Thursday, December 22, 2011

Unconventional Gingerbread Houses

I know, a positive post from The Stone Age Techie! One that is not about health problems, or health insurance, or other sucky stuff like that. I feel lots better, largely because I started acupuncture about six weeks ago. (Think it's too expensive? So did I, until I found out about Community Acupuncture.) It is a frickin' miracle, and between that and physical therapy I hope I am on the road to recovery.

I've learned many lessons from these last months of illness; I think the two most important are 1) it's okay to depend on others sometimes and 2) patience really is a virtue. I want to thank everybody who contacted me here, or on Facebook, or via e-mail - your support really got me through this! I'm very lucky in my virtual friends as well as my real-world ones.

My kids have learned many lessons too, and have spent lots of their homeschooling time honing their life skills ( laundry, chicken care, dishes, cooking, etc. ) and their patience. In a way, these months have been extra-special because we've spent more time at home with each other, playing board games and talking about everything under the sun, and just laughing together. I wish I could've blogged about the time that Luke and Owen performed a shadow-puppet show, The Lord of The Rings Part One, with a theater and puppets they'd made from scratch to cheer me up during an especially low point. I could take no pictures, but oh boy, did this work. I'm tearing up thinking about it. It was awesome.

With health improving and Christmas coming, the month of December has been pretty exciting. The boys have been good to each other, have shared their time, energy, and even some of their hard-earned money to help less fortunate families in our area, they've been truly helpful around the house – so this week seemed like a good time to bust into the gingerbread. A few years ago, my dear friend Nicole, whose fantastic blog about unschooling you can check out here, somehow managed to get geometry concepts across while making gingerbread houses in the math class she taught; since then, Luke and Owen look forward to replicating that project every Christmas. Here are this year's results!

Instead of gingerbread, we use graham crackers because they are approximately the same size as index cards. ( And they're already made – gingerbread for houses is one thing I have yet to perfect.) So first, each boy uses index cards and tape to make a model for their gingerbread house. Here is Owen's, next door to his partially completed house:

Barn, actually. He declared his gingerbread house would be "the old barn where Jesus was born." "You mean manger?" I asked, enjoying his substitution for a word he did not know. "Yes!" came the answer.

It was fun to watch him design this. He spent his time painstakingly folding roof pieces and cutting small pieces for the upper walls. I wouldn't be surprised if he pulls out index cards just to build with them again sometime.

Luke went sort of in the other direction, making a cute, fairly unconventional house… complete with outhouse in back. Here he is, putting it together:

Their eyes widened so much when I brought out the candy:

It's rare that they see that much candy in one place, never mind in our house.

A happy boy.

Here's Owen putting the finishing touches on his manger:

This one gives you a good view of Luke's house, and outhouse:

He said at one point, "Hey Mom! I just put up a jellybean as an air freshener in the outhouse!" I haven't laughed that hard in weeks.

And here are the finished products:

Owen's manger, complete with candy gardens in front and back – and a stash of candy inside for the residents.

And Luke's, which he designed and built and decorated all on his own. Yes, it's an outhouse, but it's his outhouse, know what I mean?

When Owen developed the idea from the Rollo chimney, Luke soon followed suit. In fact, they traded ideas, as well as candy and extra frosting, very companionably. I kept thinking how great it is that they're such good friends, how even though they fight sometimes they're very quick to make up and care very much about each other.

And, not only can they rely on each other for help and support and fun and silliness, but Ben and I can rely on them for these things too.

It's been just one more positive lesson to come out of the trying year of 2011.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

A Letter in The Boston Globe!

Here it is - my letter to the editor about the effect that health care coverage is having on my family.
I know that this blog is about homeschooling (well, and knitting) but for the last six months our lives have been as much about health, sickness, and insurance as anything else. And this is really a blog about our life, so this is what I'm blogging about.

In case the links stops working after today, here is the text from the letter:

Crying in pain, and in anguish over coverage woes

RE “AT best, Mass. health strategy offers halfway house to universal care’’ (Op-ed, Nov. 10): I really identified with Robert Kuttner’s op-ed. From my family’s standpoint, the health care glass sure looks half empty.

This year, I developed two fairly serious health issues, one chronic. In the midst of this crisis, my husband and I learned that our best health care option for next year, involving priced tiers, would make most of the doctors our family relies upon unaffordable for us as of Jan. 1.

