A few reasons why we read out loud everyday

For about an hour every evening, my husband and I read out loud to one of our children.  The Man and I swap them every night, heading to our chosen corners of the house, and we each have our own books that we are reading through.  Currently girl child and I are working our way through Terry Pratchett's Discworld series and Boy child and I are on the second book in a Minecraft fan series called The Elementia Chronicles by Sean Fay Wolfe.  It will take a month or two to read an entire novel with a child this way.

There are so many reasons to regularly read out loud to your children and the Internet has probably said all the super legit and adult reasons already, so I don't have to.

BUT, I do have a couple of highly personal and self-interested reasons to read out loud wonderful books that children fall in love with and ingrain in their psyche.  They may not be the main motivators, but I think they fall under the category of perks.

Such as: Nearly Immobile Children.

Children rarely sit still enough to be able to cuddle them and still sip a glass of wine.  I drink red and am a terrible laundress. Not spilling is a big issue for me.  Children rendered almost motionless as their fertile imaginations weave the story into stunning pictures in their heads while tucked under my book holding arm leaves another arm and its attached hand free for wine glass lifting. The better the book, the more likely wine will go on the inside of me instead of the outside.

Channeling Their Favorite Characters As A Motivator.

When I ask my daughter to do something, she sometimes does it.  When Hermione asks her, she just does it.  Hermione has more sway than I because Hermione is always right and look what happened to Harry when he didn't listen to her, right?  Being the actual 'voice' of a beloved character gives me the Power to make almost any request seem like it's coming from someone more sensible and lovable than me.  I make sure that my book character voices are distinct and consistent, enhancing my ability to instantly invoke their authority outside of story time.  Perhaps some may think of this as manipulative, but I prefer to think of it as bringing in reinforcements and avoid having to get all shouty.

(Though, sometimes I do feel a bit smug when girl child is all, 'Why you gotta bring Hermione into this, you know I can't resist?!' and do a little Vincent Price laugh in my head.)

Getting To Read All The Great Children's Books You Would Never Read On Your Own.

I know I missed a lot of great books when I was age appropriate for children's literature because I was so eager to get grown up.  Getting permission to take books out of the adult section was a hard won privilege at my local library and once I was allowed to leave the children's room, I never looked back. Until now.  Because, man, children's books are the best.  Like catching up with Watership Down and The Wolves of Willoughby Chase. But that's actually another topic.

What's just as great is reading contemporary children's literature that you may have never of even thought of reading.  Like the Bone graphic novels.  Reading graphic novels out loud, I admit, presents a particular challenge, but the boy and I actually worked out a pretty good system (though it cuts into my wine drinking somewhat).  I would never have the patience to read it on my own, but it turned out to be a great read with all sorts of interesting talking points (like, what is Thorn wearing now?!)  I also get to read stuff that may I want to read but couldn't really justify it since I have all sorts of 'adult' reading to do.  Like The Sisters Grimm series by Michael Buckley or Adventure Time and Minecraft fan created literature which have given me great insights into the cultural worlds of my kids and happen to be pretty funny and entertaining.  In general, I may not read Kate DiCamillo in a coffee shop by myself, but I will happily read her out loud to my kids in that coffee shop (and I'm convinced that at least one or two adults around us being forced to listen in are also happy about it).

What are some of your personal reasons for reading out loud to your kids?

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Murder Mystery

I think the reason why my blog posts have slowed to a trickle over the past few years is that as I get older, I become less and less sure of my opinions.  Time and experience has revealed the multifaceted nature of most things I earlier had assumed to be one-dimensional.  Age has made me kinder and less able to judge.

Also, the children have stolen my computer.  

Actually, it's mostly the children's fault.

Over the years there's been a number of computer-y obsessions.  Minecraft, internetertainers (Good Mythical Morning!) This week's favorite is Roblox's Murder Mysteries.

How does one blog when one must shift a hundred pound child away from a tense round of Murder Mysteries?  That child is already wound up to the edge, murdering and being murdered, he's not likely to move away without a fight.

Roblox Murder Mysteries, for those who do not know, is an online mini-game that players can join where one player is the murder and the rest have to either figure it out and catch (kill) the murderer as a Sheriff with a gun or just try to avoid being murderer fodder as an Innocent.

As a parent, there are several things to freak out about with this game, but the one that usually gets me is IT'S THE GUY IN YELLOW! HE'S GOT THE KNIFE! HE'S RIGHT BEHIND YOU!  RUN! RUN!! RUN!!!

I have not the constitution for first person perspective murder games. And, frankly, I think that is a positive aspect of my character.

