Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Notes from a Winter Wonderland

I've got all sorts of things from the holidays that I'm still planning to post here, but for now, this little Mamism will have to do. Yesterday, we arrived at a somewhat famous ski resort. The kids have never seen more than a few inches of snow, so it was a momentous occasion and the kids were very cute.

Me to Mam: I love you more than anything!

Mam: I love you more than anything except the snow.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Bring on the Lights

Each year, our town has a ridiculously well-attended parade on the Sunday after Thanksgiving. As an adult, I don't think I'd spent my time or body heat going to the parade, but as a parent, this is an absolute must. The kids just can't miss the Festival of Lights parade and now that Smunch can read, I don't think he'll ever let us miss it again. There are too many fliers and posters about.

Although they changed the rules about saving yourself a spot this year...people used to put out chairs and tape of pieces of sidewalk for themselves days before the event, it didn't help. There was barely a spot left when we arrived nearly an hour before the start of the parade. Still, the kids had fun with glow sticks and running around in the street before the main event. I brought a thermos of hot cocoa, which turned out to be a brilliant idea.As with every year, downtown glittered with lights on the trees and lighted floats on the streets.The wait for Santa may have been a little long for us mere adult mortals, but I suspect it was worth every minute for our little folks. Apparently, excitement can keep you plenty warm!

Giving Thanks...for Pie!

This year, I hosted Thankgiving at our house. It was a seriously low-key event since only my parents joined us. But the six of us had a nice time and ate extraordinarily well. I even managed to roast a decent turkey this improvement over my last endeavor a few years ago. But, of course, I didn't take any pictures of the bird. That's because my specialty when it comes to things like Thanksgiving is pie.

I learned to make pie when I was a preteen living in England, so I have a somewhat British style of doing things. Although I always forgo the lard that I learned to make pie crust with (this year, I used just butter as an experiment, but I usually use shortening), but I still use my hands to "rub" the fat into the flour mixture. I don't know that this is any more efficient than any other method, but I like to get my hands dirty. After learning that way, it feels like the "right" way to make pie crust.

Of course, I had to make the obligatory pumpkin pie. When we were given the opportunity to make whatever we wanted one day in "Cooking", I made a pumpkin pie. They don't have pumpkin pie in England and although I made one fit for a magazine cover, the teacher gave me just 8 out of 10 for mine. I doubt she knew what to make of my flat-centered, shiny creation. I hope she would have seen fit to grade this one higher.My other standard for the holidays is an apple/cranberry pie. I often just throw in some whole berry cranberry sauce, but this year, I opted for fresh cranberries instead. Yummy! I started out with heaps of apples and cranberries.And because I'm just that way, I had to cut cute little apples out of the top and attempt to make it all artistic.It sure looked pretty, but I also learned that cutting such big holes in your crust makes the apples on the top dry out. Good thing I put so many apples in!Yes, we ate dinner before diving into the pies, but really? Who cares about turkey and stuffing??

Flutter By

So much to catch up on, but, of course, I won't be catching up on most of it...ever. There are still a ridiculous number of Christmas cards to be sent and a few presents left to pick up. Thankfully, I'm mostly done with my shopping, thanks to Amazon and a couple of great post-Thanksgiving sales. The chocolates for the teachers are made, but there are still lots of cookies to go, at least in theory. Even the invitations for the baby shower I'm helping to plan went out in the mail my great relief!

Long before Thanksgiving, however, a friend of mine asked me if I'd like to raise some caterpillars. She was on her second or third batch at that point and I thought the kids might have fun watching them grow. She mercifully gave me only five little 'pillars and I lamely forgot to take any pictures of them as they grew. But grow they did and sooner or later, they started hanging from the roof of their little Gladware home.It's hard to tell from the pictures, but the chrysalises were a beautiful greenish, metallic gold color until the butterflies were about ready to emerge, when you could see their black and orange colors through the "skin".Of our five caterpillars, only three made it to full butterflies, the other two turning to chrysalis mush in the container. Still, we had some lovely little butterflies.But after a week of seeing no sign of mating activity (suggesting maybe we only had one gender in there)...and realizing that it was going to become awfully hard to find hollyhock leaves for new caterpillars with winter coming on strong, we chose a sunny afternoon to let our three butterflies flutter away. And that was possibly the most fun part of all!