Now I cry myself to sleep, not just from the pain of my physical ailments, but from the anguish of leaving the doctors we chose, including our primary care doctors, our sons’ pediatricians, and four excellent specialists. They’re among the best in their fields, and our relationship with some of them goes back more than a decade.

This experience has shaken my faith not just in our government but in our whole society. I wonder whether the soul-crushing mess that is health care in this country can ever be fixed?

Karen Kolp


Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Irony of the Day

Our best health care plan option next year is the one that makes six out of the seven doctors we see, including our primary care doctors and some that we've seen for more than a decade, absolutely unaffordable (meaning that we're scrambling for all new doctors).
The name of this plan is the Tufts Your Choice Plan.

Tryin' to get healthy, it continues to be a long road, so I thought it was time to check in for a mini-rant.

I guess what bothers me most about the name of this plan is that it seems intended to make people believe that they're getting more choices, while their choices are simultaneously being limited. Six out of seven doctors, people! It's so patronizing, calling it the Your Choice Plan.

In other news, the boys are good, the weather is lovely - I guess that's owed to us after a gigantic snowfall on the eve of Halloween - and hubby is now making better homemade pizza than I ever did. I continue to feel incredibly lucky, despite some stubborn obstacles to optimum health.

I hope you can say the same, or better!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

A Different Kind of Memorial

So many things in my life are different ten years on.
On September 10, 2001:

I didn't intimately know the geography of Manhattan island, which I learned frantically in the hours of 9/11 because it was where my brother worked at the time.

I trusted air travel. Slightly.

I carried around 45 more pounds than I do now.

I suffered from asthma, frequent migraines, post-partum depression.

I didn't have my beautiful Owen yet. (I did have my beautiful Luke, and even through the post-partum depression, I knew what a treasure he was.)

I was mighty interested in keeping up with the Joneses.

I, along with my family, ate terribly.

Really, changing that last one has led to many of the other changes. The year Owen was born I read The Tightwad Gazette from cover to cover and we joined a CSA, events which precipitated the complete restructuring of our household. I even attribute homeschooling to those events, because although we didn't start that until years later, they are part of the same mindset. For me, at least.

In the intervening decade, I've looked at the clock at exactly 9:11 stupidly often. It still gives me goosebumps, as does thinking about how close my brother came to being a victim that day. He tells of coming through the under-the-towers subway station just after the first plane struck, and getting off to change trains one stop north. While waiting he heard sirens, screams, and a bland message over the intercom about "an incident interrupting train service," and along with everyone else he just waited in that seen-it-all New Yorker way until eventually a train came and he got on. He didn't find out what was happening until he arrived forty-five minutes later at his job in northern Manhattan, all his co-workers gathered around the television weeping.

And now, it is September of 2011. We've been adhering to our new normal as much as possible, given some health problems of mine; the boys hang with the chickens each day and have taken on the largest part of chicken-care, while Ben has had to do far more in the garden than I would like. (Just a little aside, the 2001 me would have laughed really hard at the idea of ever keeping chickens.) I've managed to put up quite a bit of salsa, tomatoes, jams, and have dehydrated several quarts of our favorite fruits.

You may know the golden rule about food preservation: always label and date the food, lest you forget what it is or come across it later and can only wonder if it is safe to eat. Hence, the relish I made in July of last year states "Relish, 7/10." I've labeled stuff that way since 2004, when I started canning, and now that we are in September of 2011 the labels read "9/11." Goosebumps, every time.

I've been giving serious thought to lying, to deliberately labeling everything canned, dried, or frozen during this month with the date 8/11, or 10/11.

But I think I won't. Our country changed that day in ways that are still being realized ten years on. Our laws, politics, world view, the way that we treat neighbors and strangers alike, everything is different because of 9/11. The very fact that we in our home have learned to put by so much of our own food, to be so invested in the local economy, so embedded in our community, began with 9/11. It would feel like a denial of history to lie on those jam jars or pickle jars.

Boy, that last sentence sounds bizarre. How can I possibly link up denial of history to canning jars? And yet it's true. Because every time I label preserved food this month, I'm going to have goosebumps. And then this winter, every time I grab some dehydrated peaches, or apples to make pie, those goosebumps will shiver their way up my spine again.

I'll think about how lucky I am to still have my brother, and I know that in the same moment I'll also be sad for those who did lose loved ones. I'll think about changes, especially of the wrenching negative kind, but I'll also think about the positive ones. I'll think about the kind of hope that causes a family to plant a garden and put up some produce.

