Super interesting survey and findings.  60% of women consider themselves feminists… Somehow I actually find that number encouraging!

via Washington Post/ Kaiser Family Foundation Feminism Survey | The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation.

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We set the table like pros.  We attached our four ikea kid tables (http://www.ikea.com/us/en/catalog/products/80267566/) to make one large table by duct taping the four interior legs together.  Then I spread a table cloth atop, set with sparkly plates, pink napkins found in storage, plastic forks and tea cups at each spot.  Before the party I wrote each kids name on the cups using sharpies and my best fancy-handwriting.  The kids loved finding their spots and then decorating their tea cups with stickers.

The menu for the party was pretty straightforward.  It was a tea party so we served sandwiches, tea, fruit and cake.  Little Girl’s favorite sandwich is egg-salad (which is also quite traditional for afternoon tea) so I made those, cream cheese and jam and cream cheese and cucumber sandwiches.  I took a risk and displayed them on a fine china tiered dish, for tea we served Earl Grey (decaf), a fruit tea and a sparkling juice punch made from various drinks we had on hand.  The kids delighted at having me come around the table to serve them their sandwiches and pour tea from fancy china tea pots.

The cake was homemade.  This is the only cake I make but it is delicious.  I use a recipe from the Smitten Kitchen cookbook; the addition of corn starch makes the cake crumb smooth and lovely, the use of buttermilk adds flour.  (Deb Perelman is a genius!)  This recipe is similar and I’m sure delicious even though it’s a little different from the one in the book http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2009/07/best-birthday-cake/

For Little Girl’s class party on Friday I doubled the recipe to make 48 amazing cupcakes.  For the Tea Party I used a single recipe to make two 9’ round cakes and added strawberry jam in between the two cakes.  I frosted both with a basic buttercream frosting (organic butter, organic heavy cream, abundant confectioner’s sugar added to the stand mixer until everything is covered in a layer of sugar dust and the frosting is thick and delicious…  obviously you might want to find a real recipe for this 😉 ).  I used pink food coloring to reach that exact shade of 4 year old fairy party pink!  We added edible candy flowers (donated to the cause by my mother-in-law and right in time for the party!) to add a little visual interest.  Then we sprinkled the whole thing in “fairy dust” (colored sugar).

066I consider the fact that there were no leftovers a good sign!

So as for the financial reckoning…  I’m afraid I went a bit over budget.  It turned out that we needed to buy flour, baking powder and cornstarch in addition to tons of butter, buttermilk, eggs, and items for sandwiches.  If I calculated based on just the percentage used then I’m right on target though…

Total Spent: $118.94

  • Food: $52.00
  • Plates and cups:  $20.60
  • Decorations, & Invitations: $10.98
  • Craft Supplies: $27.98

Emotional reckoning:  I’m really proud of how fun, attractive and interesting the whole party turned out to be.  I love throwing parties but it is so easy to spend a ton to make them happen.  I’m proud that I avoided that trap this time.  I also found it really fun to try and find creative and cheap/free solutions to the various parts of the party.

That said, this was seriously labor intensive.  Those flowers and crowns took a whole weekend and we trashed the house making them!  But, it wouldn’t have been quick the old way either; I would have spent hours upon hours scouring the web to find exactly the product I wanted to make the event have the exact look I imagined.  Given the choice, I would MUCH rather be painting, cutting, sewing and even ironing than staring at my computer!

I have to say that even though this budget was arbitrarily set, I’m really bummed to have gone over.  The big costs were food (which as I said was a little bit just luck and a little bit because I’m counting the school cupcakes in this total too) and the tea cups.  We still have 20 tea cups leftover.  I wonder if I could have bought a smaller package somewhere?  I’m glad we used the hard plastic ones though; my husband ran into one of the dads the other day and he said his kid has used the cup every day this week, at meals and for pretend.  That feedback made my day!

 

Picture a fairy.  Is it a girl?  Does she look like Disney’s Tinkerbell?  I had a feeling…  In our highly commercial and consumerist society even figments of our imagination often look like they came from the art department of a major multinational corporation! Thanks especially to coloring books and product-oriented (rather than process-oriented) craft projects, so many kids art projects end up looking identical too.

