Thursday, October 13, 2011

Easy Halloween "stained glass window" craft for kids

I know, it's a shocker, I'm actually posting a crafting entry.  And this time it's not a joke entry, like my last one.  I am hopelessly inept at anything I embark upon, so the fact that I am able to do this means it truly is easy.  We've done this multiple times for multiple holidays, simply switch out the tissue paper color and you're set.

Orange and white colored tissue paper
Black and green construction paper
Clear contact paper

I was too lazy to actually document the steps, but you'll figure it out.  Just cut out the contact paper in the shape of your choice (we did ghosts and pumpkins), and put it sticky-side up on the table. Then place the eyes and mouth (cut from the black construction paper), pumpkin stem (if you're doing the pumpkins) and then lay down the tissue paper.  It's okay if it overlaps or hangs over the edges.  When you've covered your creation to your satisfaction, simply lay another piece of contact paper over it and cut out your shape.  Here are ours:

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Back seat translator

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about walking the fine line of languages.  More specifically, how to best support my boys' learning of both English and Czech.  It seems like it's an endless pendulum swing.  When I notice one language being dominant, I try to speak more of the other, and then find myself reversing the process.  Lately, Jakub has been choosing to express himself more and more in English, so occasionally I will encourage him to translate things into Czech.  For example, today were discussing the horse lubber grasshopper we caught yesterday.  Jakub was very excited about it and was able to take it to school with him and share it with his class, and after school we released it back into the desert.  Since the conversation was mainly in English I decided to encourage him to express himself in Czech.

Me: "Jakub, how do you say 'grasshopper' in Czech?"
Jakub: "I don't know."
[I know from personal experience that when you learn two languages seperately, sometimes it helps to think in the language first before you try to translate a word or phrase, so I asked the same question in Czech]
Me: "Jak se říká "grasshopper" česky?"
Matěj: "Kobika!"

Now, it just so happens that "grasshopper" in Czech is "kobilka," however, much of what Matěj says these days sounds alike, like "hasiči" (firefighters) and "čepici" (hat), and, a more recent and illuminating realization "hrát" (to play) and "had" (snake--I was wondering why he claimed he saw snakes everywhere).  Most of the time, the only way I can figure out what he's saying is by the context, which leaves me wondering if, the the conversation above, he knew a) how to say grasshopper in Czech, and b) what I meant by asking how to say it in Czech.  But for now, I am just going to pretend my child is a genius, until proven otherwise. ;)

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Doomed from the start

I hate baking.  No, hate is not an overly strong word.  You would too, if you had my experience.  I have two essential factors working against me.  One: I possess a strong non-talent for baking.  Or let's say anti-talent, since non-talent would simply imply neutrality, when what I really mean to express is the negative quality of my non-talent.  Part of it is my own fault, since I often don't have all or the exact ingredients a recipe calls for, but stupidly decide to forge ahead anyway.  However, the other part of my anti-talent is an aura that surrounds my person that mysteriously alters the outcome of any recipe I attempt, even if I follow it to the letter.

The second essential factor working against me is the vortex of doom in which my oven exists (I suspect a similar phenomenon at work with my microwave, but we can discuss that later).  I swear, no matter what temperature I set the damn thing at, it takes me at least 50% longer to bake absolutely anything.  I'm pretty sure that, despite the many numeric values on the dial, it only has two temperature settings: "mildly warm" and "the pits of hell."  I even bought an oven thermometer to verify this fact, but because I was too cheap to shell out $20 or more for a fancy one, I picked one up at my local grocery store for about $5, which crusted over and turned black after one use, rendering it unreadable.  Perhaps therein lies my problem: I am unwilling to buy quality materials for the endeavor, so I may be doomed from the start.  But, honestly, with my track record, can you blame me?  I'd much rather spend less money on my failures than waste good money on a lost cause.

So why do I keep trying?  That is a very good question.  After each spectacular failure, I vow to never bake again.  Until I find yet another delicious recipe online that claims to be idiot-proof.  Let's examine today's recipe Crusty Baguettes Made in 30 Minutes.  Yummy home made french bread in half an hour (perfect of a weekday dinner!), and only four ingredients.  It sounded absolutely perfect to me.  I may have even done a secret inner dance of joy.  Even a moron could get this one right!

I suppose my internal alarm should have gone off when I saw that the list of ingredients called for 3-4 cups of flour.  It seems to me that whoever wrote this recipe could have paid a little more attention to what goes in the darn thing, right?  OK, so a more likely scenario is that the recipe assumes you are not a total dimwit, as an experienced baker would know when they have achieve the desired consistency of dough.  Now, technically, I am an experienced baker, because I have baked many things, many times, but that doesn't mean I did them well, which, it turns out, is a bit of a snag.  But I decided to venture forth anyway.  Since the dough seemed too sticky after three cups of flour, I went ahead and dumped the last cup (in half-cup increments, as the recipe specified) into my Kitchen Aid mixer and hoped for the best.

The dough looked absolutely beautiful, awakening a flutter of hope in my breast.  At this point I should also mention that I was under added pressure because the boys were starting to get restless, asking for dinner in three-minute intervals, so there was a bit of a time crunch as well, but I thought, what the hell, it's only going to bake for 15 minutes, 18 tops, and we'll be fine.  So, like the recipe said, I put the bread in the oven, threw the ice in the bottom of the oven and shut the door satisfactorily, vowing not to open it until the 15 minutes was up, as specified.  And, 15 minutes later, I open the oven and voilà!  The bread looked exactly like it did when I put it in.  A few colorful phrases ran through my mind as I turned the oven dial up another 25 degrees and set the timer for an additional five minutes.  Five minutes later, I check on the bread, and in some places it had started to turn a vague beige-y color.  So at this point, for fear of being eaten alive by my offspring in lieu of their evening meal, I turn the damn thing to "broil" hoping that the result might be at least tolerably edible.  Well, guess what?  It turned out great!  Great, that is, if your house was being attacked by vicious marauders and you needed to club someone to death.  The loaves had the general consistency of a brick.  For a brief moment I thought about clubbing my computer into teeny, tiny micro components, but my forward motion was halted by my toddler attempting to scale my person out of sheer hunger.  In all fairness, however, it tasted OK, so rather than seeing this as a complete loss, I'm just going to pretend and say I was baking pretzels.  My carb-loading children scarfed it down, anyway.

So, let this be a message to all of you out there, writing "easy" recipes all willy-nilly.  If you really want to see if it's idiot-proof, send it to me.  I'll gladly show you a whole new way to ruin it.