Saturday, January 24, 2015

Pirates and Pixies

No small bones about it, I'm foisting my interests all up on my Kid. It started innocently enough: NBC was showing Peter Pan Live (and I wrote all about it). Then, he got into Jake and the Neverland Pirates. Then, as part of our prep-watching for our upcoming vacation to Disney World, we watched Disney's Peter Pan for one of our movie nights. It was all over from there...

And I love it.

So, when he asked me to make him fairy wings so he could play Tinker Bell, I couldn't say no. We took a trip to Michael's to pick out some flowers and paint, and I finally forgave Jake for having wire hangers in his closet. (He's getting better, but there are still a couple. I struggle not to go all Joan Crawford on him, but it's what keeps our marriage interesting.) I used this tutorial, which was pretty darned clear. My one note: even though I used Q-sized stockings, they compressed my hanger-shapes, so they wound up thinner than my original design. It's cool; he loves them, and so do I!

The Kid had asked me for "black and white stripes with orange squiggles and flowers," and I think I delivered. It's definitely the most Tim Burton-y, Halloween-y thing I've ever made! He's been flying around the apartment for the last couple of days, and I get to be his Peter Pan. Not complaining!
So, then.

I realized if I could make fairy wings, I could probably make a pair of swords for swordfighting, too. The Kid has been initiating swordfights with everything from chopsticks to plastic cucumbers to rubber snakes. Jake and I hadn't had The Play Weapon Talk yet--it had never come up. But both of us figured, if The Kid uses safe foam swords to play pirate, how could we argue?

Especially because I'm a craft-nerd who already had all of the materials, and didn't have to buy anything...

Tutorial after the jump.

Friday, January 2, 2015

A Very Crafty Holiday: an overview

I'm a big fan of TV. Like, huge. (Picture me saying that as Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman.) Before The Kid came along--and when he's not home--I have the TV on non-stop. It's my background noise when I'm doing whatever it is that I'm occupied with; there are only a handful of shows I actually sit and watch.

I do try to stem my couch potato impulses when I'm hanging out with The Kid, and not have the both of us posted in front of the TV all the time. To be honest, he probably watches a total of two hours a day...don't judge. :P

Not defaulting to turning on the TV was much easier when I worked outside of the house. Spending a full day with The Kid was an event, and it was treated as such. When you only get two full days a week together, why would you spend it watching TV? But now, I have to make a concerted effort to come up with fun and nourishing activities. And it turns out, I love doing crafts with my kid! (I probably could have told you that before, but now it's confirmed.) "Becoming more comfortable with arts and crafts" was on my resolution list a few years ago, when I realized that to effectively teach Creative Drama to young kids, I was going to have to give them art projects. I think I've been pretty successful on that end!

Here's a roundup of some of the crafts The Kid and I have done together for the holidays...
Glued circles and rectangles to a piece of blue paper to make snowmen!
(I can't believe it hasn't really snowed in A2 yet! Did I just jinx us??)
Made and decorated gingerbread cookies!
(Cookie recipe from Cook's Illustrated; amazing sugar frosting recipe from The Kitchn.)
The old preschool stand-by: dreidel suncatchers!
(Basis for this activity from The Artful Parent; I used watered-down glue instead of liquid starch,
because my grocery store didn't stock the starch. I also put the wax paper inside a dreidel cut-out.
Because Hanukkah.)
I went into The Kid's class to teach them about Hanukkah. Guess what I did with them!
We made peppermint marshmallows! They. Were. Excellent. And somehow, we still have some.
(Recipe from A Beautiful Mess.)
We made some ornaments for our tree. Meet Santa and Jewish Guy!
(Basis for this activity from Red Ted Art. I looped some embroidery floss through Santa's cap to make an ornament.
Jewish Guy used pretty much the same technique, using blue paint for his body, and a small felt circle yarmulke.)
And we made a handprint snowman ornament using a kit made by a parent in the 4s class at The Kid's school!
Whew! It's been an artful month! I think doing art with The Kid is so much fun. It allowed us to explore both of the winter holidays we celebrate in our family in a tactile way. Springtime crafts soon?

