Kid Milestones: Unlocked!

My youngest turned 10 a couple of days ago, but this morning it really hit me. We have NO kids in the single digits anymore.  Milestone unlocked. Yeah, yeah, yeah, it’s bittersweet– she’s our BABY, she’s not supposed to AGE!– but we all know how the days are short but the years are long already, don’t we?

Anyway, this got me to thinking about milestones. Raising kids comes with a bunch of obvious ones—potty training, driver’s license—but here are some slightly less obvious yet still completely grand milestones that make parenting worthwhile.

The Light-Packing Milestone. You hit this the day you go on a family outing and you only have maybe a backpack with snacks in it. No strollers, no diapers, not even a wipe. You might not even bother carrying hand sanitizer. And then the milestone-upon-milestone is when you go on a family outing and all you have is your own regular purse with your regular stuff in it, and if the kids want juice/water/snacks they carry them their own damn selves.

The All-Our-Kids-Can-Bathe-Themselves Milestone. No more assistance required for soaping up hair or directing the shower spray so it doesn’t drown them. You don’t even need to turn on the hot water so they don’t scald themselves. They do it all. AND they hang up their towel afterward.

The Feed-Themselves Milestone. Yesterday Cadillac and I went out for dinner, shouting, “We’re going out! Be good! Find something to eat!” as we darted out the door. And they did. And the angels sang.

The Get-Up-By-Yourself and Get-Ready-for-School-Solo milestone. The kids have alarms and they wake up and get ready. I think that the youngest only achieved this in the last two years. When I tell people about this milestone, they seem impressed. It took a lot of being on top of them before they did it, but once they get into a routine (bathroom-breakfast-get dressed-brush teeth) it’s pretty simple.

The Put-Yourself-to-Bed Milestone. I’m not just talking about not reading stories or singing songs anymore. It happens like this—you’re hanging out watching TV and not even paying attention to the time because this show is so good. Then your kid looks at the clock and knows it’s bedtime and says good-night and you feel like the biggest doofus parent ever because honestly you totally forgot about bedtime. But it’s quite a relief, to know that somehow, someway, this bit of responsibility sank into your child, even if you are personally a slacker.

The Do-All-Homework-Without-Intervention Milestone. Another one that takes most of elementary school to unlock. In first grade you’re practically doing the big projects for your kids, you have to hold their hand so much. Read a biography of George Washington and make a poster of him with illustrations? Huh? You have to show them how to break it down into chunks.

By fourth they’re mostly on their own (except for the Common Core math, which always requires ten emails to the teacher and a box of tissue shared between me and the kid). In middle school, I rarely intervene unless support is obviously needed or asked for. Why? Because I want them to be accountable, not me—in 6th they need help with some time management and planning, granted; but once they figure how to use a calendar and plan their projects, they receive the assignment and figure out how to execute it. If they fail in middle school, it’s not a huge life-changing deal—and they’ll have to face the consequences we impose. Has this happened to our kids? Yup. It happened one time and this kid did not enjoy the iron fist of oversight that descended, nor the lack of electronics. Ever after, the kid handled projects appropriately.

It’s better to let them fail in middle school and learn their lesson than it is to micromanage them all through high school so they fail out of college, doncha think? Besides, it’s a huge confidence booster for the kid to discover how his own hard work translates into achievement, and how he can overcome obstacles without parental intervention.

The I-Remembered-Sunblock Milestone. Another one that gets ground in via repetition. I notice that the teens always remember, and so do their friends. They get out the spray sunblock before getting in the pool. The ten year old does not.

The I-Saw-a-Full-Trashcan-and-Emptied-It Milestone. This one still hasn’t been fully unlocked. When will my kids see a full trashcan, a clean dishwasher, a basket of clean clothes and, of his or her own volition, take care of it? It’s happened, but not often. Well, I guess don’t always take action when I see a full dishwasher, either, so maybe this is expecting too much (Cadillac: No, it isn’t. Me: If you stayed home you’d sing a different tune. There’s too MUCH to always do).


Beach Day

On Sunday, we went to the beach with two of Cadillac’s cousins and some of their children and Cadillac’s dad and our children, so with (doing some math…[i.e. counting on my fingers]) 12 people. The cousins live in other cities, so we don’t see them that much; and some of them live in Colorado, so we really don’t them that much. 

The water was only 67 degrees, which is pretty darn cold to me, almost the same temp as the air (when you counted wind). Cadillac and his dad supervised the kids in the water while I wandered around with Eldest looking at the dogs, at Dog Beach, the next one over.

Eldest and I watched the dogs for a bit. Dogs at the beach quick form packs,but how there’s always some outcast dog who can’t read doggy language. There was a Pomeranian missing an eye (sadly, no pirate patch)who attached itself to a medium-sized grey dog that looked like a hyena. The hyena-dog got more and more distressed at the Pomeranian wanting to be its new BFF until the hyena dog’s owner picked it up and slung it over his shoulder. The hyena-dog was shouting, “Daddy, that Pomeranian won’t leave me alone!”

