Russky not so muchky

So as you *may* have surmised from my total lack of posts this last week, Russia was a bit of a non-starter. I had plans! Kandinsky art projects! Russian tea cakes! St. Basil’s Cathedral! But Ellie very politely said “No, thank you” to learning hello and goodbye in Russian, and neither of the girls were at all interested in the local Russian Art Museum (which I hear is wonderful, and I still want to go). Maybe it was because it was a holiday week or maybe we just needed a break. We played with our matryoshka dolls, watched Peter and the Wolf (both the Disney and the very cool short film version) and Anastasia and called it good enough. And then we watched some fireworks and ran through the sprinkler and did other 4th of July week things.

This coming week, however, is France, and I am optimistic that there will be more interest in the land of patisseries, le Petit Prince, and patriotisme. Also, Ellie and I were looking up French wildlife today, like you do, and found the little bugger pictured above, which is a garden dormouse and is so cute we both squee’d out loud. I mean, look at that! It’s like a miniature raccoon and a chipmunk had a baby! I’m taking it as a good omen.

Oh! and before I forget – be sure to check out the Camp Nellie Bly tab at the top menu – I’ve added lots of links and material for all the countries we’ve hit so far. And if there’s anything missing, let me know!

Dots from Down Under

Today was arts and crafts day at Camp Nellie Bly. And since we’re “in” Australia this week, I decided we could learn about aboriginal dot painting, which is extremely cool, fun, and kid-friendly. We invited some friends over to join us, which – I cannot tell a lie – can occasionally stress me out a little. Not the kids themselves, but my ability to keep them entertained. But this turned out to be really fun and not stressful, which is why I’m sharing it. Could be my meds working like they’re supposed to, could be that I’m getting the hang of this. Don’t know, don’t care.

Aboriginal Art DemoFirst, I blew my own mind by making paint. MAKING IT, y’all. It was like being God. Well, if God is broke and has no childcare, which is the situation I found myself in last night after the girls were in bed, and I realized that I had zero paint in the house and 5 children with whom to do a painting project the next morning. Chad is in Nashville on a business trip, so I couldn’t just run out to the craft store and grab some tempera paints. (Also because they make you pay money for those things, unless you steal them, but I haven’t stolen anything since that time when I was six, and I shoplifted a lipgloss from the drug store, and my sister ratted me out [THANKS, ELLEN] and my mom made me GO TO A PRIEST and confess my sin. Which is kind of hilarious if you know how not like that my mom usually is.) But then I remembered Pinterest!! Pinterest will save me! And sure enough, there were, like, twelvety-thousillion different recipes for making paint on Pinterest. Finger paints, face paints, interior wall paints (!), textured paints, you name it. I settled on this one, since it was simple (flour, salt and water) and chemical (cooked until it thickens) and sounded like it would work. It made about 2.5 cups of paint base, which I could then put in a squeeze bottle and squirt into the egg carton cups I’d cut out for each kid. Stop rolling your eyes.

Of course, once I’d made it I had to try it out. At midnight. Because I’m dumb like that. It worked pretty slick, using food coloring for the different shades I wanted. The handprint painting in the picture above was my finished project.  Continue reading

Hejdå, Svenska; G’day Australia!

The days, you guys. They are just packed. Newsflash: it is kind of a lot of work to plan a summer-long camp where you switch countries every week. I’m really wishing that I’d had this brainstorm back in, like, February or something, because for one thing, it would have given me something to focus on besides how much I HATE WINTER (it must always be capitalized), and for another, maybe I wouldn’t feel so scrambly every weekend. Or actually sort of all the time. Sweden week was pretty good, although I feel like it could have been better. I was out-of-commission sick one day, and we never did get to the Swedish Institute; nor did we manage to bake off the ginger thins dough we got at IKEA, or eat any swedish pancakes. My stepmom suggested teaching the girls Swedish massage, which is a GENIUS idea, but again: didn’t get to it. Things we did get to: dancing to ABBA, eating meatballs and swedish fish (separately; we’re not cretins), making adorable flower wreaths for Midsommar, reading Maj Lindman and Astrid Lindgren books, coloring dala horses and making Viking paper crafts, and increasing our knowledge of Thor. Which looks pretty good all written out like that, and probably definitely I should just let it go, but it didn’t feel very organized or coherent.

We’re still navigating the camp/play balance – after all, this isn’t really a camp, and all of their friends have other schedules and activities, and we dearly love our friends and want to see them as much as possible. My tendency is to immediately jump on any proposed playdate activity – Yes! Things for the kids to do! Socializing! The potential for adult conversation! Whooo! But then again, one of the supposed reasons for doing this camp thing in the first place was to give some structure to our days and weeks, and I think I haven’t been paying enough attention to that. I mean, we will survive if we only have one playdate in a given day, you know? We don’t have to spend the whole day out of the house. This week I’m trying to be more intentional about planning specific activities for each day and not over-scheduling. We shall see how it works.

