J’s Dryad Costume

This year M is dressing up as Shaggy with two friends, who’ll be Scooby Doo and Scrappy Doo. Tan pants, green shirt: it’s a pretty easy costume. Done.

J and her friends haven’t reached the Communal Costuming Phase yet, so she’s a free agent. Every year we get the Chasing Fireflies catalog, which makes me a teensy bit crazy. They have fabulous, wonderful, expensive costumes. But this year, it was good for inspiration. J liked this Dryad Tree Goddess costume, and it seemed particularly appropriate, since just a few weeks before she’d decided that her future career should be a dendrologist, or tree scientist. Of course, the costume and accessories would have cost about a hundred bucks. Plus, she wasn’t crazy about the long, upside-down-tulip shaped skirt, and the accessories were a bit too much pink for her. It was really the draping stuff that got her. I looked around online, and unfortunately, when you Google “Dryad Images,” it feels like you might have accidentally Googled “Sexy Sexy Dryad Images,” but once we got past all the bodypaint-and-I’m-a-fertile-tree-nymph images, we found this post full of some pretty gorgeous photographs. In fact, I showed J while saying, “Keep in mind that this is much, much, more ambitious than anything we’ll do.” But, now that we’re done, I’m pretty sure that J is going to have to do a photo shoot outside like that dryad did.

Now, if you’ve been a reader for a while, you’ll know that I am not a Halloween costume crafter. But I can do a little basic sewing, and J had A Vision, and I figured that we could make something happen. We ended up having so much fun with it, and we are very, very proud, because it’s cool.

First, we headed to Jo-Ann’s for supplies. And luckily I remembered to go to the one on Central. Because, I swear, every time I go to the one at Clifton Park, I arrived and think, “Dammit! I forgot that this one isn’t as nice as the other one.” It isn’t. Jo-Ann folks, you totally need to renovate that store. But, anyway. We looked at a huge variety of fabrics, many of which might be worn by a tree goddess, and J settled on a little bit of 3 different kinds. Then we headed over to the fake foliage area in search of some leaves or flowers. Left to my own devices, I’d have gone with fake cherry blossoms/branches, but it’s not my costume. J went with ivy. Ivy isn’t a tree. I didn’t point this out because she had A Vision. Generally I set a $30 budget for Halloween costumes, and anything over that is kid-funded. J pitched in a little bit when she decided her tree should also have a birds’ nest in it. Here are our supplies:


She decided that the base should be a darker green fabric that was velvety on one side and plainer on the other. We bought 2 yards of it. The she literally draped it around herself, and when she liked something, I pinned it. Then we carefully pulled it off and I sewed where the pins were. Then she put it back on, and she changed it a bit more. She decided that she wanted a different fabric peeking out underneath the main fabric, and she liked the idea of showing both sides of the velvety one, so this is how it looked after two rounds of pinning/sewing:


After this, I skipped a few steps with the camera. First she said that she’d like the sheer-ish fabric underneath, so I literally just shoved it underneath and pinned a few times. Oh, and another good thing about goddesses: they don’t need straight hems or seams. Whenever she’d accidentally step on some fabric, I’d just cut it off. So, we added a sort of sheer underskirt, and then we still had one more fabric to work with: the lacy one. She draped most of it as a sort of sash, but we had extra leftover, so we decided to make it look sort of like a sleeve. One arm was pretty well covered with the main fabric, but the other was hanging out. Originally I thought that a real sleeve would be too much work, but every time she tried it on, she’d say, “Can we put it together so it’s a little more sleeve-ish?” and eventually, it became a sleeve (you can see my oh-so-not-tidy stitches in this photo).


Once we’d used each of our three fabrics, she started thinking about her foliage and other accessories, and the first bits that she wanted to add were a few sprigs of ivy strategically placed over my messy stitches!


At this point, things got much easier, because we switched to the hot glue gun for adding accessories. J had some fake ivy, one stem of fake white flowers, a little nest and a bag of eggs, and a small roll of this stuff designed to look like bark, but with a little sparkle–I think its intended use is to decorate the exterior of a pot. J would hold something up and I’d glue it while she stood there. I didn’t burn her once! And I only burned myself three times.

Here’s the front of the finished costume:


And here’s the back.


The roll of decorative bark was just begging to be a belt, although we only used it around the back. The edge curled around the little lace sash. We had a little bit extra, so we decided to stick it to the inside of J’s sleeve.


