Tuesday, January 29, 2013

QT with my cutie.

Last week I got a call from the parent's day out down the street where Finn's been on the waiting list for almost a year. A spot had finally opened up and he was next on the list. If we wanted to enroll him twice a week, he could start right away.

This was exactly what I wanted. At least, it was several months ago when I was an overwhelmed new homeschooler. I kind of wanted it a year ago when I signed him up. Enough to fill out an application but not enough to look for another option when he didn't immediately get in.

Still, when I got the call I thought, "Woohoo!" Because what stay-at-home-mom isn't jonesin' for a little me time? But it's more than that. This is one of the preschools Liam went to and when it was great, it was really great (he still misses it). I'd love for Finn to have a few hours a week with kids his own age and I actually think he would really like it. 

Bill couldn't disagree more. He thinks sending Finny to school at this age sounds like torture. "Remember when Liam went when he was this little? He cried every single day and hated it. It's not fair. Please don't make us do this."

"But he's not Liam. He's Finn! He's so much more social. I honestly think he'd like it!"

And I do. Sort of. Because he is really outgoing and social. But if I'm honest, he's only really like that at home or with people he's already warmed up to. I forget this as often as I remember. Almost every single time he holds back in a social situation I'm surprised. I could swear he's my wild child and yet, here he is, clinging to my leg.

So he's not wild. He's imaginative and quiet and will sit and play with little toys (or "statues") for insanely long stretches of time. On New Year's Eve at our neighbors' house, he entertained himself with the little pieces in the advent calendar for most of the night. Seriously. No wonder some of our friends call him Zen baby. He's the most chilled out little guy since Liam!

But he does really like to play with kids. Preferably six year olds but he can definitely make an exception once he gets to know kids his own age. Like the kids at Monday morning story time. Those kids are really starting to become his friends!

Which is one of the reasons I was pushing to enroll him once we got the call. He's so cute doing the parachute and singing "Wheels on the Bus" and sharing toys with his new friends. Why wouldn't he like preschool? 

On the other hand... if it ain't broke, why mess with it?

Our Mondays and Wednesdays are great now that we've found our groove. Monday I drive carpool for Liam's science class and then Finny and I go to story time together. Just the two of us! This is something I didn't know if I'd ever get to do once we started homeschooling and now that we have it, I'm not about to give it up. Wednesdays I don't drive carpool so Finn and I are free to do whatever the heck we want all morning long. He basically bosses me around for 2-1/2 hours. "Come here, Mama. Play with me. Sit there, please." It's one of the highlights of my week. 

So we let his spot go to the next kid in line and will think about maybe enrolling him next year. We'll see what Dada has to say about that...

Tuesday, January 22, 2013


Have you ever seen the Wilderness Downtown interactive video? If not, you should check it out. Right now. Just click on the link and follow the instructions.

I'll wait.

Well? Pretty cool, right?

If you weren't able to see it, I'll give you the gist (although, obviously, major spoiler alert). You type in the address of your childhood home and then sit back to watch an intensely stirring video for the Arcade Fire song We Used to Wait. Why is it so stirring? Because the whole time you're watching someone run, like he's lost or looking for something, and at the end of the video he finally finds it.


Your home.

The home you grew up in.

The first time I saw it I had no idea that's what I was looking at. Google Maps took the guy to the wrong house (go figure) so the setting was strangely familiar but I didn't know why. When I finally realized what I was looking at, I understood why the video felt so heavy. Where we grow up holds a lot of weight.

Our homes are a part of who we are. This is true for all people but I think especially true for children. Where we sleep and play and grow, the streets we ride our bikes on, the trees we know we can climb, the shortcuts we use to get to the park or our friend's house, the spot in the backyard where we know no one can see us. These things mean something.

And it's not at all what they mean to us now that we're grown up. My home is still a major player in my life story but in ways that probably don't mean diddly squat to my kids. I think of my home in terms of design and investment and security, whether it's working for our family's needs, what needs to be fixed or cleaned or moved around. I love it but in a different way than my kids do.

