Archive for the 'Parenthood' Category

55 Essential Movies for Kids?

Wednesday, July 23rd, 2014
My Neighbor Totoro: Best All-Ages movie ever?

My Neighbor Totoro: Best All-Ages movie ever?

Recently, Entertainment Weekly posted a list online and then in print, of 55 Movies Every Kid Should See.

It’s an interesting list, and like all lists, not unproblematic. I like how it’s grouped for all ages, then 8, 10, and 12+. I agree with many of the movies on the list, demonstrated by how many of those my 8 and 10yo kids have seen.

[quick break while I count... 35.]

Like all lists, it has some questionable inclusions and some inexplicable omissions. I had two main problems with it.

The first is unforgivable, which is that no film by Hayao Miyazaki is on the list. Adding insult to injury is that sexist crap with phallic imagery like The Little Mermaid is. I’m pretty sure that even Miyazaki’s worst film is better than The Little Mermaid. The Miyazaki films should be a subset of their own, and put in order of excellence and age appropriateness.

In fact, maybe I’ll do just that for a future post.

The second flaw is an organizational one. Putting Christmas movies in with the Gen Pop makes no sense. We binge watch the age-appropriate ones every year. Like Miyazaki films, they deserve their own ordered subset, and perhaps I’ll do that come December.

After the usual post-list outrage was vented, EW posted a follow up of 12 Reader Suggestions, which did give a nod, but only that, to Miyazaki.

A few others that came to my mind that we’ve watched with our boys: The Great Escape, The Right Stuff, The Magnificent Seven, Rio Bravo.

This illustrates another problem, though with films, not with the list, which is a woeful lack of films by and about women and girls, yet another reason why all the Miyazaki films should be on the list, since they all have strong female characters most of whom are the protagonist.

How about it, parents and cinephiles. What do you think of the list, what’s on it you disagree with, or missing?

From the Archives: Five Holiday Gifts

Friday, December 13th, 2013

Last year I posted this on 11/1. Ha!! This year, I think I remembered posting it last year, and didn’t realize I’d actually posted it, since I’ve all but stopped blogging, and now it’s December 13. Well, you have almost two weeks of shopping. Sorry, folks, for the lateness.

From the archives, on gift giving for kids:
Star Tribune 12/24/89 - Pat Gardner “Tender Years”

The weeks of hectic preparation are coming to a close. Within days, the magic will begin to unfold for our children and, vicariously through them, for us. Just as we remember those wonderful Christmas Eves and mornings long ago, our children will one day look back on these days. How will they remember them? What are you giving your children this year?

I know one family of modest means that makes a great effort to celebrate Christmas in the best way possible. Their children always find five gifts under the tree. And more than that, the gifts are always accompanied by a parent. Here’s how they do it.

The children always receive a gift to hug and love. Sometimes it’s a doll or maybe a stuffed animal. Every Christmas each child has something to care for, to carry along and finally at night to share a bed, secrets and dreams.

The wise parents know that the children will themselves learn to care for others by practicing on dolls and stuffed animals. Mom and Dad demonstrate rocking the stuffed bear and wiping the doll’s face. They talk about being gentle and giving care.

More important, they treat their children tenderly. They make a special effort at this busy time of year for a little more lap time, more frequent hugs and all the physical care and attention their young children need.

The children in this family always receive something to read. The parents know that to give them books is to give them wings. The little ones get books, and the big ones get books. Books aren’t foreign to any member of this family. Books are treasures. And more than that, they become a daily connection between parent and child.

The wise parents know that the best way to raise a reader is to read to a child….They share curiosity. They take the time to listen patiently to their beginning reader. They share discoveries. Through books, these parents explore worlds within their home and beyond their front door with all of their children.

The children receive toys and games. These parents are concerned about each child’s skills and find fun ways to enhance their present capabilities and encourage further development. For a grasping baby, a crib gym; for a beginning walker, a push toy; for a pre-schooler, a shape and color sorter; for a beginning reader, a game of sequence and strategy.

The parents know that play is the work of childhood. They understand that to meet a child at her level of accomplishment is to encourage success in play. Success stimulates motivation and interest in a challenge. So the parents judge their toy and game choices carefully. Not too easy, but not too hard.

They they do the most important thing. They play with their children. The children see that learning is a toy, that it’s fun to challenge oneself, that play can be a very social activity, that it’s OK to win and also to lose and that Mom and Dad wholeheartedly approve of play.

The children in this family always receive a gift of activity. From a simple ball or jump rope to a basketball hoop or a pair of ice skates, they always have one gift that encourages action.

