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Monday, July 21, 2014

Mama makes: a knitted Lego Batman and matching Batman cake

You thinking I'm joking right?  Yes, I actually knitted a Batman Lego action figure, then topped off the whole birthday experience by making a Batman cake to go with it.  I consider this cake and knitted action figure to be the crowning achievements of my motherhood experience so far.

Read on for instructions on how to make the knitted batman.

Batman Lego Action Hero

Supplies:
One 50g ball of black 8-ply wool
One A4 sheet each of black, white and yellow felt
Stuffing, or three additional pieces of felt (felt makes quite good stuffing)
Two 4mm knitting needles, as well as a similar sized pair of circular needles
A needle and black and white thread
Glue, Scissors

Step 1: Get inspired.  Decide that you will make your precious almost-4-year-old the best soft toy EVER, even if you've always slightly despised soft toys and resented how much space they take up in his bed.  Head to your local craft store (in my case, this was Spotlight).  Wander the aisles there, slightly bewildered by the multiple project ideas coming into your head.  Get your supplies, as well as supplies for a bunch of other craft/knitting projects you don't have the time or skills for.

Step 2:  Search the internet for a knitting pattern for a knitted lego batman, because surely someone's made of these before, right?  Wrong.  You will only find a knitted lego batman willy warmer, and countless examples of knitted batman soft toys (not lego-shaped) by people who are just plain showing off their knitting skills.  Decide that you will "freestyle it".

Step 3:  Look at some pictures of Lego Batman on the internet, and then begin to knit, freestyle (a.k.a "making it up as you go along"):

Head and body (two sides done as one piece)

Knit a shape like this:


Or if you really need instructions, try these (I take no responsibility for how the body of your superhero turns out!):

The body is knit in stocking stitch, and the head in garter stitch.
Cast on 20 sts, knit 1 row
Inc 1 purlwise, purl to end, inc 1 at end of row
Knit one row
Inc 1 purlwise, purl to end, inc 1 at end of row (24 sts)
Continue to knit/purl alternate rows, and about every 3-4 rows decrease by a stitch at either end of the row, until you have a body-shaped piece and 16 sts on your needles.
Now it's time to knit the head.  COff 4 sts, then knit 8, then COff another 4 sts.  Knit those 8 until you have a long bit in the middle that when folded over is a square head shape.
Then knit the backside of the body by reversing the instructions above/freestyling it.

Arms and legs

These were knitted on circular needles using the "magic loop" technique.  Here's some instructions:



For the arms, cast on 8 stitches, and knit till the arms are approximately the length of the body.  For the legs, cast on 12 stitches, and knit till the legs are that stubby little leg length that you see on the Lego Batman (about 1.5 inches if you're really wondering).

Step 4: Now to put it all together.  Sew the head together around the sides, and stuff before sewing across the bottom where it joins the body.  Then sew the body's sides together, and stuff before sewing across the bottom.  Sew one end of the arms and legs closed, stuff, then sew the other end closed.  Join the arms and legs to the body in approximately the right places.

Step 5: Use the remaining felt to do the face (white felt under a pice of black felt), the batman sign (black felt on yellow), the belt (a strip of yellow felt with the buckle and embellishment sewn on), and the cape (just cut out a cape shape and braid some wool to hold it on).  You also need to carefully stitch the frowny lips.

Step 6: You're done!  Lovingly wrap it and give it to your little superhero for his 4th birthday.  Admit to feeling just a little proud when Batman manages to bump the other soft toys to the soft toy hammock and take his place as Milkbaby's sole sleeping companion.

Knitted Lego Batman just hanging out

And the cake?  I couldn't provide instructions to enable you to replicate the saved-from-almost-disaster icing job.  Seriously, just 15 minutes before salvaging this into the most awesome icing job ever, I was hanging my head in frustration over the cake, mumbling "I'm such a bad mother...this icing looks terrible."   

"Don't worry," said Captain Boringvoice, "it's post-modern to show the construction of the cake."  "But this isn't how it's supposed to look!" I wailed.  

Realising there wasn't time for melodrama, I gave myself a stern talking to ("for God's sake pull yourself together and think of something creative you can do with this cake").  Not a bad result really - just shows what an impending birthday party and a good pep talk can do.

Batman: so strong he'll rip the icing right off your cake.



Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Milkbaby's movie meanderings: Ernest & Celestine and Frozen

For Milkbaby's fourth birthday, we took him to Ernest & Celestine.  Here's his review.

