School Project Wars—Turning Our House into the Hatfields and McCoys

I will eventually post my homemade Christmas gift round-up, but we still have family to see in the next couple of weeks, and I can’t spoil the surprises yet. In the meantime, I am engaged in a Mexican standoff with my husband and G-Man, and it will be interesting to see who prevails. To understand the meaning behind our good-natured feud, you first have to understand a little something about G-Man.

G-Man is an exceptionally smart kid, so much so that he almost has it too easy in life. 99% of the time, G-Man brings home no homework, because he finishes it all in class. On the very rare occasion he does have homework, he has the assignment completed in 10 minutes or less. This may sound like heaven for a frazzled mom, because I never have to micromanage him. I can’t remember the last time I even checked his assignments. He just excels, without any help from me.

However, G-Man’s life of ease creates an unfortunate side effect; anytime he has to expend more than 10 minutes of effort, such as on a book report or science project, he transforms into a stubborn, mouthy, bull-headed, teary, long-suffering victim who is just oh so put-upon! To end his torture, he will rush through projects with sloppy effort, and then dissolve into a tantrum when I make him go back and do it better.

Before you think it’s just a G-Man problem, I have a confession to make. As a pseudo-OCD person who tends to be more than a little Type-A, working on a school project with me is probably a lot like a scene from The Great Santini. I want to done, I want it done right the first time, and I expect a good grade on it. End of discussion. As a result, I turn into a harpy, helicopter parent who gives way too much direction, and G-Man and I end up waging war at the dinner table. It doesn’t help matters that so many of his peers’ projects have clearly too much parental involvement, and I fear that if I don’t direct G-Man, his efforts will be compared to those of an impressive project (one we all know deep down no 5th grade child could have done), and found lacking. I am always struggling with trying to find the balance between helping him and doing too much for him. I’ve grown to hate school projects with the fire of a thousand suns.

So, this equation is volatile enough, but then you throw my husband into the mix…also known as the peanut gallery. As a stay-at-home mom, I manage all school stuff and rightly so. That’s in the job description. On any given day, my husband couldn’t tell you what the kids are working on, what their homework is or what projects are on the horizon. Even when he does see us working on a project, he doesn’t know the first thing about the requirements, but more specifically, he has no idea the amount of work I have to do in helping the kids, like picking topics, shuttling them to and from the library and operating the glue gun for yet another wildlife habitat diorama. And let’s not forget all those trips to Hobby Lobby for modeling clay, fake moss and poster board.

What my husband does have, however, is an uncanny ability to walk into the room just as G-Man and I are descending into hysterics. At that point, he dispenses his backseat driver commentary without actually sitting down to take a tour through Project Hell with us.

That’s the way I see it, at least. He sees it as me being Attila the Hun with G-Man, and that my drill sergeant-esque approach is unnecessary and unproductive. I say I get the job done and he has no clue what it takes; he says I make everyone neurotic. I think maybe we’re both half right.

But, after the last project was another arduous gauntlet that ended in me feeling like it was Mom versus the rest of the house, I threw my hands up. I announced to the entire brood that I was DONE. Done-da-da-da-da-DONE!! You know that huge social studies project coming up? The one that requires a report, a visual display and an oral presentation? The one that has a full packet of instructions and guidelines, rules and regulations? Well, peeps, I wash my hands of that. Ya’ll think it’s so easy, and I’m just soooo mean, you can figure it out for yourselves. I told my husband that this project is between him and G-Man. They can do it together, and he will get a dose of how much work these things really are. If G-Man fails, it’s not on me. If you think it’s so easy Jack, have at it.

But here’s the thing…as much as I had hoped to seethe in my self-righteous indignation, a deeper part of me believes that we will all learn something from this experience. For my husband and G-Man, I hope that they learn and appreciate that these projects take extensive time and effort, regardless of which parent is helping, and that my making him do it is not “being mean,” that it’s just freaking life, guys (wishful thinking, I know). I want my husband to see that our struggles are not just a “me” problem, and that managing the kids’ school work isn’t as easy as it looks. I want G-Man to see that trading out parental supervisors won’t yield a quick and effortless project; the work will still be there no matter which parent helps him.

