Thursday, June 23, 2016

Parenting Lessons from Fairy Tales

Parents often view many fairy tales and folk tales as cautionary tales for children. They read these stories ready to explain how the girl got into trouble by talking to strangers or how the boy ended up penniless because he made a bad business deal. The discussion might cover how faith and perseverance helped the young hero/heroine succeed against all odds. These tales are all about helping kids learn how to get along in the world.

Or are they?

I recently talked with my oldest about how hard it is to find kids who know the classic tales today. Parents don't seem to read these stories to their children anymore. Even among the children in my homeschool storytelling group there is a lack of knowledge of some of the most iconic stories. Are they irrelevant in our new age? Am I old fashioned in believing there is still a place for these stories? 

I don't think so. These stories appeal to our basic human emotions and desires. We may not endure the same struggles as these fairy tale men and women, but we can relate to what they go through. The metaphor of the story is what draws us in. Who hasn't fought a dragon (obstacles) to reach their castle (goal)? Who hasn't completed menial tasks while striving for something better? It may not be a prince charming, or even fame and fortune, but the basic idea is overcoming problems by finding creative solutions, and learning a little about yourself along the way.

One thing we realized is that it isn't always the hero/heroine's fault that they are stuck in a situation. Sometimes the problem is bad parenting choices. Maybe some stories were actually cautionary tales for the parent, not the child. Here are some examples:

  • Sleeping Beauty: Leave aside the bad social skills of not inviting everyone to your daughter's christening, now that she's cursed, you decide the best way to deal with it is to remove all spindles and spinning wheels from the kingdom. How about keeping a watchful eye on her and teaching her that sharp things hurt?
  • Jack and the Beanstalk: Don't send your child out to sell his beloved pet cow to the butcher. They had a bond.
  • Little Red Riding Hood: And don't send your child out into the woods alone! The poor kid didn't even have a bread knife to protect herself.
  • Cinderella: If we base this on the original, the father lets his new wife do what she wants to his daughter. Lax fathering is a big problem in fairy tales. Hansel and Gretel also experience it, 
  • Rapunzel: The other end of the spectrum is the fathers who try too hard. You know your neighbor is a witch, maybe it's a bad idea to steal from her. Try asking. This is also true of the father in Beauty and the Beast, who stole a rose for his daughter. And the father in Rumpelstiltskin needs to stop being so boastful about his daughter's skills.
There is always value in the tales we tell. That is why they lasted so long and keep returning in new forms. That's why I love a good story!

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Coming to Flower

I once had a discussion with a friend and fellow gardener about finding "volunteers" in the garden. She said she never had volunteers, but it was probably because she was a compulsive weeder. As soon as something sprouted that she didn't plant, out it went.

I tend to weed slowly. I like to make sure I can identify the plant before I pull it up. You can't always tell what you are growing when it's a seedling. I have had unusual flowering plants appear in my yard simply because I waited to see what would happen. A year or two ago, a droopy petaled flower appeared in our yard because I decided not to weed it. It turned out to be a woodland flower called white avens.

White Avens, geum canadense
There is a saying that a weed is a flower in the wrong place. But it can also be in the right place and we just don't recognize it yet. Watching something grow without knowing what it will become takes patience and acceptance. Sometimes you have to let things be and see what develops. What we consider annoyances today can surprise us when they come to full flower.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

I Really Hope i'm Not Graded on this Post

We got an "energy savings report" from our electric company recently. It shows how energy efficient we are compared to our neighbors. If you consider we never owned a dishwasher and we are now living without a dryer, coffee maker, and other convenience appliances, it isn't hard to imagine that we scored a "Great" followed by two--yes, two!--smiley faces.

Did I fail to take that seriously? I thought I left the world of report cards behind a long time ago, but grades follow us through life. Think about it. There are job performance reviews; authors receive book reviews; businesses receive grades from several online review sites including the BBB; and we even get report cards after physicals (I'm always amazed when I hear parents brag about their child's percentile for height and weight). We are a nation that likes to grade and compare.

These grades and reviews are useful to a point. It is helpful to get ratings on the doctor you plan to use, unless someone completely trashes that doctor for a personal reason. I often read product reviews on Amazon and other online retailers that give one star because of a shipping problem. This tells me nothing about the product. Doing an online search of best places to eat in the area won't necessarily give you the best. It gives you the best that have been reviewed plus sponsored ads.

Grading is subjective, and yet we spend our lives competing for the best grades or beating ourselves up for being less than perfect. My parents never compared me to my siblings, but I still felt the pressure to get the best grades possible. The grade became a measure of my worth. I didn't want that for my children, so I spent a lot of time downplaying the required testing we did--and my youngest still does--for homeschooling. Still they felt the pressure to do well, and I only tested them once a year.

Now I'm getting graded on my energy efficiency. And even though I got a "Great" with two smiley faces, I wondered if I could have gotten three smiley faces. If you're an "A" student, the stress is worse because the only way to go is down. It's impossible to be perfecter than perfect, and if everyone else improves, your score goes down by default, so it still feels like you are doing worse even if you maintain your level of perfection. See how crazy that is? That's a glimpse into my head. Which is why I never graded my homeschooled children. Because their grades reflect on me, which makes their grades my grades, and the person I compete the most with is myself.

