Thursday, April 30, 2009

Book out!

That title is meant to be kinda like, "Rock out!" but what with 'book' inserted instead... but instead it looks like I'm proudly exclaiming that I have a book out, which is misleading... but quite dreamy....

Anyway, the spoils of a late night lust-a-thon with Amazon arrived today... you know how I was rattling on about The Toy Book by Steve Caney recently? Well, I discovered that he actually written three more books, and I ordered them all. That's right, once again Amazon had it's way with me, and I was powerless to resist.
I know the kid on the cover of Kids' America looks psychotic ( I would urge them to reissue this with a different cover photo) but it's got SO many great ideas for things to make and wonderful games. And the building one... it really is the ultimate. If your kid likes to build, don't hesitate... you need this for your library. I actually haven't received the Invention one yet... but I'm pretty cotton pickin' sure I'm gonna love it.

I also ordered American Elf 3 by James Kochalka ( I DO love American Elf SO much!!) and Studs Terkel's Working: a graphic adaptation by Harvey Pekar (of American Splendor... which of course I also love... and wow so much America today!) but I'm just going to read 'em real quick and then send 'em on to my bro for his birthday, 'cause I regift like that.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

My Antonia

Well, she's not really mine, but I just had to say that.

Antonia is a beautiful genius that came to visit me recently. When I was nineteen, lo these many years gone by, I moved in with her family to nanny her and her brother... mainly Kilian (who was 2) really because Antonia was 9 and I only saw for a few hours in the afternoon. She was so fun and smart and creative, it was so much fun when she got home.

So fast forward oh, only about fourteen years (choke! gasp!) and we've long been out of contact, and Antonia called me up out of the blue to say she was actually in Austin visiting a friend. I can't really explain how emotional it was to see her again but of course you can imagine. Nannying is intense; I really loved these kids, and we shared such a significant part of our lives. And then when it's time to move on, what are you to each other? They're not your kids, and they're more than just your friend... is she my kiend? She's my friend, but I also feel so much pride and extra-special interest in her development... and may I just say that she has turned out so extra-specially FABULOUS. Not that I take credit for this AT ALL, but I don't think you could exactly credit her ma and sorta strange growing-up environment, not really the most nourishing or stimulating environment as I know she would freely admit, I credit only Antonia for making herself into a straight-up awesome individual, nourishing her own inner brilliance, however it was that she did it. She's tall (really tall!) and beautiful as you can see, and super funny and confident and wants to own a goat and lives in Chicago and has a blog called the veganesque life, and, get this, SHE'S A NANNY!! The nannied has become the nanny. I can't believe it. And she totally loves her kids, too, it was obvious by the was she spoke of them. This factor also contributed to making the visit extra perfect, because she was so so fun and cool and played with my kids. Like really played. You know that thing, where you reconnect with an old friend or are hooking up with a new friend or whatever, but they don't really know about kids, and they're just kind of awkward and tuned-out about the young ones and it's all uncomfortable.... well, as if I didn't already feel warm and fuzzy enough, well, now I'm just a puddle of mush on the floor for Antonia. I love you Antonia! Move to Austin, raise goats in the hill country, seek out your culinary adventures (how a vegetable-loving vegan (esque) person came out of that house where all they ate was wheat chex, mac and cheez, and pepperoni, I'll NEVER know....), play with my kids, be my kiend!
Hmmm, that word doesn't seem quite right... how about child +buddy = chuddy? Be my chuddy? No.... how about this. I'll be your fun, young(ish) aunt.... that seems about right.

Now when I reconnect with 18 year old Kilian, my mind will REALLY be blown....

