Saturday, March 28, 2009

Today's Offering

So, I finished my cake decorating class, but why stop there? It's hard to impress anyone in my family with a cake anymore, so I have to foist them on a hungry blogsphere instead. This one looked lovely, but there were no gasps of admiration...except for those from our dinner guests who probably went overboard in their compliments. They're automatically forgiven for that because they took some cake home with them.It turns out that while whipped chocolate ganache makes a scrumptious filling for cake, it makes a seriously unattractive frosting. And I'd meant to put the flowers in the middle since I wasn't going to write anything, but I totally spaced and put them on the side. Still, this turned out rather pretty, don't you think?

And, "they call me mama", I guess you're wishing you'd made good on your threat not to visit again, huh?

Who needs Whole Foods and Draegers anyway?

Sing, Sing a Song

I try not to blog a whole lot about all the school performances and such. After all, they aren't tremendously interesting to anyone except family. And honestly, they're not that interesting to family either. But Smunch's "Spring Sing" was on Thursday. It's a big deal where grades K through 3 each perform three songs in the multi-purpose room of the local junior high school. It's always packed with standing room only and parking is generally a nightmare, as is the traffic after the show.

The picture above is the entire first grade at Smunch's school. Only one person showed up without the pre-requisite shirt and that was easily taken care of. The most striking thing to me was that Smunch was singing! His mouth was moving, he was smiling, he knew all the hand and arm movements for everything. He's never shown that much interest before, so that alone made the show worthwhile for me.Unfortunately, there wasn't much at all that made the show worthwhile to a bored little Mam. A couple songs she recognized by the kindergartners and a wave to her brother - those were fun. But by the time the third graders got up on stage, she'd found two of her preschool friends and they were hopping across the back of the room together. Standing room only, remember? No room to hop, but that didn't stop them.She annoyed me mercilessly by continually kissing my shoulder, giggling, loudly playing "I Spy" with her friends and complaining she was hot. I'm relieved to know she won't be with us at this event next year.

Next year, she'll be up there too!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

England Day at Innovative

I've mentioned in previous posts that Mam is in a Tuesday/Thursday preschool class known as "Innovative" at her school. It's innovative because it's a completely multicultural program. The entire focus of Innovative is learning about different countries and their a preschool level.

A long, long time ago (or so it seems), I signed up to teach the kids about England. I was surprised there wasn't a parent who was a little more "authentic" than I am. I mean, I lived in England for three years and all, but it's not like I've got the accent or the authority of someone who's been a true British subject.

Naturally, the date of my little presentation came up on me faster than I'd hoped. I wouldn't say I'd given no thought to what I was going to do. I'd given it some thought. I just hadn't come up with anything. So, when it came time to really think about it, I was feeling a little panicky. I thought I'd make scones for snack. That was as far as I got. I wanted to come up with some kind of cute craft project and I needed something to talk to them about. The teacher wanted me to talk about the queen. Cool. I could do that. Castles and kings and queens and princesses.

I started off talking about how my family moved all the way across the ocean to England and how we moved to a little town that had its very own castle. The link to current British royalty was a little tenous, but I launched right into how England has a queen. Each of the kids had a sheet of pictures, including the queen and some of the Crown Jewels.

I somehow managed to get from the royal family to the difference in meals between here and there, highlighting teatime with the promise of English biscuits and scones. And then inelegantly segued into how "lots of important things in England are red". Sadly, this isn't as true as it once was, but I showed the kids photos of double decker busses, phone booths, post boxes (mailboxes) and ended with the importance of the palace guards, who wear red coats and protect the aforementioned queen.

I hadn't wanted to do crowns for an art project. It would've been easy, but it felt like a cop out and I knew they'd already done hats and crowns and such for other countries. So, I created a little palace guard cut-out project for them to glue together. In the interest of expediency, I cut out all the bits myself. It turned out pretty least when an adult did it!Turns out, they were pretty cute when the kids put them together too. They needed a lot of help with the glitter glue, but the rest they put together in pretty short order. I'd envisioned taking all sorts of photos during art time, but I was so busy helping the kids with the gluing...and getting my hands covered in glue, that I never got the chance.

