Thursday, April 28, 2011

Mr. Smarty Pants

Because I have three boys, it would stand to reason that in terms of their clothing, I should really be benefiting from the economy of scale. My husband, once he accepted the fact that he'd never have a daughter, consoled himself with the fact that at least we'd never have to buy so much as a single onesie ever again. But that turned out not to be true. Yes, I did save and recycle a good deal of Jake and Charlie's clothing for Michael. (And in turn I have gladly passed some of that on to the lovely and uber funny Jodi over at Pistols and Popcorn, for her twin baby boys.) But there are sometimes reasons why a new item of clothing here or there does become necessary. Michael is a winter baby, and his brothers were born in warm weather, so not all of the clothes match the seasons for which they're sized. Certain t-shirts have just too many spit-up/juice/I-have-no-idea-what-the-hell-that-even-is stains for me to bring myself to put them on my child or give them to anyone else's. And sometimes, sometimes, I feel like little Michael is deserving of just one or two things that weren't worn by anyone before him.

But I'm trying so hard to buy less stuff. So I'm learning how to make it. Like I mentioned in my last post, I am not a seamstress. I do have a really basic sewing machine, and I sort of know the basic fundamentals of its use. And guess what? Turns out that bare minimum knowledge is absolutely all that is required to make cute clothes for my boys. Oh, and a pattern. And the willingness to make a mistake here and there. To wit: My friend Caroline, whose daughters occasionally don these super cute dresses that she makes, directed me to the Kinokuniya store over on Bryant Park. Downstairs they sell these very adorable books with super cute patterns for kids clothes. So I bought one. Even though they're in Japanese. I figured, How hard could it really be? If you can read Japanese, probably not very.

Bless you, internet, for being so lousy with free information and instructions and tutorials. And let us now praise Dana at Made, for this excellent and idiot proof pattern with instructions for making a simple pair of boy trousers. I will never buy another pair of of toddler trousers from Tea or Lucky Wang again.

Below, the one and only Charlie models the fruits of my labor of love.

The song that inspired the project:
The Kinks' Dedicated Follower of Fashion

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Waiting for Superman

My middle boy, Charlie, is three and a half. As a younger sibling, he has grown up a little more quickly than this big brother Jake, in part because he's spent most of his short life trying to emulate him. This has its pluses and minuses. On the upside, for instance, it means he started riding a two wheel bike before he turned three. He took to potty training more quickly than Jake did. And on his first day of pre-school last September, he practically pushed me out the door at drop off, since he never, ever saw Jake ask me to stick around for a while when we brought him to school.
On the downside, sigh, he possesses certain verbal skills I'd rather he didn't have (meaning, he knows a lot of really bad words). He resists bedtime in a way that Jake never did, because, why should he have to go to bed earlier than any other kid in the house? And he has lost, too early for my taste, a love for some of the childhood characters that his brother loved for so long. Take Little Bear, for example. These books, and its companion t.v. show, were once his favorite place to seek imaginary refuge. What could be sweeter than Little Bear and his friends Duck, Cat and Owl, putting on a play to make it rain? Charlie thought so too, until the day he discovered the Great Hall of Justice.

On the day I dug out an old DVD of Superfriends episodes (the very same ones I watched as a kid), my boy was a changed man. There among the cosmic legends of the universe, Charlie found his people. Superman! Batman and Robin! Wonderwoman! Aquaman! These characters (which as far as I can tell are all voiced by either Ted Knight or Casey Kasem-how did I miss that when I was ten?) are now the people that loom larger in Charlie's life than even the mighty and all powerful Jake himself. Fortunately, we already have a fairly healthy stash of Superhero figures lying around the house from Jake's own period of Superfriend mania. But Charlie wanted more. He couldn't settle for playing with the Superfriends. He wanted to be the Superfriends.

Hence the costume. After begging me for some time for a Superman costume, I made the mistake of mentioning in an offhand way that I'd make him one. Why go to Target and spend money on some crap costume when I could just whip one up myself? Well, let's see. Because I've never made a piece of clothing in my life. Because my sewing machine was sitting untouched in the same spot it had occupied for about ten years, unused for about as long apart from a briefly inspired period of Christmas stocking making two years ago. Because I had no idea how the hell to make a Superman costume. But Charlie heard me say I could do it. And he didn't let it go. Every day he asked: Did you make my costume yet? WHEN are you going to make it? Please, mom? PLEEEEEAAAASE.

So I did what I thought I wouldn't be able to do. I made my boy a costume. I got the fabric. I sat on the fabric for several days. I washed the fabric. Charlie's begging ensued. I went online. I got this pattern from a lady on Etsy who clearly has a sewing machine and who has enough kids to convince me she knows how to use it. Her blog is called Puking Pastilles, and it includes a free tutorial for a superhero cape, if you're interested. Her Etsy shop is here, and its where I bought the pattern for the superhero costume.