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

frugality tips for (economically) trying times

On some blog or another these last few months I encountered this oh-so-very simple idea... one week out of the month, don't go grocery shopping as you normally would. Use up all the old odds and ends you have on hand. I thought this was so brilliant (maybe you'll think I'm insane for not thinking of it/knowing of it before) but have still just been sitting on it for the last few months, not putting it into action, because it is oh-so-very much easier to just buy the snacks that work and the bits and pieces for meals that occur to me and push the other accumulated bits and pieces to the back of the fridge. That is oh-s0-very not depression-era of me (as I always say my mom still is, and of course my grandma was...) AND Matt's mom just left from a wonderful visit in which she always inspires me by using absolutely everything and letting nothing go to waste. So anyway, I am giving it a shot this week. It's actually been about 9 days... I just been stretchin' my brain to use up the stuff that's in the back of the cupboard and I feel quite frugal and savvy. We've been out of bread for awhile now and I'm realizing how much we lean on this glutinous staple... but I just made some bread tonight, made biscuits a few days ago, might even try my hand at tortillas because those do come in handy for wrappin' up those rice and beans... I've never been able to bake bread before but then I found this glorious book Artisan Breads in 5 Minutes a Day and all of a sudden gorgeous golden-brown crusty loaves were flying out of my kitchen like you wouldn't believe. Almost every time I opened the oven, whether I'd put bread dough in there or not. It's that fast, people. Believe it. And just do a search on the ol' internet before you buy the book, I'm sure you can find the recipe instead of shuckin' out twenty bucks in these economically trying times.

My third and final tip is did you know that you can add use 2-4 tbsps Borax and put some white vinegar in the rinse compartment as an alternative to dishwashing detergent? So say the anonymous they out there on the internets. Haven't tried it yet, but I'm gonna. If my dishwasher blows up after I've directed you all to try this unproven method, I guess it will serve me right.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Always Lots of Heinies at the Zoo

The new kids book by East Village Inky author and my hero(ine), Ayun Halliday: Check it out!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Some fun books for warm weather

I'm kind of an kid-activity book aficionado by now, so I'd love to share with you the best books I've found for having fun outdoors. There's so many out there that are either just a rehash of the same old tired ideas, OR, they're simply just a bunch of baloney. These I found very inspiring. Though I've never been able to roast an egg on a stick as the Go Outside! book advises. I've tried it twice, and it exploded both times.

Here's to Science!

Making volcanoes and digging for earthworms with Eliza, Fiona, Liam, Bruno, and Anna! Thanks so much to Sarah Bradley for these great pictures.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Fun and easy homemade toy

I got this idea from the fabulous Steven Caney's Toy Book, which I found at a thrift store a few years ago and on which I based almost my entire Toymaking Camp that I did last summer. I never did this project from the book, however. At the time, it seemed too hard, now I'm all about hammering and nailing and all that business. Anyway, we're going to be doing this in my carpentry class that starts this weekend. It's really simple and entertaining. This first one pictured is a fancied-up version that you can buy from Germany in a nice wooden toys catalogue. The second is obviously my more rough-and-tumble version, but it works. I had a big bag of those wierd little elastics that I once used many moons ago to weave potholders, when I was a kid (remember that?) but I actually think rubber bands would be better, they're stretchier. You could get some colored ones. This would be a great gift for a birthday party and your kid would love making it, I betcha. You could sand and oil the board and pretty it up a whole lot more than I did. You can also play a game where each person takes a turn stretching out a band to form a triangle. No band may overlap another triangle. The last person to successfully form a triangle without overlapping, wins. There's probably lots of different games you could think up with this thing. You could also make some cards with different designs on them, and challenge yourself or others to match the patterns.... the sky's the limit.
A board with nails pounded in it and some rubber bands, who'd a thunk it. Have fun! I'm kinda obsessed with it, myself.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The kids were cute at Dottie Jordan park

This is our second visit to Dottie Jordan park on Loyola off Springdale, and we enjoyed it quite a lot. There's this fantastic creek that runs all through the park and then wanders off way out deep into the neighborhood... we went on a little adventure following it down as far as we could go. We got stuck at one point because the creek was too wide and deep and we couldn't make it around. And also there was a woman quietly observing us from her yard who informed us that we were on private property. Jack was quite surprised that we had been 'grounded' as he kept saying. And I don't really know about this private property business, I thought the middle of any body of water could not be possessed. Anyway, there was quite a lot of creek that was for sure-ly public domain so went back up there. Much of this creek bed and cliffs are made of that soft soft shale that shatters easily, and you can even break it with your hands. I think this is the perfect place to come if your kid has a lot of anger or tension... just bust up rocks and kick and spit for as long as needed.

