Friday, May 12, 2017

A Realization for Mother's Day

In the Steel Magnolias of life, my mom is a Ousier Boudreaux. Like so many young woman, I know she started out life with optimism and perseverance; however, as she has aged and faced hard times, heartache, and chronic illness, she has admittedly become “not as sweet as she used to be.” It’s for this reason that I often find myself frustrated with my mom and wishing she were a little sweeter, softer, and less cantankerous. Often in my frustration I forget that there is more to my mom that her cynical, stubborn, and cantankerous outer shell, so this Mother’s Day I am taking the time to focus on her softer traits within that I love and admire so much.

Halloween 1984
For beginners: My mom is an artist. No, she isn’t an artist for a living. In fact, as far as I know, she has never sold anything she has ever made. However, she has the mind of an artist, always coming up with fantastic and elaborate ideas, usually for her kids or grandchildren, and executing them to painstaking precision, often at the last minute and staying up until the wee hours of the morning to do so. Like the Christmas we were stationed in Hawaii and didn’t have a Christmas tree, so she made one out of tinsel and garland. Or the Halloween when my brother’s costume was an elaborate robot made entirely out of cardboard boxes and plumbing supplies, or the year I was a 3 ft tall butterfly with a 6 ft wingspan. Speaking of butterflies, there was the year she spent all of her spare time for nearly 6 full months crocheting hundreds of little pastel colored butterflies for me to give away as favors in the masonic organization I was in.

The care my mom took, with every homemade Halloween costume, with every personalized birthday cake, with our school projects (because yes, she earned more As than we actually did), with planning all the big events in our lives: holidays, birthdays, weddings, births… says so much about who she is as a person. She is an artist. She loves to create things. To see the joy her creations bring to others. She takes pride in the things she makes, and she rarely wants anything in return except gratitude.

My mom is selfless, sometimes to a fault. I couldn’t, if I tried, recount all of the times my mom went without so that us kids never had to. She has never worn wear fancy clothes, had expensive bags, or spent lots of money on makeup or skincare products. She never in her life has had a regular hairdresser. For years, she just colored her own hair with boxed color from the supermarket and let months go between cuts. Yet, we kids always had everything we needed and most of the stuff we wanted too. That bicycle we wanted, that homecoming dress, that game system, and all the specialized sporting equipment we swore we needed. In fact, for most of my childhood, she worked not one, but two jobs to make sure we were never deprived. Sadly, even now that her children are grown and times aren’t so lean for my parents, I think she has still never really learned to take care of herself, because for her entire life she was accustomed to taking care of others and putting their needs before her own.

Mother's Day 1979
My mom is also fiercely loyal. Sometimes infuriatingly so. You can tell her a story about someone you are having a problem with, and she instantly dislikes this person she has never even met. I get irritated and say “Mom, you don’t even know that person. How can you have such a strong opinion on them?” She just waves me off and states matter of factly “They hurt you, that is all I need to know about them.” She has always been like this…unapologetically protective and defensive of the people she loves. And while I often protest, admittedly it has always made me feel safe. It is a special gift to always feel that loved and protected by someone. In fact, I find myself now repeating this same kind of fierce loyalty with my own sons, because deep down I want them to always feel as loved and protected as I did.

My mom is playful. She loves playing games. One of my sister’s favorite stories to tell is about the time she had asked for an Atari 2600 for Christmas. During the weeks leading up to the holiday, my sister would lie in bed at night and hear strange bee-boop-bee-boop sounds coming from the basement below her. On Christmas morning, it became clear what all those strange noises were. Mom had gotten us an Atari, and she had been staying up late playing all the games and setting them with her high scores! To this day, I don’t think anyone ever did beat mom’s high score on Qbert.

During our family holidays, after clearing the table and putting away the leftovers, it is always board game time. Pictionary, Scategories, Tri-Bond, Cranium, Spy vs. Spy. We often play game after game into the early morning. Mom is a night owl anyways, so she is usually the last person at the table, outlasting all us younger people. She talks and plays and talks some more. Funnily, I don’t remember my mom ever caring about winning any of the games we have played, she has just always seemed content playing the games and being with her family.

My mom is probably best known for talking too much, or as I like to say being a storyteller. Whether reminiscing about her childhood or retelling one of her infamous stories about her many other places of employment, her stories have almost developed lives of their own. Each time they are retold the details have gotten bigger, better, and more fantastical. Yet each time she tells them she swears up and down they are 100% true. Sometimes we argue about the revised details, but most of the time we just let it go. Because they make her happy. And she loves telling her stories.

