Festive Candle Crafts

We were trying to come up with something crafty for the girls to do as a gift. I pulled up a bunch of interesting-looking ones on Pinterest, like cinnamon sticks wrapped around candles from She Knows and a cute mason jar craft from Spark and Chemistry, and I mentioned old reliables, like corn husk dolls. At the time, no one seemed particularly interested in doing anything. I can’t remember why–maybe no one was paying attention? For whatever reason, the kids said that they wanted to do corn husk dolls.

I went to PriceRite, because it’s a reliable source of corn husks. But while I was there, I bought a a 12-oz bag of Badia cinnamon sticks. It was a huge bag for only $2.99, and I figured that, even if the girls weren’t interested in doing those cute candles, I might make them myself sometime. Plus, Christmas is coming, and cinnamon sticks are great for crafty ornaments, too.

J came home from school when my purchases were still scattered on the table, and did she seize upon the corn husks? No. She zeroed in on the cinnamon sticks. “But, Mom, why do we have these? Mom, I thought that we weren’t making those cinnamon candles.”

“YOU guys said that YOU didn’t want to make the cinnamon candles. I thought that they were cute, so I got some cinnamon sticks.”

“So, wait, are allowed to make those cinnamon candles?” J asked.

“Yes! Of course you’re allowed! But I don’t have any candles right now because no one was interested in doing that craft.” Whatever. The next day I picked up some basic pillar candles, and I don’t think that J bothered to take her coat off before she started working on a cinnamon candle. This craft is easy. I’ve seen other versions using a glue gun and, honestly? I think the craft project would benefit with a little sticky reinforcement, but J was already off and running, so we skipped that part. When M came home, she set to work, too.

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The two of them were happily crafting, so I headed into the kitchen to do something. The next time I came around the corner, J was off and running on the other craft, a decoupaged mason jar. Argh. I’d actually seen these adorable small mason jars at the craft store, but I hadn’t bought them because no one had shown any interest in doing that craft. And they were super-cheap, too, but I feared that they’d just end up collecting dust in the garage like those big mason jars that we have.  So, that was my thought process at the store, and here I was at home, and J had retrieved a big, dust-covered mason jar, and she was already adding leaves from our supply for our Thankful Tree. Well, I decided, she’s already started, so no reason not to finish this one.  And it is pretty.

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Actually, we ended up adding a rafia bow around the rim, so it looks prettier now. But I was a little concerned about transporting this big ol’ jar, so we only made one of these. But again, it was very simple, like the decoupaged vases we’ve made before (which make an excellent gift).

Anyway, both of these crafts are easy for kids to do, and they’re a perfect either as a gift for relatives or as an activity for a bunch of kids this Thanksgiving.

 

Pellets of Doom

I think Cute W and I suffer from constant low-level anxiety about concussions from soccer for M. Watching this NBC News story pretty much had me breathing into a paper bag, and when showed it to M she said, “I wish I’d never seen this.”  Although in that story, you’ve got to figure that there’s a terrible coach involved, and the parents seem crazy. I think we’d probably tell M she must wear a headguard after one concussion, and two concussions might mean no more soccer.  Cute W bought a head guard from Full 90, but so far she isn’t wearing it. I’d love for the coaches of her various teams to strongly urge some particular headgear so that it becomes what everybody does, and it seems like that might happen soon.

But meanwhile, there’s a whole new health scare lately. Just over a month ago, there was a story about how artificial turf might be linked to cancer, especially among soccer goalies, who spend quite a bit of time diving into it. The story starts dramatically with a chemo nurse noticing that she’s hooked up four soccer goalies within the week. If you’ve been on turf lately, you’ll notice that there are all of these little black dots. Apparently, goalies get these caught in their clothes and hair and end up both inhaling them and swallowing them in the course of play. Wow, that’s pretty horrifying, right?

So, it’s getting colder outside, and M’s doing more play on turf. The other day I saw her shoes lying around, a bit like this:

 

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Do you see that? There are little black dots all over the place! Oh, my gosh. I grabbed the dust buster and sucked those Cancer Nuggets right up. In fact, my usual first impulse when there’s a mess is to document it (like the time J cut her own hair or when I dropped the butter dish), but in this case, I was in full-on panic mode. I got rid of the Pellets of Doom immediately. So, of course, when I wanted to write about it, I had to re-enact the scene. Luckily it was easy as taking a letter opener to the grooves on the bottom of her cleats. Wait, luckily!? That means that those extra Bonus Cancer Nuggets have been nestling in my closet for a week, like little Trojan Fleas. I came to this realization as I was digging the Nugget-Pellet-Fleas out of her shoes and scattering them on the floor for this photo. And then my cat ambled up and began sniffing the unidentified objects. “AWAY!” I shrieked.