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year! (Or: It's 2015, Where's My Hoverboard?)

I don't normally do the resolution thing. I tend to do most of my reflection around Rosh Hashanah, and this year was no different. But since 2014 has been so full of changes and transitions, I thought this was as good a chance as any to sit back and put my thoughts down in words. So, at risk of being super-boring and doing the same thing as every other blogger, here are some reflections and (I guess) resolutions.

House and Home

In 2014, I made a huge transition from being a full-time working-person to being a Stay-at-Home Mom. (Which, yes, is also a full-time job. Just a very different kind of one.) I went from cooking maybe once a week to making dinner--and lunch--five times a week. There was a very steep learning curve, and I think I've been doing a pretty good job of adjusting.

In 2015, I'd like to:
  • focus on being more mindful during my time at home, and not default to checking my phone every five seconds. 
  • figure out a daily small-cleaning schedule, so I'm not rushing to clean when we have people coming over. (Though, my parents visiting once a month is a great cleaning deadline every four weeks or so!)
  • focus further on pantry-cooking. I've been doing a good job of weekly-menu-planning every week, but I could do more with what we have in our pantry, and make sure we're well-stocked in there.
  • learn more about cooking and become less reliant on recipes!


In 2014, I left Imagination Stage--leaving both a desk job and secure teaching job behind--and made connections in Ann Arbor, teaching one class a week with Wild Swan Theater. I continued working with The Inkwell in a marketing capacity from afar, because I love the future. (But where's my hoverboard, McFly??)

In 2015, I'd like to:
  • continue to make connections in the theatre community here in A2, building more classes into my schedule.
  • take time to write every day, whether blogging or playwriting.
  • on that note, move forward with editing my plays and work on getting them out to other people.
  • make a concerted effort for "office hours" while The Kid is in school, particularly Inky hours.


In 2014, I started working out for, like, the first time! I have a trainer and go to spin classes. That's going pretty well. I've also been tracking what I eat, both for calories and nutrition. That's going pretty well, too! But here's what I'd like to work toward for mind-health in 2015:
  • Read. Books. I've become way too reliant on my phone, and much of my bedtime reading takes place on a small iScreen. I'm going to replace that with reading actual books. (Yes, I'm a nerd who let book reading lapse!) At first, I'm aiming to read one book a month, since I don't have a lot of time for reading. By the end of the year, I'd like to read two books a month at least. I have a stack I'm really excited about, and first up: The Family Fang.

Ok, I think that's enough introspection for one day! I think that all of these goals are attainable over the next 12 months, and I have some self-assistance lined up for some of them (like NaBloPoMo, which will help with the write-every-day thing). Here's to a wonderful year!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

On Peter Pan, Criticism, and Hatewatching

Cathy Rigby, the eternal boy, in Peter Pan.
When I was a kid, I was obsessed (obsessed) with the 1960 taped telecast of Mary Martin's Peter Pan. She was perfect (perfect) as the boy who never grew up. After that, every time my friends and I played Peter Pan--which was a lot, because I was a really bossy kid--I was Peter, standing atop the jungle gym with my legs defiantly splayed and my hands on my hips. Rebecca was Wendy, Emily was John, and my brother was Michael, because he was the smallest.

When I was ten, Cathy Rigby came to Baltimore as Peter Pan. My parents bought tickets, and I was so excited. Also when I was ten, my grandfather died. His funeral was the same week as the show. My mom's friend Kathie took me to see Peter fly over the audience and sprinkle us with fairy dust while my parents sat shiva with my grandmother. I escaped from reality for those two hours, and it was nothing shy of magical.

Peter was my first love. Okay, just after Mickey Dolenz from The Monkees, but still. S/he showed me that gender was fluid and that happy thoughts can make you fly.

Like so many others, I cried during Finding Neverland in 2004, but unlike a lot of other people (I'm assuming here) I was deep in the thick of figuring our what to write about for my Master's thesis, and the movie secured what I had always known would be the focus of my research: Peter Pan. My thesis, "The Feminine Dialectic in Peter Pan," focused on the original 1904 straight production, but I couldn't escape reading about the musical during my research. You know, for funsies.

