Sunday, November 27, 2011

Unexpected Accolades

Wednesday, before we left town for yearly Thanksgiving jaunt to Fr. Dicks, I received a phone call.  From the school (or so the caller ID said).  Nervously I answered because, calls from the school usually mean a sick child.  NOT what you need as you're headed out of town.

Wednesday's call happened to be my oldest daughter's Spanish teacher who introduced himself and let me know off the bat, that this was NOT one of "those" calls.  I'm sure you can imagine what "those" calls are even if you haven't been a recipient of one.  The call where your child's teacher expresses a problem with your child that the teacher has been unable to resolve on their own and are seeking your, the parent's, help.  Thankfully, with 4 children, these calls have been few and far between.  Actually, as I think of it, I'm not even sure I have received one, which is NOT to say we haven't had our issues at school, just that a phone call wasn't the method of delivery.

Her teacher let me know that, all too often, the "good" kids in school tend to get "overlooked" as they, the teachers, deal with those who either don't grasp the material or are behavioral issues.  He said that he makes it a point to call the parents of those "good" kids and let them (the parents) know how much he enjoys having their children in his class.    He then proceeded to outline our daughter's behavior in his class:  she comes prepared for class and participates.  She is respectful of him and other students.  She goes beyond the expectations of his class, to the point where she is doing the work of students from his CIS (College in School) class.

These types of accolades from teachers are not rare for this child and yet they always seem to choke me up a bit.  Because in these days of laziness and/or sloth, (and yes, even with THIS child), it's nice to get a little reaffirmation that we are doing something correct.  Oh, make no mistake, this is all about HER and the fact that for some reason, Spanish seems to have sparked a real fire in her (if only I could get her to approach her math classes with the same level of excitement) but I think that as parents, we have instilled in her a desire to do her best, regardless of her level of interest.

So praise of this type is always welcome.  And a nice way to start of our Thanksgiving weekend.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Baby Alive

My oldest daughter is taking a Child Development class (she's a sophomore) in school and it appears this week is her week in "the hot seat" as she brought home her "project" yesterday:  a 12 pound lifelike baby for whom she is responsible.  It is life like only up to a point:  it cries, it eats, it needs to be burped, it has sensors that indicate a diaper change (without an ACTUAL diaper change), it has sensors that indicate that it's neck isn't being adequately supported.  And all these sensors feed a database that tells the teacher how well the child was cared for.

Now, I'm of the belief that the teachers set up "the hot seat" based on a student's schedule and activities. On of her friends played varsity soccer and was responsible for her baby during her soccer season.  My daughter is just gearing up to start her dance season and oh...guess what...she now has the baby.  OK...I GET this that babies, especially with high school students, are NEVER planned (or 99.999% of them aren't), so this needs to hit home.  But I wonder if it couldn't have been done in a more random way (like drawing straws).

Regardless, it has been less than a day and I'm already seeing the positive aspects of this and believe that it really should be mandatory for all high school students, girls AND boys.  She got home from dance practice (one of the managers "babysat" during practice) only to have to feed (half hour) burp (half hour) settle (half hour) and start all over again.  She managed to get some of her homework done during lull periods.  She came up this morning (after less than a full day with the baby) asking if she could skip first hour at school because the baby had her up at 430am for a morning feeding.  I said no.  This is life.  She needs to rename the baby Consequences because sex has consequences.  You don't get to skip school because you're tired.  Just like you don't get to miss meetings in the real world because you didn't get any/enough sleep due to children.  You adjustAnd hopefully you learn.  She should be counting her blessings that, while she is learning a tough lesson, it WILL be over with in a week.  The real thing would have her altering her life for the next 18 years and putting her though emotions that she didn't knew she had AND will never want to experience again.