So: AUSTRALIA! Yep, we’re going to the land down under. Where women glow and men plunder. Or so I am reliably informed. It’s already been a learning experience for me, as I would have sworn that Sydney was the capital of Australia. But no. Canberra. It’s like finding out Sacramento is the capital of California: a vague sense of being conned coupled with strong geographical embarrassment. Continue reading

Happy Solstice! Now have a drink.

Strawberry SwingI made up a cocktail! It is so yummy! And frankly, after the insane-in-the-membrane thunderstorms we had around these parts last night, I know a lot of people who could use a drink. (We didn’t sustain any damage, other than a 14-hour power outtage, but there are huge trees down all over the city.) We were out checking the damage in the backyard, and I noticed that the mint was getting a trifle exuberant, and then I remembered the sugared strawberries I had in the fridge (you know, where you slice up strawberries and sprinkle sugar over them and let them sit in the refrigerator overnight?) … and here you go:

Strawberry Swing

  • 2-3 large mint leaves
  • 1 heaping spoonful of sugared strawberries, OR ~2 fresh strawberries (sliced) + 1T simple syrup
  • Hendrick’s gin
  • ginger ale

Muddle the mint leaves and the sugared strawberries (or strawberries + simple syrup) in the bottom of a lowball glass. Add a jigger of Hendrick’s. Add ice. Top it off with ginger ale. Stir, sip, and enjoy. Ahhhh … summer.

Pippi, Flicka, Freya and all

First of all, let me just say that I maybe should have planned to spend two weeks “in” Sweden, because we could easily spend the entire week just on Norse mythology without ever eating one meatball or Dancing one Queen. We started off strong yesterday with brief introductions to Pippi Longstocking (via the cheesy but loveable 80s movie), the Tomten (via this picture book) and Thor and Freya (via my brain and the internet). Pippi was, of course, a big hit – who doesn’t love a crazy chaos-making redhead with a highly individual sense of style? Stupid people, that’s who. The Tomten was deemed slightly less awesome, until they associated him with Bilbo (the slightly adulterated Bilbo from the stories my mom tells them, rather than the echt Tolkien version), and then they wanted to know more. (Ellie wrote a cute little story about meeting a Tomten in the back yard one night and going on an adventure for her writing time today.)

Freya and Thor were chosen because both girls are big fans of The Avengers, so they sort of already know who Thor is, in a Marvel-comics kind of way. Also, I have always really dug the idea of Yggdrasil, the world tree (I mean, I got it tattooed on my forearm, for god’s sake) and I found a really lovely artist’s conception that I kind of want poster-sized in my bedroom but is also a good visual introduction to Norse mythology for kids: Continue reading

Sayonara, Japan; Hej hej Sweden!

Japan Week Collage Well. I do not know WHERE this week has gone. One thing about Camp Nellie Bly is that it’s keeping us ALL busy. In fact, Mama may need to dial it down on the research and presentation aspects of this here camp, because between teaching an online class, blogging, and camp prep I am spending pretty much every moment that I’m not with the girls attached to my computer. The problem is, I enjoy the shit out of researching each country. It’s unexpectedly fun to look at each place from the perspective of what my kids would find interesting or engaging. The nice thing about doing this when they’re so young is that I’m more interested in giving them a little taste of these places than I am in them retaining facts and figures. I know they won’t remember every capital or traditional costume, but I hope they will gain a sense for how diverse and colorful the world is, and how many different ways there are to be a citizen of planet earth.  Continue reading

And We’re Off!

Well, we’re two days in and so far we’re all still alive, so … WINNING. Things have actually been going pretty swimmingly, especially considering that the weather has been kind of shitty and the super awesome camp T-shirts I made ended up being women’s size medium rather than kid’s size medium, so I guess now they have super awesome camp nightgowns. We’re still figuring out the rhythm of our days. I can already tell that late afternoon/early evening will be useless for getting anything done, which makes now no different from any other time of my life since I had kids, and it only took one day of using the fabled chore chart to know that I was going to have to just suck it up and design one of my own. (More on that – probably more than you would ever want to know – later.) I’m also guessing that the day-of-the-week themes (make-it Monday, take-a-trip-Tuesday, etc.) may fall by the wayside, since what I’m really interested in is learning about the countries and having time with friends, and that doesn’t always jive with the theme of the day. But so far I’m quite pleased with how it’s going. Continue reading