Because of all this, it was a bit of a challenge designing a craft project for Little Girls’ birthday party.  I did not want to buy a kit that would provide all the materials to make identical fairies nor did I want to buy premade figurines.  I wanted to have each of them make their own fairy and I wanted them to be enchanted with their fairies.  I did not want them to feel disappointed that their fairies looked imperfect or homemade.  So I decided to make a bunch of my own to give them some ideas of how very differently fairies could turn out from one another.

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This little fairy above has a bead for a head, another for a body, pipe cleaner legs and a ribbon bow for wings.  The one below is made from 2 iridescent paperclips and a bead. 021 (2)

This third one uses the materials I set out for the kids to use.  Wings are made from pipe cleaners, the head and body are a wooden peg doll, the dress is made from cut pieces of crepe paper, the hat is a pre-purchased paper flower and the yard hair was made by loosely knotting a dozen pieces of yard in the center and then securing at the center with a glue-dot.  (If I were a poet, I would write a sonnet to glue-dots!)

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Creating fairies was the big activity for the first part of the party.  I set up all the materials on a blanket in the living room and invited each of the girls to come in and make one.

057I showed them some different ideas for bodies, wings and clothes and then helped by offering to attach glue dots or cut tape.  The rest was up to them.

I purchased the paper flowers and the wooden doll bodies.  I dug out the glue dots, yarn, markers, crepe paper and pipe cleaners.  The shimmery wings were from an old butterfly mobile someone had given Big Girl for her 4th birthday.  We took the butterflies apart and re-purposed the wings.

It was a great success!

It wasn’t free but I listed the purchased materials in the first post of this series so I need not account for them again just yet.  The final reckoning is to come…

 

It’s a modern day fact: Dress up requires crowns.

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I typically would have bought some foam or paper crowns and had the kids decorate them with jewel stickers, glitter glue and other shiny things but I’ve been down that path before and it always leads to a pile of left-over crowns to store, stickers without their paper backing stuck to the floor and glitter glue all over everything.  Plus, it would have cost me  $27.39 + tax ($15.50 for jewel stickers, $6.50 for crowns and $5.39 for glitter glue) and that’s only if I kept it simple.  What’s more, the parents would throw them away a few days later.

But, if a dress up party needs crowns, A fairy tea party needs special garden flower crowns, not just some pieces of cardboard.  And, so, I embarked on the most elaborate project I’ve ever done for a kids birthday party…  I made reversible fabric crowns with flexible sizing for each and every guest.

And, it was completely free…  because I’ve been hoarding tons of fabric and these crowns do not take very much.  What they do take is time, so if you want to follow me down the path of crazy, you’ll want to budget lots of time!

To make these fabric crowns I looked at lots of patterns and suggestions online.  I wasn’t able to find any that were perfect for my purposes.  I wanted ones that were adjustable so that they would definitely fit the girls at the party but also so they would be fun long-term additions to their dress up bins.  I also wanted ones that used cotton fabric rather than felt since that was what I had in the house.  So, I after reading a dozen different approaches, I decided to reinvent the wheel.

Here’s what you need:

  • paper for drawing pattern
  • fabric scissors
  • fusible batting
  • complementary fabrics
  • iron and ironing board
  • ribbon or lace for decorating front and the tie
  • trim, beads, lace or fabric flowers (optional embellishments)
  • sewing machine or needle and thread

Here’s what I did:

