Monday, April 21, 2008

Midieval Cake Auction

We spent the weekend working on some projects with the boys. One was the Cake Auction for Cub Scouts. The theme that the whole pack voted on was "Midieval." My boys were thrilled with his theme. They love knights, swords, dragons, and such.

M and I looked up different cake designs online (what did we used to do without the internet?) We found an awesome idea for a dragon using home-made Rice Krispies Treats to mold into a dragon. We ran the ideas by both boys and were able to convince R that he would love that for his cake (he's easier to persuade than his younger brother.) T wouldn't go for the dragon cake because he had his heart set on a catapult. Yes, that's right, a cake with a catapult on it. Of course, I let M engineer that one.
First, I helped each boy make a cake. T made a chocolate one and R made a yellow butter cake. We decided that both cakes should be "castle grey." I remembered seeing black food coloring in the store at Halloween time, so we got some of that and put a few drops in the frosting.

T carefully frosted his cake, which was going to be a fort with a catapult in it.

M and R made the Rice Krispies Treat mixture and we added lots of green food coloring to it. After spraying his hand with Pam, R molded the dragon onto the parchment paper with the sketched out dragon on it. This process worked really well. (I don't think that he liked the texture at first, but he got used to it.)

He got the hang of it. It was tricky timing. You had to work with the mixure after it had cooled off a bit so it would hold together, but before it got too cool and wouldn't be maleable anymore.

The end result was a pretty good looking dragon. It's sitting here waiting to cool and harden before being decorated with fondit scales, eyes, teeth, tongue, and claws. (I was scared to make and work with fondit, but M found a recipe that seemed easy enough, so I did it and it worked pretty well.)

Then it was T's turn to make his Rice Krispies Treat mixure (and dye it brown) for the base of the catapult (or "cannonpult" as T insists upon saying despite repeated pronunciation lessons from his well-meaning mother.)

The best part about working with Rice Krispies Treats is tasting the mixture. T and M made the entire catapult out of Rice Krispies Treats on Saturday, only to have Mackinaw eat the whole thing while we were taking a nap. So, M rebuild it (with modifications using Kelloggs Cereal Straws) on Sunday. Somehow I don't have pictures of the work in progress (perhaps due to the stress of the untimely demise of the first catapult or perhaps due to the stress of wondering if the dog was going to live another day...) But, see below for the best catapult cake (throwing fire balls) that you've ever seen in your life.
Sunday evening was the actual cake auction. Each boy stood up and explained what his cake was and how he made it. Then the bidding began. The deal was that bids could only go up to $15 and if the boy (and his family) wanted to buy the cake back, they could for $1 more than the highest bid. I had fun running the bid up on cakes that I knew that families were going to buy back. You should have seen R and T's faces when they saw me bidding for cake after cake -- Mom, are we going to take ALL those cakes home? or you should have seen my face when R tried to outbid me on a cake that we did cake home. I had to explain to him, "when Mommy bids $10, you don't bid $11, okay?" It was a lot of fun! We bought back T's cake and also a little boy's cake that nobody else was bidding on -- I felt sorry for him and bought it for ten bucks.

Here's T standing proudly with his catapult cake. You'll see there are brownie pieces decorating the outside of the cake -- T loved this real castle look. (Also notice the really long cake behind T. That's an excalibur sword cake -- pretty cool.)

R is posing like a dragon near his dragon cake. He described it as "a fire breathing dragon on a rocky surface using Rice Krispies Treats and fondut for the dragon."

The Cub Scouts had a goal of raising $160 for the night and they surpasssed it, raising $240. As a reward, each Scout was given one water balloon and at the count of three, they each threw their balloon at their den leader. What a blast! M brought a change of clothes just in case, but he didn't get wet. Three balloons hit him, bounced off, and broke on the grass (much to the disappointment of his little Tiger Cubs.) All in all, it was a fun activity :>

M passed out the water balloons to the excited boys, thrilled at the chance to get their den leaders wet.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Cherry Blossoms in DC

Whew! What a trip we just had! It was spring break week and we took the bull by the horns for our first big-time road trip. We did lots of planning for the trip and knew that there was more to see than the time we had, so we prioritized our list of must-sees, saving the rest for "next time." In the car on the drive home, R said that I should put a warning at the beginning of this blog, saying that it would be a long one, because we did so much. Consider yourself warned.

