Thursday, July 31, 2008

Hot Topic! TV: how evil is it?

Pop Quiz: How do you feel about letting your kids watch TV?

a) I would sooner feed them a sippy cup full of bleach.
b) My kids watch TV...when they're on international flights or getting their teeth cleaned.
c) My kids don't watch that much TV...just a few hours of Playhouse Disney in the morning and an hour or two of PBS Kids after lunch--oh, and of course I pop in a video or two while I'm making dinner and before bedtime.

Here's a really interesting essay about TV-watching and its possible benefits. As a kid I grew up watching lots of TV, but also reading lots of books and loving riding my bike to the art museum down the street from my house. I have to say when I read this essay, I found it refreshing to hear someone actually admit that watching TV is fun, can be educational, stimulating, provocative and moving (just like any other art form).

As an adult I still love watching TV, although when it comes to interesting shows, it's slim pickings these days. Brandon and I get really excited on Wednesdays and Sundays because we know two of our favorite shows are going to be on on those nights: Project Runway and Mad Men (If you haven't watched this show about Madison Avenue advertising executives in the 60s, check it out. It's really great fun). I have now outed my husband as a Project Runway fan...he will never forgive me. We love watching those shows together and talking about them. It's a cheap date, but I would also contend it is time well spent together. We are also serial watchers of Jon and Kate Plus Eight. We will put the kids to bed, finally get a moment to ourselves and then head down to the living room to watch other people struggle to put their kids to bed and wish they had a moment to themselves. I'm not sure why that show is so appealing...who wants to watch a show about what you've been doing all day? I guess being a voyeur of a life that is so similar to your own is cathartic. It's like a mirror that you hold up to yourself and it turns out you actually look okay.

So, if Brandon and I are responsible recreational TV watchers, wouldn't it follow that we could teach our kids to be also? I think this idea that TV is all bad or all junk food for the brain is really false. There are some great kid shows out there too. Have you ever watched Word Girl before? It just won a Television Critics Association award for best children's programming. I love that it has inspired my daughter's super hero imaginative play and she's learning words like "cumbersome" in the process. I admit as a writer and a lover of books, I often think of myself as a "word girl" too. If I had a super power it would be the power to diagram sentences in the blink of an eye.

If one of my kids wanted to watch Max and Ruby while I made dinner, (which is, conveniently, when Max and Ruby comes on) I probably wouldn't say no. I love the Max and Ruby books by Rosemary Wells and the show does the books proud in my opinion. The stories are smart and character-driven and they always remind me of the way Emma and Charlie interact with each other. To quote Noggin's blurb about the show: "The brother and sister relationship is at the heart of these stories, and what makes the relationship humorous and fulfilling is that Rosemary Wells has added salt and pepper to it, instead of sugar." I guess Max and Ruby is to Emma and Charlie as Jon and Kate Plus Eight is to Brandon and me (except I would argue that I'm not nearly as uptight and bossy as Kate).

I certainly don't agree with everything the writer says in the aforementioned essay. I don't think it's a good idea to haphazardly expose young viewers to content they aren't mature enough for. I would not be pleased if Charlie started watching The Family Guy, for example. But I do think that there are worse things than finding comfort and entertainment in a favorite TV show. I know it makes my Wednesday that much better knowing that a new episode of Project Runway is waiting for me at the end of it. Why should I deny the same innocent pleasure to my children?

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

No-Name Boy

My latest obsession, besides researching things like infant bath tubs on the Internet ad nauseam, is what this baby boy is going to be called. I have become a frequent lurker on baby name blogs like this one and this one. I have been thinking about it so much that every noun is starting to sound like a plausible name. Computer? Is that a good name? Mouse? That has sort of an off-beat, funky sound to it, doesn't it? Mouse McBride, hmmmm.....

