Friday, July 31, 2009

Clunkers and other stimulus ideas

So I looked into Cash-for-Clunkers and I found my '97 Suburban would qualify (duh). I could get the full $4500 if I spent $20,000 on a new car.

Or I could just keep the truck and save $15,500. It would take a while to spend that much on gas.

If we got rid of the truck, we couldn't loan it to our church youth group to haul kids to activities. There would be more cars on the road. We couldn't help people move furniture. They would have to spend money (stimulus?!) to rent a truck. We wouldn't be able to help out a friend whose kids need a ride home from daycamp next week - she's in the hospital on bedrest during a difficult pregnancy. Not many people can add 3 more kids to their vehicle.

Anyway, there are other things the government could stimulate me to trade in.

How about bookstore vouchers for trading in books? We have some boxes of old sci-fi paperbacks I'd be happy to get rid of. Extra $ if the traded-in books are politically incorrect? But I guess there might be books I want that "they" wouldn't want us to have. I need a new copy of Huckleberry Finn.

Could I trade in my crummy Revere Ware saucepans for some new All-Clad?

I'm sick of my living room furniture, and it's getting worn out.

Lots of potential here!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Who's watching the kids?

A family returning home from a trip leaves their sleeping child in a cab. They remember after being home for a few minutes; the cabbie is called, the girl found and returned home. The parents are not angry with the cabbie, in fact they give him a big tip for returning their child. All's well that ends well. Except...

The cabbie gets suspended - then the suspension turns into a warning and a reminder that he is supposed to check the vehicle after every fare.

And the parents?

Police would not release the names of the parents but said they were not being investigated.

No child neglect here? No endangerment? The cabbie is more responsible than the parents? I wouldn't expect prosecution or punishment for the parents, but: were they given a warning? Were they put on notice that they need to be at least as careful as the cabbie with their belongings? Were they asked to pay the cabbie's legal fees (he had an attorney with him at the suspension hearing) since they are the ones who forgot their own kid in his cab and caused his problem in the first place? I don't necessarily think there is anything wrong with the fact that the parents are not being investigated; I think there is something wrong with the article. It's incomplete. What about the parents?

I guess I've done my share (or more) of dumb things as a parent. I've never left a child in a cab, on a train, or anywhere else a parent shouldn't leave a kid. I don't understand how that can happen. It just seems impossible to me.

At least the parents aren't suing the cabbie for his neglect. That would really be something.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Fiddly keys and teachable moments

Our boy has reached the age when he needs his own housekey. He's not out and about alone much, but every now and then he comes home from a camping trip while we're at church, or has to walk over to his Scout patrol leader's house for a meeting when I need to be out. So, we got him a new key.

As sometimes happens, the new key doesn't fit into the old lock perfectly, so we have to fiddle with it. I hate fiddly things, but I put my old reliable housekey on his ring and took the new one. Better that I have to fiddle than he does.

Recent events got me thinking about his coming home alone and having to mess around with an ill-fitting key. In the fall when he might walk to Scouts with another guy, and come home after dark sometimes. I doubt we'd be away from home, but what if we were? What might he look like to the elderly lady across the street - this 5'5" tall boy (he'll be 5'7" or more by fall, the rate he's going), standing at our front door, struggling to get the door open?

So the new key gave us a teachable moment (har dee har har). We talked about what to do if he came home alone and the police knocked on the door. We related, without getting into details, the story of a man arrested in his own home after police were called about a possible break-in. We talked about the unlikely chance it would happen to him sometime, but that it could - because anything could happen. We asked what he should do if an officer asked him to come outside. Our girl smartly (as in smart-alec) interjected "ask if he's got a search warrant!" OK, well... he's not asking to come in. Do you go outside? How do you know it's a real cop? Why would he ask you to go outside? How would you prove you live here since you don't have a photo ID? Why should have have to prove you live here anyway - isn't it enough to say "this is my house?"*

We don't want to scare our kids. We know the chances of such a happening are so slim it's probably not worth thinking about. But, unexpected things happen.

