The Golden Circlet

All the good things in life


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Playroom: Before and After

If this blog were at all an up-to-date chronicle of our family’s life, I should be showing you pictures of the work we’re doing on the kitchen, because that’s what we spent the weekend on. (Or, to be more accurate, what my husband spent the weekend on, while I took over the things he usually does, like cooking.) But the thing about D-I-Y home improvement is that it is very cheap, but it takes forever. All I could have shown you is the wall that last weekend he removed all the pine paneling from, revealing a structural disaster and an electrical fire waiting to happen. This weekend, he bought lumber to fix the structural disaster, and removed the outlet that I’m amazed had not yet succeeded in burning down the house, and he put in two studs, but none of this makes very thrilling photography. At least not thrilling in a good way. Very likely you’ll get kitchen before-and-after blog posts a year from today.

With home improvement on my mind, though, and needing some light at the end of my tunnel, I figured I’d show you last year’s home improvement project, which was to make over the boy’s playroom. Mostly, I am the queen of home improvement in our house. Being the queen means I make nearly all the fun decisions and do nearly none of the actual work. (My husband is a kind man. Or else he thinks I’d cut off my own arm with the reciprocating saw. I’m not sure which. Probably both. It is a goal of mine to learn these skills, however, so at some point I will put down my reign.) However, when it comes to the boy’s room, he is King of his domain. All your fun decisions are belong to him. And, in typical style, he made a lot of bold decisions and then wasn’t totally sure about them when all was said and done. However, I think his room looks great. What I love most about it is that all we will have to do to make this room suit him through adolescence and then to make it work as a study after he moves out is just to paint one wall.

Here’s how it looked before:

It looks bare because we’d taken out the broken and worn-out and repurposed-from-other-things plastic bins that lined three walls when we were getting ready to demolish it, but it didn’t look a whole lot better than this with the bins in. He had no furniture, terrible worn out brown carpet with decayed tape stuck to it, ugly beige walls he had improved over the years with crayon, pencil, and pen, and toys that simply were everywhere and could not be organized, even with adult help. It was not a happy play space. Here’s pretty much the same view, after:

The boy wanted a cheetah-themed room, because he is obsessed with cheetahs. His heroine is their fiercest protector, Dr. Laurie Marker.

We started by removing that carpet and replacing it with hardwood. This is the wood we used:

It’s oak flooring from Home Depot, in a color inexplicably called “Marsh.” We bought it five years ago to refinish our main floor, because it was insanely cheap, and we had nearly enough to redo the boy’s room leftover. We ended up paying $60 this go ’round for one additional box. We painted the walls a deep metallic gold which I think might have been from Ralph Lauren (or maybe Martha Stewart? Can’t remember or find it online, but I remember it was fancy-pants expensive paint because the shiny gold is not available in normal paint lines.) I had imagined painting the one wall as a savannah mural, with Robin and the cheetah running across it, but Robin nixed that idea. He wanted cheetah spots all across that wall with he and the cheetah running in the foreground “like a comic book.” (Did I mention he’s the king?) So that’s what we did. Here’s how it turned out:

Those cheetah spots on the wall were my contribution to this room. The boy painted a few, and my husband painted a few, but I painted 95% of them myself. Pretty happy with how they turned out, since painting walls is the last thing anyone ought to trust me to do, much less with fancy spots. I had Shutterfly make me a wall decal from a photo of the boy running a race. Finding a cheetah decal turned out to be surprisingly difficult, but I ended up buying this decal, and cutting it out. Both of the decals are removable when the boy gets tired of them, and can be moved around, so that’s cool.

My biggest goal with this room was to make it well-organized and easy for the boy to keep clean (one bin out for play at a time; each bin has its own toys), and also to create a natural limit on how many toys he could acquire in the future. (If it doesn’t fit in the furniture, something has to go to make room for it.) For that, we made the pilgrimage to Ikea. We bought deep brown Besta cabinets with glass door fronts, a long and simple Besta desk, and red bins for putting toys in. He also chose a red chair for his desk. Here’s how the desk looks:

He had the lamp already. The peace lily was a gift when his beloved horse Star died in early 2012, and that gorgeous drum was a gift our friend Dave made for him. On the wall at the left is a prized possession — a poster signed by Dr. Laurie Marker when we went to see her talk at her last visit to Dartmouth. Yes, that is a knitting basket on the floor. Here’s how the storage looks:

Months later, it still makes me happy to see all that order out of chaos. We finished things off with a fuzzy cheetah-print bean bag chairand a leopard print rug that I got for free with a free gift card. And voila: Here’s a happy kid in his happy new playroom.