  1.  I created a pattern just by hand drawing a sample, straightening the edges, and cutting it out to see how it looked on Little Girl’s head.  Once I had one I liked I then traced it again and added a 1/2 inch margin all around.  I used the smaller as the pattern for the self-adhesive batting and the larger for the two pieces of fabric.  004005
  2. Cut out the three pieces and line them up. 011 Place good sides out with batting in the center.  Iron the three pieces together.  Once the three pieces are aligned, I snipped in a 1/4 inch at the low points in between the triangles and cut a small reverse triangle at the tops to create sharp corners.  I then folded the pieces inward along the seamlines.  This was tedious and hot work.  I burnt my hand more than once with the iron.  But, it made sewing the crowns super simple.
  3. I then went through the rather large collection of ribbons and lace that I’ve collected from present wrappings, discarded clothing and from too many trips to arts and craft stores.  I paired each crown with a ribbon.  I cut the ribbons to about 1 yard, found the center point of the ribbon and pinned it to the front of the crown about 1″ from the bottom.
  4. Then it was (FINALLY!) time to sew.  I selected purple thread and a decorative stitch on my sewing machine and sewed all around the crown.  I used a very wide decorative stitch both for appearances and to make sure that all the edged would be trapped inside of the crown.  I then went back over the decorative ribbon a second time.  The result is a charming ribbon on one side of the crown and cute stitching on the other side.  Bonus, the ribbons are securely attached and can hold up to a few hundred wearings.  042

Total cost (in money): $0

Cost in time?  This took me forever.  At least 30 mins per crown once I got the hang of it.  The first ones took at least an hour because I needed to keep figuring out the steps.

Worth it?  Totally!

Likely cost to someone without an abundance of art supplies?  About $10?  2 1/4 yards of fabric in contrasting colors (about $5), ribbon (easily found for $1), batting ($5-$10 because you have to buy the whole package, as far as I know).

Little Girl loves to engage in imaginative play.  She spends most of her days at school and home playing pretend with her sister, her toys and her friends.  I like pretend too, especially when it involves magical creatures.

Rather than have just a tea party, we decided to ask the kids to wear their dress-up clothes and to come to a fairy tea party.  My hope is this will be two hours of magical pretend.  Obviously, it is up to me to set the stage.  That means we have to decorate.

To begin, we decided to make the living room into “fairy land” and the dining room will be the tea party space.  I decided to focus our energy on making a few big decorations and then to fill in with things from around the house and let them imagine the rest!

Our first project is giant flowers.  We are making a few of these to stand up in the living room to add the transporting magic of making the kids feel like little fairies.  Alongside that we’re adding giant grass, adding circles to existing storage ottomans to make them into “toadstools” and then we’re hanging some kid made fairies around to make them fly.  I’ll post pictures of the final effect on party day.  For now, here are instructions for making the flowers and grass with some pictures too.

Giant Flowers:

I’m super excited about these as they look so cool and they were totally free.  We used only items from our recycling bin, paint and tape.

To make 1, you’ll need:

  • 2 wrapping paper tubes or 4-5 paper towel tubes
  • 2 ½ paper grocery bags
  • 1 lunch size paper bag
  • Other paper recycling to stuff the petals
  • Small lunch size bag for the center
  • Stapler
  • Tempera Paint

033The paper towel or wrapping paper tubes are the stems for the flower.  Paint these green for a traditional looking flower.  We attached them with tape before painting to make long stems.  Little Girl painted them; we used a large brush I usually use for wall painting to make the task go more quickly.

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To make the petals, I cut paper grocery bags in half the long way.  I then turned them inside out, cut to make a basic petal shape and stapled closed along the side.  The girls stuffed the petals with paper from our recycling bin.  Once full, I folded in the sides and stapled them up.  We made five for each flower.  We painted one flower orange, one pink and one purple.

To make the center we used a lunch bag.  I folded the corners in to make it circular and then stuffed the bottom of the bag up to fill in the top.  Using the stapler I finished it into a circle.  We painted this yellow.  I think it would have been cute to add bits of tissue paper to make it textured but we never got to that step!

I recommend letting everything dry for a day before putting the flowers together.

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To put the flowers together I stapled each petal to the center on the back of the flower.  I stapled the stem there as well.  I then reinforced the whole thing with packing tape on the back.  We stood them up against the fireplace and they looked so cute!

Giant Grass:

I used green constr038uction paper and cut out alternate strips.  We taped this up against the fireplace screen and surround to fill in the garden scene.  It really helps to complete the scene with the flowers.

