Monday, August 30, 2010

Howe's That?

 We went to Howe caverns recently. Just a quick vacation for a little summer fun. The boys were a little nervous about being underground in dark scary caves, but Snickers recovered quickly and enjoyed the sights. It took Doodlebug a little longer to get comfortable, mostly due to some bridges and high places (he isn't very fond of heights or anywhere that you can see down below your feet). But after the boat ride at the halfway point he was fine. Apparently after the terrifying thrills and chills of the boat ride (a placid drifting down a mirror smooth stream and back), the caves were nothing! And Sweet Pea spent the whole tour snapping away madly with her camera. I don't think she saw any of the caves except through the camera lens!

Aside from the tour of the caves we panned for jewels, visited the gift shop, ran up and down the huge concrete "Howe Caverns" letters on the side of the hill outside the building and went to the bathroom several thousand times. (A trip to pizza hut on the way there involved several quarts of lemonade.)

Then we stayed in a hotel between Howe Caverns and home for the night. Let me tell you it was not the best hotel. It seemed like it should be. It was expensive. It was crowded. It was sparkly and shiny and hotely. But in the entire hotel they had only Two! Elevators! I don't mean two banks of elevators like in a normal hotel. I mean two measly elevators. For all 3000 guests. And one of them was out of order. What!?!?!? This is a joke, right? No, unfortunately it wasn't. Eventually we found the stairs and that cut out several hours of waiting for elevators that evening.

But the room was nice. A suite with a bedroom with two double beds, a bathroom and a living room. And, with two double beds and a pullout couch and three kids you can imagine the arguments and wheeling and dealing and cajoling that went on regarding who was to sleep where. It was finally decided that Mommy and Daddy would get one bed. Snickers and Sweet Pea would get the other and Doodlebug would get the pull out couch. I thought Doodlebug would hate that idea. Sleeping all alone in a separate room while the rest of shared a room. But he insisted. That lasted right up until the lights went off.

He wasn't afraid, it was just too noisy for him to sleep. It really was much quieter in the bedroom. So, I dragged the mattress off the pullout and squashed it on the floor between the two beds and he slept there. Everyone was happy and slept as well as you can in a hotel.

Breakfast the next day was nice. I spent about an hour and a half gathering up everyone's food, running back for juice and syrup and bacon and pancakes and milk and cereal and eggs and juice and bacon and more juice. Then I finally got to sit down to cold eggs while 6 little eyes and 3 little mouths urged me to please hurry up. It's time to swim in the pool. Sigh!

So, we get to the pool. The very cloudy pool - much like our aquarium when it was overrun with snails. It was super warm like primordial stew. I'm sure there were strange and mysterious micro-organisms in there evolving into many legged creatures with hairy eyeballs. But hairy eyeballs and all, I swam. The Hubster couldn't quite bring himself to really swim - he was too oogied out by the state of the water. And, while I might have been as well, I was too excited at actually having the chance to swim for the first time in 10 years! Yes, I think it's the first time in 10 years I've been able to swim without a child on my hip or my back or in my arms. All three kids can swim without help now. So I just pushed all thoughts of the grossity of the water from my mind. There was certainly enough hair in there to make several nice wigs. It all came from the eyeballs of those strange and mysteriously evolving creatures - transparent and wiggling like jelly and skittering around the water with their hairy eyeballs.

(Needless to say we scrubbed ourselves pink and raw in the shower before leaving). But despite the hotel, we managed to have a nice (if somewhat short) vacation. Before going home we stopped for a game of miniature golf (fun!) and some ice-cream. (yum!)


Friday, August 27, 2010

There's Bugs on That Cake!

Snickers turned 9 last week. We celebrated with a bug cake complete with grasshoppers, dragonflies, snails, flies, slugs, maggots, bees, beetles, butterflies, worms and spiders (in a sugar-candy web). It was delicious!

Snickers requested a cake with a lot of bugs, and with layers and with some leaves (like a jungle cake I made a few years back). So that's what he got. My original idea (which I still think is awesome) was to make a big bug shaped cake. The inside cake part would be green of course. And the outside would be shades of green and brown. And the frosting would have been some sort of crunchy stuff that would crack when you cut it like stepping on a bug. Cool! But for some reason, Snickers didn't want that cake. Go figure.

One of the coolest parts of the cake I made was the spider web. I made it out of sugar and water. What could be easier, right? Wrong! Making the hard sugar candy consists of bringing water and sugar to a boil and bringing it to 300 degrees. Not 350 degrees which turns it nasty and brown. Not 400 degrees which smells like brimstone and burnt boogers and fills the kitchen with smoke. No, not that. Exactly 300 degrees which is what I ended up with on my third try. Yes. Third try!

