Saturday, January 29, 2011

Double standard

Indy has a recent habit of going out to the yard and then refusing to come back into the house. He'll come to the door and bang on it with his paws, but when someone goes to let him in, he darts off. Sometimes he does this over and over, until MB corners and leashes him. Earlier tonight, we were getting ready to go drop Nico off with my parents and head to game night at the bibliophile's house. Nico did an epic poo right about the time that Indy started his ding-dong-dash routine, and MB would only agree to take care of the poo if I tried to get the dog inside.

I decided to see if I could lure him in with little bits of cheese, since I wasn't in the mood to chase him around the yard. MB returned halfway through the process with a de-stinked baby.

MB:  What are you doing?

VBG:  I'm trying to show him that good things happen to him when he comes to the door.

MB:  You shouldn't bribe him.

VBG:  It's not a's positive conditioning.

MB:  It's totally a bribe. We shouldn't bribe him. It'll make him stay out longer next time. Here, let me do it.

So I took Nico and wandered off while MB headed to the back door. He called Indy, Indy didn't come in.

MB:  Hey, go knock on the front door.

I went and knocked on the front door.

MB:  Do it again!

I knocked again.

MB:  Hey, Indy! Who is it?

Indy darted in and trotted over to the front door, tail wagging.

MB:  Good boy!

VBG:  Hold up a minute. I can't bribe him but it's okay to trick him? What's up with that?

MB:  It's totally different.

Reading:  Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

Playing:  a booty-shaking mix that Evilducky made for me

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

How to make a dinosaur cake

I got the idea to make Nico's dinosaur birthday cake from a neat vintage book my mom found and bought for me. The directions called for a rectangular cake cut into about 9 pieces and then assembled into a dinosaur shape. I figured it was do-able but decided to check online in case someone had come up with a simpler method. Voila:

With only three pieces, this one was a clear winner. I briefly contemplated making the cake from scratch, but then came to my senses and decided that attempting my first-ever scratch cake plus my first-ever custom shaped cake the night before my kid's first birthday was probably not a great plan. I grabbed a chocolate cake mix from the grocery, borrowed a friend's 9" round cake pans, and figured I was good to go.

The first attempt was pretty much a disaster. I don't know if it was the cake, the pans, my method, or a combination of the three, but despite my liberal pre-cake application of cooking spray the rounds tore into pieces when I tried to remove them from the pans. I drove to the grocery at 11:30 PM and bought a second cake mix, and this time I greased the pans with butter and dusted them with flour AND cut circles of parchment paper for the bottoms. The first mix was the standard kind I remember using in high school and college, requiring vegetable oil, but for the second mix I bought the "butter recipe" version that used a stick of butter instead of a cup of oil. I tasted both cakes, and the butter recipe one was much, much tastier. The butter recipe rounds also dropped perfectly from the pans after cooling. Hallelujah!

At this point I covered the cakes with wax paper and left them to cool overnight. I got the trays on clearance at Michael's to use for veggies and fruit at the party, but they were also perfect for popping the cakes into the freezer the next morning, as the video recommends. While the cakes were freezing, I prepared a cake board. The directions for the cake note that it requires a 9 x 14" tray to assemble, so I bought a 10 x 19" cake box at Michael's. I didn't think to buy a cake board, so I made one by cutting the sides off an office paper box lid and wrapping it in foil. Easy peasy, cheap, and it took about five minutes. Also pictured, the dinosaur pattern pieces, printed on cardstock. I cut the dinosaur's head a little larger because I thought it looked a little bit stubby on the original pattern. If you do this, test the pattern pieces on your cake board before cutting the cake, for obvious reasons.

I also prepared the icing while the cake was freezing. I used this Paula Deen recipe for cream cheese icing, but unless you're an extravagant icer or are making a second cake, I would recommend halving the recipe, possibly even quartering it. I had a painfully ridiculous quantity of leftover icing. Once the (easy) icing was mixed up, I set aside a small amount of plain white icing to use for decorating purposes and then added food coloring to the rest until it was an acceptable shade of green. It took a lot of food coloring. Like, a LOT. Probably half of the small bottle I had. I was really happy with the results, though. Okay, so the cake board was ready, the icing was ready, time to cut the cake! I won't lie, I was kind of terrified.

