Wednesday, March 26, 2014

E's 8th birthday: Whale Shark Cake!

I enjoy a challenge, so as soon as my children are old enough to speak their minds clearly, I allow them to request what kind of cake they want for their birthdays. This doesn't just involve flavors, but shape or theme. For E's 8th birthday, he was thinking aloud: "I really like sharks. And whales. So my cake should be a whale. Or a shark. Or... I know!" So there was the challenge: could I make a whale shark birthday cake? I checked out books on whale sharks from the library, and tossed ideas around in my head for a while, and finally came up with a solution.

I used 2 loaf pans. The front of the whale shark's head required no shaping, being somewhat square anyway. I tapered the back of the first cake and cut off a lot of the second cake to form the body, which left me with numerous small pieces that I used as tail and fins. I hadn't known how I would make the icing properly grey, but the combination of cocoa powder and blue food color in the icing resulted in a perfect whale shark hue. I had saved some of the plain white icing to use for spots (probably the most time consuming part of the whole project), and then used melted chocolate for eyes and mouth as well as the all-important name and age. As you can see, the birthday boy was quite satisfied.

One of the joys of this sort of project is that, as long as the cake is delicious and looks vaguely like the desired object, the child is usually thrilled - I haven't had a failure yet, from the child's perspective, though I'm not always completely satisfied with the aesthetics of the cake. B and H had their birthdays while we were in Canada (because everyone knows late January and early February are the best time to visit Canada). Our hosts let me take over their kitchen in exchange for a share of the bounty, so I was able to continue the tradition. B had requested a duck cake. When I used Google images to gather ideas, he was incensed at the number of yellow "rubber ducky" cakes - that would NOT do. It had to look like a REAL duck. I'm not sure this one would work well as a decoy, but B was quite pleased with it. I molded the duck out of Rice Krispie treats. B enjoyed eating the head.

For his second birthday, H was not yet able to express an opinion on the form of his cake, which meant I got to pick. I decided that "simple" was the name of the game: a teddy bear, made of 2 circular cakes, with paws, eyes, ears, and nose of Oreo cookies. H thought the candles were the best part; he was able to blow them out with gusto, whereas older brother B had had to try repeatedly to get his to go out.

Now I'm curious: what will P request for her upcoming 10th birthday?

A "Typical" Homeschool Day

I've completely ignored this blog for almost 2 years, but I'd like to try to start it up again. I thought I'd start with an activity our homeschool group did last month: journaling a randomly chosen homeschool day. To refresh your memory on the cast of characters, P is 9 and our only girl, E just turned 8 (he was still 7 when I journaled this day), B is 4 and H is 2.

Feb 25, 2014

My watch is misbehaving itself. When I got up at 6:30, it read 6:15, so I reset it. After breakfast it read 9:00, which astonished me – how is it possible that we took that long? But it was really 8:45 (still showing that we dawdled… oh, well). I still need to dress H and work on breakfast dishes, but after that we can start school. It’s 9:15 now. Really.

9:45. We still haven’t started school. I discovered that E had been dawdling upstairs instead of doing his morning chores. H fought me tooth and nail as I attempted to dress him, which took 20 minutes instead of 5. He’s been weepy and clingy all morning, which makes everything drag on and take twice as long. I read a book to B and H to attempt to cheer H up and give myself some chance of not having to hold him continually. It worked somewhat; finding a new ball for him to play with has also helped. E keeps on stopping to chat, instead of doing his chores. I’m going to start P on school, since she’s been extremely diligent and helpful (as usual) and deserves to be done sooner than E.

10:00. Finally ready to start school with both kids. E threw a fit when I told P she could start (and be done) before him.

11:15. Khan Academy was down, so E couldn’t do that part of his math assignment. As a result, he and P are back on the same schedule now. E has been furious much of the morning. The chicken turd in the bathtub didn’t help. (If we only had an outdoor faucet, E’s chore of changing the chickens’ drinking water wouldn’t have to involve the indoors at all, but at least no one is washing hands in the bathtub. I’ve talked several times about the advantages of dumping all you can in the toilet before moving the waterer to the bathtub; perhaps this will convince him: if you make a mess, you have to clean it up). And he likes Khan Academy, so it being broken was infuriating for him. When I tried to set up a movie for the little guys, the computer had decided not to work, so I had to restart it while also trying to listen to E’s reading. Now it’s back, so hopefully they’ll be out of our hair for a little while.

1:15. E’s writing assignment was easy for him, which helped his mood considerably. Despite multiple interruptions from the little boys (who kept touching the computer and stopping the DVD) I finished reading aloud our poetry and literature selections, started lunch at 12:00, and now am ready to put H down for a nap. P informs me at lunch that she dislikes school. Further questioning reveals that she likes most of it, but dislikes challenging word problems and exercise. E informs us that those are his 2 favorite parts of school. Khan Academy is back up, so E can do his math assignment while P and B play and I convince H that sleep is the best strategy.

3:05. I massively blew a fuse at H. While I was writing the above, he found the oats that I had soaking in a pot on the stove, took a dirty bowl from lunch, and scooped out a bowlful. This is not the eighteenth time he has caused messes by interfering with things on the stove – not just annoying, but dangerous. So I hauled him into the kitchen and spanked him while holding the evidence in front of him. Unfortunately, like his head, his little behind is made of construction-grade steel and concrete, so he barely seemed to notice. AAAAAAAH! What do I DO with this kid? Well, put him down for a nap, obviously, and then sing a bit with the other kids to try to lift my spirits (this week’s memory verse happens to be part of one of my favorite songs), and then do spelling. I set the timer for 15 minutes for each kid’s lesson while the others do art in the kitchen. B is big enough to want his own spelling lesson, plus his own reading lesson, so spelling plus B’s reading takes a full hour. Usually H sleeps long enough, but this time he didn’t. Having him awake during spelling is a disaster because of the large number of tiny magnet tiles our spelling program uses, so I hurried through most of P’s lesson while holding H in my arms. I’d still like to get through history and science, plus a new Latin lesson for both kids. They start getting antsy to play with friends at 4pm, but they can deal. So there.

4:57. We’re done! As I wander around the living room and kitchen, I come upon E’s drawing notebook. He has made a beautiful freehand copy of North America from the map on our table – I could barely do better myself. I did not tell him to do this, though I had actually been thinking it might be profitable to suggest they copy maps occasionally during their drawing time. Both little boys seem to make school drag on for such a long time – only about a third of my time is spent teaching, and two thirds is spent either cleaning up the mess H just made (he found a box of birthday candles and dumped them on the kitchen floor, and was trying to get into the sugar), or interacting with B (No, I will not stop what I’m doing to search online for a decent dot-to-dot whale because the one I found on my first try printed badly, and no, we will not have a long, involved conversation on 3 different topics that have nothing to do with the Reformation, Vietnam, the 15 1st magnitude stars that are visible from the Northern Hemisphere, or Latin vocabulary and grammar).  Both P and E have made their Latin flashcards for the week, and E did not throw a huge fit when I made him correct his spelling of “sorpin” to “scorpion”. The living room didn’t take that long for P and me to clean up while E was finishing his flashcards, and now the little boys are happily playing with Legos and the big kids have gone looking for their friends. I can smell dinner in the crockpot. Ahhh…