Thursday, June 2, 2016

May Ends with Two Cakes

May is done. Unless you have all your children's birthdays in one month, you don't know what a relief that is. Add to that the fact that most big events usually happen in May and you will have an idea of what my month was. We finished out the month with a graduation/Confirmation party sponsored by my mother (thanks, Mom). We had the event at a restaurant, but I agreed to bake a cake for it. Why? Because I didn't account for two things. First, I didn't realize how many people would come, so I didn't know that "a" cake would become two cakes. Second, the weather became hot and humid exactly when I needed to begin baking. Thanks weather.

The first cake I baked was for the Confirmation. My vision was a simple dove made of a large and small cupcake. I used a velvet cake, baked and chocolate dipped shortbread for the tail, and opted for buttercream frosting because it's usually my go-to for decorating. I will tell you now that it doesn't work as well when it's hot and humid. On the plus side, spending four hours baking and decorating in a sauna-like kitchen did help me sweat out five pounds. Always look on the bright side.

 I am not happy with how the dove came out. I think it looks like a cockatoo. I suppose I was getting delirious in that final hour in the kitchen and everything was softening as fast as I could decorate, even with giving the cake and frosting refrigerator breaks.
I made the second cake the night before the big event. My plan was to go as simple as possible. I had already made the top of the graduation cap when I made the tail feathers, so all I needed to do was bake a chocolate buttermilk cake and cover it with chocolate ganache and a small bit of buttercream for the trimmings. The cap is a cupcake. The hardest part here was keeping track of the math--I did one and a half recipes to get a full cake plus six cupcakes (the other five cupcakes became tributes). I did all this after working a full day at the library. The sacrifices we make for our children!

My one disappointment is that my photos at the actual party did not come out well. Have I mentioned I miss my camera? I really miss my camera. I just can't figure out my daughters' cameras and they are too shy to take pictures of people. Maybe because people move too much and end up blurring in every shot. Anyway, this ends the May Baking Marathon.

Monday, May 23, 2016

More Events, Finishing with a Labyrinth Cake

We had such a crazy busy week I thought I missed a couple of weeks of posting. It always seems we pack as many life events as possible into May. The week that began with a birthday/graduation had a Confirmation in the middle and a 20th birthday celebration at the end. 

The Confirmation was very nice. Marina sponsored her little sister, which is good, because she is a calming presence and my youngest was completely panicked. I'm not quite sure why this got scheduled on a weekday night at the height of rush hour. Maybe it was a way to control the crowd. At any rate, it was a nice ceremony, and we capped off the night by ordering Chinese food and relaxing among Marina's boxes and bags in the living room. Did I mention I have a dorm room in my living room again?

My girls with our parish priests and the grandparents
By the end of the week I was really beat, but my son was turning 20. I always try to make his day special because it is hard to be a middle child and the last birthday in a month of birthdays. He gave me an interesting challenge, as he usually does. I had done some prep work the week before and was really happy with how the cake turned out. He wanted a tribute to David Bowie and we are all fans of Labyrinth, so....
Click to enlarge, it's worth it.


I want everyone to enjoy the view from the back. I worked hard on that hair.

 He asked for Jareth on his throne. If that wasn't too hard. And he would totally understand if I couldn't do it. As usual, I took that as a challenge. And after the Mad Tea Party cake, the wheels already began turning on how I could create armature out of shortbread cookies. The cake base and the throne seat and turrets are my basic buttermilk chocolate cake. The top of the throne, the stones around the edge and Jareth's body are made from Scotch shortbread. The throne supports are chocolate covered pretzels. I used a buttercream frosting, chocolate buttercream, and plain old melted chocolate to decorate the cake. I had trouble with the maze design at first, so I'm not too happy with the floor. It took half the cake before I got the hang of how to make it maze-like. 


I baked Jareth's limbs, head, and torso separately and built him up with frosting and chocolate. His head is actually flat except for the nose, the rest is hair frosting, which I think came out fabulous. If I did this again I would probably make his crystal a ball instead of a flat cookie. It was so small it probably would have baked fine, and it would have had a better effect.

We all wore masks for the celebration to complete the theme!

My son made his own mask. All others are Marina's creations.

The cake looked good lit up.

In the end, Jareth lost his head. Just like a goblin king.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Graduation Weekend

It was a busy weekend for us, full of pomp and circumstance. After three years carting her life back and forth to the campus, our oldest child graduated.

The weekend was not without its difficulties. The hotel we stayed in smelled of stale cigarettes and there was a particularly noisy night club next door that let out in the wee hours of the morning. Add to that, my son called at 10:30PM to say the toilet backed up at home. Have you ever successfully directed someone on proper toilet plunging over the phone? If you have, give me a better way to explain it.  Needless to say, we had little sleep and woke to a chilly morning.

The graduation itself was lovely. There was a main ceremony followed by awards and diplomas at the different schools. Marina decorated her cap with a quickly knitted dragon.

The tassel

The cap

Proudly standing with our birthday grad. We would find out that the University president was also celebrating a birthday, his 70th.


