Tuesday, December 27, 2005

We're a bookish clan

I would say that upwards of two-thirds of the gifts under the tree this year were broad, flat and oblong. This photo doesn't show it particularly well because they settle in against each other like...well, a shelf full of books. But you will observe that the left-most arrangement of presents extends fully as far out from the base of the tree as the bulkier, irregularly shaped ones to the right...

I used the girls' quilts from Mom to "wrap" the two big presents...a chair for Robin's desk and a 3-drawer dresser for Julia. I wrapped other quilts around from the back to prevent peeking (although there's precious little you can do to disguise a chair) and pinned a bow on each one.

The dresser is, of course, what clocked Julia on the head later that afternoon. Once she stopped sobbing hysterically, she enumerated her (very specific) list of grievances:

  • "I [sob] am not [sniffle] having [hiccup] a good Christmas."

  • "I don't [etc.] want that furniture."

  • "I don't want it."

  • "I don't want to have it."

  • "I don't want those men to help me." (Guests who rushed to get the thing off of her when it happened)

And finally, I leave you with...Sperm Lights!

(Which, interestingly enough, is also the (unofficial) name of these...er...art pieces, which, appropriately enough, are mounted on a wall that makes me think of Santa Claus. How, you ask, can a wall make someone think of Santa? Click and find out.)

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The tangled web we weave

Background information:

  • I took my car to the mechanic last week so he could look some more at the brake system. The car does brake, but not always as well as it should. We've had it in on several occasions and had different things replaced or adjusted, but none of them has fully solved the problem. When the mechanic brought the car back he had a list of work he wanted to do on it - it's running okay at the moment, but he explained that we're going to have to "invest a little in it" in order to keep it in (or return it to) good shape. The carburator, suspension, transmission and brake systems are all going to need work.

  • Also on the car subject, I recently read this Defective Yeti blog entry.

  • I'm reading a book of short stories by Maeve Binchy, an author I have always enjoyed. Her novels are generally about Irish families in small towns, and focus on relationships and family history. The stories, though, are all set in London and deal with a wide range of people in many different situations. I was surprised to find that the second one was about a couple in their 40s who were on their way to a wife-swapping party. The husband had found an ad about the party in a magazine and had contacted them. The wife had agreed because she thought it would help him not feel that they were getting stuck in a rut as they approached middle age, but she was having serious misgivings as the time approached. In the end they got almost to the party, talked about it, and agreed to leave.

  • The neighbors building a house directly behind mine are a young couple who will be getting married in February. They have brought their families a number of times, both before and during the construction, to have cook outs or picnics at the site. The house is almost done, and they recently invited several couples over in the evening for the first time. The only windows of theirs that face our house are the French doors in the dining room, so when I looked out the window I could see the table and chairs set up and, later, the dinner party. This was the same evening I was reading the story mentioned above, by the way, and I'm pretty sure I had some dream about both situations that night, but I couldn't remember any details.

  • The girls' school pageant was held in an events hall in San Rafael.

  • I have been E-mailing back and forth with Lisa a little more often than sometimes, and spoke with Scott on the phone the other night when Alex was staying with them prior to his trip.

  • Recently, I've been re-watching the Best of Friends DVDs I got on eBay. The first episode is the pilot, where Rachel comes in wearing a wedding gown, having just left her fiancé at the altar.
Additional background information for the casual visitor: Alex is my husband. Lisa is my sister. Scott is her husband.

And now, gentle readers, I bring you...

Last Night's Dream

Alex came to me and told me that he wanted to marry Lisa. I was surprised, but told him that if that was what they both wanted, that was what they should do. I wasn't going to gain anything by making everyone else miserable. (We apparently didn't have any children in this dream, by the way.)

Then, following the standard dream-logic, it was raised that Scott and I should also get married. I thought, well, it's not like my life has ever been predictable...what the hell, let's see where this takes it. I said yes.

The wedding was coming up soon, and was being held in the United States. Lisa and I were on the way there together when my car ran out of gas at a traffic light. We couldn't just leave it there and find alternate transportation because it was right at the light and would tie up traffic. We went into a nearby store to get help, explaining "we're sisters and we're on our way to our own double wedding..."

While we were waiting for help, Lisa and I talked about where each of the newly configured couples would live. For some reason, the United States was the obvious choice for Lisa and Alex...both employed there, perhaps? I was kind of figuring that Scott and I would live in Costa Rica - Scott could set up his landscaping business here - but Lisa informed me that Scott would never, ever move to Costa Rica to live. (I don't remember the reason, but there was one.) I thought, well, we could honeymoon there at least, and maybe it would grow on him. Or we could live in the United States. I knew Lisa would enjoy having us nearby again, although I thought someone should stay in Costa Rica so Alex's parents wouldn't be left all alone.