J had bought a circlet of ivy that she wanted to turn into a crown. She used the hot glue gun by herself to add flowers and the birds’ nest. I’m a little worried about this one–she’s got my slippery hair, so I’m not sure if even twenty bobby pins will keep it on. Wish us luck!


And here’s a little detail picture of the front.


I love the barefoot look, but of course that’s no good for school or trick-or-treating. J decided she wanted to with her brown boots because they’d look like a tree trunk. Of course I loved this, because they’re comfortable and warm.

Busy, Busy!

Yep, it’s been a few days, but I’ve been busy.

On Thursday, we had our first Girls’ Circles of the season, and I followed it up with a meeting, so my day was pretty much shot right there.

On Friday, Deb and I were on WNYT’s Live at Noon talking about Halloween fun. I know: I forgot to tell you all to tune in. Sorry about that. Even sadder, the clip isn’t online this time–I’m not sure why. This is particularly unfortunate because the piece also starred many Halloween decor gifts from my mother-in-law, one from my mom, and J’s pumpkin. . . oh, well. But the good news is that for those of you who are always working when I’m on tv, Deb & I are going to do a couple of weekend spots–the first one is in December.

Then, after tv, we headed to Crossgates Mall for a tour of the new Latitude 360 that’s opening soon. Except, as you’ll see, “soon” is not “next week”:

Latitude Hard Hat

That’s right! It was a hard-hat tour! It was fun to check the place out, and we had images from some of their other locations to help us with visualizing the joint. The place is huge. There’s a restaurant and bar, an arcade section, performance space, and a bowling alley. They’re hoping to open in December.  After that, we visited Dave & Buster’s, where I learned that games are half-price on Wednesdays, that tacos are $1 each on Tuesdays, and that Deb used to be some sort of Pac Man champion.

Meanwhile, I was also frantically getting ready for J’s birthday party on Saturday. After offering up zero birthday party ideas for months, J settled on a party request about a week before her actual birthday: a party at Flight Trampoline Park.


It’s a busy place, and we’ve got activities, too. so we finally settled on a party for late Saturday afternoon. It was my first visit there, and the place is huge:


For our birthday party, the girls had one hour to jump, and then we had 45 minutes in a party room. Staff from Flight set up the room for you. Now, this is basically so that they can fit in as many parties as possible, as efficiently as possible, because it allows a new party every hour, with staff cleaning up after the earlier party and setting up for the next one. In between doing that, they also help carry all of your stuff and tuck it away while you deal with the kids. The effect is that you have your own attendant who functions as your sherpa/cabana boy, which pretty much rocks. If I were a normal person who ordered in a pizza and brought a store-bought cake, it would have been an extraordinarily simple and stress-free party. Of course, we had to provide homemade foods and we included a craft, too, which was way too ambitious given the time allowed. But that’s okay. J loved the menu, and she’d requested the craft, paracord bracelets, which I’ll post about later. Oh! And, at the end of the party, the birthday child gets a t-shirt and a coupon for a free hour of jumping, and all the guests get a goody bag with a 50% off coupon. So that was excellent.

So what was on the menu? Well, buffalo chicken dip, for one thing. When we first started making this dip, only the grown-ups in our house ate it. Eventually, the girls came around, and now they love-love-love it. Whenever they’re reluctant to try something new, or they turn up their noses at something they’ve tried once or twice, I just smirk and remind them that they used to think buffalo chicken dip was yucky, too.

I’ve made some pretty good birthday cakes over the years, and this time, J requested our standard chocolate cake with chocolate frosting (from McCall’s Cooking School, and it is the best chocolate cake ever), but she wanted it to be a gymnastics cake. After looking at Pinterest to assess my options, I decided to go with basic silhouettes. I Googled up a bunch of figures, and J chose several that she liked. Then I printed the silhouettes, cut them out, and used them to cut out the gymnastics figures out of Wilton edible paper:



Once they were cut out, I just pressed them onto the frosting.


Ta da!


And the bracelets were quite a project, too, but I’ll save that for the next post.

Ellms Family Farm

Over the weekend, J and her gymnastics team visited Ellms Family Farm.

I’d been to Ellms before, but just for cutting down Christmas trees. But it turned out to be a pretty excellent autumn experience, too.

First, we hit the Maize Maze.


As you may have guess, I am not a corn maze aficionado. My sense of direction is so very poor in real life that I generally don’t try to get lost for sport. That said, we got pretty well lost in the Maize Maze. This year they have a baseball theme, so as you travel through the maze, you can learn some baseball trivia and work out a puzzle and that sort of thing. But I was with the gymnastics mamas, so mostly I just shuffled along, chit-chatting. As you walk through the maze, someone carries a big flag that monitors can see from a bridge above, so you really can’t get too, too lost. Which is good, because it’s one of my talents.