To be completely honest, I also grudgingly admit that I hope my husband is successful in getting G-Man to put together a project that reflects his true efforts, and not my helicopter tendencies and strict directions. Even if I do “get the job done,” I admit that I don’t think I’m teaching G-Man to be independent and self-motivated to succeed. If anything, I may be doing him a great disservice and enabling him.

In the coming weeks, we’ll see how it plays out, but in the meantime, I may choke to death from biting my tongue and keeping my mouth shut. When I do feel the need to open my mouth, I’ll pour a glass of wine and go find something brain-rotting to watch on TV instead. Seems like I win, either way, don’t ya think?

Gingerbread Houses for the Icing Impaired

You know, I really consider myself to be a moderately crafty kind of girl. I may not be very original, but I’m not totally incompetent in the crafting department. However, even with the store-bought gingerbread kits, I have yet to attempt this project with the kids with any degree of success. Me and icing apparently aren’t on the same wavelength. The houses always resemble something akin to a drunken Picasso painting (and not in a good way), and my kitchen ends up looking like a gingerbread man slaughterhouse. How’s that for some cheery holiday imagery, for ya?

I know what my issue is; any type of decorating which involves icing is a skill that, no matter my effort, I just can’t master. Believe me, I’ve tried. I can’t tell you how many cakes and cookies have fallen victim to my overly ambitious efforts to replicate those picture-perfect decorations I see in magazines. Since my pseudo-OCD will accept nothing less that wow-worthy perfection, these vain attempts usually leave me frustrated and blistering my kitchen walls with my extensive vocabulary of swear words.

This year, I was determined to save myself from the anxiety-inducing experience of the annual gingerbread house construction. My plan? Mix up the icing, toss it at the Heathens and wash my hands of the whole affair.

And what do you know? They had a blast.

They did a great job, and I didn’t have to spend 20 minutes washing green icing out of my hair. They are extremely proud of their creations, and peace was maintained in my kitchen. We call that a Christmas miracle, ya’ll.

A Deep and Unfathomable Sorrow

Our hearts are heavy, as I’m sure are every other parent’s around our nation. I spent my career working with victims of crime and reliving horror after horror with them, but I still can’t wrap my brain around Friday’s events. I don’t think any of us are equipped, either intellectually or emotionally, to process such an unimaginable tragedy. My husband and I had plenty of words over the weekend…words of shock, words of sympathy and swear words at type of person who punishes strangers and innocents for his own dissatisfaction. But, all the words in the world can’t express the sorrow and sympathy we have in our hearts for the victims and their families. If anything, I imagine our words as tiny drops in a bottomless well that can never be filled…futile but still felt within the deepest depths of our souls. We are powerless in our sadness, but for the prayers that we whisper as we pull our children close.

T-Shirt Quilt Tutorial—A Go-To Gift for the Budget Impaired

First, let me preface this post by saying that in the photos below, most of the graphic t-shirts will have big, black blobs over the graphics. Just protecting some local copyrights, ya’ll.

Need a last minute gift on the cheap? With some graphic tees and very rudimentary sewing skills, you can whip up a great gift. This t-shirt quilt is super-easy, can be assembled in a couple of hours and is a great way to recycle the collection of t-shirts that is suffocating your dresser drawers. If you don’t have enough shirts, hit up your local thrift store. I’ve made these for several family members and they are always a hit. By shopping the sales at my local craft store on fabric, I’m able to create a custom gift for less than $10 a pop. Even better? This is fast project that I can have done in less than a day. Can’t beat that with a stick. Want to give it a try?

Here’s what you will need:

  • 13 graphic t-shirts (the quilt calls for 25 blocks, and you will get two blocks per shirt)
  • 2 yards of fleece fabric
  • Thread
  • A sewing machine, and the basic ability to operate it without injury to yourself or others
  • A rotary cutter
  • A rotary cutting mat
  • A yard stick
  • A piece of poster board
  • Scissors
  • An iron
  • Straight pins
  • Yarn (less than a couple of yards, so not much)
  • A needle with an eye large enough to thread the yarn through

So gather your supplies and let’s get started.

