Last week my son and I made homemade gum. I didn’t get any pictures- and you know how I just love fiddling with pictures- so my husband said, “Why don’t you write about the playhouse we’re building?”
“Why don’t I?” I responded, “Because that's way off-topic.”
He said, “Yeah. Like you've never been off-topic before.”
With no comeback in sight, that pretty much settled it.
Aside from being off topic I also (secretly) worried that anyone reading this would think I was being very irresponsible in my parenting. I felt like I was saying, “Give them power tools. They’ll entertain themselves all the way to the hospital.”
Stephen, somehow sensing my need to fool everyone into thinking I am Little Miss Perfect, rose to the occasion. With joyous cries of, “Look at me! You’ve got to take a picture of this!” He promptly jumped off the top of the ladder in dare-devil fashion. Not once, but Five Times. Fool that I am, I took those pictures. Thank you, son. Now would you like that horror movie before you go to bed?
(Click on any of the pictures to enlarge)
So there you have it, this week's subject: playing with power tools. Stephen’s club house was in dire need of repairs so we had some Labor Day fun ahead of us. The roof needed shingles, the front peak needed patching and the sides are still awaiting panels.
Eric said Stephen was old enough to learn how to use REAL tools. I was squeamish at first, but the men assured me this is what men do. You know what the women do? Everything the men walk away from. Yet we are always scared to death when they pick up a wrench. Why is that? (Yeah, I know why- but don’t tell them!)
Step one: Teach him how to be a helper.
We had him stay down and hand us things as we needed them so he could get a feel for how the job was done. Eric even gave the Stephen the You’ve Got To Start At The Bottom speech. Kids are under the impression that to become the President, you simply have to volunteer for the job. But that's not uncommon for this day and age, they also seem to think they are contributing to the household by killing off aliens in a video game. Seriously- how proud are they, completing a level and running to tell everyone in the house? I feel absolutely criminal not handing the child a medal. But I got off topic again…which seems to be the theme today.
Eric tried to ensure that Stephen understood the responsibility he was about to undertake and the experience he would need to develop, one small job at a time. That went over really well, because Stephen’s next response was to say, “Okay, then after I hand you the nails, I want to hammer in the shingles at the top of the roof.” Yes, Dear. That was exactly what we meant.
Clearly, it must have been, because Stephen rose to the top of the work chain like no other child exploited for their labor. One minute he was handing me nails, and in the next, he was getting a tutorial on how to use the drill. From there he went just a little higher on the roof, and a little higher yet again, until, what’da ya know, he was hammering in the shingles at the top of the roof.
I could seriously take 'slippery' lessons from him.
But let's take a step back. Before he got to this level in the con, he had to suffer through another of our demented parental steps.
Step Two: Safety First!
Teaching eye protection was easy. Stephen looks GOOD in glasses- and HE knows it. In fact, it was trying to get the glasses back off that was a problem.
Teaching him to use the buddy system (just like in the pool, never do a job alone) was a matter of conquering the boy-cub-ego.
As for tool safety, Eric had Stephen practice on the ground with remnants until Stephen felt comfortable with a tool. Wise choice. Turns out Stephen has all the confidence and bluster due a nine-year-old, and little bitty muscles to match. He had grand ideas of simply guiding the powered screwdriver and plowing through the wood, zippity- zip.
Ha-ha-ha! (Oops! Was that my out loud voice?)
The reality is tools don’t do the work, people do. And that club house was a LOT of work. But so worth it- we'll have the fun of hanging out in it for years to come, but the best part is that I'll have these pictures forever. See my favorite one below with that pinched face Stephen is making? I'll have it FOREVER! Mwahahah!
Today is the first day of school for Houston ISD which means I am finally back to getting things done (...hopefully...once I get in practice again...it could happen...)!
Saturday we attended Open House at Stephen's school and had a quick 'meet and greet' with his new teacher. She passed out a "getting to know you" questionnaire, asking us parents to catch her up on our child's strengths and desires. One of the questions was: What makes your child laugh?
My pen hovered over that question as I looked up at my husband who was busy reading over my shoulder. Our eyes met and simultaneously we both blurted out, "Make up Tag!"
So that is today's shared entertainment. Stephen and my husband Eric started this game when summer began. It started out humble, with only one rule. You had to call your tag, then call out of the game - and fast! I personally called the game I WIN TAG.