There are plenty of pumpkins, just for sale, or you can pick your own out in a pumpkin patch (they’ll give you a ride).  There aren’t apples at Ellms. I was chatting with someone from the family who said that people always arrive looking for apples, so they might have to plant some trees. And then literally within five minutes of hearing about that, I received a text from Cute W saying, “Can you pick up some apples while you’re there?” Luckily they do have apple cider and homemade cider donuts.

DSC00032Beyond the Maize Maze and pumpkins-not-apples, there are plenty of other attractions. They’ve got a huge jumping pillow, zip lines, live music, a petting zoo, pedal cars for kids and grown-ups, and all sorts of other stuff. What I liked most about it is that almost everything is included in the general admission (I think you had to pay separately for the corn cannon), but everywhere you turned there was something to do, so it’s really lovely for wandering around with kids freely and doing whatever appeals to them. Some examples are a sports center


or their little “Sound Garden”


along with all sorts of other things, like bean bag toss games, a little mechanical “Chicken Show,” tires to climb around on, fun toddler toys, a bunch of other mazes, and more. They’ve got basic food (so you can stay for hours and hours), but only port-a-potties (so go light on the cider).

J really liked the big slide:


But, honestly, I think her favorite thing was rolling downhill in these tubes:


What I liked the most about this was that the tubes were just out there, lying around, and kids could do whatever they wanted. In fact, down the hill from J in the picture above, there was a pedal car track, and the parents kept reminding kids to aim away from the pedal cars to avoid a crash. But they were pretty sensible about it, actually. And it was nice to just let them go nuts and see where it led them.

For little kids, there’s a sand box, a corn box, and more. There were almost too many things to do, and what was nice that they were mostly very open-ended and low-key, so it’s a nice place to wander and play. I would say any kids 12 and under would happily spend hours at Ellms. They have a big pavilion and other space for birthday parties, too. And, really, kids 12 and up would have a good time in the maze, the jumping pillow, and other activities, too. Since some super-cool big kids might be turned off by the attractions for the little kids, I wouldn’t pick Ellms for a group of teenagers, but it’s wide range of activities makes it awesome for multi-age groups.

Neighborhood Walk & Random Updates

On my birthday, I took a little walk around the neighborhood. My original vision was a family walk, but when I tried to recruit, only J was truly interested (Cute W would have come, but we all know it would have been a Pity Walk. I don’t need no stinkin’ Pity Walk). Anyway, we were barely halfway down the driveway when J announced that she was in the mood to run. So it turned out to be an all-by-myself walk, punctuated by the occasional visit when J circled back.

Okay, can I just say that if Ebola were spreading like the Little Free Libraries are spreading throughout Niskayuna, I’d have our whole family wearing decontamination suits right now. It’s nuts. I think that I mentioned that now there’s one across the street from us. J paused her jog long enough to do a quick inventory check.


And then we headed to visit the newest one, at Eastern Parkway United Methodist Church:


On the way home, I noticed a scarecrow who had collapsed on our neighbor’s lawn:



Even though it looks a little bit like it’s dead, I was delighted to see it. That’s because we’ve consistently had a collapsed scarecrow on our front lawn, too. In fact, I’ve been calling it the scarecorpse:


He was attached to our lamppost at one point, then leaning up against a tree, but it seems that any time he appears to be secure, one of my (damn) kids decides that he needs to be moved or incorporated into some sort of game, and then they lean him up in a haphazard way, and next thing you know, the poor guy’s slumped over again.

Which reminds me, speaking of wanton destructiveness in support of play, did I already tell you that my kids energetically raked a whole massive pile of leaves? Except, they didn’t rake the leaves on our lawn. They raked the leaves on the public median. And then they brought the big pile of leaves from the public median onto our lawn. They like to jump off our tree swing into a big pile of leaves, and apparently our lawn wasn’t supplying enough for them.

A while back I wrote a blog post about buying costumes instead of making them. I wanted to point out three things about this post.

1. You should just look at it, because those kids are adorable.

2. And also because I found a picture of M dressed as a witch that didn’t appear in the post originally because I couldn’t find it.

3. The other day, I’d pulled out the little witch doll from that picture along with a whole bunch of other decorations, and when M saw it, she gasped and said, “It’s you! Hello, you! Oh I love her so much, I missed her. She is my favorite Halloween thing.”

