myself. Isn't it lovely? Maybe tomorrow I'll quote the rest of it, as it so aptly describes what I feel like we're doing. Or what I hope we will do.

T minus 1

Tomorrow is it. The first official day of homeschooling. Because it’s the first day of Dan’s former school, so why not?

So tomorrow morning, instead of dashing around packing his lunch and snack; instead of pushing him to hurry up and get dressed/eat breakfast/brush his teeth/make his bed/get in the car or we’ll be late; instead of fighting traffic, searching for a parking spot, dragging Johhny  along to Dan's classroom and then to the PTA Coffee after the first few minutes of school,

I will wait until the town has safely parked its cars in the school parking lots and then mosey out the door with my two boys. And we’ll have pancakes and sausage at the Pancake House to celebrate not going back to school.

I didn’t realize how weird this day would seem. How wrenching it was going to be to send my “letter of resignation” to the school, officially withdrawing him. How terrified I would feel, how unmoored when I thought about his name being deleted from the roll sheet. How sad to think that his desk will be empty tomorrow, and that his friends will look at each other and wonder why he is not there.

And yet. His desk, in fact, will not be empty. There will be an un-waitlisted student sitting at it (I know, right?), with her name neatly printed on a strip taped to the top of his (well, her) desk, so each of his friends will simply assume that he is in another class.  Four families know he is homeschooling, and by the time the PTA Coffee is over tomorrow, all of his friends’ mothers will know. In three days, everyone will know.

Which is scary in a different way.

I never thought that I would be scared. I’ve been dreaming of curriculum all summer, thinking of fun things to do, interesting things to study together. I’ve been looking at math curricula, writing curricula, reading websites about whether or not and how to teach cursive. I've written up lists of what I hope to "cover" this year--course of study, what, what? I’ve been collecting science experiment stuff, binders, paper, notebooks. I’ve been reading volumes and volumes of books about homeschooling. But it began to dawn on me yesterday that despite all of this, I am totally, completely unprepared and I am just going to have to wing it. A lot. I am not comfortable with winging it.

I’ve also been realizing lately that there is so much, so much that I want to do with Dan that I can’t start it all at once, no matter how exciting it seems to me. And also that a lot of what I want to do with Dan may not necessarily be what he wants to do with me. And I’m nervous about that, too. It’s hard for me not to drive the car all by myself.

But in honor of my former teacher self, I made a little list of what I want to do this week (in a strictly academic sense). I printed out a couple of little math worksheets because I know he’ll enjoy doing them. I have a tiny little seed of a plan for the very first tiny baby step and I’m not married to it, and I feel a little teeny bit better, even though--not to scare anyone else, but--I really, really don't know what I'm doing.

Monday, August 15, 2011


Talk about the universe being on my side!

Just as I was about to walk out the door, my very good homeschooling friend called me and told me how to withdraw Dan properly, so no one gets in trouble. Wow.

Back from Summer Vacation (sort of)

First day of school is this Wednesday--day after tomorrow!

And I'm off to the school right now to withdraw Dan and declare my intention to (ulp) homeschool. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher

courtesy of
Dan was supposed to be in bed sleeping, but he stayed up and secretly finished off the book he's been reading (Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher by Bruce Coville). We found him out because at 9:30, he came downstairs, tugged on my sleeve, and motioned for me to follow him back up. Could Daddy go? No, it had to be me.

So he led me back to his room, and as he climbed up into bed, he pointed at the book on the floor. My first reaction was exasperation: "Grrrr. Dan! Did you stay up to finish the book?"
He nodded sorrowfully (guiltily, I thought), and as I started griping about how he needed to go to sleep earlier, he dove into the covers and buried his face in his pillow. Then he started sniffling.

I peered down at him. He peered back at me. Tears.

Oh, dear.

Turns out the dragon had to leave Jeremy and go back to where it came from, and the trauma of separation was too much for my sweet little boy to handle, even though Jeremy and his dragon are spiritually reunited in the epilogue. Please could I lie down with him until he fell asleep? Sniff, sniff.

How could I say no?

Must remember the weeping so that I don't freak out when he says stuff like, "I'd rather be a regular soldier than a medic. Because soldiers get to shoot people, and medics can only use guns in self-defense."

