Monday, July 30, 2012

Top Secret Spy Birthday

Last Saturday we had some friends over to celebrate Jonah's 10th birthday with a spy party. The first major "win" for the party was finding this packet of printable party things. It was a life saver and a bargain at $16. I also found a blog post about another spy party and basically copied everything they did. What would I ever do without the internet?

Jonah's cake was the bomb, literally. I used the Wilton sphere cake pan and made--for the first time--fondant. I was walking a fine line between disaster and success. But I had my sister Angela there to help, and as it turned out, four hands were exactly what was needed to get the fondant to comply with our wishes. 

When the guests arrived, they picked their disguise and got their picture snapped for their Special Agent badge. Then it was onto their spy training activities, starting with code cracking. I used Wingdings font and typed out a few kid's jokes and Chuck Norris facts for them to decode.

Ethan was our super junior agent trainer and took everyone outside for the next activity. . .

. . . spy extraction. The agents used their water guns to free a fellow spy/action figure from a block of ice. We had a bucket of water for quick fills and Ethan brought a little salt shaker in case things went too slowly. They didn't.

Training went back into the house for laser beam avoidance. The laser beams, by the way, were set up to protect the present table. Because you never know when your presents might be in jeopardy. Presents, really, are always in jeopardy.

Junior agents tried to get through the laser field without getting slashed to bits. Thankfully, they did great. And they took the task very seriously. And this is where my party photography stopped.

The final training activity was bomb detection. Ding Dongs were hidden around the yard and neighborhood with clues leading agents to each one. After all the bombs were discovered, the junior agents headed back into the house to be sworn in.

But when they entered the house, they found out the birthday presents had been STOLEN! Where a stack of gifts had once been, now a single manila envelope lay. Trainer Ethan opened the envelop to reveal that two traitors were in the ranks: Mom and Angela! And now they were no where to be found. An audio file was played on the computer with my voice stating the presents had been taken for their own good and that they would never find them. Muahahahaha! 

Another message--written in code--revealed our hiding place at the playground.

Ethan made sure that the agents armed themselves with fresh water in their guns and headed out to apprehend us. But after dousing us thoroughly with water, we told them that we'd been set up and that a message in our pockets revealed the real traitor. When they decoded the message, they found out ETHAN had been the traitor all along!

We ran back to the house to try and find him, recovered the presents and congratulated ourselves on a successful mission. 

Then we had cake, lunch and opened presents--not in that order--and everyone went home. 


So glad that's over.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Good Old Days, With a Side of Coulrophobia

I'm looking for vintage pictures of boys for a book I'm putting together of all my "How To Be A Boy" posts. I'm searching for pictures of boys being boys: getting dirty, playing with bugs, getting into trouble, with grass-stains and holes in their pants, swimming, fishing, camping and anything else that is quintessentially boy.

And then I found this.

The thing that strikes me most about this picture is the boy: he seems so pleased to be sitting next to this nightmare personified. Meanwhile, the clown has that far-a-way look in his eyes, like he's just imagining what this kid will taste like medium-rare. Sorry, it's true. Look at those eyes!

I guess there was a time when creepy clowns were not creepy (Probably around the same time eating meat and vegetable-filled Jell-o was the norm). Instead, they possessed had magical healing properties. Or maybe the prevailing wisdom was that a grown man in face paint would simply scare the sick out of any hospital-bound child.

However, no sugar-coated explanation can distract from the creep-factor in this kid. You might be able to convince someone this was just how they did things back in the 60's. Clowns were cool. Clowns were The Thing. That somehow, even with this kid's I'll-see-you-in-your-nightmare smirk, clowns were nothing to be afraid of. 

Until he picks up the gun.

Sweet dreams!

Monday, July 16, 2012

How to be a Boy, Teen Edition: Brushing Your Teeth

Brushing our what?

Oh, so that's what that bristly thing in the bathroom drawer is.