Even though I'm a sewing moron, and have a machine so useless it pretty much does only a straight stitch (who needs zigzag?), I surprised myself completely and made the costume for Charlie. Seeing him light up when he put it on (and wore it to school and to the park, and the grocery store), made me feel like Wonderwoman. Miracles never cease.

The song I listened to three nights in a row while chained to the sewing machine to make this costume: REM's I Am Superman.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Meaning of Easter

My four siblings and I weren't raised in any religious tradition. We celebrated the major Christian holidays, but always in the most secular sense. As a kid, Easter morning meant waking up and searching the house til we each found a basket stocked with all of the standard booty: big chocolate bunny, check, peeps, check (and, yuck), jelly beans, check, and of course the hard boiled eggs we had dyed together with my mother and the help of the folks at Cray-Pas.

When my oldest son, who is seven, celebrated his first Easter, I filled his basket with soft toys rather than candy. Later, I decided his lips would never touch that lowbrow chocolate garbage from the drugstore, and got his bunny from Jacques Torres. Now, with three kids, and the realization that they are all perfectly happy with Russell Stover chocolate and some standard issue jelly beans, their baskets contain just those things, plus the same dyed hard boiled eggs I always got too. Hence, I've found myself coming full circle to the Easter I knew as a child. But the details have changed. As a family we still color eggs together, but I no longer buy the packaged kits for that. I want to tell you that we dye our eggs in baths of beet juice, coffee, red cabbage and tumeric, but I'd be lying. (Maybe next year.) We do use what we already have in the cupboard though; a few drops of food coloring (which we also use to color home made play doh) in bowls of vinegar and water. We also like to decoupage eggs with tissue paper and glue, and finish those off with some glitter. I love these eggs because we can keep them year round, where they hang from thread above the kitchen window, and sparkle in the sunlight. (I should mention that I blow the yolks out of the eggs before we decoupage them. Otherwise, gross.) I've also done away with the plastic grass that lined my childhood Easter basket. Instead I gather up some green construction and tissue papers from the kids' craft cupboard, and put it through the paper shredder. Its got a much nicer feel to it, and we can reuse it, or compost it, which somehow seems appropriate to the holiday. Finally, I've put the jelly beans into small, cloth drawstring pouches that I made, to avoid that annoying problem of having to dig through the basket grass to find them.

Also new this year was the fact that I went to church. The kids were with their dad, so I had the luxury of being able to actually listen to the pastor. The sermon, which included the notion of new life growing out of dark and previously unseen places, unexpectedly brought me to tears. I went to a Unitarian service, because that church's principles and values seem to be most in line with my own today.

Whatever Easter means to you and your family, I hope the day brought with it some sense of the possibility of renewal, and reminded you, as it did me, that spring has finally come.

To make the Easter eggs shown below we used:
Boiled eggs wrapped in rubber bands
Dye baths made with one cup hot water, 10-15 drops of food coloring (use more or less depending on the intensity of hue desired)
1 tablespoon of vinegar.

Soak eggs in bath for 2-5 minutes each, depending on the intensity of hue desired.
Remove, pat eggs dry, and reposition elastic bands, if desired, between colors.

For the decoupage eggs shown below we used:
Blown white eggs
Mod Podge or Craft glue slightly thinned with water in a bowl
Small craft paint or sponge brushes
Colored tissue paper (preferable non-bleed, but any kind will work)
Glitter (if desired)
Newspaper to cover the table

Holding an egg above a bowl, use a thumbtack or small nail to gently puncture a hole into the top and then bottom of the egg. Wiggle the tack or nail around slowly and gently to open the hole up to a large enough diameter (less than an eighth of an inch) so that the yolk can pass through the hole when blown. Place your mouth over the top hole and form a seal around the egg with your lips, then begin blowing the yolk out through the bottom hole and into the bowl below. If the yolk gets stuck the holes may need to be made slightly larger.

Rinse and dry the eggs and place them back into the carton.

Cover your work surface with newspaper.

Gather several colors of tissue paper and tear them into very small pieces, no more than an inch or two in length and width.

Brush a thin layer of mod podge or glue over a small portion of the egg. Take a piece of tissue paper and lay it over the glue, using the brush to smooth it into place. Repeat until the egg is covered and no white spots from the shell remain. Cover the entire egg with another thin layer of glue to give the egg a shiny uniform surface. Gently place egg back into carton to dry.

To make the cloth pouches for the jellybeans shown below I used this tutorial from Cindy over at Skip to My Lou.

The song that put me into the Easter spirit today:
Jeff Buckley's cover of Leonard Cohen's "Hallelujah".