126 articles

What to do after you leave your job

Here are the hands of the team... hard at work!

Here are the hands of the team… hard at work!

My husband left his job at the end of 2015 which has meant all sorts of things for our little family… not least of which is a proliferation of project-doing around the house. Our utility closet has been entirely reorganized, Josh’s side of the closet has been Kondo-ized, pencil cases were hand-sewn for his nieces’ holiday gifts, etc etc.

The crowning glory (so far) of all of this domestic productivity, is the wall that he and our daughter painted in our closet. Down came the falling apart hooks and weird shoe rack and up went all sorts of lengths of blue tape. Evidently there were a few arguments between the co-creators as to how, exactly, to lay out the lines… but they came to some sort of agreement and the result is glorious.

Using cans of leftover paint unearthed during the utility closet sortie, they filled in the spaces with color, let the paint dry, and then carefully pulled off the tape to unveil their masterpiece. The upside is that I am now overcome with happiness whenever I see that wall. The down side is that my two artists are so proud of their work that they bring all visitors through the bedroom to see it. Which means my days of the unkempt bedroom and closet are over.

Something tells me that may have been part of Josh’s nefarious plan…

painted wall

The finished wall, in all of its glory.

Monday, Monday– or a few ideas for sharing the meaning of MLK day with your kids

MLK and family

Martin Luther King, Jr is greeted by his family after having been released from prison in 1960.

You and your preschoolers can watch this Brain Pop animation which tells a brief history of the life of Dr King.

National Geographic kids tells the story of the great communicator with a series of historical photographs and captions that help to create a picture of what his life was really like. Without going into too much of the potentially upsetting images of dogs and firehoses.

Enchanted learning is full of printouts, short articles and activities for kids. These are great resources that you can draw on any time you want to start going a bit deeper into the struggle against racial injustice in this country.

So there’s this 11 year old boy called Kid President who (along with his family) has created a series of videos on YouTube that have the simple goal of changing the world for the better by spreading the love and being awesome. Here’s what he has to say about Dr King.

And last but not least, lets think of this day for our kids as the beginning of a potential lifetime of working to make the world a more just place for all of us (that Kid President stuff is catching on over here…) Here’s a list of kids books about everyday heroes to get us all inspired.

3 great books to help your kids navigate difficult subjects

wonder

Wonder (by RJ Palacio) is a book about an ordinary kid with an extraordinary face. And while his “facial difference” has prevented him from going to school for his initial 10 years, he is about to enter fifth grade, and the “normal” world of middle school life, for the first time. This book is the story of that extraordinary year and how everybody in the school community is affected.

It deals with bullying, fear-of-other, the “popular” group, kindness, empathy, and learning how to recognize and cope with difficult, challenging and conflicting feelings. It is also beautifully written, funny, moving, and incredibly entertaining. Middle school kids can read it alone, but it’s also a great read aloud for slightly younger kids. It has instigated so many important conversations in our household… Anything that helps provide kids with the tools they need to navigate those tween years with grace is a welcome addition to our arsenal.

a long walk to water by Linda Sue Park

Linda Sue Park’s A Long Walk to Water: Based on a True Story tells the intersecting stories of two 11 year old kids living in Sudan, one from 1995 and the other from 2008. It is a story of survival, friendship and resilience that humanizes the politically complicated refugee situation that continues to be a part of the news today.

And while on the one hand, the refugee crisis feels very remote, it is so important for us to help our kids to understand all of the complex and not-so-great things that are happening in the world these days. Encountering these difficult subjects through stories helps to create a safe place for the potentially difficult topics to be digested. And hopefully we help foster a more empathetic future through understanding.

Lillian';s Right to vote by Jonah Winter and Shane W Evans

Lillian’s Right to Vote: A Celebration of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by Jonah Winter and Shane W Evans is a beautifully illustrated picture book that tells the story of Lillian, an elderly African-American woman, and her walk up a steep hill to the voting booth in her town.