Maybe it's because they just kind of show up and live where they live. They don't get to choose neighborhoods or throw their two cents in regarding yard size or the number of bathrooms. They don't have a lot of say in the matter at all. Even when they do (ahem, random things taped ALL over our walls...), they really don't. Because their home is not exactly theirs.

Except it totally is. As much as this is my house or Bill's house, this is Liam and Finn's childhood home. The place they will someday remember with heavy hearts because it was just such a huge part of their lives. Like a character in their story. Like me. Or the dog. Or the neighbors. We're all completely intertwined right now but someday we'll all just be different pieces of each others' stories.

Which is why it makes me happy that even though I get final say on paint colors and who sleeps where, my boys feel one hundred perfect confident that this house is their HOME. No question. I love that they will remember it in ways I will never even experience.

It's why I secretly love getting out of the shower just in time to see Liam walking down the hall with a hammer (because he's turning his room into a forest). Or come down the hall to find Finn laying under the piano bench on his tummy, chewing gum he found in the cabinet. It's why I don't break my neck trying to keep things too perfect. Wild adventures rarely happen where messes don't.

It's also one of the reasons I try to remember to stay out of my kids space when I can. I'm thrilled to be a part of their story but I want the story to be theirs. So someday they can look back at their childhood, at their childhood home, and be flooded with memories that are authentically their own.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

The fussiest cookie recipe I've ever followed: "The Thin" by AltonBrown.

Last weekend, Liam had a friend stay the night. Sometime after we sent them to bed but before they started wandering out to sneak paper and tape from the office and tell us about whatever it was they were doing (like NOT sleeping...), we decided to make cookies.

Always a good idea at 11:00 at night.

I looked up the Trader Joe's recipe online because I've used it before and the cookies turned out great. But we started improvising (like throwing in oats and coconut oil just because...) and, although the dough was fantastic, the cookies were just so-so. Actually, if I'm honest, they weren't good at all. They were sort of puffy and just tasted kind of meh. We still ate them, of course, but complained after every single bite. It was a damn shame.

(I'm so glad I had the foresight to the sneak a few spoonfuls of dough to Liam, "just in case it was the best part." Because it totally was.)

Needless to say, Bill's craving for chocolate chip cookies was not even kind of satisfied. So a few days later he announced he would be making another batch. This time, he did his research.

He decided on "The Chewy", one of three variations by The Food Network's Alton Brown. He remembered this episode from years and years ago when we had a TV in our room and would wile away the night watching sub-par cooking shows in bed. I remembered the episode too. Only I was pretty sure it was "The Thin" we were after, not The Chewy. Only one thing to do. To the Internet!

After the boys and I watched the entire episode, I was more convinced than ever that The Thin was the way to go. And since I was the one doing the baking, thin was in.
2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 egg
2 ounces milk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 sticks unsalted butter
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
Ice cream scooper (#20 disher, to be exact)
Parchment paper
Baking sheets
Heat oven to 375 degrees F. Sift together the flour, salt, and baking soda in a mixing bowl. Combine the egg, milk, and vanilla and bring to room temperature in another bowl. 
Cream the butter in the mixer's work bowl, starting on low speed to soften the butter. Add the sugars. Increase the speed, and cream the mixture until light and fluffy. Reduce the speed and add the egg mixture slowly. Increase the speed and mix until well combined. 
Slowly add the flour mixture, scraping the sides of the bowl until thoroughly combined. Stir in the chocolate chips. Scoop onto parchment-lined baking sheets, 6 cookies per sheet. Bake for 13 to 15 minutes, checking the cookies after 5 minutes. Rotate the baking sheet for more even browning. 
Remove the cookies from the pans immediately. Once cooled, store in an airtight container.
We followed this recipe exactly (minus the parchment paper and ice cream scoop). I even mixed the dry and wet ingredients in separate bowls, something that usually seems like nothing more than a waste of dishes. The result? Totally worth it. I have been sick on cookies for two days and haven't complained about a single bite.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The art of the thank you.