Tell me about Ernest & Celestine.
It had a big ummm bear, called Ernest.  And a little mouse who was called Celestine.  Umm Celestine dropped the pencil, and the movie was great.

What was the best part of the movie?
The funny one, the big mouse.   He went "boof!" into the door. [giggles]

What did Ernest & Celestine do?
They jumped in the big house.  Celestine took a big bunch of teeth.  Where to?  To the doctor?  Did she steal them?  No. Ernest stole a whole bunch of teeth.  And that's the end of it.

Who was chasing them?
I saw a funny part.  It was the police holding hands and went "boof" into a wall.  It was very silly. [more giggling]

What else did you like about the film?
Nothing.

Were Ernest & Celestine friends in the end?
Yup.

But mama? We didn't talk about Frozen yet!

What do you want to say about Frozen?
There's two girls, and one girl went away and said

"Let it go, let it go
It's all very nice
Let it go, let it go
It's all very nice"  [Milkbaby sings this for me, somewhat tunelessly]

That's the song about the girl who was going away.

Where did she go?
She made a tall house and a bridge.  And.  Someone trapped her.  And it was locked.  And.  Uh.  The other girl came to her and tracked inside.  What happened then?  It locked.  They were huggling each other.  But the one he was coming back and the other one was pushing her away.  The guy?   No. The girl.

What else happened?
It's finished.  I want to say Germany wins. [Any guess as to what day we wrote this together?  Yup, the day that one country got their happily-ever-after ending.]

Mama's thoughts
Ernest & Celestine is a gorgeous, fantastical movie, from the creators of The Triplets of Belleville.  For anyone who has read the Ernest & Celestine picturebooks, as far as I can tell, this film doesn't attempt to adapt their simple stories; rather, it is the backstory of how Ernest & Celestine came to be friends.  And what a story it is - they both must overcome adversity (the mouse and bear Police officers go "boof") and their own personal challenges to realise their dream of staying friends.  Celestine is a courageous and smart female role model.  She stands up to the system, and to the "big scary bear" Ernest.  Ernest, voiced by Forest Whittaker, is her lovable and loyal sidekick.

And Frozen? Don't even get me started... I've "let it go" already.

Rating for Ernest & Celestine: ***** (go see it if you haven't already!)

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

My sweetheart the drunk

"It's like hanging out with a drunk person" I said to Captain Boringvoice.  We had just witnessed Milkbaby (now four) push over a large smoothie whilst trying to slide it back across the table to me.  Looking back on it now, even a drunk person knows you don't move a full glass of beer by applying force to the top of the glass.  "Think about it" I went on "- no voice volume control, repeating self, interrupting other people, emotionally volatile, lack of inhibition, argumentative..."

"Hmm" said Captain Boringvoice in agreement, looking at Milkbaby.  "Actually, it's probably more like hanging out with a drunk person who's also on acid", nodding my gaze towards Milkbaby.  At that moment, Milkbaby was using his fingers to create patterns in the maple syrup on his plate, then staring fixedly at each finger before licking it clean and repeating.

A quick google revealed that there's actually more to this comparison than I thought.  In short, the functions that alcohol impairs in the adult brain are quite similar to the functions that are still developing in a preschooler's brain.

It's all about the prefrontal cortex

The prefrontal cortex (the PFC to some, otherwise known as the bulbous bit of your brain immediately behind your forehead) is the smartest part of your brain.  It's the brain's brain.  Its job is to interpret messages from other parts of your brain, and turn that information into a response that reflects both present and future circumstances.  Take crossing the road.  It's your PFC that's saying, "hold it, I hear a car coming, it's not safe to cross now, okay, look the other way, yes, coast is clear, right you can cross now."  See what I mean about present and future circumstances?
The PFC: ensures you don't cry over toast triangles.

It's also the job of the PFC to exert control over the rest of your brain in social situations to avoid socially unacceptable outcomes.  So the next time you order toast in a cafe, and it's cut in triangles rather than squares, and for some strange reason it really really matters to you and you feel like you're going to cry about it or shout at someone but you manage to hold it together?  That's your PFC going "just hold it together buddy, crying about toast that's cut wrong will create a scene, and we don't want to do that now, do we?"

So let's just do a little tally up.  The main effects of alcohol on your PFC will mean you have:

  • poorer spatial recognition and planning (if we take the crossing the road example again, your drunken PFC is going "how far away is that car?  is it a car?  whatever, just cross the road, I'm pretty sure that moving object isn't going to hit you")
  • poorer recall and decision-making (need I explain?)
  • lowered inhibition (possibly not lowered so much so that you are apt to shout "my wees are coming out!" across a crowded bar, but let's just say your tongue and voicebox volume control will be loosened up somewhat).