The parents know that those children who, by nature, are very active may need to be channeled into acceptable and appropriate activities. And they know that those children who, by nature, are very passive may need to be encouraged to move with purpose. But their message to their children is that physical activity is important and good.

These parents make their message clear by joining their children in physical play. They skate and play catch. They’re on the floor with their crawlers and walk hand in hand with their toddlers. They get bumped and bruised and laugh and shout. They sled and they bowl. And many times in the next few weeks when resting on the couch sounds much more inviting, these parents will give their kids one more gift. They’ll get up and play with them.

The children always receive a gift of artistic expression. They might find crayons, paints or markers in their stockings. It might be a gift of clay this year or rubber stamps or scissors and glue. The materials change, but the object remains the same: create with joy.

These wise parents aren’t terribly concerned about the mess of finger paints. They’re more concerned about the exposure to unique sensations. They want their children to use their imaginations. They want their children to approach life in a hands-on fashion. And they want them to express themselves through their artistic activities in ways that exceed their vocabularies.

It Started with a Pink Cake

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

Guppy told me he wanted a strawberry cake for his 7th birthday, so I showed him a picture of The Pink Lady Cake at Smitten Kitchen.

I didn’t call it the Pink Lady, because he’s a seven year old boy. I’m all for gender boundaries coming down and boys embracing pink, but really, it’s called the Pink Lady, and that sounds like a cocktail cougars would drink at a male strip club, not a little boy’s birthday cake. Instead, it got the somewhat unwieldy handle Strawberry Cake with Cream-Cheese Frosting.

But in my head, I gave it a tough name, since it was such a girly cake. I decided to call it the Bada$$ Motherf!@#er cake in my head, which amused me because I’m immature that way.

Anyhoo, the BAMF cake nearly broke my trusty 20+ yo Kitchenaid mixer (the only good thing I’ve ever bought from Kitchenaid. Made in USA back then. Go figure.) My 4.5-quart mixer was too small for the three-layer cake recipe, and adding pureed frozen strawberries to the batter made the melted butter freeze up. I thought the motor was going to quit on me, but I stopped, did math, cut everything by 1/3, warmed the batter in the microwave to defrost the strawberries, filled two cake pans, then made the last 1/3 batter separately to fill the last pan, and voila: Macgyver Mom + Math = Success.

<em/>Here is when I stopped the mixer to reduce the batter by 1/3. Hooray fractions! Also, to taste the batter to make sure it was good. It was. ” title=”img_3341″ width=”300″ height=”225″ class=”size-medium wp-image-5097″ /><p class=Here is when I stopped the mixer to reduce the batter by 1/3. Hooray fractions! Also, to taste the batter to make sure it was good. It was.

<em/>I weighed the layers to make sure they were even. Because sometimes I'm a dork like that. Also, because I own a kitchen scale, so why not?” title=”cake_wt” width=”225″ height=”300″ class=”size-medium wp-image-5100″ /><p class=I weighed the layers to make sure they were even. Because sometimes I'm a dork like that. Also, because I own a kitchen scale, so why not?

Then there was the requisite assembling and frosting and when finished, it looked like this:

<em/>I like how the perspective makes Guppy's head look like a decoration on his own cake. I didn't have time to make it look fancy, so it looks like a big white puck” title=”cake_uncut” width=”225″ height=”300″ class=”size-medium wp-image-5099″ /><p class=I like how the perspective makes Guppy's head look like a decoration on his own cake. I didn't have time to make it look fancy, so it looks like a big white puck

Two-Layer Strawberry Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting and Filling (or, if you wish, The Bada$$ Motherf&*^er Cake)
Adapted from Smitten Kitchen, who adapted it from Sky High. For the strawberries, take about half of a 10-ounce bag of frozen berries, defrost them at room temperature or in the microwave, then puree to get one cup. If you have leftover cream cheese frosting, get graham crackers, put a tablespoon between 2 squares, repeat until you run out of frosting, then freeze. You’re welcome.

For the cake
3 cups cake flour
2 cups sugar
3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup pureed thawed frozen strawberries*
6 egg whites
scant 1/2 cup milk

For the cream cheese frosting
1 (8 ounce) package cream cheese, softened
1/2 cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
1 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoons vanilla extract

Make the cake
1. Preheat the oven to 350»F. Butter two 9-inch round or 8-inch square cake pans. Line with parchment or waxed paper and butter the paper.

2. Put the flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in a large mixer bowl. With the electric mixer on low speed, blend for 30 seconds. Add the butter and strawberry puree and mix to blend the ingredients. Raise the speed to medium and beat until light and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes; the batter will resemble strawberry ice cream at this point.