Apparently, not doing crowns wasn't really an option. The teachers had also set up a table for those!Mam and I worked all morning making scones for snack. She had a grand ol' time putting ingredients in and kneading the dough. I might have taken photos if my hands hadn't been so sticky. Something about the translation of a British recipe into my American-equipped kitchen didn't work out so well, but the scones were still pretty tasty.I made some with the more traditional raisins and some others, like the one above, with dried apricots. We served these with strawberry jam and McVities Digestive Biscuits at snacktime. The kids seemed to enjoy it. The biscuits were a really big hit. The scones were more hit-or-miss with the kids.

The teachers were very complimentary about the whole thing, even though I was feeling pretty out of my element. I left feeling like I had another big project behind me. Thank goodness. I think I'll go wash those sticky hands now.

Cake Graduate

As some of my readers are painfully aware, I've been taking a cake decorating class at night for the last several weeks. It was only a four-week course and if you've been following my cake-decorating career, you may wonder why I'd want to bother with a class, especially a beginning class. But I learned a ton of things I've always wanted to know and had a lot of fun, even with a nasty commute-time drive once a week.

I learned how to make a cake that's a nice shape. Theoretically, I learned how to frost it completely smooth. I learmed about different frostings and decorating tips and what to do with them. I knew a lot of that stuff, but there's always more to learn. And first and foremost, I learned to make ROSES...which are really a lot of fun once you've got a clue how to do it. For our "final project" we had to make a 3-layer cake, fill it and frost it, then bring it to class for decorating. I made a chocolate cake with a killer whipped chocolate ganache filling and frosted it with a basic white frosting. I'd made my roses ahead of time and I also made a bunch of these cute little "drop flowers".I didn't really have a clue what I was going to do with all these things. I just had fun making random stuff. I didn't use it all either. I was trying to use some of the techniques we'd learned without going overboard. I got this whole thing put together pretty quickly and decided to take a picture before I went and ruined the whole thing with some crooked, weird-looking writing. Good choice!It was a pretty little cake. As a devotee of Cake Wrecks, I can say for certain that this doesn't qualify as a "wreck"...although the garland around the sides was questionable. Once I wrote on it, I wasn't so certain.At least I spelled everything correctly. Still, Cake Wrecks doesn't take kindly to crooked, ill-spaced writing. I'll have to be more careful about that next time! I was still pretty proud of my first cake class cake. There were lots of other cool cakes there too...and some that were really too bad to even make Cake Wrecks. I didn't take pictures of the wrecky ones, but here are some of the other cool ones.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Happy Birthday, Little Blog

When baseball season arrives and PONY league opening day is over, I always remember the very first blog post I ever wrote. It was titled "Opening Day" and I wrote it on Smunch's very first day of Little League, on March 18th, two years ago.

Smunch doesn't play in Little League anymore, since it turns out the boys at his school play in the PONY Baseball league instead. But yesterday was, again, Opening Day. And we were out on the ball field in the drizzle, watching Smunch start his third season of baseball.It's sort of strange to read now. Smunch had just turned 5. Yesterday, Mam had just turned 5. It didn't even cross my mind to ask if she wanted to sign up for softball (or baseball). Next year, I guess.

Interestingly, all the TV shows I referenced in that post are still on TV. We still watch them. But I don't do nearly as much paying work these days, so I don't find TV vegetation nearly so necessary. I still don't find my life particularly compelling, but I am enjoying it an awful lot. And I like to document particular moments on the blog...because I want to remember them, not because I think anyone else will be particularly interested.

Awww..and there's my little sweetie pie in his first baseball uniform. He was so small and it was so big. The current uniform seems that way too, but we retired those pants this year. They look fit for a leprechaun, definitely not a 7-year-old. Mam, yet again, was bored to tears by this year's Opening Day. And this time, Smunch's friend (mentioned in the original post) is not on his team, so Mam didn't have "her Sarah" to play with. Fortunately, there are plenty of other little siblings around and she made a new friend in one of the older sisters of a team member, so I think we'll live through yet another baseball season.

It's amazing how all the boys have improved in a year. They can actually catch the ball if they get a decent throw and they have a clue where to throw the ball once they've caught it. Well, sorta.I'm looking forward to it...and to revisiting Opening Day again next year...maybe with a little softball thrown in as well!

Happy birthday, little blog. Who knew you'd ever make it for two years?

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Potato Wars

When I picked Mam up at preschool on the afternoon of St. Patrick's Day, I was proudly presented with...a potato. I'm still not quite sure why she got a potato. None of the other kids left with a potato, but they were learning about Ireland and I guess Mam was the lucky winner of the potato. Nothing special. Just a plain ol' Russett potato. And, as children are wont to do, she absolutely treasured her prize for a day or so.

