Monday, February 28, 2011

Dance Lessons

Some of you will be horrified by this story, some of you will find it funny, and the rest will wonder what the big deal is.  When I dropped Ally off this morning, her teacher asked me if Ally was taking dance lessons. I told her no. 

Her teacher: "Oh, I was just wondering because she really likes to dance and she's always talking about taking lessons."

Me:  "My husband and I have talked about dance lessons, but they're often so late in the evening and neither of us feel like she's ready for such a long day."

Teacher:  "She dances so well in class when we have the music on, we just thought maybe she was already taking lessons."

Ally loves to dance.  If we're someplace where there's music or a band playing, I tell her to get up and do her thing.  Sometimes I'll dance with her.  If we're at our favorite Mexican restaurant and Ally needs to use the bathroom, we'll do a little cha-cha-cha to the restroom.  (Eventually Ally started asking to go use the restroom as an excuse just to get up and dance, not because she really needed to go.)  Her grandparents got her one of the Wiggles' dance DVDs and Ally is perfectly content to dance to the entire DVD.  To cinch it, one of Ally's older friends has been taking ballet for years and Ally is enamored by this idea.  Probably because of the ribbons, bows, and tutus.

Teacher (continuing):  "Have you seen her flat foot?  She's really good.  Maybe you've taken her to the Floyd Jamboree?"

Ah, then it hit me.  Last fall at the Sinkland Farms Pumpkin Festival we watched an old time band for a little while and I showed Ally how to flat foot.  

Uh, yes, you read that right.  I admit it, I can flat foot a little.  (I should set the timer to see how long it takes for my dad to call and give me hell about this.)  It's not terribly hard to pick up and many people around here know how, given the close proximity to the Galax Fiddler's Convention, the Floyd Friday Night Jamboree, and the Crooked Road.  Get a couple of people playing a banjo, fiddle, and guitar and sooner or later someone will pop up and start to do a little flat footing.  It goes hand in hand with the music so much that often there are dance exhibitions and competitions at the music festivals.          

And that gave me a brilliant idea:  maybe we can send Ally to college on a clogging scholarship.  

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Game of 20 Thousand Questions

It's a gorgeous early spring day outside. We've watched the farmer next door feed the cows out back, and now Ally is playing superhero. This consists mainly of her announcing what superhero she is, thrusting her arm up in the sky and shouting "To the rescue!" at the top of her lungs, while running madly back and forth on the deck. I can't tell if the cows are impressed, but I'm not going to discourage all this activity. I don't want to start up yet another round of "Mommy?" questions.

Don't get me wrong, I try to encourage Ally to ask questions about things. I want her to learn about her world and asking questions is one way to do it. It's just when she starts repeating all my answers posed as another question that I find myself getting irritated. I'm sure anyone who has ever had a toddler can relate to this.

Ally: "Mommy!"

Me: "What, Ally?"
Ally: "Mommy....Mommy....Mommy....are those hamburger cows?"
Me: "Yes honey, the black ones are hamburger cows."
Ally: "The black ones?"
Me: "Uh huh."
Ally: "The black ones out back?"
Me: "Yep."
Ally: "Those are hamburger cows?"
Me (taking a deep breath): "Yes Ally, the black cows out back are hamburger cows."
Ally (pointing to the black cows out back): "Those ones?"
Me (sighing): "Uh huh?"
Ally (in a somewhat disappointed tone): "Oh."

You get the idea.  I'm good for the first couple of minutes of this but then my patience evaporates and I can't take the any more of the repetition.  
It can go on for what seems like forever in my irritated mind and I start asking myself if anyone actually listens to what I say.

And that's the problem, or rather it's my problem.  I can't expect Ally to process information in a logical manner because she's a toddler and toddlers tend to dwell in the world of magical thinking.  They've got to repeat questions or actions over and over again because that's how they test the world.  Maybe the toy won't fall over if they tip it over just one more time, even though it fell over the first twenty times.  Maybe those cows won't be hamburger cows if Ally asks about them just one more time.  The unending questioning is perfectly normal toddler behavior and Ally is just processing this information in her brain. 

However, I also suspect that she might do this to see how far she can push me before I get so annoyed by the unending questions that I get up and leave the room in search of Steve, in the hopes that I can punch his arm and tell him, "Tag.  You're it." 

