Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Airplane Cake

I enjoy making cakes for my family; birthday, Halloween cupcakes, First Communion, etc. The only occasion I don't make a cake for is my own child's baptism. I figure I get a pass since the baby is only about 6 weeks old.

William is fascinated with airplanes so this time I tackled my toughest cake yet, a 3-d sculpted airplane cake. Long ago I opted to never buy cake pans; they were costly, about $20 per pan and I only used them one time. I found that a bit of research online, some photocopies and templates and I could make any cake out of a few regular sized cake pans; rectangular, circle and square.

I found Andrea's website were she made a GeeBee Model Z plane for her sons 4th birthday party. I modified the design a tad because I didn't like the oversized cowling.

I have to say it was the hardest I have ever done, mostly because I redesigned the nose and the cockpit a few times. Then I made the fatal mistake of not buying Wilton food coloring. I decided that the grocery store food coloring would be bright enough. It wasn't. His cake came out a little too mint-green for my taste.

But once I added the tail numbers William didn't even notice the muted green coloring.

I baked three 9x13 rectangular cakes according to Andrea's instructions. But since I redesigned the nose and cockpit I believe two cakes would have been sufficient. I printed out the templates on Andrea's website for the plane. The nose cone is 2 pieces of cake stacked. The shape is a freehanded semi-circle.

[caption id="attachment_738" align="alignnone" width="360" caption="Bare bones plane"]Bare bones plane[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_740" align="alignnone" width="360" caption="Added a different nose and cockpit than Andrea\'s design"]Added a different nose and cockpit than Andrea's design[/caption]

Andrea's design of the cockpit calls for two pieces of cake fitted together like a puzzle piece, but since I had so much extra cake I simply cut a piece that was oblong and then shaved down near the back end. For the tail I used a graham cracker covered in frosting.

I put some colored frosting into a ziploc bag and snipped off the end to write on the cake and add the white for the cockpit.

[caption id="attachment_741" align="alignnone" width="360" caption="The wing numbers are his initials and B4 (birthday 4)"]The wing numbers are his initials and B4 (birthday 4)[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_742" align="alignnone" width="360" caption="The number 4 seemed to be an appropriate tail number"]The number 4 seemed to be an appropriate tail number[/caption]

Monday, July 26, 2010

"There is watermelon in my rocket lab!"

Sunday we had a spontaneous day of friends, watermelon and pneumatic rockets.

My darling husband is an engineer. He spends all his free time tinkering and building and reading about how to build. He recently came across instructions in Make Magazine for paper rockets powered by compressed air. And given William's fascination with all thing aerospace . . . . it seemed like a fun activity to do with him.

This isn't my husbands blog, so I am not going to give you schematics or instructions on how to build the launch unit. I do know he redesigned it slightly to be less expensive. He only used only pvc pipe and a sprinkler component for the launch unit. Then he attached that to an air compressor and portable battery - the battery was the "launch button". He is hoping to redesign it with an actual button.

[caption id="attachment_716" align="alignnone" width="360" caption="Launch Unit"]Launch Unit[/caption]

[caption id="attachment_717" align="alignnone" width="270" caption="Launch Unit"]Launch Unit[/caption]

Then the kids set to work making their very own paper rockets. We had several extra pieces of pipe to use as a template for the rocket. The main components of the rockets were ordinary paper, scotch tape, and packing tape. Optional items included a nose cone and tail fins. The key to a paper rocket that flies is covering the entire rocket in packing tape and leaving no weak areas for air to get through. A weak rocket results in confetti. We probably had as many confetti rockets as we did fliers.

[caption id="attachment_718" align="alignnone" width="360" caption="Designing the paper rockets"]Designing the paper rockets[/caption]

Children also had the option of decorating their rockets, but after the first few went up (and sometimes broke) we had to beg them just to put their names on the rocket. The adults became a little competitive too. Our 'winner' for the day was another dad. His rocket flew the highest (twice) and across the street. A few other rockets got lost in trees or on the roof.

[caption id="attachment_724" align="alignnone" width="239" caption="3, 2, 1, . . . . Blast Off!"]3, 2, 1, . . . . Blast Off![/caption]

Now that we have spent a few hours experimenting with the rockets launcher I can't wait to play more with rocket design. For kicks I decided to launch a pool noodle. We cut it in half and then taped up one ends with packing tape for a good seal. It didn't go very high because of the weight, but it flew.