And what about preschoolers?

Well...  In humans, the PFC is still developing well into your twenties, and structural changes actually occur during the preschool years.  In short, your threenager is yelling at you for cutting their toast wrong because their PFC hasn't yet grown enough to tell them it's inappropriate to make a scene over such a minor matter.  

The PFC of a preschooler is also still developing its other areas of executive function.  Like decision-making and planning.  This is a pretty common conversation in our house most days right now.

"Honey, do you need to pee?  Because we're going out so it would be a good idea to pee before we leave"
"No."
"Can you just try?"
"NO."
"Please?  It's quite a long car ride and I don't want you to have an accident" [read: the back seat of the car is dubious-smelling enough already without adding another bladder-full of wee to it]
"NO NO NO NO NO!  I DON'T NEED TO GO!"
"Ok, fine, let's not argue about it."

[10 minutes later, on the motorway or some other place quite far from any weeing facilities]

"Mamma?  I need to wee."
"Okay, can you hold on until we find somewhere?"
"No, my wees are coming!!!"
"Okay, just hold on, I'm pulling over."

[As you can see here I'm quite calm and polite about a late wee disclosure, but Jebus it DRIVES. ME. INSANE. and it's usually all I can do not to shout "You've got to be f#@*ing kidding me!!  We JUST talked about this!!"]

Check out the concentration on his
face with all that PFC activity.
Finally, there's recall and decision-making.  Take a skill like covering your mouth when you sneeze.  That involves anticipation, recall, decision-making and a bit of social control for good measure.  It's quite complex when you think about it.  Such a function requires consistent performance from your PFC.  Some adults haven't even mastered this skill, so why is it that beat ourselves up over our child's inability to prevent the spread of his latest lurgy?  Milkbaby's been berated so many times we had this conversation last week:

Milkbaby: "Achoo"
Me: "Cover your mouth"
Milkbaby: "How many times do I have to tell you?!"
Me: "Exactly what I was thinking." 

So, next time you're hanging out with your preschooler, and you're wondering why on earth they're shouting at you when you're right next to them, picking a fight over the colour of their pants, or refusing to use the toilet even though you know you won't be near facilities for the next little while, blame it on an under-developed prefrontal cortex and pretend you're hanging out with a drunk person.

Or even better, a drunk person on acid.  Pretty sure that entitles you to lick maple syrup from your fingers in a crowded cafe.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Hello Mastitis, my old friend


This little ditty is a few weeks old now. As soon as I'd thought "well hello Mastitis my old friend" I couldn't get this damn song out of my fever dreams, complete with those ageing ex-folkies gently crooning it in my ear. At one point I was pretty sure Paul Simon had also invited Ladysmith Black Mambazo along for the ride, my head was pounding that badly.  Anyway, the song sort of works, though it gets a bit weird around the third verse.

The Sounds of Mastitis

Hello Mastitis, my old friend
You've come to make me sick again
There's a redness softly creeping
Over my breast while I was sleeping
And the fever that was planted
in my brain
Still remains 
Within the sound of mastitis

"It's all happening at the zoo."   [photo source]
To After Hours I went alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone
'Neath the halo of a medical lamp
Doc felt my breast it was hot and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of that neon light
He called it a blight
And touched the sounds of mastitis

And in the Doctor's eyes I saw
Ten thousand mothers, maybe more
Doctors talking without speaking
Doctors hearing without listening
Doctors writing scripts than voices never shared
And no one cared
For the sound of mastitis

"Fools" said I "you do not know
Mastitis like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you"
But my words, like silent raindrops fell
And echoed
In the wells of mastitis

And the doctors bowed and prayed
To the penicillin god they made
And the sign flashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said 
"The future use of antibiotics is written on the wall
of museum halls"
And whispered in the sounds of mastitis...

Thanks antibiotics, all better now.  And Mastitis, I'm singing a different tune now.  It goes: I am a rock, I am an island... I have no need for (your) friendship, (your) friendship causes pain...

Here's the tune, from happier times in the Simon & Garfunkel partnership.




Monday, June 2, 2014

Strange conversation #3: the pain of childbirth

This is one from the memory banks that I've been meaning to record for ages.

We're at a wedding, Milkbaby in tow. I'm making polite conversation with strangers. The groom's sister is pregnant. We soon get to talking babies, pregnancy, childbirth.

