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Keeping the Kids Occupied

word search

(Photo credit: morgan frederick.)

With Christmas less than a week away, you may have trouble getting the kids occupied while you quickly wrap a gift or vacuum the floor. I’ve been working hard on getting a range of activities together to keep the kids occupied.

I’ve certainly used the television more times than I can count to keep the kids occupied. What’s interesting, though, is even the kids get bored and will start playing with toys. If they’re in a good mood, I can get a lot done. If they’re not in the best mood, not even the television helps.

I introduced my older child to Pinterest. He got addicted quite quickly. However, it was never an activity that would give me lots of quiet time. “Mommy, can we make this one? Do we have the materials for this one? Can you type in [insert dinosaur that didn’t exist in the 80s here] for me? Why can’t I find anything with a [dinosaur that didn’t exist in the 80s]?” I’m of course happy to explain the science behind searching, but not when I’m trying to get something done.

My older child loves searching for things, so whether it’s the I Spy series of books or crosswords, he’s quite content. The I Spy series can keep him occupied for a little, because they show the items on one page and he can then look for them on the other. Other books have written descriptions, and then I have to help him read (though, excitedly, he’s starting to work on that himself).

But I did find this: Create Your Own Free Word Search / Wordsearch / Wordfind / Word Find Online – Edcreate. As the website title suggests, you can create your own word searches here. I used a list of the first 100 words that kids learn in English (these are the most frequent words used in English) and created a bunch of word searches for him. When this activity gets pulled out, he’s engaged for easily 15-30 minutes (usually 15 – I underestimated his abilities and made the word searches too easy) and he’s working on his reading skills.

Next up, word searches with dinosaur names that didn’t exist in the 80s. Even I’ll have to look those up!

Merry Christmas!

A Ladybug Mistake

Fair Trade

Fair Trade (Photo credit: flydown)

This past weekend, my family went to our local Christkindlmarkt. It’s as close to a real German one as our city can make it, which means half of it was indoors and really cramped. Vendors sold items as diverse as summer sausage and local baked goods to handmade wooden toys (for reasonable prices, I might add) to handicrafts from Peru and, of course, your usual “made in China” products.

I rarely fall prey to impulse buys when the kids are around, but my desire to make this a special time where we buy a few things I rarely allow (e.g., summer sausage) coupled with the crowded space around the stalls made it hard for me to say no.

One of those purchases was four finger puppets, apparently fair trade-crafted, and from Peru. (While I do support fair trade, I am still skeptical sometimes if something with a hand-written sign is truly fair trade or just marketing.) Either way, though, someone made these finger puppets, mostly likely a woman.

The ladybug finger puppet had opened at the bottom. I didn’t realize this until we all got home and my older son mentioned that “there’s fuzz in there, Mommy,” when he saw the stuffing exposed. I was angry: I know I’d only paid $2.50 for that, but it was defective. I certainly wasn’t going to spending over an hour returning something worth $2.50, so I chose to repair it myself.

It took me probably about 20 minutes or so. The opening wasn’t complicated to fix; the difficulty was in working with such a short piece of finished off wool on a knitted project, hoping I didn’t start any runs (that’s why I prefer to crochet). As I was sewing, though, I realized that I was simply fixing another woman’s mistake. Don’t I appreciate it if someone fixes my mistakes for me once in awhile? Granted, my feel-good-me was picturing a poor woman, possibly with kids at home she was trying to support, peacefully making little toys for other children. She could have, of course, been a single, angry, woman who thought it was way beneath her to do this kind of handiwork.

Either way, I was connecting with someone who made a mistake. My blood pressure lowered, my muscles relaxed, and I felt pretty happy. Hopefully the craftswoman in the other hemisphere is trying to make a living, just like most of us, and that she is getting an appropriate pay for her skills. Sometimes we simply have to hope that we’re doing the right thing, even if we don’t have certified, stamped, official proof of it.

Repost: NY Times Article on Being Messy and Creative

Do you work better in a messy area or a clean one?Do you work in a messy environment or a clean one? This article from the New York Times suggests that people are more creative in messy environments. I beg to differ. Not because I’m writing a public post about my work space, but because I actually tend to prefer a clean environment. It feels lighter and it doesn’t bog me down so much. Plus, I hate the scrambling I do at the last minute when I’m looking for something.

But have a look. Light, pre-Christmas reading to make you think.

Creative Gardener or Cheap Gardener?