Then the pirate Pomeranian attached itself to a tan chihuahua and its buddies, which pissed off the chihuahua, which started humping the Pomeranian. Then the Pomeranian tried to hump the chihuahua, at which point the chihuahua owner intervened. The Pom owner never appeared. I’d assume they’re the same kind of people who pretend that they don’t see their human child pushing another kid off the slide at the park.

A big mastiff ran through the dogs in a zigzag, over and over, back and forth, trying to get other dogs’ tennis balls and being so hyper that the other dogs wouldn’t let it play. A German Shepherd nipped and barked at it until the mastiff left. Then the mastiff played with two black and tan chihuahuas, which looked fine until the mastiff realized these dogs were snacks and totally tried to eat them. The chihuahua owners picked up their dogs and the mastiff jumped up and tried to get the little dog out of the woman’s arms. The mastiff owner never surfaced, either. 

Then we went back and sat on the towel.Grandpa came in from the water to rest and we sat around looking at the water.

I looked out and saw Little Girl splashing in the shallow waves, Cadillac nearby. Then I looked out for Boy. 

I didn’t see him immediately, but I did see a lifeguard on one of those big boards talking to someone, and reaching out his hand, whom I recognized as my son. 

“Is that lifeguard towing in my son?” I asked.

“AGAIN?” Grandpa said.

File under: Words which do not quell fear.

Son waved off the lifeguard and I scurried down to the water to my husband. “Did he just get towed in?”

“No,” Cadillac said, “he’s fine. He made it in on his own. But I did have to go get him once.”

There was a rip current, apparently, which you can see sort of when the waves don’t have that foamy stuff on them. And the tide keeps pulling you toward it.

Also, my father-in-law said there’s a sand jetty out there that you can actually stand on, so Son was never really in danger, and that the lifeguard was just earning his keep on a slow day. 

I asked Son what happened, and he said, “Oh, the lifeguard was just notifying me about the rip current.” 

Which I guess isn’t the worst thing that could happen. Back in the day, my parents would only take us to North Island for the beach, which is scarcely populated, had no lifeguard, and a terrible riptide which I would always get caught in with my boogie board. I’d try to paddle parallel, but mostly I’d try to go against it, but obviously something I did worked because I am still here.

Also once, my friends and I walked too far down the beach looking for shells, and ended up on a clay shooting range (I think it was the kind where there are those disks that fly up and you shoot them) past signs that said DO NOT ENTER SHOOTING RANGE and STOP YOU ARE ENTERING A SHOOTING RANGE; and almost got shot (which is what happens if you have a bunch of nearsighted girls who remove their glasses at the beach– you can’t see any warning signs) and got yelled at by some military guy who asked for ID and if we were “civilians” and we were worried that we’d be prosecuted as 12-year-old spies, and then he drove us out to the road in a Jeep and had to walk back to the beach the long way on hot asphalt with bare feet. THOSE were the days. 

I ALWAYS paid attention to signs after that.


TwainFest and The Right to Vote

So often, “Free” family festivals are anything but. You have to pay for the games, the rides, the everything, and suddenly the “free” festival saps all your funds.

But the TwainFest in Old Town yesterday was truly free and also a lot of fun. In fact, it was so fun, the impossible happened– my 13-year-old ADMITTED she had a good time!
How about that.

Cadillac dropped us off to find parking, which is kind of hard to find in Old Town, so the girls and I went to look at the donkeys (free) who were by the (free) stable museum and the (free) blacksmith demo.

We saw huge puppets. Little Girl asked if Twain was Poe’s wife, probably because he was dressed in white and had tulle for hair, like a veil.





They had booths set up for word games. At one, you made up your own word; I was to make up a word for “how you feel when you’re trying to stay awake during a lecture.” I wrote, “slugstudious.” You could also add onto stories (the bit where everyone writes a few lines) in three different styles (adventure, gothic horror, and I forgot the other one). They had a puppet theater, “fishing” for words, a spelling bee, and more I can’t remember. There was a liar’s contest, music, monologues, and stories (it’s sponsored in part by Write Out Loud, the Playwrights Project, Lamb’s Players Theatre, and Cygnet Theatre). Pretty much every museum and store had something going on. All free.


The wooden box, above, is the question answerer. You write a question and stick it in the slot, and it begins rumbling and shaking back and forth, and spits out a preprinted card. Little Girl was AMAZED.


Each booth gave you a ticket, and when you got 5, you could go get a free book. We chose these two:



We also took a literacy test to see if we could qualify to vote. I guess it’s based on a real test from the era. Little Girl and I painstakingly took the test. (Yeah, we got the last answer wrong. Now that I am looking at it again. Actually no matter what, she found something wrong with everyone’s test.)




Then, in the most important lesson of the day, the woman stamped it.


(The actress really was in character here).


Women didn’t have the right to vote back then.

I explained this to Little Girl and she said, “WHAT? I don’t understand. What do you mean, women couldn’t vote? WHAT DO YOU MEAN?”

Now I remember when I learned this factoid, and it did not seem shocking at all to me the way it does to her. She can’t conceive of such a thing. What a visceral history lesson, for her to go through that test and get that big fat DENIED stamp. I don’t think she’ll forget.

Oh, and we also went to the Candy Store (an old-timey candy place). I think we spent about $5 on candy, and that was all the festival cost, plus the gas to get there.

