World of Julie

World of Julie

Mom on the edge.

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One Word

This past weekend my neighbor Brian tried out for the new art reality show. He didn’t make it past the second round, which is tragic and mystifying, since he is clearly made for such a gig. I am now convinced that he should try out for every reality show possible, and then subtly and surreptitiously change the face of television as we know it (although that’s the subject for another post, really). What this is about is that the application for the art reality show asked him to describe himself in one word, and ever since I heard about it, I’ve been obsessing over what my one word would be (dangerous since when Brian’s wife Adriane told me all this I was standing on the roof, and I probably shouldn’t have let myself get distracted). (Lately all of my conversations with Adriane have inexplicably been with me either on the roof or yelling out the attic window, and Adriane half a block away. We’d be the most annoying people on the street if it weren’t for one of the neighborhood posse kids who has recently acquired a small plastic recorder which she tunelessly plays just as I’m trying to get my kids to go to bed. It’s incredibly annoying and I think she’s got some kind of amp hooked up to the thing. It’s impossibly loud.)

Anyway. The first words that sprang to mind were all words you’d use to describe a golden retriever: friendly, enthusiastic, loyal, cheerful. I also thought motherly and then immediately thought, “UGH.” No. Some days it’s lackadaisical and often it’s tired. I wish it were capable more often. Or at least determined. But I think the key is to pick a word that has a few layers going on. Or a word that’s not even an adjective. Or a word that’s a color. Ebullient. Ardent. Glee. Chartreuse. Pineapple.

It’s HARD. What word would you pick for yourself? What word would you pick for ME?

Children’s Book of the Week: If I Built a Car

If I Built a Car by Chris Van Dusen

This is one of those books that I’m hesitant to recommend, because it’s such a staple in our lives that I worry you’ll all roll your eyes and say, “Tell me something I don’t know” or whatever hip lingo the kids are using these days. But apparently some of you hadn’t heard about Toot and Puddle* so maybe I need to pull my head out of the book pile and realize that sometimes people do things other than read kid books all day.

We have three of Maine author Chris Van Dusen’s books, and all are wonders of illustration and rhyme (the other two we have are Mr. Magee books, which I may review at a later time; we love those too). If I Built a Car is about a boy named Jack who designs a giant fantastic car, and the book basically takes us on a tour of the car. It’s a fifties modern wonder, with fins and a robot driver, a couch, fireplace, and automatic food machine. Not to mention the ability to dive underwater and fly through the air, and with exhaust that smells like blueberry muffins.

The thing about Van Dusen’s books are the illustrations, which are precise and realistic and cartoonish and wonderful. But the rhyming text is also rollicking and memorable and moves everything along briskly. I love the Mr. Magee books too, but I love the whole sort of secret backstory in this one, of Jack designing his car, and then you can see elements from his toys and the furniture in his room in his final design. The endpapers show some of his rejected designs. You also get the feeling that Jack is modeled on a young Van Dusen, drawing and dreaming the day away. So I definitely also like the message to kids that they should be free to work hard on dreaming up whatever crazy design that lives in their heads (because they’re kids, so when else are they going to have time to do this?).

*My current favorite search term that lands people on this site is “toot and puddle gay?”

Your Weekly Zuzu

Here’s Zuzu wearing my new favorite shirt on her. It just says “purple” and is from Nina and Tom. It’s a nice simple shirt in the self explanatory category of baby shirtage (though it’s the sort of thing that’s simple on a baby but would be all ironic on a grownup). I got it from the sale rack at Butterfly Baby.

Pop up!

Typical Eli: we pulled into the campsite and he ripped all his clothes off.

Typical Eli: we pulled into the campsite and he ripped all his clothes off.

We’re still mourning the sale of our 1980 VW Vanagon Westfalia (almost a year ago). It was a sad day but it only had four seat belts, and the thought of, I don’t know, saving it for 20 years for some other use, or bolting Zuzu’s seat to the floor, didn’t make much sense. So we sold it to an adorable fresh-faced young couple who was planning to drive it to California (perfect!).

Two weeks ago we finally got a replacement, a 1998 Coachmen pop-up camper (it’s the “Hunter’s Edition” which thankfully doesn’t mean it has a gun rack or anything; I actually don’t know what it means). We did our first trial run last Friday at Winslow Park in Freeport (on the water and it has a playground), and now we’ve added some essentials (like, um, plates), and are going to go again tonight if it’s not pouring, and next weekend for sure.