I also wrote a blog post where I wrote fake captions for various Halloween pictures. Actually, I thought I’d written it a long time ago, because this is one of the posts I’ve re-read several times. Which I don’t usually do all that much, but for some reason I can’t help myself with this one.

It’s off-topic, but we’re watching Parks and Recreation right now, and that reminds me that members of my family have called me Leslie Knope twice in the last week. Which, I believe, is a profound compliment.

And speaking of tv, I’m proud to report that I’ve resisted binge-watching every single episode of Gilmore Girls, now available via instant Netflix. Impressive, right? I’ve only spent, like, four or five hours on it.



J is now ten. I meant to report on her birthday, because I was very pleased with the cleverness of the Gift Presentation. Her big gift was a Yogibo lounging-bag-type-thing. I don’t really get the appeal of these things, honestly, but the girls always want to go into the store whenever we’re at Crossgates. A while back at the Carrot Festival, where I was tabling, the Yogibo people had a booth, and there was some fabulous discount, probably because no one wanted to schlep the stock back to the store. We oh-so-sneakily smuggled a ginormous bag of not-beans into our garage, where it hibernated under a tarp until J’s birthday.

But, of course, wrapping that bad boy was going to be tough. So, the night before her birthday, we put the Yogibo down in the basement playroom, and then I unwound a long string from the Yogibo, up the stairs, outside, around the front lawn, in through the screened porch, and into our dining room. Then in the morning, she unwrapped a gift that was just tissue paper, more tissue paper, and nothing else but a little note that read,

Holy cow. There isn’t even a present in here? What the heck kind of stinky birthday is this? Maybe you should ask your family if they have some chewed-up gum or a used tissue or an old piece of string or something. . . .

And then Cute W fished a piece of gum out of his mouth, and I blew my nose extravagantly and offered up the tissue, and M offered her the end of the piece of string. And she took the string, which obviously led somewhere, and followed it down to her gift.

So that was fun. We still haven’t had her kids’ birthday party. . . she was undecided about what she wanted to do, and finally settled on a trip to Flight Trampoline Park, but of course it’s a busy place, and we’ve got tons going on, too, so by the time we settled on it, we had to schedule it for later this month. And we’re going with a gymnastics cake, which I believe will be a normal cake with silhouette cut-outs of gymnasts slapped onto the sides.

Yesterday, J and I went to see “Newsies” at Proctors, and I wrote this review for KidsOutAndAbout.com. Then, last night, Cute W and I had a date night at Aperitivo Bistro, where we enjoyed calamari, among other things.


I didn’t take pictures of everything. In fact, I didn’t even take this picture. I started to do it, except I didn’t have my camera (I lost it a while back), and then my phone was dead. So my sweet husband took the picture. And then got me a new camera for my birthday. And also let me drink way more than my half of the bottle of wine. It’s a good life, my friends. And I would write more, except that after take-out Thai food and homemade chocolate cake, every system in my body that isn’t essential to maintaining life and/or digestion is shutting down.




Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows

Now that you asked, it really was a crappy morning.  I woke up at the usual time, which meant trouble right away.

Last night, J was sobbing over her math homework. She was appalled by her Unbelievable Stupidity. The math teacher had mentioned, oh, by the way, you kids haven’t learned how to do long division yet, but she didn’t continue with the crucial phrase, “So go ahead and skip that last math problem, because it’s long division.” Or maybe she did, but my kid didn’t hear it. All she heard was the voice in her head telling her that if she weren’t such a loser, she’s be able to psychically intuit how to do long division without ever having to get it explained to her. So last night, she’d begged me to teach her. And I could have, because I actually kind of like long division. But since she’d already worked too long on her homework, she was sobbing, and she was already late to gymnastics, I flat-out refused. I told her that she had permission to wake me up early so that I could help her with it in the morning.

So when I wasn’t shaken awake early by J the Perky Early Morning Math Enthusiast, I knew that my other daughter, J the Grouchy, Already-Behind-Schedule, Failure-At-Everything, would be greeting me instead.  I love both daughters equally, but I have to confess: there’s one of them who’s much more fun for just hanging around.

Sure enough,  not-so-fun J showed up, in dire need of a pair of jeans. We went into her room, where I opened up a drawer full of what appeared to be perfectly fine jeans and pants. Sadly, they were declared too small; too small; too big; and, my personal favorite, too fuzzy.