It’s possible that I’ve gone a little overboard

LogoForCampNellieBlyWell! This has been a veritable whirlwind of a week. It was the official first week of summer, but since Minneapolis schools didn’t get out until Wednesday, we (I) decided to use this week for prep and start summer camp on the 10th. This would have been a great plan, full of fun times and relaxed summer days, except that I forgot I had jury duty, so Monday and Tuesday were full of scrambling around trying to set up childcare (thank god for good friends who are willing to take my kids last minute), and then serving on a jury (interesting, but not interesting enough to make up for the hassle) and I’m *still* technically on jury duty, but now I just have to call in twice a day and maybe I won’t have to go back in at all. And then Wednesday my kids decided to celebrate the first day of summer holidays by displaying every bad habit or quality they possess, all at the same time, loudly, in my face. So by the time I was done with all that, I felt like I was scrambling to get everything ready in time. Which is a stupid way to feel, given that the only person who is holding me accountable for having everything done “on time” is ME, and I could theoretically let myself off the hook, except that I don’t really have that ability so much at all.

Here are the things I am thankful for this week: Pinterest, Color Inkjet Printers, and Gluesticks. The past few days have been an orgy of downloading, printing and assembling various items to set up for our summer experience. Y’all, I am obsessed with free internet printables. Which, yes, I realize that was not even a word until, like, last week. But I have always been one of those people for whom shopping for school supplies was the highlight of the academic year, and there is so much great stuff out there! Sure, you have to spend hours sifting through crap to find it, but Forms! Calendars! Worksheets! Coloring pages! Charts! It’s all out there and it looks pretty and the time I spend finding and choosing it is almost made up for by the time I save in not having to create it myself! Continue reading

DIY Summer Camp, or: How I Will Probably Lose My Marbles This Summer

Game of Round the World with Nellie Bly It’s June, somehow. We kind of missed April and May in this neck of the woods, so now it’s June even though it FEELS like it should only be April and I am thus mentally unprepared for summer – or, to be specific, for NO SCHOOL.

It’s curious, really, because it wasn’t so long ago that I had both kids around all the time, and that was just … the way things were. Before preschool and elementary school started, there wasn’t a huge demarcation between summer and the other seasons, except that we could go outside more often and the pools were open. But after only a year of having one in school all day and one in preschool some days, I am loathe to become the sole source of activities and structure for the next three months. And before I come off too helicopter-parenty, OF COURSE I realize that my kids need to take charge of their own entertainment and learn to be self-sufficient and blah blah blah. Yes. Agreed. But let us also take into account that this is a seven-year-old and a four-year-old we’re talking about here, so while they’re actually better than most kids at entertaining themselves for long periods of time, that skill is only going to get us so far. Plus also, we have apparently hit the phase I have long been dreading, where playing together – which up to now they have been delightful at doing – means actually playing 30% of the time and bickering 70%. Which is making me 100% crazy.

I’m not gonna lie, I have had some panicked moments, thinking about the long days and weeks looming ahead of us. Previous summers I have coped by signing Ellie up for various week-long “camps” through the Parks and Rec system, and putting both girls in swimming lessons, and stuff like that. I wasn’t *totally* happy with that system – our schedule was never the same two weeks running, and I felt more like a chauffeur than a parent – but at least it gave some structure to our days and gave us something to look forward to. This summer, however, camps and swimming lessons are not an option; my teaching hours have been cut by 1/3 and that means we can pick either summer activities or preschool for Sylvia next year, and frankly, that’s a no-contest choice right there. (But thank you so bleeding much, shit economy and beyond-stupid adjunct teaching system.) So in planning for the upcoming summer, I basically have two options: go-with-the-flow and just let shit happen as it will, or plan something myself. Continue reading

Fair-weather blogging

I had plans, y’all. I had plans that sometime in early April I’d post one of my “I Write Letters” posts, and dash off a cute note to the blog, saying I’d missed it but I’d been hibernating and now that it was spring I’d start blogging again. It would have been clever and chatty, and you TOTALLY would have forgiven me for not blogging in so long.

But then it stayed winter until mid-May. As in shovel-able snowfall-type winter. IN MAY. Even my most diehard winter-lovin’ friends were like, OK, Minnesota: you can stop now. Given my serious lack of ability to cope with winter, you can imagine my state of mind. I lost what little gumption I had remaining, and the blogging, she did not happen.

So then we had, like, two weeks of spring-esque weather, only colder, and it just got warm around yesterday, in patches, because as has been abundantly proved, this state hates me and wants me to die. But at least the snow is gone and sometimes we can wear sandals instead of rain boots, so I guess this is as close to blogging weather as we’re gonna get.

ALSO, I’m embarking on a certifiably insane program for the summer, and I will need to share the details with you as a kind of pressure-valve, if nothing else. I expect large parts of it will be humorous, at least to people not personally involved. More on that soon. But for now, I just wanted to say “hi.” I’m still here. The state hasn’t killed me yet. How are you?