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.

DSC00306

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:

1

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.

DSC00260

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:

DSC00266

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:

DSC00267

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:

DSC00268

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.

DSC00269

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

DSC00270

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:

DSC00273

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):

DSC00275

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

DSC00277

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

DSC00280

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.

DSC00281

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:

DSC00282

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:

DSC00284

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):

DSC00286

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.

DSC00290

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?

DSC00291

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:

DSC00292

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!

DSC00298

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.

DSC00074

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.

DSC00309

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. . .

DSC00240

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:

IMAG0002_COVER

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:

IMAG0542

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).

DSC00143

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!

DSC00079

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:

DSC00137

And here’s the back.

DSC00139

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.

DSC00141

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!

DSC00146

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

DSC00144

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.

SONY DSC

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:

SONY DSC

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:

 

DSC00057

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

DSC00071

Ta da!

DSC00072

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.

DSC00025

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

DSC00036

or their little “Sound Garden”

DSC00043

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:

DSC00044

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

DSC00033

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.

DSC00007

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

DSC00009

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

 

DSC00010

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:

DSC00011

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.

 

Birthdays

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.

20141012_190632

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.