The kids all love love loved it. The boys especially loved their new sleeping bags, and spent a lot of time galumphing about the pop-up and campsite fully ensconced in their bags, like giant kid worms or something. After they went to bed Dave and I sat at the table and played Scrabble, which we haven’t done in approximately forever. I won, which I think might be the first time (I’m always way more concerned about the awesomeness of the word itself than with the points that word will gain, but I trounced my way to the finish line with “whey”).

It’s completely cozy and comfortable, maybe even more so than the Vanagon was, though of course not nearly as much fun to drive.

The boys in their sleeping nook (ok, I guess a normal person would call it a bed). This is my new favorite photo of Henry.

The boys in their sleeping nook (ok, I guess a normal person would call it a "bed"). This is my new favorite photo of Henry.

Zuzu in her sleeping nook (which was also Dave and my sleeping nook), playing with the lantern which was almost as big a hit as the sleeping bags were.

Zuzu in her sleeping nook (which was also Dave and my sleeping nook), playing with the lantern which was almost as big a hit as the sleeping bags were.

The next morning at Isabellas Sticky Bun Cafe, since I had forgotten to bring anything decent for breakfast other than coffee.

The next morning at Isabella's Sticky Bun Cafe, since I had forgotten to bring anything decent for breakfast other than coffee.

Knitting finally calls me back with its siren song

Our library had a “learn to knit” program last week, and Henry got it into his head that he wanted to go. Though it is possible that I made it sound extra enticing. It’s been years since I’ve knit, and it used to be a daily occurrence (I even made up a pattern once and got to be in a book). Why did I stop? Kids and life encroach on time, I suppose. Anyway, so we went to the library program, which was packed with people (hurray!), which meant we were pretty much on our own while the knitting teachers ran from person to person, instructing. The boys each picked out yarn and got a pair of needles (which they got to keep!), and then I helped them cast on, and started them knitting. They didn’t get it right away (and Eli, being only 3, didn’t really get it at all, though I think he’s close, honestly). Henry will get it with practice. What did happen, though, is that, as I was showing them how to knit, my body kicked into some sense memory meditation thing, and it was like eating a cookie my grandmother made or something. It became difficult for me to give Henry his knitting back.

One thing I did immediately realize is that another reason I stopped knitting is that, when children aren’t acting like dogs, they’re acting like cats. Zuzu kept batting at the yarn and trying to remove the needles from the knitting. I threw her a ball with a bell in it so I could keep knitting (kidding).

We got two knitting books out of the library that day: Kids Learn to Knit and Knitting New Scarves. At home, I started standing in the corner when I was supposed to be cleaning, leafing through Knitting New Scarves (like it was Twilight or something! Sheesh!) and fantasizing about what I was going to make. I decided on one with holes that you then knit in a contrasting color, and took myself out to the shed, where all my knitting things were waiting, to see what size double-pointed needles I had (knowing full well I’ve got most every size). In the shed I found an unfinished sweater, two started scarves, an almost-done pair of socks, and the beginnings of a dishcloth. And so I have forbidden myself to buy any new yarn until I finish those projects. I packed one of the scarves and the sweater into my beautiful Knitter’s Review tote (thanks, Clara!), and brought them into the house, where they are being worked on post-kid-bedtime.

One thing I love about knitting is that it offers tangible results in this world I live in, this parenting world where I may not be able to measure success for ten or twenty years. It’s nice to be back to it.


Every summer day brings out more animal in the children. Seriously, I know dogs who are more sophisticated than this.

Summer Jar: Real Mail

Last week the Summer Jar told us to make cards and mail them. I had some premade blank cards from the days when I fancied myself a cardmaker, so we drew on those. The most fun part was deciding who to send our cards to (excuse me: to whom we should send our cards). Henry chose Miranda, which was no surprise. He decided to write about how excited he is about Farm Camp (which is next week!). He also took the space to spout forth some untruths about Farm Camp, which is that they have live bats. Well, it could be true. I don’t know. The newsletter we got from them was signed by the farmers and also the animals, two of which were Stella and Luna, so Henry has decided they must be bats.