3. In another large bowl, whisk together the egg whites and milk to blend. Add the whites to the batter in two or three additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl well and mixing only to incorporate after each addition. Divide the batter among the two prepared pans.

4. Bake the cakes for 30 to 34 minutes, or until a cake tester or wooden toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow the layers to cool in the pans for 10 to 15 minutes. Invert and turn out onto wire racks and peel off the paper liners. Let stand until completely cooled before assembling the cake, at least an hour.

Make the cream cheese frosting
5. In a medium bowl, cream together the cream cheese and butter until creamy. Mix in the vanilla, then gradually stir in the confectioners’ sugar. Store in the refrigerator after use.

Frost and assemble the cake

6. Place one cake layer on a cake board or platter. Tuck scraps of waxed paper under the edges of the cake to protect the board or plate from any mess created while frosting the cake. Spread about 2/3 cup frosting over the layer, spreading it to the edge. Add the second layer then frost the top and sides of cake with remaining frosting. You can decorate the cake top with thinly-sliced strawberries. What you should not do is take some of the strawberry puree in a pastry bag and try to decorate the cake with that because it will look like strawberry vomit. Remove the waxed strips to reveal a clean cake board.

The not-too-pink cake

The not-too-pink cake

Once cut, you can see it was a perfectly respectable 3-layer pink-ish cake. I did not add red food coloring to increase the pink. Even so, a handful of 7yo boys at the party refused it, saying they didn’t like strawberry. I don’t know if this was code for “I’m not going to eat that girly cake.” So, nice, I work really hard on this cake, and then little boys REFUSE CAKE. Happily, Guppy enjoyed it, so that’s all that matters.

But, you may notice that this recipe calls for 6 egg whites, so, doing math, the 3 layer cake called for 8. I had 8 egg yolks left over. What was I going to do?

It was there my troubles began. TO BE CONTINUED.

Acorn, Tree, Etc.

Tuesday, December 25th, 2012

I was in my sons’ room, looking for a missing book. Here’s what I saw, “hidden” under 9yo Drake’s pillow:

duncan

duncan2

Ransom and Killing Mr. Griffin by Lois Duncan, two scary books I loved as a kid.

From the Archives: Five Holiday Gifts

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

I remembered! I remembered to post The Five Holiday Gifts early this year!

I met a friend today who said her 4yo daughter woke up this morning, the day after Halloween, and asked if it was Christmas yet. So here, in plenty of time, which is completely uncharacteristic of me (what’s next, an on-time, good-quality holiday card?) is this article that helps me every year.

Your advice: my boys are 6.5 and 9yo. They have a bazillion stuffed animals. Advice on the gift to hug and love? And no, sister Sydney, nothing alive counts for my allergic boys and their anxious, impatient mom.

From the archives, on gift giving for kids:
Star Tribune 12/24/89 - Pat Gardner “Tender Years”

The weeks of hectic preparation are coming to a close. Within days, the magic will begin to unfold for our children and, vicariously through them, for us. Just as we remember those wonderful Christmas Eves and mornings long ago, our children will one day look back on these days. How will they remember them? What are you giving your children this year?

I know one family of modest means that makes a great effort to celebrate Christmas in the best way possible. Their children always find five gifts under the tree. And more than that, the gifts are always accompanied by a parent. Here’s how they do it.

The children always receive a gift to hug and love. Sometimes it’s a doll or maybe a stuffed animal. Every Christmas each child has something to care for, to carry along and finally at night to share a bed, secrets and dreams.

The wise parents know that the children will themselves learn to care for others by practicing on dolls and stuffed animals. Mom and Dad demonstrate rocking the stuffed bear and wiping the doll’s face. They talk about being gentle and giving care.

More important, they treat their children tenderly. They make a special effort at this busy time of year for a little more lap time, more frequent hugs and all the physical care and attention their young children need.

The children in this family always receive something to read. The parents know that to give them books is to give them wings. The little ones get books, and the big ones get books. Books aren’t foreign to any member of this family. Books are treasures. And more than that, they become a daily connection between parent and child.

The wise parents know that the best way to raise a reader is to read to a child….They share curiosity. They take the time to listen patiently to their beginning reader. They share discoveries. Through books, these parents explore worlds within their home and beyond their front door with all of their children.

The children receive toys and games. These parents are concerned about each child’s skills and find fun ways to enhance their present capabilities and encourage further development. For a grasping baby, a crib gym; for a beginning walker, a push toy; for a pre-schooler, a shape and color sorter; for a beginning reader, a game of sequence and strategy.

The parents know that play is the work of childhood. They understand that to meet a child at her level of accomplishment is to encourage success in play. Success stimulates motivation and interest in a challenge. So the parents judge their toy and game choices carefully. Not too easy, but not too hard.