Freezing the cakes made them easy to cut and much less crumbly around the raw edge, just as promised. I was shocked at how well this step went, considering it was my first try.

The video recommended briefly re-freezing the cake, applying a thin layer of icing to "crumb coat" it, and then freezing once more. I almost skipped this step to save time, but decided not to risk it. Heed my experience: DO NOT SKIP THE CRUMB COAT! It was magical how well it worked. Putting the crumb coat on was probably the second-most-frustrating / time-consuming part of the process, but it was well worth it in the end. The pre-freezing did keep most of the crumbs from the raw edges from mixing into the icing, and the post-freezing made the final icing coat look fabulous and completely crumb-free.

The final and probably most important step was to decorate the cake. In the past I've constructed my own icing bags from zipper bags and icing tips, so I was confident that I could do it again this time. I don't know if I used better bags in the past or if I lost my mojo somehow, but unless you have done this and are 100% confident in your bag selection, don't follow my example. Just buy some damn icing bags. I wasted a lot of time and icing trying to make an icing bag that would work. The seams on the zipper bags I had were too weak and would split as soon as I applied pressure to squeeze out the icing. I finally ended up using Lansinoh breastmilk bags, and they worked pretty well, though there was some trial and error with where to cut the slot for the tip. I ended up getting icing all over me and literally taking it down to the wire as far as time, finishing the cake at 1:30 with the party scheduled to start at 2:00 (and I still had to take a shower).

In the video they used Hershey's kisses to make spikes and spots. I knew I didn't want spikes and debated getting kisses for the spots but decided against it. Initially I had planned to leave the dinosaur plain, but then I started to think it looked too plain, so I added chocolate spots. I'm pretty happy with how it turned out. I used the set-aside white icing to make his eye. I had planned to write on the cake in white as well, but decided that first, the contrast wasn't high enough, and second, I was not going to risk screwing up the lettering with my ghetto-fabulous homemade icing bags and having to scrape the cake and start over. I wrote on the cake board instead and it worked out great, even though my icing penmanship was pretty bad. I was thrilled with the end result -- especially considering it was my first cake construction project -- and it got lots of compliments. And it was delicious.

And there you have it...dinosaur cake! Quite a bit of cake is wasted, so depending on how many guests you're expecting, you may want to make a second sheet cake or some cupcakes. We had about 20 adults and 6 kids, so I made a batch of cupcakes to go along with the cake. We had the dinosaur's neck / head and about five cupcakes left at the end of party, which is a nice amount...enough to enjoy but not enough to overdo it. If I ever do this again, I'm buying icing bags and leaving a little more time to work. From first freezing to finish, the assembly took about three hours. Overall, though, I give the whole project a big gold star!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Blah blah

I need to get back into the swing of things around here. I keep not blogging just because I don't have anything really interesting to say and all the slightly interesting stuff isn't enough for a whole post, but I realized this morning that if I keep to that pattern, I'll never post anything.

Dumb for a smart person
I'm on-paper smart, in that I was always good at school. I even managed to graduate college with a 4.0 in one of my majors (hint:  not the science one). But sometimes, I will admit, I am inexplicably dumb. There are many examples, but the one that was brought to mind yesterday is my constant inability to remember what a bank holiday actually entails. Every time there is a bank holiday, I go to the bank or the post office or both and then am really shocked and cranky when the establishment in question is closed.

Last year I left work to go to the bank on Columbus Day. I brought all my banking materials, left my office, drove to the bank, and then sat in my car and sent increasingly pissy tweets about why the hell was the bank closed and it was after opening time and was it some kind of banker in-service or what? And then I realized, ding-dong, hello, you're a moron and slunk back to work. Not a month later, on Veterans Day, I went several miles out of the way to take a check to the bank while out running errands. And yesterday morning I boxed up a gift for a friend and smugly popped it into Nico's diaper bag before we headed out. For once, a gift wasn't going to sit on the dining room buffet for weeks waiting to be sent. I was going to send it the very day it was wrapped! Booyah! Only...not so much. I have no idea what it is about this concept that is so hard for me to nail down. Bank holiday. Banks are closed. DO NOT MAKE A SPECIAL TRIP TO CONFIRM.