The Library and Me: A Fomite’s Tale

At ALA, someone from the organization interviewed me and asked what libraries mean to me.

I told him lots of things. How I won several consecutive years of the library’s summer reading contest as a kid. How heavily my family uses the library (not just for reading, they also sponsor lots of activities, like jewelry making, knitting, yoga, and chess). How heartily I believe this:

And also how I sort of hope one day, I too will have a banned book.

Anyway, after I went home I remembered something I’d forgotten all about.

For a time in early elementary school, my parents forbade me from checking out library books.

They said it was because the books were germ carriers, that people read books on the toilet and while they were sick and every time I got a book, they said I got a cold.  I remember being really sad at not being able to get books when my class went to the library.

I think it was also due to the fact I hadn’t been to preschool or been exposed to many normal germs as a child, due to my parents’ Monk-like attention to hygiene. I was sick for quite a bit of kindergarten and first grade.

Eventually, I got to check out books again. I don’t know if I just whined enough or what. I believe the compromise was a Lysol spritz on the books.

Tonight I looked up whether or not books are actually germ-carriers and found out…they are! They are fomites, which is a word for something that transfers germs (like doorknobs, faucet handles, books, money [which is why cashiers should not handle money and food]etc), transferring everything from the common cold to Hep A and ringworm.

Here’s a formal study (click on the PowerPoint) where the authors conclude:

You should wash your hands after you read.

Pretty much, you should wash your hands after doing anything that has to do with anything.

Dear Lord. As if I don’t have enough to worry about. My kids get library books every other week. They read them in bed (my mother would keel over!). But I think the risk is generally minimal. After all, they could also get infected if a classmate with a grimy, cold-infused hand passed them a paper during math right before snack. Kids don’t do much hand-washing at school on their own.

You simply can’t prevent all exposure to germs. Even my late sister-in-law, who was incredibly averse to catching communicable diseases due to her health, was no stranger to the library or especially the library book sale.

But then again, I am not afraid to break out my purse-sized alcohol-based hand sanitizer.

Comic-Con 2012

Comic-Con was in San Diego this past weekend, and it was a zoo. About 140,000 people attend. Then there’s more random stuff people can do downtown, so even more people who aren’t attendees go. It is elbow-to-elbow crowded, but people are generally pleasant and wear creative costumes, so it’s a fun atmosphere once you can actually get there.

I took Son on the Wednesday preview night. He does not like crowds, but we got his sister a Doctor Who screwdriver and he got a talking Dr Who Dalek and we got the little sister a harajuki unicorn, so he was satisfied and ready to go home. While we waited for Cadillac to pick us up, I bought him a cupcake, so he was pretty happy.

On Saturday I went with my daughter.

Here is some kind of space ship, which I saw while in line from across the street. I don’t know what it is (theme of the day! Me: what is that? Who is that supposed to be?) but there it is.


Outside the convention center, some religious nuts were protesting. There was a counter protest by Comic-Con attendees bearing signs like “Bike Riders Love Satan!” but I couldn’t photo them because the traffic guy herded us out of the street.


Outside, we went into the Grimm trailer and saw the Grimm artifacts. Cadillac and I watch Grimm with Eldest, and waited all season for Grimm (this will take too much explanation if you haven’t seen it, so if you want a recap, go to the Grimm website) to get some powers. That is, our mythological-beast-battling hapless detective had only his wits and his gun most of the season, but at the end everybody was KUNG FU FIGHTING!





This is the super highspeed GRIMM tattoo you could get.

Funny story: outside, we saw a long long line kind of near the Grimm forest. I asked the guy in front of me, “What are you in line for?”

“I don’t know,” he said. “We just got in line.”

His family turned and looked at me.

They were super serious.

Anyhow, somebody else piped in, “It’s for the GRIMM tattoo,” so we got out of that line. Turns out the Grimm tattoo line was 2 hrs. I think we waited maybe 10 minutes to get into the trailer/forest.

The guy who worked for GRIMM had this tattoo, so I asked if I could take a photo.

They gave us posters. Note the poster.

That’s the back of me.

After we explored for a bit, we decided to try to see the Grimm panel in an hour. We found the line outside the ballroom. Not too long. It wasn’t the big standing-room only ballroom; it was a smaller ballroom. The guy told me the line was actually behind him. There were line breaks to allow for passersby. We followed the snaking line through the building, down a hall, outside, and MORE outside, to here:


20120716-094245.jpgAbove are some princesses taking a break outside.

I did not think we would get in.

Eventually they let people in, and we were almost to the entrance when they thought they were full. But we got in!

Then, the usher ran out of seats and seated us in the RESERVED spots in the very front row. A Comic-Con miracle!

Still, my camera’s zoom wasn’t so good, and the lead (David Giuntoli, who plays Detective Nick Burkhardt) kept leaning back behind the red-headed woman (Bitsie Tulloch, who plays his girlfriend Juliette) so we couldn’t see him.

It’s so much fun to see actors in real life. They seemed happy to be there and totally down to earth, though that could all be a put on because, you know, they are actors. Who act. Anyway, they seemed to enjoy themselves and the audience hollered for everyone. Sean Hayes, from Will and Grace, is one of the producers, and also was there, along with the other producers/writers/creator, all of whom sat by the moderator and therefore are invisible.