It's an academic discussion, mostly. The circumstances of such an occurrence just don't happen. But, we want our kids to know what to do if something ever does. Without giving them nightmares.

*Even a 12-year-old sheltered homeschooled kid knows that a police officer who has been called to investigate a possible burglary can't just go away if a person standing in the house says "yeah, I live here; go away now."

Sunday, July 26, 2009

My new favorite homeschool resource

Last week my Boy Scout came home ready to work on his first merit badge: Space Exploration. He had a booklet to read and a 6-page worksheet packet to complete. There were questions to answer about the history of space exploration, space pioneers, and rocket parts and functions. He had to draw a diagram or make a model of an inhabited space base and describe how it would work. Design a mission to another planet. It looked like a lot of work, and he had one week to complete it. (The short time frame has to do with the upcoming summer camp, at which the boys working on this badge will build and launch rockets.) Along with the questions, the worksheet packet included a list of websites to use for additional research.

This boy does love to read and learn about space (and many other topics as well), but does not like to write, and the thought of filling out those worksheets by hand was very daunting. I started looking around online, and did I ever find a treasure: Boy Scout Merit Badge worksheets. Worksheets for all 100+ Boy Scout merit badges. Stuff for Cubs and Webelos, too, though I didn't really look at that. Printable as .pdfs or Word documents.

Whew! My boy was happy to learn he could type his up. Still a lot of work, but not as tedious as hand-writing it all. I was happy to find this great resource. The worksheets are free printables. The booklets are available for less than $5 from the Scout website (and, maybe, Scout stores).

Now I'm dreaming of the ways I could use these as study guides for various topics for both my kids. (I looked around the Girl Scout website but couldn't find anything comparable.) Art, Bird Study, American Heritage, Citizenship, Chemistry... lots of great stuff to study.

My Scout is also working on his First Aid badge, and while his leader is not requiring the worksheets for that, I am. He needs all the opportunities he can get to improve his written communication skills. It's an area in which he struggles. But this is a great way to combine two "subjects." Compare assignments: write a book report, or write an explanation of the proper way to treat a shock victim or devise a splint in the wilderness. For my kid, anyway, there is no comparison. If one of the goals of the assignment is getting a child comfortable and proficient in composition, grammar, punctuation, and spelling, the result is the same. (If literary criticism is a goal, go for the book report.)

Of course a Scout working on a merit badge has to have a leader on board and use the official Scout booklet to work on a badge. But I think a non-Scout who wanted to use a worksheet as a sort of "study guide" for learning about a particular topic could do without the booklet, though the two I've seen have lots of great information and are pretty cheap. The worksheets I've seen include links to useful websites, and of course most kids have their own books, library books, and google at their fingertips for their own research.

Sometime back I'd heard about a homeschool mom who keyed her curriculum to her Scouts' badge work. I didn't really understand that at the time. Now I get it, and as I've looked around the 'net the past few days, I see other homeschoolers have had this idea long before I did. I'll give my Scout all the time he needs to work on his badges. Besides learning about the topics themselves, all the writing required is going to help him more than any "language arts" curriculum I could toss his way.

Let's see, I think I'll start my girl on the Dog Care, and then go on to Nature. Hmm... maybe I should work on Home Repairs and Gardening myself...

Friday, July 24, 2009

Without further ado, I bid you adieu...

No, I'm not going anywhere. But after my last post I'm still feeling a bit peevish, I guess. So, without further ado...

I guess it's always been fashionable to toss French words or phrases into the conversation. But "adieu" is not French for "ado." So why do I keep seeing "without further adieu..." in blog posts?

If I am in the throes of cleaning out my closet, I might throw everything onto the floor. If I am in the throws of throwing everything on the floor, I think I'm in trouble.

Allot/alot/a lot: I love this explanation. Looks like a great site all around. No, we wouldn't say "alittle" so why do we say "alot" when we're talking about how much time we spend online?

Irregardless of what you may think, regardless is the word you are looking for.

What are your word peeves?

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Would we let our kids get away with this?