I absolutely love where I live but I really lust for one of these houses that backs up to the creek. I just think that would really be the life, for a kid... bust out the back door after school, go down to the creek and play all up and down it with your friends. So fun.

A pretty perfect date with my biggest boy

Although I'm a little nervous about making my dates with Jack (age 5.5) too candy-centric, how could I not take him to Big Top Candy Shop when I knew he would love it so? He was really cute, he didn't attempt to over consume like the quintessential kid in a candy shop, but instead carefully inspected the vast array of enticing treats, including so many very very nostalgic items(for me) (Big League Chew anyone? Or candy cigarettes (in a real cigarette machine, no less)? Oh how much more nicotine-positive the seventies/early eighties were...) and in the end picked out some Bubble tape. Even that was nostalgic for me, that was the kind of thing my brothers would get and I'd think, what are they, crazy? Bubble Tape? When you could get Pop Rocks or a licorice rope? Or better yet, a licorice pipe (more nicotine)? Anyway, we went for a little stroll down S. Congress while he nibbled on his delicious tape and checked out this hot rod show that was going on... all these gleaming, lovingly refurbished, outrageously decked-out, beauties of cars and jalopies and roadsters. Amazingly enough, after all that excitement, we were still full of vim and vigor so we went over to Bookpeople to browse. In this way also he was totally angelic and in no way cajoled or needled me to buy anything, we were just there to read books and explore. Though if I were Daddy Warbucks I would've bought these two books pictured here, I lusted after them earnestly but the last thing we need in this packed-to-the-gills house is more books. Books are one of the things we do not have in short supply.

Of course then I broke my own rule and decided to buy something... we got this Mad Libs Junior... and it was really $3.99 well spent for all the hilarity it has brought. A line like, "My parents let me sit by the window so I could fart during the flight" is worth $3.99 all by itself. It's comedy gold. It's like one of those 'priceless' credit card commercials.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Superhero suits and a home for the worms

Gramma Grubb arrived from the wilds of Pennsylvania and brought with her two homemade superhero costumes for these superhero-obsessed young men. Since I am loathe to lay the storebought ones upon them ( I don't even know why I bother to resist, or bother to care as it's just a passing phase and a sure-enough harmless one at that) I tempted her with this pattern I found on Etsy. This way they look super cute and since I'm the one who mainly has to look at them, I won't mind if they wear them ten thousand days out of the year.

In other news, we made a home for some worms (who were probably pretty satisfied with their living situation before we pried them from the cozy mud) in my science class on Thursday, but that was pre-rain and we were a little low on worms so Bruno and Jack and I had another little dig for some wormie friends to add to our collection. We found a whole bunch so when our friends return next week for class we'll be able to observe hopefully a whole lot of tunnels and earthworm activity. This earthworm observatory is very easy and fun to make. Add pebbles to the bottom so if too much water is added it will be able to run to the bottom, worms don't like TOO soggy of an environment. Now layer sand and soil 'til you get to the top, then top it off with a handful of dry leaves, because that's what your worms like to eat. Set your worms right on top and they'll burrow their way down right before your eyes. Tape a piece of paper around your jar.... that way the worms will venture closer to the side as it won't be too bright. And you will be able to observe their wormie rendez-vous when you remove the paper to check in with your pals. Spritz with water and add new leaves if necessary and set them free within a week... enjoy your time with your invertebrate friends from the underworld.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Pemission to Play: GRANTED

I've been reading Lynda Barry's fabulous What it Is, as I've mentioned before. I'm also all about my li'l paradigm shift for this year, "24 hours a day of love and play".... and trying to figure how to do that, and what that means. I just read this little jot in the back of the Lynda Barry book, "Play for kids is what creative concentration is for adults". That really rang true for me... though I don't think it would apply to all adults... but I've just been thinking about this all a lot these last few days. About how somewhere along the line we gave away our right to play. And then we forgot how. I mean, how to really really REALLY play, the way we see our kids do. No one has to tell them how to do it or what to do, if it's time to play, they just go to it. I want more of this in my life! More freedom, more time to just mess around, really have fun, with no particular end point or outcome in mind.

