Monthly Archives: July 2013

Shakespeare & Superheroes – a Compromise

“Shakespeare” – it’s a word that can elicit one of 2 responses, in my experience.  Either people love Shakespeare or they don’t.  Both camps are passionate, too.  Count me among the ‘lovers’ of Shakespeare.

“Shakespeare” also has a lot of loaded meaning in just that one word.   Does it refer to the man?  His plays?  His place in history?  The style of writing and speech?  The implicit uppercrustiness of all of that?

There must be something to his works and his legacy, after all, if there is still an active interest in all things Shakespeare nearly 600 years after his first plays were performed.   Before summer blockbusters, wizard & vampire series, dramedies and chick flicks, there was stage drama written for an often raucous public.  Shakespeare and his contemporaries also had a Queen and her court to please.

It has always been about entertainment first and telling a message second.

N & I have worked out a compromise, and tonight was the test.  He wants to get some superhero picture books that are way below his reading level (with his own money). I said OK but you need to balance that dumbed-down stuff with some Shakespeare.  He agreed. So tonight was “Hamlet pt 1” … Some reading involved, some cartoons (!!!) and discussion.  Pt 2 will be some videos showing performances and interviews on YouTube.  I put together a basic outline of what to cover.

No surprise… I have my own hard copy of “Hamlet” but we only looked through that briefly.  We looked at the cast of characters, “Dramatis Personae,” the structure of Acts, Scenes, stage directions and spoken lines.   Since N is very interested in movies, this was interesting for both of us.

At the advice of a friend, I had purchased some Shakespearean books from Orchard Classics that are novellas for kids.  One of the titles I’d bought was “Hamlet.”  These books are great and definitely took the intimating factor completely out of the equation.

I’d done some research as well, and found a very good cartoon summary that appealed to my comic book loving kid – link here

I have the videos all lined up to go tomorrow.  We’ll be checking out “Kenneth Branagh – Discovering Hamlet” and the production starring David Tennant and Patrick Stewart.  I felt it would be more appealing for him if he saw actors that he was already familiar with.  And, thanks to Harry Potter, Thor and Star Trek: The Next Generation, those clips will do the job well.

After a couple of hours of reading and discussing, I would say this is off to a great start.  He has picked out the picture book he wants and now has a basic understanding of “Hamlet” and the Globe Theater.

He also wants a skull to talk to.  Not sure how to compromise on that one.


Throwing a Hobbit Party

Or… Why I Won’t Becoming a Kid’s Party Planner Any Time Soon

We are Geeks.  We are aware of our Geekiness and shameless about it.  So when N said that he wanted to have a Hobbit/Middle Earth party theme for his birthday, I said, “No problem!”  And I did an excited dance in my head because the potential FUN of having a Hobbit party was, for me, at least, unlimited.  So yeah, I’m that kind of Geek.

So N and I checked my new favorite Go To Spot for ideas when I’m not feeling inspired: Pinterest!  Not much there when we started our research in February.  We relied on my previous favorite Go To Spot: Google.  That produced some ideas.  And so began my folder-filling adventure.  As tech-y as I may be, I still have a good ol’ fashioned folder for ideas and notes.  I use Evernote to be mobile about it.

First we found the cake.  Looked easy enough.  Saved the info and moved on.

Then we needed activities – not as easy for pre-teen boys as I would have thought.  But we finally found the jackpot – archery!  Yes!  We would get simple archery sets for the kids.   We have 2 parties (friend & family) and that adds up to about 25 kids, give or take a few.  More Googling commenced and resulted in my wanting to ditch the whole archery set idea because the costs were ridiculous.

But one caught my eye – a DIY archery set.  N and I looked over the photos and instructions, here.  He was confident that “we” could do this and by “we” he meant me.  Luckily, a friend who had already made them assured me that I could, indeed, handle it.  So, we had our BIG THING.

More activities and stuff for the inevitable goody bag – a treasure hunt (a tradition of ours) that could be done either outdoors or in (or both), making dragon eye magnets, a gold ring, and a small bag of “gold.”  All of these went into a cloth drawstring backpack that they would decorate themselves.  All told, the price was affordable to do and there was plenty to do ahead of time and plenty to do with the kids themselves on party day.

It’s a very good thing that the following facts held true:

  1. We started weeks before the 1st party
  2. We made a prototype/tried everything out first
  3. I’m getting good at using tools
  4. I have a Lowe’s card that gives me an automatic discount

And so we began!

We started with the bows.  We made 25 of them, using PVC pipes, twisted mason line, pipe insulation, duct tape and spray paint.  We discovered a very handy tool to make this part easy, a PVC pipe cutter.  Almost the best $5 I’ve spent on a DIY project.

