Thursday, 4 December 2014

Tutorial for Making the Elements of Harmony from My Little Pony for Your Little Brother

That's a really specific post title. Mostly because Safiya and I tried to find tutorials for this very particular and very important activity and the internet failed us.

So for all of you siblings out there madly making holiday presents (we're counting down to Solstice!), here is a vital tip for creating a pretty good set of The Elements of Harmony for a loved one who is perhaps as obsessed with My Little Pony as Zinadine.

It took a while to figure out. We wanted something durable, three-dimensional (not paper), and inexpensive. A trip to the art store offered up resin (too complicated) and Fimo, of course, but we have little experience with it and we weren't very impressed with the colour selection and it was still a bit pricey.

However, for Safiya's Black Widow costume that she wore for Hallowe'en I had made a belt buckle out of a mason jar lid (the flat part) with nail polish for the design. We wondered if nail polish sticks to hot glue gun glue. It does! (Just for your information, glitter glue does not. That was a messy fail. A willing sacrifice for the cause, internet.)

So here we go:

1. Draw whatever shape you'd like to make and use paperclips to attach it under a piece of parchment paper.

2. Use glue gun to trace design. Let cool. Do not worry too much about a little blobbiness. Or worry about it and then have your mother reassure you. Build up as you like, letting cool between layers. This will create a three-dimensional shape that is flat on the back, which is what we wanted, as they might have to get attached to necklace-collary-things in the future.

3. When you're satisfied, let cool completely. Use a pair of scissors to trim the edges, if necessary.

4. Go to Dollar Store and agonise over nail polish colours. We discovered sparkly opaque ones work best. Argue with your mother because according to you, the Elements of Harmony aren't sparkly, they glow, and that is not the same thing. Gleefully paint with nail polish. Let dry, and ta-da! (These are the best pictures I have because the whole operation was very hush-hush, you see.)

Perfectly acceptable and amazing Elements of Harmony with which your little brother can defeat Discord and save Ponyville.

Best. Solstice. Present. Ever.

Friday, 14 November 2014

Where No One Has Gone Before (Yay for Philae!)

Philae lander approaching Comet 67P/C-G as seen by Rosetta (image from ESA)

Like many across the globe on Wednesday, we waited with baited breath for the stuff of science fiction to become reality. It wasn't on our radar until a day or two before, when news articles started to trickle in about this crazy mission that looked like it would work: getting the Philae lander from the Rosetta spacecraft onto Comet 67P/C-G five hundred million kilometres away hurtling through space at crazy speeds. What? What?

We watched the ESA twitter feed and blog, read up on the Q&A, and got really excited. To watch knowledge, money, technology and talent being used for the truly fantastic as an adult is a privilege*. To watch the live feed of the scientists reacting when Philae finally landed was something else**. I was young when the shuttle program started, so I never really experienced the anticipation and thrill of us people getting our collective shit together to do a science first in this way.

"Rosetta and Philae" by Megan Stringfellow (Stringfellow Arts & Crafts on Etsy)

** Nothing like the movies, in an excellent way. No soundtrack, no intense close-ups of intense faces, lots of people just sitting around in control, waiting. It was a hilarious reminder of how much our expectation of these things is shaped by movies.
* Although, as an adult I also got to experience Chris Hadfield singing David Bowie's Space Oddity in the International Space Station, which counts, I think:

I was a trekkie as a teenager (Star Trek the Next Generation, please, and anything after) and still am, I must confess. As an impressionable 13-year-old in a small town, Star Trek shaped my moral universe in a way that eclipsed my religious upbringing, fed my craving for the big questions of life, and started my life-long crush on Captain Picard (of course). Alas, this was before the internet, so I was a solitary trekkie girl, unaware of the larger trekkie culture and very aware that in the real world at that time, that kind of stuff was for boys.

But it was the sense of possibility that plucked at my heart strings (not with Picard, with science....unfortunately?) And here we are, using planets' gravity to fling a spacecraft across our solar system to rendezvous with a lump of rock a gazillion kilometres away on a ten-year-mission.

Seriously. That's a needlepoint Picard on our living room wall, a birthday present to me from a dear friend who knows.