One of our favorite names is Teddy (Theodore). The other night, in the middle of the night, I was woken up by a leg cramp, a.k.a. a "charlie horse." I was screaming and writhing around in such a way that might make one doubt that I am capable of the non-medicated birth I am hoping for. Anyway, all my carrying on eventually woke Brandon up and he asked what was wrong. "I have a....a....Teddy graham" was all I could come up with at the time. I think I was obsessing so much on the name "Teddy" that I replaced the "Charlie" in "Charlie horse" with Teddy and then Teddy horse didn't sound right, but Teddy graham seemed like a plausible answer. Hmmmm....Graham...that's a nice name too. Hadn't considered that one yet.

This name stuff is making me totally nuts. I keep thinking that we will just know what to call this person when we see him. I hope that happens. I know that I am probably very influenced by all of the baby naming resources that are literally at my fingertips via the Internet. I think sites like nymbler and name voyager are making parents feel like the "right" name is out there if they just look hard enough and Google long enough. The blurb on the back of the baby name book I'm currently reading says this:
"Yes, your baby’s perfect name is out there. The trick is finding it. The perfect baby name will speak to your heart, give your child a great start in life—and maybe even satisfy your relatives. But you can't expect to just stumble on a name like that in an A to Z dictionary or on a trendy list. That’s why you need The Baby Name Wizard. Created by a name-searching mom, it uses groundbreaking research and computer generated models to pinpoint each name’s image, examine its usage and popularity over the last 100 years, and suggest other promising ideas. A perfect guide to the modern world of names, The Baby Name Wizard will engage you from the first name you look up and keep you enchanted through your journey to the just-right name for your baby."
Could it be that all the "computer generated models" and "groundbreaking research" are actually making our job as the official namers of another human being harder rather than easier? Suddenly perfectly good names like James or John or even (gasp!) Charles, sound so plain, so obvious. I mean do you really need a computer generated model to lead you to John? Did you really do your baby name homework thoroughly if all you could come up with was John?

Then there's the flip side of that. If everyone's using these complicated web-savvy ways to find a baby name, then why not be a real trendsetter and come up with a name that is so anti-what-everyone-else-is-doing that you're actually sort of cutting edge? Doesn't that make John, like, way more hip than say, Milo?

Uggh. I just need to have the baby, see what mood we're in at the time and give the little guy a name. Whatever the name, we will love it because we will love him and he will be the cutest _____ we have ever seen, I'm sure.

Monday, July 21, 2008

The importance of being idle

I don't have much to write about. Honestly my life is pretty boring right now. You're probably clicking over to someone else's blog right now, and I wouldn't blame you. For a while there I was really fired up about summer and all the FUN that we were going to have, all the adventures we were going to go on, etc. Now I'm tired. And I'm hot. And I am way pregnant. I find myself lying on things, fanning myself with a Wall-E book a lot. I stare at the giant calendar in the kid's playroom, the kind that kindergarten teachers have with the huge numbers that fit inside of pockets, and try to figure out what day it is. Does it matter? Who cares? I go outside to water the plants and see how big the tomato plants are getting. We started them from little seeds bought at the Dollar Spot at Target in March, back when we still had to wear coats if we were going to buy something at the Dollar Spot. We put the tiny Dollar Spot pots on our living room window sill because it was still too cold for them outside. Someone (I can't be sure who, but I have an idea) thought it would be cool to pull up the little sprouts as soon as they started to grow, and I would come into the living room to find them lying, corpse-like, roots exposed on the windowsill next to their pot. It made me so angry. Livid! What a silly thing to be angry about, but at the time it was a huge deal. At the time I was newly pregnant and I really related to those little sprouts, trying so earnestly to take root. Now, the plants are big and hearty. Their stems are thick and have little hairs that stand out all over them. They have yellow flowers now which bear the promise of future tomatoes. Yet, we still have to wait. All this time has passed and there is still more time to be passed before we arrive at destination tomatoes. Once again, I totally relate.