A discussion on a new homeschool board I've been reading hit a pet peeve of mine: poor grammar and spelling in blog and message board posts. One woman wondered if it bothered others as much as it bothers her. Of course there's a lot of misspelling, bad punctuation and bad grammar out there. (She wasn't and I'm not taking about the occasional misspelling, misplaced apostrophe, or wrong their/there/they're, but a posting full of errors.) People don't always take the time to proofread, or don't care to. I know I miss mistakes even when I try to proofread before hitting "send" or "publish." Of course it's worse when trying to be quick about it.

The general consensus seemed to be that it's a bit troublesome but in a casual setting, when people are often in a hurry, it's understandable and we should just let it go. I was surprised by a minority who felt that in the setting of message boards, etc., they don't care, are just relaxing and "being themselves" and so didn't worry about it. I don't see part of "being myself" as writing in a such a way that it's hard for others to read, but OK. I get that sometimes people just don't want to spend the time and effort to edit.

I wondered, but didn't ask, if these same folks would accept that from their kids. Would they want their homeschooled kids posting and blogging using grammar, spelling, sentence construction, etc., that made them look uneducated? Or worse, stupid? I think they'd be embarrassed. I guess I hope they'd be embarrassed.

Do they not get that people considering homeschooling read their message boards too? And people who are skeptical about it, or against it altogether? Do they not see that readers might wonder about these homeschooled kids - or their mothers - who can't spell or punctuate?

It's particularly troubling to see in posts and articles about the superiority of homeschooling. I can just hear the snorts of derision as homeschooling skeptics read those. Like it or not, homeschoolers who engage in discussions in the public sphere are held to a higher standard of scrutiny than parents of children who go to school. It may not seem fair, but it is: we are the ones saying that we don't need the school system; we are taking responsibility; we are competent. More than competent: we are superior, many say.

The more we allow ourselves to be lazy, the lazier we will get. This is especially true of our kids who are still learning and building their skills. If we say that good writing habits don't matter in some venues, eventually they won't matter anywhere at all.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Feels like fall...

Rainy and 65 here in the west Philly 'burbs.

Back to school sales on school supplies at WalMart. New glue sticks! Actually they were all gone, but we scored some new Sharpies. And I realized that I don't need crayons anymore!

I love fall. I love school supplies.

Ah... if only it would last through August. Well, both. The weather and the sales.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Is your marriage cool enough?

The other day something made me think of a long-lost friend, someone who just faded out of my life and whom I miss. And I remembered a conversation we had early in our relationship that maybe had something to do with why she let the friendship go.

She was telling me about a friend of hers in the neighborhood and said (this is almost a direct quote): "she and her husband have a multi-cultural marriage; it's so cool." Now my friend, too, is in a multi-cultural (bi-cultural?) marriage. So the implication, intended or not, was "your white-bread marriage is not cool."

I should point out that we lived in a very blue area of Oregon then; multi- or bi-cultural marriages were very common. Our circle of mutual friends probably had more "mixed" marriages than mono-cultural ones. So it wasn't like she was in a tiny minority and was thrilled to finally find someone more like her family. There was plenty of "validation" for bi-cultural marriage. I think she suffered from "white guilt" and was just trying too hard to be less white.

Now I didn't take offense at that, really. The conversation moved on. I couldn't think of what to say; I'm just not quick-witted. I should have pointed out that I am in one too: he's a good ol' Georgia boy, and I am a Yankee. We've had our share of bi-cultural struggles too. I almost didn't survive my first exposure to southern hospitality on a multi-state meet-n-greet tour the year before we got married. And I didn't think he'd call me again after the Thanksgiving celebration with my family, when my brother smashed a piece of pie in my niece's face - in the most loving way, of course - followed by a forced viewing of "Cabin Boy" in which people took turns talking over the movie, and turning up the volume to hear the movie.

Anyway, for some reason I was thinking about what makes up a "cool" marriage. And I decided that the coolest marriages I know of are the ones where the spouses love and respect each other, share the same moral, ethical, and religious values, and honor their commitments and obligations. So I guess my marriage is pretty cool. Even if we're just two boring white people.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Tough day

My boy was out all day today (8 am - 10 pm) at an amusement park with our church youth group. His first words on returning home were:

"I'm so hungry! I didn't get enough to eat! The food was so expensive!"