In other dumb news, I was so excited about finally buying myself a pair of cute rain boots on Sunday that I included them on my daily list of happy items at Grace in Small Things. Then Monday I went shopping in the rain wearing trainers and didn't even think about the boots until I was unloading Nico's stroller in the Target parking lot and feeling crabby about my wet jeans.

I hate our vacuum. Okay, maybe hate is a strong word, but I really don't like anything about it. We thought it was decent when we bought it, and maybe it was for a while, but now it's just adequate. Being eco-conscious hippie-dippy types, we went with the bagless option, but now I regret it. I hate cleaning the damn cylinder out and so I put it off as long as possible. Then when I finally do empty it, it's jammed full of really fine grody dust that's been around so long it's building dust civilizations and developing advanced dust technologies. Haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaate. So indulge me for a you have a vacuum you love? Or have one in mind that you'd buy if money were no object?

Obligatory baby update
We had people over for a casual birthday party for Nico on Saturday afternoon. As per family tradition we invited my aunts and cousins as well as close friends, Julia from work, and my nursing group friend. We ended up with about 18 adults and six little kids, which doesn't look that impressive written down, but it was a pleasantly full house. I barely saw my kid through the first hour and a half of the party as he was exploring the playroom (which had toys in it for the first time) with the other kids or crawling in never-ending laps around and around the kitchen / dining room / living room / foyer loop. More than once I realized I hadn't seen him in a while and had to call out, "Has anyone seen my kid?"

We didn't have any fancy party plans, we just got a banner and a balloon, bought some veggies and fruit and chips and various dips, and let everyone hang out. It seemed like people had an okay time, and my aunts and cousins got embroiled in a dominoes game that lasted about an hour longer than the official party, but I didn't mind. I feel a little sheepish about Nico's haul of gifts, though of course I'm stupidly grateful that people brought him things. MB and I didn't buy him anything since we weren't sure what he'd be getting, and it's probably for the best since he probably doubled his possessions in one afternoon. I'm kind of torn on listing his gifts even though I want to tell you about them because I'm so pleased for him, so I guess I'll refrain. (Unless you guys want to know, then I'll tell you! Awkward consumerism / conscience conflict!) At Christmas all he wanted to do was eat wrapping paper, but at his party he actually participated in the gift opening to some degree. He also ate / destroyed a cupcake with great enthusiasm, much to my delight. I had been a little worried he wouldn't eat the cake at all.

Oh, and while we're on the subject of cakes, this was his main birthday cake. I made it. I should probably give it a post all of its own.

I only have video of him eating his birthday cupcake at his party, no stills, but here he is eating a leftover cupcake last night. Hooray for cake!

Saturday, January 15, 2011


Dear Nico,

Today you are one! Not to be a total cliche, but I can hardly believe it. It didn't really sink in until yesterday while I was at work but thinking about you and felt happiness bubbling up in my chest like a shaken-up soda pop. As sad as I am when I realize that my days of having a proper baby have ended, it has been wonderful seeing you become a little person over the past few months. You've just started developing an independent streak that sometimes conflicts with what I'd like you to do, but for the most part you are still immensely sweet and easygoing. You smile and babble and sing, you tuck into my lap for cuddles, you rub your eyes when you're tired. Your hair turns into a mass of perfect curls in the back when washed or exposed to any humidity. You still just have six teeth, but you're getting much better at sampling real people food. Just this week you've tried cheesy pasta shells (a fan) and oranges (NOT a fan).

You sign "more" for more snacks and more bedtime stories. You have fourteen words, some of which you use all the time (ma, da, bye, bib, bear, picture, light, pig) and some that you used for a few days and then mostly moved on from (hi, dog, baa, book, baby, pretty). You love books, and will sometimes sit happily paging through your board books for up to half an hour. We read three books before bed almost every night, and you're more wiggly than you used to be, but you still sit quietly for them for the most part. When we get to the last page in Bear Snores On, you wave goodbye. You still prefer to take your naps on someone's lap. You don't quite sleep through the night and I guess I should start working on eliminating your near-nightly wakeup between 1 and 3 AM.