Proffers of belts were ignored, the “too fuzzy” rationale was not intended for a fact-based debate, and I was forced to explain the concept of Adequate Laundry Lead Time until my grumbling little storm cloud picked up something inside-out from the floor. The good news is that my children no longer argue with the Adequate Laundry Lead Time speech, because they know that if a follow-up speech is required, it’s the Anyone This Passionate About Their Own Laundry Should Be Doing Her Own Laundry speech. It’s remarkable how that one really quells the laundry passion.

So, it was a rocky morning. Generally speaking, J’s pretty organized. She’ll usually pack her own backpack, and she’s fairly on top of things. But J had forgotten some crucial supplies yesterday, so she was more anxious than usual. Plus the Great Jeans Kerfuffle had set her slightly behind schedule, although since J likes to leave a full 20 minutes for her 10-minute walk to school, her version of “late” is skewed. But she was barely holding back tears as she struggled to pull her cello case on her back and her backpack on her front while clutching paper towel-wrapped breakfast sausages and checking the clock to see that she was 3 minutes behind schedule.

Meanwhile, moments earlier, M walked in on Cute W and I bowing and scraping to help J gather her roughly 15 pounds of gear while ensuring that she had morning protein and asked, “Mom, where are my white uniform socks?” I answered that I’d help her look in a couple of minutes, once we got J out the door. Since M had a bit less than half an hour before it was time to leave for morning chorus practice, it seemed like a reasonable response. To me, anyway.

I remember reading about sibling rivalry a decade ago, and one of the tips was to cater ostentatiously to your older child when the new baby comes so that she doesn’t think that she’s being neglected. Heck, I didn’t just read about it: I did it. I remember calling out, “I’m coming, J! Just let me finished filling and closing up this milk cup, because M needs her milk!” And I’d beam down at M, who would accept the sippy cup imperiously, no more than she was due as Princess Toddler. And then I’d scramble over to J, whose fretfulness always seemed tempered by the instinctive patience of a subsequent child.

So, I try to make everyone feel loved and cared or, blah-blah-blah, but come on, dude! You are three grades ahead and you have 25 minutes to spare, but you’d like me to drop everything to help you? Never mind that getting that pesky younger sister out the door will allow your dad and I to focus on you like laser beams, allowing you to briefly resume your rightful place (lost, lo those ten years ago) as the Sun in our family solar system?

That’s not happening.

Finally,  J was on her way. And by the time I was able to shift my priorities back to where M would argue they rightfully belonged, she had located the white sock, dirty but present, and she knows better than to critique laundry management skills. But she was all attitude. I asked a question and got mockery and smart-assery. I addressed the rudeness and was, I kid you not, mimicked. And then . . . I was done. “I don’t need to put up with this,” I said. “You have a good day at school.” And I turned and went upstairs to my bedroom to read. She is fully capable of feeding herself and packing her own lunch and backpack. Plus Cute W was still in the kitchen, eating and reading the paper now that Hurricane J had whirled out.

And, here’s the thing: I think that leaving was the right choice. M was being disrespectful and unpleasant, and trying to discuss it with her would only have caused more drama. Her behavior was intolerable, and the easiest way to convey that quickly without escalating was to step away.

But it’s freaking depressing.

We have good mornings. Often. We joke around. Sometimes there’s dancing. Or Cute W and I trying to disgust the girls with loud kissing. There are usually multiple sleepy, warm hugs. Often there’s singing or a a bit of affectionate back-scratching.

I got no M hugs this morning. I feel like I’m the one who’s been punished. And I don’t deserve it: I was delightful.

So, better luck tomorrow, I hope.



Minor Irritations

For no particular reason, here are some things that are irritating me this fall:

Helicopters. You know, those maple seeds? They are sticky, and with the warm weather, I’m still running around outside barefoot, and inevitably, these stupid helicopters stick to the soles of my feet. Although looking for a link, I learned something new: they’re edible! So now I’m intrigued. But I’ve tried harvesting dandelion greens from my lawn and I thought that they were gross. But if you see tons of dandelions growing on our lawn, anyway, it’s not because we are slacking off on our mowing duties: it’s because we are nurturing a community bee preserve. You’re welcome.

My cat. She is showing her deep and abiding love for me by stepping onto my laptop keyboard right now. Someone asked me recently if my cat, Isis, resents the extremist group for sullying her name, and I explained that she is not bothered by it at all because she is also a ruthless killer, and I believe she takes pride in her savagery. But personally, I’m offended on behalf of the Egyptian goddess Isis.

