Sunday, December 04, 2005

Really, it's all about the cake

Wow. Dad thanked me for the blow-by-blow description of the party. He's easily satisfied at least. But for the rest of you, here's how it went:

I knew Robin could bring a cake to school for her birthday, and you knew that we did so. Well, cookies actually, but whatever.

What I didn't know was that the parents were supposed to come in too. Fortunately, Robin mentioned it in passing the night before. I asked when I dropped off the cookies (oh yeah, and the girls) and, indeed, it was a family affair at 10:00. Alrighty then. I didn't have anything I needed to do that morning. Not at all.

I had done all the grocery shopping the day before - cake mix, frosting, pizza makings, pink & purple Froot Loops, pink soda & purple juice, etc....But I was going to buy the balloons and favors while the kids were at school.

I had arranged for Elberth to meet me when I dropped them off so he could come back to the house and help me take the desk upstairs. I didn't want to keep him waiting too long, so we left a little early and I went to the ATM and stopped at the little store that thank heavens is across the street from the school. I got 5 yards of two kinds of ribbon to make a bow for the desk (no, I didn't wrap it!!), a bunch of pink & purple balloons, and party favors (about which more later).

We got the desk upstairs without too much trouble, and then I had to clean it. It was in an open-fronted store on a bus route and was covered in exhaust dust. They offered to clean it before I brought it home, but it was more or less wrapped in plastic and I thought it best to leave the plastic on as a bit of protection in case the desk got banged up at all in the process of getting it up onto the car, back down, into the house, up the stairs...

Cleaning the desk and making the bow took every minute of the time I had available and a couple that I didn't, so I didn't get to bake the cake, which I had also intended to do while the girls were at school.

I got back down to the school within five minutes of 10:00, and fortunately it takes a while to transition 30 kids from individual activities to group time, so I had a chance to gather my thoughts. See, they have a birthday ceremony and the parents have a role. (I grumble about the short notice, but how terrible would it have been if I hadn't known about it and therefore hadn't shown up??) (Note to the future Robin: I am given to snarky comments, but this is not one of them. I wouldn't have missed it for the world.)

The children stand in a circle. In the center, there is a small table with a globe and a candle, which represents the sun. The child carries the globe around the sun one time for each year of her life, while the parent tells about her growth and life in that year. Then she lights her birthday candles from the large candle and puts them...well, I assume if we'd taken a cake she'd have put them in that, but they opened a package of clay for her to set them in. Then everyone sings Happy Birthday and she blows them out.

After school we had to wait to talk to one girl's mother because somebody Robin invited couldn't come to her party and she wanted to invite María Soledad instead (aside: who names their child Mary Loneliness? I mean really...). María Soledad's mother was half an hour late picking her up, but that's okay because I didn't have anything I needed to be doing or anything. (And she said yes.)

At home I took Robin in to her bedroom see her present, which of course she loved. (There's a shelf behind the horizontal part of the ribbon, and a divider behind the bottom section of the vertical part.)

I baked the cake while we had lunch. After that we figured out a good way to arrange the bedroom with the new furniture, which somehow involved me stripping the beds so I could switch the sheets, blankets, quilts and stuffed animals on the two beds. Then the girls amused themselves by setting up their new spaces - Julia is now the sole owner of the little plastic table, which she calls her desk. She'll get some kind of nightstand or small bureau for Christmas, of course. And Robin will probably get a chair (she has one of the kitchen chairs for now) and a mirror for the inside of her desk. (Remember I was originally looking for a vanity...)

I cleaned the parts of the house that were so dirty that even a bunch of six-year-olds would have noticed (sweeping & dishes).

The girls tried to help by blowing up the balloons, but Julia couldn't manage it at all, and Robin can't tie them herself, and moved on to funner things after doing a few. So I blew up most of the balloons. I didn't get a chance to hang them (and had forgotten to buy curling ribbon), but 20 pink & purple balloons on the floor seemed to be sufficiently festive, and resulted in the girls actually playing with them during the party. Which in turn resulted in them popping them all (intentionally, for the most part), which meant that I don't have any leftover balloons hanging around for a week after the party. I've always disliked leftover balloons because the girls fight over them and the parrot is afraid of them, so balloons on the floor may become a standard.

I found some Barbie coloring sheets online, but the printer ran out of ink when I was halfway through, so I had to scrap that. (And then I forgot to get them out during the party anyway. Oh well.)

We got about 75 phone calls during the afternoon as well. Blessings upon the inventor of the cordless phone. Fortunately, the one call that was about a translation was from someone who needed an official (certified) translator. I told him the truth: I never got certified because most official translations are supremely boring...contracts 'n things.

So what's missing from this list of accomplishments? Yeah, the cake. It cooled, and I slapped on the base layer of frosting during one of the phone calls.

