Monthly Archives: July 2013

Birthday cake

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My boss said that home made and decorated birthday cakes are an intergenerational tradition. If your parent did it, you are more likely to do it, and if you do it your children will come to expect it.

I did it because I’m on the crafty side. I guess I’m making a rod for my back, but I don’t think I could stand to go with supermarket or bakery cakes.

After much waffling from Thing 1 about what type of cake she wanted for her 3rd birthday (Fish! Butterfly! Dragon! Chocolate! Vanilla!) I decided to just make adorable little bug cupcakes.

But how to decorate them? I toyed with the idea of fondant and painting (though I only had water based colour and no vodka), but decided to go with painting with royal icing.

Here they are!

The cakelet moulds

cakeletmolds

The cakes- undecorated. They are all bagged up to go off to the freezer for a few days before decoration.

bugcakes1

These were the rejects. Too big (for a toddler to eat alone)or didn’t work out well, those ladybugs…

bugcakes2

The offcuts- lots of leftover cake.

cakeoffcuts

My decorating process

I made Royal Icing with food colouring and painted it on.

They looked really awful at first. Drippy and stuff.

cakeswet

After they dried they looked a bit better.

smcakes done

I have discovered why painting with Royal Icing is not a thing. It’s hard to work with and even if you have some skill it does not look polished. It’s like painting with paste, that then drips.  I do not recommend it.

I also covered some of the larger cakes with fondant and then painted those with royal icing. I do not recommend that either. A bit garish.

cakecandles cakesdone

Finished!

Next time I will do something easier like cutting out a complicated shape and covering the lot in buttercream. Or fondant (though I think Fondant is gross and apparently so does Thing 1). These took 90 minutes at least just to paint. Do they look like they took 90 minutes? Not so much.

Conclusion: Difficult, with unpolished looking results.

I used a recipe from my Mennonite Cookbook called Lady Baltimore Cake.

cakerecipe

I’m not exactly happy with the consistency of the cake. It’s very cookie like. There was a lot of butter in the cake. A lot. And probably more flour than necessary. I wanted something that would cook in 20-30 minutes because I had to do multiple batches and many of the other recipes I was eyeing had 50-60 minute cook times. I can content myself with knowing that toddlers don’t care.  Sugary? Check. I was rewarded at the birthday-cake-eating-party with the silence of small children munching cake. That’s the best validation there is.

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Expat life

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So my grandfather is dying.

This was something we knew we would have to deal with when we decided to live overseas. We both have elderly grandparents with questionable health. I have a nearly 100 year old great-grandmother even.  We have more or less made our peace with it, but when the time comes you still aren’t sure what you will do.  I’m now toying with the idea of going back to see people, but then I have to bring a baby, but not a toddler, where will I stay, how will I get around, am I going to be in the way. I feel like I should come back to be supportive to those who aren’t dying, and also to say my in person goodbyes to the elderly.

We went back to see family two years ago and seeing my side of the family was…disappointing. I felt like we were ruining everyone’s routine the whole week we were there, and then we only got to visit with people who lived an hour or so away for one afternoon the day before we left.  We had arranged the visit months in advance and made sure everyone knew when we would be there. More than a minor let down and does not put me in a hurry to make a 20+ hour overseas journey with a small child to visit anyone anytime soon.

But here I am thinking about it.  I wonder if I’m being petty and I should just suck it up and travel, but then on the other hand,  hardly anyone makes an effort to call us overseas (and by call I mean Skype), and no one called Thing 1 for her birthday. I have sent every one of my cousins wedding and/or baby gifts over the past few years and have had no reciprocity.  Then I don’t feel so bad about not wanting to travel, just sad I can’t really justify it to myself.  Sure, we moved  far, far away, but no one seemed particularly determined to be close anyhow.

Overall we know there was a reason we felt ok about moving overseas. Every time I start to feel a little bad something happens like no one remembering to call for Thing 1’s birthday and I remember why we didn’t feel so bad about leaving.

I know I don’t want to go to a funeral, I would rather see the dying people before they die, but there are other logistical aspects to that. I certainly feel like I will get more flack for not going to a funeral even if  I go to visit before death.