I desperately hope that my reaction to these maddening questions is also perfectly normal parent behavior. I find myself taking solace in nature documentaries that show a beleaguered parent animal accosted one too many times by a pack of baby animals to the point that they growl, shake off the offending offspring, and stalk out of the den. I can totally relate to that.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Hamburger Cows

Last week Ally asked me if the cows in the field on the road to our house were the type of cows that gave milk. The cows were black Angus, bred for meat production. There aren't too many dairy farms in this area of the state and just about all the cattle are Angus or Herefords. I told Ally that those weren't milk cows and she then asked what kind of cows they were.

We haven't really talked with Ally about where our meat comes from. Not that we worry that she'll have a fit over eating animals, but rather because we haven't discussed death yet. We haven't had an opportunity to do this and thankfully we haven't needed to do so and I'm all for skirting the issue until a later date. So I'm not sure what led me to tell Ally that those black cows on the hill were hamburger cows, not milk cows.

Ally immediately asked what a hamburger cow was. She's a smart girl and I should have known this would be her next question. Since the subject was on the table, I just told her that the farmer raised those cows for hamburger. Some farmers raise cattle to make milk, while other farmers raise cows for hamburger. I held my breath in anticipation of the next logical question, of how exactly does the farmer get hamburger out of the cow?

Thankfully Ally merely asked if the farmer also grew the hamburger buns.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Last Straw

Ally likes her morning milk heated in a mug. We started using straws with her milk back when we were desperate to get her out of the habit of drinking everything in a sippy cup. Sometimes I have visions of her as a college student drinking hot coffee with a straw, but oh well, that's not nearly as bad as my vision of her insisting on a bendy straw for her coffee when she's a partner in an established law firm (or an astronaut, or a princess, or whatever her career choice might be).

Sometimes, when Ally hasn't gotten her way with something else, she'll latch onto any other possible method of putting herself back in control of the situation. One morning last week she dawdled as long as she possibly could in the bathroom before coming down to breakfast. As far as I can tell, this is just a control issue. She knows I want her to come downstairs so she can eat her breakfast. I know she's doing this on purpose. So every weekday morning we have our regular skirmish of Mom vs. Toddler over Coming Down the Stairs.

I try to be as calm as possible in my requests to hurry up and come down, and Ally is generally very polite about telling me, "I'm hurrying up." Only she's not hurrying up, she's playing in the sink and brushing her hair and taking as long as she can. We've gotten to where this is a standard dramatic exchange between the upstairs bathroom and me in the kitchen. You'll have to pace the following dialogue over ten to twelve minutes to get the true flavor of our mornings.

Me: Ally, do you need help?

Ally (pauses): Noooooooooo.

Me: Hurry up honey, you'll be late.

Ally: Okay.

Me: Are you washing your hands yet?

Ally: Yes. (But strangely there's been no sound of running water.)

Me (hearing tuneless singing upstairs): Your milk is getting cold, so hurry up.

Ally (pauses): I'm hurrying up, Mommy.

Me, finally: HURRY UP NOW, CHILD!

Ally finally stomps down stairs after this, but not without some wailing and tears.

So on this particular day, I had heated her milk in a mug and put the required straw in it for her. It sat on her placemat on the table, just as it always does.

Ally (sniffling and rubbing her eyes): I wanted to put the straw in the cup.

Me: Sorry, honey. I didn't know. I'll let you do it next time.

Ally: But I wanted to put the straw in the cup. (Her voice is getting dangerously close to the tantrum stage.)

Me: Honey, the straw is already in your cup. Just drink your milk.

Ally (screwing up face into a red knot): But I wanted a blue straw!

Me (sighing): Ally, you have a pink straw this morning. You can have a blue straw tonight. Drink your milk.

Ally (with wailing and tears): But I wanted to put a blue straw in the cup BY MY SELF!!!

Me: Ally, if you don't start drinking your milk with the blue straw in your cup, I'm going to take it away from you and you won't have any straw this morning.

Ally grunts and scowls. I take the offending straw away from her. There's a twenty second delay before large howls of indignation start issuing from my daughter.


