Entries in The Next Generation (64)


Linky Love

To tell you the truth, I'm not much for Halloween. That's strange, too, because a) I like dressing up; b) I love candy; and c) you'd think it would make a fun prelude to my birthday.  But there it is. I'm kind of a Halloween minimalist.

We don't usually carve pumpkins; I'd rather bake them and turn them into pies and muffins. We never get trick-or-treaters at our door; instead, we all travel to Cold Spring's Parrott Street for the best block party around. I DO make sure everyone has a costume of some sort, however. Some years, we all just raid our massive collection of dress-up stuff and come up with new and winning combinations.


Hope as a mermaid, Tess in the Tigger outfit that everyone has worn at least once, and the boys as Yu-Gi-Oh! characters.

Here's a photo that five-year-old Christian took of Patrick and pregnant-with-Hope-me dressed up as Han Solo and Princess Leia.  (Imagine my bitterness when people at the dance thought we were Joseph and Emma. My cinnamon-roll buns just weren't big enough; I should have used hair extensions.)

But once in a while--usually once per kid, in fact--I'll go all out and make the fabulous costume of that kid's current dreams.

There was the year Christian was a Bug Attack. (And James wore Tigger.)

And the year that James was Harry Potter. (James is also a Halloween minimalist.)

But when the girls came along, we took costume-making to a whole new level of elaborateness.  Here's Princess Hope in a dress that I sewed just for her out of pink and lavender satin:

And Mermaid Tess, with elaborate, hand-sewn-and-embroidered-and-beaded bodice and tail and purse:

This year? It was Daniel's turn. At about the end of August, he started asking me to make him a Halloween costume. His first choice was some crazy new Pokemon, but then he changed his mind: he wanted to be Link.

If you don't have children who play video games, you might not know that Link is the hero of The Legend of Zelda and its many sequels/permuations.

That didn't look too difficult, I thought. I could sew the tunic and hat, and we have tons of play swords and shields lying around. I agreed.

Then I started doing some research. The internet is a marvelous thing, friends. It boggles the mind what is out there.

Daniel also did some looking, and began printing out images for my reference. "Here's the Hylian Shield," he informed me. (Okay, I guess I'm making a shield after all.) "And I'm really going to need an ocarina."

Right. Fortunately, at the Dutchess County Sheep & Wool Fair a couple of weeks ago, we found the coveted musical instrument. I was talking to a maple syrup vendor when Daniel came rushing up to me. "MOM, MOM! Good news!" He dragged me over to another booth, where a very clever man was playing "Zelda's Lullaby" on a handmade ocarina. It was a very Pied Piper moment--gaggles of kids crowded around him, spellbound by the familiar melody. Did I end up buying one? You betcha.

The next morning, I woke up with a flash of inspiration. Instead of sewing the hat, I'd knit it. That way Daniel could wear it all winter long. I could knit some fingerless mitts and call them "gauntlets," too. As a bonus, the costume would be a little warmer. That's always good. I remember one year when I was a kid, I felt beautiful in THE most fabulous gypsy costume--but my mother (prudently) made me wear my coat over it when we went out, and that was a drag.

So--the base for Link: white baseball pants (handed down from James's Little League days) and a white Under Armour turtleneck, about $7 at Target. Next, a trip to Michael's, where we bought foamcore sheets, paint, and some craft plastic for the shield. Michael's also had super inexpensive, emerald green (real) wool for the hat and some matching green cotton fabric for the tunic.

This gal inspired me with her overall thoroughness in approach and attention to detail without spending a fortune. Our tunic was even more basic--just a piece of the green fabric folded with the selvedges at the bottom (so no hemming or shoulder seams). After I cut out the T-shaped body, I folded it again and cut out the neck. I made a very basic neck facing, then hemmed the sleeves, then sewed up the side seams. The whole thing took me about 45 minutes, including the ironing.

The hat took a couple of hours of World Series/movie watching, and the gauntlets took a couple more. Those I made from some leftover sock yarn, which I double stranded so that the knitting would go faster.

