Friday, February 29, 2008

this, that, & the other

I have been absolutely swamped with work this week, but that doesn't mean life hasn't been interesting.


Last weekend we interrupted our regular programming to spend our annual winter weekend in the woods with friends. Unlike last year, when it rained the whole time and we all got cabin fever, the weather this year could not have been better. Crisp, cold, snowy but sunny: winter just the way I like it.

Perfect for walks in the woods.

Jasper loved it. Here he is in the cemetery up the road from our cabin, apparently posing for Dog and Mausoleum magazine.

Iris and Anya look happy here, but they spent most of the weekend as the Bossy McBickersons. By Sunday afternoon, we four parents were passing a murderous mood back and forth like a hot potato. Is it the age, or the fact that they really are two very different personalities, or just that it is hard for anyone to be cooped up with another person for a whole long weekend, and kids least of all are equipped to deal with it gracefully? Probably all of the above. In any case, it will be interesting to see how their friendship evolves as they grow up.

(This is the part where I try not to think about the very real possibility that these friends, who are really like an extension of our own family, may soon move away from here. No! Please don't go! I'll eat you up! I love you so!)


Several people asked about things in the pictures I posted last time of Iris' new room, so here are the answers, since Blogger won't let me email most commenters back directly:

Hi Wayfarer! The mat under the easel in the playroom is made from two layers of Mexican (?) oilcloth (so it's reversible). I think it came from the Land of Nod catalog, but I wonder if you could just find some pretty oilcloth by the yard online? Or even locally, if you have really good fabric stores. Failing that, I bet a vinyl tablecloth would work well. Because, you know, hooray for PVCs.

Hi Kelley! The metal flower hooks on the wall are from The Company Store. I'm not bothering to link to these great big retailers – they're easy enough to find.

Hi Selah! The little chair in her room came from a department store children's fitting room. I bought it when the store went out of business.

Hi Upstate Lisa! Yes, I do live in one of those big old Pittsburgh houses. The fact that it was last touched by the previous owners in 1962 means that it is a total fixer-upper, but also that, thankfully, it slept through that late 60s-early 70s era when everyone was gutting Victorian houses of every last trim, molding, and detail.

Speaking of which....


Once again, the contents of my kitchen have been emptied into the sunroom and the dining room (which makes for a fun time emptying the dishwasher) because this time we are redoing the kitchen for real. Top to bottom.

Goodbye, nasty plastic tile! So long, ugly red Formica counters! Hasta la vista, leaky old sink! The room where we spend the most time is finally going to be one we don't mind spending time in. Eventually. Until then, we could be living like this for a while.

Now where do you think I put the salad spinner?

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

movin' on up

The big news in our house actually is not a new school, at least not yet, but a new room. We got Iris' big girl room finished with plenty of time to spare before little brother or sister lays claim to the nursery, thinking that we might be in for an extended transition. The new room is on the third floor, whereas her old room and ours are on the second, and for all her stated enthusiasm about sleeping up there, we fully expected there to be nights when she chickened out. But after her first night kickin' it big-girl style, almost a month ago now, she has not looked back. She says her old room is Baby's now. Man, what a big girl.

Up for a little tour?

We have taken to calling this the Magic Bed because the sleep she gets there is, well, enchanted. She hops into this bed early and, dare I say it, eagerly. What's more, she stays there. And the sleep she gets there is so deep and long and satisfying, she wakes up cheerful and amiable. I'm totally giving this bed a raise, a promotion, and a corner office.

Right now the Magic Bed is wearing mismatched thrifted sheets.

I also freezer-paper-stenciled some hand-me-down sheets.

Remember the dresser I painted (and scraped and scraped and scraped) last summer? A little wax on her drawers, some new painted pulls, and she's a working girl again.

Hamper. Hooks. In the frames are pictures of friends and family we wish we saw more often.

The closet in this room (not pictured) is one of those old-fashioned, six-inch-shallow ones. So to hold hanging clothes, I repurposed an old wardrobe that was sitting around in our basement. The doors were warped, so I replaced them with a noren curtain from my days in Japan.

Ubiquitous Billy bookcase from Ikea and the best part of the whole room – the windowseat. Actually, there's another one, too, next to the dresser, but this is the one with the view.

And just in case you're wondering how a little kid's room can be so uncluttered with toys, it's only because the playroom is right across the hall, taking the brunt of it:

Sunday, February 17, 2008

every day is Valentine's day at our house

Me, from the couch with my pregnant feet up as J flashes through the room: Hey, slow down! Come give me a hug!

J: Just a minute, I've got a handful of moths.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

I'm not Rudolph Steiner

(This post outgrew its nutshell long ago, but it has a terrific poem at the end, so stay with me):

So we're looking into a new school for Iris. We've been very happy with her current school, which is a university-based early-childhood development center, although the fact that this is the first year that we haven't been 100% thrilled with her teachers makes it easier to contemplate leaving. Still, we wouldn't be contemplating it but for the commute. When I worked downtown, Iris and I simply rode together on the bus every morning and afternoon (simply? I could write a whole book, never mind a post, about that. By and large it was good). Now that I don't, the pick-up and drop-off duties – this is where I always think of one of my favorite Car Talk lackeys, Russian chauffeur Pikup Andropov – have become an onerous twice-a-day 45-minute round-trip. J and I split it, but still.