J’s constant desire for effortless perfection. There was a meltdown during her cello practice today when she realized that a Yo-Yo Ma-level concerto was not to be achieved today and, frankly, not for at least the next 3 to 4 weeks. So obviously this means that she is a Horrible Failure at Everything. I am often cheerfully supportive; tonight I was tired, and my patience wore thin.

Tree trimmers. Ever since that damn ice storm, a fleet of tree trimmers spend a couple of weeks of the year treating our neighborhood trees like ginormous bonsais. Yes, yes, I know that power outages are annoying and inconvenient. Acknowledged. But our trees are so beautiful, and sometimes they’re just lopped off to accommodate wires and they end up looking comical. No, tragi-comic. It’s just, the trees are gorgeous, an then they lose their dignity. Plus, the other day I was driving a couple of miles and ended up having to go around three separate crews. And I’m going to be a nut, here: I think our family would enjoy a 24-hour power outage. The girls have wonderful memories from the last one.

M saying “I hate you.” Enough, already. This weekend we required M to do something that she wasn’t really psyched about. Okay, okay, I believe that the exact quote was, “I’d rather shoot myself in the face.” But still. She’s been saying it for a long time (my precocious little prodigy!), and I do my best to remain pleasant in the face of such obnoxiousness. But it wears me down. Today I said that we should create a little sign for M about days-since-she’s-declared-hatred, like the one for J and homework crying. The Cute W and M said that they were going to tally up the declarations of hatred. Which is the opposite, people. We’re not trying to come up with a record high number, here.

Squirrels. Have you noticed that they seem to have a death-wish in the fall? Is it because they’re heavy and sluggish, yet still busily completing their autumnal errands before the snow sets in? I don’t know, but it feels like they are throwing themselves at my tires. Which I resent.

I am, however, pro-rain. Slobbing around the house was exactly what I needed today, so I was glad that the weather cooperated. Hope everyone’s having a great weekend.


The Perils of Facebook

I’ve said before that I have a love-hate thing going with Facebook. I’m on it quite a bit, between putting these posts on the Capital District Fun page, adding all sorts of updates to the KidsOutAndAbout page, and helping out with the Schenectady Working Group on Girls page. It’s reconnected me to some lovely people, and I like keeping up with them. Plus, there are pages that I’ve “liked” that always offer up something illuminating or fun, like Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls.

But there are things I hate too, of course, like how Facebook puts the pages with cash up front and hides those of us who are cheapskates. And also how sometimes you find out someone you thought was lovely has crazypants-awful views about something, and then you have to decide whether to say something or ignore it, to “unfriend” or “hide,” or whatever.

I’ve had a couple of other awkward Facebook situations lately. The first is when I had a quick calendar panic and texted my friend Jen:

“Crap!!! Is the first OWL class tonight?!?!”

It took just a minute or so before I realized whom I’d texted.  Not Jen, the one whose daughter will be attending the OWL class with M. But Jen, the girl who was in a couple of my high school classes, whom I haven’t seen in the past twenty years. Well, maybe she was at that one reunion, but we didn’t chat. And as the realization erupted from my gut and vaporized out the pores of my flushing cheeks, my phone pinged:

“Who is this?”

Ah, who indeed?

Readers, what would you have done? I confessed, we exchanged friendly texts, and I beat a hasty techno-retreat. Luckily I had an easy excuse, since I was clearly not on top of the family’s evening schedule.

But, that was awesome.

No, no. It wasn’t really so bad, just a little embarrassing.

Much worse is what I’ll call the Facebook Condolence Feed-Flood. That’s when something like this shows up in your news feed:

So-and-so posted on Jane Doe‘s page: We’re thinking of you, Jane, dear. Much love from us all!

Somebody else posted on Jane Doe‘s page: So terrible! You have our family’s sympathy.

Another person posted on Jane Doe‘s page: Please let us know if there’s anything we can do.

7 Other friends posted on Jane‘s page.

And then your stomach turns inside out, and you start calculating. What’s going on? Is it Jane’s daughter? She and my daughter hang out all the time! Is it her husband? Dammit, what’s his name again? Wait, if it’s some ongoing thing, we could totally carpool, that would be helpful, right? Oh, no, what if it’s not ongoing? What if someone’s died? Wait, are they vegetarians? I have that massive pot of soup. But that’s stupid–clearly someone else has offered up food. Wait, what’s her address–I could drop off a card. Except, what do I say when I have no idea what’s going on? Oh, crap.