Robin had asked for a My Scene cake. It sounded complicated to me, but my cake philosophy is this: Promise them the world, then do your best. And don't worry about it until it's time to start. Also, the decoration is the thing. Everything else is stripped down to essentials: The cake is from a mix, the frosting from a can. It's baked and decorated right in a 13x9 pan so there are no edges to deal with, and it doesn't matter if it sticks to the pan because we don't find out until it's served. I do acknowledge that homemade frosting would be easier to handle - the can kind is too soft. But you work with what you've got, and in this case what I had was a can of frosting and one hour. That's right, it was 4:00 when I started, and the guests were due at 5:00.

So. My Scene. My Scene is a latter-day Barbie. It's Barbie with a plot. The dolls are hipper than Barbie and the videos are very PC (except for the notable lack of diversity in terms of body shape) and suitable for little kids even though the characters are in high school. Good causes, life lessons, etc. One of the characters is actually named Barbie, and I think it's more of a spin-off than a knock-off. Anyway, there are five girls (and four boys, but thank goodness they're minor characters.) The cover of the DVD is way beyond the scope of a birthday cake (a birthday cake by me, at least) and anyway for some reason it doesn't show all five. And did I mention that it was four o'clock??

Robin decided that the best thing would be for me to copy the opening scene: the five girls are in a row, walking down the street. Sashaying, actually. With attitude. Think catwalk.

Did you notice the part where she wants me to copy a scene from a video? Cake decorating is generally considered to be a kitchen sort of activity, but our TV is in my room and rather than bring that one up, we decided to throw ours down rather than bring the TV downstairs I decided to frost the cake in my bedroom. I have an adjustable-height ironing board (being a quilter has finally paid off. I wouldn't even have an ironing board otherwise), which I set up by the bed.

I quickly realized that the task was an impossible one: These five girls have two different skin tones and four different colors of hair (one with highlights). And their outfits probably contained another dozen colors.

I decided that, since this was a pink and purple party, the girls could all be wearing pink and purple clothing. I complained to Robin that I didn't know how I was supposed to do this. It wasn't even possible. AND IT WAS FOUR O'CLOCK!! And she said, "Don't worry Mommy. Why don't you just write Happy Birthday on it instead?" No, wait. That was a delusion. She actually said "I'm sorry you don't know how, Mommy!" and wisely skipped out the door.

So I took a bamboo skewer and started outlining these five shapely girls, all the while wondering just how many times I was going to have to run downstairs to wash out an icing bag and change colors. Or how funky my colors would get if I just put the new color in and squeezed it through until it came out (mostly) pure.

As I mixed up the flesh-type color I needed for four of the girls (conveniently ignoring that the Asian one is supposed to be a slightly different shade), I had The Idea That Saved The Day, and it was this: Skip the bags and apply with a table knife. I think I've done that before, for larger areas, and this time I did the whole thing like that. So I started with the pinkish flesh color, then mixed in some more colors for the darker skin, then darkened it more for the brown hair and finally added black for the Asian hair. So with the exception of the two blondes, I got all the heads, hands & hair out of one little batch of frosting and NO REFILLING BAGS!

Next I made yellow for the blondes, which I then made into orange for some of the clothes (which no longer had to be just pink and purple). When I did that, I noticed that I had forgotten the hands on the darker skinned girl. Oh crap. That frosting was now black, so I couldn't go back and add the hands. Fortunately, Julia was watching at the time (I kept chasing her out, but she kept coming back), and she piped up and said "why don't you make her like this?" And she put her hands behind her back. I've always liked that kid.

Then I made some light blue, then dark blue, then green. And finally some pink & purple (for the white clothing that had to be modified so as not to blend into the background) and I was done! Well, there was also a girl who was supposed to have flesh colored legs which I had forgotten, but Robin said to take little bits from the faces, which I did. Plus I lengthened her skirt so I didn't have to scrounge so much.

The featureless faces are, umm, trendy, I think. You know, like high-fashion...umm...anyway, it's better this way.

Obviously, this cake took more than one hour. It took two, but this is Costa Rica, so it was still finished a few minutes before the last party guest arrived. And here it is:

Robin opened the gifts as soon as each girl arrived, so between that and running around playing with stuff, the girls kept busy while I finished the cake and while we waited for the last one to come.

Once everyone was here, the first order of business was to eat. I gave each girl a plate or round plastic lid and a lump of dough. They tried valiantly to spread the dough out, but it was pretty hard to do, so I ended up helping them. I had to do each one twice and some of them three times, because as I went around the circle, the ones I had just done kept poking at their dough and eventually made so many holes they decided to start over and mashed it all up again. Bue eventually everyone had a circle of dough which I moved to the cookie sheet, noticing that there would be no room for me to make one for myself (and the cake was in the other metal pan I could have used). Oh well. I figured there would be leftovers, and there were.

I got out the sauce and let them put their own on. Even Robin covered hers with sauce, and she always wants her pizza without. Then the pepperoni, then the cheese, which I had to grate, but that didn't take long. There was exactly enough of both the pepperoni & the mozarella to give everyone enough but not have any to put away.