In writing this blog post, I submitted a draft to my sister to read and give me feedback. She quickly pointed out that all of these characteristics I admire in my mom: being creative, playful, fiercely loyal, talking too much, exaggerating stories, going over the top for special occasions, and being selfless to a fault with friends and family, are all the ways I am just like her.

In this way, my Mother’s Day gift to my mom has really turned out to be a gift to myself. I realized that when I stopped to take the time and appreciate who my mother really is, instead of comparing her to the Hallmark one-dimensional sugary sweet mother and grandmother I sometimes wish she was, that I’m actually really freaking lucky. She might be a Ousier, but she’s my Ousier, and I wouldn’t trade her for all the M’Lynns in the world! #MyMothersDaughter

Monday, June 27, 2016

A Magical Hogwarts 9th Birthday Party!

Last fall, as a way to encourage my sons to read more, I began reading the Harry Potter series with them every night before bed. I would read aloud from my Nook, while they followed along in a hard copy from the library.

Being that I had just started college in 1997 when Harry Potter came out, I never got into the craze when it was new. So, it has actually been really fun for me to fall in love with the series along with my boys.

For Christmas I got them their very own wands and for Valentine’s Day my mom sent them authentic Gryffindor robes, so it was fitting that this year we decided to do a Hogwarts Themed birthday party! 

They even woke up on the morning of their party, which was their actual birthday, to two brand new owls with a special owl post birthday message from my mom and dad.

I started by creating some themed invitations, complete with Hogwarts Express boarding passes and Hogwarts wax seals:

Decorations and Snacks
As per usual, I planned a post-lunch party so that I don't have to do lots of food, just light snacks from Honey Dukes and a cake as part of the House Cup celebration.

On the menu was Chocolate Frogs (made using this chocolate mold and filled with a green mint marshmallow filling following these instructions), Treacle tarts (little mini-lemon pies using this mini-tart pan, BTW these were my absolute FAVORITE treat!), Cauldron Cakes (mini calzones filled with Nutella), Acid Pops (lemon cake balls dipped in white chocolate and covered with pop rocks), Jelly Slugs (gummy worms), Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans (I decided to go with regular Jelly Belly, but I did have a small bowl of BBEFB next to the bigger contain that my friend donated from her recent trip to Universal), and a Basilisk pizza roll. To give it the candy shop feel, I purchased little glass containers and the black food labels from Michael's.

I also had fun adding some extra touches around the house, including owl balloons, a Whomping Willow sign, a Sirius Black wanted sign, Caution Stairs Move Sign, and a surprise Moaning Myrtle in the bathroom! 

1:00-1:20 – Diagon Alley

When the students arrived at our house, marked by a Hogwarts Flag on our mailbox, they were first greeted by Mandina Black* and Agatha Potts* at Diagon Alley. (*All my friends who helped play a part took on a Magical pseudonym for the day.)

At Olivander's each student received a handmade wand in its very own wand box (ideas came from here). I made the wands from bamboo chopsticks and hot glue, then painted them, and tied on an individual descriptor for each wand (instructions). My boys had a lot of fun helping me come up with all the descriptors.

Mandina Black did an excellent job finding all of the students just the right wand. Her enthusiasm was quite entertaining!

At Madam Malakin's each student received a robe. I'll admit, I had planned on making more authentic robes for each student, but I came down with a nasty case of pneumonia a few weeks before the party, robbing me of all my robe making time. So the "robes" ended up being just big rectangles of lightweight black fabric with holes cut out. But honestly, it worked out well, since the day of the party was 90 degrees and the kids who wore their own real robes were burning up!!

At Flourish & Botts, the kids received two textbooks: Care of Magical Creatures and Potions and Spells (instructions), along with a class schedule. 

Once they had all their school supplies, students were transported to Hogwarts through Platform 9 ¾. (Initially I was going to make my own wall out of fabric that the kids could run through, but due to the aforementioned bout with pneumonia, my time was limited, so I found this wall on for $10.79. It was worth the $ to save the time! I just had to print out the sign and tape it all to the front door. They didn't get to run through it, but I think they enjoyed it just the same.)

1:20-1:35 – Sorting Ceremony
I decorated the living room with streamers for each house and had the sorting hat sitting on a stool in the corner. (I didn't love how the sorting hat looked when it arrived, so I removed a few of the "patches" then used spray starch and hot glue to give it more of a face...took about 15 minutes total.) 

Each child would come up and place the hat on their head and hear their sorting poem, when they would then receive their house tie and go stand in line according to their house. The Precepts for each house (first student sorted) were in charge of carrying their house banner with them from house to house. (The banners were made using scrap black fabric, dark fabric iron-ons, wooden dowels, and twine.)