I am also a lucky, lucky gal these last few days, because I have these fabulous in-laws, that unfortunately live rawther far away and we only see them once or twice a year, but when they do come, hoo boy, watch out, because Kami is going to go to town. With extra hands to help out with the housework and the childcare, I really do get a taste of that delicious freedom I've heard so much about. Yesterday I got to go out to coffee by myself and I ended up working more on that zine I started at that workshop last week... I spent two hours deliciously immersed in a completely pointless and insanely fun project... I felt like I had time to make mistakes, try new things, do things that might come out stupid lookin'... I had so much fun I can't even tell you. I don't even know the last time I've been so absorbed, so totally gleeful. I ended up going out AGAIN in the evening, to a coffeeshop, for more of the same, then even continued back at the house after the kids were abed... just so much fun.

I feel some trepidation, that after the in laws leave, I won't have permission any more to be stupid, mess around, have fun, and do what I want.... but I tell you what. I'll give you all permission, if you give it to me.

Everyone's mom said it was OK to go out and play! Now go!

Friday, April 17, 2009

I recommend this flick

I was remembering recently about this film that I enjoyed so completely when I saw it last year... I'm ready to watch it again. Time to add it to the queue.

I let my boys watch the trailer, was that wrong?

Monday, April 13, 2009

Easter was Awesome

As far as Easters go, it was a good one. The kids didn't turn their noses up at my homemade treats (Henny liked this bunny I made, and wanted to nurse on the button eyeballs), there was just a little bit of sugar to make it sweet, not too much sugar to make it psycho, and we spent the afternoon out at this new spot I found on Bull Creek, which is a little farther up 360 than where we usually go, and I think it's just heavenly. There's actually this wide flat expanse of rock bed with a thin sheet of water coursing over it and teeny tiny little fishies to chase, so perfect for little kids to splash around in, and then this sculpted slippery cliff you can ride down like a water slide into a deepish pool down below, and a rope swing as well if you're into that sort of thing. More my sort of thing is following the creek down as it meanders through little islands of rocks and huge gnarled sycamore roots and forms tiny little ponds and mini-waterfalls to play in, the sun shining gently down through the sycamore leaves so it's not even too sunblisteringly hot down there, quite dappled and shady, and this all surrounded by the kind of carved-in rock cliffs that are brilliant for climbing. I won't lie that I didn't have a heart attack at times about my kids scampering up and down but gee those boys are good climbers. I almost always have complete faith in their ability to gage the safety of a situation though sometimes even I felt faint when it was a long drop into a shallow pool down below.

After it all, we had supper at Waterloo Ice House on 360 right there. You can eat outside right next to a big playground and sand/dirt pile full of trucks and sand buckets and shovels. The food's not too excitingly great or anything but still it was one of the most painless dining out experiences we've had in the last 5 years, that's for sure.

Friday, April 10, 2009

A good Friday

In my Art 2 class today, we studied pastels and of course had kind of an Easter theme. We painted and drew as we always do, and then for our snack we had honeydew, cantaloupe, and watermelon (the most pastel snack I could think of, without resorting to Jordan almonds!) and read this beautiful book The Egg is Quiet... oh yes, we also played with cascarones, and then we made Ooblek. Sometimes I just hate mixing it up on these toddlers who are quite content with the playdough that we almost always make at the end of each class but luckily everyone seemed to enjoy the Ooblek, which for those of you don't know is a very freaky and fascinating (and non-Newtonian) substance... all it is is cornstarch and water, and it's so cute to see the parents also can never resist getting in there and playing with it too ( I need to have a toddler art class for parents, someday!)... Ooblek is almost always an ace in the hole, so keep a box of cornstarch in your pantry and whip it out on one of those groggy and grumpy afternoons for an exciting and entertaining diversion.