Once I finished the shield, I thought we were done--but then, we saw this cool video and accompanying website, and I sorta had to make the sword. After all, I already had an extra piece of foamcore--and I loved that this guy had designed the sword so that all the pattern pieces would fit on one piece--all I needed was some spray paint and some electrical tape. The electrical tape is another genius touch, since if you painted the sword's handle, the paint would rub off on your hands when you played with it.

I planned to make the sword this past Saturday night, but then we lost power. So Sunday afternoon, I cut out and assembled the pieces. Oh, but there was a problem: I needed my hot glue gun. Instead, I melted several glue sticks in an aluminum pie tin on top of our pancake griddle and used a plastic knife to spread the glue like frosting. It worked just fine.

So now, the outfit is complete. Daniel will wear his snow boots, since I wasn't about to buy/make brown boots--but apparently at some point, Link has to battle in water and wears blue boots, anyway, so it's all good. Isn't he darling? (Don't tell him I wrote THAT. I'm pretty sure Link isn't supposed to be darling.)


Yes, he even told me as I took the pictures, "Mom, Link does NOT smile."

Happy Halloween!



Jephthah leading his troops into battle

In the book of Judges in the Old Testament, the people of Gilead battle the Ephraimites.  In order to discern between friend and foe at the crossing of the River Jordan, the Gileadites ask each stranger one question:

Say now aShibboleth: and he said Sibboleth: for he could not frame to pronounce it right.

The Ephraimites couldn't produce the "sh" sound, and thus were discovered (and slaughtered). 

The story reminds me of when I was in the MTC preparing for my Church mission to French-speaking Canada. I had studied French for years, but of course still had an American accent despite my best efforts. Two of the French members of our training district teased me and others about our inability to pronounce écureuil, the French word for "squirrel." (Because, you know, that's a word that comes up often in Gospel discussions--not.)

I countered by challenging them with phrases like "Thus sayeth the Lord," because the "th" sound is very difficult for native French speakers. They would only be able to say, "Zus sayess ze Lord." (Of course, it sounded charming, unlike my attempts at écureuil.)

In modern usage, though, "shibboleth" has a broader meaning than in stories like this, extending to include any word or phrase that sets a group of people apart. It could be a quote from a book or a movie, or a song lyric, or the name of a hero of popular culture. For example, if I say, "You're using coconuts!" or "Anybody want a peanut?" or "What on earth are you doing with Howard Bannister's rocks," some of you will know what I mean--and laugh--and some of you will not (shame on you--fix that right away).

The Perkins family, like most families, has many legends and much lore. We love to tell and re-tell one another stories of past adventures, all of which have punchlines. When we don't have time for long reminiscences, the punchlines alone can bring a smile or a giggle.

These punchlines are our shibboleths, a code of shared meaning. They won't signify anything to you unless you know the stories behind them--which usually need to be acted out and not just told, due to crucial inflections and facial expressions. But they are precious to us.

What are you saying? What do you mean?

I gonna die!

Santa, you're scaring me!

Those birds are stuffing themselves!

Don't you dare remember that.


That's cool and disgusting!

Hey, you caiman!

A radish spirit!

You said, "Pie!"

Is this all for me?

No this. Want chockit!

You are ruining my day; this is the worst day of my life.


Bring it on, Grandpa.

You see that big blue thing over there?

Mom! Mom! A bad thing!

Bad news, Dad.

You can call me "Donkey Kong."


[With a Cockney accent:] "The name's Daniel."

So--this is a bar.

I want to be a garbage man when I grow up. My parents think that's funny.

Why fishies go in toilets?

See, now I'm laughing all over again, just writing them out.

What are some of your family's shibboleths?


Time Passages

A little over four years ago, I wrote a post in praise of our oldest son, Christian (pictured above, a few weeks ago near the summit of Mount Washington).  I can't believe how quickly those years have gone by.  Time does not flow at a constant rate, of this I am convinced. 

A week from today, we're driving him down to Virginia so that he can begin college life.  He'll be attending The University of Mary Washington and majoring (this semester, at least) in Political Science.  It's the beginning of a grand adventure for him, and we could not be more pleased for him. 