It started with something simple, a stuffed dog toy, I think. It was a squeaky grey squirrel. Stephen had tagged Eric in the traditional way and run off. Eric, never one to let a child win for the sake of being nice, or any other reason, chased after Stephen. But kids are FAST, and we are getting older- I mean, smarter- so when he couldn't keep up with Stephen around all the corners, he picked up the dog toy and tossed it at Stephen. Turns out old people can still aim. "Squirrel Tag!" He called. Stephen was only shocked for a second- they are both equally devious- then he picked the toy up and launched it back. "Squirrel Tag time out!" His father called out just before the nasty toy hit. And that was the beginning of the game.
So you get the rules now, right? Make up a type of tag (anything you can touch them with, and as the game progressed it was anything touching them), then tag them and call 'time out' in the same breath. Seriously, after a few rounds you practically have to call the 'time out' faster than you can think it.
The game is about using whatever is around you, but more than that, it's about being inventive. One of my favorites is Lazy Tag. That's where you convince the person to come to you and touch you. You can not raise your hands or arms, so offering a hug is out, you can't offer to shake their hand, or do anything that is creating movement on your part. You must be very lazy and they
must do all the work. Then, when they do, it's a big fat, "Lazy Tag! Lazy Tag time out!" This is a game that gets employed on and off, all day long.
Some of the others I recall are:
- Oscar Tag (that's our dog. If you're seen touching him, it's Oscar Tag. The thing about that one is you don't have to worry about calling 'time out'. Oscar has to figure out to come touch you on his own, and he generally stays with the one who was last loving on him.
- Pillow Tag
- Blanket Tag
- Kiss tag (Often employed at bedtime.)
- Annoying Tag
- Pass Tag (inspired by Oscar's pass-by licking. Picture it: He's minding his own business, you're minding your own business, then all of a sudden as you walk pass each other you are licked, and he never even slows down or turns his head to do it. Massive skill involved. If it makes you more comfortable, this Pass Tag uses the hands not the tongue- we only borrowed the 'technique' from the dog. But you must be as sly and as casual as Oscar is.)
- Toe Tag (Be careful, you could stub one here.)
- Mind tag (Stephen's contribution one night when Eric snuck in to give him one more kiss goodnight. Stephen woke up to Eric's whisper, "Kiss Tag," and groggily answered back, "Mind tag." -Cracked Eric up for several nights after.)
- Frisbee Tag (A soft disk, not the hard plastic kind.)
- Remote Control Tag (can be handed to them, or combined with Lazy Tag if you can get them to pick it up off you without you moving a muscle.)
- Someone else touched you Tag (And this is why I personally call this game I Win Tag. I swear the stuff you can make up and get away with. Someone gets to call you tagged no matter what you do!)
- Hidden object Tag (like a Frisbee under the bed's covers, or at the foot of it to be accidentally stepped on. Great way to encourage your child to keep his room spotless. You can see a Frisbee on your floor a mile away if you can actually SEE your floor!)
- Paper plane Tag (I like these. They are soft and unpredictable when flying, so you might try 80 times before getting a tag! Obviously, this one is not employed often.)
So you can see why this game makes Stephen laugh so much. He loves tag, but it's really the crazy stuff they come up with that keeps the game so fun for him. Still, the game has gotten very relaxed. The other day he was sitting on Eric's lap (never believe that nine too old for cuddling!) when Eric called some lame tag, but it was something-I wish I could remember what!- that Stephen couldn't call back on Eric, something that only applied to Stephen. So Eric didn't even have to call a 'time out' on it. Being the genius he is, Stephen just stared at him a moment and called, "Grey Hair Tag."
These are the stories that will go around the table when we meet his future wife. These are the stories we will laugh about when we are old...er. The moments when being a parent was everything you thought it would be.
Please visit our children's book website: HoustonChildrensBooks
At the St. Arnold Brewery
Stephen can't wait until school starts and his teacher asks the students what they did over the summer. He insists he is going to stand up, pump his fist in the air, and proclaim, "I went to a BREWERY!"
The Parent of The Year award is always just outside of my grasp.