The children have quickly figured out that playing Murder Mystery is fun, but watching mom freak out because HE'S RIGHT BEHIND YOU is even better.  I try not to watch but our home is small and the laundry must be folded on the couch beside the computer and, damn it, my kids seem to have the survival instinct of lemmings.  I try not to get into it, but then I'm looking over their shoulders, and they stumble across a body and I can hear the shink shink sound of a busy knife and RUN RUN RUN!  They are always being murdered.

I'm starting to suspect that they are getting themselves killed on purpose, just to break their poor mother's heart. 

Of course, when they the are assigned the role of murderer, there is a whole new level of intensity.  My babies are the best murderers. Ever.  Or they would be, if they could listen to my advice.  Like, 'don't walk around with your knife out, honey, they'll know it's you and the Sheriff will shoot you,' or 'follow that guy into that empty room, he doesn't suspect us,' or 'look in the stalls, they always think they can hide from you there,' or 'LOOK OUT LOOK OUT, IT'S THE SHERIFF, HE'S GOING TO SHOOT Y- oh, nevermind.'

Anyway, the point is, it's really hard to find some time to sit down and write a post when the computer is constantly occupied by murdering fiends intent on giving their mother a heart attack.

Suggestions of playing Murder Mysteries outside, in, like, real life away from the computer, have been rejected. I even offered to craft up a miniature knife and gun (from soap?) that could be concealed easily in a hand, and each person could be given a sealed envelope with their role.  Then they could play out the mystery in the backyard with their friends.  Gosh, each person could even be given a character with a personality and background, and they could dress up and play out their character!  Sounds like fun, hey kids and not at all like something drama geeks from the '80s would do?

"Wow, mom, that's kind of sick.  You want us to murder our friends?"

Sigh, no.  But I do want to use the computer ever once in awhile, so maybe a bit of murdering is okay?  I mean, they already play Hunger Games, which if you think about it, is pretty deranged and it wasn't even my idea.  It's infuriating that they think it's okay for them to kill each other over limited resources in some contrived scenario and dispel blame with, 'the man made me do it,' but it's not okay to kill each other just for good old fashioned the sheer titillation of figuring out who the real psycho is.  Pssht.  Kids today.

Thus, the sporadic blogging.  For which I apologize, though it is entirely the children's fault. 


Specimen Display Shelf tutorial

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This cat is not on display.

Girl child has a love of collecting interesting and unusual natural objects and lately we've made a study of historical curio cabinets as found in Europe during the baroque period. Around the house there are several stashes of girl child's specimens, everything from beetles and skulls to rocks and the stitches that came out of her father's head after minor surgery.  Every once in a while, the girl needs a new shelf in which to display the interesting things she comes across (although none will be nearly as fancy as the baroque collections).

The need came up just this last holiday weekend when girl child found a particularly magnificent dead bumble bee.  In order to arrest, or at least slow, the bee's decomposition, a burial in rubbing alcohol was needed.  And then maybe, asked the girl, a place to display the bee in her glass coffin?

I'm not so good with the building with the wood but, inspired by Gordon Grice's book Cabinet of Curiosities, an excellent resource for the tween age crowd and their parents, I thought maybe I could handle a little bit of very basic cabinetry.  

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Of course the only thing open on the holiday weekend was the Dollar Store, so I get now to present to you:

How to make a small specimen display curio shelf using (mostly) dollar store items

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The (artist's) frame, vials, and rubbing alcohol were purchased on at the dollar store, to which I added balsa wood for shelves and wire as holder-on things (that's a technical term).  Additional needs are white (pva) glue, tacks or nails, and wood stain or acrylic paint (mine is craft gel stain).

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The frame and back itself is a complete piece purchased as artist's board in the craft aisle, turned to the backside.  Balsa wood, cut to the appropriate size to fit the purchased craft vials, is glued into place as the shelves.  I just want to make a note of how excellent it is to be able to cut balsa wood to size with a quilting ruler and small blade.  It's my kind of wood.

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When the glue is dry, sand down any exposed glue and rough parts of the shelf.  A coat of wood stain (follow directions on package) is easy to do but paint works well too.

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I happen to have quite a few shoe tacks about my place but any old small nails will do to use as a post to twist wire around.  Picture hanging kits in the dollar store have nails about the right size.  Place tacks or nails about a half inch above each shelf, a distance I scientifically determined to minimize the vial's ability to randomly fall off the shelf while maximizing the ability actually put the vial on the shelf.  (Scientifically determined, as in I held the wire up while boy child put in some vials and tipped the shelf around to see if any would fall off.)

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Leaving a bit of tack sticking out allows room fro the wire to be twisted on and secured.  On the back side of the shelf, pop in a couple tacks or nails and suspend a wire between them to be able to hang the shelf on the wall.