So we're looking for something closer to home.

The perfect option would seem to be the public Montessori school, which includes three- and four-year-old preschool classes, three blocks from our house. As a Montessori graduate myself, I'm all for it, plus, who can argue with free preschool? I mean, seriously, everyone should have it! The only hitch: admission is by lottery, and we did not get lucky. I thought 8th on the waiting list sounded OK until I heard there are only 7 open spots in the class. So, Iris won't be going to Montessori school this year. (We'll try again for kindergarten.)

Next stop, another few blocks up the road: Waldorf School. I haven't totally drunk the Kool-Aid on Waldorf education, but I'm interested enough to have filled out the application (four closely-typed pages of questions about everything from my pregnancy and childbirth to Iris' dream life); attended a "Waldorf sampler" for parents in which I got to participate in some of the same activities Iris would, including baking, painting, and molding beeswax; and sent Iris for a classroom visit. She liked the teacher – whose name, and people, I am not making this up, is Ms. Pagan – and the beeswax, but, uncharacteristically for her, did not hit it off with the other kids. I'm not sure what to make of this: most likely it was a matter of her being an outsider in a situation where the other kids had already clicked (or cliqued), but what if it's something more fundamental?

Other impressions:

No one likes handmade wood and felt toys more than I do, but the absence of books in the early childhood rooms kind of weirds me out. I realize that the Waldorf thing is not to push reading or other academic skills at an early age, and I'm cool with that. I also realize that the teachers do quite a bit of storytelling, and that's great. But books and reading – even including some of the questionable choices Iris makes at the library sometimes – are such a huge part of our family's life, it's hard for me to imagine her not having access to books at school.

I also like the emphasis on rhythm and ritual, flowers in the classrooms and lighting a (beeswax) candle at (organic, crunchy, homemade) snack time and all that, but I'm less comfortable with the – how shall I put this? – peculiar Waldorf mix of didacticism and mysticism. No recorded music or other electronic media! Just music in the mood of the fifth (whatever that is)! And the lyre is the only musical instrument in the classroom! Which is painted pink! And the teachers are wearing full skirts or dresses!

I'm grateful to have this book, courtesy of the school, to explain it all to me, but it's made me realize I am more of a seat-of-the-pants realist myself. I mean, I think Rudolph Steiner's heart was in the right place, and even his more eccentric ideas seem harmless. But my daughter has had a CD player in her bedroom since she was an infant, she seems to regard me as maternal enough even when I'm wearing pants, and I'm not above treating her to the occasional video, artificially-flavored lollipop, or plastic trinket from the dollar store. On the part of the Waldorf application which asked, "Are you willing to set limits on your family's exposure to media?", J and I answered, "We are comfortable with our current limits." We'll find out tomorrow, when we have a meeting with Ms. Pagan and her colleagues, how that goes over with them.

And then there's the fact that whenever I think of Waldorf school, my brain starts reciting lines from this sestina by my friend Jonah Winter:


For a low monthly charge, you can increase your vocabulary
by 600 words. Yes, 600 words! To wit: "Costermonger":
a hawker of fruits, vegetables, fish, etc.; "Pulchritudinous":
physically beautiful, comely; "Anthroposophy":
a spiritual and mystical philosophy based on the teachings of Rudolph Steiner.

It is not so crucial to actually know anything about Rudolph Steiner
himself so much as it is to KNOW MORE WORDS
like – wait, where'd I put it – "anthroposophy."
Yes, you can actually feel your vocabulary
expanding as those brain cells increase to allow more space for "pulchritudinous," uhm, "costermonger."

You're at an important banquet. "Costermonger"
suddenly occurs to you during a lull. You blurt it out, and Rudolph Steiner,
of all people, appears out of nowhere, to congratulate you on your "pulchritudinous" understanding of WORDS.
"What a vocabulary!" he crows, NOT knowing YOU know HE invented ANTHROPOSOPHY.

"WELL," you say, winking at the invisible studio audience, "How's your ANTHROPOSOPHY going these days? COSTERMONGER! COSTERMONGER! COSTERMONGER!"
is key. It has to do with Rudolph Steiner
and how he and others like him respond to YOU. Words
are what make you pulchritudinous.

Take the word "pulchritudinous,"
for example. Or "anthroposophy."
By now, you should be able to use these words
comfortably in most social situations. Repeat after me: "Costermonger."
That's right! You've got it! You don't have to be Rudolph Steiner
to show off your new and very impressive vocabulary.

For years, I labored at cocktail parties with little or no vocabulary,
using hand signals and facial expressions to communicate words like "pulchritudinous."
I'm not stupid, nor are you. But neither one of us is Rudolph Steiner.
Again, you DON'T have to be the inventor of ANTHROPOSOPHY
to slyly insert "COSTERMONGER"
into a discussion of Italian-American immigration. Words

are how we talk. "Words" is the same thing as "vocabulary,"
basically? Though a "costermonger" is usually not described as "pulchritudinous,"
"anthroposophy" was invented by "Rudolph Steiner"!