When Grandma came to visit, my husband Eric made arrangements to amuse her. One of the things on the list was to take her to St. Arnold for a tour on brewing. It IS educational, so we brought Stephen along, and I was amazed at how many others came to the same conclusion. There were more kids on that tour than adults! Which may be why they served root beer free, while charging (on a 'chip' system) for their other brewed items.
So that's the setup for how we decided to do this week's activity. While trying out their root beer, Stephen decided it was the best he had ever tasted. Eric said IBC was still his favorite, and Grandma and I were undecided. So, we simply had to know: were Eric and Stephen choosing the best according to flavor, or by brand loyalty?
Inquiring minds HAD to know!
IBC or St. Arnold?
We bought St. Arnold root-beer, then swung by the store for the IBC. And since you can't judge root beer just for root beer's sake, we also picked up Blue Bell ice-cream. The real test is in the root beer float.
Now, admittedly, there was no need for the blindfolds; we could have just brought our test subjects in with no-brand cups, but I wanted it to be fun and feel authentic. But mostly fun. Just watch a blindfolded person fumble around for their cup- you'll laugh your tush off.
Stephen and Grandma choose St. Arnold
We divided into two groups. One to set up, and one to taste. Stephen and Grandma were tasters first. Stephen was, of course, excessively dramatic about reaching out blindly with his hands, somehow even tripping while sitting on his seat! Oh, the temptation to keep moving stuff away from him was, at times, too great! After a lot of overacting, and a few sips of both root beers- straight and then in floats- both Stephen and Grandma voted for St. Arnold.
St. Arnold root beer, but IBC for floats!
When it was Eric's and my turn we had a tougher time. I tasted cup #1, then cup #2, then #1, then #2, and still couldn't decide which was better. It was a hard call, but St. Arnold root beer by itself was both of our choice. Then came the floats. That made things much easier. When used in the floats, cup #2 was much smoother and creamier. For floats, Eric and I voted IBC.
So, although I had hoped the taste test would surprise us, it mostly just showed us how similar these two root beers are. Until you add ice cream- then IBC really stands out.
But this test wasn't really about the root beer. It was about having a little fun making consumer choices. How much of our decisions are made by branding- and how much is determined by the amount of sugar added? (St. Arnold Brewery informed me that they use a pound of sugar per gallon- WOW! I was shocked until I looked up how to make root beer. It turns out that amount of sugar is pretty average.)
So what foods are you and your kids picky about? Is it really the taste, or is it the prestige of the brand? It can be fun to discover a little more about the real you and the brands you like. Just add a blindfold- and if you want to guarantee your brand's success- a little vinegar to the opposition.
I did no such thing!
Please visit our children's book website: HoustonChildrensBooks
You chose well, Grandma.
This week's mention isn't really a FUN thing to do- but it is an important thing to do. Teaching your children how to run their own household isn't something that happens over the weekend. Bit by bit, year by year, we help our children acquire the skills they will need to be successful when they venture out on their own. Some of it can be subtle, like teaching them money management though an allowance program. They think they are getting money, but really they are getting a lesson on spending vs. saving. But some lessons are harder to disguise. Like laundry. I still haven't figured out how to make it look like more fun than it really is. Any tips are welcome.
The reason I am mentioning this today is because we all make mistakes when learning to do laundry. It seems pretty simple, yet somehow almost all of us have managed to bleach our dark's at some point, or forgot to check the pockets and found things cooked into the clothes, so there must be something to the process that requires years of practice.
And since it does take years to get it down right, it's best to teach it while they are already outgrowing their clothes every six months anyway. Less stress over what is ruined in the lesson. I tend to believe if you are tall enough to reach into the washing machine, you are old enough to do your own laundry. Stephen started doing his when he was seven. Now he is nine and he hasn't made a bleach mistake for a long while (probably less recently than me!). I thought he had the whole thing down.
Grandma was coming to visit from New Mexico, so I wanted him to get all his work done before she arrived. He separated his clothes, washed his colors, tidied his room, then put the clean load into the dryer and threw his whites into the machine. Then he raced off to start cleaning the toilet bowls (at this point you are probably thinking I'm a mean old slave driver, but I assure you, aside from keeping his room walkable, and his own laundry done, he only has one chore a week. I intended to have it as a rotating chore so he could learn how to accomplish anything, but I got static and haven't changed this one in a while).
