Friday, October 31, 2014

Halloween Just Isn't As Much Fun Anymore

My twin sister and I were about four years old when we wore these costumes made by our mother.


Some Schools Now Enforce a Ban on Halloween Activities

An elementary school teacher was lamenting to me about her school's policy of not letting kids wear costumes at school on Halloween.  As a child, I looked forward to our school Halloween party and parade every year. My children did as well. It seems a shame that schools are taking a stance to eliminate these traditions.

School Halloween Party crafts are part of the fun of Halloween.

There are a variety of reasons why schools may chose to ban costumes or parties on Halloween.

Here are a few possible reasons:

  • Costumes could be too scary or inappropriate.
  • Skimpy costumes and hats may not adhere to the school dress code.
  • Some costume props (i.e. fake guns, swords, etc) would violate the school's no-tolerance policy.
  • Costumes and props may be a distraction to learning throughout the day.
  • Too much of the teacher's time would be taken up with helping kids put on makeup and costumes.
  • Not all families celebrate Halloween. 
  • Not all kids will be able to bring costumes from home.
  • Costumes can be uncomfortable, or kids may experience anxiety about wearing them.
  • Students may lose or ruin parts of their costume during the school day.
I understand the theory behind these concerns.  With a little effort though, there are ways to be sensitive to everyone's different traditions, and minimize the negative impact of costumes. Then we could still allow elementary school kids to wear there costumes at school on Halloween.  

Halloween party activities can be fun and educational.

Some suggestions to fix these concerns:

  • School can sets clear guidelines as to what types of costumes and props are permissible; any child who does not adhere to the rules would not be allowed to wear their costume.  
  • Costumes could be stored in a corner of the classroom or a locker, and only brought out at the specified party time, so they are not a distraction while learning is occurring. 
  • The teacher perhaps with the help of parent volunteers or the PTO) could have a few simple costume items available for those children unable to bring a costume.  
  • Parent volunteers or a class of older students could be recruited to assist a teacher if he /she anticipates being overwhelmed by the task of helping kids put on their costumes.
  • Provide an alternate activity for any child who is not comfortable wearing a costume or participating in Halloween activities. 
It would be disappointing to see these fun school traditions disappear. I applaud the teacher I was speaking with, for her desire to have her students still experience them.


I Miss the Way Things Were

I loved Halloween as a child.  I loved it even more as a mother of young children.  I loved creating their costumes, and watching them enjoy the parties and trick-or-treating.  The first year my kids told me they didn't need my help to make their costumes, I felt sad.  

I sewed my son's dinosaur costume, but my daughter is wearing a skating outfit my mother made for me, many Halloweens ago!
This year I have no young children to dress-up.  Because of the rural nature of our neighborhood, it is unlikely we will have any trick-or-treaters come visit. (I bought candy, however, just-in-case!) My daughter is away at college and my son has other plans, so he won't be hosting a party at our house. Halloween just doesn't feel very "halloweeny" this year.

Happily though, I have been invited to a “girl's night out” party with friends this evening.  Maybe Halloween will be fun for me this year, just in a different way!

Happy Halloween!! 

What are your thoughts about schools should allowing kids to dress-up and have a party on Halloween?

This post may be linked to one of the great link-up parties I follow and list on my blog. Check them out!

Thursday, October 30, 2014

How to Decorate a Pumpkin - Without Using a Knife!

After I bought two pumpkins, a friend with a big garden gave me three more!  I decided one trip to the hospital this year was enough though, so we're not cutting any more pumpkins to make jack-o'-lanterns this year! (My son's hand slipped while carving one of them this week, and he ended up with stitches. You can read about that here.)

Yesterday, I started thinking about different ways to decorate our remaining pumpkins.  I was tempted to look for ideas on Pinterest, but instead decided to see what I could come up with on my own.   I made four very different pumpkins - and I really can't decide which I like best!
My four pumpkin creations - - and the culprit that cost my son a trip to the emergency room!
I approached this craft project with absolutely no idea of what the finished pumpkins would look like. I have a lot of sewing notions and crafting supplies left over from other projects, and I looked to these for inspiration.  It is best to keep an open mind, and let the personality of the pumpkin emerge.  Here are some tips.