Saturday, December 6, 2008

For Calibelle

Today the University of Alabama is playing Florida in football. I know what you're thinking. Why do you care??? I don't care. It's true. But Smunch? He cares deeply. I asked him why.

"I care because Austin lives in Alabama!"

So there. See, Calibelle? Your son may not be around here anymore, but he's far from forgotten : )

Tuesday, December 2, 2008


When I was a little girl, I visited my grandparents with my family. In the room where my sister and I stayed, there was a photograph of this beautiful young woman. I didn't find out until much later that it was a photo of my grandmother. By the time I knew her, she was a very short, obese woman who didn't resemble the photo much at all.

My grandmother died of colon cancer at 71. She lived in Texas and I have spent most of my life in California. My parents always considered themselves poor, although I think they really just believed that airplane tickets were a luxury they didn't want to afford. I could probably count the number of visits with my grandparents on one hand. So, I never knew them well. But the photo stuck with me.

When my grandfather died, many years later, I made sure I went to his funeral and helped my mom clean out his house. He was my last living grandparent, but I didn't really know or like him a whole lot. Mostly, I went to Texas just to find this photo. It was the one thing of my grandfather's that I really, really wanted. I picked up a few other things while I was there, but I was mostly sorry to have brought back a sofa, a coffee table and a wing-backed chair. The photo, I've never regretted.

Today, one of my very favorite things to do is ask Smuch who this is a picture of...the picture of the beautiful young woman. He never fails me. "You?" he says.

Catch up

It's been almost a month since I've posted anything. It's not really that I've been so busy. I'm busy a lot and still manage to make time to post things. I think it's mostly been a big case of the blahs. For instance, it's nice to have the kids back at school this week, but BLAH, I'm struggling to enjoy the routine of drop-offs, pick-ups, speech therapy, swimming, gymnastics and baseball sign-ups. I'm really looking forward to baseball season. Sounds like we'll have the same great coaches (including my dad) that we did last year and that means a lot of great moms for me to hang out with too. These are the same fantastic women who got me interested in being on the PTA board...not by recruiting me, just by being cool people who I'd like to know.

And, oh yeah, PTA board. My partner in crime and I need to figure out what the heck the "Spring Event" is...'cause we're in charge of putting it on in May. By all indications, it's going to be a relatively low-key affair.

And then there are the baby shower invitations I need to order for one of my bestest, oldest friends in the world (we met in kindergarten). And the Christmas cards. And that holiday letter I have yet to write. I don't think I've even got paper for it. *sigh*

I even got a little bit of paying work today...which adds to the load, but it's still really good news. I'm always thrilled to have a little work to do on the side...something that makes me feel like I'm contributing, even though my November invoice would barely pay for dinner out at Chevy's.

Anyhoo. I'll be back. I swear. I've got a cute little post planned and some pictures to post. And PIES. Of course. : )

Sunday, November 9, 2008


You would think that I would've written something about the momentous occasion of Tuesday, November 4th, 2008. Because my favored candidate won and there were tears and celebration such as I've never seen in my lifetime and may never see again.

You would think that I'd be telling you how proud I am of our country and how fantastic it is to see some of our history of bigotry fall by the wayside as we elected a man who offered hope and change. You'd think I would have woken up on November 5th, barely able to believe our good fortune. You'd think.

But the truth is, on November 4th, I took Smunch to speech therapy in a town not-so-far away, but far enough during rush hour. He's done at 5:30. I'd left Mam with her Sarah, so at least I was alone to sit out in the mommymobile and listen to the election returns come in. As Smunch went in, he said "It's eight to three. Does that mean McCain is winning?" Well, yes, but it's not really about who's winning at this moment.