Here's we go:


Drove ten hours to Baltimore. The boys watched DVDs (Transformers and School House Rock) and played Nintendo DS (Pokemon and Zelda) in the car on the way. We arrived at the hotel at bedtime.

Baltimore aquarium, B&O Railroad, and Fort Mc Henry.
Weather: Cloudy and about 50 degrees
  • The Baltimore aquarium was really nice. It was set up so that you meandered your way up and up, seeing different parts of the sea on each level. They also had a dolphin show and IMAX theater. R bought a bookmark and T bought a thimble as souvineers. (They both had twenty bucks to spend for the whole trip. They managed their cash very carefully.)

  • Baltimore is home to the first railroad in the country (the B&O of Monopoly fame). The museaum had some amazing old locomotives -- it was one of the best collectections we've seen (and you know we've seen a lot!)

  • We only planned on doing two things today, but M and I really wanted to see Fort McHenry also. It was here in 1814 that Francis Scott Key saw "the bombs bursting in air" and inspired him to write the Star Spangled Banner. We got there with 45 minutes to run around the fort and check it out -- we're very glad that we did.
  • Dinner at a cute little spot just off the Inner Harbor -- We had appetizers of veggies and three dips -- hummus, red peppe puree, and yogurt and cucumber dip. We were off to a good start! For dinner, I had crab cakes (when in Rome!) and the boys had cream of crab soup (again, when in Rome!), M had some kind of fish too. Yummo!

  • This is a cute picture of T (with his two missing bottom front teeth) showing the pear that he chose for his snack that day. He wanted me to blog it so that AJ would see it because "she really likes pears."


    Washington DC - trolley tour, Jefferson Memorial, FDR Memorial, Lincoln Memorial, Arlington Cemetary, Korean War Memorial, Vietnam War Memorial, WWII Memorial.

    Weather: 44 degrees and drizzly, or as I like to say, "slightly miserable"

    • We decided to take a trolley tour of the city which allows you to get on and off as you'd like. Thank goodness we did, because we did enough walking to walk our feet off, even with the trolley. We had a really nice guide, "Grumpy", who put R and T up next to him in the front. He'd ask them questions, and of course, R would answer while T would look down at the floor of the trolley. Grumpy loved R and first called him the "Jr Tour Guide," but upgraded him to the "Co-Tour Guide" by the end of the tour because R knew so much!
    • We got off at the Jefferson Memorial and walked to the FDR and Lincoln Memorials. I had never been to the FDR one before and it was pretty cool. The boys had a good time checking everything out.
    • It was Cherry Blossom time too -- and they were gorgeous.

    • Then we took the trolly to Arlingon Cemetary. It made me cry to see the rows upon rows of thousands upon thousands military buried there. We also saw the changing of the guards at the Tomb of the Unkowns -- something I remember doing with my grandparents when I was 12. R really appreciated it and T thought it was boring.
    • Back in DC, we walked from the Koren War memorial (where we thought of Uncle Harold) to the Vietnam Memorial (where we thought of Uncle Paul's daddy) to the WWII Memorial (where we thought of Great Grandpa Smith).
    • Finally, we walked by the Washington Monument and caught our trolley back to Union Station, where we took the return train back to Baltimore.

    • Note: We pushed it to far. Everything was great until the last hour, when T just broke down -- crying, tired, headache, stomach ache. Was he dehydrated? Hungry? Sick? We weren't sure. He was a miserable wreck, sobbing and sobbing -- and there was nothing we could do that would help him. I knew if we could just get him on the train and leave him alone, he'd be okay. Luckily, I was right. About twenty minutes into the 35 minute train ride, he was feeling better and back to his happy self. We learned our lesson and scaled back the days to come.
    • On the shuttle to the hotel, there was another family with two boys. Our boys hit it off and had a great conversation comparing DC stories.

    The boys wanted to climb the trees, but was a mean mon and told them they couldn't. Here they are hanging a bit from the tree, which I didn't say they couldn't do.