Gather up items that might be useful materials to work with. For example:
  • sewing notions and crafting supplies 
  • office supplies, toothpicks, packing materials, etc
  • items in a “junk drawer” 
  • hair clips and accessories
  • costume jewelry 
  • glue, hot glue gun, paint, finishing nails, scissors, etc.
Look at the shape of each pumpkin, and consider what design might work well on it, using the supplies you have available. These characteristics of the pumpkin might give you some hints:
  • shape
  • size
  • type of stalk
  • degree of indentation of the ribbing down the sides of the pumpkin
  • blemishes, markings and color
Have a general idea of how you will proceed, and then just have fun!  I found it a little tough to get glue to stick to the shell of the pumpkin, but I had fairly good luck with Mod Podge and a hot glue gun.  Small finishing nails were helpful: thumbtacks would work well also.

Your supplies would be different than mine, but these easy steps for how I decorated each of my pumpkins, might be a helpful guide.  This is how I made each one:

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#1.  Flowers and Friendly-Insects Pumpkin  

This pumpkin would be an appropriate centerpiece any time throughout autumn.
  • Cut four sections of glittery orange ribbon, long enough to run from the stem down to the bottom of the pumpkin.
  • Glue each ribbon (I used Mod Podge) along a rib of the pumpkin.
  • Secure the ribbons by pressing in finishing nails into the top and bottom of each one.
  • Repeat the same process with the checkered ribbon, placing it in-between the orange glittery ones.  
  • Attach a few artificial flowers and leafs with a beige chenille stem (previously these were called pipe cleaners!)  Tie a bow around the chenille stem with the checkered ribbon.
  • Glue a bee and a ladybug button on the side. (A hot glue gun worked best for this.)
Autumn-Garden Themed Pumpkin

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#2. Patriotic American Pumpkin

This one was so easy and quick to make!!  (It would also be pretty using just white stars!)
  • Pull the protective covering off felt-like adhesive backed fabric stars, and stick the stars all over the pumpkin, making a random pattern of star sizes and colors. (I no longer had the packaging, so I am not sure what brand of stars these are. I bought them at a craft store.) 
  • Stick the ends of star-shaped silver paper-fasteners into the shell of the pumpkin, spacing them evenly all over the sides of the pumpkin. (These paper-fasteners are the kind with two sides that split and lay flat against the back of the page.)  Alternatively, flat silver thumbtacks would look nice!)
  • Glue a fabric flower (star shaped) to the end of the stalk, then push a star fastener down through the center of it.
Starry Pumpkin

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#3 Little Pumpkin Girl

I said I don't have a favorite, but she has sort of stolen my heart! She almost looks like one of the “Who's” from “Whoville”!

The stem of this pumpkin was fairly tall, but really thick and blunt.  I decided it would be a good place to glue some hair.  The brown crinkly stuff is actually packing material that I had saved - thinking it would come in handy for something like this!
  • Cover the stem liberally with Mod Podge.  Start pressing the crinkly packing paper shreds against the stem, adding glue as necessary, and building it up until you create a “ponytail.”
  • Tie a ribbon around the base of the hairdo, and make a little bow.
  • Attach “googly eyes” with a hot glue gun.
  • Shape a red chenille stem into a mouth and attach with hot glue.
  • You could add a nose - but she just didn't seem to need one!
Such a cute little pumpkin girl!