When it comes to saying thanks, I think we can all agree that there's nothing wrong with short and sweet, provided you get right on it. A simple, "thank you!" for a compliment is perfect. A sincere email or text for a gift sent in the mail? Right on. An actual phone call? Step aside Mother Theresa, there's a new saint in town!

For me though, there's nothing like a real, honest-to-goodness, thank you note. The snail mail kind. This might sound very Emily Post of me but I can assure you it's less about trying to have perfect etiquette (never gonna happen) and more about personal choice. I like paper and stamps. I enjoy writing notes. I almost always prefer sending it over saying it.

Thank you note - Christmas 2007

The problem is this: remember when I went on and on about sending all my Christmas presents just a little bit too late? Well, it's not just presents I have a problem with. It's a lot of things. I am WAY better than I used to be (like crazy better, holy smokes!), but procrastination still jumps up and bites me far more than I'd like it to.

The worst thing about putting off until tomorrow what I clearly should have done two weeks ago is that the longer I wait, the harder I have to try. A small but thoughtful gesture on the front end (a birthday card received on one's birthday, a small bouquet of hand-picked flowers when someone is having a bad day...) is worth ten big fancy gifts after the fact.  

Thank yous are no exception.

So what could have been a quick note on store bought stationary now feels like it has to be a something kind of special. Something that explains why it took so long to send.

Rather than printing pictures or using some kid art as cards (my typical go-tos), I decided to try a little something different. I took a picture I loved and turned it into a coloring page (I got the idea from our neighbors who did that for their Christmas card this year - instructions here).

Then I made the pictures into cards and had the boys color them for me. Voila!

Oh, and there was one more very special thank you...

Our good friends gave Finn a bunch of little horsies which he absolutely loved (he was insanely cute this year with the presents saying things like "Oh yeah!" when he'd tear off the paper).

The night after he got them we went out for a bit and when I texted our babysitter to see how things were going she said, "Things are great but we had to mourn quite a few horsies..." We just kind of laughed like, "Well, dogs will be dogs..." but when we got home we couldn't believe the damage. It was an all out massacre! Every single horse except ONE had been eaten. The boys were bummed of course but also a little bit like, "Well, dogs will be dogs..." The whole thing cracked me up so much I had to make a commemorative thank you:

Friday, January 11, 2013

A good answer to the question, "Why do you homeschool?"

A mom posted the following video on our homeschool listserv the other day and said she refers people to it when they ask her why she homeschools her kids. "Short answer: so my extremely divergent thinker will retain that skill instead of being forced into convergent thinking."

Sounds like a pretty good reason to me.

Plus, I'm a big fan of Sir Ken (check out his TED talk, "Do schools kill creativity?" below) and am blown away that anyone can illustrate like that. Wow!

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Let's dance.

Last night's after dinner dance party started off just like any other night. Finn finished eating, grew tired of whatever Spotify radio station I'd chosen for the evening (Tom Petty most likely), and started pointing at the computer shouting, "Afro Circus! Afro Circus!"

It's maybe the worst song ever but when a two year old makes a request you kind of have to grant it.

So we danced, like we always do, until Bill stepped up to the laptop to share some of his favorite music.

It started with David Bowie, thanks to the big news of the day that rather than retiring from music or knocking on death's door like people have been speculating, he's actually been recording an album all this time. The first single was released yesterday. On his 66th birthday!

From David Bowie, we went to Queen and then skipped around a bit before landing on a Siouxsie and the Banshees song. Bill let out a sigh and said, "I remember listening to this in my room with all the lights off and incense burning. Isn't it dreamy?"