I listened to the returns. It was cold. The heater was on and as it got dark, I didn't notice that the headlights also came on. I know what you're thinking and NO, the engine wasn't on. Because I'm a moron. That's why. The battery died about 5:15. And I ran around in the dark trying to find someone who could help me jump start my an idiot. I finally found a man in the park with his son who was kind enough to help me out. (Thanks a hundred bazillion million, kind stranger!)

My parents were coming over for a fine dinner of take-n-bake pizza and salad while we finished up the election. We got home just 15 minutes later than usual. Not bad. Considering. But I was frazzled and in the moment between turning off the engine and hence the radio and walking through the door (directly into the room with the TV), I missed the announcers calling Ohio for Obama...the one call that was probably most indicative of the nail in the coffin of the McCain campaign.

We enjoyed the rest of our evening. I went out and bought a celebratory berry pie at Andronico's. It was outrageously expensive, but it was a momentous occasion, after all. McCain made his very eloquent concession speech. (Reminding me that he really was an excellent candidate who somehow lost the way in his campaign.) Mam went to bed. Smunch begged to stay up and hear Obama's speech.

Really? After all this time, when you whined and stomped around every time I wanted to watch a debate or a speech? I'm sure there was a large element of procrastination to his request, but who can deny their child the experience of seeing history made right then and there? I couldn't. He stayed up, then went to bed after the speech. My parents left. Daddy and I hung out happily on the sofa for a little while before going to bed.

But sleep? It wasn't in the cards. By 11:30, Mam was awake, crying. I wasn't sure what was wrong, but I got in bed with her and snuggled down. I could hear her stomach roiling. Not a good sign. Moments later, the bed was covered in vomit...just the beginning of a very, very long night. The puking didn't stop until almost 11 o'clock the next night. Wednesday was horrible.

It was easy to forget about the momentous election. And there's so little pride to be had when you've had no sleep and you're holding back your 4-year-old's hair for the 100th time in 24 hours. I'd let Daddy off the hook because I figured she got this virus from me and he didn't need to get it. But by Wednesday night, I was in desperate need of help...and sleep. That night was a little better...not so much puking, but lots of writhing and tummy clutching.

Sadly, Thursday night was more of the same. And Friday began with more vomiting, so off to the doctor we went. She sent us home with some anti-nausea medication that instantly let Mam sleep...for hours. No more puking as of Sunday and she slept through the night and woke up happy both yesterday and today, but she's still whining and crying about her tummy by early afternoon. Now, she's sleeping again. She hasn't taken an afternoon nap in years. This feels bad.

Fortunately, with all this time stuck at home, I've been able to read a lot about the election and found several articles I really loved. Here are just a few:

New York Times Op-Ed columnist Gail Collins on Obama's win.

Chicago Sun-Times film critic, Roger Ebert's blog post about his historical perspective on the election night scene at Grant Park.

The last couple of paragraphs of Heather B. Armstrong's blog post to her 4-year-old daughter, describing her experience of election night.

It's been encouraging to see the vigor with which Obama's transition team is diving into the work of the country before inauguration day, but the expectations are so high, I imagine many people will feel let down in the coming years. The morning of November 5th really did feel like a brand new day, despite my lack of sleep. The pride was there, but mostly it was the relief of knowing the last eight years are coming to an end.

Sunday, November 2, 2008


This is my latest piece of fashionable couture. Yeah, hardly. A while back, I wrote a big, long post about Barack Obama. Don't remember it? Yeah. That's 'cause I never published it and eventually, I just deleted it. It's lonely and cold up on my soapbox. I don't like it there. If anyone sees me there, I feel kinda naked. I'd rather be down here.

This is how I explain this shirt to Smunch. Do you see the letters that are biggest on the shirt? The reason they're so much bigger is because those are the important words. VOTE NOV 4TH. It really doesn't matter so much who or what you vote for, only that you do your best to turn the place you live into the place you want it to be.

