10 May 2014

Nerd Rage: Captain America's little flaw

Got a childfree night tonight so we went to see Captain America: The Winter Soldier. This is not a movie review, nor will it contain spoilers, I think. If you are extremely sensitive to this sort of thing, please stop reading now, go see the movie (because it is amazing and awesome and I freaking love what Marvel is doing with their properties) and then come back so I can complain in peace.


As noted above, I really enjoyed the movie. I enjoyed the lack of gratuitous T&A, the large quantities of gratuitous stunts, and the infinite supply of explosions. I also enjoyed the plot. I say this as someone who does not read a lot of comic books and comes into the Captain America franchise completely blind to prior history, so bear with me if you don't like something they changed from the long history of comics. I don't know what you're talking about. All I know is that Steve Rogers and his red-white-and-blue suit represent the ongoing struggle between truth, justice, the American way, and the moral high ground, and I like it. I also really like Scarlet Johannson kicking people in the face, which is another bonus for Marvel. There are some things Marvel is still working on in terms of translation from print to screen, but this is a story worth telling.


I just have one serious quibble with the movie, but it's kind of a big one. And in this case I'm going to spread the love around, because I have the same quibble with DC in Superman Returns. It involves hospitals and operating rooms and more specifically code scenes. (No spoilers!) And both movies have the same flaw. It's game-breaking for me and it disrupts my suspension of disbelief, and I said that while talking about a 95 year old genetically reengineered man with a flying shield made of vibranium while using my serious face.


It is this: CPR.


In Captain America somebody dies (hint: It's not Dumbledore). In Superman Returns, the Man of Steel sort of semi dies (if I just spoiled that movie for you I am sorry but the statute of limitations is one franchise reboot). Both of them wind up in a hospital being attended to by a team of Serious People in Scrubs, which is what we all look like when bad things happen in the hospital and is so far believable. Both of them are hooked up to cardiorespiratory monitoring, which is also part of the Bad Things Happening algorithm. I will even give Superman a pass on the whole "they showed a flatline before putting EKG leads on him" thing because Dramatic Timing (also, what are they starting an IV with in that scene? A spinal needle?). But here's the part that is driving me berserk:


Two movies. Like ten minutes of scenes with People Trying To Die and telemetry showing Bad Heart Things. Not one single chest compression. Superman is being wheeled in, bag-valve-mask ventilated, and nobody is on the cart doing compressions. It's the number one rule of resuscitation, people: it is so important that we don't even tell lay people to do rescue breaths any more. If you have an unresponsive victim who is not breathing or only agonally breathing, you do chest compressions. Over the sternum. Two inch compression depth, one hundred times a minute. Count out "Staying Alive" in your head to keep the beat.


Chest compressions, people.


When Unnamed Dying Character is lying on a surgical table after taking multiple gunshot wounds to the center mass, intubated and ventilated, and they are far enough along in the surgery to be getting out the suture, I expect to see blood everywhere. Buckets of it. I saw a chest wound. I expect that if they're sewing this character up there has been a thoracotomy or at the very least a chest tube. Someone has opened this person's chest. And abdomen. And there should be blood flowing. Trust me on this one, trauma surgery is messy and involves emergency release blood units.

When you have a patient on the operating room table and they attempt to die on you, you don't stand around. Someone does chest compressions. A lot of them. A hundred times a minute. Someone else gets the defibrillator and someone else (probably anesthesia) pulls drugs. You don't stand around, comment "we've got V fib" (I checked, it looked accurate on the telemetry strip) and then wait for the paddles to show up. You do chest compressions. You shock the patient. You do chest compressions. You re-analyze AFTER you do chest compressions. You check for a pulse AFTER you do chest compressions. All the time you are pushing on the chest, hard and fast.


And most importantly, when the line goes flat on the monitor, you push epinephrine and then you do chest compressions (am I repeating myself? Good). You don't stand around hoping that the drugs make it magically from the vein in the arm all the way to the heart. If the heart is not beating -- if you do not feel a pulse -- then sheer external effort is the only thing that is going to get blood to circulate through the body. It's the only thing that's going to move medications. It's the only thing that is going to give any resuscitative effort a fleeting chance of success.