The tomato plants are growing, my tummy is expanding, Charlie needs a haircut. The days are slowly drifting by, but I still feel like summer is never going to end. Part of me wants it to and part of me doesn't. Judging from my blog entries, you might be led to believe that every day is an educational thrill a minute. For every blog entry I've written about some fun summer activity we've done, there have been about six days in between where we spent the time at home; me folding laundry and intermittently groaning about how giant the baby is, the kids playing out one of their crazy imaginary scenarios where they pretend to be lifeguards at the beach or drive their babies around in convertible cars. These exciting days are peppered with trips to the grocery store and maybe a visit to the pool where we always seem to be the only people there. We try our best to follow all the pool rules as we swim under the unflagging gaze of a very stoic lifeguard, every word we say magnified by the water and the lack of other people. It's not a bad life, but for some reason I'm ready to get on with things and get back to "real" life.

One thing I've noticed though is that all this unstructured time has been good for us. It has fed my spirit and I feel sort of happy (when I'm not complaining about the heat, or the giant baby, or the tyrant of a lifeguard.) I've come to the conclusion that a little boredom is good for the soul. I just read the following quote today (it's about writing, but don't worry, it applies to lots of things): "If you write, good ideas must come welling up into you so that you have something to write. If good ideas do not come at once, or for a long time, do not be troubled at all. Wait for them. Put down the little ideas however insignificant they are. But do not feel, anymore, guilty about idleness and solitude...if it is the dreamy idleness that children have, an idleness when you walk alone for a long, long time, or take a long, dreamy time at dressing, or lie in bed at night and thoughts come and go, or dig in a garden, or drive a car for many hours alone, or play the piano, or sew, or paint ALONE; or an idleness-and this is what I want you to do--where you sit with pencil and paper or before a typewriter quietly putting down what you happen to be thinking, that is creative idleness. With all my heart I tell you and reassure you: at such times you are being slowly filled and re-charged with warm imagination, with wonderful, living thoughts."*

The tomatoes are coming, along with shorter days and deep blue skies that will be set off by bright orange leaves. The preschool will open its glorious doors again, and the sounds of football will fill our living room as it does every fall, as will the cries of a brand new baby. And most likely I will look back dreamily on our long summer days as the best days--the days I wish I could have back again.

*From Brenda Ueland's book If You Want to Write

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Space Mommy

Got no sleep last night...well, does three-ish hours count? I'm not sure what my problem was...probably just the typical and especially cruel pregnancy-induced insomnia that is your body's way of "preparing" you to wake up every hour or so with a newborn. Fun. The upside of my painful night is that I watched a new cooking show on Tivo at 4:30 a.m. and got some great, easy weekday dinner ideas. The theme of the show was five meals you can make with only one trip to the grocery store. Here are the recipes (click on the link and scroll down to "Episode 408 Supermarket Savvy). Mommy Town always has your back.

We had plans today to hang out with some friends in DC and so I figured I'd make the gas usage worthwhile and have an all-out DC museum day. We had lots of fun splashing and digging in the Children's Garden at the U.S. Botanic Garden (wow, some fancy plants going on there). Then we headed to the National Gallery for a "trip to Paris" art class. The kids got little passports and were "transported" via art and stories to Paris. We sat in front of Renoir's painting "The Pont Neuf, Paris" and talked about what kinds of things we might see, taste, smell, hear if we were in that painting. We talked about the use of light and how you can tell that it is daytime even though you can't see the sun.

And then we read this book...I think a lot of it was over their heads. (Charlie kept shouting out, "when are we going to the rocket museum?" at inappropriate times. ) But they enjoyed making the craft, which was to finger paint with Color Wonder finger paints onto transparent Color Wonder paper that had been affixed to a matted picture of the Eiffel Tower (whew, awkward sentence). The end result was pretty cool and is much more tasteful than most of the kid art we currently have hanging on the wall.