He asked for a burger. I don't serve burgers at 10 pm (I need him to sleep tonight and not have nightmares) so offered toast, yogurt, cottage cheese... he ate some of everything. Then, nearly in tears (OK, I exaggerate a little) he said "And I never got any sweets either!" He'd been looking forward to a funnel cake but ran out of money. He handed me a wadded up, damp dollar bill and a few coins. "This is all I have left!"

I handed him a brownie and apologized for not sending enough cash along with him. (He doesn't have many opportunities to earn money of his own, and I never have cash on allowance day, so we keep accounts in the Mom bank.) I had thought $23 would be enough. That didn't have to buy his ticket, just food, and a locker for the water park, which turned out to cost $5.

After he got ready for bed he came to say goodnight, feeling around in his pants pocket. Suddenly he made a disgusted sound and pulled out some money: $7. "Oh no! I had enough money all along!" Turns out he had divided his money between 2 velcro pockets in his pants, so that if something happened to one bundle, he wouldn't lose it all. Then, he forgot to check his other pocket when he ran out of money.

That's my boy!

Saturday Review of Books

It's been a long time since I even looked at the Saturday Review of Books. Sometimes it seems like I read about books more than I actually read the books themselves. I also had a goal to put a review in every week, but that would require finishing a book every week, so... But today I put in my thoughts on Down the Long Hills. Of course there are many, many book reviews to be found.


The other day I learned that a homeschooling acquaintance of mine is hanging up her homeschool-mom jumper - in the fall all of her kids will be in public school. Her family's usual educational plan had been to send the kids when they reached middle school, but the last child is going in at 4th grade.

(Let me just be clear before going on: I don't have a beef with parents who quit homeschooling and send their kids to school, public or private. I assume parents who do so have carefully considered their options and made a decision based on what's best for the family. Educational choice is what's important.)

This bothers me a little, though it's none of my business. I don't know their reasons, and it's not up to me to ask. It bothers me because I worry about their youngest daughter. She has a few problems that aren't likely to be solved by going to public school: she is rude to adults, sneaky with other kids, participates in juvenile behavior (throwing unwanted food behind a door in a classroom and defying another child who suggests she pick it up is just one recent example). I was told by one of my kids recently that this girl, when challenged, says something like "this is just my personality." She seems to be the unsocialized homeschooler that people fret about.

As far as I know, she has no issues such as Asperger's Syndrome or other. She is pretty much what we used to call a brat. But I don't think it is necessarily malicious; she just seems never to have been taught.


Last night my family got together with some neighbors: a family and two widows who live on our street. One of the widows is a particular favorite of my girl; they have long chats about cookies and crafts and all sorts of other things. Watching my girl talk to her, and play with the little girl of the house (who is too young to be much fun), my mind wandered and I thought about her interactions with adults, her poise in social situations. I realized that I get a lot of compliments on her demeanor. At church she is always ready to help with simple tasks (much more so than at home, but then we are talking about social behavior here). She tries to help little kids get their food at the snack table, and will clean up after someone else when needed.

In other words, she is well-socialized.

Now I am not taking credit for this so don't call me a braggart. My girl has more poise in social situations than I ever had. Maybe even still. My mother was shy and awkward socially and so am I. I can fake it sometimes. But I'd rather not have to, mostly. (Most people don't notice that except for close friends, I rarely invite just one person or family over - always at least two. That way the burden of conversation does not fall on me.) Her natural poise came from Daddy's side of the family. Of course we taught her how to be a good guest and how to behave properly with others. We taught her to shake someone's hand when offered and how to look adults in the eye when speaking. Nature and nurture, working together, as always.


So how does one homeschooling child become well-socialized while another doesn't? Because it's not about the homeschooling. It's about personalities and parents helping to shape their child's. It's about the family. I never had to teach my kid not to hide muffins behind a classroom door rather than throw them out; apparently some people do. She may have a natural instinct for proper social behavior, but if it wasn't there, we would have taught her how to behave. (Notice I am not extolling my boy's natural instincts here.)