"Come on!" you say. How hard is it to get it to 300 degrees? Easy you would think. But you know. When you are blowing up balloons, hanging streamers, sweeping and mopping, making punch and salad and burgers. When you are madly trying to clean the kitchen, feed two boys lunch, decorate and frost a bug cake, you get easily distracted.

And add to that the fact that this stuff is tricky. I mean it goes out of it's way to make you feel comfortable and relaxed, then BAM! all of the sudden it shoots into action. What I mean is that the sugar/water mixture comes up to 250 degrees very slowly. So slowly that about the time it gets to 250 degrees or so, you wander off to do one of the thousands of other things that need to be done since this is obviously going to take forever. But let me tell you, that last 50 degrees flies by like a dragonfly after a mosquito. I could have stared at that thermometer for the first 250 degrees and fallen asleep, but that last 50 degrees - I watched the mercury shoot up like a geyser. (Well, I did the third time.) So, if you ever decide to make hard candy, keep that in mind.

In any case, I finally got it cooked to the right temperature and drizzled it out into several webs. (Several because I knew it would be fragile and would break to pieces as I tried to use it.) But it wasn't quite as fragile as it seemed and I only lost one. It fit into the cake nicely and the fondant spider stuck right to without any problems. I think it came out rather nice.

So overall it was a success. A bug-covered cake (which under most circumstances would be a disgusting disaster), plenty of bugs in the food, on the floor, on the table, on the walls, on the streamers. Good food, good company. I need a nap!


Wednesday, August 25, 2010

It's Got Action! It's Got Noise! It's Got Color!

Aren't board games fun? Not everyone thinks so, but we enjoy them. We used to have a 'Family Game Night' every Friday and we all had a great time. We even got Daddy in on the fun! We don't do the family game night on Friday's any more, but we really should. It was a great time. Now that Doodlebug is a little older, he could join in as well. Maybe it's time to reinstate it.

Some of our favorite games are:

Candy Land - I usually surreptitiously leave out the worst cards that send you back to the beginning. It NEVER goes well when someone gets one of those cards. One of the downsides to this game is that it makes you want to eat sweet stuff. How can you look at all that candy and not eat any?

Chutes and Ladders - This one can be touchy. The ladders are a lot of fun, but the chutes - not so much. It can be difficult to keep little ones from stomping off in frustration when they are sent to the bottom of the game board again.

Shrek 2 board game - Again, I usually leave out the worst cards that send you back to the beginning, but all in all this has been a great game! We've played it a lot and always have fun with it. It's one of those games where no one stomps off in frustration (at least not often), where you don't have to say lines from the movie if you really don't want to and where you can play to the bitter end to see who comes in second place, and third place and last place. (Well, Daddy usually begs off this part and leaves, but the rest of us drag it out to the bitter end.) We usually laugh a lot in this game, unlike some others that involve a lot of yelling.

Monopoly Jr. - This one we usually all enjoy and can drag out to it's bitter conclusion without any loss of limbs, or any screaming, biting, yelling arguments. There is always that hope, that as long as you have at least one dollar, that somehow, someway, you may be able to win eventually.

Trouble - This is a favorite if only because it has that cool dice-popper in the middle. It's got novelty, it's got action, it's got noise, it's got color. How can you go wrong? It's usually a very long game though, but with relatively little bloodshed.

Uno - We all really like this one. (I know, it's not technically a board game since there is no board involved. It's really a card game, but I'm lumping it in here anyway.) The biggest challenge with this is the shuffling of the large deck of cards. It either involves cards scattered all across the table/floor/room, or it involves oohs and aahs of wonder and delight as Mommy rifles, shuffles and snaps the cards through her fingers like a magician (OK, not so much, but the kids think it's cool). Once the shuffling is done the game usually goes along pretty well and no one gets upset, even if they end up with half the deck in their hands. (I said 'usually', not 'always').

Mousetrap - Of course the fun part of this is the building, and even more so, the running of the trap. Everyone gets a little bored with the trip around the board, and can't wait 'til the end where the mice get caught. And everyone gets very grumpy when their mouse is caught. Usually, we all have a lot more fun if we just sit down with the pieces and build the trap and just run it over and over and over again without actually playing the game.

Clue Jr. - We haven't played this a lot, but when we do we have fun. Not much to say about this one. No bloodshed, no fights. Just a regular ol' game that we enjoy.