Having spent some of my overly-sensitive, easily-embarrassed years overseas, it's markedly colored my view of the United States and its place in the world. The early 80s was not a particularly good time to be an American in spot in rural England that is home to an American military base...especially when you don't live within the confines of that military base. And if you were a preteen/teenager, it was pretty mortifying. Anyhow, that perspective makes Obama's attitude and philosophies work for me, even though his tax plan is almost certainly going to be bad for my family. I consider that an investment in the country's future...however misguided that notion may be. Just let me believe it. It makes me feel better.

Anyway, unlike some previous elections where I did my best to understand the propositions, etcetra, by reading my voter's guide, this year I actually attended a League of Women Voters meeting. It was totally non-partisan and they didn't even divulge whether the League was taking a stand on any of the issues. It was very, very helpful. I finished the rest of my homework (on judicial and school board candidates) up yesterday.

I'm a permanent vote-by-mail voter and the idea is very appealing, but the truth is, I hate voting by mail. I like to somehow feel involved in the I did something important and there were people there to witness it. I like to see my ballot go straight into the ballot box. I usually just go to my polling place and hand my ballot in there.

But I was starting to feel like maybe I'd be doing to Registrar of Voters a bigger favor if I sent my ballot in early this year. Goodness knows they'll be swamped on Tuesday. So, the whole family took a field trip to the Registrar of Voters office this morning and I had lots of help depositing my ballot in the ballot box.We drove all the way down there despite the fact I'd found a drop box closer because I love the spectacle. It's Sunday morning for goodness sakes. When do you ever see a government office look like this on a Sunday??You might be wondering why in the world I even went in the building. Obviously, I dropped off my ballot outside. I just had to see this. It makes me feel like something really important is happening and that other people get that too.It was truly amazing the number of people they can pack into the building. They were handing out numbers. There was clearly a long wait, but people seemed patient.

These days people are so busy with work, with home, with family affairs that it's easy to let something like an election blow by you without even looking up.

As a volunteer at an elementary school, I know it's hard to get people to participate, especially when the return seems negligible, as it so often does with politics.

As much as I care very deeply about some of the candidates and issues this election season, I don't really care what these people are voting for. They're all taking a big chunk of time out of their Sunday to participate in something they have to believe matters. That's what's so totally cool.

So, if you haven't voted already, VOTE! It matters.

The Many Shades of Mam

It wasn't just Halloween for Mam last week. It turned into a veritable dress-up extravaganza! It all started with a playdate with her buddy Benjamin. Benjamin has loudly declared that he HATES princesses. Um...obviously.Then Thursday was "gold mining day" in Mam's "Innovative" class at school and they requested the kids dress up like they were living in the old West. Um. O.K. Howdy, pardner!Then there was Halloween, of course. I've posted quite enough photos of that already (see previous post), so I'll save you the princess outfit with glaringly missing crown. We had one, of course. She just decided she was not going to wear it.

Finally, it was time for Mam's Sarah's birthday party on Saturday. The guests were supposed to don fairy garb for the occasion. Thank goodness we keep a lot of crap around or all this dress up would have been annoying. Turns out it was a lot of fun. And somehow, it's all very fitting for our Mam. She's all of these things and more. Oh, so much more...

Saturday, November 1, 2008

It's Over. And I missed the whole thing...

Yesterday was Halloween. Last year, I was a little annoyed at the number of times I had to get the kids dressed in costumes for this party or that event. This year was different. Thanks to Smunch's soccer schedule and a nasty cold we all got, we missed the two non-school Halloween parties we were invited to.

Aside from a trip to the pumpkin patch a couple of weeks ago with my old mommy group friends (not that any of them are old...just that they're friends from the mom's group I joined when Smunch was born) there were no opportunities to don the costumes before Halloween. I'm glad we had that little shindig. Turns out it was the only time I really got to see them in their costumes.

This year, Smunch wanted to be a baseball player (go figure)...and Mam wanted to be a princess.Both were easy costumes. Mam has a rather large collection of princess dress-up clothes, so all we had to do was get Smunch a jersey. Of course a Major League Baseball jersey costs at least as much as two store-bought costumes, so I don't think we came out ahead there. And his pants didn't match his jersey at all, but that was going to be good enough.