Without skipping a beat, Liam started shutting off lights while I pulled a couple sticks of nag champa out of the hutch in the kitchen (thanks, Santa!). And so began our most epic dance party to date.

There's just something about a dark, smokey room that takes things to the next level. We danced to Cocteau Twins, Suede, Catherine Wheel, Jesus and Mary Chain, Bauhaus, Love and Rockets, Peter Murphy, Morrissey, Dead Can Dance...you name it.


That's one of the only videos that turned out (what's up with the weird size, iPhone?). Because the rest were taken in the kitchen or living room where the only light was coming from the laptop screen or the tip of a burning incense. It was the first time Finn got to hold his own stick and he LOVED it. "I'm drawing, Mama! Wook! Dada, come ere. I'm drawing! Wook..."

Liam's been around the block a few times with both incense (since bugs don't like smoke he takes a stick with him when he goes outside to play on buggier days...) and Bill's musical teachings (if you haven't read that post or it's been a while since you've seen the video, I HIGHLY recommend you check it out), but that didn't stop him from having the time of his life.

We all did, actually. But if I had to guess I'd say that Bill had an especially awesome night. It was kind of like we had all jumped into his old bedroom with the music blaring and the incense burning and just kind of got it, you know? Got him. Like all those years where he maybe felt alone or different or whatever kids feel just totally made sense to us. As soon as the music starts we're just like, "Yep. Totally. No need to explain. Let's dance."

And so we did. We danced and we laughed and I laid on the floor trying to take photos while Finn drew pictures in the air and the house filled with smoke. Then 7:30 rolled around and we turned the lights back on and aired out the house put our babies to bed. Until next time...

Monday, January 7, 2013

Game on.

Growing up, we didn't have video games at our house, so as far as I was concerned the notion that they turn kids' brains to mush may as well have been a cold hard fact. My brain was still intact and I never played video games...sounds pretty true to me!

I bet my sister the scientist couldn't read that without rolling her eyes.

But I can't help it. I'm not a scientist. I'm more of a go with my gut, facts schmacts, that looks kinda cool let's try it, kind of gal. I mean, facts are fine and all but they only tell part of the story. At best. Sometimes - gasp! - they're not even true.

Video games are no exception. Do you have any idea how many highly intelligent people are doing very serious scientific research on the effects of video games on kids? Like, a lot. And they've found strong evidence supporting just about everything you could imagine.

So are video games the way to make a better world or just a fast-track to obesity, social isolation, violent tendencies and an inability to distinguish fantasy from reality?


Confused yet?

Add to that all the other potentially credible sources - the blogger whose son learned to type by playing Minecraft on the computer; the Facebook friend who swears video games gave her nephew ADHD; the smart, beautiful, outgoing and successful friend who claims to have spent entire summers holed up playing Zelda - and it becomes abundantly clear: we have no choice BUT to decide for ourselves.

My gut used to tell me there was no way I was going to let my kids play video games. But then I actually had kids (no quicker way to change everything you ever thought you knew!) and Angry Birds came along and suddenly I realized there might be more to these silly games than meets the eye.

And now? Now that the floodgates have opened and the Wii and DS have become a permanent part of our lives? I couldn't be happier. Really! Because when I watch Liam play some of the games he likes (lots of different Mario Bros, Donkey Kong, Kirby, Big Brain Academy - hey, if it involves the Wii it counts as a game - Pictionary, Wheel of Fortune...) I see a kid who can strategize, multi-task, learn from his mistakes and persevere until he masters whatever it is he's trying to accomplish. He reads each manual cover to cover and if he still gets stuck, heads to YouTube to do some research. Don't tell Liam but all that gaming looks WAY harder than anything we're doing in school.

And as for the social isolation bit? Please. Liam might be well on his way to becoming a full on gamer (oof, still hard to say that), but I can assure you, he's not going alone.