And our most-recent one - Stratego. Snickers especially likes this. I think he enjoys the challenge of a game that involves strategy. Where you have to think a little bit and plan ahead. I like it too, but strategy isn't usually my strong point. I'm more of a 'lets-wing-it-and-see-what-happens' kind of person. But Sweet Pea enjoys it too. And Doodlebug, although he hasn't played yet, seems interested. I'm just waiting for the hundreds-of-game-pieces-scattered-across-the-room 'thing' to happen, but so far so good.

Next up is Scrabble. They may not be quite ready for this one, but with a little help, we can do it! I know we can!


Monday, August 23, 2010

Slimy Snot-Like Stuff - Transformed!

Snickers likes to help me make pancakes. I have this awesome pancake recipe that involves the usual ingredients - flour, butter, a little sugar, milk, eggs, etc. But it also involves whipping the heck out of the egg whites and folding them into the batter. First off, watching Mommy whip the heck out of egg whites until they are foamy, fluffy and utterly transformed from slimy snot-like stuff to fluffy, clouds of egg-y goodness is pretty exciting. But when you get to do it yourself it's even better! Snickers does this part for me every time we have pancakes. He gets out the mixer and beaters. Puts, the beaters into the holes on the mixer and hands it over to me. Clunk! Clunk! Both beaters drop out of the mixer and onto the floor.

OK. We get that straightened out and push the beaters into the holes a little more firmly, then he whips the heck out of the eggs until they are fluffy clouds of egg-y goodness. Then the eggs are folded into the batter and poured into perfect circles on the hot frying pan (and also Pac Man shapes, and sometimes snowmen or kitties or doggies or spiders or squiggles or whatever shape strikes our fancy that morning.)

Snickers loves to help flip the pancakes too. I won't go into details, I'm sure you can imagein, but it's sometimes disastrous, but usually fixable. ("Oops. It landed on the other one!" As long as it doesn't land on the floor, or on exposed skin, we're good.)

Mmmmmm! Pancakes!


Friday, August 13, 2010

You did ALL OF THAT for only five dollars?!?!

 So, the State Fair is coming up again in a couple of weeks. Last year I entered a ton of the competitions and spent a frenzied few weeks baking, decorating, planning, matting, framing, gluing and sweating. I entered some cookies, a decorated cake, cupcakes, some art work, some photography, scrapbook pages and a miniature book. And Sweet Pea and Snickers entered some artwork too. It was a lot of work! But also a lot of fun.

We won a few ribbons and a small amount of prize money. Snickers didn't quite get the reasoning behind all of it. At one point he commented that "You did ALL OF THAT for only five dollars?!?!" Well, no. Not exactly. I certainly don't do it for the money. I spent a lot more on entrance fees, time and sweat than I got back in prize winnings. I do it because I enjoy it. I enjoy the competition. I'd like to rake in all the ribbons and gloat happily - ha ha ha ha! But I'm just as happy if I don't win. Plenty of other people enter some beautiful things. I do it because I like to do 'stuff'. All sorts of stuff. And it's not as much fun if you don't share it.

But this year I seem to have even less time than ever before so I scaled back quite a bit. I'm not entering any baked goods (gasp! I know! It's very hard on me!) But Sweet Pea is going to do a decorated cake. (I knew I wouldn't have time to help her and make a cake myself.) It should be a lot of fun.

I'm entering three works of art this year. If I get around to it I'll post a picture of them. And I'm entering another miniature book in the craft competition. And that's it! I know. How lame! Compared to last year I'm doing almost nothing! I wish I had entered a couple of photographs. But there's always next year.

All three kids are each entering two pieces of art work, and Sweet Pea is entering two photographs as well. Despite her mediocre camera she takes some really awesome pictures! Her closeup of a japanese beetle on a willow leaf is very very nice!

So wish us luck! And wish us loads of ribbons, prize money and recognition. But even if we don't win anything, that's OK. We had fun trying!


Monday, August 9, 2010

Various and Sundry Mammals

So, how is the painting coming? Slowly! Oh so slowly! There is more grass now. And flowers. And even a couple of birds, but there is still a lot to go. Lots more! I need more grass, trees, birds, flowers, butterflies, clouds, lady bugs, bumble bees, various and sundry mammals, reptiles and amphibians. I may even throw in a marsupial or two. If only I spent more than 20 minutes on it each week!

Here are some pictures of it so far. Hopefully I'll make more progress soon and will have more pictures. We'll see.

