Cake-o-rama

Anyone who knows me knows I do a lot of baking.  I bake just about every day and once we’ve had our fill here I send the leftovers home with anyone who doesn’t say, “No thanks” convincingly enough.  In the past week, for example, I made two birthday cakes for Kevin’s work, one for a neighbor’s birthday party, and a cake, lemon bars, and red velvet cupcakes  for sixty kids at an alternative high school near my house.

It’s been a good—but stressful—week.

So when Kevin and his coworkers were enjoying the two-layer carrot cake and four-layer chocolate cake I sent in, someone there asked him how I have the time to do it all.  Kevin explained, “It’s easy.  She’s unemployed.”

This has led to a week of comments like this at our house:

“Thanks for taking the garbage out—it makes my job easier.  Oh that’s right, I don’t have a job.

Or when I was assembling a 32-layer crepe cake for the neighbor while also feeding Leo breakfast and answering Rocco’s 101 questions about coal cars, and the timer for the ganache was beeping and the phone was ringing and Kevin came in to ask if he could help I said, “No.  I’m unemployed so this is all very easy for me.”

Or when Kevin came home from work today and I told him how my red velvet cupcakes didn’t turn out red enough, the lemon bars stuck to the pan, and the frosting was sloughing off the poppy seed cake and he said, “Tough day at the office?” He is very lucky he had thought to use Leo as a human shield at the time.

I am a SAHM of three boys.  My days are fun, rewarding, challenging, hilarious, aggravating, exhausting, loud, sweet, messy, busy, stressful, and above all, overflowing with love.

You may have noticed I did not include the word “easy” in the list. 

But making Kevin regret his comment?  Now that was easy.

To end on a sweet note, here are pictures of the cakes I made this past week.  I included links to the recipes you can find on-line:

Carrot Ginger Cake with Candied Carrots

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Chocolate Almond Cake (I let the ganache get too cool so it didn’t drip down the sides like it was supposed to.  Oops.)

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Darkest Chocolate Crepe Cake with Candied Hazelnuts (Got the ganache right on this one!)

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Billowing Poppyseed Layer Cake

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Want to make your kids get along?

I want my kids to intrinsically want to be kind to each other and to treat each other with love and good humor and basic civility.  I want to be that mom who can say her kids are best friends.  I used to love my job as a SAHM, I used to be excited when my boys woke up in the morning to see what they would say or do.  Lately, though, my older boys, ages 7 and 3, have been so terrible to each other that I had come to dread the moment they woke up because the first thing that would come out of their room each morning was the sound of screaming.

So I decided to try something.  My experiment involved two canning jars, two colors of beads, and some well chosen rewards/consequences attached to them.

And since we started it up two weeks ago, my kids have been acting like best friends!! 

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Here’s how it works, for anyone else out there feeling about ready to send your kids off to boarding school if you have to break up one more fight:

I chose two colors of beads and named the clear beads “kindness beads.”  They also go by the names “teamwork beads,” “beads of goodness,” “happiness beads,” whatever strikes us at the moment. 

Then there are the red beads.  My husband calls them “the other beads,” I call them, “needs work beads,” and Rocco calls them “badness beebs.”*

I then got two clear jars (clear so that the kids can see their progress), one for the “kindness beads” and one for the “needs work” beads.  When I see the boys acting kindly together I put a bead in the Kindness Jar.  These activities include…

  • playing a game together
  • sharing
  • being silly with each other
  • helping each other
  • reading books together
  • resolving an argument in a peaceful way

The rule is that they are not allowed to ask for a bead or to tell me I should put one in the jar; they have to trust that I am seeing and hearing conversations they don’t even think I’m seeing or hearing, and there is a running tally in my head and when it hits a certain point, CLINK!  They get a bead.

Once the kids get ten clear beads, they get a small reward that they agree on, like a piece of candy or ten minutes of family video game time.  When they get to 50 beads the kids can choose something bigger, like a trip to Chuck E. Cheese or bowling or swimming or–who am I kidding?  They’ll choose Chuck E. Cheese every time.

Anyway, to make the beads easier to see and count, I dump the Kindness Jar when it reaches ten beads and instead put a rubber band around the jar.  Five rubber bands equals 50 beads, at which point we celebrate with a trip to Chuck E. Cheese and then we’ll start the jar over.

As for the “needs work” beads, if the kids get ten of those they each have to pay me a dollar.  I empty the jar at the end of each month so they can get a fresh start.

The minute I started up these jars, my boys started acting like the kind of brothers I used to think I’d have, back when I was young and naive.  They make up games together, like where one runs around in circles and the other throws pillows at him.  If Vincenzo sees Rocco struggling with something, he voluntarily offers his help.  Vincenzo uses a sweet tone of voice with Rocco instead of his annoyed-know-it-all voice during their play time conversations.  When they do get into an argument, I remind them that how they behave in the argument is going to earn them a bead, and miraculously, they find a way to solve it without yelling, hitting, storming out, or tattling. 

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Counting the “beebs”

Yes, ideally I would not need jars.  Ideally they would have each been born wearing their half of a “BFF” necklace.  But I have been trying for three years now to get my kids to be kind to each other and apparently there are some things even a master’s degree in teaching can’t fix without a little reward system.

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Pro tip for anyone who wants to try this system: reward move heavily the first few days so that they get a reward fairly early on, then you can be more discretionary in handing out beads.  Now that we’re settled in, my kids generally earn about ten Kindness Beads a week and haven’t actually earned enough Needs Work beads to have to pay.