Then we headed over to the "Rocket Museum," a.k.a The Air and Space Museum for some airplane/rocket fun. We hadn't been there in about a year or so, long before Charlie could fully express his absolute love of all things winged. It was an ecstatic experience for him to see all those airplanes and rockets. Truly, he radiated airplane/rocket-induced joy. Emma liked it too. In fact she requested that we have a space party ASAP.
What's a space party you ask? I have no idea. We are making this stuff up as we go. I think we might go to Michaels and purchase one of those kits where you can paint the solar system. That would be fun. While we're at Michaels we might also pick up some Color Explosion art supplies so that we can make our own constellation pictures. I also think it would be cool to get one of those projector things that shines all the constellations on the ceiling, but this is sort of expensive, so instead I might just poke holes in some card stock and stick it over a flashlight. The only thing we're really sure of is that this space party will involve a rocket cake. I might try to talk the kids into some rocket sugar cookies instead because heaven knows I do not need some big rocket cake sitting around the house tempting me for the next week.

Emma really wants the space party to happen tonight. She's already prepping by making princess party hats. (I know that does not really "go" with the space theme, but I am not terribly rigid about these things.) It's unlikely that the space party will happen tonight seeing as I am about to fall asleep as I write this. I think we'll continue the space theme tomorrow when Mommy is fresh and doesn't feel, well, quite so spacey.

Got any other crafty ideas we can do for our space party? Don't keep 'em to yourself. Please share!

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Having Kids Makes You Happy...True or False?

This is an interesting article in Newsweek about whether people with kids are happier than people without kids. (Hint: the answer is not what you might think...)

After reading this article, I can't help but wonder do kids make me "happier?" I think they definitely do... I think I'm much happier sharing my life with them, seeing the world through their eyes and most importantly, I don't have time to think about myself and be all angsty (as is my tendency) because I'm too busy cleaning up after their potty training messes, their arts and crafts messes, their food messes, too fried from playing judge and jury as they both debate about who had the Bob the Builder computer first. This morning Charlie woke me up at 5:40 a.m. because he wanted to cuddle. Did that make me happy? I'm too tired to know or care. It's not that cleaning up messes all day and feeling sleep deprived make me happy, but they are a small price to pay for a life filled with the deep and abiding love I feel for my family. So, in the end, I think it's safe to say, I'm happy.

I might be a lot happier after a nap though...

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Lemonade out of Lemons

Yesterday I was just settling into a nice afternoon nap on the couch when Emma came downstairs to announce she needed a box so she could make a lemonade stand. No wait, I wasn't really settling into a was more like a nap came and grabbed me by the maternity t-shirt and wrestled me onto the couch. I think this is one way that being pregnant is sort of like being narcoleptic. Sleep just descends on you out of nowhere and you have no choice but to submit to it.

In my weakened state all I could muster up to say was, "a box?"

"Yes, Mommy," Emma was already growing impatient with my lack of knowledge and lack of consciousness.

I lay there, hoping that this was the end of our conversation.
"Mom-yyyyyyy!" Her not-so-subtle emphasis on the "eee" part of Mommy made it clear my nap was over. I could either get on board with this lemonade stand or spend the rest of the day regretting it.
Lemonade, anyone?

It ended up being pretty darn cute. We actually squeezed our own lemons because being the neglectful Mommy I am, there was not a grain of Country Time or Minute Maid powder to be found in our townhouse. We did have lemons, though...and sugar...and water, which apparently is all you need to make lemonade. Who knew? The kids helped squeeze the lemons and I couldn't help thinking about all the things they were getting out of this little project (developing their hand muscles by squeezing the lemons, measuring, pouring, a lesson in the power of advertising and the importance of product placement, how not to harass costumers, etc.) We made the lemonade, Emma made a sign and actually wrote the letters "L-E-M-O-N-A-D-E" across the sign in large yellow crayon letters from left to write instead of all over the page seek-and-find style as she sometimes does with her writing. I asked her how much the lemonade should cost and she said simply, "one."