All of this is to give context to my thoughts about tonight's Peter Pan Live event on NBC.
One of my prize possessions, and a fab 30th birthday gift,
an impossibly intricate grownup pop-up book of Peter Pan by Robert Sabuda.
One might assume that, because of my attachment to the original material, that I'd automatically be wary of this new production. And, truth be told, I think that there were probably better choices out there than Allison Williams to play Peter. (I promise this is my one piece of snark in this post: I've been dreaming of playing Peter my whole life, too, and I bet if my dad was a famous NBC anchor, they might let me do it, too. The end.)

But my whole dramaturgical and theatre-going career has been built on a foundation of hope, kindness, and finding the love, and I can't help but be SO INCREDIBLY EXCITED ABOUT THIS. Yes, I went into The Sound of Music Live with sarcasm, but I felt uncomfortable the whole time--like I was jumping on a bandwagon--and though I kept watching to see what trainwreck would happen next, the scene I talk about whenever people bring the event up is The Goddess Audra singing "Climb Every Mountain," bringing everyone--including Carrie Underwood--to tears, and essentially telling her "you're playing Maria von Trapp right now. It's not going great. Who cares? Buck up and bring this thing home."

Finding the love.
Mary Martin as Peter Pan on Broadway in the 1950s.
I've been called a Pollyanna when it comes to criticism, but I honestly don't understand why criticism has to be nasty. It can be constructive, but it doesn't have to be mean. Too often--and particularly in this post-ironic media world we live in--the meaner one is when discussing popular cultural events, the "smarter" folks might think they are. Or at least that's the perception. An argument can keep a conversation going longer than a stream of compliments, and may feel more satisfying.


But contrary to what some people thought when I told them I was getting my MA in Theatre History and Criticism ("You're going to learn how to be a critic? But you're so nice!"), one can be critical without being wholly negative. I--and many of my colleagues--prefer to focus on form and function rather than starting a conversation with "Here's what I didn't like." And the least constructive form of criticism comes when people go into an event expecting not to like it. Like finding the words of god in the phone book, you can find anything you want if you go into it with a specific intention and look hard enough.

I might not be completely excited about some things that I'm thinking might happen tonight, but I have to be open to possibilities. I've been very interested in some of the changes that are being made to the script, libretto, and music, particularly with the Indians. It seems as though they're coming at the changes from an interesting historical and dramaturgical angle, even going so far as to hire the daughter of one of the original songwriters, which I think is a really interesting approach!

And since Peter Pan has been around for over a century at this point, it has been subject to so much change already. It's reflected the needs and desires of its audience for a long time. For example, I was skeptical at first about casting actual boy actors in movies, but realized that the change reflected a change in technology and medium: the only reason women are traditionally cast as Peter to begin with is that they're lighter to lift on wires, and that's not a consideration on film. This is something I have to remember with tonight's promise of computer-generated Tink and Peter's Shadow.
Disney Junior's Jake and the Neverland Pirates.
The Kid is really into Jake and the Neverland Pirates right now, and while I have some quibbles with the show--there's a girl pirate, which I recognize reflects female viewers, which of course I fully support, but GIRLS DON'T END UP IN NEVER LAND BECAUSE THEY'RE TOO SMART--ahem. Sorry for the stream of consciousness.  And Hook is too whimsical and not scary enough. But if you look at Peter Pan as an eternal childhood game of Pirates and Indians, each using their creativity to imagine what their "character" would do, it fits perfectly with the original narrative, and is a reflection of how our kids play.

Evidenced by The Kid insisting that he's Jake, his dad (whose real name is Jake, which gets confusing) is Captain Hook, and I'm Izzy, thrusting objects into our hands, and "swordfighting." Or making up pirate narratives, asking Captain Hook questions about his life. Sometimes living with The Kid is like a never-ending improv game.

I love that he knows who Captain Hook is, where Never Land is, and is falling in love with my first narrative. L'dor v'dor.