Mam was spending time at school each day rehearsing cute little Halloween songs for the big show on the 31st. Every now and then, they'd pop out of her mouth at home. Smunch's class was gearing up for the school costume parade around the playground. And I was a busy little mommy, organizing food and a little craft for Smunch's first grade Halloween party and decorating the house with some help from Daddy.On the 30th, Daddy went to school and helped the first graders carve pumpkins with their 5th grade "buddies".That meant that after school, I had to carve another one with Mam and Smunch had to carve another one, just so everyone was happy. We had a nice time. I roasted some pumpkin seeds.

After dinner, a grand affair with tortellini and Soycuttash for the kids and tortellini and salad for the grown-ups, and after the kids were in bed, I started on my own preparations for the Halloween party...a trial run with the craft project and a nice collection of cheese bugs. I finished up my pumpkin seeds with sugar and pumpkin pie spice. They were yummy. I ate a whole bunch.

I went to bed feeling kind of rotten. I woke up at 3am feeling more rotten. By morning, I'd been up several times and I was sick as a dog. Feverish and dehydrated, I was eternally thankful that Daddy had already planned to take the day off and was game to take over my duties. But I was so sad to miss Mam's concert yesterday morning. It's always such a cute event. I usually end up teary-eyed, but somehow also bored. I've seen the same show twice before. I sent Daddy, video-enabled camera in hand. But it's not the same as being teary-eyed and bored in person. The best part of the whole thing is seeing how thrilled Mam is with her performance and the fact that her parents are there. I hoped I might start feeling better by afternoon, but by then my fever was 102 and getting out of bed was next to impossible. I ended up in bed all day...and all night. I managed to eat a banana. Missed the costume parade. Missed the party.Missed dinner with our neighbors and all the dressed-up kids. Missed trick or treating and didn't even answer the door (although we left a bowl of candy on the porch).

Bleh. We were supposed to go out tonight, but it's just as well that our babysitter bailed when I told her I hadn't been well. I managed to eat a couple of bagels, some cinnamon toast and a bowl of soup today. Yipee. Maybe I'll lose a little of that extra weight I'd been fretting about. Sadly, I suspect it'll be right back if I manage to get rid of it.

It was almost nice to be able to spend the day relaxing in bed, even feeling rotten, but did it really have to be Halloween??

Sunday, October 26, 2008


As room mom for Smunch's class, I wanted to make something fun and festive, but fairly healthy, as a snack for their Halloween party later this week. I made these last week as a practice run. These were so easy and so cute. Who can resist a herd of creepy cheese and chow mein noodle bugs?

Tiger Cub

A friend of mine mentioned to me that a friend of hers has this philosophy about her children's activities: Don't encourage them or ask if they want to do something. Wait for them to ask.

That's what a sane parent would do...a parent who is very sensitive about the possibilities of overscheduling their children. And I'm pretty sensitive to that because I know that overscheduling is not what Smunch needs. But I want him to experience a wide array of things. And it's just so much easier to get in on the "ground floor" instead of trying to get in later when groups are all assembled and the rest of the members all know each other.

I figure this is particularly true with a kid like Smunch. Who wants to be the new kid who talks funny? No one. But if you're one of the original members, I figure it's more likely that everyone accepts your speech as just part of who you are. He seems to be a well-liked kid in spite of the speech difficulties...which his speech therapist still labels "pretty severe".

So, with promises of camping and campfires...and a much anticipated overnight on the USS Hornet this spring... Smunch joined Cub Scouts a couple of weeks ago.So far, he's liking it. So far, I'm not so sure I like it and it sounds like a lot more work than I'd anticipated. Fortunately, of this year's 11 Tiger Cub Scouts, Smunch already knew 9 of them either from class or from one sports team or another. I think he's comfortable there.