Hmm, interesting.

Once a week should probably be enough, right?

Saturday, July 14, 2012

In Which a 40-Something Woman Develops a Fear of Dogs

I've ridden my bike once since the accident. But that was definitely a "getting back on the horse" type of experience. Walking has simply seemed like a less risky form of exercise. Because if an unleashed, unpredictable dog can step into the path of your bike once, it could certainly happen again.

Tumbling over the handlebars of my bike and into the grassy shoulder of the Pirate Park path after t-boning an energetic Labrador left me with nothing more than some barely brag-worthy road rash. I didn't even manage an impressive bruise, although these 40-something bones were achy for a good week.

And while a very small part of me felt vetted as a biker, the bigger part of me didn't want the uncertainty of the "dog factor" again. And so now I walk. And I feel great. Unless an unleashed dog happens to show interest in me. And they have shown interest in me. Maybe because I'm moving so quickly, or maybe there is just some animalistic need to smell me. But they sometimes get right up in my business and I have to swerve or slow down or risk getting my legs tangled up with dog legs and once again, ending up on the ground at the expense of an unleashed dog.

I never noticed how many dogs go unleashed until my tumble. In fact, I barely had the dog/leash/owner on my radar. I was in the zone and paid attention only long enough to navigate around them as I biked or jogged or walked by.

Now, when I see a dog loping ahead of their owner, my survival instincts kick in. "Potential threat at 12 o'clock," I seem to hear from the far corner of my hypothalamus. My body prepares to evade the four-legged free-spirit while I start to steam passive aggressively: Clearly societal rules apply to everyone except you and your dog, I think. Apparently, your dog is perfectly capable of forgoing millennia of inbred animal instinct to not chase something that moves. Undoubtedly, you've decided to agree with your dog, that you are indeed some kind of all-powerful deity and have no need for silly, mortal, Pirate Park path courtesies.

Is it so hard to hold the end of a leash in your hand? Try having it around your neck, Narcissus.

And it's so cute how you think shouting, "He's friendly!" should be enough to calm any and all distress; that you think runners/bikers/walkers have just been hoping a friendly dog would approach them to play while they try and keep their heart rate up and burn calories so they can enjoy a couple cookies later in the day. (Okay, five cookies.)

Newsflash: If I wanted to play with a dog, I'd have one of my own.

And most importantly, he'd be on a stinking leash.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Happy . . . Oh, Whatever

Yesterday Jonah turned ten years old. It was a day I was determined to get right.

Just a few weeks ago, when I was looking over my archive of family photos, I noticed that I didn't have a single picture of Jonah's birthday for about three years. I know we must have had little parties for him. I clearly recall one in which Ethan did some magic. But I can't find a single photo of his birthday.

Jonah is the middle child, and as much as I tried not to, I've neglected him. I'm a failure as a mother!

But not this year. This year there would be presents and blog posts and facebook posts and activities and fun and memories aplenty! But more importantly, there would be pictures.

Jonah wanted a blueberry pie for his birthday "cake" so we started off the day picking blueberries--even though the U-pick field was not technically open for business yet. We had the place to ourselves!

After blueberry picking, we went to 7-11 for their free Slurpees in honor of July 11, or 7-11. We like to think of it as 7-11's way of saying Happy Birthday Jonah!

The remainder of the day included lunch at Chevy's, complete with singing waiters, a sombrero, and a special ice cream treat, a one-day reprieve from No Screen Summer, a dinner of hotdogs and watermelon (Jonah's special request) and swimming. I didn't get picture of all those things unfortunately.

I purchased several fun presents, even though Jonah would only tell me two things he wanted. "A Pokemon deck of cards" and "button batteries" for his sonic screwdriver. I somehow managed to figure out several other gifts he would hopefully like, wrapped them in fun robot paper and set them out near his cooling birthday pie. 