OK, TLDR: haters gonna hate. I'm going to tune in tonight to watch Christopher Walken chew scenery to shreds. And I'm hoping to love it.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Scrumptious Sunday*: A Recipe of One's Own

For the last few weeks, I've been trying weekly meal planning. It's a topic for another post, but it's been going a long way in saving both grocery shopping money and sanity.

This week, I thumbed through a cookbook I got from the library, trying to find a good cold-weather recipe...and found a whole damn bunch of them! The Food52 Cookbook is organized seasonally, and so I had no shortage of options**. But since I'm super-into squash right now, I went for their "best couscous dish," Fregola Sarda with Caramelized Squash and Charmoula.

Before a couple of weeks ago, I had never cut a squash open before. I had, you know, carved Jack o' Lanterns, but an actual squash intimidated the hell out of me. I didn't know how to peel one, how to cut one, how to make sure all of the seeds were done away with, without getting my hands all goopy. But I loved the warm taste, the smell in the kitchen while one was cooking...a squash is late autumn and winter to me. And if all one has to do is cut one up, throw it in the oven with some oil and salt, and let it be for a while to make a super-tasty meal? OK, I decided, if I'm working on getting comfortable in the kitchen, this was something I needed to learn how to do. (Thanks to The Kitchn for a great squash tutorial!)

And so after my first try with butternut squash two weeks ago, and making Pumpkin Butter with The Kid last week (also Food52), this recipe sounded like an absolute winner. It's getting cold and dreary here in MI, and some squash was just what my kitchen needed.

But I also had a couple of changes I needed to make for various reasons: grocery availability, family dietary needs, and so on. And so, since I'm trying to work on being zen in the kitchen, I did what I needed to do and came out with a damn good dinner that made everyone around the table happy. Seriously, The Kid gobbled it down, even though the one part of the dish he helped me make was the one thing that didn't wind up on his plate.

It's no Fregola Sarda, but it was awesome. Recipe after the jump. (Don't be intimidated by the list of ingredients. There's a lot of stuff, but not a whole lot of work involved at all.)

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Making Passes at Girls Who Wear Glasses

The girl I meant to be: 1994
Okay, you guys, I'm still thinking about this "Sexy PhD" costume that popped up in my newsfeed via HuffPo the other day. It was the day after Halloween, so what's a few more days of reflection, eh?

The Amazon comments are fantastic. I suppose this is the natural progression from both the ubiquitous Sexy Teacher costumes, and the ever-increasingly-ridiculous Sexy Any-Profession costumes that have been popping up more and more every year. There is a Sexy Pizza costume, y'all. This needs to stop.

But there was an unforeseen (possibly terrible-feminist) part of me that thought, Hooray, smart girls are sexy now! Yes, I know that's not the actual message. 15-year-old me doesn't recognize that.

I first got glasses when I was five years old. 1980s-style bug-eye glasses, because that's all there was in 1985. And I was also a Very Smart Kid who related to adults much better than I ever related to kids my own age. And that made me socially awkward inwardly, and a certified nerd outwardly.
My mom tells a story about a woman at a restaurant who leaned down to five-year-old me and cooed, "You'll be so cute once you get contact lenses!" My mom, ever the champion of her children, politely snapped back, "She's cute now." That was the narrative I grew up with: I was cute with my glasses and, by extension, with my nerdliness. Sure, I wore contact lenses for a good six months, but I quickly went back to my glasses. They were a part of me.
Rocking my '80s glasses, with my still-adorable brother.
And then.

There was this guy I had a crush on in high school. A big crush. He and I were friends outside of school--we had an awesome phone relationship going--but he very rarely talked to me in school. It started out with him calling me for help on homework, and evolved into us talking for two hours at a time, several times a week. And yet, though we shared several classes and similar friends, we never talked in school.

One night over the phone, he told me he thought my best friend was cute. And I, in all of my fifteen-year-old-Jewish glory, asked, "So what am I, chopped liver?"

His answer? "We talk about you. We think you're okay. But...some guys just don't like smart girls."

There it was.

Some guys just don't like smart girls.