Now, someday, let’s hope I can show you similar pictures of the kitchen.

 


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The Artist’s Way and What God’s Got

I have mixed feelings about The Artist’s Way.

On the one hand, I know lots of people who have found it instrumental in developing their own creativity and careers. On the other hand, I don’t believe in anything like the spiritual power of positive thinking. I just don’t believe that God provides gifts, help, or aid to people who are on the right spiritual path, at least not on consistent basis. My belief in God is a tenuous thing on the best of days, but as my rabbi said when I asked him about his own personal faith, “The question is not, ‘Do you believe in God?’ Of course I believe in God. But how much God? Clearly, not enough.”

To look around at a world full of believers, full of people trying hard to do the right thing, full of people with rich faith throwing their entire hearts into the enterprise of making this world a better place, and to know that despite all their efforts and all their creativity, the world is in terrible peril, is to know that there is not enough God to go ’round. What else can we conclude? Humans have wrecked the planet using their God-given free will (and therefore deserve what we get)? God wants us to suffer as part of some grand, mysterious plan? We’re just not praying hard enough, or doing the right things, to make God help us? I don’t believe any of that. I know that good people can try hard to do the right thing their entire lives in this unfair, unequal world, and not get any heavenly help to escape their situations. I know that powerful people motivated by greed may very well wreck my home, and yours too, and God may not show up to stop them. Unlike Jesus, I’m not surprised anymore that God has forsaken me.

So when Julia Cameron claims that all I need to do is say what my creative dreams are, begin to act on them, write about them, treat myself with kindness, and pray for divine assistance in my creative work, God will help me, I don’t entirely believe her. I do believe her a little. I believe in God, a little. And the God I believe in, or want to believe in, is indeed a creator. My God has abundance and blessings to share. My God doesn’t want me to suffer, or to struggle. My God wants all good things for me, and will add fuel to my fire — if I build it — the way sparks burst out of a log: inconsistently but explosively. That’s how God works. That’s all God’s got: everything you need, but only some of the time.

That said, my experience of the Artist’s Way is mostly that it is a helpful experience. Talking about, writing about, acting on, and being kind to yourself about your creative dreams is a good thing. I’ve been through the book twice on my own, and right now I’m working through it again in a group. I have some thoughts about why it might be helpful from a scientific, rather than spiritual, perspective, but I’ll save that for another day.


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Homeschooling: Physics for Entertainment

Our homeschool science text right now is delightfully nostalgic. And perhaps woefully outdated. Originally published in pre-Soviet Russia, and then updated throughout the 1930s,  it’s called Physics for Entertainment, and it is wonderful, and freely available. Me teaching the boy physics is a case of the blind leading the blind, and this is no doubt exacerbated by the fact that I’m not sure I would even recognize any scientific advances that have rendered the 100-year-old text no longer accurate, but the experiments are still fun, and I figure the scientific method as applied to experimentation is a learning experience that transcends the content, thankfully. (Amusingly, the experiments are designed to use everyday materials, but everyday materials circa 1913 are not always so everyday in 2013. When the text directed me to obtain a “lamp glass,” for an experiment, for example, first we had to figure out what that meant, and then whether we had one.  In that case, we had one, but the text demanded several, of different shapes and sizes, yet.)

Here we are, doing an experiment to explore the natural (spherical) shape of a liquid: 

If you want to follow along at home, this experiment is on page 81 of the text (and does not require a lamp glass).

We didn’t have quite enough alcohol in our mixture to make a perfect sphere, but we got close enough and enjoyed experimenting with the proportions of alcohol, oil, and water. Sometimes the boy finds Perelman too dry or a little over his head, but he got a big kick out of this series of experiments and was very sad to stop. (Also a big hit: the experiments making homemade cardboard boomerangs on page 57. As someone who was always frustrated with the toy boomerangs you can buy at the store which never work, I was very surprised that we easily made functional little boomerangs out of cardboard that flew and returned just fine, using Perelman’s instructions. And we’re no handiwork geniuses over here, so I am confident you could replicate the trick if you wanted.)


