Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Travel/Fashion Post

Ridiculous advance planning: it's this or I resume my macrame with dryer lint.

I’m a nervous traveler, generally, and with two crazed sugar monkeys and LSS popping antihistamines like M&Ms I’ve got my hands full.

My main coping mechanism is obsessive advance planning. I will pack my bag a few days before I board the plane to allow for edits, and, yes, I will lay out my travel clothes the day before (I do this all by myself!).

The travel clothes are perhaps the most important. Long gone are the smoky days when I would put on a suit with a thin tie just to board a plane and white-gloved LSS carried an armored purse called a “train case.

My family has come to expect a certain sang froid with my sartorial choices and this expectation is only heightened by being a blogger from Bridgetown, SoggyLand. By putting the clothes I will be traveling in on the blog before departure I hope to influence the kids to plan ahead (they read the blog looking for an edge in the eternal struggle for freedom and more screen time). That and so my relatives can recognize me when I arrive (Not to worry, I’ve got cell numbers of several of them).

The problem is that even with my obsessive advance planning I’m completely done packing in about 15 minutes, whereby I float around the house reminding “people” that she should start packing too.

This goes over about as well as you might expect. LSS usually stays up late the night before traveling and does everything in one fell swoop – I can only imagine how the antihistamines will aid this process. The goal we will be fighting for is to have two check-in bags each below 50 pounds.

I’m hoping not to be standing on the bathroom scale at 12:45 am, holding an over-stuffed suitcase, only to have to put it down and say, “Okay, the electric toothbrush stays.” But even if I do, one has to be philosophical and embrace the idea that different people do things differently. So vive la difference! and pass the M&Ms.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Portland Still Not a Bicyling Utopia

A mom taking six kids to the science museum in Portland.

Yesterday when I went for a bike ride a white car (plate 159 FVY)  had to slow down to safely pass. The driver screamed at me as he sped by, being delayed about 15 seconds.

I suspect this was a teenager having a bad day, but it reminded me that in one of the best cities for bicycling, on a road clearly marked that bicycles will be present, drivers like this one felt that extra patience/caution on his part was nothing short of extortion. This is America and the car is king – everyone else is obligated to yield the road or suffer the consequences.

Being yelled at reminded me of growing up in the Midwest in the 1970s and 80s as people routinely yelled wisecracks when I rode my bike on county roads and trucks and cars passed dangerously close, even if there was no other traffic.

Although Portland is a great city for bikers of all stripes, non-cyclists often characterize the place by the fanatics, who would seem to run traffic signals as an ideological statement, endanger pedestrians, clog streets with misplaced narcissism, and participate in  The World Naked Bike Ride as a weird sex rite.

Each year Portland sees a larger number of bicycle commuters which suggests that cycling to work, and bicycling as a way of life, is creeping into the mainstream. I hope that as more people ride the stereotypes of the urban cyclist will fade. I like the thought that in Denmark when a grandmother rides a bike to the grocery store such is so common an occurrence that it doesn’t warrant a blog post or video.

This is the future I want for my kids, where they can ride a bicycle on an urban roadway and know that there is civic culture that respects cycling. I love Portland because we have started this public discussion, but there is still a long way to go.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Happy Oral Hygiene From Oregon!

Few daily activities provide so much conflict in our household as teeth brushing.
The Oregon Dental Association keeps it real with the following video designed to elevate the joy of kids brushing their teeth.

Teeth brushing has become a hot-button issue as the kids (usually the younger one) often say they have done so when in fact they have not. "Mendacity!" as Tennessee Williams might have said, had he raised small children and become bedeviled by their non-compliance.

I admit I have taken much of the joy out of teeth brushing, as I usually set an onerous list of activities that must be completed before the fun thing can be obtained. Example: "Get dressed, pants and shoes included, brush teeth, then we can go hear Neil Conan sing sea chanties."

Making matters worse, I need to do this twice a day.

Usually when I ask the kids to brush they adopt a surprised, bemused expression, as if I had never before asked them to engage in this quaint activity. "Brush?"