So some of you (Hi Mom!) are probably wondering why force the issue with Ally. Why do I try to get her to hurry up and not just let her come downstairs when she's ready? First of all, I let her have ten minutes or so in the bathroom to herself where she can do whatever she wants. Only after that do I start asking her if she needs help, if she's washing her hands, etc. If she does need help or she really is still using the potty, then I help her or leave her be. I don't start telling her to come downstairs until I'm certain we've entered the "I just don't want to do what Mom says" phase of the morning. Then I do my best to get her to hurry up downstairs without triggering an outburst because the girl can be slow as a glacier while eating her breakfast, but that's a story for another day.

And how did our dramatic scene wrap up after Ally lost her straw privilege the other day?

Ally (all smiles): Daddy, I drank my milk LIKE A BIG GIRL!!!

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

A Girl and Her Possum

I gave Steve a stuffed possum for Christmas as something of a joke gift.  Ally quickly adopted the possum and named it "Squeaky."  Sometimes Squeaky is a girl possum, sometimes he's a boy.  It's not uncommon for Boy Squeaky to wear a skirt and be the prince to Princess Ally.  Sometimes she's Ally's dance partner, sometimes her baby.

That's one versatile possum.

Ally&Squeaky, Feb2011

Monday, February 7, 2011

Ally Learns a New Word

At dinner last night we had to continually remind Ally to take bites of her food, to chew and swallow the food, and to please stay in her chair while we ate our dinner. This isn't anything new. Left to her own devices, Ally is perfectly content to take a bite of food but leave it in her mouth for twenty minutes while she runs all over the kitchen. She's likely to return to the table and take a second bite after a while, but then complain that she has too much food in her mouth because she never chewed and swallowed the first bite twenty minutes ago. I dislike this constant nagging, but we have to remind her to chew and swallow and stay in her seat every 30 seconds or any given meal is likely to last until the next one.

By now my mother is probably reaching for the phone to call me and suggest that we let Ally do her own thing for a set period of time and then just take the food away from her so she learns to eat at dinner or go hungry. That's perfectly sound advice, but I also dislike the inevitable meltdown at bedtime when Ally bursts into tears and pitifully announces that she's hungry. Reminding Ally that she wouldn't be hungry if she'd just eaten her dinner when we asked her to doesn't improve the situation. She's howling with indignation too loudly to hear me anyways.

Anyhoo, after Ally had gotten out of her chair to run around the table for the upteenth time in the middle of dinner last night, we threatened her with having to go to bed without watching any TV unless she got back in her seat immediately. Ally, standing beside her chair, tapped into all the theatrical drama she could muster in her soul and prostrated herself over the chair while cherubically saying in her sweet voice, "Oh dammit."

In the ensuing silence, I tried to keep a straight face by hiding behind my napkin while Steve looked like he wanted to slide under the table. Both Steve and I took a deep breath and asked Ally to get back into her chair, which she did. We then explained to her that this was not a nice thing to say and we didn't want to hear her say it again. Ally nodded solemnly and began to eat the rest of her dinner.

Steve then confessed that Ally's expanded vocabulary was a result of the trip to the dump that the two of them made yesterday afternoon. We take our trash down the road to the local solid waste disposal site. Apparently the lid to one of the trash cans on the trailer kept blowing off as they were driving. Steve would pull over on the side of the road, retrieve the lid and resecure it, only to lose it again a minute later. After the third time this happened, "dammit" had made an indelible mark in Ally's mind.

Steve and I have always made a point of not watching inappropriate television shows or movies in front of Ally so that she isn't unnecessarily exposed to swearing or mature subject matters. I've tried to temper my own vocabulary by using "frack" and "carp" instead of the more traditional swear words, but I'm no saint and there have been times that I've said something in front of Ally that I immediately regretted. She's heard more than I care to admit in songs on the radio, but at least we don't listen to songs with exploitative or violent content. Childhood is short enough, and I want to do all I can to keep her innocence before exposing her to the harsher aspects of life. I just hope to get her to her next birthday before we have to deal with jokes about boogers and farts.

I suppose this is right of passage for young children. I must confess that I did something similar when I was about her age. My dad and grandfather had taken me fishing with them and the tackle box was inadvertently lost over the side of the boat. As you might expect, a few choice words were said. Apparently I waited until we got home again before I started singing, "Dammit dammit dammit dammit!" all over the house for my mother and grandmother.