They they do the most important thing. They play with their children. The children see that learning is a toy, that it’s fun to challenge oneself, that play can be a very social activity, that it’s OK to win and also to lose and that Mom and Dad wholeheartedly approve of play.

The children in this family always receive a gift of activity. From a simple ball or jump rope to a basketball hoop or a pair of ice skates, they always have one gift that encourages action.

The parents know that those children who, by nature, are very active may need to be channeled into acceptable and appropriate activities. And they know that those children who, by nature, are very passive may need to be encouraged to move with purpose. But their message to their children is that physical activity is important and good.

These parents make their message clear by joining their children in physical play. They skate and play catch. They’re on the floor with their crawlers and walk hand in hand with their toddlers. They get bumped and bruised and laugh and shout. They sled and they bowl. And many times in the next few weeks when resting on the couch sounds much more inviting, these parents will give their kids one more gift. They’ll get up and play with them.

The children always receive a gift of artistic expression. They might find crayons, paints or markers in their stockings. It might be a gift of clay this year or rubber stamps or scissors and glue. The materials change, but the object remains the same: create with joy.

These wise parents aren’t terribly concerned about the mess of finger paints. They’re more concerned about the exposure to unique sensations. They want their children to use their imaginations. They want their children to approach life in a hands-on fashion. And they want them to express themselves through their artistic activities in ways that exceed their vocabularies.

Family Movie Night

Monday, October 15th, 2012

We’ve had family movie night the last two Fridays. We broke one of my cardinal rules by eating home-made pizza and then ice cream in front of the TV to watch a movie we all agreed on.

img_2614

Two Fridays ago, we watched The Avengers on Blu ray.

avengers

The boys loved it even more than they did when we saw it in the theater. They found the Hulk segments even more funny, especially “Target angry! Target angry!” G. Grod and I watched that entire 2.5 hour movie with them, then hustled them into bed so we could watch the extras and before the weekend was over had watched them all AND the movie with director Joss Whedon’s commentary. That’s how much we liked this movie.

Last Friday, we watched Miyazaki’s Spirited Away, which I consider his masterpiece.

spirited

Then again, saying that unfairly denigrates his other masterpieces, so best of the best? We tried to watch it a few years ago with the kids, but they were scared by some of the imagery. We watched it this time, and things seemed to go well. Both 9yo Drake and 6yo Guppy enjoyed it, as did G. Grod and I. But that was before bedtime.

After we tried to put the boys in bed, they got up again three times. Drake was disturbed by memories of the image of a monster from the movie that went on a rampage, ate several characters, and then vomited for a very long, long time. Interestingly, nothing from The Avengers the week before fazed him as this did. We finally got him into bed, and by the next day seemed happy to take our suggestion to remember the funny and cute and beautiful parts, like the return of soot sprites from My Neighbor Totoro, and adorable duck creatures, but still, Spirited Away was only a qualified success.

img_2648

After pizza, dessert was my favorite combination of Ben & Jerry’s flavors, Chocolate Therapy and What a Cluster (formerly Clusterfluff).

Chocolate Therapy is chocolate ice cream with chocolate cookies & swirls of chocolate pudding ice cream, formerly only available in scoop shops.

What a Cluster is peanut butter ice cream with caramel cluster pieces, marshmallow swirls & peanut buttery swirls.

Chocolate Therapy on its own is quite something, but when combined with What a Cluster, well, something rather magical happens.

Growing Up

Monday, October 15th, 2012

I found this page when I was scanning Drake’s handwriting book from last year (he was 8):

img_2646

Jaded, already, at such a tender age. And yet, I wonder at all the things that I could add to the list that have been moved beyond, His passions burn bright and fade fast:

Ninjago
Bakugan
Hot Wheels
Wipe Out
Fetch w/Ruff Ruffman and any number of PBS tv shows

The New Asceticism?

Tuesday, October 9th, 2012

9yo son Drake returned from a birthday party: They had cupcakes and ice cream, but I didn’t have any.

Me, knowing the mom who made the cupcakes and that they would have been good: Why?

Drake: I’m trying to cut back on sweets.

Me, carb-monster, utterly bewildered: Why?

Drake, rolling eyes: I’m going to tell my other parent. Maybe HE’LL appreciate it.

Then, we went to a Sukkot party over the weekend where he skipped chili and egg strata and ate only banana bread, pumpkin-nut squares and chocolate-chip cookies. Cutting back on sweets, my a$$. I bet he just ate too much pizza at the birthday party.

Guppy’s First Lost Tooth

Saturday, October 6th, 2012

Both my boys are slow to lose baby teeth which is fine by me. Let them keep building their brushing skills on the baby teeth to give their grown-up teeth a better chance at fewer cavities.