*While Rocco’s name for the beads is kind of funny, it’s important that you don’t put a negative label on the beads because you don’t want your kids to go around thinking they’re “bad” if they get a bead in that jar.  A child who is routinely called “bad” is likely to internalize that label, which is very damaging.

Routine Maintenance Post

It is a rule of blogging that the more you have to blog about, the less time you have to blog about it.  There’s been a lot this week but I just have time to write this quick post until I can find an hour or two to catch up.  I am WORN OUT and cranky lately, and you can all feel lucky you are not my husband.  Except you, Kevin.  You should not feel so lucky.

Anyway, I came out of the bathroom yesterday to find a shirtless Kevin on the bed with Leo, saying, “No no, Leo.  These nipples are just decorative.”  Apparently Leo had pulled himself up to Kevin’s chest level, noticed the nipples, and started signing “milk” at them.

In mostly unrelated news, Kevin asked me to start thinking about what I want for my birthday.  I have asked for this, which I found in a Guess magazine sent to our house:

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Good luck, Kevin.  I don’t like to be disappointed.

MrsMouthy’s Very Helpful Parenting Tips

I guess some of these are more observations than tips, but whatever.

Parenting Tip #1, given by my BIL:  You can pick your friends, and you can pick your nose, but you can’t pick your friend’s nose.  You can, however, pick your child’s nose.

(This conversation came up when I was serving cake to the kids at Leo’s birthday party.  Somehow I got on the topic of nose picking, and as they were tucking into their cake I told them that my very favorite time to pick my nose was when I was baking birthday cakes.)

Parenting Tip #2: Anyone who knows how to overcook vegetables can make baby food.

Parenting Tip #3: Having one kid makes you proud.  Having two kids makes you humble.

Parenting Tip #4:  The key to getting your baby to sleep through the night is to stop caring.  He won’t necessarily start sleeping through the night sooner, but you won’t care.

Parenting Tip #5: Walk softly and carry a supply of dum-dums in your purse.

How ‘bout you?  What’s your favorite slightly snarky parenting tip?

Melted crayon Valentines

Last spring I made an end-of-year gift for Vincenzo’s teacher that involved ripping the heads off a box of brand new crayons.  Remember?

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Since then I’ve had this box of decapitated crayon stubs lying around, messing with my mind like that dead body in Edgar Allen Poe’s Telltale Heart.  It was more than I could bear, so last night I stripped all the crayon bodies down naked, chopped them to bits with a butcher knife, tossed the chunks into a heart-shaped mold and cooked them up.  The result?

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Valentine’s Day cards!  And what a fitting end for my Telltale Heart crayons.

For those who want to make these, I used a tin mini heart muffin pan.  The crayons shrink back from the sides when they cool and are easy to pop out.  Stuff each tin high with crayons to avoid concave hearts; attach to paper circles with thick foam tape.

Hungry Caterpillar Party

He’s one, people.  My baby is ONE. 

Here’s how Leo’s Hungry Caterpillar party went down—this is the “how to” post for other people out there who love over-planning parties, so I’ll save my usual self-deprecation and crass humor for tomorrow. 

First, the invitations:

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This was one of the easiest parties I’ve ever planned.  Seriously, I think all the parties I plan for my kids from hereon out will be Hungry Caterpillar Parties!  Here’s the snapshot:

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I covered the counter and table with white butcher paper, set out a bunch of white serving platters, and let the colorful fruits from the book do the rest of the work.  I wanted to skip decorating this party, so when the kids came in they all made a handprint Hungry Caterpillar craft that I clothes-pinned across the window and voila!  Decorations!

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For the cake I decided to take my first stab at fondant.  It was time-consuming to cut out all the fruits in different colors, but no harder than making a batch of play-dough and cutting it out into fruit shapes.  Plus, fondant holds really well so you could make the cake a day or two ahead if you want to take some of the stress out of the party day.

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Covering the cake itself with fondant was not as easy as making the fruit shapes.  It helps to have a neighbor skilled in the ways of fondant who bails you out when the fondant is sticky and your cake is lumpy and your husband is completely useless.  (Thanks, Panravee!) 

 

I wanted to have the colorful lollipop from the book for favors but didn’t feel like hunting down huge blue/yellow lollipops on-line and paying for them, and also as a mom I really don’t like my kids to eat gigantic lollipops.  I don’t, however, have a problem with them eating gigantic cookies.  I don’t know why.  I will make sure to ask my therapist next time I go.

To make these I cut sugar cookie dough into circles, laid them on a cookie sheet, stuck an extra long popsicle stick on each one, covered with another cookie circle, and baked.

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And boom!  That’s the party!

We grilled a bunch of sausages and served them with my German neighbor’s potato salad (she felt it was too Bavarian for what she was aiming for, but we forgave her) and a couple fancy mustards.

The party was the easy part.  Dealing with the fact that my baby is no longer much of a baby?  That’s going to take a lot of work.

Special thanks to my mom for running the craft activity, Pan for saving the cake, my MIL for chopping all the fruit, Tatjana for bringing the “German,” Kevin for making the sausage run, and all the other family who set up and took down the party while I sat on the couch telling them not to work so hard.

I’m beginning to realize just why this party was so easy…

I only took about three pictures during the party, so just pretend there was a big cupcake here and green frosting all over Leo’s face.  Happy birthday, Baby Doll!

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