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From Entitlement to Patience

I’ve been home from work on vacation for the past two weeks. For the first time in many years, we neither went anywhere for vacation nor had major obligations at home to discharge. My folks came for Christmas, but stayed for only a few days, leaving lots of uninterrupted, unstructured family time for us at home. That was just what I wanted, and it came with some surprising lessons.

Being home for a long stretch of ordinary time gave me a chance to see my husband, who makes our home, at work. It gave me a chance to participate in that work in a meaningful way, which I don’t ordinarily get. I spent time planning and making meals, cleaning, and helping him prepare for a home improvement project. None of these are things I ever get to do, although for a while many years ago they were my main job in our marriage, and (except the home improvement), they are things I am good at doing and mostly enjoy.

Doing that work together put me in touch with the fact that I apparently have a curious sense of entitlement. Now, I’ve never been the type of person to try to talk a professor out of a poor grade, or a cop out of a ticket, or to assume that I was owed rewards of any kind, from anyone. I’m not talking about that kind of entitlement. But I realized that I tend to assume — on some level anyway — that I’m a good, intelligent, person who ought to be able to achieve things easily. I make the same tacit assumption about the people I love.

I don’t take into account just how difficult most of life is, and how time-consuming even simple tasks can be done well. Then, when things are difficult, tedious, boring, I have a low frustration tolerance. When I’m bad at a task either from lack of training and experience, or lack of physical strength — removing a wall, let’s say, as we worked on this week — I tend to give up before I even have a chance to learn or grow strong. I sometimes rush through tedious tasks and end up doing them badly, when going slowly was all that was needed to make them go well.

I sometimes find myself surfing, shopping, reading, daydreaming — instant gratification activities, that require neither effort nor skill — when I meant to be making or creating. Then I find that I’ve run out of what little time I have for the things that really matter to me, because they were more difficult than I felt they were entitled to be for me.

Worse yet, I’m just as impatient with my family. I underestimate how long it “should” take my husband to do his work, and get angry when it takes “too long.” I’m even impatient with my son, when he has difficulty with things I remember finding just as difficult when I was his age!

Some people like to choose a word in January to guide the year ahead. I’m not sure whether that is an idea for me or not, but if it were, I think PATIENCE had better be my watchword for 2013. Patience with myself and the vagaries of life, patience with my family and son, patience with the timeline for every good thing.

Making Pine and Balsam Garland

What about you? Do you have a problem with entitlement? Do you have a watchword for 2013?


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Homemade Golden Grahams for a New Year

The boy woke up wanting Golden Grahams, which is not something we buy, well, pretty much ever. (I just asked him where he got the taste for them in the first place. Apparently a free sample came in the mail three years ago or so. Golden Grahams are just that delicious, I guess.)

New Year’s Day deserves a few treats, and his father wanted to sleep in, so I figured I could get up to this sort of mischief. A little googling brought me to this recipe, which we made with some modifications.

Homemade Golden Grahams (adapted from Mary Voogt’s recipe):

  • 1.5 cups whole wheat flour
  • 1/2 cup white flour (I would have used all whole wheat, but I ran out. But 2 cups of whole wheat would be fine, I would think)
  • scant 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup butter

Preheat oven to 350, and move the oven rack to the uppermost position (yes, really. Otherwise it will burn). Melt butter. In a mixing bowl, stir together the dry ingredients and add the liquids. Stir until combined and then knead briefly just to develop a nice ball of dough. (It will feel greasy and slick.)

Split dough into 3 equal parts if you have large cookie sheets. Mary suggests parchment paper, but I didn’t have any, so I used wax paper. I’ve never had this problem before, but these stuck like glue to the wax paper and therefore we ended up eating our U.S. RDA of waxed paper with our cereal. Next time I’ll try greasing the paper. I’m not sure parchment would have worked any better, but you can try it. Anyway, cut wax paper to fit the cookie sheet (and grease it). Lay the cookie-sheet-sized paper on a slightly damp, clean table (the damp keeps the paper from slipping  as you roll). Put 1/3 of dough on the paper (or less if the cookie sheet is tiny). Lay a 2nd piece of paper on top of dough, and with a rolling pin roll the dough between the paper out very thin (1/16th” or so). Remove the top piece of parchment paper, and use a pizza wheel to cut into small squares. Then lift the bottom paper, grahams and all onto the cookie sheet. Bake on the top oven rack 9-10 minutes until — hah — golden. Then turn off the oven, crack open the oven door, and let crisp in there 10 minutes more (a bit less if your oven holds heat so well they appear to be on the verge of burning).