6yo Guppy’s tooth had been loose for a while. Earlier in the week, he said he pushed it forward with his tongue in his school picture, so it will be immortalized.

Yesterday at the bus stop, I’m chatting with the other parents (we have 11 kids at our bus stop from 7 families) when I heard the cry go up from the kids:

“Guppy lost a tooth!”

Guppy appeared in front of me, lip quivering.

“Because Drake punched me in the face.”

I hugged him close (perhaps not only in sympathy, if you know what I mean), then checked for blood, which was minimal. I was relieved, since I didn’t have tissues and the bus was pulling up.

Alas, the tooth was missing, and the sidewalk was effective camouflage. I didn’t find the tooth, but another dad did, so I ran on the bus before it pulled away to assure Guppy that we’d found it.

9yo Drake maintains he didn’t PUNCH Guppy in the face, but merely scraped his hand down the front of it which ended up popping the already loose tooth out.

This morning, Guppy found $2 under his pillow. (We’re long past the Tooth Fairy here.)

“I guess you get an extra dollar when your tooth is punched out of you,” I told him.

“I didn’t punch him!” yelled Drake.

I don’t think he recognizes that describing it the other way tells the story more effectively, if not more precisely.

“Gilgamesh the Hero” by Geraldine McCaughrean

Friday, June 15th, 2012

I got Gilgamesh the Hero by Geraldine McCaughrean and illustrated by David Parkins, from the library for my 8yo son Drake’s school project on Mesopotamia. He read it when we did the project*, and I just got around to reading it.

McCaghrean’s version is good, accessible, and I enjoyed Parkins’ art. It reminds me of the D’Aulaire mythology books. I think I would have really enjoyed this as a kid. We used The Gilgamesh Trilogy picture books by Ludmila Zeman for the project, and liked those a lot. This one is for slightly older kids. I’m working my way up to a grown up version. Heh.

*I could have sworn I posted this on the blog, but apparently not. We made a Lego video of some of the Gilgamesh stories. I doubt you will see a cuter version of the Gilgamesh epic.

Surfacing

Thursday, April 26th, 2012

Greetings and Salutations, Friends and Readers! It’s been a while, no? Life’s been life-y lately, volunteering for an event at my kids’ school, applying to a writing contest/program, reading and struggling to understand Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, a case of double pink eye, plus the usual merry-go-round of family stuff like sports and piano and reading and writing and such.

I’m out of practice with blogging, but eager to get back in the saddle. I’ve got book reviews, a few anecdotes, maybe even some food posts, all banging like Athena in my head, trying to get out. I hope you’ll see some of that in the next few days, now that things have settled down a little bit. (Fingers crossed.)

A Kate DiCamillo story

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

The teacher has been reading Kate DiCamillo’s Because of Winn Dixie aloud to 8yo Drake’s class. When she was close to the end one night, the next morning before school Drake “needed” to know the ending, so he asked to see our copy. I told him it was on the shelf with the other books by Kate.

“We have a whole section for her?” he asked wonderingly.

I told him to look in the D’s. Given that the first author he saw was Dickens, it took him rather longer than I expected to find Kate’s books.

When he pulled it off the shelf, he asked about the stuff inside: an article on Kate in the local paper after it came out, and some other Kate-related things. I showed him the inscription, which had an illustration of a dog.

Downstairs, Drake would not leave the house for the bus until he’d finished the chapter. I asked, I sternly asked, I raised my voice, then I realized I should just be quiet and let him finish his chapter.

As we walk/jogged to the bus, he said, “Our family is really lucky. Other families don’t have books signed by Kate.”

I responded, “Yes, we are a lucky family.”

A Bodacious Birthday Cake

Friday, February 10th, 2012

Guppy turned 6 this week! I showed him the cake section of Joanne Chang’s Flour, which I received for Christmas but had not yet worked up the gumption to cook from. Guppy, who knows his own mind, passed by the chocolate cake with chocolate frosting, the chocolate cupcakes with magic frosting, and said he wanted the lemon-raspberry cake. The recipe is in small type over three pages. I asked, “Are you sure?” and showed him the picture of the cupcakes again. He was sure.

The day before Guppy’s birthday, I made a trip to our grocery co-op, since I did not have on hand the requisite: cake flour, nearly 2 pounds of butter, 14 eggs (for 14 whites but only 12 egg yolks), bag of lemons, nearly 5 cups of sugar, and 2 boxes of very lovely, organic, USA, on-sale raspberries.