Safiya's real excitement started when she realised that the Rosetta mission started when she was born and here she was, getting to witness its culmination. It was also fueled by her own recently discovered love for Star Trek the Next Generation (her favourite character is Data). After Philae's release I kind of lost it when they said its main thrusters had failed. Its main thrusters had failed like many a Star Trek shuttle craft. Be still my beating heart :) Upon which Safiya reminded me that she hadn't seen that happen yet (we've only just started Season Two in our nightly family STNG marathon), so she didn't get it. But that equipment failure was also part of the thrill. This was a real problem for the mission: what were they going to do? Science in Action, right?

Star Trek Inspired Quiet Book by Julie Bell (pattern available on juliebell Etsy shop)

In the end, all I've got is thanks. Thanks for a world of connection where geeks can find other geeks and discuss the things they love a little more easily. Thanks for a world where Safiya can wear the Lord of the Rings patch on her backpack with pride (I'm guessing a Star Trek insignia is soon to follow). Thanks for Nerdfighters, and Neil deGrasse Tyson and Cosmos, and where the aftermath of a scientist making a bad decision is this and this.

So thanks, ESA Rosetta mission. Thanks from this one little person in Toronto for the privilege of watching you guys do your stuff and experiencing for real where no one has gone before (couldn't help it :)

Tuesday, 11 November 2014

The Best Kind of Day

"This is the best kind of day" she said, contentedly.

Upon request, Safiya had asked me to teach her to crochet, again. Except I made a fatal mistake. I gave her the cheap cotton yarn to learn on, which only ended in frustration, obviously. You'd think I would have remembered that the pleasure is not only in the learning and the accomplishment, but in the materials.

"What about finger knitting?" She was game, especially after I pulled out my most favourite yarn - a beautiful creamy slubbed merino that I had never done anything with - and her eyes lit up. "Are you sure? Are you sure I can use this?" Well, I wasn't doing anything with it, was I?

And so that's how the above proclamation came about. Zinadine playing trains, Safiya knitting away, and me sitting on the playroom floor, reading a new-to-her book aloud. Ever since Safiya really began to read on her own, she hasn't been that interested in us reading out loud, but she commented on how nice it was, especially since she had something to do with her hands. We were supposed to do multiple things that day, obligatory things, but it just didn't seem to be the right day for it.

As I get older, I listen to that voice a bit more. The best kind of days are the ones that you make for yourself. To purposefully step outside of the push and pull of the calendar and the necessary things of life is a skill that has been hard to learn. I don't mean just hanging around and shirking, although that's fun sometimes too :) It's more understanding the value of what is happening rather than running away from what should be happening, if that makes any sense? Stepping aside without guilt or feeling the need to make an excuse is hard, but important.

Is going to lessons important? Yes. Is it more important than learning a new skill? Maybe, maybe not. Maybe I wasn't interested in that particular value judgement that day. I asked her what she wanted to do and she made a choice. Will Safiya remember that she missed karate class? Nope. Will she remember that we sat together and learned something new and read a new book and were content? Wholeheartedly yes.

Thursday, 21 August 2014

No Try, Only Do

There's a quote out there that I can't place: something about "there is no now I'm ready, there is only now..."

At our house we're big fans of rumination, of reading and planning and thinking about it.  "It's something to think about.." comes out of my mouth more often than not when a plan is suggested.  Last week, however, we had a it-was-just-an-idea-but-it's-a-perfect-day-for-it-and-we've-kind-of-planned-for-it-but-not-really-oh!-here--we--go! kind of a day.

The kids grabbed their scooters and I grabbed the wagon, lots of water, and sustenance bribes (marshmallows) and we dove into a first thing in the morning scoot through Taylor Creek Park and up the Don River Recreational Trail and E.T. Seaton Park and Sunnybrook Park to meet Mr. S. for lunch (that's a lot of parks).

It was new.  It was glorious.  The kids were ahead of me always - I had to really move to keep up.  They discovered where Totoro lives (see pic above), saw a woodpecker, and called back to me about flowers and bridges and beautiful creeks and mysterious paths.  The weather was sunny and cool and accommodating.  Every single person who passed us passed with a smile on their face; a combination of the kind of people who frequent these trails, I think, and the sight of two children just cheerfully whizzing along.