"I expect it will hurt a bit" she says.
"Um, yeah, it's hard to describe. It's different for everyone, but for me it started off feeling like quite bad period cramps."
"That doesn't sound too bad."
"Yeah but then it ramps up." I'm struggling to find the words. I want to say something profound, but all I can think of is the bruising I was left with on my forehead from pushing my fists into my face during contractions. Not exactly a nice image. "But remember there's no pain between contractions, so you can relax and focus."
"Oh"
She's mulling this over. I scan her face, hoping I haven't scared the bejebus out of her. I look over her outfit. It's a quirky choice for a 'sister of the groom' look.
"I imagine it won't be any more painful than having your elbows tattooed." she says, somewhat out of the blue. 
I smile, keeping a poker face, as if she's just arrived at a sufficiently adequate comparison. "Hmm", I say agreeably.
"Because that was pretty painful."
I don't want to disavow her of this notion. Hey, who knows, maybe her labour will be no worse than the pain of having your elbows tattooed. Then again, probably not. It's better she finds out for herself.
"Yeah, it could be." I look at the mountains in the distance. "It could be."

Sunday, May 18, 2014

What we're reading: The Tiger Who Came to Tea (reimagined)

Have you ever been reading an old favourite to your kids and found yourself cringing at how it's dated, or wanting to talk some sense into the characters?  The Tiger Who Came to Tea is a classic, and a favourite in our house, but on the last read through I noticed it needed a bit of an update...


 Seriously, what self-respecting four-year-old drinks tea?



Notice how it's only men knocking on the door?  Only these days it's more likely to be a courier with something you've bought off Trademe, rather than the milkman or the grocer.




And then, without a thought for their own safety, or even checking to see who it is, they open the door!  Foolish mistake.


This tiger has no manners.









See what I mean?  No manners at all.  But look at Mummy and Sophie's perfect manners.


Mummy was floundering a bit here, and seeming a bit useless.  Sophie knows better than to tell her to buck her ideas up, but thought it would be helpful to point out that Daddy was a dab hand in the kitchen and could probably get his own dinner.


Mummy knew just what to do about the lack of water.


Doesn't this picture just shout "Honeys, I'm home!"?  This is one cool daddy-o.


A cool, beer-drinking, plaid-wearing dad.


Daddy's also very rational and sensible here.  First things first, sort out the tiger sighting, then we'll do fanciful things like go to a cafe to eat dinner.


Mummy hadn't had a great day, what with opening the door without checking who it was, letting in a tiger, letting the tiger eat ALL their food (AND drink Daddy's beer), and then floundering around seeming a bit silly once he'd left.





That's right, they'll certainly be more careful next time.  Or maybe they just like having tigers to visit?



Wednesday, May 14, 2014

2014 Mother's Day Awards

I wanted to write this post for Mother's Day, but I've been busy.  Was it just me, or did mother's day seem like a big deal this year?  There seemed to be a ton of mother's day activity on facebook, and companies doing all sorts of mother's day promotions.

Anyway, I've got a few Mother's Day awards:

Mother's Day more-viral-than-chickenpox award: This one about the world's toughest job was a bit of a viral hit.  Not sure what the company was selling, but if 1% of the 19 million-odd viewers bought whatever it was, I'm pretty sure it was worth the effort.

Mother's Day will-make-you-cry-like-a-baby award: goes to The Honest Toddler for "I Don't Know if I Love You".  So, so, beautiful.

Mother's Day most interrupted sleep-in ever: goes to me.  By the sixth interruption at 8.30am I gave up and just lay there, pretending to sleep.  But faking it wasn't quite as good as the real thing, so after 10 minutes I got out of bed and headed for the shower.  Interruptions as follows:
  • a baby needing a full outfit change (I hopped out of bed to help)
  • a toddler saying he just needed to "calm me down" [cue hair stroking]
  • a falling stack of DVDs [cue exclamations from mother in law]
  • the baby being brought back in to our room for a sleep
  • the glass shattering on our oven door [thanks to Captain Boringvoice and his brother who thought they'd do some house renos]
  • the vacuum cleaner sucking up the shattered oven door.
Thankfully the rest of the day was not quite so disturbed.

As the day ended, and I rocked The Sailor to sleep, I realised that this would probably be my last Mother's Day with a baby.  I rocked him a little longer that night, savouring his warm little body tucked against me, feeling the fuzz of his head against my lips.
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