Day one. On Guppy’s birthday, his older brother Drake vomited for the second morning in a row. Dealing with that left me less than energized to start a major baking project, but I rallied in the late morning and made the three cake layers and the homemade lemon curd. The cakes involved whipping egg whites then folding them into a very thick batter. The lemon curd used up my bag of lemons and I needed more to make the lemon syrup, so I asked Guppy if I could finish his cake the next day if we got dessert out that night. He graciously agreed, and I was able to procure more lemons.

Day two. The recipe says to make the buttercream frosting before the lemon syrup, but since I read the recipe beforehand, and the syrup needs to cool to room temp, I did it in reverse order.

Here is lemon syrup cooling in back and sugar syrup in front. Buttercream frosting involves making a sugar syrup heated to a certain temperature, then taking the warm syrup and adding it very slowly to an egg mixture, and then adding a $hit-ton of butter and whipping for a long time. Note candy thermometer, one of those kitchen tools that denotes this recipe as hard core, IMO. It’s a kitchen gadget I use about once a year, if that, but I always feel competent that I have it when it’s called for. Also, my neighbors know that I have one, so they borrow mine when needed.

Syrups

This is the egg/syrup mixture, before I added butter and whipped it to a total end volume of about six cups. I nearly forgot to put in a pound of butter, as putting in half a pound made me think I was finished. Silly me.

Buttercream frosting

To assemble the cake, each layer needed to be brushed with about 1/3 cup of the lemon syrup, then topped with a cup of buttercream, to which a flood barrier of frosting was adding around the edge to prevent the subsequent raspberries and lemon curd from oozing out. Which they did anyway in a few spots, so I should have been more aggressive in my frosting flood barriers.

img_1480

So then, lemon curd inside barrier, topped with raspberries, next layer, soaked with syrup, frosting, flood barrier, lemon curd, raspberries, and that got me here:

img_1483

I topped that with the third layer, brushed it with lemon syrup, then the whole thing needed to refrigerate for at least an hour to firm up. I took a nap.

Now firm, the cake needed a crumb coat–a thin layer of all-over frosting to make sure the crumbs stay under the outer layer of frosting. This took another cup of frosting, then had to refrigerate for 30 minutes, during which I washed some of the eight zillion dishes and tried to wipe up some of the butter, which seemed to coat every kitchen surface now.

img_1484

Next up was the all-over frosting, about a cup and a half, and then the remaining lemon curd, spread on the top. By this time, the boys were home from school, and big brother Drake said he wanted to put the raspberries on top of the cake. I asked that he test his design on the bottom of a cake pan before transferring it.

Cake and boys

He wanted a ring around the cake, and I suggested using the few remaining berries to make a 6, which conveniently also looked like a “G.”

Top of Cake

Here is what it looked like once we cut into it

interior, cake

And on the plate

img_1514

Throughout the two days of making this cake, I was fearful that it would not be good, that it would be too sugary, soggy from the syrup, etc. I knew as I was doing it that it was way too much work unless the end result was going to be delicious. But it was. So: giant pain in the butt, yes. Worth it for a special someone on a special occasion, like my very happy six-year-old boy? You bet.

If you were reading to the end of this hoping for the recipe, sorry. It’s three pages of tiny type. No way am I transcribing it. I spent 2 days on the cake (and probably more hours making it than I did laboring to have Guppy himself), and all morning uploading the photos for this entry.

Daily Delicious has the recipe with European amounts here. But I suggest you borrow the book from the library, or just buy it. I think it’s worth it for the photos alone, but it’s full of other recipes I want to try too, like home-made Oreos

Video Games, Coca Cola, and White Bread

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

Our little family just returned from a quick trip south. My husband G. Grod’s elderly grandmother is declining and confined to bed. We wanted to see her again, and to have her see our boys, 8 and nearly 6, so we finagled last-minute flights.

She said, “Why is everybody comin’ to see me? I’m not goin’ anywhere!”

There was a constant stream of visitors, relatives, and food. The boys did get to see her, though young Guppy was acting up, I suspect out of an inability to grasp what was going on. 8yo Drake, though, was happy to go in, see her and chat for a bit.

There’s not a lot to do in rural SC, and no other kids to play with, so we let the boys have free rein with the Gameboy, Angry Birds and other handheld games. They ate fried chicken several times, dessert after every meal, white-bread sandwiches, and were allowed Coke on the flight home. They seemed a little delirious with their good fortune and the uncharacteristic laissez-faire parenting. I wonder if later in life they’ll make the connection between what was happening and why they were given so much freedom.

From the Archives: Five Holiday Gifts

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

Sigh. Three days later than last year.