By the afternoon of the 18th, it had largely been forgotten, however.

Enter gigantic, fat house cat. Our beautiful, overly large pet cat, Skimble, kind of resembles a potato himself. Mind you, he makes an awfully large, 18 pound potato, but his general blobular nature is very potato-like. He's big. He's lazy. He's kinda roly-poly. Like a great, big spud.

And, on Wednesday afternoon, these two sort of irregularly shaped creatures met each other on the kitchen floor. Don't let this fool you...I don't think the potato was fooled by Skimble's faked nonchalance. Perhaps it thought its camouflage against our remarkably lovely tile floor spare its notice by the large blobby beast next to it.

Nope.After a few test bats at the potato, Skimble quickly recognized a kindred spirit and clearly there was LOVE.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy St. Paddy's Day!

Yeah. I know. I cheated and changed the date on this post, but I really meant to post it on the 17th. That counts, right?

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Stating the Obvious

Remember the rainbow cake? Yeah, I know. It wasn't that long ago, but I've done a pretty good job of forgetting already.

Anyway, you may recall that I mentioned needing to bake two cakes to succeed with that one. That means I had a whole extra cake...which was three cake mixes worth. It was a really funny looking cake too. It was pretty and swirly on the top, but it didn't swirl all the way through. It mostly looked like a bizarrely mixed red and black cake. And, after the emergency frosting I made for the clouds, I had a whole lot of that left too. So at the end of the week, I got out all my extras and frosted my gigantic, extra, half dome of a cake. I even had some colored frosting left to decorate with.

I've eaten quite enough birthday cake, so this one was sent directly to work with Daddy. I figured it couldn't hurt to make the purpose of said cake patently obvious.

Daddy left me a message at 10am saying he was going into a meeting, but that the cake (which arrived around 9) was half gone already. By the end of his meeting at noon, the whole thing was polished off. Awesome.

It's Coming...

Batter up! Smunch has a new baseball uniform and that can only mean one thing. Baseball season! Speaking of birdies (as I was in the previous post), he's gone from being an Oriole to a Cardinal. Looks like it's going to be a fun season, with much the same team as last year. But gosh, I know the new game/practice schedule is going to feel mighty oppressive by May!


I've never considered myself a "birder", although I spent a couple of years in college counting birds of prey in the Central Valley from my car. I know the names of bunch of birds, but it doesn't really compare to anyone who really knows birds. Still, now that I've got this great new camera with a telephoto lens, I'm all about trying to capture my little (or not so little) feathered friends on film...uh...on a memory card. Or whatever.

I started off with the little tweeties in the backyard. My bird book tells me this is an Audubon's Warbler.O.K., so it's not a great photo, but I'm just getting started... These guys are finches...not sure which kind...on our birch tree.Last week, while Aunt Karen was here, we went out to a park by the Bay where there were some beautiful humming birds... a vociferous mockingbird...a cute little ruddy duck...and a stick-legged wading bird. I never know just what these guys are unless they're more colorful than this one.Today, we went letterboxing out by the Bay again and had some great opportunities to photograph this Snowy Egret.There were a whole lot of wading birds out there, including this lovely avocet.I also caught another hummingbird out there. It must be mating season or something because the hummingbirds are just brilliant!I got up close and personal with this Canada goose. I used to think these were really magnificent birds, but it turns out they're pretty mean and rather large birds. They're still kinda pretty though and I loved all the water beading on its head!And yes, there was some letterboxing today too. I chose a box that was nearly un-findable. In the end, finding it involved impaling my arms on some extra wicked palm fronds. Did it make finding the box that much more sweet? Not sure. It's not like it was a million dollars, you know? But there was some sense of accomplishment there. Here we all are, doing our stamping. Check out my filthy coat!Do not check out just how grey my hair is. Geez! That's far from a close-up of my hair, but you can see the platinum "highlights" just fine from there. Just not sure what to think about that. I may be starting to look old, but hey, I'm out there letterboxing. Sure doesn't feel like I'm slowing down!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Over the Rainbow

I should probably be taking a nap. I'm all done with the nasty cold Mam gave me, but daylight savings just knocks the wind out of my sails. It's like I need a whole vacation to catch up...a whole Hawai'i vacation, I think. But I'm not taking a nap. I've still got that blog post about Mam's party begging to be written. Because what if I forget that I was once a cool mom who stressed for weeks about how to make her daughter's rainbow party a rip-roaring success? That would be a pity, wouldn't it? So, without further adieu...