And then you click on the person’s page and try to figure out what’s going on. And you consider if any of the people who’ve posted on the page would be willing to update you without thinking that you’re just trying to get the latest gossip. And of course you’re curious. But it’s also that helpless, powerless feeling of knowing someone’s in trouble and not knowing if there’s anything that you can do. So maybe you tell that good friend of Jane’s who’s not on Facebook that she should check in with Jane? Because you’re not close enough to be on this person’s Crisis A-List, but you want to be helpful. And just asking for information would be causing trouble without helping, and you’re a firm believer in that whole comfort-in, dump-out Ring Theory thing. Your distress at wondering if everyone’s okay is not something that anyone who’s inside the circle needs to solve. But you know how to make casseroles! And watch children! And make phone calls. . . well, you hate making phone calls, but you’d do it. Absolutely.

Seriously, has this happened to any of you? It’s happened, multiple times, on my news feed, and every time it starts to feel like this incredibly awkward thing. Like, people want to do something or say something, but they also don’t want to betray anyone’s confidence. But it comes off weirdly creepy thing, or at least that’s how it feels to me. As a policy, I don’t Facebook-condolence unless someone’s Facebook-announced something. It just feels way too public. And way too private. And all that.

But because I completely hate these situations, I’d like to put it on the record here: please, if something awful happens to my family and you would like to react via Facebook, I urge you to make your post as informative as possible, as a service to my other friends. You might say, for example:

Katie, I was so sorry to hear that aliens abducted your whole entire family, but isn’t it fortunate that the girls were dropped out of the spaceship’s beam and only suffered broken tailbones? I’m going to visit them at Ellis during the 4-7 pm visiting hours, since you said it was okay, and meanwhile, I’ve signed the petition asking NASA to set up a search party for Cute W, and here’s the link if others want to sign, too.

or, maybe:

Oh, man! I just heard about your tragic pogo-stick-hopping accident, and I’m so sorry to hear that you’ve been confined to your bed for the next 5 weeks. I’m bringing mint chocolate chip ice cream and trashy magazines for you and fried meat and baby carrots for your kids, and I’m going to check your list of favorite recipes to do more. and I can’t take on your current PTO obligations or walk your cat, but I’m sure that someone from the neighborhood can!

And I will be comforted and my friends and neighbors will be suitably informed. And if anyone Facebook-chastises you for over-sharing, other blog readers will rise up in your defense and suggest that people who have time to engage in debates with friends-of-friends would do better spending their time cooking meals for me and leaving them, anonymously (so that it’s impossible to write thank you notes) in disposable containers at my door. And you will be rewarded with massively wonderful karma.

And even mentioning this feels like I should knock on wood, because I’m clearly jinxing myself. In fact, maybe part of my strong reaction to the Facebook Condolence Feed-Flood is that I have a neurotic desire to do something helpful when tragedy strikes, as if responding to other people will give me some sort of karmic booster against ever needing help back. In fact, I even wrote about this on the blog before. Which is, of course, delusional. Maybe I just need to be more content with offering up vague good wishes and general prayers.

I understand that whining about this is entirely selfish. And even though I offered up those samples as a “service to my other friends,” I would genuinely appreciate mint chocolate chip ice cream and trashy magazines if I’m ever confined to bed. So, really, that’s pretty selfish, too. Am I, like, the worst person ever? You’re totally going to “unfriend” me, aren’t you? I guess this post is moot. Never mind.


Observing Birthdays

J turns 10 tomorrow. This has meant a flurry of preparation at our house. Mostly, it’s food. Birthday Child gets to pick family breakfast and dinner, which means that Cute W is prepping his exquisite waffles, which will be ornamented with homemade whipped cream and overpriced raspberries. Dinner is artichokes, veal scallopini, mashed potatoes, and green beans with almonds, and then chocolate mousse for dessert. The mousse is better if you make it ahead, and so I went to work on that scrumptious recipe last night.  So, first of all, I was reflecting on how butter and chocolate together are even more wonderful than just butter, or just chocolate. Now, you know I can enjoy kale and roasted garlic and even pumpkin seeds, but none of these can approach the joy of butter and chocolate, melted together.

While I was concocting the mousse, I was fretting about M. She’d been invited to go out to dinner with one of her closest friends to celebrate her friend’s birthday. When she extracted permission for this outing (following a full day of school and a soccer game, occurring before any homework could be done at home), my first thought was, “Wait! What about her locker?!?”

