We had her party before her actual birthday and all had a good time. For her party, she wanted to eat out with a small group of friends, go ice skating and then head back to the house for cake and general playing around. She insisted on making and frosting her own cake, although after a few attempts at writing with frosting on wax paper, she let me do that part, (she did the frosting flowers, though). All had a good time.

After everyone had left, Ann wanted to try out her presents. After trying on three or four different flavors of lip gloss and letting us know how they tasted, William couldn't stand it anymore and pulled me outside to play soccer. I thought that Ann would follow us after a bit, but she didn't show up so I figured I'd better check on what she was doing.

One of her presents was a laminating machine and that was what she was trying out now.  The sight that greeted me was a ripped-up box, a shredded plastic clam-shell casing with a pair of scissors lying nearby, and a black machine on the counter plugged in with the "Power" and "Ready" LEDs lit. As I took this in she said, "I need a cooling rack." I automatically gave her one usually used for cookies. She seemed to think that it fit the bill nicely.

As she played with one of the switches on the machine, I forged around for a manual. She gave me a *look* and said, "I've done this before", then fed something into the machine. She seemed pleased with the results and it did seem like she knew what she was doing, but I finally found and read the manual anyway. By the time I had finished the manual, (and it was a short), Ann had not only laminated four or five notes on paper that she arranged and stapled to make a thank you note to her friend for the gift, but was instructing William on how to operate the machine.

One thing in the manual was a "tip" in there about crayon art and how the heat from the laminator can make a nice "stained glass" effect, (maybe unintentional), if you draw directly on the lamination plastic.  I told Ann that and she tried it out.  It turned out nice, but the lines were crisp.  I figured leaving some excess crayon on the sheet would help and did a drawing by really mashing down while drawing.  This turned out a little better, but I wasn't satisfied even though Ann was impressed.  I decided to "step it up a notch" and started shaving crayon pieces on the lamination sheet with a knife.

The machine has a very thin intake slit as it's made for laminating things like paper.  The first time I tried to put my crayon shavings—neatly encased as they were in the laminating plastic—it wouldn't move .  So, I mashed the shavings down and tried again.

My test was just a simple landscape with a yellow sun, a blue sky, and some green grass.  The machine slowly drew in the picture this time and we watched as a nice "stained glass" patch of green started to come out the other end.  But when it came time for the blue sky, it was still green.  We watched and waited, but at the end all we had has a laminated green, stained glass-looking blob.  I couldn't figure out where the other colors had gone until William tried to laminate something and it came out a multi-colored streaky mess.  I picked up the machine to look closer and found a pool of crayon wax dripping all over the counter...

As it turned out, even "mashed down" crayon shavings are too large to fit through the rollers drawing things into the machine.  Therefore, it pushed those shavings out the back of the laminating plastic and into the internals of the machine—where they promptly melted and ran freely inside and out.

The next 30 minutes or so were spent in my workshop dissecting the machine armed with rubbing alcohol, Q-Tips, an X-ACTO knife and other cleaning supplies trying to rid wax from the machine.  In the end, everything turned out fine and it can again laminate things without a colorful impressionist touch to it...whew!

Today—the actual birthday—Ann wanted to bring a treat of brownies to school.  She of course wanted to make them and had even took orders on type—17 chocolate and 5 peanut butter.  She mixed stuff up and it tasted great.  (For the peanut butter orders, she just added some, well, peanut butter to the concoction until it tasted peanut buttery enough in my view—she's not into peanut butter and wasn't interested in tasting that batch.)

When it came time to bake, I didn't have the right-sized pans on hand for the recipe, but that's not a big deal, right?  Just take the lowest suggested baking time and then use the ol' toothpick to see when it's really ready.  (I'm used to cooking where you can see things interact and in the case of proteins stick a thermometer in there if not sure.)  Ann went to sleep with the pleasant smell of baking brownies filling the house and awoke to the same.  I had been busy, though.

You see, when I pulled the first batches out, let them cool, then did a taste test, I found them totally dry and crunchy in most areas.  This wasn't her fault because the batter she made was good—it was the over baking that killed it.  So, I spent a good deal of the night making smaller batches same as she did, but baking in a single, same-sized pan so I could get the timing right.

Four hours later when the alarm rings she has a perfectly gooey set of 18 chocolate and 6 peanut butter brownies ready.  (There should have been nine PBs, but when the last batch came out of the oven I wanted to get to bed so rushed getting them out of the pan while they were still hot.  In the process, I mashed a row.  No worry; her PB order asked for five.)

Out the door; off to school.

I "surprised" Ann by bringing her Taco Bell for lunch at school.  OK, this was hardly a surprise since it's expected and she made her order in advance and she was waiting for me outside when I pulled up.  Today the lunchroom served Jell-O cups as desert.  Some of the girls at the table where I sat with Ann did great tricks with Jell-O and straws.  I, being a responsible adult, didn't feel it was appropriate for me to laugh outright, but it *was* really funny.  It's great to see kids being kids.

I now know that Ann is making great choices about who she hangs out with.  Yes, I ended up with Jell-O and Ranch dressing on my clothes, and this group of girls was rambunctious, (they excuse tables based on "behavior" and Ann told me that they never "win"—in fact they are usually the last three to leave), but I could tell that these were good kids; no mean talk and fine with the variety of different personalities reflected in the group.  As for the shenanigans, well, that just goes with being giggly 11-year-olds I'd say.

I won't send her with a lunch and it has become expected anyway), but also dinner out.  The dinner might be more of a surprise because we plan dinner menus in advance.

It's really hard to explain the dinner planning conversations other than to say you have to be there.  One of the kids will start with a one item in a low, drawn-out manner.  Then the other will follow with another item in the same fashion although maybe in a higher tone, or maybe repeat the first item.  After a round or two with this, they'll either go "ummmm" (yum meaning agreement) or make retching sounds.  I can't do it justice, but it's really funny and one of those priceless things—inside jokes if you will—that bond us as a family.  It's probably not unique, but that doesn't matter.

But, back to Ann's birthday party.

When I asked her what she'd like to do she said eat out and go ice skating.  I try to keep the birthday party question pretty open-ended: figure out what they'd like to do and then edit as needed.  However, I can't remember a time where editing was needed.  Although I must admit that I did edit her request a little.

You see, when I asked who she wanted to invite she gave me the usual, "how many people" question.  I shot back with "who do you want to invite?"  (I remember this vividly—we were stopped at a traffic light on the way to school.)  She gave me two names.  I asked her if that was it and she confirmed.  To me that was a little risky because you never know what other obligations people have, so I asked her if there was anyone else.  She gave me one other name.

Neither kid is short on friendly acquaintances.  I help out in the classroom and help chaperone some school trips.  I know who they're having problems with, (although more difficult with Ann now). So just two or three surprised me, but that is what she wanted.

Now Ann has already started planning her "Sweet 16" party, and from the sounds of it, some editing may be needed there, but that's a long way off...right?!

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