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Mouse Literature

Again, so much to write about--a lot going on over here at the treehouse--but because I don't know where to start w/o making it a laundry list, here's something completely different. Well, not quite. It involves a list. Several, in fact:

Anthropomorphic Mice in Children's Literature
(fanfare and applause)

I know, weird. But I can't shake it, so I figure I may as well write about it.

It was upon finding a novel at Dan's school library entitled Time Stops for No Mouse: An Hermux Tantamoq Adventure, that I had an epiphany. There are a lot of books about mice. A lot. I did a quick brainstorm:
courtesy of
  1. Stuart Little, of course (E.B. White)
  2. Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (Robert O'Brien)
  3. The Mouse and the Motorcycle (Beverly Cleary)
  4. The Rescuers (Margery Sharp)
  5. The Great Cheese Conspiracy (Jean Van Leeuwen)
  6. A Rat's Tale (Tor Seidler)
  7. Ben and Me (Robert Lawson)
  8. The Tale of Desperaux (Kate DiCamillo)
Then there are the movies and television shows.

What about cats and dogs? Rabbits? I decided to make an official list.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Spring Sing, Maker Faire

It has been RAINING this month. Not a whole lot, but we all know that part of the mortgage is going toward predictably warm and sunny weather in May and I, for one, am a little resentful. Johnny's school held their annual Spring Sing outside despite the rain (it was almost cancelled because there were no contingency plans in place because as I mentioned, it's not supposed to rain in May). Kids wore their winter gear and sang under a little tent.

Last weekend, we went to the Maker Faire in San Mateo, where it was also cold. Lots of cool stuff to see and do:

Climbing up a work of art

that you can pedal.

Pretty awesome. 

Same booth, different stuff to try out.
Next to the Halo costume maker booth

Johnny is tired.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Flat Stanley's Visit

An old friend of mine from Chicago brought his family out to SF for spring break, and we spent a little time with them. Their youngest son, who's Dan's age, enjoyed himself enough that we became the recipients of Flat Stanley.

(As you may or may not know, Flat Stanley is the protagonist of a series about a boy who is flattened by bulletin board and takes advantage of his new shape to mail himself places, get into and out of things ordinary people can't, etc. It has become a common 2nd grade project to mail a Flat Stanley to some faraway place and ask for photos and information to be mailed back with him.)

Well. We couldn't let AC down. So we took Flat Stanley out and showed him a good time. What a great excuse to get out and do something fun!

First the Monterey Bay Aquarium (well, we do that one fairly often, considering the distance):

Dan and Flat Stanley looking out over Monterey Bay. We often see sea otters playing by the rocks.

Johnny is tired.

The next weekend, we all went to SF, rode the cable car, visited the Maritime Museum in Marine Park, and hit the ice cream shop in Ghiradelli Square:

In line for the cable cars

At the Maritime Museum

It was kind of windy.

Golden Gate Bridge in the background!

And there's Alcatraz Island.


Hot fudge sundae at Ghiradelli Square. Johnny had a tantrum when this arrived at the table because he had actually asked for a scoop of chocolate ice cream in a waffle cone, NOT a sundae. It took him a few minutes, but he got over it.

Breezy and a little chilly, too.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Just for fun

Johnny found the photobooth icon on my laptop and we played around with it for a while. Thanking my lucky stars for curious children--I never would have touched it otherwise. 

Civil Disobedience III: The Universe is Laughing Up Its Sleeve

All of that agonizing over what to do about testing, how it would go over, how Dan would feel about it. And then this:

Dan sailed blithely through Days 2 and 3 of testing (Tuesday and Wednesday), sitting at his desk and reading the Boxcar Children series. On Wednesday afternoon, the carpool mom called to see if she could take the boys out for ice cream, since it was so hot. Okay, sure.

A few minutes later,  I got a text saying that Dan had a headache and wasn't feeling well--had even refused ice cream, a sure sign of illness--and that she'd be bringing him right home.

By the time he walked in the door, he was in tears; he had a full-blown migraine with fever, upset stomach, everything. He didn't even make it up the stairs. Just curled up on the big chair in the dark, cool downstairs room and cried.