My only beef with this experiment is the role *I* need to play.  Because she has a dance tournament on Saturday that will entail her being gone ALL DAY, someone has to take responsibility for Consequences.  And because it is a VERY expensive piece of equipment not just anyone, like, say a blonde 10 year old, would be capable of taking responsibility for it.   That leaves me and/or the husband dealing with Consequences.  lt turns into a major catch-22 for me.  I wouldn't mind so much if it were a real baby, because I LOVE babies, even crabby ones.  But since it's not real (THANKFULLY), I'm resentful at MY loss of time and freedom for a piece of plastic (and sensors).

I guess I need to look at this from the end-game position.  If one week of this cements in her head how much work a baby is and how not everyone is going to JUMP at the opportunity to take responsibility while she goes off and does her own thing, then it will be worth it.  At the 12 hour mark I asked if she had changed her mind about the 6 kids she was planning.  I believe just her expression confirmed that yes, perhaps she was a little hasty in thinking 6 was a good number.  And perhaps even at age 25, it is too soon to have children.  

Learning by doing ALWAYS seems to be the way to go.  Here's hoping this lesson sticks with her for 15 more years.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Defining Insanity

Albert Einstein defines insanity as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.  There is a reason why he was considered a genius.  I think he was talking to ME.  And I believe I have hit the insanity threshold.

This week's chosen path towards my inevitable insanity involves employment and financial remuneration...aka "the chore list". I wish I could say this has been an experiment that really only involves some fine tuning, but I'd be lying.  So, I am taking another approach, a similar approach (which I guess is insane on my part) but different in that it involves choice.

Like Einstein, one needs to first define the problem one wishes to address.  In my case, it's many tiered.  At the highest level, the problem is that I have a family of 6 and 4 of them do as little as possible with high expectations of rewards (and yes, I believe we are responsible for that misconception). Second, to force the realization that YES appearances DO matter  (YES children, I am humiliated by the state of the common bathroom when unexpected people stop by, AND YOU SHOULD BE TOO). Third, help them to the realization that this household is NOT a communist household where we follow the motto "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need".  Especially not when weekly Caribou runs at $5/child are deemed a "need".  And finally, which point 3 alludes to, these children need to understand the difference between wants and needs and should be willing to sacrifice to achieve their "wants".  Which addresses receiving financial remuneration for services provided and learning to live within their means.

So, my first step was to take the old chore list and remove any assignments.  Now to be fair, the original chore list which delineates chores assignments by color(it was really pretty too), I had assigned WITH APPROVAL to each child.  That didn't work so well, so it is now back to black and white.  NO chores are assigned to a person.  They are now each assigned a monetary value as well as a frequency.  They get to choose what they do and when they do it.  So, the kitchen needs cleaning after dinner, I'm not going to ask anyone, I'm just going to wait and see who does it.  If they just load the dish washer, they get paid $1.  If they wipe the counters/stove, wash the pots and pans and sweep the floor they get paid more.  I am the arbitrator as to how well a job was done.  Expectations for such jobs are made clear in advance.  They choose not to do chores, they will get NO money.  It seems like a fairly simple concept.

Since we're not good at keeping track of who has received what money in advance, and since they NEED to learn to budget, I made the decision to pay them monthly.  I know, that's a tough one, especially for my oldest daughter who can't seem to keep a nickle in her pocket.  Not every job (as in real employment) she has will pay  her on a weekly basis.  Some will pay every 2 weeks, and some will even pay once/month.  If she can learn to budget the once/month jobs, she can EASILY learn to budget being paid on a more frequent basis.  So, at the end of each month, I will tally up their "financial remuneration" for the month and place that amount in their accounts.  Last time, I made the mistake of paying them FIRST. (I'll give you a moment to ponder the stupidity of that decision)  I won't be making that one again.  Nor will I be providing those "extras" that they seem to be able to finagle from me (I just need to get the husband on board with that).

Of course, I will still match any money they choose to move into savings.  Thus far this hasn't been an issue.  And sadly, I don't see it being an issue with my "new and improved" experiment in insanity and I find that a little sad.  But I have to look at this as this is THEIR loss, not mine.  Hopefully they will one day realize what they gave up by making their wants needs and learn from that error. 