 

Toadstools:

We have several storage ottomans in the girls’ rooms.  To add additional seating and to create the forest fun we’re looking for I decided to add them in as toadstools.  056This was a super quick and fun project.  I drew five circles of varying sizes on a sheet of construction paper, Little Girl cut them out and we used tape loops to attach them to the ottomans.

Final Touches:

We finished the scene by bringing out whatever fairy toys the girls had and placing those on the mantel.  We hung the banner Little Girl sewed a few weeks ago in the space above the mantel and I added one store bought banner that I hung from the mantel.  Then we hung a handmade “Happy Birthday” sign and several little fairies from the mantel so it looked as though there were fairies flying around the giant flowers.  We added a few pillows around for seating and decor too.  Check out the final effect!

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Total Cost for decorations: $3.99 for pompom banner

Total spent to date:  $59.56

 

 

 

Little Girl is turning 4 next week!

Little Girl is a very friendly and social kid.   (The only extrovert in the family, for sure!) She also attends a mixed age school where she gets to hang out with kids 2-5.  For the past two years we’ve ended up inviting EVERYONE to her birthday parties.  Last year, we had 72 people planning to attend.  Luckily a virus running through the school and a snow storm that morning decimated the numbers.  We had only about 45 attend our Winter Wonderland Birthday party.  It was a serious relief!

This year we are trying something different.  For several reasons we decided to go small, “fancy” and much more manageable!

One of those reasons is certainly a deeply felt motivation to save more NOW… so I can work less later J.  This is much more of a challenge than you might expect.  Despite a refusal to do gift bags, a commitment to planning parties that focus on kid created crafts and fun, and all homemade food, these parties can quickly become extraordinarily expensive!  I have developed a habit of buying tons of new arts supplies and hunting down every little craft item to make the project perfect.  And, I ALWAYS end up buying too much.  (Oriental Trading Company, I’m looking at you now!)

This year, I am reformed.  I am putting a $100 limit on Little Girl’s birthday party.  That includes food and cake (!), craft materials, activity materials, paper goods and decorations.  I’m sure for some of you out there, this is not so modest… but if I were to do the math I’m pretty sure this is 1/3 to a ¼ of what I’ve spent in the past.

The most obvious way to do this is to scale back the guest list, dramatically.  Little Girl decided to invite the girls in her class and the class a year ahead.  We have invited 8 girls.  If everyone accepts it will be 10 including the Birthday Girl and Big Girl.  If the parents stick around, we are facing a maximum of 20 people.

Little Girl and I developed the theme of Fairy Tea Party.  On the invitations (which cost $6.99) we asked the kids to wear their favorite dress up clothes and to join us for a magical lunch, tea and cake.

Almost as soon as we decided on this theme I started googling, looking at Pinterest and searching on amazon.  I found the most adorable paper plates that look just like real china ($9.00), charming paper doilies to line other plates ($9 a pack and I had 3 in my cart to review later), and precious paper lanterns (another $9) and some sweet streamers ($4 a pack).  Then I found some awesome fairy making materials (silk flowers $18, ribbon $12) and was just about to go and begin figuring out what awesome items I should buy for wing making.  Then…  I did something really hard.  I emptied my whole cart.  I decided not to spend that $83 (minus tax) and instead use the stuff we have in the house already!

This is my challenge: to throw a fabulous Fairy Tea Party for Little Girl using the stuff we have rather than buying lots of new.  To make it happen, we are putting a limit on the new stuff (including the ingredients for the cake, sandwiches and scones) at $100.

Wish me luck.  Here’s what I’ve spent so far:

  • Invitations: Tea Pot invitations $6.99
  • Craft supplies:  Wooden Doll people $14.99, Paper flower petals $12.99
  • Paper Plates: $3.00
  • Hard plastic tea cups: $17.60

Total so far:  $55.57

 

Although my university expects to drag out our working relationship for another 18 months, it is clear to me that I am ready, eager in fact, to wrap things up and move on.  When classes resumed last week I was still on the fence about whether or not I wanted to teach next year.  Finding myself absent-mindedly cleaning out my desk was a pretty good sign that I am ready to depart.  Another round of aggressive action from my chair pushed me off the fence.  I am ready to get out.