I could have focused on the "some guys" part, and realized--as I do now--that those aren't exactly the guys I want to hang out with. And who cares what they think anyway? But the reality was:

I cared. I cared a lot. Some guys in my head extrapolated to, the reason I don't get asked out, ever, is that I'm smart. And it's one of those things that sticks to your subconscious. Enough so that you blog about it almost twenty years later.

But though the facts of that conversation haven't changed in the last almost-twenty years, something has: my confidence in my nerdliness. I like to read. I like to talk about the things I read. I like to write things and talk about them, too. I like to teach other people about the things I like. And all of those things? Are awesome.

I am confident that I'm smart. And being smart is part of what makes me attractive. Maybe not to 15-year-old stoner boys (which now: ick), but to smart and funny people. Which, coincidentally, are also the people who I find attractive and want to hang out with. So, win-win.

OK, so I don't have a PhD, and so I wouldn't merit wearing this super-low-cut, super-short regalia, though admittedly I don't know what a "sexy MA" would wear, since I didn't walk when I got my grad degree. But I'm confident in the fact that attractiveness doesn't (have to) come from the length of your skirt, the size of your cleavage, or the accessories you happen to wear on your face. (And, I should note, If you choose to wear something short and/or cleavage-bearing, it doesn't affect your intellect one bit.)

Smart is sexy.
For the record, I was Hipster Wonder Woman for Halloween.
Here I am with Handy Manny, in my bespectacled glory.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

An Ode to the Observer-Learner

"Believe me," I'd tell a parent at the beginning of a class session, "He's watching now, but once he sees how his classmates participate, he'll jump in later, I'm sure of it."


"Watch how active her eyes are right now. See how closely she's paying attention? I can tell she's learning, even if she's not playing with us."


"You know, I've been Ayden's teacher for a while now, and I've noticed that there are certain activities he prefers to watch rather than do. That's totally cool--he always has the opportunity to join us, but I really love how much he's supporting his classmates."


"I have to tell you what Sophie did in class! We've been doing this warm-up game for the last three weeks, and she actually did it with us today! It was awesome!"

These are things I've said time and time again to parents who poked their heads in the window of class, and saw what looked like their children not participating in activities. Or parents who saw them doing their own thing during observation days in the middle of the semester. Thing is, everyone's got their own learning style, and sometimes it takes a child a little longer to feel comfortable with an activity. They might have to see other kids do it before feeling like they can jump in themselves.

So, as a teacher, I'm completely cool with observer-learners: the kids who have to hang back for a while to watch instead of participating, so they can become comfortable with what's going on in class. As long as a student is active in their own way, and absorbing what we're doing, its totally fine.

As a parent, though, it's really flippin' hard! The Kid does a great job participating in school and group activities. He's super-social and crazy-verbal. Until it comes to participation in a story or song. Then, he just shuts down. He sits and sucks his thumb...

...and then comes home and sings me every word of every song, or tells me every word of the story, acting it out with the motions that his teacher taught the class in school that day.

So, I know he's learning. He's watching, actively engaged, absorbing everything, and reviewing it for himself at home. Just like I've told so many parents of my own students. And so I have to let go of the idea that he would just have so much fun if he would just participate. During library story time today, he almost cried when I suggested he get up for the stretching song. Oy.

I feel a little bit stuck in a place where I'm forcing The Kid to do something he doesn't feel comfortable doing, but I know he'll have fun doing. I want him to spread his wings and try new things...but on his own terms. It's hard!

I think back on my own school experience, where I looked around the room to see what other kids were doing before I jumped in. I waited to see if anyone else would raise their hands before I did, partially because I was afraid of being labeled "the smart girl" (which is a topic for another post), and partially because I just wanted to see what everyone else is doing. It's one reason that of all forms of theatre, improv scares me the most: you have to jump in without observing, or else nothing will get done. (Once I'm in an improv game, I love it. The very thought of it gives me the willies, though.)

So, I'm going to nurture my observer-absorber-learner, continue to ask him to sing us the songs Mrs. A teaches in school, and to show us the games the class played. And hope that someday, he feels comfortable enough to jump in and play--without pushing him!