They showed us Act I from the first new episode of the season. They are serious about cracking down on piracy. One of the ushers was more like a security guard and he was VERY VERY VERY serious about rule enforcement. You had to get a bathroom pass to leave the room. During the darkened part while they showed the episode, the guard used a night vision scope to look at the audience, ostensibly to make sure they weren’t filming.

I tried to make my daughter go ask a question during a Q&A, but she wouldn’t. She actually did think of some questions but all of them were sort of inappropriately highly critical (Why don’t they kill off the girlfriend? Why do the special effects look so cheesy? Why did Grimm not have any superpowers until the end of the season?) so both of us decided that no, she probably didn’t need to ask them. It’s funny that she can think of so many critical questions when she is such a big fan.




Then, they passed out tickets and told us to go to the “Fulfillment Center.” This was over at the Marriott. I had to consult the map three times, because you had to exit the center, go to the Marriott, go up the escalator, double back, and walk around some ballrooms.

It was quite a hike. “Will you be disappointed if it’s the same poster?” I asked my kid.

“No,” she said. “At least we got a walk.”

We got the same poster they gave out at the forest.

Those are the breaks. We did stop at a Marriott Starbucks, which had a line a quarter as long as the Convention center lines but cost more than a dollar more, so it wasn’t a wasted walk. And now we have extra Grimm posters.

20 Free or Low-Cost Summer Activity Ideas for Kids

It is May.

I am afraid that this does not adequately express the panic in my voice.

It is MAY, people!

May means the last full month of school.

May means JUNE is coming very very soon, which means school will be OUT.

Phineas and Ferb say:
There’s 104 Days of Summer Vacation,
And school comes along just to end it.
So the annual problem for our generation,
Is finding a good way to spend it.

I find this song ironic. I mean, you’re WATCHING Phineas and Ferb have a blast on Summer Vacation, having all kinds of real-world adventures. The one thing they are NOT doing during break is watching a show about kids having fun on their summer vacation.

So, ACTION, Jackson.

My kids are school-age, which means they theoretically can pour themselves a bowl of cereal and operate the remote without awakening the sleeping family members, so this summer should mean we get to sleep in a little bit.

Day camps around here range from $135 a week for a bare-bones elementary school-ground camp, to $300 or so for educational camps. Because I don’t work outside the house and I am not yet a millionaire superrich novelist, I keep the kids with me.

When I was a kid, we just went out to play. But we no longer live in a society where you can shoo your kids out the door and tell them to come back at sunset. Personally I have no problem doing exactly that; but everybody else is paranoid, so my kids would be on their own.

Thus I got to thinking– the kids need something to keep them occupied sometimes. I can design my own camp activities for less than $100 a week. However, this means I have to act like I’m somewhat organized. Otherwise, the kids WILL end up doing nothing except watching Phineas and Ferb, and bugging me.

I’m doing my summer guide for free activities planning right here, and hopefully your kids will benefit, too.

Use my suggestions to brainstorm your own, or just use them.

  • Chores

Yes, not the most fun thing ever, but hear me out. There’s no schoolwork or activities getting in the way, so let this be the summer when your kids learn some life skills. How to clean the bathroom, work the vacuum, and do laundry are all necessary to being self-sufficient young people.
If they already know how to do those things, how about slightly more advanced chores?

  • Meal planning
  • Grocery store budgeting, list making, and coupon clipping
  • Learning how to change the oil and tires on the car
  • Mowing the lawn or other garden care

Other suggestions:

  • Attach a dollar value to some of the chores if you want. I’d pay my kids to wash the windows because it’s outside the normal chore system, and I don’t like to do it.
  • Draw up a daily chore list and have the kids attend to it first thing before they can do anything else. Unless they get up at 5.
  • Build in some treats. For example, when drawing up the grocery list, the kids will get to select their treats themselves, and will learn to budget. If you buy the ice cream ON SALE, then you will also have money for cookies. That kind of thing.

Cost: FREE, unless you are chore-paying.

2. Geocaching

Geocaching, for those of you who don’t know what it is, involves people hiding various items, then plugging the coordinates into a GPS system.
Basically, it’s a treasure hunt for smart phones. Who doesn’t love finding treasure with a map?
For about $10, you can get a high-quality Geocaching app. The app has a map, describes where the geocaches are and tells you how close you’re getting. It also describes the terrain and the difficulty of getting to the cache.

There are geocaches everywhere. People hide them in public parking areas, in parks, off hiking trails. People use magnetized containers to stick them behind Dumpsters and parking signs; hang items from trees; even use fake rocks.

What do you do when you find it? Sometimes people simply put a small piece of paper into some kind of weather-proof container, and when you find the container, you add your name to the list of who found it, then re-hide it.

For fun, sometimes there will be small objects in there, like outdated European coins or pennies or plastic toys; in that case, ,you are supposed to replace the item so the next person can have fun finding it.

