Gapers Block has ceased publication.

Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
 Thank you for your readership and contributions. 


Sunday, May 19

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Every year I vow to spend summer solstice outside, for as much of the day as possible. This year we were all in northwest Iowa, visiting family and enjoying life under the big sky, next to the biggest lake in Iowa. We were invited at the last minute to a First Day of Summer Party, planned by a peppy 6-year-old Iowa farm girl we are happy to know. At about 6pm we boated over to a nearby beach and, facing west into the setting sun, had a cookout with our family friends. It took about 4 hours for the sun to set. About 8:30 I gave serious thought to a reapplication of sunscreen, but decided to have another helping of banana pudding instead. Afterwards we watched the sun hit the horizon from the porch about 10pm.

We are back home now, and back into the swing of life in the city, but if the old adage (that I may well be inventing right now) is true, that what you do on the solstice sets the stage for the rest of the season, then we are taking that lakeside barbecue, shaking it up and reshaping it Chicago style. Despite all of the concerts, playdates, barbecues, family vacations, trips to the beach, zoos, museums and parks, there's still plenty of time for hanging about while the sun takes it's sweet old time setting. In the good old summertime, the afternoon playdate can be redefined as a party, especially if two friends and their kids, plus your crew add up to 12 people or more, as is often the case around here. Long afternoons with happily occupied children can easily lead to a shared dinner, with someone running to the store for some avocados and beer while the grill gets fired up and the baby naps on the couch.

I was invited to a Logan Square pal's house the other day to do some tie-dyeing, and while I knew that there'd surely be a few other people there, I was not prepared for the full on funky affair that awaited us. Two 10-year-olds, three 6-year-olds, and seven or eight toddlers, plus random babies and 8 moms had taken over an entire street corner with a tie-dye station. The grill was going, punk rock was blaring and kids were dancing, riding bikes, playing in the sandbox and swilling lemonade. All of it together made for a very happening afternoon.

We've tie-dyed before; it seems to be a mandatory activity for today's youth. In fact, turn the contents of the average 8-year-old's dresser out onto the floor and you are sure to find at least 3 T-shirts dyed at school, a birthday party or scout meeting. I think I tie-dyed once when I was a kid, and that was just to make a big white "O" on an orange t-shirt for my kickball team, creatively called "the orange team." (That should have been a clue as to how much it would suck to play competitive kick ball, but whatever.) Now it seems that every kid in America is familiar with the various methods of fiber arts, from batik to tie-dye. I guess we owe a debt of gratitude to the flamboyant hippies who spawned in the '70s. Some might disagree.

The method used at the crazy garden party was not the one I used as a kid (rit dye/hot water/rubberbands), but it works really well for the varying age group. The key to good tie-dye is first to get high quality dyes. These were premixed by a very together and hip mama, making it such that the kids could jump right in with a minimum of muss and fuss. She used fiber reactive procion dyes, which give beautiful, brilliant color to fabric (and skin…I'm typing this with gorgeous red and yellow hands. I look like someone who should be quarantined.) The kids were easily able to wrap their fabric with plastic zip ties, which were much easier for little fingers to manipulate than rubber bands. After a soak in a water/borax solution, the kids (in plastic gloves) put their tied fabric onto a metal cooling rack over a shallow pan, and squirt the dye into the folds from squeeze bottles (empty dish soap bottles and those cheap catsup and mustard containers from the dollar store). None of the kids were covered in dye, and most people had the sense to put gloves on, so the mess was kept to a low roar. We'll see how it turns out, everything is still soaking in plastic bags, but as is always the case with tie-dye, no matter how it turns out, it's tie-dye—and how can you mess that up? Even the ugliest tie-dyed T-shirt is good for sleeping in or bringing to the beach. The 10-year-olds managed to mix up a batch of camo-colored green/brown dye for a formerly lovely beaded tank top…I'm sure they will think it's perfect.

Once all of the dyed, wet clothes were popped into Jewel bags and lined up against the fence, the tie-dye party flowed into an afternoon hang out. The women solved the problems of the world and watched kids play at the same time, as is the case all over the planet each and every day. The sun reached that particular point in the sky, when those with toddlers began to do the daily story problem involving length of journey home, plus amount of time left before melt down occurs, divided by what's for dinner, multiplied by the number of hours that bedtime would be extended due to a late afternoon nap, and started handing out the five minute warnings. It looked like a few would leave the answer blank, and ride out the afternoon on the comfy garden furniture. Others began gathering their flock, their belongings and their wits to brave the outside world. The older girls laid out their carefully crafted plan for the obligatory sleepover. At 10 they've learned to train their voices so as not to ask in a way that might be construed as petulant or begging, but rather with a studied nonchalance, as if to say "we couldn't care less, one way or the other, just thought we'd ask." They know it's a fine line they walk. Once permission was granted, they went on with their previously scheduled plans: whispering, making floating bouquets, walking around the neighborhood and halfheartedly assisting with the younger children. Girls at 10 are lovely in a garden.

Leaving my flower sprite there to continue with that party the boys and I headed for home and garden party part two. By the time we got home, the neighborhood gang was out in full compliment. After a quick dinner, it was time for the long slide into evening with tricycle riding, light saber battles, soccer on the lawn and a walk to Baskin Robbins for an ice cream cone. The dog was roused to play the role of trained wolf, which she happily agreed to. A round of firefly collecting took us into the dark, and the neighbors shot off some fireworks before mother nature stole the show with the best weather phenomenon of all, a summer thunderstorm at bedtime.


Have you been meaning to tie-dye every white item in your house? Good quality procion dyes are available in powder form from Dharma Trading Company, where you will also find great "blanks" on which to dye, well-made cotton clothing in all sizes, flags, bags, scarves, as well as all sorts of tips and ideas for fabric dying, painting, silkscreening and batiking. The catalog makes for an entertaining read all on its own. Of course racks and racks of white items begging to be dyed await you at your local thrift store.

And, if all of this loosey-goosey hanging out is a little too unpredictable for you, you can find out just how much time there is to kill on the porch before it gets too dark to ride bikes, and plan accordingly by visiting an online sunrise and sunset calendar. The sun sets at 11:38pm in Anchorage Alaska today—imagine what bedtime must be like there!

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About the Author(s)

Lori McClernon Upchurch lives on the far Northwest Side in a house that's overflowing with books, kids, pets and too much stuff from the thrift store. She is a proud member of Team Upchurch, a family of multi-talented unschoolers. She can generally be spotted driving around with a bunch of kids, not all of them hers, looking for someplace fun to get out and play.

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