You've lost that baby smell, though your feet haven't become stinky yet (I've been warned by other moms that it's coming). If I tickle your chest while dressing you, you'll lie on your changing table and chuckle deeply. If I don't tickle you to keep you distracted, you sometimes decide you have better things to do and writhe until you're impossible to diaper. You love playing with your toys, and favorites include your Little People barn, singing helicopter, ride-on car, and your toy kitchen (you open and close the doors over and over and dump out the play food). You can identify nose, mouth, and eyes on other people's faces and your own ears some of the time. You have a toy cell phone at Granny and Grandpa's that you very solemnly hold up to the very back of your head. It's perishingly cute. You haven't made any attempts at walking yet, but you climb stairs and crawl with impressive speed.

Earlier this week I was reading over some of the blog posts I wrote at the end of my pregnancy last January, and it simultaneously seems like forever ago and like it should still be going on. How can it be that you're here? But at the same time, I barely remember what it was like to be waiting for you to arrive. This past year with you has been an incredible gift and I'm grateful for every day. It's not always easy, but I always love being your mama. You make it easy to love it, really. You've only been with me for one year and you've already changed me and made me better. You are the light of my days and I am so glad to know you.


Saturday, January 08, 2011

Monday, January 03, 2011

Bring on the schmoop

Cute things my kid is doing lately:

Sometime around Christmas Day, Nico brought me the goat from his Little People barn and said "Baaaa. Baaaa." I've been telling him that the sheep says "baa" and the goat says "maa" for weeks, so I said "Close enough!" Then a day or two after Christmas, he started saying pig. I was cleaning while he played inside his baby fence and suddenly he started yelling "Pih! Pih!" while waving the Little People pig above his head. The look on his face was awesome. I could see him thinking I figured it out! YES! Ever since, all the animals in the barn are Pig and they all say "baa."

He received a talking helicopter toy in the family kids-only Christmas name draw, and MB showed him how to pop the balls through the top so that it plays a song. He'll put one in and then bob up and down, dancing to the music. He also dances to the songs from the LeapFrog Scout dog my sister gave him, and once he danced to the iPad commercial with the piano music.

Speaking of Scout, Nico really seems to like it. He's figured out that squeezing the paws makes it talk, so he presses them over and over. If he sees Scout through the bars of his crib, he'll go over and point until I retrieve it for him.

He also got a really great board book in the name draw. When he (okay, I) unwrapped it, his face lit up. He grabbed it and started paging through it right away and my nerd heart sang.

MB and I gave him a Little People Noah's Ark for Christmas with a bunch of extra sets of animals (I found the whole shebang on Craigslist for cheap). We have all the animals in a basket since it's hard even for me to fit them all into the ark at once, and Nico likes to get the basket and start chucking the animals around the room. Sometimes, though, he'll bring one over to me while I putter around on my laptop. When he hands them to me, I try to make up a song about them. ("I'm a giraffe / I'm the color of a banana / I like to roam / on the African savanna!" "I am a leopard / I have lots of spots / I live in the jungle / where it's very hot!" "I'm an alligator / and I like to romp / down in Florida / deep in the swamp!") So far he hasn't complained about my lyrics or my singing.

I usually put Nico in his high chair and let him snack on rice puffs while I fix his cereal plus baby food. When I bring the bowl to the table, he will request his bib by pointing to it and saying "Bih! Bih!" Once I fasten the bib around his neck he pats it and says "Bih!" and then signs "more" for the food. Unfortunately he's also started swatting the spoon when he gets tired of eating.

If there's any humidity or if he's napped on someone's lap and gotten a bit sweaty, the back of his hair turns into a patch of lovely curls. I need to get a good photo of it in case it stops doing that.

Every night before bed, the last story we read is Bear Snores On. When we turn to the last page, Nico waves bye-bye to the book.

He's going to turn one in twelve days, you guys. ONE! In TWELVE DAYS! I'm not sure how this happened so quickly.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Yet another freaking site

I finally started a tumblr site so I have a place to post funny shit I find on the internet that's too good to pass up but not worthy of actual blog posts. You can find me at if you're so inclined.