Thursday, October 28, 2010

Activity Books ... not as oxymoronic as the name would imply


Oh ... you know we love books. Which is what makes it possible for me to scoff at a recent bit of fluff in the Gray Lady that simultaneously tries to sound the death knell of picture books while blaming parents for their murder.

It's true though, we sometimes borrow steal buy books that inspire us to do other things ... such as draw our own picture books.

For instance, Seven Footer Press (disclosure! I have a dear friend there) has a bunch of wonderful activity books in its collection that allow kids (of all ages) to use their imagination and fill in the blanks. Our favorite is "100 Shapes," a book of stencils by Nao Sugimoto, the pages of which can be cut out, put on a key ring and used over and over again on any number of important art works.


Judith Cressy's "What Can You Do With A Paper Bag" has been a favorite of ours since we picked it up at a library book sale a few years ago. The activity book takes its inspiration from the Metropolitan Museum of Art's collection and provides step-by-step instructions on making hats, headdresses and wigs out of paper bags.


And though it's not an activity book per say, Robert Sabuda's latest pop-up sculpture wonder, "Beauty and the Beast," has both kids foaming at the mouth to make their own three-dimensional storybooks. Which leads me to think maybe Santa will leave one or two of these little books under the tree.

Another book we are fond of is the homemade sketchbook.


This thing was born one night shortly before bedtime when it became painfully obvious (by the eardrum-piercing shrieks) that there was a notebook inequity among sprogs. Namely, Ittybit had many and The Champ had none.

In fewer than five minutes with my sewing machine I was able to manufacture a book and a happier bedtime.


* Two 8.5" x 11" sheets of craft or wool felt
* One 8.5" x 11" sheet of web interfacing
* 8 or 10 sheets of letter-sized paper
* Thread


* A sewing machine
* Some felt scraps for embellishments


zig-zag stitch

* If you are sewing a heart or flower onto the cover, do that first. Cut out your embellishment and place it on the center right side of one sheet of felt. Sew all the way around the edges with a zig-zag stitch. (It doesn't take long with a sewing machine, but if your kid is screaming and can't be consoled with chocolate or beer, skip to the next step.


* For the cover, sandwich the sheet of interfacing between the two sheets of felt and sew closed. I sewed two paths using zig-zag stitch: One to secure the interfacing (my interfacing scrap wasn't large enough to reach the edges) to the felt and the other to close the edges.


* Center the sheets sheets of paper onto the cover and sew along the center using the widest straight stitch available on your machine. The closer your stitch the more perforate-y your pages will be.

Of course, if you give a kid a sketchbook before bedtime you'll have to find some crayons.

Worn and broken color wheel ...

Beware of the broken ones.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Tis' the Season ...

Personalize funny videos and birthday eCards at JibJab!

for humor that will haunt the family.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

I don't care what the experts say ...

reading matters more than table setting

I don't believe print is dead.

Monday, October 25, 2010

She's having trouble letting go of the summer dresses


Having a new wood stove to warm the house isn't helping.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Midnight Cowboy

8 o'clock cowboy

In Toddler Time that's round about 8 o'clock.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Party's over

yes no

My bank wants to be in a "relationship" with me.

That's what the advertising says, anyway.

It's not much of a stretch that banks would want to ride the social marketing wave. They've been enticing new customers with wedding gifts for generations. Still, it irks me like shoptalk at a party.

Relationships, Trusted Friends, Family. ... are now phrases that are often followed by pages of small print.

Thing is ... I don't want to be in a relationship with my bank unless they're willing to change a diaper or put the kids to bed.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Wishing in a well


There are times that I wish for more hours in a day, but I know what I'm really wishing for is more time to waste.

Hurry up and wait.

A minute here becomes an hour there.

Where does all the time go?

Our best days are when there's no time to dawdle. Things get done:

"It's 7:30 ... the bus will be here in a half-hour. Get up get upgetup!"

Lunch, made; bags, packed; shoes, tied; hair, brushed.

It can also be the worst days:

"Why are you watching TV? Where are your shoes? Get your shoes on get your shoes on getyourshoeson!"

"Shoelaces trailing, hair tangled, you can buy lunch and bring back the library book tomorrow."

Thinking ahead is what you do instead of stopping to take a breath.

Maybe it's inevitable ... your temper will get the better of you. You'll utter old threats and make new rules. Neither of which you'll follow.

But instead of acknowledging that missing a bus isn't the worst thing to happen on a Wednesday morning, you watch a tear-stained child climb up its steps, ruining her day and yours.