It's a tiny way of remembering, a different kind of memorial.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The Newlywed Blanky

Well, here it is!

They aren't newlyweds anymore, but I still hope that when my baby brother and his excellent wife pull out this blanky and snuggle under it, they will remember it as made for them on the occasion of their marriage. Even though that was almost two years ago.

Here's another picture of the blanky, because I do love pics without flash:

You can see the vertical stripes in it, one of the reasons I chose this pattern.

Anyway, just a quick check-in here at Stone Age Techie, where we are having a summer filled with health problems and have recently adopted the motto, 'if you can't laugh, you'll only cry, so better laugh.'

Yep, it's been that kind of summer.

We have also had some fun, though, and some personal triumphs - the Newlywed Blanky for me, canoeing on the Saco River in Maine, where Luke did nearly all the paddling for he and I (also where the banner pic comes from), and Owen's big thrill: jumping in the shallow end of the pool from the edge (and not from the steps in the water).

Lots of great stuff! Hope your summer is full of reasons to laugh, and none to cry.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Don't Panic!

Gosh, I didn't realize how long ago May 10 – the date of my last blog post – was.
In my defense, I can only say that it's been a pretty busy few weeks, and culminated in my getting sick, like hospital sick. (Not wisdom teeth sick, though, that's still on the back burner.) For dignity's sake I will not go into what put me in the hospital; when I tell you that it involved more pain than labor and that I will continue to recover for the next probably eight weeks, that should be enough.
In the time leading up to my getting sick, I was making plans to go and be an angel of mercy for my parents while my mom recovered from knee surgery. I was looking forward to the trip, but not the airplane flight – flying is not my favorite mode of transportation. A week or so before I was due to go, Luke and I did a get-ready-for-bed exercise, and ever since then I've been planning to blog about the exercise.
I'd been really worrying about flying. I couldn't sleep for worrying, couldn't keep my mind on a book, didn't enjoy stuff I usually enjoy like playing Legos with the kids or knitting.
And then came the night of this exercise; I was so worried, I wasn't even looking forward to that. Luke chose the Cup Exercise, the one where we design a cup, fill it with our favorite liquid, drink it down, and place the cup in a box of our own design. When we got started, all I could think was that I wanted something comforting, but I couldn't think what.
Then my imagination took over; suddenly the plain drinking glass I started with had turned into one of those thick, white mugs that you get in an old-fashioned diner. And something more: the words 'Don't Panic!'appeared on the mug, along with several suggestions for hitchhiking around the galaxy – things like 'always remember your towel.' When we got to the part where you fill the cup with liquid, mine miraculously filled with a perfect cup of tea, just the right sweetness and just the right amount of milk. Somehow, when on the verge of a big trip, my mind channeled The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy as just exactly what I needed; it was so right.
At the time, I thought the only thing I was going to have to worry about was a plane flight. My Don't Panic mug has seen me through a lot more than that, however.
Now, it will have to see us all through this summer; as I recover and get into the swing of summer harvesting and putting up food for the winter, I'm placing The Stone Age Techie on hold. I might be back to check in once or twice, but only plan to get back to regular blogging in September or October, when things settle down around here.
I hope you have a great summer, filled with all the sunshine and joy that your heart could possibly desire. See you in the fall!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Springtime for the Mandalorian Warriors

I came upon these guys hanging out near our seedlings recently, and was struck by the difference in scale between the powerful, but teeny, warriors, and the giant baby herbs and tomato plants right next door.
It made me think about how big the warriors must seem to Owen, creator of their spaceship. And how just at that moment the baby plants might not have been babies at all, but part of a forest of giants.
Perhaps they are as big as his imagination; perhaps as big as childhood.

Thursday, May 5, 2011

We Love Dragons...

But even more, we love the friends who provided the dragons and their amazing habitat.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

A Visit to the Massachusetts Ministry of Magic

Or, as we like to call it, the State House:

Our state homeschooling organization, Advocates for Home Education in Massachusetts, planned a day for homeschoolers to visit the State House. The visit included a well-set-up scavenger hunt which took us all over the building, a State House tour, and the chance to meet with our State Representative.
Here are some pictures:

Up there, that's the statue of General Hooker. One of the many well-dressed workers at the State House took time out of his busy day to tell us all about Gen. Hooker, a Civil war hero. He also discussed how, in a sculpture of a person on a horse, you can tell if the subject is alive or dead by the number of hooves on the ground or in the air. Gen. Hooker, it turns out,lived through the Civil War; had he died the horse would be rearing with both front legs off the ground.