Make-shift, early-winter gardenEarlier this year, my husband and I put in two raised garden beds. Our normal garden, on the other side of the shed, was getting less and less sun as the years went on and the trees around it grew bigger. This side of our property had more light.

The new gardens went way over budget, so there was no room left for extras like greenhouse plastic. But I wanted to experiment with winter gardening a bit to see how it worked and if it was something we could try more seriously next year.

The final decision was to use garden fleece, a total of two packages that were already two years old and had been used quite extensively in the garden, clothespins, large pieces of concrete edging, and trellises. Oh, and some of the framework from a “greenhouse” with cheap plastic that couldn’t go below freezing (so it lasted me one season). The fleece only protects plants underneath them until about -1˚C outside. However, I’d planted some carrot seed in August or so (I never keep track of these things) and wanted to simply see what would happen.

Carrots harvested at the beginning of December in a Zone 5 garden.What happened was that I had two more small harvests in December! (I’m in zone 5.) I had to dig in frozen ground for the first harvest. That wasn’t fun. A few days later, though, we had a warm spell, and temperatures climbed to 11˚C. I ran to the backyard after work and dug out whatever decent-sized carrots I could find. Many are still left in the ground, but I understand they’ll grow in the spring, as soon as the ground has warmed up. I believe they’ll also go to seed. I don’t know if that’ll affect the flavour of the root, but at least I’ll get tons of fresh carrot seed next year.

This make-shift garden does require maintenance, and I doubt it would keep animals out if it were on the ground. However, it didn’t cost me anything extra, which was the point of the exercise. That, and I wanted to see how things fared under this kind of cover.

The garden fleece won’t last the winter, I’m sure. I may try and pull it up in a few weeks before it gets really cold, or I’ll just let it slowly deteriorate. I may buy more next year, partly because it’s pretty cheap and it’s definitely useful, or I may look into greenhouse plastic at that point. I do know that we don’t get any sun back there in the dead of winter, so a true winter garden is out of the question. But if I had something set up that extended my growing season from March to December, I’d be ecstatic.

Whenever you’re in an experimental phase of a project, really try and work with what you have. Using that constraint forces you to think creatively, and you may be surprised by the outcome.

A Little Chassé (or is It Chassis?) Into the Used Car Market

Buying used cars at auction dates back to the Depression.While most of my writing has focussed on the performing arts, I recently took a grand jeté and delved in to the auto industry for two articles. I went from describing a dancer’s life to describing automobile parts’ lives. Having grown up in the family car business, the opportunity to write something for the auto industry was too enticing to let pass by. Not only that, but I could also finally pay homage to the humble cars that shuttled me from home to dance lessons and competitions over 20 years of my life.

The Ontario Dealer is a new trade publication for the Used Car Dealers’ Association of Ontario (UCDA). The UCDA supports used car dealers and consumers shopping in the used car market. I got to stretch my burgeoning car expertise in two ares: auto auctions and aftermarket parts.

While dancers may be able to replace the odd shoe part (e.g., broken taps on tap shoes), car dealers and car owners can replace almost anything on a vehicle and therefore have many concerns when it comes to car parts. For example, does a damaged vehicle need brand-name replacement parts? Or are aftermarket parts sufficient? This article answers those and other questions.

Purchasing used anything is commonplace again today. Parents and caregivers of young dancers know all too well the used shoe bin many studios carry. They can rummage through used shoes, and if they find a pair that fits their young dancer, then, voilá, they have saved themselves $30-$50 and another parent has earned an extra $5 or $10. Auto auctions originated with the same intent but are not as simplistic as a used-shoe bin. In this article, I trace the history of the auto auction from its humble beginnings in the Depression to online auctioning and what used car dealers should be aware of when dealing with online auctions.

If you or someone you know is in the used car market, have a read!

Arts & Culture Magazines for Free

Download free arts & culture magazinesForgive the one-week lag in my posts. I promise, though, the reason was a good one. I had to buy a new mobile phone (the purchase itself took up most of my spare time) and then test out a new service my local library offered so I could write about it: how to stay up-to-date on the arts & culture scene with arts & culture magazines for free.

One way to keep up with arts and culture is through reading: blogs, news outlets, magazines, etc. As fun as that is, the culture sector in just Ontario alone is huge. According to a report compiled by the Ontario Arts Council and published in November 2012, 9.5 million arts & culture tourists visited Ontario overnight in 2010. They spent $4.1 billion while here, created 68,000 jobs, and contributed $1.7 billion in taxes to local governments. This includes not only the performing arts, but also historical institutes and even tourists coming to walk through towns and view the architecture.

