The Boy

Sweet day


Valentine's Day, like any other holiday that requires the social skill that a comfort in one's own skin affords, was not my favorite childhood holiday. My mother, having paid tuition, and on top of that having to commit a certain amount of time and money to the mandatory fundraising required just to keep the school afloat on an annual basis, was not so keen to spend even more money on non-essentials. So she was ever reluctant to supply me with the standard pre-perforated, generically cartoony valentines, let alone the premium ones that were delivery mechanisms for Life Savers and movie marketing and other commodities that established you as the cool kid. 

There was at least one year when I was sent to the dining table with a stack of scrap paper and a Bic to scribble out my own cards. Mom used to tell me how, as a kid, she and her siblings lofted homemade kites and paraded with hand-crafted lanterns. But those stories always offered more of a when-I-was-your-age-I-had-it-rougher kind of morality than an affirmation of creative living. So, to me, showing up at school with a handful of #10 envelopes bulging with a smattering of bulk Red Hots and an awkwardly-sized chicken-scratched index card as remittance for Valentine's Day was a bit of an embarrassing endeavor. Better to show up with nothing.


This is something I realize: It's a helluva lot easier to rouse the troops to create instead of buy before they're old enough to be embarrassed by their parents' desire to do something a little different. At three and a half years, not yet clued-in to the accepted protocol of these sorts of things, The Boy is still quite excited to hand out his personalized valentines. One day he will be mortified at the idea of handing out something that doesn't advertise the latest in the Spiderman franchise. Today, he can appreciate our homemade valentine for what it is: something he painted, crayoned up and glittered, bearing his own scratched out signature, and housing home-made marshmallows, which, in his allergenic world of hive- and vomit-inducing chocolate kisses and peanut butter cups, are the Holy Grail of treats for him. These valentines are everything he loves, and he's been bubbling around the past couple days, excitedly prattling on about how he'll get to share them with his friends.

So, yeah. I'm enjoying this day. Who knows how many more I'll have like this?


Tags: The Boy, Valentines

See Spot put things in bags


Fridays are fine and dandy, with the combined promise of family outings and the opportunity to slough the children off on the normally-working parent. But Mondays are what I've come to crave. Send the husband off to his new media, The Boy to the half-day of play and controlled chaos known as pre-school, The Girlie to hours-long morning naps in a house hushed by the absence of the boys and their games, and I settle in to some gritty craftwork, burning off the energy from a freshly-downed cup of overly sweetened coffee.

The big sanity-saver in my work-at-home-ness, and now just plain old stay-at-home-ness has been the daily shipment of The Boy off-site. I get in some quality time doing what I do without worrying about his little helper hands flying too close to the needle or unravelling yarn around the house, ending with a leader down the toilet. For his part, he gets to run around with a roomful of kids his own age, energy level and wonky vocabulary. The school offers breakfasts of cereals (plain and marshmallow-tastic) with milk and fruit, snacks of butter crackers and jams, and lunches that Ronald Reagan would be proud of. Things like mac & cheese and spoon-soft carrots and corndog bites and syrupy fruit concoctions. Not, you know, the world's most nutritious menu, but there's a certain mass-produced well-roundedness to it. And I would happily submit our son to these meals. Except that he can't eat most of it. The Boy is allergic to dairy and eggs and the dreaded tree-nuts. Not in any kind of anaphylactic way, thankfully, but giving him seriously miserable reactions nonetheless. Think hives-on-contact and full-day throw-up sessions.

So The Boy is, and perhaps always will be, one of those lame kids relegated to the lunchroom table populated by those with special food needs, the ones who must carry in their own provisions from home. His lunch box is large and hefty, the size of, if not bigger than, that big black plastic one that fit a full-sized thermos my engineer father used to haul to work every day. It's packed with bagels and sausage and soy yogurt and rice milk and juice and graham crackers and fruit and fruit leather and fruit that's been freeze dried and fruit that's been dehydrated and sandwiches and leftovers from last night's dinner and sometimes a half-cob of corn. And until fairly recently, a lot of that food was bundled in paper towels and plastic baggies, to be discarded after the food was transferred to a plate for consumption.


A few months ago, when I first started packing The Boy's lunch bag with reusable cloth baggies, there was some confusion at school. Apparently, the blue spotted canvas that I whipped them up with resembled those chemical ice packs people toss into coolers. They did the trick, though, keeping little bunny graham crackers fresh overnight. If there was a juice leak, however, things could get pretty soggy pretty fast. And any crackers that stayed in there for more than a day would lose their crunch and be wasted to the garbage disposal. So a different solution was in order. 

Last fall I did some extensive testing to figure out the best way to package marshmallows for holiday gifting. I've used several methods over the years, with varied results in aesthetics and freshness. So in my test of form and function I cooked up a batch of marshmallows just to try out different packaging media. I pretty much knew I wanted to stitch up paper packages, but what kind of paper? I auditioned natural parchment, white parchment, and freezer paper, each in a straight stitching and a zig zag. For a control, I tossed a marshmallow in a sealed plastic baggie, and for kicks I tossed another one in an open baggie.


After a day, it was clear that the parchment options were no good. The marshmallows therein were crusty and tough. The ones in the freezer paper, with its plastic coating, fared much better. While losing their fluffy softness gradually, their degradation seemed to taper off, leaving it in a constant state of pretty-darn-goodness. The surprise result, though, was that there was very little difference between the marshmallow in the sealed baggie and the one in the open one. It seemed that just having that layer of plastic next to it kept it fresh and perky. All test subjects, so you know, regardless of their level of staleness, were consumed. The Boy was more than happy to oblige me during these trials.

Anyway, the take-away from this research was that, while I wouldn't be able to achieve a complete seal on my snack baggies, adding a layer of plastic to the mix would greatly increase their fresh-keeping qualities. Laminated cottons and their seeming food-safeness (nothing official with FDA approval, but what's that worth anyway?) fit the bill nicely. The official line is that you can't throw it in the washer, but I found this helpful primer on handling the material in which the author pushes the surface-clean-only envelope (I am always down with that). So I bought a couple yards off the only bolt of laminated cotton I could find locally, and made up these. 


Now, sewing with plastic poses two theoretical challenges. The first is that it tends to stick to a sewing machine's feed plate and presser foot. Or so I've heard. I found that if I just pulled on the freshly seamed fabric toward the back of the machine with constant and ever-so-slight pressure, it fed through quite smoothly. I have a teflon presser foot just for this type of situation, but who wants to take the time to change out feet? Challenge number two is that you can't pin it without it leaving a visible and permanent hole. Which actually isn't a problem at all. For I hate pinning. There's no greater crafty killjoy than halting creative momentum to temporarily attach pieces of fabric together in preparation to permanently attach pieces of fabric together. I live with the resulting sloppiness and consider it a fair trade. You could say, on this matter, I'm a sewing imperfectionist. Whatever.

The baggies came together quite nicely. Usually I get all turned around and sew one piece with the wrong side out, or attach the velcro to the outside where it should have been on the inside or have an unfinished edge showing where it should have been tucked away in the lining. With velcro I don't have to remember to keep it open for the final stitching before turning it right side out. I always seem to forget with zippered projects, which leaves me with the logistical nightmare of trying to figure out how to shimmy a zipper open from the inside, a handy trick to know, I suppose, if I'm ever stuck inside one of those body bags (do they make those things with a double sided zipper that you can open from the inside? They totally should).

Anyway, I'm happy to report that The Boy's school seems to be on board with the whole reusable baggie situation now.