Unnamed Character lays on the table in the operating room -- in a trauma OR, I can only assume, because where else are you going to take someone with multiple gunshot wounds, and this is SHIELD, people are getting shot all the time as far as I can tell, they have to be prepared for this kind of thing -- and gets a couple of desultory shocks (good job turning up the joules to 200, that was appropriate) and a push of epinephrine (also good job, right drug) and then they just stand around for about a minute and wait to see whether magical epinephrine fairies are going to transport the drugs to the heart.


Surprise: no compressions, nothing happens. So after a minute or so they give up, call Unnamed Character dead, and get on with the business of things. Never mind that no medical professional worth the surgical facemask is going to spend less than two minutes pretending to run a code. Never mind that if Unnamed Character has been so lucky as to have undergone a thoracotomy the surgeon in charge is going to rip open the wires and attempt manual heart massage (don't look shocked: I've seen it done on the cardiac recovery floor -- with temporary success, to boot). Never mind all that. The magical epinephrine fairies failed to perform, show's over, so sorry folks.


If you're going to fake a hospital scene, at least put a little effort into it. Next time call me. I'll be happy to screen your movie so people can die convincingly. I've been there. We don't give up that easily. Not on Unnamed Character, not on anybody.


Okay, nerdrage over. Go see The Winter Soldier. The bad part's only a few minutes long, and the rest is seriously awesome. But don't forget to do your chest compressions.


22 April 2014

"But why does he have girl's hair?"

I'd like you to meet someone:

This is the Captain, or Cap'n for short. He's three years old and he is a boy. You can ask him, he's not afraid to make that perfectly clear. He gets angry when Daddy drives the car because then he has to sit behind me and "then we don't match". He likes things to fit into neat, tidy categories.

He also has his daddy's hair. And his great-grandfather's hair. And his mother's hair, when I was a little girl about his age. He wears it long, past his collar, and in curls. Sometimes in a ponytail, "just like Daddy". He likes it long; we've asked, especially on the mornings when he screams at having it brushed and runs away from the evil thing. He doesn't want to cut it.

I'm fine with that; I can respect it. I like long hair on boys and men (witness Daddy's ponytail). But Cap'n has a charming face and the morphologic androgyny of toddlerhood and it's a cultural thing to identify moppy blonde curls as belonging to little girls, so we are constantly catching strangers' comments about "her". I normally let them pass, having learned the hard way that correcting a stranger's assumption about the gender of my child inevitably leads to their embarrassment, but seven-year-old Cups is at that stage in life where she must make certain that everyone is completely accurate in all details at all times.

We had the kids out at a local con recently in Wonder Woman and Flynn Rider garb, sitting around a table playing KinderBunnies and Spot It with some other kids (set up a game and people will play!) when one of the kids pointed at Cap'n. "It's her turn."

"He's a boy," Cups corrected. "He's my brother."

The child -- about six or seven himself -- looked up at me, clearly the only mother in the area. "But why does he have girl's hair?"

I gave my standard answer. "Because his daddy does, and he likes it." It clearly wasn't satisfactory, but you don't argue with the Mom Voice. He muttered something about girl's hair and went back to the game, and I went back to thinking.

In case you missed it, we're raising cosplaying children. Costuming my kids is a labor of love and also an expression of art for me. But this year has been a challenge. We were in the preliminary design stages of doing Mary Poppins' "Jolly Holiday" costumes for the four of us (a project I am still finding alarmingly ambitious) when Frozen came out and the kids went gonzo. It didn't take long before there were demands for costumes, and it didn't take long for that to turn into What We're Doing For GenCon.

Here's the tricky part: Cap'n insists on being Anna. I was okay with doing that for him, and worked up an adorable little vest-and-pants set inspired by a dear friend's quick sketch, but he was not satisfied.
"Mommy," he complained, "these are pants. Anna wears a dress."

I'm going to go out on a limb here and make a statement that is true for me, and may not be true for other people: it is really hard for me to give my son the same liberty of style that I give my daughter. I had a hard time coming to grips with Cups's preference for dresses, ruffles, and the color pink; I wanted her to like jeans and eschew princess fluff. I'm having an even harder time letting Cap'n pick out the pretty teal Princess jammies he desperately wanted in the store, even though they're the same cut as the Lightning McQueen ones right next door.

"How about big loose pants?"

"Anna," he insisted, "wears a dress."

I thought: His hair is already gender nonconforming. Everyone is going to call him a girl. "I can do something in between?"

"Anna wears a dress. I want to be Anna."

I can't put him in a dress. People will be confused. "We'll see," I finally conceded, which everyone knows is parent-speak for "I'm going to hope you forget about this."