Anyway, 'nice mom' popped in and thought she'd help him out. While he was busy, his colored clothes completed their cycle so I took them out of the dryer and put his whites in to get started. As I was unloading the dryer, I found an unusual object in with the clothes. You're probably thinking of all the things you've found: melted crayons, tiny shreds of tissue, marbles. -Have you ever found garlic cloves heated into the clothes? That aromatic dryer sheet hadn't stood a chance.
Turns out while he's been going through his "I'm a werewolf, and vampires are my enemy" games, he loaded up with garlic. And now I need to go over the "clean out your pockets" lesson again.
So what's the point of this story? I'm still not sure. I simply had to share the bloated, cooked cloves of garlic in the dryer. I can't capture how funny that moment was, I had to call my husband in to laugh with me. And to ponder how many future loads will smell like an Italian dish.
Please visit our children's book website: HoustonChildrensBooks
Many will disagree with me, but fishing is GROSS! So when Stephen wanted to go fishing with his big brother Aaron I devised a string on a stick in the hopes of NOT catching anything.
Too bad you can't fool them forever. It didn't take long before Stephen realized everyone but him caught something, and that everyone but him had an actual rod and reel.
So even though it meant upgrading to poking a hook through a wiggling, slimy worm, then catching a fish and trying to disengage the hook from their lips, or worse, their throat, then argue about releasing the fish, or having it for dinner, then losing the argument and having your kitchen stink like..well, dead fish...well, even though it meant all those things, I bought him a nice rod and a tub of fat worms.
And it slowly turned into into relaxing afternoons by the lake with him fishing, and me sitting nearby with a book in one hand, and a wet wipe in the other. (He often needs help getting those worms on the hook- as I may have mentioned, they are very slimy and very wriggly!)
Most of us have access to a body of water with things swimming in it- even if it's just a ditch- so I feel I can recommend this as an excellent hang out time with the kids. They can experience the joy of independence and providing for the family (a very important part of growing up) and you can set a great book loving example by sitting nearby reading a great novel.
And if you don't have access to water, perhaps this is a great place to plug a new group, Of Words And Water. This is a group of writers I have joined forced with, and all have chosen to donate their talents to raising money for Water Aid. It's the perfect win-win. Donors can help out a cause for the sake of helping and not only feel the joy of being a healthy part of the human race, but also be given a gift in return...a book of entertaining short stories donated by these authors. That's a win-win we can all be a part of!
I hope you can start small by simply "Liking" Of Words And Water
and soon, after checking out their website and finding you agree with their goal, you can support the effort to provide water for all by donating whatever you choose and receiving an entertaining read in return.
Once you're done checking out Of Words And Water, we'll get back to the bored kids, and hopefully you'll be heading out for an adventure in fishing!
It's been a difficult decision, but hopefully the right one. I am moving my Blog off of the webpage and onto Google +. For those following me, (mostly on Goodreads), the new address is ReadAnnieHarmon on blogSpot. You can resubmit your subscription on the feed on my author's page, and I truly hope you do. The RSS feed to the new site is: http://readannieharmon.blogspot.com/feeds/posts/default?alt=rss
Or you can +1 me on Google.
(I may keep posting some of the blogs here for a little longer...seems sad to close it.)
Thank you for reading!
When I heard Alspaugh's Ace in Kingwood was having gardening classes, I said, "Sign us up!" Stephen loves gardening and has several plants growing around his club house that he bought with his own money. His real pride is his honeysuckle that cost him $20 of allowance, and has grown twice it's size since he planted it. (He has grand plans of hanging out in his club house, lounging on his beanbag and reaching out the window to feast on the sweet liquid in the blooms.) So gardening is a good choice of entertainment for him.
When they called to say the next class was coming up and mentioned it was 'Fairy gardens' I became a little concerned. My son may like his hair surfer-boy long, but he is 100% rough and tumble, trouble-making male. Fairies? Ugh.
Turns out, he is also very open minded. He said, "It sounds fun and I'll just leave the fairies to fly off into your garden."