I'm not thrilled to hear my little girl swear, but I can't deny that I'm somewhat impressed with Ally's use of the words in an appropriate context rather than just parrot them like I did at her age. I'm glad we didn't react too strongly to Ally's little outburst, thereby making the words all that more attractive to her like the forbidden fruit. She's smart and observant and I suspect we'll be having some more in-depth discussions with her about age-appropriate behavior and vocabulary soon enough. But mostly I'm relieved that Ally got it from Steve, as I was dead certain that I would be the guilty party sooner or later.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Dining Room Chairs Redone

Once upon a time, Steve bought a dining room table with four chairs. The pretty table had a vaguely Scandinavian look to it, and the chairs were upholstered in a pale cream fabric with a textured weave. The new chairs were clean, with no stains or spills.

Time passed. A puppy chewed on the bottom rungs of the chairs when she was teething. Several years after that, a baby arrived and promptly spilled food and drink all over the chair seats. And the chairs no longer looked that pretty.

DiningRoomChair, Before

I couldn't take the dingy, stained fabric on our dining room chairs any longer, so this past weekend we reupholstered them. After Steve popped the seats off the chairs, I simply cut a doubled thickness of felted wool blankets to fit over the existing upholstery and we stapled it to the underside of the seat. Then I had a couple of yards of cotton upholstery fabric with a tan floral print on a black background just waiting for a good project, so I used that to cover the seats. And now our dining room chairs look like this:

DiningRoomChair, After

I figure the busy black and tan pattern will hide a multitude of spills for at least a couple of years, or at least until someone spills red Kool-Aid all over them.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Felted Wool Rugs

Sometimes wool sweaters don't felt up quite the way I want them to. When they wind up being too stiff and boardy, I cut them into 6.5 inch squares and make small rugs out of them. These are approximately 2 x 3 feet in size and make a nice bath mat or a pet rug for a smaller dog or cat. I try to include the bound edge of the sweater as the edge of the rug, but these don't actually need any edging as the felted wool won't fray.

This pastel rug simply screams Easter and spring. The cream wool is from a blanket. I've learned that working with cable knit can be tricky, even after the wool has felted up densely, but I haven't learned so much that I can use it flawlessly yet. Still, I like the texture it gives this rug along with the Fair Isle knit and wavy lavender squares.

Pastel Wool Rug

The embroidered corner pieces in this gray, black, and red rug are from a nice boiled wool jacket that I bought from a thrift store and wore ten years ago. I couldn't bear to part with it after it shrunk up too much in the wash, so I kept it all these years thinking I might do something with it at some point. And now I have.

Red, black, gray wool rug

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Work in Progress, Feb. 1, 2011

I've been wanting to do a simple quilt with appliqued blocks. And I've also wanted to use up my stash of squares cut from various pieces of linen clothing in fairly neutral colors. I cut out these 6.5 inch square blocks last fall and stashed them away until last week, when I finally pulled them out again. I had the rough idea of the quilt laid out in just 20 minutes once I started playing around with the color placement.

Here's a view of the work in progress laid out on my quilt wall. I'm grateful for that empty wall in the basement with a flannel sheet tacked to the wall; it makes laying out a quilt so much easier than spreading it out on the floor. I think a quilt wall makes it easier to check for color placement in the design, too. Any color "clumps" will be obvious when you're looking at the layout on the wall.

Work in Progress (linen block quilt)

As you can see, I'm using a mix of solid colors with several floral prints. The prints are either a neutral tone on black or black on a khaki background. The solids include a range of natural tans, sage greens, and a mushroom taupe color, along with black and two reds. The first red is a brighter color, and the second is more of a rust color. The applique blocks will consist of a neutral tan overlaid on a darker color, with a smaller block of black applied on the tan. I'm going to stitch these with a raw edge for a frayed look.

Work in Progress2 (linen block quilt)

You can see some of the neutral tan appliques randomly laid out now, but I haven't begun to incorporate the smaller black squares yet.

Work in Progress4 (linen block quilt)

This throw will larger than others I made last year, but still somewhat smaller than a twin-sized quilt.