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#4 Lines and Swirls Pumpkin

None of these pumpkins were hard to do, but this one took a little more time and skill with the glue gun then I anticipated! I had originally planned to paint a design on this one ... but then I spied my pack of long black chenille stems!
  • Shape a black chenille stem into an interesting pattern.  Using a hot glue gun, apply glue along the full length, and then quickly press it onto the pumpkin
  • Repeat the previous step with as many chenille stems as need to make a design covering the full pumpkin.
  • Wrap the stalk with a chenille stem; coil the end, and glue it to the tip of the stalk.
Note: I haven't tested it yet, but I don't think the glue is hot enough to harm the surface of the pumpkin. This pumpkin could possibly last until (American) Thanksgiving. Another idea would be to use chenille stems in the autumn shades of brown, burgundy and gold, for both a Halloween and a Thanksgiving style.)

Swirled designs pumpkin

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#5 Traditionally Carved Pumpkin

Here it is - the pumpkin that injured my son!  I think the only advantage a carved pumpkin has over the ones above, is that you can illuminate it from the inside.
  
The almost-carved, injury-causing pumpkin!
We will put a candle inside my son's creation on Halloween night; to light up the darkness we also have our electric, artificial pumpkin decoration!

We use this store-bought jack-o'-lantern every year!

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It is rare that we have any trick-or-treaters visit us.  The houses in our neighborhood are just spread too far apart, and our driveway is too long and steep.  If it could be visible from the road, I would have participated in the teal pumpkin project, and painted one of these pumpkins teal. I have stocked up on a few non-food treats - just in case a child with allergies appears at my door.

I was quite surprised by how easy and how much fun these pumpkins were to make.
Which of these pumpkins do you like best?


This post may be linked to one of the great link-up parties I follow and list on my blog. Check them out!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

If You Don't Like the Weather, ...

It has been said that the state motto of Montana could be, "If you don't like the weather, wait a minute." I took some photos which show just how variable our weather can be - even on a mild fall day.  

All except the last three of the photos below were taken from different doorways of my house, within about an hour of each other, one mid-October day. They appear more or less in the same sequence as I took them - looking at them the same way that you would read a page... left to right, from top to bottom. (A page written in English, anyway!)  

It is amazing how sometimes the sky can appear pitch black looking from a window on one side of my house - and almost a cloudless blue when facing a different direction.

The bottom three photos were taken about four hours later than the rest, (just before dusk) as I driving into town. A sheriff frequently parks and and checks people's speeds on that road - so yes, I did pull over and stop to take those photos!


At one point during the day it was really windy and raining quite hard, but as you can see - that didn't last long! Pretty, don't you think?! 

To further illustrate this point, when I did a google search for the "state motto" I mentioned above, I came across an oil painting with that name by a Montana painter named Thomas G. Lewis. I think it is a beautiful piece of art, and really shows how variable our skies can be. 

Some people fall in love with Montana for the mountains. I am addicted to our skies.

What do you like most about where you live?

This post may be linked to one of the great link-up parties I follow and list on my blog. Check them out!

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Halloween Danger: Fear the Jack-O'-Lantern!

Many dangers lurk during the Halloween season.

We worry about tainted treats being passed out on Halloween.
We worry about the risk of a child being hit by a vehicle while trick-or-treating.
We worry that poor visibility, ill-fitting shoes, or draping fabric could cause a person in costume to trip.
We worry that untended or poorly placed candles might cause a fire or burn someone.
We worry that some Halloween themes and costumes could scare younger kids.
We worry small children might choke on hard candy.
We worry about stranger danger while our kids are out canvassing neighborhoods for treats.

And I have always worried about the danger of someone being cut by a knife when carving a pumpkin.

Pumpkins - waiting to be Jack - o'-lanterns!

A Pumpkin Carving Party

This evening my son left our house dressed like a cowboy (quickest costume he could assemble) and carrying his pocket knife, a sharp kitchen knife, and a pumpkin. A volunteer group he belongs to was having a pumpkin carving party.

I said goodbye, and reminded him (as I always do) to be careful.  "Don't cut yourself," I said, as he walked out the door. Had he been younger, I would have elaborated about the dangers of pumpkin carving. He is 17 now though,  and as competent at cutting things with a knife as I am.  I refrained from further comment - I'm working hard at trying not to over-mother!