I sat down with some women friends of mine at a party one night and told them about my son and his Anna dress, and my struggles. And with love and support they said helpful things to me. Things like "I would have expected you of all people to be okay with that." Things that challenged my thinking.

I remember when Cups was about four or five and my mother called me from the Big City three hours north. "There's a Disney Princess show here," she said. "I thought I could take Cups. They'll do dress up and makeup and things."

"I'll ask her if she wants to go," I answered, and my mother's surprise was audible.

"I thought you didn't want her to do princess stuff!"

I explained to her then that part of being a feminist to me involved letting my daughter choose her own path, and what was interesting to her, and that I had to respect that if she wanted to wear pink and lace that it was her choice to do so. Even though I can't stand pink and lace, and my deep abiding fear has been that I would have a daughter who needed advice on things like makeup and shoes, things I don't particularly care much about outside of which ones go with which costume.

It's hard to let go of the things I didn't even realize were so important to me. It's hard to be sizing a Scandinavian walking skirt to fit my three year old son's little Buddha waist. It's hard to think about GenCon this year, with Cups correcting everyone who calls her little brother a girl (although it's nice that he won't need a wig, just some hair color for the braids). There's a voice in my mind that worries about what people will think and what am I doing, putting my son in a dress?

But it's more important by far to let him know that he can choose his own path. It's more important to me that he learns that he can have faith in his instincts. It's more important that he learns now that the first law of cosplay is make a costume you are comfortable wearing and that nowhere does it say worry about how other people think you look in it. It's more important that he learns that his family will stand up for him and support him and respect his desires. I committed myself to this path when I said I'd raise my daughter to be strong and independent and true to herself. How can I do any less for my son?

26 January 2014

Everypony was There (Cups turns 7)

Warning: This is kind of a mommy-blog post about my daughter’s birthday, so if you don’t want to read the details of some stranger’s kid’s party skip this post.  There’s no roleplaying or board gaming in it – except we did play a round of Seven Wonders while the kids tried to kill the pillow slalom with swords.   It’s mostly just me laying out what we did because somebody else might be able to use it.

I’m still adapting to the idea of having a seven-year-old, but there she is, all seven years of dress-wearing pink-loving makeup-requesting her.  And this year, in addition to makeup (makeup? seriously, where is she going to wear lipstick and eyeshadow?  To first grade?) she wanted a My Little Pony party.  This may or may not have been triggered by the Pinkie Pie piñata we found at Wal-Mart, but there’s something about throwing a party for my seven-year-old with a My Little Pony theme that appeals to my inner seven-year-old.

So My Little Pony it was.  And operating on the guiding principle (evidence-based even) that money is best spent on experiences rather than stuff, party planning began.  The problem was that Cups wanted to invite Friends that Are Boys, and first grade involves the awkward stage of gender differentiation where it’s So Not Cool for boys to do Girl Things.  If we’d waited a few years for this theme then we could have invoked the Brony Principle, but seven-year-old boys are pretty clear on the whole Girl Stuff problem.  We didn’t want them to feel unwelcome, so we had to balance the Girl Stuff out with All Kid Stuff. 

Spoiler: These things work out in the end, if you feed them enough sugar and leave the hair chalk out where they can get to it. Also, my husband rocks the blue glitter nail polish.

We decided on a lunch party, mostly because we like to feed people and it served as a nice opening period for people to drift in.   We scheduled it for Saturday at noon and on Friday night the snow and wind started to hit.   Saturday morning I took a test spin, noted the plows were out and the town roads weren’t really that bad so we called everyone to tell them the party was on and started food prep around 9:30.  At 10:30 AM I got the text message that the county had gone to a red alert (a Snow Emergency, where it’s technically illegal to be on the roads) so we called everyone again and told them the party was delayed to Sunday.  Then we put the food in the 22 degree garage and tried to console Cups. 

Sunday morning at 8 I went out for a test spin on the roads (hey, I’m a doctor, I get to drive to the hospital for rounds in a red alert) and noted that the city roads were bare asphalt without any snow or ice.  We live in a rural town, so county roads by report were still really bad, but the city was normal driving conditions. I called M and we decided that we would go forward with the party and let people use their own judgment about whether to come.  At about 10 the county was downgraded to orange, so it was no longer technically illegal to come to Cups’s party and 13 kids showed up – most of them with their parents. 

We are going to be cleaning up this house for weeks.