There are lots of little decisions associated with this: What will the kids’ school and childcare schedules look like next year?  How can we save enough to mitigate my loss of income?  How much should I be looking at jobs right now?  What things do I truly want to focus on next year during my year off?  What email should I use for work correspondence from now on?  Is it ethical to renew with the American Sociological Association as unemployed because the dues are so very expensive and I will be unemployed soon but I’m not quite now?  These are just the ones on the top of my mind.  More will occur soon; I know.

There is another decision that feels really important to me right now though.  How should I communicate my decision to my department and the University?  At the two extremes: I can either make a fuss by pointing out all the structural and cultural forces that I think inhibited me from getting tenure or I can quietly and meekly exit.  There are real merits to both approaches.

The “make a fuss” approach is not really about my tenure case.  I am not appealing the decision.  But, there are a number of structural issues starting with things the university could have done when I was hired and continuing clearly throughout my time there.  By bringing these things up by writing a formal resignation letter to my chair, deans and provost, I potentially improve the university environment for future women in similar circumstances (ie: mothers of young children).

Because, this really is a generalizable problem.  For women, having young children is associated with much lower rates of getting tenure track jobs and getting tenure.  And, there are lots of things that happened to me in the past bunch of years that ended up sinking my tenure case.

As I’ve been thinking about this, I decided to read Do Babies Matter: Gender and Family in the Ivory Tower by Mary Ann Mason, Marc Goulden and Nicholas Wolfinger (Rutgers University Press 2013), it’s been both validating and heartbreaking.  The authors show how at every major turn, for women, family and career are incompatible in academia.  They found that approximately 50% of assistant professors do not get tenure (page 48) and that women are less likely to get tenure than men.  This issue is particularly a problem in the sciences (including social sciences, they note).  Specifically, they write:

 “Having young children dramatically reduces the likelihood of tenure for female faculty members in the sciences [including social sciences].  A female scientist with a preschool-age child (in other words, a child under six years old) is 27 percent less likely to get tenure compared with a man who has a small child.  If that same women does not have a young child, she is only 11 percent less likely to get tenure than is a male scientist.”  (Mason, Goulden, Wolfinger 2013:49).

Well, there you go.  I have two children.  And, everyone knows (ie: google “two kids harder than one” and watch the hits tally up!) that it is exponentially harder to have two kids than one.  That must mean that I was exponentially less likely to get tenure…  like 729% maybe 😉

Seriously though, the stories and reasons the authors list all resonated with me: the difficulty of moving to a new city with a newborn baby, the difficulty finding day care for that baby, the difficulty of travelling to conferences with kids, the lack of childcare at those conferences, discrimination, being perceived as being on the “mommy track”, resentment by colleagues for getting breaks, punishment to make up for the “breaks” I previously received.  (Have I mentioned that I’m doing my fourth new prep in four semesters right now?)

Without engaging in recriminations, this is the point that my “make a fuss” exit would address.  I would write a resignation letter that educated them about the “baby gap”.  I would tell them that:

  • “Women who have at least one child in the household early in their career are 24% less likely in the sciences and 20% less likely in the social sciences and humanities to achieve tenure than men who have early babies;”  (Mason et al.  http://ucfamilyedge.berkeley.edu/babiesmatter.pdf )
  • “Overall, the majority of women who achieve tenure have no children in the household at any point in time after the Ph.D.” (ibid)
  • “Women who have early babies are more likely than others to become a ‘neck problem’, i.e. part of the non-tenured academic second tier (lecturers, etc.).” (ibid).

And, I would list some of the practices that experts recommend to improve this problem, focusing heavily on what would have helped me.  For example:

  • Faculty support groups for family issues;
  • Guaranteed child-care spots for new faculty at the university day care center;
  • Information about day cares and schools distributed automatically to help us track down care right from the start;
  • Part-time track with re-entry rights;
  • Communicating with me to find out when would be good times for teaching and meeting hours so I could better accommodate childcare needs;
  • Funding to support bringing my child with me for conferences or work travel;
  • A place to store breastmilk!