He was still quite sick on Thursday, and on Friday he was about 85% so I kept him at home and he missed Testing Days 4 and 5. Then on Sunday afternoon, Mother's Day, just after RT left for a 5-day work trip, I found nits in Dan's hair. So Dan missed Days 6 and 7 (Monday and Tuesday) as well.

On Wednesday, he returned to school for the eighth and final day of testing.

So in all, Dan participated in testing for one day, abstained for two days, didn't even make it to school for four days, and abstained the final day. Whew! So the effect of the conscientious objection was somewhat diminished--not enough consecutive days for it to make an impression big enough for kids to go home and tell their parents. But who am I kidding--chances are they wouldn't have anyway. And I need to stop taking myself so seriously.

At least he didn't have to do the make-up tests.

Monday, May 16, 2011

So much to talk about, but

no time right now. So instead, a quote from today.

Dan (without irony): Mom, can you think of anyone in this house who's really skinny?

Um, you?

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Civil Disobedience II

And on Monday evening, after the first day of testing (actually, it was a day of bubbling in name, school, etc., and doing a bunch of sample questions together), Dan said, "I think I don't want to do the tests, after all." He asked a couple of questions along the lines of "It's not like at Hogwart's, where you have to pass the test in order to move on to third year? You don't have to pass the tests to go to third year?"

So I wrote the note to the principal, emailed his teacher, and dropped him off at school with Dragon Rider by Cornelia Funke.

Dan ended up forgoing Dragon Rider in favor of the Dragon Slayer's Academy series and the Boxcar Children series, which his teacher has in the classroom. His friends asked why he wasn't taking the tests, and he replied that his mom said he didn't have to. The standard response was apparently, "Oh."

Friday, April 22, 2011

Civil Disobedience

To demonstrate his opposition to the Mexican-American War and slavery, Henry David Thoreau refused to pay poll taxes for six years, and when the tax collector demanded payment, Thoreau went to jail for his principles. But his aunt ended up paying the money for him, and he went free the very next day. He was a little disgruntled.

My great act of civil disobedience this year was going to be to write a letter to exempt Dan from the STAR Tests in May. The STAR tests are California's answer to No Child Left Behind (now repackaged as Race To The Top). In my opinion (as well as those of many respected others such as Alfie Kohn and Diane Ravitch) they are useless and wrong and a waste of money and time. They are administered to all California public school students in 2nd grade and up, and at Loyola, the tests and the associated paperwork will take one hour every day, for eight days, first thing in the morning.

The state requires that parents be allowed to exempt their children from taking these tests. They anticipate that the most likely candidates will be parents of students with learning disabilities, and what the education folks call English Language Learners. Because it's not fair to quietly shepherd the low-scorers out and artificially boost a school's scores, if more than 15% of students at any school opt out of the STAR test, the school's overall scores become invalid. Also, schools may not encourage students to opt out.

Dan's school, with its highly educated parents, high student test scores, and correspondingly high neighborhood real estate prices, is gunning for the top. No one knows that they can opt their kid out; in fact, no one even wants to. Why forgo an opportunity to excel? Why risk invalid scores and possibly lower property values?

In a post last June, I agonized over what I would do come STAR test season 2011. I talked with two other Loyola mothers who, along with me, attended a lecture by Alfie Kohn on testing, homework, and grades (bad, mostly bad, and bad). One, whose son is in Dan's class, seemed determined to write her letter; the other was still on the fence as of yesterday.

I took two big steps towards making my little political statement:
1) Last month, I decided that I would write a letter to opt Dan out.
2) Today, I emailed the class list and told them they were allowed to opt their kids out if they so chose.

Second step first: I chose today because it's the end of the week-before-the-week-before. This should give parents the weekend to talk about it and a few days to act, and not give the administration a lot of time to react. Although as I mentioned earlier, I think most parents are pro-testing, not protesting, ha-ha. Dan's teacher even said that parents have been calling her and asking what they should do to help their child prepare for and/or do well on the test.

And now, a tangential rant: Excuse me, but WTF? A useless, no-stakes test that has no impact whatsoever on the child's education except that he or she loses eight hours of classroom time, and a huge negative impact on the education of thousands of underprivileged kids, and they're worried about how their second-grader can get a top score? For what reason? To what end? I'm flummoxed.