Eventually Alex came along and helped us out with the car. While that was happening, Scott (where'd he come from?) and I found ourselves alone together for a minute. We realized that, although we were about to get married, we had never even kissed. So we kissed. Umm. We tried again. We looked at each other and pretty much both said "what the hell were we thinking?" then headed over to the wedding to break the news to everybody.

The wedding was being held in a special events hall, and was about to get underway when we arrived. We talked to Lisa and Alex and they said they had made the same decision, so we all went up to the front of the room to tell the guests. Lisa said she would talk first, then me. There was also a silly wig and, I think, a piece of some costume involved, but that wasn't important.

Lisa had already come close to marrying and had called it off at the last minute, so her announcement was along the lines of "we're doing it again, sorry..." She had made the decision calmly, but actually calling off the wedding was upsetting for her.

When it was my turn, I just said "Scott and I have also come to our senses." I thanked everyone for coming and said we wanted to go ahead and have the party (reception) anyway, but by the time I had finished saying it everyone had cleared out and the only ones left were our parents. I was quite offended by this, actually.

Then the dream moved on to some restaurant that was so snooty that you couldn't walk through it to get to the dessert bar. You had to go out into the hall, up an elevator, through a couple of doors and down another elevator to where they had the buffet. But the desserts were good.

And that is the end. I'm going to have coffee now.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

More grist for the career change mill

So Alex is here and we're having a good time. I told my clients that I would accept small jobs, but nothing major for the next three weeks. And there isn't usually that much around the holidays anyway.

On Monday night they sent me a document. I translated it and sent it back yesterday morning. We were out and about for much of the late morning and early afternoon.

On the way home, we went looking for a Christmas tree. First we went to the place where we got last year's tree. There were still a few decent ones there, but we decided to check out other options before buying one.

The restaurant across the street from my house has quite a bit of land around it. There are outdoor tables and some very scary playground equipment. And they have a little grove of Christmas trees.

So we went to look there. The trees have been shaped as they grow, and are a little odd in that they are very triangular. Not ice-cream cone triangular or, indeed, Christmas-tree triangular, but startlingly close to equilateral-triangle triangular.

Sometimes I care deeply about the Christmas tree selection and sometimes I don't. This year I didn't. I said to Alex, in all honesty, that whatever he and the girls liked was fine with me. (Part of it is that the trees here are not the kind we grew up with. They don't have needles. They're cyprus or some other kind of evergreen that isn't a real Christmas tree, to me anyway. So why care?) (Another part of it is that the girls had been truly insufferable for most of the day and I didn't care much about anything by then.)

That was when my client called me up to ask when I was sending the translation. The question surprised me, since I told him at 9:30 I'd have it to him within an hour, and he should know by now that I am never late. But it's not the first time that's happened. So I came back across the street to start up the computer and re-send the document.

Once I had done so, I tried to call and confirm, but the client's phone system was apparently having the same spasm as their E-mail system, and after three tries the secretary still wasn't having any luck transferring my call, so I suggested she just tell Luis Diego to call me. She thought that was a great idea.

I sat there waiting (and playing spider solitaire) but received no call. Finally I called back again and was informed that Luis Diego appeared to have "stepped out" for a moment. I gave her the name of someone else who could help me, but her line was busy. Finally, the secretary IM-ed (IMed? IM'ed?) her and was able to confirm that the document had been received.

Good. I headed back across the street to where I had left Alex chatting with the bartender and showing him photos of the Great White North (well, you know, a little ice in North Carolina. Cut them a break, they're from the tropics.)

The bar was empty, so I headed back into the grove, where Alex and the bartender had just finished cutting down The Monster That Ate My Living Room.

Based on the blueprints for my house, I calculated that the thing is a little over 8 feet high. But it's not the height. Not really. It's also over 8 feet WIDE. You can't sit next to the thing because it's too close. Your eyes won't focus.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Shepherd, good. Sheep, baa-aa-aad.

(Lisa's going to get tired of seeing her E-mails reenacted here, but at least in this case it's only the one line, not the whole story...)

The girls had their school-Christmas-pageant-slash-kindergarten-graduation on Tuesday.

Julia was a shepherd. I love shepherds. Well, shepherd costumes. They are without a doubt the easiest thing children are ever asked to dress up as. Sheep, on the other hand...