Of course my own children are immune to my tricks, how unfair is that?? Jack was home from school today, so after the class I invited him and Bruno back to play with all the fun stuff I had out. I'm still struggling with figuring out how to do art and have fun with my own children. Jack especially seems to like to up the ante quickly beyond my comfort level for mess and destruction. I think I did pretty good today... I felt relaxed and present (probably calm and centered from being with my sweet and gentle and attentive little toddlers) and I rolled with it as we moved quickly from Ooblek to adding baking soda to splatter art to foot painting. Probably all within about ten minutes. Sigh. Still, I'm just glad we were doing art at all. It's a big struggle for me that my kids aren't that interested in art... and that they're just so much about action, energy, movement. Even ten minutes when both our interests collide... that feels good to me. I'm aiming for more connection through making and creating and playing together in the future... I'm going to try some of these projects from Future Craft Collective... I'm really grateful to them for acknowledging that it's not always easy-breezy to art or craft with your own children... as some people might have you think... yet still are saying yeah it's fantastic when it DOES happen so here's a cool innovative way to edge towards that end.

In other news, I found this awesome book at Terra Toys, Treehouses and other Cool Stuff: 50 projects you can build. I am a voracious consumer of books like these, any books brimming with exciting ideas and projects for kids, and just when I think I've exhausted the oeurvre, a book like this turns up. Those of you who have been to my house know we have no need of a tree house, but a go cart, exploding cannon, and zip line? Yes, please!

This book is a great companion piece to Howtoons, which to my mind is the perfect book to give any kid between the ages of 5 and 17. The projects are smaller and more accessible than in the one I just told you about, and it's written in a comic book style so the kids just devour it.

Hmm, I'll have to share with you all some of my favorite books for the kids and the activities, especially with summer on the horizon. I'll save it for another post. To bed!

I also watched Demetri Martin: Person last night and laughed quite a lot. Recommended. Kami seal of approval.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

How refreshing!

I just returned from a zine workshop at Domy Books a la the Austin Book Arts Meet Up Group. It was so totally up my alley I can't even believe it. I was a little worried about the whole 'zine' thing... would 'zines+Domy books= too hip for me? But no, not at all, just your average grab bag of folks from all walks of life, who all like messing around with pens and paper and scissors and glue, and I was like, "Dudes, that's what I like doing TOO!" Seriously, it felt SO good to me. I think sitting down with a table full of art supplies and no specific goal in mind should be a daily or at least weekly thing for me... ideally... and yet it seems very nearly a yearly event... when you're a busy parent and time is such a precious commodity it seems like you want to know what the outcome will be if you're going to invest the time and energy... yet just messing around, 'thinkering' if you will, replenishes the well from whence all great ideas spring... and other great things spring from that well as well (that spring as well?)... peacefulness, playfulness, live-lovingness... bonding with cool friends (thanks Emily for turning me on to this... and hats off to Kiera for making it through the whole thing whilst juggling baby Ari, MASTERFUL!)... a general sense that all is right with the world...
meet me at the next one if this sounds appealing, or invite me over to make valentines with you any time of the year, and I'll be there, OR just do yourself a favor and remember that creativity breeds sanity. Or something like that. I just made that up, but it sounds about right.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Attack of the blue baboon

I was at Savers a few months ago and there was this gigantic spool of shimmery blue-green bias tape that I just couldn't pass up, despite having no use for it. Since then it's become detached from it's spool and formed into a gigantic tangle, and so far this is the only use we've found for it.

Free to a good home!