Here’s how they came out:

Making bows

Making bows

completed bows

Completed bows & some arrows

It was then time to make arrows.  A LOT of arrows.  80 arrows, in fact.  This was very time consuming but definitely worth it, because each kid got 3 arrows and we had extras for when some arrows ended up in trees and gutters. *sigh*

This is what 80 nearly-done arrows look like:


Arrows – not covered with fabric yet

All that was left to do to them was cover them with 9″ fabric circles and keep them in place with cable ties.  We worked on all of these with an assembly line process and snuck in a discussion about Henry Ford.

I ordered the backpacks and plastic gold coins from Oriental Trading about 3 weeks in advance.   They arrived a week before the party.  We bagged up coins in small favor bags.  I made sure the fabric markers I have on hand weren’t dried out and THAT was done.

Next up were the treasure hunt maps.  We have a wide, not deep, backyard that has been transformed over the years, via the Power of Imagination, into a Toy Story “Find Woody” adventure, numerous Star Wars universes, a Superheroes battleground and, now, Middle Earth.  We made a map of our backyard and hoped the kids would ‘see’ what we saw.  Printed those maps onto parchment paper (from Staples) and they came out great!  Mind you, Minas Tirith was the trampoline, Helm’s Deep was the hammock but yeah, we had Middle Earth to explore now.

Middle Earth map

Middle Earth map

We made rings out of a coil of metal from the jewelry making department at Michael’s and a wire cutter but if I’d been paying attention a month ago, I would have just ordered plastic gold rings from Oriental Trading.  Oh well.  We tied the rings up with leather cording.  N assured me that boys would indeed wear these.  Alrighty!  Here’s how they came out:


The “Rings”

We’d found another cool craft for the kids to do and, with fingers crossed, I hoped the boys wouldn’t mind that nail polish was involved.  They made dragon eye magnets – I can’t find the link anymore for where we got the idea from but it involved some basic household (if you have girls, paper clip, foil, craft glue) stuff and a few things (glass beads, small magnets) that we bought at Michael’s.

None of the boys flinched.  I was impressed!

Dragon Eyes

All the stuff to make Dragon Eyes magnets

The big thing – besides the awesome bows & arrows – for the smaller, friend party was going into Gollum’s Cave to answer riddles.  Now THIS was interesting – we weren’t sure it would work and, at first, it didn’t when we tested it out.  We got help from Dad and a bigger fan and voila!  Gollum’s Cave was done!  I didn’t get a picture of the outside of it but frankly, the outside was boring.  The fun was inside.  And we had a great, suitably creepy shot of Gollum blown up at Staples and poster-puttied onto scrap foam board – he got stuffed into the cave and sufficiently wigged the boys out.


Creepy Gollum

Gollum's Cave

N, inside Gollum’s Cave

I put the cake together on the days of each party.  Bilbo is in his Lego form.  Also shown are the folded & sealed maps for the treasure hunt.    The cake, and Bilbo, elicited many Oooohs and Aaahhhs.  Which is why it’s always cool to put together a fun cake.

Hobbit Hole Cake

Hobbit Hole Cake

The kids decorated their bows with Sharpie pens and colored duct tape.  And then we let them loose in the front yard!  Only 4 arrows, between the 2 parties, became casualties.  Not bad…


Finally! Getting the hang of the bows & arrows

N said both parties were great – “the best ever, Mom!” even.  And I agree, they were a lot of fun to put together and to watch unfold.  All of the kids brought their enthusiasm and imagination, which made it all come together.

A few folks have suggested, after many years and many home parties, that I should become a kid’s party planner.  And I’ve actually considered this, I really have.  But I don’t think it will work because of a few factors.

First, when it comes to planning a party with my child, I know what kind of stuff he – and his friends & cousins – like to do, are willing to do and, perhaps most importantly, will NOT work with them.  I don’t know if I’d be able to nail things that closely with kids and families I don’t know.

Second, this party was a LOT of work.  Yes, I’d get paid if I did it as a job but I would need to charge a lot for the amount of time I put into this.  And I’m fairly certain I’d price myself out of a job.

Party time is over for us, for now.  There have been whispers about how we can reuse the cave for Halloween… or for another Star Wars party… or… well, maybe we should just keep it “in case.”   I don’t think I could do this very often or I’d need to take a vacation pretty regularly.

Maybe there’s a place for ‘here’s some ideas, good luck!’ kind of planning.  Even a Geek like me could handle that.

Blogging, the next generation

Today marks the day that N starts to blog.  This is a culmination of writing practice, his love of expressing his opinion, his humor branching out and a way to get used to feedback (from someone other than me).

He’s decided to call his blog (which is part of ours) “N’s Weird Truth.”  And that pretty much sums him up in a nutshell.

This may just prove the very thing to kick start my feeble attempts to write on a regular basis as well.  Weirder things have happened.