1) Using the poster board, cut out a 12-inch square that will be used as a template for the quilt blocks. I’ve already done so in the above picture. Also, run an iron over your t-shirts, so they won’t be all wrinkly. You’ll get more uniform cuts that way.

2) Working one at a time, lay out a shirt on your cutting mat:

3) Center the poster board template over the graphic, and using your yard stick as a guide at each edge, cut around all four sides of the template with a rotary cutter, ensuring that you are cutting through both the front and back of the shirt:

Assuming you haven’t chopped your finger off yet, you should now have to two squares of t-shirt:

Repeat this process for all 13 shirts, and you should end up with 26 squares.

4) Now it’s time to lay out your quilt, and decide how you want it to look. The quilt will should be 5 blocks by 5 blocks (you’ll have one block leftover from the 13 shirts you cut out):

5) Following your layout and working one row at a time, pin the right sides of the shirts together, and sew them using a half-inch seam allowance:

Once you have your five rows completed, sew them together, also using a half-inch seam, thereby creating your quilt top.

6) Once your quilt top is complete, it’s time to put the whole shebang together. Lay your fleece out on the floor, and then lay the quilt top on top of it, making sure the right side of the fleece faces the right side of the quilt top. Pin them together carefully:

7) Starting toward the bottom center of the quilt, sew the quilt top to the fleece all around the edges(again, half-inch seam), but make sure to leave a 6-8-inch opening at the bottom of the quilt so you can turn the quilt right-side out:

Once you’ve sewn the quilt top to the fleece, trim off any excess fleece and carefully turn the quilt right-side out. Once you do, tuck the raw edges of the opening toward the inside, and top-stitch the opening closed:

8) Now it’s time to tie off the quilt. Cut 16 lengths of yarn, about 6-8 inches long each. Thread one length of yarn through the large-eyed yarn needle and insert the needle at an “intersection” where four t-shirt square corners meet. Pull the needle through to the back-side of the quilt, and re-insert the needle close to the first needle hole, threading the yarn back to the top-side of the quilt. This can be kind of difficult because of the layers, but it can be done, I promise. Tie the two yarn ends together, and tie them again to make a knot. Trim the yarn ends to a length you like:

Do this for all 16 “intersections.”

And ta-da!

Now, have a cocktail and bask in your coolness. I know I sure am.

The Dinner Monster

I’m deep in the heart of marathon Christmas preparations. Every free moment of the past week was spent shopping, knitting, sewing and otherwise crafting gifts for everyone on our list. I also decided to whip up a couple of last-minute handmade gifts for the Heathens, so this week isn’t looking any less busy. My goal is to get as much done as I can before school break arrives, so I can spend a few days with the kids having fun before Christmas. I’ve been saving the gingerbread houses for that glorious first day of winter vacation, and I’ve DVR’d all the classic Christmas specials.

In the meantime, Bean has transformed into the food monster, and we all must bend to her will. If she sees anyone eating, she busts out her little Hulk-hands and demands a bite. This change began at Thanksgiving, when she plowed through a piece of pumpkin pie, plus dressing with gravy and sweet potatoes. Last night, however, she threw her first ring-tailed fit when she realized that we were holding out on her.

For her dinner, I pureed some fresh melon for Bean to eat with her rice cereal. In the meantime, my husband and I grilled steaks with onion-blue cheese sauce for us and the boys, and served them alongside pan-fried potatoes. As I proceeded to feed Bean, all seemed well.

Until, that is, she got an eye-full of our dinner. Her expression immediately turned to incredulity that she was being left out of the real food.

See the Hulk fists? Be afraid…be very afraid. I made the critical error of letting her taste the potatoes, as well as a spoonful of the onion-blue cheese sauce off my steak. When I attempted to redirect her back to the melon and rice cereal, this happened:

Yeah…so much for the rice cereal.