I wish I was more comfortable with all this pledging loyalty to this and that. And with firing BB guns as a standard part of so many activities. I vow that this kid will never own a BB gun. His personality is all wrong for such a thing. Although he loves animals and our pets, I have no confidence that he wouldn't get so wound up that he'd shoot one of them. So, maybe Cub Scouts is just the thing. He'll get to do those things in a very controlled environment. At least I hope it's very controlled. Maybe I'll make sure he always wears his Rec Specs to the big Cub Scout events!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Tooth Fairy Envy

The other day, Daddy and I found that Mam had stolen Smunch's dollar bill from the Tooth Fairy and hidden it under her own pillow. It brought out a whole conversation about how it's wrong to take things that belong to other people. (This conversation was repeated with more force today when I discovered she'd pilfered six pencils from the Boy Scout store. I made her take them back. The nice, but misguided guy who runs the place gave her one for her "honesty"...she was so embarrassed that she wouldn't even say 'thank you'.)

"I'm never going to get anything from the Tooth Fairy!" Mam complained loudly.

"When you lose your teeth, you will get things from the Tooth Fairy too," we soothed.

And then came the bedtime conversation...

Mam: Mom can I talk to you for a minute about the Tooth Fairy?

Me: Uh, yes, Mam. What's up?

Mam: I need to tell you what I want her to bring. I don't want baseball cards.

Me: Oooh.K.

Mam: I want more ponies.

Me: Uh-huh.

Mam: And I want a Barbie.

Me: (sigh) Alright.

Mam: And I want my own CD player.

Me: You want music at night, like Smunch?

Mam: Yes. And I want a Hannah Montana CD.

Well, her knowledge of technology is a little outdated (Is that what you call an old soul?), but her taste in music is, well, just disturbing, frankly.

Old and Overgrown

This is always a little bit of a sad time of year out in the garden...partly because I have no real motivation to try my hand at winter gardening and partly because the fruits of summer are pretty much all gone by now. The plants are long and stringy and starting to die off. It's a far cry from my photos taken in the spring.On the other hand, the light is changing, which means there's some beautiful light for pictures, but no longer enough to bleach the color out of our roses.
I'll have to get some bulbs in soon. I'm looking forward to the holidays, but already dreaming of spring!

When inanimate objects fail...

You may remember a while back, I wrote a post or two about the strange things we'd found Mam sleeping in, or with or around.

Sometimes, it turns out these things just aren't enough...and big brothers prove their true worth.


I know the term has gone out of style in a big way. And even if it hadn't, I'm not sure I could claim to be a housewife. I'm pretty good at procrastinating about or completely ignoring all things house-related. I'm proud of myself if I've got the day's dishes washed before Daddy gets home. If I get all the laundry done in a single week, it's a minor miracle. I don't strictly believe in making the bed. It's a little hard to make the kids think it's important when I don't. And don't even get me started on dinner. Generally speaking, I can't be ashamed of what I serve for dinner...because I just don't serve anything all that often. I am kinda embarrassed about that. that a couple of my contracts have run out, I don't have to spend every free moment upstairs on my computer trying to earn a little out-to-dinner money. I'm still doing a lot of volunteer work at Smunch's school, but even that's fairly light work comparatively. I'm so much less stressed and I'm having so much more fun! And you should see what has happened! Take this for instance:I know what you're thinking. "Gee, thanks. I so needed a photo of your closet!" But see, when we bought our house, we bought our first walk-in closet. Only we haven't been able to "walk-in" this closet for probably a year or so now. So much crap everywhere. But I threw out a big bag of stuff, donated a couple of bags of clothes and reorganized. I'm ridiculously happy every time I walk into the closet. Really.

And this:We also bought this really lousy pantry with our house. It's really poorly designed. It's hard to find stuff. Hard to get things out. The shelves can be knocked off without too much effort. It still doesn't look strictly "neat", but it's so much better than it was a week ago. Ah, the things one can do with a life of leisure. Now off to do more laundry!