Then the olives. There are lots of green olives here, but not that many choices for black ones. In the US I used to buy the tiny little cans but here you either have to get a big can or a jar, and any given supermarket will only have one or two choices anyway. Well, when I opened the jar this time I found that I had gotten whole olives - I mean, I knew I was going to have to slice them, but these still had pits. Phooey. So I'm shaving off bits of olive while everybody waits. Fortunately, only my girls really like them. Everybody else tried a piece but only used a few bits, if any.

And into the oven it went. The girls went off to play and pop balloons. It was getting kind of late, but fortunately nobody melted down before it was time to eat. I remembered to get out the pink soda & purple juice with supper, and that went over well.

And then it was cake time. I had a great idea while I was putting out the cake plates. Five girls on the cake, five girls at the party...I wrote the names of the My Scene girls on little pieces of paper and put one under each plate. An unexpected novelty for the girls, and no fighting over who gets which one = everybody wins.

I didn't engineer who got what, but check this out: The girl who brought a Barbie DVD to watch at the party ended up with Barbie. Robin ended up with Chelsea, who is the one she "got" when she took the quiz at the end of her video to find out which one she is most like. The darkest-skinned girl got Madison, the darker My Scene girl. The one who got Delancey seemed happy enough, and Julia was thrilled when I told her that hers (Nolee) is my favorite one...which is in fact true.

The girls decided to stick their little papers onto the cake, then I cut a square around each face:

And served the cake:

And as a bonus the kids only had (as mentioned previously) a two-inch cube of cake. Maybe 2.5, but no more than that. And I served these little tiny bits of ice cream because it was the kind with three flavors and as long as they each had pink, white and green they were happy. They asked for more ice cream several times, but it still didn't add up to all that much.

There was, of course, the sugar in the juice. The soda didn't have any sugar (Nutrasweet - oops). But it may have had caffeine. But still. I was optimistic. It was probably around 8:00 or 8:30 when they finished the cake. I figured: they get their sugar high, they bounce off the walls for a while (and they really did, for a while), then they crash. Right? Aren't you supposed to crash after a sugar high? Where was the crash? Where? No, seriously, what happened to the crash?

They got ready for bed and I put on the video (My Scene, of course), but within 10 minutes they were swarming about the house again. So I figured when they settled down enough to watch it, they would fall asleep while it was on. I actually gave some thought to how I would get these children from my bed to the girls' room, where the two twin beds were pushed together. Well as you know, I needn't have worried my pretty little head. I put the video on a little after 10:00. They turned the volume up to 30. (We usually watch at about 15). At 10:30 they ordered popcorn. Some time after 11:00, the video was over and they swarmed about the house again. They wanted another video, but I pointed out that they were in my bed and that while they were welcome to stay up all night, I certainly did not intend to. I didn't really plan on going to sleep before they did, but still.

Anyway, I've kind of blanked out the remainder of the night, but eventually they did conk out, and I did manage to stay awake long enough to go and turn out the light. Nobody woke up in the night, but they did all stumble out around 6:30. Two of them decided they were still tired and went back to bed, but that lasted all of 10 minutes.

So we broke out the pink & purple Froot Loops (hair of the dog?) after which, once again, they swarmed about the house. Then they wanted to watch the Barbie video that one of them had brought. While waiting for the Menu screen to come up so I could put it into Spanish, I got to see the previews. One was for another Barbie spinoff called the Barbie Diaries, where Barbie writes in her diary about stuff. It struck me as odd, since it kind of steps on the My Scene demographic...same age group, same sort of plots...but whatever.

When the video was over, I sent them to pack their bags and brush their teeth and stuff (almost time to get picked up), then I brought out the favors. That little store across the street from the school had yielded five pink and purple Barbie diaries and five purple pens. Well, technically, they're Barbie "The Princess and the Pauper" (which cracks me up because in Spanish it's "The Princess and the Plebeian") diaries.

The girls immediately abandoned the DVD bonus feature they had been playing with and went straight to work:

The end.

(This is the part where you leave a comment about how amazing that cake was.)


Jennifer December 04, 2005 7:17 PM  

Lisa: I apologize in advance for adding "snarky" to Dad's vocabulary.

Dad: use it sparingly, if at all.

lisa December 04, 2005 10:31 PM  

As long as it bumps another word out, I'm okay with it.

The cake story, I have to say, reminds me of another cake story from August 7th, 2004....but it came out great. It looks really creepy with the faces cut out though!

Dot December 06, 2005 9:13 AM  

I could not but think of the August 7 2004 cake also, Lisa but I wasn't going to say anything. I have pictures with date and time to prove it.

Jen, I suppose you are just a late "caking" woman....and yes, the that cake was great also. Perhaps, that is the secret of great cakes.

Sandy December 10, 2005 3:50 PM  

The cake turned out great. You are an amazing person and a wonderful mom. As you write, I can visualize the whole scene. What a treat. But Jen, please, don't let them write while sitting on the quilt anymore!!! :-O

mom December 19, 2005 3:31 PM  

Sandy, I'm just getting around to reviewing (or adding) comments. Never fear - I'm virtually certain that is an inexpensive, purchased mass-produced quilt.

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