I am a consummate scavenger of Other People’s Ideas on Pinterest, and I’m going to try to give credit where credit is due in the following breakdown of the party:

P1260073Lunch and Nibbles:

I bought some placecard templates from Irrelephant Designs on Etsy, which were charming (if a little small, margins were adjusted to get them to print on our postcard cutouts) and paired excellently with the personalized chevron favor boxes I found at a reasonable custom print price from Shindigz.com (despite the shady name, they delivered a quality product in good time).  We labeled all our food, aiming for one per pony represented on the cards, plus Spike since there was a duplicate pony.   I got the flower trays as a surprise find at Dollar General while hunting for something else entirely.

P1260041Rainbow Dash’s Rainbow Fruit Salad: Adapted from Daisy at Home, we went with a flower tray rather than a rainbow design, but same general idea: a rainbow of fruit with marshmallow crème dip in the middle (recipe follows).  Our rainbow’s color sequence gave a little bit to my distaste for melons, so we used strawberries, apples, pineapple, green grapes, blueberries, and red grapes.   We sliced some bananas to put in the rotation but they were too chunky and not asthetically pleasing, so we put them off on the side instead and they really didn’t get eaten (this may be partly because of the 24 hour party delay)

P1260047Pinkie Pie’s Flower Bites: Borrowed directly from Life with Moore Babies, we made PB&J and ham and cheese sandwiches on honey wheat bread and then used a flower shaped cookie cutter to cut them into floral shapes.  Lettuce, tomato, and condiments were on the side.   (This is the point where I ask if anyone has a brilliant idea for what to do with the peanut butter and jelly crusts, because I can’t bear to throw them away.  Current plan is to feed the birds this summer with them.)  For scaling purposes, we used the very largest flower cutter that would still make a flower shape from the bread.  I made 16 PB&J and 16 ham and cheese sandwiches total for 13 kids and 11 adults and had about 4 PB&J and 1 ham and cheese left over. 

P1260048Princess Celestia’s Celestial Clouds: Okay, so this is one of those times where we used “we’re having a party” as an excuse to buy more kitchen gadgets.   Major purchase for the party was a home cotton candy machine.  We bought the Nostalgia Electrics hard and sugar-free version in order to have the capacity to make sugar-free cotton candy for our diabetic friends as well as the thrill of Life Savers Cotton Candy (it’s super good!), and did the cotton candy in advance over a few days.   Best output on the machine was definitely from commercial floss sugar, but we got some very respectable cotton candy from Life Savers, candy canes, hard crack caramel, and sugar free Werther’s drops.  Best of all, each cone contained less than a tablespoon of sugar and kept kids occupied.    

P1250007Applejack’s Down Home Applesauce: From My Crazy Blessed Life, except I try to limit the silverware requirement at any kids’ party to “cake and ice cream only” where possible.  Also, Mott’s tends to put sugar and/or high fructose corn syrup in their applesauce, and I don’t dig it.  So we bought a lot of GoGoSqueez from Amazon and put that out instead.  There were cries of “ooh, GoGoSqueez!”  It got eaten.  No applesauce was spilled.  And we have leftover applesauce for snacks and lunches. 

P1260065Rarity’s Fromages du Campagne:  This translates to Rarity’s Country Cheeses, basically. Originally, we were going to make Rarity in charge of the cotton candy, but I had a Princess Celestia food tag and couldn’t think of anything more royal than cotton candy.  Also, I remembered that I had a bag of cheese cubes in the freezer that I really wanted to make disappear, so we went ahead with the gussied-up cheese tray.   It’s all purchased; while I know I can make a cheese ball, they always come out looking like misshapen lumps. 

P1260054Fluttershy’s Bunny Munch: What better way to get kids to eat their vegetables than to propose them as pony food?  We went with Cups’s favorites: kalamata olives, broccoli, carrots, celery, and then for the grownups we made a (very mild) pico de gallo and filled the last slot with tortilla strips.  Middle of the tray is Marzetti’s Ranch dressing and off to the side is Tastefully Simple’s Onion Onion dip, which is kind of a staple for us.

