Sailing Kid-Made Ships

Posted by jdg | 10:32 AM

When I first saw this pinterest thing my first thought was What kind of idiot forms a social media site based entirely on violating others' copyrights? My second thought was I hope this goes away soon, just like twitter. I guess twitter never actually went away, but by ignoring it completely I can at least pretend that it did. Is twitter still out there? Didn't people realize their lives were not improved by knowing what big Hollywood celebrities like Charles Barkley and Regis Philbin have to say about the most mundane topics? Sure I can put my fingers in my ears and say Lalalalala every time I hear anything about twitter, but I can't avoid how much mom anxiety there is out there about pinterest. Ladies, chill: it's all bullshit. Every time I see some food or craft porn on pinterest I'm like, Bullshit, bullshit, oh, that's totally bullshit. Curate these nuts, motherf&%^ers. 

Then I realized some of the stuff I do/make was causing people anxiety, like seeing me make some ridiculous bullshit was making them feel bad because they aren't able to make ridiculous bullshit of their own and that just makes me not want to share any bullshit that I make, because seriously folks: I am not in this to be creating anxiety, or to get anxious about whether I am creating anxiety. Making stuff is supposed to be fun, not just about getting the most repins. Most of the time, the stuff you make isn't perfect. Actually, it never is, although it can look deceptively so from the right distance with the right instagram filter. If you want perfect, bring your idea to an industrial designer in China and have a factory full of formerly-starving peasants churn out a million plastic copies of it. Like a freaking iPad. Everyone thinks the design on that Apple crap is so freaking amazing but I look at it and say it's too perfect. The whole purpose of that design is to look at it and not have a clue how it was made. You can't even break into it to mess around and try to make it better. It's just a different kind of ugliness, without any of the beautiful imperfections of the human hand.

One of the things I love about making stuff with kids is how crappy it usually looks but how much they don't care. They're proud of stuff they make, and they should be. THEY ARE LEARNING. And when they show us how proud they are of some beautiful, hideous thing they've created, they're teaching us something too: don't stop learning how to do things because you can't do them perfectly. 

This summer my kids wanted to make boats that they could sail themselves. Last summer we ventured into toyboatmaking and it was fun but I had too much labor invested in it so this year I told the kids You have complete creative control. My only rules that I had to do the powersawing and hot-gluing, but I would only do it at their direction. They started with cardboard box boats held together by scotch tape and lofty ideas. The paint job was extremely important.


That stupid, perfect iPad box looks so much better sailing the puddle sea, wouldn't you agree?


Though the boats floated, they eventually got pretty soggy so the kids decided to work with sturdier materials: wood and foam. I had them draw out blueprints for their ships on giant paper and then they instructed me how to cut the wood and then they put it all together with duct tape and a staple gun. Behold, the kid-made pirate ship:


They glued pieces of scrap foam around the bottom, hoping it would aid in flotation and prevent water from seeping in. Then, we got out the paints:


We were headed north in a few days for a vacation and the kids insisted on bringing the ships they made with us, and every time we found a calm body of water along the way the ships came out and were tested.


In their grandparents' garden pond one ship capsized, so grandpa helped add some more foam to the bottom, and they floated beautifully. The napkin sails really worked!


We took a rowboat out in a  differentpond and the ships made another voyage.




I'm the first to admit that I try to make beautiful things. But I also feel it's extremely important to show the kids that it's not just the end result, but the pride that comes with learning to make something that keeps us making.


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Birthday Party Battle Royale

Posted by jdg | 8:16 AM

A few weeks ago our friends had a birthday party for their son, and the theme for the party was simply "battle" and you can trust everyone in our house was looking forward to this for a long time. A few nights before the party Conan the Barbarian was on TV and having not seen it in years I watched with renewed interest and decided to make a hammer like the one used by the character Thorgrim who looks like the bassist for James Earl Jones's Viking prog rock band in this picture: 



As disappointing as it is to learn that the actor playing Thorgrim was wearing a wig the whole time, how awesome is this picture?


And how much fun is that hammer? It's ridiculous! Look at Arnold's face! That looks like the most fun toy ever invented that every toy company in the world would make if they weren't terrified of lawyers. Fortunately, I had a gigantic piece of foam in the basement and fear no lawyers so I built the biggest war hammer ever and brought it to the battle and then about five hundred kids surrounded me, stabbing with wooden swords while I swung it and they called me the fat evil sweaty bearded giant and I roared and howled and part of the time it looked like this:


But most of the time it looked like this:


The birthday boy is the most appreciative kid ever---for months before his birthday he always asks what I'm making for him and while his mom apologizes for this I secretly love it more than just about anything when kids truly enjoy the things I make them. His dad always makes great gifts for my son so I love making gifts for his. Last year I made him a leather curaiss with pheasant heraldry on the front and this year I made him a matching leather barbarian helmet with ram's horns attached to the sides. Here he is wearing both while wielding the mighty hammer during the battle:


I was a little unsure about how to make the helmet so I made a prototype that my son wore to the battle so they could be on the same team. 


His dad just sent me an picture of the wooden display he made for the armor and helmet!

I kept the giant hammer, though. That is my toy.

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He said his name was Asterix Snowsmasher. I said, "Cool, let's go smash some snow."


None of the neighborhood's stubborn snow boulders were safe that morning.


[I made him that helmet last summer. He still wears it everywhere.]

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Congaree National Park is a relatively new park in the federal system. It used to be called Congaree Swamp National Monument, but when they realized (a) it wasn't actually a swamp, and (b) people don't pack up their station wagons and take a trip to South Carolina so they can visit a swamp, the folks in charge very wisely changed the name. The national park "preserves the largest tract of old growth bottomland hardwood forest left in the United States." And it is beautiful.

The kids and I visited the (free!) national park on a Wednesday morning and stayed nearly all day. We did a six-mile-or-so hike around the elevated boardwalk with a few ancillary loops. Many fairy boats were launched. Many fallen trees were clamored across. One elf child was spotted. There were only about ten minutes of hysteria involving ants. It was a great day.



When we went into the visitor's center after the hike, the Forest Ranger on duty looked at us and said. "Are you the guy who writes that blog?" What a shock that was, to be a thousand miles away in a national park I'd never really heard about and be recognized by the ranger on duty. It turned out her mother works at a Detroit hospital and lives in the city and reads the blog. Such a small world!

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Sunset Skate at Belle Isle (2013)

Posted by jdg | 11:48 AM


I always keep our skates in the trunk in case the mood hits. The one good thing about this colder, snowier winter is that the kids don't feel like they're missing out on the season. The other day we stopped at the island and skated for about an hour till the sun set. At times the wind was so strong we didn't even need to push to keep moving (my son loved this, and you can see the wind blowing his hat the same direction it's blowing him).


Even Wendell likes to hit the ice:

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We visited Pittsburgh over the holidays and my kids had a chance to spend an afternoon at the Carnegie Museum with their identical-twin one-year-old cousins. It doesn't get much better than identical twins and taxidermy overload, according to my kids. The highlight was definitely the famous Arab Courier Attacked by Lions, but we also really enjoyed the hallway of birds.


 Previously: T-Rex at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History
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