Jonah walked through the kitchen and spotted the wrapped presents, honed in on one, picked it up and declared, "I didn't want a Pokemon deck of cards! Why did you get me a Pokemon deck of cards?"

Naturally, I felt blind sided. And not just because he can tell what I got just from the shape of the wrapped box. "Because you asked for a Pokemon deck of cards," I offered.

"No! I didn't." Now the tears were coming. "I said the only thing I DIDN'T want was a Pokemon deck of cards.

My mind played back the scene from less than 24 hours ago. Jonah was hovering around the display of Pokemon cards at Fred Meyer. He pointed out a Pokemon DECK and said, "See mom, just like this." I know that is what he said and I will know it till the day I die.

It was about this time that I felt this, maybe, could have something to do with why I don't have a lot of pictures of Jonah's birthday. Or Ethan's birthday. (Somehow Isaac has birthday pictures galore!)

I was able to get Jonah to stop crying long enough to pose for a picture with his pie and open his other presents: a shrinky dink set, a window-cling craft set, a how-to-draw-dragons book, and, of course the button batteries. I'd done okay.

But that didn't mean that I didn't have to return the Pokemon cards (original demand was for the return to happen that same night but I stood my ground and insisted on first thing the next morning), for two packs of Pokemon cards that even though Jonah chose himself, had to be brought home and wrapped.

And if there are not very many pictures of Jonah's birthday, that is why.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Telling Secrets

There is something about bedtime that erases all kid-related unpleasantness from the day. When I see my little boys snuggled up in their covers, with the bedroom lights on low and the fresh smell of toothpaste on their breath, it's as if all my boys' best qualities have risen into view right along with the night moon.

They are cute and sweet and clever and oh, so precious.

And that may be why during bedtime long ago, I started telling them secrets. I believe the secrets were originally a way to distract them and settle them down; maybe keep one quiet while the other prayed? Sooth hurt feelings of one when the other got to pick the night's CD.

However it started, this is what happened: I leaned in close to one of my children and started whispering. "I love you very much. Today when you helped me take the garbage out and I didn't even have to ask, that made me so happy. I love the way you are responsible with practicing the piano and can tell you are learning a lot. I love to hear you play the piano. I am so glad I get to be your mom."

As I whispered these secrets, whoever I was whispering to would get very still and very quiet. And usually, after I finished telling the secrets, they stayed still and quiet. Win-win!

The other day Jonah and Isaac reminded me that I hadn't told them bedtime secrets for a while and said it was something they both really loved. (Just as a side note, and in case the sound of little birds chirping and sappy violin music is getting too loud, this all stemmed from a conversation about whether or not I'd ever spanked my kids. I have, and what little spanking occurred, generally occurred around bedtime. But miraculously, the boys don't ever remember being spanked. They DO, however, remember The Secrets.)

That night at bedtime Jonah reminded me, "tell us secrets, mom." So I did.

I leaned in close and whispered the best things I could think of: How Jonah is so creative and expresses complicated ideas through drawings and how wonderful I think he is. I went on and on and was pretty proud of my original and meaningful examples of Jonah's unique personality and positive qualities.

I am creating wonderful memories. I am a Good Mom!, I thought

I finished and stepped back, ready to bask in the look of wonder and confidence in Jonah's face that I'd created.

"That's exactly what you said last time," he said.

"I did?" Hadn't it been more than six months since the last time I did this?

"Yep. Can I get another secret?"

Um, I kind of said everything I could think of.

"Only one secret a night," I said quickly. And while I pondered the rejection of my verbal gift, any potential disappointment was outweighed by the realization that he'd remembered.

But best of all, he doesn't remember me ever spanking them.

Monday, July 9, 2012

How to be a Boy: Packing for Scout Camp (or, How to get Your Mom to Hem Your Pants at 10:45 pm)

You're going to Scout Camp! Prepare yourself for a week of maximum fun and minimum hygiene. All you have to do is gather some pants, socks, underwear, a toothbrush (Oh, who are we kidding. You're not going to brush your teeth) and your Boy Scout handbook and throw them all into a backpack. Does this task seem overwhelming? Well, that's because it is.