P1260071Spike’s Dragon-Grilled Chicken Skewers: We have some friends who are gluten intolerant, so sandwiches as a main dish don’t cut it alone.  We hit on doing chicken skewers and were initially going to do long kebabs.  Then I found a couple packages of three inch bamboo forks at Dollar General (never send me shopping alone) and M turned them into charming miniature skewers that were bite sized and easy to handle.   They’re chicken tenderloins, chopped into bites and stuck two to a skewer, then brined in a light salt solution overnight (plus an additional 24 hours for weather delays) and then grilled with an olive oil brushing.  We grabbed a handful of dipping sauces for our condiment table, and the kids really liked them.  The brining leaves the chicken very moist and tender in the middle, even after sitting in the crockpots on warm for hours.  We made 106 and had maybe a dozen left.
Prep note: It took M about an hour to grill all 106 skewers on our indoor range grill, so plan ahead.

P1260063 Twilight Sparkle’s Magical Color Changing Punch: Another nod to Daisy at Home for this one: This is a fantastic idea and the kids really had a blast with it.   It’d be excellent for a science party as well, since the indicator is so easy to make and the color change in lemonade is so dramatic.  We used a simple syrup (1:1 water and sugar) boiled with chopped red cabbage in it.  This gave our indicator a really nice deep blue color and also masked some of the cabbage taste to the juice (but not the smell and not all of the taste, oh no, not all, so if you are looking for a really sweet cabbage juice this is what you want).  The original recipe calls for lemonade, but I am never satisfied with lemonade as a drink (I make it with lemon juice and water, and no sugar, but nobody but me drinks it like that so I always feel like it’s too sweet) so we went to work trying to come up with a punch that had some flavor and enough acidity to turn the indicator colors. 

We started with Sprite, which turns a brilliant pink but is undrinkable with cabbage juice in it.  We tried a multitude of things but finally settled on a tropical pineapple-orange punch (recipe follows) that if you add enough indicator turns from yellow-orange to a sort of ruby grapefruit color (I did not get a picture).   This also proves that if you make it fun, kids will drink anything.  They added far more cabbage juice than I could stomach, just to see it change, and then drank the stuff without hesitation.

P1250019During the lunch period, we set up the dining room table with some color-your-own ponies from Oriental Trading Company (I am trying to move away from buying cheap stuff there and doing more on Etsy etc but I still run up a bill every time we have a birthday), markers and glitter glue pens.   Kids really got into that, and I will be scraping glitter glue off the table for a while.  It was nice to keep them occupied while the slower eaters were coaxed into another few bites of sandwich. 

Then we took everyone downstairs for the wearing-them-out portion of the festivities. 

Party Games:

P1260063_1Pony Dressup: I am reasonably certain that if M never sees another set of pony wings come out of my sewing machine, it will be too soon.  I have a thing about handcrafted party favors, and the only thing I could think of for this party was pony wear, so pony wear it was.   I sourced a pattern for wings, horns, and ears from Sugar Tart Crafts, but I am Lazy and I hate stuffing things so I substituted a thick layer of craft interfacing for the stuffing on the wings.   I also put buttonholes on the bottoms of the horns and on the ears (dear Light if there is something more annoying than sewing 8mm buttonholes in pony ears I hope I never have to do it) and threaded them onto headbands for the kids to wear.   We made more than we needed, of course, so everyone got their choice of colors.  
As far as tails go, I went with the good old-fashioned yarn hank tail (wrap yarn around your arm from palm to elbow until you have a bunch of yarn.  Tie one end around a belt or piece of twine.  Cut the other end.  Repeat twenty-five times) and tied them onto the kids.   Participation was excellent in this and I noticed that the boys (we had four total) picked up the purple (“no, it’s not lavender”) sets with some enthusiasm.  I had expected them to go for blue or black. 

P1250032-2Rarity’s Boutique: Idea from Daisy at Home yet again, and quite possibly the part of this party I was most nervous about.  We set up a table with nail polish and nail stickers on one end, and hair chalk (we got two kinds: Hot Huez and Crayola Hair Stix and I would hands down do the Hair Stix over the Hot Huez – not only were the sticks cheaper and colors brighter, they outperformed the Huez compacts in ease of use, staying power, and sturdiness of applicator) at the other end.  I hung some glittery hair clips and some odd spiral beaded hair extensions on bobby pins (Dollar General again) on the sign, and we painted nails and chalked hair for nine little girls who all wanted it done. 

We picked up some new polish on our outing for this (I do not normally do nail polish, so we don’t keep much on hand) and I have to say Good Things about a product for a moment.  Piggy Paint is not cheap (Walmart has tiny bottles in 3-packs for $3.85) but it is extremely low odor, nontoxic, and removes with ethyl alcohol.   It covers well and dries fast.   I don’t know for durability, but I am really impressed with this stuff so far and most particularly with the part where I didn’t feel like I needed a smoke machine and lasers after helping paint four sets of nails.