Since the cleats discovery, it appears that my daughter has been inadvertently sowing Cancer Seeds to blossom and grow throughout our house.  And not just our house: also, our car:

 

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So, that’s awesome.

I’m really still not as panicked about Cancer Nuggets as I am about possible concussions. And meanwhile, M’s little sister cheerfully reports that she’s learning to do back handsprings on the balance beam.

Maybe there’s something about the tangibility of these little Pellets of Doom. I see them, and I leap into action, vanquishing the scourge. If only every threat were so vulnerable to the vacuum cleaner.

Charmed Life

Guess what happened on Friday?

It was the 2nd annual Turkey Trot at M’s middle school. You might remember that M won the Turkey Trot last year. She was the top finisher and girl winner for the 6th grade. It meant quite a bit of glory. Later, some of the grown-ups said that they were even more impressed when she walked home after school, hauling the eighteen-pound frozen turkey.

As Turkey Trot season rolled around, we started out confident. Cute W planned to take the afternoon off to watch the run. I kept teasing M, “You’re bringing your mama a turkey, aren’t you?” Then I started lobbying to have a Friend Thanksgiving if she won. We could cook up the turkey and throw in some stuffing and cranberry sauce and invite all of her friends. I thought it was a clever idea, and a great way to finally get her to host something, since she never, ever wants to invite friends over to our house.

“No, Mom. We’re giving the turkey to charity,” she said.

“But, this could be fun. . .” I wheedled.

“Or, it could be braggy. Serving turkey to people I beat at winning a turkey.”

“But you’d be sharing the spoils of victory. . . .”

“Let’s share with people who need food. Seriously, Mom, what do you have against the homeless?”

Damn, she’s good. You can totally tell she’s got non-profit-attorney blood running through her veins.

But as the Big Day approached, we all stopped counting chickens.

M wanted a repeat victory. Bad. Usually, she’s chill. She is very good at being quite indifferent to the vagaries of middle school social life, for example. Which seems to be part of her mystique.

But, leading up to the Turkey Trot, M started going for runs. On the morning of the Turkey Trot, M requested a water bottle. “I’m going to hydrate all day,” she announced. This girl wanted to win. This made all of us a little nervous. One of M’s friends is a runner, doing track while M was doing soccer this fall. Surely she had a great chance. Then, as the day approached, Cute W decided not to come, after all. “I’m afraid that if she doesn’t in it this year, I’ll be the jinx.” I thought that this was silly, but when I told M what Cute W had said, she thought he shouldn’t come, too. “I mean,” she said, “What if he took that time off especially to come watch, and then I lost? He probably just shouldn’t come.” Well, I sure as heck was coming. And win or lose, this year I’d be prepared. I packed up extra warm clothes, a water bottle, and a couple of plastic barf bags. Just in case.

And then, she won. Again.

Which was awesome. She was so excited. She’d been nervous all day, she said. For the rest of the weekend, she kept saying out of the blue, “Guess what?” We’d reply, “What?” and she’d squeal, “I won a turkey!!”

But I felt a little bad, too. There were plenty of kids who were there just to have a good time, happy to participate. That SO wasn’t us. We were in it to win it. And then, I’m sure that there were other kids who really, really wanted to win, and didn’t. My kid is just so freaking lucky that sometimes it feels downright unfair to root for her.
Her grades are excellent, she is conventionally attractive, she starts on her soccer team. When middle school started she decided which people she wanted to be her new best friends, and suddenly they were. As far as I know, her first serious crush became her boyfriend. The first time she went to Dave & Buster’s with a bunch of friends, she got in line with a bunch of people for the giant claw game (you know: those total scam arcade games where you try to get a stuffed animal, and it drops every time?). She successfully clawed and won three different items in a single grab. That single incident is emblematic of her impossibly charmed life.And yes, yes: there’s effort there, too. She works for her grades, and she practices soccer footwork. But she also doesn’t have any learning challenges to overcome, and she has a devoted soccer-fiend dad.