    T and R liked the statue of FDRs dog. You can see that it's a favorite picture among kids -- see the shiny tips of the ears and nose where people have rubbed off the patina over the years?
    Eating lunch by the Korean War Memorial. We packed our lunches and snacks everyday and stayed at a hotel with free breakfast, so that we'd only have to eat dinner out. Every little bit to save money helps!

    M and the boys in front of the Lincoln Memorial.

    We took a bus into Arlington Cemetary in Arlington Virginia (just a few miles from DC). The boys were curious about touring a cemetary. We saw JFKs eternal flame, as well as Bobby Kennedy's simple white cross.

    Watching the guard slowly march back and forth in front of the Tomb of the Unkowns (it used to be called Tomb of the Unkown Soldiers, but has been changed to the Unkowns since they might be airmen or Marines or something else.) This guard was amazing to watch; he was so precise with his walk and how he turned around in three moves, with a clack of his heal each turn.)

    This is the official changing of the guards, which happens every 30 minutes. It was such a sight to see! So serious, respectful, and somber. I'm so glad that I got to see this again and to share it with M and the boys.

    At the Vietnam War Memorial, we looked up Varner Party of Five's dad. I didn't find the exact name that I was looking for, but I found this name that I think is right. We all rubbed our fingers on it and thought about the grandpa that our cousins never met.


    Swimming at the hotel, Naval Acadamy at Annapolis Maryland, more swimming at the hotel

    Weather: 55 degrees, cloudy
    Based upon T's breakdown, we made Tuesday our easy day -- I knew we'd need one, I just didn't know we'd need it so soon!

    • We slept in, ate breakfast, and went swimming at the hotel.

    • We left to go to Annapolis in time to get to the Naval Acadamy by noon, when all of the midshipmen would be out in formation for uniform inspection before lunch.
    • We made it just in time, but darn it, they didn't have the inspection outside because there was a chance of rain. They still had the formation, but it was inside where the public was not allowed to go.
    • We had a tour of the Acadamy and it was really neat. We got to see a typical Midshipmen's room (all the students are called Midshipmen). We saw their amazing pool and wrestling gyms. We saw the beautiful chapel and the nice houses that the naval professors live in.
    • We found a nice little restaurant on the harbor and had Crab Bisque for lunch with tasty bread.

    • Back to the hotel for more swimming.


    The White House! Mount Vernon, and Alexandria

    Weather: Sunny! and 60 degrees (now that's more like it!)

    • In order to get a tour of the White House, you have to write your Congressman usually 6 months in advance, then submit your social security number for a secret service security check. We did that and had a reservation for a 9:30 am tour.
    • We decided to drive into DC for this and then we'd head to without traffic, it would be only a forty minute drive, but we heard that it could take up to two hours. So, we left early, hoping to get there in plenty of time for breakfast, but knowing we'd have to skip breakfast if the traffic was terrible. The boys each had two NutriGrain bars on the way, so they were covered.
    • We arrived in DC at 7:30, with moderate traffic. We ate breakfast in a little diner and headed to the White House -- only to learn that "the President and Mrs Bush are using the White House this morning, so please come back any time between 10:30 and 12:30 for your tour. Bummer! So, we headed over to the White House Visitor's Center and did everything possible there to bide the time. At 10:00, we went back to the White House only to see a line of at least 600 people waiting to get in! There was no order to the line, so we had people with 11:00 reservations in front of us. Hmmmm..

    • Well, we waited and waited, and waited. The boys entertained themselves by creating an army of animals (I don't know either, but it kept them occupied for the TWO HOURS that we waited in line.)