It was so rewarding to have taken a chance and been given it back in spades.  There's a whole hidden park world in Toronto that, even though we've lived in this area for eight years or so, we've never really accessed.  And the advantage of scooting for a little guy like Zinadine is that there is speed and momentum, but he is still travelling in a manner such that every so often I'd see him drop back and stop and drop to his hands and knees so he could watch a fuzzy caterpillar cross the path, gaze longingly at a sadly train-less railroad track, or chase a flock of Canada geese.

On the way we also lucked into the Toronto Archery Range, with actual people doing actual archery in it.  To a ten-year-old who is mad about achery (and who inherited a love of making bows and arrows from her friends), it was, well, let's just say her voice went up a couple of octaves; there might have been some excited young lady screeching in quiet, reverent kind of way.  And the people, of course, were lovely and had the kind of nerd-expertise that you hope to find in a place like that.  We came away feeling welcomed with some helpful hints in our heads and helpful websites in our pockets.

There were even some super helpful re-enacters there with handmade bows and arrows (yay! and wow!)
So, this is a narrative of a day where we took a chance and it paid off.  The kids really ran with it - all eight-ish kilometers of it.  For me, I'd forgotten what a good lot of exercise feels like.  How pleasurable it is to hit your goal, as sweaty and wild haired as that goal may be.  To be a little free in the middle of the constraints of the city and to get a more complete perspective of where we live.  To be pleasantly surprised by our environment and to have our curiosity rewarded.  To feel the benefits of a morning like that all the rest of the day and see the glow of it mirrored in the faces and moods of the kids.

It's learned me to worry a little less about the being ready and hope a lot more for the nows. It's good to be in this space again.

Thursday, 16 January 2014

Tiny Miracles of Growth

"I didn't think they would grow!" said Zinadine.  He was amazed.  Now, I'll admit, I'm one of those people who is inherently disbelieving about the everyday, mundane, time again proven and beautiful fact that things grow from seeds.  Actual things.  With roots and everything.  So I revelled in his incredulity and joy of discovery.

He said they were yummy but didn't eat more than a small handful.  Safiya thought they were...tolerable.  Mr. S. missed out, and I like them.  I like the taste and that really, they're an easy winter vegetable.  So I think I'm going to give them more chances.  And of course there are consequences to sprouting things.  Now I have to find out what to do with all these sprouts, hopefully find different ones to try (in smaller quantities! wow those lentils made a lot of sprouts!), and in a related vein, I think we'll try starting some seeds for the garden this year.  Maybe.  At the very least I get to look at the Richters catalogue with something more than just longing this lovely.

Sunday, 12 January 2014


A lot of what I write here is evidence.  Evidence of the pieces of my everyday that are still madly clinging to me, whipped and bedraggled as they are, as life whistles by.

So here is a piece of evidence that I still make things.  I took some time out a while ago to sew something not so whipped and bedraggled.  More homey and fancy-pants new-like.  Some of my favourite fabrics from the stash and my fancy new rotary cutter and mat, and ta-da!  New pillow covers, a couple of lap blankets, and we're good to go!

By the way: homey stuff by me; my favourite painting by my brother.  Excellent pairing :)

Second by the way: not really "Ta-da!"; more like several hours over several days including more than one period of time holding my breath, sewing machine on stand-by, frozen like a deer in headlights in my basement studio as I hear Zinadine's little feet nonchalantly wandering on the main floor above me and him sing-song calling "Maamaa!" in that "I have lots of things to play with, and I'm quite happy, and my Dad and Safiya are right there but really I can think of nothing better than to track down my Mama....I wonder where she is?" Yeah. More like that.

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Growing Into A New Year

Everyone's growing.  With an almost-ten-year-old and an almost-four-year-old and two almost-forty-year-olds, it feels like this house is going to be doing a lot of growing all at once.  I don't know what's different about this year, about 2014.  For the first time I feel ready for it, like I'm not just trying to keep up.  That's seems like tempting fate.  (It's o.k. fate, I'm really not tempting you.  We go way back.  You should know that I'm not tempting you.  Seriously, don't you think I've earned it?  Um...o.k that feels like tempting fate again.  Moving on down the road...)