An Interrupted Phone Call

A couple of hours later, I was chatting on the phone with a far-away friend.  The call-waiting beeped, and I ignored it.  Minutes later, my husband burst into the room I was in. With unusual bluntness he said, “I need to talk to you - now.”  I realized he was talking into his cell phone to my son. I quickly said goodbye to my friend.

A vague thought flashed through my head. Something's wrong.  Sure enough, my son's hand had slipped as he stabbed a hard section of his pumpkin, and his thumb had slid onto the blade. ... Lots of blood. ... Might need stitches. ... On his way to the Emergency Department.  

Wait - what? Is he driving himself?? By this point I was grabbing my keys and purse and made an unsuccessful attempt to quickly tidy up my hair.  I was out the door within minutes of the call.

A Quick Visit to the Hospital

We only live about 15 minutes from the Emergency Department.  I probably got there quicker.  

By the time I arrived at the hospital, my son was already in an exam room, and had been assessed by the doctor.  I thanked the group leader and my son's friend; who had driven my son and his car to the hospital and were waiting for me to arrive. I signed the paperwork, then found the room my son was in.  He was calmly holding a bloody towel to his thumb, but pulled it back to let me see.  A nasty, nasty gash -- but it could have been much worse.  

I'm sparing you the gory picture, and cropped the wound out of this photo!
Almost immediately, the doctor was back in the room.  My son didn't flinched when the lidocaine was injected and the doctor closed the wound with stitches. Fortunately, it was his non-dominant hand that had been injured, and only soft tissue had been cut. The doctor was confident that my son would heal quickly and soon be playing his guitar again.

An Exchange of Photos

As the wound was being sutured, I sent my friend a text, to explain why I had so rudely ended our call. Before I did though, I saw that she had sent a photo to me, right after we hung up. Ironically, as she had no idea yet what had happened, it was of her son and his girlfriend - with a pumpkin they had carved!  

I sent her a photo of my son's cut (she is a nurse, so she could handle it!) and a quick text explaining the circumstances.  She couldn't believe he had already been admitted and seen by a doctor, in the short period of time since we had spoken.  

Stitched, bandaged and ready to go.
Just barely an hour after my son had called us, his thumb was sutured, a dressing was applied, and we were walking to our cars. One advantage to living in a small town is that sometimes the E.D. is not very busy! 

If only he hadn't decided to add a final touch to the lid of his pumpkin, my son's thumb would not be sore tonight!

So ... heed my warning - -  

If you are planning to carve a pumpkin this year - just BEWARE!

The Guilty Jack-O'-Lantern.

A special thanks to everyone who helped my son after he cut his thumb this evening!  
Have you ever been injured on Halloween?

This post may be linked to one of the great link-up parties I follow and list on my blog. Check them out!





Monday, October 27, 2014

It's Just a Game - Right?

I have always encouraged my kids to keep their sports participation in perspective.  "It's just a game" or "It's just a race" are phrases I have often uttered. This week, I am re-examining that philosophy.

My husband and I have been soccer parents for 12 years.  My son has been playing the "beautiful game" year-round for quite a few of those years, at many levels in various leagues.  During his games, I've been a supportive fan - cheering, hoping my son's team would win, and mostly just praying (sometimes in vain) that my son and his friends wouldn't get hurt - and that they wouldn't hurt anyone else.
I've even made a soccer cake for a birthday or two.

But, this high school season I became a different fan.  I suddenly became passionate about the outcome of the games.  Runner-up the past two years, we were hungry for our kid's school to own the first place soccer trophy. Winning a championship was so important to our boys  - and absolutely within our grasp.

Or, so we thought this year.  Going into the play-off game on Thursday, seeded second in our Division and playing the 7th place team, we still needed to win in play-offs to secure a berth at State.   But, after overtime play and a shootout, we lost to a team we had won against twice before. Our boy's season ended - just like that. Totally unexpected.