The above picture is his garden. He had two master gardeners (One, I had overheard, has won an award for her recent gardening project!) Phillis and Brenda help him. We all worked over a long table with many items placed in the middle for each of us to select from. Small branches of twisted wood, moss, colored glass, broken bits of pottery (so many things to be done with the broken pottery- these ladies were very creative!) and other items to decorate our gardens. On nearby shelves were plants that had been segregated on the basis that they would grow well in a confined space. Then to top it all off, they had a plethora of crafts to add: bridges, fairies, hanging baskets, tiny chairs- most anything you could imagine in your miniature garden.
Stephen greedily collected everything that was available, which all put together, would never have fit into his pot! He has always been big on grandiose living! I had to cruelly encourage him to return a reasonable amount of trinkets. He was still so excited to be creating his garden and quickly came up with his master plan.
Stephen wanted a river to run through, so he picked the blue glass to line the bed, and was wisely instructed by Phillis to have a little screening underneath to keep the glass from sinking into the dirt over time. But, if I haven't mentioned it, he's nine years old and pretty sure everything he does is perfect the first time around. He didn't think the screen needed to be hidden from view! Feel free to disguise your own screening! Then he added a bridge to go over his river, adorable red spotted mushrooms (which I really wanted myself and may one day 'borrow'!) and a chair to imagine himself sitting back in.
Finally, he got around to adding the plants: Sage, Golden Japanese Sedum, Pink Mexican Heather- wait, no that was me, he had another plant I can't name- and he split a Jade tree with me.
I never knew I could cut a Jade tree in half like that! This class was invaluable in so many ways!
Aside from learning more about different plants and the abuses they can withstand, we had a wonderful morning playing in dirt and socializing. When he had finished creating his beautiful garden, he proudly displayed it in my turret garden. (Disclaimer: I made that garden term up. Who knows what you call a bunch of rocks built up to make a garden? Alspaugh's, that's who- but I never asked.)
Since our gardening experience, I have searched out web images of other fairy gardens. It's amazing the things you can do! I saw beach scenes, moss covered shacks, and slices of a branch used for steps leading up to a tiny patio. I could go on forever, but then you'd get bored and I'd never get started on my next garden.
If you like the idea of exploring gardening with your child, check with your local gardening center for classes. And if you still can't find a group willing to play in the dirt with you, then grab some gardening soil, a pot, a few plants, tiny doodads and miniature knickknacks, and start your own backyard class. It really is fun creating with nature.
This is a blog about things to do for bored kids, and I know it's not fair for me to say, "Hey, go find an author and drag him home!" That could cause a bit of embarrassing paperwork down at the station. So I won't.
What I will do instead is simply brag that I did. And there was no paperwork following the incident.
Meet Tom Watson. He is the author of Stick Dog, and is awaiting the October release date for his followup book, Stick Dog Wants a Hot Dog. While patiently waiting, he has been touring around, interacting with the kids and signing copies of his books, and, as it shows in the picture above, he also signed any artwork the kids bought him.
He was definitely not stingy with his autograph (which is a work of art on it's own!), and I worried he'd have no strength left in his wrist for my own copy of his book! Let me dispel any tension this may be causing you- he was still in top form and signed through three grades worth of books and papers. Then he went off and did that for seven more schools in a row!
Now Tom has always been the nicest guy I've ever known, and I am so lucky to have him on my list of friends I've finally met.
Long before we ever met, we corresponded in email. I'd whine things like, "Oh, why can't I be as awesome as you?" and he'd magnanimously reply, "You'll get there, kid." And they were never empty words with Tom. He actually sent props of my dummy books to review sites because he believed in me.
So, that's the kind of down to earth man Tom Watson is. And even in person. When he arrived in Houston, he went to my son's school first.
After a long day of hanging with kids, I offered him dinner- anywhere he wanted. He chose hamburgers. From Culver's. And was willing to come to my house and eat the food outside, not even complaining that the wind wanted his food as much as he did. Or say anything about the half naked kid- still dripping wet from the pool- who sat beside him. He was such a pleasure to talk with that I hated to end the evening. But Tom still had a long list of schools to visit, and I really need to learn to share.
Now Tom is safely back in Chicago with his wonderful family and will hopefully be allowed to rest before getting back on the road. If Tom ever shows up at your child's school, I highly suggest you get a copy of his book, have him sign it, and don't turn down an opportunity to shake his hand. He's not a person you want to miss out on meeting!