[caption id="attachment_720" align="alignnone" width="270" caption="Pool Noodle Rocket"]Pool Noodle Rocket[/caption]

Sunday, July 25, 2010

California Science Center

I was born and raised in Los Angeles, in fact, I currently live about 2 miles from the hospital I was born at. Everywhere I drive are memories of my childhood. But shockingly I had never been to the Coliseum or the California Science Center located at 700 Exposition Park Drive, Los Angeles, CA 90037.

William is fascinated with all things flying right now. In fact, I believe he has appropriated Caskey's subscription to Model Airplanes. Unfortunately the Santa Monica Museum of Flying is currently being renovated so we needed to find an alternate outing for William's 4th birthday.

We settled on the aerospace wing of the California Science Center. After perusing the website it seemed like the perfect place to visit. Not only is the museum free, but it is centrally located and has several full size planes on display. The website also talked about tons of hands-on activities.

The aerospace wing is an entire 4-story building shared. Half of the building focuses on planes and aerodynamics the other half focuses on outer space. The bottom floor has about a dozen hands-on activities including a virtual hang gliding machine and an area to test the aerodynamics of different wings. The kids spent the majority of their time down there trying everything out.

[caption id="attachment_731" align="alignnone" width="360" caption="Exploring the hands-on activities"]Exploring the hands-on activities[/caption]

The 3rd floor has a full size police helicopter that still has steering capability. Children were able to take turns inside pushing on levers and pedals. Not only was it tons of fun for kids, but it was a great photo opportunity.

[caption id="attachment_727" align="alignnone" width="360" caption="William flying the helicopter"]William flying the helicopter[/caption]

The wind tunnel was another favorite. Children could wear airplane wings and pretend to fly in the wind tunnel.

[caption id="attachment_729" align="alignnone" width="360" caption="Connor really flying"]Connor really flying[/caption]


There were several computer modules set up where people can create their own planes or space craft and go on missions. On the space side there were models of the Hubble Telescope and a moon rover.

Unfortunately there were a lot of displays that were broken or not working properly, about 1/4 of them. In addition the elevator was out of order the day we visited. It didn't seem to bother the kids much, but as a pregnant lady I would have appreciated the elevator and a tad more seating. Our outing had 6 children ages seven through 1 year and it kept everyone busy for about 2 hours. We didn't rush, but we could have probably spent another hour there. But this pregnant lady was getting tired.

We intend to go back very soon. I love that it is free and there are several different sections including tons of hands-on displays. There are some special pay areas like the IMAX movies, the traveling exhibit (which is currently Mummies) and a climbing wall. The gift shop is large and and well-stocked, but I managed to stay out of it this time. There is also a McDonald's inside the museum in case you get hungry.

But it seems there are tons of other non-exhibit things to explore; a rose garden, pathways, a playground and of course the Coliseum. It would easily take a few days to see everything. But at $8/day for parking you don't want to spread it out too much.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Buyer's Remorse

I think Lainy Ann is going to be a politician. She can convince Connor to do ANYTHING. Lately he has been saying "I hope the new baby is a girl because Lainy Ann wants a sister."

A few days ago after nap/rest time Lainy Ann and Connor told me about their plan. They were going to pool their money and save up for something that was in the American Girl Catalog. Warning bells are going off in my head. I know there is lots not right about this 'plan', but walking the fine line of letting them spend their own money and making good decisions and letting Connor be taken advantage of was going to be difficult.

Connor starts to tell me all the great aspects of this 'plan'. The set they want to buy has 2 dolls; a boy and a girl so Connor can have one too. Well, Connor never plays with dolls and Lainy Ann rarely plays with hers. So spending $95 on dolls doesn't sounds like a great plan, especially since Connor will be footing most of the bill.

I remind them that if they both have $50 right now that they can buy two Nintendo DS games right now instead of waiting to buy dolls later. Not only is that a better purchase, one they both will like to use. But its significantly cheaper as well.

Off to the store we went with Lainy Ann's $7 and Connor's $45. The idea was that they could buy 2 games; one they both agreed on and another than Connor chose. The deciding process was a nightmare and emotions ran high. But finally it was time to purchase. I herded 3 of the kids outside with me while Connor and Daddy stayed inside counting money. They came up a little short (tax will get you every time) and Daddy covered the difference. He gave the cashier a $20 bill and kept Connor's bag of change which was mostly pennies and slightly less than $20.

