Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Learning to read

Our five-year-old is learning to read, and it is totally blowing my mind — but also making my arms sore.

I knew he would learn to read once he entered Primary, but I guess I didn’t think it would happen so quickly! I don’t remember reading in Primary, although I do remember a classmate writing a murder mystery in Grade 1 (she was immediately skipped ahead, clearly).

It started one day in October, when our son came home and announced “We rolled pumpkins at school and now I can spell ‘roll.’ R-O-L-L.” I almost dropped a plate, I was so surprised. He could spell ‘roll’! He was a genius! Or — wait, maybe he just memorized it? Hmm.

The next week, I discovered he could read “it,” “is,” “and” and “the.” It was even more exciting! The class newsletter suggested reading at home with your child and running your finger until each word as you read it.

From that day on, I have exhausted my arms each night — the left from holding a storybook so both kids can see, and the right from slowly underlining each word as I read it. When I get to a word I suspect he knows, I pause and that’s his cue to sound it out. While it’s all very thrilling, children’s books have never felt so … endless.

A few days later, I found out he knew “in” and “on,” I think, but it got confusing quickly. Which little words did he know? Which ones were still a mystery? And how come he sometimes read “a” as “the”? It’s one letter! A! Ahhhhh!

He knew “by” but not “my” and huffed at me like Seriously, Mom? How could you point to a word I don’t know? Are you pressuring me?! But then he was supremely offended if I dared to read one of his words out loud during story time, instead of pointing to it and waiting. “I know that one! Don’t say that one!”

I just learned last week that there’s a “Word Wall” in his classroom where these words are posted, so I thought I might finally get some clarity. How many words are on the wall? Which words are on the wall? Are new words added each day? His answers were “Not sure,” “All of dem” and “Uh, I fink so?”

Continue reading in my weekly parenting column, The Mom Scene ...

Monday, November 23, 2015

Current obsession: our DIY kitchen stools

I’m starting to figure out that for each season of parenthood, there is a piece of furniture you will toss and later regret.

When our son was a baby, we scrapped our glass (potentially deadly) coffee table. When he turned one, we realized we had to donate our kitchen stools because they were helping him climb onto the stove (whoops). Then, suddenly, our kids were older and we were thinking, darn, wish we’d held onto those stools.

Of course, that just gave us a great excuse to make even better ones. The original stools were short, round, backless and completely dull. It took me all of three minutes online to snag free printable plans for extra-tall farmhouse-style barstools from Ana White (author of The Handbuilt Home).

Ana’s plans are DIY gold. My handy husband, Michael, spent one afternoon measuring and cutting out the pieces, and two other sessions assembling everything. He built the back first — from the top of the backrest all the way down to the legs — then the legs, and finally the seat. He used our orbital sander on all the three sections before assembling everything so it was easier to get into the nooks and crannies.

I chimed in about the height of the seats, but other than that I was just biding my time until I could paint them. I was dying to try milk paint for a vintage look, so I headed to Onslow Historic Lumber in Truro to buy a package of Miss Mustard Seed Milk Paint.

There were so many gorgeous colours and everything seemed like a real possibility for our kitchen, but I eventually picked “Mustard Seed Yellow” to pop against our white beadboard peninsula. The paint is designed to work especially well over raw wood, which meant NO PRIMING! Haul-eh-BOO-ya, as my five-year-old says ...

Continue reading in my weekly DIY column, My Handmade Home ...

Friday, November 20, 2015

5 family movies I'd like to edit

  1. Sleeping Beauty.

    The beginning is dreary. The end is one never-ending battle scene that feels like Transformers -- and even the dress-changing dance scene at the very end isn't enough to redeem it.

    In my version, it is nothing but Aurora and the fairies living in the cottage and messing around with those wands. The hilarious attempt at sewing a dress and the unbaked cake with candles = gold.

    LOL Fauna, you crazy chick

    The dancing mop, the eggs that crack themselves, the dress that swirls into a perfect skirt and stitches itself those tight sleeves = perfection.

    Ahhh, that's the stuff.
    We will also keep the scene in the woods where the animals pretend to be the prince. It's darling, especially the owl.

  2. The Lion King.

    We can't even watch this damn movie because I have to spend the whole time hovering in front of the (remote-less) VHS player hitting fast-forward like my life depends on it.

    The opening scene is all very nice, but then it's a bunch of death and dying and dead parents and evil uncles and sadness and OMG SIMBA RUNS AWAY and WHEN CAN I HIT THE PLAY BUTTON?

    In my version, it goes: Circle of Life. I Just Can't Wait to be King, Hakuna Matata. Can You Feel the Love Tonight. And then the ending sequence with Simba and Nala's baby. So basically, five songs. The end. No fast-forwarding and NO HYENAS.

  3. The Sound of Music.

    I love this movie. As a kid, I had no idea what the eff was happening with the running away and the scary soldiers, so I always stopped the tape after the Lonely Goatherd puppet number. It all goes downhill from there. That's where the movie should officially end.

    (I would also add in more scenes involving clothes sewn from drapes. Many, many scenes.)

  4. Peter Pan.

    So much greatness in this movie. Imagination, flying people, pirates, a fairy, the importance of storytelling, a dog as a nanny (with a hat!) and a boy wearing pink. Love it.


    Let's just say, the first time our son cheerfully sung along to "We're off to catch an 'injun!" I almost had a heart attack. And "What makes the red man red?!"

    Remove the totally offensive representation of Native Americans and this movie would be ... a lot better.

  5. Anastasia.

    This is an underrated and seriously awesome movie. I saw it in theaters with Best Friend when we were teenagers, and I loved the soundtrack so much that she bought it for me for Christmas (I still jam to it on my iPod).

    But! There is a super sketchy villain who is literally A DEAD BODY and PIECES OF HIM FALL OFF because he's ROTTING and his sidekick is a disgusting goober of a bat. In my version, he is removed and I don't care if the plot makes little sense without him.

    Because ew.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Our family's simple Christmas gift system

I know some people love spending a lot of time and money shopping for their kids’ Christmas gifts, but the trouble is it tends to snowball every year as the kids get older — and their wishlist gets pricier.

We started using a gift system for our son’s first Christmas, when he was just six months old, and we’ve happily stuck with it ever since. It reigns in expectations all around, and prevents us from going overboard when we’re shopping.

Each of our children receives exactly five gifts from us at Christmas:

Something You Want: This is always a toy, at this point in our lives, but it really could be anything down the road — clothes, electronics, games, books, art supplies.

Something You Need: Some years this has been new clothes or outerwear, and other years it’s been a practical item — like a special new plate, or a table to hold a Playmobil set.

Something To Play With: At this age, our kids are all about the toys, of course. But I love the idea of continuing to get them a little toy even when they’re teenagers. I don’t care how old you are, who wouldn’t want to assemble a little LEGO set or attack their sibling with a foam dart gun?

Something To Read: A book! We have a tradition of always getting them each a Berenstain Bear book, actually, because we love collecting them. But as they get older, I imagine they’ll get a novel or a spacebook or whatever we’re reading from in 2024.

... and a new pair of jammies on Christmas Eve: I admit this is mostly for my benefit, because I love to photograph the kids in cute matching jammies on Christmas morning.

These were C's gifts last year

These were D's gifts last year

Sure, sometimes I finish up the shopping in each category and spot something else I know they’d love. But the problem is that there is ALWAYS something else I could buy. Having a system prevents returning to the mall to “just pick up a few odds and ends,” because once I’m done, I’m done. There’s no getting around it.

Continue reading in my monthly parenting column, "This DIY House," in Family Matters magazine