From the archives, on gift giving for kids:
Star Tribune 12/24/89 - Pat Gardner “Tender Years”

The weeks of hectic preparation are coming to a close. Within days, the magic will begin to unfold for our children and, vicariously through them, for us. Just as we remember those wonderful Christmas Eves and mornings long ago, our children will one day look back on these days. How will they remember them? What are you giving your children this year?

I know one family of modest means that makes a great effort to celebrate Christmas in the best way possible. Their children always find five gifts under the tree. And more than that, the gifts are always accompanied by a parent. Here’s how they do it.

The children always receive a gift to hug and love. Sometimes it’s a doll or maybe a stuffed animal. Every Christmas each child has something to care for, to carry along and finally at night to share a bed, secrets and dreams.

The wise parents know that the children will themselves learn to care for others by practicing on dolls and stuffed animals. Mom and Dad demonstrate rocking the stuffed bear and wiping the doll’s face. They talk about being gentle and giving care.

More important, they treat their children tenderly. They make a special effort at this busy time of year for a little more lap time, more frequent hugs and all the physical care and attention their young children need.

The children in this family always receive something to read. The parents know that to give them books is to give them wings. The little ones get books, and the big ones get books. Books aren’t foreign to any member of this family. Books are treasures. And more than that, they become a daily connection between parent and child.

The wise parents know that the best way to raise a reader is to read to a child….They share curiosity. They take the time to listen patiently to their beginning reader. They share discoveries. Through books, these parents explore worlds within their home and beyond their front door with all of their children.

The children receive toys and games. These parents are concerned about each child’s skills and find fun ways to enhance their present capabilities and encourage further development. For a grasping baby, a crib gym; for a beginning walker, a push toy; for a pre-schooler, a shape and color sorter; for a beginning reader, a game of sequence and strategy.

The parents know that play is the work of childhood. They understand that to meet a child at her level of accomplishment is to encourage success in play. Success stimulates motivation and interest in a challenge. So the parents judge their toy and game choices carefully. Not too easy, but not too hard.

They they do the most important thing. They play with their children. The children see that learning is a toy, that it’s fun to challenge oneself, that play can be a very social activity, that it’s OK to win and also to lose and that Mom and Dad wholeheartedly approve of play.

The children in this family always receive a gift of activity. From a simple ball or jump rope to a basketball hoop or a pair of ice skates, they always have one gift that encourages action.

The parents know that those children who, by nature, are very active may need to be channeled into acceptable and appropriate activities. And they know that those children who, by nature, are very passive may need to be encouraged to move with purpose. But their message to their children is that physical activity is important and good.

These parents make their message clear by joining their children in physical play. They skate and play catch. They’re on the floor with their crawlers and walk hand in hand with their toddlers. They get bumped and bruised and laugh and shout. They sled and they bowl. And many times in the next few weeks when resting on the couch sounds much more inviting, these parents will give their kids one more gift. They’ll get up and play with them.

The children always receive a gift of artistic expression. They might find crayons, paints or markers in their stockings. It might be a gift of clay this year or rubber stamps or scissors and glue. The materials change, but the object remains the same: create with joy.

These wise parents aren’t terribly concerned about the mess of finger paints. They’re more concerned about the exposure to unique sensations. They want their children to use their imaginations. They want their children to approach life in a hands-on fashion. And they want them to express themselves through their artistic activities in ways that exceed their vocabularies.

His Two Cents

Tuesday, November 29th, 2011
two pennies

two pennies

Last week, I made quesadillas for supper. As I was washing dishes, 8yo Drake came in and held out two pennies. I thought he’d found them, and told him to put them with the rest of his savings.

He held them out again. “No,” he said, “they’re for you.”

I took them. “What for?”

“A tip. For the quesadillas.” He smiled. “Bet you don’t get that very much.”

I laughed. “No, I don’t.” I gave him a hug.

I do make very good quesadillas.

(Posted originally on Facebook, but again here for those who choose to abstain.)

The Answer to the Question…

Friday, September 30th, 2011

Many, many people asked “what are you going to do with yourself when Guppy starts full-day kindergarten?”

As if filling the time would be a problem.

FYI, all those people who told me to enjoy their baby- and childhoods because it goes so fast? My experience is spending actual time with babies and children can be tedious. The kid-free peace and quiet? THAT flies by.

I’m doing freelance writing now for three different places, so filling the time isn’t even confined to housewifery. And Oprah and bon-bons were never on the table.

I started this week with the desire to get back on my bike and get strong. After a couple recent physical setbacks, including a strained back the past few weeks (I grow old, I grow old…), I’ve fallen off my never very consistent exercise horse. When I get winded carrying the laundry upstairs, I figure it’s time to get moving, literally.