Oh my! If looks could kill! Connor was angry and hurt that Daddy had stolen his money. We went round and round with him about how Daddy had paid the lady and we didn't want to hold up the line by counting out all the pennies. We talked about returning the games so he could have the money, but he wanted both - money and new games.

Connor would not or could not understand. So we went home and counted out the money. It equaled $17 dollars, which meant Connor still owed Daddy $3. He has been doing more chores ever since to earn more money. I hope he has learned a valuable lesson about trusting your daddy at the store and when he says "I will take care of it" just say "thanks dad".

The Arizona Experiment

Poor Lainy Ann. She is surrounded by boys. She has three younger brothers and it seems that all of our friends have boys, if they do have a girl, she is at least 4 years younger than her. To add insult to injury she has absolutely no cousins her age. So her princess movies go unwatched and she is always begging to go with me when I go out with my girlfriends.

Last summer my step-mother suggested Lainy Ann visit them for about a week. This wouldn't be a regular visiting grandma and grandpa trip. My father and step-mother adopted two girls who are now about the same age as Lainy Ann. While I thought she would have a blast I was a little apprehensive. This would be her first long trip away from home, another state even. But we dove in head first.

The reaction from her siblings I did not count on. I first mentioned the trip a week before she was to leave. Connor spent that day yelling at me, crying and threatening all sorts of things. I would tell him its bed time and he would say "only if I can go with Lainy Ann". I have never seen such a fierce love for someone.

I decided not to talk about it anymore in front of Connor. We weren't going to change the plans and it would just upset him. The day before Lainy Ann left she started packing her clothes. Connor also packed his clothes. It didn't matter how many time I told him he was staying at home and we had a week of special outings planned. He would sob and cry and threaten. He would try anything to go along with Lainy Ann, he didn't want to be without her.

Once Lainy Ann got to Arizona things were fine. Connor stopped the tantrums and crying and we were able to settle into a nice routine with Connor being the oldest. He slept in Lainy Ann's room all week and had other special privileges and chores. It was really interesting to see the family fall into a different rhythm without Lainy Ann around. William and Alexander became closer and more brotherly. They took over the boys room and played together tons. Connor took over Lainy Ann's room and read books and played Legos. Connor was super helpful with household responsibilities and as a result he got to have a later bedtime.

Lainy Ann was different too. When we saw her again in Arizona she had matured. She was being responsible for her well-being and doing things when asked the first time.

But less than a week after Lainy Ann came home everything went back to the way it was. Connor and Lainy Ann are inseparable. Lainy Ann was directing play and not doing chores. The only thing that stayed the same was the two little ones; William and Alexander have stayed fast friends and like to play together often . . . . if I can keep Connor and Lainy Ann occupied.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Butterfly Pavilion at Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Gardens

Each month I sit down with the monthly Westways magazine and go through the calendar section. For those of you in the east, Westways is a monthly AAA publication touching on all things travel. In our quest to get the most out of life and teach our kids about everything we sit down with this magazine and figure out what adventure to go on next. That's what the Monster Van is for: Adventure!

This weekend was the Annual Butterfly Pavilion at Rancho Santa Ana Botanical Gardens in Claremont, CA. We enjoyed the Cecil B. Day Butterfly Center in Callaway Gardens when we were in Georgia a few years ago, so this seemed like a great idea.

Admission for adults is $8 and children 3 and up is $4 BUT its an extra $2 per person to see the Butterfly Pavilion. Well, that's the only reason we were there. It cost us $38 just for admission, but the parking was free. For that price I decided we needed to make good use of the gardens. But these gardens feature native California foliage. Maybe I am the wrong person to ask, but to me those are weeds.

The trails are nicely maintained and yes it was nice to walk through the gardens, but it certainly wasn't $38-nice. I could have gone for the same walk in my free mountains and seen the same things. All I could do is hope that the butterfly pavillion was worth the money.

It wasn't. The Butterfly Pavilion was a screened in tent the size of my living room erected in a clearing. While the docent was knowledgeable and the butterflies were plentiful we were done hunting for monarchs and caterpillars within 30 minutes. There were about 5 varieties of butterflies in the enclosure and a nice explanation at the beginning about the life cycle of the butterfly. The kids had fun watching the butterflies land on us.