I hope this girl heading off to 4th grade is successful. I'm sorry she didn't get a good basic education in social behavior before she goes. I wish I didn't have a bad feeling that things will get worse for her before they get better.

Friday, July 17, 2009


Because of something one of my blogging friends wrote, I added a subscription button. It was a lot of work, mainly because I am clueless and often don't see what is right in front of me. (I just said that so you will feel sorry for me.)

So, there is a subscription button on the sidebar. Go ahead and subscribe! Then you don't have to check back to see if there is new content* - you'll get email letting you know.

Unless, of course, you want to check the Astronomy Picture of the Day anyway. Or should I go back to the puppies?

*OK, assuming you think there is ever real content.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Down the Long Hills

As soon as I saw this comment about the Louis L'Amour book Down the Long Hills, I requested the book from the library. I'd never read any L'Amour books, and generally don't like westerns. But, there's no investment other than time in a library book, so...

This was a really good family read-aloud. It's not a kids' book (was in the adult fiction section in the library) but since it's about a couple of kids, it's a natural. A young boy and girl traveling in a wagon train are out of the camp when Indians attack. (I am using the word "Indians" as that is the word used in the book.)  They are the only survivors. The boy knows his father is waiting for him and makes his way west with his good horse and the little girl. In the meantime, his father (a widower) learns about the massacre and the chance that his boy is alive; he and some companions go searching for him. Also in the meantime, an Indian gets his eye on the boy's horse and attempts to get it from him. And, there's more. It's very exciting and had my kids asking me to read more when it was time to stop. I'd find it at my place at the kitchen table in the morning - a not so subtle hint to read, please.

My kids really loved this book. They agreed that it was unlikely a 7-year-old boy would be so savvy in the wilderness. But, it was not completely fantastical and was a good story anyway. The were fascinated by the descriptions of the men reading the trail, observing signs and tracking the boy's progress.

The book is not the least bit politically correct; there is no sympathy for the oppressed Indians forced to attack the wagon train. It's bloody. I did a little editing on the fly as I read aloud. I would not hand this off to a child, even one who has read all the Harry Potter books. It is not fantasy.

I wish I still had the book so I could quote a passage. The perspective of the story alternates between the kids' journey and the father who is looking for his son. At one point the father thinks about how hard he has worked his son all the boy's young life. He has a moment of regret that the boy had not had more fun in his life, more leisure time. Then he realizes that because of the boy's hard life, he is better equipped to survive his journey in the wilderness.

I don't know if I will seek out any more Louis L'Amour books. Maybe my kids will when they are older, if they remember this one. This is probably one to buy to have around when they are ready to read it on their own.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Mad moms at the library

The last two times I've visited our local library - yesterday and today - I saw some really bad behavior on the part of a couple of moms. My daughter saw both events; my son saw one.

Yesterday: A mom is sitting at a computer. Her kid is bothering her. She takes him into the kids' area but it still annoyed with him and doesn't really do anything to help him. Like, help him get some books to look at. She finally, and loudly, removes him from the library amid threats of punishment and various deprivations.

Coincidentally, a man walks up to the circulation desk with a stack of cds, no library card and no ID on him. The librarians decline to check out his cds. He walks out.

As we leave, we see the mom just outside the library door, still yelling at the kid and smoking a cigarette. The cardless man goes over to her. She angrily dumps her purse out on the sidewalk and looks for something, throwing each item back in as she looks. (My daughter tries but can't exactly tear her eyes away.) The man goes back into the library, but comes out again, empty-handed, as we drive off.

Today: A mom is sitting at a computer in the young adult area. Her preschooler is on the couch next to her, with nothing to do. He comes over to me as I look for a book, and asks me a question I can't understand. His mom tells him sharply to go sit back down. He asks for a book. She tells me "you already had your chance to get a book." The kid is about 3. You had your chance?