I'm still not one to go plunk down the money for the simplicity of Pump It Up or a party at the gym. There are no ponies, no face painting (although I'd be open to do that if I did the painting myself), not even a bouncy house. It's not that I save so much money by doing things at home. I guess it's just that I'm a really old fashioned kind of girl. I like old fashioned kinds of parties. So far, the kids - neither the birthday girl/boy or guests - have complained.

This year, I made a few changes. I'm not great at coming up with kid activities. It takes me a lot of thought to come up with things I find acceptable. I search the web, but I rarely find anything I like. So, this year, I scheduled Mam's party for a mere 90 minutes, knowing that I'd run out of things to do last year. Turns out, that's a pretty perfect amount of time to have a dozen little kids in your house.

If you've read the previous post, you've already seen the rainbow cake. As you might suspect, much of my party-organizing energy went into that. Fortunately, I had other ideas and terrific helpers in Daddy and Aunt Karen.

First, Aunt Karen and I went to work creating a chandelier in the dining room that appeared to have rain falling from it. I used a bunch of crystal prisms I'd ordered as party favors for the kids. Then I strung up some wads of batting as clouds. It ended up looking pretty cool!I'd found a sky blue tablecloth, which was already liberally stained, so I didn't worry about the kids using it at all! And I had plates in all the colors of the rainbow and Daddy graciously strung a whole rainbow of streamers across the ceiling for a cute little cake ceremony set-up.I scheduled the party for 11:30. That means I needed to provide lunch, but I figure if the kids have to eat that's at least one or two activities I don't have to think up. Food is easier.

As the kids arrived, each one got a sparkly green "leprechaun hat". I had them paint using colored ice cubs on white construction paper. I think that was frustrating for some of them since there wasn't a lot of color, but the effect was actually really nice. They also made rainbow necklaces out of Froot Loops while waiting for the other guests to show up.All told, there were 10 guests coming to the party, not counting SPENCER! or Smunch, who was scheduled to leave for baseball practice anyway. It was really sort of a challenge to keep them all in one or two rooms. In fact, one guest made it all the way to the back of the house, where he sat playing happily by himself or with Scott for the majority of the party.

Next was lunch. I made a collection of PBJ, cheese and ham and cheese sandwiches with both white and wheat bread. Birthdays are the only time my kids ever see white bread in the house, so it's a fun treat for them. I also served the rainbow-colored Goldfish crackers and fruit kabobs, neatly arranged by Aunt Karen in the colors of the rainbow, with "gold" underneath. The kids loved these. And we scooped up finished skewers as fast as we could, before they became weapons. Mam invited a few boys, after all.After lunch, the kids played a rousing game of Pin-the-Cloud-on-the-Rainbow, which was fun and took up a lot of time. Can you tell I like to keep them busy?Then I told them all a little story about the leprechaun that had stolen the gold from the end of one of those rainbows we saw in the sky last week and he ran right through our yard, dropping pieces of gold as he went. Oh gosh, how they were itching to get out the door. I couldn't give them bags fast enough! It was so nice to have them all run around in the sunshine for a little bit! Of course, sunshine also meant that the chocolate coins Grandpa had tossed around the yard were getting pretty melty. There was more than one chocolately little face out there! At least there were some plastic coins too, but I suspect they weren't nearly as coveted.Fortunately, there was the promise of cake to get them all back inside. Funny how it's no problem at all to get their attention as long as you say "cake" loudly enough.Turns out, it was hard to cut small pieces of this particular cake, so there was a lot left on the plates. Either that, or all those colors really disturbed some of the children. Not sure. And I'm not sure that I'm offended if it did either. Anyone should be suspicious of rainbow-colored food!

The end of cake quickly brought the end of the party. The prisms were cut off and distributed to some really delighted little kids and each one got a little bucket of rainbow themed goodies to take home. I'm big on trying not to give kids "junk" that their parents wish wasn't in their house. Each one got a really good pinwheel, a pad of paper (not rainbow related, but cheap and useful, I figured), a rainbow pencil, a rainbow sticker, a paper fan (O.K., this was JUNK) and a mini fuse bead set along with the prism.All in all, I think Mam had a great party. She wasn't like Smunch who sweetly thanked us for his great day, but she did seem happy and the pile of presents didn't hurt either.

I'm done now. No more crazy birthdays for another year. I'm so over the rainbow! (Read that any way you like. They're all true!)