Why don't you sit down and play a few on-line games and let your dad do the dirty work. When he asks you to help, let him know you're confident he can handle packing. When he insists you come upstairs and find the flashlight and compass in your mess of a bedroom, give yourself about ten more minutes on the game and then walk slowly upstairs.

Stand at your bedroom door and scan the room for your flashlight and compass. You don't see it, of course. Your room is a mess. All you can see is dirty clothes, a couple empty chip bags, and every piece of the board game Risk. Go back downstairs to your computer game and let your dad finish up.

The night before you leave, stay up late watching TV even though you have to wake up at 4:30 am the next morning. Before you go to bed, rifle through the clothes on the floor to find something to wear the next day. Make sure that each item of clothing is official Boy Scout clothing even though official Boy Scout clothing is not mandatory.

When you notice you can't find your favorite official Boy Scout pants, interrogate your mom. She does the laundry after all. Where did she put it?

"I think dad packed your pants," she suggests. "Why don't you wear the official Boy Scout pants I bought you two months ago?"

"Those aren't official Boy Scout pants," you tell her. "They're blue, not green."

"But the tags say, 'official Boy Scout uniform,'" she says. "Why don't you just try them on?"

Do some huffing and puffing about trying on pants. Why does this have to be so hard? You have to get up early, after all. You don't have time for this. Start to try the pants on over your pajama bottoms, then huff a little more when your mom tells you to take your pj's off.

Well, look at that! The pants are too long. These will never work. "I'll have to tuck them into my shoes!" you complain. "Why did you pack my Scout pants anyway?"

There is no possible way you will be ready to go to Scout camp now. You might as well just not go!

"I'll hem the pants for you," your mom offers. "Just go to bed and I'll hem them for tomorrow."

Then go to bed and sleep well. You'll be going to Scout camp tomorrow.

Friday, July 6, 2012

The Hat

This is Ethan before going to work at Camp Ireland Cub Scout Day Camp. He is a staffer who will help Cub Scouts learn and have fun throughout the summer. It's been his dream to work at Camp Ireland, ever since going as a Cub Scout himself, eight years ago.

As part of his uniform, Ethan got a coat and hat that say, "Camp Ireland," and "Staff." He wears them, along with his Scout socks, pants, belt and shirt (two Scout shirts, actually) each day with pride.

I think the hat has magical powers.

The hat has caused Ethan to start tucking in his shirt. It has caused him to--dare I say it--act responsibly by doing things like packing his own lunch and practicing magic tricks he'll be doing at camp. The hat has made him wake up on time each day and get ready without any nagging or prodding from me.

The hat has caused him to mature several years in just one day. It's boosted his confidence and changed his attitude. He wears the hat even when he changes out of his scout clothes. He wore it to light fireworks on the 4th of July and when we went shopping for a tiny tube of toothpaste for his own week at Scout camp. 

I arrived a little early to pick him up yesterday and listened as they practiced the Camp Ireland song. They were pumping their fists and shouting in unison the words to the song. There was this feeling of belonging and camaraderie that was so uplifting. And every staffer was wearing their special hats. 


Thursday, July 5, 2012

The Jell-o Project: Fancy Schmancy (Or, Total Request Jell-o, Part 2)

When I returned from my trip to California last week, there was a letter waiting from my sister in Virginia. She'd photo copied a recipe for Raspberry Chocolate Gelatin from a magazine and folded it up and put it in an envelope, stamped and addressed it, and mailed it through the postal service to my house here in Portland. Let's hear it for snail mail! (Ironically, this exact recipe was also one of the three Betsy had sent electronically through Facebook only days earlier.)