These next two pictures are of the Great Hall of Flags, which houses each Massachusetts town's official flag.

For much of our visit, the Great Hall of Flags was full of people and TV cameras and officials all gathered to discuss autism. It wasn't the only area of the state house bustling with senators, representatives, aides, journalists, photographers, and visitors. In most hallways and gathering spaces, people were everywhere! Another beautiful gallery, the Hall of Nurses, hosted a meeting the morning we were there attended by police officers from across the state. Just add in the flying paper airplanes that count as interoffice mail in the Ministry of Magic, and we could've been in the wizarding world.

It seemed like everywhere we went, there was somebody to help us. On our scavenger hunt, we needed to get into a large reception hall to find a painting of Horace Mann. A guard informed us that there was a meeting going on, we wouldn't be able to get into the reception room; as he was finishing his sentence, a senator rushed up, overruled the guard, and took us in to the room by a door further down the hallway, telling us many facts about the hall and the building as we went. When he opened the door to show us the picture, we saw officials, journalists, and photographers way over on the other side of reception hall – and the picture we were seeking was just above our heads.

Here is a lovely window that I enjoyed as we walked through the State House.

We were lucky enough to meet with the representative from our area, at a moment when he had the time to give us a tour of the House Debating Chamber. This picture hangs in the chamber:

Also, our representative told us about the Sacred Cod, which you can see in the gallery below. The cod's head points toward the side of the party in power; here in Massachusetts, the cod has pointed toward the Democrat's side since 1948 – a fact which our Republican representative told us with no irony or bitterness whatsoever; I liked him for that. When you are attempting to rear children with respect for their civil government, it's nice to have your elected representatives treat the other side with civility.

And, here is our group posing for a picture with the representative in the debating chamber. We are standing where the Speaker of the House stands; it was quite a feeling!

One of the most memorable parts of the day for me will always be when our representative was showing Luke, Owen, and I some of the quieter chambers off to the side of the big chamber. Luke asked a really interesting question: "Representative, why is everything oval-shaped in here? I mean, the curtains, the tables, the plaster above the lights…"
A conversation ensued about how the architecture in this building reflects the builders' belief in equality for everyone. Our representative told us further that the chairs in the Senate Chamber are carefully set so that everyone's head is at the same height while they debate. He then asked if the boys knew about the legend of King Arthur; when they responded enthusiastically, the three of them shared in a conversation about why the Round Table was round.
And then:
Owen: "Representative, our mom lets us watch clips of a movie about King Arthur on YouTube. Have you ever heard of Monty Python?"
Representative: (smiling)"Yes, I have."
Owen:"Oh, that is one of our favorite movies to watch clips from! Have you ever seen the part with the Killer Rabbit?"
Representative:(smiling even wider)"Sure, I remember him!"
Owen:"Do you remember this part? What's he gonna do, nibble my bum?" Seriously, my six-year-old said that to our State Representative. I was a bit embarrassed, but I have to admit I also thought it was very cute – and, I think the Representative will remember our meeting with fondness. He laughed heartily at Owen's imitation.

As for us, we remember this visit with fondness too. Really, all that were missing were the flying interoffice memos; the State House is quite a magical place.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Spring Spruce-Up

Nearly two years ago, we blew $200 on This End Up couches from our favorite thrift shop nearby. The cushions were old, and somewhat, shall we say, eye-catching:

But we thought, hey, we'll get covers for them, the sunflowers will be gone in a month, tops.

Fast-forward to two weekends ago, when I happened to look into the Last Chance bin at Ikea - and got $500 worth of couch covers for $30! Sure, they were meant to fit different-sized cushions, but I thought I could make them fit ours. So, one panic attack (at the thought of using scissors on such gorgeous fabric - I made the first cuts while on the phone with my Mom, I'm so glad she was home or I might not have had the guts) and a whole lot of thread later:

Bliss. One tiny corner of our tiny home has been tamed.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Cape Cod, Off-Season

I got a few days alone with my hubby recently, to celebrate us both turning The Big 4-0. (Isn't that crazy? I hope that the next forty are as great as the last.)
I think I only want to visit Cape Cod in the off-season ever again! No crowds, just friendly year-round residents and blissfully empty open spaces.