The kids believe, incorrectly, that if they stay in their pajamas until evening they will only have to brush their teeth once. I supposed they have gotten away with it a few times, but I'm wise to the ploy now.

I plan to adopt a new policy for the times when teeth brushing is forgotten. I call it the Double Brush, when the kids brush their teeth twice consecutively. This is necessary as the dentist routinely chastises us for allowing the plaque equivalent of an equatorial jungle to build up on our kids' teeth.  I'm hoping the Oregon Dental Association can help me out with a new video.

And, yes, teeth brushing would theoretically continue to be compounded should it be missed for weeks or months.

"No I'm sorry the kids are busy today," I might say, "they're catching up on their oral hygiene for next five hours."

Monday, July 23, 2012

Note from Camp (2)

For the record, this wasn't comedy camp.
Here is the text from the above note (the transcription also includes the unusual sign off).

(this message was recorded in a British accent)

Hem, hem Dear Family,
I have promptly decided on my costume. I will be deeply honored and privileged if you will allow me to play the Halloween role of – drum roll please….Thor! Although we may have to go to a store and purchase a “costume” as you Americans  call it. I have gotten your package and all the postcards you guys have been sending me.  I miss your clan deeply and will be most joyous upon my return. The pie that they serve is of low quality and very cold. It consists of poor crust jello and whip cream with old strawbrys* on top. I just came back from my overnight and we were at the SAME campsite that we were in! We slept under the stars on a tarp and the next day we went to the Tillamook forestry center.

Sincerely signed,

Lady O of Muffinyumingham


*I did that purposely

Of course I laughed when I read the above letter from my daughter at camp. The laughter came from a vivid mental picture of her speaking in a British accent. As I was raised on Monty Python, a comedy troupe who raised the silly bar to the stratosphere, it's hard not to concede that the King's English is a far more comedic tool than the flat, nasal consonants of American vernacular. It's fair to say that the British, on whole, are a far sillier people than we are. How I envy them!

If we actually get a Thor costume then the training will start on the Scandinavian accent. Other than the Swedish Chef on the Muppet Show, I can't recall any Scandinavian comics. I will research this. My Minnesota upbringing will stand me in good stead here.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Interview With an Israeli

In the video I neglected to ask Shlomi if he thought Americans were media-addicted freaks.
What better way to harass a houseguest than to force him into the cauldron of the blogosphere. I realize my insensitivity but was unable to control the urge -- I am who I am and LSS should have warned him anyway.

Here is the video I made, asking Shlomi some general questions about Israel and parenting.

Shlomi's wife had some comments about his answers, but I'll leave those for another post.

Enjoy the weekend and accept no sub-standard hummus!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

“Talking Back to Facebook”

Pad Kee Mao from a cart.

“Keeping it real” is an overused expression, which can rationalize just about any behavior if uttered with enough panache, or at least a straight face. But here in Portland, every few years I try to update my thinking. I’m not only bikes, sustainability, and Pad Kee Mao from a cart. 

I recently read  “Talking Back to Facebook- The Common Sense Guide to Raising Kids in the Digital Age” by James P. Steyer, a book that sparked a lively discussion in our household (albeit one without input from the kids).

The book had all sorts of ideas how to limit and monitor our kids’ media intake, likening unfocused screen time to junk food, a small amount tastes good and is fine but unchecked can lead to health problems.

Steyer’s book crystallized in my mind the danger of too much screen time  – poor social skills from using social media in place of face-to-face communication, exposure to inappropriate material, and cyber-bullying.

Previously I had been concerned about a predator contacting my kids without my knowledge, but it seems the enemy is within. The time-sapping fun of being online and the thrill of being able to get information on just about anything is the problem. For the record, none of my kids has a Facebook account.

Steyer does cite many of the amazing educational opportunities of the internet, but his writing, as the title suggests, is a cautionary tale.