Right now I’m thinking maybe just go for the 100th birthday and if dying grandfather is still alive, see him then. What a terrible rationalization.  Still, does he want to see me beyond Skype? People often become more isolationist when they become seriously ill, and I’m not able to be helpful by being there. I’m not even going to mention the cost.

 

 

Musical animals

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So my sister thoughtfully gave Thing 1 a musical bear when she was born. Now this bear doesn’t just play music, no, this bear was equipped with Cloud services. You could put whatever you wanted on this bear. You could share stories and song and all sorts of stuff. So the company advertised.

Being boring, we put some music of our choosing on this bears 2GB mp3 drive. It plays on repeat for about an hour then shuts off. It helps Thing 1 get to sleep. Unfortunately this bear is also a bit crappy. After 2.5 years the buttons sometimes don’t work. When I tried to buy a replacement to have on hand and an additional bear for Thing 2 the company couldn’t process my payment because I was overseas (a company that advertises itself as catering to spread out families. Boooo). I was a bit peeved. I also found that these type of products- customizable music playing stuffed animals or inserts for stuffed animals that play custom music are pretty rare or fairly expensive for what they are- to wit: an MP3 player and some speakers.

So I figured out how to make my own musical animal. We don’t care about the cloud services. If you did there are services like Dropbox and Google Drive and so on for that sort of thing.

So here is what you need:

An animal, pillow etc.

monkey

 

An mp3 player.

mp3player

Pillow speakers or a 5W speaker (I found pillow speakers a cheap workable alternative. They are set up like headphones but have speakers on the end. Neat)

pilowspeakers

Velcro

Fabric

A stitch ripper.

Take your animal (this was a giggling monkey. He’s soft and all- a gift from my lovely boss, but I can’t be having with the giggling), and rip open the back. Do it neatly.

openedmonkey

Pull some stuffing out

monkeyinnards

That’s stuffing and his giggle box.

stuffingandgigglebox

 

Sew and hem a pouch big enough for your mp3 player and speakers.

monkeypouch

Connect the pouch to the animal and sew velcro to the edges

monkeysewingvelcro

 

monkeyinsideempty

Put your music of choice on the mp3 player. You can make an hour long playlist or more or less and leave it on repeat. We want to save batteries (this is a computer rechargeable model of mp3 player)

Connect the speakers and put everything in the pouch.

monkeyinners

monkeydoneopen

To turn on you will need to open the animal, but then away you go.

monkeydoneclosed

 

 

Alternately if you aren’t the best seamstress (really I had to haphazardly hand sew that velcro on there. It doesn’t look great in my efforts to make it strong), find some type of toy that is already designed to be opened up and stick your mp3 player and speakers in there. GloWorms and SeaHorses are good candidates.

wormbackfront

 

Now I just need to put some better lullaby music on the mp3 player. Not that there’s anything wrong with using Siouxsie and the Banshees…

Secure in my parenting

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I don’t know how I got to this point, but I have majorly mastered the art of not giving a fuck about what other people think about how I raise my kids.

It probably has something to do with encountering major issues in a touchy area of the interparent-wars. If there was shit to be given, I was given it. And I took it really hard too. very personally and brokenheartedly. Then at some point I figured out that I, in fact, was awesome and more or less doing a pretty admirable job.

Once I reclaimed my confidence back from that (it took until sometime after my second child) I realized that I was pretty secure in what I was doing. Of course I do things I later think of as mistakes, and I think there are some things that could be done better, though probably not by me. I recognize my limitations and can see I am not cut out for some things.

For example I know a lot of people (on the internet, identifying with attachment/gentle parenting) are on this no yelling thing. I was talking to someone about it the other day and only after I was done talking to her did it occur to me that she might have been minorly trying to shame me. Maybe she was just being insecure herself (this seems more likely, I don’t think many people set out to shame someone in conversation), but she was kind of picking at what I did and I straight up told her, I yell.