I try to remind her that she is extraordinarily privileged. At some point Cute W and I let her watch Louis CK chatting with Jay Leno about being a “little white girl in America,” and I think that she honestly took it to heart. She tends to love reading stories where girls overcome adversity, including memoirs like  I Am Nujood, Age Ten and Divorced. And, closer to home, I’m always trying to ensure that she’s using whatever social power she has for Good instead of Evil. She was talking about someone off by themselves, and I jumped in, “Wait, did you try to include them? Remember, if someone’s alone, it’s really easy to help them feel included.” And she responded with, “Oh my gosh, Mom, I know that because you’ve only told me, like, a million, jillion times!” And I sat back, feeling very pleased with myself. She is also fortunate to have an excellent mother.

But it gets a little awkward sometimes. Like when I’m cheering at a soccer game: the best cheering is when the teams are only a couple of points aware from each other. If our team gets too far ahead, I feel morally obligated to start bucking up the opposing team. So, standing, shivering, along the Turkey Trot Race, I yelled for all the kids whose names I could remember. But I yelled for M, too.

That child needs a little adversity in her life. Other kids should get a chance to be winners. Even as her mother, it feels cosmically unfair of me to root for her above all others.

But root for her I do.

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Getting Ready for the Season

This morning, J practically danced out of the house and on her way to school. Why was she so excited? It was that smidgen of snow, the twinkle’s worth of frost. Winter is coming, and she’s vibrating with enthusiasm.  It’s funny: when kids are teensy, they don’t even remember the seasons. Every year, snow is a startling new discovery, the sizzling-hot summer pavement surprises them. We grown-ups sniff the air or watch the stores stockpiling shovels and shake our heads ruefully, knowing that winter is unavoidable. But J’s in that sweet spot. She forgets how inconvenient it is to peel off snow clothes on the way to the bathroom, that February winter-will-never-end feeling is a faraway memory. I think that the anticipation is heightened because we happen to be reading The Long Winter, in which Pa and Laura observe the muskrats and the birds and all sorts of other hints that their winter will be bad, so that it begins to feel like a scary movie in which the monster is Winter. I think it’s made J hyper-aware of the natural changes, even as she appreciates that, unlike De Smet, our town is practically overrun with supermarkets. No: as far as she can recall, winter has no drawbacks. It’s   a shiny destination packed with Christmas and skiing and snow days, and she can’t wait to get there. Her mother, on the other hands, has barely adjusted to autumn.

In fact, when I started to do a bit of blog maintenance, I realized that I’d accidentally trashed my Embrace Winter page, so I’ll have to put that back together. For now I’m coasting on apple orchards and a link to holiday stuff, although I have updated my events page.

Speaking of which, I’m a bit sad that I don’t have a link to my latest WNYT appearance [Update: here it is!], because I liked the theme particularly: great stories make great children’s theater. So I’m just going to give you a little repeat-plug here. I wrote an article about taking children to the theater, and experts recommend that you take little kids to shows that are stories that they already know. They’ll get excited about it, and it’s easier for them to follow the plot. And there are several different “great stories make great theater” opportunities coming up, including:

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Jack, The Beanstalk, and Friends at Steamer No. 10 Theatre this weekend. It’s a slapstick comedy adventure in which Jack encounters some of your favorite nursery rhyme characters, and Steamer 10 is a great “starter theater.”

This Saturday,  Lilly’s Purple Plastic Purse at The Egg is showing at at The Egg (Nelson Rockefeller Center for the Performing Arts) at 11 am. It’s a production by Omaha Theatre, and this is one of our favorites at our house. I’m a huge Kevin Henkes fan. One adult admitted free per child.

On Sunday at 3 pm, Pinkalicious the Musical is at the Palace Theatre. What’s more fun than a story kids love? Throw in some songs!

The Secret Garden opens at Capital Repertory Theatre on Friday the 21st. This is a Tony-Award winning musical that’s continuing deep into December, so it could be a great family outing.

And next Saturday, November 22nd, you can walk watch Peter & The Wolf An Urban Tale at The Egg  at 11 am. Choreographer Cartier Williams (who’s performed with Savion Glover) and his company of tap, ballet, hip-hop and modern dancers bring the famous cast of characters to New York City in the 21st century as they re-imagine this classic tale. This one’s a great deal: $10 for a child’s ticket, and each child can bring an adult for free.