To make the sorting extra magical, I created a pocket inside the hat and put my cell phone in it. Right before the ceremony I called Mandina Black, leaving my cell phone on speaker and placing it inside the pocket in the hat. Madina sat on the back porch reading the sorting song and poems, pressing mute in between so the students couldn’t hear the excess noise. It was really cool. The kids really felt like they’d been sorted.

1:35-2:05 – Potions with Ambrosia Kettle and Divination with Bellatrix Riddle
To begin, two houses went to Potions with me, Ambrosia Kettle, and the other two went to Divination in the dungeon (aka my basement) with Bellatrix Riddle. Then after 15 minutes they switched classes. 

For potions, we had the students follow two potions recipes from the book. The first, Essence of Dittany, was a topical potion that they couldn’t drink. It was basically the old vinegar (hippogriff saliva), dish soap (troll blood) and baking soda (ground dragon bones) trick with a little hidden food coloring in a mini cauldron. The kids added the ingredients then watched it bubble over.

The other potion was Veritaserum, made up of dragon blood (cherry juice), phoenix tears (lemon juice), and Mandrake Root oil (orange juice) that they drank from shot-beakers I found at Party City. I used glass containers with labels from Michael's and little pipettes to help make the whole thing feel more realistic.

In Divination, I covered a table with a starry fabric and then placed a $3 fish bowl in the middle filled with dry ice (which was surprisingly cheap and easy use) for the crystal ball, then my friend Bellatrix Riddle did the rest delivering some grotesque fortunes in typical Madame Trewlaney fashion.

I have to say that ALL of my friends dressed up and really played the part of their characters, but Bellatrix’s costume really stood out, complete with a Turkish evil eye necklace! I laughed for probably 2 minutes straight when she walked in. I can’t believe I can’t find a better picture of her anywhere!

2:05-2:15 Care of Magical Creatures with Adina Morningstar
Next all the kids headed to Care of Magical Creatures. They had to use their Care of Magical Creatures textbook to search for the creatures hidden in the Forbidden Forest (aka my side yard), and then sort them into containers as being dangerous (venomous or poisonous) or non-dangerous, using the book’s descriptions to decide where they belonged. It was actually impressive to see how seriously the students took this task and how great they all worked together to solve the puzzle.

2:15-2:30 Defense Against the Dark Arts with Amaya Shadow
Next, the students headed to Defense Against the Dark Arts with Amaya Shadow, who also did an amazing job personifying her super creepy role. Here the kids took a whack at the Dementor piñata (instructions) while yelling Expecto Patronum. I gotta say, I did a PERFECT job on the piñata, as it was just sturdy enough for every child to get one good whack and finally busted wide open when the honorary Head Boy (an older brother who tagged along and helped out tremendously!) took his whack after all the students had had a turn.

2:30-2:50 Quidditch with Ludo Bones
Then the students headed to the Quidditch Pitch, which I had made using 6 dollar store hula hoops and some PVC pipes.

We made the rules for Quidditch simple:
  1. Your broom (made from a stick, some hay, and twine) must stay between your legs at all times.
  2. Get the quaffle (red soccer ball) into your team’s goal by passing it from player to player, but no player can take more than four steps with the quaffle before passing.
  3. Anyone may pick up a bludger (two mini basketballs) and throw it at a player holding a quaffle. If a player is hit by a bludger, they must drop the quaffle and freeze for 5 seconds.
  4. Keep an eye out for the snitch (gold spray painted golf balls with white felt wings hot glued on) at all times! The game is over when the snitch is found.

I made 4 snitches. We had two teams play one another for approximately 3-5 minutes, and then I’d throw out one of the snitches to end the game. Then we’d switch teams so that all teams had a chance to play one another. I let the kids who found the snitches take them home.

2:50-3:00 House Cup
I wasn’t planning on doing a House Cup, but my boys found a cheap one at Party City and begged to have one. I was going to keep score, but the party was too overwhelming once it got going, so in the end, I announced it was a tie between all the houses and just let my birthday boys keep the cup.

To celebrate, we all ate cake and drank some butter beer (I got the cute little cups from Party City. They were actually marked as coffee cups, but I think they made great beer steins).

Overall, I think the party was a success, and am pretty sure my boys will remember it for the rest of their lives!