How could this have happened? I think perhaps it was the fault of the eclipse.

  • Why else would I have had a migraine for the first time on Thursday, after having been headache free for so many weeks?
  • Why else would there now be people in the USA sick from the Ebola virus?
  • Why else would there have been shootings in the parliament buildings of peace-loving Canada and in a school in Washington this week? 
  • Why else would the perfect season of our undefeated high school football team end, in a loss just hours after we lost our soccer game.
The only explanation I can come up with for any of this is the recent eclipse. It apparently was nearly at its height about the time our opponent scored their first goal. While a local soccer game holds no significance on a global scale to major world events, perhaps the location of the moon did have an influence on them both? All of these events seem to me to be otherwise quite inexplicable.

In this zoomed-in photo, the moon appears eclipsed by a prairie plant stem, but on Thursday, the moon eclipsed the sun.
I couldn't bear to look at a computer screen Thursday evening, because of my headache.  I couldn't write, because my thoughts wouldn't formulate.  But now, my thoughts have jelled.  Here is what I think about the play-off game...

It was not “just a game.”  It was the culmination of a season.  A season during which our boys changed from being individual players, to become a team.  A season when their coaches changed, from seeing them not just as potential positions on the field, but as players with heart, stamina, courage and perseverance. During this season, these boys became like brothers. Their families became our family.  

This fall, we weathered the unfortunate occurrence of several nasty injuries together; all of us worrying about those boys like they were our own.  Concussions. Various injuries of calves and hips and shins and other body parts. Badly broken bones, which required surgery.  Through all this, positions on the field shifted, and determination deepened.  One would think seeing and experiencing such severe injuries would instill caution in our players - they just played harder.

There is a hole in our calendars.  Players and fans have had the days of the State Soccer Tournament marked off for months.  Suddenly, we will not be hosting or attending prestate dinners.  We can still go watch the games, and cheer on our school's outstanding girl's team - but school and work may take precedence over how much time we spend doing this. We are having to shift not just our mind-set, but our calendars.  This feels a little heartbreaking, but it is really just an example of how plans in life can often change.

It was the looks on our players faces, and the support they showed each other in the aftermath of the loss, that has me realizing what I had witnessed was more than "just a game." While it feels good to win a game and even a championship, true winners are not always determined that way.  Our boys - our men - are all winners.  They have all succeeded at other things (on and off the soccer pitch)  before this game - and will do so many times again in the future.  They may not have scored as many goals as the other team in the playoff game - but they have won at life.  

The score of a game is not always the measurement of a true win.
I am sad for our boys.  I am sad that when they expected to have more games to play, now the seniors will graduate and they will never all play together again.  I am sad that their dreams of a championship have died. But, I have admired them - while they were winning, when they tied, and perhaps most of all, in this loss.  

It is my hope that with time, this team will gain perspective. Rather than blame each other, they are blaming themselves, shouldering the responsibility for why more points in this playoff game were scored against instead of for. I hope they realize that maybe it was just the fault of the moon. I hope they can shake off this loss, and understand that unlike unprecedented violence in a country which has always been remarkably civil, or a lack of containment of a deadly virus - whether you lose or win a soccer game, it is not really a life-changing event.

There is a lot beyond athletic skill that can be learned and gained from sports. After the game, I texted my daughter, a college swimmer and said, "I hate sports."  Her astute response appeared immediately, "No, you hate these moments." She was right, as she so often is anymore. She has learned a lot through both success and disappointments in the pool.

A competition is not really "just a game," it is a part of the game.  One which everyone can win. I know that our boys, even though they will not compete for a state trophy next weekend, are true winners. Every single player. And I am proud of them. Very, very proud.



This post may be linked to one of the great link-up parties I follow and list on my blog. Check them out!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

How Exciting Are Your Weekend Plans?

Last night, I attended the latest Warren Miller film, No Turning Back.  Have you ever seen a Warren Miller movie?