 

Paracord Bracelets

When we decided to have J’s birthday party at Flight, I was a little concerned about how the party would flow. I’m used to at-home parties, and the typical Flight party is one hour of jumping followed by 45 minutes in a party room. We were going to have snacks and cake, but I was afraid that having them in a small-ish space for 45 minutes would make them feel like caged animals.

I was wrong: it would have been fine. But meanwhile, because I was worried about it, I thought a little craft might be a good idea.

And then I was exceptionally foolish, because I asked the birthday girl what craft she’d like to do. And then, when she said, “What about paracord bracelets?” I said okay.

That was too ambitious. But it actually went pretty well, anyway.

J had never made a paracord bracelet before, but M had frequently made them with help from her soccer coach, Coach K. So I figured that I could prepare for the party by asking Coach K which directions she followed, and then M and her friends could be my helpers. Except that it turns out that Coach K didn’t really follow any particular directions, or at least, none that could be located easily via Google or Youtube. Instead, every set of directions I found seemed more complicated than Coach K’s method, using a bunch more paracord, or starting with fusing two different-colored paracords together. Occasionally I’d find an easy-looking step-by-step, but then I’d ask M to look at it with me, and M would declare it the wrong, wrong, wrong way to do it. Then when I asked M to teach me the right way, she got stressed out. It began to escalate into Drama.

This went on for about a week. What was supremely frustrating about the whole endeavor was that I’d actually been in a room full of 7th graders who were making paracord bracelets about two days before J’s birthday craft request. Coach K was leading a group through the craft while I ignored them, choosing to drink  a glass of wine and chat with other parents instead.

Eventually, it was J’s birthday party eve and full-on desperation set it. I brought a bag full of supplies to a soccer game so that Coach K could give me my own private in-person tutorial in the parking lot by the soccer field. When I left you could tell that Coach K wasn’t feeling too optimistic about the whole situation, but I rushed home to make a bracelet before I forgot what she’d taught me, and I texted her a triumphant photo of a bracelet an hour or so later.

So, now that I’ve learned, I’m documenting Coach K’s/Katie’s simplified method of making paracord bracelets.

1. Gather supplies. To make one paracord bracelet for a small person, you’ll need:

2. Choose what color paracord you’d like to use. You’ll need two pieces of paracord, which can be different colors. Three and a half feet long is probably enough for a kid’s wrist. If you want to be extra cautious or make a bigger one, make the pieces longer. When I did this I was pretty hyper-paranoid. My pieces of paracord were each about 5 feet long, so I ended up wasting quite a bit.

3. Line the two cords up parallel to each other, and then string the one end of the pair of cords through one half of the paracord buckle. It doesn’t actually matter which half of the paracord buckle (meaning, the “male” or the “female” half–in the picture below the halves are  joined together) you string it through, because where the buckle attaches to the cord, both halves are basically the same. You do want to notice the curve of your paracord buckle. Some of them are straight, but if you happen to have a curved buckle, like I do in these pictures, then you’ll want to ensure that the curve follows the curve of the wrist and plan what will be the top/exterior vs. bottom/interior side of the bracelet. So, you’ll string the ends through the top of the buckle and end up with a bit of spare string–maybe an inch or so, that hangs on the bottom/interior part of your future bracelet.

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4. Tape this so that the four pieces are together and the buckle stays on. Then, thread the other ends of the paracord through the other side of the buckle.

5. Now you’ve got a loop of paracord that you can make larger or smaller, plus two long tails of paracord. At this point, you can carefully open the buckle and put your hand in, then get a sense of how long your bracelet will need to be. That depends on wrist size and how tight you’d like the bracelet to fit. Here I am trying it on–this is a bit too loose, actually:

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A good method is to make a snug fit, then add an inch or two of leeway. You’ll be able to adjust again later, if you’d like.

6. Once you’ve determined how long you want your bracelet to be, you’ll want to pinch that cord at the buckle and try to keep it in the same place as you remove the bracelet. Then you’ll have a loop with a long tail, and you’re almost ready to get started. If you look at the bracelet-in-progress below, I’m about to unclip the buckle, and I’ll start from the untaped end, on the right below. I’ll shift it so that part is on top, and I’ll be working with the two loose tails of paracord (on the right in the picture below), looping them around the base that forms a circlet here, which will become the core of the finished bracelet. Gradually I’ll work my way down to the bottom, where it’s taped.