During her climb, she remembers the stories of her enslaved great grandparents, her uncle being forced to take absurdly difficult qualification tests in order to vote, and her own memories of being chased away from voting booths by angry mobs. The hill becomes a metaphor for the struggle that African Americans experienced during their fight for the right to vote.

The book is a celebration of the Voting rights Act of 1965, which is currently under fire again in many states. The right to vote still needs protection and this book helps us remember how central this right is to being a citizen of a democracy like ours.

5 great gifts you can get right now on Etsy

Felt gnome and mushrooms set by BlueRooster Arts on Etsy

Felt gnome and mushrooms set by BlueRooster Arts on Etsy

Ok first off, here’s a little thing you may not have known about me: I am a sucker for tiny handmade felt figurines. I love them. I have not gone whole hog, acquiring dozens of the little creatures and placing them all over our house, but if I were to go into someone else’s home who had such a display, I’m sure I would throw my hands in the air and squeal with delight.

Now that I’ve gotten that off of my chest, I wanted to start my own holiday gift guide season with a few ideas from the one and only center for all things handmade: Etsy. Because the sellers are just regular people, and not Amazon Prime, one has to be a bit more organized when ordering from them. But at this point we still have plenty of time to get the gifts to where they need to be. So now is the time to troll Etsy for the good stuff. And maybe even get something personalized while you’re at it!

First up (above) the felt woodland figurines. Maybe they are a gift, or maybe they are destined to become part of your own home decor. I like the gnome, but there are others to check out as well. Lovingly made in Montana by BlueRooster, $20.

indigo shiboro napkins by shoppromisedland on etsy

We need new napkins and I totally want these, which are linen and hand dyed using the ancient Japanese shibori technique. Just in case there are any people out there looking to give me something for the holidays. Made in Massachusetts by ShopPromisedLand, $32.50.

glass teapot etsy

I’m not quite sure I understand how this teapot is “handmade”, but it sure is pretty. And that’s gotta count for something right? This comes to us via Unihom in the UK, which might be slightly inconvenient, but hey– they ship worldwide, so who’s counting? $24.50.

memory game o etsy

This is one of those memory games that you play with your kids before they can read and if you’re me, your kids actually do much better than you because your memory is shot. Hopefully, you are not me, and you will kick your kids’ a**es. Regardless, this version is handmade by fourthavenue in Minnesota and if you get in touch with them, you can even customize the game with imagery of your choosing! $12.

log ipad dock etsy

I mean, if this wooden iPad dock and charging station doesn’t have ETSY written all over it, I don’t know what does. This is the kind of thing that the online emporium of handmade is all abut. Plus who else do you know who has one of these? I rest my case. Handcrafted from barnwood by valliswood in Croatia, $80.

Yesterday, at some point…

gift bag

This is a photograph of one of the gift bags we made for my daughter’s most recent birthday party. It wasn’t taken yesterday, but the party was recent enough that it still rings fresh in my mind. We try to make our gift bags original and free of candy and “junk” (which means totally different things to me and my daughter, but whatever) This year we gave everyone a little wooden star, a little bird that you can clip onto a tree or a bedpost, a miniature rubics cube and a small bit of play dough (evidently all kids still love goop of some kind…) We made the bags out of fabric, cut out individual tags and tied them up with some white ribbon we had laying around from an old craft project. (See– sometimes saving stuff is totally justified!)

The party was really fun, but crazy expensive in the way that evidently many NYC parties are when you rent out a space. I could go on about the Birthday Party Racket, but I am going to take the high road and just remember the screams of joy, the happy expressions on all of the kids faces, and the fact that we are not going to be having a birthday party again for a long time (we’re switching to experiences instead, thank goodness…)

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Yesterday, at some point is a series of photographs that describe a moment I experienced during the previous day (or thereabouts). The posts are meant to be stand alone images, though at times I can’t control myself, and I end up expanding the caption into a more lengthy bit of text. Hopefully the extra information is useful, or at least interesting. If not, feel free to ignore it.