Then I would say goodbye and farewell.  It would feel so good to actually speak up for myself and address these issues! Something that I have done very little of in the past few years.

The downside of this guns blazing approach?  All that blazing will certainly burn some bridges and would undermine my chances of getting a future job in academia.  My chair will definitely NOT write me a letter if I take that approach.

Sadly, it would be so much easier, safer and more peaceful to embrace a very different exit strategy.  One where I simply say that “I have decided against teaching there next year.  Thank you for everything.  Good bye.”

Easier and safer but not quite right.

 

rachel iphone 203We like to make homemade gifts; especially things that can be made (at least in part) by the kids for the people in their lives.  This year for teacher gifts, grandparents, and their closest friends we made homemade lip balms and lip glosses.  In total I think we made about 28 of these little gifts!

It turns out that it is unbelievably easy to make homemade organic lip balms and glosses exactly to fit your preferences.  We will never again need to buy any again… in fact we don’t really need to make any more either since we basically have little pots of the stuff all over the house now!

Basic ingredients:

  • Beeswax
  • Coconut oil
  • Vitamin E, sweet almond or jojoba oil
  • Essential oils
  • Pink mica

We were able to get all of our basic ingredients from our local coop.  We ordered the pink mica online.  The basic tools were things we had in the house.

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Tools:

  • Grater or rasp
  • Measuring spoons
  • Microwavable dish (we used our measuring cup)
  • Stirrer (we used a chopstick)
  • Containers for the lip balm (they should hold about .25-.33 oz; we bought ours online)

For our first batch we used a general recipe that was something of a summary from a handful of other recipes.  It was pretty much ½ coconut oil, ½ beeswax.  We found that to make a very glossy lip gloss but to be far to gooey for our preferences.

After several rounds of experimentation, here’s what we’ve come up with for our perfect lip balm and gloss.  There’s much more experimenting to do though.  Any suggestions?

Winter Orange Lip Balm

  • Add several drops of sweet almond oil to the measuring cup.
  • Add 4 teaspoons shredded beeswax, firmly packed into the spoon.
  • Add 3 teaspoons coconut oil.

Microwave 30 seconds at a time, stir thoroughly until melted.  In our microwave this took about 2 minutes.

Once the base is fully melted add the essential oils:

  • 20 drops mandarin orange oil
  • 5 drops clove bud oil
  • 5 drops rosemary oil
  • 5 drop bergamot oil

Carefully pour the liquid into the containers.  Allow to air dry for a moment and then gently secure the lids.  Makes 3 full pots of lip balm (using .25-.33 size containers).

(Note: 1 teaspoon equals .17 fluid oz.  So for one lip balm in a .25 oz container you want about 2 teaspoons of lip balm.   This recipe is for 3 lip balms but you can reduce or increase accordingly.)

Shimmer Rose Lip Gloss – this recipe uses more oil and less beeswax to make gloss instead of balm.

  • Add several drops of sweet almond oil to the measuring cup.
  • Add 1 Tablespoon shredded beeswax, firmly packed into the spoon.
  • Add 1 Tablespoon coconut oil.

Microwave 30 seconds at a time, stir thoroughly until melted.  In our microwave this took about 2 minutes.

Once the base is fully melted add the essential oils:

  • 20 drops rose oil
  • 5 drops lavender oil
  • 5 drop bergamot oil

Stir in pink rose mica to create a pink shimmery color.  ½  teaspoon will create a subtle color on the lips.

Carefully pour the liquid into the containers.  Allow to air dry for a moment and then gently secure the lids.  Makes 3 full pots of lip balm (using .25-.33 size containers).