I realize that if Steyer knew both my kids had unfiltered  browsers he would most likely stage an intervention and involve law enforcement. Furthermore, on weekends we are often lax about enforcing time limits or hovering nearby when the kids are online. Perhaps the coup de grace in getting me upset was Steyer’s criticism of Club Penguin (a favorite of my kids), saying it primarily taught children to be consumers and that it could be hacked so inappropriate language could be used.

How I live with myself

My feeling is that unfiltered, connected devises have more potential good than evil for my kids. Both kids enjoy Youtube, a singularly dangerous place in Steyer’s view. My daughter loves watching music videos and comedy skits and my son has been catching up on missed episodes of “America: The Story of Us.”

Generally I’m not that concerned if my kids know curse words. I tell them they can speak any way they want with their friends when no adults are around, but serious problems will arise if they bring bad language to the wrong place. I feel this has been the de facto method since time immemorial anyway. So far this strategy has held.

I do realize with an unfiltered browser my kids will see objectionable material. My parenting and life strategy is to be involved with my kids’ lives, not just in the strictly custodial sense, but in a meaningful way, where I understand their temperaments, tastes, peculiarities, media materials consumed, friends, and abiding interests. I enjoy understanding what’s going on with them on a daily basis, so when difficult things happen, whether online or off, I can offer guidance. I hope to instill in the kids that sex and violence have long-reaching consequences not usually depicted in video games or television shows.

Easier said than done, I suppose, as teenage years are always difficult and the secretive nature of exploring the forbidden. I do have the liberal parent’s dream that by giving my kids the freedom to explore the world on their own terms that such will lead to a fulfilling life. I try to lead from example, making videos, taking pictures, and using online technologies for education and creativity.

Generally, making sure the kids have plenty of offline activities is the best antidote to online worries. I know I’ve not yet faced a true challenge in our media diet, and I may have to make adjustments.

Responsibility, the ability to make good decisions for oneself, engagement with the physical world – these are where I’m placing the emphasis. Look back here in a few years to see if I’ve chucked the Xbox in the river and am living in a yurt off the grid.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

When the Kid Is In Charge

I try to add value to every play experience, even if relegated to the role of consultant.
Last night as a bedtime activity my son wanted me to help him set up his Star Wars Lego. We had spent the previous night repairing the spacecraft so everything was ship-shape. I was raring to set up a full-on battle scene, with every rocket and light saber pointed, every craft piloted, every Gungan warrior posed in deadly attack.

The kid, however, had other ideas. He wanted the "bad guys" to be going on about their business while the "good guys" spied on them.

One would think that for spying a line formation would not be optimal -- such are the trials of imaginative play. I will still demand my consulting fee.

Making things worse, every time I placed a piece it was wrong. So I kept the kid company and occasionally asked questions why he arranged things as he did.

I knew he was the boss of this project, but I really, really, really wanted a battle scene and tried to talk him into it. No compromise, no negotiation.

He ended the session by flatly telling me that only a new Lego set would compel him to change the set-up.

He may be the boss and have won this round, but September and school will come soon enough and I'll have my chance to show the universe our galactic fighting mettle.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

How To Have Adult Conversation With Kids Present

My, aren't they respectful of the adult's thoughtful conversation!
I admit it, I got nothing here. We forked over the phones as things went south -- lucky for us our kids knew what to do with them.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Boys Doing Their Thing

The true nature of innovation.
Yes put two seven-year-old boys together and get twice the trouble, but also reap the benefits of two unique and creative minds.
Waterproof battle squirt tank.
The lads found a cardboard box in the street on a walk. After alternating pretending to be robots they discovered the true purpose of the cardboard. Using two sprayer bottles, masking tape, and plastic bags they improvised the above.

On the far side is also a squirt bottle with the nozzle set for a thin stream of water, while the one in the above picture is set for a fine mist. As the tank advances, it was explained to me, it has long- and short-range defenses. The plastic is to repel enemy water lest the card board get soggy.

The design might have advanced but it was time for lunch.

On other fronts, the daughter has not written from camp since her first few days there, inspiring the following gratuitous card from me.
Always on the lookout to be embarrassing for my kids.