Tom's books come in hard cover, paperback and kindle. Check out his books below and see how funny he is! Click on Stick Dog to see the reviews and fall in love with Tom's humor.
Not all fun is provided for us. Sometimes it's just a day of board games, patio chalk art, or cleaning house.
What- who said that?! Sorry, I forget my idea of fun is a demented form of torture for most.
For mother's day, I was in a funny mood and really didn't want to leave the house to spread that joy. But darn if mother's day doesn't inpire you to be a better mother. Maybe it's because chocolate and flowers really are a good bribe, but whatever the reason, when Stephen wanted to do something different with me, I couldn't refuse.
Like so many children, Stephen is thrilled with the idea of making his own food. There is a rumor around our house- admittedly, one that he started- that he makes the best omelets in the free world. I don't put a stop to this rumor, because one, his omelets really are good, and two, anything that encourages him to wean himself from the maid services that I provide is A-okay with me.
Now when Stephen cooks, he likes to 'invent' his own foods. That often means using the standard recipe then adding half a tin of pepper. Or, he might insist that pancakes should be beat flat by the spatula until they are submissive to future abuses with toppings.
So when he said he wanted to invent his own potato chip, I figured we'd be slicing potatoes and frying them five minutes past crisp. Stephen really let his creativity roam free on this one. His list of needed ingredients were:
Spatula (of course, to smash them flat until they, too, are submissive)
He doesn't want this secret recipe getting out, so please understand that some of the instructions have been redacted.
XXXXXXX MELT THE XXXXXXXXXXXXXX
XXXXXXXX THEN, LAYING THEM FLAT XXXXXXXXX
XXXX TO CREATE LAYERS XXXXXXXXXXX
LET THEM COOL XXXXXXXXXXXXXX
AND YOU'RE DONE!
Can you believe he actually ate these? I do have to admit I tried one as well, and they weren't as bad as I imagined. In fact, I almost enjoyed the experience. His instructions to let them cool was one I disagree with, though. The one we shared after they had time to harden in the fridge was far less flavorful.
So what did he learn from this?
- How to know when oil is hot by letting a drop of water hit it (and on the side he learned to respect the oil- he was splattered just a little. Sick as it sounds, I'm glad. Better that he learn with me then when he has the opportunity to freak out and burn his house down all by his self.)
- That being inventive can be fun, but not always eatable!
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This weeks adventure all started with a book. As all good stories should. My son Stephen read Stink: The Ultimate Thumb-Wrestling Smackdown by Megan McDonald where she describes several thumb wrestling characters. Stephen fell in love with them and created cards for each of her four characters, and then added five more of his own. He used my digital sketchpad and then finished the cards in Adobe. Then we sent them off to good old Walmart to have them printed as 2x3's. So now he has his own trading cards and has even developed a thumb wrestling game to use them with.
Seems that wasn't the end. He then read another book -I have no title to give credit to- about real wrestlers, and he was suddenly inspired to make a ring for his thumb wrestling game. His prototype was a cardboard cut up for the base, four corks for the poles, and my elastic hairband for the ropes. But he wanted to go pro with it, so we had to get help.
I stumbled upon a wonderful little shop where you can choose a ceramic piece and paint it. Then they will glaze or fire it for you. They have several such places here in the Humble/Kingwood area where we live, but such businesses are all over the country. The one I found is Ceramic Empourium, and they went a step above in creating a ring for Stephen. I was hoping to find something on their shelves that would be close and perhaps make a few creative adjustments myself, but Tony, one of the owners, looked over Stephen's prototype and said, "I bet I can use a tile from one mold, then add some poles that go to the mold of this model building, poke some holes in for your rope and then you can paint it however you want."
How awesome was that!
Sure enough, a few days later he had it waiting at the shop. Kyle, the other owner and master painter, supplied Stephen with a ton of paint choices, a huge cup of various brushes and a table to work on.
Stephen spent hours playing with the paints and getting more creative by the moment. Kyle was very kid-friendly and oh-so-helpful and reassuring about anything Stephen felt was a mistake. And the paints were perfect for a child. They were very quick drying so Stephen could keep working from one spot to the next, and so opaque that if- rather when!- Stephen made a mistake, a thin layer of another paint erased it. He is now the proud owner of a professional thumb wrestling ring.
Anyone up for a game?