Thursday, December 27, 2012

Things My Parents Taught Me

This post was supposed to go up, like, two weeks ago, but shit got busy and I didn't finish it in time. Whaddaya' gonna do? As a loving tribute to my mom and dad, here are some of the things they might not even be aware that they taught me.

It's never too late

I was born less than a year after my parents got married, and at nineteen and twenty, they were young parents. Needless to say, there was a lot of the big, wide world they hadn't seen or experienced yet.

My mom decided to go get her nursing degree when my brothers and I were very young. It took several years of juggling schedules, getting creative with finances, and sacrificing time and comfort from both of my parents, but when I was eleven I watched my mother walk down an aisle in a white cap and gown and receive her degree. That never left me.

Over the past decade or so college has become much less of a "young person's" game and has become more accessible to learners from all walks of life. I did two years of college right out of high school, dropped out, started a family, and then realized when I was twenty-five that I wanted that for myself, too. The image of my mom sitting cross-legged on the couch, poring over thick tomes and notebooks was always at the edge of my thoughts, pushing me when I felt like it was just too damned hard, when I was tired and my daughter was sick and my husband was stuck working overtime again and the babysitter had an emergency and I had every reason to just quit again. And in May 2011, I earned my bachelor's degree and I walked down an aisle in a black gown with my then eight year-old daughter watching me, just as I watched my mother almost twenty years before.

My college graduation, nineteen years after my mother's. And yes, there is a sizable bun in that oven. I did not hit the Chipotle on my way in.

Give stew

You know how elementary schools have those canned food drives around the holidays? I remember going to my dad to ask him for canned goods for one of those and him going through the cabinet with me. I was grabbing peas and corn and whatever, but he stopped me and handed me a few cans of Dinty Moore beef stew. He told me that while the vegetables were great and all that, a family couldn't make a meal out of a can of corn alone. If there weren't many cans to go around, it made more sense to give out cans of stew because it could feed a family a meal. I can't tell you why that stuck with me, but every time I participate in a food drive, I make a conscious effort to build meals or give stew because that just made so much sense to me.

Leave toilet paper

We moved several times when I was a kid and my parents always made sure to leave a roll of toilet paper for the next residents. They pointed out to me that when you move it's easy to forget things like t.p. when you're trying to make sure you have all your boxes and furniture. Ever since I've always made putting a fresh roll of toilet paper out the last thing I do before I leave a home for the last time.

No "and" in alphabet

My persnickety dad found the "y AND z" part of the alphabet very irritating and he taught me to sing the song without the "and". His point was that "and" is not a letter, and while you could argue that "and" is just pulling the list of letters together, I developed the habit of leaving it out and I still do to this day.

How to accept a gift

My mom and dad would have beaten my ass raw if I had ever reacted to a gift, no matter how shitty or thoughtless or unappreciated, with anything less than absolute grace and gratitude. Seriously. Ass beating. 

I carry that with me and have instilled that same fear in my own daughter. We don't spank, but if she ever reacted like a spoiled brat to a gift the temptation to have her pick a switch might be more than I could resist.

Bear genuinely loves this gift, but she could TOTALLY fake it if she didn't.

To think for myself

My parents were pretty open minded about any church or religion I wanted to explore. We didn't attend church as a family, but through a variety of friends and church vans I was able to explore many different philosophies. All were within the Christian realm, but that religious fluidity made me a far more critical thinker when I became an adult. I took and enjoyed a few religion and philosophy classes and I feel like my ability to explore and question information and to think about it critically is in large part due to my parents' willingness to let me do just that as a child. I wasn't presented with a lot of absolutes when I was young, and I'm grateful for that. It gave me flexibility and a certain amount of open-mindedness.

No lavish praise 

My parents, and my dad in particular, were not big on the over-the-top praise. I'm not saying they didn't commend me on a job well done; only that I wasn't given the Da Vinci treatment over every drawing of an elephant or branded the next Einstein because I aced a spelling test.  My dad was very reserved in his praise, usually offering a nod and a, "Very good," before turning his attention elsewhere. You might think this sounds cold, but I think it makes sense. I'm not saying I don't have a deep-seeded desire to please my parents and have them approve of my decisions/accomplishments/ideas. I do, as I think most people do. But I know where I stand with my parents. If my dad compliments my work or idea or whatever, I know he means it. I never have to wonder if he's "just saying that" to make me feel good about myself.

I know that's a lot of talking, but it's an introspective time of year and I've had my parents on my mind a lot. It's important to understand where we come from, in both a nature and nurture sense. I am very much like both of my parents, and I'm proud of that.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Handmade Christmas Gifts

Anyone who knows me at all understands the depth of my kraft inkompetence. It's laughable, actually, how ridiculously untalented I am in all things crafty. I have tried and failed at many crafty endeavors, in no small part because of my incredible impatience and deep-seeded need for instant gratification.

So it was obvious to me that I should totally hand-make some of our Christmas gifts this year.

I'll give you a minute to pull yourself together.

I can't post all of my plans because some of them are for people who read this crap. That's not to say I'll actually end up giving those people the gifts I attempt to make, as they may well be colossal failures (the gifts, not the people). But I can talk about some of the things I'm making for the kids, which also may or may not fail spectacularly (again, the gifts; not the kids).

For Bear:

Magnetic paper dolls

I found the idea for this on Pinterest and decided to adapt it for my kids. I wanted something we could keep in the car for them to play with.

Bear is super into The Hunger Games, but I guess licensing has been pretty restricted and I couldn't find any sticker or coloring books to work with. Luckily I found these cute paper dolls on Etsy and they're perfect!

Bear's Hunger Games magnetic paper dolls

The additional costumes for Gale, Katniss, and Peeta

For Bug:

Magnetic cars and animals

For Bug's version of the magnet board I bought a sticker book from Michael's. The book came with several pages of "scenes" to play on, so I ripped one out and stuck magnets on the back of it, too. I used different magnets on Bug's figures than I did on everything else and they don't stick quite as nicely, though I can tip it up and they don't fall off. So...good enough. Lesson learned.

Pardon the glare. I am a truly terrible photographer.

Felt board

I love felt boards, especially for itty-bitties. At first I tried stapling my piece of felt to a piece of cardboard and putting it in an 8X10 frame, but the stapled showed and the frame had sharp corners and it was basically a huge failure. So I pulled it apart and used craft glue to attach the felt to a canvas board and it worked much better.

I also used my huge box of cookie cutters to make shapes for Bug to play with. Cute, right?

The felt board and some of the shapes I made for Bug
                The inside of the bag I ACTUALLY SEWED BY HAND for Bug to store his felt shapes in. I glued a plastic bag inside so the pieces wouldn't stick.

I still have to attach some Velcro to the bag flap so it will close, but it's not bad for a terrible crafter!
I like these gifts because we can update the figures as the kids' interests change. As Bug gets older I can add smaller pieces or things with smaller magnets, like magnetic fridge letters. Bear is getting a tin of magnetic poetry for Christmas that she can use on her board, too.

The cutting took quite a bit of time, but I started working on it in September and just did a little at a time. I definitely recommend planning ahead for these projects.

I haven't made the covers for the magnet boards yet, but my mother-in-law is going to help me with that in the next few weeks. I have all the materials; I just have to physically make them. Instead of "paper dolls," I'm going to put their names on their covers.

Are you doing anything hand made for anyone this year?