The tree in the front corner

The tree in the back corner (that funny bare spot will be an owl one of these days)

Some grass and flowers (they will end up mostly covered up by furniture)

And the front tree after some more work. Those bare spots will be porcupines, birds and squirrels.


Friday, August 6, 2010

Baking With Hammers

My baking often involves tools. Like hammers. And sometimes screwdrivers and wrenches.

This was preparation for the malted milk cookies I mentioned the other day. Mmmm. I was going to include a picture of the cookies, but you know how it goes. They were all eaten before I thought to take a picture. Oh well. Next time.

If you want to try them (And you should. They are delicious!)The recipe is just your standard chocolate chip cookie recipe, except add a tablespoon or two of chocolate milk powder (like Nesquick). Malted Milk powder would work as well. And substitute crushed Whoppers (or any brand malted milk ball I suppose. Are there other brands?) for the chocolate chips.

They come out chewy and with an excellent flavor. Try it!


Thursday, August 5, 2010

Poppies! Poppies!

A poppy from the pots on the deck:

bright yellow sunshine 
The essence of summer time
reaching for the sky


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

A Place to Visit When Her Spirit Feels the Urge

Sweet sweet little Frisky has passed on to the great snail playground in the sky. I must say, we enjoyed our time with her. She was certainly the most entertaining snail I've ever had. The tank won't be quite the same without her. (It will be clean. Ha ha. Just kidding. I'm sure she wasn't the sole cause of the foulness of that tank!)

And did little Frisky get a proper eulogy and burial and all that? Well, I'd have to say no. It went like this:

Saturday, I peered into the murk of the tank (and to be honest, it's cleared up a lot and is only a little cloudy now) and there was Frisky lying on her side. Now, that's not unusual. We'd often see her like that, and exclaim loudly "Oh, is she dead?" and we'd poke and prod her and never be quite sure until we'd see her later stuck to the side of the tank, probably cursing us for the dents and scrapes on the algae on her shell. But just to be consistent, I exclaimed loudly "Oh, is she dead?" and commenced poking and prodding for a few minutes before wandering off to do something else.

Then, the next day, Sweet Pea looked into the tank and exclaimed loudly, "Oh,is she dead?"
"Hmmmmmm," I replied wisely. "She hasn't moved since yesterday. Let's poke her with a stick."
So, Sweet Pea took control of the stick and began poking and prodding. "I don't think she's alive," she said. "Pieces are falling off."

And so they were. I would say that if there are pieces falling off, and she hasn't moved in over 24 hours, then yes. She is most-likely dead. But we all worried. What if she's not? What if she's just sleeping? You know, she may have had a hard night. Lots of sliding and climbing and sucking algae off things. It can really tire a snail out.

So, we decided to try the ultimate "Is-that-snail-alive" test. This involves removing her from the tank and sniffing her. Yes, take a nice big whiff. Does she smell like an aquarium (a not altogether pleasant smell to begin with)? Or does she smell like steaming slimy skunk and fish gut stew simmering in the hot sun? Definately the latter we decided. Nothing that smells like that can be alive. Especially if they are actively shedding body parts. We don't need more clues than that! We're smart that way!

You all know how I feel about Frisky. She is fun, lovable, cute. You know, all that happy horse pucky. For a snail, she rocks! Despite that, I was all for tossing her in the trash can. I'm not particularly sentimental when it comes to things like bugs, fish, reptiles, amphibians, small rodents living in the walls and things like that. And Frisky, even though she was a member of our tank for over 8 months, is no exception. She stinks. She's covered in algae. She's a snail. Toss her.

But the rest of the family felt differently. Did they get all watery-eyed and want to wish her well in her next life? Did they long to say their goodbyes and feel some closure? No! Not at all. They wanted to keep her shell. Her lovely golden yellow shell.

Now, I've heard that they slide right out of their shells when they die. That the muscles holding them in relax and they fall out. Not true. There is no falling out. That would be too easy. No, someone has to yank that lifeless, slimy, death-stink little muscle-bound foot of a snail out of the shell. Ick!

So, Hubby took over. (He's awesome like that! He does spiders too!) And after many many hard shakes, (kind of like trying to get spaghettios out of a can without a spoon) she plopped out. I was in the next room with the kids trying not to gag from the stench or get splashed with snail slime. How can such a little glop of slimy flesh smell so god-awful?

In any case, once she was out and disposed of we washed out the shell, scraped off some of the algae and set it out to dry. Now we have a reminder of sweet sweet Frisky for when we are feeling sentimental. And she has a place to visit when her spirit feels the urge.