P1250031This was the Girl Stuff moment that I was really concerned about. So concerned, in fact, that we had a simultaneous Pony Beading station for making bead necklaces and bracelets in case the boys wouldn’t buy into the hair chalking.  Also, M did his nails with blue glitter before the party, in order to be a Positive Role Model for the body decorating.    They were kind of standoffish at first (“what’s that?”) so we ran them through the obstacle course first to break the ice.  Later, the youngest of them came over to me and asked about the hair chalk.   I obliged, putting blue stripes in his hair.  And his brothers.  And then I just got up and left the chalk in plain sight, and they giggled and chalked among themselves.  Someone got his nails painted (we had blue and black and green, just in case).  They even got into the photobooth.

P1260087-2Photobooth: The photobooth was an absolute must after the mad success of Captain’s party.  We set up the camera with an Eye-Fi card and linked it into a computer with automatic photo printing software (I am cheap, I used an evaluation copy) hooked to one of our old printers.  Snap – print.  I’m not ecstatic about the photo quality (at least in part due to not setting up the camera with a tight enough zoom) but it made the kids happy and they all made sure to pick up a picture before leaving. 

This is the second photobooth frame I’ve made, and I’m pretty happy with the process.  We use a large sheet of foamboard and cut a square out of the middle.  Then I design my header in Word using an appropriately-themed typeface, set it to outline mode, and print it out big enough to cover the top.   I lay the paper on the foamboard and use a blunt pencil to trace the letters with lots of pressure.  This leaves an indented letter guide on the foamboard, which I trace and fill with paint markers.    It’s not perfect and it takes some work to get the indents to show (hint: strongly angled bright light) but it means I have great kerning and the typeface is usually much more consistent than my own lettering. 

For the bottom, we come up with a selection of appropriate taglines (“Most sparkle”, “120% cooler”, “Super Awesomest”, etc) and print each one on a half-sheet of paper.  Laminate (I just switched from my Xyron cold laminator to a Staples brand heat/cold laminator and I am really digging the heat lamination) and attach Velcro to the back of each tagline.   Attach Velcro to the middle of the photobooth and you have an instantly changeable sign.   Kids dig customization. 

P1260089Pony Beads: We bought some bracelet forms and beads (Colorful beads! Metallic beads! Star shaped beads!) from Oriental Trading, then added some stretchy plastic cording for longer projects.  I figured beading was something that Even Boys Do and it got some interest.  By far this was the least popular of the activities (although the younger kids enjoyed it and a lot of bracelets got made), something I attribute in part to the really obnoxiously un-tieable plastic cording and the way the beads fell off if you opened the bracelets wrong.  On the other hand, we have a whole lot of shiny metallic beads for projects. 

246px-AiP_CM_Rainbow_Dash.svgCutie Marks:  Absolutely necessary for ponies are the cutie marks.  This is another area where we put some thought into the Boys Attending problem, as the main characters in MLP are all female.  I considered face paint and then I considered my drawing ability, all the other places my skills would be needed and the amount of time painting faces requires.  So we went with option 2: temporary tattoos.   For the record, if you want the actual cutie mark temporary tattoos, Hot Topic is your store of choice.  Alternatively, you can buy the temporary tattoo cards (was this a collecting thing?) on Amazon for like a dollar a tattoo.  We originally anticipated 18-20 kids so we were looking for a higher quantity and variety.   We settled on printing our own. 

We got the images from the My Little Pony Wikia which has a gallery of cutie mark images (both official and fan-created in the MLP games).  It was an exhaustive fit of downloading, and of paying attention to what we were getting (still thinking of the Boys at the Party), which meant that we wound up with Bacon, Skulls, Dumbbells, and Tornadoes as well as more traditional marks.   I will note that there was a big argument over the Bacon cutie mark, and one of our little girl guests wound up wearing it home.  We printed them (using the Contact Sheet layout for 35 images to a page) on home-print temporary tattoo paper (no I do not own a Silhouette cutter, which is probably to my disadvantage) and ran them through the laminator on cold phase to apply the adhesive. 