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That's the shelf!  Now for the fun bit: collecting specimens!

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We, as a rule, only collect specimens that are not alive.  Because we don't want to be jerks.  Beetles, spiders, flying insects and casings are favorites.  With these vials, we do have size considerations (although it is sort of amazing what a determined child with an aggravatingly large and fluffy bumble bee can do with a bit of patience and a pencil as a poker) and cork toppers are probably going to be replaced with a wax seal eventually. 

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Adding rubbing alcohol will keep specimens from decomposing for a few years but after that there is no guarantees. 

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Girl child has just a few vials filled on the shelf right now but by the end of summer she'll most likely be agitating for another.  There are quite a few wolf spiders in the basement that will be seeing the end of their natural life span by September.  It's lucky for the girl that I've made her a handy tutorial so she can make her own darn shelf next time.

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I am cruel to my children. I force them to share a room. It is a small room with a bunk bed, a dresser, a clothes rack and an itty bitty chair that the cat could sit on if it skipped breakfast.  The open spaces in the room are all up above head level, thus the top bunk of the bunk bed is ongoing contested territory.

Girl child lost the latest round of high level negotiations - boy child cried and she caved.  Upon taking up residency in the bottom bunk, she discovered the former tenant, her brother, had written a slanderous comment about her on the bottom of the top bed.  It was obviously written in a moment of passion, and I was impressed at his spelling, but the girl believed that she couldn't go to sleep under such conditions and decided to paint the slates more to her liking.

The bottom bunk now has a rainbow ceiling, which is quite lovely and cheerful.

Lovely and cheerful is exactly how I'd describe my girl child. Even when she is not.

Girl child is a writer by nature and I often find bits of stories, lyrics and poems left about the house.  Her stories are mostly adventures, featuring animal characters with heroic qualities.  Her poetry is decidedly less optimistic.  Here is a typical sample:

It is through her poetry that her inner nihilist speaks.

When I tell people that I have a gloomy girl, they look at her big smile while she roller skates by or performs on the stage, and they do not believe me.  Her interests include sports, theatre, reading and death positivity.  She wrote her first ever piece of fan mail to Caitlin Doughty of Ask a Mortician, after reading her memoir, Smoke Gets In Your Eyes.  She is in touch with her inner darkness.

It is sometimes said sardonically that you get exactly the child you deserve.  And sometimes when we clash, when she turns to me with her chin stuck out, cussing her defiance, I think, 'yes, that's me thirty years ago.'  But I also have a child who is unafraid of looking at life from all angles, the hope and the futility, the beginning through to the end, and embracing it all as normal and natural. 

She may seem like a contraction, from her rainbows to her skeletons, but she's more expansive than contrary.  Life with this child means picnics in the graveyard and cuddles while reading about Victorian funerary rites.  We take long walks through the woods, chatting while looking for animal bones.

 It is thrilling for me to have this brave spirit, this cheerfully gloomy person, in my life. 


Mother's Day: the catch 22

Our Mother's Day tradition is for The Man to take the childs away for a few hours while I get to do things that I would do if I didn't have children. 

The being without childs, of course, leads me to non-essential arty/crafty activities, where I stitch things that are, theoretically, for children*, the kind I am pretending I do not have.  There is no way for me to stitch these dolls for children with actual live children floating about me. I simply can not apply the intention to get the job done.

All the irony.

Since nobody is here to interrupt me, or save me from myself, I end up spending too much time hunched over a small object, squinting at small stitches, and I end up with a terrible crick in my neck, the likes I haven't experienced since my youngest was a toddler who refused to be put to sleep in any other way than being held and walk about for an hour.  Doll making may be a expression of post traumatic stress disorder?

I like to turn on Youtube for music and sometimes listen to podcasts, like the new horror mystery Alice Isn't Dead, because, although I crave it, I'm unaccustomed to quiet.  And I'm on episode three, when Alice is brutally finding out what the noise is that has been coming from the trailer and I realize I'm all alone, listening to a scary story, and- what's that noise in the basement?!  

Suddenly, the doll I'm stitching looks less merry and more sinister.  I worry about my inability to make playthings for children that aren't unsettling to small people.  Like the kind I have but am pretending I don't have as a treat to me.

I'm pretty sure the noise was the cats in the basement.  Which makes me feel guilty about the cat box down there I should probably clean.

This is me, two hours into separation from my offspring, when the switch flips from, 'I hope they don't come back soon,' to, 'goodness, where are those kids?  I need them here now.'

Perhaps I can get them to clean the cat box?


*Strange children.

Pictures of the dolls that children inspire:  http://dollyshoptheatre.tumblr.com/