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Winter break may be over but snow days will come…  we hope!  Here’s a quick round up of some of the fun things we did during our Winter Break and some of the things we hope to do soon. We are looking forward for a chance to make use of these given some of that unexpected free time that often comes in January and February 🙂

  1.  Marshmallow Sculptures: We have a Winter Break tradition of building snow-people out of marshmallows and using them to further our imaginary adventures.  Our favorite technique is to use pretzel sticks to hold the body together by inserting them through the middle to hold three marshmallows in a row.  We then like to use a broken pretzel to create two arms, chocolate chips inserted pointy tip first for eyes and a mouth and a rolo or peanut butter cup as a hat (and affixed with vanilla frosting).  It’s a sticky, delicious and fun evening’s activity.  Over time, we’ve expanded our repertoire to include marshmallows walls and animals too!
  2. Goop:  Goop is a magical mixture (or non-Newtonian fluid) of corn starch and water that is neither solid nor liquid.  It is really fun for sensory play for kids of all ages.  To make it, you need only combine water and corn starch until you have a consistency that is neither dry and crumbly nor wet and drippy.  I like to start by adding the corn starch to a large container and slowly adding the water, having kids mix with their hands.  We also make it more fun  by adding food coloring.  For some color theory fun, you can make separate batches of colors and let them blend them for new colors.  We love blending pink and blue to make purple.
  3. Baking: Watching those inedible ingredients (have you tasted baking soda, yuck!) come together into something fabulous always seems like magic.  I will ONLY bake with my kids help so they are pretty skilled at helping the process along.  Little Girl helps to measure the dry ingredients and stir them.  Big Girl reads the recipe, cracks the eggs and measures out the wet ingredients.  Last week we made tons of orange blueberry scones (a favorite breakfast treat that freezes really well; for a recipe similar to the one we use see: http://smittenkitchen.com/blog/2015/07/very-blueberry-scones/ .)  My part in the activity was to work the butter bits into the dough and supervise.   We are all enjoying the rewards!
  4. Clay Play: There are many recipes for making clay and dough.  And tons of store bought items too.  My favorite playdough recipe combines 1T cream of tartar, 2T vegetable oil, 1c salt, 2c water, 2c flour, spices, extracts and/or food coloring. Combine on the stove top, cook until it is smooth and dry.  Have an adult knead it until it’s not too hot and pass along to share with the kids.  Once you have some clay, there are endless possibilities.  My girls and I had some store bought air hardening clay that we used to make a coil pot (make snakes and wind around to create a base, then work up), a pinch pot (make a ball and use your fingers to pinch into shape, working from the inside and outside at the same time), and the trickiest of all: a heart shaped slab pot (make a heart shaped base by trimming a circle into a heart, roll out rectangular slabs and fit it to the base, scoring to adhere the connections.)
  5. Bubble printing:   Combine a little tempera paint, dish soap and water in a disposable cup.  Use a straw to blow into the cup to create mounds of colored bubbles.  Gently place paper on top of the bubbles to make a print.  Repeat with lots of colors to create pretty effects.
  6. Indoor Snow Play:  We made lots of use of this last year when we had a stretch of days that were really too cold for playing outside.  A brave grown-up merely needs to run outside, fill a giant tupperware (like the type you might use for under the bed storage; I bought two years ago and use them for crafts and sensory activities)  with snow and bring it in for indoor snow people and other fun.  Kids can use their snow mittens and stay in their pjs at the same time!
  7. Ice Painting: When I have some time to plan in advance I like to make colored ice cubes to make the snow play more exciting and long-lasting.   I mix liquid water colors into water and pour into ice cube trays and freeze overnight.  (We’ve sometimes added glitter, sequins or small toys too!).  I then add the ice cubes to the snow and add hours of fun to the activity as the kids paint the snow with ice, and build colorful creations.  This works really well for outside snow play too!

Now we just need some of those snow days!

It seems like the school day is both too long and too short.  I don’t mean this in the classic paradox of time way (You know, “the days are long but the week is short” or “time flies when you’re having fun.”   Rather, I mean that the days are too long for kids (mine for sure!) to have enough down-time and unstructured time in addition to having enough time for meals, homework, bath and chores.  And, they are way too short for a working parent to ever manage to finish up their work in time for pick-up!