I have only found a couple, with the help of my experienced geocaching friend Alex. The items are usually camouflaged very well. Sometimes, people stumble across them and move them. For example, my family and I went looking for a Boy Scout tin filled with lollipops hanging from a tree off a popular hiking path– I’m pretty sure some random person happened along and took it.

Cost: $10 for the app, plus gas, of course

3. Food Reviewing

My kids love eating, so I was thinking about what sort of food-based activity we could do that would get us out of the house a little bit. Doing food reviews gives us a solid sense of purpose, and it will be fun to mark off where we’ve been on a map.

However, I wanted something that wouldn’t be too expensive, so visiting every sushi place around here was out.

Thus I came up with The Great Donut Review Project.

My son loves doughnuts. Really, who doesn’t? Donuts (I’m spelling it both ways, yes) are cheap, 50 cents to $1 or so. Also, I don’t like doughnuts that much– they are too sweet for me, so I am happy with one bite. If we reviewed, say, chocolate shops, then I’d be in really big trouble.

I’m using Yelp to find doughnut shops in San Diego. Then we are going to visit a couple each week. Each kid gets one doughnut and has to create a review, citing what they like, what they didn’t like, and assigning a star rating.
I will get one bite of donut each time as my fee.

Estimated Cost: .50 cents to $1.50 per donut, average $2.25 per visit

4. Book Reading
The local libraries always have a summer reading project. Around here, they give out prizes when you reach a certain number of books every week.

If you need suggestions, ask your school or library for summer reading lists.
Or check out some of these lists, divided into different categories, like books for boys or books for pre-teens.

Cost: FREE

5. Fishing
My kids are always clamoring to go fishing. I have no idea why they say they like it so much because they sure seem miserable while they do it. They are bitter when the fish don’t bite (which is the case about 90% of the time for us).

Check with your local fish and game department for your state’s regulations and fees. In California, you don’t need a license if you’re under age 16, but you do need a license if you’re an adult and you’re going to be helping your kids fish. Which you definitely will.

Thus, fishing can be a somewhat expensive start-up; not only do you need poles, you need a fishing license in CA. Fishing was easier in Hawaii; you didn’t need a license, and you could fish anywhere.

COST: FREE DAYS only on July 7 or Sept 8 in California; or FREE if you stick to pier-fishing.
Reduced License Fees: Reduced for those 65 years or older (with income limits) or veterans with a service-connected disability of 50% or more. FREE for those with impaired eyesight, the disabled, and the developmentally disabled.
Annual License in CA: $44.85
One Day License: $14.85
Poles: Approximately $16 for a kit with the line and reel and tackle
Bait and hooks: $4 total, depending on what you need

Day-Use Fees: On top of the fishing license, most places charge you to fish in their lakes. Look this up ahead of time and plan on spending up to another $15 for a day-use fee. Some places are free. You can also fish off the piers in San Diego for free.

The annual Grunion Run might be a good bet for older kids; they spawn at night on the beach. You DO need a license if you’re 16 or older, so unless you plan on being 100% hands-off in your supervision, you will need to get a license, too.

COST: FREE for kids under age 16

6. Free or Low-Cost Camps
Want to get your kids out of the house and your supervision entirely?

In this city, there are a few types of free camps. I only mention this because I didn’t know they existed and found out accidentally. The local middle school holds two free ones, an Engineering Camp, which my oldest attended; and a general camp. They were not income-based, so any student in the appropriate grades could go, as space allowed.

Do some sleuthing in your area. Eldest claimed the engineering camp was kind of boring, but she in fact had a great time, because there were rockets involved, and you can never not have a good time when you’re building a rocket.

Local religious organizations also have Bible school or other religious half-day camps. Our church’s Bible school session is free to parishioners.

Many regular programs also have need-based financial assistance available.

7. Childcare Sharing
Find a couple of friends with similarly aged kids and rotate hosting them throughout the week. In this age when most kids don’t roam neighborhoods, they love having built-in play buddies. As long as they get along all right. Hopefully one or two of those friends will have a pool and different video game systems.

I’d also establish a few ground rules, i.e. have the parents tell the kid, “When you’re at Mrs. Dilloway’s house, you will follow Mrs. Dilloway’s rules, or she will break my thumbs.” That kind of thing.

Cost: FREE, plus the cost of a bit of extra food

8. Crafts
Get your weekly craft store coupon and go get some craft supplies. Get some general supplies or specific ones for specific projects; ideas here. The craft store Michael’s also had free weekly kids’ crafting classes all last summer.

A kid with a big box of Popsicle sticks, craft glue, paint, felt, and googly eyes will be kept entertained for some time.
Cost: $20 or so for the basics
FREE if you have a store that does them.

9. Cooking School
Focus on summery treats, like Popsicles or no-ice-cream-machine ice cream.
Personally, I got a big cookie recipe book for my birthday, so I’m going to let the kids make a few different cookie recipes every week (this summer sounds kind of fattening!).

It’s also a good time, with less rush in the days, to make the kids, er, I mean HELP the kids learn how to cook. How to slice and dice without chopping off their fingers.

I’m always worried I’ll send my kids off to college and they won’t know how to slice an onion because I’ve been too WORRIED to show them how. Nope.