"One cent?" I asked.
"Yes, one cent," she said clearly having no idea what that meant.
We took their little table and chairs downstairs along with the cash register, our sign, the tape, some dixie cups stolen from the toothbrushing station upstairs and the pitcher of lemonade. We set up shop on the sidewalk in front of our house and waited. Our house faces a hike and bike trail, so if we really wanted big business, we could've moved our little stand to the entrance of the trail and made a killing, we're talking like fifty, maybe fifty-three cents here. But, pregnant mommy didn't want to carry everything quite that far, so the sidewalk in front of our house worked just fine.

We had maybe four customers and all of them insisted on giving us a quarter for their tiny toothbrush cup shot of lemonade. We offered free refills to sweeten the deal. I think Charlie drank the rest of the lemonade himself. Between potty breaks for him (apparently lemonade is processed differently from other drinks in that it goes straight from mouth to potty/underpants in about two minutes flat) and breaks to bring out toys to play with, we probably spent a good hour or so attempting to sell lemonade. Every time the kids would see a car pull up near our house, they would yell, "a customer! a customer!" and I had to practically strap them down to keep them from running out into the street and accosting the poor person with lemonade. A few people walked right by us and either pretended not to hear their pleas to buy lemonade, or said a curt "no thank you" and kept walking. How, I ask you, can you say no to this?

We never did end up needing the aforementioned box. I'm not sure where Emma came up with that one. We did end up having a lot of fun...and meeting a few of our neighbors...and I think we made a whole dollar. Not bad for a Monday afternoon.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Life's a Bowl of Blueberries

I have to admit, I have really been enjoying our lazy summer days so far. I am totally winging it with no major plans from day-to-day...we're just waking up, seeing how we feel, seeing how it feels outside, taking stock of the laundry basket situation and then deciding what to do with these beautiful sunny days that are stretching out before us like a lazy cat.

Yesterday the weather was this amazing combination of cool and breezy and sunny. I miss Texas almost every day, but I have come to LOVE the fact that in Virginia we still get a cool and breezy morning on the first of July. After determining we absolutely had to do something outside so that we didn't waste this beautiful day, we decided to head out to Great Country Farms yesterday to see what all the hype was about. We had heard great things from friends, so yesterday seemed like the perfect time to check it out for ourselves. I packed up some pb&j sandwiches and snacks and about an hour later we were leaving the suburbs and driving through the rolling green hills of Virginia to the farm. As you head further and further west of our house you start seeing the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains. The landscape of townhouses, outlet malls and McMansions starts dissolving into a vineyard situated on the side of a green, lush hill, an isolated General Store that advertises its sandwiches and homemade ice cream, and every so often you'll see a farm house. It is quite an improvement as far as views go. As I drive, I start fantasizing about one day living out here in all this beauty, and then I start to wonder where I'd go out to eat...I'm sure the sandwiches at that General Store are delicious, but....

It turns out the farm totally lived up to its reputation. For $5 we were able to have so much fun it was ridiculous...We even ran into friends from church and friends from Emma's old preschool in DC. I love when serendipitous things like that happen. Here are some fun pictures of our day riding cow trains, going on hay rides, hanging out with goats and picking blueberries...

Hungry goat

Emma attracting goats.

Charlie's favorite farm activity...sending these wooden sifter things down the water channel. I think this was supposed to be some kind of lesson in how prospectors used to look for gold, but Charlie just enjoyed seeing the wooden "boats" float by.

Back-to-back bunnies and a duck

Bunny up close

Charlie on the "Moo-cow train"

Two happy kids

Charlie, master of the U-Pick

Charlie in the middle of exclaiming, "This is a dark blue one!"

Heading back to the farm with our harvest.

Later that cream with blueberry sauce for dessert!

Well, I better go for now...we have another fun summer day ahead of us! Today probably won't live up to yesterday's adventure seeing as we have Charlie's 3-year check-up on the agenda, but you never know when serendipity will strike and a perfect day will be had by all. Happy Wednesday, everyone!