A few minutes later while we are waiting to check out, we hear loud wailing. The woman is mad now and taking the kid out the door. When we get to our car my kids tell me that she was holding the boy by the torso, halfway upside-down and telling him to stop moving his legs before he kicked someone. They were upset, shocked by this. They agreed that I had never been that mean to them (though they allowed that I can yell pretty well), and certainly never at the library.

Now we have had our bad moments in the library. But I've never seen anything like this. The library is supposed to be a safe place; a quiet place. Fun, but not loud fun. When my kids got out of control, we quietly left. Once we left behind a big stack of books and Thomas the Tank Engine videos. We walked outside and sat on a bench. The boy was crying. As we sat there calming down, a grandma-type came over to me. She'd seen the whole exchange: the misbehavior, my request for compliance, the refusal, the setting down of materials, the quick exit. She didn't say much to me. I just remember this part: "You are a good mom. You did the right thing." Of course I would remember that part. That kind of encouragement doesn't come every day.

When my kids were little I longed for time on my own in the library. I never got it. Occasionally I might have had a minute for browsing if I loaded the kids up with picture books and sat them in an aisle next to me. But it was short. Mostly I requested books online and picked them up. I got a lot of duds that way, but it didn't matter; I just took them back on the next trip. We have rarely gone a week without a library stop, so it's always been easy enough to get new books. (Whether I had time to actually read them once home is another story.)

A mom of young kids has no business expecting to get anything done at the library except spend time with her child(ren), enjoying books together and (if possible) separately.

The time of out-of-control kids at the library is very short. So very short! I have reached the time that I can leave my kids and go to my own areas without a thought about their behavior. They wander around the whole place now: my girl to the adult crafts section but the kids' fiction; the boy to the oversized books, the young adult area, and, just recently, to the adult area for books on aviation and war. They come to me when they're ready to check out. I do still keep track of their cards - they live in the library bag.

Of course I don't know why these women were at the library. I couldn't see what they were doing on the computers. Maybe they were looking for jobs, or a home. Who knows what kind of pressures they are under? But still. You don't make the library a battleground.

Contrast this with the dad of a very noisy toddler. This child did not like the library and let everyone know it. His dad patiently took the boy outside. When we left, we saw him calmly walking around with his little screamer in the parking lot. I met his eye and smiled, trying to convey "been there, done that." I guess it worked because he smiled and rolled his eyes. He gets it.

It's not that hard to get, really. The library can be a magical place for a child. Love of books can be grown there. Don't wreck it for them.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Sewing again

Sewing used to be a necessary skill for a woman. The nobility learned fancy work; the regular folk learned to make garments. I learned both back in the dark ages of public school when Home Economics was on the required classes list. Now sewing is pretty much optional for most people; a luxury of time they don't have. I find it odd that sewing clothing is now considered a "free time" activity even by most people who enjoy sewing, have some skill at it, and can make practical items.

A few years ago I was talking with a group of women, all mothers with daughters, about my desire to make some clothes for my girl. One scoffed at me, saying clothing is so cheap it doesn't make sense to take the time to make it. She suggested thrift stores and garage sales. I commented that I just never seem to find good stuff at thrift stores, and she agreed that it takes a lot of time: going frequently (or being first at the garage sale) because good stuff disappears quickly, examining the clothes carefully, picking through unsorted piles and racks.

Hm, I thought but didn't say: why is spending all that time shopping better than spending it sewing? I can make a dress pretty cheaply. Oh, not garage sale cheap. But a pattern can be reused, and 2 yards of fabric will make a girl's dress with leftovers for the doll. I usually buy fabric when it's about $2 a yard, patterns at about $3. (Though as I peruse sewing blogs I'm seeing all sorts of patterns not carried in the stores, and they are intriguing, though more expensive.) Thread, interfacing, zippers, trims add to the cost, sure. But it still doesn't have to be expensive, and I'd much rather spend the time with my daughter sewing the garment, teaching her, than going from store to store trying to find appropriate clothing.