Remember to make them clean up after themselves; it’s an important life skill to learn and will prevent them from growing up into the kind of jerks the other roommates hate.

COST: Varies; build it into the grocery budget

10. Art
I used a 40% off coupon and a sale, and bought a set of six canvases, brushes, and a set of acrylic paints at my local craft store. Now, I could let my kids paint whatever, but I could also be like the school art teacher (example here, our school also did Blue Dog) and give them a specific palette and make them all paint the same subject.

They are all going to paint the cat (cat as subject, not paint on his fur) in a specific set of hues that I’m going to let Eldest select. That way, the paintings will all look really nice on a wall hung together.

Cost: Approximately $45 to get started, depending on what you need.

11. Beach Going

I actually HATE going to the beach in San Diego in the summer, because EVERYBODY is there. We have the best beaches. Beaches weren’t this crowded in freaking Waikiki (but sometimes in Kailua, which really, sigh, was the Best Beach Ever. I digress).

There are a couple of ways to beat the crowd:

  • Go early. The lots are not too crowded before 10 am.
  • Wait and get to the beach at 4:30 or so. It will still be warm, the rays won’t be harsh. My husband goes to work early and comes home early during the summer, so he can take the kids to the beach. I usually go too, because it’s so darn hot.
  • Go to tidepools instead. Beforehand, look up the animals that you might find and plan some activities. Then check the newspaper or online for the low tide time, then hit Point Loma (by Cabrillo, which has a car fee, is my favorite).


12. Hiking
Hiking is also done best in the early part of the day or later in the day. Check out Local Hikes for some kid-friendly suggestions in your area.

While you hike, do some other activities. I like to bring (actually, the kids like to bring) WHO POOPED IN THE PARK? along. (Words I never thought would come out of my mouth, ‘Maybe today we’ll get lucky and there will be NEW POOP!’)

The author has created a guide for nearly every region of the US.

We look for poop and ID it. We also ID footprints and watch out for rattle snakes.
Other ideas:

  • Collect leaves and wildflowers to make a scrapbook.
  • Collect interesting rocks.
  • Capture bugs in a jar to observe, then re-release. My son just found a chrysalis and is keeping it in a jar to watch it hatch. He did this last year (it was a moth).


13. Planting
Summer’s the perfect time to do some plant-growing. My kids and I are currently growing tomatoes in a pot, a cactus, some succulents, Swiss chard, oregano, and roses.
Have them water the plants and look for evidence of bugs. My kids adore going out to search for the predators leaving holes in the plants. Then they can try to identify what kind of pest it is, or mold, or what have you.

COST: $5 for soil
$2.50 per plant
I used recycled containers for the veggies, and a lightweight foam planter that cost about $10 for the roses.

14. Science Experiments
My dear late sister-in-law got my son a group of the worst books ever, Grossology. They’re not really the worst, except that they involve really stinky, slimy, gross experiments. Like attracting cockroaches, or growing slime mold on a log. That kind of thing. The kids LOVE these books, so this summer, I’m going to let them go ahead and do all these experiments. There’s also a short PDF version here.

Cost: FREE, or $6 to $15 per book. Generally, experiments use stuff you have around the house.

15. Drama
Choose a short play, or a scene from a play, and make copies of the dialogue for everyone. Who DOESN’T want to see a 6 year old girl play Hamlet? That’s right. You can even do “selections” from a scene to make it more manageable for the kid. Who’s going to get you, the Shakespeare police?

Paint backdrops onto old cardboard, make costumes out of found items, do up makeup. Make it a whole production, invite your family to come out and see the final product.

16. Film
Give the kids a camcorder or digital camera to use. Check out these free movie scripts and let the kids make a scene from their favorite movie.

Or, suggest they do something different, like pretend to be an interviewer grilling a rock star.

Actually, my experience has been if you give a kid a video camera, they will come up with plenty of things to do. We have Barbie movies, a Twilight spoof, and some plays on film.

If you’re worried about the equipment, you’ll have to be the one to film it. Or maybe try out a tripod so the work won’t be shaky.

Cost: FREE

17. Kids Bowl Free
Sign up your kids for this free bowling program, and they get to bowl for free at participating areas. You still have to pay for your portion at the regular rate.

The program also lets you pay a one-time $24.95 for a family pass, letting you get 2 games of bowling per day, per up to 4 adult family members.

COST: $24.95 for the whole summer for your adult fee; or whatever the fee is at your bowling alley.

18. Gaze at Stars

The local astronomy club hosts nights where members bring along their huge telescopes to campgrounds, and you can see Mars and the moon and Venus and all kinds of cool things. Check with your local astronomy club.


19. Go Backyard Camping

I always did this when I was growing up, and I thought it was the funnest thing ever. You feel so independent. Let your kids invite a couple of friends over and do a backyard sleepover. I think my 10-and-ups are fine alone; the youngest one would need an adult nearby. Bonus: All the noise is outside.


20. Free Movies

Regal Cinemas, in our area, usually offers free summertime movies on somewhat older-run movies, on certain mornings. They haven’t posted this summer’s offerings yet, if they exist. Check your area to see if this is going on. The drawback is EVERYONE IN THE WORLD shows up.