Photo of the collector's item magazine I received with my movie ticket
A feature-length Warren Miller film has been produced every year since 1949.  These movies are about extreme skiing and snowboarding, in some of the world's most beautiful snowy terrain.  The skill level of the athletes in the movies is unparalleled. The filming of these mountainside activities is as stunning as the stunts are dangerous.  As we watched the movie, the narration and music of the film was interrupted several times, as the audience oohed, cheered, and clapped in awe.

I am not a risk-taker.  The appeal of these adventures is hard for me to comprehend.  Standing at the top of an insanely perpendicular, rugged mountain slope, with my skis as the the only option for descent, is not a place I would choose to be.

My husband and son have skied down from the top of Lone Peak - I prefer to look up at it from part way down!
A quote from a Warren Miller movie tells us, "If you don't do it this year, you'll be one year older when you do."
I think that is good advice to apply to how I approach a lot of things.  But, I'm pretty certain my future doesn't include imitating any of the skiers or snowboarders I saw last night.

The rest of my weekend plans are pretty tame, by comparison.  How about yours?


This post may be linked to one of the great link-up parties I follow and list on my blog. Check them out!


Thursday, October 23, 2014

Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover

Idioms are passed from one generation to another.  They are phrases that we grow up with. Tidbits of advice, collapsed into a sentence which can be interpreted literally, but are usually meant metaphorically, with regards to a situation at hand.

While I was doing errands about a half-a-dozen Octobers ago, a brief encounter got me thinking about the commonly used phrase, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.”  I put those thoughts in writing, and I recently found them in a file in my computer. This is what I wrote that day:

Don’t Judge a Book By Its Cover 
The covers on these books have seen better days, but the contents are still classic. 

Don’t judge a book by its cover.  A worn out cliché, but it rang true for me today.
This afternoon, I stopped at an auto-parts store to look for the jumper cables I had promised to purchase. These would be our donation for the “Car Care” basket my son's class was assembling for a Silent Auction at the School PTA Halloween Carnival. 
I wandered up and down the somewhat scruffy and cluttered aisles, feeling very out of my element. I was surrounded by men, all seemingly with a purpose and appearing comfortable locating what they needed.  I perused every aisle, but couldn’t find the jumper cables.
My frustration mounted and I was nearly ready to concede defeat and leave empty-handed.  Suddenly, like a white knight, a man in a store vest said, “I’ll be with you in just a moment, Ma’am.”  (He must have read my mind . . .)
Seconds after he spoke to me, my eyes alighted on “just the thing” – an inexpensive “Emergency Car Kit,” complete with all sorts of emergency items, including the jumper cables I was needing to buy! When the salesperson returned to my side, I asked him if the contents of the kit were accurately depicted on the packaging, and told him why I needed it.
He confirmed the contents.  To my surprise though, he said, “But you probably want another one. This box is worn and stained, and the packaging is cut through.  Let me look in the back, as I think we have a newer-looking one there.”
I was very taken aback, and more than a little ashamed of myself.  Somehow, I had placed this person in a stereotype, based on my observation of the disorganization of the shelves and dirt on the floor, and even (unforgivably) his gender.  I had just assumed details of packaging and the aesthetic appearance of an item would have been unnoticeable and unimportant to the men managing and working in the store.  
Not only did this sales person find an impecable emergency car kit for me, he also voluntarily provided some store coupons, and a free t-shirt to add to the basket as well.
Quite different from the cover, indeed.
As I recall, the “car care” basket was a popular item at the auction.  I'd like to think that my family’s contribution of jumper cables provided an increased feeling of security for the driver who acquired it. The awareness I experienced while purchasing them, however, was priceless.


I recognized the absurdity of some unconscious stereotyping, while shopping for jumper cables.


When was the last time you made an assumption about a person, but once you got to know them better, you realized it was not true?


This post may be linked to one of the great link-up parties I follow and list on my blog. Check them out!

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