SPECIAL THANKS: I could NOT have pulled off this party for 24 kids all by myself! Extra special thanks to all of my friends who helped out. Thanks to Mandina Black (who flew nearly 700 miles just to attend with her little wizard) and Agatha Potts for staying up late helping me make the cake and acid pops, then getting up early to help me set up the castle. Thank you Adina Morningstar for the authentic Hogwarts decorations and Bertie Every Flavor Beans, and for being my #2 in potions class in addition to your own class. Thank you Amaya Shadow for helping me make the Quidditch brooms, bringing along the instrumental Head Boy, and taking such wonderful pictures when I was too overwhelmed to remember! Thanks to Bellatrix Riddle for listening to me lament, making me laugh, and going all out on your Divination role! And of course, special thanks to my Super-Wizard Ludo Bones for putting up with my crazy ideas and helping any way I asked you to in bringing them to fruition, especially when I was bed ridden and delirious with fever crying about how there would not be enough time to get things done. Thank you all for being part of Thing 1 and Thing 2's village! Mwaw!

Thursday, April 14, 2016

DIY Cub Scout Pinewood Derby Display Rack

My boys LOVE being Cub Scouts. And hands down their FAVORITE Cub Scout activity is our annual Pinewood Derby event.

We have so much fun designing and making the cars with the boys every year. But, after the event is over, all their cars just end up in a bag in the closet. We are torn between wanting to leave them out so the boys can enjoy them and wanting to keep them hidden away so they don't get ruined and the boys can keep them throughout their lives. (Superman still has all of his old Pinewood Derby cars from when he was a kid.) So my solution: make a display rack.

(Click on any of the pictures to see them larger.)

This blog post gives you a step-by-step explanation of how I turned this:

Into this:

What you'll need: (Note, the pictures show supplies for two display racks.)
  • 1 in. x 10 in. x 4 ft. board (I used pine)
  • 1 in. x 4 in. x 4 ft. board
  • 1/2 in. 2 in. x 3 ft.
  • 10 #6 x 1 1/2 in. wood screws
  • wood glue
  • electric drill with bits
  • electric saw (we used a circular saw)
  • pencil and ruler
  • paint tape, paint, and stain
  • sawtooth picture hanger
Step 1: Cut the 1 in. x 10 in. x 4 ft. into half, forming two 1 in. x 10 in. x 24 in. boards. You'll use one of these boards as the backboard for the display rack. Sand until smooth.
Step 2: Cut the 1 in. x 4 in. x 4 ft. board into the five shelves. I used the backboard itself to measure the appropriate width for each shelf. Sand until smooth.

(I measured, cut, measured, cut, etc. because I was afraid if I did all the measurements before cutting that the tiny bit lost from each side of the cut would affect the overall width of each cut.)
Step 3: Create a *template* for even measurements on each shelf by covering the back edge of your shelf with the painter's tape and measuring 1.5 in from each edge. Then drilling a small screw hole in the middle at each end. Repeat this using the template on each shelf.
Note: To make sure I didn't drill too deeply, I marked the drill bit with a piece of painter's tape to show me where to stop drilling.
Step 4: Using the painter's tape template, measure and mark the drill holes on the backboard. I started with the template at the very bottom of the board, drilling holes all the way through where the two existing holes were. Then moving the template 4 inches up and drilling those holes. Repeat until you have holes drilled for five shelves 4 inches apart.
Step 5: Drill all of the screws through the backboard until they were just barely peaking through.
Step 6: Put a line of wood glue on the inside of the shelf.
Step 7: Align the holes on the shelf with the screws in the backboard and then screw each shelf on tight. Wipe off any wood glue that squeezes out.
The display rack could probably be used once the shelves are added, but because we are dealing with cars on wheels, we have to do something to make sure they don't roll off. My solution was to add a tiny raised platform in the center of the shelf for the car to rest on, with its wheels resting just off the shelf.
Step 8: Take the 1/2 in. 2 in. x 3 ft. and cut it into five 6 inch strips. Sand until smooth.
Step 9: First measure and mark the center for each shelf. Then put some glue on the bottom of each strip and place on the pre-marked area.
Step 10: Clamped the strips and let them dry for about 5 minutes.
Step 11: Measure the center of the back, about 1-2 inches down from the top and add the sawtooth hanger.
Step 12: Finish as desired. I painted each shelf the color of the different dens and finished the backboard with a clear stain. Finally, I finished it all off with 3 coats of high gloss polyurethane to prevent the paint from chipping.

Close up of Thing 1's

Close up of Thing 2's

Overall, it took about $25 and 5 hours (including all the painting) to finish both display racks. I hope you enjoyed the tutorial and will have fun making an easy Pinewood Derby display rack for your own Cub Scout!