Friday, October 30, 2009

Last minute Halloween costume - Kakashi / ninja mask pattern

So you may or may not remember that I used to make a not insignificant amount of money selling Naruto cosplay costumes on Ebay. I gratefully gave it up when I got the online job last year, and while I haven't returned to that job, I have absolutely no desire to go back to the sewing mines either. Because of that, I've been meaning to post my patterns for a while for the benefit of any cosplayers who want to make their own Kakashi costume, starting with the mask (which also makes a good generic ninja mask). I had meant to post this earlier than the day before Halloween, but I had a sick kid this week instead. And hey, tomorrow's Saturday and you'll have all day to sew before the evening. This mask shouldn't take even a novice sewist more than an hour. And cosplay is a yearlong hobby, so hopefully if you're preparing for a con this can help you as well.

A note before starting: at some point I may work up a good tutorial with pretty pictures and everything, but right now, I have a sick kid and a young baby and if I waited until I had time, you'll have to wait until they're in junior high. So instead, I'm going to assume you know the basics of sewing and am going to just give basic text instructions. Really, it isn't hard at all.

You will need:

-Black or dark blue stretchy fabric. Joann Fabrics has a nice rib knit with a bit of lycra to give it a nice stretch without getting misshapen, but anything that lets you breathe through it will do. I would get half a yard to have enough for making mistakes.

-Something that lets you mark on dark fabric, such as a white pencil, or my personal favorite, this white marking pen with ink that disappears after a while. Or failing that, a gel pen with bright, sparkly ink will often show up well enough.

-six inches hook and loop tape (aka Velcro). Velcro makes an iron-on velcro that works really well and will save you tons of time. It's a bit spendy, but since you only need six inches or so, you can get a small pack and not spend much.

Here's the basic pattern marked with instructions (click for full size):

However, it needs to be 10 x 9, which is too big for one piece of paper, so here's the version that prints on two pieces of paper, to cut out and tape together:

This mask generally fits about a range of 12-16 inch neck. If you suspect your neck is larger or smaller than average, adjust the width of the cloth accordingly.

1. Cut a piece of cloth 10 inches tall by 18 inches wide, and fold in half to make a 10 x 9 inch piece.
2. Lay the pattern on top of the cloth and trace it.
3. Sew along the lines for the nose and the chin. Trim along the sewn lines.
4. Cut along the two other lines.
5. Fold over the raw edges with about a half inch seam allowance and sew.
6. Cut the velcro in half so you have two three inch pieces of hook and two three inch pieces of loop. Attach to the back of the neck - one set on the outside (I recommend the scratchy side, so you don't have it scratching your neck) and one on the inside of the other side.

When you're done, it should look like this:

And you're done!

I hope these directions make a bit of sense. Really, it's not any more complicated than cut out and hem. Happy cosplaying!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

And the verdict from the pediatrician is:

A double ear infection!

Wait, huh? I asked her about her ears and got a firm negative. But according to the doctor, sometimes ear infections manifest as referred pain in the stomach instead. Bizarre.

The jury is still out on the urinary tract. She refused to pee at the doctor's office, so we didn't get an immediate dip and their lab takes several days for results. In any case, she's on antibiotics now.

She was pretty chipper this afternoon, which is impressive given that her fever never went below 100. I really hope it finally goes away tomorrow. She's staying home no matter what because school won't let her back until she's gone 24 hours without a fever. I understand their reasoning, but it can be a bit infuriating when you know what your kid has isn't contagious. Fingers crossed that the antibiotics kick in so she can go back Thursday.

Monday, October 26, 2009

(Not) The flu

K woke up this morning hot to the touch and complaining that her stomach hurt. As I heard that, I got a sinking feeling in my own stomach at the realization that the flu had caught up to us. I had been recently cursing the Philadelphia schools for sending home permission slips to give the H1N1 vaccine and then deciding that they weren't giving it to the preschoolers (yes! We shall give the vaccine to all students except the ones most vulnerable to complications from the flu! This makes perfect sense!), and my curses doubled up. Anyway, we gave her ibuprofen and settled in to wait for more symptoms to show up.

Meanwhile, we got a call from our pediatrician's office asking if we could reschedule Alec's well baby appointment today because the office was filled with sick kids. Gosh, do I want to take my currently healthy four-month-old into the cesspool of disease and pestilence masquerading as your waiting room? Why yes! Or not. We rescheduled the appointment. Although I suppose it doesn't matter if we try to avoid disease by staying home if K is going to bring it home to us from the plague grounds of preschool, Seventh Seal style ("The salmon mousse!").