Because the way he plays, video games are a group sport. When he and his buddies play their DSs (or 3DS XLs as he can't help but correct me every single time I say it...), they play TOGETHER. They can link up and play the same game at the same time but usually they just sit right next to each other and take turns playing and watching. It never takes long for them to power down, change into costumes and run outside to play "live action Mario" on the trampoline.

He plays Donkey Kong with Dada (and easily schools him every time...), does Wii Fit with me (way more entertaining for me than doing it alone!), and prefers most of his games with an audience (aka, Finn).

And this past weekend, Liam took his social video gaming to the next level.

It was a meeting of the Mario Masters, a championship Liam came up with after seeing how good some of the grown ups in his life are at old school Mario. Contestant number one was Uncle Erick (or should I say Doctor Uncle Erick) who actually started this whole video game frenzy a few summers ago when he introduced Liam to a Batman Lego video game at his house. And contestant number two was our good friend Meredith (aka, the kid who played Zelda all summer long and yet still managed to grow up to be awesome and not at all socially awkward!).

Liam has been talking about pitting them against each other for months, and was so excited that we could finally make it happen. Can I just say, it was such a fun night. The Mario Masters took the competition very seriously (which meant a lot to Liam and was completely hilarious to watch) and did everything they could to defend their title (short of laying off the wine, of course). In the end, Doctor Uncle won by a hair. His prize? A trophy! But since Liam is a loving and generous little guy ("and everyone did a great job working together and taking turns"), he made one for Meredith too.

How lucky he is to have such strong role models in his life. And how lucky I am to have walking talking examples of what (selectively chosen) video games can do to (highly intelligent, mentally stable) kids. No amount of research or facts could give me peace of mind like that.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

New year, new routine.

Happy New Year, y'all!

Rather than making a load of resolutions this year, I'm just trying to take a good hard look at where I've been so I can reassess some things before moving forward. Okay, I think I literally just described new year's resolutions. But I swear, this feels a little nicer. Because instead of making a list of the top 20 things I have to do to make my life not suck (isn't that kind of what resolutions feel like?), I'm just taking a friendly look at my life to see where I can tweak the stuff I already like or don't like.

Top of my list - er, things I want to reassess? ORGANIZATION. Not just my house, which I can assure you is about four closets shy of having a place for everything, but my whole entire life. I need some structure. A routine. Something I can rely on to give all the different parts of my life (marriage, motherhood, home schooling, cooking, relationships, writing, exercise, art, etc, etc, etc...) equal room to breathe and grow.

The reason I can't just continue to roll with it even though I honestly like rolling with it is because I'm so crazy bad at multi-tasking. Not just bad; incapable. I just can't do it. If I'm unloading the dishwasher and the phone rings, I have to choose - answer the phone and speak to the person on the other line or continue putting away the dishes. I absolutely CANNOT do both at the same time.

Pretty sad, right?

But I guess it's better to know my challenges so I can work around them than to keep letting them sneak up and hijack my life.

So, attempting to multi-task OUT; a more organized routine IN.

This obviously means I'll have to place limits on things like poking around on the Internet and checking Facebook. Because if I can't pull myself away from putting cups in the cabinet long enough to hear what my friend just said, you can imagine how sucked in I get with an iPhone.

What it doesn't mean is that I'll have to completely walk away from the Internet altogether. I'll just have to enjoy my blogs and Instagram pics and Scrabble apps in a more intentional and organized fashion. Quality over quantity.

And I have a great idea for how to make that work for my blog!

I'm going to call it Tuesdays with Maggie (at least, that's what I'll call it in my head...). Every single Tuesday for the entire year I will publish a post to my blog. And with keeping with the whole quality over quantity thing, I'll do my best to make sure each post is something I feel good about posting. Quantity OUT; quality IN! (Not that this blog has ever suffered from a problem with quantity, but you know what I mean...) If time permits and I can post more than that, great. If not, also great!

So, anyway, that's the plan. The plan for this blog. The rest of the plans are still a work in progress.