We have really been feeling this tension in my house this week.  We had a wonderful Winter Break.  We read, slept late, did art projects, cooked, hiked and played (more on some fun ideas in another post).  My Fitbit even reported that I slept for 11 hours and 45 minutes one night.  It’s not true of course, but what I did do: lay in bed taking turns with Big Girl and my husband reading a great book for two hours before bedtime and then sleeping in, is basically paradise.

Now, I knew this blissful state of harmony and relaxation was temporary.  It was vacation, after all. So, I did my best to prepare:  Mid-way through the break I persuaded Big Girl to get her book report done (1 paragraph) before she started reading another book.  The girls and I baked three batches of orange blueberry scones and froze them to have for school morning breakfasts.  I did the food shopping.  Husband and I did a whopping 7 loads of laundry and even put it all away!  Three days before school started back up I started setting the alarm so we could ease into the early wake-up.  We laid out outfits, packed backpacks and pre-planned lunches too.

All of this was just to buy us a little more time for relaxation and fun during the coming non-vacation weeks.  But even being hyper organized and getting enough sleep wasn’t enough.  By Tuesday afternoon we were all already tired.  Big Girl took over an hour to write her spelling sentences.  Little Girl spent the afternoon in a fog of post-nap crankiness reminiscent of a startled Black Bear.  We barely made it to bed on time and then we were tired again when we woke up, almost late for school and completely stressed out.

In the midst of all that, I realized that for my kids, at least, the school day is too long.  It doesn’t allow us enough time for all the things that are supposed to really matter for happy and healthy kids: family time, reading time, unstructured play time, outdoor time, getting enough sleep and family dinners!  Big Girl is in school for 7 hours.  Little Girl is in Preschool for 7 ½ hours.  Both girls go to schools that prioritize art, music, and play.  Big Girl’s school is awesome about getting the kids outside for playtime during recess and gym sometimes as well.

But, add in commute time (45-60 minutes of walking for Big Girl, 25 minutes for Little Girl), getting ready for school (1 hour), homework for Big Girl (about 1 hour all together because she drags her feet), and dinner (1/2 hour to eat, ½ hour to set the table and clean up) and those kids are busy for 11 hours a day.   Big Girl needs about 10 ½ hours of sleep and Little Girl needs more like 11-12 hours.  That adds up to 21 ½ for Big Girl and 22 hours for Little Girl of busy-ness. No wonder they are so cranky!

Of course we could use some time differently.  Drive instead of walk.  Not make the kids help with cooking and cleaning.  Banish Big Girl to her room to do her homework quickly and on her own.  And, we also take pleasure in many of these scripted parts of the day: walks and dinner for sure, homework sometimes as it includes reading aloud, and bath time is great fun!  But, these are all obligations and they come at the expense of free time and relaxation.

In thinking about this issue I did some research: It seems that my kids are in school a little more than average but not a ton more.  According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the average school day for elementary students is about 6.7 hours a day… a slow increase from 6.3 hours in 1988.

At the same time, 7 hours (minus 35 minutes for my side of the commute) is nowhere near enough for me to ever finish my work.  I spent my work days this week writing syllabi and prepping classes, aware the whole time that I wasn’t giving any time to research and writing.  I postponed email responses, classroom correspondence and other miscellany until the evening.  The semester has just begun.  I know I’ll soon be grading students’ work late into the night after getting my kids to sleep and replying to emails at 6 am.  And, I’m in a profession (for this semester anyway) that allows me extensive control over my time management and prioritization.

The average number of hours a full-time employee reported working in 2014 was 47 hours a week (http://www.gallup.com/poll/175286/hour-workweek-actually-longer-seven-hours.aspx).  If someone is home for the kids in the afternoon, then that means that other working parents are doing the same thing I am—squeezing in more work early in the morning and late at night before and after work.

No wonder parents are so cranky too!

These are two non-complimentary schedules:  Extending the school day helps parents but is generally detrimental to kids (especially young kids) as it often means more structured indoor activities.  Decreasing work time undercuts parents’ advancement in their careers and can lead to financial insecurity.

What is a parent to do?  Count the days until Summer Vacation, I suppose…