A Day on the Farm

Unlike most of the classes at Mam's school, her "Innovative" class gets to go on a few field trips this year. Of course, it's a preschool, so that means that a whole bunch of parents have to drive and herd cats. Last week, they went to a local working farm.

I'd been to this farm before, but I'd never been on one of their tours. Our tour guide, Erin, was everything you could possibly ask for in a tour guide for a bunch of preschoolers at an organic farm...cute, perky, granola-y, fun. The kids got to try several things from the garden - lettuce, apple, rhubarb, flowers - they each picked out a pumpkin to take home, went in with the goats and sheep, got to check for eggs and feed the chickens and got to scratch the back of a very appreciative pig.Although this trip messed with our daily schedule, since it was in the morning and Mam's class is usually in the afternoon, it was tons of fun. Who knew?

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Easy Bake

After last week's monumental cake effort, I wasn't really planning to make any more cakes anytime soon. But then my mom called. And no, she didn't ask me to make a cake. She'd never do such a thing, although asking me to pick her up at the airport any ol' time is fair game. But I asked her what we were going to do for my dad's birthday. She wasn't sure, but she told me she'd found a great deal on cake mix and was going to make him a carrot cake.


Carrot cake from cake mix? I'm not afraid to admit that I'm a serious cake snob and even I've been known to use cake mixes, especially for those hard-to-decorate cakes, but are there actually carrots in carrot cake mix? I'm not convinced. And she was going to use canned frosting. I'm kinda O.K. with canned frosting. I grew up with canned frosting. But canned cream cheese frosting??? It just couldn't be allowed to happen.

So yesterday, I greeted Smunch at school, telling him we were going home to peel and grate carrots. He was psyched. I whipped up a carrot cake recipe from Cooks. It was intended to be a 9x13 sheet cake without any layers to it. They sort of neglected to mention that it really wasn't suitable for a layer cake, especially not if you want to frost the sides. The frosting was delicious, but sorta, well, runnyish. It didn't want to stay on the sides. So this was more of a project than I expected, involving a lot of repeated refrigeration to make sure all the frosting didn't ooze down to the plate. Still, a whole lot easier than re-creating Space Mountain.

I finally got it all decorated this afternoon, making for a happy birthday evening for Grandpa...

First Graders with Knives

Last week, my last classroom duty was to go in and help the kids wrap up their unit on apples by peeling and cutting up their apples into apple crisp. This seemed like something that was right up my alley...and I had a lot of fun doing it. The teacher has some cool apple peeler/corers. The peel comes off in one long piece, so each kid had to measure their peel against him/herself and say whether it was shorter or longer than they are. Cute.Then came the tricky part of trying to guide five six-year-olds through dicing apples up with fairly blunt knives.Each of them got to cut up apples, measure, pour sprinkle. Admittedly, I finished the cutting butter into the dry mixture part. The kids were pretty pleased with the finished product, although Smunch doesn't look strictly pleased. And, uh, I don't know what's going on with those two on the left. For a couple of six-year-olds it looks a little racy, don't you think?Of course, they all looked very, very pleased when a few of the parents returned from cooking these apple crisps at home. Their teacher brought ice cream and even Mam got to enjoy some...

Friday, October 3, 2008

Cake Mountain

And now the post you've all been waiting for...maybe.

Way back in February Smunch's school had an auction. I don't have much I could offer to an auction, but I figured I could make someone a birthday cake. So I auctioned my services as a cake decorator, saying that I would work with the winner to create the cake they wanted. The winning bid was $60, but I hadn't heard from the family. I admit I secretly hoped they'd forgotten.

A few weeks ago the mom finally called. She told me they were planning to surprise their soon-to-be 10-year-old with a trip to Disneyland and they wanted to tell him about the surprise with a cake. She asked me to make a cake resembling the famed Space Mountain ride at the park.It was a little daunting. Not only had I been asked to make something relatively complicated, but I've never actually made a cake for anyone but family before. Sure, lots of people have seen the cakes I've made, but if I blew it, it wouldn't have been that big a deal...although I have a way of stressing out about these things, so it probably would have been a big deal regardless.

