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...

Preschoolers in the Dairy Department

On Thursday, Mam's "innovative" preschool class took a field trip. The rest of the kids at school are never lucky enough to go on field trips, so this was a big deal. They got to go for a behind-the-scenes tour of the grocery store across the street. But first, the kids got to play in Mam's favorite area, the "far yard".
Here's Mam with her partner, Aeryn. How cool is that spelling? Of course, she'll be spelling it a lot, so hopefully she thinks it's cool too.I wonder how much the janitorial staff likes it when the tour guides ask all the kids to feel the cold freezer doors with their grubby little fingers.Mam enjoyed the dairy section where so many of her favorite foods reside. The kids got a demonstration of the box crusher in the back and the freight elevator. The guy in the seafood area even let them all touch one of the live lobsters.The kids got lots of treats on the way. Mam ate three (three!) mini sausages. Are you kidding? That's meat, you know! They got grapes in the produce department, cheese in the deli department and brownies at the bakery. I can't say I get really excited about the grocery story, but it was fun to see the kids all excited about it.

Splitting up

What seems like a long, long time ago, I remember having a conversation with a friend (yes, you, MommieN) about how with a girl and a boy it seems like weekends would often be relegated to Mommy going with the little girl to do one thing and Daddy taking the little boy to do something else. I wasn't sure I bought into this idea and for the most part, we don't do that very often, but last weekend was an exception.

Mam had a birthday party to attend at a pumpkin patch on the coast. And because I really wanted to go, but knew there wasn't a chance, I talked Daddy into buying tickets for the last Giants game of the season and taking Smunch to see his idol, Tim Lincecum, pitch for the last time this year against the rival Dodgers. Something about Smunch's love of baseball has sort of rekindled my own love of the game. Let's just say I was jealous and leave it at that. I was thrilled that Smuch was getting to go.

Daddy and Smunch set off early, leaving Mam and me to run a few errands. Coincidentally, we even saw their train go by as we waited at the train tracks on our way to Costco. Cool.

Before we left for the party, Daddy sent us some photos of their vantage point in the stadium.And Smunch's opinion of said vantage point.A beautiful day at the ballpark. Jealous.

Shortly after lunch, Mam and I left for the coast. It was lovely here, but about halfway there, I could tell it was going to be socked in. I crossed my fingers, hoping that my propensity for being a slob and having a car full of crap would serve me well. My slovenly ways would keep us from freezing to death in a coastal pumpkin patch.

Naturally, I listened to the game on the radio. And when the traffic slowed to a crawl with at least 10 miles to go, I became a rabid Giants fan...the kind who screams in the car and hits the roof with her fist. I wanted so badly for Smunch to see his team win for a change. Doesn't seem like watching the Padres win should really count. And he really does love Lincecum. I wanted Lincecum to pitch well and have a chance at the Cy Young award that would really send Smunch over the moon. And I'm sure I had PMS because when the Giants finally scored the go-ahead run in the 8th inning...and we still hadn't reached the pumpkin patch...I was in tears.

Mam is doubtlessly scarred for life by this experience.

Fortunately, we finally made it to the birthday party, although we were half an hour late. We were still some of the first guests to arrive. Daddy forgot to take the new camera with him and the party included not only pumpkins, but pony rides, a bouncy house, train rides and run of the whole patch. So I took lots of cute photos. Although Mam had several friends there who she talked with and rode ponies with, she mostly did her own thing with Mommy.I admit to going back to the mommymobile for an extra sweater. I was cold. But I'll bashfully admit I also stuck the key in the ignition and turned on the radio just to make sure the Giants had won. So we had a fun day and met Smunch and Daddy for pizza on the way home.

Now that I think about it, we may have split up for the day. Mam was certainly into her party and I was definitely there with her, chatting and taking photos. But in the end, I'm not sure I wasn't there with the boys too...

The new camera

Those previous photos, of Smunch playing soccer, were all taken with our brand new little camera. I'm pretty happy with it. It's small. I can stick it in my pocket and it takes some great photos. Just for fun, here's another one.Nothing says Autumn at the Ryder household quite like our collection of garden spiders with their magnificent webs stretched between trees, bushes and posts all around the house.

Gooooooooal x 4

Every now and then, I'll mention that Smunch has some behavior issues. They're hard to pinpoint and hard to describe in a way that doesn't make him sound like every other six-and-a-half-year-old on the planet, but I get the sense he's a little "different". I still can't describe it, but it was painfully evident a couple of weeks ago during his soccer game. He was totally out of it. He'd kick the ball, then turn around and run the other direction. He didn't pay any attention to whether he was offense or defense. He wandered around the field talking to himself. I don't have any expectations that my kid is going to be a soccer super star, but it's really hard to watch him be that clueless...especially knowing just how much he *loves* both playing and watching sports.So, on Daddy's birthday, the family went out and practiced soccer at the school. We could give him a little more direction and let him know where he was going wrong. Mam had several sportsgirlship-based meltdowns, but we all still had a fun time.

When the next game day came around last Saturday, I was inspired to try something Smunch's occupational therapist (OT) had shown us. He went to occupational therapy for several months, but it was never very clear that it was doing anything for him except getting him really wound up and costing us a lot of money that insurance doesn't cover. Still, I figured it was worth a shot. His OT gave us this tunnel, which is really like a giant sleeve, made out of stretchy, knit material. The idea is that pushing his way through this tunnel (which doesn't have any solid support to it) somehow organizes his brain or his vestibular system or something.

I know. It sounds like phooey, doesn't it?? And I can't prove it isn't since we all went and practiced soccer once before his next game, but I swear, last Saturday, after pushing his way through the tunnel three or four times, he went to his soccer game, where Daddy and I sat politely on the sidelines and clapped when good things happened rather than exhorting him to run the other direction and pay attention to the ball. He scored FOUR goals. He was engaged. He was psyched. I was thrilled for him.
I'm curious to see what tomorrow and his next soccer game brings...

Bear factory

About a week and a half ago, I had my first opportunity to go to Smunch's school and volunteer with his first grade class. I love doing this. Smunch's little face lights up the moment he sees me and that might be worth it all by itself, but I also love getting to know the other kids. I like knowing what kind of people and what kind of students his friends are. To date, he seems to like the quieter, brighter boys the best. I'm fine with that. There are plenty of troublemakers in his class. Some of them would be fine as friends too. Others, I'd rather he didn't want to hang out with. But so far, I like his taste in other kids, so that makes me feel good about how he's doing. Unlike that first week, he's happy at school now. He likes his teacher. He's made a new friend or two.

But I digress.

Last week, the first grade (all four classes) finished up their unit on bears by turning the multi-purpose room into a teddy bear factory. They stuffed their own bears.Then, at the next station, they picked out a "wishing star", put it inside the bear and sealed it up via zipper and velcro. Then they had the "wish fairy" (a first grade teacher who retired last year) solidify that wish.Each student had their picture taken with their new bear, had it blow dried (supposedly to make it fluffier, although I couldn't tell the difference), choose a bow for the neck or the head and pick a name, which I wrote in my best calligraphic handwriting on a birth certificate for them. Smunch named his bear Jeffrey, after his grandpa.

All the while, teddy-bear-themed music played.

Yes. It was sort of silly and had limited educational value. But the kids were so proud of their bears and so happy to be doing something fun that it was worth the silliness. Jeffrey is the only stuffed animal remaining in Smunch's room. At six and a half, he decided long ago that stuffed animals were the purview of girls and ceded all of his to Mam. It's nice to have a little speck of his younger life return, however temporarily.