This is just a few steps from the inn we stayed at.

Nobksa Light, one of two lighthouses we checked out - I have a thing for lighthouses like Topsy has a thing for waterfalls, so this was my kind of trip.

The view from Nobska Light.

Any thoughts on what this bird might be? He was hunting for lunch in Nauset Marsh.

Here's the second lighthouse, Nauset Light. It overlooks Nauset Beach:

And there's Ben, way up the beach.

Notice that we are in full winter gear! It was beautiful, but very cold and windy.

My Ben, I am so glad that you're the one I get to turn forty with! But, will you still need me when I'm sixty-four?

Monday, April 11, 2011

A Knitted Mug Warmer

So, acupuncture seems to work with tendinitis, I highly recommend it to all knitters... with my 'new' arms, I made this mug warmer as a thank-you, and I'm thinking about making one for myself too, it's so cozy!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Finger Puppets Rock.

I made these for a friend with a new baby, who'll need lots of entertainment, and a four-year-old who can provide it. Cute, eh?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

A Season in Pictures: The Leadville Mining Hall of Fame

This is from a huge room of mini-dioramas explaining mining, starting with the Gold Rush; I loved this depiction of sluice-mining.

A canary in a coal mine, just one tiny part of just one of the amazing 'mines' you can walk through here. They really give you an idea of what miners' days were (and are) like!

A huge sculpture of a miner, mining. I also loved the elaborate stained glass windows, depicting everything from jackhammers to those huge dump trucks, one of which you can see behind the sculpture.

The pictures simply do not do this place justice. We walked in thinking, 'okay, we'll spend an hour, how exciting can a museum about mining be?' And left thinking, 'whoa.'

If you're ever in Leadville, Colorado, it is worth a stop!

Friday, March 25, 2011

A Season in Pictures: Wii-Free Swordfighting

We didn't bring the Wii out to the Rockies on our recent visit to my folks'; instead, we decided to make some swords!

There they are: from left to right, Destroy, Sting, and Anduril, Flame of the West. Owen did the writing, and was very happy with the results:

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

A Season in Pictures

Happy spring!

We're home from the Rockies, jet lag is all taken care of and the boys aren't quite as grumpy now, having decided that life goes on even when Grandma isn't around to spray whipped cream straight from the can into their mouths ('because I can DO that as the grandmother!' I hear her shouting happily).

Also, I have finally uploaded many pictures from the trip and the last month or so.

And I thought, since my arms are still healing from the chronic knitting injury I have dealt them, that I would spend at least the early spring, if not the whole thing, blogging more in images than in words.

So, here are a few pics from the recent trip; we were spoiled with more than just whipped cream! We went dog-sledding, as in we got to mush the dogs. Who were awesome, btw. In fact, Luke wants to someday start a company doing dog-sledding here in the east. Here are the boys mushing:

Yes, at ages six and ten they got to drive a team of dogs, kind of a life highlight for them both. And me too, come to think of it.

We are so grateful to Grandma and Grandpa for making the whole trip possible, thanks Mom and Dad!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Perfect Ski Soundtrack

I bet you have songs that you associate with memories. I sure do, and the one song that has come up frequently while the boys and I visit my folks in the Colorado Rockies is What's Up? by 4 Non Blondes. It's a song that has always brought me back to really good times, and for some reason I associate it especially with skiing.

Growing up, skiing in my family was more than just a pastime - it was an instition. My parents' first date was skiing in rural Quebec, my brothers and I were skiiers before we were five, and we skiied every winter, often getting up before dawn and driving five hours to our favorite ski hills in Vermont and New Hampshire. It was the only thing that I would willingly get up before noon for on a weekend, and a big reason why winter is still my favorite season.

Naturally, when my folks retired from the rat race, they didn't head to Florida; they took a hard right turn, and have spent the last dozen years poo-pooing our Eastern icy skiing conditions and grabbing fresh powder by the fistful out here in the West. It really is a most remarkable place.

So, 4 Non Blondes! Maybe What's Up? gets a lot of play at ski hills, because I already associated it with skiing before yesterday, when I heard it twice, first sitting in a base lodge and feeling absolutely high on the best day of skiing I've had since before Luke and Owen came along. For the first time ever, I got above the timberline without being dragged and/or nervous, and just was loving everything about it: the steeps, the bumps, the view, the sun on my face, the wide-open feeling of being at the top of the world.