At noon her fever was down to 100 and she was more chipper, but not showing any other symptoms. She slept most of the afternoon. In the late afternoon, I tried asking her if anything hurt, trying to find out what symptoms she might be developing (at this point I had pretty much decided she must just have one of those anonymous viruses small children like to pick up), and she said again her stomach hurt, but nothing else. Did it hurt when she pees? Yes. Was it her lower stomach that hurt? Yes.

Drat. Another UTI. On the plus side, not the flu and not contagious! On the negative, it was 4:30, half an hour before the doctor's office closed and an hour after the appointment we had given up for Alec and decided not to take K to instead because what could the doctor do for a virus? Sigh.

We have an appointment for her tomorrow morning (a mere hour before the dentist appointment that I've been making and breaking for the past year and a half, but that's another story), and hopefully getting antibiotics will get her well enough to ship her back to school on Wednesday, poor bunny. And I will continue to be grateful that we're continuing to dodge the flu bullet. As hard as it is to watch the numbers climb on the thermometer as your toasty warm preschooler lies limp and flushed, the terror of a young infant with the flu is one I would just as soon avoid.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Library loot

Traditionally, the library is supposed to be a good way to reduce the number of books you buy. Tradition, however, has not reckoned with that most seductive phenomenon known as the library used booksale.

It's a beneficial thing for all parties involved - the library gets to simultaneously get rid of weeded books and donations they can't use and make some money, and book lovers get the thrill of picking through acres of Harlequin romances and John Grisham novels for rare gems. Growing up, my local library had quarterly book sales, which rarely netted me much useful because I tended to go on the last day, the dollar-a-bag day, the library's shameless attempt to lure people into carrying away as much chaff as possible left over once the wheat had been thoroughly picked out the two days preceding. It was quite a deal, assuming your heart's desire including all the bodice rippers, Agatha Christie novels and Time-Life books from the 70s that your arms could hold. I have occasionally found some rare gems this way, such as my hardcover of Peter Beagle's Folk of the Air (which Bunter later peed on, the wretched creature), and a gorgeous edition of Canterbury Tales in Middle English with lovely color illustrations. Trying to read it is a bit like trying to read mock-Swedish, but goodness, it's pretty to look at. But mostly, I've come away with armfuls of dreck, falling apart paperback mysteries and cookbooks from the 60s that I thought I might conceivably be interested in that I wound up eventually handing right back to the library as a donation.

In recent years, libraries have begun to realize they can get make money more consistently if they have a constantly running booksale going, which can range from a lone bereft table in the lobby to bookstores that boast an entire room or two to themselves and some semblance of organization. But they're all similar in that you rarely pay more than a dollar for a hardcover. This encourages more discernment in choosing your books, but is still a low enough price point to seduce you into some real stinkers. The large print version of Josephine Tey's Daughter of Time for instance, which is certainly a good book, but as it turned out, one I already owned. In normal print.

Currently, we have access to all of the books B's library has for sale before they're available to the general public, which is so, so bad for us. We've cut down on the crap quite a bit. But in terms of sheer volume of books coming into the house, we've gotten much worse. I keep coming across children's classics that I want for the kids when they're older. Or I find book three from a series I've always wanted to try, or books that I want to give as gifts, or copies of books we own but in better condition, except we keep forgetting to get rid of our older copies. Recently B came home with ten classic science fiction paperbacks, most of which are probalby going to go right back, as they're magnificent examples of 50s misogyny and Red fear. K seems to be under the impression that she can buy anything she wants at the library because we'll generally buy her anything she finds that she wants off of the booksale racks because after all, it's only a quarter. We've found some really good stuff. We've replaced the flimsy Science Fiction Book Club editions of the first four Harry Potter books with full size copies in lovely condition. Somebody keeps buying science fiction and fantasy novels in hardcover, reading them once and then donating them to B's library, which has resulted in our acquiring things like the latest Sookie Stackhouse novel for a dollar.