In our middle school culture, loving girl relationships acknowledge birthdays in two crucial ways: first, you decorate Birthday Girl’s locker and fill it with candy. In 6th grade, this was deeply, deeply important. It’s just so. . . public. I sort of hate it. In fact, I kept trying to convince M that she and some friends should get together and be, like, a Secret Locker Fairy Club who could go around decorating people’s lockers if they weren’t getting decorated. She rolled her eyes at me and said that the teachers took care of that sort of thing, and basically, I should butt out. I argued that it was an easy and fun way to spread joy. She rolled her eyes some more. Then, throughout the course of the year, there would be Maternal Fretting about one locker situation or another. In my presence, a girl M knew gave a broad hint about getting her locker decorated. M was unreceptive. “We’re not close friends,” she scoffed, “Someone will do it.” And I was all up in her grill: “Nobody hints like that unless they’re afraid that no one’s going to decorate their locker. If you’re not going to help decorate it, you need to make sure somebody’s on it.” That locker got decorated, but with only a bit of assistance from my kid.

Here’s the thing: M doesn’t sweat over this sort of thing. She’ll get invited to a party where they say “No presents,” and so she refuses to bring a present, and then everyone is there, toting presents, and this does not bother her at all. I guess what I’m saying is, I am far more a victim of peer pressure than she is. But I digress. The point is, when I found out about the birthday dinner, I said, “Wait! Why are you still here? Shouldn’t you be decorating her locker?”

Here’s another thing: even though I appear to sweat over this sort of thing, it’s nothing compared to other moms. Other parents remember kids’ birthdays and take their kids shopping for locker decorations and drive their kids in to school early. I remain mostly oblivious. M will clatter downstairs and say that she’s leaving a half-hour early because she’s decorating a locker, and she buys stuff at CVS with her own money, so I’m mostly not involved, unless I’m pledging to “sponsor” the decoration of some kid’s locker, which she pretty much ignores, and so it’s totally useless.

So I’m usually clueless, and ignorance is bliss, because when I get a shadow of a clue, I start stressing out. “Why aren’t you decorating her locker? Won’t she be upset? Wait, is it only a 6th grade thing?” I am following her around, throwing out questions.

“I forgot to get a pass, she doesn’t really care, we’re thinking of doing it tomorrow.” My daughter was slacking. To my knowledge, they never decorated her locker. Or maybe someone else did. Or maybe 7th graders are way too cool for that. I have no idea, and if I bring it up again, it will only become an ugly conversation. So I was stirring my chocolate and butter and fretting.

I said that Middle School Birthday Love is shown in two crucial ways, and number two is: a post on Instagram, usually comprised of a photo of the Birthday Girl and a long, ardent comment, including at least three (and possibly more) of the following statements, “I love you SOOOOO much. . .  We’ve been friends since. . . . . .  You’re so beautiful. . . . . You’re so funny. . . . .Remember how we. . . . Happy Birthday!!!!!”

Really, it’s adorable. I sound like I’m making fun, but I think it’s sweet. Would I like the girls to focus more on their friend’s winning personalities and special talents instead of how great their hair is and how their shoes are always so cute? Well, of course. But generally speaking, it’s a lovely tradition.

My child has no interest. Because I’m an Instagram Stalker, I scrolled through lovely, heartfelt messages for the friend. “Hey M,” I asked, “are you going to do an Instagram birthday tribute of some sort?” [Did you predict the eyeroll here? Good for you! You win a cookie! Go get yourself a cookie.] She said, “Mom [eyeroll], you know I’m not into Instagram.”

I sighed. Because what am I supposed to do? Insist that she conform to middle school society and get on social media? That’s stupid. But as a grown woman who made it through 6th, 7th, and 8th grade, I fear this hazardous combination of taking girlfriends for granted during an era of massive hormonal fluctuations. I’m worried because I want her to be kind, but I’m also worried that people who aren’t required to tolerate her frequent bouts of seeming-indifference (as her family must)  will drop her like the proverbial hot potato.

So I must have been fretting about that more than I realized, because this morning I opened the fridge and saw a bowl full of egg yolks. The egg yolks that I was supposed to gently beat into the butter and chocolate mixture when I was making mousse.

“On NO!” I moaned. “I ruined it. I have to make it again.” Cute W laughed. “I think we’ll be able to choke it down.” Sure, it was 7 am, but we each got a spoon to test the product. It was actually still pretty delicious.

In a way M’s lack of enthusiasm for the sort of treacly middle-school girl effusiveness that feels essential to 7th grade friendship is a lot like that mousse I made. Okay: no egg yolks, so the mousse is lighter, without that rich, nuanced egg yolk texture. But it tastes the same. And, like M’s straightforward, no-nonsense friendship style, my defective mousse is absolutely less likely to induce nausea.