Monday I biked to meet a friend for lunch at a restaurant I’d long been wanting to try. In spite of bike map and smart phone, got lost, was late, but made it eventually. Total ride, 20+ miles.

Tuesday I met friends for coffee and breakfast at one of my favorite spots. Total ride, 10 miles, plus 2 more later in the day when I biked to and from yoga.

Wednesday, I thought I would rest till I saw the weather. Being Minnesotan now means seizing the weather when it’s good. I didn’t have anything in the fridge for lunch. Decided to bike to the falls and an eatery I’d never tried. In spite of smart phone and map, got a little lost. Total ride, 20+ miles.

Thursday, I realized we were almost out of espresso beans. In spite of debilitating wind, decided to bike to a fancy bike and coffee shop. Once there I ogled fancy bike gear (could EASILY have spent $500 just on clothes, gloves and a bag) and enjoyed an expert cappuccino and chocolate chip cookie. Started home. About halfway there wondered what the noise was. Had a flat. Walked to a nearby transit station, missed the train, wondered if I should ask anyone of the biking folk around if they could help me change it (I did have a spare tube). Saw a friend! He would be late to work if he helped me change it, but a bike shop was only a few blocks away. Went there, got the tube replaced, got a lesson so maybe I can change my next flat myself, then finally got home. Total ride, 20+ miles.

While I’m exercising, I’m also riding to high-calorie destinations, so this is not a weight loss regimen. However, now that I’ve begun, I figure I should keep going. I always thought what I would do when Guppy started school was write more. Turns out, for now, at least till the weather changes (heh, probably next week) it’s biking.

And so, I’m off on my bike to meet a friend at a bakery I’ve long wanted to visit, then maybe hang out downtown to check out the food truck vista.

Ta.

“Odd and the Frost Giants” by Neil Gaiman

Saturday, July 30th, 2011

As part of my reading of Norse myths and Gaiman after my re-read of American Gods, I read Odd and the Frost Giants aloud to my boys, nearly 8yo Drake and 5yuo Guppy. Read aloud to my boys after reading Gaiman’s American Gods last month. It’s a story (or myth, if you will) based on characters from Norse mythology. In short, a young man named Odd leaves his village and goes into the wilderness. Strange things happen when he encounters a fox, bear and eagle. My appreciation of it was heightened by having recently read D’Aulaire’s Book of Norse Myths, which explained a certain joke about a mare among other details. Guppy said he liked it “medium” but Drake really enjoyed it, as I continue to struggle with figuring out age-appropriate read-alouds for these two.

“D’Aulaire’s Book of Norse Myths”

Thursday, July 28th, 2011

I borrowed D’Aulaire’s Book of Norse Myths from the library to read along with Neil Gaiman’s American Gods, which I remembered had a great number of references I wasn’t familiar with. I don’t recall reading the D’Aulaire’s Norse Myths as a child, though their Book of Greek Myths was one of my favorites. The new edition of the Norse myths has an introduction by Michael Chabon (which is also collected in his Maps and Legends) and was such an engaging, fantastically illustrated book with great stories that I went out and bought a copy for our home library. I don’t remember having this growing up, but I want my kids to. It indeed contributed to my enjoyment of Gaiman’s American Gods, as well as his Odd and the Frost Giants, which I just finished reading aloud to my two boys.

“The Magician’s Nephew” by C.S. Lewis

Friday, July 22nd, 2011

After I finished reading The Mouse and his Child to 5yo Guppy and nearly 8yo Drake, I cast about for another book, and when I said “Narnia” Drake perked right up. I was torn between reading them in the order I read them growing up, which was chronological by publishing date. But I have a hardcover set that puts them in order by the events of the story. Since Drake can be a stickler for things like that, and I didn’t feel like arguing, we started with the book labeled 1, The Magician’s Nephew; the story takes place before that in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

A young boy named Digory moves to his aunt and uncle’s house in London when his mother falls ill. He makes friends with Polly, the girl who lives next door, and they discover that Digory’s uncle is trying to find ways to travel among worlds. The uncle tricks the children into exploring for him, and their adventures include a dying world, a wicked witch, a just-created world, talking animals and much more. Christian allegory, which I didn’t recognize so clearly when I read this as a child, abounds. It is a solid adventure story featuring interesting child protagonists confronted with a variety of moral and ethical dilemmas. There is some humor, but it was more apparent to me, the adult reading the book, than to my young children who listened to it. I enjoyed revisiting the book. Their verdicts? Drake said he liked it and was interested in the next book. Guppy was grumpy, and said he did not, so I may have picked a(nother) book he’s not yet ready for. I’ll keep trying. Next up is Neil Gaiman’s Odd and the Frost Giants.