There was a mix-up when she picked up her cap and gown. When asked if she was graduating with honors, she said, "I don't think so." She thought they meant the university honors program. Not only did she graduate Summa Cum Laude, the art school's dean singled her out when she went up for her diploma as a perfect 4.0, only the second in his 40(?) years at the art school. My girl, you are so humble and unassuming.

"Nothing Happened Here"


Sorry about the quality here. I was a little emotional when I snapped it.
 When we got home, my youngest had a birthday cake ready for her big sis, her first solo undertaking. It was delicious.

Monday, May 9, 2016

A Gift for my Mother

For Mother's Day, I made this pendant for my mother:

I really tried to make it meaningful. The top bead represents my mom. It isn't a perfect bead because my own experience as a mother is that you never really feel like you are perfect, you just try to do the best you can, but the bead is still beautiful. The three round beads represent her three children.  Under them are six more smaller glass beads, representing all of her grandchildren. I added the flower charm at the bottom to balance the piece. Not everything is a symbol.

I'm glad I had the time to be with my mom on Mother's Day. I hope she feels appreciated, because I do appreciate her and I know I don't always show it as much as I should.

Monday, May 2, 2016

The First Cakes and Other Events



There was a mini comic convention near us, so we went to it. Who turns down a comic con a mile away from home? My oldest came home for the weekend to go to it and to celebrate her sister's birthday a little early.

  Like my son's costume? He had to do a bit of sewing to put it together. He is a character from Undertale.

After the Convention, we went home for cake. There were two to start birthday month, as we celebrated my father's and my daughter's at the same time. My father's cake is a vanilla cake made with coconut flour and sweetened with honey. The honey flavor was a bit overpowering to me, I may have to tweak the recipe if I use it again. The frosting is a basic melted chocolate with a pat of butter to keep it spreadable.


My daughter chose a Mad Tea Party theme for her cake. I used various containers to bake a velvet cake in the shape of a chessboard, a teapot and teacups. They are decorated with buttercream frosting, whipped cream, melted chocolate and strawberry slices. The handles, the tea spout, and the characters are Scotch shortbread. Shortbread worked fairly well, but I did break a couple of handles before I managed to get one to stick on the teapot with chocolate. As usual, my cakes are made for taste, so they are a bit rougher than what might be accomplished with fondant. No one here likes fondant, so I don't use it.

Two down, two to go.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Busy Time

I blinked and April was almost over.

This time of year always takes me by surprise. You would think I learned by now, but it still is the most busy time of the year. From now to the end of May it will be one thing after another. Happy things, but too much.

The busy started yesterday with a trip up to my daughter's university for the senior art exhibit. You know what's nice? Hearing other students tell you how wonderful your daughter is. It's not just my imagination. She is wonderful!

Here are some pictures of her and her work at the exhibit. Click on an image to make it bigger. Please excuse the glare of the lights on the glass.


Riddle: How many apples grow on a tree?
Riddle: What has a single eye but cannot see?

In front of her display. She had stickers to give away.
She helped to hang work and to set up the reception. I'm glad we got there early, since the reception was incredibly crowded, it would have been hard to appreciate all the wonderful work her class did. So many art students and such a wide variety of styles. This school was a good fit for her, it allows the students to really find their niche in the art world rather than fit into a school mold. Many students already have illustration jobs ahead of them. My daughter? I think she should own her own gallery. She showed us around and really enjoyed talking up the work of her peers.

We are almost there. In three weeks, she graduates. But not before two birthdays, a comic convention, Mother's Day, and a parks event that I promised to help at. Because, you know, what's one more activity when you're busy?


Monday, April 11, 2016

Never Too Old to Homeschool

Yesterday was Siblings Day. This post is dedicated to my sister.

When I decided to homeschool, I knew there would be subjects where I lacked skill. Luckily, I had my big sister to rely on for the holes in my own education.

I remember calling her in tears because I couldn't figure out the algebra problem my oldest needed help with. She talked me down, and in the process I learned a little about algebra. 

My oldest was afraid of bugs when she was younger. At that time, my sister worked at the Natural History Museum in L.A. We took a trip to California, and she introduced my daughter to the museum's bug guy. Thanks to my sister and her entomologist friend, my daughter was picking up grasshoppers by the end of our trip. Large grasshoppers. We all learned a lot about bugs.

When my son showed ability with a camera, I turned to my sister for help. She is the family photographer. She emailed lessons to him with photo assignments. I emailed his photos back to her and she critiqued them for him. In the process, I learned a little about photography.

When we moved into a house, I was excited to start gardening, but I didn't know the first thing about growing plants. My sister gave me the advice and knowledge I needed to begin. I remember the advice that stayed with me the most: Every gardener loses several plants every year. That's how you learn what works in your yard. This gave me the confidence to not give up. Gardening is one of my greatest pleasures to this day. I learned a lot about gardening and composting from her and her husband.

My sister is always ready to share her knowledge and resources. You only need to ask. In the process, I realize she homeschooled me as much as I teach my own kids. Which is nice. You should never be too old to learn new things, and our family and friends are our own rich resource of knowledge.
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