Music that my kid actually loves thanks in large part to her music teacher

the sojourners

A fine album cover if ever there was one…

One of my favorite things about my daughter’s school is their music program. They learned basic music theory through singing Louis Armstrong and Carole King, they learned to play Bill Withers songs on the recorder, they are learning about rhythm by beating on the West African djembe. The entire school gets together monthly to sing Neal Young and the Beatles, folk songs and spirituals… It’s really a dream come true. Because at the end of the day, she will remember these songs long after many of the other aspects of elementary school have become distant memories.

So during this season of thanksgiving, I would like to express my gratitude to one Mr Seth Ginsberg for his role in helping to shape my daughter’s excellent taste in music. And I would like to share a few of her favorite I-learned-this-in-school songs with you all today. If you’re signed up for Spotify (it’s free), just click on the little triangle below to listen:

And here’s the tracklist if you want to follow along…

Welcome Table – The Sojouorners
Papa Was A rolling Stone – The Temptations
When You’re Smiling – Louis Armstrong
Lean On Me – Bill Withers
Ain’t Too Proud To Beg – The Temptations
I Feel The Earth Move – Carole King
Having A Party – Sam Cooke
Dancing In The Street – Martha reeves and the Vandellas
When The Saints Go Marching In – Louis Armstrong
Stop In The Name Of Love – The Surpremes
Azucar Negra – Celia Cruz
Everybody Loves To Cha Cha Cha – Sam Cooke
You’ve Got A Friend – Carole King
The Bare Necessities – Louis Armstrong
The Welcome Table – Hollis Wadkins*

*This last one is a more politicized version of this song than they sing at school, but I am finding it relevant these days, so I’m adding it in for yur listening pleasure…

Go fly a kite

fredericks and mae kites

Maybe 2015 is all about taking the kite situation up a notch…

Sure it’s still in the 70′s (global warming, anyone?) but the leaves have changed and fall is in the air, even if it is floating in on an unseasonably warm breeze. Autumn is my favorite season for kite flying, and these Fredericks & Mae flyers are just about the most lovely ones I’ve ever seen.

In my perfect, clutter-free, all-the-time-in-the-world life, we would walk along the coastline, flying one of these kites high above us us, and then perhaps return to a perfectly decorated table covered with bouquets of fall leaves and settle into a game of dominos, or perhaps darts in the back yard, whilst sipping hot apple cider.

fredericks and mae

Here are the darts and my domino set of choice for your viewing pleasure.

It’s nice to think about… and only a few purchases and a DIY bouquet away from being a reality.

(at least in the Instagram version of my family life in which we never argue, wear beautiful clothes and cook sumptuous meals sourced from local farmers who also happen to be our close friends…)

Yes, dear, video games can be beautiful

monument valley

Monument Valley, brought to us mortals by ustwo.

In my (overly simplistic) world view, there are basically two kinds of video games. The good ones of my youth (space invaders and pong) and the horrible ones of today (like soldier of fortune and those overly saccharine ones where you give a beauty makeover to a cat.)

And yet to be honest, I must admit that the above statement isn’t true. I’ve even written about some compelling video games and apps on this very blog. And as my daughter gets older, I find myself looking for more of these types of digital experiences. Because like I have always said… Video games are not the enemy. Bad video games are the enemy.

Enter Monument Valley.

It’s simple, but not stupid. It features a princess who is an intrepid explorer and has some complicated back story that we haven’t figured out yet because we have yet to travel far enough into the game. I say we, because this game is kind of like falling backwards into an Escher drawing that moves in ways that are so complex it often requires my daughter and I working together to figure out how to get our valiant heroine to the next level.

But isn’t that the perfect thing? A video game that brings us together, stretches our minds, and pleases our eyes whilst refraining from pounding our brains into mush with horrible music, bad graphics and loud noises? A tool for enlarging our imaginations rather than numbing our senses? A digital universe even my vinyl listening, rotary phone dialing, Waldorf-adjacent self can get behind?

Yes. Yes it is. And here’s the trailer for you to check out, so you know what I mean.

And suddenly, it’s cold and flu season again…

elderberry syrup ingredients

The makings of my family’s first line of defense against colds and flu.