And back to the program: The first step, which was the reason I began to write this very long post.
I sat down with Dan a few days ago and said, "In a couple of weeks, your class is going to take something called the STAR tests. It's one of those ones where you fill in the little circles, you know?"
"It's going to take about an hour every day for eight days, from 9:00 to 10:10, and it doesn't count for school."
"But I can write a letter to Principal A and get you out of it, and you can just sit and read a book instead of taking the test...what do you think?"
He thought for about two seconds. Then, "I think I'd like to take the test."
And went back to reading his book.


Completely taken aback, I thought of Thoreau and his law-abiding aunty. Where's the fun in getting all pumped up to civilly disobey on behalf of your child--on behalf of All the Children in California, even--if your child goes all establishment on you? I mean, talk about the air going out of the balloon.

More to the point, now what? I checked carefully, trying not to ask leading questions, and his reason for wanting to take the test seems to be curiosity and competitiveness rather than self-consciousness about being the only one not taking the test.

So do I educate my child? Give him a little lecture on The Evils of Standardized Testing, Especially for Young Children? Is that brainwashing, or is it, clarifying?

Do I let him take the stupid tests, despite my ethical, philosophical, and political objections, thus supporting an institution that I really don't support?

Whose pawn will he be? Mine or the school's?

I'm inclined to let him take the darn things, but I'm not letting him do it without a little more information.

On a totally different note, it was Superhero Day at school today, in honor of Earth Day. The tenuous connection: Save the Earth. Dan, of course, agonized over whether and how much to dress up, and then subjected the rest of us to several tantrums this morning as a result of his anxiety. He eventually settled on a Batman shirt under a sweatshirt and a few other items in a bag, to be extracted if lots of kids were wearing costumes. His somewhat less neurotic friend S arrived at school as Captain Underpants, complete with a red cape around over his shoulders and a pair of white briefs over his jeans.

Saturday, April 16, 2011


On the way down from Castle Rock State Park yesterday on twisty-turny Rte. 9. Dan is in the back seat with his head buried in a book, as always:

Me: Dan, the road's getting curvy. Probably a good idea to stop reading for a while.
Dan: [Mutters something about how he's fine.]
Johnny: Why did you tell him to stop reading?
Me: Because sometimes when Dan reads books in the car and the road has lots of twists and turns, he gets carsick.
J: I never get carsick.
Me: No?
J: No. I can't read.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Other photos from March/April

The week before Dan's birthday party, it rained buckets. In fact, it rained 20 out of 31 days in March.

Dan's specially requested birthday dinner. How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is to have a thankless child...
 Chicken strips from KFC, for crying out loud
And for dessert: Dirt cups, please: Jell-O Instant Chocolate Pudding, gummy worms, Oreos
Honestly. Why do I spend time and money making real meals out of real food? 

Johnny. Notice Doggy tucked into his breastplate.

"I want to listen to my brain," he said.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Jedi Partay Redux, continued

Part II: Location, location, location
Stanford E-Quad. Perfect. Grand porticos, long, wide paths, spacious lawns, grassy knolls, ancient tree in an arena.

Part III: The best laid schemes o' mice an' men
5:00 p.m. Kids arrive; free time
5:15 p.m: Kids assemble sandwiches to eat later.
5: 30 p.m. Treasure Hunt
5:50 p.m. Eat sandwiches, unveil and eat cake
6: 15 Light saber combat instruction
7:15 Free time
7:30 The End

Part IV: Gang aft agley
Which is to say, "Often go awry"--I'm quoting Scottish poet Robert Burns, from whose poem "To a Mouse" the line comes: "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men/ Gang aft agley". (Brainy, but I can't take credit. I remembered Robert Burns and his poem thanks to its appearance in a wonderful book called The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place: The Hidden Gallery. It's the second in what I think will be a three-part series, Part III of which I am eagerly awaiting. If I get a spare hour (hah!) I'll write about it.)

But I digress. So. Gang aft agley:

Jedi Partay Redux: Tai's 8th birthday

Part I: The Cake

This year, I got to bake and frost a cake from scratch, instead of having to order a dreadful, (and dreadfully) overpriced Baskin Robbins ice cream cake featuring a Star Wars theme. All the um, wisdom literature warns us not to attach our happiness to ridiculous stuff like cakes, but there it is. In my still unenlightened mind, homemade cakes expresss All That is Good (love, mostly) and franchise store-bought cakes topped with licensed mini-figures are evil incarnate.