The park near us also has several Summer Night festivals, which invariably I find out about AFTER they happen. They always get a local high school band to come do a concert or show a free movie, and the local Kiwanis sells food, and everyone brings their lawn chairs and blankets. It was a lot of fun, on those two occasions when I knew about it ahead of time.


Hinamatsuri: Japanese Girls’ Day

For Girls’ Day (Hinamatsuri) when I was growing up, my mother and I would make a display of dolls we had. I still don’t have the Emperor/Empress dolls that some people have, but I still do have these Japanese dolls.

I like dolls in theory. I don’t like them in home decor. That is, I don’t like looking at dolls all the time. So I have these stored for most of the year and break them out for March 3.

I saw these tree branches blooming on a bunch of trees at someone’s house, so I asked the homeowner if i could take a few. She said yes.


The pink doll belongs to my oldest daughter.



The boy and girl are standing in for the Prince and Princess. The porcelain doll in the front is another doll I’ve had for as long as I can remember. She doesn’t look particularly royal, but we can’t leave anyone out.

This doll below has real human hair. I forget what kind of doll she’s supposed to be.


My mother kept the samurai dolls in a glass case on her dresser. The case fell apart, and I never got a new one. I always loved looking at these dolls and wanted desperately to play with them. These dolls are wearing real silks and have real human hair; their skin is silk, their features are handpainted, and their hands work. They are very detailed, with a working fan, hair pins, and a hidden dagger for the samurai woman, in her sleeve.



On Girls Day, you can celebrate with traditional pink food, as well as a variety of other delicacies. I didn’t go up to the Japanese market to see if they had this. In fact, I didn’t know it existed, because my mom never made pink food. (Click on the photo to read more about it).

You could always modernize the foods, like justJENN did with her cupcakes topped by a piece of chichi dango. Super cute! Click the photo to get to her site and recipe.

In my family, we just put the dolls out. One time, I had a tea party with my little tea set and invited a couple of neighbor girls over, and that was a huge deal to me. I think my mom made little sandwiches for us. If I plan ahead next year, it would be fun for my girls to do that, too.

Boys’ Day is May 5. Wikipedia tells me that it was changed to Children’s Day in 1948, but we always called it Boys Day. My brother had a mini metal samurai helmet he displayed for the occasion. It sat on a red and gold satin silk pillow. This year, we bought son a carp flag to fly. You are also supposed to have a Kintaro doll, which is a boy riding a carp like so. I have never seen a Kintaro doll before. As I told someone at a recent talk, most of what I know about Japanese culture came directly through my mother, so my knowledge is limited (and sometimes I didn’t know if what she did was different than other Japanese in other regions).

Click on the photo to read about Boys’ Day decorations and what they signify. The whole site talks about Omamori, Japanese amulets; it also has essays and lists folk art toys from different regions. Very interesting stuff. Sometimes I find exactly what I need, accidentally, from working on this blog!

In Which Margaret Forces the Children to Be Cultured and (Nearly) Fights Hipster Parents

In my never-ending quest to win the Worst Mother in the Universe, Hands-Down (I hope my trophy comes with Hands-Down on it) I took the kids to LA on New Year’s Day to LACMA. Which is the LA County Museum of Art.

My MIL used to lament how none of the Dilloway girls had any artistic talent. Then my artistic genetics came into the picture. Both my girls love making art.

I *was* an art major, so it’s only natural that I love going to art museums and stuff like that. I love standing in front of art and telling the kids about it and asking them what they think until they roll their eyes and try to melt into the floor (usually takes about 20 seconds).

One of my friends had gone to LACMA and noted their FREE kids’ program, called NexGen, was going on. You sign up and each kid gets to take an adult in for FREE also.

Three free kids plus two free adults equals cost of gas to LA, plus food. So not a bad day trip.

Of course, it almost killed Son, who nearly keels over at the thought of doing anything. Anything he specifically doesn’t choose, that is. So the tar pit museum, which would be his speed (yeah, I know that’s not its proper name) was closed, so first we looked at the art.

We needed to go see the Monet/Lichtenstein cathedrals . You have to take an escalator to the 3rd floor, outside, to get there.

So we got on and realized, hey, this thing is TALL and high up.

One of my recurring nightmares is an escalator nightmare, where a tall escalator goes fast and I fall off. Make of that what you will. (My other recurring nightmare is about the Kardashians. Once I dreamed they were pod people turning everyone into them. SCARY! I know!)

Son is afraid of heights so he started freaking out. Little Girl freaked out because her brother was freaking out and both were holding onto Cadillac for dear life, their eyes shut.

I said, “Well, it is a rather tall escalator,” meaning to acknowledge what they were feeling (and also a fleeting memory of my nightmare). This only served to freak them out more.

This nearly ruined Son’s entire trip. Luckily, an ice cream sandwich saved the day.

Then we went and looked at the tar pits outside. A sad baby mammoth cries as its Daddy or Mommy sinks into the tar. Talk about nightmares!


Finally we returned to the art museum, where we found these long plastic spaghetti-like strands where kids could roam free.