I'll tell you, though: it's hard to let him go.  I have vowed a solemn vow that I will not be one of those "helicopter moms" you read about, but the temptation is there.  As Chris Rock says, "I don't condone it, but I understand it." 

James and I were talking as I drove him to his oboe lesson this morning.  He said it was just starting to hit him that Christian was leaving.  You have to understand: they have been best friends for almost 15 years.  They almost never fight; they're closer than any two brothers I've ever seen.

James said, "I'm a little sad."  Understatement. 

I refrained from piling on, but what I was thinking was that life as we know it will never be the same.  Even when Christian comes home for vacations, he will have moved on from the shelter of the nuclear family, will have progressed and become different.  Our relationships will change.  And that's good.  Heaven forbid that he should become one of those slacker 30-year-olds still living with Mom and Dad. 

But I wish there were a way to freeze this moment in time.  I'm beginning a grand adventure, too, that of a mother of adult children.  But I'll confess that a large part of me wants to hang back and keep my chicks under my wings for a little longer.  I've got another 15 years of kids at home, and I'll savor every moment as much as I have the past 17.5 years.  (Maybe even a little more, now that Anne is nearly potty trained, and I'm nearly free from the almost 18-year servitude to the changing of diapers.) 

But next week, as we drive away from that gorgeous college campus, I'll be marking the beginning of the end of a precious stage of my life.  Yeah.  As happy as I am for my son and all he has accomplished thus far, I'm a little sad, too.


Down the Rabbit Hole

I’ve been meaning to post about this literally for months.  I know: lame.  But better late than never, right? 

Last summer, I took Christian to a concert in Danbury, Connecticut.  It was outdoors!  At the Ives Center!  I had been driving past the sign for years and had always wondered what it was like.  I mean, would it be Ivesian in some crucial and unique way?  Would two bands play at once, in different keys and rhythms, within earshot of one another?

No, it turns out.  It’s just a really nice outdoor venue.  Woodsy, with a pond.  Ample parking.  A nice place to see a show.

And the show was great.  Four bands played: New Kingston, Collie Buddz, Cypress Hill, and Slightly Stoopid.  I love me some reggae and ska, and anyone that can fuse them with blues and hip-hop and throw in a dash of skatepunk is mighty fine by me. 

Collie and the boys from New Kingston are all adorable.  They brought out the most maternal instincts in me—and trust me: I’m easily old enough to be their mother.  Such cute kids!  So fresh-faced and wide-eyed!  So talented!  Such fine dancing!  I’m sure they’d hate the fact that I wanted to coo over them, pinch their cheeks, and make them some nice sandwiches. 

Cypress Hill was raw and sincere.  They rap life as they see it.  And when you grow up Latino in a really crappy part of Southern California, life is not often pretty.  It was a lot to take, but I respect their work and their perspective.  Plus, the lyrics are only half as offensive when they’re 50% in Spanish.  (I’m winking at you right now.)

Slightly Stoopid, the headlining band, is a phenomenally talented group of young men.  “Closer to the Sun” is one of my favorites of theirs: lovely guitar work paired with an incredibly catchy melody. 

They’re fun to watch, too.  One of my favorite things about the show was how the two singers, Miles and Kyle (who are best friends from childhood), would trade their bass and guitar back and forth and take turn singing lead.  They probably have more than two instruments between them these days, but I’m guessing this is a habit that goes back many years. 

When we got to the venue in the late afternoon, I found myself a nice seat with a good view right at the edge of the mosh pit.  Christian hung out with me during the breaks, but during the acts, he was right down in the thick of things, as you can see from the photo above (he's the tall blond kid singing along on the left side).  Lucky thing.  When I was going to concerts at his age, I always wished I were one of the tall, skinny guys who could see well and not have to worry about getting groped.

During one of the early breaks, as the sun was going down and Christian was on his way back to me, I sat reading in the fading light.  A cute but obviously quite stoned kid came up to me and sat down.  I’m guessing he was maybe 22—exactly half my age.

“Why are you reading at a concert?” he asked.