    • Finally, at 12:30, we made it to the front of the line -- only to find out that we weren't on the list! A Secret Serviceman took our names and social security numbers and told us that they would confirm that we had an appointment and then run our security check. Hopefully, he'd be able to get us in within an hour.
    • By now, T was fading, so M ran (literally) to a little kiosk about two blocks away and came back with four Snickers bars. Both boys were smiling ear to ear when they learned that we were going to give them a whole candy bar and they could eat the whole thing before lunch!
    • At about 1:30, we were in the White House! It was a self-guided tour of the East end of the first floor. It is sure pretty in there with tons of antiques -- a silver urn from John Adams, a portrait of George Washington that Dolly Madison saved when the White House was burned down in the war of just goes on and on. What a great experience.
    • Note, there are no cameras allowed in the White House, so you'll see no pictures here. As a matter of fact there are a lot of things you can't have, including purses, phones with cameras, remotes for cars. All that you can have is a wallet with ID, one key, and an umbrella. (Frankly, I think that the umbrella is a funny one -- seems like you can make your umbrella into something bad like a bomb or weapon or something. But, with all the Secret Service folks around, I guess they'd grab you before you did anything with your James-Bond-like umbrella!
    • By the way, Pres Bush took off in Marine One while we were in line -- we saw the Secret Service guys move around on the roof of the White House and then heard the helecopter take off. Cool.
    • After the White House, we ate our lunch and drove to Mount Vernon. It was sunny and beautiful, we spent the whole time there on the grounds. They had a great activity pack for kids, full of questions to answer. R really got into it and T had a blast holding the map out in front of him, since he dubbed himself the navigator. We walked all over the place, but didn't go in the house itself. There was a really long line to get in and the boys had just seen the White House which was enough for them. We really had a nice time.

    • On to Alexandria. This is a beautiful, ritzy, old town that was founded during George Washington's time. General Lee was from Alexandria. We went there not for the history, but for the Torpedo Artist Warehouse that I had read about -- it was T's #1 thing that he was looking forward to on the trip. It was an old Torpedo warehouse that is now home to hundreds of artists who use it as their studio and shops. The artist live across the street. T loves art -- he loves to make art, loves to look at art, and loves to collect art, especailly pottery.

    • He had twenty bucks burning a whole in his pocket and wanted to spend it. I warned him that there might not be one thing in his price range in the whole place, but he wanted to go and check it out. We went to every artist studio in the place and narrowed down his choice to three things: two mugs and one little fish with a marble eye. He got the fish. He was such a happy boy, walking as fast as he could from one studio to another, stopping to appreciate a huge painting, then moving on. He saw things for hundreds and even thousands of dollars that he wished he could have, but he was in good spirits and happy with his fish
    • Back to the hotel for more swimming and dinner.

    This is George Washington's old tomb (he's been moved to a place on the property that won't slide into the Potomac River). This is a typical sight on our trip - R reading the blurb with the rest of us listening.

    T and R posed in front of Mt Vernon -- the same place that I posed for my grandfather thirty years ago.


    Back to DC for the Air and Space Museum

    Weather: Sunny and 60's (of course, when we'll be inside all day!)

    • Before I did research for this trip, I thought that the Smithsonian was one museaum, rather than the eight or so museaums that it really is. The one must-see museaum that everybody agreed upon was the Air and Space Museaum.

    • Boy, did the boys have fun! From Amelia Earhart's plane to Apollo 11's landing module, to the Spirit of St Louis -- you name a plane or space craft, and they had it there.
    This is something I saw a lot of at the museum -- M pointing at something and explaining it's history or how it works to the boys. He's pretty darn knowledgeable about this stuff and the boys were pretty darn interested.

    Excited to see the Spirit of St Louis, the boys patiently pose for me.

    Friday and Saturday -- divided the drive home in two days, with swimming at the hotel in between.
    T's favorite things that we did:
    1. Mt Vernon
    2. Air and Space Museum
    3. Torpedo Art place

    R's favorites:

    1. White House
    2. Air and Space Museum
    3. Mt Vernon

    T added: Oh, and all the monuments and stuff. Oh, and the Aquarium and the RR museum. Is that okay, that I have more than three favorites?

    You bet it's okay :>

    Friday, April 04, 2008

    When They Grow Up

    The other night I asked the boys what they wanted to be when they grew up. Here's what they said:

    R said:
    "Remember when I was going to be a fighter pilot? Well, I don't want to do that anymore for three reasons: 1)I don't want to eat carrots for every meal (like his great grandfather did in the War), 2)I decided it would be too much of a risk for my life, and 3) I might get dizzy from all of the buttons and switches, even with the 'heads-up' display. So, now I want to be either an author because I like to write. Or I'll be a scientist and find a cure for Diabetes....or I want to be a historian to find out about history and someday teach it to kids, maybe."

    T said:
    "I'm gonna be a pilot, dog breeder, artist, or a scuba diver."

    R joined in: "Oh yeah, I might be a scuba diver too."

    There ya go.