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7. Coach K uses a clipboard to keep the bracelet in place and I think that that works best. So here’s where I’m about to get started, using the clipboard method:

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8. You’ll start with the color on your left (blue here). Now, if you care about what color shows up on the edges vs. in the middle of your bracelet, the color you start with will form the middle, and the second color you use will show up on the edges. So my bracelet will have a blue middle and yellow along the outside. You still have time to switch this up by rearranging it, now, if you want to do so.

9. Take the color to your left (from now on I’m going to use blue and yellow because it’s easier to follow, I think) and cross the blue over the two center “core” colors to look like the number 4. Like, so:

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10. Now we have 3 of our 4 strings involved, and you might be wondering what we’re doing with the yellow. That yellow tail is going to hang down over the blue tail that we just brought to the right:

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So the pattern is Over, Over, Under. As in, you took the blue, brought it Over the two strings in the middle, then Under the yellow one. This is going to be a mantra for you: Over, Over, Under.

11. But meanwhile, yellow still hasn’t done much. You’re going to take one hand and pinch that little spot in the middle of the original 4 where the blue crossed over. Grab all three of those cords simultaneously with one hand and then, with the other, take the end of the yellow and feed it up and through the loop that’s the enclosed part of your original 4. That’s what I did for this picture, except then I needed to use my left hand to hold the camera after I’d positioned the cord just so. Yes, I took the picture left-handed! I’m feeling super-talented.

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Here’s the same positioning, just with my hand out of the way:

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12. Then you pull the two ends. It won’t look like anything yet. The first time or two, you’ll need to be a bit gentle to keep the buckle in place. After that, you can choose to pull tightly or loosely, but be as consistent as you can so that the bracelet looks uniform.

13. Phew, are you exhausted already? Don’t worry: after the first couple of times, it will be quick and easy. The colors have switched sides, and since we always start with the same color, blue, you’re starting from the right this time. But just do the same thing in reverse. First, a 4, although it’s a backwards 4 this time, and then remember to go Over, Over, Under, although this time it’s starting from the right to left:

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14. Then take the yellow and feed it underneath right at the point of intersection (there’s extra yellow where my hand is–it’s all a long string):

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15. And pull again. It doesn’t look like much, yet:

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But have faith and keep plugging away, repeating Steps 9-15 a few times. Hooray, it’s starting to look like a bracelet!

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16. Continue until you’re approaching that section with the tape. The tape kept you from accidentally knocking the buckle off, and now you’re about to loop right over it. You can choose to leave the tape on, I suppose, but I like to cut it off.

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Whether you get rid of the tape or not, you’ll want to continue to treat the four strands of paracord as a single unit that will be the core of your bracelet. This is also an opportunity to make any last-minute sizing adjustments. You’re almost done with the bracelet, and you can shorten or lengthen that spare portion to adjust the bracelet’s size if you’d like. You can also trim off some of the extra cord here, but leave about an inch of excess that will be part of the core that you’re looping around. It really doesn’t look much thicker, even with the extra strands in there, and incorporating the ends will attach them firmly, so it looks like this:

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17. Keep looping until you get right up to the buckle.  Now, at some point, you’ll want to trim the excess paracord. I don’t like to do it yet, but I thought it looked clearer to get rid of it for these pictures. So you might want to go ahead a stay long for a bit yet. You’ll stuff the two ends of the paracord into the buckle where the rest of the bracelet is attached, like so:

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Notice, you’ll want to insert the extra from the top/exterior so that the ends will be on the bottom/interior side of the bracelet. Ah, that’s one, and here’s two end stuffed (the view’s from the top):

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18. Turn the bracelet over and loosen the cord a bit so that you can tuck the ends into some of the loops that you’ve already made. This can be a bit tricky, but you’re almost done.

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19. If you haven’t already trimmed the excess cord, now’s the time to do it. To keep this closed permanently, you’re going to use heat to fuse it together. If you look closely, you’ll see that the pretty colors surround a nylon core that melts and sticks together easily. See?

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20. If you’d like, you can strip away a bit of that color stuff to make it stick together better, but it didn’t seem really necessary when I did it. Just hold the spot over a flame for 10 or 20 seconds:

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Yep, both hands! J took that photo for me. While it’s still melty and malleable, you can smoosh the bracelet against something quickly (if you have big scissors, the blades of the scissors work) to encourage the bits to stick together. Let it cool, and you’re done!