I almost got an all is right with the world feeling (want to know what that is? Click here), sitting in the base lodge and thinking back on an incredible day of skiing with my father. Almost, but not quite - that feeling came about half an hour later when, on the three-minute drive back up to my parents' home, What's Up? started in the parking lot and finished in their driveway.

It turns out, that's like my Dad's favorite song! So he cranked up the sound and we had all the windows down, singing our heads off heading up the mountain.

To me, just at that moment, all really was right with the world.

Monday, February 21, 2011

On Vacation!

So, it's taken me three years, almost to the day, to get on an airplane again. Tomorrow, the boys and I go to visit my folks in the Rocky Mountains, and I'm pretty excited - but, I will be more excited when the whole plane experience is over.

We are such winter people, and so visiting my parents, in the hip resort town they call home, where the snow base is 300-plus inches and all the fun stuff happens outside, is such a treat!

Hubby can't go, because of work, so going out there for sun and fun is always tempered by leaving half of my heart back in New England.

And, that's mostly what I am thinking about right now; I hope to post once or twice while we're out there, but tonight is for Ben, whom I love so much.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

We Interrupt This Valentine's Season To Bring You...

The Lord of The Rings.
While other families talk of love, and chocolate, and exchanging valentines, all our discourse has been about orcs, and hobbits, and Gollum, and who's tougher - Legolas or Gimli?

Activities surrounding LOTR have run the gamut, from endless drawings by 6-year-old Owen of the siege at Helm's Deep, to discussions of how to make a One Ring birthday cake (next summer, not any time soon.) We've even rediscovered this Flight of the Conchords classic:

There are a few swears in the middle, which I talk over when Owen watches; yes, glad you asked - I know where the swears are because I've had this video memorized long before Owen had ever heard of Aragorn, Son of Arathorn.

Because I loved the tale as a child, it's been very moving to see the wonder on Luke and Owen's faces as they enjoy the movies, and the endless family discussions on everything related to the story.

Which I guess brings us back around to Valentine's Day, in a peculiar way; this is a story about love and loyalty, even if there are no candy hearts or chocolates.
I wouldn't have it any other way.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Two Views of the Same Scene

Our garden, one recent May. Note the fence made of sticks, and the shepherd's crook, lush with gorgeous flowers.

And, today - isn't that insane? No fence at all, you can see just a few feet of the shepherd's crook, and the spiny remains of plant life almost totally buried by snow.

What a winter we're having!

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Monday, January 24, 2011

Technical Difficulties...

Update 1/25/11: It works! I don't know why, or what happened, but it's just so nice to see our un-blurry girls. Yay!

So, you'll notice that the header is all foggy, and it's even hard to make out the words up there, right?

The weird thing is, when I'm looking at the banner in my photo-editing software, it looks great - it's only when uploaded that you can't recognize any of our darling hens, or read the title of this blog even.

And when I try to upload other, formerly-fine banners, they all look like this. So, I think I'm going to have to leave it for a day or two, and try another fix.

Sorry! The girls really were ready for their close-up, even if the close-up wasn't ready for them...

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Strike While The Iron Is Hot

As I write, Luke is dictating an idea for a game he's had to his Dad. He is so excited, he is pacing and breathless, speaking faster than his dad can write. It's been a long time since I've seen him like this.

Owen is excited too; now, it's his turn to tell Dad all about the dragons that are going to be in his game.

It's really this excitement that I wanted to blog about tonight. We have had kind of a blah day, cooped up in the house with freezing rain and grayness outside, Luke and I both with headaches and all three of us with an unsatisfy-able sweet tooth. It looked like we were going to have an evening with much of the same, and then – a eureka moment!

We got to talking about making our own games, even making a company that would sell our games, and it sparked something new in both children. I mean, they've been excited about things, but this was different. You could see the possibilities dawning on their faces, especially Luke.

At one point he was so emotional he could hardly speak; when he found his voice, he asked, "what if we fail?" I told him that I don't think of it as failing, and instead if we end up not reaching our goal, we would still have learned lots, and that what we learn would take us through future ventures. I told him, I try to think in terms of learning versus succeeding or failing. He had been so upset, I was frankly a little surprised when he perked right up and asked for a notebook, a pencil, and some time on the computer.

