Halloween Breakthroughs

We were a bit late getting going on Halloween this year. I felt like I was having to talk the holiday up to the kids, and they were a tough audience. “I don’t like Halloween,” Nathan told me at one point, when I was talking about trick-or-treating with him. After last year’s trunk-or-treating difficulties, I was tempted to believe him, despite the insanity of the statement.

I was perfectly willing to forego costumes and trick-or-treating, but there was no way I was giving up carving pumpkins. It was Halloween day itself, though, when we finally got around to it. Both kids, just like last year, flatly refused to reach into a pumpkin and scoop out the innards. But I knew that they were familiar with jack o’ lanterns — there are jack o’ lanterns in Minecraft, for goodness sake — so after cleaning out the pumpkin goo myself, I handed a pen to Nathan with a fair amount of confidence.

He made some small marks on the very front, did a big loopy region, and then said he wasn’t sure what more to add.

“Well, it looked like you were making a good face here,” I said helpfully — or maybe hopefully. “See, two eyes, a nose, a mouth…”

“No, that’s an L,” he corrected me. “And that’s a six.” He added a triangle and pronounced himself done.

“I made a flower!” Ryan told me when it was his turn. “And this is a road to a house.”

I had no desire to squash their creativity, but the tiny notches and long looping curls they were making were a bit of a carving nightmare. “Do you remember how the jack o’ lanterns in Minecraft have faces on them?” I prodded gently.

“Oh yes!” Ryan added another curl. “This is a guy running.”

So two of our three pumpkins are works of modern art. I did my best to translate their drawings into carved form, and I still think that Nathan’s looks like a face — albeit a very squished one. With a suspicious hole in the forehead.

After dinner I was cleaning up the kitchen and Dave was talking to the kids about how trick-or-treaters would come to the door. He had the kids go outside to try the process out. There were a few false starts. “Ok, but wait until I open the door before you say ‘Trick or Treat!'” he advised at one point. Eventually they got the hang of it and seemed to be enjoying the game.

“Mommy, I want to go trick-or-treating,” Nathan told me suddenly.

Now, we’d discussed trick-or-treating multiple times in the preceding days. Each time Nathan had absolutely refused even to consider the possibility of trick-or-treating. I explained that he would get candy. I told him I would go with him. In the end I shrugged and figured that it wasn’t really in my job description to push candy on him anyway.

“You do?” I asked now, feeling my vision of a quiet evening slip away. I admit, I was secretly hoping that he’d change his mind.

“Ryan, you want to go trick-or-treating with me?”


The only tiny, insignificant hitch to this plan was that we hadn’t bothered with costumes of any kind. We made a quick search of their (extremely limited) costume paraphernalia, most of which had been supplied by my aunt Marybeth (thanks, Marybeth!). We came up with one vampire-construction-worker, and one cowboy/forest ranger/miner (his designation changed as various of our neighbors offered suggestions).

I was still uncertain how this would go as we approached our next-door neighbors. But with a quick prompt from me, Nathan managed to say “Trick or Treat!” like we’d practiced, and our neighbor put a chocolate bar in each of their bags. There’s nothing like positive reinforcement. A few houses later, Ryan was joining in. (Sometimes his “Trick or Treat” seemed to be appended with something that sounded suspiciously like “put candy in.”) Nathan even started ringing the doorbells.

“Do you know, Mommy, I like Halloween,” he told me between houses at one point. “I like getting candy.”

“I’m glad,” I told him, and I meant it. Not just because it was fun to be out there with my boys, vicariously reliving the thrill of Halloween. More because he had suddenly tackled head-on something that had been too worrying for him before. And that I love.

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One of the last roses of the season.


When we went to the Portland Maker’s Faire a while back, both Dave and I were reminded of how cool marbling can be. We’d seen it, of course — on paper, fabric, even electric guitars — but had never experimented with it ourselves.

But the internet is a wonderful thing. It took only a little research to narrow in on a very simple form of marbling, suminagashi, which could be done by spreading ink on plain water. Many of the marbling techniques require a specific fluid layer as the base, which, while not too difficult, would make it harder to just pull the marbling project out whenever we liked.

As it turns out, the ease of use is particularly important to us, because Ryan loves doing marbling. I honestly don’t know why. He isn’t big on painting and can only rarely be induced to draw, and then only for a short time. But suminagashi? He’ll gladly fill the kitchen with marbled sheets of paper. Maybe it’s the “playing in water” aspect to it.

I love doing it too, but I have to sort of sneak the materials into the kitchen while he’s distracted. Otherwise he’ll be there at my side, bumping the table, trying to help, or simply demanding his turn.

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Today’s Best Toy – Grandma

Teaching Grandma to play Minecraft.


I admit, I took no pictures of Nathan’s or Ryan’s birthday this year. The picture of Nathan eating cake is actually from the day after. That doesn’t mean that we didn’t celebrate their birthdays, only that I was incredibly lazy about the camera.

They were our usual informal affairs, of course. For Ryan’s, we spent the morning at a newly-discovered park near us, which has the enormous appeal of not only including a huge sand pit, but about forty large trucks and digging machines for anyone to play with. Since it was new (to us) and special, it seemed a fitting birthday treat. His grandparents sent a birthday card, and for dessert I made some creeper cupcakes. It seemed to satisfy him quite well.

Nathan wanted a bit more. He might finally be reaching an age where he understands that birthdays can contain more fanfare. For his big day, we invited a couple of friends and sent Dave out to procure some helium balloons. His friends brought special birthday posters, his grandparents sent another card, and we had chocolate cake.

Yes, cake. I’ve been getting by on cupcakes for years now, but this time Nathan specifically requested a cake. I have never actually made a standard layer cake. Faced with an inauguration into cake-baking, I went browsing on one of my favorite cooking sites, Smitten Kitchen, for the perfect recipe.

And oh boy, did I find it. Lushly chocolate in flavor, incredibly moist, this cake didn’t even need frosting to be incredible. Which was good, because I was entirely unable to dump it out of my brand-new cake pans. We dug it out in chunks instead and counted ourselves in chocolate heaven. (My friend Emily suggested a raspberry sauce as accompaniment, and I think that would be brilliant.)

And now they are five and three years old. I remember how Dave and I walked around for the first few days after Nathan was born saying in tones of awe and bewilderment “We have a baby!” And now… holy cow, we have a five-year-old!

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