Our entire excursion lasted less than two hours. There just wasn't anything else to do. There were no grassy expanses where the kids could run and do cartwheels. There was no picnicking allowed. For $38 we could have visited the Kidspace Museum, which is 30 miles closer, for the entire day. They also have special events including a butterfly release.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Broken Heart

Connor has adored his sister forever. I have never seen such a close bond between two people. My passive little boy first started hitting friends when they dared to touch sisters toys. Every day he says he wants our next baby to be a girl. When I ask him why he says, "Lainy Ann has been waiting for a long time for a sister and I want her to be happy." It makes my heart swell and hurt with how much he loves her.

This year is a big year for us. Lainy Ann is 7 years old and will be going to Arizona to visit my dad, step-mom, and step-sisters for about 5 days without us. I am very excited for Lainy Ann. She really needs some girl time and hanging out with my step-sisters (who are the same age as Lainy Ann) will be tons of fun for her. To make the treat much more special she gets to fly to Arizona with my step-mom. She is very excited.

I have been excited too. I am looking forward to the different dynamic in our house for a few days. Lainy Ann likes to be in charge and can be bossy, so it will be nice for just the 3 boys to be able to play together without being directed in their play.

But Connor is devastated. When I first mentioned it 2 weeks ago he flipped out and screamed at me about how he was going no matter what. So I stopped talking about it. I didn't want to make him anymore anxious and upset. This morning is 2 days before Lainy Ann leaves and she decided to start packing (my practical baby girl). Connor has spent the last hour in tears, begging and pleading and threatening and yelling. He even started packing his clothes. He is yelling at me for disappointing him and telling him he can't go. He is yelling and saying he IS going.

To put this in perspective, Connor is my calm easy going child. Tantrums are not something we see from him, Lainy Ann and William yes, but not from Connor. I honestly think he is heart broken. He can't bear the thought of being without her for 4 days. He has tried every negotiation he can think of and I don't think its over. He is my thinker, my contemplater. I expect its going to be a long few days until he can be reunited with his sister in Arizona.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Grandparents

I obviously can't speak how it has been for other generations, but it seems that this generation of grandmothers all have the same complaint; their daughters/daughter-in-laws don't listen to their advice. I hear them talking at church and parties about how they must be dumb now just because they are old and how offended they are that their advice isn't considered or followed.

As a young mom I understand where these unknown daughters and daughter-in-laws are coming from. Things have changed drastically in the last 30 years. We now recommend keeping children in car seats until they are 7 years old (varies by state), it used to be that 3 year olds could sit in a seat belt in the front seat. Our children are getting upwards of 36 vaccinations by the time they are 5 years old. I received 12 vaccinations. There are new discoveries about allergies daily and how they affect behavior and illness. It is also being uncovered how many chemicals are being put into our food, chemicals that weren't being put into food when I was a young girl.

A good deal of things are the same too; basic reading, writing and discipline is the same. But now there are new products to accomplish these mundane tasks; "My Baby Can Read", warmers for wipes, and diaper genies just to name a few. These products didn't even exist when my mother was in the throes of new motherhood. So asking her opinion on the necessity of such a product would be useless.

The advent of the internet has allowed tons of new mothers to get the latest information on these new products and practices. Message boards have been formed where mothers from all over the world can compare notes on how best to soothe a colicky baby or the best brand of no HFCS whole wheat bread. Amazon.com has countless reviews on new products from other parents. Back when I was a girl new mothers depended on the advice of their own mothers or family members.

On behalf of all the new mom's out there, I am sorry, grandmothers. Although we value your experience and support, sometimes we need to talk to another mother who is in the same situation as us right now. While the basics of parenting are the same, it validates us to know other mother's are struggling to make the same decisions as us. Don't be offended when we don't want your advice. Just allow us to embrace our own version of motherhood.

Ahh, Eee, I, A

Alexander is "reading". I guess now that 1/2 of the kids are independent readers, reading full on chapter books no less, and William is doing beginning phonics this summer Alexander doesn't want to be left behind. I have caught him with a book saying "Ahh, ee, I, A" Its like he is naming the letters - obviously he has no idea what the letters are, but he tries nonetheless.

Earlier today he brought me a magazine, took my pointer finger and tracked the words again saying, "ah, ee, i, a".