I really think I am toeing the line with regard to this whole insanity gig, just trying to figure out what is going to work with my kids.  Still, there is a tiny part voice that is whispering to me (yes insanity rules), saying..."YOU are a fool.  They are playing you like a deck of cards.  They have no intention of defining their wants and needs, of helping you out, of learning to be responsible people who CARE about appearances.  They are children and they want IMMEDIATE gratification and will settle for no less.  Towards that end, they just need to get you to keep trying these little experiments until they're gone, then they're going to go there merry little way."

And it scares the hell out of me that the tiny little voice may be right.   Which means, as a parent, I have failed.

Failure mixed with insanity, I suspect, never ends well.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Things My Dad Taught Me: Number 736

One of my dad's signature desserts has been a checkerboard cake.  If you have never had a checkerboard cake, well, you've missed out.  It's a 3 layer cake that when you cut into it, the interior resembles a checkerboard, making you scratch your head and the heck did he do that?

Well, Dad is something of an experimenter.  Kinda like and "inspector gadget" of the kitchen.  He took 3 9 inch cake pans and made 6 rings in 2 sizes from paper bags to fit concentrically inside the cake pans.  Then he would make a 2 cake batters: one chocolate and one white.  He would then CAREFULLY place them thusly in each of the 3 pans:  in 2 pans starting from the center, he would put chocolate, white, chocolate; in the third pan he would place the batter from the center white, chocolate, white.  Then he would CAREFULLY pull out the paper rings and bake.  When stacked correctly, voila...a checkerboard cake.

I had seen Dad do this several times and knew that I was capable of producing the same cake.  I may have done it once or twice but frankly, it was A LOT of work, what with cutting the bags, getting the rings the EXACT size. Then, I happened to stumble upon one of these several years ago:
It came with 3-9 in pans and a snap on set of rings:

Now, that alleviates some of the issue, but I'll be honest, it's still a lot of work.

So, last week was  a friend's birthday and I volunteered to bring the cake.  Ever a "culinary wanna-be overachiever", I decided to make a checkerboard cake.

Now, I'll tell you a little known secret that my friend Tami clued me in on:  Duncan Hines/Pillsbury/Betty Crocker...they have done all the hard work.  And they're fine.  But if you substitute milk for the water, butter for the oil, and add an extra will turn that "fine" cake into EXTRAORDINARY.  And so, that's what I did.
I thought I'd be able to pour the batter but really, that didn't work well and I ended up spooning each layer into the rings.  This is to help keep the batter in the like layers before carefully removing the rings.  You can do 2 pans (identical...chocolate, white, chocolate), then you have to wash the rings before doing the third pan in the reverse order (white, chocolate, white).  You should end up with this:
Bake according to the directions for a 9" cake.  Let cool slightly, then remove from the pans and allow to cool completely before frosting.  My preference for frosting is buttercream.  Equal parts butter and butter flavored Crisco (about 1/2 cup each).  Then I start beating in confectioners sugar until it won't take any more.  Then I add vanilla and half and half (or milk) to taste and consistency.  Once I get it where I want it, I remove about 1/3 of the frosting and mix 2-3 Tbs of Karo syrup to make a crumb coat.  The crumb coat is a THIN layer of frosting that will allow some of the crumbs from the cake to roll into the frosting.  DON'T WORRY.  You're going to cover the whole cake with a second layer that will hide all the crumbs.  This is what a crumb coat on one layer looks like:
You will also note that I put wax/parchment paper under the edges of the cake so I can pull them away when the cake is frosted and leave me with a clean serving plate. I also put fresh strawberry slices in between each layer, completed the crumb coat on whole cake, then used the remainder of the frosting to cover the crumb coat.  Then, of course, I had to add a little "bling".  Because that's how I roll.

Here's the best part.  This tasted as good as it looked.  The cake was very moist, the strawberries added a nice surprise and the frosting wasn't coyingly sweet, neither did it leave that film on the roof of your mouth like some bakery frostings will.

Thanks Dad.  Lesson learned.