In any case, this weekend the friends group at B's library held their quarterly booksale, which meant there were lots more books available, and I came away with what seems like a classic sampling:

-a romance novel by an author I don't want to like but somehow can never put down, in poor condition, which will probably go to my library's booksale once I read it and then get over the resulting feelings of vague shame and self-loathing

-two mystery novels from a long running series from which I've read three or four books, which I may well get around to reading, or quite likely they will go on the bookshelf for a few years until we move again and I need to make some space

-Princess Academy by Shannon Hale, a book I loved, which has me wrestling with my conscience because my first instinct is to put it in my library, but I want to keep it clutched in my grubby hands. There's no reason that I should feel obligated to give books I want to my library, but I enjoy the idea of children finding a book I love. I think a lot of the instinct of a librarian is wanting to share books you like. This is why I own multiple copies of some of my favorite books - my copy, and the lending copy. In this case, however, I'm keeping it.

-Search the Seven Hills by Barbara Hambly. This was the real jewel, since it's a wonderful mystery by an author I love that's virtually impossible to find.

I don't see our cheap bookbuying habit ending any time in the near future, even as we find ourselves hip-deep in mediocre paperbacks. Because out for every ten books we sorta wanted to read sometime, there's the irresistable prospect of find Homer Price in hardcover.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

And yet

Of course, just when you're ready to set your child out on the curb for gypsy pickup, she manages to save herself by singing sweetly to her brother:

"Rock-a-bye baby,
Up the tree top,
When the cradle falls,
You'll fall asleep."

I think I'll keep her for now.

Those parents

Yesterday, I was THAT mother, you know, the one who has a firm grip on a struggling child as she marches them along, clearly at the end of her temper. The one people tsk at because what sort of abusive parent is so rough with their child?

In my case, it was because K decided it was funny to run away from me. I had let her run around on the grass with some kids at school pickup, and when I said it was time to go, she decided it was time to run instead. I can't let that sort of behavior slide, because what happens when she decides it's funny to run away in a parking lot or crowded store? So I grabbed her around her upper arm, because she was inclined to go boneless and there's a danger of dislocating a child's elbow by pulling them by the hand too hard; a very common cause of this is by a child going boneless while a parent is holding their hand. So while a hand around the upper arm seems much rougher, it's actually a lot safer.

Anyway, I eventually got us back to the car, although it involved at least a few feet of walking while holding each child around the middle. And K lost her promised trip to Burger King because if I couldn't trust her to stay with me in public, we needed to stay home.

Today, I was one of THOSE mothers, you know, the ones who futilely try to reprimand misbehaving children while not actually backing it up. The ones who are creating the next generation of delinquents with their permissive parenting?* We were having lunch before going to buy her Halloween costume and I had let her sit in one of the comfy chairs at Panera, which she took as license to use it as a jungle gym. Meanwhile, I really desperately needed to eat at least a bit before leaving and Alec was drinking with his eyes closed, giving every impression that if I fed him just a little while longer, he would fall asleep. And chances were good that I was actually bothering more people by nagging K than she was by climbing all over her chair. I should have left immediately when I saw what her mood was and knew it at the time, but I was desperately hungry, so instead I threatened and threatened until she moved into outright defiance and deliberate provocation, at which point the Halloween costume got cancelled and we headed home, because if I couldn't trust her to listen to me in public, we had to stay home.

Only first I had to stop to mop up when I discovered I had managed squeeze juice from the juice box I was carrying all over the carseat, and then had to deal with the boneless puddle of child on the floor of the car. I feel a certain amount of pride that this is the first point in the past two days that I started yelling, which was just about as effective as it usually is, which is to say that she started laughing. I feel so much sympathy for spanking parents at times like these, but I also know that times like these are part of why I don't spank, because I don't think I want to allow myself to use violence when I'm that angry. As it is, I can't say I was terribly gentle when I pulled her up and put her in her carseat.

On the way home:

K lost tv privileges for the afternoon due to egregious seatbelt violations

My back started spasming, not doubt due to having to haul around a struggling forty pound child

I had to stop suddenly, causing my large cup of iced tea to hit the floor

K announced that she had spilled her juice

I won't even go into what it took to achieve a bath tonight. I have rarely been so happy to see bedtime come tonight. I think four may kill me.

So any guesses on how many more times we have to go through this and how many more patient explanations it will take before she finally realizes that defying me in public will result in staying home?

*And this, of course, is how a parent can never win, because if you don't discipline enough, people give you the hairy eyeball for being too permissive, and if you do discipline, you get the hairy eyeball for being too harsh and a possible abuser. Think upon this the next time you find yourself judging a parent in public: you are only seeing a brief snapshot in time of their relationship with their child. Try to be charitable.

Monday, October 19, 2009


We went to an openhouse for a local Friends school Saturday. It was a nice little school, with small class sizes and a good philosophy. It looked like the sort of place we could all be very happy with.