All you can do is wait, and hope to redeem yourself when the bus brings her home.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

What's in a name?

I'm just thinking about the times, and how a character named Dumb Donald probably wouldn't have made it past the network suits in the current world of children's television programing.

They wouldn't have added any more points to his IQ, but they would have dropped the modifier.

Fat Albert, for that matter, would have been called Big Al, or maybe Albert, the kid who suffers from a metabolic disorder but is still super cool.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Peace, Can I have S'more?


What do you get when you cross a man who has recently installed a modern-looking wood stove (where the television used to be) with a pint-sized think tank of diabolical minds?


A phone call on your way home from work requesting s'more ingredients.


Wednesday, October 13, 2010



Dear Ittybit,

Some day you will want me to go away.

Far, far away.

You may even wish me dead.

You won't mean it, but it will still hurt.

One day ...

Maybe when I'm not around ...

You'll remember saying it and wish you hadn't.

So I'm telling you now ...

Before I get lost in whatever it is I probably should be doing later ...

After you've stopped bouncing around in front of me ...

Begging for my undivided attention ...

That whatever it was you said didn't hurt my feelings ...

As much as it woke them up.

More minutes ...

To work ...

To play ...

To be alone ...

To be together ...

Will seem so trivial where there are no minutes left.

Love and better balance,


Monday, October 11, 2010

Two things ...

girls boys

No. 1: The Museum of Firefighting in Hudson might be the most exciting place for children to visit outside of the North Pole. Especially on Dalmatian Day, which, in my humble estimation, is Christmas in October.

No. 2: Give a three-year-old boy a plastic fireman, tie a string around it, and he may never need another toy. Ever.

strings attatched Tie a string to it ...

Shelf space


An interesting piece in the New York Times places pushy parents in the picture of a shrinking picture book marketplace.

Publishers and booksellers are saying that aside from the economic downturn they're seeing a trend in which parents are steering their kids around the shelves containing picture books and toward chapter books in some ill-fated effort to jump junior to the head of the class.

I'm not sure I buy it, though. I think parents are getting a little more of a rap on the knuckles than they deserve.

There seemed to be a huge surge in the production of picture books in the 80s and 90s. Even when the economy turned south, kid lit seemed fairly unaffected by tightening belts so publishers followed the trend. After all, books make great gifts.

Of course, belt tightening was still going on. Publishers have been less likely to take chances on untested authors, choosing instead celebrities-turn-scribe. They gambled on interactive media and the promulgation of brands.

This past decade, as the internet settled in and it seemed folks were pretty much avoiding brick-and-mortar stores, all sections started to shrink, with the possible exception of the Bargain Bins.

The NYT piece also makes it clear that classics, such as "Good Night Moon" and Dr. Suess titles, are still selling well. So ... the picture book isn't really dead, it's just that the market for the ones they're trying to sell, maybe, isn't sustainable.

Of course, I am just guessing.

We usually get our picture books at second-hand shops ... or at the library, where we can return them before they need dusting.

And now ... more than ever ... we're getting them from the publishers themselves, who are hoping I can get three friends to tell three friends. ... Who are probably already getting books from publishers hoping they'll influence me.

Not that I blame them, but it is what it is: the marketplace has been spread pretty thin and eventually we all run out of shelf space.

Friday, October 08, 2010

How speicies REALLY evolve ...

As is usual for plans ...

They start out grand:

Plans ....

Or as grand as your illustrative skills can draw them.

Then your plans meet your skills ...

Which are decidedly less than grand:

I'm speaking of my own skills, of course, not yours. I know you don't come here for the craftacular tutorials. You are smarter than that.

But I digress.

Where were we? Oh yes, my skills meeting my plans and taking each other outside for a brawl. That's a fair assessment of what happened when I tried to make bat wings for the boy's Halloween costume.

Let's go back to the near beginning, when I visited the fabric store masquerading as a woman with seamstress-like skills. That would be where I made my first egregious blunder: I selected black pleather and light gray satin for the wing material.

My only defense is that they were between 30 and 50 percent off and I was deluded by the jump on seasonal sale prices. Well, there's that and the parenting voice in my mind that thought a light silk would be more reflective at night (as if I was planning to let the little guy traipse around trick-or-treating without my vice-like grip in his arm.)

Again with the digression.

Anyhow. All was going as planned.