Unfortunately some kids were roaming free-er than others. There were some hipster parents there whose kid, about age 10, had a mullet meant, I suppose, to be ironic (I just found this entertaining and enlightening post: “The Ironic of the Ironic: Hipsters Don’t Understand Irony“) They were all wearing these cowboy shirts and the mom had a faded pink streak in her hair.

Anyway, no problem with hipsters generally, but their kid began chasing a girl (his sister, perhaps) and grabbing handfuls of this plastic stuff and whipping it back in her face to smack and hurt her. She avoided it for the most part but he got more and more aggressive and soon was running all through the maze. I looked over at the mother and she was looking at me with an expression I couldn’t read– I hoped she was smiling and not understanding, but I felt like she was smirking and TOTALLY understanding and thinking, “What? What are you gonna do about it? I’ve got a pink streak in my hair I made with Kool-Aid.” I looked at her kid and back at her and I frowned and she was still smiling at me and her husband was staring at the sky or something. Usually this is the point where Responsible Parents understand their kid is being bad and do something about it. So I asked Cadillac if he wanted to say something and he said he really didn’t want to have to get into bloodshed at the art museum, but if I said something he would back me up.

So then it was all like this for a moment:

Then Son shouted, “Hey, cut that out! What are you trying to do?” and I looked inside to see him behind Little Girl, holding her shoulders, and his big sister covering him. And the kid stopped whipping the plastic around in peoples’ faces and we went inside.

Which was probably more effective, anyway.

Food Bits

For as long as I’ve known him, Cadillac has been looking for Double Bock by Sam Adams. “It’s the greatest beer on the planet,” he always says. For one reason or another, we never found it during all these years. Once we were told it was the wrong season; it’s only produced in the fall. Then we looked in the fall and the store still didn’t have it. Some years we didn’t look at all because we forgot.

This year, an intrepid co-worker of his looked at the Sam Adams website, which tells you where to find it. The BevMo site said there were 3 left at the local store, so I went there.

Once there, the employees hadn’t heard of it. They couldn’t find it. Only my insistence, verified by them, that their computer said 3 were in stock made them go on a search. Finally one guy looked behind a bunch of other beer and found the bottles. There wasn’t even a shelf tag for it.

And the angels sang! Laaaa.


What is so great about this beer? They use a half pound of malt per bottle. It’s like liquid bread. Monks used to drink this (probably not produced by Sam Adams, though) during their long fasts. I shudder to think of how many calories it probably has.

I hated it. It tastes like fermented yeast, with a little sugar, to me. Not that I’ve drunk fermented yeast. But it’s what I think it would taste like.

I asked him if it was as good as he remembered. He said yes. I think it’ll take him a year to drink all four, because he’s doling them out so slowly.

At the farmer’s market, I found this weirdly shaped eggplant. We’re calling him Mr. Eggplant. Only problem is, now nobody wants to eat him.


I think it’ll be cooked up tonight anyway. It’ll just go bad if not.

My mom used to make this eggplant miso recipe that was my favorite way to eat it. Pretty much the only way I liked it. The store where I got the eggplant had lots of stuff, from rose water to pomegranate syrup to exotic salad dressings, but they had no miso. Bummer. Now my eggplant’s aging and I forgot to go to the store again.

Also, in my quest for cute lunches, I made peanut butter and jelly “sushi” rolls. They’re easy to make, you just flatten the bread, spread the stuff, and roll it and cut them. Chopsticks optional.

That fluffy thing in there is a marshmallow. It looks like a weird fungus in the picture.

Making Vanilla Cake

I just finished reading Garlic and Sapphires, Ruth Reichl‘s account of being the NYT food critic (yeah, it’s been out forever but I’m late to a lot of stuff). I loved how she included recipes instead of photos, so you can make the food she’s talking about. There’s a point in the memoir where she is tiring of being the critic and assuming all these disguises, and she makes a vanilla cake with her young son Nicky and his friends. It sounded so good that my son and I just had to try it. (I swear, I drooled so much while I read this book. It was worse than seeing photos). She calls it Nicky’s Vanilla Cake and because Nicky and his friends “creamed the sugar into butter, pounding fiercely with wooden spoons until they had achieved a perfectly smooth emulsion,” I had my son make it without the electric mixer, too. Just his arms and a wooden spoon. He got tired, but never complained. I told him his right arm would get super big.


He did all the measuring and mixing himself. I helped him with the oven part.

The cake turns out very dense, like a pound cake; I guess that’s why you use the angel food or bundt pan. It’s very moist. (Mmm, two sticks of butter again…)


A bit…a lot…of homemade whipped cream went on top.


Son was so proud of himself. He loves the show CAKE BOSS and immediately hatched a plan for his own bakery. (We all have jobs. My title is “Oven Handler.”) And, of course, for baking more cakes by himself. After this one’s gone, we’re doing chocolate.

2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking soda
2 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 cup sour cream
2 Tbsp. vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour an angel-food or bundt cake pan.
Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, blending well after each addition.
Mix the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt together, and add this to the butter mixture, mixing well. Add the sour cream and mix well; then mix in the vanilla. (The batter will be thick.)
Pour the batter into the prepared cake pan and bake for 40 to 45 minutes, or until golden. Let the pan cool on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Then turn the cake out of the pan, and leave it on the rack until cool.