I've been thinking a lot about our educational options for K lately, as we need to start working out now what we want to do for kindergarten for next year. One of the reasons I wanted K to get into the public school preschool program (besides being FREE) was that it seemed like a good way to experience the local public schools at a point when it won't have too many negative effects on her education. So far, I've been kind of iffy on the experience. The preschool itself is okay. They have a decent classroom and only 20 kids, which is excellent compared to class sizes at higher grades. They do a bit of academic work, but at one letter a week, it's hardly academic hothousing. K's class is very diverse, which I like quite a lot. I don't think we would ever have to worry about diversity sending her to city schools.

But I don't think they could possibly be more unfriendly to working parents, given that they don't offer any before or after school care. Between the legal holidays, inservice days and the weekly half day, it feels like she's been out of school more than she's been in. We're already having headaches dealing with her care on the one weekday I could work, and I'm having palpitations at the thought of trying to work around her schedule if I get another job. More concerning is the fact that whenever I do actual research on the Philadelphia public schools, I find that their reputation of being crowded and violent is entirely deserved.

I'm a big proponent of public schools in theory. But there's a definite tension between my ideals and my obligation to the real child standing in front of me to provide her with what she needs to be successful in life, which at minimum involves a good, safe place to learn. I'm not sure the public schools here can even live up to that standard.

And after that, there's the question of how far we go to find the situation that's the best match for K. This dovetails with two things I've been thinking about a lot lately:

1. Every day since last March, K has woken up and said "Today's not a preschool day." I'm pretty sure it was a new baby anxiety issue, especially since it reached its absolute worst right before Alec came. For the most part, she gets dressed and goes to school pretty readily, and even if we have trouble getting her out the door, she's usually fine by the time we go to school, and fine when I pick her up. But a couple weeks ago, I got the first attempt of her coming up to me and piteously announcing that she can't go to school because she's sick, followed by the world's most fake cough.

And oh, my heart. She had managed to step directly into the deep pit of my school issues. I spent years pretending to be sick to get out of going to school. Part of it was the social hell (more on that in a minute), but I think part of it was just that I wasn't physically suited to that environment. I'm a very strong introvert and I suspect I have some significant sensory issues as well, and I think being surrounded by that many people all day long was just too exhausting for me, so I needed periodic breaks. It almost certainly would have been easier on me to attend a smaller school.

I'm wary of projecting my issues onto K, since I don't necessarily think her not wanting to go to preschool is more than an extension of her continuing attempt to meld herself directly to my skin and possibly burrow into my torso. Right now, this is a wait and see issue. But I'm pretty sure she's an introvert too, which wouldn't be much of a shocker given that she has two introverted parents. She seems to have gotten a large dose of my personality, although thankfully with less shyness. But the introversion is definitely there and I have to wonder what going to a huge, crowded public school will do to her.

2. Reading this post, where the author talks about discovering her son is being teased and how it brought back her own bad experiences with bullying. I had started to leave a comment, but it was turning into this post so I decided to save it for my own blog.

To put it mildly, her post hit a nerve. The author posted a picture of herself from the teasing period, and if you had added glasses and a retainer, it would have been me in second grade. For me, the teasing lasted from second to tenth grade. I'm dreading the day it happens to my children, because there's not much I'm going to be able to do about it. The plain truth is that you can't teach a child to combat a bully. If they're not the type of person to be able to come up with a snappy comeback on the spot, they're probably not going to be good at delivering any lines you supply them, and those lines may or may not be relevant to the situation. I can say from experience that piously informing bullies that they're revealing their deep insecurity is, um, ineffective. You can tell someone to ignore the tormenting all you want, but let's face it, we're social animals. We care about what other people think of us. When someone truly doesn't care about other people's opinions, it's considered a personality disorder. The only real defense from bullying comes from the school taking an active anti-bullying approach.

So what are the other choices?

1. Homeschooling - we have the option of online charter schools here, so it would be possible to homeschool while not having to take charge of the actual teaching and planning if I don't feel up to it. My worries about homeschooling are more in the social areas. I know it's perfectly possible to homeschool and still adequately socialize your child. But so far, I've done an absolutely lousy job of getting K regular access to other children without sending her to daycare or preschool. We've had a handful of playdates with one other child we met through her daycare last year and that's about it. The other factor is that I freely admit that I have discovered that I'm not well suited to be with my children all day, every day. If I could somehow homeschool while having someplace to send K for a couple hours a day, or even three days a week, I would seriously consider it. There's actually a place in the Philadelphia suburbs where I could send her part of the day, but it's on the other side of the city. Homeschooling would kill any hope of my working any more than the paltry hours I am now, unless again, I was able to find someplace to send her part of the day.