Which is not to say that our Good Cake was not topped with licensed minifigures. Oh, no. License upon license upon license, actually. Dan arranged several of his LEGO Star Wars/Clone Wars guys and a small LEGO military vehicle in a tiny battle scene. The First Battle of Geonosis (the Arena Battle), to be specific.

However, this flurry of licensing atop my devil's food cake with buttercream frosting (original recipe from Grandma J, who baked this cake for her children) was mitigated by the following:
  • Dan doesn't own most of the minifigures represented in the actual battle. So he improvised, figuring correctly that his friends probably didn't even know what the First Battle of Geonosis was and therefore wouldn't notice or care about the missing figures.
  • The battleship was of Dan's own design.
  • Dan arranged the figures himself at the party.

We watched a clip of the battle on YouTube

to get the frosting just right—a sort of terra cotta/sandstone color. The end result was dangerously close to pink, but since the guys on top were fighting a battle to the death, it didn't matter.

Tai's 8th Birthday

So for those of you keeping score at home, it looks like this in my book:

Star Wars franchise..…..........................................................+10 Dark Side
Battle of Geonosis (from Episode II: The Clone Wars)..….....+5 DS
With LEGOs..…......................................................................+5 DS
But LEGO's cuten up violence....................................................................+3 Light Side
And were improvised.................................................................................. +5 LS
Dan-designed starship..................................................................................+5 LS
decades-old cake recipe..............................................................................+10 LS
homemade frosting.....................................................................................+10 LS
the exact color of the dust on Geonosis....................................+ 5 DS........+5 LS for effort
Dan did all the decorating............................................................................+5 LS

So that's Dark Side 25, Light Side 43.

Up Next: Location and Letting Go 

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

How to Drive Your Mom Crazy

Be three years old and sing "I am sexy" to the tune of Frere Jacques during your bath:

I am thex-thy, I am thex-thy
I am thexthy, I am thexthy
I-- a-m thex-thy, I-- a-m thex-thy
I am thexthy, I am thexthy.

(I know, right?)
Lather, rinse, repeat until hoarse.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Why do I always have to do EVERYTHING?

I think it's fair to expect an almost-eight-year-old to shut the car door when he gets out, don't you? Because certain almost-eight-year-olds seem to think that my standards are too high.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Martha Stewart Days, Jedi training, drums

Happy Valentine's Day. Raaaargh!
Didn't get a chance to post around Valentine's Day, when we got all DIY. But here's a photo of Dan's shoebox Valentine's Day mailbox (you remember those, right?). They were supposed to make them at home and bring them to school. The only rule was no violence. And of course we made the Valentine's cards as well--little foam hearts with glowstick arrows. Okay, honestly? RT and I did most of the work. I'm sure Dan would have been happy to slap a couple of stickers on the box and buy and distribute a chintzy little $3.00 pack of Valentines from Walgreens. But I wanted to do the project and Dan let me. I own that--it's all about me and my need to make stuff from scratch. But hey, it was fun family time.

Sith Lord Darth Dan vs. Emily
Each pair in the class choreographed a routine--and each time, it was the Sith who won.

Then I made Dan a Jedi robe. First time I've ever used the sewing machine that RT got me for my birthday eight years ago. But what a great way to break it in. I measured Dan, drew the pattern on taped-together pieces of tissue paper (the packing kind, not Kleenex), had him help me design the neck fastener, the whole nine yards. My intent is to make one for Johnny before he grows into Dan's.

Dan wore the robe this week to his final "LED Lightsaber Combat" class--essentially a stage combat class that he's taking through Parks and Rec. The teacher is a fencing/martial arts guy as well as (I assume) a Star Wars fan--he's built tons of awesome LED lightsabers and a couple of blasters as well.We've hired him to do Dan's birthday party in a few weeks, so stay tuned for news and photos.

Oh, yeah. One final thing. I caved and we bought Dan a full drum set on craigslist. $200 for the entire thing, which is a bargain even I couldn't pass up. It's not a quality set--billed as "great for beginning drummers", and already dented, and the cymbals, according to reviews online, are awful. But everything works and it makes tons of noise--what more could a 7-year-old rock star wannabe want?