Everyone wanted a cutie mark. Two or three or ten.  We had enough for everyone to have several, and a number of kids tucked some extras into their favor boxes to take home.  It set us back $18 (we got extras in case of errors) for 70 tattoos and we got to design what we wanted.  I think it was worth it.  I will note, however, that these temporary tattoos apply just like the traditional kind but when on they’re more like stickers – the adhesive is a flexible plastic film, so they will peel off more easily.  A Silhouette or other cutting machine would reduce this film issue. I will leave the judgment as to whether this is a positive or negative to the reader.  

Obstacle Course:

If there is one thing I have learned as a parent it’s that the secret to crowd control in large groups of children is motion.   Keep them moving from one activity to another and make sure there’s a reward at the end of it.  This will make sure nobody gets distracted and will also put some competition into the problem.   While I was painting nails and chalking hair, M was leading groups of kids through the obstacle course (did I mention we have a really big basement?) We did most of the following activities with a stopwatch in hand.   The actual function of the stopwatch was to lend a sense of urgency.  

We put up a sign at each station with a little rhyme about the station and some instructions, but still found that shepherding the kids through the stations in small groups to work cooperatively where possible produced the best results.  Each station had a themed completion token (small square of cardstock with appropriate clip art on it) to record times on for each kid.

P1250022Rainbow Dash’s Cloud Slalom: We are packrats (hence: big basement) and don’t throw things away until we can no longer find any use for them at all.  This led to our having at home in the basement seven extra pillows that were in use only for occasional guest bedding.   I bought some cheap pillow protectors with zipper tops and installed grommets in each corner, then suspended them from the ceiling using a staple gun on the rafters.  We duct-taped arrows onto the free-swinging pillows to make a slalom and timed kids going through.  It’s amazing how dizzy they get when dodging pillows left and right. 

P1260093Fluttershy’s Forest Friends: This station would have been easier to make if it had been “Fluttershy’s Undersea Adventure” or “Fluttershy’s Cretaceous Rumble”, given our selection of stuffed animals, but we made it work. We hid seven stuffed forest creatures (loosely defined) around the room (including a magnetic bat attached to the support I-beam) and had the kids hunt down all of the creatures.  We provided a list of animals, just in case there were problems, but working as a team the kids didn’t have much trouble.

P1260100Applejack’s Apple Stand: This one went through a bunch of iterations.  I knew I wanted it to be a “find the bad apples” puzzle, but we couldn’t settle on what kind of apples to use.  Real ones seemed wasteful and fake ones were either too expensive or too tiny – plus, what do you do with a bunch of fake fruit after the party? Then we found an apple sorting toy that looked educational and appropriate for our needs, so we bought a set of Attribute Apples and made them part of the present loot.  They come in a little cardboard bushel basket and suited our purpose perfectly: nine of the apples (one of each size and color) have a little worm sticking out.  The kids worked together to find the bad apples and save the apple stand, and we have a new educational toy for the Cap’n.

P1250035Rarity’s Fashion Fiasco: Dollar General provided a large quantity of ribbons for this project, and in doing so (they’re sold in 9-yard spools) decided the length of ribbon to work with.   I threw in a few spare ribbons from my craft remnants as confounders and taped everything to the heating duct (large flat ceiling surface that holds tape, don’t judge).  The kids had to find three matching ribbons, pull them down, and make a braid for Rarity’s high couture.   Turns out seven year olds aren’t good at braiding.  Also, for the older kids, three feet of ribbon takes a while to braid.  We modified this on the fly to “find three ribbons that match”.   Prep note: confounders are really important, as is having more sets than kids.  We had fifteen sets or so and the pickings were pretty easy for the last few.

P1260097Twilight Sparkle’s Library Emergency: Grab ten books of varying sizes and scatter on the floor. Ask the kids to sort by size.  Largest book has the token.  Be prepared to answer the question: “Largest like tallest? Or widest? Or Fattest?”  Also, maybe next time don’t let the seven year old choose the books.  Some of them were the same size.

P1260081Pinkie Pie’s Party Pop: This one was quite possibly the second favorite (after the slalom), owing to the fact that you can only pop balloons once per balloon.   We stuck the completion tokens in balloons (prep tip: round the corners, they go in better) and blew up the balloons, then told the kids they had to pop the balloons without using their hands.   Most of them got the hang of sitting on the balloon and bouncing against the concrete floor pretty quickly.  Apparently, popping balloons is something kids like to do.

