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.

Monday, April 4, 2016

Let Your Child Surprise You

My youngest always manages to surprise me. Our crocuses came up early because of a warm March. She photographed them. I never know when she does these things. She is a very quiet and intense thirteen year old. Like her older sister, she is very critical of her talents, but she does indeed have a gift with the camera. Here is a sample of what I found on the camera when I cleared some of my photos from it:

All of these are untouched and not cropped, exactly as I pulled them off the camera. I'm equally amazed because I have a hard time getting a clear shot this close up with her camera (my own camera broke a couple of years ago and I borrow hers). She is an incredible photographer.

When we give them the freedom and allow them the opportunity to explore without interfering, our children can really surprise us with their skills. How has your child surprised you?

Sunday, March 27, 2016

Keeping Nostalgia in Its Place: The Past

Sometimes I like to show my kids things from my childhood: an old TV show, a picture book, a comic, a movie. It's fun to share these things with my kids; to see them anew through my children's eyes; to remember how they made me feel. 

For me, this is nostalgia. It is reminiscing about the past and sharing those happy memories. We all have those moments when we think about times or events in our past that shaped us into who we are. We remember the friends we had, the places we went, and most notably, our school experience.

Nostalgia about our school experience can be a reason for sending our children to school. Sure, we remember we had difficult moments in school--who didn't?--but those good times stand out. We were happy in school, and so we believe our children will also be happy there.

But is it fair to try to relive our past through our children? They are not us. Schools are not the schools of our youth. Even if we could give them the same classrooms, the same teachers, and the same experiences, it is no guarantee that they would experience it the same way we did. Our childhood is done. 

As an adult, as a parent, I strive for something better for my children. I want them to be who they are meant to be, not who I want them to be. I think the greatest gift I can give them is a chance to explore their world and discover who they are and what they can do. I decided to do it by homeschooling.

And for each of them, that meant homeschooling a little bit differently, based on their needs, not my desires. Because even nostalgia about those early homeschooling days are still moments better left to the past.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Help, You Need Somebody

I'm not good at asking for help. I spent my childhood needing help because of asthma and extreme shyness, so I think I went too far in the opposite direction as an adult. I like to show that I can do things, I can take care of myself, I can be successful on my own.

But it's not always possible, is it.

Sometimes you have to ask for help. I'm not good at that. My book, for example. So many friends and family wanted me to put out a book of my comic strips, I finally decided to self-publish a collection. I worked really hard at that book. I edited and re-edited. I retouched some of my earlier strips. I even had to rescan the very first strips I made, because I used a low resolution when I was learning how to post them online. And when I finally got it all together and put the book out, I was embarrassed to promote myself, but I was also embarrassed to ask others to promote it. The result of all this was that the comic didn't do as well as it might have, and I burnt myself out to the point where I doubt I will do the complete collection. Most of the strips are still available here, but I'm pretty sure I missed that sweet spot for publishing.

This isn't meant to sound like a pity party. I'm glad I had the experience of publishing and I'm grateful to those of you who bought and enjoyed my book. The main lesson I got from it is that I need to respect my limitations, and I need to ask for help when I can't do it all.

I find that a lot of parents in the homeschooling community are like me. Maybe it's why we homeschool. We want to do it all, and we don't want any help from the outside. But help is necessary when it is the difference between having a rewarding homeschooling career with your children or languishing and burning out and taking your children down with you. Support groups in your community or online help get you through the rough patches by connecting with others who know how you feel. Extended family and tutors can help with subjects you don't feel able to teach your children. Libraries were my way of finding curriculum without paying for materials (just return them on time). If you are tired, find a friend or family member to watch your kids for an hour or two and use that time for yourself, not errands. Asking for help is not weakness. It shows you are committed enough to educating your own that you are willing to look beyond yourself for answers to make homeschooling work for your family.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

You Can Lead a Student to Learning But You Can't Make Her Think

There is a lot to be said for interest-led learning. If you don't have your child's attention, all of the curriculum you throw at her has the effectiveness of throwing darts at a moving target while blindfolded. You might hit it every once in a while, but not with enough consistency to make either of you happy.

My own issue is that I don't fully understand my daughter's current interest, manga and anime. I try, but because there is so much variety in these Japanese art forms, I tend to miss more than I hit.

There was the time I thought she might like some manga guides that taught different topics like physics and  algebra. My reasoning was that I taught my son everything from math to English grammar using dinosaur-themed ideas and workbooks. I will never forget my daughter's words to me: "Just because I like manga doesn't mean I like all manga!" Her discerning tastes about the genre made it hard to hand her material and think she would look at it because it was manga.

Instead, I've tried to take a more active interest in her obsession. I watch anime series with her occasionally. Not as easy as it sounds. We have to watch them in the original Japanese because English dubbing is not always word to word translation. That means we have to read subtitles. Try reading subtitles in the evening after a long day when you already have the title of slowest reader in the house. But viewing it with her has helped me see what she is learning. If I know that, I can discuss it with her, and I can put the educational spin on it and add it to the quarterly report.

I admit I have not yet read any of the mangas, but I have been able to get her to tell me about some of them. She also discusses them with her big sister, which is great, because I can listen in on some of their discussions or get the synopsis later from my older daughter. I also found a magazine for fans of manga and anime that interested her. She's already complained about some of the reviews in it. I'm encouraging her to write her own reviews or write letters to the editor when she feels her favorite titles suffered an unfair review. At the very least, I can tell she is engaged and interested in what she is reading and is critically thinking about it.
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