We were told at a parents' meeting weeks ago that the art teacher would tell the children how to make a sheep costume, but by the day before the pageant (and four days after the last day of school) I figured we were probably on our own.

We tried a couple of things (including our patience) and ended up with a homebrewed wrap-em-in-batting solution. Robin liked it, which was the main thing, but I have some regrets. (One is forgetting to have her take off the long-sleeved outer shirt which, while white, had a flower on the front that showed above the sheeply garb.)

I learned something when we got there. The pageant part is called a posada, which I took to mean "posed," as in a living nativity scene. Turns out that an inn is sometimes called a posada(which I guess I knew) and the activity started with Joseph and Mary (aka José & María) and about half the others outside the open doors of the community center and the other half inside. There was a song-dialogue in which those outside asked for entry, which they were initially denied and eventually granted.

Once inside, they did do the living nativity scene, with a few spoken lines, then stayed in their positions to sing two carols.

Here are my camera's best efforts...

The three sheep are seated on the left; Robin is the one on the right. The shepherds are behind them; Julia is the one in red (very dark in this picture) behind the middle sheep.

The group includes both pre-K and kindergarteners. After the carols, the nine graduating kindergarteners left the room and came back in one by one when their names were called.

Each one was given a country-style painted wooden angel to remind them that there are unseen things that are as real as what is seen, and that there is something larger out there that is on their side. (Okay, I'm not only translating but paraphrasing liberally, but that was the general idea.)

They also each got a paintbrush from the art teacher, a certificate and a few private words from the principal (who is also one of their teaches).

They posed with some of the teachers & staff (by which time Robin had been freed of her wrappings)

Past a shepherd's bedtime:

Progress on the home front



The (unsolicited) Verdict

Robin: It makes our house look, umm, tropical!
Julia: Now our house looks like a hotel!

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Doesn't it make you want one?

This company United Nuclear sells magnets. Scroll down to the second major section, "Supermagnets," and read the product description.

Spam spam spam spam

(Extra credit if you sang that line in your head when you read the title)

Okay, a lot of junk mail uses intentional misspellings because some spam filters will shunt anything containing words like "viagra" directly into the Bulk folder. I get that. Today's example: 4: disc0unt meds sh1pping world //ide [Save $33]

But you'd think that someone who is trying to trick you into thinking they represent a major financial institution with which you already do business would go to the trouble to consult a native English speaker. Or a simple phrasebook. You'd think that, wouldn't you?

Granted, with my profession and my parentage I may be a little more attuned to correct grammar than your average literate adult. But still. Does Your Visa card will become unavailable for online transactions since the 15st of... [ellipsis theirs] really hook anyone? Anyone at all?

I just had to say that. This blog won't become a running commentary on the contents of my Bulk folder. I promise.

Monday, December 12, 2005

The List

I sent Lisa a long long list of songs I found on the Internet with the challenge of figuring out what they all had in common. (Along with a warning/disclaimer that she would never ever EVER in a million years figure it out. That's what sisters are for.)

It's a silly thing that struck my fancy because of my own prior history with--or, I should say, "strong opinion regarding"--the thing they have in common. (Although I doubt any of you have actually heard me express this opinion so don't go by that.)

Plus, the original inspiration behind the compilation of the list was silly...it's all good!

And then you've got the list itself, which is so insanely varied that there's no way they could all have something in common. Everything from seriously deranged heavy metal to John Denver, to Frank Zappa to the Beatles to the Beastie Boys...everything.

So anyway I had fun discovering this pointless database and spot-checking a few songs that I had immediate access to, to see if they really do have this particular thing in common. (The website left me in some doubt as to whether these songs all have this common thing, or whether the list includes songs that would benefit from it, but do not in fact share the trait.)

Of course that got me into my (in some cases literally) moldy old cassette tapes and listening to songs I haven't thought about in years.

You'll be surprised, if you do the same, at how well you still know the lyrics to Billy Joel's We Didn't Start The Fire, 16 years later. (Click the title for a slow-loading but very cool version, or here for lyrics only.)

Julia had fun too, jumping and dancing all around the loft while I listeded to the Asia, Billy Joel and Jimmy Buffett songs on the list. With the volume turned up so I could catch the telling detail.

