Crafts

It was a beautiful day to hunt down and bag our Christmas tree!

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We ended up going with the widest tree we’ve ever had. M has named it “Plumpy.” The girls found the tree and I was skeptical but unwilling to quash their enthusiasm. “That one’s really nice, girls, ” I said. “Did you see the two that Dad and I saw? Or what about that one over there? . . . Or. . . .” Nope. They had their tree. It’s going to be a little bit difficult to open our front door for the next few weeks, but you know, whatever.

Now it’s decorated, the stockings are hung, we’ve polished off a bottle of prosecco and two bottles of sparkling juice, and the girls are hunkered down in front of A Charlie Brown Christmas. Hooray.

Over the weekend, J and I attended not one, but two crafting sessions.

On Friday, it was  the elementary school crafting night. I said that I’d help at one of the craft tables, but I couldn’t be extra-early. You know what that means, right? As volunteers arrive, they  I could only arrive, gravitate to crafts that are (1) adorable or (2) easy or, ideally, both. Those of us who arrive late get crafts that are slightly less adorable and/or high-maintenance. Considering my arrival time, my assigned craft wasn’t too bad: dream catchers. Okay, yes, there was quite a bit of tying, but neither glue nor sparkles, so that rocks. And I thought the craft was pretty cute. Here’s what we used:

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Our superb volunteer organizer had already done quite a bit of prep work. She’d cut the middles out of paper plates, punched holes into them, and tied a little ribbon loop to the top. So we had literally stacks of the prepped plates, plus tons of feathers, beads, and rainbow yarn. We could have used from scissors–I swiped a pair from another table and everyone did a good job with sharing.

To make the dream catcher, the kids just tied one end of yarn to one of the punched holes, like so. . .

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And then went across the paper plate and poked the yarn through another hole, then moved over one hole to pull the yarn back out. . .

 

 

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. .  .  and then they kept going back and forth until they’d gone to all the holes. Huh. Now that I’m writing this, I’m realizing that my sample would have looked better if I’d gone straight across and looped once over the right in that first move above. Well, whatever. Also, our kids generally ran out of string before they ran out of holes, and then panic would ensue, but really, they just needed another piece of string. Once they’d strung hither, thither, and yon, they tied their string to keep it secure. Then I’d have them hold the plate by the hanging loop so that they could figure out where the bottom was, and we’d take a shorter piece of yarn and make a “U,” putting each end through one of the bottom two holes.

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Then they added a few beads to one of the ends of yarn and tied the yarn around a feather or two, then repeated with the other end of yarn (trimming it if it was too long).

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Then, ta-da! They were ready to catch some dreams!

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On Saturday, it was our church’s Homemade Holidays event, and my favorite new craft were paper sphere ornaments that the organizer had prepared after finding it on Martha Stewart’s website. I often expect Martha to be way too complicated, but once in a while she has a real gem, and this craft is simple and elegant. You need paper that you cut into strips (she suggests cards, but I think we used scrapbook stock, and it worked out great), a hole punch, and paper fasteners.

Start with paper cut into strips with holes punched on each end. Stack them up so that the patterned sides are all facing the same way, and then  use a paper fastener to attach them together on each end.

 

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At our craft station, we were using little pieces of pipe cleaner to make hanging loops, but I think I’d like a bit of thread or an inconspicuous hook better. Once both ends are attached, you can just gently pull the strips apart into a sphere shape. If it’s not pretty easy to do, you just have to loosen the paper fasteners.

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Look how cute!

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We just put these on the tree, and they looked even prettier with the lights–someone settled the pink one so that a pink light happened to settle inside, and it made the interior glow. So that we took the yellow one and set it on a yellow light on purpose, and the overlapping paper makes a pretty star shadow. And when it’s time to put them away, we can put them back into little stacks of paper so that they won’t get crushed.

Oh! Here’s a link to my tv appearance.

If you’re looking for more holiday crafts, I have links on this page.

 

Updates

I’ve updated the events page.

If you don’t “like” my Facebook page, you may have missed my review of The Secret Garden at Capital Repertory Theatre. We really loved this play, but it’s not necessarily a good choice for little kids. You can read the review for details.

I’m going to be on Newschannel 13 Live at Noon tomorrow (Friday) talking about free holiday fun around the Capital District. If they post the segment on their website later, I’ll share it with you, of course.

Holly brought some candy this morning. About damn time that elf started spreading holiday cheer.

Holly Returns

On Monday, J sighed and said, “Do you think that our elf is going to come back this year?”

Dammit.

Holly the Elf is, like, the bane of my existence in December. I tried to find one post for a bit of back history for you, but there were tons of references to Holly the Elf, mostly my struggle to remember to move her, or my scares when J would come downstairs after bedtime and see her hanging around in my laundry basket, waiting for me to come up with something to do with her. This just isn’t one of my high-skill areas, parenting-wise. J’s still in that territory where she doesn’t quite believe in everything anymore, but she still wants to believe. And so, when she’s asking for Holly, I’m going to do my best to give her Holly.

But it ain’t easy, yo.