Let cool and then break apart into squares. My family thought these tasted nothing like Golden Grahams, but were utterly delicious all the same. This makes about a box worth, and my family of three ate nearly the whole thing at one go. So I guess it’s a keeper.

Homemade Golden Grahams

 


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Homeschooling: Family History

We’ve been beginning our U.S. history study with genealogy, and the history of our family’s migration to America. This isn’t my brilliant idea; we’re using a wonderful old book, Steven Caney’s Kids’ America, and he starts with a genealogy unit. Only problem is, the boy hates it. He’s been struggling through making pedigree charts and family group sheets for months and both of us are sick of it. So finally I decided this was nonsense. We have probably a dozen books of family history. On his father’s father’s side, we have Clans of the Scottish Highlands, which has wonderful pictures of ancient family tartans and crests, and opinionated (probably inaccurate) mythic Scottish history. We also have a booklet his family put together for a 2003 reunion, with detailed family trees (the boy is the latest entry in them, being born in that year). We have a scrapbook of letters the boy’s grandfather wrote during his service (at age 18) in WWII, including letters written after he served as a medic on the beaches of Normandy. We have a detailed family tree for his father’s mother as well, which traces back to a Norwegian ancestor of the 18th century.

On my mother’s side, there isn’t a whole lot, but there is a journal my grandmother kept on a trip she took with her girlfriends to Cuba in 1939. On my father’s side, there is a wealth: We have a little booklet my family put together to celebrate 100 years of our mishpoche in America, with genealogy for each branch of that family. We have a family history of my grandfather’s parents that he and his siblings put together many years ago, which tells truly amazing stories, such as the time my Jewess great-grandmother, traveling alone through Europe and Palestine in the 1930s, spent the night sharing a train bunk with an SS officer. Or the time that same great-grandmother, who could speak 14 languages, wrote a novel, and was the architect of the family home, worked, Rosie the Riveter style, assembling radios in a factory for the war effort. Despite the fact that she was in her 60s at the time.  We have my grandfather’s memoir — more incredible stories about doing research with Paul White and Ancel Keys in Europe on the Mediterranean diet, about serving as a WWII spy and capturing a regiment of German soldiers single-handedly, about raising 6 kids and working and playing unbelievably hard for decades. We have a (very funny) journal my father wrote with his traveling buddies during a 1959 backpacking tour of Europe, when they were all 21. Best of all, we have this:

Dear Poppa is a collection of the letters my father (age 7 at the time) and his siblings (and my grandmother) wrote to my grandfather when he was stationed overseas during WWII. That’s a drawing my dad did on the cover. Family history from a child’s perspective must be rare, so I really treasure this book for my little guy.

The boy really loved the idea of reading family history instead of making family trees, and I gave him his choice of these materials to peruse. Last night we read the relevant entry from the Clans of the Scottish Highlands, and he drew pictures of our family tartan and crest. Tonight he said he wanted to read Dear Poppa, and learn about his grandfather as a boy.


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Walking in…. Winter? A Global Warming Challenge

We live in New Hampshire, in the woods, by the lake. It’s December. Can you picture it?

Did you think of Robert Frost, walking by woods on that snowy evening?

Well, welcome to the 21st century, kids, ’cause there’s no blanket of snow here. The high today is forecast at 46 degrees; I don’t think it fell below freezing overnight. It has been raining steadily for the past 8 hours. It looks like a nice day in April out there. In fact, there have been only two days where there was any white at all on the ground so far this season.

So you can imagine we had to celebrate those two days! We took a recess from homeschooling on the first snow day and went for a long walk in the woods in the dark. It was still beautiful in the morning:

It also snowed this weekend, but with temperatures well above freezing it was gone by daylight. The weather has been weird everywhere I’ve lived for many years now. I remember normal winter weather, but if you’re younger than 27, you don’t even know what weather is supposed to be like. Still, it seems like everyone, everywhere, always is talking about the strangeness of the weather.

I’m tired of just talking.

Here’s my challenge for you: I just donated $8 to 350.org. I plan to donate that much whenever I notice the weather doing anything weird. If we all did that, the climate change movement would be richer than the climate destruction movement. Maybe we’d still have a chance. So, next time you’re complaining about the weather, pull up your phone and toss in a kvetching tax. Maybe we can bring back winter……