It. Has. Begun.

On Thursday, we were all walking around in t-shirts. By Friday, my daughter was home sick with a runny nose and a low grade fever. The vast majority of my plans flew out the window, and I spent the day watching movies, drinking tea, reading and making this seasons’ batch of Elderberry syrup.

Elderberry is my favorite first line of defense against colds and flu… We drink the dark, flavorful elderberry tea almost every day during the fall and winter as a preventative measure. However, when the symptoms actually hit, I find the syrup to be even more effective. (The University of Maryland Medical Center has some good literature about Elderberry and how it works, if you want to go deep.)

This season, I found a recipe (from Wellness Mama) that includes ginger, cinnamon and cloves, three herbs which add a pleasing sweetness and complexity to the syrup, as well as their own immune boosting and antibiotic properties.

Here’s the recipe in all of its glory:

Black Elderberry Syrup, from Wellness Mama

Ingredients

⅔ cup black elderberries
3½ cups of water
2 Tablespoons fresh or dried ginger root
1 teaspoon cinnamon powder
½ teaspoon cloves or clove powder
1 cup raw honey (we get from our farmer’s market)

Instructions

Pour water into medium saucepan and add elderberries, ginger, cinnamon and cloves (do not add honey!)

Bring to a boil and then cover and reduce to a simmer for about 45 minutes to an hour until the liquid has reduced by almost half. At that point, remove from heat and let cool enough to be handled. Pour through a strainer into a glass jar or bowl.

Discard the elderberries (or compost them!) and let the liquid cool to lukewarm. When it is no longer hot, add 1 cup of honey and stir well.

When honey is well mixed into the elderberry mixture, pour the syrup into a pint sized mason jar or 16 ounce glass bottle of some kind.

elderberry syrup

Here’s our fresh supply, ready to do battle against the evil viruses that plague us all this time of year…

Standard dose is ½ tsp to 1 tsp for kids and ½ Tbsp to 1 Tbsp for adults. If the flu does strike, take the normal dose every 2-3 hours instead of once a day until symptoms disappear.

5 movies I’d like to show at our school’s movie night next month

Once a year, my daughter’s elementary school hosts a movie night. Kids come, all excited, some in PJ’s with sleeping bags, to eat pizza and popcorn and watch a movie. Their parents drink wine, eat cheese and hang out in the back. All in all a great night for the entire family. So far, we’ve seen Ponyo and The Lego Movie (not bad, right?) and now it’s time to choose the film for this year’s shindig.

Here’s what I might screen, were I the person in charge (which thankfully I am not):

The secret World of Arrietty is a modern Japanese anime take on the beloved novel The Borrowers by Mary Norton. The main character is an adventurous girl, which is always a good thing, and the action takes place in a tiny imaginary world inside of our normal one that, to this day, makes me wonder whenever a thimble goes missing.

The Iron Giant is one of my all time favorite movies. It is an old-school feeling cartoon that rails against the military industrial complex while celebrating the individualism and compassion that makes this world of ours truly great. Plus it stars a giant robot that you can ride on. What’s not to love?

And while we’re on the topic of cultural criticism, Wall-E, an action packed love story of two robots who manage to help bring humanity back to the human race after a seven century hiatus from Earth, might be one of the most profound films your kid will see… at least while they’re still little.

Song of the Sea tells the otherworldly story of a mother and daughter who live between our world and the mystical world of the Selkies– mythological creatures who live primarily in the sea. It is kind of like entering the most beautiful lava lamp/Escher drawing combination imaginable… you may never want to leave their world once you’ve experienced it…

In the spirit of The Lego Movie, Big Hero 6 is one of those films that looks like it’s going to be one of those lame one-dimensional kid action animated films but is actually thoughtful, intelligent and grapples with complex issues (grief, healing as more powerful than hurting, loyalty) with finesse. Actually, Common Sense Media says this is for ages 7+, and they may be right, but I couldn’t help putting this on the list. I mean, these kids are New Yorkers. They can handle it.