Then I found an ABBA tape with Alex's stuff and she got all excited when I told her the song we needed was called Dancing Queen. ("Just a minute Mommy, let me go get my crown!") She was disappointed when she couldn't find the crown, but that was nothing compared to her disappointment in the song itself. The poor little thing looked so forlorn, standing in one spot, moving her little arms up and down gracefully and complaining that this song is "bowding" (boring) and "can't we put that other one [Fins by Jimmy Buffet] back on?" Needless to say, by the end of ABBA's Fernando her disillusionment was complete and she had trudged woefully from the room.

And that's the end of the story. Here's the link to the source of the list (and, of course, the spoiler of what they all have in common.) I may try to put the list itself in here as a comment, but if I have to fiddle with too much HTML I may not bother.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Separate but equal

I've been corresponding with Lisa, who asked about gift ideas for the kids. I gave her some ideas and she wrote back today to ask about parallel gifting and how closely the items needed to correspond: ie, if Julia gets a dress and Robin gets a shirt, will domestic havoc ensue?

The topic had already been on my mind, and I had come to the conclusion (encouraged by some of what was discussed at the parent-teacher conference I mentioned earlier) that the inclination to keep everything parallel as a matter of course is probably a disservice to the girls, since their lives don't, won't and shouldn't actually work that way.

They also seem to be at a point where their interests are starting to diverge. Julia still enjoys the kiddie stuff like Barney, Backyardigans and Bob the Builder (plus a few that that don't start with B).

Robin readily watches these shows when they're on, but she is clearly moving on. She begged for a diary and grown-up gifts, loved her slumber party and, get this, is no longer inclined to find things scary. Remember how big an issue that was for so long?

Now Julia is the one who gets scared by (most recently) the Care Bear movie. I didn't watch it with her, but I did read the box before we rented it and it was supposed to be about how Sunshine Bear, who likes to make people laugh, goes on a quest to the land of Joke-a-Lot.

In her laid-back Julia way, she doesn't get distressed about it beforehand the way Robin used to ("what if it's scary?"), but eagerly says she wants to watch new things, only to get scared partway through.

Anyway, I'm not one to go overboard in any given direction and I don't mind if they have or are given matching stuff (matching outfits given to them by José & Yolanda on Robin's birthday come to mind...), but it does seem like a good idea to think a little more about their individual tastes and abilities, at least when I am the one choosing things.

However. That's not to say they're going to like it. Julia cried brokenheartedly for half an hour when Robin got her desk.

This whole post actually began as a quick preamble to a brief anecdote that I would have told Lisa in my latest E-mail, but which I didn't think of until it was too late. So now I leave you with the story:

Some time ago, Yolanda bought a package of what my family has always called Sugar Cereals and gave it to me to give to the girls. There were four kinds - one of each - packaged in individual servings the way potato chips are. The bags were clearly different and, just as clearly, entirely comparable.

I showed the four bags to the girls and asked them to each think about which one they would want, without saying anything to each other. I then told them that, in order to try and give everyone what they wanted, I would have them each whisper to me which color they wanted. They chose different colors, so I told them the good news and gave each one her first choice. Robin was so mad she almost couldn't eat (and definitely couldn't enjoy) her orange whatever-they-were because Julia got the one she wanted.

Why I am considering a career move

Yesterday was the last day of school. We went over to José & Yolanda's after the girls got out, had some lunch and hung around because we hadn't done that for a few days. I read my book in the sun while Julia colored and Robin and José played an invented game where she writes a string of numbers in her notebook, he adds them up in his head, then she comes over to ask me if he got it right.

My cell phone rang and I heard--for the first time in several weeks--the dreaded voice of my contact at the PR agency (my most frequent translation client). I like the guy very much, but am invariably disappointed to hear his voice on the line.

He said he had just E-mailed me a page and a half and how soon could I have it back to them. Although I told him I was not at home and that I couldn't have it to him until the next day around noon, I did in fact start to move in the direction of getting home so I could download it and get it out of the way.

For some reason, the size of the document is almost invariably understated - as if by telling me it's only five pages long they can make it take less time than if they admit it's seven. But in this case, the document was in fact just a page and a half long...less, in fact, because it was a page and a half in finished form, with a large photo and many small ones, and the text itself sort of poured in around it.

So the page estimate was accurate, but the text. Oh, the text.

It was a brochure of background information about a young artist who has a photography exhibit coming up. I like art. Who doesn't? But just imagine the artist's statement for a guy whose brochure shows him riding a (no doubt artistic) contraption made out of a unicycle and a barstool:

Se mueve en el plano de la física, del tiempo, de la topología, de la ecología de las ondas de luz para transformar la escena en un objeto "chic poscontemporáneo". Existe una enorme tensión entre el empleo crítico y estético del arte y lo que el lector aparenta entender, pero explícitamente no observa, lo cual provoca contradicciones interpretativas. También, se apropia de los rincones inobservados o de espacios lúdicos de expresión.