Because, you know, the clothing in the thrift stores is mostly the same clothing in the department stores, and most of it is not what we want anyway. It's hard for a girl who doesn't like sequins, beads, sparkles, or words on her clothing to find anything in the stores. This is not a good time to be a preteen girl with a sense of modesty and a desire for pretty clothes. Of course opinions on that differ. But most moms I know agree with me that the offerings in the stores, except high-end merchants like Lands' End and Hannah Andersson, are pretty bleak.

So, we try to sew. My old Home-Ec skills are a little rusty. I avoid zippers when possible, though I can install one that works and looks OK if it's not examined carefully. I'm going to learn now to make buttonholes by hand. Ever since I ruined a jacket back in 1992 by using the buttonholer on my machine (badly) I've been scard of them. But this spring and summer we've made a dress, a tiered skirt, a pair of shorts, a sunhat*, a patchwork tablecloth, and some pajama pants. Today we're cutting out another dress.

My girl helps me, some. She pins a little, but it's tedious and she gets excused after a while. Then she comes back to help cut for a bit. Once the actual sewing starts she will run a few straight seams. I do most of the work. OK, just about all of it. But she is nearby working on her own little projects, jumping in to help when she can, chatting with me. She has a supply of fabric scraps and can use the machine. So she makes little purses and things for her dolls and generally putters in a sewing sort of way. So she is gaining skills too, and soon she'll have the patience to pin, mark, and cut out a whole dress.

*The sunhat was made from a free Simplicity pattern a friend alerted me to. (The photo is from the site; that's not me or my girl.)

We used some leftover fat quarters from some planned but never-executed project. I adjusted the pattern by making the crown a little shorter and the brim a little bigger. It's a great sunhat and not too hard to make. I recommend practicing with some cheap muslin or other scrap fabric before attempting the real thing. I have some old curtain linings I use for that purpose. A worn bed sheet works well too. I guess we could have used the sewing time to shop at garage sales and thrift stores, but this was a lot more fun.

Thursday, July 09, 2009

My favorite party

Last week we had my favorite party of the year: the church picnic in our back yard.

Every summer a few families host a Wednesday-night picnic and the whole church is invited. This is not as scary as it may sound; our church has about 45 family units. Since a lot of seminarians attend the church and they tend to be young and either childless or just starting to have babies, we don't have a lot of large families. So, we're not inviting hundreds of people into our back yard.

This is the 2nd year we've done it. Last year there was the extra excitement of a hard rain shower in the middle of the party. We have a big back yard, but a small house. Some die-hard kids stayed outside in the rain, and the men hung around the grill as the burgers were coming off. But mostly we were elbowing each other in the living room and kitchen. It was a blast.

This year we had perfect weather. And a new volleyball net. It was a great night.

There are several reasons to love this party: it's a chance to get together with friends, and with people we don't know well. Even though it's a pretty small church, last night more than one person told me how glad they'd come because they spoke to someone they'd never met before. Even adults get comfortable in their relationships and have a hard time with new people. But it's different at a picnic.

It's different for the kids, too. Our church doesn't have a playground or grassy area for the kids to play. They just hang out after church, eating snacks and waiting for the parents to be done chatting. At the picnics, they can play. For boys especially, this is so much better than sitting around talking.

And for me, it's the easiest party of the year. We provided the hamburgers, hot dogs, bread products, plates and cups. Everyone else brought salads, side dishes, desserts and drinks. Since I don't grill, my work was pretty much done when I left the Costco parking lot. Yes, we happily serve Costco burgers and Ball Park mystery meat hot dogs. Everyone loves the burgers and at 50 cents a pop, they are affordable for a crowd.

It is a little tricky figuring out how much to buy, since it's open to the whole church. We know everyone won't come, but... how many will? As of Wednesday afternoon I had 44 burgers, 32 dogs, and 32 each of the types of buns. I had a moment of panic and sent the seminarian out for another 8-pack of hamburger buns. Good thing - we used all but 3. You can say I'm weird, but I know the Holy Spirit told me to get those extra buns.

So, it can be a little nerve-wracking: how many will come? Do I have enough food? Do I have too much food? That last is never a problem, of course. We'd have been happy to have more frozen burgers left over; the boy would eat one or two a day if allowed. Extra buns can be used for sandwiches, cinnamon toast, garlic bread... or frozen for bread pudding or crumbs.