“I’m just reading during the breaks,” I answered.  “I’m enjoying the music when the bands are on.”

“Oh.” He tried to process that for a few moments, but failed.  “But why are you reading at a concert?” he repeated.  I realized I’d have to speak his language.

“Reading is my drug,” I explained.  “It’s my high.”

He gave me a wide, unfocused smile. “Right on.”  He leaned in a little closer, overwhelming me with the dueling aromas of sweat and Colt 45.  “Are you here with anyone?” he asked in what I’m sure he imagined to be his best James Bond imitation.

“Yes, I am,” I said, nodding at Christian, who was making his way through the crowds toward us.  “I’m here with my son.”

The poor boy’s jaw dropped, and he got a little gray in the face.  (Alcohol poisoning or humiliation?  Not sure.)  “Right on,” he mumbled again, looking around furtively.  I successfully kept myself from guffawing at his obvious embarrassment at trying to hit on someone’s mother.  He scooted off in search of younger blood just as Christian approached. 

I'm not flattering myself that I would have been a pick-up target had the poor boy been in full possession of his faculties.  I wasn’t the oldest person at the concert, but it was a near thing.  That didn’t matter to me; I had a great time with Christian, and there was really only one downer about the whole evening. 

Yes, that would be the drugs.  When I was a teenager at gigs, you would often smell pot, but people smoked it surreptitiously.  At this concert, despite the huge security presence, nearly everyone was very open about their usage.  It astonished me, and I’ve been around the block a few times. 

More than that, I find it tragic that all four of these very gifted bands devote a majority of their lyrics and focus to marijuana.  Pot isn’t heroin, but it’s not harmless, either.  It’s powerfully addictive, both physiologically and psychologically.

I hate to see talented wasted in the service of a false god.  Is it hyperbole to call these guy’s drug use and glorification idolatry?  I don’t think so, not when you sing about how, if everyone would just smoke a little ganja, the world would be at peace.  That pretty much feels like a religious prescription to me.

Not sold?  My faith teaches that if everyone would just follow Jesus, the world would be at peace.  Same format, different substance to the prescription.

So, that’s a drag.  I find I can’t listen to the majority of these bands’ songs, despite their enormous musicality and rhythmic appeal.  The pot is a dealbreaker for me, but I’d buy their music in a hearbeat if these kids saw the light and decided to sing about something else.  I guess I really am older than I look. 



I just finished this sweater for Hope.  When she tried it on for the first time, Tess immediately asked when I would make her a new hoodie.  Daniel chimed in, claiming that it should be his turn soon.  My big boys have both grown out of their latest pullovers, and I haven't made even one for Anne yet. 

When I was pregnant with James, I worried that I wouldn't have the capacity to love this new baby with the intensity and devotion I felt for Christian.  I shouldn't have; my heart expanded so that there was plenty of room for both boys, and it has done so every time we've had a child.

But my time has not expanded.  I have six children who are ages 16 years to 20 months.  I manage both acne breakouts and toxic diapers.  I field requests for Prom tickets and Pokemon.  I chauffeur people to toddler dance classes and SAT prep sessions.  After school on any given day, I may be reading board books aloud, coaching on phonics, drilling the multiplication tables, and quizzing on the Pythagorean theorem or the causes of the Crimean War--all while baking bread from flour I grind myself and cooking dinner for eight.  (And let's not even mention my writing, my church work, and my very deserving husband.)  Giving each of my children the time, attention, and concrete expressions of love they need is an Olympic-class balancing act.

And many days, I feel less than Olympian.  I work hard to reject feelings of inadequacy, but sometimes they overwhelm me.  I'm not asking for answers or advice; my life is great, and mostly I make it all work.  I do so by taking things one step at a time, and sometimes the steps are tiny, indeed.

Here's the beginning of Tess's new sweater.  We picked the colors out of my stash, and this pattern should go pretty quickly.  Then I'll move onto Daniel and Anne, and hopefully by summer, I'll be making some big boy pullovers for Christian and James as well.  It's one eternal round, and I wouldn't have it any other way.