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Now, what if you are crazypants and want to help a bunch of kids do this at a party, for example? Well, I’m adding the modifications I used to make this work for a group, and where in the process I’d do them.

Steps 4-6: For J’s party, I pre-cut and paired a bunch of color combinations, added the buckle and the tape, and hang them off of our dining room chairs. When the girls arrived at the party, I asked them to choose a color combination, and then we checked the fit on their wrists.

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Step 7. Once we’d gotten their bracelet choice, each child was released into the wild. You can attach the bracelet to a clipboard or a piece of sturdy cardboard with a binder clip. Label with a name, and you’re all set.

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Steps 9-15. I think that starting off the bracelet is the toughest part, so I did Steps 9-15 for each kid’s bracelet while they were jumping around and Cute W was taking pictures. Should I have been soaking up the fun and reveling in this, my child’s only tenth birthday party ever? Probably. Whatever. It’s too late now. But, this is do-able: that’s the point. If you have a couple of competent parents to help you or if you’re doing a sleepover and have a bit more time, that would allow you to relax more than I did. The kids still do plenty of the bracelet themselves.

When it’s craft time, you can hand out the boards and give the kids a quick tutorial on how to get started, then  walk around and help where it’s needed. It’s pretty easy to spot if they’re doing something wrong, because the pattern won’t look corrrect.

Step 16. I should have paid more attention to how quickly some kids were going so that I could jump in before they started weaving over the tape. They really didn’t care, but it’s a tip that I bequeath to you, gentle reader.

Step 17. By this point, most kids aren’t particularly interested in “finishing off” the bracelet, and they’re happy to have you do the last part for them. Luckily, since they’re all progressing at their own pace, you don’t have everyone asking you for help at once. At our party, we definitely needed a bit more time, especially since we’d packed the bracelet-making in with snacking and birthday cake singing-and-eating in 45 minutes. But the girls ran off and played while Cute W and I fussed over bracelets with the lighter, and it didn’t take too much time.

In my opinion, the bracelet can really function as your goody bag/gift, too, because the finished product is nicer than most of that party favor stuff.

Under the Radar

Back when M decided to shave her head, I remember thinking that there might be an unintentional perk to the whole bald thing. Maybe, I thought, losing the super-attractive flowing locks would postpone possible romantic entanglements.

It turns out that this wasn’t the case at all. M has had a “boyfriend” for months now, and the only reason why I put this in quotation marks is because the relationship consists almost entirely of texting and group outings. I was clearly underestimating middle school boys, or at least one clever middle school boy, who is not so focused on hairstyle that he doesn’t notice M’s overall awesomeness. And that’s all I’ll say about that, because I know M has no desire for me to share any other information with you. Sorry, folks.

But the short hair gets interesting reactions. Around the time that she got a little trim, M mentioned,  “Yeah, Mom, women in, like, their 20s up to your age are always saying how much they like it.” After she called my attention to it, I noticed how true this is. Women gush about her hair, even when I restrain myself from bragging about the charity angle. We’re talking frequent, fervent compliments. Which has made me think about why their response is so supportive. I think it’s because it would be so easy for her to go for the sort of cookie-cutter conventional prettiness that so many of us women craved in middle school. Turning her back on all that is a bold choice.

But beyond that, as we navigate early adolescence, I’ve been feeling particularly grateful for M’s style these days. Along with her uniform of jeans and t-shirts, M’s short hair makes it easy for people to mistake her for a boy.  Anyone looking carefully would realize that the shapeless soccer t-shirt is paired with decidedly feminine skinny jeans, and that the punky hair-do is framing bone structure that’s all girl, but she easily “passes” as a boy.

I’ve been thinking of it in those terms because right now I’m reading The Underground Girls of Kabul: In Search of a Hidden Resistance in Afghanistan, by Jenny Nordberg. It’s a fascinating account of girls pretending to be boys for a variety of reasons. For many of them, puberty ends their life as a boy, and they’re  pushed into the much more constrained existence of an Afghan woman. In one scene, a young woman who is old enough to drive has been pressured by her male relatives to start wearing a headscarf. She’s driven around with uncovered, short hair without any trouble, but once she’s clearly identifiable as a woman, the other drivers honk and jeer at her, boxing her vehicle, and generally try to punish her for having the audacity to be a woman who drives. Once she finally gets clear of them, she rips off the scarf so that she can fly under the radar again.