These images inhabit the plane of the physical, of time, of topology, of the ecology of light waves, transforming a scene into an object of “post-contemporary chic.” We sense an enormous tension between the critical and the aesthetic use of art and what the viewer is given to understand but does not explicitly observe, provoking interpretative contradictions. The artist also appropriates unobserved corners, lucid spaces of expression (...)
The translation of this particular passage cost $4.02. The whole thing ran to $22.32.

In my dream job, I get to keep reading my book in the sun as long as I want. At my own convenience, I spend a morning or an afternoon dyeing fabric. I take it to the quilt shop (Costa Rica only has one large one) or put it online (probably both).

My first batch of dyes gets here next week (it's already been shipped to Alex, who will be here on the 18th). I already have 5 yards of fabric to experiment with. Assuming I enjoy the process, and assuming the fabric comes out pretty, hand dyed fabric will be my newest venture.

We'll see about marketing; I haven't spoken with the ladies at the quilt shop yet, but they used to carry some hand dyed fabric and don't anymore because the person who used to make it has moved on to other things.

The online part is subject mainly to my own initiative in making it happen, and to the assistance of my handy Silent Partner, who could manage the distribution at such point as I had an actual inventory to send up to the US, and orders to fill.

It has been suggested to me that, since Costa Rica does not produce textile arts like the molas made by the Kuna people of Panama, or the Mayan weavings of Guatemala, there should be a market for fabrics that somehow reflect Costa Rican themes, for instance by stamping on fabric using local plants. I am sure this will prove to be true, if I am able to reach the appropriate audience, either online, in local fabric or gift shops, or at physical locations at stores or shows in the US.

I'd love to be able to gently withdraw from translation over the course of 2006.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Isn't he just precious?

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.)

No intelligence required

My Yahoo account does quite a good job of filtering out the spam, and rarely puts real mail into the "Bulk" folder. Still, I skim the subject lines before emptying the folder each day, just in case. Today, I am invited to

Get the King James version of the Bible FREE*!

I also received a dire


from a credit union that, of course, I've never heard of. Do you suppose this actually gets them any business? I can just imagine how it would go:

Hmm, 'update account.' Okey dokey...[click]...hey, waid a minute. I don't HAVE an account here...Well, they sure fooled ME!...And I think I'm pretty smart. So these people clearly have it together. Sign me up!

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Final answer

12:45. That's when it finally wound down. The first one fell asleep then and the other three were out by 1:00. Robin opened her eyes when I turned out the light, but was too out of it to say anything.

So, habit's a cool thing, huh? They all got up at 6:30. Well, Julia--who fell asleep around 10:00--was up at 6:00, but then, she's never been anything but a morning person.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I think I'll go sleep until 2006. No, wait...that's right, they're invited to a birthday party at 2:00 today.

12:21 a.m.

Are they asleep yet? Why no, no they're not.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Live on the scene

How long does the six/seven year old body run on a 2-inch cube of cake and a small scoop of ice cream? I'll have to get back to you on that. Right now it's after 10:00 and they're clustered around my full-length mirror, applying makeup. (One of them brought some.)

Oh, and around 9:30 I noticed that the novel new soda I got (girly pink color, pink grapefruit flavor) not only is sugarless--ie, has the dreaded Nutrasweet--but also does not say, anywhere on the bottle, "caffeine free"...

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Birthday preparations

Robin is signed up for tomorrow's Shared Snack Day (which they have every Friday) so she can take a cake to school for her birthday. I told her she could choose between a birthday cake, cupcakes and frosted cookies. She went with the cookies. I bought cookies at the store and used canned icing. When it was time to start, she decided she wanted Hello Kitty, so that's what I made.

There were 36 unbroken cookies (and maybe five broken ones) in the three packages I bought. I needed 32 - one for each kid - and made the four extras for the teachers. I also left one blank (that is, with no name) in case some poor kid wasn't on the list I have. I was told to bring cake or whatever for 32 children and there were 32 names on the list, so I assume we're good, but you never know.

Once the official cookies were done, the girls got to decorate and eat a broken one.

(Didja notice the parrot?)

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The Hunger Site The Breast Cancer Site The Child Health Site The Literacy Site The Rainforest Site The Animal Rescue Site

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