That’s right. I yell. I’m not even sorry. I don’t think less of anyone else for doing it either. It’s a damn useful tool. My progression usually goes from conversationally speaking, to stern voice, to sharp stern voice to yell. Sometimes kids need to know that you do indeed mean business. Yelling is also useful for dangerous situations. Also when Thing 1 is doing something hurtful to thing 2. At least until thing 2 can hit back.

There is certainly yelling and yelling. I’m not yelling demeaning horrible things, I’m yelling to reinforce my point. I certainly don’t have the intention to intimidate, but little kids are unfocused critters. So I yell for emphasis. Hey kid, this is something you should listen to. I’m sure I could do it another way, but it works. I don’t even feel bad. I have bigger problems than feeling bad about yelling at my kids. If you are yelling at your kids out of frustration, and uncontrollably and you are unhappy about it then by all means you should change.  I like when I don’t have to yell because it means my kid is paying attention. I do not see yelling as a failure on my part. It’s part me being human, part me trying to get on with life.

Another thing I’m often on the ‘wrong’ side of is daycare. In the same conversation mentioned above this person was telling me how she would stay with her kid for 3 hours and then leave for work, and how it became difficult for her to leave and her child became distressed.  My response: huh. She couldn’t wrap her head around my method which was to know there are separation anxiety phases and just leave. Seriously it makes it worse if you drag out your departure. Kids are manipulative. Not in a bad way per se, but no kid really wants their parent to leave them. If they figure out that crying and freaking out gets a parent to delay leaving then hell yes they will continue to do that. I feel sad when my baby cries when I leave her. Oh my lip sticks out from frowning as I walk down the daycare hallway hearing her howling, but I don’t cry about it. I feel like a complete freak for not getting very upset about it because mostly I hear/read about other mothers getting very upset about leaving their kids. Maybe I’m crazy. I like work and I feel like a much better parent when I get to do adult things and think adult thoughts. I know strongly and logically enough that it’s only going to last a few minutes at most, and she will have fun the rest of the day. Most importantly she’s in qualified hands- all the daycare workers have degrees in early childhood education. Maybe that helps me be confident. I am quite sure I would feel differently if the only choice I had was some person doing it as a low skill at home job the way it seems to be in the US.

I guess these are all reasons I don’t get on with my local attachment parents.  I don’t take common attachment parenting practices as a whole parcel. I can’t abide by that at all.  Some of it does not work for me, some of it I do not see the merit in. I do what I can and what works, but my goal is to raise up little functional people who will like me when we are all adults.  Goal 1: have them get to be adults, goal 2: have me get to them being adults, goal 3: teach them how to be an emotionally functional person and avoid major traumas. Those are a lot harder than they sound, but not actually all that hard. I’m a pretty firm believer in that you haven’t failed at parenting until your kid no longer calls you.  Kids that are dead or in jail don’t call you. Kids that don’t love you don’t call you. Kids that trust you, respect you and value your opinion call you. That is what I am going for. My overall goal is to have a clan. As in family that doesn’t move too far away, keeps in touch, comes to me for advice, the holidays and so on.

When I’m unhappy with how some aspect of my parenting is going I take steps to change it. Case in point- TV. My kids probably watch too much TV. This is something I am frequently unhappy about, take steps to change and then backslide some. I’m glad for all the people who do have the time and or energy to do other things, but yeah. I don’t. TV is the bugbear that comes out when I am tired, run down, me or a child is sick, the weather is crap or when I want only one child grappled on to me whilst I cook food in the evening (ah the art of cooking with a boob out). I don’t like it, I wish I had more willpower, energy, help to do without instead of with, but I don’t . I feel a little guilty about it, but at the same time it’s easy and the alternatives often take more effort.

However, if someone outside of my immediate family (so someone other than my husband) were to give me any guff about the TV watching I would be amused over my annoyance. The kids are physical, socialized, get plenty of interaction from both parents, and TV programs are screened by us, the parents, for content. It is not that bad, and by no means harmful, it’s just something I do not particularly like. I would rather be reading books to them or playing games (if I could think of any), or have them playing without me, or even with me, but that is not always possible. Anyone other than me fussing over that needs to get some real problems. They can have some of mine.