Like the watermelon lime squares, this recipe doesn't exactly use Jell-o brand gelatin, but rather plain gelatin and pure fruit. And, since it's raspberry season here in the Pacific Northwest, and since I was having a little soiree for the 4th of July, I thought it would be the perfect time to try it out.

The mold is a Dixie cup, which makes each of these little desserts the perfect size for sampling. Jell-o phobes don't have to make a big commitment to the jiggly stuff and could be more likely to indulge. So that's a plus.

Another Dixie cup plus: when it comes to unmolding, you simply rip the cup away to reveal a perfect little mold. No need to dip the mold in warm water while trying to coax your creation onto a plate in once piece.

Straining the raspberry pulp was time consuming, but I let gravity do most of the work while I worked on creating a layered cornbread salad, also for the 4th of July get-together. Other than that, the preparation of this dessert was quite straightforward.

And now for the taste reaction:

I loved the taste of pure raspberry gelatin and the chocolate provided a nice contrast to the fruit. The texture was a little firm. I guessed that most people, upon seeing the dessert, would anticipate creaminess rather than jiggliness and would find the firmness off-putting. The next time I create this dessert, I'll try it with half the gelatin. It's possible that the structural integrity will be compromised, but maybe not.

Robert happily ate all of his raspberry chocolate gelatin, but would not comment. He instead gave me a knowing look that said, "I refuse to answer on the grounds you will blab everything I say on your blog."

This shrewd move caused any other comments to be curtailed, so I had only the powers of observation at my disposal. Although, dear Bekah said she liked it and would happily eat another if she hadn't been so full.

While most people who took the raspberry chocolate gelatin left remnants of the gelled substance on their plates, I should mention that among the dessert spread was banana cream pie, chocolate cake with salted carmel icing, blueberry cheesecake, and brownies with home made ice cream. Every plate had a generous dessert sampling, so I can only hypothesize that my guests were slightly stuffed and, contrary to popular belief, there isn't always room for "Jell-o."And that could be the biggest discovery of all.

Someone call Bill Cosby.

Monday, July 2, 2012

The Jell-o Project: Total Request Jell-o

Guess who's legitimizing Jell-o? Food Network, that's who. They've come out with some pretty fancy recipes that are sure to skyrocket Jell-o back to a place of prominence on dinner tables everywhere. Even though the three recipes they published don't exactly use Jell-o. Let's be clear: if it wiggles and jiggles, it's still Jell-o.

This Jell-o Project goes out to Betsy, who sent me the recipe, along with the two others in the magazine with the oh-so-subtle caveat, "I'll be watching your blog."

I've taken your challenge, Betsy, and give you one of your own: Let's see how your family likes a little Jell-o at their meals. As part of the Jell-o Project, I'd be interested to find out if your family reacts the same way to Jell-o mine does. Will they love it or hate it? Will you have to force them to eat it just so you have get an honest, blogable reaction? Will you have left-over Jell-o in your fridge for 2 weeks before you finally dump it down the drain? Or will the left-overs be dumped that night? I'll need a complete blog write-up with all the scientific details.

Consider the gauntlet thrown.

Watermelon Lime Gelatin made its table debut last night with high hopes. It is, after all, simply pureed and strained watermelon, sugar and lime juice. There were no chunks, no shrimp, no hidden crushed pineapple. It was just plain watermelon juice, gelled.

The mint leaf on top did cause some concern and I'm not sure it made enough of a difference to the taste that I will include it next time. "Do I eat it?" Was the big "mint" question. I wasn't sure how to answer, especially after my piece of mint was not as tender and swallowable as I thought it would be.

Other than that, this dish was delightful. At least to me.

Ethan and Isaac insisted on eating their watermelon lime gelatin sans utensil because slurping is more fun. Jonah ate his, but didn't ask for seconds, as I thought he would. (Watermelon is his favorite fruit.) Robert ate his and was pleasant enough about it.

We will see how everyone feels when they find out we're eating more Watermelon Lime Gelatin tonight.