2. Private school - we would love to send K to a Friends School. It would expose her to her Quaker heritage, and I really like the idea of her going to a school where kindness and respect for others is an explicit part of the curriculum. The drawback? Most of the Friends schools around here average $20000 a year. I am not prepared to go into debt to send my child to kindergarten. The Friends school we saw this weekend is much much cheaper, to the point that it's actually conceivably within the realm of affordable if we're thrifty enough. One thing I keep reminding myself is that next year, the car will either be paid off, or we'll be paying a hopefully much lower car payment that will be further diminished by getting car payments from my brother. But on the flip side of homeschooling, I would almost certainly have to get more work if we want to be able to save any money while paying for private school, however cheap it is.

3. Decide that K is unlikely to get knifed in first grade and send her to public school while doing our level best to get the hell out of Philadelphia. This idea has quite a bit of merit, but revolves around being able to find a job someplace else. So, you know, not something entirely in our control.

So that's what's filling my brain lately. Well, that and occasional feeling guilty for rampant class privilege, but good education shouldn't be a privilege.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

It's not that nothing is going on in our lives these days. It's just that every single thing I do these days involves at least one of my hands. If I'm not feeding, soothing, wiping, swaddling, jiggling or otherwise entertaining a baby or small child, I'm pumping. Or in my miniscule spare time, sewing. Plus, very little in our lives is actually that interesting. We just keep doing the same things every day, and before I know it, over a week has gone by and I haven't posted anything.

So here are a few random things I can think of to keep another week of silence go by:

* Our trip to California was, on the whole, worth it. It was every bit as inconvenient and exhausting as we expected a trip across country with a baby and preschooler would be, with some extra jabs thrown in just to make us just that much more tired, but I'm glad we went. The wedding was lovely, I got to see a cousin and her daughters and we spent time with some college friends. And I have now been on the West Coast and seen the Pacific ocean for the first time.

* Alec rolled over today. I thought he might not make it, because he was clutching a toy in the hand of the arm he was rolling on, but once I helped out by taking the toy away, over he went. Last Thursday, he laughed for the first time. My tiny baby keeps insisting on growing and developing. Is college next?

* Every day, K comes home from preschool with a new drawing, almost always of our family. It's fascinating how her drawing has been progressing in the past week. First, we were largely just heads. Then we were heads with bodies and limbs attached. Then she started drawing in details like hair and B's beard and a very definite attempt to have one of us holding Alec. Today, we all had glasses on and she had made a very creditable attempt to sign her name with at least three recognizable letters. I've made no secret about the fact that I find four a very trying age, but there are parts of it that are just so incredibly cool. I don't know when my kid got so smart and capable, but it's wondrous to behold.

* I love the cool crispness of fall, which fell on us this year with a startling suddenness that left us sitting there blinking. I've been scrambling to put away the short sleeves and pull out the sweaters as the temperature in the house plummets. The cats like us again as they compete to crawl under the covers with us when we go to bed. It's amazing how they're suddenly ready to accept the new messy small creature in the house when there's body warmth to be shared.

* I'm taking new member classes at church, although I'm not able to attend many of them between our travelling and my work schedule. That's okay though. After confirmation classes and new member classes at three different churches, I think I'm pretty much set when it comes to the history of the UCC and the rights and responsibilities of a member of a UCC church (basically, we vote. A lot, on pretty much everything). I suppose it's a little quick to be joining, but after almost three years, it's time to transfer my membership from our Indiana church, and I really like this church. Alec is getting baptized November 15, and my mother and brother are coming out. I haven't seen much of them in the past year, so I'm really looking forward to it even though they're not staying long.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009


We just got back from spending the weekend in California, attending B's sister's wedding and trying to shoehorn seeing everyone we know in the Bay Area in one day. Is there no end to our crazy cosmopolitan jetset lifestyle?

Well, I would feel more cosmopolitan and jetset if B's parents hadn't had to pay for our entire trip, since we couldn't have afforded to send even just one of us. Heck, just the baggage fees represent a staggering blow to our current budget. So we are incredibly grateful to them.

Anyway, we are now very very very tired. So this is the "I aten't dead" post that will be elaborated upon later.