Handmade Easter

I'm thinking of making this a no-junk-from-China holiday, as well as a no-candy-of-mysterious-origins holiday (though I have always wanted to do a marshmallow roast with a Peep, just to see what happens) (though there's plenty of research about that here). I've also got zero bucks this holiday season, so it's also a no-cute-stuff-from-Terra-Toys holiday, too. I did already spring for this adorable bunny pattern. I think I'll make some sugar cookies in the dead of night and use them as the sweet treat. Though I've always had a fantasy about one of those big hollow hard-sugar eggs that you peek inside to see a little scene... I don't know if I've ever seen one of them in real life, but I read The Country Bunny and the Little Gold Shoes about ten million times growing up and I do love it so, and that's what she brings the little boy at the end. Instructions to make one are here, if I get it together to give it a go I will let you know, stay tuned.

Though perhaps I should just continue to take advantage of the fact that my kids aren't a hundred percent aware that Easter is ALL about the sugar.... that surely won't be the case for very much longer...

Monday, April 6, 2009

Spinning top!

My pal Doerte came over today to work on some projects for our upcoming Woodshop for Children class. We did this project from Jack McKee's book and it was dazzlingly easy, once we had the proper tools. The project called for a hole saw, which is a drill attachment that you can buy at Harbor Freight on S. Lamar. I actually got a whole set of hole saws of different sizes for around 7 dollars, I was rather pleased. So once we had this, we discovered that not only would it quickly saw out a perfectly round circle of wood, but it would drill a hole in the center at the same time. From there, all you must do is cut a thinnish dowel to your preferred length, sharpen the end to a dull point with a pencil sharpener, push it or pound it through the hole, sand, oil, and/or decorate as you please, then spin spin away!!

A very satisfying and fun project that introduces some cool skills like sanding and drilling.
Oh and I must add that Doerte is drilling in the background of this video, the top is not making that sound!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Stop me before I blog again!

I just created what I swear to you all will be my third and final blog. I'm a bit blog-crazy and never thought I would be but man, it does feel nice to get to shout my views out into the wilderness and be met with either polite silence or encouraging comments.... whoever knew I had so much to SAY. I'm really just a monologuist at heart.

This time I'm collaborating however... it's I'm collaborating with my friend Laurie Kemp. It's going to be awesome... check it out!

Afternoon at Johnson's Backyard Garden...

... which is actually a huge organic FARM now. Do you know the story of Johnson's? When we met them, the lived a few blocks down the street from us on Holly. A lot the same size as ours, similar house, and yet... they were using every last inch of their yard space for a garden that supported 20-something CSA members. I was so blown away when I met them and realized that here was a true urban farm right in our neighborhood. Brenton had dreams of bigger and better though and scads of energy to do so (even WITH four children AND a FT job!!) (He's since quit his job and is a full time farmer) (still has the children, though) so they moved out to 20 acres out behind Callahans, which to my mind is still most definitely an urban farm, it only takes me about 10 minutes to drive out there. And we always have SO MUCH FUN when we go. Beth and Brent have Lila, who is, um, uh-oh, I just forgot. Either 8 or 9. Then Drew, 5, Ada, 3, and Jimmy, 1 1/2, so there's a playmate who will match up with almost any age. Beth is so nice and welcoming that she'd probably love to have you out to visit, so if you're interested just email her, or come on out to their Open House on April 19th from 4 pm to dark. Bring a dish to share and your own place settings. More info here. They throw the best parties... the Onion Creek Crawdaddies are playing, and there'll be tons of great food and frolicking under the pecan trees. Last time there was even a barrel roll race! Meaning, one person was IN the barrrel while the other person pushed, and then two by two they all raced... that sounds a little sick-making to me, but Matt (my mate) seemed to enjoy it. He was IN one of the barrels... stout stomach, that one.

Anyway, just a note as to these pictures, apparently an armadillo had been visiting their pecan orchard in the evenings as of late... we went out to visit him and he was surpisingly not very skittish and we all got a really good look at him. Actually he freaked me and Beth out because the kids were ahead of us and went right up beside him and suddenly we realized we had no idea what kind of behavior an armadillo might demonstrate if feeling frightened or threatened... would he eat one of the children? Scratch or bite? This one just calmly waddled away, through the fence onto the neighboring property. Adios, dillo friend!