I'd carefully kinda measured the pleather against the arm of a brown hoodie and cut out a half circle of the plastic-y fabric. I turned it, right side, against the pleather and cut another for the opposite arm.

Next I cut out pieces of satin using the pleather wings as a template.


I then pinned the fabrics of each wing - right sides inward - and sewed around each one, leaving enough room to turn it right side out.


Of course then I had to figure out how to attach the little suckers to the sweater.

Which meant I sat there for quite a while looking off into space and sewing up some black fleece triangles to jam into the hood part for ears. Again with the precision. Basically, I made over-sized black bunny ears, cut slits on either side of the hood and sewed the ears pointing outward.

(I also cut a pumpkin shape out of felt and sewed it over a monkey that didn't belong on the hoodie, as instructed by the little man.)

But eventually I was forced to revisit the wing attachment problem. Now, at the store, I thought the satin would go in front, but immediately realized it wouldn't look like a bat if I did that ... I also realized with the satin the back was going to look like a torn off prom dress.

But I was already committed to the abomination.

My preferred method to attach them would have been to seam-rip the edges of the hoodie from arm cuff to waist cuff, turn it inside out, insert the wings into those seams and sew the thing back up again.

But I know my skills, and that was just asking for trouble.

So what I did was convince myself that the sweatshirt was WAY TOO BIG for the little guy anyway (not to mention made of a nice, stretchy material) so I'd just sew the wings on to the outside, nipping in the arms and torso of the hoodie.


Of course it might have helped if I actually pinned them in the same general vicinity of each other, instead of one in the front of the sleeve and the other in back, but ...

It would be dark. ... No one will notice.

Which is probably true. ... As is the closely-held belief that the memory of a homemade costume will turn mythic as time wears on.

Or so I will tell him.

Until he agrees to wear it, however, his sister will have to model the suit of flying mammal.

Nananananana nananana BATGIRL!

Thursday, October 07, 2010

I'm trying not to be biased ...


So I need to ask ...

Do all six-year-olds use crayons this well?

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Nobody ever thinks of stopping to help

school days

Education reform is a controversial topic. Geographic location, income, ideology, personal experience, moral indignation and even apathy tend to rub elbows in a national cocktail party where 17 million schools of thought are fighting for their dissertations.

I suppose I'd even be laughing at a contributor's column today - which opined a longer school day wouldn't work because it's akin to putting new tires on a broken down car along side of a road - if I didn't find the rationale behind the declaration so sad.

Many folks like to say you can't solve problems by throwing money at it. And yet they worry schools are merely a breeding ground of malfeasance and mediocrity. They can't seem to make the connection between money spent doing things differently may be money well spent.

The thing we can't turn away from is that our schools are failing our children.

All of them.

Now some of you don't care what happens to the kids who are disruptive. You don't care about their home lives. You focus on the tenured teachers and the summers off. You think their lives are cushy. And worse ... that everyone is undeserving ... except babyofmine, of course.

Hard work = success.

When these folks look toward positive change, what they see is merely ridding the schools of a "negative influence." If a kid doesn't want to learn ... if his parents aren't pulling their weight in his education ... the solution is to show them the door. Don't let it hit you on the way out.

It's the easiest, most cost effective method, after all.

Thing is ... they're out there, untethered. They're not graduating.

And it's not just them. Even when our kids graduate many aren't meeting a basic standard. You can think other people's kids aren't your responsibility, and technically you'd be right, but what you fail to understand is how important it is for all students to gain a better education.

We can't afford to throw even a small percentage of our children to the wolves.

More frightening to me than just the sentiment of intolerance that is pervasive in these arguments is the unwillingness to do what is not only right but what is difficult.

Saying lengthening the school will only leave more time for the bad eggs to infect others is effectively the same as saying education itself is already obsolete.

Saying the model won't work isn't even true.

In 2006 Massachusetts experimented with lengthening the school day for 5,000 students, adding 300 hours of learning time per year. Four years later it has been declared a success and 19 public schools in nine districts are currently participating. Results have shown marked improvement in grades in English, math and science in schools where ELT was implemented. The effort has also shown improvement in teacher satisfaction, student demand, as well as an increase in community partnerships.

A broken down car at the edge of a road may be a good analogy for the state of our education. But more important than focusing on the condition of the tires is the attention paid to structural maintenance.

We can't put off the inevitable forever.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Lego my Duplos

lego my duplos

"You know ...

"I heard that Legos are a really poppulear toy.

"Yeah ... but I don't buy it. I don't think they know what they're talking about."