At our annual elementary school Halloween parade, there are always several 5th grade girls who’ve hit puberty, and some of them are wearing costumes that would be fine on a younger girl, but suddenly look awfully tacky. I always feel so bad for these girls! For some, their bodies have moved on without them. And of course, some of them are super excited to have actual breasts to show off. It is super-cool to finally get some breasts. The same costumes that are adorable on one body that transform into something else entirely on another body, and it’s unfair. It stinks. Some of these poor girls have no idea that they’re in for a societal smackdown, an encounter with male ickiness.

Sexual harassment’s been a hot topic lately (Jessica Williams on The Daily Show   repeatedly, that woman in NYC video and its Funny or Die white man spoof and the latest, Elon James White‘s  #DudesGreetingDudes). I guess it’s a good thing, if it’s helping people (nice men) to understand how bad it can be.  There’s also been plenty of talk about dress codes (the most recent was a protest that had all the boys wearing short-shorts, but there have been plenty of other incidents lately), and it sure doesn’t help that clothes that aren’t teensy and tight can be pretty hard to find. But it’s heartbreaking to think of all of those girls who are dressing themselves, looking in the mirror happy and confident, and then they’re stepping out into a world where they’re judged and abused and made to feel ashamed. And the truth is, locally, dress codes are lax, and you can see some choices that are. . . well, not the best choices possible. But then you’ve got to wonder, what’s going on with this girl? There are times I’d love to offer a little guidance, but I’m not in charge of them. And schools that are policing girls’ yoga pants rather than telling boys to stop harassing them are ridiculous. Because plenty of us have been harassed in jeans and a plain shirt (like the NYC video, which was unbelievably boring to any woman who’s ever walked around NYC by herself).

Shortly after I started high school, a group of older boys came up with a name for me, apparently inspired by the way I walked. I don’t know: I hurried. My hips rolled. I don’t know what it was. But it went on for years, and I hated it. I had girlfriends who were jealous. Every once in a while, on a good day, I’d feel flattered. I was a lowly freshman, and older boys, guys who could drive, knew who I was. But usually it was awful. There was a long lobby to walk across between classes, and guys would congregate and yell. I’d get off the school bus and try to decide whether I should stand stock-still nearby to avoid walking or leave as quickly as possible, knowing that the faster I walked, the more I’d entertain. Or I’d be away from school, unguarded, and then someone would be there, looking and talking, and it felt like nowhere was safe. It made me embarrassed and self-conscious, but I generally kept my sobbing about it to myself. Girls weren’t sympathetic and adults literally said “Boys will be boys” to me. It made me feel bad about myself. Before that, I was relatively happy with my body, comfortable in my own skin. Heck, I liked my walk. But those assholes made me feel awful about it for years.

It’s depressing that my girls are heading into this territory. With all of discussion about it and plenty of brave women fighting back lately, it makes it feel like things could change for the better. Eventually. At some point. But not soon enough for them.

So for now, I’m grateful that M’s short hair and baggy soccer shirts help her fly under the radar.

Creative Cooking

Mmmm, doesn’t it look delicious?

Oh. . . wait. That’s just my 10-year-old gathering random things from around the lawn. Still, looks pretty tasty to me. Come to think of it, wasn’t I just hearing about people eating their acorns? Maybe she’s just ahead of the trends.

Last night I was feeling pretty good at about 6:15 pm.  A dinner that included five different vegetables was ready in a warm oven, the kitchen was relatively clean, and my children were hanging out with each other with the tv off and all of their homework complete. I was smiling to myself, and maybe I was getting a bit too cocky for The Universe. Because then I did something I’ve done at least forty times before without incident, set a warm pan into the sink to fill it with soapy water, and. . .

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Dang-it. Apparently the pan was extra warm or the sink was extra cold. In any case, my 90-minute streak of Completely Rocking My Life came to an abrupt end. Oh, well. At least that’s one fewer dish to wash, right?

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 arrive 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:

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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:

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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).

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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!

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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:

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And here’s the back.

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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.

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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!

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

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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”:

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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.

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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:

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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:

 

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

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Ta da!

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