Reading up on all of that can get expensive. I recently wanted to subscribe to a few arts & culture magazines, but having them delivered would have cost me about $100/year if I’d whittled my list down to the top two contenders. Then I checked what my local library had, and I was impressed: they had a Zinio service for library members, and I had access to about 100 magazines. Some were more popular titles like O Magazine, but others, like The New Quarterly and Canadian Art, were clearly cultural magazines. I downloaded seven magazines this week, and they’re not even on loan: I get to keep them!

I still prefer magazines and newspapers to online-only sources, because they help me focus my reading. Due to their space limitations, they have to curate what they believe is their top content for their readers. (I also like how the ads don’t flash at me or wiggle up and down to keep my visual attention.)

Zinio is much larger than just the titles my local library offers, and you’ll find every price point. The most expensive I found in the arts & culture magazines was a $150 subscription for two issues of Runway Haute Couture. The Dance Current, for example, is only $12.50 for the year compared to their paper price of $42. My only complaint about Zinio is that they miscalculated the tax on my Dance Current subscription. That was offset, though, by the $10 coupon they sent me for my first subscription.

I have a 5″ screen on my phone, so it’s a bit tiny for reading magazines. But given that I just downloaded seven this week that aren’t going to collect dust in my home, I’m willing to give the small screen a chance. If you have a tablet, you’ll likely have a better reading experience.

Check your local library to see if they offer a similar service. Who knows: you may suddenly find yourself staying up-to-date on arts & culture in your area for $0 a year instead of a few hundred.

 

Tree Angels Out of Coffee Filters

Kids tree angels with coffee filters.Lori StrausI owned a coffee maker, but because I never drank the stuff, no one trusted me to make it. Ten years later, Keurig (and others) thankfully saved my guests from eternal dessert-drink dulldom. But what to do with those extra coffee filters lying around? Tree angels!

I took two coffee filters, glued them together, and attached them to a craft stick. I used a container lid as a stencil to cut out two circles for the heads. I didn’t attach the heads until the kids had decorated them, because if they wanted to colour on faces, they’d be colouring over the craft sticks.

I don’t have a demonstration photo of these angels on trees, but so long as you don’t glue the coffee filters closed, the angel should, in theory, sit on top of your Christmas tree.

You can tell which angel belongs to the younger one and which to the older one. My logic-driven, school-attending older son included all the usual features of a face and also felt that angels needed legs, too. My younger son right now loves gluing on googley eyes, so there you have it: an angel with five eyes. (“All the better to see you with, my little gift-openers.”)

I think it’s crucial that a Christmas tree call up a lot of memories in our adult lives. I’ve of course inherited a lot of our old decorations. Some of the more generic ones have found their way into the local dump to make room for newer ones. Some of the more personal ones, though, have stayed, including a few I made as a kid. These tree angels are my first attempt at helping my kids create memories for themselves.

Review: The Artist’s Way for Parents

The Artist's Way for ParentsI would argue that most parents in North America gain most of their parenting skills from “I’m not doing what my parents did” and parenting books. Whether Dr. Spock or Dr. Sears, we all have someone’s reference book somewhere telling us what to do in case of illness, what milestones to expect, whether babies need schedules or not, etc.

What I was sorely missing, though, was a more spiritual way of parenting. I’m not talking religion here. By spirituality, I mean a deeper sense connectedness to the world. Because creativity helps us connect with each other, I believe it’s important that kids be exposed to many forms of creativity so they can learn how to connect with others. This isn’t free play, though that’s also important. It’s simply arts and crafts and exposure to others’ creativity as is appropriate for my kids’ ages. Not easy for very cerebral types like myself.

My mom gave me a copy of The Artist’s Way for Parents by Julia Cameron. Cameron is well-known for The Artist’s Way, and while I haven’t worked through that book yet, I hear good things about it.

The beauty of The Artist’s Way for Parents is that it helped reconnect Kid Lori with Adult Lori in a non-self-help way. It fuelled my ideas and drew on what I’ve already experienced in my life, no steps to memorize or supplies to buy (unless I want to). Simple suggestions and case studies about activities like going for a walk with my kids, for example, inspire me much more than the rules I’m supposed to live my days by until the kids move up to the next parenting book. The Artist’s Way for Parents ever so quietly nudged me to remember what I enjoyed as a child and then encouraged me to simply draw on that.

So really, The Artist’s Way for Parents is actually about what my parents did right: they let me be creative.