Everyone who finished the obstacle course (that’s everyone) got a mystery pony package.  We wound up ordering these direct from Hasbro Toys since Walmart wanted enough for them individually that we were already going to be spending the cost of a case on our anticipated kid load.   We also bought a blank pony for decorating as a present and got the free shipping discount, since we were close and the pony was less than shipping.  The kids really liked the surprise ponies, and I think there was some trading going on.  I know one of the boys got Flam, and was really excited to have “a pony with a ‘stache”. 

The piñata:   

P1260016-1In true party tradition, we hoisted up a piñata (shaped like Pinkie Pie) and handed the kids an aluminum practice baseball bat to attack it with.  Kids over six got a blindfold.  I am sort of amused and sort of appalled by the fact that our piñata came with eight ribbon attached to the bottom and instructions for playing “the piñata game” – this involves pulling on the ribbons one at a time until one of them triggers the hidden trap door and the candy comes out.   I understand that this is safer and less violent than hitting Pinkie Pie repeatedly with a bat, but then we would miss out on the savagery of young children. 

To wit: As we hoisted the piñata, seven year old Cups yells out “we’re all murdering pony beaters!”  There were cheers from the child audience.   Vicious attacks were employed with the blindfold or without.  At one point there were half a dozen kids on the steps chanting “Kill. Kill. Kill.”   When the hanger gave way (taking the mane with it), the last few kids brutalized the carcass on the ground anyway, just to get their hits in.  And then, by the end of the party, in a move worthy of The Godfather, the kids got hold of the piñata’s remains, removed the head, and went running around with it.  I think someone took it home, against his father’s wishes. 

P1250018I am unsure whether to be appalled or fascinated by this behavior, but it renders the imagery of Lord of the Flies at once more horrific and less distant. I can only hope that we can instill in Cups a strong moral code and an awareness of the difference between a piñata and another child.

The Cake:

P1250039We finished up with cake and ice cream and present opening, and I’m just putting this part in because I want to show off the cake.  This is Rainbow Dash and the Sonic Rainboom.   It’s done in marshmallow with a fondant pony and rainbow, and my amazing sister in law made it for us.  This is the kind of birthday gift I can get behind.

We had stipulated the party was going to last until 3, but we finished with cake and ice cream and presents around 2:30, so I told the kids to “go tear down the house”, which got a cheer and a stampede.  They hit the basement, popped the remaining balloons, stuck tattoos to every exposed surface of their bodies, cut the elastic on one set of wings in half, dragged crepe paper through the whole place, and then ran in circles through the slalom until their parents dragged them away.  We sent them home with their costumes, a coloring book (thank you Hasbro downloadables), a whole lot of candy, and a decorated wooden pony.   Also, in one case, a decapitated Pinkie Pie head. 

All in all, it was a success.P1250038


Marshmallow Crème Fruit Dip:

1 13 oz jar of marshmallow crème
2 8 oz packages of softened Neufchatel (note: by softened we mean room temperature and attempting to ooze off your counter soft). 
Vanilla extract to taste (1-3 tsp, depending on how much you like vanilla)
Powdered sugar to taste (approximately 1/4 cup seems to do it)

To make:
Whip the cream cheese with a hand or stand mixer’s whisk attachment until fluffy.  Very important to achieve uniform fluffiness or lumps will remain.  Add marshmallow crème and whip it more.  Whip it real good.  While whipping, add sugar and vanilla.  Taste.  If not satisfied, add more vanilla and/or sugar.

Serve with fruit and a spoon.  Keep out of reach of small children, unless you like it when your plates are attached to the wall.


Magical Color-Changing Punch:

Chop half a head of red cabbage coarsely.  Place in a mixture of 1 part sugar to 1 part water (volume as you choose).   Boil until you like the color.  Strain through a very fine strainer to remove cabbage.   You should have a blue liquid.
This will change to a pinkish-red color in the presence of acid.  Lemonade is your best bet for a drink.

2 cans Welch’s Tropical Passion Fruit Juice Concentrate (sold in the non-frozen juice section)
1 46 ounce can of pineapple juice (this is a little shy of 1.5 liters if you measure that way)
45 ounces or so of pulp-free orange juice (we used half a “family sized” jug of Simply Orange)
4 liters of your favorite Lemon-Lime soda. 

You can, by adding equal parts indicator and punch, get a ruby grapefruit color to this.   Only your kids will drink it at this point, and it smells of cabbage so buy noseplugs.  And Beano.  Just saying.