Now, he is asking for a different notebook that he can take up to bed with him to write more ideas; Owen just came in to kiss me good night and as he was leaving he asked, "Mom, how do you start a company?"

I told him I was just about to look into it.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Great Weather

It's no secret, I love snow. The more the better! This storm we just had really made me think of my childhood, and it is so much fun watching the kids play in the snow like I used to.

Here's a photo essay of how we spent today:

For reference, I am standing in our driveway. Owen is parked on top of the bushes. Cool, huh?

Next, out into Dragon Woods. I actually wore snowshoes today, for the first time in several years. It was awesome.

Hope you're enjoying whatever whether you're getting as much as we're enjoying ours!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Competition and Brotherly Love

Whoa, what a night we had tonight.

Owen had this great idea about racing some plastic dragons around the house; that's how it all started. He had a sign-up sheet, and so we all signed up to race the dragons. It was really cute to see him so excited, and his excitement really was infectious.

All was going well. He won the first two heats, and then we reached the semifinals, which is where Owen's little world fell apart. We've seen it before, when winning is so important to him that he would rather quit, or fall, or even feign injury than lose.

And, pretty much all of those things happened tonight in the semifinal races – finally Ben and I called off the competition. Owen went into the bathroom to get ready for bed (as we directed; he would never have done this on his own), crying of course, and Luke came and sat down on the couch with me. He looked really sad. When I asked what was on his mind, here is what he said:

"Well, a few nights ago Owen told me that he wished I wasn't alive anymore."

This hit me like a bomb. It was totally unexpected; I nearly started crying on the spot. To cover my shock I asked Luke why Owen might've said that? He replied that, though he couldn't remember Owen's exact words, the gist was that Owen felt like he was always in Luke's shadow.

Luke continued, sharing that he tried to influence tonight's dragon races so that Owen felt like he was part of Luke's team, in other words, not in direct competition with Luke.

He said that he did this so that maybe Owen wouldn't feel that way anymore. So that Owen wouldn't wish him dead. I am crying now, as I write this.

Sometimes, I forget how mindful Luke is. I can't imagine him even thinking that he wished someone wasn't alive anymore because he seems inherently to know how horrible, how much of an anathema, the thought is. Maybe that's why it was such a shock to hear this coming from Owen. I just thought they both understood.

Plus, it was such a raw statement: wishing someone was dead.

I tried to reassure Luke by explaining that many people, children and adults alike, say things that they regret when they are angry. I pointed out that Owen's feelings stem more from his belief that he can't keep up with his big brother. I tried to explain that this really had to do with Owen's feelings about himself. I hope it helped.

And then, a conversation with Owen needed to take place. I wanted him to know that it is okay to have feelings like this; I asked him to come talk to me or Daddy if he feels that way again, because I think one of the worst things that might happen is that he feels bad about his own thoughts, like they only make everybody else angry and sad. Better, I think, that he doesn't squash down negative feelings but instead tries to figure out where they come from – I know he'll have to be much older before he can truly do this. But tonight did seem like the place to start.

I went on to try and help him understand about regretting things that you've said, feeling sorry that you've hurt somebody – and I think he truly understood how much he had hurt his brother.

Finally, I wanted to help Owen grasp that his frustration comes of being not as practiced at things as Luke is, for the sole reason that Luke is four years older. I wanted to try and separate the two negative feelings, jealousy and hatred, so that he understands that they are in fact two separate feelings. And, I'm not really sure if that worked; I guess time will tell.

Of course, there were lots and lots of tears as this conversation played itself out tonight. We ended on two good points, though:

1) As a family, we are resolved to play more noncompetitive games.
2) I remembered the picture that Owen drew for Luke just the other night. He made us each a picture, in fact, with characters from The Magic Pickle on one side, and a picture of each of us on the other.

He made us those pictures because he loves us.
And love endures.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A Knitted Hat Pattern, From Me To You

Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I made nine wonderful hats and two excellent golf club head covers (if I do say so myself). Many hats were from a great book called Hip Knit Hats, and I learned some really neat techniques from this book. Here's the hat I made for my sister in law, a felted cloche modeled by Owen:

Noticeably absent, however, was any version of that classic winter cap with earflaps. I decided what the heck, I'll have some fun and make up my own pattern! Of course, I had to make three or four before I figured out how to do it in a size that might fit most humans. Interestingly, Owen adopted the first of these for himself, and even though it's huge on him, it looks very cute. (That's him, wearing the giant red–and–orange cap up in the banner.)