Down the electrical tape road :) The day before New Year's Eve the kids and I took out the Solstice Tree, cleaned the living room and spontaneously rearranged the furniture.  And installed a road.  And beach.  And lake.  The last evening of 2013 was spent following Zinadine around as he insisted we be a train, keep a fantastic playlist going on the laptop, do some silly dances and then play a slightly out-of-control and more-competitive-than-it-ought-to-have-been Frog Hoppers game.  After Zinadine finally fell asleep I think we watched Tangled, then we all went to bed.  At something like nine thirty.  Well, as of us except Safiya, who, in a fit of independence, insisted on staying up alone until well past midnight.  It was the alone part that she was tickled pink about, which Mr. S. and I thought was fantastic and brave.

That's the other side of the living room.  I include it mostly as a public record that at some point our living room was a tidy and orderly place.  And also to note that that living room cleaning out started a chain reaction around the house of making more room, moving things, rejigging space for all this growing we're doing.

The next day was a morning of Mr. S's famous french toast, Safiya's project of making her own calendar, trying out growing lentil sprouts, and reading and lazing.

Then we went out tobogganing in the afternoon 'cause it seemed like the best strategy to keep the boy awake until evening.  We ended up with a spectacularly icy hill (thank you ice storm) which made for much ridiculousness trying to get back up, frozen toes, the threat of a bloody nose courtesy of Safiya, and a thrilled little boy who finally braved his first swoop ever down the toboggan hill.  And then pizza (with more ridiculousness) and then home and then comfort.

It was a good start to the year. It was silly and fun and happy and quiet and close and may your home bring you as much comfort for the whole rest of the year.  Happy (Belated) New Year!

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

The Raveled Sleave of Care

The boy has fallen asleep.  It's now a little past three thirty in the afternoon.  Up at five this morning, his little three-and-a-half-year-old self gave up in a flurry of tears over a broken airplane and a very brief nurse.

A week or so ago, he woke up at three in the morning: "Mama, I want to go downstairs."  That's how he starts every morning: "Mama, I want to go downstairs."  It's like a mantra, or a totem of his, wielded in protest against sleep.  Against our sleep, anyway.

I'm trying to at least get him to have some kind of segue; to ask, "Mama, are you awake yet?"  This seems the more appropriate thing to say to the person slumbering next to you in the wee hours of the morning.  It's also more likely to coax something from me other than "That's nice."

So, as this in-the-middle-of-the-night morning began, he suddenly remembered what was more likely to get a response from me:

(quietly and very close to my face) "Mama, are you awake yet?"

(groan) "No honey, I'm still asleep.  It's the middle of the night."

"Mama, are you awake yet?"

"Zinadine, it's not morning yet; it's the middle of the night.  It's very hard for me to get up right now."

(pause) "Don't worry, Mama," (he gently pats my arm in a reassuring manner with his tiny hand) "it's easy.  You just get up.  Like this!"

He stands up in the middle of the bed.

I never imagined that my life would be measured by someone else's sleep.  But this boy has managed it almost from the beginning.  Rest assured (ha!) we never expected our newly born boy to sleep.  We accepted this jokingly, unbegrudgingly.  This was our second-born, after all, and until she weaned herself at three-and-a-half-ish, his sister never fully slept through the night either.  So we thought we knew.

A couple of months in, we were cautiously surprised to find that he was sleeping almost five hours at a time.  And then, between nine months and a year (it's all a blur), he decided that was enough and proceeded to never sleep again.  At least, that's what it felt like.  And nothing worked.  One year later, Mr. S. and I were adept at grimly smiling at well-meaning family members who helped with suggestions as best they could.  Sleeping arrangements, food, water, positioning: none of it had any impact.  "It will pass" became my mantra.  Two years later and I could probably count on one hand the number of times I had slept more than four hours at a time.  For a long stretch every two hours was the norm.  Almost three years later it's getting better and I've finally not-very-graciously admitted to myself that taking care of myself is actually an essential kind of thing, and that some days it's the only thing I have room for.

And yet, when waking, he is and always has been a delight.  A rambunctious, hilarious, growing, lovely little man.  It's what has kept us sane.  The daytime belied that there was anything seriously wrong.  The boy just didn't sleep.

So here we are, him sprawled out, toes curled like they don't care, pudgy pillow-squished cheek with a puddle of drool at the corner of his mouth, and me thinking that that looks like a little bit of heaven.  And wondering how, when you're so sleepy, it's even possible to laugh so hard.