Leftover desserts were portioned out and sent home for sampling the next day. Or that night after the kids went to bed, maybe. We try to send home the leftover pop but ended up with a few partial bottles.

Next week we'll go to someone else's yard and do it all over again.

"Do you have a cell phone?"

That's the question my boy was asked by another boy he met at soccer camp this week. I guess they hit it off and this kid wanted to pursue a friendship after camp was over. (I could be guessing wrong but that's all I can surmise. Maybe he just wanted to compare phones.)

Afterward I thought it was an odd question. How about "can I get your phone number so maybe we can get together sometime?" Or something similar, in pre-teen-speak.

But this was specific to my boy's own cell phone. When he said no, the other boy didn't respond. So mine said "see you tomorrow." Now my kid isn't a genius when it comes to social skills, so he didn't think to say something like "no, but we have a phone. Do you want our number?" Maybe he wasn't sure if that would be OK with me. This is new territory, meeting potential friends outside of church, scouts, or the family.

Later on, I was talking to a friend about her teen son's personal cell phone use. They had made him leave it home during a social event, and her son, she said, was suffering from withdrawal. He was just very uncomfortable without access to his friends. She also commented vaguely about the cost of all his texting and their need for a new phone plan.

I thought, but didn't say, that a new phone plan wasn't on the top of her needs list.

Now I am very happy to have a cell phone, and we have been thinking of getting another one for the kids to take when they're away from us. It is really nice to be able to get in touch with someone anytime. My kids aren't away from me or their dad enough, on a regular basis, for them to need one all the time. At a scout event, there's always a dad who will be happy to let a kid make a call. If they were in school, or otherwise frequently out and about unsupervised, sure, I'd get them one (though I'd prefer not to go the expense till it's necessary).

So I've been thinking about this fairly new social phenomenon of people having their own personal communication devices. If someone calls my cell phone, they can be pretty sure only I will answer. They won't have to hear an unfamiliar voice and ask for me. They will either speak to me, or to my voicemail. There's no awkward moment of not knowing exactly who has answered, or what to say to them, or how much small talk is expected.

Of course kids would much prefer to be able to contact their friends directly. I remember calling friends and feeling so awkward if the dad answered. I was an awkward kid anyway, but I'm sure not unique in that way. How nice it would have been for Eddie Haskell to call up Wally without having to chit-chat with Mrs. Cleaver first. And of course it's easier to cook up some trouble over the phone if it's likely that Mrs. Cleaver doesn't even know that Wally is talking to Eddie. Or texting him. From the privacy of the bedroom or the basement, not the kitchen where the house phone and mom are.

Yeah, I know, I'm stuck in the '60s.

Anyway, I wonder about the social skills of this generation who never has to endure the torment of saying "Hello, Mrs. Cleaver, this is Eddie. May I please speak to Wally?"

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Economics lessons in the game aisle

For a long time my boy has wanted a Monopoly game. I loved Monopoly as a kid but wasn't looking forward to the marathon games. But, my girl and I looked at them while we were in WalMart the other day. I was stunned - the price was $21 and change. Forget it.

Then the boy, who'd been looking for at soccer stuff, came over and pointed out that the game was $10.48. Huh? I saw my mistake: The $21 game was the Star Wars version. Oh, and there was a Littlest Pet Shop version for $20-something too. (I hadn't known of Littlest Pet Shop. My girl described them to Daddy later as ugly little animals with really big heads. He asked if they had really big eyes too, and she said yes, they look like Bratz pets.)

Anyway. I asked them if they thought it would be worth it to pay more than double the price of the game for a toy- or movie-related version. They looked at me in shock and said no. The implied "you idiot" was unmistakable if not verbalized. They ranted for a minute about how stupid it would be to pay so much extra for a different version. I heard the words "licensed characters" in a voice dripping with contempt.

Yes, I was proud of my children.

Of course we bought the game. And they spent 3 hours playing it yesterday afternoon. With no arguing!