This version is the one I knitted for Firefly Mom, because it looks just like Jayne's hat from this amazing, incredible western-set-in-space, Firefly.

So I decided I would share the pattern here. Naturally, I neglected to get gauge in any one of these hats I did from this pattern; if you know that the person you're knitting for has a small-ish head, you may want to stop increasing at 74 stitches, or even 66. Or, try dropping down a needle size – one thing I learned while knitting all these hats is that eventually, you get a feel for whether it's gonna be too big or too small. I hope that my advice here in this post will help you make a hat that won't be sized for Bigfoot.

Karen's Knitted Winter Cap Pattern
Knitted on size 8 double pointed needles and a size 8 16 inch circular needle; ribbing knitted on a size 7 16 inch circular needle

Yarn: Paton's Classic Wool, worsted weight, one skein each forest green and light gray (This is the pattern for my brother-in-law's Lucky Fishing Hat, knitted just like Owen's but in a different colorway. Here's why it's called a Lucky Fishing Hat:)

Cast on 12 stitches, and divide among three size 8 double pointed needles; join into a round and place marker to show beginning of round on first needle (when you're finished with the hat, make sure to weave the ends in really tightly up here at the top)

Round one: knit one, make one (by knitting into both the back and front of stitch) twice on each needle; six stitches on the needle, 18 total

Round two, and every even-numbered round: knit

Round three: knit two, make one on each of the three needles – eight stitches per needle, 24 total

Round five: knit three, make one on each of the three needles – 10 stitches per needle, 30 total

Round seven: knit four, make one on each of the three needles – 12 stitches per needle, 36 total

Continue increasing on the odd rows, and knitting on the even rows until there are 12 stitches before each make one – 80 stitches total

Somewhere in these increasing/knitting rounds, which took me about 3-1/2 inches from the crown, you may want to change colors. I started with the green, and went to gray about 3 inches in.

Once you are finished with the increasing/knitting rounds, continue to knit in stockinette stitch until you're at about 7 inches from the beginning (the crown). I changed back to green at about 6 inches from the crown.

To start the ribbing: when your hat is about 7 inches from the crown, switch to the size 7 circular 16 inch needle. Knit two rounds, decreasing two stitches in each round for a total of 76 stitches, before switching to knit two, purl two.
Knit two, purl 2 for 3 inches.

Now, we'll set up for the earflaps.
From the marker: bind off 13 stitches, work 18 stitches in pattern in place on a stitch holder (first ear flap), bind off 22 stitches, work 18 stitches in pattern and place on a stitch holder (second ear flap), bind off 13.

Place 18 stitches from one ear flap onto the size 7 circular needle, work back and forth in pattern for 2 inches, finishing with the inside part (wrong side) of the ear flap facing you.

Turn the hat so that the outside (right side) part of the year flap is facing you.
Knit one, knit two together; work in pattern to the last three stitches, slip slip knit, knit one.

Turn the hat so that the inside (wrong side) part of the ear flap is facing you.
Purl 1, purl two together; work in pattern to the last three stitches, slip slip purl, purl 1.

Continue in this fashion, knitting the decreases on the right side and purling the decreases on the wrong side, until there are four stitches left.

At this point you have two choices: knit these four stitches in I--cord for at least 12 inches, or make a braid that's at least 12 inches long by weaving a few more skeins of yarn into those four stitches and making the braid.

Make the other ear flap the same way.

Weave in the ends, make a pom-pom for the top, and you're done!

If you find that the hat is ridiculously big, you can do what I did with the Lucky Fishing Hat: I gathered the top by taking some of the green yarn, turning the hat inside out, and using a darning needle to pick up a stitch every inch or so around from about 2 inches down from the top of the crown. When I got back to where I started, I pulled the yarn kind of tight and tied a knot (all done inside the hat, so it can't be seen from the outside). I also braided three tassels and attached them to the top, which made the whole thing look totally planned and adorable.

If you try this hat, I'd love it if you give me some feedback on it - how many mistakes did I make, was it too big/too small? In fact, anyone who's diligent about gauge, if you make the hat would you let me know the important details about your hat's sizing? Like, what the gauge is, how big the hat is around, how many stitches you ended up with after you finished the increases, what size needles you used... you'll get credit in a future post, complete with a pic of your hat.

Happy knitting!