First, where the hell did I put the damn thing? The trouble with Holly is that she can’t be stored with all of the other Christmas decorations. She’s supposed to be at the North Pole! And sometimes J helps me unpack the storage boxes. So when J asked about Holly, already mildly disappointed that she hadn’t shown up for December 1st, the traditional first day of Household Observation, my face smiled while anxiety flooded from my heart and pooled in my abdomen. “I don’t know if she’ll come back, hon. I guess we’ll see.” I continued to pack J’s backpack while taking mental inventory of my various hidey-holes around the house.

Once she was off to school, it was time to start ransacking the house. With my enthusiasm so low, the last thing I wanted to do was buy another one of these overpriced dollies. But I knew I would. First I checked official hiding places. Then I tried to reconstruct what might have happened last year.

Usually, I reasoned, I stuff Holly into the laundry area on December 26th. Then she lounges among the miscellaneous laundry debris (pennies, hair elastics, wadded-up receipts, etc.) for a week or so before I come up with something better. But, last year, did I ever come up with anything better? Maybe not.  In which case, I would have stuffed her into a plastic bag and flung her up somewhere that was too high for J to reach. And from there I checked out the messy shelves above my washer and dryer . . .

 

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. . . and moved that crate filled with the iron that only comes out for crafting projects because I don’t actually iron clothes; as well as a gallon of distilled water that I bought for something–maybe the iron, once?–and kept in case I’d need it for something else, then forgot about for three or four years;  along with miscellaneous rags, which tend to gather because I am far better at putting holes in socks than I am at cleaning the house with spare rags. And once I’d moved all that aside,

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there she was! Nestled between the cheap plastic deli platter I think I might use someday and the bleach that lasts months at our house because I seem to be incapable of doing a bleach wash without putting a spot somewhere in the breast vicinity of whatever top I’m wearing. Hooray for Holly!

Now, in the process of dismantling my piles of junk in the name of Elf Excavation, I managed both to re-discover and to puncture the gallon of distilled water. So my moment of triumph was marred by the epic spill all over myself and my immediate vicinity before I put the leaky gallon container into a large bowl.

Then, I had to come up with someplace to put Holly so that it would appear as if Holly were in the house this morning and no one had found her. I helped her build a small fort with the tree skirt that’s awaiting our tree

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and tucked her into it with a board book, so she could read up on her Elfin Duties.

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Crap. According to the literature, apparently she and I are going to have to make some Christmas balls to hang on the tree. Add it to my “to do” list, I guess.

J was excited to stumble upon her later that evening, even if she didn’t arrive bearing gifts.

Then yesterday, I set Holly the Elf next to our spider plant, because I wanted J to notice that we’re actually getting flowers or spider babies or something.

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The plant success is amazing, because we’ve had this plant for years, and it’s always been somewhat sickly. It had brown leaves and it always looked droopy. Recently I trimmed it and put it somewhere else, and it’s suddenly revitalized. In fact, I was looking into exactly what was going on with this plant the other day, and I found an encyclopedic page full of questions and answers about the care of spider plants. You will never guess what the cure for brown-tipped leaves is! Switch from regular water to distilled for watering!  I am not even kidding. All of this actually happened. So I salvaged that last cup of distilled water and put it in a new container, which I then tossed up into that crate, where I may or may not forget it.

And then, this morning, guess where Holly appeared?

. . . . .

Sitting on the lamp, next to the spider plant. That’s right, folks. It’s only December 3rd, and I’ve already forgotten to move the damn elf. Do you know how it feels to wake up all snuggly in your bed ten minutes before you actually have to get out of the bed, and you’re excited that you’ve got a little extra snoozing time and you start pondering your day and then you realize that YOU’VE ALREADY FAILED TODAY’S PARENTING without even having gotten out of bed or interacted with anyone?!?!

I will tell you.

It feels bad.

Cute W has now set a daily alarm on his watch to help with the Holly effort, but meanwhile, of course, people who are much better and more enthusiastic parents than I am have taken pictures of their clever Elf High Jinks and posted them on Facebook and no matter how lovely these people are, if they were actually in my presence, I’d have to restrain myself from pinching them very, very hard. Because, this morning, they brought their children Joy and Wonder and I brought my child Low-Level Disappointment and Resignation.

Meanwhile, all of those parents who were feeling so self-satisfied about their Fabulous Elf Antics have been knocked off of the Most Awesome Parent podium because all the truly cool parents have moved on to Kindness Elves. I mean, come on. If the Kindness Elves weren’t so kind, they might tell those stupid elves who spent last night toilet-papering their host kids’ bathroom to go suck it. The Kindness Elves appear to be composed entirely of organic materials, and they do wonderful things like  successfully move every night, traveling in a festive group, bringing inspiration for thoughtfully planned little projects to spread love and good cheer to others, all assigned with long, adorable notes so that the entire family can bond with each other while laboring to make the world a better place with their own small efforts. Surely such elves will cultivate the best possible human beings in whatever household they visit. I mean, it’s a wonderful, wonderful idea.

But that won’t happen here. I can barely manage to move my trendy, self-absorbed, materialistic elf.

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?