I consulted a few people about this cake, trying to figure out just how to make such a thing. I got some good ideas, but in the end, I mostly winged it. I started out slowly. I made a circular cake for the bottom and tried making the "cone" using a cake baked in a mixing bowl. It didn't seem big enough. I doubled the recipe and tried again. I had to carve the curvy pieces off to make an effective cone, but it turned out O.K. Here are the two pieces I started with, with their "crumb coating" (which serves just to hold the cake crumbs in) of icing. Yes. There's a hole in the middle of the cone cake. I put a jam jar in the middle to act as a heat rod and cook the center. Still, I wasn't convinced that it really cooked properly. It was a lot of cake. But it looked O.K., so I went with it.

I left them like this for a day and started back in the next day with icing the rest of the bottom piece, then putting a circular support and "rim" around the top of it, using fondant-covered cardboard supported by dowels.I was pretty happy with how this was looking, but the next step was a lot dicier. I somehow had to get the questionably baked cone centered on top of the fondant disc. I slid a couple of spatulas under it. Fortunately, I was so happy with the bottom, that I didn't actually dissolve into tears with this result.Instead, I went to the store and bought more cake mix. I made another round cake with the idea that I could use it in combination with the too-small cake I'd originally cooked in the bowl to make a similar cone. Of course, I hadn't counted on the round cake being the exact same diameter as the bottom of my small bowl cake. So, it was essentially useless and I decided (thankfully) to just go with my original, smaller bowl cake. Only this time, because the one that fell apart had also been sort of lopsided, I cut the cake in quarters, bought myself a protractor (yes, really) and made sure each quadrant was cut at the same angle. Then I filled the hole with cake from my unnecessary cake round, put it on top and frosted it over.It looked like a weird mushroom, but at least I had hope for it this time around.

I also used my "extra" cake to make the angled top layer to the building. It was just a tiny little layer, but oh-so-important for the look of the thing. I had to do this part twice too because I blew it the first time an cut it out wrong. The kids didn't mind when they got to eat it as a treat the next day.

Next, I had to do something to create the distinguishing "ribs" around the outside of the top two layers. So, I cut long pieces of fondant that I could stick in the icing to get just the right look. And I cut a donut-shaped piece for the top so that it would look properly slanted.Not too bad, but still mushroomy.

The next morning, I somehow convinced Mam to play Play-Doh with me. I gave her the purple stuff and got to work on the spires with my fondant. She caught onto this, of course, but once I got out the toothpicks, she sat happily making spiky purple creatures for about an hour while I perfected my Space Mountain spires.Taking a little artistic license, because you can't actually see the doors to Space Mountain, I copied the door design which I'd decided to display more prominently on the outside, in fondant-covered cardboard with some colored icing for writing and outlining.I know. The writing isn't very well centered. I decided the "client" would forgive me based on the sheer beauty of the rest of the cake...or something.

I had all of this done by Thursday afternoon and I struggled and struggled to make something that would work for the spire on the top of the building. I wasn't happy with my final creation, but it worked and it stood up. From a distance, it doesn't even look too bad.

In the grand finale of decorating this thing, I brushed the whole thing with silver decorating "dust". I liked how it made the whole thing sparkle just a little, but it also made it look a little like I'd gotten it dirty. If I had to do it over, I'd probably leave it white.I piped on a border to each layer, which improved the look a lot. My final decision came with how to get the writing on this cake. It seemed wrong to write a big "Happy Birthday" right on the building itself when I'd worked so hard on it. So I settled for writing on the cake board. It looked nice. I'm never going to think one of my creations is perfect, but I was pretty happy with first attempt at making a great birthday cake for someone else!The family I made this for lives only a few blocks away, but I was sweaty and nervous for the entire way there. It was a huge, huge relief to drop the thing off and leave it there in one piece...knowing that within hours my sugary little masterpiece would be nothing but crumbs and a few bits of icing...