Henry also addressed the envelope himself. I remember working at one of the many, many semi-clerical office jobs I had after college, and giving a high school summer temp a bunch of envelopes to address, and she basically had no idea how to do it. Which means, I suppose, that she had neither sent nor received mail (or not much) up until that point. Shocking! Anyway, so I take it upon myself to explain the joys and wonders of real mail to the children. Coincidentally, we’ve been reading a lot of Frog and Toad stories lately, and there’s that great one where Toad is talking about how waiting for the mail is his “sad time of day” because no one ever sends him mail. And then Frog sends him a letter, and they’re both really happy about mail. So we talked about how our letter recipients would be just as excited to receive real mail.

Eli decided to send his card to a 13-year-old boy down the street, a fairly random choice since I think Eli has talked to him maybe twice ever. But he plays hockey and baseball in the street, and is friendly and nice, and those facts, I think, make him card-worthy in Eli’s mind. I sent my card to Robyn, with whom I used to have a fairly regular real mail correspondence going, but that’s fallen off in the past few years. So she definitely was due. Remember when real mail was the standard, and so we thought nothing of writing a two-sentence, e-mail-esque, goofball letter? Sarah and I used to send each other the ugliest postcards we could find. I also remember spending an afternoon writing and writing, practically extemporaneously, and stuffing pages and pages of scrawled spiral notebook pages into an envelope to send off. Robyn got none of those last week, mostly because I had mild performance anxiety once faced with the blank card and couldn’t think of what to draw, let alone write. I ended up drawing the view out my window from where I was sitting, and honestly I have no idea what I wrote about. It was rambling, I’m sure, which is maybe the best kind of letter in my mind.

And my preferred kind of blog post, apparently.

Children’s Book of the Week: Ollie Forgot

Ollie Forgot by Tedd Arnold.

Oh, poor Ollie. He’s a nice boy, but apparently has short term memory issues. Plus he has that common problem of getting a little ditty stuck in his head, and then he absent-mindedly sings that song. But it keeps getting him into trouble. It all starts when he sings “Rain, rain, go away…” and a farmer who wants rain gets annoyed and yells at him, but yells at him in verse, and then that sticks in Ollie’s head (“I hope it rains a long, long while/and as it rains, I’ll sing and smile.”) Ollie pretty much gets beat up every where he turns because he keeps inadvertantly offending people (or mistakenly buying puppies), until the satisfying end, where he saves the day and remembers what he came to town for in the first place.

We first heard this as a Dial-a-Story, and the boys listened to it about seventy times a day. They like the book even better, and the little verses get stuck in their head too (Eli’s favorite page is the part about a minstrel, who “beat poor Ollie with his lute and shouted: ‘I’d give my coins, though they are few/if I could get my hands on you.’”)

I don’t know if this is an old story, but it reads like one. It’s a nice little tale, save for the nauseating continual reference to “a joint of beef.”

Summer Jar: What Sinks? What Floats?

Last week the Summer Jar told us to do an experiment called What Sinks? What Floats? The Let’s Explore blog gave us the idea. The kids loved it because it involved a large bowl of water (I’m tempted to put “explore a large bowl of water” in the Summer Jar but I don’t want to deal with the cleanup afterwards). Basically you go around the house gathering stuff, and then you decide what you think will sink and what you think will float. Then you put stuff in water and see how right you were. The kids did a pretty good job overall. Our favorite was the sand timer: the side with the sand in it sunk and the empty side floated.

Later that day my friend Ed (a physicist) said, “I like how it teaches them the scientific process.” Oh, what? Oops, right. So I went back and said, “Hey, boys! Remember when we did that floating and sinking thing earlier? Well, when we laid them all out first on the paper to see what we thought would sink or float, that was the hypothesis…” I think they got it, but it would have been better to explain it at the same time. At dinner I said, “Do you boys want to tell Dave [an engineer] about the SCIENCE EXPERIMENT we did, where we learned what a HYPOTHESIS is, and about doing the EXPERIMENT to test your HYPOTHESIS?” I can be really annoying sometimes.

I have to remember that part of the point of the Jar isn’t just for it to tell us what to do, but for us to delve deeper into that activity. Meaning, that Julie should do her homework a little more and go back and reread exactly what we’re doing with the floating and sinking thing.




I have issues with cleaning

I was a messy kid. Now I’m a frantically cleaning adult. Go read about it on Better Way Moms.

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September 2014
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